76°Partly Cloudy

by Heather Mongilio — July 31, 2015 at 6:30 pm 922 0

donaldson run water

It looks like the rain is gone, at least until next Thursday, making this weekend a great time to go celebrate the start of the last full month of summer.

One way to enjoy the sunshine might be a walk on the Donaldson Run trail now the water advisory has been lifted.

Cyclists can also join County Board member Libby Garvey in honoring her late husband with a 90-mile bicycle ride.

Residents may also want to head over to the Arlington Central Library’s auditorium (1015 N. Quincy Street) to hear about the changes coming to I-66, including going from HOV lanes to HOT lanes.

Feel free to sound off on the proposed lane changes or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

by Mark Kelly — July 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm 713 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

You may not have heard much about it, but the State Board of Elections (SBE) is considering changes to the Virginia voter registration form and accompanying regulations in advance of the 2016 elections.

Under the Virginia Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, the Commonwealth “shall require the applicant to provide the following information on a standard form: full name; date of birth; residence address; social security number, if any; whether the applicant is presently a United States citizen; and such additional information as may be required by law.”

The proposed regulatory changes say that failure to provide some of these items, say a social security number for instance, is no longer a material omission, or bright line rule, that would stop someone from registering to vote. Worse, the regulations say that no registrar may disqualify a voter if they simply sign the form in the appropriate place.

While some may support removing the social security number requirement, or others, from the current voter registrations forms and regulations, SBE has no authority to remove it. The idea that an agency or department can simply write a regulation that re-writes the law is something we are seeing more and more of in America, but it should be unacceptable.

Governor McAuliffe supports the changes. His office said the changes were proposed by the staff at SBE, not the political appointees, in hopes of streamlining the registration process.

But well over 5 million Virginians are currently registered to vote under the existing system. Prior to these proposed regulations, there was not a stream of stories claiming the process was in any way a burden new voters are somehow unable to bear.

And according to the public comments thus far, Virginia Registrars are generally opposed to the changes. These are the public servants charged with reviewing the credentials of potential voters to ensure our elections are fair.

While voter fraud is relatively rare, it does happen. Creating a form that makes it the least bit easier to commit voter fraud is not only bad public policy, but it also undermines the public’s trust in the system. Whether intentional or not, when an ineligible voter is allowed to cast a vote, it improperly dilutes the vote of every eligible voter who goes to the polls.

While registering to vote and voting should be relatively easy, there must be safeguards in place to protect the sanctity of the vote. I am not prepared to declare this a Democratic conspiracy to propel Hillary Clinton to a win next November, but the changes raise serious questions and SBE should go back to the drawing board.

by Peter Rousselot — July 30, 2015 at 1:00 pm 696 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington County Board recently voted to hire a new independent auditor. As the lone dissenting voice, Board Vice-Chair Walter Tejada stated:

What’s going on is a creation of a culture of distrust of government by the Republican Party.

Tejada is wrong. There is no Republican vs. Democratic issue here.

Background

The bill to grant Arlington the right to establish an independent auditor was sponsored by Patrick Hope, an Arlington Democrat who is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. It passed that very partisan legislative body by a unanimous vote, followed by another unanimous vote in the equally partisan Virginia State Senate. The bill was signed into law by Virginia Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe. Finally, on July 21, Democratic County Board members Fisette, Hynes and Garvey–along with Independent Vihstadt–voted for the new auditor.

More than 50 Democratic elected officials in the state of Virginia now have voted for this proposal, but only one of them voted against it: Walter Tejada. If Tejada couldn’t convince a single other Democratic elected official in Virginia that an independent auditor for Arlington should be rejected, what does that say about the persuasiveness of Tejada’s claims of partisanship?

The Independent Auditor is a non-partisan, good-government initiative

Municipal and state governments throughout the United States–regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans control them–have recognized the value of independent audits. Here’s why:

Financial audits play a vital role in helping to preserve the integrity of public finance and maintain citizens’ confidence in their elected leaders. Audits provide independent assurance that financial information is reliable. Transparency and accountability in government is essential to show that public functions are being carried out efficiently, ethically, and equitably.

