20°Partly Cloudy

by Peter Rousselot — February 11, 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.

Over the next few months, APS will develop a new version of its 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP identifies capital improvement projects, estimates their cost, and proposes how to finance them. The School Board will adopt this CIP as student enrollment continues to grow at all levels of instruction. If the latest projections are right, APS enrollment will reach levels last seen in the mid-1960’s.

The table below displays the latest projections for Arlington’s current three comprehensive high schools:

School chart

These data–which exclude high school students who will attend HB Woodlawn and other alternative programs–present a strong case for beginning to plan now for a fourth comprehensive high school to open by 2022.

Arlington should cap enrollment at somewhere between 2,000 to 2,500 at each of its comprehensive high schools

There is an extensive body of educational research concluding that ideal high school enrollment is in a range from 600 to 900 students. That ideal goal obviously is not practical for comprehensive high schools in Arlington. However, that same body of educational research also concludes that there is a significant adverse impact on learning in those high schools that enroll more than 2,100 students.

Finally, the research demonstrates that the significant adverse educational impacts at the high schools that enroll more than 2,100 students fall disproportionately on those students of low socio-economic or minority status.

Specialized program high schools, like Arlington Tech, are not adequate substitutes for a fourth comprehensive high school

Whether because it underestimated the degree of high school enrollment growth in the last CIP, or because it did not choose to confront the challenges of siting and constructing a fourth comprehensive high school then, APS is two years behind schedule in planning for a fourth comprehensive high school. Over the long term, Arlington Tech is not the answer to Arlington’s projected high school enrollment surge.

Other considerations in planning for a fourth comprehensive high school

It is essential for APS to conduct a thorough and transparent process to choose a site for a fourth comprehensive high school in this CIP cycle.

One possible option is to turn Kenmore into a high school, and to build a new middle school at the Carlin Springs hospital site. Despite clear traffic issues, this location for the fourth comprehensive high school would enable substantial enrollment reductions at both Wakefield and Washington-Lee.

Conclusion

Even after the new elementary school opens at the Thomas Jefferson site, and the new middle school opens at the Stratford site (following HB Woodlawn’s relocation to the Wilson School site), Arlington will need to add thousands more seats at all grade levels. In addition to a fourth comprehensive high school, this probably means adding at least two more elementary schools and another middle school over the next 10-12 years.

A comprehensive public high school education lies at the core of APS’ mission because APS should assign priority to providing that opportunity before providing narrower program options.

A fourth comprehensive Arlington high school should be up and running within 5-6 years.

by Peter Rousselot — February 4, 2016 at 2:15 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 Arlington County Board should adopt a formal numerical target of adding a minimum annual average of 3 acres of County parkland for the next 10 years. A recent paper produced by the Arlington County Civic Federation’s (ACCF’s) Parks & Recreation Committee presents a compelling case to support the adoption of this numerical target.

Parks are a critical core service

Public parks and recreational facilities are a core government service. Parks are critical to the quality of life and health of Arlington’s residents and to environmental sustainability.

As I noted in an earlier column  , parks reinforce our social fabric, providing opportunities to socialize and exercise. Trees, shrubs and grass reduce air pollution, decrease storm-water runoff, and ameliorate the urban heat-island effect with shade and cooling.

Acquiring more parkland is vital

More County parkland represents an investment in Arlington’s future. Current demand for parks and recreational facilities far exceeds supply because land acquisition has lagged behind population growth.

The County projects adding over 75,000 new residents by 2040. Nearly all new households will be located in multifamily buildings with little open/green space of their own–meaning demand for open, green, and recreational spaces will become even more acute.

We can’t rely solely on sharing community facilities to solve our present and projected parkland shortfall. The 2015 Arlington Community Facilities Study noted the following on p. 56: “Although there are success stories from sharing facility resources, the open space system has been pressured by recent and forecasted population growth.”

In 1995, Arlington County had 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. By 2014, the parkland-to-population ratio declined to 7.9 acres per 1,000 residents. However, in high-density corridors like the R-B corridor, parkland acreage per 1,000 residents is considerably lower than these averages.

Our neighbors are doing much better: DC 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. Nationally, compared to other high-density communities, Arlington falls behind Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, the District of Columbia and Oakland. [Source: TPL’s 2015 City Park Facts, p. 10]

Why 3 acres per year?

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. Whereas a higher acreage figure could be justified given the 20-year average, current unmet demand and projected population increases, ACCF’s Parks & Recreation Committee settled on the 3-acre target because it represents a practical, reasonable goal that helps correct the recent downward trend.

