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The Right Note: Best Conspiracy Theory of the Week?

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.

Why were Arlington schools closed on Tuesday when every surrounding jurisdiction operated on a two hour delay?

According to the Sun Gazette, it could have something to do with Arlington’s desire to get a waiver from the so-called “Kings Dominion rule” which stops many school districts from returning to school until after Labor Day. Fairfax County was granted the waiver primarily on the basis of too many snow days a couple years back, so maybe it would work for Arlington?

It has been tough sledding for Arlington officials when it comes to getting help from the General Assembly. However, Arlington officials could be betting on Democrats taking control of both the House and Senate in the 2019 elections, which presumably would clear the way for more favorable treatment.

Last fall, Katie Cristol openly backed the opponent of the last remaining General Assembly Republican inside the beltway — Tim Hugo. This was primarily based on the treatment the county received in the golf course property tax battle. Having made this early political play, it would be a good bet that nothing Arlington wants is moving through the House of Delegates if Republicans hold on to the majority.

Back to the school calendar. Arlington could already get out of school earlier in June if that was truly a priority. There are plenty of cushion days built into the calendar now to make it happen.

If we did have a particularly snowy winter, days could simply be added back in June if necessary to meet state requirements. If this is about preparing for SOL testing or other academic measures, it would be good to see real data on whether a school district that made the switch saw any statistically significant improvement.

Speaking of APS, the School Board this week made it official: Washington-Lee will soon be known as Washington-Liberty high school. Long ago it seemed a done deal that the compromise position was to keep the “W-L” moniker rather than further alienating already disgruntled alumni.

The bottom line for many parents is the amount of time spent on name changes, building designs and boundary line disputes should never take away from the need to ensure what happens inside the classroom is best preparing our kids for the future.

How our students will be prepared to find a job and thrive in the next generation economy. And, how our students will be prepared to contribute to our society as good, well-rounded, critically thinking citizens.

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

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

By Laura Saul Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter’s Take: DPR Misled County Board, Public on Parks Plan

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.

At its Jan. 8 meeting, the Arlington County Civic Federation (Civ Fed) passed a resolution 66-17-3 regarding the Level of Service (LOS) recommendations for athletic fields contained in the latest draft of the Public Open Spaces Master Plan (“PSMP” or “POPS” plan). (LOS is an acronym for Level of Service.)

Among many other provisions, the Civ Fed’s two-page resolution calls upon the Arlington County government to “withdraw the specific LOS athletic field recommendations” from the POPS plan.

Civ Fed’s January 8 program was designed to stimulate dialogue and improve understanding of this complicated topic. Civ Fed invited the county staff to have an open conversation with its delegates specifically about the lack of supply/demand data and the transparency of the public POPS process. While staff from Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) were the most knowledgeable people to answer specific methodology questions, the County Manager declined to have DPR staff attend.

Instead, two volunteer resident members of the POPS Advisory Committee spoke on the county’s behalf. They tried to defend DPR’s lack of transparency, while two other residents and proponents of the resolution explained DPR’s own data, which were accessed through a residents’ FOIA request and a six-month resident analysis reviewing diamond fields only. DPR should have defended and explained their process and data, not residents.

Standard industry LOS methodology was not followed; analyses and documents left out

DPR told the County Board, county commissions, stakeholders, and the general public that DPR was following a standard industry methodology called “Population Based LOS” to provide quantitative estimates of levels of service. But, DPR didn’t follow it.

DPR excluded from its calculations and from the public POPS process the abundance of supply/demand field data and analyses which DPR had in its files. But according to DPR’s own consultants’ standard industry methodology statement, these data are necessary to determine Population Based LOS correctly: “Each community determine its own LOS standard based on current supply and demand and future supply/demand projections” POPS_LOS Methodology_171220.  This LOS methodology statement was discovered among the documents produced via the FOIA.

DPR’s exclusion is significant. Among the other documents residents obtained under FOIA were DPR’s own analysis showing adequate diamond field facilities through 2035 in contrast to the deficits indicated by the improperly calculated LOS currently in the POPS plan.

