68°Rain

by Progressive Voice May 31, 2018 at 3:30 pm 0

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 Richard Sine

For undocumented immigrants with nowhere else to turn, access to affordable legal help can make the difference between stability and self-sufficiency and a life spent in the shadows.

Hurricane Mitch destroyed José Alvarado’s home and workplace in Honduras in 1999. Leaving his wife and two children behind, Alvarado traversed mountains to cross the U.S.-Mexico border under cover of night. He settled in Arlington, where he rented a corner of a room, found work in construction and started sending money home to begin the slow process of rebuilding.

“When I first came to this country I had no intention of staying,” he says. Steady work as a carpenter in the U.S. enabled Alvarado to rent his own apartment. Then one night he was stabbed by an acquaintance. Injured and unable to work, he lost his job and almost his apartment. A social services agency referred him to Just Neighbors, a nonprofit providing immigration legal services to low-income people. Services are free after a $100 intake fee.

Attorney Sarah Selim Milad informed him of the “U” visa for immigrant victims of specified serious crimes who cooperate in the prosecution of those crimes. Intended to help police fight serious crime and crime in neighborhoods with high numbers of undocumented people, the visa seemed to offer Alvarado a chance at legal residency.

Homesick and dispirited, Alvarado almost returned to Honduras anyway. But gang violence there was on the rise. A gang even extorted money from Alvarado’s brother by threatening his son. “It’s dangerous even for kids to go to and from school,” said Alvarado’s wife, Myrna.

So Alvarado began the long process of acquiring a work permit and legal residency via the “U” visa application. “It took so long that at one point I told Sarah [his lawyer] just to leave my case,” Alvarado says. “I was too tired to continue. But Sarah said, ‘No no, your case is coming together. You can do this’… She lifted my spirits.”

Alvarado received his visa in 2010, but it took three more years before Jose’s family was allowed to immigrate. Alvarado had not seen his family in 13 years. He’d never even met his third child, because the couple didn’t know that Myrna was pregnant when he left.

Without legal assistance, Alvarado says, there was no way he would have even known about the “U” visa, much less made it through the application process. Immigrants often fall prey to scammers promising visas, which makes legitimate organizations like Just Neighbors all the more important.

As long as it took the Alvarados to gain legal status through a “U” visa, it takes even longer today, about 11 years. The number of “U” visas has remained capped at 10,000, even as the number of applicants has soared to more than 110,000. (Similar visas exist for victims of domestic violence by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and for victims of human trafficking.)

Meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new tactic of arresting immigrants at courthouses is making immigrants more scared than ever to report crimes, according to a new ACLU report.

Today the Alvarados live in a two-bedroom basement apartment in a pleasant corner of Arlington. Jose works two jobs while Myrna is a housekeeper. The children, now older than 18, clean houses when they’re not in school. The oldest plans to attend college in the fall.

“I want [my children] to study so they can do what they want to do, so they don’t have to go through what I went through,” José tells me. “Instead of walking across the mountains, it’s better to be in the airplane looking down.”

Richard Sine is a writer and a volunteer for Just Neighbors.

by Peter Rousselot May 31, 2018 at 3:15 pm 0

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.

In the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) he unveiled last week, County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed cutting the funding of the Neighborhood Conservation Program (NC) from $60 million in the last CIP to $36 million in the new CIP.

The NC program should be ended because it cannot be reformed.

Why the NC program should be ended

The safety of pedestrians and need for safe, walkable streets continues to grow more acute in our neighborhoods, but the NC program cannot meet these critical needs. The NC program has insoluble problems in at least two key areas: equity and timeliness.

Equity

NC’s principal inequities arise because tens of thousands of Arlington residents are denied critical neighborhood infrastructure improvements because they are:

  • Living in areas lacking a properly functioning civic association
  • Required to have a County Board-approved NC Plan documenting all potential projects
  • Lacking consistent NC volunteer representatives to complete projects

But, Arlington cannot mandate that any — let alone every — civic association function properly.

