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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

The weather has been just about perfect the last few days, but it doesn’t seem meant to last this weekend.

Rain is set to move in Saturday, then linger throughout the D.C. region for the next week, so go find that umbrella.

Watch out for some big traffic backups if you’re planning on hitting the road on I-395 this weekend. And if you’re looking for things to do, head on over to our event calendar.

It’s been a big week full of news, so catch up on our most popular stories from the past few days, if you haven’t been able to keep up:

  1. Body Found in Potomac River Off Gravelly Point
  2. Police Arrest Man Following Shirlington Standoff
  3. Ballston Construction Projects Continue to Progress
  4. Thieves Smashed Windows, Stole Airbags from ‘Approximately 35 Vehicles’
  5. Dorsey: Stop Trying to ‘Protect Neighborhoods’ from Density

Head down to the comments to discuss these stories or your weekend plans. Have a great one!

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The Right Note: Dorsey Test Driving 2019 Message?

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.

Over the past week, ARLnow featured Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Christian Dorsey talking about two issues — affordable housing and unfair business practices.

In his Progressive Voice column on business practices, Dorsey laid out an idea to consolidate efforts that take place across agencies and law enforcement and create a consumer protection bureau here in Arlington. Something he says can be done without “substantial increases in funding” by the taxpayers.

The idea is certainly worthy of consideration, particularly if it put all resources available to Arlingtonians in a one-stop shop and did so with little increased costs. At the same time, Dorsey admitted there is no data available to suggest there is a widespread problem or failure of the current system beyond anecdote. It seems like we may want to know the scope of the problem before making a decision on whether it is necessary to dedicate staff time and any increased funding toward creating the new entity.

Dorsey’s speech on housing policy did a number of things. First, it provided a brief overview of discriminatory practices in our country’s past. Dorsey noted that for the most part, these are a relic of the past. He did suggest that using words like “protecting neighborhoods” should not be code for resisting diversity in the name of resisting density.

He went on to argue that government can overcome market forces when it comes to housing. While it is certainly true that you can make public policy strong enough, or destructive enough depending on your perspective, to disrupt market forces, this is always a dangerous road to go down.

Moreover, not a single policy decision made by Arlington County thus far is pointed to as stemming the tide when it comes to rising housing prices. If Amazon came to town there may be no public policy Arlington could pass that could stop a massive price spike. And of course, one can argue that the arduous zoning and permitting processes only serve to make housing more expensive.

Speaking of zoning, Dorsey also intimated that he may favor restrictions on building larger homes on lots because the practice raises the price of the housing stock. Arlington’s zoning ordinance is already a complicated and expensive maze to navigate through, but Dorsey is suggesting he may pursue further restrictions on your property rights in the future.

It sounds a lot like he is previewing a turn as chairman next year or his campaign themes as he presumably runs for re-election in 2019. No data to back a call for additional spending and more property restrictions may not be the best place to start.

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Progressive Voice: Communities Coming Together Challenge Divisiveness Day by Day

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 Fatima Argun

Today, developments such as the Trump administration’s ban against immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, the deadly violence at a Charlottesville protest rally and an uptick in hate speech are at sharp odds with America’s basic need for civility.

The need to stand up to intolerance and divisiveness is more important than ever. Even in a progressive community like Arlington, hate speech leaflets recently were distributed in some neighborhoods and a Nazi demonstration took place in a shopping center parking lot. These disturbing events underscore the necessity of taking direct action to protect progressive values that so many of us share.

It is encouraging that Arlington citizens are responding by forming alliances that build bridges to understanding between neighbors of diverse beliefs and backgrounds. For instance, as a proud co-leader of the Arlington chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (SOSS), I facilitate relationship building among my Muslim and Jewish women. We encourage collective action to combat hate, negative stereotyping and prejudice.

We seek to influence family, friends and the public about the strength in coming together to challenge discord and stereotypes. We identify with the message of Joseph Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center: “Whoever the ‘others’ may be, say something. Don’t let it go unanswered.”

With this in mind, let me tell you about a social justice journey I recently took with Muslim and Jewish friends to the Deep South. We wanted to be more directly exposed to the history, politics and activism of the civil rights movement launched more than 50 years ago — and to expose these communities to diverse groups not widely represented in these communities.

From Atlanta to Montgomery to Memphis, we heard first-hand accounts from those who experienced the struggle for a just society, such as Carolyn Maull McKinstry, who witnessed the Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963 that killed four little girls.

