Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!
Feel free to discuss what you’re thankful for this year — if you haven’t already — or any issue of local interest in the comments.
In actuality, the Saturday before Christmas is usually the biggest shopping day of the year. And with Cyber Monday and e-commerce encouraging online shopping, and Small Business Saturday encouraging shoppers to support local businesses, Black Friday may be losing its luster.
We wanted to check with those who are actually heading out to the malls and shopping centers today: how big are the crowds?
Alternatively, if you had to head into work today instead of shopping — like us — there’s an option for you.
According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, holiday travel will be virtually unchanged this year, down 0.2 percent compared to 2014.
That’s despite lower gas prices and better weather — it’s supposed to be mostly sunny and cool this week, compared to the snowstorm that was predicted around this time last year.
About 90.5 percent of all D.C. area travelers will travel by car, compared to 7.3 percent traveling via air and 2.2 percent via other modes of transportation.
Will you be among those traveling outside of D.C. this year?
It’s going to be a chilly weekend, and we might even see our first freeze of the season on Sunday.
Planning on staying in, staying warm and binging on Netflix? Or perhaps heading out for a morning race for a good cause?
Feel free to discuss that or any other topic of local interest in the comments.
A soon as possible after it takes office on Jan. 1, the new County Board needs to make a series of important decisions regarding recommendations in the final report submitted by the Community Facilities Study Group (CFSG). As explained below, these decisions involve both substance and process.
The CFSG highlighted five pressing community challenges:
- A scarcity of land for public facilities — Just 2.2 square miles of Arlington’s 26 square miles are public land owned by the County or APS. That public land is needed for schools, fire stations, community centers, storage and maintenance facilities and more.
- Changing demographics — Arlington’s population is projected to grow from 216,700 today to 283,000 in 2040. School enrollment is expected to exceed 30,000 students by 2024.
- A threatened commercial tax base — A shrinking federal presence, shifts in the way businesses use office space, and a competitive regional market have combined to push office vacancy rates to a historic high in Arlington.
- Strategic facility planning and priority setting — The County needs a clear and open structure for setting priorities among competing needs.
- Revamping the community dialogue — To reach all members of our community, Arlington needs to make participation easier, earlier, and more meaningful.
In accepting the CFSG report, the current County and School Boards directed their staffs to present initial responses no later than Feb. 2016, followed by community feedback and formal staff recommendations due by Sept. 2016. Under the current schedule, both Boards then are supposed to “reconvene” with the CFSG by the end of 2016.
One of the most important issues the new County Board needs to address ASAP is the conflict between the current schedule to review the CFSG report and the traditional schedule to adopt Arlington’s next 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP). Under past practice, the next CIP is due for adoption in summer 2016.
But, the current County Board has just approved a timetable for review of the CFSG report that strongly suggests that the new County Board will not be ready to address the last two of the five pressing community challenges identified by the CFSG — priorities and transparency — until well after the new County Board actually has adopted the next CIP.
It is incongruous that the new County Board actually would make major decisions regarding what is likely to be a $3 billion, 10-year capital improvement plan without first agreeing upon and then utilizing, the types of priorities recommended by the CFSG.
To enable setting priorities, the new County Board should design a transparent 2016 CIP process that mandates:
- financial modeling of appropriate alternative development scenarios, and
- alternative capital cost assumptions for individual major capital projects.
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.
We live in a time when organizations constantly need to be aware of their structure, purpose and business plans. They need to innovate and tend to their reputations or risk the danger of disappearing.
Remember RCA, Eastern Airlines, Woolworth’s, and Enron? All of them are gone. By contrast, there are Apple, IBM, Netflix, and Samsung — all companies that have reinvented themselves successfully.
This reality of needing to attend to direction and purpose doesn’t just include businesses. The reality also applies to churches. The way churches engage this work is through a process called discernment.
Several years ago, the Arlington Presbyterian Church congregation began to wonder who God was calling us to be and what God was calling us to do. We spent much time in prayer, studying scripture, talking to one another, and talking to people in the community.
