The Arlington County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to defer implementation of the “blue ribbon panel” it voted unanimously last month to create.
The six-person panel was intended to advise the County Board on strategic priorities. The rushed vote to establish the panel on April 19, and questions about what exactly it is intended to accomplish, led to criticism from some community groups.
Its principal backer, County Board Chair Libby Garvey, has also faced criticism of the panel on the campaign trail from Democratic primary challenger Erik Gutshall, who has raised it as an issue of government transparency. Garvey defended the idea and clarified the intent of the panel at Tuesday afternoon’s Board meeting.
Jay Fisette, who was critical of the plan last month but voted to support it nonetheless, created the motion to defer its implementation. His motion was supported unanimously.
Fisette issued the following statement about his motion to defer.
Since we voted on the charge for this Blue Ribbon Panel in April, I have been inundated with questions and concerns. Many in our community are either angry at how this happened or confused about what actually happened. I was challenged to explain how I could vote for something after having publicly expressed significant concern about it. I had no good response.
This Board has received letters of concern from groups such as the Alliance for Housing Solutions (an umbrella group representing over 35 Arlington non-profits, churches and other organizations), the Planning and Urban Forestry Commissions and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement.
The letters raised concerns with the process. One stated, “There was virtually no notice that the Board would adopt the Charge and the language was not available for public review and comment. This flies in the face of repeated messages by many Board members of the need for greater transparency and adequate public advance notice of Board actions.”
And another remarked, “When the Board takes action in this manner, abrogating its own stated commitment to transparency and accountability, it seriously undermines the importance of citizen engagement that should be the goal of everyone in the County.”
Others spoke to the panel’s charge itself. One commission was concerned that “the Panel’s charge is largely duplicative of the responsibilities of the Planning Commission as outlined in the Code of Virginia” and that “it was unclear from the Panel’s charge how members of the public would participate in its meetings or contribute to its work.”
And one letter summarized the concerns of many, “In short, the panel is duplicative; the charge is murky and invests far too much power in 6 people to potentially dramatically alter priorities resulting from the involvement of many Arlington residents already; and the Board’s action in creating it seriously undermines the good governance goal of encouraging and valuing citizen engagement. Thus, we urge you to rethink the panel.”
Clearly, the community has said that our April vote to approve this Panel without public notice was flawed, and today’s vote is a step toward rectifying that action. I very much appreciate my colleagues’ support for taking a step back and asking for feedback from some key stakeholders as well as from the larger community.
My support for this step should not be taken as support for the Panel. I remain skeptical, yet I am glad that the process will be opened, and I am willing to see if the purpose can be clarified and made useful.
Finally, we must thoughtfully consider the recommendations of the Community Facilities Study Committee (CFS Committee) and their relationship to the charge of this Panel. Many of the members of the CFS Committee have been unhappy with the lack of action on their recommendations, which was further inflamed by the creation of the Blue Ribbon Panel.
Honestly, if anything deserved the Blue Ribbon monikor, it was the CFS Committee. It was a model process with compelling and serious recommendations to guide our future. It was a true collaboration between the schools and the county, with a clear charge and broad representation, and it concluded within the established 10-month timeline.
To remind us, the CFS Committee was tasked to identify the principal strategic challenges that Arlington faces, point out the barriers to overcoming those challenges and recommend ways to address them.
And the key recommendation they made for responding to these challenges was to establish, “A new system for more open, systematic and coordinated County and School Board decisions about setting priorities for future facility budget and location decisions.” And they told us exactly how to do this.
It is this recommendation, that provides guidance on how to set priorities for much of our community’s future capital needs, that deserves our immediate attention and should be top of mind as we reconsider this Panel. I am especially interested in the feedback that we have requested of the CFS Committee in this regard.
The Board voted Tuesday afternoon to create the six-member panel, with each Board member and the County Manager appointing one member apiece. The panel will mull “recommendations for how the Board should develop strategic priorities” to supplement the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
The panel was advanced by County Board Chair Libby Garvey, with the support of Board members John Vihstadt, Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey. Jay Fisette, the longest-serving member of the Board, questioned the need for such a panel and the manner in which it was proposed.
