83°Clear

by Peter Rousselot — August 25, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

A recent article (“Arlington Studying A Plan That Would Pay for your Uber to Metro”) in The Washington Post triggered feverish comments on its website, ARLnow.com and social media, like:

So my South Arlington taxes will be used to chauffeur the 1% from North Arlington?

Let them snarlingtonians ride in old crowded buses. We want our mini limos!

The county government subsequently issued a media advisory clarifying the nature of the county’s ride-sharing study. The clarification included a denial that a decision had been made to subsidize ride sharing.

According to the media advisory:

The new service is being analyzed for the following neighborhoods, where bus ridership does not meet our productivity standards (at least 15 passengers per hour):

  • Rock Spring, Williamsburg Middle School, and Dominion Hills
  • Chain Bridge Forest, Rivercrest, Bellevue Forest, Gulf Branch, and Stafford-Albermarle-Glebe
  • Douglas Park, Nauck, and Arlington Village

The proposed service could connect these areas to a transit center, such as the Ballston or East Falls Church Metrorail stations, or to a transit corridor, such as Columbia Pike

Discussion

Very low ridership on Arlington’s ART Bus 53 led to suggestions to cancel that route. Some commenters supported outright cancellation (“save the money; refund it to the taxpayers”). For now, this route has been saved, and a study of ride sharing as a substitute has begun.

I agree that ride sharing is worth studying.

One knowledgeable commenter observed that, when he last checked, “ART Bus 53 carried only 11 people per revenue hour and recovered only 12% of its cost.” Regardless of the actual numbers, the principle is certainly valid: if ridership on any ART bus route anywhere in the county drops too low, some action — whether outright cancellation, consolidation with another ART bus route, or ride sharing — are all potentially valid responses.

Standards for a ride-sharing subsidy

Arlington County should study a variety of standards for a ride-sharing subsidy, including:

  • Limiting the trip only to certain origins/destinations, like home to a Metro or bus stop or return home from one.
  • Having a maximum personal individual income ceiling for any participant.
  • Having an over-all dollar cap on program utilization in any particular defined area. (Use a lottery if the program is over-subscribed.)
  • Ending the ride-sharing program, and resuming/substituting ART bus service, if demand rises to a point above a pre-determined level of ART bus service viability (like the current 15 passengers per hour or some higher number).

Types of ride-sharing options

In addition to Uber and Lyft, the county should explore the costs and benefits of partnering with a transit provider like Bridj . Bridj currently offers limited pop-up bus service in D.C. Bridj is considered by some as the best hope to bring urban transportation into the 21st century.

Paratransit policy

County residents with disabilities should be offered the widest possible range of ADA-compliant transit options at the lowest possible cost. The county should study these ride-sharing recommendations from a metropolitan Boston report.

Conclusion

Fortunately, Arlington isn’t grappling with these transit policy questions in a vacuum. Other communities across America are doing so as well. The American Public Transportation Association sees ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft as complementary to traditional transportation options.

Let’s find the best options for Arlington.

by Peter Rousselot — August 18, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Virginia Association of Counties recently granted an achievement award to Arlington County’s Startup Arlington program.

Discussion

Startup Arlington is an innovative program. It has generated valuable information about factors that might motivate tech startups to move to Arlington or launch here.

Arlington must continue to bring down its 20.2 percent office vacancy rate. Each one percent in that vacancy rate translates into $3.4 million in lost tax revenue. A continued vacancy rate in the 20 percent range threatens to shift about $800 a year in property taxes onto the average Arlington homeowner.

Startup Arlington Concept

When it began in 2015, Startup Arlington was a competition organized by Arlington Economic Development (AED) to “encourage startups or potential startups on the cusp of finding their first office space to consider Arlington for that first office.” A local extended stay hotel agreed to provide the competition winner with complimentary hotel space for three months, and a local co-working space agreed to provide office accommodations. A local law practice agreed to offer ten hours of legal counseling for the winner, and transportation partners provided access to public transit.

The only costs for the County were those on taxes paid on the hotel lodging and nominal advertising fees, approximately $3,500. The entire value of the program was estimated at $15,450.

Publicity

The existence of the program was publicized via a variety of media, including social media channels estimated to reach more than 180,000 users. A total of 78 companies from 14 states and 13 different technology industries submitted completed applications. Applicants were judged based on criteria ranging from how the company would benefit from locating in Arlington to growth potential and business plans.

To be eligible, applicants had to be (1) from outside the greater DC metropolitan area (thereby avoiding poaching regional companies) and (2) a founder and/or CEO of a technology-based company.

Winning Applicant

The program produced one winning applicant. That winner was Montana-based Oppleo. This company offers a cloud-based software called Sikernes that helps defend against cyber-attacks. Oppleo’s founders relocated to Arlington in November 2015. The company still remains in the area.

Lessons Learned

Various real estate companies and residential complexes have contacted AED seeking more details regarding how AED marketed the program to potential applicants. They expressed an interest in marketing their properties/area to the same entrepreneurial audience Startup Arlington reached.

