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by Progressive Voice — November 10, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

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.

By: Alfonso Lopez

On Tuesday I found myself thinking of Susan B. Anthony, the suffragettes fighting for equality locked up at the Occoquan Workhouse, the incomparable Dolores Huerta, and my role models and predecessors in the Virginia General Assembly State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple and Delegate Karen Darner. I thought of my wife, my aunts, my cousins who are like sisters, my Vassar classmates and professors, and my Mom who fought so hard and dreamed of seeing a woman in the White House. On Election Day I proudly voted Hillary Clinton for President.

Like so many in Arlington, I woke up on Wednesday morning incredibly disappointed by the election results. I am immensely proud to have joined over 90,000 Arlingtonians in voting for Hillary Clinton. Arlington alone provided a 71,000 vote margin for Secretary Clinton out of her victory margin of 184,000 votes in Virginia. Unfortunately, despite winning Virginia and securing a majority of the national popular vote, Secretary Clinton will not be our 45th President.

While many have already dissected and analyzed what happened in this election, I think it is important to remember that Arlington is a microcosm of the values and priorities that Hillary Clinton fought so hard to promote in this campaign.

We are extraordinarily diverse and welcoming to people of all backgrounds regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. We value leaders with experience and a steady hand that focus on core priorities such as investing in education, transportation and transit infrastructure, job creation, environmental protection, affordable housing and a robust social safety-net for our most vulnerable citizens.

Although we may not have elected the President we’d want as a role model for our children, Arlington can still continue to lead the way as an exemplary community that remains one of the best places in America to live, work and raise a family. Our values of openness, inclusion and compassion are our strength and will continue to guide us through our challenges.

Though we have steady Democratic leadership here in Arlington, the Republican Party now will control the vast majority of state legislatures and governors’ mansions across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the White House. Over the next few years, they will have unequivocal authority over the direction of our country.

As a result, instead of coalescing around a position of simply opposing President Obama at every turn and refusing to compromise, Republicans now have to own the status quo. They need to govern and take responsibility for their choices. Voter can then fairly evaluate and judge those choices. After eight years rooting for President Obama to fail and doing their best to ensure it — obstructionism will no longer work.

Our democracy is built on the foundation of free and fair elections that determine the direction of our country, and we have the opportunity with every new election to make a course correction and change that trajectory. Just next year, Virginians will have the opportunity to elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and all 100 members of the House of Delegates.

If you are upset about the results of this election, I encourage you to get involved with your local Democratic Committee and find out what you can do in the next election to change the direction of our country. In the United States, our revolutions are political and they start with individuals, neighbors and communities coming together to vote, organize and let their voices be heard.

Every vote matters. Indeed, Clinton would have won with just four more votes per precinct in Michigan, seven per precinct in Pennsylvania, and nine per precinct in Wisconsin.

As the old saying goes, “We must strive as hard as we can, to do as much good as we can, for as many people as we can, for as long as we can.”

This election is an important reminder that we cannot take anything for granted and that there is always more work to do to keep our community, our commonwealth and our country moving forward.

As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “(N)ever stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it.”

Quoting Faulkner, Senator Tim Kaine stated, “They kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yit.”

Our work continues. Join us and together let’s fight to achieve our goals, shared values, and dreams.

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

by Peter Rousselot — November 10, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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.

Properly translated, arrivederci means “until I see you again.” The Arlington County government should say arrivederci to the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola.

Discussion

Arlington was correct to study the gondola

To retain Arlington’s competitive edge in a rapidly changing marketplace, Arlington County has to be open to spending reasonable amounts of money to study new ideas. That’s what the County did regarding the gondola.

One of the prime movers urging Arlington County to participate in a study of the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola was the President of the Rosslyn BID, Mary-Claire Burick. Mary-Claire is a savvy and effective advocate for making Rosslyn a better place to live and work. Here on ARLnow.com, civic activist Dave Schutz also has been an impressive and effective advocate for the gondola. Kudos to both.

Now it’s time to shelve the gondola

There are several good reasons to shelve the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, but we really don’t need to move beyond the dispositive reason: the crisis at Metro and Arlington’s share of the cost to fix Metro.

It will be several years before we know what it has cost Arlington to help fix Metro. Until it is clear both that we have fixed it and that we know what it has cost us, Arlington should not incur any significant further expenses relating to the gondola.

