Arlington, VA

Nancy IacominiProgressive 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 ARLnow.com.

Last weekend’s Women’s March on Washington saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in Washington and millions more around the country and the world to show their concern about the direction of our country and their commitment to progressive values and actions.

That commitment and the resulting sense of empowerment will now be carried forward to address federal, state, and local issues – especially those of government overreach.

This time of year is a time that Arlingtonians are greatly affected by the meeting of the General Assembly in Richmond. Decisions made in the General Assembly during its six to eight-week sessions can greatly affect our lives here in Arlington.

Too often those effects reflect state overreach in trying to control how Arlington addresses concerns raised by its residents. A prime example this year is a threat of state weakening of County protections against overly aggressive towing of parked cars.

Many have heard or experienced “predatory” towing. The reports of predatory towing are increasing all over the country, including in Arlington. And many residents are getting really angry.

Have you ever had your car towed within just a few minutes of parking it because someone employed by a towing company was spotting the lot and you stepped over an ill-defined property line?

Or perhaps at night you missed seeing a small sign in a poorly lit parking lot?

Such a small, often unintentional, mistake would cost you $185, along with lots of panic about what happened to your vehicle and the stress of having to find where the vehicle was being held. The punishment, not even handed down by a court of law, is certainly excessive.

Who actually benefits from aggressive towing practices?

While I appreciate the need for businesses to have parking spaces available for their customers and for apartment buildings and condominiums to have spaces available for their residents and residents’ guests, many unsuspecting people get very harsh punishments for rules that were not clear. This creates ill will that is not beneficial to retailers and landlords. The real beneficiary is the towing company. 

As Chairman of Arlington’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, I now know more about towing than I ever wanted to know. The result is my strong support for the County Board’s 2016 amendments to the towing ordinance to strengthen consumer protections against predatory towing. I am also pleased that a dialogue has been established with the local Chamber of Commerce to consider best practices and protections.

This positive outcome is under threat at the General Assembly via two bills that would gut the County’s actions and protect companies engaged in predatory towing.

As originally introduced, House Bill 1960 (Delegate Hugo, R-Centreville) and Senate Bill 1468, (Senator Marsden, D-Western Fairfax County), would hurt Arlingtonians in at least three ways:

Raise fees again. If these bills are enacted, maximum towing fees in Arlington will have increased by 60% over three years — from $125 to $200 per tow. These increases are imposed on Arlington and the County may not set lower rates. By contrast, you can get a private, consensual tow for $65 and $3 per mile!

Prohibit Arlington from protecting its residents. Arlington’s plans to require an authorization at the time of a tow in some circumstances would be nullified. When Virginia Beach and Stafford and Montgomery Counties do this successfully, Arlington should not be stopped by the state from doing the same.

Limit service by residents on towing advisory boards. The board is dominated by towers already. There is only one voting resident permitted. The Chairman is chosen by a vote of the advisory board members – not appointed. Instead of adding resident voices to the towing board, the bills leave only one citizen member and mandate that the Chair be a representative of the towing industry.

If predatory towing practices concern you, please express that concern to your Delegate and State Senator and to the members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees in the General Assembly.

Let them know that you believe overly aggressive and expensive towing practices require fair and reasonable consumer protections. Ask them to oppose HB 1960 and SB 1468.

There is also an online petition where you can also sign on to express your concern.

Let’s stop this overreach.

Nancy Iacomini has resided in Arlington since 1980 and has undertaken many civic endeavors during that time, including leadership positions in various boards, commissions, and working groups.

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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 ARLnow.com.

Nancy IacominiThe season to consider infrastructure and built amenities in Arlington is underway.

In May, the County Manager presented her draft Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Neighborhood groups, organizations and individual residents have been weighing in on infrastructure projects cited in the CIP. This dialogue includes addressing the merits of projects that affect their visions of what Arlington County should be.

The CIP helps identify priorities based on funding projections that are necessarily estimates — we may see costs, revenues, and funding sources change over time. But the County Board does its best to fit residents’ priorities within the resources the County believes will be available.

We have already seen how the CIP process can sharpen thinking about our priorities and our investments. For example, the County found ways to redesign and dramatically lower the cost of transit stations. The County has put on hold a new aquatic center when bids came in well above budget projections.

This year’s CIP includes the streetcar system that will run from Skyline (yes, Fairfax County is a partner), along Columbia Pike to the Pentagon, and connect with a line through Crystal City and into Potomac Yard.

By looping together the Pike, Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Potomac Yard, the system will bring together the places where many live and work — single family areas, mid-rise residential and commercial areas, high rise buildings, grocery stores, community centers, libraries, coffee shops and much more.

It is a transportation system that will serve many thousands of people. It provides infrastructure that is not ephemeral. It will be tangible and fixed.

For a homeowner it means efficient and predictable public transportation will be a few blocks down the street come rain or shine and not be subject to a bus route changes. It tells commercial building owners there will be transportation for high rise office and residential tenants they attract to occupy revitalized structures in Crystal City. It also will provide one-ride transportation for employees who might work in Crystal City but live along the Pike.

