Progressive Voice: Cooking Up a Better Future

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 Daniela Hurtado

When chef Sol Orozco looks at her culinary class, she sees faces full of hope and promise. Her students range from ages 19 to 78, from Bolivians to Palestinians, and they are all looking for better-paying jobs and a path to self-sufficiency. La Cocina VA, a culinary training program housed in a church kitchen, offers that. It quickens the route by which low-income workers can get higher-skilled jobs and improve their English.

“I was excited, I saw this as an open door for me,” says Rahel Kassa, who has lived in Arlington since 2013. Another student, Dawud Abdul-Wakil, born and raised in Arlington, says, “I am learning how to be successful, I am changing who I used to be, to who I want to become.”

At no cost to the students, the 16-week non-profit program prepares unemployed or underemployed people for careers in the food service industry. Its track record is solid: 85% job placement and 78% still employed after two years. These jobs offer hourly rates from $14.30 to $21.00, provided by more than 50 employer partners.

“By using the power of food, we can generate opportunities for social and economic change,” says founder and CEO Paty Funegra. “Workforce, unemployment, lack of entrepreneurship opportunities and healthier eating are problems that we are solving in sustainable ways.”

While some students have previous kitchen experience, the most important quality La Cocina VA looks for is “their work ethics, like being on time. They have to be open, humble, willing to learn,” says Orozco.

Most of the classes take place in the kitchen of Mt. Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington, with 10 or so red-aproned students intently watching Orozco demonstrate everything from knife skills to how to “make a proper rice pilaf.” Making meals, Orozco doles out rapid-fire instructions and responsibility.

“This chicken is burning — who is the owner of this chicken? Check the temperature!”

“Same size, watch for same size when you’re cutting those vegetables.”

When the program started from scratch in 2014, Mt. Olivet was an original sponsor. Since then, corporate partners Wegmans, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Nestle and more have supported the effort. Chefs, nutritionists and business development experts helped dreams take off. Nearby restaurants and hotels, such as Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner, Alexandria Restaurant Group, Hilton Hotels, Wegmans and Sodexo, offer a week of “shadowing” experiences so students can see first-hand what a commercial kitchen’s pressures feel like. They also provide a one-month paid internship.

A workforce development instructor teaches students employment readiness, such as a positive work attitude and techniques for successful job interviewing. Students also improve their English-speaking abilities, through classes customized for the culinary workplace, and complete a ServSafe course on food safety and sanitation.

Now La Cocina VA has branched out to preparing healthy meals for low-income families. Students make 10,000 meals a year for families living in a homeless shelter in Arlington or in affordable housing managed by Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). These healthier meals contain at least 50% fruits and vegetables, aiming to help reverse obesity among people receiving the meals.

Another new effort is La Cocina VA’s Zero Barriers Training and Entrepreneurship Center, now being built on Columbia Pike. It will triple the organization’s capacity to serve people from the immigrant community, other people of color and veterans. They can more likely become entrepreneurs since they will get commercial kitchen space, training, and exposure to micro lending and distribution opportunities. The organization also wants to create a self-sustained model by providing catering services for private events and local contracts as well as opening a community kitchen and its own line of food products.

That would be another chapter in progressive values at work, building economic development and self-sufficiency. Or as Funegra says, “By using the power of food, we can help people get on a more solid economic footing and create a healthier community at the same time.”

Daniela Hurtado has been the programs manager of La Cocina VA since 2017. She has worked more than 15 years in the culinary education field and the nonprofit sector.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: We Know How You Can Cure White Guilt

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

By Krysta Jones

Growing up as a Black girl in the 1980s and 1990s in the American South, I would not have described myself as a victim of racism. I know that my family members and I have been beneficiaries of affirmative action and outreach programs which were critical in giving Blacks and other minorities equal footing. Yet despite my personal experiences and our progress as a nation in a number of areas, racial disparities still exist.

In the wake of the revelations that Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring posed in blackface, there has been renewed conversation about racial equity and healing. Dialogue on this issue is critical, and a necessary part of how we ensure current and future generations of Black Americans have the opportunity to succeed.

