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County Board Candidates Respond to Follow-Up Questions from Recent Forum

Earlier this month, the candidates for Arlington County Board faced a bevy of tough questions at a forum hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100.

But after the audience went home and the microphones were turned off, that wasn’t the end of the candidates’ work.

Attendees submitted written questions to the candidates throughout the evening, but due to time constraints, they could not all be answered. So with Election Day just two weeks away, ARLnow collated the unanswered questions and emailed the three County Board candidates for their responses.

(A similar article with responses to follow-up questions for the three School Board candidates will follow in the near future.)

Candidates’ unedited responses are below.

1. What are the challenges you would tackle in the area of affordable housing?

Audrey Clement: 

The biggest challenge would be to convince my fellow Board Members to:

1)  amend the tax code to create Housing Conservation Districts (HCDs) where landlords would be given incentives to rehab rather than tear down existing affordable housing; and

2) loosen accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations to allow renting space in private homes, while limiting the impacts of such rentals on residential neighborhoods.

Erik Gutshall:

While Arlington is a great place to live, it’s undeniably getting harder and harder to put down roots here and stay rooted if a smaller home is what you need as your family shrinks.  Housing affordability is a critical component of the progressive values I espouse; it is also an essential component of a strong middle class in Arlington.

As a County Board Member, I will follow a multi-point plan that includes: (1) the creation of medium density “missing middle” housing along our major commercial corridors, (2) modernization of the our zoning ordinance to enable home sharing and facilitate aging-in-place, (3) tireless support for the 2015 Affordable Housing Master Plan, and (4) continued annual funding for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund and Housing grants.  I will also continue the existing, strong partnerships with non-profit housing providers as well as others in the non-profit community who provide services to Arlington residents living in affordable housing.

As detailed in my “missing middle” housing proposal, Arlington cannot subsidize our way to mass affordability, instead we must unlock the potential of the market to deliver the housing we need.  The good news is that there is ample opportunity in Arlington for us to create the neighborhood-scale housing and retail areas known as “missing middle.”  The missing middle framework uses market forces to diversify our housing supply and responds to the needs of residents both young and old.  These modestly scaled lofts, stacked flats, co-ops, and micro units are designed to preserve neighborhood character and can fit into the edges of single-family neighborhoods and along commercial corridors, with ground floor retail and restaurants to serve adjacent homes.

Charles McCullough:

In the area of affordable housing, I would tackle these three main challenges:

Ensuring that developers pay their fair share:

  • Increase the zoning fee for apartment developers who forego affordable units, as it is currently just 1/3 of the fee allowed under state law.
  • Shift housing assistance funds to direct housing grants in order to support more residents earning less than 40% of the area median income.

Approaching certified and market rate housing with a multifaceted approach:

  • Incentivize the development of multifamily structures designed to address senior mobility needs, as well as co-living spaces designed to meet the needs of young professionals.
  • Ensure accessory dwellings become a viable option for housing while not contributing to parking and density concerns.
  • Explore Housing Conservation Districts as a way to maintain larger-scale areas of market rate affordability with careful caution not to unintentionally make these areas into suburban ghettos.

Providing housing affordability programs to address the needs of low- and middle-income Arlingtonians:

  • Develop new homeowner affordability programs to support community/developer partnership models like community land trusts and low-equity housing cooperatives.
  • Bolster existing homeowner assistance programs that enable our teachers and first responders to live in the communities where they serve.

As a progressive, independent voice on the Arlington County Board, I have the ability to advocate for a variety of reasonable housing affordability solutions that “Put People First” instead of defaulting to developers’ demands.

2. What skills from your day job would you bring to the County Board?

Clement:

For the past twenty plus years I’ve been employed as a statistical programmer on a contractual basis by various federal government agencies. My job is demanding. It not only requires technical skill, it also requires analytical ability to assess client needs and offer optimal solutions.

These latter two skills are directly applicable to local government administration, particularly as it pertains to oversight of the budget process, and I look forward to applying those skills on the Board, for the betterment of Arlington’s citizens.