Further details explaining how DPR did not follow standard industry methodology are available here.

The importance of the PSMP plan and LOS facility recommendations to long-term planning

The accuracy of LOS for specific categories of facilities — or lack thereof — can be hugely important to subsequent planning decisions.

These specific quantitative LOS recommendations will be used over the next 20 years to decide:

  • how acres of public parkland will be used (i.e., more or different sports fields, casual use space, or other features)
  • whether to install multi-million-dollar capital improvements (i.e., synthetic turf and/or lights)

These decisions must be considered in a holistic plan developed according to proper standard industry methodology and based on how Arlington residents actually use and need these facilities. Without such a plan, it will not be possible for residents to:

  • prioritize which facilities are needed in individual parks
  • introduce comprehensive, supply/demand data in any subsequent individual park planning proceeding because such data can only be developed reliably on a county-wide basis, in a county-wide proceeding

Conclusion

Approving the POPS plan while it still contains the erroneous and incomplete quantitative facility (LOS) recommendations will cause the misallocation of tens of millions of tax dollars and substantially harm efforts to meet residents’ needs and priorities in our public spaces.

As the Civ Fed has recognized and supported, the best solution to the present situation is to:

  • remove the erroneous LOS recommendations for sports fields before approving the final POPS plan
  • commence a new, independent and transparent process to:
  1. develop new quantitative estimates of county-wide supply/demand for sports fields
  2. develop new priority systems to maximize the efficient use of our existing fields
  3. implement an online reservation system to ensure that facility usage is transparent to the public and sports users
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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

The weekend is nearly upon us, and so too perhaps is our first big snow storm of the winter.

Forecasters are currently projecting that the storm will hit D.C. in earnest around 4 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday), with at least a few inches of snow expected.

But you should be able to squeeze in a trip to the county’s latest town hall on Amazon, or perhaps even some other happenings on our event calendar before the storm hits. If you do try venturing out, remember to avoid a few stations on the Blue and Yellow lines in South Arlington.

And you can always stay bundled up and read our most popular stories of the past week by the fire:

  1. Man Struck By Car on Route 50
  2. Out-of-Control Driver Strikes Signs, Light Pole in Clarendon
  3. Arlington Man Scores $1 Million Lottery Prize
  4. Harry’s Smokehouse in Pentagon City Mall Shuts Down
  5. Newly Renovated Wendy’s Now Open on Columbia Pike, With Plans for Big Giveaway

Head on down to the comments to discuss these stories, your plans for getting snowed in or anything else local. Have a great weekend!

Flickr photo via wolfkann

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The Right Note: Kicking Off, Part 2

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.

County Board Members Garvey, Gutshall and de Ferranti also chimed in with their current priorities at the annual organizational meeting. Each gave a nod to the budget process which will undoubtedly result in a hefty tax rate increase. The ongoing questions with Amazon’s arrival, soaring housing costs, transportation and schools were on also their lists in one way or another.

Newcomer Matthew de Ferranti recapped his campaign promises in his speech. Oddly, he put building a new high school at the top of his list for the 2020 budget process. Since he is not on the School Board, one can only assume that item is what he will hang his hat on in order to vote for a tax rate increase.

Libby Garvey took time to offer a look back at Arlington’s history over the past four decades in order to set the stage for the question of where we want Arlington to be over the next four decades? And she issued a challenge to have that debate in a civil manner.

Fresh off his first year of service, Erik Gutshall went through a traditional speech that included political platitudes and priority items. Gutshall rightly called for modernizing the zoning code. Though we should all hope that the Board members calling for this think “modernize” means make it easier and less expensive to build not more expensive and more complicated.

Gutshall’s final priority was unique to his colleagues, and a bit concerning. Without discussing the specifics of what it would mean to us, Gutshall suggested Arlington join the “Green New Deal.” At least one preliminary study estimates the plan would cost an amount which is twice the current federal budget over the next 10 years. While not all of those cost would be passed on to taxpayers directly, the costs to transition to 100 percent renewable energy in manufacturing would certainly be passed on to us in terms of increased prices.

