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by ARLnow.com — January 19, 2016 at 11:00 am 0

The following letter to the editor was submitted by Robin Stombler, a Nauck resident, business owner and past chair of the Arlington Committee of 100, regarding revitalization plans for the Shirlington Crescent area.

Dear Editor:

Over 80 Arlington residents and elected officials joined the Nauck-Shirlington Crescent neighborhood launch on Sunday, January 10, 2016. Nauck residents led groups of citizens on walking tours throughout the Crescent. We anticipated some of the reactions:

  • Arlington is home to a concrete factory?
  • Floods up to 19 feet have occurred at Four Mile Run?
  • Jennie Dean Park honors the founder of the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth?
  • Arlington’s first distribution brewery since 1916 opened this week in the Crescent?
  • Artists from Stephen Sondheim to Dave Grohl have walked the Crescent streets?

The answers are yes. Beyond the auto repair stores, towing facilities, and ART bus storage, many people pass the Crescent without really seeing what it has to offer. We have a vision to change that perception.

The Nauck-Shirlington Crescent is unique for many reasons, and chief among them is its diversity. We aim to embrace the economic, social and cultural diversity of our neighborhood from our nonprofit neighbors to our commercial entrepreneurs and from our established citizens to our newer residents.

We also see a significant opportunity to revitalize the Crescent into a creative, industry and arts cluster. This cluster would build and support an environment that encourages businesses and workforce development, protects and preserves the natural resources of the area, and fosters innovation. Space for new housing, tree-lined vistas, and parking also figure into our design.

The Arlington County Board has declared the Nauck-Shirlington Crescent a top priority for 2016. Our ideas, expressed briefly here, will be part of a fuller conversation on the future of the Crescent. The energy and excitement expressed at the launch portends well what that future holds.

Sincerely,

Robin Stombler

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

by Jennifer Currier — January 15, 2016 at 3:45 pm 0

A Rosslyn sunset

This weekend will be another snowless one in Arlington — with the possible exception of Sunday night — much to the dismay of the 62 percent of you who took our poll and said you wanted to see more snow this winter.

Still, if you’re disappointed by the lack of the fluffy white stuff, hopefully you have a long weekend to look forward to since Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Here at ARLnow, we’re also taking the day off, but we’ll be back to our normal publishing routine Tuesday morning with a special guest editor or two.

Feel free to discuss topics of local interest in the comments. Have a great weekend!

by ARLnow.com — January 15, 2016 at 11:00 am 0

MarijuanaState Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has again proposed a bill to decriminalize marijuana for personal use in Virginia.

Ebbin, who has won the endorsement of the pro-pot group NORML, proposed a similar bill last year, but it failed in the conservative Virginia General Assembly.

The bill, SB 104, would reduce marijuana possession to a civil offense punishable only by fines, like a traffic ticket, rather than jail time. It would also reduce the criminal penalties for marijuana distribution and possession with the intent to distribute.

Would you like to see marijuana decriminalized in Virginia?

by Mark Kelly — January 14, 2016 at 1:30 pm 0

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

It is easy to find amusing news. Last year, the Virginia General Assembly debated a bill on whether schools should be allowed to have bake sales to raise money. This year the question is, should Arlington Public Schools pass a ban on birthday parties?

Maybe like me you are thinking, come on, this birthday party ban can’t be a serious proposal. But we live in a world where personal responsibility is waning and calls for government to “do something” is growing. So let’s take a look at the arguments made at the most recent Arlington School Board meeting to see whether we should all be concerned.

Health. You could make the argument that centering a celebration around a sugar-laden treat is setting a bad example for a healthy lifestyle. And childhood obesity is a long-term health concern for our nation. But we can dismiss the idea that consuming two or three cupcakes per month is making kids obese. Daily choices on what children consume for about 90 meals a month and how much time they spend in active play are what is really important.

Creates a tough learning environment. It is not unreasonable to say having sugary snacks at a party could make some kids too hyper to learn. Teachers can easily solve that by having them right before recess or at the end of the day.

