53°Partly Cloudy

by Peter Rousselot — September 29, 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.

This is the first of two columns.

Today, I’ll discuss some of Arlington County’s self-imposed limitations on site plan conditions for “community benefits.” These are benefits that Arlington receives in exchange for granting developers additional density and other zoning changes.

Next week, I’ll recommend appropriate planning and policy reforms.


Arlington lists the County’s standard site plan conditions, noting that they are designed to:

Ameliorate a project’s impacts on surrounding property, as well as any additional height and/or density or other bonuses that may be approved or modifications to Zoning Ordinance standards proposed by a developer… Increased density, height or other modifications can have an impact on the surrounding community and site plan conditions help to mitigate these impacts.

Arlington’s administrative regulation also enumerates (pp. 63-64) “standard site plan conditions” that are “typically necessary,” while acknowledging that other conditions (not enumerated) might be appropriate for individual projects.

The County’s community benefits’ conditions have failed to adequately address the impact of development

Increased student enrollments and crowded parks are two important impacts of many development projects. There is no state law or County ordinance that prohibits the County from requesting a reasonable cash or in-kind contribution from a developer as a condition to address these particular kinds of impacts on schools or parks. Yet, the County has:

  • failed entirely to request cash or in-kind schools’ contribution conditions, and
  • asked only occasionally for contribution conditions relating to parkland and open space.

Efforts to discuss development’s impact have been hamstrung by lack of awareness of other jurisdictions that routinely assess those impacts (including on schools and parks), and perform related cost/benefit analyses. George Rovder, a Bluemont Civic Association past President, provided me with this first-person account of what transpired during the course of the Site Plan Review Committee’s (SPRC) recent consideration of site plan conditions for 491 new housing units to be constructed on the former Mazda Ballston site:

The applicant (developer) stated how much more tax revenue the proposed project would bring in vs. the amount currently being collected (from the Mazda dealership and the small strip of retail stores), stressing that this increased tax revenue was a key reason the community should support the project. I asked that the applicant or staff also provide figures for the costs associated with schools and other community services and infrastructure. I was advised by the SPRC Chair that there “are no costs” associated with these projects, as we already have water and sewer and the like in place. The Chair further observed that neither staff nor the applicant could possibly calculate the infrastructure and community services costs associated with the project.

The County has further failed to adequately track, monitor and enforce community benefits’ conditions

Citizens, the Arlington County Civic Federation, and at least one County commission have complained about County staff’s failure to track, monitor and enforce community benefits’ conditions.

Their strong complaints led Arlington’s independent auditor to place this issue at the top of the independent audit priority list. However, the Board’s new independent auditor has since resigned, leaving this audit in limbo.


Properly reformed and enforced, community benefits’ conditions included in site plans can materially improve the fiscal and functional sustainability of new development. Next week, I’ll propose planning and policy reforms needed to better fulfill those goals.

by Mark Kelly — September 22, 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.

Promise to ban homework: through middle school or at least at the elementary school level.

Nothing causes more stress on an ongoing basis in our house then ensuring homework is completed during the school year. Turns out academic studies continue to show it may just be a lot of stress for no (or virtually no) academic benefit in return, particularly in elementary school and quite possibly all the way through high school.

Worse, at the elementary school level, studies have found it has a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school. And it’s certainly no picnic for parents who often find themselves at a kitchen table 30 minutes past bedtime forcing their child to complete an assignment.

If it’s not providing real benefits to our children, if it threatens to turn our children off to a love of learning and if it decreases quality of life at home, why do we continue to require it?

I have engaged in conversations with other adults about my belief in ending homework. Some were aghast at the suggestion. When I pointed to several academic studies on the topic, they had no real objective arguments in response other than something along the lines of, “well, it’s good for them,” or “it teaches them responsibility,” or “it’s good practice.”

A recent poll asked the following question:

A Massachusetts school system has now ended all homework and extended the school day two hours in hopes of improving student performance. Do you favor or oppose a no-homework policy coupled with a longer school day in your community?

After my informal survey, I’m not surprised that 51 percent of people polled oppose a policy to ban homework in exchange for a longer school day while 33 percent approved.

I cannot tell you whether people are more opposed to banning homework or to forcing kids to be in school longer every day. My best guess is it’s a little bit of both. But I would also venture a guess that a majority of those polled have no idea what the academic research on the topic actually says.