Timeliness

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

A former member described her NC experience to me this way:

“[I]t is a crazy incentive system where the only way you can even get your project considered — even if you have an organized civic association (CA) — is to attend and get points for attending every meeting… Then the arguments were literally a well-organized CA with a plan that took a couple of years to do with dedicated resources from the county… vs. a couple of neighbors who don’t want a sidewalk… or a sign or a light or a something. There is no framework… to guide the conversations prior to it getting to the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC), so the NCAC becomes the breeding ground for chaos.”

But, Arlington cannot mandate that residents volunteer for any activity, including the NC process.

What should replace the NC program

In 2007-2008, county staff began assembling Neighborhood Infrastructure Plans (NIPs) to identify missing critical infrastructure: curb, gutter and sidewalk, storm drains, etc. Revised and updated NIPs can provide the tools needed to prioritize critical infrastructure projects, and rotate among neighborhoods to allow greater and fairer access to funding.

A revised and updated Complete Streets Program is one alternative funding recipient for street-related infrastructure. An alternative to the current NC process could include:

For sidewalks:

  • High priority areas, schools and urban Metro corridors could be addressed by engineers and county staff first
  • For missing links, neighborhoods could propose sidewalks directly to staff for analysis and priority

For park beautification:

A reformed Department of Parks and Recreation could allocate small sums annually and equitably so that neighborhoods could spend on their parks as they decide. Neighborhoods could request to withdraw funds for small improvements like flowers or trees or benches.

Conclusion

Arlington County should take complete control from the NC over the new construction or restoration of neighborhood infrastructure.

The county then should proceed to use its new extensive public engagement process to deal directly and fairly with neighborhood residents regarding neighborhood conservation projects.

by Alex Koma May 25, 2018 at 9:00 pm 0

At last, the long weekend is upon us, and summer is (unofficially) here.

If you’re one of the 1 million or so people leaving the D.C. area, here’s what you can expect on the way out. But if you’re sticking around Arlington, be aware that there is some rain in the forecast for Saturday night and Sunday, so get your grilling done early.

You may spot Rolling Thunder’s motorcyclists on the road this weekend, and be aware there will be plenty of road closures. If you’re looking for other things to keep you occupied for Memorial Day, be sure to check out our event calendar.

Or, you could always catch up on some of ARLnow’s top stories of the last week:

  1. Arlington Gets Shout Out on ‘SNL’
  2. Flier for a White Supremacist Group Spotted in Clarendon
  3. Goody’s Back Open in Clarendon, Under New Owner
  4. Crime Report: Mob Attacks Victim Who Was Taking Out the Trash
  5. Boccato Gelato Planning to Leave Clarendon Location, Relocate Elsewhere

Head down to the comments to chat about these stories, or your plans for the three-day weekend. Enjoy!

File photo

by Mark Kelly May 24, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

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

This week we were reminded of the price tag on the latest round of proposed borrowing to be voted on by Arlingtonians this fall — $245 million.

As part of the latest briefing on the bonds, County Manager Schwartz reminded Board Members that the latest iteration of the 10-year capital spending plan would bump us up close to the 10 percent cap in annual debt service that is recommended to retain the highest bond ratings. It is projected to hit 9.9 percent to be exact.

There’s an old saying about playing with fire that comes to mind here. As interest rates begin to rise and county leaders speak of meeting long term needs, particularly when it comes to seats in schools, it is time to start asking whether we should adopt more of a “pay-as-you-go” mentality?

In April, I suggested dedicating 50 percent of closeout funds each year to pay cash instead of borrowing for infrastructure needs, split evenly between schools and other county needs. Here is a suggestion for today: see how it feels to pay for something specific up front.

