59°Mostly Cloudy

by ARLnow.com November 17, 2017 at 10:45 am 0

The following letter was written by Aurora Hills resident Ashli Douglas about the county’s Complete Streets Program and traffic congestion in her neighborhood that she said was exacerbated by changes to S. Eads Steet.

To the Editor:

Arlington has embarked on a transportation vision of providing a safe environment for all travel modes, also known as the Complete Streets Program.  Today I’m sharing a story of how this transportation vision for complete streets has played out in one Arlington County neighborhood, Aurora Hills.

As I reread the Arlington transportation presentation for our project on S. Eads St. from 2014, it occurred to me how benign and utopian the project seemed. That should have been the first clue.  Arlington was going to move more people without more traffic and they were going to protect our single-family neighborhood.  All good, what’s not to like?

And then came the medians, protected bike lanes, bike rental rack and central to all of this, the complete removal of two lanes of a four-lane street – S. Eads Street.  What could possibly go wrong?

So now we have the same (but probably more) number of cars on the same road with less lanes.  This is where the fairytale turns to a nightmare…enter aggressive driving and cut-through traffic.

I live on what Arlington refers to as a Minor Neighborhood Street, in which the distinctive feature of these streets is the nearly exclusive orientation to providing access to residences.  It also happens to be a one lane yield street!

One block away is S. Eads Street, an Arterial Street, by definition, the street primarily provides through travel rather that solely for access to adjacent properties.  According to Arlington’s street elements policies that are part of the county wide master transportation plan, streets should “…improve the efficiency of vehicular operation on arterial streets to minimize diversion of traffic onto neighborhood streets.”

So you see where this is going.  Since our arterial street has reduced capacity, the cars all cut-through our neighborhood street.  And just to be clear, we are not talking about a few cars.  We are talking over 1,300 commuters a day.

How do we know?  Since the county refused to share data or provide any form of relief to our neighborhood, we hired a certified traffic data collection firm to conduct traffic counts on November 1 and 2, a Wednesday and Thursday.  The counts were 1,347 and 1,369 respectively.

Our one lane section of S. Fern St. simply cannot handle this traffic.  According to Arlington County historical traffic counts, last performed in 2011 on our street, they measured 500 cars on a daily average. What a difference a “Complete Street” makes.  We now have approximately 600 cars who rip down the same street in a three-hour period  our school bus is dropping off children.

It is no longer safe for our children to play even near the street due to the cut-through traffic. We have experienced over 160 percent increase in vehicles, the majority with DC and MD tags that simply cut through our neighborhood to avoid the congestion morass on S. Eads Street.

As frustrated parents, neighbors and Arlington county citizens, we, individually as neighbors in an eight-block area, and collectively through our civic association have been engaged with the county for over a year to no avail.  We have requested that the county protect our neighborhood, and specifically, mitigate the cut-through traffic that originates on S. Eads Street and cuts through our neighborhood on S. Fern Street between 26th Street S. and 23rd Street S.

Our eight-block area has become a virtual highway of dangerous cut through traffic with constant stop sign running, speeding and hit and run accidents, and fearful and angry parents at Arlington county elementary school bus stops.

The S. Eads Complete Street project has been a complete disaster for the residents in our neighborhood and despite our continual pleas for help for nearly a year to protect our single family neighborhood; we have had no relief.

We will not give up our neighborhood and we demand the county remedy the problem they created.  And for anyone else that may be facing a complete street project – consider yourself forewarned.

Ashli Douglas has lived in Aurora Hills for 16 years and is the mom to two elementary school-aged children.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com November 13, 2017 at 4:30 pm 0

The following letter was written by local resident Miranda Turner about the process of changing middle school boundaries in Arlington Public Schools.

To the Editor:

The current middle school boundary changes underway in Arlington represent a concerning turn away from demographic diversity as a consideration in boundary decisions.

During last year’s high school redistricting, Arlington Public Schools’ message was that a minor redrawing of lines wasn’t the time to address demographics, but that time was coming. Only a year later, APS seems to have thrown in the towel on the subject, in the face of “housing patterns in the county” that make it “not as easy” to address economically segregated schools (as stated by APS Staff at the October 25 meeting at Yorktown).

Each of the staff’s successive proposals has retreated from the opportunity to address concentrated low-income populations within the South Arlington middle schools. Under the current Staff recommendation, the low-income population in each South Arlington school, on average, exceeds the sum of the low-income percentages across all North Arlington schools together, and Williamsburg’s population of low-income students is 1 percent.

The staff’s explanation for its recommendation is that proximity – the option to walk up to 1.5 miles to school — is a priority for families. But only 55 percent of Arlington middle schoolers are in the walk zone, suggesting proximity is a priority for, at most, about half the county. Half the county attends South Arlington schools, yet that is apparently not enough for the staff to address the persistent economic segregation in those schools.