Arlington is among the most educated counties in the country. That should mean we are open to what the research says on the topic of homework. It is certainly worthy of a public debate, and could just be a vote-getter.

by Progressive Voice — September 22, 2016 at 1:15 pm 0

Joseph Leitmann-Santa CruzProgressive 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: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

As previously expressed in this column, my wife and I are proud to call ourselves Arlingtonians. One reason for this pride is that we believe our community recognizes the importance of creating opportunities for all to succeed. Ours is a community that gets involved proactively and effects positive change.

Understanding and celebrating the many benefits diversity has brought to Arlington is a core element of what makes Arlington unique in the commonwealth.

On Sept. 23, you are invited to attend a multifaceted program — combining performing and visual arts, history, and public dialogue — that will explore the past, present and future of immigration in Arlington. This event will place a special focus on immigrant experiences and milestones of the past 40 years.

Arlington’s reputation as a welcoming environment is owed to years of immigration policy and outreach, but the cultural fabric of Arlington is complex and in its making are immigration stories of freedom, pain, and opportunity.

We Are All Arlington! seeks understanding and appreciation of the diverse narratives that connect our past to the present and to our common future. We hope you will join us at Wakefield High School (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for an engaging program that will explore the legacy of immigration in Arlington — and what opportunities and challenges it presents for individuals and as a community today.

Over the past five decades Arlington has been transformed from a suburban, largely racially segregated environment to a mixed urban and suburban one with racial and ethnic diversity.

According to a late 2015 urban studies report from the Wilson Center, Arlington “is at the forefront of demographic processes changing the face of American communities as well as the United States in its entirety.” Furthermore, the recent “The Changing Face of America” report describes Arlington as “being at the leading edge of a diversity explosion sweeping the USA.”

However, this rapid growth of diversity has come with consequences, such as at the economic, educational and housing levels.

The overall economic well-being of Arlington is very strong. At 6 percent, we have one of the lowest income poverty rates in the nation — less than half of the nationwide income poverty rate for families.

Yet African Americans and Latinos face a different income situation in Arlington. Their poverty rates are 14.7 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively.

Another indicator of the socio-economic well-being of a community is its residents’ ability to deal with adverse personal financial events. According to a new data analysis from the Family Assets Count Project, 23 percent of Arlingtonians are financially vulnerable.

Communities of color in Arlington fare even worse: 50 percent of African American families and 58 percent of Latino families are poor in terms of liquid assets. This means that one in every two African American and Latino families does not have enough savings to live above the poverty line for just three months if they face loss of a job, a medical crisis or a similar substantial income disruption.

Because we understand and celebrate diversity, we can recognize that as a community there is much we can do to create conditions whereby success is achieved more broadly. The success of today’s diverse communities will fuel the future growth and strength of our county and our country — much as what we consider American success and cultural achievement today comes directly from earlier immigration experiences.

One significant step in building equity in Arlington is how for the past 40 years, Arlington has been a gateway community for thousands of immigrants settling not only to the commonwealth but across the United States. Immigrants from nearly 120 countries have settled in Arlington, creating vibrancy, opportunity and a multicultural legacy that has changed what it means to be an Arlingtonian.

The Sept. 23 event is organized by the We Are All Arlington! Committee and is sponsored by Dream Project Inc. and Arlington Public Schools in partnership with Arlington Libraries, Arlington Historical Society, StudioPAUSE, REEP, ECDC, Comité ProBolivia, John Marshall Bank and The Urban Alternatives Foundation.

We can be a stronger community and a more stable and equitable community by recognizing vulnerability and sharing more broadly the tools for success for all Arlingtonians, regardless of race, ethnicity and/or country of origin.

I look forward to having our community further build bridges and tear down walls among the multiple racial, ethnic and national groups that make up Arlington. How about you?

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz works for an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Project.

by Peter Rousselot — September 22, 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.

The Community Facilities Study Group’s (CFSG) Final Report contained this recommendation:

Add an economic and fiscal impact section to private development (special exception/site plan and Form Based Code) project staff reports to provide information on the costs (e.g. the projected service demands and other costs to the community) and benefits (e.g. the taxes and other economic benefits) likely to be generated by a proposed project.


As I wrote in June, Arlington must continuously plan and explain to the public how it expects to pay for the new public infrastructure and services required to serve the 75,400 people Arlington currently projects to add by 2040. But, the county government has yet to do so.

Why are project-specific impact assessments important?

