Arlington, VA

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com

Arlington’s massive July 8 flash flooding — vividly captured by ARLnow.com in videos and photos — exposes yet again Arlington’s failed approach to stormwater planning. That is the emergency Arlington also should have declared last week.

Preliminary County government stormwater-damage estimates set repair costs for public infrastructure, particularly bridges in local parks, at $4.1 million. Actual costs are likely to be much higher. Flood damage to private property will add millions more.

Climate change and sea level rise are here. Wake up, Arlington!

Arlington is in a floodplain

Make Arlington’s flood-prevention approach proactive

Arlington residents are suffering:

“Alexandra Lettow was near tears as she described the losses her family suffered from Monday’s flooding to neighbors and county officials gathered at a home in Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood….

“She and other residents say the county government has taken far too long to study the problem without making any fixes, especially in an era where climate change is triggering more intense and frequent storms….

“Five years ago, several projects to fix Arlington’s aged storm drain system were on the capital improvements program list, only to quietly fall off without explanation. The repairs would have addressed Spout Run stream overflows in Waverly Hills.

Implement mitigation strategies now

County government has chosen not to exercise legal powers that Arlington already possesses to reduce our rapidly growing environmental threats.

Arlington’s land use and development practices — which the County Board controls — exacerbate increases in the speed and volume of stormwater runoff. Whether or not flooded areas lie in FEMA-designated floodplains is immaterial. Board members must acknowledge nature’s latest wake-up call by strengthening County codes and planning to address increasingly unsafe conditions in Arlington.

Slow dramatic increases in impervious surfaces

As Arlington redevelops and adds density, one statistic stands out: between 2001 and 2017, the percentage of impervious surfaces covering Arlington has grown from an estimated 40% to 45%, with 3% of that increase occurring within the past 4 years.

According to County staff, the pace and intensity of redevelopment adds nearly 9 acres of impervious surface area each year–about 29 acres every three to four years, equal to the size of the Pentagon’s footprint.

“Preserving undisturbed vegetative cover during land development is a much more cost- effective approach than destroying these features and having to construct new stormwater management practices to replace the functions they originally provided,” says the Center for Watershed Protection.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction for having violated a federal bribery law spurred some small reforms to Virginia’s ethics laws, including a $100 cap on gifts to state legislators.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court, on somewhat narrow and technical grounds, overturned McDonnell’s conviction, ruling that his conduct didn’t violate the applicable federal bribery law.

However, even after the Supreme Court’s McDonnell decision, states like Virginia retained the power to enact state ethics laws. Virginia can decide whether politicians who do things like McDonnell did should be:

  • excused for doing something that is just part of the old-school “Virginia way,” or
  • subject to significant penalties for doing something that the community and a new legislative majority now believes is a conflict of interest or corrupt

We need further, more significant campaign finance and ethics reforms, but efforts to get them have failed so far. In the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions, when Democrats held only 34 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates (HOD), no such reforms were passed. And, even in the wake of the major Democratic HOD legislative gains in 2017, more significant reforms have been blocked by slim Republican majorities.

Democrats will need to take control of both legislative chambers this year to enable significant reforms to pass in 2020.

Campaign Finance Reform

In the recently concluded Democratic primaries for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington and Fairfax counties, a PAC funded by George Soros contributed nearly $1 million dollars to the successful challengers. These contributions were legal under Virginia’s current campaign finance laws.
Our laws contain no campaign contribution limits.

Virginia’s campaign finance laws have been ranked 47th out of 50 in America, and received a grade of “F” from a State Integrity Investigation.

Three Democratic legislators (including Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47)) recently announced that they intend to introduce new legislation in the 2020 session substantially to reform these laws.

Their legislation will be modeled after an unsuccessful bill introduced in the 2019 session, and would “prohibit individuals and political action committees from making any single contribution, or any combination of contributions, that exceeds $10,000 to any one candidate” for statewide, General Assembly, or local offices, “of which no more than $5,000 may be contributed for the primary or other nominating event for the office the candidate is seeking.”