Members of the all-Democrat General Assembly delegation also discussed their priorities for the year as they head back into session. They suggested Republicans’ electoral prospects would be enhanced by adopting Democrats’ priorities. I am sure Republicans in Richmond will be just as receptive to the advice as the County Board will be to my advice not to raise the tax rate this year.

At or near the top of their list is one of the issues that historically does not motivate voters to go to the polls — redistricting reform. While most voters favor “doing something” on the issue, the push by Democrats to move the process even further away from any accountability to the voters remains a bad idea.

The real fight as recognized by our delegation will be over the tax revenue windfall caused by changes in the federal tax reform law. In posturing that will surprise no one: Republicans will push to return most of it to taxpayers. Democrats will push to spend most of it.

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

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

By Laura Saul Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter’s Take: No Virginia Tax Dollars for New Redskins Stadium

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.

On Jan. 9, Virginia House of Delegates member Michael Webert (R-Fauquier) offered legislation (HB 1886) that would, if enacted, establish:

“an interstate compact among the Commonwealth of Virginia, the State of Maryland, and the District of Columbia (the party states) that prohibits the party states from providing incentives for a Washington area professional football team franchise facility, including tax incentives, state or local appropriations, and loans.”

In support of his bill, Webert explained,“think tanks on the left and right show the subsidies that go to professional stadiums, there really is not the return on investment that everybody says there is.”

State Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) disputed Webert, holding out hope that Virginia would at least be willing to “offer to build a Metro station or highway ramp to serve a stadium, or provide land for it at a nominal rent.”

Football stadiums do not spur significant economic growth

The evidence is overwhelming that subsidizing the construction of a new Redskins football stadium will never be in the best interests of Virginia taxpayers:

“Roger Noll, an economist who studies sports-stadium subsidies at Stanford University, says he has never witnessed the construction of a football stadium that has had a significant positive impact on the local economy.”    

Direct costs outweigh the benefits

Fifty-seven percent of a panel of U.S economic experts agreed that the costs to taxpayers are likely to outweigh the benefits, while only 2 percent disagreed–though several panelists noted that some contributions of local sports teams are difficult to quantify.

Subsidizing stadiums is a game that taxpayers lose: “Governments should never finance a stadium with public money as it is simply a subsidy to rich team owners and a few businesses that stand to benefit from the events held there.”

Opportunity costs further tilt the balance against taxpayer funding

The costs of a new Virginia stadium for the Redskins are even higher when you factor in the opportunity costs. Virginia tax dollars spent on such a stadium would be tax dollars that could have been spent to:

  • increase Virginia’s state share of the new dedicated funding stream for Metro
  • increase Virginia’s state share of public education funding
  • redress some of the many remaining critical deficiencies in Virginia’s mental health facilities
  • help bring high-speed broadband to rural areas of Virginia that currently lack it

These are only four of hundreds of more deserving needs than a Redskins stadium.

Dan Snyder doesn’t need the money

Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder is a billionaire who doesn’t need a public hand out. Any Virginia tax dollars for a new Redskins stadium will go directly into Dan Snyder’s pockets.

A 2003 study by a member of the University of Texas economics department documented that a new stadium increases:

  • team profits by an average of $13 million annually
  • payroll salaries by $14 million annually
  • team book value by $90 million

Sixteen years later, all these numbers are likely to be much higher.

Conclusion

Regardless of what DC or Maryland decide to do, nothing related to any new Redskins stadium should be subsidized by Virginia taxpayers. Dan Snyder should arrange 100 percent private financing. Under these conditions, Snyder could build his stadium in Virginia if he could find a welcoming local government.

San Francisco 49’ers cornerback Richard Sherman got it right: “I’d stop spending billions of taxpayer dollars on stadiums…and maybe make the billionaires who actually benefit from the stadiums pay for them.”