It is a given that each of the six APS considerations involve trade-offs. However, prioritizing proximity for the subset of families who live close to schools elevates the preferences of that small group over what is arguably best for the future of the entire school system and, in turn, the county.

Undoubtedly, the County Board has its own role to play in addressing housing patterns. This does not excuse the School Board from doing its part. Demographic diversity is not about “somebody else’s kids,” the staff’s chosen deflection at the October 25 meeting.  It is about all our kids and the values our county chooses to promote.

Sincerely,

Miranda Turner

Arlington

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com October 31, 2017 at 10:30 am 0

The following letter was written by Pat and Doreen Cappelaere, residents of Ellicott City, Md., regarding an event at Arlington National Cemetery this coming Saturday afternoon.

Our daughter, Valerie Cappelaere Delaney, achieved her dream of becoming a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and earned her Wings for Gold in February 2012.

Just a year later, at age 26, Valerie’s life was cut short when the EA-6B Prowler jet she was piloting crashed in a field near Spokane, Wash., during one of her last training flights prior to deployment. We were devastated, but soon realized that Valerie’s wings and her legacy would take flight in ways we could have never imagined.

At Valerie’s funeral, over 200 female military aviator wings from around the world were presented to our family in honor of her service and sacrifice, and in celebration of the strength and sisterhood of female aviators.

This impressive collection is now on display as part of the Wings for Val Exhibit at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and became the inspiration for us to start the Wings for Val Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is to support and promote women in all fields, especially in the military and in aviation, and to inspire future generations of female leaders.

On November 4, we will be hosting a free event at the Women’s Memorial where a very special set of wings will be added to the collection from “Shutsy” Reynolds (see video below), one of approximately 1,000 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who flew military aircraft during World War II.

The event will also feature guest speaker, Erin Miller, the campaign leader for getting the law passed allowing her grandmother, WASP pilot Elaine Harmon, and other WASP to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  We hope that you will consider helping us grow our mission by joining us at our upcoming event. Details can be found at www.wingsforval.org. 

Pat and Doreen Cappelaere
Ellicott City, MD

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com October 25, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

The following letter was written by Ryan Bloom, Chloe Fugle, Maria McGlone and Ethan Novak, student board members of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment.

A little-noticed Arlington County government report that was issued during hurricane season should be read as a call for action on a local issue that concerns a growing number of public school students and other Arlingtonians: recycling efforts in our public schools.

The September report by the County Solid Waste Bureau (SWB) concluded that, while Arlington County as a whole has a recycling rate of 46.8 percent, the rate for Arlington Public Schools (APS) is estimated to be 15 percent. This is below the minimum recycling rate of 25 percent mandated by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The 15 percent estimate for APS recycling is not surprising given our observations and those of the SWB in school cafeterias, hallways and classrooms. SWB reported that 70 percent of schools are not fully compliant with County recycling code; even almost two years after the code came into effect.

For example, schools’ recycling bins sometimes lack clear, explanatory signs and these bins are often not co-located with trash bins. The result is often confusion about what goes in what particular bin resulting in students and teachers tossing both recyclables and trash in the nearest container.

The SWB reports that few schools have a successful cafeteria recycling system, which is the likely result of a “… lack of clear administrative standards and policies concerning a recycling culture campus-wide.”

Our public schools should be a model for effective stewardship practices, rather than a source of embarrassment. Students develop lifelong habits based on what they see and are taught in their homes, schools and communities.

Moreover, taxpayers benefit from effective recycling practices since disposing of trash is typically more expensive than recycling. The County Board has resolved to achieve “zero waste” by 2038, which will only be achieved if our families and institutions, including APS, take action today and implement an effective recycling system fully compliant with County recycling code.

Signed by,

  • Ryan Bloom, Arlington, Student Board Member, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment
  • Chloe Fugle, Arlington, Student Board Member, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment
  • Maria McGlone, Arlington, Student Board Member, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment
  • Ethan Novak, Arlington, Student Board Member, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com October 17, 2017 at 4:30 pm 0

The following letter was written by Daniel Lopez, board member of the Arlington Soccer Association, regarding the proposed arts district in the Four Mile Run valley.

A few years back, using tax dollars and bond money earmarked for recreational parks, Arlington County purchased five properties adjacent to Jennie Dean Park to add to the overall park space inventory. The County Board recently charged the Four Mile Run Valley working group (4MRV) with developing “a vision for the comprehensive replacement and realignment of existing park features (exclusively for park purposes) and the addition of new park amenities to meet the growing demand for active and passive recreation, cultural resources and natural resource preservation.”

Part of the overall 4MRV project involves developing a plan for improving Jennie Dean Park. The space acquired with bond money is ideally suited for use as additional, new park space to complement the existing Jennie Dean Park. The new space could add to the inventory of peaceful green space in the valley, something that many Arlingtonians, including residents of Nauck, Shirlington and other local neighborhoods, have asked for time and time again.

