28°Clear

Progressive Voice: Arlington Democrats, Businesses and Government Show Solidarity with Federal Workforce During Shutdown

Progressive Voice is a weekly 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 ARLnow.

By Laura Saul Edwards

President Trump’s current, partial government shutdown has achieved the dubious distinction of being the longest in our history. Before Trump began the shutdown on Dec. 22, he announced “I am proud to shut down the government,” and he promised Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker of the House Pelosi (D-Calif.) “I’m not going to blame you for it.” One month later Trump changed his tune and tweeted “The Democrats own the shutdown!”

Arlington is enduring a heavy share of the emotional stress and financial turmoil caused by this deplorable situation.

We are part of the 8th Congressional District, which has the most federal workers or any district in the nation. Our congressman, U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-8th District), pointed out “federal employees should never be used as political pawns, especially for a senseless and ineffective wall. I’ve received hundreds of calls and letters from my constituents who overwhelmingly oppose the shutdown and just want to get back to work. I’ve heard from people living in anguish and fear, not knowing where the money is going to come from to pay for their tuition, their rent, their groceries, or their health care. This cannot continue. Every day this shutdown drags on, it does lasting damage to the federal workforce and the country.”

The president’s aims that are driving the shutdown are the antithesis of progressive values. He is not relying on facts to justify his demand for $5.7 billion to augment the existing physical barriers along our southern border to address a bogus “national security crisis.”

The shutdown is not based on sound economic policy. The president’s own Council of Economic Advisors doubled its estimate of how much economic growth is being lost each day the shutdown continues. As it is, by the end of January, the shutdown will exceed the $5.7 billion the president requested for the disputed wall.

The shutdown is not about equality or fairness, as demonstrated in the president’s own Dec. 27 tweet in which he glibly noted that “most of the people not getting paid are Democrats.”

Congress and the administration are in a standoff on re-opening the government. Democrats in the House have passed bills that would put 800,000 federal employees back to work while allowing negotiations on border security and the disputed wall to continue on a separate track. Only a handful of House Republicans have joined them. And in the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) insists he will not take up any bill that President Trump will not sign.

And as the shutdown drags on, some senior Administration officials say it is about permanently downsizing the federal workforce. They make long-debunked claims of widespread “waste, fraud and abuse” that have the effect of dehumanizing the federal workforce. Demonizing federal employees is nothing new — after all, it was President Ronald Reagan who said “The nine most feared words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” Sadly, this shutdown is the ugly nadir of 40 years of incessant anti-government rhetoric from conservatives.

In response, local progressives and businesses are working hard to show solidarity with the federal employees and contractors in our community — and to affirm the importance of their service to our country.

The Arlington Democrats’ Blue Families group held a “Missing Paychecks Protest & Potluck” with Beyer on Jan. 15. Beyer has been listening to and fighting for his affected constituents since the shutdown began, and in response introduced a bill to guarantee back pay for furloughed government workers (H.R. 67). He also is supporting a bill to ensure back pay for federal contractors, such as janitors (H.R. 4875).

Several Arlington restaurants, bars, cafes and gyms are offering freebies and discounts to affected federal workers. Many vendors at the Westover Farmers Market are offering discounts to furloughed workers and free local apples from the “Shutdown Apple Cart™”. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington has opened its food bank for the pets of furloughed owners for the duration of the shutdown.

In addition, this Friday (January 18), Arlington Public Schools will be holding a job fair to hire qualified federal workers as substitute teachers.

Arlington County also announced several actions to ease financial pressure on affected county residents and businesses.

When asked about the shutdown, long-time Arlington resident, civic leader and retired federal employee John F. Seymour proclaimed, “I am glad our elected officials — Beyer, Kaine, and Warner –are refusing to let Trump use the shutdown as a bargaining chip. Let’s get our government employees back to work… and an honest, factual debate on the need for a wall can take place.”

While all of these responses to the shutdown confirm Arlington’s progressive values, the most welcome action of all would be to immediately re-open the entire federal government and return all furloughed workers and contract workers to their jobs.

In this way, government could be an effective tool for the public good, and not a force for harming our security, economy and morale, as is now the case.

Laura Saul Edwards has lived in Arlington County since 1994. She serves on the School Board’s Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Projects (FAC) and is an APS 2012 Honored Citizen.

If you are a furloughed worker and don’t know where to start with sorting out your life during this time, dial 2-1-1 or go to www.211.org for confidential assistance.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Amazon isn’t the Only Business Story in Arlington

Progressive Voice is a weekly 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 ARLnow.

By Laura Saul Edwards

Arlington is rightfully proud to have attracted Amazon — one of the world’s largest companies — to our community.

Despite the Amazon hoopla and hubbub, what I interact with every day is more the lifeblood of Arlington — its small businesses. At a time when there is so much attention focused on Amazon, making sure that these smaller enterprises get an equal opportunity and visibility in Arlington’s economic scene is a core progressive value, rooted in fairness and diversification. This would enhance opportunities for small businesses to thrive alongside the big businesses located in Arlington.

For example, on a typical day, I walk my dog down the street to Livin’ the Pie Life where I read the newspaper and do email while enjoying a cup of coffee and a fresh scone. My son’s math tutor, a local middle-school teacher, arrives at our house for their weekly sessions while I am teaching piano lessons in my music studio. On other days, I might attend informal meetings or purchase gifts at Trade Roots in Westover, brunch with friends at Cafe Sazon on Columbia Pike, or snack on tasty treats sold by food truck vendors at events such as the Nauck “Feel the Heritage” festival.

Small businesses are the unifying element in all of these Arlington experiences — and so blessedly untypical from the national chain lookalikes.

Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid H. Morroy recently noted that approximately 8,500 small businesses have set up shop in Arlington. Wendy MacCallum and Heather Sheire (Livin’ the Pie Life), Lisa Ostroff (Trade Roots), and Karen Bate (KB Concepts P.R. and also co-founder of Awesome Women Entrepreneurs — AWE, a networking group of 150 women-owned Arlington businesses) are among the small business owners that Morroy referred to.

These entrepreneurs are doing something they love. They concur they “wouldn’t consider running a business anywhere else!” They agree the county employees they interact with are pleasant, helpful and “go the extra mile” to help them. They also said the business ombudsman assists small businesses with navigating inter-governmental processes, the workshops from Arlington Economic Development’s BizLaunch network are useful and the move to a one-stop capability for filing business paperwork and making payments digitally is helping reduce their administrative burden.

However, as noted by other small business owners, they lack the financial and staffing resources of their larger counterparts for navigating requirements and challenging government decisions affecting their daily operations. They made a heartfelt plea for Arlington government to consider adjusting requirements, fees and timetables accordingly.

Another recurring complaint was that small business people were told by one county staffer to do a task to only be told by another staffer that it either wasn’t necessary or else must be re-done differently. In the case of small businesses, these episodes usually have an outsized impact on their profits and operations.

