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by Progressive Voice — December 22, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

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: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

Over the past six years we have lived Arlington, my wife and I have seen how our community gets involved proactively in the process of effecting positive change. That is why we both joined boards of directors of Arlington-based non-profit organizations that seek to provide a chance for success to underserved portions of our community.

We have further invested in our community by buying a home here and sending our 5-year old daughter to an Arlington public school. Once he is older, our 1-year old son will also attend an APS school.

Given the outcome of the recent presidential election, I strongly believe that local initiatives and solutions throughout our country will be important in determining the wellbeing of our communities in the years to come.

Local initiatives and solutions are more effective when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.

Recently, our elected officials, the people’s representatives, on the Arlington County Board and the Arlington County School Board decided to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) as an advisory body jointly appointed by both Boards. This action is the type of significant step forward in providing a way for encouraging multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs to be addressed at a strategic level.

The overall mission of JFAC is to provide input to the Boards on capital facilities needs assessment, capital improvement plans and long range facility planning for both the Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools.

In accordance with this mission, JFAC will have the ability to provide recommendations and feedback to the Boards on many key matters that will have an impact on the lives of all people who reside, visit and do business in Arlington.

The Arlington County Board in early November provided some specifics about the intended functions and scope of JFAC:

  1. Review the APS and County needs assessment reports prior to their presentation, receive and review public input on them, make recommendations to the respective Boards on each report and provide input on the development of the CIPs.
  2. Review both CIPs prior to their adoption, receive and review public input on them and make recommendations to the respective Boards on the adoption of each CIP.

In performing these reviews as a jointly created advisory commission, JFAC should identify and carefully consider partnership opportunities between County and APS to maximize public benefit. Examples of partnership opportunities include, but are not limited to, co-location, joint or shared use, adaptive reuse and efficiencies in construction timing.

  1. Review periodic updates from County and APS staff on trends and forecasts affecting the community, including economics and revenue, population and demographics, school enrollment, student generation factors, and development activity. This information will inform JFAC’s recommendations on capital facility needs.
  2. Place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs based on analysis of the latest trends, forecasts and service delivery models. Big picture, visionary thinking is encouraged, and JFAC should be a forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely.
  3. Partner with staff on facilitating broader community engagement on facilities issues, including hosting fora and public comment periods on both individual siting decisions and longer-term planning.

The mission, functions and scope of JFAC affords an opportunity for the kind of local initiatives and solutions that I think are so necessary in the wake of November’s presidential election.

In this regard, I was inspired by Mary Hynes’ recent Progressive Voice column in which she wrote about her “Thoughts After a Difficult Election” and particularly her paraphrasing the Prophet Micah: “We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God.”

Regarding serving one another and walking humbly, I remain committed to moving from the sidelines to the center of public policy debates in my community. My goal has been to get involved in ensuring traditionally underserved voices are part of public policy decision-making processes in Arlington.

JFAC would afford just such an opportunity were I chosen to serve. Whether or not I am chosen, I hope all JFAC members will consider the importance of those less heard voices in our community deliberations.

We can be a stronger and a more stable and equitable community when all voices of Arlington are heard; when all of us proactively get involved in how public policies are developed; and when we hold each other accountable for the short-term and long-term impacts of the decisions made.

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Pr

by Peter Rousselot — December 22, 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.

On December 8, Jane Rudolph, Director of Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), issued a formal apology on behalf of DPR and the County Manager’s Office. At issue were the ways in which Parks staff interacted with residents last year over a proposed additional playground at tiny Nelly Custis Park:

County staff made statements that were inappropriate and inconsiderate. The engagement within the community was not at the level that Arlington County expects to deliver to their residents. We are sorry. …We will strive to ensure that all members of the community are a critical part of the project moving forward.

Discussion

Kudos to Jane Rudolph and Mark Schwartz for their forthright apology.

On the very same day, Gillian Burgess, writing in the Progressive Voice column, observed: “Arlington has the opportunity to be a national leader in developing a modern model of community engagement.” I agree.

What Happened

The County’s apology concerned a proposal to spend nearly $1M of Neighborhood Conservation bond funds to construct a playground at a .8 acre park–the 3rd playground in a little over one block.