Whatever God wanted for our congregation, it would be discovered through deep and intentional listening. As members engaged this time we were seeking to answer the question, “For whom are our hearts breaking?”
During the summer of 2012, the searching took on a new emphasis as a vision team was formed. As we continued the discernment process, a threefold vision began to emerge:
- create and nurture a community of disciples following Jesus Christ
- be a people and place of crossroads for the diverse population along Columbia Pike
- redevelop our property so that committed affordable housing can be built.
Not surprisingly, the third piece of our vision has garnered the most attention, as Arlington Presbyterian entered into a relationship with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH), who will purchase our property and build a mixed-used development that will include affordable housing, amenities for the residents, street-level retail and structured parking.
However, as important and perhaps harder are the first two parts of our vision. Who we understand ourselves to be as a faith community is deeply rooted in the Christian faith and the commitment to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
The decision to sell the property is a business decision. But more than a business decision, it is also an act of faith. Likewise, the identification of APAH as our solid business partner is not just good due diligence. It is also good stewardship of the church’s resources.
For example, APAH offered our congregation the opportunity to name the development. We chose Gilliam Place, named for Ronda A. Gilliam (1906-1970). Mr. Gilliam was Arlington Presbyterian’s first African American member, an Elder and founder of a clothing assistance program, among other accomplishments in the community.
Naming Gilliam Place for this humble and dignified individual, who strived to make his neighborhood better, aptly represents our legacy. Remembering Mr. Gilliam through the name of the building will continue the story of Arlington Presbyterian — a story of visionary men and women carrying on the tradition of radical willingness to trust God — woven into the history of the development of community along Columbia Pike.
During the redevelopment process, Arlington Presbyterian will seek to strengthen its community of disciples through outreach in the community. We have an interest in returning to the property after construction by leasing space on the ground floor of the building. Through continued prayer and discernment, we will use the next year to consider how God is calling us to new ministry and service in this community.
Every aspect of our congregation’s journey has started with prayer, been sustained by prayer, and been sealed with prayer. We continue to keep our minds and hearts open, listening for God’s continued guidance and following with trust and faith.
The Reverend Sharon K. Core is pastor at Arlington Presbyterian Church. She has had the great joy of being with this congregation since December 1998.
The Board this week approved the first step in creating the third Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in Arlington.
The TIF plans dedicate a portion of future tax revenue to a specific project or set of projects. In the most recent proposal, the funds would be used to pay off a bond taken out to pay for a portion of the redevelopment of the Ballston mall.
The money taken out of future budgets for a TIF is not eligible to be used for anything else. Not on schools or infrastructure or public safety. In this case, the number is proposed at 40 percent of future revenue in this TIF district to pay for a $45.5 million bond.
The argument for TIFs is that the development being paid for by the TIFs will increase revenue to the County above what we would have otherwise received. Therefore, despite setting aside a portion of that revenue to subsidize development, it is still a net benefit to the taxpayer.
However, if a private developer cannot secure financing for a project in one of the most attractive real estate markets in the country, why should taxpayers agree to make up the difference?
The County Board has not really seen any pressure on budgets from these revenue set-asides yet because they are a relatively new idea here. But, we can look to a prolific TIF user, Chicago, which has been using them since 1986.
At one point, Chicago had over 150 TIFs. Chicago is roughly 12 times the size of Arlington, so that would be like a dozen or so TIFs here. In 2013, Chicago TIFs held $1.7 billion in unspent funds in their accounts after taking in $412 million in revenue.
The TIFs began to squeeze Chicago’s revenues to the point that Mayor Emanuel had to campaign on the promise of rolling them back and opening them up for more transparency. Many opponents argued they had become a slush fund to benefit favored developers and projects at the expense of other core budget priorities.
In July, the Mayor announced he would phase out seven of the TIFs and put $250 million back into the city’s budget over the next five years, half to go directly to the schools. And, the Mayor is putting in place a requirement that TIFs return at least 25 percent of their surpluses to the city, which will net an anticipated $150 million.
Granted, Arlington is not Chicago, which according to one review had more public corruption convictions than anywhere in the country. However, the idea that future revenues will be diverted to pay for private development should at least raise some concerns for Arlingtonians. Ballston is almost certainly not the last TIF the Board has in mind.