At this turning point in Arlington’s development, there are meaningful ways in which county government can equitably support small business.

First, ensure county staff are “operating from the same play book” to avoid delivering conflicting advice or imposing unnecessary requirements on small businesses.

Second, increase the threshold for filing a business license tax return to $100,000 per year, as promoted by Morroy. Raising the threshold would cost the county approximately $200,000 annually in lost revenue. But, given the county’s $1 billion-plus budget, this loss is justified and about 6,000 businesses — about 75 percent of Arlington’s small businesses — would be relieved of this paperwork. Plus, Commissioner’s Office staff would have more time for conducting tax audits of larger companies, an effort that could conceivably recoup enough money to exceed the revenue lost.

Third, establish county-funded grants to help small businesses lease space in the street-level quarters of the vacant and nearly vacant office towers in Arlington. This could make Arlington’s neighborhoods more vibrant while demonstrating a strong commitment to small businesses wanting to establish a foothold here.

Arlington is still recovering from its experience as a “company town” for the federal government. Putting as much focus into our local small businesses will help us avoid reverting to the company town model while promoting the commercial diversity that reflects our progressive values and makes Arlington a great place to live, work and play.

Laura Saul Edwards has lived in Arlington County since 1994. She serves on the School Board’s Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Projects (FAC) and is an APS 2012 Honored Citizen.

Photo of local business owner Lisa Ostroff in Westover’s Trade Roots courtesy of Laura Saul Edwards

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: The Arts are Good for the Soul and Good for Business

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By James Swindell

One dreary September afternoon, I took the elevator to the top of the recently opened Observation Deck at CEB Tower in Rosslyn. I was surprised to find a well curated experience that highlighted several fascinating stories of our region and showcased a brilliant view of Washington, D.C. As an arts management professional and arts advocate, the views of the Kennedy Center and other national monuments reminded me of the reason why I relocated to this area in the first place: the arts are alive in and around the nation’s capital.

In Arlington, I’ve seen the arts foster creativity in children by developing their own staged musical from start to finish, promote values of inclusion with an actor who was deaf portraying the lead character in the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and celebrate cultural diversity with a number of outdoor street festivals.

Coming down from the clouds, however, brings a troubling view of a situation on the ground in a county that is fighting desperately to determine how it will support the arts.

Arlington County states in its cultural strategy, Enriching Lives, that it “thrives as a community because arts and culture create a sense of place, catalyze economic vitality, and enrich the lives of those who live in, visit or work here.” But a county budget shortfall projected by County Manager Mark Schwartz to be as high as $30 million puts this goal in jeopardy.

As a commissioner on the Arlington Commission for the Arts, my colleagues and I fear cuts to the county’s budget that affect the arts and culture. Budget cuts would target modest appropriations like the $216,000 in small Arts Grants that our Commission administers, funding special projects and providing space and services. While cuts may help shrink a deficit, they would penalize organizations that achieve great success on budgets that are already lean even after receiving grants as low as $5,000. A shortfall would also stymie funding for additional Challenge Grants, a consistently efficient type of funding that requires an organization to match the county’s commitment by raising new, private dollars. Funding for these have provided a 4:1 return on investment since 2009.

My experience advocating for the arts has shown me, unfortunately, that the subject does not necessarily command attention among all of Arlington’s residents. In a 2018 Arlington County Resident Survey, 51 percent of respondents expressed they would choose to reduce the modest funding for Arlington Cultural Affairs ($3 million), the county’s largest cultural program, if needed to avoid increases in property taxes.

This runs contrary to the proven impact of the arts — the arts are good for the soul and good for business. Studies commissioned by Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, concluded that the arts contributed $189 million to Arlington’s economy in 2015, supporting local jobs, local businesses and local artists. That same study also concluded that non-resident attendees spent an average of $27 (on top of admission) when attending a performance or event in Arlington.

Turning our backs to these results will only stunt additional gains in an industry yearning to take shape in places like the newly established Arts District along Four Mile Run. Reducing arts funding would in turn reduce necessary support of our arts organizations, reduce the staff to administer quality arts programs at the county level and reduce opportunities to participate in programs by local arts organizations.

We must have the political will not to leave the arts behind if we are going to keep community-based arts programs available for Arlingtonians, and to compete with other jurisdictions. Companies like Nestle and Amazon are drawn to a community like Arlington with a distinct quality of life, of which the arts are a central part.

A budget shortfall does not have to inevitably affect our arts organizations, or how we address a shortage of cultural facilities or maximize the visibility of artists in our community. It does require that our community take a strong stand to the Arlington County Board to emerge with a more favorable position on the arts in Arlington County’s budget.

James Swindell is a native Virginian living in Crystal City. He works in the non-profit arts in Washington, DC and serves on the Arlington Commission for the Arts. In the photo above, Swindell is visiting a striking public art installation called Dressed Up and Pinned, located at 2401 Wilson Boulevard.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Getting a Broader View of the Needs of the Commonwealth

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By State Sen. Janet Howell

Last summer my husband Hunt and I spent 11 days in Southside and Southwest Virginia. We had read The Extremes of Virginia by Augie Wallmeyer and realized we really didn’t know the people, cultures and challenges of those regions very well.

What started as a simple personal trip went viral when I mentioned our plans at the Leadership Arlington annual breakfast. ARLnow.com picked up our plan and soon the Roanoke Times was writing editorials about it. Dozens of individuals and groups sent suggestions and invitations for our itinerary. We were overwhelmed! With the help of Wallmeyer, who accompanied us on much of the trip, we scheduled various meetings and activities.

More than 250 people came out to chat with us during our 1,238-mile journey. We visited Farmville, Danville, Martinsville, Hillsville, Abingdon, Bristol, Wise and Grundy. Civic leaders, business leaders, higher education administrators and faculty, public safety professionals and engaged citizens participated in a wide range of briefings, conversations and tours.

Reflecting back, I am basically optimistic about the future of these parts of our state. They have great challenges but they also have engaged, committed local leaders. Most are convinced the worst of the economic dislocation is behind them. They are preparing their workforce for future jobs. They are forming public/private partnerships to attract new businesses. I believe we must help them achieve their goals. Virginia won’t reach its potential unless all our people are able to reach theirs.

Education is the focus everywhere. The community colleges, the New College Institute, and specialized colleges are agile and responding to workforce needs. Increasingly, the emphasis is placed on credentials rather than degrees.

Since we were there in the summer, we did not focus on public schools. However, they are stressed. Ancient buildings and leaky roofs are the norm. Internet access is limited. Enrollment is declining as families move elsewhere. There is a severe teacher shortage (a statewide problem). Interestingly, a couple of localities have increased taxes to better fund their schools. Some local officials are showing real political courage in a deep red part of the state.

Everyone realizes they are facing serious social problems. Specifically, substance abuse is destroying many youth and disrupting the social fabric. Access to healthcare is a critical need. Medicaid expansion will help tens of thousands of residents but other thousands will not qualify. The doctors leading the internationally recognized Health Wagon (providing services to low-income residents) expect their mission to continue.

