79°Partly Cloudy

by ARLnow.com — August 10, 2016 at 10:00 am 0

It’s August 10 and already the shelves of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other Arlington stores are being stocked with fall beers.

Pumpkin beers, Oktoberfest beers — the kind of brews that make you think of crisp, cool weather and fallen leaves crunching under your feet. Yet, we’re still a month and a half away from the first day of autumn, the leaves are still green and another sweltering heat wave is about to get underway.

How do you feel about this practice of starting fall early in the beer aisle? Do you appreciate being able to stock up on your pumpkin beers early, or do you wish retailers would save the Oktoberfests until closer to October?

Regardless of your answer, if you’re a fan of fall beer, be sure to mark your calendars for the seasonally-appropriate date of Sunday, Sept. 18, for a free ARLnow-sponsored “Mega Fall Beer Tasting Event” at Arrowine, featuring a whole bunch of great breweries, some rare brews for sale and grub from local food trucks.

Space is limited, and email subscribers will get first dibs; keep an eye out for an invite.

Hat tip to Peter G.

by ARLnow.com — August 9, 2016 at 9:00 am 0

Building Permits at Nando's Peri-Peri in BallstonAs we’ve been reporting, this has been an active summer for local restaurants.

A number of prominent Arlington eateries have closed or are closing, while some highly-anticipated restaurants are nearing an opening.

Here are some of the restaurants expected to open later this year:

Of those, which are you most looking forward to?

by Mark Kelly — August 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

This week, Arlington announced its economic development successes for the past fiscal year. The tally: 53 “deals,” 2 million square feet of office space and 4,200 jobs that were “created or retained.” County Manager Schwartz says it’s his top priority.

The release does not indicate how many were created and how many were retained, something that would be good to know in measuring success. Just as when President Obama tried to count jobs he “created or saved,” we should be very leery of an announcement that contains such a qualifier. Maybe the county will provide a breakdown of created versus retained. But it is hard to argue the success of economic development if we are not adding to the job base.

Also, in evaluating jobs that were retained, it would be good to know an answer to the question of why were they going to leave? Were they just making a threat to get a better deal?

Moreover, if we are making special deals to make businesses stay, what about all the businesses who are staying here without getting a government deal? Where is their “piece of the action?”

At any level of government, there is a very real danger to the taxpayer when a handful of government officials get behind closed doors with a business and make a deal. Even with the best of intentions, there is the very real danger that a business will profit and the taxpayers will lose. Look at “deals” like the one Solyndra received from the federal government and what Governor McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive did to Mississippi (after they couldn’t get a good enough deal from Virginia).

This leads to the question of why do you have to make deals to lure employers to our community at all?

Sure, some would argue that every state and community serious about landing big employers are offering special deals. But as my dad used to say, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it right.

Why not make our policies so friendly to job creators that they want to come here? If our tax policies, zoning, permitting are reformed, and if we improve their experiences in even little things like submitting online applications and payments, then we can attract and retain businesses without cutting deals.

Creating a more business-friendly environment both attracts new business we want to locate here, but also benefits the ones who have been providing jobs in our community for years. That should be the goal.

by Progressive Voice — August 4, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Emma Violand-SanchezProgressive 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: Emma Violand-Sanchez

The following is an adaptation of an end of school year address:

Good morning! Buenos Dias! It has been a privilege to serve as School Board Chair for the 2015-16 school year. I am proud of our world-class school system and our top priorities of student achievement and meeting the needs of the whole child.

I am also proud of APS’ recent accomplishments. All 31 schools are accredited by the Virginia Department of Education. The 2015 Washington Post Challenge Index listed all APS high schools in the top 3 percent in the U.S. This is the seventh year in a row all APS high schools made this list. In 2014 and 2015, almost 92 percent of all student graduated on time. The dropout rate has declined by two-thirds since 2010. These statistics show that our students are thriving and taking advantage of multiple options provided to help them succeed academically.

This year the School Board supported our students with initiatives such as the Arlington Tiered System of Support and enhanced opportunities for our students to succeed in a global economy.

We have set a goal to have our students be proficient in more than one language. Bilingualism is a social, economic and educational asset.