The proposed neighborhood conservation bond is slated to be $5.2 million, or a little more than 2 percent of the total bonding authority. The County Board should put a plan in place to have the entire amount set aside in cash by the end of 2019. This is just one year after the bond would have otherwise been approved by the voters this November.

Detractors may say that the interest rate on $5.2 million is inconsequential compared to our budget as a whole, and they would be right. But there is something to be said for starting to change the mentality of taking on debt, even if it is a relatively small amount. And, it would start to add up over time if you could reduce every round of future borrowing by 2 percent.

At the same time, you also have to be committed not to replace the items you pay for by borrowing for something else. There would be a huge temptation to add new projects, which would of course defeat the purpose of paying for things up front.

Fiscal discipline should not be defined as how close we can get to the annual 10 percent debt service cap without going over. We should seek out how far we can be below 10 percent while still meeting the needs of our community.

by Progressive Voice May 24, 2018 at 3:15 pm 0

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 Jeff Joseph

A friend of mine recently passed away. Fifty-one years young. He had a sudden heart attack, leaving behind a wife and two teenage sons.

For me, this is the second friend I’ve lost in the last five months with several others bravely battling cancer.

Perhaps I’m reflecting on the fragility of life and appreciating and embracing each moment as a gift. And, perhaps, this reflection provides me a different lens through which to view the current state of our political divide, one that forces me to be gentler with my political opposites.

I know that despite our differences we both wrestle with life’s challenges, love our nation and in large part want the same things — relative health and happiness, a better life for our kids, reasonable pay for hard work, peace, a safe community, more good donut shops in Arlington. You know, the usual stuff.

But on the other hand, we have real differences. We have differing views of the limits of the Second Amendment. We have differing views on the role of government in addressing social ills and protecting those who live on life’s margins.

We have differing views on immigration, the right of a woman to make her own decisions about her body and pregnancy, our interpretation of President Donald Trump’s words and tweets, and, closer to home, the legacy and societal impact of public symbols honoring the so-called heroes of the Confederacy.

Can I listen thoughtfully to their legitimate concerns and policy views and remain in intellectual, spiritual and ethical alignment with my fundamental beliefs? What does it mean to be a progressive in an age of staunch division?

Oddly enough, that’s the thought that hit me as I read a recent story in ARLnow about the racial disparity in suspension rates among Arlington public schools. What struck me was the revelation that of the 1,733 students attending Yorktown High School — where my bi-racial daughter is a junior — a mere 5.6% are Black. African Americans account for just 3.5% of the student body at HB Woodlawn, the educational home to my other daughter.

These statistics made me reflect upon the importance of interacting with those who come from a different experience than our own. The more we interact with those who are “different,” the more likely we are to express empathy and compassion.

Numerous studies have found that diversity is critically important for us and our children. Researchers found that children’s exposure to students different from themselves leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving. These studies also demonstrated that students exposed to peers of another race or background show generally higher levels of empathy for other people.

Unfortunately, our lives too often facilitate separation. From the communities in which we choose to live to the churches we attend to the news programs we watch. Even technology — with its many benefits — has created walled communities. We are encouraged — even rewarded — for living within an echo chamber of targeted news programs and segmented social media.

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by Peter Rousselot May 24, 2018 at 2:45 pm 0

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.

In a column last month, I recommended that everyone ought to keep an open mind regarding the instructional focus of an APS high school at the Career Center.

The premise of that column was that fiscal and physical constraints might combine to make it infeasible to locate a high school at the Career Center with all the onsite amenities that Wakefield, W-L and Yorktown have.

Developments over the past month make it clear what the costs and tradeoffs would be to replicate at the Career Center site all the onsite amenities available at the other three existing comprehensive high schools. In a May 7 APS CIP Work Session, it was shown that a “Full Build Out” for a high school at the Career Center site would cost $247.60 million in 2019 dollars.