However, some in the 4MRV group have reportedly strayed from the charge and are actively working to re-purpose this property as an ill-defined and unfunded “arts district.” The hope and presumption is that Arlington County will be able to provide subsidies and other financial support to enable the birth and growth of this arts district. For reasons not made clear, arts districts proponents seem focused on locating the arts district in space previously suggested as new park space. The overall 4MRV planning process encompasses a huge amount of space beyond Jennie Dean Park, much of which could support an arts district fully, and some in the working group have even spoken up in favor of locating any arts district closer to the new Nauck Town Square, and not in the Jennie Dean Park area.

Arlington County already actively supports the arts. The County supports the arts with, among other things, the Crystal City Underground gallery space, the Arlington Arts Center, the Signature Theater, Synetic Theater, and a variety of public spaces for art displays. It is unclear where the funding for any additional arts support will come from, and no one in the 4MRV group has provided any concrete visions of support.

Shared public spaces are the county’s most precious resources. Opportunities to add green space in Arlington don’t come very often, and we need to take advantage of those few opportunities when they present themselves. The Arlington Soccer Association supports the arts in general, but in this specific instance, ASA opposes attempts within the 4MRV working group process to re-purpose this new open space as an “arts district.” Let’s use park space for park purposes, and take advantage of the ability to add to the County’s functional green space inventory.

Daniel Lopez
Arlington Soccer Association

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Map via Google Maps.

by ARLnow.com October 16, 2017 at 10:30 am 0

The following letter was written by Jane Green, who recently moved to Pentagon City.

As a new resident of Arlington, am I a burden or an opportunity?

As a new resident of Arlington County, I left Sunday’s League of Women Voters Candidate Forum for the upcoming County Board election feeling like a burden to my neighbors.

When responding to questions about the challenges that Arlington faces to meet the demand for housing and to increase capacity for transportation, schools, and other facilities, all three candidates emphasized the negative aspects that come from new young families. Developments increase and rents go up. Trees are cut down. Schools are more crowded.

For those who have lived in the county for a decade or more, new residents are a problem to manage and an obstacle to preserving the neighborhood and community as it has been.

I would rather you see my family as an opportunity. We are ready to put down roots and be engaged in our new home. We love Arlington for its diversity and its convenience. We value the strong civic institutions that bring people together. But by neglecting to adapt to newcomers, the County is only exacerbating the housing shortage and other capacity issues.

Those who vow to “preserve the neighborhood” should remember that they are envisioning a world that doesn’t include my family or the thousands of others like us who are the foundation of a vibrant community. We want to be the future of Arlington, if you’ll let us.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com September 22, 2017 at 10:35 am 0

The following letter was sent to ARLnow.com by Janet R., a Lyon Village resident, in response to our latest Pet of the Week post.

The post noted that Sophie, a black lab mix, loves to “swim, run, jump, get tummy rubs, play with tennis balls, obsessively lick stuff, stalk squirrels, bark at strangers and watch Bravo with mom.”

I wish you would not encourage the “I bark at strangers” thing in your Pet of the Week.

Please encourage lawful behavior and non threatening behaviors.

  • “I poop on stranger’s lawns and my owner doesn’t clean it up.”
  • “I run free off leash and taunt young kids who might also have fears (but me and my owner don’t care). (Playgrounds are nicer than dog parks!)”
  • “I bark incessantly whenever my owner leaves me at home, so our neighbors no longer are on speaking terms because they miss using their porch/open windows in peace.”
  • “Whenever my owner does feel compelled to clean up after me, she leaves the half closed bag in a neighbor’s trash bin (especially those elderly neighbors who leave their trash bins out longer).”
  • “I especially love the long extended leash on crowded sidewalks. My owner and I think it’s okay to trip elderly with this, because I like to feel free. I’m an explorer!”

Seriously, all of these things have happened to me in Arlington County, and sadly, I could go on and on.

You need to try to HELP this situation, not hurt it. Please remind dog owners that the right of pet ownership comes with serious responsibilities. Especially to their neighbors. As our neighborhood association writes in every newsletter, this is difficult to enforce, but is an increasing problem. (Check out the exponential growth in dog ownership).

Rescue the neighbors of poorly trained dog owners!!! You play a role here, Arlington Now.

Leash and under control. Clean up poop and use own trash can. Control barking. You never know what crises your neighbors may be dealing with on their own. Show compassion for humans, too.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com August 18, 2017 at 4:45 pm 0

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Washington-Lee High School 2015 graduate Alexander Wallace, who is now a student at the College of William & Mary.

Activists called for Lee’s name to be removed from W-L at the Arlington School Board meeting on August 17, in the wake of this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville.

Board members announced they would study the names of all current and future schools in the county and decide if any should be changed.