“What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” Fisette asked, calling the proposal “a lot of foam and not a lot of beer.”
Fisette, the last of the former old guard Democratic establishment on the Board, worried that the panel could be used to reduce environmental or human services priorities in favor of “core services.”
Cristol and Dorsey, the newest Board members, disagreed with that assessment, with the latter saying he wouldn’t support the creation of the panel if he thought that was the goal.
Fisette also pointed out that while the idea of the panel had been discussed internally by the Board for several months, it had not been made public and was not part of the day’s County Board agenda online. That, he said, ran counter to the stated desire of other Board members that County Board agenda items be posted online at least 48 hours in advance.
“Nobody in the community has seen this quote blue ribbon panel charge to actually weigh in or give us feedback on whether this is a good idea,” he said.
Garvey said the panel would not be setting policy — it would be advising the Board. She also suggested that applying the “Arlington Way” to too many county functions may be a hinderance to good governance.
“This is not the traditional Arlington Way where we get input from as many people as possible and we have a huge process,” Garvey said. “This is really getting us a small group of smart, experienced people who are going to bring different things to the table that we value, and they will advise us. I’m looking for ways to be more adaptable and quick on our feet on things.”
Garvey said an overabundance of priorities in the Comprehensive Plan results in pressure to fund the many groups that come to the Board around budget time saying, in her words, “well this is a priority, you have to fund it.”
“They’re right, it is a priority, it’s one of many priorities,” she said. “I have been feeling for some time that we need to look through our priorities and set them in some sort of priority order.”
“Our own Facilities Study working group recommended that we do a better job of planning and setting priorities,” Garvey added.
Members of the panel will be announced “in the coming weeks,” according to a press release (below, after the jump).
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Members of the media were denied access to a Lyon Park community meeting about the controversial plan to open a gun shop in the neighborhood Sunday night.
The meeting was attended by County Board Chair Libby Garvey, Vice Chair Jay Fisette, County Manager Mark Schwartz, Police Chief Jay Farr and Del. Patrick Hope. The owner of the planned gun store at 2300 N. Pershing Drive, Nova Armory, was reportedly out of town and unable to attend.
An ARLnow.com reporter who tried to attend the event, at the privately-owned Lyon Park Community Center, was not allowed in the building. A community member shut the door when the reporter tried to ask about the prohibition on media. Those working the door at the event checked IDs and only allowed Lyon Park and Ashton Heights residents inside.
A short time after seeking access, the reporter and almost a dozen other non-community members — an Arlington resident who runs an anti-gun-store Facebook page and several members of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League — were removed from the Lyon Park property by police upon a neighborhood representative’s request.
Initially, on Friday, the meeting was advertised as a public County Board meeting, as required by law when a majority of the County Board is planning to attend. On Saturday, that public notice was rescinded.
“Notice is hearby given that the County Board of Arlington County, Virginia, will NOT meet on Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the Lyon Park Community Center, 414 North Fillmore Street., at 7:00 P.M. or as soon thereafter for the purpose of attending a Lyon Park Community meeting to discuss NOVA Armory’s plans to open a firearms store at 2300 Pershing Dr,” the public notice read.
ARLnow.com reached out to the elected officials who attended the meeting, asking about what was discussed, but thus far none has responded on the record. On Friday, Arlington County issued a statement saying that due to state law, the county “does not have the authority to prohibit these sales or businesses.”
(Also in attendance at the meeting: Lyon Park resident, Planning Commission member and Democratic County Board challenger Erik Gutshall, who has said he’s “deeply concerned” with plans for the store.)
John Goldener, president of the Lyon Park Citizens Association, spoke to ARLnow.com after the meeting, which ran from 7-9 p.m. and was attended by about 140 residents, he said.
Goldener declined to provide details about the discussion, saying that the civic association purposely excluded outsiders because the meeting was intended to be a safe space for community members to discuss the gun store.