In that regard, we reached our objective to offer foreign language at all elementary schools. New language courses have been added at the middle school level. The number of students enrolled in world language courses – including sign language — is steadily increasing. This year, over 550 students received the Board of Education Seal of Biliteracy certifying that they graduated high school proficient in one or more world languages.

To help Arlington students prepare for a successful future in the 21st century — including the importance of technology and innovation — our schools have partnered with universities as well as non-profit organizations such as The Dream Project. Dual enrollment between our high schools and Northern Virginia Community College has increased by 20 %. Over 50% of the students in Grades 2-12 have received computer or IPad devices to enhance personalized learning.

The opening of Arlington Tech provides additional progressive educational opportunities for our students. This program will provide our students with integrated hands-on, project based learning, ultimately preparing our students for different paths toward success after high school.

As a school system, we wholeheartedly believe in supporting the whole child. Our Whole Child Working Group developed a framework to ensure that each child is healthy, safe, supported, academically engaged and challenged.

The local historic designation of Stratford School is another proud accomplishment. It was an honor for me to help celebrate the courage of those who helped APS play the historic role of being the first school system in Virginia to integrate its schools on February 2, 1959.

Without a doubt, the struggle and bravery shown by the young African-American students attending Stratford that day and the ongoing efforts of Black and White supporters of school desegregation laid the foundation for greater educational opportunities for all students, not only in Arlington but across our nation.

With all of the accomplishments of our schools, the Board recognizes the challenges presented by our growing enrollment — especially at the high school level.  This year we worked hard on an adopted budget that continues a commitment to excellence. We designated funds to invest in instructional support, infrastructure, and staff and benefit compensation.

Another important way to address the challenges was our approval in June of the FY 2017-26 Capital Improvement Plan. The plan focuses on providing seats for students in the areas of most critical need in light of the continued, sustained growth in student enrollment. Our commitment to investment in APS facilities this year included opening Discovery Elementary School and investing in maintenance of APS facilities to provide optimal learning environments.

I am thankful to staff  and citizens who are always willing to step in and help us with our work, such as the South Arlington Working Group, Arlington Facilities Planning Council, and Building Level Planning Committees for projects at Stratford, Wilson, Abingdon, McKinley, and the new elementary school in South Arlington.

It has been an honor to serve our community on the School Board and our community. Thank you for your support. Arlington’s school system is a reflection of our commitment to success in our culturally, linguistically, and racially inclusive school community.

Emma Violand-Sanchez will complete her service on the Arlington County School Board in December after serving as Chair during the 2015-16 school year. Emma joined the Board in January 2009 and previously served as Chair during the 2012-13 school year. She is a career educator and has lived in Arlington since 1978.

by Peter Rousselot — August 4, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

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

Last month, the Arlington County Board unanimously voted to approve the wording of four bond referenda totaling $315.7 million.

These four referenda will be on the November 8, 2016 general election ballot:

Peters Take Aug 4 Table

Taking into account factors such as the large sums of money involved, the number and complexity of the projects in each category, the opportunities for public comment on all of the projects, and the opportunities for comment on this year’s entire 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP) , the County Board arrived at a fair and reasonable determination regarding the degree of specificity of the ballot wording of each of these four categories.

Discussion

Under Virginia state law, any time a local government proposes to use general obligation bond financing to pay for capital projects, such proposals must be submitted to the voters for approval. The law grants the County Board the right to determine the wording and dollar amounts of such bond proposals.

This year’s wording represents a substantial improvement over recent prior practice. For example:

While in 2014 a typical ballot question sought $105.8 million in bonds to “fund the design and construction of various school facility projects including new elementary schools, building additions for additional classroom space and maintenance capital projects,” a question on the ballot this fall for $138.8 million in school construction will spell out five specific schools or projects, with costs attached to each.

This year’s push to provide more ballot detail also is a welcome response by current County Board members to a 2012 County Board decision regarding a Parks bond proposal. In that earlier case, the ballot wording of a $50.5 million Parks bond failed to disclose that 80% of the funds were earmarked for the construction of the original grandiose design of the proposed Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park. Voters in 2012 easily could have thought they were voting simply to acquire critically necessary new parkland.

