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

A new community group has formed to support restorative justice policies in Arlington.

The group, Arlington Advocates for Restorative Justice (“AARJ”), will sponsor a virtual public panel discussion on September 9 at 6:00 PM. Two academics renowned for their work studying restorative justice will participate: Thalia González from Occidental College and Carl Stauffer from Eastern Mennonite University.

These panelists will discuss the efficacy of restorative justice in its various applications and imagine, in conjunction with the audience, what a fairer and more just Arlington might look like. You can register here.

What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice (“RJ”) is an approach to wrongdoing that seeks, to the greatest extent possible, to repair or ameliorate harms caused by an offense, through communication and affirmative measures collaboratively agreed upon between those the offense harmed or affected and the offender or offenders.

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, many communities worldwide have incorporated RJ into criminal justice and public education disciplinary systems. Studies show that RJ generally increases victims’ and offenders’ perceptions of fairness, and suggest that its adoption may reduce recidivism.

The criminal justice system in the United States is broken. It is a system that exacts punishment as an end in itself rather than bringing about positive change to address underlying causes of crime and the need for victims, offenders, families, and communities to heal.

The U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population yet incarcerates 25% of its prison inmates; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our schools often fail effectively to help students in their moments of greatest need, instead following disciplinary policies that lead students to drop out rather than helping them change or avoid negative behaviors. And it is often our most oppressed and disadvantaged communities that bear the brunt of the failings of our predominantly “retributive” approach to violations of law and community norms.

We need a paradigm shift in how we deal with wrongdoing.

County’s “Restorative Arlington” initiative

In December 2019, the County Board took an initial step toward creating a “Restorative Arlington” by approving a one-year employee loan from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to the Arlington County Manager’s Office. Liane Rozzell, a Senior Associate at the Foundation and an Arlington resident for 21 years, became the Restorative Justice Project Coordinator. This agreement took effect on January 2 and will expire on December 31, 2020.

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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

Recent collaborations between local governments and school systems in other localities, including Alexandria, San Francisco, and New York City, offer promising new instructional and childcare examples for Arlington to follow.

As I discussed in my last column, COVID-19 has exposed again why certain categories of vulnerable and disadvantaged APS students need the special attention and support that new programs like these will provide.

Making hard decisions regarding which APS students would be eligible, where these new activities would take place, who would staff and supervise them, and other details certainly present challenges. But Arlington can and should rise to the occasion.


Alexandria has a plan that “promises to offer child-care options for ‘those families who need it.” Further information released so far is available here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is planning “an unprecedented educational assistance program for the fall meant to help up to 6,000 children with their distance-learning needs.”

Starting in September, dozens of recreation facilities, libraries and community centers across the city will be transformed into “learning hubs,” spaces where young students who may struggle with remote instruction can go each day to access their digital classwork and the social interactions that virtual schooling cannot provide.

Officials are prioritizing low-income families, children in public housing or the foster care system, homeless youth, and others in living situations that make remote learning particularly challenging. At first, the hubs will serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade, a group that has lower rates of infection, but officials will consider making the hubs available to older students. They will operate five days a week during ordinary school hours and will be staffed by experienced nonprofits and other organizations…”

The barriers for distance learning are not just access to Wi-Fi, it’s making sure that children have a quiet place to even connect in to their Zoom calls, and have the support they need to … submit homework and participate virtually…

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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

On July 14th, APS chose the best of a bad series of options by deciding to reopen schools 100% virtually.

All the options were bad because of a public health failure:

Outrage over schools’ inability to fully reopen should not, of course, be directed at schools themselves, but at the public health failure that makes it impossible for most of them to do so.

COVID-19 presents APS with a unique opportunity to take stock of what is working, abandon what is not, and creatively and equitably implement an effective 21st-century education for all.