Southside is slowly overcoming the legacy of segregation. African American leaders – many elected — say there has been much progress over the past 50 years but there is still a long way to go. I was briefly a civil rights worker in Danville in 1963 when there was a police riot, so seeing the improvements there has a deep personal meaning for me.

In this part of the commonwealth, counties with fewer than 30,000 people are commonplace. In my opinion, there are too many governmental entities in the regions. This is inefficient and unnecessarily costly. It also leads to competition where collaboration would be more production. GoVirginia — a state effort to encourage economic growth and collaboration — is having some success in breaking down these barriers.

Southside is cleverly exploring international business ventures. Various institutes are finding a niche with smaller startups. Most encouraging for the region is the strong leadership being shown by business and elected leaders. Both Danville and Martinsville have well-endowed foundations that provide resources and guidance to their communities. Educational opportunities are topnotch, such as the University of Virginia’s campus in Wise, the Appalachian School of Law and the Appalachian Collage of Pharmacy, both in Grundy.

Southwest has tremendous tourist potential. I have never seen a more beautiful and dramatic countryside. Outdoor recreation opportunities are everywhere. Music buffs have concerts in almost every community weekly throughout the summer. Summer theaters also are located in several towns. And there are several good wineries and breweries!

I left the two regions hopeful about their future. Yes, they are the “extremes of Virginia” as Wallmeyer labeled them in his book outlining their poverty and challenges. But both regions have local leaders who are focused and determined to improve their communities. I think they will succeed. We must actively collaborate with them.

Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell represents District 32, which includes a portion of Arlington. She has been a member since 1992 and has worked on family violence prevention, technology issues, and improving the treatment of those with mental illness.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Can Embracing Amazon Be Consistent With My Progressive Values?

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By Christian Dorsey

Amazon’s embrace of Arlington as one of two sites for its corporate headquarters expansion stands as one of the more significant events in the history of our county. Already, camps have emerged that are unabashedly for or against welcoming the world’s largest online retailer. Yet for many, there are significant questions when assessing whether Amazon in Arlington stands as a positive development.

Implicit in some of these questions is a concern: “Can embracing Amazon be consistent with my progressive values?” It is a concern that I have wrestled with, and I believe that the presence of Amazon in Arlington can be consistent with my progressive values and even accelerate our moving toward a more equitable and inclusive community. Here are a few ways in which this could happen, if the County Board and our community hold firm to a path of equitable growth and inclusive opportunities. 

A Better Deal for Residential Taxpayers

Arlington faces a near-term budget deficit where the costs of delivering fundamental government services are growing faster than our revenues. My County Board colleagues and I will work with the county manager to find efficiencies in service delivery and raise revenues as necessary. The high commercial vacancy rate — around 18 percent — means that residential taxpayers shoulder more of the load for delivering government services than when the tax base was evenly split between the commercial and residential sectors.

Amazon alone does not solve that, but its planned absorption of 4-6 million square feet of office space in Pentagon City and Crystal City, along with the yet-unknown investment Amazon will spark, means that Arlington will be on the path toward the commercial sector paying for a larger share of our community’s needs in housing, infrastructure, schools, parks and sustainability programs.

Increasing Our Housing Supply to Encourage Affordability

Many are concerned that Amazon in Arlington will have the same deleterious effects on housing affordability and homelessness that have occurred in Seattle. Without effective intervention, those concerns could be realized. However, leaders across our metropolitan region have committed to increasing the region’s housing supply so that we accommodate projected employment growth, while stabilizing prices overall.

In 2019, the jurisdictions that compose the Washington Council of Governments are looking to develop a regional plan for housing, and here in Arlington, the Board expects to consider proposals to permit exterior accessory dwellings and to encourage preservation of market-rate affordable housing through Housing Conservation Districts. We will also begin exploring zoning ordinance flexibility to permit housing types that are more affordable by design, and our investments in committed affordable units will be enhanced by $15 million each year for the next 10 years that the commonwealth of Virginia will devote to Arlington and Alexandria.

Jobs and Opportunities

Amazon is planning on investing $2.5 billion to construct the Arlington headquarters and to accommodate at least 25,000 permanent jobs. My goal is to work with Amazon to implement a competitive Project Labor Agreement (PLA) so that jobs needed to construct, renovate and equip their buildings are quality jobs where workers will earn livable wages with robust labor standards. These temporary jobs — along with half of the permanent jobs that are expected to be entry-level, support and junior positions — provide a significant opportunity to expand job opportunities. I am committed to seeing that Arlingtonians who are underserved and underemployed have a chance to compete for those jobs.

Smart Incentives

I have engaged many in the community on concerns about offering incentives to a company as big as Amazon headed by the wealthiest man in the world. I don’t like it either. Yet as an elected leader, I must deal with the world as it is while trying to shape it into the world most of us want it to be. The County Board stood firm that any direct incentive offered to Amazon would not divert existing revenues. Our staff has proposed granting them an increment of the transit occupancy tax growth (mostly paid by non-Arlingtonians) that occurs after they establish here. The other incentives that staff proposed are investments already identified in our capital improvement program, envisioned in our Crystal City Sector Plan or are current policy priorities.

Furthermore, the commonwealth of Virginia will fund hundreds of millions of dollars in projects devoted to transportation such as improvements to Route 1, a bicycle pedestrian connection to the airport and a second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station, and affordable housing. On top of that, a graduate campus for Virginia Tech will be constructed just across our border in the City of Alexandria along with as yet undefined contributions to K-12 education and other local universities. These state investments would not be realized without Amazon coming to Arlington. They serve to catalyze job growth, housing investment and a transformation of the built environment in both Pentagon City and Crystal City.

With the opportunities comes the responsibility to ensure that we realize the benefits of Amazon while avoiding and mitigating adverse consequences. The path Arlington must pursue is one of equitable growth, where Amazon builds in a manner consistent with our approved plans and community benefits are secured commensurate with their impact, and inclusive opportunities, whereby Arlingtonians seeking stable employment or better jobs are given priority consideration by Amazon’s recruiters. I am confident this can become a shared vision with Amazon and I personally welcome our community demanding that this vision become our reality.

Christian Dorsey is Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board, a principal director of the WMATA Board of Directors, a commissioner on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, a member of the Transportation Planning Board, and member of the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Millennials ISO Middle-Class Dream in Arlington

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

By Nick Dilenschneider

When I moved to Arlington in 2011 to study law at George Mason University, I had no idea what my future looked like. Through the years as I have settled into the community, the desire to make Arlington where I want to live and raise a family has grown stronger. It grew considerably after the 2016 election when I became intimately involved with the Arlington Young Democrats and in Democratic politics more generally. Over time and through this work I have established close friendships that will surely last a lifetime, come to appreciate how truly special and unique this community really is, and recognized how fortunate I am that fate brought me here.