Diversity training combined with the “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality, which has been traditionally employed, can only get us so close to achieving the American dream. The remnants of the peculiar institution of slavery still exist throughout our laws, our culture and our collective psyche. It permeates norms and traditions that are passed down in families. True racial healing is a massive undertaking which can’t be achieved in a few years (or apparently 50+). Northam can continue past gains by focusing on a few key areas.

  • It is no secret that pre-Kindergarten is a critical time for learning. By continuing to invest in early childhood education for Black children, we can start them off with the skills they need to succeed throughout their lives.
  • According to the Economic Policy Institute the average wealth for white families is seven times higher than the average wealth for Black families. And a recent study called The Racial Wealth Gap: Why Policy Matters co-authored by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, noted that an increase in the minimum wage  and a direct federal job creation program could help eliminate the racial wealth gap. Virginia could implement a similar program at the state level.
  • Reducing sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system is yet another concern. In Virginia, the problem is particularly acute with probation violation sentencing. In 2015, a Daily Press review of records found that 13.7 percent of probation violation charges against Blacks are dismissed or dropped versus 19.2 percent for whites.
  • Health should also be a focus. In addition to expanding Medicaid and moving forward with recent commitments to decrease the number of Black women who die in or near childbirth, mental health care should also be prioritized. While there is more attention focused on mental health care today, what is not always discussed are the effects of persistent racism on the psychological state of the Black community.
  • Increased political leadership provides a greater opportunity for representation at our decision making tables that is also essential for achieving racial equality. In 2006, I founded Vote Lead Impact (VLI) to increase the number of Black elected and appointed officials throughout the commonwealth. Our model includes not only education on civic engagement and campaigns in a typical classroom setting, but also incorporates mentoring, scholarships, networking and a support system for the Black political community.

In 2018, I held focus groups with Black and white women to discuss common challenges that women often have in building relationships with each other across racial lines. In these gatherings I could feel the weight being lifted off the women. There was a mutual acknowledgement of common struggles and a satisfaction in knowing they were able to be themselves in a space where they often have to pretend. The stereotypes we hold also affect how we treat each other, which has psychological and tangible effects. As Virginia moves forward, our plan of action should be holistic, including policy positions and proven templates for difficult conversations.

You hear a lot about “white guilt.” The best way to repay Black Virginians for the years of slavery and oppression is to implement real policies that allow our children to look back and thank us for what we did today, by ending the rhetoric and fulfilling the American dream which was promised to us as a commonwealth and a nation.

Krysta Jones is Founder and CEO of Vote Lead Impact, Inc., and a graduate of Leadership Arlington, the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership, and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Lessons from School Boundary Processes

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 Reid Goldstein

With high school, middle school and a portion of elementary school boundary adjustments behind us, this is a good time to reflect on the recent boundary processes and consider how we can collectively improve future ones.

There will be a continuation of the elementary boundary process in 2020, and boundary adjustments will most likely need to be considered more frequently as we grow in 2020-29.

Boundaries help to ensure that we consistently deliver quality instruction and services to all of our students, so the School Board needs to make decisions in the best interest of the entire county. At the same time, we need to be cautious that in improving service delivery, we are not setting neighborhood against neighborhood.

One of the most important priorities for me as we move forward is to leverage the success of all of our schools and to build a community sense of ownership. We want the community to understand that they own all APS schools, not just the ones closest to them or the ones they currently attend. Recognizing that they all provide excellent resources for student learning and are places to come together will go a long way to avoid communities fighting one another.

In any boundary process, I think it is also important to keep communicating the complex interplay among:

  • Arlington Public Schools (APS) staff who analyze enrollment data and propose changes;
  • the community, which gives feedback on staff’s data, assumptions and proposals; and
  • the School Board, which holds responsibility to make a decision that optimizes the present and prepares for the future.

During the past boundary processes, all Board members heard input from myriad individuals, PTA representatives, teachers and advisory commissions during open office hours, Board meetings, work sessions, over coffee, on phone calls and via email. Here are some of the lessons I have taken and my thoughts on how Board leadership can guide in the future.

