Arlington, VA

Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Lawrence Roberts

In generations past, the American dream for many was a home in the suburbs. That dream served our country and our County well for those who could afford to make that dream a reality.

The growth of the suburbs represented a massive shift of wealth, human capital, employment, education, and innovation away from cities and urban centers that, in turn, saw declines across most measures of urban quality of life.

In recent generations, we have seen continued demand for suburban living matched by a desire by many residents and businesses to be located in urban centers.

Millenials have sought a lifestyle that is less dependent on long commutes and is more focused on transit and urban amenities. Baby boomers who raised families in the suburbs have shown an interest in returning to urban areas to downsize their housing and find walkable communities.

And businesses have shown an increasing interest in locating near transit – in our region that means primarily near Metro stations. This is a competitive advantage for Arlington and is a primary reason for our County to show leadership in improving Metro’s facilities and finally creating a realistic financial plan for system maintenance.

The revitalization of urban and transit-oriented centers need not be at the expense of suburban living. Indeed, the vision of Arlington leaders and taxpayers in supporting high-quality schools and planning for urban corridors near Metro stations, lower density growth along highway corridors, and strong protection of suburban-style neighborhoods has made the County a highly desirable place to live.

But Arlington can’t meet the challenges generated by growth and its own success by striving to keep things just as they are or have been. Keeping the status quo is simply not possible. Retrenchment and disinvestment are even worse.

We must continually move forward or we will inevitably see a decline.

Housing affordability is an issue that requires our attention if we are to move forward. Healthy, vibrant urban centers and nearby suburbs require housing affordability in order to sustain economic growth. A modern economy needs workers across a range of income levels who do not have to commute long distances. When people can afford to live closer to work, then they can free up roads and lessen traffic congestion that constrains an economy.

The unsustainable desire to keep things just as they are has been given the term NIMBY – not in my backyard.

Of course, there have been many times when communities have rejected poorly-conceived projects that would have destroyed neighborhoods, failed to deliver economic returns, or wreaked environmental havoc.

But today, increasing numbers of people view NIMBY actions as preventing the investments in infrastructure and creative housing policies that will be necessary to accommodate the desire of people of all ages to live in settings much like Arlington – urban and close-in suburban areas that have access to multiple transportation options.

Will Arlington continue to achieve a sustainable balance that accommodates growth and preserves neighborhoods? Will we find ways to make housing affordable so that people can live and work in Arlington?

Across the country, communities have done far worse than Arlington in planning for growth and sustainability. The result is a housing crisis with growing demands for building more housing.

The movement is coalescing around the name “YIMBY” – “Yes in My Backyard.”

The epicenter has been in California, which has often been at the forefront of national movements. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are experiencing the most painful housing affordability and displacement problems. But well-organized YIMBY groups have also grown up in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto, Austin, and elsewhere – places that are economic competitors of Arlington and the greater Washington region.

The national momentum will build later this month with the first national YIMBY conference, in Boulder, Colorado.

Hopefully, Arlington will find creative solutions that need not be caught up in a NIMBY/YIMBY battle.

For the foreseeable future, people of all ages will want to move to places like Arlington. We can embrace that trend, try to stop it, or be overrun by it.

Arlington’s success has been due in large part to getting ahead of problems, building consensus, and implementing forward-moving change to avert crises.

It is time for us to meet the challenge of housing affordability through creativity, flexibility, consensus, and uniquely Arlington solutions.

Larry Roberts has lived in Arlington for over 30 years and is an attorney in private practice. He has been active in County civic life. He also chaired two successful statewide campaigns, served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond, and served as Chief of Staff to the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.


Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Lawrence Roberts

I was pleased to join fellow ARLnow columnists Mark Kelly and Peter Rousselot on a panel discussion at “ARLnow Presents: Hot Topics on Columbia Pike.” We had a spirited discussion of County issues and I hope you’ll watch the video when it appears on Arlington Independent Media and ARLnow.