I suspect that like me, many other young people have come here to receive an education, be on the front line of politics and international affairs, pursue a career in public service, or dedicate themselves to issue-based advocacy by working at a non-profit. Unfortunately, our future in Arlington is jeopardized by the lack of affordable housing. In many instances young residents will be forced to decide whether to continue living in Arlington and accept the risk that we may never own a home — or distance ourselves from friends and professional networks established at a critical juncture in our lives in order to buy a home elsewhere to better secure a stable financial future.

There is no singular experience in Arlington, a fact that should remind us to listen to all communities with a stake in achieving the dream of living for the long term in Arlington, and ensuring they are active participants in shaping public policies on housing affordability, transit options and other factors contributing to livability. Tapping into the experiences and ideas of our county’s millennials will help make the middle class dream a reality for more Arlingtonians.

Housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues for our county and particularly for young people. This problem is not unique to Arlington. For instance, this year a one-person household in San Francisco can earn as much as $82,200 per year and still qualify for affordable housing.

Is this Arlington’s future as well? It may very well be if steps are not taken to mitigate the risk. One possible solution is to adjust Arlington’s Moderate Income Purchase Assistance Program (MIPAP) so the maximum income thresholds for eligibility are not tied to the region, but rather to conditions in Arlington itself. Under the current framework, these thresholds are being artificially suppressed and will only serve to make people ineligible who might otherwise qualify for the program. In addition, other considerations such as student debt, hours spent volunteering in the county, and time spent living or working here should be factored in to provide additional assistance for those looking to buy. These changes alone will not resolve the housing situation in Arlington, but they are straightforward and pragmatic proposals that will at least help on the margin.

It is also essential that we continue expanding transit options within the county. Young people often forego having a car (or cannot afford one) and instead rely on other modes of transportation such as Metro, Uber/Lyft, and shared mobility devices like bicycles and scooters. The continued development of such options will improve the quality of life for young people in Arlington.

Ultimately, solving the problem of housing affordability — or at least addressing it in a meaningful way — will take substantial time and resources, not to mention the courage of citizens and elected officials to explore bold actions like re-zoning or single-dwelling areas to facilitate the development of multi-family and multi-use units. The debates surrounding such consequential decisions will be difficult, but they must take place. Otherwise, the already elusive dream of owning a home in Arlington will slip even further away for my generation and other young people.

Nick Dilenschneider (left, in the photo above, with Jimmy McBirney and Nicole Merlene) is an attorney who lives in south Arlington, commutes to D.C for work, and enjoys Arlington’s many neighborhoods and establishments. He hopes to one day own a home in Arlington.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Medicaid Expansion Offers Pathway to Recovery for Those Suffering From Addiction

Progressive 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 ARLnow.

By Del. Patrick Hope

Starting Jan. 1, up to 400,000 low-income Virginians will be eligible for the Medicaid program.

In Arlington, that means up to 7,000 people will have health insurance coverage who couldn’t otherwise afford it. To find out if you’re eligible, please visit www.coverva.org.

This is significant for Virginians suffering from the most common chronic diseases — heart disease, asthma, hypertension and diabetes — because they can enroll in the Medicaid managed-care program to help manage their disease. But this is also a significant development for those suffering from the effects of opioid addiction and other substance abuse disorders.

Nationally, about 105 people die every day from a drug overdose. Addiction can affect people from all walks of life. Over 1,100 Virginians died in 2016 from opioid overdose, nearly doubling since 2011.

Count me as someone who wouldn’t have believed the opioid epidemic would have hit my hometown of Arlington as hard as it has elsewhere. But statistics don’t lie. The number of overdoses and related-deaths in Arlington increased sharply from 2015 to 2017 — from 10 to 74 — but there’s hope 2018 will show some progress.

Police Incidents Involving Opioids in Arlington, Va:

Incidents Involving Opioids* Total Opioid Overdoses** Total Opioid Overdoses – Non-Fatal Total Opioid Overdoses – Fatal
2014 No Record 10 6 4
2015 73 10 6 4
2016 122 45 33 12
2017 157 74 55 19
2018 (through 10/1/2018) 121 40 32 8

All police incidents involving heroin (overdoses, possession and distribution cases) in Arlington, Va. **Total Fatal and Non-Fatal Heroin Overdoses

We are seeing progress in large part due to a greater national focus and a robust, coordinated local and state response. This includes working with medical professionals to increase awareness and control of opioid prescriptions, increasing addiction treatment resources, increasing police involvement, providing easy-to-use drug “takeback” centers at certain Arlington fire stations, and strengthening awareness with school officials and families.

Yet I believe what is driving our progress the most is increased funding for treatment. In Virginia, we implemented the Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS) program in April 2017 to increase access to treatment for Medicaid recipients suffering from opioid or other substance abuse disorders. With a federal match, Virginia increased spending to $16.8 million, up from $5.2 million the previous year. The ARTS program includes a full spectrum of addiction treatment: inpatient withdrawal management, residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs, opioid treatment, peer recovery, and case management. The ARTS program is integrated into the existing Medicaid program.

During the first year of ARTS, more than 20,000 Medicaid recipients in Virginia were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder and about 30,000 have other substance abuse disorders. More than 40 percent of Medicaid recipients with substance abuse disorders received treatment during the first year of ARTS, up from 24 percent in the prior year. Nearly 2 out of 3 (63 percent) with opioid use disorders received treatment during the first 12 months of ARTS, up from 46 percent in the prior year. In Northern Virginia, we went from a 39 percent treatment rate to a 55 percent treatment rate for opioid use.

During that same period, the total number of Medicaid opioid prescriptions for pain management in Virginia has decreased (27 percent); the number of emergency room visits related to opioid use has gone down (25 percent); and with increased reimbursement, the supply of addiction treatment providers has increased (173 percent).

Despite these recent gains in coverage and access to treatment services, we still have much more work to do. We need to remove the stigma of addiction and convince more Virginians struggling with substance abuse disorders to seek help. Despite the progress of treatment, at least 60 percent of Medicaid recipients with substance abuse disorders and nearly 40 percent with an opioid use disorder did not receive any treatment services. We have to do better.

The good news is treatment is available and treatment works. And for those new Medicaid enrollees suffering with addiction, starting Jan. 1, they have a promising pathway to prevention and recovery that will save lives.

Del. Patrick Hope has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2010, representing the 47th District in Arlington County. He is a health care attorney and is the Executive Director at the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2018, he was appointed to the Virginia Substance Abuse Services Council.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: What Kind of Arlington Will We Get?

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By Greg Greeley

As a community, what kind of Arlington will we get? Will we get the Arlington we want, or will we have an Arlington that just “happens?” With all the potential growth that we’re facing as a community — now more than ever — this is an important question for us.