This high cost, more than double what APS has ever spent on a school, would also mean that there would be far too little room available in our bonding capacity for other APS seat needs and other County priorities. A full Career Center build out could result in over 1,000 fewer seats for elementary and middle schools. Those students would need to be accommodated indefinitely in relocatable classrooms.

Montgomery County offers an attractive alternative

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) offers high school choice within the Northeast and Downcounty Consortia, two clusters of roughly five high schools each, that offer unique programs. Each cluster also has provided students with specialized and attractive programs typically not found in traditional neighborhood high schools.

The lottery system used for admissions helps the district ensure that school enrollment among the high schools remains balanced, and that no school is over or undersubscribed. Rising ninth grade students rank the high schools in the consortia based on interest, and are guaranteed a spot at the school geographically closest to their place of residence only if they choose that school.

Academy and application-only programs include communication arts, the science, math and computer science magnet, International Baccalaureate and visual and performing arts, to name a few.

One high school campus in the Consortia houses both a comprehensive high school with various specialized programs (Wheaton) and a career/technology school (Edison). Wheaton partners with academic institutions like the University of Maryland, utilizes the latest design software technology and includes professional internships.

Edison, not unlike the current instructional focus at our Career Center, offers career and technology education programs and is open to upperclassmen at all MCPS schools.

For Arlington’s Career Center site, the current instructional focus could be enhanced to create a STEAM high school that fully integrates with the Career Center. As other districts have demonstrated, the demand for such a technologically enhanced career and college prep program would quickly grow.

Arlington, with its denser housing patterns, smaller geography, better public transportation and the participation of all its high schools, is in a better position to implement this or a similar model at a lower transportation cost than Montgomery County.

As in Montgomery, Arlington should consider participation in the Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) program as one of many factors that guide the student assignment process. This will enable Arlington to provide greater possibilities for socio-economic integration at the high school level than exist today.

Conclusion

Arlington should adopt the Montgomery County model.

by Alex Koma May 18, 2018 at 6:45 pm 0

This may not come as any great surprise, given how the last week’s gone, but you’ll need to pack your umbrellas this weekend.

The whole D.C. region is set for a flood watch through Saturday morning. Sadly, we may not even get any relief from all this rain until the middle of next week.

But if you’re looking for an (indoor) activity this weekend, check out our event calendar.

Or you can always stick around inside and read up on ARLnow’s top articles of the last week.

  1. Ballston Quarter Unveils 12 New Restaurants, Including the Return of Chick-Fil-A
  2. Mall Without Power After Outage Hits Pentagon City
  3. Bishop Considering Redevelopment for St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church
  4. Rosslyn’s Bistro 360 Closing By End of May
  5. Indivisible Apologizes Over Forum That Devolved into Chaos as Activists Demand Answers

Head down to the comments to discuss these stories, how you plan to stay dry this weekend or anything else local.

File photo

by Mark Kelly May 17, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

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

The Arlington County Board has announced a series of Big Idea roundtables which are supposed to spark conversations “beyond a specific project or proposal to big-picture conversations about our County’s future.” Even more specifically, the conversation is supposed to center on the question “How should Arlington grow?”

The first big idea could be that county leaders start talking less and doing more. Every new County Board Chair talks about community engagement. Often, it is in response to pushback the Board receives from the community on unpopular decisions. But honestly, would more talking have substantively changed any of the outcomes?

Certainly, these discussions will produce some interesting dialogue. But to keep up in an increasingly fast-paced world with broadband Internet and nearing 5G wireless systems, the discussion should point the Board toward action and results.

So what is the big idea? Make Arlington one of the best places in America to do business.

Arlington has one big advantage over many communities. The federal government provides an underlying economic base that is unlikely to go away any time soon. It is not just the federal employees, but the trade associations, lobbyists, lawyers and tourists who bring money from all over the U.S. to Arlington.

Our county also boasts an airport, a highly educated workforce and a good school system. Yet, our commercial vacancy rate remains high.