The proposal was highly contested for several reasons — less green space, proximity to nearby homes, need and equity. Why, some asked, did Aurora Highlands need a 6th playground when 16 neighborhoods have none?

Adjacent neighbors were not notified. Follow-up meeting notifications didn’t occur. From the beginning, it appeared that Parks staff was giving undue weight to some voices, including daycare and commercial users.

Numerous community members suspected that there was something wrong with the community engagement process. This led to a January 9, 2016 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the County. Emails and other documents the County produced in response confirmed these suspicions.

The documents produced showed that:

  • County staff failed to follow Arlington’s code of ethics,
  • Committees failed to follow their own process guidelines,
  • Persons with special interests undisclosed in the NCAC approval process worked nearly exclusively with staff, and
  • Numerous efforts were pursued (both publicly and with staff) to exclude, discredit and even falsely campaign against residents including stakeholders, working group members and active civic volunteers.

Lessons Learned

The Nelly Custis Park project illustrates the serious issues that Arlington faces relating to community engagement. Three other examples are the WRAPS process in western Rosslyn, the fencing of a Bluemont Park baseball diamond and the Williamsburg fields lighting proposal.

The serious community engagement issues highlighted by all these recent controversies include:

  • Lack of a needs assessment including demographic information,
  • Prematurely deciding that a proposed project is needed at all,
  • Properly defining the nature of the proposed project and alternatives to it,
  • Providing adequate public notice to close-by residents and all stakeholders,
  • Need for properly designed community surveys,
  • Undue influence exercised by organized special interests, and
  • Lack of fair and neutral stewardship by County staff.

Conclusion

The Community Facilities report analyzed why Arlington needs to do better in this area. The County’s recent hiring of Bryna Helfer as its Assistant County Manager for Communications and Public Engagement is encouraging. But the Nelly Custis controversy indicates how much new thinking, processes and leadership are needed in order for Arlington to develop a new model of civic engagement. The County apology indicates progress.

by ARLnow.com — December 16, 2016 at 4:30 pm 0

GOAT Sports Bar in ClarendonOur biggest story of the week was the news that the crew from Don Tito and A-Town would be opening a new sports bar in Clarendon.

Say what you want about them, but they know how to create popular places. Close to 10,000 people read our article about G.O.A.T. Sports Bar, making it the most-read restaurant article in recent memory.

Since the article was first published on Monday, we’ve learned a bit more about G.O.A.T, which is coming to the former Hard Times Space.

“The G.O.A.T. will be an almost 10,000 square foot premier sports bar and game filled (your favorite arcade games from the past, mixed with the best of today’s game technology) fun zone with the best food and drink you can find in a bar,” one of the partners posted on Facebook this week. Those games just may help it to stand out in the crowded Clarendon bar scene.

The next seven most-read articles of the week were all police-related, while No. 9 was our article on the towing ordinance changes. Towing stories always gin up strong feelings in Arlington, and this week’s article was no exception.

Feel free to discuss the G.O.A.T, this week’s slew of crime articles or — gasp — towing, or any other topic of local interest, in the comments. Have a nice weekend!

by Mark Kelly — December 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.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board “legalized” Airbnb and other such short-term housing rentals. While many homeowners had been participating for some time with no real fear of reprisal, the Board rightly felt like they needed to ensure others who questioned the legality of the practice could participate as well.

Based on the Board deliberations however, it was clear that the rushed regulations had not been fully vetted and were still in need of more work. The Board even took the unusual step of passing the regulations with the promise to return to them at the next meeting to make additional changes.

When coupled with the fact the General Assembly is likely to address the issue in the new year, the Board has created a great deal of uncertainty about how these regulations will actually work moving forward.

Recognizing the regulations were not ready for prime time, John Vihstadt suggested the Board effectively give an interim “wink and nod” to homeowners that the practice would be made legal when the regulations were ready.

Unfortunately, Vihstadt’s common sense suggestion to delay a vote received no support from the other four members of the Board.

Arlington’s new towing ordinance also met with resistance this week.

As I wrote back in 2015 when Jay Fisette raised this issue, the problems with towing practices are not new.