When I was the parent of a young elementary student, I saw that our schools were getting more crowded, and I was concerned that we had no plans to build new schools despite the clearly growing enrollment. This was a real change from when I moved here in the 1980s. Back then, I remember families moving out to Fairfax for the “good” schools. Now we see many parents staying in and moving to Arlington for the good schools.

But, the change was not pre-ordained. There are still many who remember the decades when our school population was shrinking, and Arlington was discussing which schools to close — a painful process.

Today, we’re a growing community. But, the growth has been difficult. Many see the towers rising in Pentagon City and decry the density and the traffic. At the same time, few would want to go back to the desolate warehouses and empty lots that were there decades before. So again, what kind of future do we want for Arlington?

Last year, the county purchased the “Buck” site on N. Quincy Street. Some of the early proposals would have included swapping part of the site for bus parking in South Arlington. If that happened, we would have been looking at the construction of a six-story storage facility on Quincy Street. Many in our community were clear that this was not the future they wanted. I am happy that our Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) could recommend better alternatives. Alternatives that will allow us all time to consider what we could imagine as a long-term plan for that site.

As we look into the future, it’s clear that we will need to build more schools. We will need new elementary schools, perhaps a new middle school, and certainly more seats for our high school students. So, as our schools grow, we should not just build schools where it is the fastest and easiest to build. We should use tools like JFAC to look into the long-range future and select, as a community, where the schools should go. We should look at which neighborhoods have students, but don’t have a neighborhood school. We should look at where we can put schools to help balance the diversity that so many want to achieve. And, we should look at how could we give more of our students the opportunity to walk to school.

I have been fortunate. I am the parent of a high schooler who walks to a diverse, neighborhood school. The diversity has given him a perspective on the world that he would not have otherwise seen, the proximity to school fosters a sense of community, and the ability to walk to school gives him a real feeling of independence. I hope that in the future we can provide these benefits to even more of our students in Arlington.

So, that brings us back to the question. What kind of Arlington will we get? One tool to help us plan our future is the relatively new Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. But, JFAC is only one tool, and to be effective it must be used well. As a commission, we must look into the future and help the community discuss and plan for the Arlington we want. If we don’t, we’ll get an Arlington that just happens, and that’s no guarantee of a positive future for our community.

Greg Greeley is the Vice Chair of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. He is a long-time resident of Arlington and has been an active parent in Arlington schools. 

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: The Truth About Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Program

Progressive 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 ARLnow.

By Howard Solodky

Much has been said recently about Arlington County’s Neighborhood Conservation (NC) program that pays for neighborhood infrastructure projects such as sidewalks, streetlamps and traffic safety improvements. Because of misconceptions and rumors about the program and its overlooked public benefits, some have even suggested the program be terminated, while others have simply advanced unfounded criticisms. It’s time to set the record straight.

The Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC), formed in 1977, administers the program with the valuable help of county staff. Representatives from most of the county’s civic associations participate on the NCAC and review and recommend action on projects proposed for their respective neighborhoods. This “bottom up” approach has resulted in the completion of missing link sidewalks, traffic flow enhancements and other pedestrian and commuter safety projects that would otherwise go unidentified.

County bonds fund the projects, with awards made through a rigorous, but fair, “points” process managed by the NCAC. The program has completed hundreds of neighborhood improvement projects and demand remains high. Notwithstanding that, the 2019-2028 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) cut NC funding from $12 million to $5 million for 2019-2020 and then to $4 million for the following two-year cycle.

Recent criticism falls into two categories: Lack of equity; and cost effectiveness.

Lack of equity. Allegations of unfair distribution of NC projects among Arlington’s roughly 60 neighborhoods have arisen because some neighborhoods don’t participate in the program. The reality is that more than 85 percent of Arlington’s civic associations are active on the NCAC, and projects are not concentrated disproportionately in any particular neighborhood. One look at a map showing the dollar amounts and location of projects over the past 17 years reveals widespread geographic distribution. Three of the top five neighborhood beneficiaries, measured by dollars spent, are in south Arlington.

Length and cost of process.  While, historically, the time elapsed from project approval to completion could take five years or more, that is no longer the case. Through right-sizing county design and engineering staff assigned to the program, the time from County Board approval to project completion now averages roughly two and one-half years, similar to the time it takes to design, engineer and complete a typical county transportation project.

Another factor contributing to length of process is the county’s aging, and in some cases inadequate, infrastructure. With limited bond proceeds available to the NC program, and infrastructure repairs and improvements needed in many neighborhoods, only a fraction of the qualified NC projects can be funded each year. The rest must wait in line. Terminating or reducing the NC program won’t solve this problem; only more financial resources will.

Alleged cost overruns are also often cited, even though close to 90 percent of NC projects are completed within budget. Moreover, 15 years ago, if the NCAC approved the construction of a sidewalk along a neighborhood street, the program would only pay for the cost of the actual sidewalk. Today, because of state and local legal requirements, a “simple” sidewalk project also entails costs for site control and management, storm water management, water mains and meters and potentially for underground utility conduit repair or replacement. The county requires that those costs be borne by the NC program, rather than by the Department of Environmental Services (DES) that has historically paid for those items. These “cost overruns” are, in fact, hidden savings for the budgets of various DES departments.

The 2019-2028 CIP required that the County Manager form a Neighborhood Conservation and Community Infrastructure Working Group to review and make recommendations regarding the NC program. That Working Group might want to consider how to:

  • Account for and share within DES the numerous costs that have been imposed on the program;
  • Discuss with DES staff and the County Board how to shorten their project review and approval processes; and
  • Reach out to neighborhoods that do not participate actively to more effectively educate them on the benefits of the NC program.

The future of the NC program is uncertain during this period of budgetary belt-tightening. Decision-makers need to move beyond the unsupported criticisms of the program, gain a better understanding of the hidden benefits realized from an all-volunteer program that identifies needed infrastructure repairs and improvements before that infrastructure breaks down, and fairly apportion among the divisions of DES the costs associated with NC capital projects. These steps can help preserve the scope and vitality of a valuable, community-based, neighborhood improvement program.

Howard Solodky is a tax attorney who recently retired from the law firm of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, and is the Old Glebe Civic Association’s representative on the NCAC.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Matt de Ferranti — The Better Choice for County Board

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com

By Nathan Zee

As an Arlington resident for 17 years, and a former PTA president with two elementary-age children in the Arlington school system, I’ve been closely following the race between Matt de Ferranti and John Vihstadt for County Board.

Four years ago I voted for John Vihstadt — and I now regret it. John campaigned on promises to reduce the commercial vacancy rate, proactively address school capacity challenges, support parks and recreation, including youth sports, and deliver other core services. He also promised to replace the Columbia Pike streetcar proposal with a robust Bus Rapid Transit System.

John Vihstadt has not delivered. Over and over again, he emphasizes a “delay and obstruct” approach to governing — often in response to only a few shrill voices — which results in rising costs for core services over time.