We should not build the gondola just because it’s feasible and legal

In the study of the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, its authors concluded that the gondola would:

  • be feasible and legal,
  • cost about $80-$90 million to build, and
  • cost $3.25 million per year to operate.

Although the Arlington County government shouldn’t spend any significant further amount of our tax dollars on this project, gondola proponents would do well to focus any of their further efforts and their dollars on conducting cost-benefit analyses of the gondola compared to other options.

“Mass Native,” a commenter on the Washington Post’s gondola study story, observed:

I used to walk home over the Key Bridge from work. AND I’ve actually ridden the Roosevelt Island cable car, so I consider myself uniquely qualified to opine. This won’t work out well. The walk over the bridge is quick and easy, and if you don’t want to walk, taking the bus back and forth from Rosslyn to Georgetown is pretty easy also. If bus service is a shortcoming, I suspect the gondola money would be better spent improving bus service. Given there is no metro stop in Georgetown, the many bus lines that run through Georgetown are vital, and they actually do a pretty good job connecting Georgetown to the rest of the city (there are probably at least 6 bus lines that run through Georgetown). The advantages of taking a gondola just aren’t compelling enough.

Why wouldn’t improving bus service be more cost-effective than the gondola?

If the gondola is really about promoting Rosslyn’s restaurants, bars and hotels, how many more Arlington taxpayer dollars should be spent on a gondola to promote these Rosslyn businesses compared to the tax dollars we are now spending to promote such businesses elsewhere in the County? Why should these incremental tax dollars be spent on the gondola?

Conclusion

Until Metro is fixed, the Arlington County government should stop spending any significant further Arlington taxpayer dollars on the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola.

by ARLnow.com — November 9, 2016 at 10:00 am 0

"I Voted in Arlington" sticker on Election Day 2016 (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)So… last night happened.

While we were discussing the election from an Arlington perspective, a political earthquake of epic proportions was underway.

As the night wore on, what seemed unfathomable — based on polls, pundits and everything else — slowly became reality: Donald J. Trump was elected as the next president of the United States of America.

Last night we asked local elected officials and others — and we’ll be asking again today — what this means, exactly, for Arlington and for Virginia, which in the end voted for Hillary Clinton.

In the meantime, as you’re waking up this morning to the final election results, which of the following best describes your mood?

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

by ARLnow.com — November 7, 2016 at 2:15 pm 0

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (Photo via Wikimedia)

The following Letter to the Editor was written by state Senator Barbara Favola and Delegates Alfonso Lopez, Patrick Hope and Mark Levine, regarding Tuesday’s presidential election. The authors represent Arlington in the Virginia General Assembly.

The direction of the Supreme Court for the next two decades is on the ballot this Tuesday, making this perhaps the most crucial election of our lifetime. By refusing to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans have left the Supreme Court with an even split between the conservative and more progressive justices. Indeed, a few justices may be on the verge of retiring soon.

Since the next President will decide how this balance of power changes, we have an important choice to make on Tuesday. Donald Trump proposes to nominate judges who have favored powerful elites and corporations over ordinary individuals in Citizens United, have overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act, have blocked the right of individuals to hold corporations accountable for misconduct, and have undermined government’s ability to keep our air and water clean. Trump wants to nominate “strict constructionist” judges who agree with his controversial views. For example, Trump claims that the Second Amendment is in mortal danger of abolition, that women who have abortions should be punished, and that the freedom of the press, the right of the accused to due process, freedom of religion and LGBT rights should all be weakened.

Hillary Clinton intends to honor the entire Bill of Rights and believes we are “stronger together.” She will nominate judges who value the 14th Amendment guaranteeing “equal protection under the law,” and who understand that fairness is, and must remain, a core value of our legal system. As we’ve seen in recent cases that upheld same sex marriage and struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act as well as campaign finance reform, what the court decides will have a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Americans.

Your vote will decide whether your life and the lives of your loved ones will change for the better or for the worse. The choice could not be clearer. If you want a Supreme Court that will send the country backwards over 50 years in terms of civil rights, reproductive freedom, environmental protection, health care, and corporate special interests, Donald Trump is your candidate. However, if you want a Supreme Court that will protect the individual rights and freedoms of all Americans; if you think the Supreme Court should rule in favor of hard working Americans over the special interests of powerful corporations; and if you want a Supreme Court that will uphold our right to clean air, clean water, and a pollution free environment; we hope you will join us in voting for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.

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.