In addition I have a Ph.D. in Political Science from Temple University in 1993 with a focus on American voting behavior, as well as experience working on the Hill. Thus I have the political know how to lobby for and implement policies beneficial to all Arlingtonians.

Gutshall:

Owning a small business has given me the opportunity to wear many different hats.  On any given day, I am human resources director, chief financial officer, or network engineer.  I have to understand legal contracts, taxes, and regulatory requirements.  My knowledge, skills, and experience in all the facets of a business has grown as my company has grown to 10 employees.

The chief skill that runs through almost everything I do on a day to day basis, however, is communicating with people.  Being an effective leader, whether business, or civic requires excellent communication.   I enjoy being able to communicate technical information to my clients, and nuanced customer requirements to my employees.  It’s rewarding to see that light bulb go off when someone truly understands.  On the Planning Commission, I try to be a voice for the community when I think that a developer, or county staff doesn’t understand.  Of course, great communication is fundamentally two-way, which requires that I be a good listener first.  I have found this to always be true – with my wife, my customers, my employees, and with citizens.

McCullough:

Three of my strongest skills from my day job that I would bring to the county board are decision making, strategic planning, and relationship building.

  • I know how to make balanced decisions. As board chair of the US Postal Service Federal Credit Union, I led the organization to implement new financial services providing economic relief to members in Arlington and beyond while maintaining strong reserves.
  • I know how to conduct inclusive strategic planning that results in cost-effective responses to long-term societal challenges. As an attorney, I led the development phase of a multimillion-dollar, Gates Foundation-funded initiative to improve education quality.
  • I know how to build mutually beneficial relationships that attract new businesses to communities desiring economic growth. As an embassy staffer, I helped forge partnerships between cutting-edge tech startups and Fortune 500 companies.

These skills and my well-rounded background will help the board craft policies that anticipate and address the challenges facing Arlington.

3. What is your vision and strategy for addressing the opioid addiction crisis?

Clement:

This question came up at a recent School Board forum.  First, I would pursue a strong drug avoidance educational program as part of hygiene instruction in our public schools. Reaching our student population is crucial, and I am sure parents and caregivers would appreciate that, too.

As for adult opioid users and abusers, enforcement of existing drug laws is paramount, with an emphasis on jail time for traffickers and rehabilitation for users.

Gutshall:

I am gravely concerned that opioid addiction has the potential to overwhelm our human services infrastructure with devastating consequences much as the crack epidemic of the late 1980’s gutted many communities with consequences still reverberating today.  As we learned at the recent Opioid Community Town Hall, this crisis is not limited to the urban poor, this one is right in our own living rooms.

Recognizing that the most successful response will be coordinated across multiple agencies, the most important role of the County Board in addressing the crisis of opioid addiction is to ensure that the Department of Human Services, Courts, Police and Fire Departments, Arlington Public Schools, hospitals, and our non-profit partners all have the resources, data, and action plans they need.  I also support designating a Deputy County Manager to lead our coordinated response, the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative.

As a parent with teens and tweens, I am grateful our schools have taken necessary initial steps and are ready to play a crucial role in educating our youth and their parents of the dangers, warning signs, and treatment options for opioid abuse.   I support efforts to prioritize treatment over prosecution for addicts while also assigning detectives to an FBI Task Force to specifically target opioid distributors.  I have confidence that our highly professional non-profit and medical providers will train and follow updated best practices for prevention and treatment of addiction.  Finally, Arlington has the wherewithal to collect, analyze, and share real-time data to optimize our response across stakeholders.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to a crisis deeply imbedded in larger national issues, but Arlington must act swiftly and decisively to save lives of our children, parents, friends and neighbors.

McCullough:

I envision an Arlington that has effectively implemented a national model for addressing the opioid crisis, returning opioid overdose rates to precrisis levels within one year and eliminating opioid overdoses in the county by 2021.