Democratic County Board nominee Christian Dorsey has applauded the creation of Arlington’s independent auditor. In 2013, all five Democrats on the Arlington School Board voted to establish an independent auditor reporting to the School Board. Fairfax County has an independent auditor reporting to its overwhelmingly Democratic Board of Supervisors.

Far from being a partisan Republican plot to sow seeds of distrust in government, establishing an independent audit function just makes good common sense.

Are there legitimate questions about the scope and future of Arlington’s new independent auditor? Sure. Here are four of them:

  1. Are the reporting requirements and structure of the office independent enough?
  2. Does the office need more funding?
  3. How quickly will Arlington be able to fill the position?
  4. What initial priorities should the auditor have?

Regardless of the answers, there’s no merit to Tejada’s claim that Arlington’s independent auditor is a partisan Republican tactic.

by Progressive Voice — July 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,394 0

Frederico Cura

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

How are we to understand the “gotcha” video attacks on Planned Parenthood – an organization serving low-income women nationwide with a network of family-oriented and community-strengthening health centers?

It started with a deceptively edited video a few weeks ago attacking Planned Parenthood’s health centers. The next step was a Republican push in Congress to gut funding for the centers, an outcome that would threaten lifesaving cancer screenings to countless low-income women, as well as critical access to contraception and reproductive education.

Then we saw an organization dedicated to criminalizing abortion hacking into the women’s health centers’ computer system.

These efforts go beyond bullying tactics we’re so used to from the right. When right wingers play “hard ball’ — as some of them put it — integrity becomes a lesser priority. What happened to the moral values of honesty and love of neighbor? They seem incompatible with today’s Republican and anti-abortion “me-only” ideologies.

Moreover, these latest attacks on women’s reproductive health advance a continuing right wing campaign to impose a radical “me-only” mindset on those who share the more common framework of “me-and-us.”

It is part of a multi-pronged effort by right wingers to rewrite our great nation’s history by asserting that the uniquely American idea of separation of church and state, which has served us well for over 200 years, was not really meant to be. This historic separation and the rich cultural-religious tapestry our nation has become conflicts with their “me-only” mindset.

This “me-only” mindset suggests that we should all accept as the only valid American morality their interpretation of the role of women and reproductive biology — fetuses, fertilized eggs, and sperm.

The right wingers want to protect fetuses no matter how much the women who carry them may be harmed. We cannot continue the historic neglect of women’s physical and mental health. Enough is enough! A woman should have the freedom to make her own health care decisions in consultation with her doctor and, for women of faith, her God.

I do not expect that everyone should share my point of view. But I also do not expect that I must accept the “me-only” point of view as a divine destiny.

We must especially not allow government actions – pushed by the pro-criminalization forces – to make lesser citizens of women. When government does not trust women, we all suffer as result.

Being bicultural, originally from Latin America, I see what women experience in places that have strict prohibitions on termination of unwanted pregnancies and even on birth control. We see something like where we were before Roe v. Wade — botched illegal abortions, troubling suicides by young and desperate pregnant women, high juvenile hopelessness, violence in places with chronic unemployment and high fertility rates, and the prosecution and marginalization of women experiencing miscarriages.

What the “me-only” activists fail to see is the fundamental notion that we Americans are greater and stronger as a united people than we are in a nation of radical individualism. Our success depends on everyone – men and women – getting an equal opportunity to contribute to our society.

We want an economy that works for everyone and does not leave women behind with less reproductive health, justice and freedom. We want strong families and communities that can depend upon family wellness and access to quality and affordable health care by everyone. That’s how we will move forward together.

Over the years, Planned Parenthood’s lifesaving women’s health centers have contributed to the strength, structure and stability of the American family and communities. Instead of defunding Planned Parenthood, Republicans should support Medicaid expansion so that lower-income women are less dependent on the health centers for cancer screenings and other lifesaving health services.

