The next batch of neighborhood-level improvement projects is headed to the Arlington County Board for approval.
These include installing new LED streetlights along 35th Street N. in the Rock Spring neighborhood, fixing a missing sidewalk link along a street in Alcova Heights, and improving two parks — one in South Arlington and one in North Arlington.
The four were winnowed down from nearly 60 prospective projects. Of them, one — improvements to Baileys Branch Park in Columbia Forest — meets new equity criteria that the Arlington Neighborhoods Program says it has started using to evaluate worthy projects.
For three decades, this program has served as a community-driven process by which residents can identify small-scale infrastructure projects that are vetted and then recommended to the Arlington County Board for approval. A long-standing criticism has been that this process favored wealthier neighborhoods where residents had the time, resources and connections to be more civically engaged.
Last year, the Arlington Neighborhoods Advisory Committee struck “conservation” from its name, saying it connotes exclusivity, and added equity criteria to how it evaluates projects. At the start of this year, the Arlington County Board welcomed these changes to “embrace equity.”
The new criteria are two-fold: first, whether the neighborhood has a high population of people of color, and second, whether it has high rates of poverty and lower rates of higher education, homeownership and English proficiency.
“The equity considerations are a work in progress and will be evaluated and refined as needed over time,” per the report.
More details about the project are as follows.
- 35th Street N. from Little Falls Road to Williamsburg Blvd, in Rock Spring, is going to get new, “cobra-style” LED streetlights for $268,710. Road safety is a particular concern in this part of residential North Arlington. This stretch is a few blocks from where Washington-Liberty High School student Braylon Meade was killed by a teen accused of drunk driving.
- Bailey’s Branch Park (990 S. Columbus Street), a 2-acre park with a playground and green space in Columbia Forest, will get $750,000 in improvements, including the removal of invasive plants, additional native trees and plantings, new site furnishings and park signage.
- After invasive plants are removed from Thrifton Hill Park, new site furnishings, a picnic shelter and potentially, a dog run will be added. This will cost $985,000. The park at 2814 23rd Street N. in the Maywood neighborhood has trails and provides access to Custis Trail.
- A missing sidewalk link, with crosswalks and ramps that are accessible to people with disabilities will be installed along a 200-feet stretch of 7th Street S., near where it curves and intersects with 8th Street S. in the Alcova Heights neighborhood. This street improvement will cost $342,741.
The recommended projects went through the standard public engagement process for Arlington Neighborhoods Program, according to the county report, described as a “collaborative effort that seeks input from residents and civic associations on concept designs.”
The Rock Spring and Alcova Heights projects went through a two-step petitioning effort for affected residents and received the necessary support to qualify.
“The Columbia Forest and Maywood park projects were approved by their civic associations at one of their advertised meetings,” the report says. “All four civic associations continue to support each of the projects in their respective neighborhoods.”
Arlington County is surveying residents and businesses to understand how they use broadband internet service and if their access can be improved.
The results of the survey are part of a $250,000 study that could inform ways to bridge the digital divide between residents with good internet connectivity and those without it, using the county’s existing fiber-optic network, dubbed ConnectArlington.
“The Broadband study builds off past work to fill in information gaps and provide a clearer picture of the County’s broadband needs,” Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, tells ARLnow.
Arlington has an extensive fiber network, which it installed seven years ago to provide connectivity for county and Arlington Public Schools facilities, support public safety needs and encourage economic development. She says this move has since saved the county money and now allows for additional uses, such as connecting traffic cameras, emergency services and colleges across the area.
Now, the county is partnering with Vienna-based consultant Televate to look at how to leverage what it has to bridge the digital divide, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Based upon gaps identified, the consultant will lay out a comparative evaluation of different service delivery models to address the County’s needs,” Moore said. “Depending upon the outcome of the study, the County may need additional analysis to further research a specific model.”
The study will also review a license agreement for leasing strands along an 864-count fiber line dedicated to economic development. The concept, intended to give local companies higher-speed internet at lower costs than big-name providers like Comcast, has languished because would-be providers found the agreement onerous. So far, only JBG Smith has agreed to lease some of the cable to help build its 5G-enabled “Smart City.”
“The likelihood of modifying the license or changing or adding other policies will be considered after the results of the study,” Moore said.