But wouldn’t such contribution limits violate the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Maybe not. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals ruling upholding Montana’s state campaign contribution limits. The Court of Appeals rejected a claim that Montana’s campaign contribution limits violated Citizens United.

The proposed new Virginia legislation co-sponsored by Delegate Hope would be a significant and desirable reform. But it is unlikely to pass unless Democrats take control of both legislative chambers this November.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In April 2019, the Arlington County Board approved a new Public Open Spaces Master Plan (“POPS plan”). The POPS plan includes a commitment to “add at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years.” Sadly, this commitment is merely an aspiration backed up by zero Arlington tax dollars.

Arlington’s Parks and Recreation Commission has rightly condemned (at p. 3) this lack of funding:

The commission is extremely disappointed with the lack of commitment by the county manager’s CIP [Capital Improvement Plan] proposal for park land acquisition funds… for the next ten years. This decision represents a retrenchment on established county policy to provide funds for strategic and opportunistic park land acquisition. As the county grows in population the need for open space opportunities, both for casual use and recreation purposes, and for natural resource preservation, continues to grow… [W]e believe that a proposal in line with what the current POPS process is proposing of acquiring 30 acres of land over the next 10 years must be supported with a realistic funding commitment…

Arlington continues to fall behind other localities and Arlington’s own prior practices in providing access to parkland

A comprehensive 2016 report from the Civic Federation (“Civ Fed report”) documents how Arlington has continued to fall behind other localities and Arlington’s own prior practices regarding:

  • ratio of parkland to population
  • dollars devoted to new parkland acquisition

The Civ Fed report explains (at p. 5):

As of 2015, Arlington County had 1,784 acres of parkland within its borders. Of those 1,784 acres, 949 acres were owned by Arlington County, 700 acres were owned by the National Park Service (most of which is Arlington Cemetery), and 135 acres were owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

In 1995, Arlington County had 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. By 2014 the County’s population had grown by over 43,000 residents, and the parkland to population ratio had declined to 7.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

By contrast, Washington, DC, has 13.2 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and Fairfax County has 28.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

The Civ Fed report also traces the history of Arlington’s declining investment in acquiring new parkland (at p. 3):

[B]etween 1995 and 2008, funding for parkland acquisition per two-year bond cycle was between $4.0 and $8.5 million, with most cycles at $8.5 million. Since then… there has been a decline…. Over the six years between 2008 and 2014, land acquisition bond funding totaled only $3.0 million, but [was]supplemented by a total of $5.47 million in pay-as-you go (PAYGO) annual budget allocations. Yet, the total funds of $8.47 million available for land acquisition during the latter six-year period was still far less than the $8.5 million that was typical for each two-year cycle between 1996 and 2004 (an eight-year period).

The next CIP must fully fund the open space acquisition targets in the POPS plan

In accordance with prior practice, all relevant County departments and agencies already are planning for the next CIP (covering fiscal years 2021-2030). The next CIP will be adopted one year from now.

Arlington County’s latest population growth forecast (Profile 2019) projects (at p. 5) that our population will rise from the current 226,400 to significantly more than 270,000 by 2040. Without allocating enough Arlington tax dollars for new open space acquisition, Arlington’s ratio of parkland to population will continue to degrade.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In the wake of the mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has set July 9 for a special session of the Virginia legislature to consider new gun safety legislation.

Rising above political polarization

Gun violence, mass shootings, and what to do about them have been incredibly politically polarizing nationally and in Virginia. Calm, rational conversations in which people listen carefully to each other before inflexibly insisting upon their own points of view are rare. That’s a shame.

Sure, partisan politics are involved: Virginia Democrats are trying to take control of the legislature, Virginia Republicans are trying to retain control, and Governor Northam is trying to repair his reputation.

Nevertheless, our elected officials were elected to solve problems. Our tax dollars pay their salaries. We are entitled to a full public discussion, followed by up-or-down votes, on proposed key gun safety legislation because gun violence and mass shootings can kill any of us anytime.