Instructional and student achievement

Learning to read, spell, and write is a fundamental basis for all school learning, but APS’ reading achievement gap is widening. APS’ 2018/19 reading SOL pass rates by subgroups further prove that our minority communities (Black, Hispanic, Students with Disabilities, Economically Disadvantaged, and English Language Learners) will be the most impacted by APS’ virtual reopening. Their literacy skills lag behind their White, Asian, and Multiple Race peers (Black – 72%, Hispanic – 66%, White – 94%, Asian – 86%, Multiple Races – 92%, Students with Disabilities – 54%, Economically Disadvantaged – 63%, and English Language Learners – 38%.)

For students struggling to read and/or write, learning new content and demonstrating mastery in any subject area already was challenging in a 100% in-person learning environment. Students with poor literacy skills, who are required to work more independently in the virtual learning environment, will face even bigger challenges for APS to overcome.  Read More


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

Among the County government’s recent blunders are its disrespectful behavior as described by residents of the historically African American Green Valley neighborhood and its erasure of Black Lives Matter supportive chalk art on Juneteenth.

The Juneteenth erasure generated justified outrage and inspiring community-wide responses.

These latest inequitable actions come on the heels of other poor County government decisions I’ve discussed recently.

Would changes in the form of our government help?

Elect 7 County Board members

Arlington’s current “County Manager Plan” form of government was adopted in 1930:

[T]he County Board elected at large meant a governing body more responsive to the needs of the county as a whole… [T]he ‘continuous, contiguous, and homogeneous’ nature of Arlington had now found expression in its form of government.

Arlington has had five County Board members elected at large ever since. But in 1930, those five members represented 26,615 residents (5,323 per Board member). Now they represent 236,842 (47,368 per member).

Alexandria — a city not a county — has seven elected representatives (including the Mayor) representing a current population of 159,428 residents (22,775 per representative).

If Arlington had seven County Board members elected at large, that would be 33,835 residents per member. Having seven members elected at large would be a significant improvement. It would provide many more opportunities for our elected leaders to hear directly what many more residents think of actual or proposed government policies and practices.

Don’t elect County Board members by district

Some residents believe Arlington should elect at least some County Board members from geographically defined districts. But, where to draw the lines? Electing members by districts would not be a net plus. There are many very important communities and issues in Arlington that have a confined neighborhood focus, but these tend to be so localized that we’d need too large an increase in the total number of County Board members. Instead, we should study the benefits/costs of adopting something like D.C.’s elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners.

Alter election times & terms

Our current five Board members are elected in a 1, 1, 1, 2 annual sequence, and serve four-year terms. The costs/benefits of alternatives should be carefully studied. The most substantial changes include simultaneous elections of all at once and/or two-year terms. I support simultaneous elections of all at once, four-year terms, and a two-term limit.

Adopt ranked-choice voting

Arlington County should exercise its recently obtained authority to adopt an ordinance providing for ranked-choice voting (“RCV”) in both County Board primary and general elections.

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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

Arlington County and APS face extraordinary challenges because of COVID-19.

With many questions left unanswered, on June 9 Governor Northam approved general guidance for a phased reopening of Virginia public schools.

COVID-19 must become the catalyst for County government and APS completely to reorganize and integrate their operating and capital planning now.

County Board July 7 special election

Independent candidate Susan Cunningham appropriately devotes an entire press release to many helpful suggestions for accelerating County/APS collaboration, including:

“The County Board, School Board, County Manager, and new Superintendent should sit down together immediately to prioritize what’s essential for our school community and the entire Arlington community.”

Democratic nominee Takis Karantonis astutely concludes:

“I am a strong supporter of the work done by the 2015 Community Facilities Study group [“CFSG”]. I have been frustrated by a seeming lack of support among School and County Board members for the thoughtful recommendations in that study.”

Republican nominee Bob Cambridge correctly confirms that “effective management requires initiatives such as cost-benefit analyses.”