Conclusion

On February 2, with only one dissenting vote out of over 60 cast, the ACCF approved a resolution that the County Board should add a minimum annual average of 3 acres of County parkland for the next 10 years. The County Board should do so.

by Peter Rousselot — January 28, 2016 at 12:45 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. 

I have written several columns focusing on how the Arlington County government can improve the transparency of its activities. This column focuses on how the Virginia state government can improve its transparency.

Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state. That rule prohibits localities like Arlington from enacting ordinances unless expressly authorized to do so. For that reason, Arlington citizens have a greater stake in state government transparency than we would have if Virginia were a “Home Rule” state.

Unfortunately, “Virginia has a terrible record when it comes to transparency.” Last year, Virginia received a grade of D for transparency from the Center for Public Integrity:

Virginia again scored poorly on information access, lobbying disclosure and political financing. The state’s Freedom of Information Act has many exemptions, notably including all work conducted by the major regulatory body for businesses, insurance, financial institutions, utilities and railroads, known as the State Corporation Commission.

Discussed below are reforms that would improve state government transparency.

State Senate

The Virginia State Senate continues to hold committee meetings at the desks of Senators on the Senate floor. This practice was discontinued in the Virginia House of Delegates because it lacks transparency. It’s time for the Senate to discontinue the practice as well.

House of Delegates

In the House of Delegates, Democratic Delegate Mark Levine, who represents some Arlington precincts, says he will post on his personal YouTube page videos of all committee meetings about his bills:

By videotaping every one of my bills, which are really my constituent’s bills, I can show them what happened. If they are voted down, they can see who voted them down [and why]. If they were amended, people can see why ….

Kudos to Levine, but why shouldn’t videos of all committee meetings on all bills be made and posted on the General Assembly’s official website?

Executive Branch

Republican Delegate Jim LeMunyon has offered a bill that would overturn a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision that allows state agencies to withhold entire documents rather than redacting only the portions that are exempt from disclosure:

The First Amendment, among other things, says that people have a right to redress grievances. Well you don’t know what to grieve unless you know what the government’s doing. And so this is the way that the people can find out.

Conclusion

Although its budget exceeds $100 billion, Virginia state government has a grade of D for transparency. Regardless of what your positions are on issues like guns, reproductive rights, health care, education or transportation, we should all be able to agree that the state should strive for a much higher grade on its next report card.

by Peter Rousselot — January 21, 2016 at 1:45 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. 

Several months ago, I wrote a column outlining some of the legal and policy issues raised by Airbnb’s operations in Arlington. That column presented public information about the scope of Airbnb’s Arlington activities and concluded:

Right now, Arlington County should NOT go down the path of cities like Richmond, Charlottesville and Roanoke by spending time and energy looking for strictly local ways to regulate and tax Airbnb or its participating property owners. Instead, Arlington first should focus on seeking a fair and uniform state-wide regulatory framework for Airbnb and entities like it. A Virginia state-wide solution ultimately might lead to an agreement by Airbnb and similar entities to act as the tax collection agents for localities like Arlington. Airbnb already has worked out such deals in D.C., San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.

The possibility that there might be a Virginia state-wide regulatory framework to regulate Airbnb’s operations has moved a step closer. Del. Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville) has filed a relevant bill (H.B. 812).

Summary

As currently drafted, H.B. 812 would do three things:

  1. Establish a uniform, state-wide regulatory framework to regulate operations like Airbnb and FlipKey
  2. Preempt any local ordinances and regulations inconsistent with that state-wide regulatory framework
  3. Allow limited regulation by localities like Arlington so long as that regulation only relates to areas specifically authorized in the state legislation.

State-wide Regulatory Framework

H.B. 812 uses the term “limited residential lodging” (§ 55-248.53) to define the types of stays that platforms like Airbnb facilitate. Limited residential lodging means:

the accessory or secondary use of a residential dwelling unit or a portion thereof by a limited residential lodging operator to provide room or space that is suitable or intended for occupancy for dwelling, sleeping, or lodging purposes, for a period of fewer than 30 consecutive days, in exchange for a charge for the occupancy, provided only that…the primary use of the residential dwelling unit shall remain as a household living unit.

The Virginia Department of Taxation would be authorized to collect a tax from either the residential lodging operator or a hosting platform like Aribnb, and to remit a portion of those revenues back to a locality like Arlington. H.B. 812 would not apply to limited residential lodging of 90 or more days in a calendar year (§ 55-248.54 (C)).

Limited Local Regulatory Authority

Localities like Arlington would retain authority to regulate residential lodging operators with respect to nine subcategories of issues (§ 55-248.55) such as noise, safety, and liability insurance.