Quantifying incremental county services and infrastructure that a proposed special exception/site plan project necessitates will inject vital, objective input into the county’s short- and long-term planning and budgeting processes (e.g., budgeting for and implementing additional required school capacity, open space, public safety resources). Collecting this data for each project will, in turn, enable the county to more accurately determine geographically specific, cumulative impacts and time-specific scheduling based on project completion.

Project-specific impact analyses–as recommended by the CFSG — should be prepared for each development project in a timely manner because they provide critical facts needed to determine in advance whether we can afford to approve a project, must add conditions, or should deny the request.

What kinds of project-specific impact analyses should Arlington perform?

The county should perform an integrated fiscal impact analysis for each special exception/site plan development project. Each analysis should compare by-right development for the site with the developer’s site-plan proposal that includes any changes to the General Land Use Plan (GLUP), up zoning and/or bonus density. The goal is to determine the degree to which a developer’s cash contributions and other specific community benefits will offset the county’s cost to provide additional services and infrastructure over the life of the development.

More accurate and reliable forecasting is particularly vital now that large commercial tracts of land without any students on them are being replaced with dense, multifamily housing. Independent, third-party studies have concluded that residential projects almost always generate more net costs than benefits.

Other Virginia jurisdictions routinely utilize impact analyses.

Neighboring Northern Virginia jurisdictions like Fairfax and Loudoun counties use some form of project-specific impact assessments as part of their review processes. Even though these jurisdictions use a proffer system rather than a special exception/site-plan system, the benefits to policy-makers and the public of having project-specific impact assessments are common to all.

Falls Church City has utilized fiscal impact analyses for years. See a detailed description of its model here.

Caveats: Other jurisdictions’ models often don’t include capital costs or assess environmental impacts or quantify a value for natural space. A new branch of economics — environmental economics — provides new models that help to establish a monetary value for open space and the natural infrastructure.


Arlington County should adopt and implement CFSG recommendation 12. Arlington should expedite a public examination and discussion of alternative fiscal impact models to select one that will result in greater objectivity, better informed decision-making and enhanced planning to meet the infrastructure and service needs of our rapidly-growing population.

by ARLnow.com — September 20, 2016 at 10:45 am 0

Pumpkin beer in the Clarendon Whole FoodsPools might close after Labor Day but summer has been very much still in effect over the past couple of weeks.

With high temps in the 80s and 90s, one does not exactly get the twigs and acorns crunching pleasurably beneath one’s boots feeling that traditionally prompts a craving for fall-related items — you know, the ever-popular pumpkin spice latte or a malty Oktoberfest beer.

Starbucks has been offering the “PSL” since the end of August (McDonald’s now has a version, too) and Oktoberfests and pumpkin beers started hitting local store shelves even earlier than that.

We know that such seasonal beverages are popular choices when the air gets crisp and the days shorter. But are they popular now before the official start of fall? (The autumnal equinox is Thursday.)

Given the proliferation of Starbucks and the crowds at our fall beer tasting event over the weekend, it seems like the answer might be yes. But let’s see whether actual consumption so far this season actually bears that out.

by Mark Kelly — September 15, 2016 at 1:45 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.

Recently, Arlington Democrats unanimously backed $316 million in new borrowing proposals. I was not at the meeting, but I would venture a guess that no one asked how much of this money should be paid for out of the regular budget, including road paving, park maintenance, facilities maintenance, landscaping, and street lights?

It is not to say that all of the spending in the bond proposals is without merit. And, the Board deserves credit for publishing a more detailed explanation of the bonds. However, the ongoing practice of pushing what should be annual budget items into bonds should come to an end.

And how much debt do we currently have?

For FY 2017, our total debt burden is $951 million. This round of bonds will push us over $1 billion. By 2021, our total debt will be $1.23 billion — an increase of 29% over current levels.

Currently, the per capita debt is $4,317. In 2021, every man, woman and child will owe $5,270.

For FY 2017, our total annual debt service budget cost is $109.7 million between the schools and general government. It is slated to grow to $143 million over the next five years. And our debt service to expenditure ratio is projected to rise and hover just under the 10% cap credit ratings agencies look to for maintaining our AAA rating.

These bonds will almost certainly pass because Arlington voters have proven time and again to be OK with the borrow, spend and tax philosophy. The voters continue to support the notion that maintaining a never-ending level of “manageable” debt is desirable.

But continuing to max out our credit card is a dangerous game. The current run of historically low interest rates combined with county revenue that has outpaced inflation has fueled this borrowing boom. What happens if there is a spike in interest rates? Or what if Arlington experienced the type of economic recession which makes it impossible for revenue to continue to rise?