The survey, available now in English and Spanish, asks people a few dozen questions about internet use. Questions include how long respondents have used the internet and how much it contributes to their jobs, whether they use broadband for telehealth services, if they’re satisfied with the speed and cost, as well as demographic questions.
Moore says the county has studied the digital divide before but not on this comprehensive of a scale. Past research targeted low-income housing and relied on Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Census data.
This “did not provide the level of detail needed and gave no indication of service quality, bandwidth availability, provider competition, or digital literacy needs,” she said.
A coalition of local advocates for making broadband a county-provided utility say the scope seems redundant given past efforts, however.
“The county has studied the digital divide to death. We have good numbers on that,” says ArlFiber Collective leader Tim Dempsey, adding that ironically, the survey is long and only available online.
“Televate LLC, does not appear to be interested in seriously studying municipal broadband and the current course and scope of the study could very well reproduce the same work on broadband that has been done in the past, without moving us forward in any meaningful way,” ArlFiber wrote on its website. “Residents and civic groups that are interested in community broadband for all, should reach out to the County Board members and let them know.”
The informal, relationships-based advocacy at the core of the “Arlington Way” makes it harder for nonprofits led by and serving people of color to receive county funding, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol says.
She tells ARLnow these concerns were raised by leaders of color, and she is working on a resolution — that could be voted on by the County Board this month — to change the status quo. The resolution will incorporate recommendations made by a small group of leaders representing local nonprofits.
At the top of their list is a fairly simple concept: a formal application process. Right now, Cristol says, the county uses an “ad hoc” process that doesn’t “live up to our values of transparency and access.”
Meanwhile, a decades-old, community-based program that identifies small infrastructure improvements is confronting a longstanding criticism — which leadership says is backed up by fresh data — of favoring projects in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.
Community leaders presented updates on these efforts to the Arlington County Board last month. The moves are part of the county’s work to apply its 2019 equity resolution to policy-making and the newest contribution to the Board’s ongoing discussion of problems with the “Arlington Way,” the moniker given to the public process that informs policy-making.
The process often rewards those who are most civically active, connected and vocal about a given issue. But not always: it also frustrates those who follow the civic engagement playbook only to have the Board vote the other way.
“We heard some truthful feedback about how the ‘Arlington Way’ — for the many things it has achieved and its, at times, positive contributions to the community — also has some real downsides,” Cristol said in the Dec. 20, 2022 meeting. “It has been a way of doing things that lacked transparency and access, has prioritized relationships over fairness, and at times, it feels like it is reflective of predetermined outcomes.”
As part of the annual budget, the county awards grants of up to $50,000 or $100,000 for nonprofits serving low- and moderate-income residents, such as employment programs for people with disabilities, after-school programming for immigrant youth and financial planning assistance for families at risk of homelessness.
Leaders of local organizations say the county needs to do a better job of publicizing when funding is available and helping grassroots groups with the application process.
“This part was important for us, particularly for smaller organizations who don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or knowledge in the grant-making cycle that other larger organizations have,” said Cicely Whitfield, the chief program officer for the homeless shelter Bridges to Independence.
This could involve providing clearer deadlines and technical assistance, as well as feedback and workshop opportunities for nonprofits that are denied funding so they can apply successfully.
The group says the county should defer to organizations, which have a better sense of what the community needs, and ask for input on applications from people who would benefit.
Board Member Libby Garvey supported the changes but warned they could be controversial.
“There’s that saying, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to help you,’ and that’s supposed to be scary. It’s really because what it often means is, ‘I’m here from the government and I’m here to tell you what you need.'”
The sentiment applies to the Arlington Way, she says.
“We may find a little reaction from this, that ‘This is not the Arlington Way,'” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out ways to bring along everyone and explain… ‘This is going to be better and here’s why.’ We’re going to have work to do with the other part of the community that maybe is usually included.”
There is a three-decade-old program where the county acts on needs identified by residents: the Arlington Neighborhood Conservation Program, now known as the Arlington Neighborhoods Program (ANP).
The downside of this program is that it has “equity liabilities,” County Board Member Takis Karantonis said.
He said the model works for “community members who could afford to go to the meetings, who could afford to make a methodical evaluation of the state of sidewalks, or lack of sidewalks, or lack of public lighting… and fight for funding in a competitive but orderly manner.”