The reaction to the news that Arlington County is ready and willing to help resettle Syrian refugees was largely positive on social media.
Despite a mixed bag of comments, our post on Facebook garnered more than 600 likes, making this one of our most-liked stories of all time.
What do you think of the idea of bringing Syrian refugees to Arlington?
Update at 2:15 p.m. — Arlington County released the following statement about Syrian refugees today:
Our collective conscience has been shaken by both the refugee crisis resulting from the ongoing conflict in Syria and the terrorist attacks across the world that threaten the security of the United States and our allies. The ongoing debate regarding our country’s response to these issues at the federal, state and local level is an opportunity to demonstrate the true character of our nation. While local governments have no role in the refugee admissions process or relocation decisions, we feel compelled to lend our voice to this important discussion.
The County is no newcomer to refugee resettlement activity. Over the past four decades we have welcomed those fleeing the Vietnam war, civil wars in Central America, the Ethiopian/Eritrean conflicts and the Bosnian war. We have confidence that the federal process of application, screening, placement and resettlement coupled with partnership with our regional resettlement agency, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, can once again lead to the successful integration of refugees into our community.
We firmly believe that responding to today’s urgent humanitarian crisis by serving as a new home for those seeking refuge is in keeping with both our nation’s tradition and with the Arlington County Board Resolution Supporting Arlington’s Newcomers, passed on September 18, 2007.
We support the need for strong security and screening reinforced by recent events, yet we are confident that America can continue to serve as a land of hope and opportunity that welcomes those seeking a better life for themselves and their loved ones while also ensuring our own security. In fact, the ideals and values upon which our nation was founded require it.
Photo via Wikipedia
With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, it might be time to get some work done around the house before the in-laws arrive or you head out of town for the holiday.
Feel free to discuss anything of local interest in the comments. Have a nice weekend!
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
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.
While some of the individual results may be important, proponents of a fair and representative democracy see little to celebrate overall in the 2015 Virginia general election results.
Only 26.5% of eligible voters turned out to vote on Nov. 3. Only 29 out of the 100 House races had a two-party contest. Of those, only six races were seen as truly competitive. Thus, the Washington Post lamented that 2015 was “a carnival of cakewalks” that left the average Virginia voter “powerless.”
Inspire Virginia is a civic engagement organization based in Arlington. We are supported by Project High Hopes, a nonprofit organization that was founded by Ira Lechner, who once represented Arlington in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
Through its work, Inspire Virginia has an understanding of the frustrations identified by the Washington Post and experienced by voters. We believe that hope lies in the youth vote and that is why we support and empower high school student leaders to mobilize the youth vote.
A healthy and representative democracy requires ideas, debate, and votes from every demographic. Young people offer unique attributes that could energize Virginia elections and the political process:
- Young people are more likely than other age groups to be unaffiliated with a specific party and want candidate interaction beyond just party identification.
- Surveys in 2000 and 2008 showed 18 to 29 year-olds cared about candidates’ positions on issues over leadership/personal qualities more than any other age group.
- Studies show active young voters influence members of households to go and vote. It’s simple: young people bring others along with them to vote.
Inspire Virginia is working to transform the way the youth vote is viewed; we must empower every eligible high school student to vote as soon as they are eligible.
In August, Inspire Virginia brought together 60 students from 18 different high schools in six different counties, including Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. Together, these students formed Inspire Virginia’s inaugural class.
Inspire Virginia recruits three or four exceptional leaders in partner high schools across the state. These juniors and seniors must be willing and committed to improving Virginia’s democracy, starting with their own schools.
We educate, train, and ultimately, inspire these student leaders to return to their schools and mobilize their peers to participate in the democratic process. Our mission is to inspire student leaders in each high school across the state to register every eligible student and empower those students to vote. Already, these “Inspired Leaders” are reaching out to community leaders and asking for greater inclusion of youth in the democratic process.