Unfortunately, Arlington Republicans have failed to field a candidate for either the County Board or the School Board. Sure, it’s a presidential election year which presses the Democrat advantage to the maximum level in the county. However, without Republican candidates making a case of how to apply our principles to the issues facing the county, voters do not even have an opportunity to hear an alternative vision.

by Paul Holland — September 15, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Paul HollandProgressive 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.

Arlington can, and sometimes does, play an outsized role in the politics and governance of our Commonwealth and nation – given the number of people in high levels of government and politics who live here. Yet many in our state and around the country live far different lives than we do. And the despair and anger they feel cannot and should not be ignored.

In that regard, J.D Vance, a former Marine and graduate of Yale Law School, has written an essential book on America’s political culture in 2016. “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and a Culture in Crisis” is an autobiographical account of growing up in the Rust Belt. The book has spent the last six weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list. It has garnered acclaim across the political spectrum: Fareed Zakaria of CNN and The Washington Post, David Brooks of The New York Times and PBS, and American Conservative‘s Rod Dreher have all praised Vance’s writing and perspective on this moment in our history.   

Mr. Vance self identifies as a hillbilly and does so proudly. He recounts his story, from fighting to defend his family’s honor as a 6-year old, to countless father figures entering and exiting his life, to a mother trapped in a cycle of drug addiction and dependency. But Vance also praises the foundations that led to his success, including the powerful and stabilizing influence of his grandmother (Mamaw) and his service in the Marine Corps.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Vance’s writing is his honesty. He bluntly captures the despair of his community. Many of the people Vance grew up with no longer believe in the opportunity for positive change and upward mobility. They believe the American Dream has passed their part of the country by, migrating permanently to the Acela Corridor and West Coast. 

Vance also views the core fabric of American society as fractured. His culture has no heroes — certainly not in politics, but not even in the military. He laments the loss of common purpose that followed World War II and recounts how “after seventy years, filled with marriage, children, grandchildren, death, poverty and triumph, the thing about which Mamaw was unquestionably the proudest and most excited was that she and her family did their part during World War II.”    

Vance found his way out of the cycle of despair when he enlisted in the Marine Corps two years after Sept. 11. His four-year tour included a deployment to Iraq and an assignment working in Public Affairs at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

Both were important and formative experiences, but it was his experience at Cherry Point which stands out in the memoir. As a young Marine, he was assigned the significant responsibility of serving as the media relations officer for one of the largest Marine Corps bases on the East Coast. He started slowly, but quickly learned to do the job very well. Eventually he earned a commendation medal for his efforts and built the foundation of confidence necessary for his future successes. 

The issues facing Vance’s self-described, hillbilly demographic are real. From economic stagnation to opioid addiction, these issues require effective action by our elected leaders and public officials at all levels of government. Across the political spectrum, these issues deserve attention, not dismissal or condescension. If we want to move our country forward, we must acknowledge the diversity of perspectives and ideas we hold as individuals – not just based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, faith, and national origin, but also by geography and economic circumstance.   

Hillbilly Elegy is a story of our divided politics. It is a book that is both honest and sympathetic, with the goal of educating both liberals and conservatives about topics that have not received sufficient attention from the political establishment and require creative and sensible solutions rather than appeals to darker and more desperate instincts.

Will reading this book solve the serious issues facing Vance’s hometown and the people who live in other Rust Belt communities? No, it will not. But it is a story that people across the political spectrum would be wise to hear, and will hopefully be one that starts many conversations in Arlington and beyond.

Paul Holland is a lifelong Arlingtonian who lives in Waverly Hills with his wife and two children. He has long been active in Arlington civic life and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission.

by Peter Rousselot — September 15, 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.

As my fellow columnist Mark Kelly and I both have previously advocated, it’s time to overhaul the seriously-flawed process Arlington County government has been using to allocate any surplus funds left over at the close of the County’s fiscal year.


Both Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools (APS) have fiscal years that end on June 30. Both the County and APS are required by law to adopt a balanced budget. In many years, Arlington County has closed its fiscal year with substantial surpluses. Since APS receives the lion’s share of its revenues from the County under a revenue-sharing arrangement, APS automatically receives its defined pro-rata share of any locally-generated Arlington County revenue surpluses.

However, in past years, each Board has utilized sharply-contrasting processes for deciding what to do with any such surpluses.