In the face of a capacity crisis plain to any parent of an APS student, John spearheaded efforts to delay the new Alice West Fleet Elementary School. The school is scheduled to open in 2019 instead of 2018, which increased construction costs and trailer expenses. He led the charge to postpone addressing youth soccer capacity challenges with his vote against adding lights at the Williamsburg Middle School and has aligned himself with a group focused on reducing the number of sports fields in Arlington. This is despite years of work from community groups and constructive solutions at other lighted fields across Arlington. He also voted to delay the contract award for the new Lubber Run Community Center.

John Vihstadt has failed to lead or advance Bus Rapid Transit on a meaningful timeline along Columbia Pike. Earlier he was loudly vocal against the streetcar, but over the past four years he has been strangely silent in showing what being “for” Bus Rapid Transit really means. His delay tactics, always pushing decisions on down the road, increase future costs to taxpayers while denying us much needed services today.

As I cast my vote for County Board on Nov. 6, this time I’m choosing Matt de Ferranti, a candidate who is more deliberately and urgently focused on making things better for future generations. Matt de Ferranti will make fiscally smart, prudent investments to achieve progressive goals like education, parks and recreation activities and the basics like storm water management. He will make decisions with plenty of community input, yet without dragging out decisions and actions for years.

Matt de Ferranti has clearly articulated what he will focus on as a member of the County Board.

His priority is bringing down Arlington’s commercial vacancy rate more quickly and more purposefully. Unless the county brings in new businesses (and revenue) more quickly, Arlington will never be able to fund our countywide priorities like schools. Matt advocates bringing in different types of businesses in the fields of the future, like cybersecurity, while investing in small and independent business to create jobs that grow our commercial tax base.

Matt de Ferranti supports our world-class school system. In his leadership role on the School Board’s Budget Advisory Council, he’s demonstrated the ability to make tough choices like taking the lead on reducing the APS budget deficit by $20 million in a tight budget year while prioritizing spending on core services for our students. Matt has actually shown he can make the tough choices on governing instead of just saying “no.”

Matt understands the importance of community centers, parks and youth sports. He is opposed to efforts that will shrink the number of sports fields, and is committed to identifying cost-effective solutions and putting them into action promptly, putting into practice the same sound judgment that helped the school system.

Matt’s values demonstrate fiscal responsibility. Please don’t fall for Vihstadt’s fear mongering about wasteful spending or tales from many years ago. John’s way is to rail “against” something, but it’s much harder to do the heavy lifting of government and nimble decision-making that shapes what Arlington is “for,” and there Vihstadt has failed. His delay and obstruct approach results in higher future costs while limiting progress for us today.

We need a fresh perspective on the County Board. Matt de Ferranti will make the tough choices in a timelier, cost-effective manner for investing our limited resources to address countywide challenges. Let’s elect Matt de Ferranti for County Board on Nov. 6.

Nathan Zee is a long-time resident of the Arlington Forest neighborhood. He’s married with two children and loves to call Arlington his home.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Confronting the Realities of Poverty in Arlington

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By Anne Vor der Bruegge

Along with Arlington’s high national rankings for its schools and livability, consider this fact: Arlington is home to tens of thousands of people living in or near poverty. Arlington’s median household income is $110,000, but there are significant income and quality-of-life disparities from one neighborhood to the next.

Nearly 20,000 people in Arlington live below the federal poverty level, which is $25,100 for a family of four — yet living costs for such a household here average three times that. Child care and health care workers, office cleaners, and restaurant, retail and construction workers are likely to be struggling with poverty. Some of Arlington’s baby boomers, disabled individuals and veterans are also among those.

While the statistics are sobering, individuals’ stories illustrate just how precarious living in poverty can be. One woman’s window was broken by a baseball. Confronted by the property manager with a $32 repair fee and worried about being evicted, she desperately handed over the cash. That $32 was her weekly bus fare to work. Looking for a ride made her late, so her manager docked her two shifts. She could no longer pay her babysitter, which meant she lost her job, bringing her back to the real possibility of eviction.

What can be done, collectively, for families that constantly live so close to the edge?

Beginning this fall, Arlington’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and a wide array of nonprofits convened by the Arlington Community Foundation are piloting a new approach with 200 families to break the downward spiral of poverty. Using the Bridges Out of Poverty framework, this public-private partnership represents a re-design of the safety net system to reduce bureaucratic hurdles and strengthen connections so people in poverty can gain traction and move forward.

The 200 Bridges pilot uses a two-generation approach with parents and their children to build opportunities for adequate housing and child care, jobs with better wages, health care, and educational advancement. This united effort involves unprecedented collaboration across the County, nonprofit system and families.

The Bridges Out of Poverty partners have streamlined the myriad consent forms for different organizations into one common form, while still complying with HIPAA privacy rules, so individuals no longer have to repeat their history over and over. They’ve reduced the “agency time” spent navigating the system, so people can use those hours more productively.

200 Bridges goes beyond services that stabilize families (such as emergency shelter or food) to address two important factors recognized in poverty research as requisites for forward mobility: having control over one’s life and a sense of belonging in the community.

A job loss, a catastrophic accident, an abusive partner, or addiction can put any of us in crisis mode. But people with a family legacy of economic security and community connections can recover from these crises far better than those coming from generational poverty. Brain science shows that the toxic stress of living in crisis limits one’s ability to maintain focus and take the long view to make a plan. A broken window and unexpected $32 charge play out very differently for someone in the middle class than for someone who is poor.

Anita Friedman, Director of Arlington County DHS, shares, “We envision that families participating in 200 Bridges will be empowered to identify what they need to thrive, and to more easily connect to the network of resources we have to support them. Our goal is for families to build social and financial capital for themselves and their children.”

Beyond this pilot, what can be done to address the root causes of poverty–too few decent paying jobs, lack of affordable housing, childcare, health care and opportunities for educational advancement?

Arlington County, the Community Foundation and the many nonprofit partners hope to use what is learned through Bridges Out of Poverty and other complementary initiatives to create policies that improve mobility for everyone in Arlington. For example, the experiences of these 200 families will inform efforts underway in Arlington’s Child Care Initiative, which aims to provide more affordable quality child care so that all Arlington children have a strong start in life and their parents can work.

Ultimately, it will take broad community will to acknowledge the reality of poverty in Arlington and support equitable policies and practices to create the conditions for all our residents to reach their potential.

Anne Vor der Bruegge is Director of the Arlington Community Foundation’s Nonprofit Center. She has lived in Arlington since 1982.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Strengthening Transition into the Community after Incarceration

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By Beth Arthur, Sheriff

Reentering the community after incarceration is daunting. Imagine being locked up for days, weeks, months or years knowing the stigma society attaches to it. Often, incarcerated individuals are unemployed with drug or mental health issues. They often have no family support and no housing, money or even photo identification when they get out. They may have no idea where to start to get back on their feet.