Criticism of the vagueness of the wording of the 2012 Parks bond was a major issue properly raised by independent John Vihstadt in his successful 2014 campaign for County Board. The wording of that bond also led to passage of a 2015 resolution by the Arlington County Republican Committee urging that any individual capital project involving general obligation bond spending of more than $25 million be listed separately on the general election ballot–rather than aggregated into a broader generic category.

The Arlington GOP’s resolution raises reasonable issues for continuing community discussion. The resolution poses legitimate questions regarding:

Singling out a large project for a separate vote (how expensive should it be to deserve separate treatment?), and

Bundling proposed capital expenditures into larger generic categories (how many generic categories should be chosen?).

Conclusion

During the period of public comment on the merits of future capital projects involving general obligation bond financing, it could become clear that the dollar amount of any particular project is so large, or the community is so divided on the project’s merits, that the project deserves a separate line item on the ballot. None of this year’s individual projects deserved such separate treatment.

by ARLnow.com — July 29, 2016 at 5:00 pm 0

Storm Clouds in Clarendon on July 18, 2016

The weekend is finally here and so is the relief from the heat.

Temperatures will be in the low to high 80s with chances of thunderstorms.

Even if the storms roll through, it won’t put a damper on our ARLBBQ event at the Bartlett in Pentagon City, which our email subscribers were invited to a couple of weeks ago. It’s a free event and we ran out of tickets in 3 hours — apparently people like the idea of enjoying beer and Whole Foods-catered barbecue in a fun indoor/outdoor space with games, TVs, music and a view.

For those attending, good news: you’re getting more free stuff. We’ll have gift bags with Bartlett sunglasses, ARLnow t-shirts and other goodies for you. Supplies, however, will be limited.

Feel free to discuss the weather, your weekend plans or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

by Mark Kelly — July 28, 2016 at 3:55 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

Last fall, I wrote about the possibility of another Tax Increment Financing District in Arlington. This time for the redevelopment of the Ballston Mall.

This is what I wrote then:

“The argument for TIFs is that the development being paid for by the TIFs will increase revenue to the County above what we would have otherwise received. Therefore, despite setting aside a portion of that revenue to subsidize development, it is still a net benefit to the taxpayer.

However, if a private developer cannot secure financing for a project in one of the most attractive real estate markets in the country, why should taxpayers agree to make up the difference?”

My questions about TIFs then are my questions today. Should Arlingtonians continue subsidizing development with debt? And is it worth setting aside future tax revenue to the detriment of other county needs?

Last week, the County Board took a slightly different approach. For the first time, they are forming a Community Development Authority (CDA). The CDA could receive up to $46 million from bonds. The County is also kicking in another $9 million for transportation needs.

The bonds would still be financed by tax increment financing. This financing sets aside a portion of future tax revenue to finance the bonds. None of those funds will be available for schools or other county-wide obligations.

While a CDA sounds like a separate entity, the board members will be made up solely of County Board members, according to the county press release. If that’s the case, why set up a separate entity at all?

Also in the county press release was this statement, “the bonds issued are not on the County’s balance sheet and thus do not affect the County’s debt capacity or debt rating.”

Who pays if the tax increment funds do not meet the debt service requirements? Best guess is the Arlington taxpayers would still end up on the hook. The honest way to do the accounting is to recognize the bond for what it is, an obligation Arlington must pay.

Whether you call it a CDA or TIF, it is little more than a new way to borrow money.

by Progressive Voice — July 28, 2016 at 12:45 pm 0

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

By: Elizabeth Jones Valderrama

At a time of increasing partisanship, we see people from across the political spectrum coming together to promote the re-entry of individuals into society after incarceration. Assisting individuals to re-enter society after their release from incarceration in a responsible way reduces recidivism and thereby makes us all safer.

Our organization, Offender Aid and Restoration of Arlington County, Inc. (OAR), was established in 1974 by a group of Arlington women who volunteered in jails and saw a need for ongoing support of individuals incarcerated and being released who remained largely ignored and forgotten by society.

