(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) Starting at 6 a.m. today, voters began showing up at their polling places across Arlington as voting in the Democratic primary kicked off.
At Randolph Elementary School in Douglas Park, St. Agnes Catholic Church in Cherrydale, and Madison Community Center in Old Glebe, lines were short and skies were clear.
“It’s been slow, but steady. There’s been 83 people so far, or 2.7 percent turnout. It’s pretty normal,” said Bill Harkins, election officer at St. Agnes.
At Randolph Elementary around 41 people had cast their ballots by 7:41 a.m., according to election officer Harry Dunbar, and another 13 voters arrived in the next half hour. Dunbar said there are 3,000 people who live in the precinct.
“Half of that is normal for a busy general election,” Dunbar said, noting that primary election turnout is usually much lower.
By mid-morning, Arlington’s elections office reported that turnout was somewhat light, but higher in precincts in Arlington’s northwest. Voters in residential northwest Arlington tend to be a bit more conservative, at least relative to the rest of the county.
Update: looks like some of our northwest precincts are reporting a higher turnout, closer to 8% as of 10:30.
— Arlington Elections (@ArlingtonVotes) June 11, 2019
The only hiccup noticed so far was a ballot that wouldn’t scan at Randolph Elementary. At around 8 a.m., officials had identified the likely culprit: blocks that printed too faintly along the border of the document.
Today’s primary marks the end of several hotly contested races between the Democrats on the ballot — namely the race for commonwealth’s attorney and the state Senate seat in the 31st District. With most races still lacking a non-Democratic candidate, the primary could also decide the Nov. 5 general election.
At Randolph, the race on most people’s minds was the one for commonwealth’s attorney between incumbent Theo Stamos and challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti who have clashed in debates since kicking off their campaigns last winter.
Evelyn Luis, a long-time Douglas Park resident, said she doesn’t usually vote in the primaries but showed up today to support Stamos.
“Even though she’s running as a Democrat and I am not a Democrat I know I have to make a choice between the two candidates.” Luis said.
Luis wore a shirt from the 1990s-era Crime Prevention Council of Arlington County, on which she was a board member. She said she disagreed with Tafti’s platform and PAC funding.
Another voter, Aaron Willis, who has lived in the area for a decade, said he’s voted in every primary since moving to the D.C. region. He feels part of the “nerve center” of politics after coming from Ohio where he sometimes felt disconnected.
Willis said he supported Tafti in today’s election, citing her record of pushing for reproductive rights and restoring voting rights to felons.
The interest in the prosecutor’s race also ran high at St. Agnes.
“The important race to me was the commonwealth’s attorney,” said St. Agnes voter Chris Guest. “I think it’s always good to have options, but I wanted to vote against outside money, especially when that’s heavily for one candidate.”
“All of the races are important. Arlington is a great place to live and we have good candidates,” said St. Agnes voter Sarah Devoe this morning. “I’ve been surprised with the commonwealth’s attorney race; it’s not really a race I think of as being competitive. There’s been a lot of TV and print ads. There are two strong candidates.”
Stamos’ record in office and Tafti’s proposed criminal justice reforms have split support among local attorneys and sparked conversations about police brutality and the county’s discovery policy in criminal cases.
DEA Staying in Pentagon City — “The Arlington County Board today approved an incentive grant that will keep the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, in Pentagon City following a lengthy federal competitive bid process. The agency occupies more than 511,000 square feet of space, and employs about 3,000 people at its Pentagon City location.” [Arlington County]
‘Take Your Child to Work Day’ for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol’s new baby boy made his public debut at Thursday’s meeting for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. [Twitter]
Activists Still Pressing for Tree Removal Explanation — “Remember back last year, when top Arlington officials said they would provide the public – in writing – with the reasons the government would not take further steps to protect removal of a tree that had become symbolic to environmental activists across the county? You may have forgotten, but those activists have not.” [InsideNova]
‘Notable’ Trees Recognized — “Arlington has more than 750,000 trees of at least 122 species that provide $6.89 million in environmental benefits to the County annually in the form of pollution removal, carbon storage, energy savings, and avoided stormwater runoff. The Arlington County Board will designate 24 of these trees as Notable Trees at its April 25 Recessed Meeting. [Arlington County]
Water Main Break in Fairlington — Some 100 Arlington households were without water service for part of Thursday due to emergency water main repairs in the Fairlington neighborhood. [Twitter]
Gerber Incentives Pass — Gerber’s move to Arlington is one step closer thanks to an incentive package unanimously approved by the County Board on Tuesday. The package is divided between money from the state’s Commonwealth Opportunity Fund (COF) — $862,500 — and money earmarked for nearby infrastructure upgrades — another $862,500.