School Board November 3 general election

In responses to a questionnaire sponsored by my colleagues at Arlingtonians for our Sustainable Future (ASF), the three School Board candidates also advocate major reforms now:

Symone Walker, the Independent candidate:

“[I]t is time … to better manage and direct Arlington’s growth in a more paced and modulated manner. I favor the approach to retrofit and repurpose existing APS and county facilities as has been done in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria. I favor this approach as practical, more efficient and environmentally friendly, and the most cost-effective.”

The two ACDC-endorsed candidates:   

Cristina Diaz-Torres has “long supported APS and the County engaging in more robust cost-benefit analysis procedures for construction. This is particularly important given the current economic crisis and the likely drop in both tax revenue and (potentially) bond capacity.”

David Priddy states “for years we have had conversations around facilities owned by the county and facilities owned by APS. The two were not in agreement. That meant we did not have the full picture when properly planning for future growth.” Read More


Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the autho

A new report by the Civic Federation (CivFed report) analyzes Arlington’s recent historical spending on park and recreation investments funded with Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) bond dollars.

The CivFed report’s results are summarized in a table on page 1. Roughly 86% of all bond funds were dedicated to recreational uses. By contrast, less than 5% was spent on land acquisition and less than 2% was invested in open space and natural habitat.

Resource allocation mismatch

This funding allocation history is inconsistent with the public’s stated priorities for outdoor park and recreation investments, as determined by the County’s 2016 “statistically valid” survey, which ranked investments in trails, natural areas, and wildlife habitat as top priorities to satisfy unmet or partially unmet needs in our community.

In three of the last four park and recreation bond referenda appearing on November ballots, land acquisition was offered as a rationale for borrowing the funds. Yet, CivFed’s report notes a consistent shortfall in the County’s acquisition of new public land — just 1.82 total acres acquired since 2015, well below the annual 3-acre per year target in the 2019 Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP).

Although the County has made significant investments in trail modernization and expansion through various funding mechanisms (including transportation funding), the same cannot be said for land acquisition or for investment in natural areas and wildlife habitat.

Beyond the 2016 community survey priorities, the County has set aggressive goals in its plans for stormwater management and flood resilience, as well as energy-use reduction coupled with urban heat island mitigation. See the 2014 Stormwater Master Plan and the 2019 Community Energy Plan.

Acquiring land to preserve and harness natural County infrastructure is essential for meeting these goals while simultaneously allowing the County to satisfy previously identified unmet or partially met needs for natural open space supporting human health as well as wildlife.

CivFed’s recommendations

On May 19, the CivFed voted overwhelmingly (63-5-1) to approve an important resolution making three recommendations to guide future park and recreation investments:

  1. The County should balance its capital investments to “fund passive park features (including wildlife habitat and open space), trails, and parkland acquisition on a more equitable basis with respect to its recreational investments.”
  2. The County should “demonstrate more forward-thinking and commitment to land acquisition for passive park use,” especially through the purchase of land identified as a “Generational and Unique Opportunity” in the PSMP.
  3. The County should “consider as a high priority dual-purpose sites that can be used for flood mitigation and Open Space-Natural Habitat,” as described in the 2014 Stormwater Master Plan.

Planning for Arlington’s future during a pandemic

On May 19, in response to uncertainty prompted by the pandemic, the County Manager proposed a scaled-back, one-year CIP just for 2021, rather than the traditional 10-year plan.

Stormwater management/flood resilience continues to be included as a funding priority in this one-year CIP. This priority is consistent with CivFed’s third recommendation to acquire land that serves a dual purpose.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority (NOVAParks) owns and operates Arlington’s primarily natural Potomac Overlook, Upton Hill and W&OD Trail regional parks.

But NOVAParks seems to have lost the trail outlined in its own Mission Statement which emphasizes (at p.7) enriching our lives “through the conservation of regional natural and cultural resources.”

Arlington’s statistically valid resident park survey (at p. 4) found that our community’s three most desired park features are multi-use trails, hiking trails, and natural areas & wildlife habitats. Yet NOVAParks is now single-mindedly pursuing funding for a project to dramatically widen the W&OD trail to create an environmentally damaging commuter thoroughfare.