Today, OAR serves Arlington County and the Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church. We serve those currently incarcerated by offering life skills courses and case management in local correctional facilities, as well as offering emergency services, case management, and employment services to individuals recently released. OAR also manages the court-mandated Community Service function for Arlington and Falls Church courts.

We hope to remove needless obstacles to the success of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system.

Did you know, for example, that when individuals return home from incarceration they are unable to get back their driver’s license until they pay all court fines, costs and restitution in full, or establish a payment plan with the court? That means that many individuals in Arlington are trying to put their lives back on track, including finding a job, without having a driver’s license.

Hundreds of the participants coming to OAR owe thousands of dollars in court fees and fines. Every time they have gone to court, they are assessed a fee. It is not unusual for a participant to owe $10,000 or more. With a job, they could approach the Court and create a payment plan. However, getting a job without a driver’s license makes coming home and staying out of trouble that much more difficult.

While inside jail and prison, the unpaid fines and costs accrue at an interest rate of 6% a year, which continues accruing until paid. If a person owes fines and costs to multiple courts (not unusual in Northern Virginia), each Court’s judgment must be satisfied or each Court must agree to the establishment of a payment plan.

In fiscal year 2012, 401,504 suspension orders were issued by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Of those, approximately 37% (over one-third) were for unpaid fines and costs, which constitutes the single largest cause of license suspensions.

The Supreme Court of Virginia reports that in fiscal year 2012 over $352 million in fines and costs were assessed but that over $164 million were uncollected. This suggests that the use of license suspension as a collection method may in fact adversely affect the ability to collect unpaid fines and costs; as such suspensions may limit a person’s ability to obtain or retain employment and, therefore, the ability to pay.

One OAR participant came out of the Virginia prison system three years ago with every possible certification in horticulture. When no one would hire her in spite of outstanding credentials, she started her own landscaping business.

However, with no driver’s license, she had to take Metro and the bus, with her tools, to get to job sites. She was able to buy a scooter and started looking for a trailer she could pull with the scooter. Finally, the judge agreed to give her a driver’s license limited to use on the job.

Today, while working full-time and continuing her landscaping business part-time, she is not only paying back the fines, she is hiring others with similar backgrounds who are able to pay their fines as well as taxes.

Think of those living in rural areas and even areas in Arlington with limited public transportation. Their chances of securing employment are reduced considerably when they cannot be at work at odd hours or on-call because they have no transportation.

The recent report from the Governor’s Commission on Parole Review recommended a change in the state law to allow individuals to have their driver’s licenses reinstated prior to completing all payments of court fines and court costs. The Commission members understood that there is no need to make it harder for those coming home to find employment, pay their fines, contribute their gifts to the community, and get on with their lives.

We hope that Arlingtonians will feel inspired to encourage the General Assembly to adopt this vitally important change in law.

Elizabeth Jones Valderrama is the Executive Director of Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), serving Arlington County and the Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and has been on the OAR team for over 11 years.  Born in Costa Rica, she relocated to Arlington in 1989. Elizabeth holds a BA in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of Virginia and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management. She is a 2009 graduate of Leadership Arlington and was honored as one of its 40 under 40 Emerging Leaders inaugural class.

by Peter Rousselot — July 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm 0

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

The dust-up at last week’s County Board meeting at which the Board voted (4 to 1) to purchase an art truck highlighted the importance of answering more basic questions:

  • Why is Arlington County taking so long to develop a new strategic plan for the arts?
  • What are some of the critical issues such a plan ought to address?

Opinions expressed by opponents and supporters of the art truck were based on diametrically opposed assumptions about Arlington County’s proper role in supporting the arts. Just among supporters, there were fundamental differences about the proper scope of that role. The absence of an up-to-date strategic plan for the arts was painfully evident.

A sampling of comments on the initial ARLnow.com art truck story illustrates the point:

  • “How many musical instruments for our schools could this $70k to $100k get us?”
  • “When will all the speed bumps, gateway speed reducers, and painted-faux-brick crosswalks receive basic maintenance so that these traffic calming objects are functional again?”
  • “The County is spending a small amount of arts money that it already has, albeit in a new and innovative way.”
  • “How about they spend the money on one of the already established arts organizations the county bankrolls, perhaps you can name a few? I know I can.”
  • “This is actually a common, and inexpensive, thing that many local governments have.”
  • “It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but if they let the people who ran Artisphere be in charge of it (and most of them now work for Cultural Affairs), I don’t give it much of a chance of being either good or successful.”