Nearby: Alexandria Peeved By Metro Surprise — “A month after Metro learned additional closures would be needed at the end of this summer’s Blue and Yellow line shutdown, Alexandria’s City Council lit into the agency’s top leaders Tuesday night about why the Virginia city and the public only learned of the extended work through a news release last week.” [WTOP]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Baby Boy for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol gave birth to her first child, a baby boy, this past weekend. She plans to call in to Saturday’s County Board meeting and participate in the crucial Amazon incentive package vote. [Twitter]
Building Plans for Temporary Amazon Office — JBG Smith “submitted plans March 7 to make common area improvements throughout the 12-story, 221,000-square-foot [office building at] 1800 S. Bell St., to be leased in full by Amazon.” [Washington Business Journal]
County May Change Building Plan Practices — “Arlington officials are considering ending same-day viewing at the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development after a Washington Business Journal reporter asked to view a permit for a building Amazon.com Inc. is expected to lease, said Ben Aiken, director of constituent services in the county manager’s office.” [Washington Business Journal]
VRE Plans Moving Forward — “Virginia Railway Express is moving forward with plans to build an expanded Crystal City Station, a key step needed to expand and improve service. The VRE Operations Board is due to vote Friday to allow contracting to move forward for engineering work based on the already approved concept design.” [WTOP]
New Leases in Rosslyn — Earlier this week Monday Properties announced the signing of three lease deals at 1100 Wilson Boulevard, one half of its Rosslyn twin towers. The firms leasing new space are The Health Management Academy and Trilogy Federal LLC, while WJLA owner Sinclair Broadcasting is expanding its existing space. [Monday Properties]
Extensive Road Closures Saturday — Expect a number of road closures in Courthouse, Rosslyn and near the Pentagon Saturday morning for the annual Four Courts Four Miler. [Arlington County]
Nearby: Gentrification Fears in Arlandria — “Concern of rising rents and gentrification have always been present in the Arlandria neighborhood, which sits between South Glebe and West Glebe roads and ends at Potomac Yard. Amazon.com Inc.’s plan to move to nearby Arlington has only intensified those worries.” [Washington Business Journal]
(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) About a year ago at this time, Arlington looked to be in serious trouble down in Richmond.
In mid-March 2018, county officials faced the decidedly unpleasant prospect that they’d come out on the losing end of a bruising legislative battle with two local golf and country clubs.
One of the county’s foremost foes in the General Assembly had engineered the passage of legislation to slash the clubs’ tax bills, potentially pulling more than a million dollars in annual tax revenue out of the county’s coffers.
Arlington had spent years tangling with the clubs, which count among their members local luminaries ranging from retired generals to former presidents, arguing over how to tax those properties. Yet the legislation from Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District) would’ve bypassed the local dispute entirely, and it was headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.
That meant that Arlington’s only hope of stopping the bill was convincing the governor to strike it down with his veto pen.
In those days, long before evidence of Northam’s racist medical school yearbook photos had surfaced, the Democrat was well-liked in the county. He’d raised plenty of cash from Arlingtonians in his successful campaign just a year before, and had won endorsements in his primary contest from many of the county’s elected officials.
Yet the situation still looked dire enough that the County Board felt compelled to take more drastic steps to win Northam to their side. The county shelled out $22,500 to hire a well-connected lobbying firm for just a few weeks, embarking on a frenetic campaign to pressure the governor and state lawmakers and launch a media blitz to broadcast the county’s position in both local and national outlets.
“It became apparent to all of us that every Arlingtonian had something at stake here,” then-County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “At a time when we were making excruciating decisions about our own budget, the idea that you would take more than million dollars and put it toward something that wasn’t a priority for anyone here was so frustrating.”
An ARLnow investigation of the events of those crucial weeks in spring 2018 sheds a bit more light on how the county won that veto, and how business is conducted down in the state capitol. This account is based both on interviews with many people close to the debate and a trove of emails and documents released via a public records request (and published now in the spirit of “National Sunshine Week,” a nationwide initiative designed to highlight the value of freedom of information laws).
Crucially, ARLnow’s research shows that the process was anything but smooth sailing for the county, as it pit Arlington directly against the club’s members. Many of them exercise plenty of political influence across the region and the state, and documents show they were able to lean heavily on Northam himself.
“One would expect a Democratic governor to be highly responsive to one of most Democratic jurisdictions in the state,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “But this was a matter of great concern to a bunch of very important people in Virginia, and that may well be the reason why additional efforts were necessary.”