Gun safety legislation that might be introduced by Democrats

Democratic Governor Northam is considering recommending legislation on the subjects discussed below, among others. If he or a Democratic legislator does so, that legislation should receive a full hearing and up-or-down votes on the floor at the special session.

Expand local options to prohibit guns in public buildings

Virginia localities like Arlington have very limited powers to regulate the use of guns. An analysis of the current law is here. Virginia law should be amended to give localities the option to limit the possession of guns in public buildings to only certain categories of owners (e.g., police officers).

Universal background checks

Private sellers of guns in Virginia are not required to conduct universal background checks. This loophole should be closed.

Virginia law should be amended to require private sellers to:

  • conduct background checks through a central law enforcement agency that has access to federal and state databases of prohibited purchasers
  • maintain records of all firearm transfers for a lengthy period
  • report all transfers to state and local law enforcement

Red-flag law

A red flag law permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. Even Donald Trump has endorsed red flag laws. Unlike 15 other states, Virginia doesn’t have a red flag law. Virginia law should be amended to add one.

Reporting stolen firearms

Virginia does not require firearm owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm. Virginia law should be amended to require individuals to report to law enforcement the loss or theft of a firearm. Examples of laws like this that have been adopted by other states are available here.

One-a-month limits

Laws limiting the number of firearms an individual can purchase per month help reduce the number of guns that end up at the scene of a crime. For that reason, Virginia used to have a one-gun-a-month law. But Virginia repealed that law in 2012 at the request of the NRA. That law should be re-enacted.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As ARLnow.com previously reported in 2015, the Arlington School Board unanimously amended its non-discrimination policy to add gender identity as a protected category.

The current version of that APS policy (J-2) is here.

Overwhelming health and scientific evidence support APS’ policy

The current SB policy is strongly supported by conclusions reached by prominent national health, scientific and educational organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association.

APS experience since 2015 underscores need for prompt adoption of implementation plan

Since the SB adopted its policy, there has been widespread confusion about how to implement it. Very inconsistent decisions about implementing the policy have been reached from one school to another.

The need for prompt adoption of an implementation plan is illustrated by the following actual situations APS students have faced:

  • a transgender student who was not comfortable using either the boys’ or girls’ locker room to change for P.E. was required to go down to the gym on the first floor to retrieve gym clothes from a P.E. teacher’s office, go up a flight of stairs to change in a private bathroom, then go back down the stairs in P.E. uniform to the gym for class… and then repeat this process in reverse after class
  • a teacher insisted that a student wear a skirt for band concerts, despite the student’s desire to wear the pants uniform (the student’s gender expression is masculine, she never wears skirts); the student ended up quitting band because the teacher would not relent
  • a non-binary student was left standing in the middle of the gym after the gym teacher divided up the students into boys’ and girls’ lines… and then had to instruct the teacher on what being non-binary means
  • a student had arranged with the administrators and PE teachers that he could use the PE teachers’ bathroom for changing. Halfway through the school year, one of the PE teachers (not the student’s) no longer liked the arrangement, and the child lost that option
  • students have been harassed by both staff members and other students while using the bathroom; some students have had staff and other students try to block them from entering a bathroom
  • students have avoided using the bathroom at school, due to both fear of harassment and inconvenience; students have avoided drinking water so that they can make it through the day without needing the bathroom
  • students have not been allowed to change their gender or name on school forms and records, even after getting a court ordered name change or new birth certificate
  • a transgender student was diagnosed with PTSD because of bullying and abuse from peers

These examples illustrate why it is vital for APS staff to adopt a formal policy implementation procedure (PIP). This is a K-12 issue. The PIP will lead to more consistency throughout schools, more understanding on the part of staff and parents, and more training for staff on best practices in supporting transgender and non-binary students.

Summary of draft PIP

The draft PIP that APS staff is proposing to adopt is discussed in the ARLnow story and posted here. It is supported by the overwhelming health and scientific evidence cited above.