In addition to gaining a better understanding of the civil rights struggles of the past and present, we also walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, where members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led by John Lewis (now a Congressman from Georgia), were beaten in 1965 in the marches from Selma to Montgomery. We facilitated meetings and cooperation among and learned from local members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, and worked together on a Habitat for Humanity renovation project. By putting faces and places to the American civil rights movement, I learned valuable lessons that help me stand up to intolerance.

Back home in Arlington, SoSS members also have been involved with community service projects like the MLK Day of Service, voiced our concerns about gun safety and supported efforts to help immigrants, refugees and most recently the children separated from their parents at our borders. Starting this week, SoSS will participate in a national voter registration drive to ensure that eligible citizens have the opportunity to make their voices heard.

While divisiveness continues in America, it is encouraging that people who model equality and respect through discussions, friendship and outreach are building resilience in our communities. And it is heartening that day-by-day community unity and action can be a powerful antidote to discord, intolerance and polarization.

Fatima Argun is a strategy consultant, visionary and advocate focusing on interfaith engagement, dialogue and women’s empowerment. She works with senior levels of government, corporations and NGOs to support leadership development, capacity building and corporate social responsibility. As a longtime Arlington resident, Fatima serves on numerous boards including the Mid-Atlantic Facilitators Network, the Center for Pluralism, and the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society (JIDS).

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Peter’s Take: How Should Arlington Regulate Dockless Vehicles?

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.

ARLnow.com reported last week that Arlington County plans a pilot program for dockless vehicles.

Spokesperson Eric Baillet “told ARLnow that officials are planning to unveil a ‘pilot demonstration project’ to test all manner of dockless vehicles this fall.” Baillet believes this will help to “provide structure to the deployment, operation and use of scooters and dockless bikes within the county… and gauge the impacts of these mobility devices.”

Baillet says county government plans to present a framework for County Board review in September.

Board member John Vihstadt is quoted as saying he’d be “broadly receptive to clearing the way for more dockless vehicles to become available around Arlington.”

A pilot program for dockless vehicles

Dockless vehicles present some of the same and some different challenges for municipalities compared to earlier iterations of the mobility sharing economy like Uber and Lyft. (Uber and Lyft now also are in the dockless vehicle business.)

What can Arlington learn from other municipalities?

Pilot programs for dockless vehicles in other municipalities

Other municipalities already have pilot programs. They include:

Washington DC

DC’s pilot program was launched in September 2017 and was recently extended through August 2018, WTOP reports:

Seven private companies are currently operating dockless bike and electric scooters in the District. The bike companies are Jump, Spin, ofo and Mobike. Waybots and Bird operate electric scooters. LimeBike has both scooters and bikes.

Complaints since the pilot program began have been largely about where the bikes and scooters are being left — often in the middle of sidewalks or on private property.

San Francisco

San Francisco (SF) has established a 12-month pilot program under which up to five permits may be granted. For the first six months, a total of 1,250 scooters may be permitted. If the first six months go well, the total may increase to 2,500 in months seven through 12. The increase is tied to how well permitted operators meet the standards set out in their permits.

Under the SF pilot program, per the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency:

[O]perators [will] need to provide user education, be insured, share trip data with the city, have a privacy policy that safeguards user information, offer a low-income plan, and submit a proposed service area plan for city approval. Operators will also need to have a plan in place to address sidewalk riding and sidewalk parking, which may include measures like locking scooters to bike racks.

[SF] is looking to the companies themselves to develop robust user education so that their customers know how to properly ride and park the scooters.

Denver

The goals of the just-launched pilot program in Denver are described here.

Virginia state law on dockless vehicles

Since Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, Arlington will need to determine the scope of its existing power to adopt a pilot program (and regulatory framework).

One relevant existing state law is § 46.2-908.1 of the Virginia Code which enables local governments like Arlington to regulate some aspects of dockless vehicle operations.

Is every desirable aspect of the pilot program (and regulatory framework) Arlington might like to adopt currently authorized under Virginia state law?

Conclusion

A carefully-designed pilot program (and regulatory framework) for dockless vehicles is a good idea.

Dockless vehicles have great potential, but also pose significant risks.

Arlington should adopt a pilot program (and regulatory framework) that maximizes the potential and minimizes the risks.

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

Hey now, All-Star Week starts today, so keep your eyes peeled for MLB’s glitterati around Arlington and D.C. this weekend.