In the weeks since the summer conference, Inspired Leaders have worked to register 172 voters, and nearly 900 of their peers have pledged to register when they become eligible. These 1,072 youth votes are just the beginning.
As one of our student leaders, Jessica Edwards, a junior at Saint Stephens and Saint Agnes High School, wrote:
“It’s truly incredible to see all the amazing work that other schools are doing through Inspire so quickly. Additionally, it’s great to know that the stereotype that youths are apathetic and lazy is certainly false, as proven by the work of Inspire Leaders all over the nation. “
The coming year presents a unique opportunity for all of us to engage the youth vote. Virginia law allows 17 year-olds to register and vote in primary elections as long as they will turn 18 by the general election. For 2016, that means many seniors can register and vote in both the March presidential primary and the June primary for Congress and other offices. These are two opportunities for young people to become active voters — and get in the habit of voting — even before graduating high school.
Our state, by incorporating the collective youth demographic into Virginia civic life, will reinvigorate an elections process that has been criticized as stale and ineffective. This is why Inspire Virginia is working to register thousands of new, interactive voters across the state. We hope you will join us in welcoming and supporting these new additions to the electorate. For more information, visit our website.
Isabel Alcalde and Alex Chandler are Program Coordinators for Inspire Virginia. Inspire Virginia is the seventh state chapter of Inspire US, a unique program dedicated to supporting students in a year-long civic experience.
On the next Arlington County Board meeting agenda is the annual close-out process. Despite it being just seven days away, the recommendation from the County Manager is not even online. This process often allocates $100 million or more in spending and no one outside of County Staff — and presumably Board Members — has seen it yet.
For years, I have railed against this process. In effect, the County Board has a slush fund every fall that they can dip into and spend with almost no public input. While this process may not get the attention of a Columbia Pike trolley project, it has spent far more of our tax dollars and few county residents even know the process exists.
Last year, around $32 million came from revenue over and above what was budgeted for in the spring. In fact, year after year, revenue estimates come in far below actual revenue collections. The County argues this is fiscal prudence. I remain convinced they take the low end of the estimate range so they can advocate for higher taxes to pay for their spending priorities.
What should the County Board do to improve the close-out process?
First step: make it more transparent. The County Board should not vote to spend $100 million with only seven days, or less, notice.
Second step: create a section of the annual budget in the spring of anticipated priorities with close-out funds. Tell the community specifically what you will spend money on if some things you are budgeting for end up costing less than you anticipated. Let people speak to it as part of the budget hearings.
Third step: as part of the new independent audit function, the County Board should ask for a report as to why revenue estimates continue to be off by such a wide margin every year.
Fourth step: start returning excess revenue to taxpayers. Property taxes, not rates but actual tax payments, go up every single year in Arlington. Few of us would object to paying a little less.
With fresh faces on the County Board and a new County Manager on the way, it as good a time as any to bring a more transparency and accountability to the spending process. With any luck, it will lower our tax bills as well.
Early in 2016, the new County Board should overhaul the seriously-flawed process the current County Board uses to allocate any surplus funds left over at the close of the County’s fiscal year.
Both the County Board and the School Board have fiscal years that end on June 30. Each Board is required, by law, to adopt a balanced budget. In many years, the County Board has closed its fiscal year with substantial surpluses. Since the School Board receives the lion’s share of its revenues from the County Board, the School Board receives a pro-rata share of any such locally-generated surpluses.
However, each Board currently has very different processes for deciding what to do with such surpluses. The School Board’s approach is far superior to the County Board’s approach.
At its Nov. 19 meeting, the County Board is scheduled to vote to allocate tens of millions of dollars in prior fiscal year surplus funds. The County Board has scheduled that vote based on a proposed allocation contained in a staff report not posted on the County website when this column was submitted to ARLnow.com. This is exactly the same process the County Board has followed for years. You can review last year’s County staff report’s recommendations regarding how to allocate prior fiscal year surplus funds here.
Many activists believe that the County overestimates expenses and underestimates revenues in the operating budget it adopts each spring. They claim the County does this deliberately so that during the following fall’s fiscal year close-out, the County can eliminate a public review of its close-out recommendations comparable to the public review the budget receives in the spring. County staff counters indignantly that any such suggestions are false because the County’s spring budgeting approach simply demonstrates prudent financial planning for which the staff should be praised.