Key topics covered by the draft PIP include definitions of “gender identity” and “transgender;” bathrooms and locker rooms; co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and athletic team student participation; dress code; extended instructional field trips or athletic events; names, pronouns, and classroom records; and privacy and educational records.

If this draft PIP had been in effect and properly implemented over the last four years, the traumatic incidents APS students experienced could have been avoided.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As ARLnow.com reported in March, the Arlington County government is considering “long standing space issues” at the Trades Center.

The Trades Center is an approximately 38-acre complex located at the intersection of S. Arlington Mill Drive and S. Taylor Street. Arlington County owns approximately 32 acres of the site and approximately 6 acres are owned by APS.

The Trades Center complex consists of multiple buildings and utility structures used for various so called “back office” Arlington County government operations. The County departments that use the site include DES, DPR, ACPD, and ACFD. APS occupies space for bus storage and other facilities and operations.

A current aerial view of the Trades Center site is here.

As the County told ARLnow:

[T]he “siting of operations and offices developed when space was abundant. Now, room for growth is limited given the developed surrounding area, while service levels have increased in size and complexity”…

The Trades Center optimization study

To address its pressing space issues, the County just launched what it describes as a “Trades Center Optimization Study” designed to analyze existing programs and current and future programmatic needs.

The study is supposed to benchmark the County’s current programs and practices against those of similar municipalities. The study is intended to:

  • develop a concept plan to optimize business functions and operations on the site
  • present three alternative concept site plans
  • develop a cost estimate for the chosen site plan, with phasing of identified priorities over a 5 to 15-year period

The County says that the study will engage internal and external stakeholders and utilize feedback from stakeholders to inform recommendations.

Study consultant

The County has retained Stantec, a major consulting firm, to advise it about aspects of the study. According to a draft of the scope of work, Stantec will provide recommendations on a wide range of matters, including:

  • meet all current and future (next 15-30 years) programmatic requirements
  • incorporate co-location and “building up not out” principles
  • focus on core functions that must reside at the Trades Center
  • consider only the current footprint
  • mitigate impacts on neighbors to the extent possible

Promising things about the study

The County deserves credit for including these promising concepts in the study design:

  • long-range planning horizon (15-30 years)
  • request to present a minimum of 3 concept plans rather than just one
  • early introduction of costs into the equation

This study presents a welcome opportunity for the County to improve on its prior practices regarding long range planning and civic engagement.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

I enthusiastically support incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos for the Democratic nomination in the June 11 primary.

What is the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s role?

Unlike Virginia State Senators or Delegates who make Virginia laws and policies, Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys must operate within the complex framework of hundreds of criminal laws and policies established in Richmond.

Under Virginia’s Constitution, our Commonwealth’s Attorney is the chief criminal trial attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, responsible for prosecuting a full range of criminal cases, ranging from driving under the influence to murder. The office has 17 attorneys, 11 support staff and 7 victim/witness specialists who work daily preparing and prosecuting cases.

How is our criminal justice system working?

Arlington is a public safety success story. Crime rates have been brought to record lows. And, we’ve reduced crime without filling up the Arlington County Detention Center (our jail). In Sheriff Beth Arthur’s recent endorsement of Stamos, Arthur notes that the Arlington jail has “an all-time-low population averaging 370 inmates a day.” Arlington also has diversionary programs that benefit drug addicts, the mentally ill and juveniles.

Why Theo Stamos is the best choice for Arlington

As the County’s top prosecutor, Stamos has a deep understanding of Virginia law and a wealth of local criminal trial experience. Our Commonwealth’s Attorney must appear in court nearly every day, where experience and institutional knowledge are key. When not in court, Stamos spends much of her day monitoring, advising and mentoring her line prosecutors on the many felony and other cases they handle.

Theo Stamos has already proven herself up to the task. She has literally tried every type of criminal case and has overseen the Arlington/Falls Church Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the past 8 years. An active member of the Arlington County Bar Association, the statewide Virginia State Bar Council, and committees on best practices for prosecutors, Stamos is also active in our community — a member of Arlington’s NAACP branch and a member of Organized Women Voters.