Around 2000, I sat down to eat in the now-closed Taco Bell on Wilson Boulevard. A few minutes later, one of my fellow patrons sprinted out of the restaurant as his car was being hoisted into the air by a tow truck. Later we learned an “unmarked spotter” had identified his car for towing because he had first walked to the ATM next door to get cash before ordering his Taco Bell dinner.

The car owner showed the tow truck driver his Taco Bell receipt, but was told it did not matter because he had left the premises.

The use of spotters and removal of the property owner from the process leads to incidents where drivers have legitimate gripes when their car is towed. But they have virtually no redress. They have to pay the exorbitant towing fee and possibly complain to the county later.

It is certainly understandable that business owners feel the new measures create burdensome requirements. They have a right to ensure that parking spaces in their lots are reserved for employees, patrons or anyone else they choose for that matter.

In the Taco Bell incident I witnessed, the manager on duty said his hands were tied to stop the towing under the terms of the contract. Assuming it was true, then there really is a problem.

And despite a clear warning shot 18 months ago to voluntarily address aggressive towing practices, County Board members remained unsure any positive changes were forthcoming. So, the Board acted.

Now towing companies have until July 1st of next year to work with the county on the changes. Hopefully everyone can find a middle ground.

by Progressive Voice — December 15, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

Jarrod NagurkaProgressive 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: Jarrod Nagurka

Last December, the Arlington County Board moved forward with plans to give the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) the option to purchase County-owned land (either with cash or through a land swap) adjacent to the hospital. The land became available after the County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) moved its programs from that location to the Sequoia complex.

The likely VHC expansion provides the hospital with the opportunity to make important improvements to its psychiatric ward to better serve Arlingtonians with serious mental illness (SMI).

As many as 300,000 Virginians live with SMI, including thousands here in Arlington. Individuals with SMI are often diagnosed with disorders ranging from schizophrenia to severe bipolar. And just like any other illness, mental illness can affect anyone — one in 17 people live with SMI. Considering its impact on friends and family, chances are you or someone you know is affected by it.

Left untreated, SMI can be devastating. However, for those who receive proper treatment and management, there is hope.

Individuals can go through recovery and lead fulfilling lives as productive members of society. High-quality psychiatric services are proven to reduce future hospitalizations and jail visits. That’s why it’s so important that we ensure individuals have access to services that align with industry best practices. It’s not just the right thing to do morally, but it’s smart economics too.

VHC’s potential expansion is an opportunity for the hospital to meet the community’s great unmet need for additional mental health services.

In FY 2016, 208 (42%) individuals in treatment with DHS who were deemed by a magistrate in Arlington to be a risk to themselves or others couldn’t get a bed at VHC because there were no psychiatric beds available. Moreover, this only reflects some of those turned away from VHC. It doesn’t count individuals who are seeing private providers, individuals who are not in treatment at all or individuals who voluntarily sought psychiatric hospitalizations.

To meet Arlington’s true demand for psychiatric services, VHC should use an expansion to take two major steps to better serve our community:

  1. Expand the number of psychiatric beds. Arlington has far fewer psychiatric beds than the generally accepted standard of 50 per 100,000 residents. As a result, those in need of hospitalization often have to seek services located hours away. This forces individuals to receive treatment far from family, friends and doctors. While VHC has said they will seek to expand overall beds, they have thus far not committed to using these beds for psychiatric purposes rather than in other, oftentimes more profitable, wards.
  1. Move the psychiatric ward out of the basement. During a renovation roughly a decade ago, VHC moved the psychiatric ward to the hospital’s basement with no exposure to natural light. This is VHC’s only inpatient ward located underground. Lack of sunlight has proven to lead to depression and is certainly not conducive to recovery. Additional space should allow VHC to move its psychiatric ward above ground and configure and equip it in accordance with best practices to include ample natural light.

Though there’s a stigma often, though fortunately less so over time, attached to mental illness, the truth is that SMI can affect anyone at a moment’s notice — even someone who has not previously exhibited symptoms. Just like a stroke, heart attack or any other medical emergency, those experiencing a psychotic break need access to emergency services immediately.

It is very unfortunate that Arlingtonians currently living with SMI are often forced to undergo treatment in VHC’s underground psychiatric ward (if a bed is even available) or seek treatment hours away.

