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Plans for New Reed School Set to Win County Approval This Weekend

Construction could soon get started on the new elementary school planned for the Reed School site in Westover, as the project looks set to earn the county’s approval this weekend.

The County Board is set to vote Saturday (Nov. 17) on a few zoning and easement tweaks for the property, located at 1644 N. McKinley Road. Arlington Public Schools is hoping to open the building in time for the 2021-2022 school year, and it will serve at least 732 students in all.

The school system’s plans call for the demolition of part of the existing school on the site, in order to allow for the construction of a new “two and four story school building, containing approximately 112,919 square feet, on the northeast side of the existing building,” according to a staff report prepared for the Board.

The School Board signed off on designs for the $55 million project back in August, and the plans have since earned the endorsement of the Planning Commission as well.

The lone change county planners are recommending is an alteration of a walking path to connect the school to Washington Blvd.

Originally, the path would run through an existing parking lot, up a small slope. But the slope was large enough to prompt some concerns about its accessibility for pedestrians with disabilities.

Accordingly, planners are recommending an alternative design to run the path parallel to the parking lot instead. To do so, the school system will have to cut back on nine parking spaces in the lot (bringing its total down to 133 spaces) in order to keep costs for the project down, a key concern for the School Board.

Both county staff and planners are recommending that the County Board adopt these plans, including the path alteration.

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Arlington Commits to Only Limited Affordable Housing Measures As Part of Amazon Deal

Amid persistent concerns that Amazon’s army of new workers will displace low-income Arlingtonians, county leaders plan to redirect their existing investments in affordable housing to better serve the areas impacted by the new headquarters — but the county won’t be upping its financial commitment to spurring the construction of reasonably priced homes.

While critics of Arlington’s decision to court Amazon’s HQ2 have focused on everything from the headquarters’ potential impact on county schools to its transportation systems, the tech giant’s impact on housing prices has perhaps drawn the most scrutiny of all.

The D.C. region has already seen a housing crunch in recent years, and all manner of experts have theorized that the arrival of Amazon’s thousands of highly paid workers will only worsen the county’s challenges. Accordingly, Virginia’s offer to Amazon includes a frequent emphasis on the region’s commitment to addressing local housing woes, and it touts a $150 million investment in affordable housing by Arlington and Alexandria over the next decade. The state has also pledged massive investments in existing programs through its Virginia Housing Development Authority.

But the details of the proposal contain a bit more nuance. The county won’t achieve that affordable housing investment by increasing its annual contributions to various housing-focused programs; rather, it will earmark about a third of those funds for projects creating affordable homes in Crystal City, Pentagon City and along Columbia Pike.

“We’re hoping that will help us create 1,000 new committed affordable units in that area,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “And that’s joined by the new commitment from the state, so we’re clearly making this a priority.”

The county currently sends about $21 million to affordable housing efforts each year, county economic development spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell said. That includes just over $14 million to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan program designed to encourage affordable developments, and contributions to other loan repayment programs for low-income renters.

That means about $7 million each year will be dedicated to housing affordability programs impacting the neighborhoods surrounding Amazon’s new headquarters. Cristol also hopes to increase that amount as new tax revenues from the company flow into county coffers, though Arlington will need a few years to truly feel those revenue impacts.

Michelle Winters, executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, was hoping to see the county step up its total commitment to affordable housing funds immediately, not simply move money around. She points out that, even with the county’s existing efforts, Arlington has seen dramatic declines in the amount of both “committed affordable” homes, where housing prices are controlled, and “market rate” affordable homes, which are designed with prices to match the current housing environment.

“It’s going take additional analysis to determine if this will actually be enough to meet the needs arising from Amazon and other growth in the region,” Winters said.

More intense Amazon skeptics, however, believe that anything short of a full-court press from the communities surrounding the new headquarters will spell disaster for renters in the area. State Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District) fully expects that Arlingtonians priced out of the county will soon flock to outer suburbs like his Manassas-area district, causing a ripple effect throughout the Northern Virginia region.

“I live in a one bedroom apartment in Manassas; my rent’s going to go up, and I’m going to get priced out of my own district,” Carter said. “It speaks to the flawed conventional wisdom around economic development. It says that more jobs are always good: but at what cost?”

County officials don’t see the situation as being quite so dire, however. They note that up to 20 percent of the workers Amazon plans to hire likely already live in the area, and that employees will arrive gradually in Arlington over the next few years, not simply show up all at once and disrupt the housing market overnight.

Arlington leaders also believe they’ll have more tools at their disposal to address housing affordability by the time Amazon starts truly ramping up its hiring.

One key way the county earns money for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) is by forcing developers to make contributions to it as they win local approvals for massive new projects. Amazon won’t be building much in Arlington right away, choosing to move into some existing space in Crystal City to start — that’s an outcome affordable housing advocates feared, as the company won’t be required to chip into the AHIF until it starts sketching out construction plans.

But County Board member Erik Gutshall points out that Amazon has big plans for future construction in the area, which will eventually result in “straight contributions” to the AHIF. Amazon has already purchased large tracts of land in Pentagon City from developer JBG Smith, and could opt to fully re-develop some of the existing buildings it’s leasing someday.

“Over time, everything is going to be new,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “They’re not just going to stay in existing 1960s buildings. Permanently, they’re building new stuff.”

Yet Winters argues that programs like the AHIF can only do so much to create new affordable housing in the county. She credits the county for some of its work to preserve some older, moderately priced homes, but urged officials to do more, with greater urgency.

“While additional subsidy and investment is absolutely needed, it’s not the only thing that it’s needed,” Winters said. “We absolutely need to ramp up the pace housing is added to the county.”

Other urbanists are willing to call for even more transformative changes to make that happen, now that Amazon has arrived.

Cristol acknowledged that “the one thing we can’t address through public policy is speculation in the market,” and early estimates suggest that speculation will be no laughing matter — McEarney Associates, a group of Northern Virginia realtors, released a report estimating that overall home prices will rise anywhere from 20 to 30 percent in the wake of Amazon’s announcement, with appreciation rates “north of 15 percent” in the immediate vicinity of the new headquarters.

Accordingly, Cristol does see a need to “meet the supply challenge,” but she’d prefer to double down on some of the county’s existing efforts to loosen zoning rules for “accessory dwelling units” or allow more renovations to older duplexes, rather than pursue more dramatic changes.

“We need to increase our urgency in expanding housing options among that ‘missing middle’ housing stock,” Cristol said.