Against this background of conflicting opinions, County Board member John Vihstadt asked County staff to answer the following questions prior to the Board vote on the art truck:

Summarize the “ongoing Cultural Affairs Strategic Planning Process” that informed this proposal and provide a window into the overall status and timing of such process more broadly across Cultural Affairs. Will this process result in a formal report to the County Board and, if so, when? Are there any tentative outcomes that staff is comfortable sharing at this time?

Regrettably, Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten was unable to answer Vihstadt’s questions. Mitten explained that she couldn’t provide any predictions on timing because of “difficulties in getting everyone together,” and warned the Board that “we are going to need guidance from you.”

Arlington’s current arts policy was approved in 1990. Among other reasons, it was the lack of a clear arts policy that doomed the Artisphere.

To avoid more fiascos like the Artisphere and the Signature Theatre bailout, we need a new strategy for public support for the arts.

Conclusion

The County Board, Manager and staff all need to develop a greater sense of urgency regarding adoption of a 21st century arts strategy. There are models and other external resources available to help them. For example, Boulder, San Francisco and Boston have plans that our government should examine. Those plans provide strategies and ideas regarding many of the challenges that an Arlington strategic plan for the arts should address.

It’s time to speed up development of a strategic plan for public support for the arts in Arlington.

by Jackie Friedman — July 22, 2016 at 8:20 pm 0

Dogs cool off at the James Hunter Dog Park

The weekend is here and so are the scorching temperatures.

Temperatures could reach the high 90s throughout the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. So make sure to take extra precautions and stay cool and hydrated this weekend.

There will be some outdoor activities this weekend in and around Arlington such as the Crystal Twilighter 5K and a bike ride along George Washington Memorial Parkway. See our event calendar for more listings. Or, if you’d rather stay inside and keep cool, check out some of the open houses happening Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Feel free to discuss the heat wave or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

by Mark Kelly — July 21, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

The Virginia Supreme Court will now make a decision on Governor McAuliffe’s order to restore voting rights to over 200,000 felons who served their time.

Previous governors have agreed with legal advice that the right to restore rights was not a blanket one through the clemency powers. Instead, they were supposed to set up a review of each case.

Both Governors Kaine and McDonnell worked to make that review easier. And McAuliffe’s predecessors were applauded from across the political spectrum for doing so.

McAuliffe has fought to keep the list secret, and multiple mistakes have been uncovered — leading to ever-growing criticism.

The case should ultimately rest on one important question:  Did Governor McAuliffe violate the Virginia Constitution with his order? The Court is expected to decide in time for the general election in November.

But the Solicitor General asked that the case be thrown out because the legislators could not prove they were harmed by the Governor’s order. He said allowing the case to go forward could amount to a situation where “any voter is going to be able to challenge virtually any election law.” And there was a good deal of discussion on this question during the arguments.

The Supreme Court did agree to hear this case in an expedited fashion. That seems to indicate the justices are concerned there could in fact be harm if the General Election is allowed to proceed under the order.

However, high courts often make decisions based on procedural questions like this rather than creating a precedent on the merits. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of McAuliffe, they will almost certainly hang their hat, or robes, on this question.

The harm of the order does appear to be to anyone who is a valid voter in Virginia, including our elected officials. If the Governor’s order resulted in individuals having their voting rights restored in error and those individuals register and vote, it dilutes the votes of everyone else. Your vote and my vote would not have as much strength as they should have in the electoral process because of the actions of the government.

Our default position should be that any time the impact of an election law weakens our voting rights, a voter should be able to challenge it. The Solicitor General should stand ready to defend our election laws. And we can let the courts decide.

 

by Progressive Voice — July 21, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

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

By: Emma Violand-Sanchez

Arlington takes pride in its outstanding public school system whose top priority is student achievement and meeting the needs of the whole child. We support great schools with our tax dollars, our time, and our attention.