Businesses do take community factors like schools and location advantages into consideration, but they are ultimately driven by the bottom line. Arlington has been offering incentive packages to big employers, but considering the overall tax treatment and regulatory environment would matter more to the economy as a whole.

The Board can create an action plan that ensures our zoning ordinance and permitting processes results in more efficient interactions with county staff and makes it a priority to ensure costs associated with housing construction are more affordable.

The Board should develop a transportation plan that doesn’t increase traffic congestion. If your plan creates more idling, longer commutes and increases in traffic cutting through neighborhoods, you are not making things better, just creating a different set of problems.

The next capital plan should pay for more projects as we go and reduce our ratio of debt service to spending. Just because we can borrow up to 10 percent to keep the highest bond rating does not mean that we should. If we are growing, we should leave ourselves maximum flexibility to address future needs.

Creating the most favorable business environment possible would provide more jobs at higher wages. And it would ensure we are even less dependent on the federal government for our economy.

by Progressive Voice May 17, 2018 at 3:15 pm 0

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 Arlington Blue Families parents

The cloud that passed over this country on Nov. 8, 2016 has brought with it a decidedly silver lining in the form of an energized progressive movement.

Nowhere is this energy more indispensable than with parents and their children who are coming of age in the Age of Trump.

Family is where moral and civic values first are learned. The core progressive values of empathy, tolerance, openness to new ideas and reason are under assault from our own federal government, and we parents can resist this attack through this easy three-step program.

Step one: Let’s talk values!

We can teach progressive values by connecting what our kids are experiencing in their day-to-day lives with the daily news. This, in turn, can encourage our children to be smarter news consumers. For example:

  • The latest #MeToo moment can lead to a discussion of how our children interact with their peers, from cyber bullying to dating.
  • Recent extreme weather and the current administration’s denial of climate change can spark a discussion of scientific evidence and facts as a basis for making decisions.
  • The criticisms of immigrants can lead to a discussion of your own family’s heritage and the diverse backgrounds of your children’s friends.

If you don’t already have a paper or online newspaper subscription, get one. Encourage your kids to interrupt their Minecraft YouTube videos long enough to consume 20 minutes of genuine news each day. Just about any news event can be turned into an age-appropriate teachable moment at the dinner table. Such discussions create a safe space for debate, disagreement and critical thinking.

Step two: Let’s get engaged!

Being a good citizen is a proactive commitment, not a passive privilege. Now that we’ve started a dinner table conversation and connected national events to our core values and everyday lives, it’s time to look outward and model civic engagement.

We’re in the DC metro area, and every weekend a protest is likely to be a short Metro or Uber ride away. We still remember the pro-choice rallies that our parents took us to when we were kids.

Nothing inspires engagement quite like seeing thousands of people in the streets demanding change. We hope that decades from now, our own kids look back the same way on the Women’s March, March for Our Lives and Climate March.

But all the protests in the world won’t matter if we don’t vote, and it is never too early to show your kids that their votes count. We want people with progressive values to be elected to help put those very progressive values in place. So take kids into the voting booth with you, and not just for presidential elections. In Arlington, we have primaries every spring and important elections every November.

Read about the third step after the jump.

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by Peter Rousselot May 17, 2018 at 2:45 pm 0

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.

Arlington’s Jennie Dean Park is named after Jennie Serepta Dean:

“A former slave, Dean … was a skilled fund-raiser, securing money from African American and white donors in Virginia and in northern cities to support her plan to open a school that would teach skilled trades to young African Americans.”

As part of the Four Mile Run Valley planning process, the County Board has been asked to choose this month between two alternative concept design options for Jennie Dean Park.

Options 1 (PDF pp. 13-14) and 2 (PDF pp. 15-16) are portrayed in a County staff report.

If the Board must decide between these two options this month, the Board should choose Option 2.