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Arlington Shouldn’t Fear a ‘Tsunami’ of New Residents With Amazon’s Arrival, Officials Say

Amazon’s new headquarters will fundamentally transform Arlington in the years to come, but county officials are hoping to reassure residents that the area won’t change in the blink of an eye.

Instead, Arlington leaders are painting the arrival of the tech giant — and the 25,000 workers set to someday occupy its new office space — as a development that will shape the county’s economic landscape over time, rather than overnight. And, they hope, that will give the county time to prepare accordingly.

“This is not going to feel like a tsunami of new people on our streets or kids in our schools,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol said during a question-and-answer session live-streamed on Facebook last night (Tuesday).

Critics of the county’s courtship of Amazon have long feared the impact that thousands of highly paid workers arriving in the region could have on everything from home prices to school overcrowding. But Arlington leaders have often countered that the region is experiencing dramatic growth at the moment, and seems set to see even more in the future, meaning that Amazon’s arrival might not seem especially out of place.

Now that Jeff Bezos and company have made the big decision, targeting Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard for half of its proposed second headquarters, officials remain confident in those predictions. Cristol, for instance, noted Tuesday that the tech company could draw as much as 15 to 20 percent of its new workforce from current county residents.

“They located here because they want access to the tech talent we have here,” Cristol said.

As for the rest of the new Amazon staffers, Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins pointed out that they won’t be arriving on the county’s doorstep next week, or even next month. Under the terms of the company’s proposed deal with the state, Amazon would only hire about 400 workers for the new Arlington campus next year.

That number will ramp up sharply over time, however, leaping to 1,180 new staffers in 2020 and then 1,964 workers the year after. But Hoskins noted that the pace of change would’ve been even more dramatic had Amazon stuck with its original plan to house all 50,000 workers in one city, rather than splitting “HQ2” between Arlington and New York City.

“After February, when the deal is set to be approved [by the Board], you’ll see the first employees arriving,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “Beyond that, I don’t think people will see a lot different in first year… It’ll become more noticeable a few years out.”

For parents nervous about how many kids those new workers will bring with them, Cristol is also optimistic that the school system will be able to handle the influx of students. She expects that the county will only see two to three additional students in each school per year, and that’s only when Amazon fully ramps up hiring in the coming years.

Depending on how the county is calculating that figure, such an increase would work out to anywhere from 70 to 105 new students enrolled in Arlington Public Schools each year, at a time when the school system is already struggling with severe financial pressures to match rising enrollment.

“That’s not nothing,” Cristol said. “But compared to the 500 students per year that APS is already adding, it’s really manageable.”

But Schwartz noted that, under the county’s revenue-sharing agreement with APS, roughly half of the tax revenue that Amazon generates will flow into the school system’s coffers. He estimates a $315 million increase in tax revenue over the life of the county’s deal with Amazon, which beats county projections by about $160 million between now and 2030.

Of course, Schwartz says the county will still feel some pain in the short term. Though Amazon represents a tax windfall for Arlington, he warned that it will take time for the county to feel the benefits — and that means that painful measures like layoffs, service reductions and tax increases remain on the table for the county’s new budget.

“We’ve been through several difficult budget years and we have a couple more to bridge to where we’re going to be,” Schwartz said.

Cristol acknowledged that there are some “difficult short-term conversations” on the way in the county, particularly as Arlington tries to prepare for Amazon’s impact without the tax revenues it needs to fund necessary projects and services.

But she also pledged to be open to having those difficult discussions. Some Amazon skeptics have already called on the Board to hold multiple town halls focused on Amazon alone, and Cristol said officials plan to do so, and more.

“Let us know if you want us to come meet with your civic group,” Cristol said. “We plan to have many conversations in the community about this.”

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Morning Notes

WWI Commemoration Sunday — “At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I ended with the signing of the armistice. One hundred years later, we are gathering to commemorate the end of the Great War with a ceremony at the Clarendon War Memorial to mark the hour and day the armistice was signed.” [Arlington County, Arlington County]

County Board Election Map — In Tuesday Arlington County Board election, John Vihstadt captured most of the precincts in residential North Arlington, as well as few in South Arlington — including Aurora Hills and Fairlington — but Matt de Ferranti won by capturing the precincts along the Metro corridors and around Columbia Pike. [Blue Virginia]

De Ferranti Says Economic Development is Top Priority — “My top priority will be to work on bringing down the office-vacancy rate so that we can afford to invest in our schools and Arlington’s future,” de Ferranti told the Sun Gazette. “The other priorities – housing affordability, renewable energy and child hunger – will also be areas I will work on, but the majority of my time preparing to serve will be thinking about how we can grow and attract businesses to help us grow and afford the investments we need for our future.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Spots Make ’50 Best Restaurants’ List — Half a dozen Arlington establishments made Northern Virginia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2018. They are: Ambar, Green Pig Bistro, Nam-Viet, Peter Chang, Ray’s the Steaks and SER. None, however, cracked the top 10. [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Arlington Ranks No. 2 on ‘Hardest Working’ List — Arlington is the No. 2 hardest-working “city” in America, second only to the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek, according to a new study. Arlington residents spend an average of 41.8 hours per week working and another 4.9 hours commuting, with 16.3 percent of the population leaving work before 7 a.m., the study found. [Haven Life]

ACPD Participates in Alzheimer’s Awareness — “Each year, the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) encounters memory-impaired individuals, including regular contact with those enrolled in the Project Lifesaver program… Recognizing the importance of education and awareness about this disease for both officers and the community, ACPD is joining the many landmarks, cities and agencies who are members of Project Lifesaver around the globe taking part in Light the World Teal Day by wearing teal ribbons on their uniforms on November 8.” [Arlington County]

Demonstration at Courthouse Plaza — Activists planned a demonstration at 5 p.m. last night in Courthouse Plaza “in support of protecting the Mueller investigation” [Twitter, Twitter]

HQ2 in Crystal City Would Benefit Tysons, Too — The Tysons area is expected to see increased demand for housing and commercial real estate should Amazon open a large new office complex in Crystal City.  “I think Tysons will reap the benefits without having to suffer from the traffic issues that may come as a result,” said one university professor. [Tysons Reporter]

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Democrats Hail De Ferranti’s Win Over Vihstadt As ‘Astounding Recovery’ From 2014 Defeats

John Vihstadt’s pair of decisive County Board victories four years ago were some of the lowest moments for Arlington Democrats since the county turned decisively blue decades ago — for many, that makes Matt de Ferranti‘s win all the sweeter.