While I don’t often agree with ARLnow’s “The Right Note” column, I was pleased that Mark identified Metro as the County’s highest transit priority.

Metro is vital to Arlington’s economy, serving tourists and providing the impetus for a commercial tax base carrying half of Arlington’s real estate tax burden – a substantially higher percentage than other area jurisdictions.

Metro is also vital to Arlington’s mobility – for commuters to and from Arlington as well as people using public transportation to get around the region without driving. Metro (and other transit options) helps Arlington avoid massive traffic gridlock in its urban corridors and along residential streets.

Today’s federal government could not function without Metro and the ripple effect of reduced federal activity without Metro would be highly detrimental to Arlington companies and workers intersecting with the federal sector.

So what are we to make of this week’s National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the L’Enfant Plaza accident in January 2015 that led to NTSB’s heavy criticism of Metro and, in particular its lack of a safety culture?

I believe that Arlington’s first reaction should be to acknowledge that Metro is essential to Arlington’s economy, its desirability as a place to live, its mobility, and the health of a commercial tax base that supports the many public services that Arlingtonians want and expect, including schools, public safety, parks and social services.

For that reason, Arlington government officials and residents should be at the forefront of efforts to support and encourage Metro as it undergoes necessary changes.

Second, Arlington should be working with our federal delegation and regional partners to demand dedicated funding streams for Metro – as most urban transit systems have.

Essentially, the federal government takes the position that it heavily funded Metro’s construction and that its obligations largely stopped there without ensuring an adequate dedicated funding stream for operations and maintenance.

While federal warnings about safety are important, it is easy to lay blame on Metro management and employees without acknowledging that the federal government has not been a reliable partner in solving the chronic and well known problem of deferred maintenance due to lack of funding.

Metro’s importance to the federal workforce and travelers from across the country who come to the Nation’s Capital warrant strong federal financial support.

Third, we should not fall prey to the convenient and simplistic assertion that if only Metro management had been more disciplined about spending there would be no safety problem. Metro management could squeeze every ounce of waste, fraud and abuse out of the system without making a dent in the structural deficiencies in Metro funding.

Fourth, it is important not to jump on the bandwagon of finding fault with Metro at every turn. I had occasion to review the Washington Post’s 2015 stories about Metro. They constituted a steady drumbeat of identifying one problem after another that would lead one to conclude that no one is able to commute effectively or safely by Metro.

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Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Lawrence Roberts

In the March 31 Progressive Voice column, I explored the impact of the Dillon Rule on Arlington County – how Arlington cannot exercise its governing will unless the governing authority has been provided by the Virginia General Assembly. Moreover, the General Assembly can pass laws preventing localities from addressing matters of concern to the locality.

Perhaps the most publicized recent action by a state to prevent a locality from acting was the passage in North Carolina of HB2 (called the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act”).

Much of the news coverage about HB2 focused on the requirement that people (including transgender individuals) use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates and the restrictions on the rights of LGBT individuals to sue in state court to address discrimination.

But the bill was passed in a rushed special session hurriedly called to invalidate an anti-discrimination ordinance recently adopted by City Council of Charlotte, the state’s largest city.

Not only did the state legislature reverse Charlotte’s expansion of LGBT rights, but it also banned North Carolina cities from raising the minimum wage.

North Carolina’s governor quickly signed HB2 into law, only to face backlash from a broad spectrum of interests including major businesses and academic institutions.

While the Governor has now taken steps to give state employees more nondiscrimination protections, the invalidation of Charlotte’s ordinance and ban on local minimum wage increases remain in place.

One difference between North Carolina and Virginia is that in North Carolina the same party controls both the state legislature and the Governor’s office. By contrast, in Virginia Republicans control the General Assembly while Governor McAuliffe is a Democrat.