Inconveniencing teachers. This concern was raised in terms of parents bringing in ice cream and pies in need of refrigeration by teachers. But it sounds like some teachers don’t want the hassle of serving birthday treats. Instead, it seems at least some teachers want an overarching Arlington-wide policy to take the treats away from everyone else just so they don’t have to be the mean teacher who won’t allow treats in their classroom.

How about just setting a reasonable policy for your classroom and communicating it to parents? Mom, if you want ice cream in my class, you bring it 30 minutes before the end of the day and serve it. Or, no ice cream please, but I will be happy to pass out cookies or cupcakes 15 minutes before recess.

In short, instead of running to the school board to pass a policy, how about letting some common sense prevail and move on to more pressing issues facing our schools?

by Progressive Voice — January 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Alfonso LopezBy: Del. Alfonso Lopez

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.

The Virginia General Assembly kicked off what is sure to be a challenging and fast-paced 2016 legislative session this week. In just two short months, we will make judicial appointments and consider approximately 2,000 bills.

During the session, you can expect the Virginia Democratic Caucus to work on key issues affecting the lives of Virginians:

  • Increased investments in K-12 education and higher education
  • Strengthening economic and workforce development efforts
  • Improving transportation and transit options in the region
  • Securing the expansion of Medicaid and enhanced health care options for all
  • Preserving the natural environment and investing in renewable energy
  • Passing sensible gun violence prevention measures
  • Defending against attacks on civil rights, voting rights, and immigrant communities

Serving as Whip for the Democratic House Caucus, I will be working on floor advocacy, bill tracking, and messaging efforts to move Caucus legislation and our agenda forward.

You can find the Virginia House Democratic Caucus’ list of priorities here.

In addition, a major focal point of the session will be the adoption of Virginia’s budget for the next two years.

In December, Gov. McAuliffe introduced a budget that includes key investments in health care, K-12 and higher education, economic development, environmental protection, and veterans’ services.

The budget proposal may present opportunities for bipartisan agreement. There appears to be support for significant — and long overdue — investments in K-12 and higher education this year. We should expect to see agreement on important improvements to workforce development programs.

I believe we will see some victories for and a renewed focus on economic development and diversification of Virginia’s economy.

There will also be considerable challenges, including a Republican plan to remove an eminently qualified Supreme Court Justice from Northern Virginia for purely partisan reasons.

Other Republican bills threaten to demonize immigrants and refugees, block same sex marriage, roll back sensible gun violence prevention laws, and block compliance with the Clean Power Plan, to name just a few areas where the General Assembly majority is working against Arlington’s priorities.

My own bills this session include:

Small Business Definition Reform — Changing the definition of small business in Virginia to be fairer for women and minority-owned businesses by incorporating federal small business standards.

Affordable Housing — Creating a dedicated source of revenue for the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund so that it can be implemented more effectively across the region and Commonwealth.

School Environmental Protection Act — Banning the use of federally “Restricted Use Pesticides” within a quarter of a mile of a public or private elementary or secondary school in Virginia.

Zero Tolerance for Repeat Polluters Act — Significantly increasing the civil penalty that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality can impose on repeat offenders.

Default Sales of Firearms — Banning default sales for gun purchases if the background check takes longer than 72 hours.

Concealed Carry Training — Ensuring that in order to be qualified for a concealed carry permit in Virginia, an individual must do more than just take online and video courses.

Restrictions on Firearms Use by Children — Update child firearm restrictions to prohibit children four and under from using a firearm regardless of adult supervision.

Renewable Energy — Fixing Virginia’s definition of renewable energy to promote efficient biomass energy generation.

Child Labor in Tobacco Farms — Placing significant restrictions on the use of child labor in tobacco farming operations in Virginia.

In addition, as founder and Chair of the bipartisan Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy (VERE) Caucus, I’ll be promoting legislation to increase renewable energy production and improve energy efficiency. The General Assembly must not let the opportunity to create a sustainable energy future and mitigate the impacts of climate change slip away.

We will also be working to defend against attacks on sensible efforts to address climate change through the Clean Power Plan. The Plan presents Virginia with a tremendous opportunity to grow and diversify its economy through investments in clean, sustainable energy — solar, wind, etc. — and green technology.

Rest assured that I will continue to fight for our community’s values and priorities in Richmond so that we can keep Virginia moving forward and improve the quality of life for all Virginians.

Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates.  He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington.

by Peter Rousselot — January 14, 2016 at 12:30 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.

In Arlington, we have high expectations — a generally top-notch APS professional staff and a supportive community of taxpayers who value education.

The School Board has set a goal to achieve reading SOL pass rates in the 90-95 percent range for every subgroup of students measured by the Virginia Department of Education. Only White and Asian students have reached the target. Pass rates in 2015 — see slide number 15 — were:

  • 74 percent for Black students
  • 71 percent for Hispanic students
  • 69 percent for economically disadvantaged students
  • 59 percent for students with disabilities

Based on information supplied to the citizens English Language Arts Advisory Committee (ELAAC), APS’ elementary school reading screening tests have documented doubling failure rates with each passing year. Four percent of kindergarteners, 8 percent of first graders, and 15 percent of second graders have been identified as reading below grade level.

APS’ middle school reading screening tests tell an even bleaker story of our students’ reading abilities. Thirty-seven percent of Gunston, 44 percent of Jefferson, 45 percent of Kenmore, 24 percent of Swanson, and 19 percent of Williamsburg students are reading below grade level. This is the equivalent of 1,500 out of 4,500 middle schoolers, outlined in the ELAAC Report on pages 20 and 21.

Narrowing These Reading Achievement Gaps

A very significant number of APS students are falling behind in reading because they are dyslexic. Numerous studies — from the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development and the International Dyslexia Association — have established that dyslexia is a reading disability that affects up to 20 percent of the population. APS currently enrolls about 25,000 students. That means that up to 5,000 APS students could be affected by dyslexia.

What APS Has Done

In response to over 10 years of parent advocacy, APS has established a Dyslexia Task Force, trained staff in an alternative reading methodology, conducted Dyslexia Awareness Training in every APS school, and established an APS Dyslexia Webpage.

However, all of these accomplishments have taken many more years than they should have. As a result, a group of over 45 APS parents sent a letter in July to APS protesting how long the process has dragged out. The parents’ letter confirms what APS has done is riddled with elements of dysfunction and only superficially appears to support dyslexic students.

APS’ ELA Department may have a potential conflict of interest that is blocking rapid progress.

Curriculum reform would help thousands of APS students with dyslexia learn how to read. However, APS’ Supervisor of the English Language Arts (ELA) Department, Dr. Michelle Picard, who is responsible for designing and implementing APS’ ELA curriculum, is also the published author of her own reading curriculum. APS has bought her curriculum with our taxpayer dollars and uses it.

If APS were to follow the guidance published on its own webpage, those identified students would have to be provided with an alternative reading curriculum, not Dr. Picard’s.

Conclusion

APS urgently needs to:

  1. Specifically identify all of its dyslexia-affected students
  2. Build an adequate capacity of staff trained in the alternative reading curriculum those students need
  3. Effectively deliver reading instruction to those specific students

Each year APS fails to act is another year in which thousands of poor readers continue to struggle academically and emotionally. No one can turn back that clock.

by ARLnow.com — January 13, 2016 at 11:45 am 0

Snow squall on 2/14/15Last night’s brief round of snow flurries were the first of the season. While the snow didn’t stick in Arlington, it at least provided a few minutes’ reminder that it is, in fact, winter here.

There’s some additional potential snow in the forecast for Sunday, but nothing of the Snowmageddon variety.

Are you hoping for more snow this winter, or rooting for the current snow-less trend to continue?

File photo

by Jennifer Currier — January 8, 2016 at 5:00 pm 0

Construction on Central Place tower in Rosslyn

Happy New Year, Arlington!

The first full week of 2016 proved to be a busy one, from robberies — of both banks and pizzas — to the story of a good Samaritan helping an Arlingtonian in need get home, and everything in between.

Looking back at the stories from this week, one common theme seemed to arise — change.

So far, this change has come to the county in a few different forms.

First, the County Board unanimously chose Libby Garvey as its new chair. There is the long-standing tradition that the Board member up for reelection serve as chair — and Garvey announced her reelection campaign yesterday — so the selection wasn’t much of a surprise. Still, she promised reform in areas including county government customer service and civic participation in government.