De Ferranti’s seven-point win over the independent incumbent stands in stark contrast to Vihstadt’s double-digit dominations of Alan Howze in both a special election and a general election back in 2014. Those wins were widely seen as a rebuke to the Board’s Democratic majority, particularly with projects like the Columbia Pike streetcar and the Long Bridge Park aquatics center the targets of frequent community complaints.

Accordingly, county Democrats now see such a stark turnaround just a few years later as proof that they learned the lessons of 2014, and have responded to that dissatisfaction from voters.

“This is one of the biggest wins for Democrats in Arlington that I can remember,” Paul Ferguson, Arlington’s clerk of circuit court and a Democratic officeholder in the county dating back to 1996, told ARLnow.

Democrats surely benefitted from an energized electorate as well, owing to a midterm election that sent plenty of voters to the polls looking to send a message to President Donald Trump — nearly 101,000 people cast ballots in the race, about 37,300 more than in Vihstadt’s general election win back in 2014. De Ferranti himself acknowledged that “the broader national mood didn’t hurt” in powering his win.

But county Democrats also argued that de Ferranti’s victory, by a commanding margin, proved that the local party and its officeholders spent the last few years making meaningful changes to their way of doing business.

“That was an astounding recovery from 2014,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen, who also won a convincing re-election over independent Audrey Clement Tuesday. “John is a very well-liked, very well-respected person. For Matt to put together a campaign to overcome all of those obstacles, the 2014 deficit he was starting with, that is absolutely a demonstration of the blue wave.”

Vihstadt did indeed have plenty of strengths, enough that many political observers around the county believed he could survive such a Democratic wave. He had the backing of a variety of current and former Democratic elected officials, a hefty campaign war chest and plenty of name recognition after years of civic activism in the county.

But all those factors were not enough for him to hold on to his seat, ensuring that Democrats will have unified control of the Board once more — Vihstadt himself declined an interview Tuesday night, and did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.

“People genuinely saw that we heard the message of 2014,” de Ferranti said. “Time doesn’t stand still. We’re evolving as a community and responsiveness is important. Fiscal responsibility is important, but also we have to make investments in our future.”

County Board member Erik Gutshall (D) agreed with that line of thinking, arguing that voters themselves have evolved over the last four years as well.

Vihstadt triumphed in 2014 by winning over many disaffected Democrats, to say nothing of independents and Republicans, largely by insisting on a more fiscally conservative approach to governing and emphasizing the close scrutiny of county projects. De Ferranti criticized that style as one that didn’t lay out a positive vision for the county, and Gutshall expects that voters were sympathetic to that message.

“Arlington has had the chance to reflect about where we are and make a choice about what direction we want to go,” Gutshall said. “Do we want to go toward a bold vision or do we want to stay focused on trying to maintain the status quo? With the benefit of four years, they had a chance to reflect on that and move forward.”

However, Gutshall would stress that such a comment is not “an indictment of John’s service.” While county Democrats have long yearned to unseat Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, none were willing to spike the football too vigorously over his defeat.

“Today, a decent person lost, and a decent person also won — the fact that both statements can still be true in Arlington should give us all hope for the future of our democracy,” county Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo wrote in a statement.

Board Chair Katie Cristol (D) was even willing to credit Vihstadt for helping the Board learn from his “clear-eyed approach on fiscal issues, in particular.”

“We’ve definitely seen a shift on the Board in how to be more inclusive in our decision-making… and that’s a real legacy for him,” Cristol said.

But Cristol also noted that de Ferranti’s win also completes the near-total transformation of the Board from just five years ago. Only Libby Garvey, a Vihstadt backer and former School Board member, remains from the Board that Vihstadt joined when he won in 2014.

Cristol and Vice Chair Christian Dorsey both joined the Board in 2015, and both were newcomers to the political scene at the time of their victories. When combined with the 45-year-old de Ferranti — a first-time candidate himself, who Ferguson dubbed “the best young candidate I’ve seen in my career” — Gutshall fully expects that the newly reconstituted Board will think, and act, a bit differently.

“It’s a completely different Board, and a Board that’s going to be focused on: ‘How do we meet our challenges and how do we take bold action?'” Gutshall said. “People want to be bold. They want to see progressive values put into action.”

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BREAKING: De Ferranti Bests Vihstadt for County Board, Amidst Democratic Sweep in Arlington

(Updated at 11:15 p.m.) Democrat Matt de Ferranti has knocked off independent incumbent John Vihstadt in the race for County Board, restoring the Board to unified Democratic control for the first time since 2014.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, de Ferranti captured a 53 percent to 46 percent victory over Vihstadt, a difference of about 7,000 votes.

The difficulty of the electoral math for Vihstadt, amid heavy Democratic turnout, was apparent since the first precincts reported. De Ferranti was leading in three of the first four. In 2014, Vihstadt won each of the four districts in his general election race against Alan Howze.

Arlington Democrats had eyed Vihstadt’s seat on the Board ever since his surprise victories four years ago, when he bested Alan Howze in both a special election and general election, becoming the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999.

“This a reflection of where we’ve come as a party… we heard the message of 2014,” de Ferranti told ARLnow amidst a jubilant crowd of Democrats at William Jeffrey’s Tavern on Columbia Pike Tuesday night. “And I think we have to be humble enough to acknowledge that the national mood didn’t hurt.”

De Ferranti, a lawyer and advocate for Native American education, argued that he had an optimistic and forward-looking vision for the county’s future that stood in stark contrast to Vihstadt’s record. He contended that the incumbent hadn’t done enough to address the county’s persistently high office vacancy rate, and that Vihstadt was overly focused on saying ‘no’ to ambitious projects rather than pursuing an agenda with vision.

Vihstadt, meanwhile, pledged to continue to provide some balance to the Board’s Democratic majority and to work to manage the county’s growth responsibly. Vihstadt did not, however, have a singular project to rail against this year, as he did the Columbia Pike Street Car four years ago. The independent’s victory was widely seen as a rebuke to that project specifically and the Board’s Democratic majority more generally.

Still, the two contenders largely agreed on most pressing issues facing the county. However, de Ferranti separated himself a bit by adopting a friendlier stance toward Amazon’s potential arrival in Arlington, and by setting goals for the county like ending child hunger by 2022 and shifting to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035.

De Ferranti won despite being out-raised by Vihstadt in the race for campaign cash, but he benefitted from support from three of his fellow Democrats on the Board — Libby Garvey endorsed Vihstadt once again — and a variety of statewide politicians.

This was de Ferranti’s first run for elected office. He won a two-way primary against fellow newcomer Chanda Choun back in June.

School Board member Barbara Kanninen also won a second term, ensuring that Democratically endorsed candidates will maintain unified control of the Board once more.