And, looking forward, the bitter fight over the issue could well have big implications should similar legislation ever resurface in Richmond.
“Structurally, this bill could absolutely come back someday,” Cristol said. “And the idea that a bill that has such deleterious consequences for land use and taxation in jurisdictions across Virginia could come back and garner support because of an effective lobbying interest is very much a real threat.”
Arlington Diocese Releases List of Accused Priests — “Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses on Wednesday released lists of clergy who officials say were deemed ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing youth… The Diocese of Arlington, which covers the northeastern corner of Virginia, released a list of 16 names.” [Washington Post, Diocese of Arlington]
ACPD Restaurant Initiative Deemed a Success — “Arlington County, Virginia, is trying to fight drunken driving, and its method may prove to be a model for the nation.” [WTOP]
Cristol Quoted in the New Yorker — “‘We have an agenda that is about equity and anti-racist goals, and I don’t think he can effectively lead on it,’ [Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol] said, referring to the governor. As for Fairfax, she said, she had thought, after the first allegation, that ‘there might be a way forward for him to recognize harm done’ and stay in office. After the second, it seemed clear to her that there was an indefensible pattern of behavior.” [The New Yorker]
Arlington Man Arrested for 2016 Rape — “Alexandria Police have arrested a man who they say abducted and raped a lifeguard in broad daylight from a pool on South Pickett Street in 2016.” [Fox 5]
Hope’s Assisted-Living Bill Passes — “The derecho that came through Arlington several years ago inspired me to bring this bill and work to make sure, at a minimum, prospective residents knew whether their assisted living facility had a generator in case of loss of power.” [InsideNova, Twitter]
Sheriff’s Office Helping With Scholarships — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is helping the Virginia Sheriffs’ Institute raise college scholarship funds for Virginia residents majoring in criminal justice.” [Arlington County]
Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol says she’s running for re-election, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race for two Board seats on the ballot this fall.
The Democrat, who is a fresh off a year rotating in as chair of the five-member Board, told ARLnow that she announced her decision to seek a second term in office to supporters today (Thursday).
Since first winning office in 2015, Cristol believes the county has “started to make progress on the issues I’m passionate about,” but she’s hoping for another four years on the Board because she sees more work left to do on everything from expanding affordable housing options to increasing the availability of childcare in the county.
Cristol says she’s well aware that the next four years will be challenging in Arlington, particularly as the Board copes with some unpleasant budgets and manages Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City and Pentagon City.
The latter topic has drawn more than its fair share of attention to the county, and Cristol in particular, over the last few months, but she plans to embrace the complexities of the company’s impact during her campaign.
“We’ve never been a community where we just let things happen to us, we plan for things,” Cristol said. “But the only way to make sure that happens is to believe in our potential to do that, and elect leaders who are problem solvers, not just problem spotters… There’s been a lot of temptation through all this to say ‘No’ or reject it or find enemies, as opposed to looking to maximize the benefits, which is hundreds of millions in tax revenues to help fund the priorities we care about.”
Cristol points out that, without Amazon bringing its new headquarters to the county, she’d face the similarly unpleasant prospect of running for re-election as the county grapples with a 20 percent office vacancy rate, which became a key issue during Democrat Matt de Ferranti’s successful campaign to oust independent John Vihstadt last year.
Even still, Cristol acknowledged that Amazon won’t be the answer to all of the county’s fiscal challenges as she asks for another four years on the Board. Officials have repeatedly warned that it could take years for the county to see tax revenues from Amazon’s new office space, requiring a mix of tax hikes and service cuts in the new fiscal year to fill a hefty budget gap.
Cristol concedes that “as would any elected official, I’d prefer to be cutting taxes and expanding services in a re-election year.” But she also believes that her chairmanship of the Board last year, when it managed to avoid any tax increases in favor of a handful of spending cuts, demonstrates that she can govern in a “sustainably progressive” manner despite the fiscal headwinds.
“We found a way to work through our budget challenges last year where we made difficult decisions about cuts, but didn’t cut anything to the bone or harm our core priorities,” Cristol said. “And I’m optimistic that’s what we’ll do again this year, even if it will be tougher.”
Though Cristol is the only candidate in the race so far — County Board Chair Christian Dorsey has yet to announce whether he’ll seek re-election — she’s well aware that she could face a more difficult race this year than when she last ran four years ago.
In that contest, Cristol and Dorsey easily triumphed over independents Mike McMenamin and Audrey Clement. But this time around, Cristol could well find herself squaring off against her former colleague Vihstadt, who recently thrust himself back onto the county’s political scene with his renewed criticism of costs of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center project.