In our country, we must value women’s lives and freedom. Women, who should be trusted as much as men, should have what they need — including Planned Parenthood’s lifesaving health centers — to avoid unwanted pregnancy and childbirth as well as unwanted forced marriages resulting from those pregnancies.

It is also vitally important to have wanted children. In a society valuing women’s lives and freedom, motherhood should be voluntary. As author Katha Pollitt writes, “motherhood should add to a women’s ability to lead a full life, not leave her on the sidelines, wondering how she got there.”

The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood’s network of women’s health centers reflects the “me-only” ideology that hurts women’s health, lives and freedom, and greatly weakens the American family.

Federico E. Cura is a strategic communication trainer, outreach specialist and grassroots organizer. He spent years as a K-12 educator teaching Spanish and ESOL, and served on the Arlington County Transportation Commission.

by Heather Mongilio — July 25, 2015 at 8:00 am 841 0

Pork, beef and chicken buns at Gaijin Ramen ShopThe weekend is here and National Weather Service is predicting a beautiful Saturday with a high of 90 degrees. There’s a slight chance of late thunderstorms of Sunday, but the majority of the day should also be sunny.

If you’re planning to spend some of the sunshine in Lacey Woods Park, you’ll need to find a different way than N. George Mason Drive. The county is reporting that the road will be closed between 10th Street N. and Washington Boulevard from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Saturday’s cool evening low of 72 degrees will be great for the runners participating in the Twilighter 5k in Crystal City. The race kicks off at 8:30 p.m. and follows a route along Crystal Drive and Long Bridge Drive.

Feel free to sound off any local topic of interest to you this weekend in the comments.

by Peter Rousselot — July 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm 1,007 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

How significantly will Donald Trump’s candidacy for President affect Virginia politics? The closeness of two recent statewide elections provides clues.

Virginia has moved from reliably red to purple. Combining the closeness of these elections with the profiles of the four candidates involved (compared to Trump’s profile), we can get a sense of the likely impact.

Here are the Virginia statewide results from the two elections:

  • Attorney General 2013
    • Herring (D) 1,103,777
    • Obenshain (R) 1,103,612
  • U.S. Senate 2014
    • Warner (D) 1,073,667
    • Gillespie (R)     1,055,940

Ideology

Democratic and Republican partisans looking at these elections have argued that the opposing party’s candidate was an extremist. We could debate whether such partisan claims are accurate, but I believe a large number of Virginia voters perceived (accurately or not) that all four of these candidates were in the ideological mainstream of their respective parties. That perception was an important factor in the close outcomes.

Personal Qualities

Inclined to support candidates whom they perceive to be in the ideological mainstream, Virginia voters also have a historic tendency–other things being equal–to support candidates whom they perceive as sensible and pragmatic. Candidates who come across as too brash generally have not fared well. I believe large numbers of Virginia voters–rightly or wrongly– found all four of these recent statewide candidates to be sensible and pragmatic.

The Trump Effect

During the Republican Presidential primary process so far, Trump has been polling at or near the top (10 to 15 percent) nationally and in Virginia. In the most recent Post-ABC poll, his national Republican support spiked to 24 percent. Unlike all of the other Republican and Democratic primary candidates, Trump has the personal wealth to finance his campaign using 100 percent of his own money. He also has a personal brand name that is nationally known. These factors make him much more formidable than 2012 Republican Presidential primary candidates like Michelle Bachman or Herman Cain.

While it is highly unlikely that Trump can win the Republican Presidential nomination, it is very possible that he can stay in the Republican race for many months at or near at least the 10 percent Republican popularity level no matter how offensive his views strike the other 90 percent. Moreover, he has refused to rule out the possibility of running as an independent in the general election assuming he loses the Republican nomination.

Conclusion

The longer Trump stays in the race, the longer his views are publicized and associated with the Republican brand, the more damage he will do to Republican prospects–particularly in a purple state like Virginia. Based on recent statewide election results, only a little damage could be enough to sink the Republican Presidential nominee in Virginia in 2016.

by Larry Roberts — July 23, 2015 at 1:30 pm 391 0

Larry Roberts

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

For decades, Arlington residents have enjoyed outstanding schools, parks, recreation facilities, libraries, public safety enhancements, transportation options, and a strong social safety net. All of these attractive features and others as well have been heavily subsidized by a strong commercial sector.