In Arlington, we embrace the idea that we’re stronger together — measured not by individual success but by how we collectively care for our most vulnerable neighbors. Nobody believes that someone having a stroke should have to drive hours away for treatment or recover in a basement. We shouldn’t tolerate those conditions for Arlingtonians living with SMI either.

Commendably, Virginia Hospital Center prides itself on its desire to meet the healthcare needs of the community. In many areas, VHC lives up to this goal and provides world-class healthcare services. By committing to use newly acquired land to improve its psychiatric services, VHC can yet again demonstrate its commitment to serving our community.

Jarrod Nagurka is a lifelong Arlingtonian. He was appointed by the County Board in 2015 to the Arlington Community Services Board, an oversight body for services provided by DHS. Jarrod has previously worked in the state legislature and on federal, state, and local political campaigns in Virginia. He currently works in education policy.

by Peter Rousselot — December 15, 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.

In last week’s column, I explained why Arlington is not ready for a major flood.

On Saturday, December 10, the County Board approved zoning changes to S-3A zoning districts without the safeguards against flood risk that I recommended in that column.

Discussion

Commenting on my earlier column, Arlington environmental activist Suzanne Sundburg noted County Manager Mark Schwartz’s admission (at December’s Arlington County Civic Federation meeting) that no one in Arlington County government has been assigned the responsibility of assessing Arlington’s cumulative flood risk.

Mr. Schwartz’s failure to assign anyone this important task means that no one is weighing or producing public analyses that encompass ALL of the dynamic factors that can increase flood risk, including:

  • Land use changes and increases in impervious and semi-pervious surfaces;
  • Climate change, including sea-level rise and higher tides in the Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River and therefore, the Four Mile Run watershed;
  • Other existing floodplains and historically flood-prone areas;
  • The limitations of storm-water management systems for flood-reduction purposes;
  • The loss of Arlington’s mature tree canopy, etc.

The more development and the more pavement (aka “impervious surfaces”) added to public parks (including FEMA floodplains, flood-prone areas, Chesapeake Bay resource/riparian protection areas and other portions of our watershed), the greater the risk of flooding.

Arlington’s lack of a “flood czar” and its lack of a comprehensive flood-risk assessment means that we are gambling with the lives and property of Arlington citizens and business owners. The County itself also risks damage to or loss of its own critical infrastructure and assets.

Ms. Sundburg also has asked whether County staff has or can obtain updated local stream gage measurements to supplement those found in a 2004 document: Flood Frequency Analysis for Four Mile Run at USGS Gaging Station 1652500, now almost 13 years old. Updated local measurements may be useful in assessing Arlington’s current flood risk.

A recent Texas A&M study suggests that even in the absence of climate change, cities and urban areas are facing an increased flood risk. So discounting the added impact of climate change doesn’t negate the increasing flood risk that Arlington and other urbanized communities are facing.

Remnants of a 2011 tropical storm that hit us wouldn’t be considered a “100-year rainfall event.” Yet, this storm was sufficient to cause significant localized flooding along Four Mile Run. You can see it in action in this YouTube video.

And the mere presence of flood-protection improvements made in the downstream and upstream Four Mile Run watershed since Hurricane Agnes in 1972 coupled with the fact that Arlington has not suffered comparable flood damage since Agnes are NOT confirmation that those improvements offer sufficient flood protection in today’s environment.

In truth, we have no reliable basis on which to be certain whether these post-1972 improvements are sufficient because:

  • Arlington lacks a flood czar to evaluate them, and
  • We haven’t had a storm comparable to Agnes since the 1970s.

Conclusion

The County Board should direct the County Manager to:

  • Appoint a flood czar;
  • Direct that czar to prepare and make available for public review and comment a comprehensive flood risk assessment; and
  • Direct that czar to prepare and make available for public comment a flood mitigation plan for Arlington similar to the Westchester County Plan that I discussed in last week’s column.

by ARLnow.com — December 12, 2016 at 10:10 am 0

Unmeasurable snow (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)An Arctic blast will drop temperatures into the teens and 20s in the D.C. area starting mid-week.

The cold air is expected to push into the area Wednesday night, and will bring with it wind and the possibility of some light snow.

The last time we saw snow in Arlington was when the remains of a giant snow pile in Ballston, left over from the January blizzard, finally melted. Unlike some past years, to our knowledge no flakes fell in November this year.