AED’s business development group cultivated several leads regarding companies that are being tracked to understand when they grow to the point of needing commercial space. AED sees Startup Arlington as an ongoing program providing ways to reach out to company founders who previously may have been unaware of Arlington’s resources and opportunities.  The program also can serve as a catalyst to form new collaborations with Arlington’s existing business and hospitality communities.

Conclusion

An important report by the 2030 Group identified seven private sector clusters (including cybersecurity) that are the most likely to generate the most significant future regional economic growth, and therefore be most likely to generate new demand for office space.

AED can help Arlington showcase its strengths in this highly competitive regional economy by continuing to analyze, publicize and exchange information obtained from worthwhile experiments like Startup Arlington. Repeating the Startup Arlington competition should remain an option.

by Peter Rousselot — August 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the state of Virginia is in “very serious negotiations” with the Washington Redskins to help the team build a new stadium in Virginia.

Governor McAuliffe explained how he plans to negotiate:

“What I always say is it’s got to make sense for the taxpayers of Virginia. We’ve got to negotiate a deal — my job as governor is to get economic activity — but you’ve also got to protect the taxpayer dollars. And we’ve got to be creative with this thing, so we’re protecting the taxpayers, it’s in the taxpayers’ best interests, and it’s a win-win for the Redskins.”

Discussion

The evidence is overwhelming that subsidizing the construction of a proposed new Redskins stadium will never be in the best interests of Virginia taxpayers.

Sports stadiums do not spur significant economic growth

Independent experts (like Roger Noll, a Stanford professor emeritus of economics and specialist on sports economics) repeatedly have concluded that sports stadiums do not spur significant economic growth:

“By comparison, other billion dollar facilities–like a major shopping center or large manufacturing plant–will employ many more people and generate substantially more revenue and taxes.”

These conclusions by independent experts contradict the rosy publicity bankrolled by self-interested owners or any government partners they can recruit.

The direct costs far outweigh the benefits

A very extensive study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found that a typical stadium costs taxpayers more than four times more than any long-term benefits from jobs and tax revenues. Or, as this study diplomatically put it:

“Proponents of using public funds to finance stadium construction argue that the benefits from increased economic activity and increased tax revenue collection exceed the public outlays. But independent economic studies universally find such benefits to be much smaller than claimed.”

The opportunity costs further tilt the balance against taxpayer funding

The costs of a new Virginia stadium for the Redskins are even higher when you factor in the opportunity costs. Money spent on such a stadium is money that could have been spent:

  • on a new dedicated funding stream for Metro’s capital replacement program, or
  • to redress some of the critical deficiencies in Virginia’s mental health facilities, or
  • for additional job retraining in areas of persistently high Virginia unemployment.

And, these are only three of hundreds of far more deserving uses of our Virginia taxpayer funds.

Dan Snyder doesn’t need the money

Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder is a billionaire who doesn’t need a public hand out. Public subsidies for a new Redskins stadium in Virginia will go directly into Dan Snyder’s pockets and into the pockets of already highly-compensated Redskins football players. A 2003 study by a member of the University of Texas economics department documented that a new stadium increases:

  • team profits by an average of $13 million annually,
  • payroll salaries by $14 million annually, and
  • team book value by $90 million.

All these numbers are likely to be much higher in 2016 and into the future.

Conclusion

I admire Governor McAuliffe tremendously for all of the excellent work he has done to promote Virginia as a place to do business. In this particular case, he should hand the ball back to Dan Snyder.

by Peter Rousselot — August 4, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last month, the Arlington County Board unanimously voted to approve the wording of four bond referenda totaling $315.7 million.

These four referenda will be on the November 8, 2016 general election ballot:

Peters Take Aug 4 Table

Taking into account factors such as the large sums of money involved, the number and complexity of the projects in each category, the opportunities for public comment on all of the projects, and the opportunities for comment on this year’s entire 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP) , the County Board arrived at a fair and reasonable determination regarding the degree of specificity of the ballot wording of each of these four categories.

Discussion

Under Virginia state law, any time a local government proposes to use general obligation bond financing to pay for capital projects, such proposals must be submitted to the voters for approval. The law grants the County Board the right to determine the wording and dollar amounts of such bond proposals.

This year’s wording represents a substantial improvement over recent prior practice. For example:

While in 2014 a typical ballot question sought $105.8 million in bonds to “fund the design and construction of various school facility projects including new elementary schools, building additions for additional classroom space and maintenance capital projects,” a question on the ballot this fall for $138.8 million in school construction will spell out five specific schools or projects, with costs attached to each.

This year’s push to provide more ballot detail also is a welcome response by current County Board members to a 2012 County Board decision regarding a Parks bond proposal. In that earlier case, the ballot wording of a $50.5 million Parks bond failed to disclose that 80% of the funds were earmarked for the construction of the original grandiose design of the proposed Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park. Voters in 2012 easily could have thought they were voting simply to acquire critically necessary new parkland.

Criticism of the vagueness of the wording of the 2012 Parks bond was a major issue properly raised by independent John Vihstadt in his successful 2014 campaign for County Board. The wording of that bond also led to passage of a 2015 resolution by the Arlington County Republican Committee urging that any individual capital project involving general obligation bond spending of more than $25 million be listed separately on the general election ballot–rather than aggregated into a broader generic category.