In the March 31 column, I identified bills vetoed by Governor McAuliffe that would have limited local authority or expanded state control in ways contrary to the view of a large percentage of Arlingtonians.

Over the past two weeks, before the veto deadline, the Governor wielded his veto pen to stop other legislative initiatives that would either assert state authority or restrict local self-governance in ways that most Arlingtonians would consider inconsistent with their values.

Measures that would have become law but for the Governor’s veto (as those bills were described by the Governor) include:

1) HB481 and SB270 attempt to prohibit the release of individuals in custody if those individuals are suspected of violating U.S. immigration laws where the bills are intended to communicate a sense that non-citizens are to be feared and should be treated as more dangerous than other persons;

2) HB516 would interfere with local school board policies and have the state require schools to identify material that is “sexually explicit” contrary to the state’s long policy of entrusting curriculum management to local school boards;

3) HB518, HB389, and HB8SB would undercut local school boards’ constitutional authority to determin how to assign students to schools;

4) HB1234 would permit school security officers who are not employees of a local law enforcement agency to carry firearms in schools without ensuring adequate training; and

5) SB626 and HB766 would eliminate the application and training requirements before carrying a concealed handgun in ways that would encourage victims of domestic violence to introduce deadly weapons into an already dangerous situation.

In all, Governor McAuliffe vetoed 32 of 811 bills passed by the General Assembly – more than any Virginia Governor since Jim Gilmore in 1998.

The Governor’s vetoes will be considered by the General Assembly during a Reconvene Session to be held on April 20. Two-thirds votes of both the House of Delegates and State Senate are required to override the vetoes.

Arlingtonians will be left to consider how different the state and County would be if, as in North Carolina, a conservative legislature does not have to contend with a progressive Governor.

That will be the central question facing Arlington voters in 2017 when Virginia will elect a new Governor and the 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election.

Larry Roberts is a 30-year resident of Arlington and an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.


Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

When following issue discussions in Arlington, it seems that most people understand that federal law is the supreme law of the land and that County actions cannot contravene federal laws pursuant to the “supremacy clause” of the U.S. Constitution.

However, it is not as well known how Arlington’s actions are constrained by state law.

Most states have adopted “home rule” provisions that permit local governments to act in any way that is not specifically precluded by state laws.

By contrast, Virginia adheres closely to the “Dillon Rule” set forth by an Iowa Supreme Court Justice in the 1860s.

The Dillon Rule essentially holds that states hold all governmental power not conferred to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution and that local governments have NO power to act unless given that power by the state.

Virginia courts have concluded that local governments in Virginia have only the powers that are specifically conferred on them by the Virginia General Assembly; those powers that are implied from a specific grant of authority; and those powers that are indispensable to the purposes of government.

Early in the 21st century, the Virginia Supreme Court invoked the Dillon Rule to invalidate Arlington County’s attempt to expand employee health insurance benefits to domestic partners who were then prohibited from marrying under the state constitution.

Why does any of this matter?

Because the General Assembly in Richmond recently concluded a session in which it passed a number of bills that would either set state authority or restrict local self-governance in ways that many Arlingtonians would consider inconsistent with their values.

The only reason these bills are not likely to become law is because Governor McAuliffe has vetoed them and there are not enough General Assembly votes to override those vetoes.

Here are some of the measures that would have become law but for the Governor’s veto (as those bills were described by the Governor):

1) SB41 would shield from civil liability those who actively discriminate against same-sex couples;

2) HB1090 would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on the health care services and programs provided by Planned Parenthood health centers by denying them access to affordable care;

3) HB1371 would prohibit Virginia localities from making their own decisions to improve wage and benefit conditions;

4) HB264 would prohibit local governments from adopting a wage floor for contractors that is higher than state or federal requirements;

5) HB1096 and HB382 would make Virginians less safe by eliminating common sense restrictions on the possession of firearms in or around state office buildings;

6) HB9 would require local registrars to deny voter registration applications submitted by eligible Virginians with non-material omissions;

7) HB298 and SB44 would extend costly and ineffective coal tax credits, while SB 21 would bar Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality from submitting a plan to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan; and

8) HB587 would override the authority of local governments in order to prevent them from deciding whether to remove or alter symbols of the Confederacy.