Conclusion

The status quo — in which Airbnb and other similar hosting platforms operate in Arlington and throughout Virginia in a legal never-never land — is not good public policy. Whatever its prospects in this legislative session, H.B. 812 represents a significant step forward in identifying the kinds of issues that state-wide legislation must address.

However, the 90-or-more-day carve-out from the “limited residential lodging” definition is far too harmful to hosts and should be scrapped.

by Peter Rousselot — January 14, 2016 at 12:30 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.

In Arlington, we have high expectations — a generally top-notch APS professional staff and a supportive community of taxpayers who value education.

The School Board has set a goal to achieve reading SOL pass rates in the 90-95 percent range for every subgroup of students measured by the Virginia Department of Education. Only White and Asian students have reached the target. Pass rates in 2015 — see slide number 15 — were:

  • 74 percent for Black students
  • 71 percent for Hispanic students
  • 69 percent for economically disadvantaged students
  • 59 percent for students with disabilities

Based on information supplied to the citizens English Language Arts Advisory Committee (ELAAC), APS’ elementary school reading screening tests have documented doubling failure rates with each passing year. Four percent of kindergarteners, 8 percent of first graders, and 15 percent of second graders have been identified as reading below grade level.

APS’ middle school reading screening tests tell an even bleaker story of our students’ reading abilities. Thirty-seven percent of Gunston, 44 percent of Jefferson, 45 percent of Kenmore, 24 percent of Swanson, and 19 percent of Williamsburg students are reading below grade level. This is the equivalent of 1,500 out of 4,500 middle schoolers, outlined in the ELAAC Report on pages 20 and 21.

Narrowing These Reading Achievement Gaps

A very significant number of APS students are falling behind in reading because they are dyslexic. Numerous studies — from the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development and the International Dyslexia Association — have established that dyslexia is a reading disability that affects up to 20 percent of the population. APS currently enrolls about 25,000 students. That means that up to 5,000 APS students could be affected by dyslexia.

What APS Has Done

In response to over 10 years of parent advocacy, APS has established a Dyslexia Task Force, trained staff in an alternative reading methodology, conducted Dyslexia Awareness Training in every APS school, and established an APS Dyslexia Webpage.

However, all of these accomplishments have taken many more years than they should have. As a result, a group of over 45 APS parents sent a letter in July to APS protesting how long the process has dragged out. The parents’ letter confirms what APS has done is riddled with elements of dysfunction and only superficially appears to support dyslexic students.

APS’ ELA Department may have a potential conflict of interest that is blocking rapid progress.

Curriculum reform would help thousands of APS students with dyslexia learn how to read. However, APS’ Supervisor of the English Language Arts (ELA) Department, Dr. Michelle Picard, who is responsible for designing and implementing APS’ ELA curriculum, is also the published author of her own reading curriculum. APS has bought her curriculum with our taxpayer dollars and uses it.

If APS were to follow the guidance published on its own webpage, those identified students would have to be provided with an alternative reading curriculum, not Dr. Picard’s.

Conclusion

APS urgently needs to:

  1. Specifically identify all of its dyslexia-affected students
  2. Build an adequate capacity of staff trained in the alternative reading curriculum those students need
  3. Effectively deliver reading instruction to those specific students

Each year APS fails to act is another year in which thousands of poor readers continue to struggle academically and emotionally. No one can turn back that clock.

by Peter Rousselot — January 7, 2016 at 1:30 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.

At its traditional New Year’s Day organizational meeting, Arlington County Board members found common ground on critical issues, including making major improvements in Arlington government transparency and bringing new voices to the table to solve Arlington’s many pressing challenges.

Libby Garvey, who was unanimously elected by her Board colleagues as Chair of the Board for 2016, offered these observations:

Arlington is known for its civic engagement, but we must bring the Arlington Way into the 21st Century. There are still far too many people who have the talent and expertise our community needs, who want to contribute, but who cannot…Few of our residents and business owners have the time to sit in a long meeting every month as is required to serve on most of our commissions and task forces.

We must experiment with new and improved ways to involve people and use technology even more…We should use clear language and not an alphabet soup of terms that confuses people and makes them feel like they can’t speak the language of Arlington.

John Vihstadt described a promising new initiative on which he and Katie Cristol plan to collaborate:

Our 40-some County-appointed advisory boards and commissions serve as the County Board’s eyes and ears on a range of issues from housing to transportation and social services to urban forestry. Sometimes, these groups are perceived as merely rubber stamps for pre-determined County actions. Yet at other times, we may fail to even consult with them. And while seasoned perspectives are invaluable, so are new people with new ideas from new communities.

My colleague Katie Cristol and I will initiate a new ad hoc working group to examine our commissions, including how to foster greater diversity of representation to practical ways of staying connected and approaching issues. Robust discussion from a multiplicity of voices is an essential component of the Arlington Way.