Since the violence in Charlottesville over the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee, there have been calls to rename Washington-Lee High School, Arlington’s oldest. Others want to keep the old name.

As a 2015 graduate, I have thought about this subject often, especially after the Charleston massacre, which was on the day of my graduation.

I understand the argument for renaming the school. Robert E. Lee fought for a government whose raison d’etre since its inception was the preservation of chattel slavery; the Cornerstone Speech by their Vice President, Alexander Stephens, makes this clear as day.

In fighting for said government, Lee therefore fought to preserve that vile institution even if it was not his premier motive, and that in and of itself leads to just condemnation. That fact certainly makes the banner in the halls “Washington-Lee Celebrates Diversity” more than a little ironic.

That being said, I also understand the opposition to the name change. Washington-Lee, as a name divorced from its namesakes, has become an honored name, with famous graduates like Sandra Bullock and Warren Beatty, and academic and athletic success. Thousands of people by now have formed memories and friendships under that name.

Additionally, changing the name to proposals such as “Washington-Lincoln” or “Washington-Lafayette” (which I have both seen) would cause a significant degree of financial trouble to the school administration as they would have to replace signs, songs and logos on just about everything.

In full understanding of both perspectives I propose a compromise as a plan of action. We need not change the name “Washington-Lee,” but the name “Lee” could be rededicated to Robert’s father, Henry Lee. The elder Lee fought for the early Republic during our war for Independence in both Northern and Southern campaigns, and died long before the Confederacy was ever even an idea.

In doing so, we could keep the name “Washington-Lee,” the mascot “Generals” (for they were both generals in the Continental Army, and both from Virginia), the alma mater (which refers only to ‘Washington-Lee’ as a collective), and most everything else. All that would need to be changed are some portraits, like the ones in the main office and little theater, and one of the logos.

This compromise would allow the complete removal of the stain of the Confederacy from the school whilst maintaining its long-standing traditions. It is a compromise that I find ideal and hopefully would spare the school from the worst of the ongoing culture wars and bring the dispute to a quiet conclusion, one that would not attract undue attention.

In these trying times, I share the sentiment of our alma mater: “Washington-Lee, Washington-Lee, humbly for thee do we pray.” Our alma mater will need it.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com August 17, 2017 at 12:45 pm 0

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by writer and Washington-Lee High School graduate Waleed Shahid, who has started an online petition to push for removing Robert E. Lee’s name from the school.

Activists are also expected to call for Lee’s name to be removed from W-L at tonight’s Arlington School Board meeting, in the wake of this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, sources tell ARLnow.com.

When I was a student at Washington-Lee, I clearly remember being taught in history class that Robert E. Lee “did not fight for slavery; he fought for Virginia.” I didn’t make much of it until I left Virginia for college. Many of my classmates thought it was strange that I went to a school named after the leader of the Confederate Army and that there was a highway that ran through my hometown honoring Jefferson Davis. These were racist slave-owners who rebelled against the American government and Abraham Lincoln, they told me. I shrugged and didn’t make it much of it.

But over the past few years — and particularly over the past week — many Americans have been beginning a conversation about our nation’s living wounds. It’s clear that too many are ignorant of our country’s history. And this past week has shown that a small minority of white nationalists are increasingly comfortable with publicly stirring up the worst aspects in American society by pitting Americans against each other.

To these white nationalists, Robert E. Lee represents their deep commitment to racial hierarchy. When three of his slaves escaped, Lee whipped them and had their backs washed with stinging brine. Lee ordered his Confederate soldiers to respect white property, but declared that any black people they encountered — regardless of their previous ‘status’ — were to be seized and returned to the South to be sold into slavery. At the Battle of the Crater, Lee’s Army even killed black prisoners of war. This is the history we honor when we name our school after Robert E. Lee — and why white nationalists felt so threatened by the removal of his statue in Charlottesville.

We must understand the stakes too. Arlington Public Schools should not shy away from taking a clear stand on this issue. It’s up to our civic leaders and institutions to take steps toward reconciling and repairing our nation’s living wounds where we can make a difference. Washington-Lee High School should be renamed so that we can move toward creating a school, county and country that truly belongs to all who call it home. If the President of the United States is unwilling to provide the leadership our country needs, then we need to provide it ourselves.

America was founded upon a revolutionary promise: freedom and justice for all. But, the revolutionary promise of America has never been fulfilled. We, the people has never included all of us. The story of our nation has always been a struggle over who America belongs to: the chosen few, or all of us? This is what is at stake when we honor the leaders of the Confederacy. Which side of that struggle will we honor? Germans don’t honor Nazi soldiers; South Africans don’t honor those who held up Apartheid. But Americans still honor Robert E. Lee and countless other Confederates who raised up a new flag and started a rebellion against the United States of America. Why?