Most Arlington residents would agree with the Governor’s vetoes. As evidence, in the 2013 gubernatorial election Terry McAuliffe received 76.4% of the two party vote in Arlington – over 33,000 more votes than his opponent Ken Cuccinelli.

Yet Governor McAuliffe’s statewide margin over his opponent was only 56,435 – winning 51.4% of the two party vote compared to Cuccinelli’s 48.6%.

Stated another way, a switch of only 28,218 votes (out of nearly 2.1 million) from McAuliffe to Cuccinelli in 2013 would almost certainly have resulted in all of the bills described above becoming state law.

The power of the veto pen is on display this year. But for Arlingtonians who agree with the Governor, the need to be cognizant of and engaged in state politics, elections, and governing should be apparent.

Larry Roberts is a 30-year resident of Arlington and an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.


Larry Roberts

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or

Medical evidence trumped ideology in Richmond last week when the state Board of Health voted to scale back regulations that had threatened to put many abortion providers out of business.

By a 9-6 vote, the Board took a major step forward in rolling back medically unnecessary restrictions on women’s health clinics.

The Board approved recommendations from the state’s Health Commissioner to rescind regulations requiring Virginia’s abortion facilities to comply retroactively with standards designed for construction of new hospitals. The Board’s vote included approval of key amendments by former State Senator from Arlington (and now Board of Health member) Mary Margaret Whipple to clarify and strengthen the Commissioner’s proposal.

These changes grandfathered existing facilities, eliminated hospital transfer agreement requirements, and ensured that regulations applying to existing, expanded and new abortion facilities would be limited to those focused specifically on patient health and safety.

Sen. Barbara Favola, who succeeded Mary Margaret Whipple and represents Arlington in the Virginia Senate, applauded the vote against “ideologically driven and medically unnecessary TRAP regulations” as a “decision of the Board [that] reflects the triumph of reason over politics.”

The TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) regulations to be eased under the new rules were put in place by a Board of Health dominated by appointees of former Governor Bob McDonnell – only after then Attorney General (and staunch anti-abortion activist) Ken Cuccinelli threatened to withhold legal representation in the event Board members voted against his wishes and were sued.

There was no medical evidence that the TRAP regulations were necessary to protect women’s health. Indeed, abortion services are among the safest of medical procedures. When the Department of Health conducted an exhaustive two-year study of abortion facilities, it found no evidence of violations resulting in harm to patients at clinics that had performed tens of thousands of first-trimester abortions.

By contrast, there was plenty of evidence that TRAP regulations placed enormous economic burdens on women’s health centers – leading to a further reduction in Virginian’s limited access to reproductive health services. Already, many women must travel 100 miles or more to reach the closest clinic.

This is not just a “downstate” problem. In recent years, a clinic in Fairfax City closed and another in Manassas recently announced that it would be closing.

The process for undoing the unnecessary and burdensome TRAP regulations began with a lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court to stop the regulations from taking effect. Although former Attorney General Cuccinelli moved to have the lawsuit dismissed, the Court rejected his request.

The lawsuit was put on hold after Governor McAuliffe issued an Executive Directive in May 2014 ordering an expedited review of the TRAP regulations by the Board of Health. In addition, most facilities in Virginia received temporary waivers of the TRAP regulations that allowed them to remain open while the review was being completed.

In May 2015, Attorney General Herring issued an opinion that the previous administration had provided incorrect legal advice to the Board of Health and intervened in a process that is supposed to be driven by medical professionals.

There are more steps in the process before the TRAP regulations are finally taken off the books, but the Board of Health’s actions take immediate pressures off the remaining healthcare centers in Virginia that provide abortion services.