Are you looking forward to the first flakes of the season?

(See some local tips for preparing for winter weather, published last week, here.)

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

by ARLnow.com — December 9, 2016 at 6:00 pm 0

This week we tracked a number of big breaking stories, a Trump-related tempest in a teapot, and a major change for a local cultural institution.

The week also marked the installation of Michael Burbidge as the new bishop of the Diocese of Arlington.

Feel free to discuss those stories or any other topic of local interest in the comments. Have a nice weekend!

by Mark Kelly — December 8, 2016 at 1:00 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.

Every December our leaders in Arlington begin talking about a mythical budget gap. It is the first step in building a case with the public to pay more next year in taxes.

It’s a mythical gap because every year, at about the same time, the County Board is spending tens of millions of dollars in the closeout process. This year end budget boost comes from additional tax revenue and reallocation of other unspent funds in the budget.

With only a $5 million “gap” on the horizon for the next fiscal year (practically a rounding error), Arlington’s County Manager is using a different tool in the public relations game — Metro. He’s “worried” Arlington may have to chip in a substantial, and still unknown, amount in the coming year.

Mr. Schwartz did go out of his way in his recent Civic Federation presentation to take Metro to task for putting itself in this position. And I would hope the County Board would not come to the taxpayers for more money without first requiring real reforms from the flagging system.

But in case Metro’s woes were not scary enough, the schools have announced they may need as much as $25 million more than last year’s budget — about half for projected enrollment increases. In case you missed it, the schools just received $8.6 million from excess revenues collected in FY 2016 as part of the closeout process. A similar unbudgeted amount is sent their way every year.

Schools and Metro are certainly core line items in the budget, and they are extremely popular with the public. This is precisely why they are being used as the rationale for us to pay more (again) in 2017.

And if there is any doubt as to the bent of our leaders to tax and spend more, you need only look at the legislative package being considered by the Board in the coming days. It includes support of a change in Virginia law to allow localities to raise their meals tax to 8% without a referendum vote.

It’s hard to make a case that Arlingtonians would ever defeat such a proposal at the polls, as it almost certainly would be sold to the public as an “investment” in schools or Metro or parks.

Maybe the Board just feels bad for neighboring jurisdictions after the November meals tax referendum in Fairfax went down to such a resounding defeat. A recognition, perhaps, that not everyone has such accommodating taxpayers.

by Peter Rousselot — December 8, 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.

In 1972, the eye of Hurricane Agnes passed directly over the DC metropolitan area. Agnes caused major flooding in Arlington, collapsing the Walter Reed Bridge, and severely damaging the rest of the Four Mile Run watershed. The Four Mile Run watershed is particularly flood prone — even in storms far less severe than Agnes.

Discussion

Email exchanges between an environmental activist and County staff raise serious doubts as to whether Arlington has planned adequately for a major flooding event — even though flooding has been identified as one of Arlington’s most significant hazards.

At its December 10 meeting, the County Board is scheduled to vote on County staff’s proposal to amend Arlington’s Zoning Ordinance for all S-3A zoning districts, which include public parkland and sites owned by Arlington Public Schools (APS). The amendments effectively remove the maximum height restrictions and minimum setback requirements for all new school buildings — whether they are built on APS-owned property or on public parkland. Staff also has requested to apply these changes to all uses (not just school building uses) in all S-3A districts.

Arlington environmental activist Suzanne Sundburg has:

  • asked the Board to delay final adoption of these sweeping changes to enable more careful consideration,
  • provided examples of environmental zoning protections adopted by other Virginia jurisdictions that Arlington should consider adopting,
  • posed a series of questions to County staff regarding the cumulative impact such changes might have on storm water run-off, and
  • asked the County to identify which staff member(s) have the final responsibility for comprehensive risk assessment and deciding whether the flood hazard and risk exposure are worth assuming.

Several Virginia jurisdictions have developed zoning solutions to help better protect their natural resources. Fairfax County has a zoning overlay for environmentally sensitive areas in its zoning ordinance. See Article 7, Part 3.