It’s time Arlington honor those who fought tirelessly to create an America for all of us. As an alum of Washington-Lee High School, I urge you to consider re-naming our school Washington-Douglass or Washington-Tubman High School. As a Muslim-American who grew up in Arlington, continuing to have my alma mater named after Robert E. Lee is like seeing a Confederate Flag being constantly waved in my face. It makes me sick to my stomach knowing that we are honoring a man who fought to shackle and chain other human beings.

In many ways, Washington-Lee is a microcosm of America. My alma mater — just like my country — is still working to perfect our experiment in constructing a vibrant multi-racial democracy. This past week has been a reminder that some still hope to thwart our collective project and take us back to darker times. But by committing to change the name of Washington-Lee High School, we can take concrete steps toward living up to our best traditions and creating a nation where we all feel like we belong and where “We, the People” includes all of us. This is our historic responsibility as Americans in this moment in our history.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com August 10, 2017 at 11:00 am 0

The owner of a small technology business wrote to the Arlington County Board this week to argue that the existing choices for high-speed internet service in Arlington are inadequate and new options should be considered.

Josh Blanchard, a Ballston resident, shared his letter with ARLnow.com.

Dear County Board of Arlington,

Imagine that new residents in Arlington routinely went for days or weeks without power, or water service in their new homes. Imagine that the power company routinely shut off service to new and old residents for arbitrary reasons, and that restoring service required dozens of hours spent on the phone battling a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

This is the situation we have in Arlington county right now with internet service, and it is untenable. I’m writing to ask what plan the county has to improve competition in Arlington for reliable, high speed Internet service.

My wife and I have been Arlington residents for 10 years, and recently moved to a new home in Avon Park just west of Ballston. Our experience with Verizon FIOS has been so aggravating that I find myself regretting our decision to remain in Arlington. The prior resident at our new home had Verizon FIOS working, we are FIOS subscribers. The switch should have been flawless, as it was for our other utilities. It was not. Our service worked for 24 hours before Verizon arbitrarily shut us down, and now insists that it will be a week before they restore service. We have been on and off the phone with Verizon for days, in a series of increasingly more futile conversations. Our only other option for high speed Internet is Comcast, who offers incredibly unreliable Internet and also has terrible customer service. In our old house (also in Avon Park), we repeatedly suffered similar outages and aggravations at the hands of both Comcast and Verizon. Our experience is far from unique – terrible treatment and unreliable service from Verizon and Comcast is par for the course in Arlington County.

I’m a software engineer and business owner who works from home. Internet is not a luxury for me, it is an essential utility. Our home is replete with IoT devices that require Internet to function. The temperate in our home got to 85 degrees in the middle of the night last night because our thermostat does not function properly without Internet connectivity. Our home security will not work without internet. Not to mention, every minute we are without service costs my business money.

We live just 3 blocks away from the Ballston Business Improvement District, and as you know the county is actively courting startups and technology companies to the area. If a fellow business owner were to ask me about locating a new tech startup here, I would caution them against it, as Internet service is too essential to be left to the dreadful oligopoly we have with Comcast and Verizon. Our options for residential internet service are appalling for an urban area, making Arlington an undesirable location for most tech companies who will rely heavily on telecommuting. Commercial service options in the area are no better. If Arlington wishes to grow a tech friendly community, we must address this problem.

To that end, I have a few questions to ask you:

1) What is the county doing to court competitors to Comcast and Verizon, such as Google Fiber?

2) What steps has the county board in Arlington taken to lower the regulatory burden for laying fiber infrastructure, and court new ISP startups, like Brooklyn Fiber, Chattanooga Fiber, or Rocket Fiber in Detroit?

3) Has Arlington county explored establishing a county run municipal broadband service?

4) What other steps does the county plan to improve competition for high speed Internet service to Arlington residents?

Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing your response.

Sincerely,

Josh Blanchard

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com August 9, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

An Arlington resident recently wrote to the Virginia State Crime Commission during the ongoing Request for Written Content period in support of marijuana decriminalization. This issue was considered in the state legislature earlier this year, resulting in a study by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

The resident shared his letter, below, with ARLnow.com for publication. The resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, states that decriminalization could save the state money, keep non-violent offenders out of jail and allow police to focus on more serious crime.

Dear Virginia State Crime Commission,

Thank you all for your hard work on studying this critical issue of whether current marijuana laws are appropriate. The prohibition of marijuana has undoubtedly caused a myriad of unfortunate consequences. Among them the incarceration of many, but disproportionately minorities, for non-violent transgressions. Virginia has severe racial disparities in its arrest rates as well. It’s shocking that one in ten African American males in their 30s are in jail or prison on any given day.

Our state boasts long and punitive sentencing guidelines for simple possession of marijuana. Incarceration often produces hardened criminals. The absence of  compassionate rehabilitation for those who would welcome treatment for drug abuse is inhumane.

