Arlington, VA

The Right Note: 2020 Vision

The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The “no longer a New Year’s Day tradition” Arlington County Board organizational meeting once again gave our elected representatives an opportunity to lay out their priorities for the year.

Much like cabin air on a flight, the speeches you receive at the County Board’s annual organizational meeting are in many ways recycled.

This is especially true when it comes to the issue of affordable housing. According to our Board, 2020 is going to be the year when the County Board makes significant strides toward defeating market forces and making housing affordable in Arlington — just like 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, etc.

There were a two nuggets from incoming Chair Libby Garvey’s speech that hinted at things we could see in 2020.

First, a consulting firm will make a pretty penny from a joint contract with Arlington and Montgomery County, Maryland to fight airplane noise. It may make elected officials feel better to say they are doing something about this, but airplanes and helicopters are likely to remain noisy as they fly over populated areas.

Second, this year’s CIP process may see a greater emphasis on stormwater management. Many community activists, and more than one Republican candidate for County Board, have argued basic infrastructure needs like this have been neglected for years.

At the same time, this newly rediscovered desire to address infrastructure will almost certainly be paired with ongoing school enrollment challenges to justify the level of revenue the Board will take from taxpayers in April. In other words, do not hold your breath for a tax rate cut this spring in the face of what many believe will be a robust revenue boost from assessments.

Looking back at 2019, outgoing Board Chairman Christian Dorsey summed up his main priority this way:

“That is why I prioritized advancing equity as a central framework for governance last year. By developing the capacity to recognize the barriers that marginalized and vulnerable populations face in trying to thrive, we can deliver public policy that is responsive to all and not only to those with power and influence.

I am excited about what we are doing right here in Arlington, but my aspirations in: housing, transportation connectivity, sustainability, resilience, and human development exceed our ability to achieve needed results alone. I will look to multiply our efforts through collaboration with our fellow Northern Virginia jurisdictions, our neighbors in the national capital region and with our state government.”

While it is hard to point to a lot of policy changes the Arlington County Board made in this regard, Dorsey did put forward an equity resolution in the fall that Garvey promises to honor. For decisions moving forward, the resolution outlines an approach that is effectively what government officials should already be doing — determining who policies help and hurt before you pass them.

As with all of the County Board’s priorities, we will wait and see how it plays out in reality.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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