The weather should be pretty hospitable to guests arriving for baseball’s midsummer break, though things are set to get hot and steamy soon enough.

If you’re looking for things to do, swing on by Rosslyn’s newest public art installation, or check out our full event calendar.

You can also catch up on our most popular stories from the past week:

  1. Police Searching for Stabbing Suspect in Westover
  2. Report: Arlington Will Add 24,000 New Homes Through 2040
  3. State Supreme Court Could Decide Fate of Highlander Motel Redevelopment
  4. Arlington’s Car Decal Program Could Soon End, Though Its Fees Would Stick Around
  5. Chemical Leak at Fairlington Dry Cleaners Prompts Neighborhood Worries

Head down to the comments to discuss these stories, your weekend plans or anything else local.

Flickr pool photo via John Sonderman

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The Right Note: Early Indicator?

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 Democrats put out a plea for precinct captains — just four months before Election Day. For those who do not pay attention to the nuts and bolts of campaigns, these are the people who are willing to do the most work over the next four months to get the people in their neighborhood to vote for the Democrats on the ballot.

While Virginia does not have voter registration by party, it is safe to assume Democrats hold at least a two to one advantage over Republicans in Arlington. That means there is always a larger pool of donors and volunteers to draw from. And by this point in the campaign cycle, local Democrats are typically closer to 100 percent when it comes to filling volunteer positions.

Around this time four years ago, a longtime Democrat activist in Arlington told me that local Democrats were not as enthusiastic about their candidate on the top of the ticket as they had been in years past. They were going to vote for him, but they were not going to go out and work extra hard. That conversation turned out to paint an accurate picture for what happened in November 2014. Mark Warner nearly lost the closest Senate race in the country despite being a heavy favorite, and John Vihstadt handily won a full term on the County Board.

Does the shortage of precinct captains now signal a lower than anticipated Democrat enthusiasm advantage this November?

It could represent overconfidence. All the national polls say Democrats will sweep the elections this November just like they did in Virginia last November. That translates to an idea that “we do not have to work hard because we are going to win anyway. And if John Vihstadt wins, we still have the other four County Board seats.”

It could be “outrage” fatigue. It is hard to stay mad all the time, particularly when the economy is humming along. It may also be hard to convince some to associate with the people who are mad all the time.

Or it could be nothing other than a confluence of unlucky events. This year people could have moved, burnt out or had unforeseen life events at a greater rate than usual. We have elections every year here and we keep adding precincts, which means you constantly have to grow and refresh your team.

We will not know for sure until Nov. 6.

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Progressive Voice: Arlington Must Do More to Protect Consumers

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

The state of Arlington’s economy as measured by job growth, unemployment and average wages is strong. Yet while average wages are high, wage growth has not been strong enough across many sectors of the economy to keep up with inflation. This dynamic can be seen most acutely in the service sector with leisure and hospitality jobs, but it also exists with higher earning professional services jobs.

Furthermore, public sector jobs, a significant component of Arlington’s economy, have seen sustained wage stagnation since the end of the Great Recession in 2009-10. And retirees — a fast growing age cohort — receive inflation adjustments to their fixed incomes that are insufficient to keep up with the costs of the goods and services they require.

So even in relatively well-off Arlington, many earners face a growing income insecurity. Combined with Arlington’s high housing and child care costs, this situation deepens the need for safety net services for some citizens, and protection of scarce dollars for all consumers.

Arlington County government alone cannot reverse these market forces, but we have not been doing all we can to support people facing growing income insecurity. So, in January 2018, I asked our County Manager to reinvigorate our county’s efforts to protect consumers who suffer income loss through unfair, deceptive, abusive and fraudulent practices (UDAFP).

While there are no comprehensive data on allegations of UDAFP, Arlington County government hears frequent complaints involving trespass towing, billing and service issues with cable and telecommunications companies, title and payday lenders, identity theft from credit card skimmers, hired transportation, rental housing and general contract enforcement.

A consumer seeking redress of an alleged violation was faced with navigating federal statutes with multiple agencies having jurisdiction, a state office with limited capacity and no clear point of contact at the local level. And, frustratingly, consumer protection laws leave the complaining parties to seek redress on their own. This can have a chilling effect on anyone who suffers an injury but does not have the time, English proficiency or resources to hire counsel to resolve the dispute.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has relatively weak protections against UDAFP, however, state law does allow for local jurisdictions to operate a consumer protection bureau. Arlington must fill the void by standing up a consumer protection bureau that consolidates our efforts at educating businesses and consumers about their rights and responsibilities; aggregating and investigating complaints about illegal and unfair practices; and providing guidance to those who seek redress of their complaints.