The strength of that commercial sector was due in part to: Arlington’s ideal location close to the nation’s capital and close access to the Pentagon; the buildup in federal spending over decades; and Arlington’s ability to attract and retain highly educated residents prized by employers.

We have also benefited from wise planning decisions and infrastructure investments that included, for example, multiple Metro stops that have become increasingly attractive to employers. We have managed to have a transportation system that helps people move around in Arlington and through Arlington while largely preserving single family neighborhoods.

For much of that period of time, Arlington’s ideal location and the educational achievement of its residents made Arlington largely immune from competition from other area jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, those days are gone.

Federal cutbacks are here to stay.

One need only see the dramatic transformations taking place in the District and in Tysons Corner to see how the public sector – working closely with the private sector – can attract commercial tenants, help increase revenues to support valued services without depending more heavily on homeowner taxes, and through planning and zoning measures help create more public space and better transportation options as part of those redevelopments.

Our residents are more critical of County spending and more sensitive to tax increases than has been true in the past 20 years. Yet many individual residents want the County to increase spending on items that matter most to them – for some that is schools, for others parks or open space, for others better pay for public safety personnel, for others it is added transit capacity, others want to ensure that housing is more affordable to young people, lower-wage workers, and those want to age in place. Others want more spending on services for mental health services. And others want expanded recreational facilities and community centers to meet growing demand.

Are we as County residents prepared to make difficult choices among these competing priorities? Will the answer be that services important to me should be maintained or enhanced, but spending important to others should be cut? Will housing prices continue to escalate and the tax rate be maintained? If so, there will be more revenues for the County government to provide services favored by residents. But it will also mean current cash flow challenges for many homeowners who won’t realize the profits from home price increases until they sell their homes.

The best answer in the past has been to rely on a thriving commercial sector to pay 50 cents of every dollar spent by the County.

That can still happen in Arlington, but only with a strong economic development effort and a dedicated effort to reduce commercial vacancy rates in the County.

Our commercial vacancy rate is somewhat deceptive. With a few exceptions, vacancies are concentrated in older buildings and those with fewer amenities or floor plans that require major adjustments to accommodate the needs of today’s workplace.

If we want to reduce those vacancies and leave more money available for school capacity and other priorities desired by Arlington residents, we will need Arlington’s economic development experts working closely and creatively with the private sector to identify the types of companies and actual prospects that can make use of Arlington’s existing inventory or we will need to find ways to encourage redevelopment of those dated or lower quality structures that are not likely to be successful in today’s marketplace.

Arlington is taking steps along this path. Those efforts should be encouraged. It is our best chance to keep services that residents strongly support and enhance our quality of life without adding to the burdens of homeowners.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond. During his term as Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, Democrats won every election in Arlington.

by Mark Kelly — July 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,005 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week, outgoing County Board Member Walter Tejada voted against the creation of an independent County Auditor. He blamed the new office on Republicans.

The County Auditor was not a partisan idea. It started with the Civic Federation. And as John Vihstadt pointed out, Delegate Hope, Governor McAuliffe and three other Democrats on the County Board ultimately supported it.

 Mr. Tejada contends the office only became a reality because Republican have passed out some sort of anti-government “Kool Aid.” Tejada further contends that hiring an auditor will only further cause a “timid and stagnant era of distrust.”

 Tejada’s speech reminds me of many of the speeches of his former Board colleague Chris Zimmerman. He often laid the blame of pretty much anything that went wrong at the feet of Republicans in Richmond or in Washington or in general.

 In Arlington, the math is simple. There are about two Democrats for every Republican and independent voters tend to lean to the left. The Democrats have essentially controlled the County Government for at least three decades. No amount of blaming Republicans for decisions in Arlington is going to change who is responsible for the decisions that have been made.