The Arlington GOP’s resolution raises reasonable issues for continuing community discussion. The resolution poses legitimate questions regarding:

Singling out a large project for a separate vote (how expensive should it be to deserve separate treatment?), and

Bundling proposed capital expenditures into larger generic categories (how many generic categories should be chosen?).

Conclusion

During the period of public comment on the merits of future capital projects involving general obligation bond financing, it could become clear that the dollar amount of any particular project is so large, or the community is so divided on the project’s merits, that the project deserves a separate line item on the ballot. None of this year’s individual projects deserved such separate treatment.

by Peter Rousselot — July 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The dust-up at last week’s County Board meeting at which the Board voted (4 to 1) to purchase an art truck highlighted the importance of answering more basic questions:

  • Why is Arlington County taking so long to develop a new strategic plan for the arts?
  • What are some of the critical issues such a plan ought to address?

Opinions expressed by opponents and supporters of the art truck were based on diametrically opposed assumptions about Arlington County’s proper role in supporting the arts. Just among supporters, there were fundamental differences about the proper scope of that role. The absence of an up-to-date strategic plan for the arts was painfully evident.

A sampling of comments on the initial ARLnow.com art truck story illustrates the point:

  • “How many musical instruments for our schools could this $70k to $100k get us?”
  • “When will all the speed bumps, gateway speed reducers, and painted-faux-brick crosswalks receive basic maintenance so that these traffic calming objects are functional again?”
  • “The County is spending a small amount of arts money that it already has, albeit in a new and innovative way.”
  • “How about they spend the money on one of the already established arts organizations the county bankrolls, perhaps you can name a few? I know I can.”
  • “This is actually a common, and inexpensive, thing that many local governments have.”
  • “It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but if they let the people who ran Artisphere be in charge of it (and most of them now work for Cultural Affairs), I don’t give it much of a chance of being either good or successful.”

Against this background of conflicting opinions, County Board member John Vihstadt asked County staff to answer the following questions prior to the Board vote on the art truck:

Summarize the “ongoing Cultural Affairs Strategic Planning Process” that informed this proposal and provide a window into the overall status and timing of such process more broadly across Cultural Affairs. Will this process result in a formal report to the County Board and, if so, when? Are there any tentative outcomes that staff is comfortable sharing at this time?

Regrettably, Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten was unable to answer Vihstadt’s questions. Mitten explained that she couldn’t provide any predictions on timing because of “difficulties in getting everyone together,” and warned the Board that “we are going to need guidance from you.”

Arlington’s current arts policy was approved in 1990. Among other reasons, it was the lack of a clear arts policy that doomed the Artisphere.

To avoid more fiascos like the Artisphere and the Signature Theatre bailout, we need a new strategy for public support for the arts.

Conclusion

The County Board, Manager and staff all need to develop a greater sense of urgency regarding adoption of a 21st century arts strategy. There are models and other external resources available to help them. For example, Boulder, San Francisco and Boston have plans that our government should examine. Those plans provide strategies and ideas regarding many of the challenges that an Arlington strategic plan for the arts should address.

It’s time to speed up development of a strategic plan for public support for the arts in Arlington.

by Peter Rousselot — July 21, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On July 19, the County Board approved another extension of the Neighborhood Conservation Program (NC Program). But, this program no longer can function effectively.

Arlington’s NC Program had a noble objective:

When the program was created in 1964, the goal was to empower residents by having them come together to discuss and share ideas for improving their neighborhoods.

Though nothing could sound more idyllic or representative of the “Arlington Way,” the way NC actually works in practice undermines its lofty goals. NC has problems in three key areas: equity, timeliness and cost.

Discussion

Equity. NC’s principal inequity — a crippling one — arises because tens of thousands of Arlington residents are being denied timely neighborhood infrastructure improvements since they live in areas lacking a properly functioning civic association. (Belonging to a civic association is an NC requirement.)

Many civic associations have modest memberships, representing just a fraction of the community’s population. Most are operated by a handful of volunteers. Quite a few lack functioning, updated websites, and still fewer are capable of producing anything approaching a newsletter. Newsletters distributed to the highest possible percentage of community members are the surest means of effective communication.

Simply put, too few civic associations are truly functional. Many are run by a few people with little knowledge of or consent from those living within the association’s boundaries. Arlington County cannot mandate that every civic association function properly.

Residents without a fully functioning civic association are barred from tapping the NC Program’s roughly $12 million annual budget.

Timeliness. The NC program’s labor-intensive requirements, which include monthly meeting attendance–often for years–to gain “funding points,” and repeated outreach and notification efforts, mean the complete NC “process” can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years. If an association’s NC rep fails to attend meetings, a project can lose its place in the funding line.

Project engineering, always in short supply, further delays project funding. The current status report for funded NC projects shows only 4 completed projects, with 36 still in process.

Cost. Typically, delays make projects more expensive. Earlier this decade, the cap for NC projects was $250,000. Then, it grew to $500,000. In the most recent funding round, improvements to Nelly Custis Park clocked in at almost $800,000.