Although not a new criticism, ANP Chair Kathy Reeder provided the County Board with new data suggesting the program has disadvantaged less wealthy, more diverse neighborhoods.
A proposed left-turn lane off of N. Glebe Road in Ballston could be the smallest, yet most scrutinized traffic change in 10 years.
As part of the planned redevelopment of the Ballston Macy’s, Insight Property Group proposes to add a left-turn option at the intersection of 7th Street N. and N. Glebe Road. It will be for drivers going southbound on Glebe who want to turn onto a proposed private drive abutting the planned grocery store, which will be located at the base of Insight’s proposed 16-story, 555-unit apartment building.
“It was the most thoroughly vetted transportation scenario in the time that I’ve been with Arlington County,” transportation planner Dennis Sellin, who has worked with the county for 10 years, told the Planning Commission last night (Monday).
During the meeting, the Planning Commission gave a green light to the redevelopment, which will go before the Arlington County Board for approval later this month.
After the Transportation Commission voted to defer the project solely on the basis of the left turn, Planning Commission members supported a condition for the project that county staff work with Insight and the Virginia Department of Transportation to come up with more pedestrian-oriented options for the intersection.
“I do not think it’s reasonable to hold up the project for this, given that there’s apparently continued good faith work on the intersection to improve its pedestrian-friendliness,” Commissioner Jim Lantelme said. “I want to make clear that the Planning Commission… expects that any option possible to make this intersection more pedestrian-friendly will be pursued.”
Sellin said a half-dozen staffers, including two top transportation officials, have thoroughly vetted the left-turn lane. They published a 64-page memo justifying the turn lane and will study how the grocery store changes traffic before adding any pedestrian mitigation measures.
“There’s a recommendation to not allow any right turns on red at any of the lights in the intersection,” he said. “That’s a movement we’ll take under further consideration. Our primary concern is safety, our secondary concern is operations.”
The left-turn lane is a non-negotiable for the grocer, who has otherwise been “insanely flexible” as the project has changed throughout the public process, according to Insight’s Managing Principal Trent Smith.
“We’ve shrunk their store, changed their ramps, taken away their parking… we changed their loading, we’ve done eight or nine things that took all sorts of reworking and they’ve stuck with us and have been great, reasonable partners throughout,” Smith said.
Insight’s attorney, Andrew Painter, says the unnamed grocer required the left turn based on “decades of experience in urban configurations.” He added that for a decade, the grocer has desired to be in Ballston, which already has a Harris Teeter nearby on N. Glebe Road, a quarter-mile away.
Some Planning Commissioners noted their regret that the project does not do more to provide on-site affordable housing.
“This space here, in the heart of Arlington, in Ballston, where there’s access to transit, and now a grocery store, we have nothing,” Commissioner Devanshi Patel said.
A new program seeks to increase equity in Arlington by planting more trees in certain neighborhoods.
The local non-profit EcoAction Arlington announced that it’s starting the “Tree Canopy Equity Program” with the goal of raising $1.5 million to fund planting at least 2,500 trees over the next five years in local neighborhoods that have too few.
Insufficient tree canopy is closely tied to heat and temperature increases. The reason certain areas of Arlington are hotter than others, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, is due in part to lack of trees, recent data shows.
“The neighborhoods most impacted by insufficient tree cover are communities with higher-than-average minority populations and communities with people living in poverty,” EcoAction Arlington said a press release. “The lack of trees has a real-world impact that can lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes, higher utility costs, and a lower quality of life.”
The ten civic associations and neighborhoods that the program will work with are below.
- Arlington View
- Aurora Highlands
- Columbia Heights
- Green Valley
- John M. Langston Citizens Association (Halls Hill/High View Park)
- Long Branch Creek
- Radnor/Fort Myer Heights
The current levels of tree cover in those neighborhoods is between 17% and 33%, according to EcoAction Arlington.
“The goal is to radically increase tree planting in the neighborhoods with the lowest tree cover to align with the average for other Arlington communities of approximately 40 percent,” the press release says.
EcoAction Arlington executive director Elenor Hodges tells ARLnow that that the group has already begun to plant more trees. That includes American hornbeams, pin oaks, river birch, sugarberry, American sycamore, swamp white oak, and American linden.