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

The first weekend of 2019 is set to be a warm and wet one.

The forecast is calling for a whole lot of rain to move into the D.C. area starting tonight, and lingering into Saturday as well. At least temperatures will shoot up into the 50s for most of the weekend.

Check out our event calendar if you need a few things to fill your time this weekend. But if you’re planning on using the Metro to get there, watch out: trains on the Blue and Yellow lines will be single-tracking between the Pentagon City and National Airport stations, meaning that trains on both lines will only run once every 20 minutes.

If you’re stuck on the train or otherwise behind on your Arlington news, you can also catch up on our most popular stories of the past week:

  1. Former A-Town Space in Ballston Set to be Transformed into German Food Hall
  2. Police Arrest Arlington Woman in Connection with Fatal Stabbing on New Year’s Day
  3. Man Shot on S. Glebe Road, Expected to Survive
  4. Clarendon Gym Owner Pleads Guilty to Federal Drug Charges
  5. Longtime Rosslyn Pizzeria Piola Shuts Down

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

Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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Letter to the Editor: Name W-L for William Lee, Push Back School Board Vote

Arlington’s School Board is set to pick a new name for Washington-Lee High School next week, putting an end to the simmering debate over how to best strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.

The Board voted in June to remove the Confederate general’s name from the school’s moniker, kicking off months of squabbling over potential new names and even a failed lawsuit seeking to block the change. A renaming committee has recommended “Washington-Loving” to honor the Virginia couple who successfully challenged the state’s ban on interracial marriage, while “Washington-Liberty” earned the support of some committee members as a secondary recommendation.

Others still supported swapping in one Lee for another, particularly William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant. The following letter to the editor comes from a coalition of W-L alumni, former faculty members and even one of the original four black students to integrate the school in support of that option. 

The letter writers argue that the Board should delay its vote on Thursday (Jan. 10), and pursue a more “unifying solution” than its current options.

We are alumni and community stakeholders who care deeply about Arlington and the legacy of its oldest high school, Washington-Lee High School. We also support one of the renaming committee’s five finalist names, Washington-Lee High School, in honor of the African American Revolutionary War patriot William Lee.

A school that figures so prominently in Arlington’s history deserves a name that will inspire an understanding of our nation’s complex past and how it can move us forward. The clumsy attempts to retain the school’s nickname with the current Washington-Loving and Washington-Liberty proposals, however well-intentioned, do not meet that high standard. The name William Lee best “aligns with or reflects the APS mission, vision, and core values and beliefs” as stated in Policy F-6.1 Naming of Facilities.

William Lee, who served alongside Washington throughout the Revolutionary War, has long represented the contributions of the country’s “neglected patriots,” enslaved African Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War for their country and their own personal freedom. These patriots and heroes will soon be honored by the National Liberty Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Congress has approved a location for the memorial which, poetically, could be the last site on the Mall across from the Washington Monument. Their contributions, previously shunned, are among the most important in our nation’s history. Moreover, because of the intimate connection between the two men, Lee’s influence on Washington, his abhorrence of slavery, and our country’s founding are of profound importance. A newly renamed W-L could be a powerful impetus that redefines history and imbues our diverse community with a common purpose and pride.

Unfortunately William Lee had not been properly considered by the committee due to historical inaccuracies in its brief biography of his life and an incomplete assessment of his legacy. Regarding Mildred Loving, there are serious questions over how she viewed her own black heritage. While it is laudable a member of the Arlington Historical Society was appointed to the committee, historians and other experts should have been consulted as history is often more complex than it appears on the surface. Moreover, the significant number of resignations from within the committee further cloud the process. As the legacy of a school and county hangs in the balance, it is critically apparent that the five finalist namesakes need to be more thoroughly researched.