NC rules also add to costs. For example, NC street projects must contain curb, gutter and sidewalk components, whether or not a sidewalk is needed or desired. With flexible spending caps, expensive add-ons like lighting are common–even though Dominion will install new lights at no charge.

It’s time to provide a more equitable, timely and cost-effective way to provide critical infrastructure to neighborhoods. Back in 2007-2008, County staff began assembling Neighborhood Infrastructure Plans (NIPs) to identify missing critical infrastructure: curb, gutter and sidewalk, storm drains, etc. County staff has the tools needed to prioritize critical infrastructure projects and rotate among neighborhoods to allow greater and fairer access to funding.

Conclusion

Over the next two years, the County Board should direct staff to phase out the NC Program entirely and re-allocate current NC Program funds.

The Neighborhood Complete Streets Program is one alternative funding recipient. A more flexible Missing Links Program could be another.

The goal should be to fund critical infrastructure equitably, efficiently and in a way far superior to what is possible under the NC Program.

by Peter Rousselot — July 14, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week, my fellow ARLnow.com columnist, Mark Kelly, posted a column that said that living with aircraft and helicopter noise in Arlington was the price we pay for the economic benefits generated by National Airport (DCA) and the Pentagon. In response, Chris Slatt posted this most up-voted comment:

One can fully support the airport and the Pentagon as necessary and integral parts of Arlington while simultaneously questioning whether reasonable measures are being taken to minimize their impact on quality of life.

Chris is right to question whether reasonable measures are being taken. Many measures are.

How the FAA has contributed to increased noise

The increased noise results both from increased numbers of flights at DCA and changes to flight paths.

Last year was DCA’s sixth straight year of record-high passenger traffic. DCA now serves more passengers than Dulles–an airport 14 times its size.

The changes to flight paths are a result of NextGen – the FAA’s modernization initiative for the U.S. air traffic system designed to maximize efficiency.

Congressman Don Beyer has spearheaded initiatives to address DCA aircraft noise

Congressman Beyer:

  • Is an original co-sponsor of HR 3965, the FAA Community Accountability Act. This bill would require FAA to take into account negative impacts on the human environment near airports when considering flight path changes related to NextGen. Currently, FAA is required primarily to consider only safety and efficiency;
  • Sent a May 5, 2015 letter from the Virginia and DC Congressional delegations to Transportation Committee members stating their opposition to changes to DCA slot and perimeter rules;
  • Encouraged FAA to include the DC region in a multiyear study of the relationship between aircraft noise exposure and its effects on communities around airports.

Congressman Beyer also has spearheaded initiatives to address helicopter noise

Congressman Beyer’s office has received complaints related to military helicopter noise since he joined the Congress. These complaints overwhelmingly have related to frequent overflights from the V-22 Osprey, an 85-foot-wide tiltrotor aircraft.

Beyer successfully added an amendment to the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act requiring the DOD to work with the FAA to study noise mitigation solutions to military helicopter noise.  He spearheaded a National Capital Region letter to DOD Secretary Ash Carter and the FAA Administrator offering to facilitate DOD/FAA outreach to communities impacted by military helicopter noise.

Beyer’s initiatives have not attempted to seek an outright ban on military helicopter flights, but he believes it is irresponsible to ignore his constituents and not seek some mitigation solutions. Beyer has not succumbed to the reasoning in Mark Kelly’s column that nothing can be done simply because the “Pentagon was here first.” Instead, Beyer has proceeded on the premise that homeowners in Arlington and elsewhere should not be forced to anticipate the Department of Defense developing and then routinely flying an Osprey over their homes.

Conclusion

Noise mitigation measures may include federal legislative or regulatory actions that actually will lower the aircraft noise levels we are experiencing today. At least with respect to DCA air traffic growth, it is hard to envision how this will be realistically possible unless the DCA air traffic share is lowered and the Dulles share is raised.

Preferably, DOD and FAA will adhere to good neighbor policies that will quiet the skies.

by Peter Rousselot — July 7, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal criminal bribery conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Roberts observed:

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns,” Roberts wrote. “It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”

Heeding the advice of former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, I’m not going to discuss whether the Court’s decision in the McDonnell case was wise because, as Jackson said, “we are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.” Nor am I going to predict whether the federal government will attempt to re-try McDonnell or whether Congress will attempt to amend the federal bribery laws.

Instead, let’s focus on the implications of the McDonnell decision for further Virginia ethics reform.

Bob McDonnell’s 2014 bribery conviction spurred grudging reforms to Virginia’s ethics laws in the next Virginia legislative session. One of the key arguments for the 2015 reforms was that McDonnell’s conduct was then legal under Virginia state law. However, several leading Virginia legislators made it clear in 2015 that they were only supporting the reforms because of media pressure. The highlight of the law passed in 2015 was the creation of a $100 annual limit on gifts from lobbyists and some others to any single public official.

Perversely, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that McDonnell’s conduct did not violate federal criminal law, some of the same Virginia legislators who never wanted to reform Virginia’s ethical practices in the first place have started dropping hints that they would like to loosen things up again. That would be a grave mistake.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the McDonnell case makes it clear that the states retain the power to decide whether politicians who do what Bob McDonnell did should be:

  • excused for having done something that is just part of the normal political process (“they all do it”), or
  • subject to significant penalties for doing something that the public has decided is wrong.