School Board’s Current Close-out Process

The School Board first receives, posts on its website, and discusses in a public meeting its staff’s recommendations regarding how to allocate any surplus funds. But, the School Board does not vote on its staff’s proposal until the following month. This process allows the School Board to:

  • discuss the initial APS staff recommendations at a public meeting, and
  • receive a public report from the APS Budget Advisory Committee, and
  • wait a month to get further input from the general public, before finally
  • adopting the final allocation of any APS surplus funds.

County Board’s Current Close-out Process

The County Board’s current close-out process is seriously flawed because it fails to provide the extra month for input from the general public that the School Board’s process provides. For example, last November, the County Board approved $21.8 million in new spending from surplus funds without providing that extra 30-day public review and comment period.

In 2015, the general public was denied a reasonable opportunity to discuss and comment about the Acting County Manager’s recommendation that this was the very best way to allocate last year’s $21.8 million revenue surplus:

  • $1 million for economic development, including incentives to attract new businesses to Arlington
  • $7.8 million for land purchases and other capital investment, including schools
  • $0.8 million for a “larger than anticipated” class of fire recruits
  • $11.2 million to maintain investments in the Affordable Housing Investment Fund and housing grants
  • $1 million for any unexpected needs or issues that may arise next year

Many activists allege that County staff deliberately overestimate expenses and underestimate revenues in the operating budget the County adopts each spring. These activists claim that staff does this so that during the following fall’s fiscal year close-out, the County government can take advantage of a public review and comment period that bears little resemblance to the far more lengthy spring review and comment period that the full operating budget annually receives.

County staff have indignantly countered that any such suggestions are false because the County’s spring budgeting approach simply demonstrates prudent financial planning for which the staff should be praised not criticized.

It isn’t necessary to resolve this continued annual debate over motive, because there is a far better process available to guard against the possibility that the staff’s motives might be suspect.


Starting this fall, the County Board should adopt a new fiscal year close-out process similar to the process long utilized by the School Board.

by ARLnow.com — September 10, 2016 at 10:30 am 0

9/11 flag in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by Kevin White)

A slow August has given way to a busy September.

There are a number of marquee events in Arlington this weekend. The annual Rosslyn Jazz Festival is taking place this afternoon, although you’ll have to brave mid-July-like heat. Tonight the Arlington 9/11 5K races around the Pentagon — and it’s not too late to register online.

Tomorrow, with temperatures back down to comfortable September levels, you’ll have your choice of Crystal City Sip and Salsa — an outdoor wine, food, music and dancing festival — and Beckett’s Celtic Fest in Shirlington, with “live music, dancers, pipers, food and drink.”

If you have some down time this weekend, be sure to check out our new weekly podcast. Our first episode features an interview with Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol. Expect interviews with other notable local figures, from business owners to policymakers to anyone doing anything interesting in Arlington.

If you’re hitting the road around Pentagon City today, you might want to take note of the road closures associated with the 5K. Per ACPD:

From 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.

  • Army Navy Drive closed between S. 12th Street to S. Eads Street

From 5:45 p.m. until approximately 6:30 p.m.

  • Westbound Army Navy Drive closed from S. Eads Street to S. Joyce Street
  • *****All streets crossing Army Navy Drive (including access to I-395 S/B) will be closed for approximately 20 minutes*****
  • S. Joyce Street closed from Army Navy Drive to Columbia Pike
  • Columbia Pike closed from Pentagon South Parking to S. Joyce Street
  • I-395 Northbound HOV exit to S. Eads Street will be closed.

From 5:45 p.m. until approximately 8:00 p.m.

  • Westbound Washington Boulevard closed from Memorial Bridge to I-395
  • Southbound Rt. 110 closed from Rosslyn to S. 15th Street
  • Marshall Drive closed at Rt. 110
  • S. Eads Street closed from Army Navy Drive to S. 11th Street

In addition, street parking in the area will be restricted. Motorists should be on the lookout for temporary “No Parking” signs. Illegally parked vehicles may be ticketed or towed. If your vehicle is towed from a public street, call 703-558-2222.

Feel free to discuss this weekend’s events or any other topic of local interest in the comments.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin White

by Mark Kelly — September 8, 2016 at 1:45 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.

Two weeks ago, Paul Friedman wrote a piece on ARLnow claiming Democrats believe voting is a right and Republicans believe it is a privilege. The none-too-veiled suggestion was Republicans were somehow OK with limiting the rights of Democrats, or worse yet, on the basis of race.

Republicans believe voting is a right firmly rooted in the rule of law.