For her part, Cristol says she doesn’t know whether Vihstadt plans to mount another independent bid. In an election year without any statewide races at the top of the ticket, she says his entry into the race would present an “interesting question” of political strategy, but she’s not spending too much time worrying about it quite yet.
“The message that I’ll run on and what I can bring to the table is going to be the same irrespective of what decision he makes,” Cristol said. “I think I have a fantastic record to really be proud of.”
It’s unclear whether Cristol could face Democratic primary challengers before she even reaches the general — Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) have all drawn primary opponents thus far in Arlington’s local races — but any primary would be quite different from the six-way race she won four years ago.
In 2015, Cristol ran as a young newcomer to county politics, beating out some more experienced candidates. This time around, she has a record to defend, but also experience to run on.
“Some of the points I made back then do hold now,” Cristol said. “As a fresher face on the scene, I knew I didn’t have all the answers, so I thought it was important to listen to both longstanding Arlingtonians and those that hadn’t been as included in the past… and if I’ve learned anything in four years, it’s that nobody knows all these answers. That listening will still be at the heart of my campaign.”
Cristol says she’ll make a formal announcement at the Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting next Wednesday (Feb. 6), with a campaign kickoff event later that month.
Icy Conditions on N. Glebe Road — The northbound lanes of N. Glebe Road are closed at Military Road “for an unknown amount of time” due to icy conditions. [Twitter]
County Board Member is Pregnant — Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol and her husband Steve are expecting their first child in May. [Twitter]
Long-Time APS Employee Dies — Charles Weber, a World War II veteran who “worked for Arlington County Public Schools for thirty-seven years and served as Principal of Swanson Junior High School and Stratford Junior High School,” has died at the age of 91. [Dignity Memorial]
Scooter Trips > Bikeshare Trips — “In October, when Arlington, Va.’s scooter pilot began, there were 69,189 Bird and Lime scooter trips for 75,425 total miles traveled with Bird and Lime. Meanwhile, Capital Bikeshare – routinely and still considered a success, with lots more potential – had 26,532 total trips in Arlington in October.” [Mobility Labs, Twitter]
Growing Number of $200K+ Earners in Arlington — “If there’s one place in America that doesn’t need a helping hand from Jeff Bezos, it could be [Arlington and the D.C. suburbs]. The Washington commuter area is home to four of the top 10 (Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6) fastest-growing census tracts of high earners.” [Bloomberg]
Conspiracy Theorists Eye Cemetery — “QAnon believers have become convinced the deep-state cabal has a bunker under Arlington Cemetery, connected to a tunnel running straight to Comet Ping Pong.” [Twitter]
Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol is joining a statewide push for more education funding, calling on the General Assembly to send more cash to local school systems.
Cristol, a Democrat, is standing with leaders from 10 other Virginia localities in supporting the “March for More,” a demonstration in Richmond set for this Saturday (Dec. 8). Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) is coordinating the effort and has made school funding a key focus of his administration.
The march is primarily focused on convincing state legislators to reverse cuts to K-12 education funding they made at the height of the Great Recession. Its supporters argue that the state’s failure to restore those funds and keep pace with rising enrollment levels have put a huge strain on local governments, which bear the burden of funding their school systems.
“As a locality that receives the smallest percentage of funds from the state for K-12 education, we’ve watched funding dwindle since the start of the recession in 2009,” Cristol wrote in a statement. “Shifting such a disproportionate burden of educating young Virginians on to the commonwealth’s localities is as inequitable as it is unsustainable.”
For fiscal year 2019, state funds accounted for about 12 percent of the roughly $640 million that Arlington Public Schools took in in revenue, while the county accounted for about 78 percent of that amount. However, there are plenty of factors accounting for Arlington’s small share of state funding — officials dole out money based on each locality’s “ability to pay,” a statistic that the state calculates by evaluating factors like property values, income levels and taxable retail sales. The county performs quite well relative to other Virginia localities on all of those measures.
But the “March for More” advocates point out that state law obligates the General Assembly to fund 55 percent of the costs of meeting the state’s “Standards of Quality,” which govern everything from class sizes to facility maintenance schedules, but Richmond has fallen far short of meeting that standard. As of 2017, the state combined to meet just 43 percent of school funding needs statewide.
Similarly, research from the left-leaning Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis suggests that state funding is down 9.1 percent per student compared to pre-recession levels.
Arlington officials are particularly interested in a little budget relief, given the county’s current fiscal challenges.