This is a victory for Arlington and the entire Commonwealth. As Governor McAuliffe concluded in his statement last week: “This Commonwealth should be a leader in bringing people together and building a new Virginia economy – not in partisan crusades against women’s rights. I applaud the Board of Health for ending this disturbing chapter in our history and for heeding the advice of experts, medical professionals, and Virginia women about the best way to provide safe access to health care.”

Arlington also has a role to play. As advocated by a candidate in this year’s County Board election, Arlington should ensure that its zoning practices are friendly to the establishment of women’s health centers in the County.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. A resident of Arlington for over 30 years, he also spent four years in Richmond as Counselor to the Governor. He has represented the Falls Church Healthcare Center in litigation and regulatory matters.


Larry Roberts

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or

Over the past two weeks, many Arlington families have taken their daughters and sons to college for the start of the fall semester. As the home to university campuses and education centers affiliated with colleges and universities, Arlington also welcomed many students arriving for the new school year.

Arlington’s public schools have demonstrated over the years that they provide excellent preparation for success at colleges and universities in Virginia and across the country.

Yet success in the classroom is not the only important component of a successful college education. We have seen ever stronger evidence of the prevalence of unwanted sexual advances on college campuses. We are gaining greater knowledge of the impact of binge drinking. And we are making advances in identifying and working with students suffering from depression.

Fortunately, very few parents will ever experience losing a loved one on a college campus.

However, in one of the darkest days in the history of our Commonwealth, 32 families lost loved ones at the hands of a mentally disturbed gunman. More than two dozen others were wounded or seriously injured that day in April 2007 in Blacksburg. Many of the victims and survivors were from Northern Virginia.

The loss felt by the victim’s families and the impact on the survivors was profound.

Despite their losses, however, the families were determined to make a positive and lasting tribute to the 32 who were killed — through programs designed to help colleges and universities be safer and more secure.

As Counselor to the Governor, I worked closely with many of the families in developing a comprehensive settlement of their potential claims against Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Part of that settlement was the establishment of a VTV Family Outreach Foundation.

In that effort, I came to admire the families for their desire to honor their loved ones through insuring that survivors received the health care they needed to recover from their injuries, through applying lessons learned in how to work effectively with grieving families, and by joining together to uncover all of the dimensions of campus security.

Over the past several years, the VTV Family Foundation has laid the groundwork for a new integrated approach to improving campus safety.

In August, the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative was unveiled in a moving launch event at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. We heard from a family member of a student victim, a student who survived three bullet wounds, law enforcement personnel, national leaders in school safety, and deans of students at participating universities that include George Mason and the University of Florida.

The Initiative creates a forum where national experts can develop best practices and resources with the guidance of survivors and victims’ families.

To improve campus security in a positive, proactive way, the 32 NCSI also provides a free, confidential, self-paced program of that provides colleges and universities with a new resource to better assess themselves in areas such as alcohol and drug use, campus public safety, emergency management, hazing, mental health, missing students, physical security, sexual violence, and threat assessment.

The determination of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation to prevent another tragedy of the magnitude of the one that took place in April 2007 is a testament to the human spirit and the determination of good women and men to selflessly help students and their parents feel a greater sense of security.

The Foundation will need additional private and public support to expand its mission. I encourage parents of college students and Arlingtonians generally to learn more at or

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. A resident of Arlington for over 30 years, he also spent four years in Richmond as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine. As Counselor, he was tasked with leading the Commonwealth’s ongoing response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.


Larry Roberts

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or

This week, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit turned down former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s request for a rehearing en banc (by all of the Circuit’s judges) of his conviction on public corruption charges. McDonnell now has only one hope left for overturning his conviction – the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hears only a small fraction of the requests it receives.

In all likelihood, the former Governor will soon begin serving his two-year sentence in a federal prison. One might expect that as a Democrat, I would be pleased to see Bob McDonnell’s fall from a potential Vice Presidential candidate to a likely federal prisoner. I am not.