 If people in the community distrust Arlington’s government enough to elect a non-Democrat to the Board while Mark Warner was racking up 70% of the vote here, Mr. Tejada has no one to blame but himself and his own party. The Artisphere, the million dollar bus stop, the ill-conceived trolley, the overpriced dog parks and gold-plated aquatics center were not Republican ideas. And, Republicans alone were powerless to stop them despite our best efforts.

 The Zimmerman-Tejada line of thinking, though, really goes much deeper. They claim that Republicans hate all forms of government.

 Republicans believe government is necessary, but should be limited. We believe that government closest to the people is best. And we believe that government at all levels should be efficient, not wasteful. After all, the government is using money they have the power to take from us.

Republicans remember what our Founding Fathers warned us about — that the power to tax is the power to destroy. We know it is the duty of the people to be vigilant in watching carefully those who hold that power.

 So, if Mr. Tejada wants to oppose increased transparency and accountability and give credit to Republicans for creating the County Auditor’s office, then on behalf of the Republican Party — I accept.

by Mark Kelly — July 16, 2015 at 1:45 pm 472 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington County Board announced it is ramping up to hire an independent County Auditor. The Auditor is to be independent in the sense that the office is slated to report directly to the Board rather than going through the filter of the County Manager’s office.

For good or ill, the Auditor would operate along with an Audit Committee of up to seven other people representing the Board, the county staff and citizen advisors. In general, the larger such a committee is, the less efficient it will be. Let’s hope the Committee does not restrict the ability of the Auditor to be effective.

It is particularly good to see that the reports will be published online in a timely fashion. That will give the community the opportunity to review the findings and draw their own conclusions.

Arriving at this point began with the Arlington Civic Federation who first called for an Auditor a few years back. Several candidates, including myself, made it a part of our campaign platforms when challenging the all-Democrat County Board. As with the other changes, including the end of the streetcar project, it did not come to fruition until voters put an end to the one party rule on the Board.

Libby Garvey got on board with the concept after John Vihstadt’s election, and the two convinced their colleagues to consider it. To his credit, Delegate Hope then carried a bill to ensure Arlington had the authority to create the position. The effort has truly been bi-partisan. And it proves that good ideas in Arlington can come from outside the Board or the current power structure within the Democratic Party.

The true test will be when the Auditor finds waste or inefficiencies in the current county government. The question will be, just how committed is the Board to making positive changes that will save taxpayers money? And if the Board is willing to reduce or eliminate certain spending, will they find other ways to spend it or will they actually consider lowering tax rates?

Also, will the Board charge the Auditor to take an honest look at the regular annual budget process and the less well understood closeout process? As I have argued here, the closeout process itself unnecessarily drives up spending outside of the regular budget process. It is not difficult to imagine that we could change the way county staff builds budgets to the benefit of taxpayers.

While questions remain, we should be cautiously optimistic that an Auditor will increase transparency and accountability and even keep a few more tax dollars in the pockets of the people who earned them.

by Progressive Voice — July 16, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,375 0

Mary Rouleau

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s organization or of ARLnow.com.

In September, the County Board will vote to adopt the Affordable Housing Master Plan (“Plan”) as part of the County’s Comprehensive Plan. The draft Plan has undergone review and revision and continues to be a hot topic in local blogs and print outlets. Here’s my case in support of its adoption.

Let’s start with what the Plan is: a policy document that contains enabling principles, goals and objectives. It is not a master housing siting plan or an allocation of new resources. The Plan, with a 20+ year look forward, does not commit to a specific course of action or number of committed affordable units (CAFs). In fact, it specifically reserves the right to make adjustments based on feasibility and market conditions.

There is a fair amount of confusion about the impact of the accompanying Implementation Framework (“Framework”), a staff guidance document that describes the existing and potential tools that will be used to achieve the Plan. The County Board will be asked to “accept” the Framework to guide staff efforts to develop new housing tools and consider housing site plans. These resulting processes to evaluate those tools and plans will be subject to community review and input–as has been the tradition.