There are clear conditions you must meet to vote. You must be 18. You must be a citizen of our country. You cannot vote in two states in the same election. And in Virginia, you cannot vote if you committed a felony unless your voting rights have been affirmatively restored.

The Supreme Court found that Gov. Terry McAuliffe violated the Virginia Constitution when he issued the blanket order restoring voting rights to all felons who completed their sentence. Unfortunately, what Friedman appears to be arguing is it may just be OK for our governor to circumvent a provision in the Constitution because it achieves a desired outcome. Imagine Friedman’s outrage if a Republican governor were to do so in order to achieve a desired policy objective?

The bottom line is allowing a governor to unilaterally ignore the Virginia Constitution would be a dangerous precedent to set. It was rightly overturned by the court.

What was also missing from Friedman’s analysis was what happens to the rights of other voters when someone who should not be able to cast a vote in Virginia is allowed to. When just one person who is committing voter fraud — or is registered for any other invalid reason shows up the polls — it limits your rights by devaluing your vote.

Because voting is a right, it is meant to be protected. It should not be subject to the whims of an elected official. It should not be devalued by voter fraud.

What McAuliffe should have done was work with legislative leaders to find a process within the law to restore voting rights more easily. Many Republicans, including this one, support such a change, particularly when it comes to non-violent offenders.

by Progressive Voice — September 8, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Gillian BurgessProgressive 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: Gillian Burgess

Over Labor Day weekend, thousands of people enjoyed Arlington’s awesome network of safe, pleasant bike trails. Too often, however, the routes connecting our beautiful trails to the cafes, coffee shops and retail in the more urban parts of Arlington do not feel safe and comfortable for most people to bike on. Thousands of people stick to the trails and miss out on a lot of what Arlington has to offer.

The Bike Friendly Ballston wants to change that: The Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s Arlington Action Committee is calling on Arlington County to build protected bike lanes on North Quincy Street between the Custis Trail (along I-66) and Glebe Road.

Protected bike lanes provide the experience of biking without cars, but at a fraction of the cost of building a trail.

Most protected bike lanes, like the ones Arlington already installed in Pentagon City, flip the painted bike lane and the parking lane, so that the streetscape become sidewalk, curb, bike lane, then a buffer, parked cars, moving cars and the double yellow line — with the reverse order for traffic traveling in the other direction.

Some protected bike lanes, like those on 15th Street NW in D.C., put both bikes traveling in both directions against one curb, so the streetscape is sidewalk, curb, two-way protected bike lane, buffer, parking, one direction of moving traffic, the other direction of moving traffic, parking, curb and sidewalk.

To install a protected bike lane, the county needs only to put down some paint, put up a few flex-posts and add signage. When a street is repaved, installing protected bike lanes is practically free.

On Quincy, protected bike lanes would give people a low-stress route from the Custis Trail into the heart of Ballston. They would also connect to 5th Street North, which ends just before Quincy and Glebe, and is a great neighborhood road to bike on through Ashton Heights and Lyon Park.

By replacing the painted bike lanes that currently appear and disappear on this stretch, they would give people who do not feel comfortable riding a bike alongside moving cars the opportunity to connect to Washington-Lee High School, the Central Library and surrounding parks, and all of the shopping, dining, and coffee available in Ballston.

Protected bike lanes on Quincy would be good for everyone using Quincy Street. Because protected bike lanes feel safer, people would bike on the sidewalk far less, leaving the sidewalks free for people walking. Having a clear space for bikes would also reduce the complicated and confusing interactions that currently take place between people driving and biking on Quincy, especially around Washington Boulevard, where the current bike lanes suddenly disappear.

Protected bike lanes are also good for business. Already, about four times as many people bike on the Custis Trail as bike on Quincy. With a safe option, people would be enticed to enjoy all of the amenities Ballston has to offer. And study after study shows that people on bikes shop locally more often and spend more locally overall than people in cars. A quick stop at Buzz is easy on a bike, when you don’t have to worry about parking your car.

This proposal was brought to the County Board in February, and the entire Board was supportive of the project (discussion starting around nine minutes in the video). In March, the county manager told the board “we can do it” (discussion starting around 1:17 in the video). This month, we should finally get to see some plans.

The Bicycle Advisory Committee is set to meet with county staff to walk through some options next week (Monday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. on the Quincy Street side of the Central Library) and the Arlington Action Committee will meet with county staff the following week (Monday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. at a yet-to-be-determined location). Both meetings are open to the public.