The first lesson is that change happens, but it happens differently in different locations. Many think we can accommodate growth without affecting the current situations. That is not realistic. Leveling enrollment across boundaries is one of the most cost-effective tools we have. After planning, siting, funding and constructing new facilities to reduce crowding, then boundary changes are a necessary step in the process to alleviate overcrowding.

Second, the Board needs to find ways to better educate the community about the six considerations in the APS boundary policy (Policy B-2.1). The six considerations (efficiency, proximity, stability, alignment, demographics and contiguity) are not ranked, and sometimes they collide with each other; not all are 100 percent achievable in any decision.

Third, we need to continue to find new strategies for communication with families about the boundary deliberations. Despite the time devoted to discussing the pros and cons of various options, boundary processes can become muddled and contentious. I would like to see:

  • More engagement with the community using the County Council of PTAs (CCPTA) and the cadre of parent ambassadors we have at every school. I believe community engagement through these channels can make options and outcomes more understandable.
  • Greater appreciation by the School Board and staff that people have carefully calibrated lives. It has taken families months to arrange child care, transportation and work schedules, and school changes can be disruptive. The process is not simply about numerical balancing.
  • APS staff proposals with full supporting data and explanations, so the community can see the basis for proposals. Data and assumptions can often change, but we need well-scrubbed proposals and robust community response.
  • Avenues for families to connect and engage with their new school community. As soon as the boundary process starts, then “Meet the Principal” sessions and PTA Leadership Nights can provide tangible experiences for families to allay fears and confusion. Families can find great educational experiences everywhere! That’s why Arlington’s enrollment is booming.
  • Everyone promoting civility in discussing boundary options. There are many ways to express alternative ideas, disagreement and dissent while modeling civil and respectful behavior for our children and neighbors.

I am looking forward to future boundary discussions that integrate the best actions and outcomes of the Board, the community and APS staff. I invite you to join us in this journey.

Reid Goldstein has been an Arlington resident since 1985, School Board member since 2016, and its chair since July 2018. His opinions do not signify APS policy or practice, or a consensus of the School Board.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Do We Really Live in a Democracy?

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The view and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

By Charles Head

Gerrymandering: an odd partisan game played by politicians. A quaint tradition of American electioneering played out in smoky back rooms, but of little consequence. Is that really true?

Well, not entirely. Gerrymandering is odd, and politicians do it, but it definitely isn’t of little consequence.

The following table gives results from the 2012 U.S. Congressional elections (shortly after the last round of redistricting, when the effects of gerrymandering can be seen clearly):

Gerrymandering caused these skewed results. However, the consequences don’t stop with simply changing election outcomes.

Gerrymandered districts can be reliably counted on to vote predominantly for one party instead of being competitive arenas where candidates need to listen to all constituents. The candidates aligned with the majority party feel little pressure to consider positions opposed by the party faithful, and are less likely to compromise when elected. This applies to all the districts in a gerrymandered state, not just the ones in which election results are flipped. The result is often uncontested elections with gridlock in Congress and state legislatures, and eternal political squabbling instead of effective bipartisan solutions.

Such ideological entrenchment is counterproductive to effective democracy. This, coupled with government shutdowns and Congress’ inability to make decisions on critical issues made a strong impression on me over the last 20 years or so, convincing me that I needed to do my part to fix the situation. I decided to join OneVirginia2021, a group committed to replacing gerrymandering with non-partisan redistricting.

How can we end gerrymandering? In most states, Congressional and state election districts are drawn by state legislatures. There’s an inherent conflict of interest in this approach because incumbents fudge the lines to get re-elected. To eliminate this conflict of interest, California, Arizona, Washington and other states have re-assigned the drawing of election districts to independent, non-partisan commissions.

OneVirginia2021 is trying to do the same thing in Virginia and drafted a proposed amendment to the Virginia state constitution to end gerrymandering. The following concepts were central to our proposal:

  • A non-partisan redistricting commission, independent of the state legislature.
  • Clear rules requiring fair, non-gerrymandered election districts.
  • A transparent process to enable the public to monitor the process.