Virginia Democratic Delegate Marcus Simon recently drew the correct lesson, “the fact that he didn’t break any laws doesn’t mean that our ethics laws aren’t broken.”

In the 2017 Virginia legislative session, the 2015 ethics reforms should be further strengthened not weakened. Virginia should create a new, independent Ethics Review Commission with teeth, including subpoena and enforcement power. A large majority of other states, including Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania have permanent ethics commissions. In Massachusetts, for example, its Ethics Commission can impose the following penalties:

  • A civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the conflict of interest law or the financial disclosure law, and
  • A maximum civil penalty of $25,000 for bribery.

Conclusion

They all shouldn’t do it. Virginia should strengthen significantly its penalties for conduct like Bob McDonnell’s. Our legislators should be able to find a model for Virginia that combines effective enforcement power with safeguards against partisan abuse.

by Peter Rousselot — June 23, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In a recent Progressive Voice column, Larry Roberts presented the case for Yes in My Backyard (or “YIMBY”) development as a better alternative than NIMBY. However, many issues relating to future development in Arlington will not present a clear YIMBY or NIMBY choice. The best initial answer will be MIMBY (Maybe in My Backyard).

Discussion

Arlington is forecasting, and our Comprehensive Plan now enables (often on a by-right basis), an estimated additional 75,400 people living here by 2040.

For analytical purposes, it is helpful to subdivide the potential for new Comprehensive Plan development into at least two broad categories: (1) by-right development and (2) development that can only occur via affirmative government action to change existing zoning.

By-right development

A local government like Arlington has limited legal power to constrain plans by a private land owner to develop land according to existing zoning as provided in Arlington’s General Land Use Plan (“GLUP”). Arlington thus lacks the legal power to impose a moratorium on such development just because it might negatively impact schools, parks, or other public infrastructure. If marketplace conditions are right, this kind of development will take place in your backyard or someone else’s whether you like it or not.

What Arlington should be doing right now is to utilize the best available forecasts of population growth to estimate quantitatively where and when this development is likely to occur throughout Arlington. (Recently revised Sector Plans for Rosslyn and Crystal City exemplify plans that substantially increased authorized density under the GLUP.) Next, Arlington should use the best available financial modeling tools to estimate and make public the incremental extent and associated costs of all new public infrastructure (e.g., schools, fire stations, roads, parks) that will be required to serve the forecasted population growth.

Development that can only occur via affirmative government action

Armed with this baseline information, Arlington will have the best available database to determine the impact on the community each time Arlington is asked to take affirmative action to enable new development that exceeds applicable by-right zoning, whether that development is confined to a single site, a localized region around a site, or an entire sector. The proposed increase in density currently envisioned in the Lee Highway corridor is a good example.

Before any kind of new up-zoning is approved, Arlington should make available to the public an estimate of both (1) the incremental public infrastructure costs that would be incurred if the requested zoning change is authorized compared to the public infrastructure costs that would be incurred if the land were developed in accordance with existing zoning and (2) comparable estimates of incremental tax revenues. Loudoun County and many other jurisdictions routinely perform and publicize these project-by-project impact analyses.

If the net incremental public infrastructure costs of approving the up-zoning substantially exceed the net incremental tax revenues, Arlington could choose among a number of different options, including conditioning approval on an agreement by the private developer to pay a portion of the net incremental public infrastructure costs. If this really is not legally possible (which is dubious), more outright denials of requested zoning changes may be the only responsible option.

Conclusion

Arlington and its citizens need to understand the incremental cost and revenue impacts well before the County Board votes on any future up-zoning request. With that information, the community is best positioned to approve or reject discretionary development.

by Peter Rousselot — June 16, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Donald Trump’s campaign has suffered severe damage over the last several weeks.

Four out of ten GOP party insiders are seriously exploring ways to dump Trump as the GOP nominee, but a majority of GOP insiders still believe that would be disastrous because it would flout the will of the people who voted for Trump.

Refusing to be part of any Dump Trump movement, however, is nowhere near the same thing as the type of solid party support that is typical this many weeks after clinching the nomination. As Virginia GOP insiders put it:

“Republicans can’t do anything to hurt Trump now without knee-capping our other GOP candidates up and down the ballot. … It would be like Coca-Cola admitting that Coke Classic is toxic and expecting it not to hurt the sales of Diet Coke. For better or worse, we’re all in this together now. … Let him have it. But Republicans should have nothing to do with him or his campaign. Walk away. Let him lose, in spectacular fashion, on his own.”

Prominent Virginia Republicans, like 10th Congressional District Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, have been highly critical of Trump, describing him as:

“A casino owner who bankrupted casinos … Daddy gave him his money. He played with it … He doesn’t know anything about the economy … I don’t think he believes in anything aside from himself.”