Recidivism is an enormous problem in the US. Nearly 68 out of every 100 prisoners are rearrested within three years. Educational and career opportunities are lost due to having a criminal record for a minor offense. The lack of lawful opportunities further encourages the vicious cycle of recidivism.

The Commonwealth of Virginia spends far too much on enforcement and incarceration for marijuana-related crimes in Virginia. According to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, “Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement, which is enough to open another 13,000 pre-K spots for kids.”

Our state spends more than $25,000 per inmate, at an annualized cost of approximately $1.5 billion. With a budget shortfall of $266 million per year, and a potential savings of at least $67 million for just reducing marijuana enforcement, the math is clear. Virginia cannot afford to continue down this path of investigating, arresting and incarcerating non-violent marijuana offenders.

Decriminalization has a positive effect, by reducing law enforcement spending on marijuana to better prioritize resources on serious crime. Lowering the unaffordable and unsustainable cost of our prison system, improving our state’s budget deficit and improving trust in law enforcement.

Obviously marijuana should not be used by developing children and adolescents. However, adults in the privacy of their own home should not have to fear legal repercussions for an activity that seems to cause no serious harm, especially in comparison to alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal.

In closing, I ask that the State Crime Commission takes in to consideration not just the present, but the future. Virginia is respected as a bellwether for legislation by other, nearby states, including North Carolina, which has already decriminalized simple possession of marijuana.

Decriminalizing marijuana would send a powerful signal to our other neighbors and bring Virginia in to alignment with 22 other states who have done the same. We owe it to our fellow Virginians to give our laws a second look and determine if the the punishment really and truly does fit the crime.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com July 26, 2017 at 4:35 pm 0

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Aaron Wajsgras, who serves on Arlington Public Schools’ Budget Advisory Council and its Career, Technical and Adult Education Citizens Advisory Committee.

It’s no secret that workforce needs are changing. From coding to manufacturing, industry is pining for a STEM workforce that can think critically and creatively. No longer are the times of the switch board operator or the repetitive assembly line worker.

So, exposing students to rigorous, hands-on learning where they can apply content knowledge to promote higher-order thinking skills is necessary for the future workforce. And, at the rate technology is changing, “the future” could be just a few years away.

According to the NOVA Workforce labor market dashboard, over 6,800 positions in management, science, technical consulting and computer systems design and related services were posted between April and June of this year. Additionally, across the country, skills gaps (what’s available versus what’s needed) exist in manufacturing, healthcare and other major industries to the tune of 5 million unfilled jobs by 2020, according to Georgetown University.

The skilled and creative future workforce has been a hot-topic for the last handful of years. Consequently, the Congressional STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Caucus and the CTE (Career and Technical Education) Caucus held a joint briefing to discuss opportunities to incorporate arts and design into in-demand CTE and STEM curriculum; and Arlington Public Schools represented half the panel last week.

In addition to perspectives from General Electric and the Rhode Island School of Design, Danielle Meyer, the technology and engineering teacher at Washington & Lee, along with Daniel Grumbles, a recent graduate of W&L and a student of Meyer’s, were invited to discuss W&L’s engineering and technology program.

Danielle teaches several courses focused on engineering and technological design (the “A” in STEAM) and shared testimony about the importance of the aesthetics in her field. “We talk about the design process with our projects. The students create sketches and drawings and then use software to add dimensions, and we redesign and test when necessary.”

“Creativity is difficult,” she exclaimed, and uses the question “Would you buy that?” to keep students focused on the importance of the “consumers” of the projects. Giving the student perspective, Daniel highlighted his gratefulness for the collaborative nature of Danielle’s courses, the improvement of his technological literacy, and expansion of his creativity that he “did not always get to use in his mainstream courses.” All necessary skill-building for Daniel’s future career.

Of note, Daniel discussed the generous resources that APS has provided towards engineering courses to purchase items like 3D printers. Hoping students in other schools across the country can get the opportunity that he had, he stated, “It was not simply to provide the technology, but to facilitate the integration of it into the classroom.”

The value of skills in STEM and CTE fields are currently, and will continue to be, critical for the future workforce. However, the importance of creativity and higher-order thinking combined with in-demand skills helps to create our leaders of tomorrow.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Pictured: Danielle Meyer, Technology and Engineering Teacher, Washington-Lee High School; Daniel Grumbles, Class of 2017, Washington-Lee High School; Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), STEAM Caucus co-chair. Photo by Aaron Wajsgras.

by ARLnow.com March 30, 2017 at 11:15 am 0

The following letter was sent to members of the County Board, ARLnow.com and other community organizations by Bluemont resident and local activist Suzanne Smith Sundburg, who says the proposed tax rate hike is regressive and unnecessary. Arlington County is in the midst of its annual budget process.