Certainly I don’t condone the actions that led to McDonnell’s conviction and I do not quarrel with the unanimous jury verdict.

And I have had major disagreements with many of McDonnell’s issue positions during his career as an elected official and actions he took as Attorney General and Governor.

Yet I had a chance to work closely with McDonnell and his senior staff while he was in statewide office and found that it was possible to find common ground to move Virginia forward and serve the interests of the Commonwealth’s residents.

As Counselor to the Governor, one of my roles was to serve as liaison to the Office of the Attorney General. We worked across party lines on a range of issues of importance to Virginia – among them were budgeting, transportation, criminal justice/law enforcement, restoration of rights, matters affecting the military and veterans, mental health reforms, immigration, and the Commonwealth’s response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

In some instances, the Governor and Attorney General were largely in agreement. In others, their positions were very different.

Yet no matter the situation, we found that the Commonwealth was better served if we looked for as much common ground as possible, worked through our differences to understand each other’s positions, aired our differences with respect for each other and the offices in which we served, and made sure that once decisions were made by the executive, legislative or judicial branches that we worked to implement those decisions as effectively and efficiently as possible.

We worked closely together – even through differing legal interpretations of the Governor’s powers — to help insure that the Commonwealth did not suffer a government shutdown during a budget and possible constitutional crisis in 2006. That crisis was averted by the signing of a budget on the last possible day before a shutdown began. Many residents in Arlington and across Virginia would have suffered had we failed.

Also, we worked together on a 2007 transportation package that put in place many funding sources that are beginning to have an impact of transit and other transportation improvements in Arlington and throughout Northern Virginia. Although regional funding pieces of that package were thrown out by the Supreme Court of Virginia, many were corrected and put back in place as part of McDonnell’s landmark 2013 transportation package.

McDonnell and his team were also allies in Governor Kaine’s successful effort to secure federal funding and develop a construction plan for Phase I of the Silver Line that began operation in 2014 with significant transit and economic benefits for Arlington and across Northern Virginia.

We also worked together in responding to the terrible tragedy on the Virginia Tech campus in April 2007. The Commonwealth’s response included a creative and comprehensive settlement with families who suffered the loss of loved ones and surviving victims, mental health reforms, closing a loophole on the acquisition of guns by those found mentally incompetent, developing improved protocols for first responders, and developing more effective campus security measures.

While McDonnell and I disagree – often strongly — on what government should do, we have agreed that what government does it should do so effectively and efficiently. He was not a conservative who was happy when government failed to do its job.

It is not easy to know how and why some leaders put themselves in harm’s way. Yet in watching McDonnell’s fall, I also want to remember ways in which he served the Commonwealth well.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. A resident of Arlington for over 30 years, he also spent four years in Richmond as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine and chaired successful statewide campaigns in 2005 and 2012.


Larry Roberts

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or

For decades, Arlington residents have enjoyed outstanding schools, parks, recreation facilities, libraries, public safety enhancements, transportation options, and a strong social safety net. All of these attractive features and others as well have been heavily subsidized by a strong commercial sector.

The strength of that commercial sector was due in part to: Arlington’s ideal location close to the nation’s capital and close access to the Pentagon; the buildup in federal spending over decades; and Arlington’s ability to attract and retain highly educated residents prized by employers.

We have also benefited from wise planning decisions and infrastructure investments that included, for example, multiple Metro stops that have become increasingly attractive to employers. We have managed to have a transportation system that helps people move around in Arlington and through Arlington while largely preserving single family neighborhoods.

For much of that period of time, Arlington’s ideal location and the educational achievement of its residents made Arlington largely immune from competition from other area jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, those days are gone.

Federal cutbacks are here to stay.