As our top prosecutor, Stamos reflects Arlington’s core community values. She is decent, honest, engaged, independent, and fair. As someone who has known and worked with Theo Stamos for many years, I can attest that she embodies all these qualities, including a dash of humor, humility, and humanity.

Criminal defense attorney David Deane (Stamos’s opponent in the 2011 Democratic primary for Commonwealth’s Attorney) recently published a letter of support:

My law practice takes me to many jurisdictions; her open-door policy is something other offices around the commonwealth should emulate. She is always willing to engage in a dialogue about a case and to truly listen when defense counsel from both the court-appointed and private bar approach her with issues.

Theo Stamos has worked tirelessly to improve the criminal justice system in Arlington for victims as well as those who stand accused:

  • Chairs Arlington’s Sexual Assault Response Team and works with Project PEACE to address domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Led the creation of a state-of-the-art, sexual assault and intimate partner violence protocol that serves as a model for the Commonwealth
  • Initiated Arlington’s adult diversionary Drug Court 7 years ago
  • Started the Second Chance diversionary program for juveniles
  • Helped launch Operation Safe Station, giving drug addicts a way to turn in their drugs and get treatment without fear of arrest and prosecution

Why Parisa Dehghani-Tafti is seeking the wrong job in the wrong place

Dehghani-Tafti has almost exclusively post-conviction appellate experience, but seeks a job requiring extensive trial experience.

The most up-voted comment to a recent ARLnow.com story also captures why Dehghani-Tafti is the wrong choice:

The Soros-supported Parisa Dehghani-Tafti seems to be running a campaign based on principles espoused by progressives on the national level, without realizing that she’s in the wrong jurisdiction. She wants to “reform” Arlington’s criminal justice system… Tafti seems to be trying to reform Ferguson, MO, by running for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church. It doesn’t make sense. — oscar

Conclusion

Theo Stamos is a dedicated public servant with a proven record as a principled and progressive prosecutor. I wholeheartedly endorse her re-election. You can learn more about Stamos’ candidacy here.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In these increasingly fast-paced times, Virginia’s 31st Senate District (where I live) needs a state senator who can quickly grasp our rapidly changing economic and technological challenges and champion innovative, new regional and state solutions.

We need a senator free from multiple conflicts of interest to advance solutions that are in our best interests, not some special interest. To develop sound energy and environmental policy that is best for us and fit for the 21st century, we need a senator who is free from entanglements with Dominion Energy. Nicole Merlene will be that senator.

Why Nicole Merlene should be nominated

Arlington is Merlene’s hometown. She’s running for Virginia’s State Senate after several years as a Virginia renter’s rights and transportation advocate. She is an economic development professional who has served as a leader in our community, including as an economic development commissioner, and on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation, Rosslyn Business Improvement District, North Rosslyn Civic Association, and a local transportation advisory committee.

Merlene has a detailed policy platform outlining her positions on major issues, including: workforce livability, transportation, protecting our environment, education, healthcare, equality for all, and family.

The issues that Merlene has highlighted during her campaign are the top priorities of the district as evidenced by questions raised in recent debates. We need Merlene’s fresh perspectives and know-how in Richmond.

During the 2019 first quarter, Merlene raised $20,936 from 293 donors, all of whom were individual contributors. Not a single dollar she raised in this reporting period came from a corporation, corporate entity, or corporate PAC. Adding to the grassroots nature of her campaign, Merlene’s average contribution was $71.45, and 92% of her contributions were $100 or less.

Why Barbara Favola should not be nominated

Barbara Favola has a continuing practice of representing clients or donors whose interests can conflict with the public’s interests, most significantly when those clients or donors require action by governmental bodies. For example, Favola has represented the following with major business interests in Arlington, the 31st District, and the Commonwealth of Virginia:

  • Donor, Advanced Towing, seeking to weaken towing regulations while Arlington County was trying to strengthen them.
  • Employer, Marymount University, seeking to aid Marymount in obtaining state grants and local permits.
  • Employer, Virginia Hospital Center, in negotiations about eminent domain and the hospital’s land-use plans, and introducing bills relating to health insurance that Virginia House Democrats opposed.