Principles for decision

The most reliable evidence of Arlington residents’ county-wide preferences for parks and recreation improvements is captured in the cross-tabs of the statistically-valid ETC survey. Every age group, as well as every geographic group, even households with children, had the same top two choices for improving our park and recreation system:

    1. Preserve trees and natural areas
    2. Acquire new parkland for passive — as opposed to active — uses

Option 2 more accurately reflects Arlington residents’ preferences

As explained in a recent letter to the editor, the Nauck Civic Association, via its President Portia Clark, unanimously supports Option 2 because:

“[T]he front of Jennie Dean Park, the portion fronting the neighborhood at Four Mile Run Drive [FMRD], will be left open for casual use. We want this area to be a gateway for the community to enter the Park. We want it to be green. We want it to be landscaped. We want it to have flowers and trees and open space.”

Option 2 would ensure that both sports fields are more distant and face away from homes in Nauck. Jennie Dean Park is entirely (100 percent) located within the boundaries of the Nauck Civic Association.

Option 1 less accurately reflects Arlington residents’ preferences

The Shirlington & Douglas Park Civic Associations support Option 1. In an online petition these two civic associations argue that choosing Option 1 “will say a lot about whether [Arlington] is a progressive community interested in planning for the future of families in Arlington.” But, neither Option 1 nor Option 2 is more “progressive” or “family-friendly” than the other option.

Some organized sports groups also believe that Option 1 is preferable because Arlington ultimately may not be able to acquire the current WETA site to incorporate into Jennie Dean Park. But, interestingly, the only option that removes playing space is Option 1. Option 2 retains all of the amenities currently there with notable upgrades in Phase 1.

Finally, the impact of new high Kelvin LED lights on the Nauck neighborhood has been glossed over. The proposed smaller lighted youth softball field 75 feet from 4MRD would become the dominant feature of the park facing Nauck after sundown under Option 1. This option would still result in unacceptable light pollution affecting park users, including Nauck residents.

Conclusion

Although no data about the costs of either option have been presented to the County Board, there appears to be a belief that if Arlington doesn’t spend or commit the money by the end of this fiscal year it will be gone forever. That seems an odd assumption, but if it is correct, then the Board should choose Option 2.

by Alex Koma May 11, 2018 at 9:00 pm 0

Mother’s Day is nearly upon us — consider this your last warning to buy something nice for mom.

If you’re hoping to enjoy the summer-like weather and catch the Caps game outside, consider swinging by Rosslyn. And should you be heading to any Arlington Soccer Association recreational matches this weekend, remember to keep quiet.

Of course, if you’re looking for something else to do this weekend, we’ve got you covered. But first, check out ARLnow’s top stories of the past week.

  1. Police-Involved Shooting Near Columbia Pike
  2. Arlington Schools See Racial Disparity in Suspension Rates, Police Referrals
  3. Arlington Officials Fear Metro Funding Deal Could Imperil Ballston, Crystal City Station Projects
  4. ACPD Seeking Two Suspects Following Late-Night Rumble at Clarendon Restaurant
  5. Residents Steaming About Air Conditioning Problems at Dominion Towers Apartments

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

Photo by Alex Koma

by Mark Kelly May 10, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

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

There has been no shortage of advice and criticism about the newest iteration of the County’s community engagement process.

A lot of words are used to discuss the input at the front end, but it is essential to ask what are our specific goals and how do we measure results in attaining them.

Is our county making good long-term financial decisions? For years, County leaders touted the bond rating as a measure of our fiscal health. That rating is primarily determined by two things: (1) annual debt service less than 10 percent of annual spending and (2) the County’s willingness to raise taxes to make sure the debt service level stays there. The County Auditor’s office still has not been given the resources to aggressively look into county programs.

Is our business environment attracting and retaining existing businesses and encouraging the creation of new businesses, and can they do it without offering massive subsidies? The commercial vacancy rate remains high. It is expensive to build it. It is expensive to lease it. And it is expensive to do business in the county.