There’s also been quite a bit of action with Arlington businesses.

District Taco is now open in Rosslyn, Ballston is getting a Total Wine & More and New District Brewing Co. is opening near Shirlington this weekend. At the same time, long-time Arlington business CD Cellar is moving from Clarendon to Falls Church and the beloved Knightsbridge Trading Co. is also closing its doors in Clarendon.

With a new year often comes a new sense of opportunity, whether its for individuals, organizations, neighborhoods, businesses or families to inspire change, for better or for worse. While it’s obviously way too soon to tell what 2016 will bring for the county, one constant in Arlington is change.

What changes would you like to see in 2016? What opportunities do you hope to capitalize on this year, or hope local or state government will?

As always, feel free to discuss these or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

by Mark Kelly — January 7, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

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

Fizzling Fights in Richmond? Despite posturing on Medicaid expansion, Gov. McAuliffe’s chances of changing the debate on this issue were damaged when Republicans maintained control of the General Assembly in Nov. 2015.

Attorney General Herring’s recent decision on concealed carry reciprocity could also rear its head. But, General Assembly leaders may not be willing to enter a standoff on that issue in the face of presidential politics.

Outstanding Customer Service? Libby Garvey assumed the center chair at the annual Arlington County Board meeting on Jan. 1, promising to provide better customer service to the County, including reform of the “byzantine” zoning ordinances and more flexibility in regulation.

Garvey’s encouraging words will put her resolve to achieve results to the test, particularly as she faces a primary challenger. And, the Board still needs to pick a permanent County Manager to lead any changes.

New Dynamic on the County Board? After John Vihstadt’s election, gone were the days of Board Members hashing every issue out behind closed doors and voting unanimously come meeting time. The insular decision-making process lead to increasing unease in the community over time.

We have no idea where Cristol and Dorsey will land on the important questions moving forward, but here’s hoping for a vigorous debate on what the future will look like for Arlington taxpayers.

Your Concerns Are Addressed? Garvey also talked about gathering input from a greater sample of Arlingtonians in her Jan. 1 speech. In that spirit, I want to know what issues you would like to see addressed in this space.

Would you like more focus on the school budget? Where is our money going, and why?

Are you concerned about whether the County is adequately addressing core services like public safety and basic infrastructure?

One of those core services is transportation. Do you question whether the County is doing the right things to improve traffic flow in residential areas? Can we ever put Metro back on the right track? Should HOT lanes come inside the beltway on 395? Or should we do more to widen 66?

Please use the comments section to sound off on these or any other issues, and let me know what you want to see discussed.

by Peter Rousselot — January 7, 2016 at 1:30 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.

At its traditional New Year’s Day organizational meeting, Arlington County Board members found common ground on critical issues, including making major improvements in Arlington government transparency and bringing new voices to the table to solve Arlington’s many pressing challenges.

Libby Garvey, who was unanimously elected by her Board colleagues as Chair of the Board for 2016, offered these observations:

Arlington is known for its civic engagement, but we must bring the Arlington Way into the 21st Century. There are still far too many people who have the talent and expertise our community needs, who want to contribute, but who cannot…Few of our residents and business owners have the time to sit in a long meeting every month as is required to serve on most of our commissions and task forces.

We must experiment with new and improved ways to involve people and use technology even more…We should use clear language and not an alphabet soup of terms that confuses people and makes them feel like they can’t speak the language of Arlington.

John Vihstadt described a promising new initiative on which he and Katie Cristol plan to collaborate:

Our 40-some County-appointed advisory boards and commissions serve as the County Board’s eyes and ears on a range of issues from housing to transportation and social services to urban forestry. Sometimes, these groups are perceived as merely rubber stamps for pre-determined County actions. Yet at other times, we may fail to even consult with them. And while seasoned perspectives are invaluable, so are new people with new ideas from new communities.

My colleague Katie Cristol and I will initiate a new ad hoc working group to examine our commissions, including how to foster greater diversity of representation to practical ways of staying connected and approaching issues. Robust discussion from a multiplicity of voices is an essential component of the Arlington Way.