The proposed amendment was not accepted by the legislature. Instead, a joint House-Senate conference committee negotiated an agreement that includes elements from competing Senate and House proposals.

This alternative includes a commission with membership equally divided between legislators and citizens from both parties, with a citizen serving as the chair. The process used to select citizen members of the commission, and the exclusion of unelected Congressional and General Assembly employees, is also intended to quell partisanship in drawing election maps.

While the compromise does not ban partisan gerrymandering outright, it does require a supermajority of commissioners for approval of election district maps, allows the General Assembly only up-and-down votes on the maps and excludes the governor from the approval process to avoid partisanship. The compromise also requires the redistricting process be transparent, so citizens can see what is being done and hold people accountable.

The legislature’s compromise was adopted on Feb. 23. Although the compromise doesn’t include everything that OneVirginia2021 asked for, I believe this version will empower citizen members of the proposed redistricting commission to prevent gerrymandering.

We still need to get this proposed constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly a second time in 2020, and then get it accepted by the people of Virginia in the November 2020 election. We also need implementing legislation to fill in details and qualified, unbiased candidates to apply to be members of the Virginia redistricting commission. Finally, monitoring the work of the commission once it’s up and running is essential to ensure no one subverts its intended function. Democracy is worth the effort.

Charles Head is Co-Chair of the Arlington Local Action Group of OneVirginia2021. Readers can get more information about non-partisan redistricting and the Virginia General Assembly’s action on this issue at OneVirginia2021.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Help Pave the Road to Resilience Among Arlington Youth

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 Sheila Fleischhacker

“I don’t have any friends.”

“My teachers don’t understand me.”

“The system is rigged so I won’t get in a good college and we can’t afford it.”

Unfortunately, many Arlington youth feel overly anxious or depressed, as they struggle to juggle friendships, academics, athletics and family in our fast-moving, high-expectations world. And, far too many struggle with difficulties like having enough food to eat, housing instability, discrimination of different types and other social concerns.

To address these issues, stakeholders, including Arlington Public Schools, Arlington County staff, and the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families (APCYF), are seeking innovative strategies to identify and support mental health issues facing our young people. But the scale of the problems, coupled with limited available resources, means that we need additional help. We are looking for volunteers to join the partnership in this journey.

Supporting our youth is not a job solely for mental health professionals. APCYF advocates for additional mental health school staff, educates the public on recognizing signs and symptoms of mental illness, and directs families to culturally relevant sources of support.

Arlington is similar to other parts of the country in terms of the prevalence of depression and the factors that may exacerbate its primary symptoms (sadness, irritability, crying and changes in appetite). Indeed, one out of three students in Arlington high schools reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more consecutive weeks during the prior year, according to the findings from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). And, 6 percent of high school students reported that they attempted suicide during the same time period. Self-reported experiences of depression and thinking about suicide were higher for girls in middle and high school.

The survey highlighted disparities across racial groups, with Latino youth reporting a higher incidence of depression and attempted suicide, and LGBTQ+ youth reporting higher rates of depressive symptoms. Similar to national data, only 30 percent of Arlington youth reporting depressive symptoms said they received the help they needed; black and Asian students reported that they received little to no help. According to ACPYF member Dr. Alfiee M. Breland-Noble, a nationally recognized expert on adolescent depression, “Depression is a universal illness that does not discriminate, but one that has racial disparities in terms of who gets care.”

APS is a valuable partner for increasing access to mental health care and these investments have positive impacts on educational outcomes. Increasing student and staff awareness about mental illness is decreasing stigma and fostering stronger relationships among students, between students and staff, and between staff and mental health allies outside the school system. As one example, Arlington’s Behavioral Health Bureau now offers same-day access to family mental health services.

Emotional and psychological trauma resulting from a one-off event (e.g., date rape) or ongoing events such as child abuse and neglect can induce depressive symptoms. The physiological impacts are not something that many youth can “just get over.” APCYF advocates for improved coordination across the school, county, and other mental health allies. The aim is an approach that teaches all involved to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma; integrates that knowledge into policies, procedures, and practices; and actively resists re-traumatization of our youth.