Our public schools are first and foremost a place to educate our children. Yet they benefit many other people. Home buyers and sellers pay close attention to school quality. As a result, strong schools enhance property values. Arlington’s economic development officials know that the quality of our schools is a key factor in where businesses choose to locate. School facilities serve as the home of many community programs as well.

There are many factors that contribute to the success of our schools. One of those factors is having sufficient classroom capacity. I am pleased that during my time as School Board Chair we have worked cooperatively with the County Board to address our capacity challenges.

Another key to school success is creating an atmosphere conducive to learning. We have outstanding teachers and principals who make that possible in Arlington. We work hard to recruit and retain top notch educators. Where schools are of high quality, students and parents value stability – there is pleasure in seeing familiar faces as a new school year begins.

As Board Chair, I looked at ways to enhance our ability to attract and retain talented educators. Considering my own personal experiences as a mother who has worked all of my adult life as well as conversations I have had over the course of my career as an educator, I chose paid parental leave as an important initiative. I am pleased that APS now offers two weeks of paid parental leave.

As a school administrator, I saw the stress involved for educators – women and men – who are getting ready to welcome a new child into their home, whether by birth or by adoption. Knowing that they have some paid parental leave once they have a child reduces stress levels and helps maintain focus on the educational mission during the time leading up to childbirth or adoption.

The vast majority of our employees want to return to their school, but the early weeks welcoming a new child are incredibly important ones. Parents want to be sure that their child is healthy. They want to establish an early bond with their child. And it takes some time to develop new routines that accommodate having a new child.

Many of our employees are from two-income families and having time to make adjustments in schedules and finding childcare solutions are very important to facilitating a return to work.

Moreover, studies show that early childhood development is important to the brain development and life success of a child. And we all benefit from maximizing the number of children who develop the tools and character for life success. Through paid parental leave, vacation, and other unpaid leave options, a new parent can maximize their ability to provide a strong start for her or his child.

As a start, we are providing two weeks of paid parental leave. I hope that my successors on the School Board are able to do more. I know, for example, that the District of Columbia schools provide up to eight weeks of paid parental leave. In many other countries, they have made a decision to support longer parental leave to support mothers or fathers who are able to guide their children through the very important early months of development.

We are blessed in Arlington with the quality of our school employees. I am hopeful that our paid parental leave initiative will give them support as they do their work on behalf of our children, an additional reason to continue their service as successful educators, and help them raise their children in ways that increase the prospects of life success.

Emma Violand-Sanchez will complete her service on the Arlington County School Board in December after serving as Chair during the 2015-16 school year. Emma joined the Board in January 2009 and previously served as Chair during the 2012-13 school year. She is a career educator and has lived in Arlington since 1978.

by Peter Rousselot — July 21, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

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

On July 19, the County Board approved another extension of the Neighborhood Conservation Program (NC Program). But, this program no longer can function effectively.

Arlington’s NC Program had a noble objective:

When the program was created in 1964, the goal was to empower residents by having them come together to discuss and share ideas for improving their neighborhoods.

Though nothing could sound more idyllic or representative of the “Arlington Way,” the way NC actually works in practice undermines its lofty goals. NC has problems in three key areas: equity, timeliness and cost.

Discussion

Equity. NC’s principal inequity — a crippling one — arises because tens of thousands of Arlington residents are being denied timely neighborhood infrastructure improvements since they live in areas lacking a properly functioning civic association. (Belonging to a civic association is an NC requirement.)

Many civic associations have modest memberships, representing just a fraction of the community’s population. Most are operated by a handful of volunteers. Quite a few lack functioning, updated websites, and still fewer are capable of producing anything approaching a newsletter. Newsletters distributed to the highest possible percentage of community members are the surest means of effective communication.

Simply put, too few civic associations are truly functional. Many are run by a few people with little knowledge of or consent from those living within the association’s boundaries. Arlington County cannot mandate that every civic association function properly.

Residents without a fully functioning civic association are barred from tapping the NC Program’s roughly $12 million annual budget.