The streetcar extends Arlington’s history as an excellent place to live and work because of intelligent and sustained investments in fixed public transportation infrastructure.

The CIP process has already helped sharpen the County’s focus on the streetcar investment. County Board members have committed themselves to finding ways to finance the system without any homeowner-financed general obligation bonds. The County has also hired a project management firm with a proven record of performance that has been tasked with finding ways to reduce system costs, speed up delivery, and minimize construction disruptions.

The CIP process has also brought into focus that the County cannot address the growing needs of schools and other core services without increasing economic growth in underdeveloped urban corridors like Columbia Pike and Crystal City. The recent streetcar return on investment study shows what has been demonstrated by other systems across the country — its creation will grow our economy far faster than any alternative system and will produce far more tax revenues to fund school expansion and the other key services that Arlingtonians want and expect.

Our willingness in Arlington to find ways to expand our commercial tax base fosters a thriving County that is an attractive place to live and work. Our County’s forward thinking earns confidence from financial experts and wins praise from planning and transportation experts.

Through fiscal responsibility, sound financial practices, and conservative financing policies, Arlington has maintained the highly coveted Triple-AAA bond rating for many years. The use of the CIP has been a key component of these good practices.

The CIP process is an appropriate place to consider our streetcar investment. The process allows us to bring in public input while respecting all of the planning that has already taken place as well as our long-term commitment to progressive policies in land use and transportation.

Because of my confidence in the CIP process, I support the decisions by County Board members Fisette, Hynes and Tejada to evaluate the streetcar within that process. The Chairman’s statement makes the case more eloquently that I can.

A referendum would be an ineffective way to evaluate a complex project. And, as far as I know, an advisory referendum would be contrary to law. Finally, there is no reason for a bond referendum where no general obligation bonds will be needed.

The current CIP process continues into July — all ideas are welcome and input encouraged as we work together to keep Arlington a great place.

Nancy Iacomini has resided in Arlington since 1980 and is currently a member of Arlington County’s Planning Commission. She is also a past member and chairman of WMATA’s Riders’ Advisory Council.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. It is written by a rotating group of contributors. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Nancy IacominiWe seem, unfortunately, to live in a world of sound bite politics.

In that world, there are repeated references to “million dollar bus stops” that are supposedly part of a pattern of unrestrained spending and fiscal irresponsibility.

Arlingtonians actually live in a County that has been one of the very few jurisdictions across the country to maintain Aaa/AAA bond ratings from all three major credit rating agencies every year for over a decade.

Moody’s has noted  that “The Aaa rating reflects the county’s strong long-term credit characteristics including a sizeable and affluent tax base, stable and carefully-managed financial operations with sound reserves, and moderate debt position with manageable future borrowing needs…”

While carefully-managed financial operations and fiscal accountability do not eliminate mistakes, they do mean that mistakes can be addressed promptly and aggressively.

Such is the case with the transit stations along Columbia Pike.

The initial implementation of the transit stop project did not meet County expectations. Long before the 2014 election cycle began, it became clear that the prototype being managed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency (WMATA) cost too much, was not built quickly enough, and had design problems.

A shelter that did not keep out the rain is clearly not what the County had in mind. As a result, in March 2013, the County stepped in to halt the project.

This week, the County has made changes to the project that cut costs by approximately 40 percent — well below similar enhanced bus and streetcar systems around the country. The County listened to its residents and not only cut costs but made citizen-recommended design improvements. The transit stations will have better seating, provide better cover from the elements and have better access. To provide additional accountability, the County will take over management of the project from WMATA.

Equally important, the community’s vision of transforming Columbia Pike from a deteriorating suburban commercial corridor (as was Wilson Blvd years ago) into a walkable Main Street, as detailed in the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan, remains intact. The redesigned transit stations will provide the accessibility, comfort and technology to accommodate daily ridership that will grow from 17,000 riders to over 40,000 — in what is and will continue to be the heaviest-traveled bus corridor in Virginia.

The upgraded transit stations, similar to those used in most modern surface transit systems, provide for ticket purchases that allow for faster and easier boarding. They show arrival times, giving riders a greater sense of predictability that in turn increases use of transit. They make it easier for new residents and tourists to access the system, and they are touchstones that give pedestrians and riders that they are getting on and off at the correct, well-defined locations.

In addition, upgraded stations support corridor redevelopment that will allow people to move around more efficiently, create jobs, protect the character of surrounding neighborhoods, preserve affordable housing, and generate tax revenues that will fund core County-wide priorities including schools, human services, and public safety.

The new transit station design retains many of the positive features from the prototype while incorporating aspects that will allow the stations to function better for users, to be built more quickly at less cost (and at a lower cost than similar stations in Hampton Roads, Charlotte and Grand Rapids), and maintain flexibility for future expansion if needed. Read More

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