As part of our evolving and open philosophy to new strategies to ensure the success of inmates, we are concentrating fresh effort on this transition back into the community. This builds on our core responsibilities such as managing the Arlington County Detention Facility (ACDF) and overseeing Arlington’s courthouse/courtroom security (Juvenile, Domestic Relations, County, Circuit and General District courts)/civil process service.

Through 18 years serving as Sheriff for Arlington County, my staff and I have continually looked for better ways to securely serve Arlington’s 230,000 residents and to effectively manage and prepare the inmates for life after incarceration.

One example is the new Community Readiness Unit (CRU), established in May 2018. It focuses intensely on individualized reentry planning, work readiness and programming for substance abuse, mental health and life skills.

“The CRU is producing a steady flow of purpose and promise,” says Inmate Service Counselor Camille Watkin. “Most of the inmates who participate in the re-entry and community readiness classes are also dedicated to participate in GED classes/tutoring, mental health, substance abuse awareness and work force programs in the community.” Watkin added, “This group of inmates are seeking and learning coping skills.”

The CRU builds on early work of the Arlington County Reentry Committee (ACRC), created in 2009 to ensure successful offender reentry, reduce recidivism and enhance public safety for Arlington residents. ACRC’s goal is to assist those incarcerated with supportive services — such as job training or mental health services — so that they may more easily transition from jail to the community and sustain a life that will not lead to repeat offenses.

“After completing the ACT Program (Addictions, Corrections Treatment), I was placed in the CRU,” says one inmate. “In the few weeks I’ve been in this unit, I’ve created a much needed network system and sharpened the tools I need to ensure success.” He added that the CRU “has allowed me to sustain my recovery by participating in NA/AA and the Cognitive Distortion Recognition program. I’m staying positive and productive prior to my reentry to the community in a few days.”

One distinctive of the CRU is that it brought many of the ACRC programs together in one male housing unit for individuals that are eligible. Individuals must be post-sentence 12 to 14 months or less, reside in the DMV area, participate in a formal interview and have no detainers from other jurisdictions. (Reentry services are also available to the one female inmate unit in the detention facility.)

Some of the CRU’s programs may seem surprising, such as Fatherhood, Wellness, Money Management, or Peer Group and Cognitive Distortion Recognition. Yet such topics can be just as vital to a person’s successful transition as programs on Employability Readiness, Individual Re-Entry Planning or Addiction Awareness. All classes are conducted by Sheriff’s Office case managers, Arlington Department of Human Services (DHS) staff, Offender Aide and Restoration (OAR) staff and volunteers.

Our hope is that everyone that reenters the community from the CRU will, like the inmate mentioned above, have a network system and the tools they need for success. The key is helping them identify and eliminate barriers before they get out.

ACRC assists incarcerated individuals with a discharge plan focused on their needs, appropriate resources and referrals to enhance successful reentry to the community. Resources include ID cards, mental health and substance abuse services, shelter, and job placement. Our partners include DHS, OAR, the Public Defender’s Office, and the Adult Probation and Residential Program Center-Shelter.

Inmates returning to the community face many challenges and those who have difficulty adjusting often re-offend. As the sheriff of Arlington County, I am committed to ensuring that individuals who are remanded into the custody of my office receive opportunities to “right” their wrongs and become successful citizens of our community.

Sheriff Beth Arthur was first elected in 2000 and is the first woman elected to a County Sheriff’s position in Virginia. She has served more than 31 years with the Arlington Sheriff’s Office. She is a member of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association Board and served as its first female President from September 2012 through September 2013 and is a member of the Board of Regents for the Leadership Center of Excellence.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Columbia Pike — Promises Kept?

Progressive 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 ARL.now.

By Eric Harold

When I emerge from the natural oasis of the Four Mile Run creek bed, I am greeted by an Ethiopian family teaching their son to ride his bike on the Arlington Mill Plaza. Following the spirited African rhythms enjoyed by a group of friends gathering near the bridge, I catch the tempting scents of the Bolivian food truck readying for the lunch crowd. I am reminded why, many years ago, my wife and I quickly fell in love with Columbia Pike — a vital and vibrant corridor with good local businesses, active neighborhood associations and energetic mixed-income communities. Still, we recognized this high potential area was struggling to develop as a valued Metro corridor.

After 20 years, thousands of hours of planning meetings, and many county initiatives later, the Pike appears to be thriving. We had envisioned three legs of a stool that would solidly support Columbia Pike in the future: a streamlined development process, a Pike neighborhoods’ plan with a goal of preserving over 6,000 affordable housing units, and a blueprint for greatly improving the transit system to support expected growth.

So are we where we wanted to be 20 years ago?

While some development has happened, the transportation “leg of the stool” has wobbled. Four years ago, the County Board abruptly canceled the long-planned streetcar, endangering and undermining progress in other areas. Pike neighborhoods were told that transportation investments would continue. What we received was a mediocre transit plan, delayed construction of the transit stations, and no attention to much-needed utility undergrounding.

To be clear, the current growth and development on Columbia Pike was spurred on with the implementation of the Form Based Code, an alternative development process that offered streamlined reviews and approvals for developments that supported our community’s vision and needs, as described in the Code and associated plans. As a result, we are seeing redevelopment of properties along the Pike that is bringing new residents along with some affordable housing and new amenities. We are seeing the development creep west on the Pike, as well.

But with this development comes some significant challenges. New development brings new residents, many with children attending already overcrowded schools. Businesses that were “early adopters” to the Pike, like P. Brennan’s, have shuttered. Storefronts remain empty at key locations along Columbia Pike, while new developments like Centro Arlington and 4707 Columbia Pike will bring more retail spaces to fill.

As we look forward to the next 20 years, the Columbia Pike communities need the County’s focused effort and planning to ensure continued growth along the corridor while addressing the significant weaknesses in the current plan implementation.

What should happen now?

  • Update Transit Plan now: Fast and efficient completion of the current projects outlines in the Multimodal Street Improvements plan will send a clear signal that Columbia Pike remains a critical area of growth for the county. More important, however, should be revising the Transit Plan for Columbia Pike, to include updating capacity projections based on current development and growth patterns.
  • Increase daytime population: Current development has been entirely mixed-use residential and commercial. Commercial vacancies remain high while businesses struggle, primarily due to very low daytime population. The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and the County need to provide incentives that will bring offices and other services to the Pike.If we are going to be true to maintaining Columbia Pike as a diverse community, we need to provide spaces and encourage services to support low-income and disadvantaged populations. Clinics, job training services, and other community assistance can fill vacant spaces and increase daytime traffic. Providing incubator spaces, shared work locations, and other office/business development can help improve the mix of development. Combined, this has the potential to make the Columbia Pike corridor a true live-work destination while maintaining the vibrant, mixed-income communities we love.
  • Improve planning with/for Arlington Public Schools: The Career Center property, just a block off Columbia Pike and now in the middle of conceptual planning for new school/community uses and space, is a prime example of the need for better integrated planning between APS and the County. Creative use of spaces along the Pike has the potential to help APS manage student population growth.