As an educator, attorney, and son of a police officer, I recognize opioid addiction as a public health emergency which Arlington must address with a three-pronged strategy:

  • Through education initiatives Arlington should work with schools, community groups, and houses of worship to educate the public on the proper disposal of enabling medications and to assist those showing signs of addiction.
  • Through outreach programs targeting addicts and their families, Arlington should offer treatment plans and training on how to use Nalaxone to prevent overdoses.
  • Through partnerships with other local law enforcement agencies, nonprofits, and national grantmakers, Arlington should continue to evaluate and refine the existing Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative to ensure the use of best practices, cost efficiency, and access to additional non-taxpayer-based funding.

4. What, specifically, will you do to improve the quality of life for seniors in Arlington? (Note that last few years, 2 senior centers have been closed.) 

Clement:

Probably the greatest challenge for seniors in Arlington County is their tax burden. If elected, I am going to say no to tax rate increases for the foreseeable future.

I am also going to try to curtail rising property assessments while, at the same time, working to expand the number of affordable market rate housing units in the county.  And for those seniors who are renting, let’s remember that property tax increases have the unwanted side effect of forcing landlords to increase rents.  If we can limit those tax increases we can keep rent increases to a minimum.  That’s a win-win for everyone.

Another challenge for seniors is their ability to get around in an increasingly congested county.  If elected, I am going to address that concern by requiring an impact analysis for every major site plan development project, in order to determine its actual benefit to the people of this county.

Let me be clear. I am going to insist that the Board get serious about mitigating the impact of development on our streets, schools, parks and public safety.

Gutshall:

Creating a healthy community calls for an Arlington that is livable for all ages.  We need to accommodate the needs of Arlingtonians of all ages, and implement initiatives to improve housing, walkability, health care access, tax burdens, lifelong education and inter-generational social connections.  Focusing on older adults is especially important because the gift of increased longevity means that these older residents have years of productivity ahead of them.

Please see my full issue statement on Arlington’s older adults at my website.  Here are some highlights of what I would do on the County Board; I will:

  • Encourage and incentivize homeowners and builders to make homes adaptable by creating flexible spaces to accommodate changing needs and physical abilities, and
  • Simplify zoning and practical requirements to make it easier for older adults to share their homes and create space for caregivers.
  • Support and strengthen Arlington’s Real Estate Tax Relief (RETR) program
  • Advocate for Safe Streets, making crosswalks more visible, adding pedestrian islands in the middle of busy streets, and shortening the distance to cross busy roads.
  • Support services such as Super Senior Taxi and encouraging companies (ex: Red Top Cab) that provide older adults with discounts or other workable options.
  • Promote health care and other services that enable aging at home, help fight isolation and support caregivers.
  • Work with Arlington Neighborhood Village, George Mason University, Virginia Hospital, Goodwin House, innovative startups, and others on new public policy and initiatives to promote older adults’ health.
  • Support Arlington County services such as adult day programs, nutrition programs, mental health support and personal advocates.
  • Promote good quality of life through inter-generational interaction, recreation, art and music, lifelong learning and community participation. Staying physically active, enjoying new experiences, and being part of a social network help all of us as we age.
  • Co-locate senior programs with our schools to leverage the talent and wisdom of older adults to the benefit of young students eager to learn.
  • Support Arlington programs (ex: Encore Learning, 55+) that offer appealing classes and experiences for a range of older adults.

McCullough:

Arlington’s seniors are a growing, vibrant, and active community. Arlington should work more closely with our senior community to harness their creativity, knowhow, and wealth of experience so that they can age-in-place with dignity. To improve the quality of life of seniors, Arlington must focus in the following areas:

Preparing health and human services for the future:

  • Fund and plan for the growth of existing housing, health/dental, and transportation programs that enable seniors on a fixed income to afford the costs associated with independent living.
  • Expand programs that develop our own first responders and attract trained first responders from other jurisdictions to prepare for increased demand for emergency services.

Creating programs to address senior needs:

  • Utilize a joint-use facility model for senior centers to maximize space as well as more efficiently provide access to health and human services.
  • Develop companionship-building initiatives, such as regular meals and senior-only areas in facilities, that address depression among seniors.