So why has the County, guided by a citizen working group, spent the better part of three years preparing the Plan? For one thing, a change in state law now requires the County to incorporate an affordable housing plan into its state-mandated Comprehensive Plan which currently contains the County’s policies regarding land use, energy, transportation, and public spaces. This helps ensure integrated planning.

But more importantly, it’s time to re-examine housing needs, given that the last major study and current housing goals and targets were created 15 years ago. Since then, rents and housing prices have doubled, and the County has lost 13,000 rental units that were once affordable to households making 60 percent of AMI (Area Median Income — roughly $46,000 for a single person and $65,500 for a family of four).

Three other trends require the new policies expressed in the Plan.

First, available land in Arlington is scarce and costly. New approaches are needed to encourage market forces to develop affordability and allow for its distribution throughout the County. The Plan proposes exploring new approaches including land use and zoning changes, simplified approvals, and new housing design, including revisiting the accessory dwelling ordinance. Specifically, however, the Plan commits the County to using its financing (loan fund) and land use tools and sector planning to incentivize distribution of affordable units throughout the County.

Second, affordability challenges now confront the middle class. That and the growth in Baby Boomers who wish to “age in place” and Millennials require a fresh look at housing options. The Plan includes policy language and potential tools for addressing these concerns, including using land use and zoning policy to incentivize ownership housing affordable to households between 80-120 percent of AMI. The Plan includes new County policies to both help the middle class and enable Arlingtonians to age in community.

Third, Arlington’s economic sustainability in the face of increased competition requires a robust and stable employee base and a housing mix to support that base. In expressing support for the direction and goals of the Plan, the Arlington Chamber noted the importance of housing to employee recruitment and retention and business location decisions. The Plan expresses a preference for existing residents and Arlington-based workers in using County funds for rental or ownership programs.

Market forces, strong property rights laws and the Dillon Rule notwithstanding, our success in meeting current and future challenges — if we are to remain a place that is both diverse and economically sustainable — will depend on creative approaches and flexibility. The policies and objectives of the Plan provide that foundation.

Mary Rouleau is a 25-year resident of Arlington. She is the Executive Director of The Alliance for Housing Solutions.

by Peter Rousselot — July 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,246 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebook

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

The latest Arlington County Retail Plan— scheduled for County Board review on July 18— remains far too prescriptive. The plan’s underlying, fundamentally flawed methods dictate overly specific retail outcomes on a block-by-block basis.

To get a flavor of the scope of this government exercise in micromanagement, simply skim the combined total of 113 single-spaced pages in the two key Retail Plan documents posted on Arlington’s website:

Efforts to revise the Retail Plan can be traced back at least to a 2009 Arlington Economic Development Commission (EDC) report (p. 3) recommending greater flexibility. While the current plan claims to have abandoned the “retail everywhere” approach, it still embodies a heavy-handed approach that is fundamentally inconsistent with what the EDC recommended.

A few examples illustrate the plan’s flawed methodology:

Clarendon

Most of Clarendon is locked into the “red” shopping and dining/entertainment category (Retail Plan, PDF p. 39), which is the narrowest and most restrictive of four separate categories. Other retail uses — like gyms or hair salons — are excluded. Government-enforced clustering of too much of the same type of retail in a small geographic area can create an artificial retail “monoculture,” risking a domino-effect collapse if its popularity wanes or businesses begin cannibalizing one another’s customer base.

Ballston

Forcing retail space to be added to the west side of Glebe Road (Retail Plan, PDF p. 43), and then also trying to set rules that push competing retail to be located outside Ballston Common Mall, is self-defeating. It makes little sense to set up a public-private partnership with Forest City and provide taxpayer funds to aid a failing mall, while at the same time undercutting the mall by creating lots of competing space directly across from it.

“A-Townization”

Previously, the plan acknowledged “issues associated with the lively, noisy, energetic and, sometimes, messy environment created by night life uses.” The County’s noise ordinance doesn’t apply to mixed-use, multifamily housing (and is basically unenforceable after 6 pm and on weekends countywide). All four street categories permit “dining” establishments like A-Town to be located in close proximity to people’s homes. Thus, the current plan exacerbates the ongoing and inherent conflict between the operations of A-Town-style businesses and the right of residents to get a decent night’s sleep.