Dear Chair Fisette and members of the Arlington County Board,

Meaningful discussion of revenue (the real estate tax rate) without any discussion of expenditures (the budget) makes little sense, as these two items are inextricably linked.

For FY18, the effective advertised real estate tax-rate (assessment increase + 2-cent rate increase) is equivalent to a 4-cent hike in the real estate tax rate. Over the past decade, Arlington County homeowners, commercial property owners, and renters have been asked to shoulder ongoing increases in the tax and fee burden.

With a 2-cent increase, the average homeowner would see the tax and fee burden rise from $8,305 in calendar year (CY) 2016 to $8,613 in CY 2017 — a 4% increase, or about $492 — and will have absorbed a cumulative, 5-year increase of $1,613 in additional taxes and fees (CY 2013-CY 2017).

Commercial property owners (and the businesses that rent from them) face an even greater burden with the 12.5-cent transportation surcharge and (where applicable) BID assessment.

At a March 9 budget work session with the commissions, the manager agreed that real estate tax increases are passed through to commercial office tenants and that taxes are one driver of the county’s stubbornly high vacancy rate. However, he could point to no specific data or recent analysis predicting the impact of a 4-cent (or lesser) effective tax-rate increase on Arlington’s vacancy rate.

Likewise, in answer to another question on March 9, the manager also agreed that raising the real estate tax rate would increase the cost of housing for the county’s affordable housing community — even as the county is simultaneously subsidizing this cost. Increases in Arlington’s tax and fee burden makes housing less affordable for all Arlingtonians, and this burden disproportionately affects those living on lower and fixed incomes, including elderly and disabled residents.

Given the large amount of cash on hand, as outlined below, it would seem highly likely that the manager could (with Board concurrence) cover all new proposed spending by reallocating a small portion of these funds to cover limited-duration and nonrecurring expenditures in the general fund budget rather than raising the tax rate for FY2018.

Using cash already on hand, the manager’s proposed budget could be funded without any spending cuts or a tax-rate increase. I therefore urge the Board not to increase the tax rate and to ask the manager to identify expenditures that are appropriate for alternative cash funding and to trim any unnecessary spending, using public money efficiently and effectively to minimize the need for future tax increases (or spending cuts). Below the list of several sources of cash on hand, I have identified a few cost savings and efficiencies as well.

CASH ON HAND

  • $191.2 million — Fund Balance. (See Exhibit 3, FY16 CAFR.) I am not asking the board to tap the county’s 5% operating reserve of $58 million or similar required reserves. There is a great deal of money in the fund balance beyond required reserves. Since FY09, the county has been carrying an unspent fund balance of at least $100 million. (See Exhibit 5, FY09-FY16 CAFRs.) Since FY06, the fund balance has generated a net positive surplus, even at the height of the real estate crash when revenues were $72 million less than expenditures.

Thus, over the last decade the county historically and consistently has taken in more money than it has spent. FY18 will likely continue this trend as the manager has presented a “balanced budget that continues the current level of service within existing tax rate” of $0.991 per $100 of assessed value.

  • $77.7 million — APS reserves. APS has its own $77.7 million cash reserves (on top of county reserves), which are defined/described in the superintendent’s FY18 proposed budget. The superintendent has set aside approximately $24 million in cash for “future budget years,” $19 million of which is unallocated and presumably will be carried over into FY19.
  • $157 million — Transportation Capital Fund. (See Exhibit X, FY16 CAFR.) The TCF is expected to generate another +/-$26 million in revenue in FY18. On March 9, the manager confirmed to me that at least some of the 1-cent proposed increase for Metro could alternately be funded by TCF dollars. When we know that borrowing costs are likely to rise, why would we want to float more new bonds than strictly necessary, particularly when we have so much unspent money in the TCF?

Surely out of a $1.24 billion budget, the county can find $14.8 million in limited-duration and nonrecurring expenditures that could be otherwise funded from cash already on hand. If it’s a choice between making cuts and finding expenditures that qualify for an alternative funding source(s), my guess is that the county’s departments will be able to provide a list of items that would qualify.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com March 21, 2017 at 11:30 am 0

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Arlington resident Matt Rizzolo regarding the county’s potential purchase of the Buck property, across from Washington-Lee High School, and the land use decisions that will accompany the purchase.

With over 8,000 people per square mile, Arlington is one of the most densely populated areas in the country. It’s no surprise, then, that Arlington is often held up as a model of walkability and smart growth, and the county government rightly champions such accolades. But being such a small, highly populated and growing county presents unique challenges–with transportation and facilities issues, including schools, high on the list.