One need only see the dramatic transformations taking place in the District and in Tysons Corner to see how the public sector – working closely with the private sector – can attract commercial tenants, help increase revenues to support valued services without depending more heavily on homeowner taxes, and through planning and zoning measures help create more public space and better transportation options as part of those redevelopments.

Our residents are more critical of County spending and more sensitive to tax increases than has been true in the past 20 years. Yet many individual residents want the County to increase spending on items that matter most to them – for some that is schools, for others parks or open space, for others better pay for public safety personnel, for others it is added transit capacity, others want to ensure that housing is more affordable to young people, lower-wage workers, and those want to age in place. Others want more spending on services for mental health services. And others want expanded recreational facilities and community centers to meet growing demand.

Are we as County residents prepared to make difficult choices among these competing priorities? Will the answer be that services important to me should be maintained or enhanced, but spending important to others should be cut? Will housing prices continue to escalate and the tax rate be maintained? If so, there will be more revenues for the County government to provide services favored by residents. But it will also mean current cash flow challenges for many homeowners who won’t realize the profits from home price increases until they sell their homes.

The best answer in the past has been to rely on a thriving commercial sector to pay 50 cents of every dollar spent by the County.

That can still happen in Arlington, but only with a strong economic development effort and a dedicated effort to reduce commercial vacancy rates in the County.

Our commercial vacancy rate is somewhat deceptive. With a few exceptions, vacancies are concentrated in older buildings and those with fewer amenities or floor plans that require major adjustments to accommodate the needs of today’s workplace.

If we want to reduce those vacancies and leave more money available for school capacity and other priorities desired by Arlington residents, we will need Arlington’s economic development experts working closely and creatively with the private sector to identify the types of companies and actual prospects that can make use of Arlington’s existing inventory or we will need to find ways to encourage redevelopment of those dated or lower quality structures that are not likely to be successful in today’s marketplace.

Arlington is taking steps along this path. Those efforts should be encouraged. It is our best chance to keep services that residents strongly support and enhance our quality of life without adding to the burdens of homeowners.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond. During his term as Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, Democrats won every election in Arlington.


Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s organization or of

Congratulations to Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey on their successful campaigns for the two Democratic nominations for Arlington County Board. Good wishes also to those who ran solid campaigns but came up short – Peter Fallon, Andrew Schneider, James Lander, and Bruce Wiljanen.

Fortunately for Arlington Democrats, Katie and Christian will enter the general election with the support of their former opponents and solid support within the Democratic Party. My hope and expectation is that Arlington voters will elect Katie and Christian to the Board in November. I know they will both work hard to earn the trust and support of voters across the political spectrum.

The past two years have not been easy ones for Arlington Democrats. They have had divisions over key community issues. Retirements among elected officials led to many special elections that present the highest risk for Democratic candidates in Arlington. An Independent County Board candidate won election in 2014 special and general elections — the first time since 1999 that Democrats lost a County Board election. Not only did Independent candidate John Vihstadt defeat the Democratic nominee, but he did so with endorsements from some Democratic elected officials and significant Democratic voter support.

Vihstadt’s election led to the abandonment of the streetcar project. Later, the nonpartisan County Manager announced her retirement. And two incumbent Board members announced they would not seek re-election, meaning that Democrats would have to defend two open seats against a newly-energized Republican Party that had helped elect John Vihstadt.

This would seem to create vulnerability and lack of unity among Democrats.

Yet, as the Democratic primary process unfolded, it became clear that the six candidates were not seeking to divide the Party further. Instead, they focused on running positive, issue-focused campaigns. They all took pride in Arlington’s many accomplishments while looking for ways to make Arlington a better community.

While taking issue with some County Board decisions and offering somewhat different views on what the County’s top priorities should be, the candidates did not engage in Board bashing. Rather, they presented serious policy ideas for moving the County forward.

In offering endorsements spread out among the candidates, current and former elected officials stressed the qualities of their endorsed candidates – not undermining other candidates.