Maximizing opportunities for seniors:

  • Update and develop a more comprehensive Elder Readiness Master Plan to address how the county intends to coordinate and advertise services.
  • Revise one-size-fits-all business regulations to make it easier for seniors to open small businesses for supplementary income or as a second career.
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Podcast: Committee of 100 Candidate Debate

Last week the Arlington Committee of 100 hosted a debate at Marymount University among those running for local office.

At the debate, the six candidates for County Board and School Board in the 2017 general election clashed on a range of issues, from how to engage more millennials in county government to closing the achievement gap in Arlington Public Schools.

For those who missed it, we have the audio from the full event on this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast. Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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At Immigration Forum, A Call for Sheriff’s Office’s Relationship With ICE to be ‘Revisited’

The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office should rethink its relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a leader at a criminal justice nonprofit.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director at the Falls Church-based Legal Aid Justice Center — which provides legal representation for low-income Virginians — said with President Donald Trump’s harder line on illegal immigration, Arlington and other jurisdictions should look again at how they work with ICE.

Under former President Barack Obama, he said, ICE was focused primarily on deporting illegal immigrants who are gang members and criminals. But now, according to Sandoval-Moshenberg, their orders appears to be broader as they seek to deport non-criminals as well.

Fellow panelist, Deputy Sheriff David Kidwell, said that Arlington is legally required to provide information on people under arrest electronically to Virginia State Police. VSP then shares that data with the FBI and ICE, among other law enforcement agencies.

If a person in jail is wanted by ICE for deportation and the Sheriff’s Office receives a request to hold onto them, it notifies ICE 48 hours before the person is released to come and collect them. But Sandoval-Moshenberg said that should change.

“I think there are a lot of assumptions and agreements under the old administration that need to be revisited given the new administration’s policies,” he said.

The pair were on a panel Wednesday night to discuss the impact of the changes in immigration law and enforcement as part of the Arlington Committee of 100’s monthly program at Marymount University.

Kidwell echoed County Manager Mark Schwartz’s statement earlier this year that Arlington cannot protect anyone from federal immigration enforcement. Instead, he said, Sheriff Beth Arthur has made the decision to “uphold the law.”

“She has decided once that request has been made [by ICE], to honor that request,” Kidwell said.

A third panelist, Laura Newton, director of Student Services at Arlington Public Schools, said APS will not require families or students to reveal their immigration status when they register. She added that families should not be afraid of sending their children to school.

“We need to make sure people know we are an open and welcoming county, and we will not stop anyone registering for school because of their legal status,” Newton said. She added that policy has not changed over the past several years, and APS has not received any complaints about it.

Still uncertain is the future of the approximately 800,000 people that will be affected when President Trump’s rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program starts to take effect in March. Trump is reported to be working on a deal with congressional Democrats to preserve DACA protections via legislation.

The decision, which affects people brought into the country illegally as children who were granted work permits and protection from deportation, was criticized by local members of Congress as well as the County Board.

Sandoval-Moshenberg estimated there are around 17,000 undocumented immigrants in Arlington. He said the dearth of affordable housing has meant the immigrant population has been slowly squeezed out. In 2000, 30 percent of Arlington residents were foreign-born, but in 2010, that figure went down to 20 percent.

“As the laws and policies have become more and more welcoming to immigrants and more and more friendly to immigrants, less and less are living here as fewer and fewer can afford to live here,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said. He said that ending DACA could mean more people go back into the shadows.

Both Kidwell and Newton said their agencies will not change their stances on illegal immigrants. Kidwell said sheriff’s deputies and police officers will not ask anyone under arrest about their immigration status, while Newton emphasized that APS mission to educate anyone and everyone who lives in Arlington.

“It’s not our place to judge the reasons why you are here,” she said. “Our job is to educate you.”

The Committee of 100 will discuss the impact of immigration policy and enforcement on private organizations and civic groups at its November meeting in the second of its two-part series on the issue. In October the group will hold a forum with local candidates for public office.