“All I can tell you is what the meeting was about,” Goldener said. “This was an opportunity for people in the community to have a safe, civil discussion.”
“The civic association’s role here is to be a facilitator,” Goldener added. “We don’t take a stance on this particular issue.”
Widening Critics Still Questioning I-66 Deal — “Widening the highway for four miles from Beltway to Ballston will not relieve traffic congestion, according to every expert I’ve spoken to,” writes WAMU transportation reporter Martin Di Caro, regarding the I-66 deal struck by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, meanwhile, says the overall plan for tolling I-66 is worth the compromise. [Twitter, WAMU]
Arlington Probably Won’t Sue Over I-395 HOT Lanes — After mounting an expensive legal battle over a plan by Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) administration to convert the HOV lanes on I-395 to High Occupancy Toll lanes, Arlington appears poised to accept a similar HOT lane plan by VDOT and the McAuliffe administration. There are some key differences between the two proposals, observers say. [Greater Greater Washington]
Arlington Man Arrested in D.C. Cold Case — Arlington resident Benito Valdez, 45, has been arrested and charged with an alleged accomplice in a 1991 triple homicide cold case in the District. [Associated Press]
Chamber Concert in Lyon Park This Weekend — On Saturday, IBIS Chamber Music will hold a free concert of chamber music in the newly-renovated Lyon Park Community Center (414 N. Fillmore Street). The concert will start at 7:30 p.m. and feature music by Schubert, Beethoven and Debussy. [ARLnow]
Local Resident’s Cat Story Appears in Book — A story by Arlington resident April Riser is featured in the new book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat,” according to a PR rep for the publisher.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Garvey, a Democrat who has clashed with the local Democratic establishment over her endorsement of independent John Vihstadt and opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar, was unanimously elected County Board Chair at the Board’s annual New Year’s Day organizational meeting on Jan. 1.
Garvey is up for reelection this year and it is a long-standing tradition that the Board member who is up for reelection serve as Chair.
Jay Fisette, meanwhile, was elected vice chair. Fisette, who has served on the Board since 1999, is now the body’s most senior member, following the retirements of Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada. Their successors, Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey, served their first day on the Board at Friday’s meeting.
Garvey, who was first elected in 2012, outlined her priorities at the meeting. Among them:
- Improving county government customer service, including by reforming the “Byzantine” zoning and permitting process for homeowners, small businesses and developers.
- Moving forward with a new transit plan for Columbia Pike. Garvey said she was frustrated with the slow pace of planning following the streetcar’s cancellation, and instructed the County Manager to report back later this month on plans including off-board fare collection and traffic signal prioritization.
- Broader civic participation in county government. Garvey wants to see busier people — those with kids or jobs that prevent them from attending long meetings — have a greater voice in local policymaking.
- More flexibility in local regulation. Garvey said Arlington should be careful not to stifle innovation and to not over-regulate to the point where there’s too much sameness in Arlington’s local communities.
Garvey said she also wants to “ensure that every Arlingtonian, people of all ages, interests, and from across the socioeconomic spectrum, can live and work here comfortably.”
Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz said he and county staff are focusing on improving the county’s use of technology in service delivery and to promote government transparency and accountability. Possible new initiatives include streaming county commission meetings, which currently are not recorded for public broadcast.
Vice Chair Fisette, meanwhile, said his focus will be on schools and county facilities
In her remarks, Garvey said she looks forward to “the need for facilities, including schools, while constrained by limited land,” along with strengthening Arlington’s economic competitiveness, balancing the budget and focusing on housing affordability.
“Clearly, some things are going to be different this year, but a lot will stay the same,” Garvey said. “My goal is to see that Arlington achieves its potential.”
“We have challenges, like our commercial vacancy rate, our growing need for more school space, and our shrinking supply of affordable housing but this remains a wonderful community,” Garvey continued. “I’m confident that, together, our residents, our businesses, our staff, and this new Board will make sure that Arlington delivers outstanding customer service to all our residents and businesses, that every Arlingtonian who wants can have a voice in our government, and that we will work strategically to make this wonderful County even better.”