Board member Libby Garvey, who has been at the center of controversies within the Party, offered the following thought on election eve: “I have not endorsed anyone because there are some who have tried to make me an issue in the election. That is a needless distraction from the real issue: who will best serve Arlington as a member of the County Board…. The County Board is a team. A good team is made up of intelligent, hardworking people who bring different strengths to the table and work together to see that the Board’s collective strengths are maximized and its weaknesses minimized.”

The positive, issue-focused actions of the candidates, campaigns, supporters and Democratic elected officials bode well for Democrats this year.

As they continue to honor what is right about Arlington while offering fresh perspectives on County policy goals and priorities, Cristol and Dorsey are well positioned to unify Democratic support and earn support from independent voters as well as some Republicans.

The County needs a Board that works together well. We also need continued cooperation between the County Board and School Board to accommodate student growth and learning needs without exhausting County resources or shortchanging other important County priorities.

We face growing competition from the District and other nearby jurisdictions. Increasingly we compete with other urban centers and internationally. Building unity within Arlington – both among elected officials and among County residents – will enable Arlington to compete more effectively for jobs and businesses that support our core community values and create a revenue base that helps make Arlington a livable, sustainable, progressive, and attractive place to call home.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. He served as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.


Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Larry RobertsThe Arlington we enjoy today is a county where population is growing, our successful schools are attracting many more children, single family homes in our suburban neighborhoods are in high demand, we have the highest percentage of millennials in the country, our finances are rated among the best in America by rating agencies, and we enjoy a range of housing, transportation, and recreational choices due to wise investments by past generations of county leaders.

While we have challenges facing our commercial sector, in housing affordability across many income levels, and meeting the needs of our schools, we are a success by almost any measure.

We did not achieve this success by chance. It is due to visionary leadership driven by commitments to core values and investments in our future. There is no better example of such visionary leadership than Ellen Bozman, who served Arlington for 24 years on the County Board, on various regional organizations, and in civic groups.

Leaders like Ellen knew the importance of a vibrant commercial sector that reduces reliance on homeowner taxes, transit oriented development, providing opportunities for those in need, and a focus on quality of life.

I was reminded of Ellen’s contributions on a recent walk through Ballston.

There, amidst restaurants, hotels, office buildings, the Virginia Tech Research Center, retail outlets and residences, I found Ellen’s Trace. The trace is an urban park that is a great spot for pedestrians to relax and consider Arlington’s past, present and future.

You can find Ellen’s Trace between 800 N. Glebe Road (a distinctive building that features a diamond canopy and rounded glass façade reminiscent of its predecessor Bob Peck Chevrolet) and The Jordan, which provides 90 units of affordable housing. Such a joint project combining commercial sector success with housing affordability was consistent with Ellen’s approach.

Ellen had the gift to see Arlington for what it could be, and worked hard to make that vision happen. She maximized her influence through her ability to work with others to forge compromises and build partnerships within Arlington and across the region.

The commemorative markers in Ellen’s Trace describe Ellen Bozman’s contributions in ways that capture her well:

Affordable Housing: Ellen Bozman believed the opportunity to live in Arlington should be available to all. She was a strong advocate for affordable housing and worked hard to preserve and produce housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents. 

Health and Welfare: Ellen Bozman worked tirelessly to protect and care for the most vulnerable in the community. In the 1960s, she pioneered Arlington’s extended day program for children of working parents. She also championed day care for the frail elderly and the creation of Arlington’s first nursing homes.

Human Rights: Ellen Bozman fought hard for the rights of others. In the 1950s, she worked to eliminate school segregation in Virginia and provided support to the families of the first black children to enter a desegregated school in Arlington.

Local Government: Ellen Bozman was deeply committed to public service. An inspiration to many, she held numerous leadership roles, including 24 years on the Arlington County Board (1974-1997). She believed government should be progressive, open, inclusive, and improve the lives of others. 

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