Representative Comstock has returned a $3,000 contribution Trump made to her campaign, but still hasn’t definitively ruled out the possibility that she might endorse him for President.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli admitted to NBC 4’s Tom Sherwood that unconvinced Virginia conservatives might just stay home in November, and longtime Northern Virginia conservative activist and former GOP member of the House of Delegates, David Ramadan, said he has suspended his party membership because of Trump’s candidacy.
Signs of serious trouble for the Trump campaign in Virginia already were evident back in April when a Virginia poll found that:

[R]oughly 30% of likely Republican voters in Virginia are unsure whether they would vote for GOP front-runner Donald Trump in the general election if he is their party’s nominee. In contrast, 90% of Virginia Democrats polled said they would support Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the general election, even if they are currently Bernie Sanders supporters.

An examination of voter turnout patterns in the March Virginia Republican Presidential primary confirms that Trump’s likely support in voter-rich areas such as Northern Virginia and the Richmond suburbs will be sustantially weaker than Mitt Romney’s was in 2012 when Romney lost Virginia to Obama. For example, John Kasich received a substantial percentage of the vote in the Republican primary in Northern Virginia, including 23 percent each in Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church. Given his recent performance on the national stage, Trump’s appeal to those Kasich voters is likely to be significantly lower today than it was in March.
Mitt Romney himself has stated he will neither support nor vote for Trump because a Trump Presidency would be characterized by “trickle down racism,” “trickle down bigotry,” and “trickle down misogyny.”

Conclusion:

The Trump brand is toxic. The Trump brand sure isn’t Coke Classic. It’s New Coke.

by Peter Rousselot — June 2, 2016 at 2:30 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

By some measures, Arlington parks are doing well, but without changing course, we’re falling behind.

Arlington Parks are Ranked 4th in the Nation…

Congratulations to Arlington County on our park system being ranked as 4th among the nation’s 100 largest cities by the authoritative Trust for Public Land (TPL) in its ParkScore® index, based on the three factors of Park Access, Park Size, and Facilities and Investment.

But, Our Parkland Acreage is Already Inadequate for Current… and Future… Population

As I detailed in earlier columns, our public parks and recreational facilities are a core government service. They provide social, health and environmental benefits critical to the quality of life in our community. Unfortunately, as a snapshot in time, the ParkScore® index doesn’t reveal that current demand in Arlington for active and passive parks and recreation already far exceeds current resources. County land acquisition has not kept pace with population growth, resulting in increased shortages and overcrowding of all forms of recreational and outdoor space.

Over a 20-year period, Arlington County acquired an annual average of 3.8 acres of new public parkland. The most recent trend has been lower — just 0.63 acres were purchased in 2015. The result is an ongoing decline in the ratio of parkland per 1,000 residents, declining from a ratio of 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents in 1995 to 7.9 acres per 1,000 residents in 2015 with a considerably lower average in our high-density corridors.   Our neighbors are doing much better: D.C. has 13.2 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents; Fairfax County has over 20 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and is planning to purchase an additional 2,015 acres for parks.

Yet, our Comprehensive Plan contemplates the addition of 35,300 households or an estimated additional 75,400 people by 2040, a dramatic increase of 36%. What is now an acute shortage in active and passive park and recreation resources will turn into a crisis by 2040 unless the County accelerates its parkland acquisition now.

We need increased CIP Funding

Unfortunately, the County Manager’s proposed CIP includes only $3 million of parkland acquisition funding for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, at p.B-5, well below funding levels before the Great Recession.

Between 1995 and 2008, funding for parkland acquisition per two-year park bond cycle was between $4.0 and $8.5 million, with most cycles at $8.5 million. Yet between 2008 and 2014, a six year period, parkland acquisition funding, from both bonds ($3.0 million) and budget allocations ($5.47 million), totaled only $8.47 million.

With land in Arlington costing on average at least $4 million per acre and increasing every year, the $3 million of land acquisition funds now proposed for the CIP for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 will potentially purchase approximately only three quarters of an acre of parkland! This is woefully inadequate to meet current, no less projected, demands for passive and active recreation in our County.

Conclusion

The County Board needs to dramatically increase the parkland acquisition funding in the 2017-2018 CIP to at least $8 million, the same approximate level as prior to the Great Recession, for inclusion on the November 2016 ballot.

Let’s ensure that we have adequate parkland for all of our people in the future… and that Arlington continues to rank highly in the ParkScore® index.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — May 26, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On May 9, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented his preliminary recommendations regarding how APS’ Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) could reduce APS’ 4,600 total seat deficit in 2025. Murphy’s preliminary recommendations reduced only 53% of that deficit.

On May 17, the School Board (SB) reviewed and discussed Murphy’s recommendations. Dissatisfied with Murphy’s priorities, the SB adopted its own series of “key points,” including:

  • Increasing enrollment in the Arlington Tech Program at the Arlington Career Center.
  • Other options that place a higher priority on reducing the projected 2,775 HS seat deficit in 2025.
  • Possibilities for using the Reed building and site to develop a new elementary school to help reduce the projected 1,387 ES seat deficit in 2025.
  • Future additions at several North Arlington elementary schools further to relieve elementary overcrowding.

On May 24, in a joint work session with the County Board, the SB made significant further proposed changes to its CIP. These had not been posted on the County’s website when this column was submitted.