DoD Renews Leases on Crystal City Buildings — In a win for Arlington County’s beleaguered commercial real estate market, the GSA has renewed leases on two buildings with some 912,000 square feet of office space, in Crystal City, for the Department of Defense. [Washington Business Journal]
Church Decided to Sell After Hearing from Residents — While initially skeptical, a majority of the membership of the Arlington Presbyterian Church on Columbia Pike approved a plan to sell the church to an affordable housing developer after hearing the stories of working class residents who said they worked in Arlington but couldn’t afford to live there anymore. [Washington Post]
Fisette: Arlington Will Work to Improve Bike Rating — County Board member Jay Fisette says Arlington will work to improve its Bicycle Friendly Community rating. Arlington received a silver-level designation, but there are 29 U.S. communities that are either gold or platinum level. In order to achieve that, Arlington will need more bike lanes, bike programs for lower-income residents and bicycle-themed street events. [InsideNova]
Howell Introduces Courthouse Security Bill — State Sen. Janet Howell (D), whose sprawling district includes part of north Arlington, has introduced a bill intended to improve courthouse security. The bill would increase from $10 to $20 the maximum amount a local jurisdiction could charge a defendant convicted on traffic or criminal charges, to help fund security measures. [Richmond Sunlight]
Webb Responds to Criticism in Comments — Michael Webb, who hopes to run as a Republican against Rep. Don Beyer next year, has personally responded to criticism in the comments of the article about his campaign announcement. [ARLnow]
Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk
Passenger Thrown from Minivan in Crash — Three people were hurt in an early morning crash on S. Arlington Ridge Road today. Police say a car traveling at 55 mph on the residential street slammed into the back of a minivan near 23rd Street S., causing one passenger in the van to be ejected from the vehicle. [WJLA, NBC Washington]
School Board Approves $100 Million H-B Design — The Arlington School Board has approved a concept design for the Wilson School in Rosslyn, future home of the H-B Woodlawn secondary program. With a 92-space parking garage factored in, the construction cost of the school may exceed $100 million. Also last week, the School Board confirmed that it will again ask the County Board for permission to build a new elementary school on the Thomas Jefferson Middle School campus. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
County Facebook Post Raises Eyebrows — Democratic political operative Ben Tribbett, among others, is calling an Arlington County Facebook post about a local Democratic resolution on the Redskins team name an “inappropriate use of a government Facebook account.” Tribbett was previously hired by the team to defend its name. [Facebook, Blue Virginia]
Nine Arlington Restaurants Make Top 50 List — Nine Arlington establishments have made Northern Virginia Magazine’s Top 50 Restaurants list. The highest on the list is new-this-year Kapnos Taverna in Ballston. [Patch]
Fisette on County’s Support for I-66 Plan — Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette says the county supports a plan for tolling I-66 because it is a regional compromise that’s cost effective, multimodal and not “the typical knee-jerk reaction [of] just widening roads.” Fisette notes that Arlington “was traumatized by the building of I-66 right through some of our neighborhoods” in the 1970s and 80s. [Washington Post]
Four Mile DMV Moving After Losing Lease — Dozens of angry Fairfax County residents came out to a meeting Thursday night to express opposition to a new DMV office in the Barcroft Plaza shopping center. The meeting also revealed more information on why the DMV is moving from its current location on S. Four Mile Run Drive. The DMV reportedly lost its lease due to a planned redevelopment, which has since fallen through. [Annandale VA]
More Info on Courthouse Redevelopment — We now know a bit more about the planned redevelopment of a low-rise office building in Courthouse. A 15-story, 91-unit condo building with 2,000 square feet of ground floor retail space is planned to replace the office building at 2000 Clarendon Blvd. [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
Members of the Coalition of Arlingtonians for Responsible Development, a group that wants affordable housing throughout the county, protested before a County Board work session on the Affordable Housing Master Plan last night.
The Affordable Housing Master Plan calls for 17.7 percent of all housing in Arlington to be affordable by 2040 for those making up to 60 percent of the average median income. Under the plan, the county would add roughly 15,800 new affordable units.