The program needs about $150,000 a year to cover operations, marketing, staffing, and the actual planting of trees, Hodges says, with each tree costing about $500 to plant.
Amazon, an inaugural sponsor, has already contributed $50,000. The goal is to raise $1.5 million from other corporate and individual donors, while also obtaining funding from Arlington’s existing Tree Canopy Fund Program. This initiative allows neighborhood groups, owners of private property and developments, and places of worship to apply to have native plants or trees planted on their property.
Residents in neighborhoods lacking sufficient tree canopy note that the the problem is often tied to the construction of large, new homes and not prioritizing trees while building.
“As we lose trees due to infill development of large homes on lots in our neighborhood, they need to be replaced and even expanded,” John M. Langston Citizens Association president Wilma Jones tells ARLnow. “We all know that trees give off oxygen and they reduce stormwater runoff.
Natasha Atkins has been a resident of Aurora Highlands for nearly four decades and has “watched with alarm” the number of trees lost to homebuilding projects.
“With the County’s zoning code, requiring only very small setbacks for residential housing, it is questionable whether there will be much of a tree canopy in the future in the single-family neighborhoods that are being redeveloped,” she says. “Trees are an afterthought in planning and zoning. They should really be a driver.”
Hodges concedes that planting 2,500 more trees over the next five years will only “make a dent” and it will take tens of thousands of trees for all these neighborhoods to reach the 40% tree canopy threshold.
But the Tree Canopy Equity Program is just as much about what one can do today as what one can do tomorrow, says Hodges.
“It’s about behavioral change and teaching people about the importance of having a sufficient tree canopy in Arlington,” she said.
A recent survey of Arlingtonians found a majority say the county needs to be more aggressive about preserving historic buildings, monuments and resources from demolition.
Engagement in the survey, administered in 2021, was three times higher than engagement in a similar survey distributed two years ago, before the loss last year of two historic homes — the Febrey-Lothrop House and the Victorian Fellows-McGrath House — to make room for new housing.
The tripling, however, did not result in a more diverse group of respondents. More than 80% of respondents were some combination of white, homeowners and 45 years old and up.
The most recent Historic Preservation feedback form response pool is somehow even more white and more homeowner-y than the last one. This seems indistinguishable from a CivFed meeting. pic.twitter.com/JI16BJqrlY
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) March 24, 2022
The survey is part of a county effort to update its master plan governing historic preservation, with a new focus on equity and inclusion, says Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Rachel LaPiana.
Adopted in and unchanged since 2006, the update — if adopted by the County Board by the end of 2022 — will direct the historic preservation priorities and programs for the next decade, she said.
Many respondents said the county should be highlighting century-old properties, historic neighborhoods, archaeological sites and resources connected to Arlington’s immigrant, African American and Native American communities. Some railed against the county and the plan for not preserving sites like the Febrey-Lothrop House, while a few said such teardowns are necessary to make room for more housing and affordable units.
The survey asked broad questions to understand what residents value, with questions like “what stories, traditions, places, buildings, and/or communities are important to you?”
But for some civically engaged Arlington residents, the demographics of respondents were more interesting. They say this survey yielded detailed feedback from passionate individuals but did not reveal how the broader community values historic preservation.
The problem, per Dave Schutz — a civically engaged resident and prolific ARLnow commenter — is how the survey is advertised and where. His oft-repeated remark about community engagement in Arlington: “You ask twelve guys in Speedos whether we should build [the Long Bridge Aquatics Center], you will get a twelve to zip vote yes.”
Schutz suggested the county keep track of how respondents hear of the survey, so they know whose perspectives are being captured.
“I might require that surveys… contain an identifier so that the people tabulating results could see which ones had been filled out by people who were notified through the, say, Arlington Historical Society website and which by people notified through the ‘Engulf and Destroy Developers Mwa-ha-ha website,’ the County Board website — and if the opinion tendencies were wildly different, flag it for the decision makers that that was so.”
Joan Fitzgerald, a local resident who works in surveying populations, says county survey questions are often worded to confirm the biases of the survey writers, while the questions can be jargon-dense.
“County survey questions are often confusing, and participants often need a strong background in the topic to even understand what’s being asked,” said Fitzgerald, who sits on the development oversight committee for the Ashton Heights Civic Association.