This spring, Arlington took an important step in utilizing this authority by creating a clearinghouse landing page for consumer protection resources.

It is here that people can learn more about their rights, how to prevent becoming a victim of UDAFP, how to connect with state and federal resources and, most important, file a complaint that will be investigated as necessary.

Over time and as warranted, I want these efforts to expand by having the bureau mediate disputes, sanction bad actors, provide outreach and education to Arlingtonians, and promote businesses that commit to fair practices. Properly organized, a consumer protection bureau will provide a clear benefit to consumers and also to businesses that value fair marketplaces.

My vision for this consumer protection office does not require an increase in bureaucracy or any substantial increases in funding. In fact, when we consolidate efforts that are currently spread across several departments, including the Arlington County Police Department, we may be able to deliver better services at lower costs.

If you or anyone you know have been the victim of an unfair, deceptive or fraudulent business practice, visit Arlington’s Consumer Protection Clearinghouse to see if help is available. If you have any suggestions for additional areas of focus, please contact [email protected]

All Arlingtonians can benefit from systems that encourage faith in businesses and promote engagement in commerce. Fair practices and consumer protection must be part of the essential toolkit in keeping Arlington’s local economy such a healthy one. 

Christian Dorsey is Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board, a Member 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.

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Peter’s Take: Deferrals-Only Real Estate Tax Breaks for Low Income Seniors

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.

As ARLnow.com reported, the County Board is scheduled to vote on July 14 on changes to a program that provides real estate tax relief to low-income seniors. This RETR program has been in effect since 1991.

According to a county staff report:

The RETR program provides an exemption and/or deferral of real estate taxes for qualified Arlington homeowners who are age 65 or older, or who are permanently and totally disabled. The current… program provides an exemption and/or deferral of real estate taxes for qualified Arlington homeowners whose annual household income is at or below $99,472, and whose household assets (excluding the value of their Arlington home) are at or below $340,000… In calendar year 2017, [the county] approved 915 households for RETR, resulting in $4,139,872 in foregone revenue.

$3,744,588 (90 percent) of that $4,139,872 of foregone tax revenue was for exemptions.

The ARLnow.com story explains that the County Board has been asked to make these changes to the program (among others):

  • increase the asset limit to $400,000… and allow the County to adjust that amount annually as property values and the area’s median income level changes
  • For the very top earners… — households making anywhere from $80,000 to $99,472 per year — restrict them to only applying for a deferral from the taxes, not a full exemption

County Board Chair Katie Cristol is quoted as saying:

“The goal is to tighten it and make it more effective as a program, not lower obstacles for participation. This is not a large-scale policy change.

The county should convert this program as rapidly as possible into a 100 percent deferral program

It is inequitable and unfair to Arlington taxpayers to provide the heirs of low-income Arlington seniors with the permanent windfall those heirs now are receiving from the exemption component of the current program.

In a convincing recent letter to the Sun-Gazette, Arlington activist Kathryn Scruggs captured some of these inequities:

Many other cities and towns throughout the country offer programs that freeze real-estate taxes for qualifying elder households so that they still pay taxes, but with no annual increase. That way they continue to provide revenue for the jurisdiction… The community is desperate for more schools and will need more teachers, resources and staff. Yet the county government was forced to cut staff positions and programs for [the] upcoming fiscal year because it did not have enough money.

In his most-up-voted comment to the ARLnow.com story, Arlington activist Dave Schutz similarly was spot-on when he stated:

I am absolutely unconvinced that we should be exempting ANYONE from property taxes under this program. Deferral is just fine, and it lets granny stay in her vine covered cottage, that’s an absolutely generous and appropriate thing to do. Then the taxes come [to] the county at the end… But exempting simply bumps up the inheritance for her kids in Chillicothe after she dies — why do we have any interest in doing that?

The exemption component of the current program cannot be justified out of concern for mortgage lenders

An extensive report from an RETR working group noted (Recommendation 6) that some mortgage lenders object to a deferral program, claiming it threatens their creditors’ rights. Arlington taxpayers should not be held hostage to such objections.

Conclusion

Arlington’s RETR program needs a swift, large-scale, prospective policy change: no more exemptions.