Kanninen, an economist, bested independent Audrey Clement by a margin of 68 percent to about 30 percent. Clement and Kanninen last squared off in 2014, when Kanninen first joined the Board.

The race is nominally nonpartisan, but county Democrats have now twice backed Kanninen for office, and she spent the past year serving as Board chair, which rotates among the five members.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to work,” Kanninen told ARLnow. “I think it shows that people know we’re working hard as a Board and we care about our kids.”

Kanninen ran on traditional issues impacting the school system, like her support for mental health resources for students and improving teacher retention through consistent pay increases, but Clement worked to focus the race on the Board’s decision to change the name of Washington-Lee High School. Opponents of the name change charged that Kanninen spearheaded the effort, and threw their support behind Clement.

Yet the independent fell short once more, in what was her eighth unsuccessful bid for local office in Arlington.

Kanninen was unopposed in the race for the Democratic nomination this year.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) also cruised to re-election over Republican Thomas Oh, earning his third term in Congress.

Beyer, Virginia’s former lieutenant governor and the owner of several local car dealerships, dominated with nearly 79 percent of the vote to Oh’s 20 percent. The 8th District, which includes Arlington and parts of Alexandria, is one of the most Democratic in the country, last electing a Republican in 1988.

Oh charged that Beyer has been unresponsive to his constituents since taking over for longtime Rep. Jim Moran, and ran on a moderate platform that was decidedly different from other Republicans around the state. But Beyer countered that he’d been an effective representative for the district, noting his focus on environmental issues in particular during his time in Congress.

All four bond referenda easily earned approval from Arlington voters, with none earning less than 73 percent of the vote. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) also cruised to a 15-point victory over Republican Corey Stewart, with his race called as soon as polls closed.

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More Scooter Companies Coming to Arlington As Safety Concerns Linger

Arlington officials say the first month of the county’s dockless vehicle pilot program has largely gone smoothly, though enforcing rules about where to ride the pervasive electric scooters remains a challenge.

Two companies — Lime and Bird — have been offering their dockless scooters around Arlington ever since the County Board signed off on a “demonstration project” for the vehicles in late September. Though Bird previously operated in the county without any explicit government involvement, the Board’s pilot program was designed to set some standards for dockless vehicles and allow companies to operate hundreds in the county at a time.

County commuter services bureau chief Jim Larsen told the Transportation Commission last Thursday (Nov. 1) that two more scooter companies could soon enter Arlington as well: Skip and Lyft, which only recently began offering scooters in addition to its ridesharing service.

Then, by January, Larsen expects that Jump could also make the move from D.C. into Arlington and offer both electric bikes and scooters in the county.

“The dynamics of this change weekly, if not daily,” Larsen told the commission.

Larsen added that, since Oct. 1, county police have responded to a total of nine crashes involving scooter riders, though he noted that there’s been “nothing major” among the accidents so far.

Still, one of those incidents did involve a student riding a scooter who was struck while in a crosswalk, Larsen said. The scooter companies generally ban anyone under the age of 18 from riding the vehicles, and Larsen said the county is working closely with the school system to make that clear to students.

Larsen also noted that the top public complaints the county has received about the program relate to “illegal sidewalk and train riding, improper parking, unsafe riding, underage riders and speed.”

Those were concerns echoed by Transportation Commissioner Audrey Clement, who noted that she’s seen teenagers riding scooters without helmets on the Custis Trail in the past, which would make for three violations of the county’s policies.

“There’s no way you could even ask Arlington Police to monitor the length of the Custis Trail or any of the trails in this county,” said Clement, who is also mounting an independent bid for School Board this year. “Absent a realistic enforcement policy, this pilot program is both reckless and irresponsible.”

Larsen conceded Clement’s point, but did stress that county staff are working closely with both the dockless companies and police to ensure the safety of riders and drivers alike.

County police, meanwhile, also trying to spread the word about scooter safety as part of a broader traffic safety campaign this fall, and have even started using electronic signs reminding scooter riders to stay off sidewalks.

Others on the commission were less willing than Clement to attack the program’s legitimacy. Commissioner Jim Lantelme was interested in comparing the number of scooter-involved crashes to those involving bikes, noting that they “might actually be safer than bicycles or other methods” of getting around. Larsen, however, didn’t have such data available.

By and large, commissioners said they were satisfied with the program’s early results, and Larsen agreed. He noted that Bird and Lime have both done a “pretty good job” of balancing the number of scooters available in D.C., which has its own dockless pilot program, and Arlington.

Larsen praised Lime, in particular, for employing 21 people to monitor the scooters around the county and operating its own warehouse in Arlington.

“They’re really trying to go around and self-police,” Larsen said. “We’re really trying to push the operators to emphasize safety themselves.”

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Election Officials Report Robust Turnout, Long Lines at Polling Places Around the County

(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Voting is in full swing around Arlington for the midterm elections, and election officials are reporting plenty of lines and enthusiasm at polling places around the county.

As of noon, the county’s election office reported seeing 40 percent of its just over 149,000 registered voters cast ballots. That figure includes only in-person voting today, according to general registrar Linda Lindberg.

In general, Lindberg says that number is a bit higher than the county would expect for a non-presidential year. For comparison, Arlington recorded about 31 percent turnout by the middle of the day a year ago, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

“We usually have a burst in the morning, and the difference has been that burst was a bit longer this year,” Lindberg told ARLnow. “We definitely have a sense we’re getting people at the polls who don’t vote regularly. We always have that issue for presidential elections, but not usually for the midterms.”

Lindberg added that turnout may well be even stronger, but there are plenty of absentee ballots for her staffers to count as well.

The Virginia Square polling place, located on George Mason University’s campus, certainly saw robust turnout this morning. Aimee Bosse, the precinct’s elections chief, told ARLnow that the polling place saw a rush of about 50 to 100 people as soon as polls opened this morning, with a line wrapping around the lobby and running out the door.

“This has been really busy,” Bosse said. She’s expecting another afternoon rush around 3:30 p.m. or so.

One voter at the polling place, Alexei Monsarrat, said that the whole operation was “perfectly well organized,” despite the high interest.

He added that he voted for Democrats up and down the ballot and is hoping that the party regains control of both the House and Senate to rebuke President Donald Trump. Monsarrat even brought along his 8-year-old son, Asher, to let him see the process.

“Obviously I’m very excited to vote today,” Monsarrat said. “I’m looking for a change… I’m a straight democratic voter.”

Aaron Webb, elections chief at the Rosslyn Gateway polling place (1911 Fort Myer Drive), added that his location has seen lines up to 30 minutes long so far today.