“It’s housing for our low wage workforce, or our lower wage workforce,” said County Board member Jay Fisette after the work session. “It’s the people we all rely on and come across every day in our lives in Arlington.”
The County Board will vote on the plan in September, and CARD members said they do not think the plan does enough to spread affordable housing throughout the county. Instead, the group said that new affordable housing units will be clustered around Columbia Pike.
“I think the county can make a stronger commitment to placing CAFs [Committed Affordable Units] in school districts that don’t have a high concentration of poverty,” said CARD member Katherine Novello, who lives in Barcroft.
The plan includes a map that forecasts the distribution of affordable housing units throughout the county. By 2040:
- Rosslyn-Ballston corridor will have 22 percent of the affordable housing units
- The Route 1 corridor (Crystal City and Pentagon City) will have 10 percent
- Columbia Pike will have 22 percent
- The area around the Arlington and Washington Blvds will have 6 percent
- Buckingham will have 7 percent
- The Westover Garden Apartments will have 3 percent
- Apartments along I-395 will have 13 percent
- The neighborhoods along Lee Highway to East Falls Church will have 11 percent
Under the plan, no affordable housing units would be added to areas in the northern most part of Arlington, including the Bellevue Forest, Arlingwood, Old Glebe and Rivercrest neighborhoods.
Many of the CARD members are concerned that the lack of distribution throughout the county will hurt school achievement by clumping high levels of poverty in some schools, while others have very few students who need free or reduced meals.
“If you create pockets of poverty, you’re not creating opportunities for people to succeed in life,” said CARD member Sue Campbell, who lives in Glencarlyn.
The lack of diversity in some schools also goes against the county’s slogan of diversity and inclusion, Campbell said.
The County Board received many comments from the public asking for geographic distribution and urging the county to do more to ensure it, said County Board member John Vihstadt during the work session.
“I’m just looking at pages and pages of the comments looking at the survey [on affordable housing],” Vihstadt said. “We’re moving in the right direction. The question is what more can we do.”
Vihstadt said after the meeting that he thinks the plan is better than before and is hopeful that the final plan presented in September will be something he can support.
“I think this plan now has goals as well as some teeth,” he said.
CARD founding member Joye Murphy said this morning that while the County Board members, “especially John Vihstadt,” were listening to the group, the plan still does not do enough to enforce geographic distribution.
“The county continues to harp on ‘preserving’ affordable housing,” she said in an email. “The only place housing is ‘market-rate affordable,’ (this means ‘low rent apartments’) is basically along Columbia Pike. This thinly-veiled ‘goal’ of ‘preserving affordable housing’ means dumping more committed affordable units on the Pike. We are not drinking that Kool-Aid.”
The 5-4 ruling was almost immediately decried by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, but others in the county have enthusiastically endorsed the landmark decision.
Board member Jay Fisette, who in 1997 became the first openly gay elected official in Virginia, said he was overjoyed by today’s ruling.
“I had absolutely no idea that this day would come in my lifetime — let alone while I was still in office,” said Fisette. “The Court’s action validates the lives of millions of Americans, reinforces the value of equality to our nation, and puts us in step with the civilized free nations on the planet.”
Board member Libby Garvey echoed Fisette’s excitement about the Supreme Court decision, telling ARLnow that she was delighted by the news and had “been exchanging happy texts this morning with my sister and her wife and other family.”
In a statement today, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the vote “an extraordinary moment in our nation’s recognition that Americans cannot and will not be denied dignity, rights, and responsibilities, including those of marriage, simply because of who they love.”
“I am proud we put Virginia on the right side of history on this issue,” Herring said, referencing the fact that gay marriage has been legal in Virginia since 2014. Herring held a press conference about marriage equality outside the Arlington County courthouse this afternoon.
Don Beyer, member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Virginia’s 8th district, also issued a statement this morning in which he applauded the Supreme Court and called the nationwide guarantee of marriage equality a “watershed moment in American history.”