The local NAACP is calling on the Arlington County Board to do more to encourage affordable homeownership opportunities for residents of color.
Although segregation officially ended last century, the Arlington branch of the NAACP says non-white residents are still effectively excluded from some neighborhoods due to county zoning codes, compounded by rising housing costs.
“The widespread single-family zoning scheme that prevents the construction of new housing in affluent, mostly white neighborhoods also worsens racial segregation by confining the construction of new affordable housing units to the Columbia Pike corridor and other parts of Arlington with large non-white populations,” the NAACP wrote in a letter to the county.
“People of color wishing to live in Arlington deserve meaningful opportunities to choose from a wide variety of housing types, in many parts of the county, at a reasonable cost,” the letter continues.
The NAACP says the county needs to adopt a comprehensive strategy to reform the county’s zoning laws and housing policies. It suggests reforms that go beyond those being considered in the Missing Middle Housing Study.
“We support the County’s many studies and other initiatives to promote affordable housing,” it concludes. “The best way to ensure the success of these initiatives is for the County Board and County Manager to show decisive leadership now and commit to supporting comprehensive zoning reform.”
Through Missing Middle, the county is considering whether and what kind of low-density multifamily housing could fit into single-family home neighborhoods. The county says allowing more housing types in these neighborhoods can reverse the lingering impacts of yesteryear’s racist zoning policies.
“The Missing Middle Housing Study has documented the role that Arlington’s land use and zoning policies have played in contributing to racial disparities in housing and access to opportunity,” says Erika Moore, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “Conducting the Missing Middle Housing Study is one of many deliberate choices the County is making to address the mistakes of the past and pave a new path for Arlington’s future.”
While supportive of the study, the NAACP suggests solutions beyond its parameters.
It recommends every redevelopment be assessed for whether it would perpetuate historical exclusion or displace the existing community. If so, developers would have to use a “displacement prevention and mitigation toolkit” to reverse those impacts.
This toolkit could include:
- property tax deferrals for lower-income homeowners
- funding for Community Land Trust acquisitions
- preferences for first-generation homebuyers
- stabilization funds for residents at risk of displacement
The toolkit would “address the unique needs of and the displacement risk experienced by the community in and around site-plan and by-right developments while also helping to address patterns of historical exclusion experienced by members of protected classes,” the letter says.
These and other tools should also receive county and state funding, like a quick-strike land acquisition account, which would be used to quickly purchase properties for affordable housing development, and targeted homeownership assistance programs, the NAACP says.
Mary Kadera says she’s had a change of heart about the Arlington’s Democratic party’s School Board endorsement caucus, which helped her to land a School Board seat.
Kadera, who said she initially voted to keep the process after careful study, wrote in a blog post on Monday that it’s time to listen to dissenting voices and try something else.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee holds a caucus to determine which School Board candidates are bona fide Democrats and should be considered for the party’s endorsement. It’s not a primary, since school board races in Virginia are nonpartisan, but the results are similar to one because losing candidates agree not to run in November.
It’s been criticized by the Arlington NAACP and the pandemic-era group Arlington Parents for Education for, among other reasons, effectively limiting participation by communities of color, confusing voters and limiting the range of qualified candidates.
Arlington Democrats debated in February whether to use the caucus this year. After a spirited discussion, members — including Kadera — voted overwhelmingly (117-22) to keep it.
Now, she says, the dissenting voices she heard made her realize “holding on to the Caucus comes at too great a cost.”
“[A]t its very heart, this question is about white people needing to cede and share power with people of color, and that doing so is not a zero-sum game,” she writes.
Many critics of the caucus who spoke in February were Black, including community activists Wilma Jones and Zakiya Worthey, an Arlington Public Schools parent representing a new group called Black Leaders of Arlington.
They said the caucus is a glaring exception to progressive Arlingtonians’ commitment to racial equity. They argue the majority of caucus voters come from heavily white areas of North Arlington and pick well-connected, establishment Democrats who don’t prioritize the students of color in APS who have fallen behind.
“It’s faux-progressive and surface level,” Worthey tells ARLnow. “A lot of Black advocates, when we’re fighting, we’re not fighting against Republicans — we’re fighting against so-called progressive Dems.”
Kadera credited Jones and Worthey for her change of heart.