More than 900 APS staff have been trained in recognizing potential mental health concerns. Recently, APS introduced the “SOS Signs of Suicide” program for eighth and tenth graders to teach teens that depression is a treatable illness, equip them to respond to a friend with suicidal thoughts and provide depression screening for all eighth grade students.

APCYF is also working on prevention, including identifying best practices to build resilience among our youth to help them deal with difficult events that can change their lives. Please consider ways you can partner with us in furthering our research, engagement and advocacy. Learn more by attending our meetings and the Mental Health Roundtable Subcommittee meetings, whose work includes directing youth, families and communities to much needed resources.

Sheila Fleischhacker is the Chair of the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families. Dr. Fleischhacker is a nutrition scientist and public health lawyer with more than 15 years of experience working in academic, government and non-government sectors to strengthen the role of law and policy approaches to improve healthy eating, particularly among high risk, underserved communities. She is the mother of two children living in Alcova Heights. 

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Make Arlington a Leader in Renewable Energy and Fighting Climate Change

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 Paul Ferguson

“Ready For 100” is a commitment to use 100% renewable electricity by the year 2035. Localities making this commitment send a signal to the nation and world that the United States is still moving forward with emission reduction plans that will mitigate the effects of global warming.

The International Panel on Climate Change tells us unequivocally that we have much less time than we thought to avoid catastrophic climate change. We will see rising sea levels taking away property in coastal areas, increased flooding, difficulty growing crops, increasing chances of superstorms, disease relating to heat, loss of animals and plants affecting our ecosystem.

The result of this warming eventually could be a planet that is not hospitable to human life as we know it. If emissions around the world are reduced, these disastrous effects will be reduced. That is why Arlington should join other localities in taking action now.

When Arlington’s Community Energy Plan was passed in 2013, it set a transformational goal for greenhouse gas emissions within Arlington. Yet the plan was developed when solar photovoltaic was more expensive than fossil fuels and the future of electric vehicles was an unknown. The economics and technology are now very different.

While Arlington is well regarded for its environmental commitment, other localities have taken stronger actions. Montgomery County, Maryland is committed to achieve 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2035, and Washington, D.C. by 2032. Atlanta by 2035, and Columbia, South Carolina by 2036. In Virginia, Floyd County committed by 2035 and the Blacksburg City Council by 2050.

Five cities have already achieved 100% renewable energy on their power grid — Aspen, CO; Burlington, VT; Georgetown, TX; Greensburg, KS; and Rock Port, MO.

What Would It Take to Make the Change?

Making the transition would be hard work. I acknowledge the power Dominion Energy has in Virginia. Dominion has repeatedly hindered efforts to increase the percentage of renewable power used. However, with environmental awareness growing in the state legislature and among our citizens, it is time to press for change.

Localities can drive markets/costs down for renewable energy. The county and businesses can buy green power options through Dominion or the private sector. This pushes the market and, if enough join together, it makes a difference.

Some examples of actions Arlington could take:

  • Add solar incentives for residents and businesses
  • Partner with Arlington businesses investing in large offsite renewable projects providing clean energy to Arlington and surrounding areas
  • Commit to future government and private sector buildings being Net Zero Energy Buildings like Discovery Elementary School (cannot mandate for private sector but can encourage through site plan process)
  • Transition ART buses and school buses to electric power
  • Add additional electric charging stations throughout the county for residents.

Arlington would need funding for any new clean energy initiatives. In general, I agree that funds should not be dedicated from a tax for one issue. However back in 2007, the County Board instituted a Residential Utility Tax (RUT) to fund the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE). This was specifically to encourage renewable energy use.

An up-to-$3 tax on electric and gas bills was designed to address problems caused by energy use. Arlingtonians who use 100 percent renewable energy through rooftop solar systems do not pay the tax. Those who use less energy pay only a portion of the tax on a sliding scale. Unfortunately, during the 2017 and 2018 budget considerations, the County Board allowed RUT revenues to be diverted for general fund items.