And, Christian Dorsey stressed:

We must restore faith that public participation is valued and valuable. Professionalized public participation in conceptualizing, planning and/or implementing policy initiatives is a key component of sustainability and will go a long way toward our residents and stakeholders remaining a part of a community they help create.

Incorrectly claiming to act according to a genuine community consensus, prior Boards championed major policy blunders like the Columbia Pike streetcar and the Clarendon dog park. Prior Boards never obtained a genuine community consensus because:

  1. The Arlington Way is broken
  2. Prior Boards were too insular

Refreshingly, Garvey, Vihstadt, Cristol, and Dorsey — all of whom are in their first terms on this Board — agree that the Arlington Way needs to be rejuvenated.

by Progressive Voice — January 7, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Larry RobertsBy Larry Roberts

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.

If you are an Arlington County Board member, you get up early on New Year’s Day for the annual County Board organizational meeting. It’s what you do.

This longstanding tradition reflects the importance of government in Arlington, the County’s history of civic engagement, a desire to “hit the ground running” by identifying early the priorities that Board members plan to pursue during the year.

One of the first acts by the Board every new year is to elect a Chair and Vice Chair.

In recent decades, the choices have been fairly obvious. Not so in 2016. The new Board includes two newly-elected Democratic members casting their first votes, two incumbent Democrats who have not always seen eye to eye, and a Republican-endorsed independent who won his seat with the support of Democratic Board member Libby Garvey and a fusion coalition.

In the end, Libby Garvey won the Chair position by a unanimous vote. Jay Fisette, the longest serving Board member was elected Vice Chair on a unanimous vote.

Following those and some other organizational votes, Chair Garvey set forth her priorities for 2016 followed by the other Board members.

While the unanimous Chair and Vice Chair votes suggested a cohesiveness among the Board members, the individual remarks about priorities suggested an interesting dynamic in the year ahead.

There were many positives expressed about Arlington, as well as areas of agreement about transparency, efficiency, rebuilding public trust, keeping Arlington a welcoming community, and new ways to involve residents in County decision-making.

Yet our five Board members bring independent perspectives with strong and engaging personalities, are able to articulate those perspectives clearly and with conviction, have constituencies that are not identical, and were each elected in years where the mood of the electorate differed from the years when other colleagues were elected.

Most observers would acknowledge that Arlington is in a time of transition. The historically important role of the federal government is changing, and Arlington’s share of federal dollars is less secure. We have changing demographics. Our unemployment rate remains very low, but we have higher than normal commercial vacancy rates. We have outstanding schools, but those schools are a magnet for more families and require greater resources. We have increasing demands on our facilities because Arlington remains a very attractive place to live and work. And housing prices continue to rise even though the incomes of many long-time Arlingtonians are not keeping pace.

The Board reflects that transition and — like Arlington’s residents — they have differing perspectives on how to respond to the changes in the County.

Observing the Jan. 1 meeting brought some questions to mind:

  • Will the Board develop a consensus approach that results in 5-0 votes on key issues and priorities?
  • If not, will a reliable bloc of three — or four — votes develop that sets the agenda? Which Board members would make up that bloc? Or will there be shifting majorities depending on the issue?
  • Will the Board be able to develop strong consensus views in order to maximize the County’s effectiveness in influencing federal, state and regional government decisions?
  • The Washington Post suggested that on Jan. 1 the Board “signaled that its priorities in the famously progressive community may turn toward the right.” Is that a fair characterization of the Board’s intentions? If so, does that accurately reflect the wishes of County residents?
  • Will we continue to see a level of cooperation and coordination between the County Board and the School Board that maximizes the effectiveness of our public schools, yet does so in cost-effective ways?
  • How will “core services” be defined? Is there a community consensus in that regard? In the past, Arlington has defined core services to include a range of values and services that have made Arlington an attractive place to live and contributed to economic and revenue growth. Many of those values and services enjoy broad support in the community. Will those values be considered “core services”?
  • Will Arlington’s economic development efforts keep pace with other jurisdictions? Will sufficient resources be available?
  • How will the Board’s common desire to keep Arlington affordable for people of all income levels — including fixed incomes — mesh with market forces that move the County in the opposite direction?

During a time of transition, there are many questions. These are a few. I welcome other questions by commenters.