Others also reported unusually long lines at precincts elsewhere around the county on Twitter.

Lindberg says there haven’t been any major issues at polling places, outside of some puddles making it a bit hard to reach the polls. But as the rain subsides, and maintenance workers get a chance to mop up, she’s not predicting any major issues.

In fact, Lindberg says she’s heard the more concerning reports today about the behavior of voters themselves. She notes that her office has received some complaints about voters being “less than friendly” to some members of the foreign press covering Arlington’s elections, particularly those from Middle Eastern countries.

“They’re just trying to do their jobs and report, so it’s unfortunate to hear,” Lindberg said.

Races on the ballot for Arlington voters this year include the U.S. Senate contest between Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Republican Corey Stewart and the 8th District Congressional seat pitting Democratic Rep. Don Beyer against Republican Thomas Oh. In local races, voters will choose between incumbent independent John Vihstadt and Democrat Matt de Ferranti for County Board and independent Audrey Clement and incumbent Barbara Kanninen, who was endorsed by county Democrats, for School Board.

A variety of bond measures and two constitutional questions will also be on the ballot. The county website features full sample ballots, and details on where to vote.

Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting

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County Readies Temporary Parking, Road Changes to Make S. Four Mile Run Drive More Walkable

Though the biggest changes to the Four Mile Run Valley and its parks are still a few years out, Arlington officials are gearing up to make a few road changes in the area before major construction starts.

The county is planning some interim parking tweaks to free up space primarily along S. Four Mile Run Drive as it approaches Jennie Dean Park, in a bid to prepare for more substantial pedestrian and parking changes as the area evolves in the future. Officials are convening a community meeting to discuss the temporary changes tonight (Monday) at the Charles Drew Community Center (3500 23rd Street S.), starting at 7:30 p.m.

The affected roads up for discussion include:

  • S. Four Mile Run Drive major between Walter Reed Drive and Shirlington Road
  • S. Four Mile Run Drive minor west of Shirlington Road
  • S. Oxford Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • S. Oakland Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • S. Nelson Street south of S. Four Mile Run Drive
  • 27th Street S. between Shirlington Road to S. Nelson Street

According to the county’s website, “the changes are designed to provide better access for residents, park users and businesses in the area,” and are included as part of the long-range planning documents the County Board is currently finalizing for the Four Mile Run Valley.

The 4MRV Area Plan, set to be considered by the Planning Commission on Wednesday (Nov. 7), calls for a full “reconfiguration” of S. Four Mile Run Drive, in order for the county to test out some changes to make the area a bit more pedestrian-friendly and free up parking around Jennie Dean Park. Additions will primarily include “paint, bollards and landscaped planters,” according to the draft document.

“This would create a temporary 10-foot sidewalk on the south side of the street, a pedestrian crossing island at the intersections of Nelson and Oxford streets, and curb extensions (with planters) along the corridor,” the plan says. “Parking lanes would still be provided on both sides of the street. This interim solution would allow the county to pilot the new street design and collect input/data on vehicle speeds and delay, pedestrian comfort, safety and access to businesses.”

As an example, the planning document points to the intersection of S. Arlington Mill Drive and S. Walter Reed Drive, where the county is currently working on curb extensions and crosswalks to make the area more hospitable to cyclists and walkers alike.

The county anticipates that the interim changes will get set up this winter. County planner Richard Tucker even told the Transportation Commission last Thursday (Nov. 1) that some could be in place, “in the next several weeks,” so long as Monday’s meeting goes smoothly.

In the longer term, the area plan calls for “a parallel/angled parking strategy for Four Mile Run Drive with a concept for parallel parking on Arlington Mill Drive,” freeing up a bit more parking in an area that’s frequently in high demand.

“This concept creates more than 30 angled parking spaced immediately adjoining Jennie Dean Park,” the plan says. “Through regulatory and design changes, more than 250 additional spaces would be available during the daytime and evening. The cost of repainting streets in this configuration is far less than constructing new parking structures, and there may be opportunities for the county to explore shared parking agreements in existing nearby private parking garages.”

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Candidate Essay: John Vihstadt

Last week, we asked the two candidates for Arlington County Board to write a sub-750 word essay on why the county’s residents should vote for them on Nov. 6.

Here is the unedited response from independent John Vihstadt:

In 2014, you took a chance on me. Against the odds, I leveraged over three decades of community leadership – in our public schools, our neighborhoods, and our advisory commissions – to win a seat on the County Board as an Independent. This foundation enabled me to be an effective County Board member from Day One.

Arlingtonians want their local elected officials to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of local government. They expect their local government to deliver essential community services, programs and facilities, effectively, efficiently, on time and on budget.

I am keeping my commitments to you that I pledged four years ago.

I can’t take full credit, but we are moving away from extravagant and unsustainable capital projects. The streetcar was cancelled, there are no more $1.6 million dog parks or million-dollar bus stops. The former ArtiSphere is now on the tax rolls, and the Olympic-sized aquatics center was downsized.

We’re giving renewed focus to core services, like new seats for new students, shoring up Metro and Columbia Pike transit, augmenting our parks, fields and green space, improving public safety pay, speeding our street paving and holding up our social safety net.

I teamed up with Delegate Patrick Hope to obtain Arlington’s authority to hire an Independent County Auditor. We now have a Waste, Fraud & Abuse Hotline, and protection for employee whistleblowers. Yet while we’ve made progress, more must be done.

Going forward, I’m focusing on three key areas:

  • Growing our economy, while managing Arlington’s growth in a fiscally responsible, environmentally sustainable way. As we diversify our economy across all sectors, we must also ensure a reasonable tax and regulatory climate and user-friendly permitting and approvals for businesses big and small and individuals alike.  It’s time we get ahead of the curve on new public facilities rather than always playing catch-up.  At my urging, the Board has directed the Manager to craft models for cost-benefit studies for new development, and we need authority to direct some developer contributions to address impacts on schools, green space and more.
  • Ensuring greater openness, transparency and inclusion in how we work. With my leadership, we’ve expanded the wording of County bond explanations to give voters more details on big-ticket items. It’s essential we strengthen our Open Data policy by bringing real-time online transparency to the data that drives our decisions. While we’ve made progress, I’m committed to ensuring that our County advisory commissions reflect our diversity, and that we continue to be a welcoming community regardless of who you are. And while there will always be emergencies, a “no-surprises” community engagement process for all initiatives is critical.
  • Instilling a stronger sense of fiscal discipline in County operations. Current County expenditures outpace revenues by 1.5%, so we need new thinking. My repeated effort to ensure that most of our annual budget surplus not be spent, but saved and carried over to the next Fiscal Year, is finally gaining traction with colleagues. At my leadership, the Manager is appointing a reform group to address the cost, timing and coordination issues that often plague our infrastructure projects, and, as Audit Committee co-chair, I’m working with APS to control schools construction costs. This spring, I led the 3-2 Board majority in holding the line on the property tax rate.