Even when these and similar entities are not doing business in the 31st District, there is too great a risk that Favola will end up representing those entities’ interests rather than the public interest.

The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) has posted a cumulative list of Favola’s top campaign donors since she was first elected to the Virginia State Senate in 2011. A few top donors on that list are:

Favola only announced this year that she wouldn’t accept any more Dominion Energy cash after learning that Merlene wasn’t accepting any.

Conclusion

Merlene has served our community in leadership roles by mobilizing support for local small business permit approvals, organizing community engagement processes, and planning neighborhood transportation patterns. She will be a strong, fair and impartial representative of all 31st District residents.

Favola says she deserves the Democratic nomination because, in over 20 years in elective office, she has compiled a record as a “pragmatic progressive.” But her representation of private clients and her acceptance of large sums of money from top donors with agendas are not the kind of pragmatism voters should continue to reward.

I enthusiastically endorse Merlene as the next Senator for the 31st District of Virginia. You can learn more about Merlene’s candidacy here.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On April 6, the Global Co Lab Network partnered with filmmaker Miriam Gennari to screen her documentary StyrofoamMom.

The event also celebrated the new Teen Eco Action Network, a Global Co Lab Network partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Commons to build a local and global network of teens to address eco action. Amazon landlord JBG Smith provided support.

The event also unveiled the video contest winners from Teens Dream– a Co Lab initiative. Highlights are here .

More than 170 people participated at the new National Landing headquarters in Crystal City. Twenty teen environmental clubs and environmental organizations presented their work. The Teen Network shared plans for addressing plastics, hunger, climate change and waste management. There was an exhibit on EV charging stations.

Building Maintenance Service, JBG Smith, Eco-Action Arlington and Gennari delivered a zero-waste event.

“We must have the courage to lead by example; the time for making excuses has passed,” Gennari said. “I think attendees are encouraged to know kids are interested in sustainability and want to support their efforts.” Sponsoring organizations included Alexandria Toyota, Radley Acura, Crystal City Business Improvement District, and Arlington Independent Media.

Teens point the way to a sustainable Arlington

Perseverance and resolve were messages that resonated most with these teens.

“The plight of a change maker is exhibited through encounters with policy makers and businesses that stood in Miriam Gennari’s way,” said Sydney Rico, an Oakton student of the Plastic Dream Hubs. “The triumphs of various establishments doing something about the issue are put forth creating a meaningful impact on viewers.”

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. 

Last week, the County Board adopted its FY2020 budget. The County Board approved a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, effective January 1, 2019. The Board earmarked 1.5 cents of that tax rate increase for Arlington Public Schools (APS).

APS long-range operating budget remains unsustainable without significant tax rate increases

By designating 75% of the projected tax rate increase proceeds to APS, even though APS is only entitled to 47% of locally generated tax revenues under its revenue sharing agreement with the County, the County Board simultaneously:

  • enabled APS this year to avoid the most painful cuts to important programs APS said it would have to make without those newly designated funds, but
  • did nothing to address the fact that APS’ operating budget is unsustainable over the next ten years without significant further tax rate increases throughout the decade

Why the County Board said APS should get such a large percentage of the new tax revenue

Here’s what the County Board said:

“The Manager had proposed a tax rate increase of one-and-a-half cents (including one cent to Arlington Public Schools to address the cost associated with opening new schools, including Alice West Fleet Elementary School, Dorothy Hamm Middle School, and The Heights Building), when he presented his proposed FY 2020 budget to the Board in February. The Board added another 0.5 cents to increase funding for Arlington Public Schools.”

“The Board closed the funding gap in the Arlington Public Schools by adopting a 1.5 cent tax rate dedicated to APS, and allocating an additional $0.6 million in one-time funding.”