Columbia Pike has come a long way in the 20 years that I have lived here. The time is now for the county to aggressively help reinvigorate our plans and processes so that Columbia Pike remains the vital and vibrant community we love.

Eric Harold resides in Barcroft with his wife and four children. He served as president of his civic association, served for 13 years on the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission (E2C2), and now serves on the APS Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Projects (FAC).

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Autonomous Vehicles — On the Street Where You Live?

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By Kelley Coyner

Less than a year ago the city of Arlington, Texas, became the first municipal government to deploy an automated transportation service — a cute shuttle named Milo. In a couple of weeks, Arlington, Texas will move ahead with an autonomous vehicle (AV) taxi.

Meanwhile in Arlington, Virginia, we are beginning to look at how to launch similar services. The technology is moving forward quickly, especially for lower speed AVs that mix well with pedestrians and bicyclists. What should we be thinking about this technological game changer?

Money talks: First focus on economic development, job loss and creation, and revenue loss

Our Arlington and its neighbors — including their transportation agencies — need to look at the impacts of AVs (what some people call “self-driving” vehicles) on their revenue. Greater fuel efficiency and shifts to electric vehicles will accelerate the downward spiral of gas tax revenues. Changed ownership models also may undercut personal property tax and rental-car tax revenues. Decreased demand for parking may cut into parking revenues and an anticipated decline in traffic violations will reduce revenue from fines. Secondary impacts include the potential for decreased revenue from transit and toll fares.

Understand equity

AVs can dramatically improve opportunities for blind, older and younger riders — if we consider those travelers in the planning and design. You need only try to find your Lyft or Uber in Clarendon to appreciate that we need to pay attention to the last 50 feet from home or restaurant to your ride. Also, let’s make sure that shared vehicles are universally designed starting with wheelchair access. Meanwhile nationally, job and wage losses could hit transit and taxi drivers, delivery drivers, truckers, bus operators and Lyft/Uber drivers disproportionately, so training programs will need to come into play.

Figure out what you want your place to be like

Over the years, Arlington, Virginia, has given thought and taken action on the intersection between transportation and land use. How might AVs change all this yet again? How might they change our affordable and workforce housing? Is there a new paradigm for transit-rich hubs that also include shared-AV drop-off areas, electric charging stations, and rich networks of walking and bike paths?

What to worry about: Favor safety gains and protect against cyber dangers

There are indeed real reasons to be worried about the vulnerability of automated vehicles to cyber-attack. The answer is to address that risk, not to let it highjack automated technologies that protect occupants and people in the path of the AVs, such as pedestrians, bicyclists and people at bus stops.

That said, I am flabbergasted when anyone is dismissive about the potential of saving a portion of 37,000 lives that are currently lost to human-caused crashes each year. Most traffic accidents are attributable to human error. To be sure we need to take steps to operate AVs safely. Experts such as researchers at Rand note that the sooner we start adopting automated technologies, the more lives will be saved.

Define your principles and set measurable objectives to reach them

Beyond those first four paths I think cities should take, there are still many ways to maximize the safety and environmental benefits while guarding against increased congestion, sprawl, job loss and the further weakening of public transit. Arlington should start by understanding how AVs can help and hurt us and then set a course that allows us to experiment safely with AVs.

We should avoid esoteric debates about obscure hypotheticals, and instead, focus on understanding the implications of an automated mobility. Then pull out all the stops to safely channel the technology revolution on the street where you live.

Kelley Coyner is CEO and Founder of Mobility e3. A Senior Fellow at George Mason University, she advises cities on how to analyze the pluses and minuses of autonomous vehicles. She lives with her family in central Arlington.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Putting a Human Face on the Immigration Debate

Progressive 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 ARLnow.com.

By Cheryl Moore

In August, I travelled to Dilley, Texas, to volunteer for a week with immigrants who are seeking asylum. The South Texas Family Residential Center, 80 miles south of San Antonio, houses 2,400 women and children, most from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, who were apprehended by border patrol agents when trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t speak Spanish very well, but when I heard from an attorney friend about this opportunity, I felt compelled to go. With so many stories in the news about family separation, detention and the cruel treatment of immigrants at the border, this was my chance to “do something,” even if I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing. I wanted to be a witness to what is happening to immigrants coming to the U.S. amidst this unwelcoming political climate.

Along with other volunteers with the Dilley Pro Bono Project, my mission was to help women prepare for their Credible Fear Interview (CFI) with asylum officers. Receiving a “positive” after their interview means they are freed from detention (after paying a bond or submitting to wearing an ankle monitor) and can begin the long process of seeking asylum, as is their legal right under U.S. law.

It was not an easy week. We worked 12-hour days, filled with non-stop activity, noise and, often, tears.

For much of the week, I helped women fill out basic forms. As I showed them where to write their name, date of birth and other details, I learned part of their story. The answers to questions on the forms also offered clues about wrenching decisions some of the women had had to make when deciding to leave their country.

Some mothers asked, “Do I only put the name and birthday of the child who is here with me?” Clearly, many had had to leave another child behind. As a mother myself, I couldn’t imagine making that choice.

Other volunteers spent the week helping women prepare for their CFI by asking them to recount the testimony they would tell the asylum officer. Why did they leave their country? What persecution did they face there? What might happen if they went back home?

The extreme danger and violence our clients described was appalling — gangs, rape, death threats, kidnapping, extortion. We learned more about the culture and government of the countries that these women were fleeing, and about the extreme poverty and inequity that contribute to crime and lawlessness. It was clear that these women were escaping from systems that would never protect them. They were victims, not criminals; yet they were in a detention center.

With many CFI interviews looming toward the end of the week, I was asked to do some CFI preps on my own, working with an interpreter by telephone. Thanks to the in-depth training we received and wise counsel from the Dilley Pro Bono Project legal staff, I was able help two clients. It is not often that I feel I’m holding someone’s fate in my hands, but I did that day.

After I returned home, their faces swam before my eyes as I tried to go to sleep at night. Fortunately, I was able to check on their status and it appears that they both have been released from detention, and presumably are now with family or friends as they proceed through the asylum-seeking process.

While I may have helped some women start a new chapter in their lives, I will never know how their stories unfold. As with all mission work, the difference is in me. The women I met are part of my story now.

Back in Arlington, I will never look at the woman from Central America standing next to me in the supermarket line without contemplating her story. I will wonder what happened to make her leave her birthplace, and I will pray it wasn’t as bad as some of the stories I heard in that Texas detention center.

Above all, my week at the detention center reminded me that immigrant detention and family separation are more than just policy issues. They are human issues.

Cheryl Moore has lived in Arlington for 35 years. She has been a volunteer for Arlington Public Schools, her church, civic association, the Arlington Community Chorus, and many nonprofit organizations serving the Northern Virginia community. She continues to work on her Spanish language skills.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list