Photo via Wikimedia.

by ARLnow.com — November 4, 2016 at 7:45 pm 0

Arlington Mill Drive in the afternoon

Good news: the election is almost here and after a seemingly endless, hopelessly contentious campaign, the country will hopefully be able to resign itself to life under the [INSERT NAME OF UNPOPULAR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HERE] administration after next Tuesday.

We’ll be attempting a two hour live broadcast of local election coverage and interviews, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Be sure to tune in for that.

We chose the broadcast location, the Arlington Democratic victory party at Sehkraft Brewing in Clarendon, based on having the best immediate access to elected officials and candidates. Don’t worry — we’re inviting guests from other parts of the political spectrum as well.

At this point we’d tell you to discuss any issue of local interest, but let’s face it: you’ll probably just talk about Clinton and Trump. Have at it…

by ARLnow.com — October 28, 2016 at 3:45 pm 0

Halloween decorations in Alcova Heights

This weekend is supposed to be pleasantly warm, which might not be a great thing for those running the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday.

Normally the MCM involves runners freezing at the starting line and then enjoying comfortably cool temperatures during the race. Expect some extra perspiration on the course this year.

Drivers may also be sweating if they’re trying to get anywhere in Rosslyn or Crystal City on Sunday morning. See a full list of planned marathon road closures from this article we published last week.

Also expected this weekend: plenty of Halloween-related fun. Halloween falls on Monday this year, to the chagrin of students, but some of the festivities will be taking place on Saturday and Sunday.

If you’re wondering about the annual Clarendon Halloween bar crawl — that’s taking place next weekend. We hear that it couldn’t take place this weekend because with all the police overtime being used for the marathon there weren’t enough extra officers available to provide security for a bar crawl.

If you are drinking on Saturday, be sure to take advantage of a free cab ride from SoberRide after 10 p.m.

Feel free to discuss the marathon, your Halloween plans or anything else of local interest in the comments. Good luck to all of the runners!

by Mark Kelly — October 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

GOP county board candidate 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.

As many as 120,000 Arlingtonians will head to the polls for the November 8th election. Based on the last two presidential election cycles, it is likely 70% or more will vote for Hillary Clinton to become the next president. While many voters will not get past the top of the ticket, a strong majority of Clinton supporters will almost certainly give Democrat Libby Garvey another term on the County Board.

Garvey should be commended for breaking with her fellow Democrats from time to time. Her courage to back Independent candidate John Vihstadt, to stand up against the Columbia Pike streetcar, and to call for more accountability from county government is laudable.

Yet most Republicans recognize that Garvey’s overall governing philosophy is largely in line with her fellow Democrats. She has shown no real commitment to reducing the overall tax burden of homeowners. And she agreed to bring forward a vote on new regulations on homeowners who wish to list their properties on Airbnb even though Virginia General Assembly is likely to supersede those regulations in 2017.

Many Republicans looking to cast a vote against Democrat leadership in the county are likely to vote for Audrey Clement. The perennial Green turned Independent candidate has campaigned for greater fiscal restraint and tax relief. She also cites environmental concerns in opposing commercial real estate development and an additional express lane on 395. And Clement supports expanding Arlington’s efforts to preserve affordable housing.

The School Board race holds even less suspense than the County Board election. Only two candidates are on the ballot for two seats, and they are the two who won the Democratic endorsement earlier this year.

It would serve the community well if a Republican ran for these offices every year rather than leaving them uncontested. An electoral contest provides the voters with the opportunity to hear a real debate on the issues and forces Democrats to make a case for the vote. However, it is understandable that many Republicans who are qualified to serve take a pass on the race when they consider the uphill climb against the Democrat machine in the county.

Here’s a suggestion for Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents who want to vote for a Republican for County Board or School Board: write one in.

It only takes a few extra seconds of your time when you fill out your ballot. And there are many Republicans serving on board and commissions as well as leaders in civic associations who would be qualified to serve on the County Board.

You probably also know an education professional or PTA leader who is a Republican and would bring value to the School Board as well. For me, it will be a “no homework” candidate.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Progressive Voice — October 27, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Progressive Voice Elizabeth ValderramaProgressive 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: Elizabeth Jones Valderrama

Incarceration is traumatic. It is traumatic for the individual in jail or prison, of course. It is also traumatic for the families of that individual, particularly children, who are silent sufferers. There are five million children in the United States with a parent incarcerated — that’s about one in every 14 children under the age of 18.