AIRE put us in good position to now participate in “Ready For 100.” And the residential utility tax (RUT) gave us a good tool to fund renewable energy projects.

When Arlington or other localities reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t make things directly better for us. Climate change is a world problem. However, when hundreds of localities make Paris Accord-like commitments, this sends a signal that all the international efforts together are worth it.

I hope that the County Board will recognize the unique nature of the RUT revenue and reserve it for its intended use. I hope the County Board will adopt a commitment to use 100 percent renewable electricity by the year 2035 — and follow through with practical actions to bring it about. I know that a majority of County Board members believe in environmental stewardship. Please let them know that you are “Ready For 100”!

Paul Ferguson has served as the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington and the City of Falls Church since 2008. He served as a Member of the County Board from 1996-2007.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Harnessing Big, Messy Data to Strengthen Local Government

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 Gizem Korkmaz

Local governments are awash in ever-growing streams of administrative data. From school registrations to property tax transactions and records of every call made to 911, these data provide opportunities to build insights to meet people’s needs and prepare for the future.

Making government work more effectively is a bedrock progressive value. Yet as communities take advantage of the information hidden within these streams of data, they need assistance on statistical methods and social science expertise.

Two examples in Arlington show how such data insights strengthened public safety initiatives. One pinpointed where smoke alarms were most needed — thus improving the likelihood of reducing home fire deaths. The other aimed to help reduce late night alcohol-related crime in bars and restaurants in Clarendon. The projects were done in collaboration with Arlington County Police and Fire Departments.

Our research group, the Social and Decision Analytics Division (SDAD)* of the University of Virginia, collaborates in such projects as we help communities use new techniques for collecting, combining and analyzing data. We are a multidisciplinary team of researchers spanning statistics, economics, sociology and data science. We combine expertise to transform data into actionable knowledge and to support evidence-based policy.

Predicting Residential Smoke Alarm Need in Arlington

A smoke alarm maintained properly can be a life-saving resource. Yet three of every five home fire deaths were in homes that lacked a functioning early detection system, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

ACFD launched Operation Firesafe, an initiative that sends fire officials door-to-door offering free installations and repairs of smoke alarms. ACFD partnered with us to analyze data from early home visits and to determine where future visits should be directed to meet the greatest need.

We examined information on nearly 2,000 successful visits, showing 32 percent of those homes needed a new smoke alarm. Combining this information with publicly available housing data (value, age and location), our team developed a model to predict which homes were most likely to lack a functioning smoke alarm.

With predictions covering nearly 50,000 Arlington residences, fire officials can make targeted choices about where to canvass for smoke alarms. Initial estimates showed that older homes in the county’s southwestern section were far less likely to contain a working fire-detection system.

Evaluating the Impact of the Arlington Restaurant Initiative on Alcohol-Related Crimes in Clarendon

Arlington features appealing restaurants and nightlife destinations. Clarendon alone has more than 20 restaurants with ABC licenses and each year, approximately 580,000 patrons visit Clarendon between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Visits are especially high at times such as St. Patrick’s Day and July 4, when alcohol consumption is quite high. This area has become a difficult issue for police to manage due to alcohol-related crimes such as public intoxication, DUI, disorderly conduct and sexual assault.

ACPD launched the Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI) which focuses on employee policies and effective practices for restaurants and nightlife to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disorder. By providing training and standards, the restaurant staff can intervene early before issues become problematic. The staff are given training to detect fake identifications, understand criminal/civil liability, public safety expectations and “Bar Bystander” sexual assault intervention training.

The ACPD Nightlife detail officers (those working Friday-Saturday late nights) use more personal, proactive interactions to nip potential alcohol-related crimes in the bud; for instance, spotting someone who is having trouble walking and sending them home in a cab right then. After two years, more interactions and fewer crimes were occurring in Clarendon, yet were the extra resources (such as the late-night overtime pay for police) justified?