Larry Roberts is a 30-year resident of Arlington and an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — December 31, 2015 at 1:30 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 past year was filled with revealing stories about Arlington and Virginia politics and government. Here are my top five:

5. Republicans retain control of VA State Senate

Democrats and Republicans combined to spend more than $43 million on Virginia State Senate political campaigns in 2015. After all that spending, the partisan breakdown of that legislative body remained exactly the same as before: 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats. Because the Republicans will continue to control the Virginia legislature, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe will need to reach bi-partisan compromises with Republican legislators to enact critical legislation during the two remaining years of his term.

4. Arlington hires independent auditor

The County Board approved the hiring of an independent auditor. The auditor will report directly to the Board rather than to the County Manager. This initiative was championed by Vihstadt and strongly supported by Garvey. Del. Hope played a key role by obtaining authorizing legislation from Richmond. County Board candidates Dorsey and Cristol also supported this plan. The independent auditor was initially resisted by Fisette, Hynes and Tejada, but Fisette and Hynes ultimately supported the plan.

3. Community facilities challenges continue

Arlington’s Community Facilities Study Group (CFSG) highlighted five pressing challenges:

  • Scarcity of land for public facilities
  • Changing demographics — Arlington’s population is projected to grow from 216,700 today to 283,000 in 2040
  • Threatened commercial tax base
  • Strategic facility planning and priority setting — The County needs a clear and open structure for setting priorities among competing needs
  • Revamping the community dialogue — To reach all members of our community, Arlington needs to make participation easier, earlier and more meaningful.

2. Pace of development remains controversial

As CFSG highlighted, the prospect of 66,300 more Arlington residents by 2040 brought renewed attention to the subset of development that can only occur if our local government acts to enable it. This subset includes changing zoning to permit greater density than now authorized. Many activists — including me — believe we need to step back and re-assess whether, when, where, how and under what terms and conditions local government acts with respect to this aspect of development.

1. Dorsey and Cristol elected to County Board

In 2011, Arlington County Board members included: Zimmerman, Favola, Hynes, Tejada and Fisette. Effective tomorrow, the members are: Garvey, Vihstadt, Dorsey, Cristol and Fisette.

The heavily-Democratic Arlington electorate has spoken clearly that it wants major changes in the ways by which the Board does business and significant changes in some policies and priorities. Dorsey’s and Cristol’s 2015 elections reflected voters’ judgments that they were best able to continue to move Arlington in these new directions.

Conclusion

These stories provide important background for 2016.

by Progressive Voice — December 31, 2015 at 12:30 pm 0

Karen DarnerBy Karen Darner

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.

The following is an adaptation of remarks delivered by Karen Darner at the swearing-in ceremony for incoming County Board members Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey.

Good afternoon, Arlington! I have the honor of sharing with all of you an event that is the culmination of almost a whole year of campaigning by many people to serve on the Arlington County Board.

This year was historic to a certain degree — two first-time members join the County Board on Jan. 1, 2016 — the first time this has happened since 1978.

Here in Arlington, which has been my home for almost 45 years, I have seen come to life almost daily Margaret Mead’s words: “Never believe a few caring people can’t change the world because that’s all who ever have.”

I’ve seen that spirit of caring and community in our neighborhoods, classrooms, community centers, and parks; in our public and private workforces and our volunteers; and in our elected and appointed leaders.

The Arlington Community Foundation says we’re a community of “uncommon values” — and I believe that wholeheartedly.

We have had our difficult times in Arlington. On Jan. 11, almost 13 years ago in this very room, our new County Board Chair Charles “Mickey” Monroe had a mortal stroke as he was responding to a citizen comment. Mickey was stricken while giving back to a community where he was raised, wanting to make Arlington a better place for residents of all ages and for future generations.

Mickey’s favorite song was “Sailing” by Christopher Cross, and the chorus provides a little insight into Mickey’s thoughts about our community: “Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be; just a dream and the wind to carry me.”

I believe Charles Monroe would be proud of these two new County Board members. He would hold a dream of all five County Board members working together in 2016 to serve the community they represent and wish for them a little figurative wind at their backs aided by the service of past County Board members. Though we face a changing world, those links between past and present are important to ensuring that Arlington is the kind of place we’ve always heard it could be.