NOVAParks’ W&OD trail widening project

NOVAParks proposes replacing the two-mile-long, 10-12 foot-wide segment of the trail paralleling Four Mile Run between N. Roosevelt St. and North Carlin Springs Road. In many areas the new trail will be two parallel paved trails — a 12-foot-wide bike trail, an 8-foot-wide pedestrian trail, a 2-foot median and outside buffers — for a total width of at least 26 feet, equal to some residential streets! Elsewhere, the trail will be widened to 16 feet with outside buffers for a total width of at least 20 feet.

This project should be withdrawn

This project will destroy almost two acres of green space while adding almost two acres of impermeable paved surface, including within Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Areas (RPA’s) and flood plain along Four Mile Run, threatening increased flooding in Arlington’s BonAir and Bluemont parks. NOVAParks has failed to conduct an “alternatives assessment” of less expensive and environmentally destructive solutions. Finally, NOVAParks has failed to conduct any safety assessment of whether its proposed wider trail, with potentially higher bicycle speeds and volume, will actually increase bicycle speeds, and therefore the frequency and severity of accidents.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Rouse property is a 9-acre parcel of privately-owned land, located in the Dominion Hills neighborhood at 6407 Wilson Boulevard (corner of N. McKinley Road). On March 4, reported this property might be for sale for “around $30 million” (roughly double the current assessed value):

“The property is listed as a ‘generational’ site in the county’s Parks Master Plan (page 162).”

Columnist Charlie Clark reported on April 27 that the owner is evaluating a serious offer. If the County loses the strategic opportunity to acquire this unique property, that represents a serious leadership failure.

Declining parkland to population ratio

Arlington comprises only 26 square miles, significant portions of which are controlled by the federal government. We are the smallest U.S. county.

As approved in April 2019, the Parks Master Plan included a public commitment to acquire 3 acres of open space per year for the next 10 years. Honoring this commitment is vital because of the continuing decline in Arlington’s ratio of parkland to population.

A comprehensive 2016 report by the Arlington Civic Federation (“Civ Fed report”) documents this decline (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.”

Arlington’s ratio of parkland to population certainly has continued to decline since 2016, as Arlington’s population has surged, enabled by repeated County government decisions to accelerate development and to authorize even more density.

An Arlington Profile 2019 report projects that Arlington’s population will rise by about 50,000 people by 2040. Without adding more parkland inventory, our ratio of parkland to population will continue to degrade.

As explained by my colleagues at Arlingtonians for our Sustainable Future (ASF), many public uses for this land — if not developed for market-rate residential housing — include parkland, flood maintenance and/or a community land trust for affordable housing (e.g., see here) If the last, some affordable housing units could be built, carefully blended into the parkland setting.

Despite the Parks Master Plan’s commitment to acquire 30 acres of open space over the next 10 years, the County’s current (pre-COVID-19) Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) contains zero dollars to acquire open space. Acquiring the uniquely large Rouse property, and devoting all or significant portions of it to parkland, would be a major down payment on this commitment.

Even in these challenging budget times, the County still could afford to make this acquisition because of the flexibility provided by the County’s ample cash reserves.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As of April 20, there were 300 officially-reported Virginia statewide coronavirus deaths. By contrast, the annual average Virginia statewide gun violence death toll has been 958.

While the governmental path forward to minimize coronavirus deaths remains uncertain, Virginia has passed a significant number of new common-sense gun safety laws this year. These new laws will help substantially to lower our gun violence death toll from what it would have been without them.

Last week marked the 13th anniversary of the death of 32 students and faculty shot at Virginia Tech.

In 2020, the new Democratic majority in the legislature supported a package of eight major gun-safety laws.

Seven of these narrowly targeted new laws will become effective on July 1. Congratulations to Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope (HD 47) for his leadership on this legislation.

Already enacted

Earlier this month, Virginia enacted these five laws strengthening gun safety:

Background checks

SB 70 requires a background check for any firearm sale. This new law eliminates a prior provision that made background checks of prospective purchasers at firearms shows voluntary (the gun-show loophole).