In closing, it’s not big news when members of one party endorse their own for office. That’s the nature of tribal politics. What’s remarkable is that I have the endorsement of ten former School Board members, including six Democrats who don’t have to worry about their next election.  And, I’m supported by three incumbent Democratic officeholders who do: County Treasurer Carla de la Pava, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, and County Board colleague Libby Garvey.

In explaining her support, former School Board Chair Sally Baird said,

I so appreciate the balance and perspective John represents.  His presence ensures a broader dialogue.  At its core, for me, John at the table affirms the most fundamental of Democratic values: inclusiveness.

I hope you agree with Sally that I have brought inclusiveness to the Board, and our community is healthier for it.

Whether it’s pedestrian safety, community infrastructure, school funding or parks, in your neighborhood or elsewhere, I’m working hard for you every day.

As the only Independent, I’ve brought needed balance to the County Board. I need your help to keep it there. Let’s not go back to the echo chamber of unanimous one-party government. I ask for your vote. Thank you.

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Candidate Essay: Matt de Ferranti

Last week, we asked the two candidates for Arlington County Board to write a sub-750 word essay on why the county’s residents should vote for them on Nov. 6.

Here is the unedited response from Democrat Matt de Ferranti:

I am running for the County Board to bring new vision and fresh ideas to solve Arlington’s biggest challenges–reducing our office vacancy rate, building the schools we need to educate every child, increasing housing affordability, expanding opportunity for all, protecting our environment, and tackling climate change.

Addressing our Office Vacancy Rate

Our office vacancy rate has been hovering at 20% for four years. If we don’t fill the empty offices in Crystal City, Rosslyn and Ballston, we won’t be able to afford the services that make Arlington such a great place to live: our schools, the housing we need so that people can afford to live here, the parks and open space that are so vital for us, our transportation system, and other key services. And we won’t be able to avoid deficits like the one that is projected for the coming year–$78 million–8% of our operating budget.

Leveraging our Talented Residents and New Ideas To Grow our Economy

The tough work of solving this problem is not new to me. I’ve worked on economic development as an attorney for local governments, so I know how to convene and build relationships with thought leaders and businesses. We must focus on the fields of the future: cybersecurity, clean and green-technology, and medical technology. We must leverage our talented workforce–the most educated in the country–to become the intellectual research and development hub for Virginia and the region.

There are a lot of reasons for our 20% office vacancy rate. At some point, though, we need leadership from the County Board to bring it down. I’ve made this issue my top priority from the beginning of this campaign because I know reducing our vacancy rate is critical for our future and our shared prosperity.

Building the Schools We Need to Educate Every Child

I began my career as a teacher, currently work on Native American education, and served as Chair of the APS Budget Advisory Council last year. I helped bring down a $20 million gap without cutting core educational services. And we still provided a step increase for our educators and other school personnel.

I will continue my commitment to educational opportunity and fiscal responsibility by building and funding the schools we need to educate every child. The Arlington Education Association and all five members of the School Board are supporting me because of my commitment to education, and my honest assessment that we must lower the cost of construction per seat.

Addressing Our Housing Affordability Challenges

I have worked for Habitat for Humanity, serve on Arlington’s Housing Commission, and believe deeply that housing must be affordable for middle class Arlingtonians and those working to get into the middle class. Teachers, first responders, and young families must be able to afford to live here. Seniors must be able to age in place. I will work on this issue with creativity and relentless commitment if I have the honor of serving you.

Expanding Opportunity for All, Ending Child Hunger, and Focusing on Equity

Arlington is the fifth wealthiest county in the country, but we have more than 2300 families who seek help from the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) every month. If we work together, we can end child hunger in Arlington by 2022. We are a compassionate community and ended Veterans’ homelessness in 2015. We can end child hunger too.

Protecting our Environment and Tackling Climate Change

Climate change is a threat to our community, nation, and our world. It is an economic issue and a moral issue that Arlington must lead on. We must commit to 100% renewable energy by 2035. I will accelerate our Community Energy Plan, preserve our trees and open space, and protect our environment.

The Choice You Have on Tuesday

I have the support of leaders you trust: Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Don Beyer, County Board Chair Katie Cristol, County Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey, Delegate Rip Sullivan, Delegate Alfonso Lopez, Clerk of the Court Paul Ferguson, and all five Members of Arlington’s School Board. A full list of those who have endorsed me can be found at https://mattforcountyboard.com/endorsements/

Think about these leaders, the challenges I have outlined above, and our pressing needs. Go to https://mattforcountyboard.com to learn more. Then, hire the County Board Member you believe is best on the office vacancy rate, school capacity, housing affordability, expanding opportunity for all, protecting our environment, and addressing climate change.

I would be honored to earn your vote on Tuesday, November 6.

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De Ferranti Pledges to End Child Hunger in Arlington By 2022, Prompting Major Policy Questions

Democrat Matt de Ferranti wants to end child hunger in Arlington if he wins a spot on the County Board next week, and he says he can achieve that goal in the next four years.

In debates, campaign mailers, and his official platform, de Ferranti has pledged to ensure that no child in the county goes hungry by the time his first term on the Board would be up in 2022.

It’s a target that some observers think Arlington can meet, but gives others pause. And, crucially, it’s a key area of difference between de Ferranti and the man he’s hoping to unseat: independent John Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999.

Both of the contenders for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall want to reduce hunger in the county, of course. Yet the pair differs on how to achieve that goal, and how much the Board should prioritize it in the first place, providing a clear contrast between candidates who otherwise broadly agree on many of the pressing issues facing the county.

“The differences between me and my opponent are not always in votes, they’re often in agenda and focus,” de Ferranti told ARLnow. “I think we have to call Arlingtonians to be committed to this equity and be a caring, compassionate community on hunger in ways that we haven’t been called to until this point.”

Vihstadt and de Ferranti agree that the county could use more data on hunger and food insecurity in Arlington, and say they’d support a new study of the matter. The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) teamed up with Virginia Tech to release a paper on the matter back in 2012, and both Board contenders are eager for an update to that document.

Yet the incumbent admits to being a bit puzzled that de Ferranti is bringing up the issue so frequently in the first place, and would much rather wait for more information before acting.