Conclusion

Though this plan now applies only to the major corridors, it will eventually be extended to all site plan development countywide, wherever it occurs. The County Board should:

  • reject the flawed, inflexible, interventionist methods driving this plan, and
  • direct the staff to submit a revised plan reflecting marketplace realities.

by ARLnow.com — July 13, 2015 at 10:55 am 5,370 0

Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington (photo via Google Maps)

Arlington County plans to ask its state legislative delegation to sponsor a bill that would rename Jefferson Davis Highway, the Washington Post reports.

While the likelihood of such a bill passing is slim, County Board Chair Mary Hynes said the county has received “a flurry of letters from residents” asking that the Confederate leader’s name be removed from the highway, also known as Route 1.

(County Board Vice Chair Walter Tejada did not respond to an inquiry from ARLnow.com last month, asking whether a name change resolution for Jefferson Davis Highway was a possibility.)

In 2012, the county renamed the stretch of road formerly known as Old Jefferson Davis Highway “Long Bridge Drive.” This time around, talk of renaming the highway comes amid a national conversation about the Confederate flag and whether it’s more a symbol of southern heritage — or slavery and racism. Last week, South Carolina’s legislature voted to remove the flag from the grounds of the state capitol.

Do you think Jefferson Davis Highway should be renamed?

Photo via Google Maps

by Peter Rousselot — July 9, 2015 at 1:45 pm 1,241 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebook

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

A recent out-of-court settlement between Virginia and a private-consortium shows that bad things can happen when government fails to understand the risks of public-private partnerships. Under that settlement, Virginia taxpayers will lose over $200 million that the state paid to the private consortium to build a 55-mile highway that was never built.

Virginia’s 1995 public-private transportation law was hailed as a way to enable state and local governments to stretch their tax dollars by entering into partnerships with the private sector to build transportation projects. But, there were significant flaws in the way the 1995 law was designed.  Disastrous results often followed when those flaws were combined with the frequent mismatch between the technical and legal expertise available to the private sector (usually superior) compared to the public sector (usually inferior).

The public-private partnership contract to build U.S. Highway 460 was negotiated under the administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. After Terry McAuliffe became Governor, he asked his top transportation official, Aubrey Layne, to look into this troubled project. Layne described what happened next:

[A]fter he had a chance to get into the nitty-gritty of the contract …, he learned that the risks associated with obtaining a construction permit for the road rested on the state, not the contractor, as he and others on the Commonwealth Transportation Board had been led to believe. That meant, Layne said, that the contract called for [the private partner] to keep getting automatic payments regardless of whether it had the permits to build anything. Moreover…the deal was structured to front-load state payments to the company, with the justification being that doing so would lower borrowing costs and save the commonwealth money. In fact, the arrangement ended up doing the opposite.

Governor McAuliffe has just signed the new public-private partnership transportation law designed to cure the flaws in the old law.

Implications for Arlington

At the end of 2012, with inadequate public notice, Arlington rushed to enact its own local guidelines for public-private transportation partnerships. Those guidelines are now obsolete because they are based on the old law.

Virginia wisely has recognized the many flaws in its old public-private transportation partnership law and procedures. It’s time for Arlington to do the same.

The financial calamity exposed by the U.S. Highway 460 settlement also raises a broader issue. Public-private partnership agreements, whether or not they relate to transportation, often can be complex. Arlington needs to take care that it knows what it’s doing before it signs them. The County Board’s recent directive to the County Manager to explore a public-private partnership to redevelop Ballston Mall challenges the County government to see if it does know what it’s doing.

by Mark Kelly — July 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm 492 0

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Delegates Hope and Sullivan announced they would work across the Commonwealth to cut into the massive GOP majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Delegate Hope previewed his stump speech saying “Republicans are killing their constituents.” Hope’s over-the-top reference was reportedly to GOP opposition to expanding the Affordable Care Act and supporting coal.