To probe the social and economic costs, we needed to scrutinize the data more strategically. Master Police Officer Dimitrios Mastoras partnered with us to evaluate effectiveness of ARI. First, we used the data on interactions that the officers collected during ARI weekend activities in combination with the crime data to show a decrease in arrests over two years of the program. Our next step is to estimate the reduction in crime solely due to ARI and to calculate cost savings.

We keep looking for more ways that strategic data analysis can help local government be even more effective. What issues keep Arlington County leaders up at night? Data science based on good statistical and social science research methods can help solve some of these questions — and help governments do an even better job of serving their citizens.

Gizem Korkmaz is an Associate Professor at the Social and Decision Analytics Division (SDAD), in the Biocomplexity Institute & Initiative at the University of Virginia. The hallmark of her research is to blend her knowledge in traditional economics with big and messy data using tools from social network analysis and machine learning. She works with traditional as well as novel data sources such as social media, 911 calls and crime incidents to ask how we can make data useful for people and communities.

* Our research group was part of Virginia Tech until October 2018, when it moved to UVA with offices in Rosslyn.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: Arlington County Equity Should Start with Staff

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 Wilma Jones Killgo

Arlington neighborhoods are facing a multitude of challenges as the divergent interests of organizations and the people who live near them are decided by the County Board.

These decisions are determined after vigorous debate on websites, blogs and media, both social and traditional. Our communities are pressured to accept proposals with conditions and/or designs that are either completely out of character or blatantly unfair to their residents. The neighborhoods are labeled NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard) by people who have little understanding of the issues.

As a civic activist and fourth-generation resident of the Halls Hill-High View Park community, I have been involved in my fair share of these projects, including the rebuilding of the Langston-Brown Community Center, the proposed relocation of Fire Station 8 and most recently, the Virginia Hospital Center expansion.

Everyone knows that things change. No one expects that development will stop. We see our communities growing and new people moving in. We see new businesses open and existing organizations expand. We know that Arlington is changing. We are not fighting change. All we ask for is fairness.

There were some rough times during the process for each of these projects but the outcomes for each were better for the neighborhoods involved than the original proposals. Those solutions were achieved because of major efforts by civically active neighbors and our citizens associations appealing to county staff, commission and Board members in multiple meetings and emails. On some occasions when the direct appeals fell on deaf ears, we had to resort to major media, like a Washington Post article to point out the inconsistencies and erroneous information being spread by people and organizations with obvious business interests in the organization’s preferred outcome.

It is troubling and to be honest, a bit exhausting to have to continually fight these battles. But I remain hopeful because I think the message may be starting to break through in some areas. One ray of hope was evidenced in the remarks of our new County Board Chairman, Christian Dorsey, in his message on Jan. 2, when he stated his goal to “imbue our public policy with an emphasis on equity.” If our leaders can help to shift the discussions, debates and decisions in this manner, it could help improve the relationships between the county, the organizations that are a part of our communities and the residents who live and want to thrive in the neighborhoods every day.

Now let’s talk about what exactly this looks like. What does “an emphasis on equity” look like to me?

My initial hope is that county staff begins being neutral as they work on requests from organizations that seek to enter our communities or expand within them. Currently, community activists feel as if we must fight the organization leaders AND county staff, who it seems often support the organizations’ requests with little consideration for how it impacts the community.

For example in September 2018, we secured a deferment and a motion from the County Board to have the Virginia Hospital Center expansion walkways to the Halls Hill-High View Park community redesigned. These areas were characterized by one neighbor as “an alley and a tunnel.” They had multiple pedestrian dangers and safety concerns (near medical waste facilities, etc.). The Neighborhood Task Force spent three years asking the county staff to support this effort and received no support. Due to pleas from residents at what was to be the final meeting on this expansion, the community was finally given equity.

In addition, at two meetings with county staff during these discussions, I was told that the staff members were getting tired of all the meetings with the community. I pointed out that they were being paid with our tax money to attend while many of the community members were using their annual leave to take valuable time from our day jobs.

There are many areas where equity can be addressed in Arlington County government decision-making. But from my view, it starts at the ground level and that is with county staff. I’ve said this to each County Board member in 2018, and I stand on my opinion.