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

After a Fourth of July-sized interruption to the weekly routine, the weekend, and end to this heat wave, is nearly here.

The D.C. area has seen seven straight days with highs above 90 degrees, but that finally seems set to wrap up as we move into the weekend.

Take a look at our event calendar to catch up on all the post-Independence Day goings on, but be sure to allow some extra time if you’re taking Metro anywhere around the county.

Should you find yourself waiting for a train, or otherwise looking to kill some time online, check out our most popular stories from the past week:

  1. Clarendon Apple Store Has Closed Temporarily
  2. Bistro 1521 Closed in Ballston
  3. Rosslyn’s Art Institute of Washington Set to Close, Stop Accepting New Students
  4. Park Service Selects Location Near Rosslyn as Preferred Site for Boathouse
  5. Fire in Virginia Square

Head down to the comments to discuss these stories or anything else local. Have a good weekend!

Flickr pool photo via Tom Mockler

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The Right Note: Quick Hits — Independence Day Edition

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.

Yesterday, we celebrated our nation’s birthday. As we commemorate our nation’s independence each year, we do so with great fun and fanfare. However, we often forget that success was never a sure thing. Our founding fathers faced long odds when they signed the Declaration of Independence declaring our desire for liberty in the face the greatest power on Earth at that time. That is why they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. There was a very real chance they would lose everything.

Throughout our history, we have continued to face challenges. Our country has not been perfect. While we may not always agree on how best to move forward, hopefully we can agree that we are still blessed to live in this great nation.

Arlington, via Board Member Christian Dorsey, will now have a vote again on the WMATA Board of Directors. Dorsey should view this as an opportunity to more forcefully speak out and hold the agency accountable for, forgive the pun, getting things back on the right track.

Speaking of Metro, the system is hoping to have free Wi-Fi service up and running in all of its stations by the end of the year. There is nothing wrong with providing a service to your customers, but when it comes to public transit, what most customers want is to get to where they are trying to go in a timely and cost-effective manner. They also do want other simple things, like making sure elevators and escalators work, but the primary goal is reliable transportation.

Last week’s Progressive Voice column suggested that “frugality” was one of their core values. Just to be clear, that is not exactly how Arlington County has been governed with the support of progressives. As evidenced by the resistance to establishing an auditor or providing the auditor with adequate resources, the Democrats who control the votes on the Board still seem to be ok with spending more and more of your hard-earned money each year while avoiding more accountability.

But, the pool of writers for Progressive Voice did produce some interesting food for thought in the previous column about the emerging bike and scooter share systems springing up in the region. The suggestion: we need a faster, nimbler, simpler approach to meet the speed of our current technology.

Here is an area where conservatives could not agree more. The less government interference in the marketplace, the more options that will be available to consumers.

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Progressive Voice: What Might ‘A Good Deal’ With a Corporate Giant Like Amazon Look Like?

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 Takis Karantonis

Amazon’s public “beauty contest” about where it will locate a second headquarters has re-energized the discussion about investment incentives and responsible community benefit negotiations. Is competing for Amazon’s HQ2 a good thing for Arlington? What determines the acceptable balance of costs and benefits?

Skeptics fear that Arlington (and its partner Alexandria) may overestimate the ROI (return on investment) or underestimate its adverse impacts — and end up offering too sweet of a deal to Amazon.

Supporters see gains for the private and public dollars invested and an offset for many of the possible negative impacts.

This public discussion is taking place in the context of Arlington’s expensive housing market and chronic underinvestment in key infrastructure and critical public assets (transit, school capacity). How might a “good deal” overcome these obstacles?

If Amazon decides to come here, it intends to invest $5 billion over 10 years and would bring 50,000 jobs to our area, which currently has about 3.2 million jobs.

Amazon HQ2 and its employees would enlarge our local economy and the tax-base that supports our schools, services and community investments. Any incentives offered by the state and/or affected local jurisdictions are intended to attract investors and facilitate this virtuous cycle.

However, Arlington should be asking for reasonable investments from large corporations that are relocating here.

As one example, a good deal should emphasize Amazon’s use of public transit and disincentivize car-based commuting. Amazon should be invited to participate in public-private and direct investment in public transit in addition to its mandatory contributions to our transportation improvement fund.