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Morning Notes

Trees in bloom on Feb. 29, 2016

It’s March 1 — Not only is today the first day of March, with spring (March 20) and Daylight Saving Time (March 13) around the corner, but it’s also the Super Tuesday presidential primary day here in Virginia. Arlington’s 52 polling places opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. [Arlington County]

Committee of 100 to Discuss Racial Tensions — On Wednesday, March 9, the Arlington Committee of 100 will hold a discussion entitled “Are Arlington’s Police and Justice Systems Prepared to Respond to Community and Racial Tensions?” Among the speakers are Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and Police Chief Jay Farr. [InsideNova]

Bowen McCauley Dance Performing at Kennedy Center — Arlington’s Bowen McCauley Dance company will be celebrating its 20th anniversary with performances at the Kennedy Center later this month. [WJLA]

It’s a Good Time to Lease an Office in Arlington — D.C.-based commercial real estate firm West, Lane & Schlager is advising companies to consider leasing office space in Arlington in the near future. The firm says the D.C. area is definitely a tenant’s market at the moment, but the tide will eventually turn. With vacancy rates stabilizing, companies can take advantage of lease concessions now, before the market turns in favor of landlords, the firm says. [Patch]

Four Courts Four Miler Coming Up — The popular annual Four Courts Four Miler race will take place Saturday morning, March 12. Registration is currently $40 and will, in part, benefit the Arlington County Police Benevolent Fund. As in previous years, those who beat the runner dressed up as a leprechaun — Ireland’s Four Courts manager Dave Cahill, a 3:10 marathon runner — will get a special gift from the pub. [Pacers Running]

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New Metro GM Promises Change, But Tempers Expectations

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld addresses the Arlington Committee of 100

You know a top executive’s gig is tough when an entire room applauds after someone gets up and says, “thank you for taking the job.”

That’s what happened Wednesday night at the Arlington Committee of 100 meeting at Marymount University, featuring new Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

Wiedefeld started the night by telling the crowd he has been fighting a cold since the January blizzard, when Metro shut down for a couple days, and will be taking a decidedly unglamorous trip to Lincoln, Nebraska later this month to check on the manufacturer of Metro’s problematic 7000-series railcars.

Turning around Metro is an exhausting job and Wiedefeld sounded, well, a bit exhausted.

During the audience question-and-answer session, he was asked whether Metro should lower the expectations of riders for the reliability of a two-track system built in the 1970s for a sleepier capital city

“I do think we need to be more realistic about what’s achievable and what’s not,” Wiedefeld said. “You can only fit so much through a small tube, that’s just reality. We need to do a better job of educating the public, for sure.”

Despite that, Wiedefeld acknowledged Metro’s problems, took responsibility for rider frustration and promised change.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld addresses the Arlington Committee of 100 (as seen in a video camera monitor)“Failure in some of the basic service delivery,” he said, listing Metro’s woes. “Communication isn’t to the standard it should be. In some cases there’s been a total lack of transparency.”

“I don’t think we’re doing the best we can do,” he continued. “We’re not putting out the service the best we could, and that’s the first thing we need to do.”

Under Wiedefeld, who was formerly the CEO of BWI Airport in Maryland, Metro has three main priorities: improve safety, improve basic service reliability, and get its fiscal house in order.

Wiedefeld is approaching the challenge from the bottom up: he’s been trying to spend as much time as possible with Metro’s front-line employees: those maintaining the rails, driving the buses and cleaning the trains. He said Metro’s headquarters and leaders have been too removed from its day-to-day operations on the ground, something he wants to improve.

Wiedefeld has also been making an effort to be a more visible leader in the region. That’s what brought him to the Committee of 100. At the meeting, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey marveled that Wiedefeld was the first Metro general manager she had actually met in person in all of her years of public service.

The realities of Metrorail’s maintenance needs may require some fundamental changes in the way Metro operates. Poor maintenance, after all, is what’s causing much of Metro’s current unreliability. The agency doesn’t even have enough working rail cars to meet its promises about eight-car trains. The delivery of the new 7000-series cars — only 80 are in service so far — will help, but they must be maintained, in addition to track and the myriad other components of the Metro system.