Timeliness. The NC program’s labor-intensive requirements, which include monthly meeting attendance–often for years–to gain “funding points,” and repeated outreach and notification efforts, mean the complete NC “process” can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years. If an association’s NC rep fails to attend meetings, a project can lose its place in the funding line.

Project engineering, always in short supply, further delays project funding. The current status report for funded NC projects shows only 4 completed projects, with 36 still in process.

Cost. Typically, delays make projects more expensive. Earlier this decade, the cap for NC projects was $250,000. Then, it grew to $500,000. In the most recent funding round, improvements to Nelly Custis Park clocked in at almost $800,000.

NC rules also add to costs. For example, NC street projects must contain curb, gutter and sidewalk components, whether or not a sidewalk is needed or desired. With flexible spending caps, expensive add-ons like lighting are common–even though Dominion will install new lights at no charge.

It’s time to provide a more equitable, timely and cost-effective way to provide critical infrastructure to neighborhoods. Back in 2007-2008, County staff began assembling Neighborhood Infrastructure Plans (NIPs) to identify missing critical infrastructure: curb, gutter and sidewalk, storm drains, etc. County staff has the tools needed to prioritize critical infrastructure projects and rotate among neighborhoods to allow greater and fairer access to funding.

Conclusion

Over the next two years, the County Board should direct staff to phase out the NC Program entirely and re-allocate current NC Program funds.

The Neighborhood Complete Streets Program is one alternative funding recipient. A more flexible Missing Links Program could be another.

The goal should be to fund critical infrastructure equitably, efficiently and in a way far superior to what is possible under the NC Program.

by Jackie Friedman — July 15, 2016 at 6:00 pm 0

The sun during the heat advisory on Thursday, July 14, 2016

The weekend has arrived and so has the heat and humidity.

Throughout the weekend, temperatures will be in the low 90’s and humidity levels will be in the 60% range. So be sure to find fun ways to cool off.

There will be some outdoor activities this weekend in and around Arlington, such as the Junior/Parent Golf Open in the Falls Church area, for those who can brave the heat. See our event calendar for more listings. Or, if home shopping is your thing, check out some of the open houses happening Sunday afternoon.

Feel free to discuss the heat wave or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

by Mark Kelly — July 14, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

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.

Mark KellyNext Tuesday, the County Board will consider the 2016 Bond Referenda to be placed in front of the voters in November. It is reported that this year will include $320 million in new debt for the county. Nearly $140 million on school projects alone.

As of the writing of this column, the County Manager’s report was unavailable online. In the past, the language of the ballot questions has been vague. And voters often rubber stamp them as necessary spending for “parks,” “schools,” “roads,” and “public safety.”

Once again it seems that the County Manager is rejecting a call by Arlington Republicans that every project with a price tag of $25 million or more to be taken up in a separate bond referenda.

Taking on debt for big ticket items should rise or fall on its own merits. On the flip side of that argument, many of the smaller ticket items pushed into these larger packages should be paid for out of the annual budget process.

Along with the slush fund spending in the annual close out process, the bond process should be subject to closer scrutiny and better accountability. Hopefully we’ll hear comments to that effect from more than one County Board member next week.

In September, the County Board will be asked to approve two new polling locations for Arlington.

For a few of the 13 hours polls are open every four years on the first Tuesday in November when voters choose a president, there are moderate length lines to vote on Election Day. Every other election it seems has virtually no line to speak of at any polling location throughout the county.

With all due respect to the good people of the Electoral Board, the reason for the additional polling locations is not readily apparent.

And in a story that surprises no one, taxi trips are down in Arlington as a result of Uber and Lyft.

I have little need for on-call transportation and was not one of the first to join one of these two services. Calling a taxi was going to be just fine for me and my occasional trip to the airport.

Then came the time a cab was 30 minutes late to pick me up to get to my flight. The next time, I tried to order a cab the night before for an early morning flight and could not due to some glitch in the company’s system.

When I went to pick up the phone for my next trip to the airport, I decided to download the ride sharing software instead. For me, it is infinitely more convenient, particularly when it comes to never having to exchange money at my destination.

If taxi companies want to regain market share, then they need to offer a competitive product people want to use.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list