Can you imagine the loss that a child experiences when their mother or father is suddenly gone from their lives for a period of time?

Studies show that children of incarcerated parents are affected in a variety of capacities, including a decline in academic performance, an increase in behavioral issues, an increase in the likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system themselves and much more. The family often struggles with how much information to give to the child. Questions such as, “Do we tell the kids where Daddy went?” and “Do we tell them why Mommy is gone?” are difficult to answer.

Children who are aware of what is happening to their parent often experience shame and worry, and the stigma that accompanies a criminal history affects the children as well. Though impacted immensely, children of incarcerated parents bear this heavy burden as a result of something they had no control over. Additionally, families are often left with less income while their loved one is away, leaving many families in financial hardship.

Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is here, on behalf of the community to help.

OAR works with individuals who are currently incarcerated and those returning home to Arlington, Alexandria or Falls Church after their incarceration, as well as their families.

In Arlington, OAR partners with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Department and offers six-week parenting courses, taught by trained volunteers, in the Arlington County Detention Facility. These classes discuss how to be an effective parent, with a focus on how to have difficult conversations with their children about their incarceration and how to maintain positive relationships with the child’s guardian.

Individuals who participate in the parenting class also benefit from contact visits with their children during Mother’s Day and/or Father’s Day — in fact, taking the Parenting course is required for participation in these contact visits. You can imagine how impactful it can be to hug their parent and speak face-to-face rather than through the glass of a jail visitation room, especially during these special occasions.

You can also imagine that the holidays can be an especially difficult time for families of those incarcerated.

Having a loved one away for holidays is emotionally tough and families may not be able to provide holiday gifts for their children due to financial hardship. OAR understands the need to ensure children that their parent is thinking of them during the holiday season. With the support of the community, OAR’s “Project Christmas Angel” provides holiday gifts to children of incarcerated parents in the Arlington County Detention Facility, as well as those who have been recently released and those active in OAR’s programs.

OAR volunteers wrap and distribute donated gifts. Each child receives three gifts mailed or hand delivered to their home and the gifts have handwritten gift tags from their parent. One parent from the Arlington County Detention Facility wrote to OAR about this program: “Thank you so much for providing gifts for my children this year. It breaks my heart that I am not with them and they are suffering from my mistakes. But it warms my heart to know that on Christmas morning they will have gifts from me and know that I am thinking of them every single day.”

There are several ways the community can help Project Christmas Angel and OAR is currently collecting donations. Gifts for children ages newborn to 18 are needed, while gifts for teens are especially needed. OAR is also collecting gift card donations. Denominations of $20 to $25 to places such as Target and Amazon are most helpful. We have an Amazon wish list where donations can easily be purchased online and shipped to OAR’s office. Additionally, financial donations are needed to fund the project. For more information about Project Christmas Angel visit OAR’s Events page.

OAR is so thankful to be serving a community that understands the needs and struggles of individuals currently and formerly incarcerated, as well as their families. As author Bryan Stevenson once said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

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 Center for Excellence’s Signature Program and was honored as one of Arlington County’s 40 under 40 Emerging Leaders inaugural class.

by Peter Rousselot — October 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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.

Arlington County seeks public input on the Manager’s recommended allocation of $17.8 million in surplus “one-time” close-out funds (from FY2016) and on the Board’s proposed budget guidance to the Manager for FY 2018.

The Board will vote on both matters in November.

Discussion

Kudos to the Board and Manager for embracing reform in choosing to discuss the surplus close-out funds’ allocation and the Board’s budget guidance in October and wait to adopt them in November. This gives the public more time to weigh in before decisions are made.

Submit public comments on both matters here.

Arlington should follow certain principles to guide its decisions in allocating the close-out surplus.

  1. As a matter of prudent financial management, a fair and reasonable percentage (i.e., a % higher than 0%) of any close-out surplus always should be allocated to moderate the tax rate and/or reduce bonded indebtedness.

Adopting this principle would mean only that a fair and reasonable percentage of the FY2016 close-out surplus would be earmarked for property tax rate moderation in calendar-year 2017. Adopting this principle would NOT necessarily mean that the calendar-year 2017 property tax rate would fall, rise or remain the same. A final decision on that would be made next year.

What is “fair and reasonable?” That should depend upon the close-out surplus amount in any given year and careful consideration of public input. But the fair and reasonable percentage should be multiplied against the entire surplus, and set aside for consideration next year before any final decisions are made regarding how to allocate the remaining surplus.