With a postponement of the Jan. 10 vote on a new name, the School Board could rectify these fundamental shortcomings. Moreover an extension would help build a bridge to alumni who have felt sidelined throughout the entire renaming process, which has lacked the transparency and public discourse typical of the Arlington Way. Hopefully, William Lee would then be fairly vetted by all stakeholders and the School Board. Alternatively, since Lee is one of the five finalist names chosen by the committee, the Board could opt to choose among all of those names on Jan. 10. Notably, many alumni who had been divided over the name change are now embracing the William Lee name as the school’s best opportunity to educate and inspire future generations of students.

The process is an understandably difficult one, made more painful by missteps that could have been avoided. We feel without reservation that the name Washington-Lee High School in honor of William Lee would be the most unifying solution, and one that will likely ensure continued alumni support that has been invaluable over the past 90-plus years. Most importantly, the school would have a dignified name and inspiring new namesake with an unmistakable connection to one of our country’s earliest African American heroes who helps us to better understand Washington and his extraordinary nature.

Sincerely,

Duy Tran, Ann Felker, Bill Sharbaugh, John Peck, Carmela Hamm, Kim Phillip, Maurice Barboza, Anne Ledyard, Anthony Varni, Peggy Jeens, Janeth Valenzuela, Charles Augins, Leonardo Sarli, Sally Mann, Max Golkin, Lauren Hassel, Margaret Jackson Bartolini, Betsy Debevoise Staz, Tom Dickinson, T.W. Dickinson, Betty Settle, Geraldine (Dresser) Frank, Marcia Bourkland Pauly, Fred Grover, Alfred Greenwood, John Dobson, Dana Gandy Croyle, Rebecca Mimms, Chris Fleet, Yolanda McDonald, Nancy Roberts, Gail Zucker Braunstein

We are a group of alumni, alumni faculty, and stakeholders. Many of us have contributed to local civic and cultural affairs over the years and devoted thousands of hours to support the excellent educational opportunities at Washington-Lee and APS. Our names are listed in no particular order. Bill Sharbaugh was the principal of Washington-Lee High School from 1976-1999. Maurice Barboza is CEO of the National Mall Liberty Fund, a non-profit that supports the establishment of a memorial to African American contributions to liberty during the Revolutionary War. Charles Augins is one of the four students who integrated Washington-Lee in September, 1959.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Photo via Mount Vernon

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Morning Poll: Bikes on Metro at Rush Hour

WMATA announced this week that Metro riders will be able to bring their bikes with them on trains regardless of the time.

The new policy “ends a longstanding restriction that prohibited bicycles during rush hours.” On social media, some celebrated the decision as a win for carless commuters, while others lamented the idea of having to compete for space with bulky bicycles on crowded Metro trains.

More from a WMATA press release:

The policy change, which takes effect Monday, is expected to make Metrorail a more attractive travel option for reverse commuters (i.e. customers traveling outbound in the morning and inbound in the evening) who want to take their bike to travel between the rail station and their workplace.

Metro reviewed its policy and determined that it could respond to requests from the bicycling community by ending the rush-hour bike restriction without significant negative effects. The review took into account that the majority of rush-hour trains are 8 cars in length (the longest possible), and that new 7000-series trains provide more open space.

“We received requests from Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and others in the bicycle community asking us to take a fresh look at our policy,” said Metro Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader. “We believe this change supports ridership growth by Metro and a commuting option for those who want to have a bike with them.”

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association welcomed today’s announcement. “Bicycling extends the reach of Metrorail for customers at the beginning and end of their trip. Members of the community have long wanted the option to bring a bicycle along with them on their rush hour trips, especially reverse commuters,” said Greg Billing, WABA Executive Director. “I have to say that we’re pleasantly surprised with how flexible and accommodating Metro has been in responding quickly to this request. We are grateful to leadership at Metro for this policy change to permit bicycles during all hours of Metrorail operations.”

When Metrorail first opened, bikes were not allowed in the system at all. Since then, Metro has incrementally loosened restrictions without significant problems. Bikes were first allowed in 1982, with a paid permit on weekends and holidays only. The days and hours when bikes were allowed gradually expanded over time. Permits were eliminated in 1998, and the current policy was established in 2001, allowing bikes at all hours except weekdays from 7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.