County leaders are considering everything from tax increases to staff layoffs to help meet a projected $78 million budget gap, which is driven in part by a $43 million deficit that the school system is facing. The school system only narrowly avoided increasing class sizes in this year’s budget, and may have to consider such a measure again in fiscal year 2020.
How might lowly local officials be able to bring one of the world’s largest companies to heel?
And while county and city leaders are optimistic that the tech giant will prove to be a reliable partner in the region, they’re also admitting that they don’t have all that many tools to push Jeff Bezos and company around.
“We have to focus on using the policy tools that we do have,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol at an Amazon-focused town hall in Crystal City’s Synetic Theater last night (Monday).
Public speakers at the event, which was hosted by WAMU 88.5’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, fretted over how localities might address everything from the company’s labor practices to its commitment to hiring a diverse workforce.
Leaders in attendance sought to reassure nervous neighbors that localities will be able to extract community benefits from the company as it builds new space in Pentagon City and Crystal City. County Board member Libby Garvey even expressed optimism that “Amazon is going to affect us, but we’re going to affect Amazon too” when it comes to changing the company’s culture.
But concerns abound that Amazon’s status as the new economic engine for the area will give it unprecedented bargaining power in any dispute with local leaders.
“The County Board works really hard and wants to do the best they can for us, but Amazon, at any point, can say ‘No,'” said Roshan Abraham, an organizer with Our Revolution Arlington, a progressive group that has opposed the county’s pursuit of Amazon. “They always threaten to pack up and leave, it’s what they always do… We have very little leverage, particularly at the political level.”
Part of the problem for local leaders is that state law limits their ability to pursue some of the most aggressive pro-worker measures favored by Amazon skeptics. Virginia’s legislature, long dominated by Republicans, has adopted a series of measures designed to make the state more business friendly — perhaps most notably, Virginia is a “right to work” state, limiting the ability of unions to charge workers fees for representing them.
Several members of local unions urged officials to press Amazon to sign “project labor agreements” ahead of any new headquarters construction, or a contract with a union to lay out the working conditions for a project before construction gets started.
But Virginia has laws on the books designed to limit government agencies from requiring such agreements, and Cristol pointed out that “the state has made it very clear that we can’t use those” in many situations.
However, she did pledge to urge Amazon to work with unions and offer fair working conditions on its construction sites — and the question gave her a chance to underscore just how meaningful it might be if her fellow Democrats seized control of the General Assembly in next year’s elections.
Other attendees were similarly nervous that the county won’t be able to force Amazon to fork over cash to spur the development of more affordable housing, particularly as the arrival of the company’s planned 25,000 workers strain the region’s housing market.
On that front, however, Arlington officials are confident that they’ll be able to use their existing development process to require Amazon to chip in more money for its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan program designed to incentivize reasonably priced development. Of course, that will have to wait until the company starts building new facilities, which could take years yet.
In the meantime, housing advocates are optimistic that the tech giant is committed to the issue of housing affordability, and could agree to some select contributions on its own.
Carmen Romero, vice president of real estate development with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, said both Amazon and its major landlord in Arlington (JBG Smith) have told her they “want to be at the table” when it comes to discussions about creating new affordable developments. She even suggested that JBG could agree to donate some small portion of the large swaths of land it owns in Crystal City and Pentagon City to a nonprofit like her group, allowing for new affordable homes in the immediate vicinity of the headquarters.
“It’s very fair to ask Amazon to join us at the table as part of the philanthropic community,” Cristol said. “If they’re going to be a major player here, we’re very interested in seeing a big commitment from them.”
Alexandria Mayor-elect Justin Wilson added that the mere fact of Amazon’s interest in the region has already changed the conversation at the state level. He noted that state lawmakers were previously reticent to commit to major affordable housing funding, despite Northern Virginia leaders “banging our heads against the wall in Richmond,” but officials agreed to send an additional $15 million to the Virginia Housing Development Authority as part of the offer to Amazon.
“This was important to Amazon,” Wilson said, drawing a few laughs from skeptics in the audience. “But we were able to make the argument to the state government that this was something that had to be part of the package to help us attract a major employer.”
For Amazon opponents, however, it’s not enough that the company and state might voluntarily agree to measures to offset the impending impacts on the county.
Abraham’s group is pushing the concept of a “community benefits agreement,” a deal that a coalition of neighbors would strike directly with the company to ensure it invests in the community’s priorities, as an alternative to government officials haggling on their behalf.
It may not be enough to answer all their concerns, but he expects it may be a better path to pursue than hoping local politicians can win battles with a company owned by the world’s richest man.
“If we get Amazon to make these commitments to our community now, that, I believe, is the best way we have of protecting ourselves,” Abraham said.
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.”
(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.