Similarly, we should consider using some percentage of the close-out surplus for early debt retirement when that makes financial sense. The County’s bond capacity is limited, and retiring debt early will help free up more capacity in addition to reducing interest expense.

  1. The remainder of the close-out surplus (after setting aside a % for tax rate moderation and any debt reduction) should next be considered to address any emergency that requires funding before final adoption of the FY2018 operating budget.

An “emergency” expenditure is one that simply cannot be deferred until the FY2018 general fund (operating) budget is approved in April 2017. Reasons for not waiting until April 2017 might include the complete loss of a current vital opportunity or the strong likelihood of sharply escalating costs to meet a core government function.

However, the County should first determine whether it already has an appropriate reserve fund set aside to cover an emergency before tapping surplus close-out funds.

  1. All other proposed uses of the close-out surplus automatically should be deferred, and the remaining funds’ allocation should be decided in conjunction with the FY2018 budget process.

County Board action on all other proposed uses of close-out surplus funds should be automatically deferred until more is known about the County’s financial position in the coming calendar year. Close-out surpluses are “one-time” funds rather than ongoing revenue. They exist solely because the County collected more tax revenue than required to meet its budgeted commitments. Therefore, these funds should be used for nonrecurring expenditures (e.g., replacing a bridge, acquiring land, etc.) rather than for supplementing the County’s ongoing operating expenses.

Conclusion

The County Board should direct the Manager to reconsider his current recommendations by applying the guiding principles discussed above.

by ARLnow.com — October 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm 0

Planned baseball field at Bluemont Park

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Sandra Spear, who lives near Bluemont Park and objects to the installation of a fence as part of the planned renovation of a baseball field in the park. Spear is responding to a Letter to the Editor in support of the fence, written on behalf of Arlington’s baseball community and published by ARLnow.com last week.

I am one of the many users of Bluemont Park who object to the County fencing off a quarter of its expansive open field for exclusive use by baseball players. This letter responds to John Foti’s October 20 letter to the editor at ARLnow in support of the fence, which both misunderstands the community’s opposition to the fence and makes our case for us.

The issue before the community is one of open space versus baseball field perfection. Fenced-off baseball fields are the “industry standard” for Little League baseball, but that “industry standard” was established in areas of the country where land costs thousands of dollars an acre, not millions an acre as it does in Arlington. Arlington must come up with its own baseball field standard that achieves most of the goals of a fence without incurring the costs of replacing open space.

Right now, Bluemont Park contains the largest contiguous open space in the entire County, a space that is unique and irreplaceable at any cost. The proposed Bluemont fence would eliminate an acre of that open space by fencing it off for the exclusive use of baseball players 24/7 year round, irrespective of the fact that baseball is a seasonal, late afternoon and weekend sport played at most 20% of daylight hours in a year. The issue then is not that baseball players don’t use the field more; it’s that other people of all ages use it now during the 80% of the time baseball does not use it. It is that use that the fence would eliminate or seriously impede. Continuing to accommodate that use would require replacing the open space.

The proposed fence would close off roughly 40,000 square feet. Replacement land near Bluemont Park costs over $100 per square foot, so true cost accounting would place the cost of that fence at over four million dollars. Is the baseball community willing to raise more than $40,000 per player (using Mr. Foti’s estimate of 1,000 players) to achieve baseball field perfection? Because asking taxpayers to fund baseball field perfection for a scant half a percent of the population is a tough sell.

This is a policy question for the County. If baseball fields are to be fenced off County wide, it could become an incredibly expensive sport, because much of that open space would have to be replaced. Those 1,000 players may be playing on up to ten fields during the year, so the baseball community is actually asking taxpayers to replace $40 million worth of land – at a cost of $400,000 per player.

It turns out that fences aren’t actually necessary for baseball played by 8- to 12-year-olds.

First, the baseball community argues that the fence is necessary to mitigate costs of repairing damage to the field caused by non-baseball users. If users are damaging the field now it is because the field has poor drainage and, paradoxically, no irrigation, conditions shared by most athletic fields in the County. Both conditions are to be addressed with the proposed upgrade to the Bluemont field, obviating most maintenance issues. But even if other users do harm the field, maintenance is incredibly cheap compared to the cost of replacing lost open space.