“Gay rights are human rights and today we have ensured that all Americans, regardless of their sexuality, have the right to share the rest of their lives with the person they love,” said Beyer. “I could not be prouder to stand with my LGBTQ constituents and celebrate this incredible moment.”
Several of the area’s gay pride groups have upcoming events where residents can celebrate. The Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance is hosting a Pride Month Social this Sunday evening from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (555 23rd St S.), and NOVA Pride has a SCOTUS Ruling Happy Hour scheduled for Monday night at A-Town Bar & Grill (4100 Fairfax Drive) from 5-10 p.m.
Arlington officials cautioned that this ruling only deals with one aspect of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, however. According to Fisette, the next big LGBTQ issue facing the nation is employment discrimination, and though some local governments — like Arlington’s — prohibit hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, many still don’t.
“In most states, including Virginia, it is legal to fire someone simply because they are gay,” said Fisette.
Delegate Patrick A. Hope of the Virginia General Assembly agreed with Fisette, saying “Tomorrow, we must continue our efforts to end LGBT discrimination in other areas, such as in workplace, with the goal to treat every American fairly and equally.”
Advanced Towing Featured on GMA — Complaints against Arlington’s Advanced Towing have gone national, again. This time, ABC’s Good Morning America ran a feature on “predatory towing,” featuring video of Advanced from local station WJLA. The video shows a car being towed from a shopping center lot on Columbia Pike after two women parked there and walked to a restaurant outside the shopping center. The tow was reportedly facilitated by a “spotter” in an unmarked car. [ABC News – WARNING: Auto-play video]
Fisette to Propose Towing Changes — Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette says he will recommend changes to the county’s Towing Advisory Board to “address complaints about the process.” The County is also going to consider requiring commercial property owners to sign off on each tow. However, Fisette says he will not propose outlawing towing “spotters.” Fisette said it’s not the government’s role to tell tow companies how aggressively they can enforce legal trespass towing. [WTOP]
Washingtonian: Arlington Utopia No More? — “Recent developments in Arlington suggest that its time as an urbanist’s utopia might be doomed,” writes Benjamin Freed on Washingtonian Magazine’s website. Freed cites the closing of Artisphere, the cancellation of Arlington’s streetcar project and, most recently, the indefinite postponement of Fresh Bikes’ Tuesday Night Rides. [Washingtonian]
Arlington Company Files for IPO — Ballston-based Evolent Health, developers of an electronic healthcare data platform, have filed for a $100 million initial public stock offering. Evolent has chosen the NYSE ticker symbol EVH. [DCInno]
(Updated at 8:15 a.m.) Almost half of Arlington’s elected officials will have retired or resigned by Jan. 1, 2016, starting with Chris Zimmerman’s retirement from the Arlington County Board in February 2014.
At the same time, the leadership of the county’s staff is having a major changing of the guard, losing four department heads since last March, not including the impending retirement of County Manager Barbara Donnellan, effective June 30.
“The only constant in life is change,” County Board member Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com yesterday. In January of next year, Fisette and Libby Garvey will be the only Board members to have begun to serve before April 2014.
The list of leaders who have left or are leaving county government reads like a who’s who of Arlington agenda-setters in recent memory:
Rep. Jim Moran, Del. Bob Brink, Board members Zimmerman, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, Del. Rob Krupicka, School Board members Sally Baird, Noah Simon and Abby Raphael, Treasurer Frank O’Leary, Donnellan, Community Planning, Housing and Development Director Bob Brosnan, Arlington County Police Chief Doug Scott, Department of Human Services Director Susanne Eisner and the late Terry Holzheimer, Arlington Economic Development Director, who died last year of a heart attack.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen so much change at once,” said Eric Dobson, a former Planning Commission chairman and Arlington native who serves as the Northern Virginia government liaison with the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association.
While the staff turnover is staggering — five of the county’s 14 department directors will be replaced — many county officials say the transitions will be seamless. Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz, who will become interim county manager on July 1, said that’s partly because of Donnellan’s forward thinking.