Likewise, Virginia Beach created a separate zoning category or district called a “P-1 Preservation District” in the city’s zoning ordinance to protect environmentally sensitive areas. Its goals include protection of its lands and waters from pollution, impairment or destruction. Critical areas of special concern include parklands, wilderness areas, open spaces, floodplains, floodways, watersheds and water supplies.

Arlington should adopt a comparable environmental protection ordinance before (or concurrently to) adopting changes to zoning in S-3A zoning districts in order to minimize the expansion of impervious and semi-pervious surfaces in or near sensitive watersheds and flood-prone areas.

Arlington’s storm-water management webpage summarizes its goals, but it appears that Arlington lacks an adequate plan to reduce or mitigate major flood risk. An example of such a plan is Westchester County’s (NY) Flooding and Land Use manual which covers the following topics related to flooding (among others) in detail:

  • Flooding causes and the relationship to development,
  • Comprehensive and watershed planning,
  • Successful floodplain management tools,
  • Local ordinances,
  • Site plan review tools, and
  • Storm water management design.

Developing a plan comparable to Westchester’s involves assigning a County staff person this task and giving him/her sufficient resources and the authority to use all appropriate means to minimize flood damage.

Conclusion

The County Board should defer final action on the proposed changes to S-3A zoning districts until it also adopts adequate protections to conserve Arlington’s watersheds, to comprehensively assess flood hazard and reduce or mitigate the risk, and to safeguard Arlington residents and their property against flooding.

by Progressive Voice — December 8, 2016 at 11:30 am 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

2016 has been a tough year and as it draws to a close, many are looking for hope for the future. Arlington County is in a tough position: we continue to grow, have excellent schools and County services and live near the center of the dynamic capital region. Yet growth is also straining public services and transportation systems; and winds of political change bring uncertainty to our 26 square miles.

But in this season of hope, Arlington has reason for hope. We have informed, engaged residents and hard-working, intelligent County and Schools staffs. To tackle the challenges ahead, Arlington needs to embrace its inner nerd and live by a mantra (paraphrased from Richmond): smart counties do smart things.

We do many smart things already, but there are three areas where we need to get smarter: defragmenting planning and public service; performance measurement; and communications and engagement. Arlington has a lot of potential to tackle these challenges. We need committed leadership to make it happen.

De-fragment Planning and Public Service

As with most localities, the County organizes itself into separate departments to streamline delivery of services to constituents. However, this fragmentation can lead to sub-optimal outcomes, particularly when similar services are spread among departments or when it inhibits inclusive long-term planning.

For example, at least three different County departments build small sidewalk and trail projects: neighborhood conservation; parks; and environmental services. All have reported problems finding contractors who can do the work efficiently and effectively because individual projects are too small to be attractive. The County should look to bundle these small projects to make them attractive to contractors or evaluate whether these should be in-house projects.

The biggest divide in providing services in Arlington is the separation of the County and the Schools. For example, if you think your child’s school bus stop is unsafe, the solution depends on whether you call APS Transportation, which may move the stop, or the County’s Department of Environmental Services, which could install a crosswalk to make the original stop safer. But neither department seems set up together to figure out the optimal neighborhood solution.

This area has great potential. APS and the County are establishing the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission to coordinate long range planning for facilities and capital improvement plans. The County and Schools should also prioritize establishing a joint transportation commission to follow-up on the Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee’s efforts.

Smart Performance Measurement

Arlington’s big investments in data systems makes it well positioned to be a performance management leader. But data is most helpful when it tracks performance measures that matter to residents.

For example, the Department of Environmental Services measures number of potholes repaired annually, but I am more interested in wait time between when a pothole is reported and when it is repaired.

Fortunately, Arlington has a network of involved residents eager to improve these performance measures. The County could take advantage of the numerous advisory groups to quickly gather suggestions on what outputs matter most to residents and how those could be measured.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — December 3, 2016 at 9:00 am 0

Arlington County Fire Department ACFD fire truck with wreath

This past week started off slow but ramped up as everyone recovered from their Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday’s house fire in Penrose might have attracted the biggest emergency response this week, but it barely even cracked the top 20 most-viewed stories of the week.

The three most-read articles this week were:

  1. Police: Fight at Yorktown Involved Parents, Accusations of Racial Slurs
  2. Parents Say Son Kicked Out of Daycare for Wearing Dress
  3. Police Investigating Death in Rosslyn

The top five story was more upbeat: our article on Arlington’s own Brittany O’Grady, who’s starring in the new Fox television series “Star.” We’re hoping to talk to her soon and find out how she’s making it in Hollywood.