What do you think about the policy change?

File photo

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The Right Note: Kicking Off the Year, Part 1

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.

On Jan. 2, the County Board held its organizational meeting for 2019 with speeches from each County Board member outlining their priorities for the year. Today, I will focus on the remarks from our current Chairman Christian Dorsey as well as our outgoing Chair Katey Cristol.

Christian Dorsey was elected to take the center seat as chairman for 2019. Early in his remarks, Dorsey did what was expected, set the stage for why a tax rate increase would be necessary, primarily blaming a “depressed” tax base, primarily because of a low commercial vacancy rate.

To translate for people who do not follow county budgets, our “depressed” tax base continues to produce tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue each and every year.

Nevertheless, desired county spending continues to outpace our growing revenue. The county, Dorsey said, would practice austerity to make up for this gap. Austerity is a word that makes one think the county will take extreme steps to reduce spending, but that is unlikely. What is extremely likely is that the county will not reduce spending enough to avoid a tax rate increase.

Dorsey did move on to the theme for his year as chairman. The word for the year was clearly “equity.” Dorsey argued we needed to put our words and commitment to equity into practice for all Arlingtonians. Unfortunately, Dorsey did not lay out exactly what success would look like a year from now on this front.

Cristol, who should get some sort of credit for working the word “crystalized” into her speech, offered two constructive suggestions to compliment what Chairman Dorsey had to say.

First, she suggested reforming our zoning code to increase the types of housing that could be available to meet our long term needs for people of all income levels. Those reforms should also include making it easier and cheaper to make your way through the permitting and construction process.

Cristol also suggested that the county use data to measure the progress it makes in all of its goals, particularly when it comes to equity.

A data-driven approach is 100 percent in line with the transparency and accountability that is promised by our County Board. It also fits right in with the time of year we are in where we are thinking about our resolutions and goals for the new year. If you have gone through the planning process with your business, you know this: if it’s not measurable, it’s not a real goal.

I look forward to how Cristol works with county staff to turn this idea into reality.

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

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

By James Swindell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter’s Take: Virginia Should Adopt No-Excuse Absentee Voting

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 2019 Virginia legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

Once again, a batch of proposed bills have been submitted which, if enacted, would authorize no-excuse absentee voting in Virginia.

No-excuse absentee voting bills

Some of these no-excuse absentee voting bills have been continued from the 2018 legislative session, e.g., SB 136 submitted by state Sen. Janet Howell (who represents portions of Arlington). Others are new, e.g., HB 1641 submitted by state Del. Charniele Herring..

Virginia should enact a law authorizing no-excuse absentee voting

Like other voting rights issues, Arlington voters only can obtain the right to no-excuse absentee voting if that right is enacted at the state level because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state.

Virginia has developed a series of 16 narrow, but often confusing and overlapping, excuses that entitle registered voters to vote absentee before Election Day. Unless your reason for wanting to vote absentee fits squarely within one or more of the 16 categories on the authorized list, you can’t vote absentee.

Virginia’s current system should be changed. It should be replaced by a system that permits any registered voter to vote absentee without having to provide any excuse.

Reasons to support no-excuse absentee voting

The most important reason why the current system should be changed is that experience in many other states has demonstrated that no-excuse absentee voting enables more legally registered voters to vote to choose their elected officials. The broader the base on which our political leadership rests, the more likely that decisions made by our leaders will be respected.