Why this isn’t a “one-time” situation

APS currently projects that school enrollment will increase 24.6% over the next decade.

Last year, the APS Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) prepared an excellent report on future school facilities’ needs. That report was prepared prior to the latest APS enrollment projections. But, even without the benefit of those new projections, the FAC report systematically and correctly documents that APS continuously is going to be opening new schools throughout the next decade and beyond to educate this large body of new students.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week, ARLnow.com reported on a flood warning from Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES).

A DES stormwater outreach specialist alerted Arlington residents how stormwater runoff can harm County waterways:

  • Erosion: High water volume erodes stream banks, compromising trails and trees along our stream-valley parks
  • Pollutants: Stormwater washes pollutants like nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), sediment, bacteria, pet waste and trash into our streams, causing poor water quality
  • Temperature: During the summer months, stormwater heats up as it flows over hot pavement, which then increases the temperature of the stream water by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit, causing stress or death to aquatic organisms

Last week’s story linked to a County website containing useful recommendations to help Arlington residents prepare for more storms and flooding.

Arlington County government needs to follow its own advice.

Arlington talks the talk about global climate change, but fails to walk the walk locally

Arlington County government has passed a climate change resolution criticizing President Trump for withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement:

“Arlington County supports the principles of the Paris Agreement and will continue to stand with cities, counties and other public and private sector partners throughout the world to advance action in accordance with the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.”

But having fired this rhetorical salvo, County government has failed to follow it up locally–choosing not to exercise its municipal powers to take corrective actions that would reduce growing environmental threats in Arlington:

Slow the dramatic increase in impervious surfaces

Arlington’s Flood Frequency Analysis for Four Mile Run at USGS Gaging Station 1652500 has not been updated since 2004. But even 15 years ago, this analysis concluded (at p. 17):

“[H]ow urbanized a watershed is or how developed a watershed is can be characterized by the degree of imperviousness found in the watershed…. [A] more urbanized watershed will have a greater percentage of area covered by impervious structures, i.e., roadways, rooftops, sidewalks, parking lots, etc. The effects of these impervious areas create higher peak flows and lower base flows in the watershed tributaries. These effects are most evident in the higher frequency rain/flood events….”

Flooding is exacerbated by the conversion of previously permeable surfaces into impervious and semi-pervious surfaces. Last year, Arlington County staff reported that 45% of Arlington is now covered by impervious surfaces.

From 2001 to around 2014 (a 13-year period), Arlington increased impervious surfaces by 2%. From 2014 to 2018, Arlington increased impervious surfaces by 3% in just 4 short years.

Arlington’s development activity is now adding nearly 9 acres of impervious surface area per year–adding the equivalent of the Pentagon’s footprint (roughly 29 acres) every 3 to 4 years.

Move more aggressively to protect our mature tree canopy

Mature trees provide significant stormwater volume- and rate-control benefits through soil storage, interception, and evapotranspiration. A tree with a 25-foot diameter canopy and its associated soil can manage 1-inch of rainfall flowing from 2,400 square feet of impervious surface.

Interception and evapotranspiration also decrease runoff volume, with larger trees providing exponentially greater benefit than smaller trees. See more details here and here.

Update Arlington’s Stormwater Master Plan

Arlington’s 2014 Stormwater Master Plan must be updated and refocused to address these threats:

  • Global climate change
  • Rapid local overdevelopment

Severe rainstorms are now much more common. To adapt, Arlington should enact a plan similar to Westchester County’s (NY) Flooding and Land Use Planning guide. See more details here.

Conclusion

In a recent press release, County government proclaimed, “Every day is Earth Day in Arlington.” It also stated that “few communities can boast Arlington’s ceaseless commitment to sustainability.” Sadly, “Every day is New Pavement Day in Arlington” is a rival slogan with too many County government adherents.

Arlington County government must now take action:

  • Slow the rate of increase in impervious surfaces
  • Preserve and increase our mature tree canopy
  • Reduce and better control stormwater runoff

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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