In a few moments, we will hear from our new Board members, Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey. They bring a youthful vigor to their new positions. What impresses me about both Christian and Katie is their fervent desire to work with our residents to identify strengths and weaknesses, joined together with a willingness to invest the time and study to ensure collaborative problem solving. They stand ready to work with their Board colleagues and with Arlington’s residents to move our community forward.

I am impressed that they have learned something that I learned through my Peace Corps work — there isn’t always a right way or a wrong way — it is often enough just to be willing to try things a different way.

It is good to see this room overflowing with people wishing Christian and Katie well.

I am glad that we are joined by so many community leaders and elected officials, from County Board members, to School Board members, to Constitutional officers, to General Assembly members, to senior County and Arlington Public Schools staff.

And we have a special mix of generations participating today. The Star Spangled Banner will be sung by 8th grade Thomas Jefferson student Maya-Ree Loza Munoz, a young woman who is an outstanding student, and is quite busy with theatre and music activities as well as volunteering with low-income family and homeless programs — giving back to her community. In addition to being an English and Spanish speaker, she is learning Chinese, French, and American Sign Language.

Immediately following the Star Spangled Banner, Jordan Dorsey, a second grader at Arlington Traditional School, will lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag. Keep in mind that not only is she a voracious reader, but Jordan was elected to her student council the week BEFORE her dad was elected to the Arlington County Board — the first elected Dorsey in Arlington!

Thank you to all of you for your participation in this special event today. May we all be blessed in the New Year and may we all wish our 2016 County Board a successful year ahead.

Karen Darner served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1991 to 2004. In 2009, she received the Arlington Community Foundation’s William T. Newman Jr. Spirit of Community Award in recognition of over 30 years as an active member of numerous community organizations.

by Mark Kelly — December 31, 2015 at 11:30 am 0

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

Tomorrow, the Arlington County Board members will renew the annual tradition of previewing their priorities for the year. Unfortunately, the speeches can often be compared to a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym.

Before the speeches begin, the Board will need to elect a new Chairman. In recent history, the Vice Chairman has moved up to the center chair. But last year, Walter Tejada served in that role before announcing his retirement.

Theoretically, it would be Libby Garvey’s “turn” as she has not chaired the Board in any of her first three full years. But Garvey’s rocky relationship with the Arlington Democrats makes it far from a sure thing, particularly if there is an aspiring challenger waiting in the wings to run in the June primary.

As a fan of the occasional political drama, here’s hoping we have a surprise tomorrow and John Vihstadt is elected Chairman. Think the Democrats would never do it? David Foster pulled it off as a Republican with four other Democrats on the School Board.

What four things can you expect to hear about for sure from the Board?

Spending reform. As the Board wrapped up 2015, Vihstadt and Garvey called for reforms in the closeout spending process where tens of millions is spent with little public input late each year. It is unlikely their desire to change that process has gone away, nor should it.

Reducing the commercial vacancy rate. It may be a new year, but it is the same old story on this subject. The Board pats itself on the back for spending money on economic development, but has done little to change any underlying policies in the county to attract businesses.

Affordable housing. This issue rose to the top as candidates sought to replace Hynes and Tejada. Housing is expensive, and the Board has been unable to do anything to repel market forces in the county. Real estate principles aside, we are likely to hear how optimistic this new Board is on the subject.

School capacity. You cannot run for office in Arlington without talking about how challenging it is to meet the needs of our schools. Yes, our schools are a core function of local government. Yes, we have a capacity problem. But, having nearly $22,000 to spend per child means they are challenges we are able to meet.

Here are two things you shouldn’t hear, but might.

Everything that’s wrong in Arlington is not our fault. This familiar refrain from some on the Board all-too-often blames Washington and Richmond — usually Republicans — for county woes. With two newcomers to the Board, hopefully they will strike a new tone.

We had to/have to make tough choices. Year after year revenues and expenditures rise in Arlington. Our Board does not know what tough choices really look like, unless you count whether to try and spend $80 million on an aquatics center or half-a-billion on a streetcar.

And there is one thing you are unlikely to hear tomorrow.

Your taxes are going down.

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