Route 1 is as transit-efficient as it gets: two Metrorail lines, Virginia Railway Express, a bus rapid transit line and National Airport. Amazon HQ2, however, would require accelerating Metro and VRE improvements, and expanding Metroway-BRT. These improvements are compelling in their own right, and Amazon HQ2 should demonstrate how it would act as a catalyst for further improvements.

Another example: Arlington has plans to responsibly accommodate its share of growth along its urban corridors. However more needs to be done, including putting new housing supply policies to work, such as allowing for missing-middle land-use and gentle density, where appropriate. Amazon should demonstrate how it will contribute to wise land use, not exacerbate the current stresses that Arlington faces.

A third example: Amazon’s compliance with Arlington’s Community Energy Plan and Alexandria’s Eco-district planning should be expected as these plans support our community values and pay off for all involved: investors, community and the environment.

Fourth, the stresses for school space affect virtually all parts of Arlington. Amazon should participate actively in how projections of its arrival worsen this problem–and what it might do to ameliorate it in advance.

And what would Arlington bring to “a good deal” besides the obvious, but not trivial (location, well-educated population, etc.)?

The fact that Arlington teamed up with Alexandria for this project is a big step forward.

Amazon HQ2’s size and potential impact are well within what our region as a whole can handle. So we have met a prerequisite for a “good” Amazon deal–better regional cooperation.

So many new jobs and employees will unavoidably strain our tight housing market. In fact, investors see lack of housing availability and affordability–next to our infamous traffic problems–as the biggest drawbacks. Therefore, a good deal demands a regional commitment to increase housing supply and defend affordability. Arlington has such plans on the books, yet must better manage priorities and focus public investment.

Attracting major corporations makes our region economically more diverse and resilient. Big corporations often turn out to be fair and reliable long-term partners. Arlington is home to more than a few, to our mutual benefit. The key question is whether we are determined to maximize return on our hard-earned competitive advantages. Any incentives to an incoming corporation need to reflect credible and quantifiable current and future community benefits.

Amazon’s proposal would create quality jobs and makes the most of our key assets: our workforce, our brainpower, our infrastructure, our urbanism and our location. Its benefits should be welcome despite its notable adverse impacts. Yet the deal itself hinges on the all-important details, which will require a thorough and public debate in which our citizens should be engaging soon.

Takis Karantonis is an economist who has lived in Arlington for 12 years. He served earlier as the Executive Director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO), as well as on several advisory commissions, non-profit boards and the Board of his Columbia Heights Civic Association.

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Peter’s Take: Where’s the Financing for New Park Land?

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.

In my June 21 column I recommended that the County Board cancel the aquatics center, freeing up capital for other legally permissible uses such as purchasing new park land:

the Manager’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) contains $0 for acquisition of new park land over the next 10 years even though Arlington’s population is expected to grow by over 30,000 during that period.

Arlington continues to fall behind other jurisdictions and Arlington’s own prior practices in providing access to park land

A comprehensive 2016 report from the Civic Federation Parks and Recreation Committee (“Civ Fed report”) documents how Arlington has continued to fall behind other jurisdictions and Arlington’s own prior practices regarding:

  • ratio of park land to population
  • dollars devoted to new park land acquisition

The Civ Fed report explains (PDF p.5):

As of 2015, Arlington County had 1,784 acres of park land within its borders. Of those 1,784 acres, 949 acres were owned by Arlington County, 700 acres were owned by the National Park Service (most of which is Arlington Cemetery), and 135 acres were owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

In 1995, Arlington County had 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. By 2014 the County’s population had grown by over 43,000 residents, and the park land to population ratio had declined to 7.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

By contrast, Washington, DC, has 13.2 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and Fairfax County has 28.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

The Civ Fed report also traces the history of Arlington’s declining investment in acquiring new parkland (PDF p.3):

between 1995 and 2008, funding for park land acquisition per two-year bond cycle was between $4.0 and $8.5 million, with most cycles at $8.5 million. Since then… there has been a decline… Over the six years between 2008 and 2014, land acquisition bond funding totaled only $3.0 million, but [was] supplemented by a total of $5.47 million in pay-as-you go (PAYGO) annual budget allocations. Yet, the total funds of $8.47 million available for land acquisition during the latter six-year period was still far less than the $8.5 million that was typical for each two-year cycle between 1996 and 2004 (an eight-year period).