As a top instructional priority, APS should commit to a fourth comprehensive high school

The SB was correct to place a higher priority on solutions for the HS seat deficit, and the SB’s May 24 presentation claims to eliminate that deficit by 2025. However, the SB has not yet committed to making a fourth comprehensive HS part of the solution. It should.

In an earlier column, I outlined the case for a fourth comprehensive HS, including the extensive academic research documenting why 3,000 seat comprehensive high schools are a bad idea. Arlington cannot and should not rely solely on other initiatives like Arlington Tech, online learning, university partnerships, double shifting, or extending the school day.

On its own, and working collaboratively with the County, APS must significantly reduce the per-square-foot cost of new facilities construction

Under the CIP scenario presented on May 24, there are still significant elementary and middle school seat deficits in 2025, and those assume that actual enrollment does not exceed projected enrollment.

APS needs to adopt new approaches to reducing per-square foot costs:

  • In consultation with disinterested outside experts, APS and the County should conduct a stem-to-stern review of all aspects of APS’ procurement, bidding, design, and construction practices. If Arlington continues to pay for APS’ current version of new facilities customization, overcrowding will grow and instructional quality will erode.
  • Other school systems are embracing new modular school technologies. APS staff insists modular isn’t a good option in most Arlington circumstances. Do disinterested outside experts agree with APS?

In exchange for APS’ agreement to significantly reduce the per-square-foot cost of new facilities construction, the County should provide APS with land and a higher % share of bonding capacity

If APS commits to a new era of more frugal construction through standardization, the County — within the constraints of its “10% rule” on debt service — should give:

  • APS county land (but not current parkland), and
  • a higher % share of total Arlington bonding capacity.

To finance this commitment, the County should defer some proposed County investments until later in the CIP planning period.

Conclusion

Adopting a more frugal approach to procurement, bidding, design and construction, in exchange for county land and greater bonding capacity, will get us much closer to eliminating our current capacity crisis at a price we can afford.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — May 12, 2016 at 1:00 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. 

Last month, Arlington County unveiled its latest proposal for an Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park. The County has dropped a few of the more excessive features from its last public proposal, but only after a firestorm of justified public opposition. The County also has acknowledged that the facility should be “community” focused, highlighting the relative lack of aquatics resources in South Arlington.

The latest Aquatics Center concept presents multiple unanswered questions needing resolution, e.g. who are the most likely users, has the clear demand for aquatics resources been equitably addressed? Fortunately, the County Board need not rush to judgment in the short period until the July adoption of the next CIP. Instead, the Board simply should incorporate into that CIP an appropriate dollar cap on what Arlington should spend on the revised Aquatics Center, permitting several more months of community discussion followed by a fall decision.

Discussion

A fundamental disconnect remains between the latest Aquatics Center base proposal and the aquatic resources Arlington most needs: community pools

Arlington primarily has followed a model of distributed park and recreation resources, endeavoring equitably to locate such resources within reasonable access of the surrounding neighborhoods. The “community” for the proposed Aquatics Center should be southeast Arlington–with the exception of the 50-meter pool. If a 50-meter pool is indeed needed in Arlington, that pool should be located at this site because we probably don’t have space elsewhere.

Consistent with a southeast Arlington focus, the Aquatics Center should be down-sized by deleting certain elements from the latest base proposal

Assuming that the 50-meter pool is retained, then the 25-meter “leisure” pool at Long Bridge should be dropped because the dollars saved can better be spent for another 25-meter pool in a different South Arlington location.

(Update on 5/13/16 — “A 25-meter pool is not part of the new facility plan as recommended by both the Long Bridge Park Advisory Committee and the County Manager,” says Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. Responds Rousselot: “The 10,000 square foot second pool being proposed by the County is indeed not precisely described as a ’25 meter pool,’ but instead is described as ‘A multi-purpose pool’ or a ‘Combined Teaching and Family Pool,’ etc. However, the 10,000 square foot size assigned by the County to this second pool was the basis for my rough estimate of $5.7 million potentially saved by the deletion of this second pool at Long Bridge.”)

Using a rough dollar-per-square-foot cost based on County staff’s cost projections, dropping the 25-meter pool could save potentially $5.7 million. In addition, the 10,000 square feet proposed for fitness activities in the latest Aquatics Center base proposal should be reduced to no more than 5,000 square feet, a space much more consistent with the average of 3,000 square feet of fitness areas in most other County community centers. Such a reduction potentially could save an additional $2.9 million.

These two proposed changes could result in a total saving of $8.6 million, reducing the estimated total “low-end” project cost of the Aquatics Center base proposal from $42 million to $33.4 million.

The $8.6 million saved by downsizing the base proposal should be re-allocated as core financing for another community pool and enhanced fitness resources in another, more central South Arlington location

A new community pool and enhanced fitness resources could potentially be located at Gunston or Drew, each recently considered as a site for a new/revised elementary school center. Other South Arlington locations should be investigated.

Conclusion

Arlington should engage in several more months of community discussion, followed by a fall decision, about equitable distribution of fitness and aquatic needs. By reallocating scarce parks capital to a second community pool in south Arlington, we can achieve a “win-win”.  Proceeding this way will further more equitable access to our limited parks resources, encourage a more transparent and appropriate cost recovery model, and promote realistic community-focused access.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — May 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On April 27, the U.S. Supreme Court held an oral argument on former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s appeal of his federal criminal corruption conviction. Press reports on the oral argument suggest that the Supreme Court might end up overturning McDonnell’s conviction.