Bike Friendly Ballston already has the support of over 600 people, most of the businesses along the route, and two surrounding neighborhood associations. You can find out more and lend your support by heading to http://www.waba.org/advocacy/campaigns/bike-friendly-ballston/.

Gillian Burgess is the current chair of Arlington County’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the founder of Kidical Mass Arlington, and the former vice chair of APS’s Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee. She lives in Cherrydale with her husband and three children.

by Peter Rousselot — September 8, 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.

In July, Arlington received an award as the top digital county in the nation for its population size (150,000-249,999).

Among the reasons:

The County’s Open Government Program … was lauded for creating more accessible and transparent interactions with departments and services. Key elements of the program include the Open Data Portal, expanding civic engagement through webcasting of commission meetings, and launch of the My Arlington app for mobile users.

But, where should Arlington go from here?

Arlington already has held a panel discussion on next steps. The panel included private sector and Arlington County government participants.

In two videos, the panel discussed how digitization is likely to change Arlington substantially between now and 2050. While the issues are complex and overlapping, one useful way to look at them is to consider how digitization is likely to:

  • Change how private individuals and firms function, and why those private sector changes will require major changes in Arlington government policies and operations.
  • Enable the Arlington government to interact more transparently and productively with its citizens.

Private sector change

In general, the pace of transformative change driven by private sector digitization means that the county should avoid adopting overly-prescriptive master plans that could inadvertently stifle future private sector innovation.


While consumers currently make about 7 percent of their purchases online, panel participants predicted that by 2050, this percentage will rise to 40-60 percent. The obvious result: retailers’ needs for brick and mortar stores will decline substantially. For future planning purposes, the county should avoid policies that will incentivize excessive retail brick and mortar store growth.


The commercial office market will continue to be transformed by increasing demand for flexible working and living arrangements like WeWork and WeLive. The county should be appropriately flexible in adjusting its zoning and land use policies to enable this increased demand — especially when such adjustments will facilitate rental of existing vacant office space.


Ride sharing will continue to transform transportation, and self-driving vehicles are likely to do so soon as well. The county should adjust its transportation, transit, parking and all other relevant policies to take advantage of these changes.

Citizen-government interactions

In general, new digitization tools enable new ways in which county government and its citizens can interact. The most important advice from panel participants: use these tools to find out what citizens prefer rather than just telling citizens what the government has decided. This often should be done by accurately defining all options, together with the costs and benefits of each, and asking residents for their preferences using statistically-valid survey techniques.

For some, citizen-government interactions can be entirely in cyberspace. How about virtual “Open Door Mondays“? For others, a physical space (like community centers and libraries) will continue to be important.
Big Data is transforming the way a local government like Arlington can improve the quality of life for its citizens.


One way you can participate in discussing these issues is to attend a meeting on Tuesday, October 11, from 7 to 8:30 pm in the Shirlington Library auditorium. The meeting will feature a presentation by Shawn DuBravac. Shawn was one of the panel participants, and is the author of “Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live, and Communicate.”

by ARLnow.com — September 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm 0

Tornadoes are rare, but not impossible in Arlington (photo via Arlington OEM)

It was supposed to be a quiet end to a slow week today. Instead, the morning started with two breaking news stories and the day will end with an approaching tropical storm.

Even though Arlington is expected to be spared from most of Hermine’s rain and wind — “little to no impact is anticipated,” according to the National Weather Service — the storm is a good reminder of why you should be prepared for emergencies.

Feel free to discuss the weather, emergency preps or any other topic of local interest in the comments. Have a relaxing Labor Day weekend and we’ll see you back here on Tuesday for what’s looking like a busy week of news.

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

Mark Kelly

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

This week, Governor McAuliffe’s office sent a memo to state agencies asking for proposals to trim 5% from their budgets to help close a $1.5 billion budget gap. The gap is roughly 1.5%, but leaders are working to avoid any cuts to education, so some programs will take bigger cuts than others.

This much more realistic approach comes after Republican General Assembly leaders rejected the governor’s assertion that Medicaid expansion would relieve the budget woes.

Medicaid expansion has actually made state budgets worse. In Ohio, Medicaid expansion cost $1.5 billion more than expected in the first 18 months. In Washington it was $2.3 billion more over two years. And in Kentucky, the state had to pay $1.8 billion more for 2014 and 2015 combined.

And, this is before the federal cost share is scheduled to be reduced in 2017.

You cannot blame a Governor for trying to pass his number one priority. But he should not continue to suggest a program that has failed to have positive outcomes in other states will miraculously do the opposite in Virginia.