“He is the only one who’s talking about critical gaps in child hunger,” Vihstadt said. “I haven’t heard an explanation of why we’re doing this by 2022 and why we’re only talking about child hunger versus senior hunger. He’s raised a good issue, but I would want to see more analysis on this.”

De Ferranti says he’s so focused on child hunger, specifically, because research links food insecurity to stunted development among children, and suggests that kids learn less if they come to school hungry. But he’s also relying on data from AFAC, the most prominent Arlington nonprofit focusing on hunger, claiming the numbers demand urgent attention to child hunger.

Charlie Meng, the executive director of AFAC, says de Ferranti is right to do so, and notes that he’s raised the issue with the County Board. In data Meng provided to ARLnow, AFAC has indeed seen a steady increase in the number of people requesting meals through the center, and an increase in the number of children served, specifically.

The numbers show that, in fiscal year 2014, AFAC served meals to 3,034 children. That number crept slowly upward over the years, and AFAC served 4,349 children in fiscal year 2018, an increase of about 43.3 percent over those four years.

“The question to the county is always: what’re your priorities?” Meng said. “It’s not always the government’s responsibility, but better support and coordination would go a long way to solving this issue.”

Meng believes that de Ferranti is absolutely correct that the county could effectively cut the number of hungry kids to zero within the next few years, “especially if the coordination and the desire to is there.

On that front, Meng thinks a good place to start would be sending AFAC more money each year.

The county currently allocates about $478,000 annually to help the nonprofit stay afloat, but Meng says AFAC largely depends on private donors to afford its roughly $7.5 million yearly operating budget. For the last two years, the county tacked on an extra $50,000 in one-time funds to send to the center, but the Board declined to do so this year amid a tight budget crunch.

Meng says he hasn’t needed to cut back on any of his programs after losing out on that money, but he has had to work a bit harder to fundraise to make up the difference. He believes that restoring that money, and even sending AFAC a bit more, would make a huge difference in helping the nonprofit identify hungry kids and reach them.

“They give me $478,000, and I give them $7 million in services,” Meng said. “The deal I give these guys is crazy. If you take money away, I can make it up, but it never makes anything easy.”

De Ferranti says he strongly disagreed with the Board’s decision not to send AFAC the additional funding. Even in a challenging budget environment, he argues “we should not be cutting back when the need in terms of the number of families per month has not decreased.”

Vihstadt is sympathetic to Meng’s case, but points out that AFAC already receives more county financial support than most nonprofits in Arlington. Similarly, he said the Board decided not to tack on any more funding in this year’s budget because members trusted in Meng’s fundraising prowess.

“There are nonprofits who are struggling and who do great work: AFAC is not one of them,” Vihstadt said. “I know he used that $50,000 reduction as an opportunity to raise money. I would love to know how much he raised as a result.”

Others working on the issue of child hunger across the state wonder if a focus on services in county schools might be the surer way for Arlington to reach de Ferranti’s goal.

Claire Mansfield, the director of No Kid Hungry Virginia, says her organization largely focuses on making sure schools offer “healthy, nutritious” meals for breakfast and lunch, as that’s generally the easiest way to reach kids who might not know where their next meal is coming from at home.

She’s particularly interested in making sure that schools not only serve a healthy breakfast, but do so as part of the regular school day, which can “remove the stigma” around students looking for a free or reduced price meal.

Mansfield points out that some, but not all of Arlington’s schools offer breakfast in the classroom — Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia says Randolph Elementary, Oakridge and Hoffman-Boston all do so, though Randolph only offers it to preschoolers and kindergarteners.

Mansfield says expanding such programs can have a huge impact, and that Oakridge has already seen a difference since starting breakfast in the classroom. According to her data, only 24 percent of students at the school eligible for free and reduced lunch ate breakfast in the 2014-15 school year; by last year, that number was up to 85 percent.

She added that schools can be key destinations for hungry kids looking to receive meals over the summer. Bellavia said the school system set up nine such “summer meal sites” this year, and Mansfield believes such options are a key way to fill in “gaps” in reaching families in need.

However, she’s a bit more hesitant than Meng to declare that simply following her prescriptions could definitively end child hunger in the county.

“I’m not one to put a timeline on that per se; if I could do it tomorrow I would do it tomorrow,” Mansfield said. “It’s just a case of making a commitment and saying, ‘We know how to solve this and we’re going to do what it takes.'”

Meng says he’s more than willing to do more work with county schools — in fact, one of his priorities is to expand AFAC’s “summer backpack program,” partnering with schools to reach hungry kids when class isn’t in session.

But to do so, he needs more money, and he says that’s where the County Board’s leadership matters on this question.

“We hear all the time, ‘Where are these people who need food?'” Meng said. “All you have to do is look around. Where do you think these people come from who are washing your dishes, doing your laundry, getting paid $7.25 an hour? We have them in this community. But we may not very long.”

Photo via @NottinghamSCA

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Morning Notes

Street Smart Campaign to Start Up Next Week — “As part of the Arlington County Police Department’s overall traffic safety program, the Special Operations Section is again participating in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Fall Street Smart campaign. This region-wide public safety campaign, which runs from November 5 – December 2, 2018, aims to educate drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and scooter operators about existing traffic laws and how to safely share our roadways.” [Arlington County]

County Board Lauds County Staff — In a video posted on YouTube, County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Vice Chair Christian Dorsey said “thank you” to Arlington County staff for the hard work that helped propel the county to high resident satisfaction ratings. “We are really proud of you… of your commitment to excellence and the role you play in making Arlington a terrific community.” [YouTube]

Bicycling Meetups This Fall — “Fall has arrived in Arlington, leaves have started to change colors, and temperatures are dipping overnight… If you’re looking for a good excuse to ride bikes and drink coffee this fall, like I do, there are plenty of local opportunities to make that happen.” [BikeArlington]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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Metro Wants to Increase Service Next Year, But Arlington Leaders See Major Legal, Financial Challenges

(Updated Thursday at 3 p.m.) Metro leaders are hoping to increase service during the morning and evening rush hours next year, but they could well face an uphill battle in convincing Arlington officials to help fund the change.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld proposed a budget for the new fiscal year that doesn’t include any fare increases, but does call for rush hour service to extend to 10 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. to better serve commuters. The budget, set to be reviewed for the first time by Metro’s Board of Directors tomorrow (Thursday), also beefs up service on the Yellow and Red lines and expands all trains to a maximum eight cars as part of a broader bid to win back riders for the struggling rail service.

The catch, of course, is that such service increases won’t come without a steep price tag. Even though Metro expects to bring in some new revenue with the added service, Wiedefeld expects that he’ll need an extra $20 million from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to afford those changes.