With that, feel free to discuss any topic of local interest in the comments. Have a nice weekend!

by Mark Kelly — December 1, 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.

According to the Washington Area Boards of Education, Arlington is spending $18,957 per pupil for Fiscal Year 2017. That number went up by $341 over last year. And according to page 31 of the report, Arlington ranks highest in the region, by more than $500 per student.

If Arlington spent only as much per student as Falls Church, the next highest spender, it could save the taxpayers $14.2 million for the year or 2.4%. One local activist pointed out that by lowering our per pupil spending to be even with Fairfax County would lower total costs by $112 million, or 24%.

Lowering spending to Fairfax County levels is neither realistic, nor is it necessarily desirable. It does however provide a valuable data point as does the comparison to Falls Church.

The WABE uses its own formula to calculate the per pupil costs in an attempt to make an apples to apples comparison across the region. Arlington accepts the WABE methodology when reporting its budget to Arlingtonians each year. Who can blame them? It represents a much lower spending level than is actually occurring.

For those of you who like math, here is what Arlington is really spending per student in 2017: $22,032.

That’s the number you get when you divide the total $581.94 million budget by the 26,414 students the budget anticipates. The difference between total cost per student and reported per pupil spending is $3,075 per student, or 16.2%.

Some in Arlington are willing to spend much more on our schools and simply do not care what the topline number actually is. Others think we already spend way too much. Most want a high quality education for our students that gets the best bang for the buck.

So why not report both numbers? If Arlington schools want to be compared to others, then continue to report the per pupil spending that way. But, they should also report the total spending per student cost to give Arlington taxpayers the complete picture of school spending rather than hoping people will not check the math.

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

Rip Sullivan (photo via Facebook)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: Rip Sullivan

As we’ve watched the Trump transition with more than a little trepidation, the President-Elect has begun walking back some of the promises that most defined his campaign: repealing the ACA; building the wall; torture; climate change.

And to think Hillary was branded the liar.

But that’s another column.

Along with the lucky $2 bill my Mom gave me, I carry a card in my wallet that my Dad gave me. It reads “the greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.” And did we ever fall on November 8. We got knocked down. Bigly.

But not here in Virginia and not here in Arlington. Hillary won the Commonwealth, continuing our advance from purple to blue, and won decisively in Arlington.

Nationally, the early post-mortems lay blame on Democratic turnout. In key places around the country, Democrats didn’t vote. And low turnout is a Democrat-killer.

So now that the election is in our rearview mirror, it is time for us to gear up for another election in Virginia. Next year we will elect a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, an Attorney General and all 100 members of the House of Delegates. We can — must — build on the great work we did this year in Arlington and more broadly in Virginia to win next year’s crucial elections.

Governor McAuliffe’s term highlights how important it will be for Democrats to focus on 2017’s off-year election. He has vetoed over 60 bills during his 3 years in office — and the General Assembly has sustained every veto.

The Governor’s vetoes from just last year include a bill defunding Planned Parenthood and a bill that would have prohibited Virginia from taking any action to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

The General Assembly also considered legislation that was frighteningly similar to North Carolina’s notorious HB 2. The only thing keeping these bills from becoming law — from harming our economy and making Virginia a national embarrassment — are a Democratic Governor and strengthened Democratic numbers in the General Assembly.

This is why Arlington Democrats, Independents and even Republicans who voted for Hillary Clinton — or against Donald Trump — need to regroup, reorganize and focus on making an impact on next year’s elections in Virginia.

There are plenty of reasons to believe we can be successful next year.

The first and most obvious is that we were successful this year. Over 90,000 Arlingtonians voted for Hillary Clinton, and turnout was a record high.

Hillary won Virginia by nearly 5%, which is more than President Obama’s margin in 2012. She won Virginia’s most prominent bellwether counties — Loudoun County and Prince William County — by a margin of 17% and 20%, respectively. And Donald Trump barely won two of the biggest Republican strongholds in Virginia — Chesterfield County and Virginia Beach — by just under 3% and 5%. We need to ensure that this trend continues.