“We need to take a hard look at how we’re doing things, particularly on the maintenance side,” Wiedefeld said. “These are big, complex systems.”

Metro General Manager Paul WiedefeldTo improve safety, Metro is “churning away” at more than 200 issues identified by the Federal Transit Administration, following last year’s fatal incident at the L’Enfant Metro station. Wiedefeld says his family rides Metro and he’s confident of its safety, but there’s still plenty room for improvement.

Aside from the safety of the system itself, crime in Metro trains and stations is also a concern. A younger member of the audience asked about YouTube videos of violent encounters and the murder of a recent college graduate in a station last summer.

“Statistically, it’s a very very safe system,” he said, citing the statistic of six “part-one” crimes per million passengers. Wiedefeld, however, again said there was more to be done. Metro Transit Police should be more visible in stations, he said, helping to deter crime. It also wouldn’t hurt if criminals knew the long odds they face when committing crimes in Metro stations, either.

“Particularly on the rail side, we catch them most times, thanks to all the cameras,” he said. “You might want to do that somewhere else, because we’re going to get you.”

Though optimistic about the feasibility of turning Metro around, Wiedefeld was short on some specifics. Labor-related costs represent more than 70 percent of WMATA’s budget and critics have questioned whether union contracts are preventing some needed changes and employee accountability.

“It’s in the construct of a very complicated labor environment that we work under,” Wiedefeld said. “That’s not an excuse, that’s just the way it is.”

Wiedefeld said he’s hoping Metro can help spur local leaders into setting up a dedicated regional funding source for Metro, like other transit systems have. The goal isn’t to secure more money for the system, he said, it’s to allow Metro to focus more on region-wide priorities rather than catering to the whims of the localities that have to allocate money every year to keep Metro running.

Metro will also benefit from being run more like a business, with more rigor behind the prioritization of capital expenses, he said.

“We have a responsibility to run this as a business, even though we’re in a public sector environment,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re using the dollars efficiently and that we’re showing people where we’re spending the dollars.”

Metro’s turnaround is crucial to the region, for which Metro is a part of daily life and of its urban identity.

“Mall, monuments, Metro,” Wiedefeld said, referring to the experience of visitors to the city.

“There’s no debate about the importance of this system to the region… and to the environment,” he said. “We have to make sure it performs because it does drive the economy, it does drive daily life.”

At a time when ridership is declining to levels not seen in a decade, and rider satisfaction continues to fall, there’s little indication that the job of fixing Metro will be getting easier anytime soon. Wiedefeld, however, said he’s committed.

“Clearly there’s a lot to do… we didn’t get here overnight,” Metro’s leader concluded. “I’m not expecting you to do anything but say: ‘that’s great, but go fix it.'”

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Fisette To Debate Bottled Water Industry Rep

Bottled water (photo via Facebook)Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, who last year launched a “personal crusade” against bottled water, will debate a representative of the bottled water industry this weekend.

Fisette and Chris Hogan, Vice President of Communications for the Alexandria-based International Bottled Water Association, will speak at the Arlington Committee of 100’s monthly dinner meeting.

The debate, which is being held at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road) will begin at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan 8. An RSVP is required by Jan. 5.

From the event’s Facebook page:

In 2009, the Arlington County Board passed a resolution banning the use of taxpayer funds to purchase single use, bottled water – with a very few exceptions. That resolution spoke to the environmental cost of producing, transporting and disposing of these bottles. While that may have reduced their use at county sponsored functions, many of us still use single use bottled water. Incoming Board Chairman Jay Fisette has begun a crusade to reduce the use of single use plastic water bottles. At our January meeting we will address the questions related to this initiative. What are the advantages of single use bottled water? What are the effects on the environment of the way we dispose of the empty bottles? Are there alternatives that provide the same or similar advantages?

Arlington County water department employees and representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council are also expected to attend.

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