“They reminded me that hearing and valuing the voices and lived experiences of people of color means that when many of them are telling me that I am perpetuating a system that does them harm, I need to prioritize that over any ‘what if’ scenarios that make me afraid to dismantle the system,” she said.
Caucus proponents, including current School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen, member Cristina Diaz-Torres, and former member Monique O’Grady, who is Black, posed those “what if” scenarios in their arguments for keeping the process. They and others said without it, the School Board is open to “Republican infiltration,” even in heavily Democratic Arlington.
Kadera conceded that this “very well could” happen, but it’s not for certain unless ACDC tests it out.
The local party says it is still open to suggestions for improving the process, the rules for which will be decided in mid-March and ratified in April.
“We are going to continue the community engagement and we’d love to hear from stakeholders and interested groups in the community who have ideas on how to make the process better,” ACDC Chair Steve Baker said during a meeting last night (Wednesday).
The caucus is slated for June with in-person voting at some public schools and likely a handful of other places that are in South Arlington or Metro-accessible. Voting last year was held electronically due to the pandemic and participation surpassed local records.
ACDC members will go door-to-door in under-represented precincts to inform people how they can participate.
Jones, Worthey and Arlington NAACP President Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr. tell ARLnow that they are still formulating their next steps.
“We’re going to keep working,” Jones said.
(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first veto could mean Arlington’s police oversight board cannot be led by an independent policing auditor.
Today (Tuesday), the Republican governor vetoed his first bill: HB 670, put forward by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D). It would have granted the Arlington County Board permission to appoint an independent auditor who would oversee the Community Oversight Board (COB), which is tasked with handling civilian complaints of misconduct by Arlington police officers.
Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow this morning that the Board wants to work with Youngkin to clarify the powers of the county’s police oversight board and the role of the auditor in hopes that he will rescind the veto.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee decried the veto as “play[ing] politics with a commonsense measure that passed the GOP controlled House.”
Despite passing with bipartisan support Governor Youngkin vetoed a bill from @HopeforVirginia that would have allowed an independent police auditor in Arlington
There is no reason to play politics with a commonsense measure that passed the GOP controlled House https://t.co/9TSNf4Tlpr
— Arlington Democrats (@arlingtondems) March 1, 2022
The policing auditor would have been a County Board-appointed position and the person filling the role would have answered directly to the Board. Most other top managerial positions report to the Board-appointed County Manager.
Should Youngkin’s veto remain in place, Cristol says the COB would still be led by an auditor, but this leader would instead answer to County Manager Mark Schwartz. That would mean a weaker auditor, she adds.
“It was really important that the independent policing auditor be just that, and not be under the chief law enforcement official of the county, which is the County Manager,” Cristol said.
Cristol says the Board wants to work with Youngkin because it seems — by his press release — that he misunderstands what the COB can and cannot do. She said the governor may have vetoed the bill based on a faulty understanding of the new body’s powers.
“Based on his press release, I think he made this action without full knowledge of what he was vetoing,” she said. “Specifically, he says, in referencing his vetoing of the bill, the Community Oversight Board would ‘make binding disciplinary determinations, including termination and involuntary restitution.’ Our ordinance didn’t empower the COB or the independent auditor to do that.”
Hope’s bill was merely an “administrative fix” to a bill passed last year, she said.
“Assuming this does stand, we are incredibly disappointed,” she said. “It’s not an expansion of [the] Community Oversight Board in the Commonwealth. It puts Arlington into parity with other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.”
Del. Hope explains that his bill corrects for a shortcoming in the county charter that requires the County Board to get permission from the General Assembly to make any hire. He says Youngkin’s response is a new one.
“In my 13 years of service, I don’t ever recall seeing a Governor vetoing a local Charter bill,” he said. “To say that I’m disappointed the Governor would use his veto pen on a Charter bill to make a misguided political statement is an understatement.”
(Updated 6:15 p.m. on 02/16/22) For the next 18 months, bus fare will be free or reduced-price for thousands of income-eligible residents and students.
The fare reductions began this month as part of the Low-Income Fare Assistance and the APS Student Fare-Less pilot programs, which are intended to target residents most impacted by the pandemic.
The Arlington County Board signed off on these programs in November as part of a spending plan for $29.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars that apportioned funding for a host of new equity initiatives. These two programs will use about $2.8 million in ARPA funds.