Second, the baseball community argues that a fence delineates the field for other park users to warn them to stay out during practices and games. But having held out for baseball perfection in the form of permanent or even seasonal fencing, they have not explored less expensive and intrusive means of marking the field. Signs and paint can do wonders once one has ruled out metal and concrete.

Third, the baseball community claims that safety demands a fence, yet they can cite not a single incident where a passer-by was injured by a budding Bryce Harper. Since Virginia is a contributory-negligence state, adequate warning signs can again come to the rescue.

Finally, fence proponents have argued that baseball fields should be treated like tennis courts. Their argument is misplaced: Tennis is played from dawn to past dusk and by players from 5 to 95 years of age. The problem with a fenced-off baseball field is not the time when baseball is actually being played; it’s that baseball can actually be played so little of the time, but a fence closes it off all of the time.

Mr. Foti closes his letter by reference to the several thousand kids who play baseball in Arlington. Unless the families of those kids plan to raise the millions it would cost to replace the fenced off open space, perhaps the baseball community should consider the interests of the 220,000 other Arlingtonians who use and pay for the parks before demanding perfection for the one percent and exclusion of the other 99 percent.

Sandra Spear
6th Street North

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 ARLnow.com — October 22, 2016 at 9:00 am 0

Transformer fire on Lee Highway at N. Culpeper Street (photo courtesy Andrew Pang)

It was a week of warmth and power issues in Arlington. Both are now in the rear view.

Fall has returned after a week-long summer reprise. Today (Saturday) should be breezy, cool and crisp, followed by a bit warmer of a fall day on Sunday.

Our three most-read articles of the week were: 1. Thousands Without Power in North Arlington; 2. County Board Approves Pedestrian-Only Streets in Arlington; and 3. ACPD Investigating More Than Two Dozen Car Break-ins.

Feel free to discuss any of those stories, this week’s podcast with Rep. Don Beyer, or any other issues of local interest in the comments — assuming the comments section is working.

Photo courtesy Andrew Pang

by Mark Kelly — October 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

GOP county board candidate 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.

This month County Board Chair Libby Garvey put forward the idea of giving a raise to County Board Members. Garvey suggested the salaries could be raised from the current $51,500 ($56,500 for the Chair) to the median income of Arlington, around $110,000.

Under our form of government in Virginia, the raise cannot occur until after the 2019 election when two seats are up once again which means any raise would not take effect until 2020. Every single member of the Board will have been elected or re-elected at that point, which would give the public plenty of time to speak on the issue.

Board Member John Vihstadt opposed the massive pay raise and said it was valuable for Board Members to hold other jobs. I agree.

There is no compelling evidence that turning the Board into a full-time legislative body would improve the outcomes, making a full-time salary unnecessary. Moreover, having to hold down a real job puts a Board Member on par with the average Arlingtonian who wants to speak on an issue at 9 a.m. on a Saturday after a long week at work.

While Garvey’s suggestion of essentially doubling the salary may set an unrealistic ceiling for the discussion, giving the Board some level of a raise is not something this fiscal conservative would dismiss out-of-hand. While it is public service, Board Members should be compensated fairly — taking into account that a Board Member cannot go out to dinner or even to a neighborhood block party without essentially being “on the job.”

But if a majority the Board really wants the public to be accepting of any raise, they could start by making a case for why they deserve it in this year’s close-out discussions.

The Board should be given credit for creating a close-out process that seeks more public input. However, they did not address essential questions for the public to consider.

Why is there always a revenue windfall? Why is the automatic assumption that the revenue windfall should be spent? Why not consider using the revenue to lower the tax rate for 2017?

Revenue once again came in significantly over projections — $29 million to be exact. And as I have pointed out repeatedly, this underestimation happens every single year. The money is spent at close-out time. Then the County Manager issues a report telling us we have a mythical budget gap requiring taxes to go up next year. And the cycle continues.

They call the revenue estimates the result of “fiscally responsible budgeting.” But the real result has been a bias towards higher and higher spending fueled by more property tax revenue.

If Board Members want public support for a raise in 2020, they should consider giving the taxpayers a “raise.” The Board should vote to give the next four years of excess revenue back to the taxpayers instead of spending it in the close-out process.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Progressive Voice — October 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm 0

Andrew SchneiderProgressive 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 Andrew Schneider

Election season is upon us and, thankfully, the end is near. While it is fashionable to tout this election as a uniquely negative one, I still find myself encouraged and enlivened by the citizen activism that this election, like most elections, has engendered in Arlington.