It isn’t necessary to resolve this heated annual debate over motive because there is a far better process available to guard against the possibility that the activists are correct.
The School Board first receives, posts on its website, and discusses in a public meeting its staff’s recommendations regarding how to allocate any surplus funds. But, the School Board does not vote on its staff’s proposal until the following month. This much fairer and more transparent process allows the School Board to:
- discuss the initial APS staff recommendations at a public meeting,
- receive a public report from the APS Budget Advisory Committee, and
- wait a month to get further input from the general public, before finally
- adopting the final allocation of any APS surplus funds.
The new County Board should adopt the School Board’s close-out process.
A photo went viral this week, showing a sign at a Nordstrom store.
“We won’t be decking our halls until Friday, November 27,” the sign said. “Why? Well, we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.”
Never mind that the photo was from 2009, it brings up a discussion-worthy point: has Christmas creep gone too far? Should other retailers hold off until after Thanksgiving to start putting up Christmas decorations?
Over at the Nordstrom store in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City yesterday, there were no signs of Christmas decorations — and no signs of explanatory signs — inside. Outside of the department store was another story: the future home of the mall’s Santa Claus already had decorated trees along with red carpets and rope lines, waiting for Saint Nick to arrive along with adoring throngs of youngsters and parents.
So which would you prefer? A holly, jolly November, or some holiday restraint?
The overall party affiliation of those on the Arlington County Board might not be changing on Jan. 1, but that doesn’t mean the status quo from a policymaking perspective.
Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey will bring a fresh perspective to the Board, following their lopsided victory in Tuesday’s election.
In a way, it’s back to normal for Arlington’s usual pattern of electing Democrats to local office, after John Vihstadt’s election last year flipped the script. But Cristol and Dorsey are not exactly the establishment Arlington Democrats of old, pledging to bring more fiscal responsibility, economic development and an emphasis on innovation to county government
Feel free to discuss the election or any other topic of local interest, in the comments.
Across Virginia, voters made few changes to their elected representation. Every single incumbent on Tuesday’s ballot in the General Assembly won. The Senate remained 21-19 Republican, and Democrats netted a gain just one of 100 seats in the House, leaving it overwhelmingly in Republican hands.
Despite millions of dollars being spent to retake the Senate, Governor McAuliffe now must work with Republicans if he hopes to achieve any meaningful results in his final two years in office. After ignoring the General Assembly and the Virginia Constitution with his Supreme Court appointment over the summer, the governor has some ground to make up.
In Arlington, the results were a far cry from 2014 when voters delivered a resounding defeat to the status quo by overwhelmingly electing John Vihstadt. Like Vihstadt, Mike McMenamin offered vast community experience to voters.
The voters chose overwhelmingly instead to give two Democratic newcomers a chance on the County Board. Those results mirror Arlington’s recent history in County Board elections as voters reset to their natural predispositions at the ballot box. We will never know if the retiring members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes would have fared as well with the electorate. But both Cristol and Dorsey promised to do a better job of taking community concerns into account on the campaign trail.
While neither Dorsey or Cristol campaigned on a complete overhaul of how the government budgets and spends our money, they join two other Board Members who have been elected since March of 2012. Four out of five County Board members had to campaign for the office in an environment where voters of all political stripes are growing increasingly concerned that our County Board had taken its eye off the ball when it comes to core functions of local government. And that is a good thing.
Now the newly constituted Board can turn its attention to hiring a County Manager. It will be the first indication of whether it will be business as usual or a new direction.
Many voters were surprised to find paper ballots awaiting them at the polls on Tuesday. Some were taken back to their hatred scantron tests in school. But lawmakers wanted to create a paper trail for recount purposes, so we will be filling them out for the foreseeable future.
Election officials at my precinct were welcoming feedback on the paper ballots as they head into a much higher turnout presidential election year. If you have any constructive suggestions, please consider contacting the Registrar’s office or use the comments section below.