County government lacks a financing plan to acquire new park land

The Civ Fed report recommended that Arlington adopt a financing plan to acquire three acres of new park land per year for the next 10 years. My fellow ARLnow.com columnist, Eli Tucker, has documented that the cost of land across Arlington averaged $94 per square foot, equal to over $4 million per acre. That means it could cost an average of over $12 million per year fully to implement the Civ Fed report recommendation.

But, the County Manager’s latest proposed CIP contains zero capital dollars for acquiring new park land between 2019-2028. Therefore, our county government must answer these community questions:

  • How many acres of new parkland is Arlington planning to acquire over the next 10 years using other kinds of funding?
  • What other kinds of funding and how much of it?

Conclusion

Arlington needs a financing plan to acquire new park land. Cancelling the aquatics center is Arlington’s best source of capital funding for this purpose in our tight budget times.

If our county government insists on moving forward with the aquatics center, it needs to engage transparently with our residents regarding its long-term financial plan for new park land acquisition.

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Morning Poll: Should Clarendon Stores Close Their Doors in the Heat?

“Why is the door open, are we trying to air condition the whole neighborhood?”

That must be what some retail employees in Clarendon are be thinking this week. Amid a scorching heat wave, many stores are still keeping their doors propped open.

What is otherwise a solid strategy for getting passersby to come inside becomes absurd when the temperature reaches well above the 90s.

This is nothing new — it’s been happening for years. But even the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services is now making fun of it via social media.

Not everybody hates the open doors, however. A certain employee of this publication, who will go unnamed, acknowledged that the open doors are probably a bit wasteful, but argued that the cool breeze feels nice when walking by.

What do you think?

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

A midweek celebration of the nation’s independence is quite nearly upon us, but first, a hot and steamy weekend is on tap for Arlington.

It seems the D.C. area is in for a heat wave, with 90-degree temperatures and plenty of humidity in the forecast for the next few days.

It should be the ideal sort of weather to, say, hop on the dockless electric scooters popping up all over Arlington, or head to any one of the bevy of events around the county this weekend.

Or, if you’d rather stay inside and enjoy the A/C, you can catch up on our most popular stories of the past week:

  1. Letter: Arlington County Should Change its Logo
  2. Bird’s Dockless Electric Scooters Now Available in Arlington
  3. Condo Board Moves Meetings to School Over Concerns About Armed Resident
  4. Report: Arlington Has Lost More Than 14,500 Market-Rate Affordable Homes Since 2000
  5. Man in Critical Condition After Being Rescued from Submerged Car

Before we leave you for the week, a quick note to say we stand in solidarity with our fellow journalists in Annapolis today. The shooting at the Capital Gazette has touched everyone who works in the news business, and we’re thinking not only of those lost and their families, but everyone in the newsroom right now.

Head down to the comments to discuss your weekend plans, or anything else local. Have a good weekend.

Flickr pool photo via Jim Havard

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The Right Note: What’s in a Name?

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.

I have not really weighed in about the renaming of Washington-Lee High School for a number of reasons. In the final analysis, if in their infinite wisdom the members of the School Board decide to rename this school, then they have the ability to do so. They do have to make the decision realizing they will face the fallout from the voters, particularly the alumni, many of whom from across the political spectrum vehemently disagree with this exercise.

As part of the discussion when the School Board approved the name change process, Monique O’Grady held up a W-L shirt and said “Celebrating your school pride should not mean having to wear a shirt like this one that honors a person who may not share your values.” In so doing, she effectively ruled out naming any future schools after people. It would be extremely tough, if not impossible, to find any person who could receive unanimous support throughout the county.

O’Grady may eventually backtrack from that statement. We may find out what O’Grady meant is that no one who does not share “her” values should find their name on an Arlington school.

Yesterday, ARLnow also ran a story about a local activist who is adamant that the county should remove Arlington House from its logo because it once belonged to Robert E. Lee. Of course, Arlington County was named after Arlington House. Under this logic, it might be time to rename the whole county.

What would renaming Arlington County end up looking like? Under the O’Grady standard, Arlington cannot be named after any people. So, here is a list of suggestions for the new county name based on the standard talking points from the County Board: Diverse, Inclusive, Progressive, Welcoming, World Class.

Or, maybe we could sell annual naming rights to the county to boost revenue or lower tax rates. Trader Joe’s, Virginia anyone? Or possibly, we could change the name to attract new businesses. Right now, for instance, we could change the name to Amazon.

Sure, no one has seriously suggested doing so… yet. But, it is the logical conclusion of the argument.

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