Wilma Jones Killgo is a fourth-generation resident of the Halls Hill-High View Park community. She is serving her third term as president of the neighborhood civic association, the John M. Langston Citizens Association. She is the author (under her maiden name of Wilma Jones) of the historic memoir, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood. Learn more at HallsHill.com.

0 Comments

Progressive Voice: It’s Long Past Time for Virginia to Ratify ERA

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 of ARLnow.com

By Laura Saul Edwards

I wholeheartedly support an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and while there are many reasons to fight for it, here are three that are important to me.

I will never forget the day I discovered that a male colleague with the same job title and responsibilities earned more than I did, despite having worked fewer years in the same office. It was a soul-searing experience that left me depressed, enraged and hurt. It is unacceptable to treat women as second-class citizens by denying them equal civil rights in a nation that values equality and opportunity for all. I do not want this future for my daughter or any other woman.

So first, ERA ratification is essential to guaranteeing that “…equality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” as affirmed in the ERA text. The Constitution is the last word on civil rights, yet a ban against gender discrimination is not in this foundational document. Lack of equality under law on the basis of sex is a glaring omission rendering our Constitution incomplete.

Yes, Congress has enacted laws to improve civil rights protections on the basis of sex. But legislation can be amended, repealed or invalidated in part, as happened in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the civil remedy provision in the Violence Against Women Act.

Enshrining the ERA in the Constitution will confirm gender equity is protected and subject to the same high standard as the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and religion. This is because the ERA would require judges to apply strict scrutiny — and not weaker intermediate scrutiny as is now the case — when deciding sex discrimination lawsuits.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) made precisely this argument when she pointed out: “Women are left out of the Constitution. We merit the same rights as men…and they should be explicitly stated.”

Second, Virginians want the General Assembly to pass ERA! A poll conducted by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University reports strong bipartisan approval across demographic lines. Overall, 81 percent of Virginia’s voters support ERA ratification. Among men, older voters and in House and Senate districts represented by Republicans, support for the amendment reaches 60 percent to 70 percent. These results offer clear-cut direction for elected officials to vote “yea.”

Locally, the Arlington County Civic Federation and Arlington Democrats have adopted resolutions in support of ERA. The Arlington County Board also made ratification of ERA one of its policy priorities in 2019.

Julia Tanner, president of the Equal Rights Coalition (a regional network working for ratification of the amendment) observed, “Virginia has a long history of amending the Constitution to uphold our inalienable rights. We brought the Bill of Rights into the Constitution. Now we have momentum to include women in that Bill of Rights.”

Third, Virginia can make history by approving the ERA. Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment, moving gender equity one step closer to reality by reaching the threshold of three-fourths of the states needed for making it part of the Constitution.

Virginia is doing its part to get ERA to the finish line. Last week the Virginia Senate passed a resolution to ratify the amendment on a 26 to 41 vote. The next step is in the House of Delegates.

Earlier this week, the ERA amendment was defeated by a 4 to 2 vote in a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. However, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-66th District) has the authority to ensure the amendment is brought before the full House of Delegates.

Despite this mounting excitement, strong support and demonstrated need for equal protection, it is sobering that Virginia has tried before and come up short on passing ERA.

Supporters must therefore be vigilant, especially in the face of a recurring claim by opponents that the deadline has expired for states to ratify the amendment. The original deadline is in the amendment’s preamble, not the amendment text, and Congress passed a subsequent deadline that has expired. However, a Congressional Research Service white paper established that the amendment could be added to the Constitution regardless of the ratification date.

Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring also examined this issue and determined “…the lapse of the ERA’s original and extended ratification periods has not disempowered the General Assembly from passing a ratify resolution.”

My keen and ardent hope is that the General Assembly helps Virginia make history by approving the Equal Rights Amendment. By doing so, our state would bring our nation a vital step closer to finally adding equality of the sexes to the Constitution.

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.

Please call Speaker of the VA House of Delegates Kirk Cox at (804) 698 – 1066 and ask him to guarantee the ERA amendment is given a full and fair vote on the House floor in this session.

0 Comments

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
×

Subscribe to our mailing list