The County touts are schools and our workforce, but those are not the only pieces of the puzzle when businesses are looking for a home. Arlington still has a big advantage in the marketplace, location, location, location. But we cannot take it for granted any longer.

Are our schools adequately preparing our kids to enter the workforce or college in the 2020s and 2030s? Next year our schools will spend more than $22,700 per child on their educational experience. Our standardized academic measurements are doing fine.

But who is asking the questions about whether our kids should worry more about measurements scaled to college preparedness or should we also spend more time considering how kids who want to go straight into the workforce are prepared?

On transportation, what Metro reforms are we insisting on and are we improving traffic flow or restricting it for those who choose to drive? In Board Chair Katie Cristol’s speech upon taking the gavel in January, she called for action on Metro. What has the Board done thus far under her leadership?

I went back and watched each of the County Board members give their January opening speeches for the year. Another goal from Board Chair Katie Cristol included changes to how the county regulates child care. How is that process going five months into the year, and how will that be measured on January 2, 2019?

Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey wanted affordable housing, specifically mentioning the permitting process and making it more affordable to build new housing. What changes has he proposed to make housing construction more affordable?

Every County Board member should go back and read their kick-off speeches and see how they are doing so far in 2018. And if they are so inclined, they should give us an honest assessment of their progress.

by Progressive Voice May 10, 2018 at 3:30 pm 0

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 Elaine Furlow

When Dale and Janet Oak shifted into semi-retirement, they got ready to sell their big Arlington home of 25 years and find a space that better suited their needs.

“We looked at condos in Rosslyn, but they did not seem like ‘us,'” Janet Oak recalled.

Nor was the frenetic pace in Clarendon, or the dense cityscape in much of Ballston.

“We didn’t want to put all our equity into the next place, and it was hard to find that middle ground.” The Oaks wound up in a relatively new condo building in an area “that is walkable to shops, quiet and fits our lifestyle,” Janet Oak said.

It’s in Falls Church.

As comfortable middle-class baby boomer homeowners in Arlington get ready for their next stage, many are planning on 20+ years of active living ahead. After hard-charging careers, they have time, talents and money to keep investing in Arlington.

Some may want to downsize their homes, but often, it’s a matter of “right-sizing” — leaving behind aging brick colonials with stairs or 4-bedroom houses with too much upkeep.

Renovating one’s current home to age-in-place is not always feasible, yet options aren’t great. Small, quality houses with one-floor living are scarce. And most townhouses have many stairs, a big minus as boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) think of aging knees and hips down the road.

“I know what’s out there, and it is bleak,” said Karen Close, a long-time real estate agent with Century 21. “Arlington doesn’t have a plan to deal with boomers.”

Arlington should be more alert to this need, so it doesn’t lose these successful contributors to our county. Non-boomers have a stake, too, since new solutions might free up our tight single-family housing stock. Can innovative builders/developers and far-sighted leaders envision a different, more livable type of home?

Older adults planning ahead are looking for one-floor living, a flat outside entry, quality construction, wide doorways, ample storage and features with the future in mind (like a large, walk-in shower with a bench).

Oh, and a reasonable price and attractive exterior.

“Wouldn’t you love something with the look of a townhouse, but built with single levels or with elevators, so you don’t have to do stairs,” Janet Oak said.

Yes, it’s tough to find the land. Yet we could repurpose (and likely rezone) certain commercial space. Imagine that attractive, well-built bank building, now empty, as the centerpiece of a modest-sized, innovative condo development.

Builders and developers could incorporate the desired features without drifting into “senior-only” territory since well-designed small-footprint homes will work for many ages. And most boomers also would like to keep interacting with a mix of neighbors, including school kids.

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by Peter Rousselot May 10, 2018 at 2:45 pm 0

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.

As our County Board Chair, Katie Cristol, said in an eloquent personal statement last month (after Arlington approved its Fiscal 2019 operating budget), the current rate of growth in our expenditures for the many things we value is no longer sustainable.