“I think we have great bench strength,” the Boston native and avid Red Sox fan said. “Barbara has always talked about succession planning. You need to have that security. At the same time, I think it’s a good thing that an organization renews itself.”
Donnellan’s departure will have lasting effects, colleagues said. Many offered effusive praise of her work over the past 31 years, particularly her five years as county manager.
“She will be sorely missed,” said Kevin Shooshan, chairman of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and vice president of Shooshan Company, a Ballston-based real estate firm. “Everyone in Arlington County was a fan of Barbara Donnellan. People underestimate what that job entails, which is running that entire billion-dollar organization. It’s a big job and a big budget, and she’s done a great job for several years. Everyone’s going to be very sad to see her go.”
Confidence does not abound, however, regarding the future of the Arlington County Board. Hynes and Tejada represent a combined two decades of Board experience, and when the dust settles in November’s election, the future of Arlington could look different.
“That is a far more significant issue than the administrative staff, which has a deep pool,” Fisette said. “Three people set the direction for the Board. The community’s vision can be changed in subtle and harsh ways.”
Five Democrats have announced their candidacy for the two open seats — Peter Fallon, Christian Dorsey, School Board Chair James Lander, Katie Cristol and Andrew Schneider — and one independent, longtime Arlington Green candidate Audrey Clement. No Republicans have declared, nor has any candidate like John Vihstadt announced his or her intention to run.
Still, Vihstadt’s election and resounding re-election last year is fresh in the minds of many in Arlington politics. No one seems to know who — if anyone — will try to emulate Vihstadt’s combination of fiscal conservatism and progressive stances on social issues. Some Democrats running are championing platforms of change, but few have offered specifics of how they would operate any different from Hynes or Tejada. (more…)
Widening I-66 from Fairfax Drive in Arlington to the Beltway is a future possibility, but not a certainty, under a long-range plan being considered by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.
The body voted last week to include a series of proposals concerning I-66 in an air quality analysis. The planning board will take a final vote on the plan this fall.
The TPB gave a preliminary thumbs up to a VDOT proposal to convert I-66 inside the Beltway to High Occupancy Toll lanes during peak hours, accessible only to buses, cars with three or more occupants, and those willing to pay a toll. The state would continue to own the lanes and would collect the tolls, unlike a proposal for privately-built HOT lanes on I-395 that Arlington County vehemently opposed. The total cost of the project: $350 million.
In the air quality analysis, the TPB also included a proposal to widen I-66 from Fairfax Drive to the Beltway. The widening would potentially take place sometime between 2025 and 2040, but not sooner.
Under an amendment proposed by Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, the county’s representative on the regional board, VDOT would be required to report on the effectiveness of tolling and other multi-modal improvements before VDOT makes a determination of whether widening — which Arlington has generally opposed — is necessary.
So far, widening I-66 between Fairfax Drive and the Roosevelt Bridge is not under consideration.
Fisette said it’s encouraging that VDOT is considering earmarking toll revenue for various multi-modal improvements along the I-66 corridor — including transit services, bike and pedestrian infrastructure and park-and-ride lots, plus improvements to parallel routes like Route 50 and Lee Highway.
“That is a very significant difference between this HOT lane project and any other one that they have built or proposed,” Fisette said. “That has given our staff some level of comfort that this isn’t just about the road, that it’s about moving people through the corridor. It is our goal to move more people than vehicles.”
Despite the fact that Fisette’s amendment was accepted, he said he abstained from the day’s final vote. He said he will be watching closely as details about the proposed multi-modal improvements are “fleshed out” in the coming months, before deciding how to vote in the fall.
The press release regarding the TPB’s Feb. 18 vote, after the jump.
Del. Patrick Hope is chief patron of HB 2308, which allows counties with the county manager form of government — namely, Arlington — to hire an auditor with the power to “make performance reviews of operations of county agencies or county-funded programs.” The auditor would ensure money is being spent wisely and evaluate the effectiveness of those agencies and programs.
The bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously yesterday.