Just this week, as voter registration draws to a close, the Arlington Democratic Party celebrated their efforts to register 19,000 new voters in Arlington. Regardless of party affiliation, I hope we can all be proud that an engaged and informed electorate helps shape our community.

Civic engagement and informed residents are what led me to host a local weekly radio program. For the past six months, I have had the honor of hosting a weekly radio program, Arlington Voices, on WERA-LP — Arlington’s community radio station and an offshoot of Arlington Independent Media.

The show has given me (and hopefully listeners), an opportunity to discuss and learn about the fabric created by our community ties. I have had the chance to talk with thought leaders, non-profit managers, educators, coaches, musicians and academics. Each has had an impact (and been impacted by) life in Arlington.

As this is the political season, in the past two weeks I have interviewed Delegate Rip Sullivan and our Congressman Don Beyer. Soon, I will host Libby Garvey, Chair of the Arlington County Board.

While each interview is different, I see common threads that seem to weave throughout every guest’s journey. They note in their careers and their lives more generally the value of life-long friendships, inclusiveness and yes, progressive values they have found in Arlington.

These values can be found throughout our community fabric and they are one of the reasons that my wife and I chose to raise our family here. As Senator Mary Margaret Whipple recently noted in this column a few weeks ago, Arlington is frequently touted as a best County for many things including places to raise a family and our schools are consistently ranked among the best in the state, and the nation as well.

Arlington’s schools also shed a different light on life in Arlington. Even though Arlington ranks as the sixth richest County in the nation according to U.S. Census data, over 30% of Arlington’s school population (over 7,500 students) are on a free or reduced lunch plan.

Similarly, estimates indicate that over 10% of Arlington’s populations is living in poverty (estimates vary by how the data is analyzed and broken down). Each day, the organization that I work for, Arlington Thrive, helps some of these residents with same-day emergency financial assistance. This assistance is often what helps them avoid eviction, having the power turned off or not having access to important medical assistance.

So while I am disheartened that we live in a community where there are many people living in poverty amidst so much wealth, I am also thankful that we live in a community that supports efforts to reduce poverty with forthrightness. Our policies do mitigate poverty and often provide a blueprint and an inspiration for other communities around the United States.

These are not just County government efforts. For example, Arlington’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness is a coalition of government resources, local non-profits like Arlington Thrive, and support from the local business community.

As the election draws to a close I am mindful how the greater conversations taking place across the country have resonance here in Arlington.

Whether it is the populist appeal of candidates as different as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, or the release last week of a forward thinking anti-poverty plan by Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the issues of our country are also issues within our community.

My hope is that Arlington will continue to lead the charge on these issues and that, as we do, the people of our community — from those living in poverty to those living in wealth, continue to find Arlington voices — of reason, of hope and of inspiration — that signify a successful and a caring community we can proudly call home.

Andrew Schneider is a lifelong Arlingtonian who is the Executive Director of Arlington Thrive, a non-profit that provides same day emergency financial support to neighbors in need.  His weekly radio interview program, Arlington Voices, can be heard every Friday at 10 am on WERA-LP 96.7 FM. 

by Peter Rousselot — October 20, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebook

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

At its October 15 meeting, the County Board approved a County staff recommendation to advertise draft regulations relating to Airbnb.

Discussion

It’s important for health, safety and other reasons to appropriately regulate Airbnb, similar service providers and Arlington homeowners who use these services. Pursuing a robust public-engagement process with respect to draft regulations can be a constructive way in which to improve a draft.

However, the County staff’s proposed December 10 deadline for the County Board’s final adoption of appropriate regulations is problematic due to:

  • The exclusion of certain related issues either from the draft regulations and/or from public engagement regarding the draft regulations, and
  • Virginia’s ongoing work to enact a state law to cover many of the same areas.

Arlington County staff proposal

The County staff proposal is available here. At its October 15 meeting, the County Board approved this proposal with some amendments.

The staff proposal:

  • Defines a new home occupation use called “accessory homestay,”
  • Establishes standards for this use,
  • Acknowledges that many related areas have been excluded from advertisement of the proposed regulations, citizen engagement and/or final action on December 10.

Among the many areas that have been EXCLUDED are:

  • Requirement of owner-occupancy of the unit,
  • No more than one contract for an overnight stay.

Exclusion of any area in the advertisement means that, no matter what any affected party might say, no changes can be made without re-advertising and providing a new thirty-day review period. But, based on public feedback, re-advertising may be the wisest course.