The first provides free transit to work for residents currently enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, run by the Department of Human Services. The department will distribute pre-paid SmarTrip cards worth $150, or 75 rides, to about 7,200 pre-identified residents.
This program is expected to cost $1.2 million in this fiscal year, ending in June, and $250,000 next year.
Meanwhile, the student pilot program subsidizes the currently discounted, $1-a-trip student iRide card for certain students traveling to and from school.
Arlington Public Schools will distribute these cards to up to 2,400 middle and high school students who aren’t well-served by school bus services — such as kids who live at the edges of a large walk zone or attend programs far from home. These cards will be loaded with $10 a week over the course of 18 months.
The program will cost $479,000 in this fiscal year and $878,000 next year. It continues and expands on a pilot program that began in 2019 but was suspended during the pandemic.
Participants in both programs have 18 months to use their cards, which also work on Metrobus and Metrorail lines.
Department of Environmental Services staff will use data from these pilots to inform possible expansions or changes to these programs long term. This work could be funded by a Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation’s TRIP grant, intended to increase regional connectivity and reduce barriers to transit by supporting low-income and free fare programs.
“The County is interested in applying for a TRIP grant in the future, and would use the data collected from the 18-month pilot programs and results from the fare study to support such an application,” DES spokesman Nate Graham said.
Meanwhile, transportation staff are taking steps now to understand how existing free and reduced-fare policies at peer transportation departments impact ridership, operations and regional services such as Metrobus, he said.
Last week, the county requested funding from DPRT for a study that would analyze these questions, as well as equity concerns and stakeholder feedback, he said. The county should know if it received the grant in June.
Arlington promoted these new initiatives on Friday, Rosa Parks’ birthday and “Transit Equity Day.” It honors her legacy as a Civil Rights activist. Parks, who took a stand for desegregated bus seating, sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional.
“These two pilot programs help to further the mission of Realizing Arlington’s Commitment to Equity (RACE), which includes advancing racial equity to reduce and prevent disparities in our service to the community,” said Chief Race and Equity Officer Samia Byrd in a statement. “Even though no longer unequal by law, systemic barriers still exist.”
“Our review of transit through an equity lens is to consider access based on need (meeting people where they are) and work to remove those barriers,” Byrd continued. “Through this we aim to honor the legacy of Rosa Parks — equal treatment and equitable access to public transportation for everyone.”
ART bus fare was suspended for all users from March 2020 until January 2021 due to the pandemic.
The County Board and the community have a small mountain of applications to Arlington’s new police oversight board to sift through.
Between October and December of last year, more than 100 people applied to sit on the county’s Community Oversight Board, according to Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey.
The County Board created the group last summer to receive complaints of police misconduct. Following the recommendations of the Police Practices Group — convened after 2020’s summer of nationwide racial justice protests — the Board endowed the COB with the power to subpoena for evidence or witnesses if the police department withholds them.
Now, the County Board and a panel of community members have the monumental task of winnowing down the 100 applicants to nine candidates — seven voting and two non-voting members — by mid-March.
“On behalf of all of us, I think we can say thank you, thank you for the tremendous outpouring of interest and support for this initiative in Arlington,” said Dorsey, who is a liaison to the COB along with Board member Matt de Ferranti.
A multi-step interview process is now underway, says Dorsey.
Candidates have been invited to participate in video interviews so they can be screened before they go before a panel, which will largely be composed of people who were engaged in the creation of the COB last year.
This panel will choose who will interview with the County Board.
Dorsey says the goal is to fully impanel the COB by the County Board’s March meeting.
“We are very, very thrilled that this is going to move forward,” he said. “We really thank so many Arlingtonians who are interested in transparency and accountability in law enforcement and working to build trust with our police department and community.”
Dorsey noted that he was pleased the applicant pool reflects Arlington’s diversity.
“This was very much a standard by which we want to establish our Community Oversight Board, and at least from the screening of the applicants thus far, we will absolutely be able to meet that important mandate,” he said.
The COB would be lead by an independent auditor-monitor who can conduct investigations concurrent with internal police department investigations. This position, however, is subject to approval by state legislature, possibly during the 2022 legislative session.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) is chief patron of House Bill 670 that would allow Arlington County to appoint the independent policing auditor.