The vast majority of the American public support laws requiring background checks on all firearms purchases. More than 90% of both gun owners and non-gun owners support this policy. Strong support for background-check laws also has been measured among NRA members, with at least 69% supporting comprehensive background checks.

Red flag provisions

SB 240 creates a legal mechanism enabling law enforcement temporarily to separate a person from their firearms when they represent a danger to themselves or others. Virginia is now among 19 other states and the District of Columbia to enact this type of law.

One handgun a month

SB 69 reinstates Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law to help curb stockpiling of firearms and trafficking. 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. Virginia used to have a one-gun-a-month law, but repealed that law in 2012 at the request of the NRA.

Lost or stolen firearms

Virginia HB 9 requires gun owners to report their lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement within 48 hours or face a civil penalty.

Children’s access to firearms

Virginia HB 1083 further decreases the chances of children accessing firearms by increasing the penalty for recklessly leaving firearms in their presence.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

APS teachers, parents, students, and staff have responded heroically to the shock to their routines presented by the Governor’s decision to end classroom learning for the current academic year. Our community is very fortunate to have educational leaders who have created these full-time distance learning options until in-school instruction can resume.

However, for a variety of reasons — all of which were apparent prior to the coronavirus crisis — APS must transition to revised ways of delivering its educational services. APS’s existing instruction and construction models cannot be sustained long-term.

The Arlington County government also must step up right now and play a proactive role in helping APS plan this essential long-term transition.

Current instruction (operating budget)

On April 6, the County Manager released his revised FY 2021 operating budget, estimating that the revenue available to APS under its revenue-sharing agreement with the County will be $21.6 million lower than estimated in February. This leaves APS with a current $48.6 million operating budget deficit.

But, the balanced operating budget the County Board finally approved last year illustrates why APS’s current instructional model is fiscally unsustainable. In that pre-coronavirus budget year, APS received 75% of the revenue from a 2-cent tax rate increase even though APS currently is only entitled to 47% of locally generated tax revenues.

The County Board unsuccessfully tried to rationalize last year’s decision by pointing to those APS expenses attributable to opening new schools, implying that 2019 was a one-time thing. However, because of very large projected increases in APS enrollment throughout the next decade, APS will have to provide new seats for new students throughout that decade.

Based on last year’s APS enrollment projections, budget, tax rate, and real estate assessments, I explained why Arlington would have to raise its real estate tax rate by about 17 cents over 10 years simply to pay to educate the new students (6,000+) arriving solely due to enrollment growth.

Because APS enrollment is growing even more rapidly than Arlington’s overall population, that means more students per taxpayer, which means higher taxes if there are no significant changes in the ways in which APS operates its schools.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The University of Virginia (UVA) and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) have used their status and political power to prevent the Virginia General Assembly from taking action to enable the use of by far the most effective reading readiness screening test (RAN).

Instead, Virginia’s children are being tested using a much less effective test (PALS) from which UVA-associated individuals and organizations derive financial benefits.  The Virginia General Assembly will be investigating those financial benefits this year.

The VDOE – UVA literacy screening partnership

Since 1997, Virginia has been using the state-endorsed Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening test (PALS), created by UVA, to identify students experiencing or at-risk for reading difficulties. UVA and the VDOE worked in tandem to support and sponsor PALS.

PALS’ questionable effectiveness for identifying dyslexia and other reading disabilities

According to the International Dyslexia Association, “perhaps as many as 15-20% of the population as a whole–have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words.”

Despite Virginia’s screening and intervention processes having been in place since 1997, children continue to be identified after 3rd grade as being dyslexic, when remediation is more intensive and costly to be effective. How many of these students could/should have received more effective K-3 reading interventions based on a timely identification, perhaps obviating their need for special education or remain unidentified and struggling in the general education system?

In the meantime, another test, RAN, (5-10 minute administration time) is “one of the strongest predictors of later reading ability” (p. 431).

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