The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area has prepared a helpful checklist of reasons to support no-excuse absentee voting. Those reasons are:

  • All voters should have equal access to the ballot
  • No voter should have to provide personal unrelated information to cast a ballot
  • Voters have found their eligibility to vote before Election Day very confusing
  • Voting absentee in-person is as secure as voting on Election Day
  • Local election offices have had success in reducing long lines on Election Day by encouraging absentee voting
  • For voting absentee in-person, eliminating the cumbersome process of completing the absentee application would save time as well as the expense of printing the form
  • Extra personnel are needed to explain the form and check it for completion before a voter can proceed to checking in
  • Eliminating the use of the application form would speed the voting process considerably

Opponents of a no-excuse absentee voting system have argued that it encourages too many more voters to vote too early, thereby foreclosing their opportunity to vote based on late-breaking developments in a political campaign. Weighing this risk against the depression of voter turnout under the current system, the benefits of providing more opportunities to vote outweigh the risks that some voters might regret that they voted too early.

Both Democrats and Republicans should support no-excuse absentee voting

Twenty eight states and the District of Columbia permit any qualified voter to vote absentee without offering an excuse. Those states include so-called “red” states such as South Dakota and Wyoming as well as so-called “blue” states like California and Vermont. Therefore, absentee voting should be a subject on which Virginia Republicans and Virginia Democrats also ought to be able to agree.

Conclusion

No-excuse absentee voting will enable more eligible Virginia voters to vote.

The current patchwork quilt of 16 authorized excuses should be replaced by: no excuses necessary.

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ARLnow Holiday Weekend Discussion

It may be dreary and cold today, but the final weekend of 2018 should prove to be a pretty one.

The forecast is calling for a sunny Saturday and Sunday, with some slightly warmer temperatures than we’ve seen the last few weeks.

And things should generally remain nice for your New Year’s plans — check out our event calendar if you’re looking for any big ideas.

You can always catch up on our most popular stories of the past week too (or even take a dive into our top stories of 2018 before the year ends):

  1. Columbia Pike’s Twisted Vines, BrickHaus Both Set to Close Next Week
  2. Feral Cats Abound in Arlington
  3. School Board Names New Middle School for Dorothy Hamm, Ditches Any Reference to Stratford School
  4. School Board Mulls New Names for Washington-Lee High School, As Final Vote Draws Near
  5. County Creates New Dockless Scooter ‘Corrals’ to Encourage More Orderly Storage

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

ARLnow will once again be publishing on a reduced schedule through Wednesday to account for the holiday. See you in 2019!

Flickr pool photo via Tom Mockler

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The Right Note: Getting Ready for the Speeches

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.

Next week, the County Board will meet for its annual organizational meeting, and it will do so with a new member for the first time since 2016. While the annual tradition of meeting on New Year’s Day seems to be relegated to the past, the tradition of speeches filled with a laundry list of “priorities” is here to stay.

Here are 10 questions the Board should try to answer as they craft their messages to Arlingtonians:

What will the first year of Amazon’s arrival look like? Now that the decision has been made and the incentive package has been promised, there are still a lot of practical questions to be answered. Housing, transportation and other infrastructure issues are on a lot of our minds.

How do you intend to improve the zoning and permitting process to help keep housing construction costs in check?

What is the future of Metro? While this is certainly not a question left up to us, Christian Dorsey could be a leader in calling for reforms.

How much do you plan to raise the tax rate? There is little question the Board plans to raise rates for 2019 on top of rising assessments, in order to ramp up spending significantly. It is unlikely anyone will come right out and say just how much, but they will instead spend most of their time apologizing for why they “have” to do it.

Will you give the county auditor more resources to do his job? Assuming the Board really does seek the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

How many more things will Arlington try to rename? And, has anyone determined the amount of staff time spent on such efforts?

Would you vote to institute “Instant Runoff Voting” in County Board elections if the General Assembly said you could?

Does Arlington have a long-term plan if our share of Medicaid expansion costs continue to rise? No one knows yet the full impact of this decision on our local budget, but the County Board is already asking for relief in the package it sent to the General Assembly.

Will the Board revisit its stance against funding the Potomac River gondola? A simple one-word answer will suffice if you do not want to clutter up your speech, preferably starting with the letter ‘n.’

Finally, with the return of one-party control of the County Board, what assurances can you give Arlingtonians that you will not slip into the patterns of the past?

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