Next year also presents an opportunity to make the House of Delegates reflect what we saw in Tuesday’s election results. Many House districts currently held by Republicans — including Republicans who introduced divisive bills that Governor McAuliffe vetoed — were won by Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.

How do these Republican delegates repeatedly win in what should be Democratic districts? Turnout.

It is an unfortunate and frustrating fact that turnout typically drops 25-35% from a presidential election to a gubernatorial election.

This does not have to be the case in 2017.

Turn the frustration and disappointment you experienced last Tuesday into energy and dedication next year. Volunteer to knock doors in your neighborhood. Donate time and money to your local Democratic Committee. Talk to your friends and neighbors about how important it is for Democrats to participate in and win next year’s elections. Your work will be rewarded next November and beyond.

I’ll be following my own advice — actually, my Dad’s — next year. As the House Democratic Caucus’ Campaign Chair, I will be recruiting, helping fund and advising Democratic candidates in House of Delegates races all across Virginia. Their good campaigns across the Commonwealth can help the entire Democratic statewide ticket as well.

Many of these House races are winnable if we rise up again after our fall, roll up our sleeves, dig in and turn out to vote next November. I hope you will join me.

Rip is a Northern Virginia community activist and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean.

by Peter Rousselot — December 1, 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.

In February 2017, the Williamsburg Field Site Evaluation Workgroup (WFWG) must report to the County Board on whether field lights can be installed at Williamsburg Middle School (WMS) without unduly degrading neighborhood character and quality of life.

Discussion

As the County Board Chair acknowledged in 2013, the WFWG exists because WMS neighbors were “ambushed” (Comments on item 59).

Arlington Public Schools and County staff previously had assured WMS neighbors that the WMS fields would remain unlighted Bermuda grass. County staff broke this promise by inserting language in the Discovery Elementary School Use Permit, providing for synthetic turf and expedited action on lights (See page two of report by Charles Monfort, beginning at pdf p. 15).

WMS neighbors are not selfish NIMBY fanatics. They simply chose to live in an area that’s among the most sparsely populated in Arlington, composed entirely of single-family homes, some located less than 100 feet from the WMS fields. At night, it’s quiet and dark. Wildlife abound in the wooded area nestled against the soccer fields.

Sports user groups have led the drive for field lights. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) solicited a plan from Arlington’s sole-source lighting vendor, Musco Lighting, without a competitive bidding process.

Musco proposes to install the highest intensity non-professional sports lights inside the Beltway — radiating more blue light than the new street lights many Arlington residents say are too harsh, brighter than the lights residents of Queens and Brooklyn refused to tolerate.

Nancy Clanton, a nationally recognized expert on sustainable lighting design, concluded that Musco’s plan would produce glare levels 2-3 times higher than national and international standards for dark, light-sensitive neighborhoods, cause even more glare on humid evenings, and increase human health and environmental risks.

In June, the American Medical Association sounded the alarm about high intensity blue lights, warning these are associated with reduced sleep time, nighttime awakenings, impaired daytime functioning and harmful glare affecting the elderly and children with vision-related disabilities.

Noise and nighttime traffic are also concerns since County sports fields are exempt from the noise ordinance. Nor do the County’s low traffic projections seem realistic given sports users’ hopes for thousands of hours of additional playing time from field lights.

Although adult use of rectangular fields County-wide has steadily declined since 2013, the number of children playing organized sports is rising. WMS neighbors advocate alternatives to meet children’s needs by adding a new lighted field enthusiastically supported by neighborhoods near Long Bridge Park, organic synthetic turf and less polluting lights to replace those currently at Kenmore, and non-carcinogenic turf at parks and schools elsewhere in the County with soggy grass fields.

Lighting advocates suggest mitigation measures such as installing blinds and using white noise machines. But the proposed measures are either not enforceable or would drastically alter neighbors’ quality of life. Who wants to live with blinds and curtains drawn tight and without being able to go outdoors or open windows at night?

Conclusion

Arlington’s General Land Use Plan seeks to preserve the County’s traditional residential neighborhoods–especially those that possess unique natural values. The County Board must decide whether these are worth preserving. Once lost they cannot be restored.

The County Board should say NO to field lights at WMS.

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