This is where the county’s possible purchase a six-acre parcel of land in North Arlington comes into play. This plot, known as the “Buck property,” is in a central, high-value location: for example, it’s within walking distance of three different Metro stations, including Ballston and Clarendon. The size of the land–rarely available in Arlington–understandably has Arlington leaders champing at the bit to see how best to use this property to satisfy some of the county’s many needs. Arlington’s growing population requires more schools to educate students, more storage for school and county buses, more emergency and municipal facilities, and more open space for playing fields, to name just a few. A few months ago, I wrote a piece for the Washington Post urging the county to think big about this property–including exploring decking over I-66–and not simply take the path of least resistance. To me, the first step in this process is elementary–as in, elementary school.

Despite being located in one of the most densely populated parts of Arlington, houses near the Buck Property have no nearby neighborhood elementary school–most nearby children either walk nearly a mile to Glebe Elementary School (crossing busy Glebe Road), or most take buses to Taylor or Ashlawn Elementary Schools, both several miles away. (Arlington Science Focus School, located a couple blocks from the Buck property, is a choice school that offers no geographic preference to nearby households.) The location of the Buck property and the density of the surrounding neighborhood provide the county with an opportunity create a new, “walkers-only” elementary school–an opportunity the county should seize.

Building an elementary school on the Buck property would allow Arlington to “walk the walk on walkability,” and also to satisfy multiple county needs at once. Arlington doesn’t provide transportation for elementary school students who reside less than a mile from their school–here, a new elementary school could likely be filled with students who live within just a half mile from the site. A walkers-only school, drawing from the current boundaries of Glebe, Taylor, and Ashlawn, would obviate the need for these children to ride buses or walk long distances to school. Such a school would obviously hew to Arlington’s mission of smart growth and walkability, and could be used as a model for elsewhere in the region (and possibly, the nation).

Students’ health would benefit from walking even short distances to school instead of taking buses. A new elementary school would also alleviate the pressure on the already-stressed school system, which is currently forced to use over 100 trailer-type portable classrooms countywide. Arlington would be able to construct a new school without the expense of purchasing, housing, and servicing new buses to support the student population; the county would likewise be able to re-route or re-purpose buses currently used to transport students to Ashlawn or Taylor. Fewer buses moving students through the county’s busy corridors means reduced traffic and less pollution.

Finally, this new school could be just the first step in a larger, long-term project for the surrounding area. The school grounds could be combined with nearby Hayes Park and provide additional green space playing fields for students and the Arlington community. With so many schools and the David M. Brown Planetarium nearby, the county could explore partner with a private entity to establish a children’s learning center or athletic facilities. And the decking of I-66 should be analyzed, to possibly stitch back together the neighborhoods of Ballston-Virginia Square and Cherrydale (split by I-66 back in the early 80’s) with development above the highway.

The possibilities are many, but the first step here is for Arlington to walk the walk on walkability. Let’s examine the potential for walkers-only elementary school on the Buck property.

Matt Rizzolo
Arlington, Va.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com November 7, 2016 at 2:15 pm 0

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (Photo via Wikimedia)

The following Letter to the Editor was written by state Senator Barbara Favola and Delegates Alfonso Lopez, Patrick Hope and Mark Levine, regarding Tuesday’s presidential election. The authors represent Arlington in the Virginia General Assembly.

The direction of the Supreme Court for the next two decades is on the ballot this Tuesday, making this perhaps the most crucial election of our lifetime. By refusing to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans have left the Supreme Court with an even split between the conservative and more progressive justices. Indeed, a few justices may be on the verge of retiring soon.

Since the next President will decide how this balance of power changes, we have an important choice to make on Tuesday. Donald Trump proposes to nominate judges who have favored powerful elites and corporations over ordinary individuals in Citizens United, have overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act, have blocked the right of individuals to hold corporations accountable for misconduct, and have undermined government’s ability to keep our air and water clean. Trump wants to nominate “strict constructionist” judges who agree with his controversial views. For example, Trump claims that the Second Amendment is in mortal danger of abolition, that women who have abortions should be punished, and that the freedom of the press, the right of the accused to due process, freedom of religion and LGBT rights should all be weakened.

Hillary Clinton intends to honor the entire Bill of Rights and believes we are “stronger together.” She will nominate judges who value the 14th Amendment guaranteeing “equal protection under the law,” and who understand that fairness is, and must remain, a core value of our legal system. As we’ve seen in recent cases that upheld same sex marriage and struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act as well as campaign finance reform, what the court decides will have a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Americans.

Your vote will decide whether your life and the lives of your loved ones will change for the better or for the worse. The choice could not be clearer. If you want a Supreme Court that will send the country backwards over 50 years in terms of civil rights, reproductive freedom, environmental protection, health care, and corporate special interests, Donald Trump is your candidate. However, if you want a Supreme Court that will protect the individual rights and freedoms of all Americans; if you think the Supreme Court should rule in favor of hard working Americans over the special interests of powerful corporations; and if you want a Supreme Court that will uphold our right to clean air, clean water, and a pollution free environment; we hope you will join us in voting for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Photo via Wikimedia.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list