“I believe in the case of Arlington, where we have more than a $1 billion operating budget and over 3,000 employees, localities who don’t already have this authority will be seeking it to ensure government is working as efficiently as possible,” Hope told ARLnow.com in an email today. “If this authority is exercised, I think it will give Arlington residents an added level of confidence that their taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.”
Currently, the County Board only has the authority to hire a county manager, county clerk and county attorney. County Board member John Vihstadt has been pushing for the county to hire an independent auditor since his election last April. If Hope’s bill passes the state Senate and is signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — which Hope expects, but “I’ve learned over the years you never know” — the Board will begin to deliberate hiring its own independent auditor.
Board member Jay Fisette serves as the five-member panel’s legislative liaision, and is a former auditor himself. He said Hope’s bill is “another tool to consider” as the county develops its budget for the next fiscal year. Fisette said the county used to have several auditing mechanisms, but many of them were cut during the economic recession.
At one point, the county had an audit committee with a $100,000 budget that evaluated performance contracts, Fisette said. A decade ago, the county had two internal auditors ensuring that money wasn’t being spent fraudulently, but budget cuts have meant those services are now contracted out.
“The manager has been working to hire an internal auditor, and we had a great candidate who backed out,” Fisette said. He added that the Board supports Hope’s legislation. “We will set up, in the next few months, the best way to support that audit function. Who would oversee the work plan if they are going to report to us.”
Hope said the state Senate will likely consider the bill within the next two weeks.
In 2015, he is the lone County Board member with a snowy sidewalk in front of his house.
Responding to a reader tip, ARLnow.com checked out the sidewalk in front of Fisette’s home last night, as well as those in front of County Board members Walter Tejada, John Vihstadt and the County Board Chair, Mary Hynes. (Libby Garvey lives in a condominium.)
While those of his colleagues were immaculately cleared, the sidewalk in front of Fisette’s Ashton Heights home was still largely covered with snow and ice. There was some evidence of perhaps an attempt at shoveling, but much of the sidewalk was completely covered.
Arlington’s snow removal ordinance requires homeowners to clear snow and ice from the entire width of their sidewalk within 24 hours of the end of a snow event with accumulations below six inches, or within 36 hours of a six inch or higher snowfall. It calls for a fine between $50 and $100 for violations.
Fisette wasn’t the only one in his neighborhood with an snowy, icy sidewalk. Numerous houses, including one across the street, were in violation of the ordinance as well.
Fisette also isn’t the only local county policymaker guilty to not following their county’s snow ordinance. Yesterday, the Washington Post pointed out that the sidewalk outside Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal’s house still had patches of ice and snow.
This afternoon, Fisette talked to ARLnow.com and issued a mea culpa.
“I should have figured out a way to clean the sidewalk,” Fistte acknowledged. “The ordinance was an attempt to improve or keep sidewalks safe for people, and that’s a very worthy goal. I’ve always done that in the past.”
Fisette explained that his husband is out of town this week and he worked a 14 hour day on Tuesday, when the snow struck, leaving the house at 8:00 a.m. and not returning until 10:00 p.m.
“I know everybody has had complications… it’s not meant to be an excuse, because I should have gone out and done it,” he said. “I will take care of it when I get home from work at the end of the day.”
Arlington TV, the county-run television channel, has released its annual year in review video.
This year’s video is titled “Prosperity Through Change.” It includes highlights such as the election of County Board member John Vihstadt, the launch of TandemNSI, the completion of the new Courthouse Road/Route 50 interchange, the opening of 400 new affordable housing units, the approval of major school renovations and the redesign of the county website, among other 2014 milestones.
“Through all this growth and change, we’ve maintained the very best characteristics of a small town,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette says in the video. “Our community is strong, diverse, caring and incredibly civic-minded. Together we will build a promising future for the generations of Arlingtonians who will follow us, and we will remain the place that other communities look to for inspiration.”
Fisette also talks about the surprise cancellation of the county’s streetcar project.
“It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” Fisette says. “It was a realization that the support that had existed when these plans were developed was no longer there, to the point where it was immobilizing and distracting our community.”