Virginia relies on individual localities like Arlington to chip in for WMATA each year, and that means Wiedefeld’s proposed changes would increase the county’s annual funding obligation to Metro from $75 million each year to $83 million. That works out to a 9.8 percent increase, a number that is giving Arlington officials some real pause.

“It’s not that it’s a bad idea,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “It’s a question of, where does the money come from?”

Christian Dorsey, the County Board’s vice chair and Arlington’s representative on the Metro Board of Directors, agrees that he’d love to see some service increases, particularly as Metro wrestles with a thorny internal debate about how to boost ridership. Yet he’s concerned that Arlington won’t be able to afford all of Wiedefeld’s changes, at least all at once.

The county is already dealing with an intense funding squeeze, driven in part by falling revenues but also by the deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated funding to Metro, which already put a larger burden on Arlington’s budget. This latest funding increase could make the county’s already grim financial picture even gloomier, Dorsey said.

“That’s a challenge, and there’s not the ability for any jurisdiction to just say, ‘Let’s take this budget and adopt it as is,'” Dorsey said. “I’ll be honest with you, this surprised me… I can’t quite come up with a rational reason why these service enhancement proposals were developed in this way.”

As Dorsey puts it, “something’s got to give, and something’s got to shift” in Wiedefeld’s proposal. He expects that some of the proposed changes to boost ridership “might need to wait until later,” due not only to Arlington’s specific budget challenges but one specific issue affecting all of Virginia’s localities.

A provision included in the dedicated funding deal prohibits the state from increasing its funding level to Metro by more than 3 percent each year, as part of a bid to control costs. Yet Wiedefeld’s proposal calls for an increase closer to 16 percent for the entire state, though that is largely driven by new construction costs for the second phase of the Silver Line, borne primarily by Loudoun County.

To Cristol, who doubles as the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and argued forcefully for the dedicated funding legislation last year, fighting to exceed that 3 percent cap seems like a perilous decision for Metro.

She notes that the General Assembly included that cap in the funding bill as a way to control costs, and it became an essential way to justify the legislation to lawmakers skeptical of Metro’s management over the years. Cristol believes that the state exceeding that 3 percent cap so soon “flies in the face of” the spirit of what the funding bill was designed to achieve.

“The NVTC has talked a lot about demonstrating that Northern Virginia and the Metro jurisdictions are taking this piece of legislation and, the accountability parts of it, very seriously,” Cristol said. “This is not sending a good signal… and we have to remember that the dedicated funding resolution is still new. It’s fragile.”

Metro spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how Wiedefeld plans to manage the challenge of the 3 percent cap. But, according to documents prepared for the Metro board, he seems set to argue that an exception to the cap would allow Metro ask for more money from the Virginia jurisdictions. The law does allow WMATA to ask localities for more cash, but only if it’s to afford an increase in service above and beyond what Metro is obligated to provide.

Yet Cristol points out that Metro is not the sole authority on interpreting Virginia law, meaning that any discussion of upping funding to pay for service increases is essentially “a legal question and not just a policy question.”

Dorsey agrees that the cap “could become a problem,” but he’s waiting to hear Wiedefeld’s pitch before becoming more definitive on the matter. Cristol suggested that Metro might be better served by putting more of the funding burden on D.C. and Maryland to avoid Virginia’s strictures.

But, even if Wiedefeld can find a way to surpass this legal hurdle, Dorsey wonders whether Wiedefeld’s focus on increasing service around the morning and evening rush hours is misplaced.

While Metro ridership has fallen across the board in recent years, he points out that the declines have been steepest during off-peak times and on weekends, when riders might encounter waits of 20 minutes or more for a train. For instance, numbers set to be presented to the NVTC Thursday show that average weekend Metro ridership in Arlington dropped by 15.3 percent between 2016 and 2017.

Wiedefeld’s budget does call for implementing a $2 flat fare for weekend trips, but Dorsey doesn’t expect that will do much to reverse the ridership slide.

“From everything we’ve seen, at least anecdotally, it’s not price sensitivity driving people away, it’s the lack of frequency of service driving people away,” Dorsey said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it is not. But, uncoupled with the ability to deliver increased service, I’m not sure we’re achieving what we need to here.”

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Vihstadt Raises More Cash Over Campaign’s Final Month, As De Ferranti Loans Himself Thousands

Independent County Board member John Vihstadt managed to pull in more cash contributions than Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti over the final month of the race, but de Ferranti has kept his campaign afloat financially thanks to hefty loans from both himself and his mother.

Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to win a seat on the Board since 1999, raised about $27,400 from Oct. 1 through Oct. 25, according to campaign finance documents released yesterday (Monday). De Ferranti pulled in about $21,100 over the same time period, after quite narrowly out-raising Vihstadt over the course of September.

But, in total, the Democrat reported raising about $66,100 over the course of the last month, thanks to $45,000 in loans. De Ferranti himself supplied $25,000, while his mother, Margot, lent the campaign $20,000. In the run-up to his primary win over Chanda Choun, de Ferranti and his mother both loaned the campaign $4,000 as well.

De Ferranti also donated $3,500 directly to his campaign, though that was far from his largest contribution for the fundraising period. The Leaders in Education Fund, the political giving arm of the advocacy group Leadership for Educational Equity, cut de Ferranti another $10,000 check after previously doing so last month.

None of Vihstadt’s contributions were more than $1,000 each. However, Steve Harris, the owner of the Arlington-based Mr. Wash Car Wash chain, did chip in a total of $2,000 to the campaign over the course of October, the documents show.

The incumbent, who’s seeking his second full term on the Board after winning a special election and then the general against Alan Howze in 2014, also bested de Ferranti when it came to small-dollar donations. Vihstadt notched 72 contributions of $100 or less, for a total of $4,425, while de Ferranti managed 55 for a total of $2,943.

The Democrat has also managed to spend down the bulk of his campaign account, shelling out nearly $124,500 in the last month alone. He now has about $10,850 left for the campaign’s remaining days.

Vihstadt’s spending was also in the six figures for the final month — he reported about $111,650 in expenses — but his larger campaign war chest means he still has about $58,300 left in the bank.

The independent incumbent has now marshaled just over $212,598 to support his re-election bid. De Ferranti’s total is slightly behind that at around $203,100, but that includes the $53,000 in loans he and his mother have provided to the campaign. Records do not show any loans made to Vihstadt’s campaign.

Voters will decide the lone County Board race on the ballot next Tuesday (Nov. 6).

Photo via Facebook

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