Our Chair elaborated:

“We can’t grow per-pupil annual increases in the transfer to Schools when the number of pupils are growing at the rates we’ve seen. We can’t increase the general fund contributions to Affordable Housing Investment [AHIF] fast enough to support every compelling affordable housing project, when projects a decade ago required $5 or $6 million in gap financing and current projects need $20 million.”

To enable our community to participate effectively in the hard budget decisions that lie immediately ahead, Arlington needs new approaches to quantify both the short-term and the long-term fiscal impacts of the population growth Arlington expects.

Short-term fiscal impacts

We need project-specific, prospective fiscal impact statements for each discretionary development project. New, large multi-unit residential projects do not pay for themselves. They produce more new costs than new revenues.

A recent “cost of community services” peer-reviewed survey of 125 jurisdictions nationwide found that the mean ratio was $1.18 of incremental costs incurred compared to every $1.00 of incremental revenues generated.

Project-specific, prospective fiscal impact statements were among the key recommendations of the 2015 Community Facilities Study Group (CSFG), chaired by former County Board member John Milliken. Such statements are important because they will inject vital, new, objective input into the County’s planning and budgeting.

Kinds of project-specific impact analyses

Most of our Northern Virginia neighbors already are using these tools. Examples include Stafford County, Loudoun County, Fauquier County and the City of Falls Church.

The noted regional economist, Dr. Stephen Fuller, prepared an analysis for Stafford County, and confirmed that residential development does not pay for itself. His analysis also informed an Urban Development Area presentation.

These kinds of analyses are ones that Arlington County staff could and should do internally. Advanced software is available that can be tailored to Arlington’s circumstances.

Arlington’s first steps toward fiscal impact analyses

At its April 21 meeting, under the leadership of John Vihstadt, the County Board took some first steps in the direction of fiscal impact analyses.

As part of its budget guidance, the Board directed the County Manager to develop for Board review by the end of this calendar year a plan for preparing and making public periodic, retroactive cost-benefit analyses of new residential and commercial developments on an aggregate rather than a project-specific basis.

But, greater progress is being blocked once again by the Arlington County attorney’s resistance to the CFSG recommendation for prospective, project-specific fiscal impact analyses. He is unwilling to publish his detailed legal reasoning for review by independent legal experts.

Longer-term fiscal impacts

The County and APS should collaborate to develop financial projections out to 2035 for both capital and operating budget spending, utilizing at least three assumptions: most likely case, optimistic case(s), pessimistic case(s).

The results of these projections, together with the major assumptions underlying them, should be published and shared for discussion with the community.

Conclusion

The County Board needs to deploy new approaches to the fiscal impacts of development. This will enable Arlington residents to weigh in knowledgeably on how much we should spend on each thing we value.

by Bridget Reed Morawski May 4, 2018 at 6:00 pm 0

Today was another hot day, but this weekend is looking a bit rainy.

Alter your Derby Day attire accordingly, and remember to be responsible with your celebration during the races and at any Cinco de Mayo festivities you find yourself at.

Before you break out the fascinators and make yourself a mint julep, let’s take a look back at ARLnow’s most read stories over the past week.

  1. Following Sudden Death of Patrick Henry Elementary Principal, Temporary Replacement Named
  2. Country Clubs, County Strike Deal to End Tax Standoff
  3. ACPD Investigating Fatal Pedestrian Crash on Columbia Pike
  4. APS Eyes Seven Elementary Schools as Future “Option” Program Sites
  5. Reaction: Parents Frustrated, Miss Work over APS Tech Failure

If you missed our earlier coverage of the School Board meeting, here it is. The meeting was held at the new Syphax Education Center, after officials had done some good, old fashioned ribbon cutting.

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans, how much you love or loathe gondola talk, or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below. Have a great weekend!

Photo courtesy of Frank Bellavia, Arlington Public Schools

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