If the Supreme Court does rule in McDonnell’s favor, the average citizen should be justifiably outraged that what McDonnell did isn’t illegal. It reminds me of these lyrics.

Well there oughta be a law against what he’s done
Stole my heart and away he run
Didn’t leave me a thing but misery
And there oughta be a law against the way he’s hurtin’ me

What did Bob McDonnell do?

Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, accepted multiple expensive gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the boss of a dietary supplement manufacturer known as Star Scientific.

These gifts included several expensive vacations, a Rolex watch, a $20,000 shopping spree, $15,000 in catering expenses for a daughter’s wedding, joy rides in Williams’ Ferrari and tens of thousands of dollars in private loans. McDonnell promoted a Star Scientific product known as Anatabloc, hosted an event at the Governor’s mansion for the product, passed out samples, and encouraged research about the product by Virginia universities. In one case, McDonnell emailed Williams asking about a $50,000 loan, and six minutes later sent another email to his staff asking for an update on Anatabloc scientific research.

Discussion

In 2014, a federal jury convicted McDonnell and his wife on multiple counts of extortion under the Hobbs Act, a federal criminal statute prohibiting political corruption, and of “honest-services” fraud. The jury concluded that there was sufficient evidence of a connection between the actions the Governor took and the gifts and the other favors Williams provided.

The oral argument before the Supreme Court suggested that several Justices were skeptical that the jury should even have been allowed to reach these conclusions. As Dalia Lithwick, a veteran Supreme Court watcher, observed:

It will be an amazing thing if — in a year when voters across the spectrum are infuriated and sickened by the influence of money in politics — the Supreme Court decides that poor Bob McDonnell should be let off the hook because he only did what every politician does every day: Take a lot of money to open doors for a rich guy. But maybe the line between money and influence is too fuzzy and ubiquitous to even be said in words anymore. 

What about Virginia law?

At the time Bob McDonnell did what he did, there is a general legal consensus that no Virginia criminal statute would have prohibited his conduct. Moreover, at that time, there were no limits on the dollar amount of gifts that could be given by a donor to members of the executive branch or their families.

Conclusion

Only the stupidest gift giver or public official is likely to prepare a written record documenting that the donor of a Rolex watch is providing it to a public official in exchange for favorable government action by the public official. That should not be the only circumstance enabling a successful criminal prosecution:

Well there oughta be a law…
And there oughta be a law against the way he’s hurtin’ me.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — April 28, 2016 at 12:15 pm 0

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On Friday, April 22, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring the voting rights of approximately 200,000 Virginia ex-felons. Governor McAuliffe made the right decision.

Background

“Virginia is part of a national trend toward restoring voter rights to felons … Over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University,” reports the New York Times.

According to Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Election Project at the Brennan Center, “what this will do is move Virginia, which was among the worst of the worst in terms of disenfranchising people, to a much more middle-of-the-road policy.”

Discussion: Why enfranchising ex-felons is the right thing to do

Conservative columnist David Brooks has been among the most eloquent voices supporting the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons. In a 2010 column, Brooks summarized the case in favor of their enfranchisement:

There is no good reason to deny former prisoners the vote. Once they are back in the community — paying taxes, working, raising families — they have the same concerns as other voters, and they should have the same say in who represents them. Disenfranchisement laws also work against efforts to help released prisoners turn their lives around. Denying the vote to ex-offenders, who have paid their debt, continues to brand them as criminals, setting them apart from the society they should be rejoining.

Last Friday, Brooks re-affirmed his position when asked specifically about Governor McAuliffe’s action in Virginia: “One of the weird things in our whole criminal justice system is, we have got people who are 50, and 60, well past what they call criminal menopause, and they’re perfectly upstanding citizens, and they’re not the person they were at 19, and yet we continue to punish them.”

The historical context in which Virginia disenfranchised ex-felons

Virginia’s record as one of the “worst of the worst” in disenfranchising ex-felons is inextricably tied to its Confederate past. Virginia ex-felons are disproportionately black. As a 2015 article from the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia documents, Virginia’s record is long, sordid, and explicitly racist. In advising Governor McAuliffe about his April 22 executive order, researchers turned up a 1906 report:

that quoted Carter Glass, a Virginia state senator, as saying [disenfranchisement] would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”

Legal Issues

A.E. Dick Howard, the legal scholar who is credited as the principal author of Virginia’s current constitution, advised Governor McAuliffe that he had the legal authority to act unilaterally via executive order. Action by the Virginia legislature was unnecessary. Other lawyers disagree, claiming that Governor McAuliffe’s executive order violates the Virginia constitution. Lawsuits and efforts at legislative repeal or amending Virginia’s constitution might happen.

Conclusion

For the last 150 years, first Democrats and now Republicans in the Virginia legislature have compiled a dismal record blocking the restoration of ex-felons’ voting rights. Based on Howard’s legal advice, Governor McAuliffe acted appropriately in by-passing the legislature.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list