The Governor should instead go about the business of getting the government out of the way of job creators in Virginia. Then economic growth can drive tax revenue.

But where do independent groups rank Virginia’s economic potential?

13th by ALEC. This study found twenty-nine states have a lower top marginal corporate income tax rate and twenty-five states have a lower property tax burden.

15th by Wallet Hub. The group found Virginia ranked 21st in “Innovation Potential.”

13th by CNBC. CNBC found Virginia in 36th place when it comes to the cost of doing business.

And, we continue to slide in the wrong direction.

The ongoing (and bi-partisan) effort focusing on economic development incentives is not doing the trick. Nor should we seek out higher, and debt-financed, federal government spending. Instead, our leaders must work to create a more favorable environment for the economy to thrive for all businesses.

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

Abby RaphaelProgressive 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: Abby Raphael

Arlington is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, with a median 2016 household income of $110,900. Yet 8.8% of all Arlington residents live in poverty, with an income of about $24,000 or less for a family of four. Twelve percent of Arlington’s children live in poverty. Arlington must address the effects of this economic inequality, particularly on our children, in a coordinated way so that all children and families can be successful.

During the last school year, nearly 8,000 students in Arlington Public Schools (APS), 30% of all APS students, were eligible for free or reduced price meals. Families of four with an annual income of about $45,000 or less qualify for this program.

While Arlington students across income levels score well on standardized tests, there remains a relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement that should be addressed. For example, in 2015-16, 71% of economically disadvantaged school students in Arlington passed the English standards of learning tests (SOL), compared with 87% of all Arlington students. For the math SOL, the pass rates were 73% versus 87%.

National efforts to address achievement gaps as part of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have focused on standardized testing, charter schools, and national standards, known as the Common Core. Diane Ravitch, a former Assistant Secretary of Education and NCLB proponent, concluded in a recent New York Times article that these efforts have failed. Ravitch wrote that one of the main causes of low student achievement is poverty and “[w]hat is called ‘the achievement gap’ is actually an ‘opportunity gap’.”

So, how do we address childhood poverty and the opportunity gap to help all students achieve at higher levels?

First, we must recognize that this is a responsibility of the entire Arlington community and not just APS. Through a shared vision and coordinated efforts of County government, APS, non-profits, businesses, the faith community, and individuals, we can make a real difference. This is the power of collective impact: a model that brings people together in a structured way to achieve positive results.

Community schools, a form of collective impact, bring together school and community resources for children. They integrate academics, health and wellness, social services, and family and community engagement to improve student achievement for all students, especially low-income students. Carlin Springs Elementary School is a community school, supported with federal funding. In addition, Barcroft Elementary School, Gunston Middle School, and Wakefield and Arlington Mill High Schools are community schools, with staffing from Communities in Schools of Northern Virginia, part of the national non-profit network, Communities in Schools (CIS).

CIS was founded 40 years ago by Arlingtonian Bill Milliken, who writes in The Last Dropout that to be successful, students need: “a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to learn and grow; a healthy start and a healthy future; a marketable skill to use upon graduation; and a chance to give back to peers and the community.”

Whether assisted through CIS, federal grants, or other similar programs with track records of success, community schools bring existing community resources together to provide greater opportunities for students and families. National research shows that the community school model works for all of us – improving attendance and performance on standardized tests, reducing behavioral problems, and reducing the dropout rate.

In Arlington, we have many non-profit organizations, faith communities, businesses and individuals partnering with APS and County government that do excellent work to help low-income students. They provide mentors, tutors, food, after-school programs, and more. However, these efforts need to be coordinated in a more systematic way to identify which students have the most need, evaluate what efforts are most effective, and best match the community’s existing resources with those needs.

To best serve our low-income students and families, and to be equitable, Arlington should expand the community school model from five schools that now have it to all schools with significant populations of students eligible for free or reduced price meals. This requires additional staffing to leverage the community’s existing resources, coordinate efforts, establish and monitor measures of success, and communicate effectively.

As APS and County government leaders consider their priorities for the coming budget, I urge them to expand community schools, which have demonstrated effectiveness in improving outcomes for low-income students. Such a strategic investment aimed at economic inequality will benefit the entire community. 

Abby Raphael is co-Chair of Arlington’s Project Peace Prevention Committee, which addresses domestic violence and sexual assault. She also serves as a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA and the Second Chance Advisory Committee. She was a member of the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair, and is a former Arlington Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney.


Subscribe to our mailing list