The staff proposal also:

  • States that staff “does not know what the 2017 General Assembly will do” regarding the state legislation, but
  • Hopes that “implementing regulations in Arlington now could help inform the state’s decision.”

Virginia state legislative status

Legislation regulating Airbnb and similar service providers almost passed in the 2016 Virginia state legislative session. That legislation would have established the Limited Residential Lodging Act (the Act), and would have allowed property owners to rent out their homes or portions thereof for periods of less than 30 consecutive days, or do so through a hosting platform.

The hosting platform could have chosen to register with the Virginia Department of Taxation, in which case the hosting platform would have been responsible for the collection and remittance of all applicable taxes on behalf of the property owner.

Although this legislation did not pass, the Virginia Housing Commission was directed to convene a work group with representation from the hotel industry, hosting platform providers, local governments, state and local tax officials, property owners and other interested parties to explore issues related to expansion of the framework set forth in the draft legislation.

The group was ordered to complete its work by December 1, 2016, with the goal of developing draft legislation for consideration by the 2017 session of the General Assembly.

Because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, there is a significant risk that state legislation in 2017 could preempt Arlington’s regulations adopted in 2016. If such state preemption were to occur, it could be seriously disruptive because it could significantly change one or more key substantive provisions in Arlington’s regulations.

Conclusion

Arlington should seriously consider deferring final approval of appropriate regulations until after the 2017 state legislative session. Is there a compelling reason why the final regulations must be enacted in December 2016?

by ARLnow.com — October 20, 2016 at 10:15 am 0

Planned baseball field at Bluemont Park

The following letter to the editor was submitted by John Foti on behalf of Arlington’s youth baseball community. Via letters and outreach at meetings, baseball advocates are pushing back against vocal opposition, among a group of residents, to the renovation of a baseball diamond in Bluemont Park.

A small minority of opponents have dominated the conversation about the planned improvements to the baseball diamond at Bluemont Park. I’d like to speak up for the proponents.

Participation in youth baseball has grown rapidly as the county’s school-age population has grown. There are currently over 3,600 youth baseball participants playing each year, up from about 2,400 participants just 7 years ago. Bluemont field #3 is one of the most heavily-used fields for kids aged 8- to 12-years old.

Bluemont #3 is a field used by more than 1,000 kids for more than 70 games a season and roughly 60 practices per week. Unfortunately, overuse and misuse of the field for non-baseball activities (such as riding bicycles around the diamond) have combined to make it very susceptible to unplayable field conditions. This spring alone, an estimated 60 percent of the scheduled activities on Bluemont #3 were cancelled due to unplayable field conditions – which is significantly higher than any other baseball field in the County

To derail the planned improvements, project opponents have made several assertions that are wrong or misguided.

  • They assert there is surplus of baseball fields, but only half of the 38 fields they identified are actually safe, usable fields. The remaining 50% are poorly maintained and are not usable. Bluemont #3 sits at the bottom of the list of playable fields.
  • They argue that allocating land to youth baseball is inefficient because of “low utilization rates during daylight hours”. Please keep in mind that the kids that use these fields are in school from 8am-4pm. Using this flawed logic is like stating “APS has plenty of classroom space because the schools are empty between 4pm-6am”. It is used every single weekday from 4pm until the sun goes down for either practices or games.
  • They contend that very few county residents benefit from the field, but this conclusion is based on incomplete data. Granted, the field does not serve any of the non-baseball playing residents, but it does serve of the 1,000 KIDS who play baseball.

Opponents are particularly opposed to fencing the field. Fencing helps mark in-play territory, keeps balls from flying out and hitting park users, and extends the life of taxpayer investments. Because the field is not currently fenced, park users routinely wander onto the field of play and interrupt permitted users. This is incredibly unsafe and unfortunate for the kids that are playing. Moreover, fields that have fences elsewhere in the county tend to remain in relatively good shape: They require only routine maintenance during the season and generally last years beyond their expected “useful life”.

The planned renovation of the Bluemont field will restore this much needed field to a condition of playability and safety, while helping to ease diamond field supply/demand issues for families across the County.

There are a few thousand good reasons to restore Bluemont #3, most of them are between ages 8-12 and want a good, safe place to play ball.

John Foti
Arlington Babe Ruth
(on behalf of the Arlington Youth Baseball Community)

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.

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