Setting aside the Supreme Court’s failure to uphold the plain meaning of words as well as the fact there is nothing affordable about the law, it seems that the recent health care ruling breathed new life into this issue for Virginia Democrats. The wisdom of campaigning for this Washington program anywhere outside of the beltway remains to be seen.

Coal not only helps fuel the economy of southwestern Virginia, but shutting down all coal-fired power in the United States any time in the near future would cause utility rates to skyrocket. Higher electric bills impact those at the bottom of the economic ladder with the least amount of disposable income the most. In addition to home heating and cooling bills, it would drive up the price of every other good and service they need. Seems like a losing argument most places across the Commonwealth.

On balance, if Hope and Sullivan are going to bring their brand of being a Democrat to the campaign trail outside of Northern Virginia, GOP Speaker Howell might pay their way to stump for Democratic challengers. Their far left positions may play well in Arlington, but not in most, if not all, GOP-held seats.

Sullivan did argue the GOP would not change unless they lost elections over a specific issue. This is an argument I made about the Democrat-controlled County Board on the Columbia Pike trolley, and it proved to be true.

Mobile App “Saved”

Yesterday’s “breaking news” was that Arlington Public Schools mobile app has probably been saved from budget “cuts.” It seems as if Blackboard is willing to provide it for free.

You have to wonder whether or not the APS staff explored this possibility with Blackboard before announcing it would cut the $12,000 expenditure or whether Blackboard made the offer after APS notified them?

Whether it is a $12,000 mobile app or $1.2 million for Macbooks, the staff at APS owes it to Arlington taxpayers, students, parents and teachers to always look for innovative ways to save money, even though they have plenty of it.

by Max Burns — July 9, 2015 at 12:15 pm 586 0

Max Burns

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

Politics isn’t just a contest of competing visions for our community. As this year’s primary victories by Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey and last year’s victory by John Vihstadt show us, successful campaigns understand the importance of a strong “ground game.” Message matters, but people need to hear it, see it and feel it.

Across Arlington and the broader 8th Congressional District, I’ve met progressive candidates with values and messages worth vocalizing. Yet they struggle with an important but often hidden problem: good campaign teams don’t fall out of the sky. Building top-notch campaigners takes training and hands-on experience.

We can do more to develop strong campaigners and campaign teams at the local level even though we lack the resources of a state or federal operation.

That’s why, in collaboration with the 8th District Democratic Committee, we launched the Next Generation Leaders Program. NGLP is unique mentorship initiative that connects passionate Democrats with elected officials, candidates and community leaders to build a strong bench of future campaign professionals.

Then we did one better and made sure the program would be absolutely free of charge. We believe financial limitations should never prevent a future campaign superstar from taking her or his first step.

Applicants to NGLP are largely younger Democrats and those looking to make a career out of campaign management, and we built the program with them in mind. After our successful applicants are chosen from those who apply before our July 15 deadline, they’ll work directly with active campaigns and Democratic leaders to learn a broad range of fundamentals, from fundraising to event management, campaign communications and crafting direct mail.

We’re especially focused on applying at the local level, where reliance on volunteers is no longer enough for candidates in competitive races. These skills are vital in races that lack large resource pools.

By building up real-world political management skills, NGLP offers diligent, committed Democrats the opportunity to stand out over the course of a campaign. It also marks the start of a growing network of NGLP participants and mentors with long-term value even for those who decide professional campaigning isn’t in their future.

I’m proud of the hard work of the 8th District Democratic Committee and the volunteer mentors from every city, county and magisterial district in developing NGLP. This program and its future participants will ensure that our candidates’ progressive values are backed by strong campaign organizations that ensure a good dialogue between voters and candidates and that those progressive values are communicated effectively in Arlington and beyond. It makes us more competitive as a party, and fosters a new generation of experienced, skilled political managers.

There’s still time to apply for our 2015 Pilot Program. If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to turn your progressive values into marketable job skills, look no further. We’re ready to see what you’ve got.

Max Burns is a member of the 8th District Democratic Committee and served as President of the Arlington Young Democrats.

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