And, Christian Dorsey stressed:

We must restore faith that public participation is valued and valuable. Professionalized public participation in conceptualizing, planning and/or implementing policy initiatives is a key component of sustainability and will go a long way toward our residents and stakeholders remaining a part of a community they help create.

Incorrectly claiming to act according to a genuine community consensus, prior Boards championed major policy blunders like the Columbia Pike streetcar and the Clarendon dog park. Prior Boards never obtained a genuine community consensus because:

  1. The Arlington Way is broken
  2. Prior Boards were too insular

Refreshingly, Garvey, Vihstadt, Cristol, and Dorsey — all of whom are in their first terms on this Board — agree that the Arlington Way needs to be rejuvenated.

by Peter Rousselot — December 31, 2015 at 1:30 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.

The past year was filled with revealing stories about Arlington and Virginia politics and government. Here are my top five:

5. Republicans retain control of VA State Senate

Democrats and Republicans combined to spend more than $43 million on Virginia State Senate political campaigns in 2015. After all that spending, the partisan breakdown of that legislative body remained exactly the same as before: 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats. Because the Republicans will continue to control the Virginia legislature, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe will need to reach bi-partisan compromises with Republican legislators to enact critical legislation during the two remaining years of his term.

4. Arlington hires independent auditor

The County Board approved the hiring of an independent auditor. The auditor will report directly to the Board rather than to the County Manager. This initiative was championed by Vihstadt and strongly supported by Garvey. Del. Hope played a key role by obtaining authorizing legislation from Richmond. County Board candidates Dorsey and Cristol also supported this plan. The independent auditor was initially resisted by Fisette, Hynes and Tejada, but Fisette and Hynes ultimately supported the plan.

3. Community facilities challenges continue

Arlington’s Community Facilities Study Group (CFSG) highlighted five pressing challenges:

  • Scarcity of land for public facilities
  • Changing demographics — Arlington’s population is projected to grow from 216,700 today to 283,000 in 2040
  • Threatened commercial tax base
  • Strategic facility planning and priority setting — The County needs a clear and open structure for setting priorities among competing needs
  • Revamping the community dialogue — To reach all members of our community, Arlington needs to make participation easier, earlier and more meaningful.

2. Pace of development remains controversial

As CFSG highlighted, the prospect of 66,300 more Arlington residents by 2040 brought renewed attention to the subset of development that can only occur if our local government acts to enable it. This subset includes changing zoning to permit greater density than now authorized. Many activists — including me — believe we need to step back and re-assess whether, when, where, how and under what terms and conditions local government acts with respect to this aspect of development.

1. Dorsey and Cristol elected to County Board

In 2011, Arlington County Board members included: Zimmerman, Favola, Hynes, Tejada and Fisette. Effective tomorrow, the members are: Garvey, Vihstadt, Dorsey, Cristol and Fisette.

The heavily-Democratic Arlington electorate has spoken clearly that it wants major changes in the ways by which the Board does business and significant changes in some policies and priorities. Dorsey’s and Cristol’s 2015 elections reflected voters’ judgments that they were best able to continue to move Arlington in these new directions.

Conclusion

These stories provide important background for 2016.

by Peter Rousselot — December 10, 2015 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.

Background

In its recent front-page editorial about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, the NY Times editorial Board stated:

[M]otives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms…It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.

There are reasonable regulations — consistent with the Second Amendment right to bear arms — that Virginia can and should adopt to reduce gun deaths.

Discussion

If a particular gun control proposal is consistent with the Second Amendment and is shown to be likely to prevent multiple future fatalities, it doesn’t matter whether it would have prevented other fatalities. The life saved could be yours.

For example, Virginia can and should close the so-called “gun show loophole.” This loophole should be closed because, under current Virginia law, background checks that are required to be performed on people who seek to buy guns at Virginia gun stores are NOT required to be performed on people who buy guns at Virginia gun shows.

All members of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Arlington — Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, Rip Sullivan, and Mark Levine — support Virginia legislation to close this loophole. An online petition supporting closing this loophole now has over 30,000 (!) signatures.

Another significant set of gun control laws that Virginia can and should enact would tighten the criteria governing access to guns by people with documented severe mental or emotional problems. A report from the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence determined that of 109 domestic homicides in Virginia last year, 64 were committed with guns.

The group recommended state-level legislation, which [Governor] McAuliffe has backed, that would prohibit gun possession by anyone under a protective order or those convicted of misdemeanors related to domestic violence.

Conclusion

Even Justice Scalia has acknowledged that:

Nothing in our opinion [about Second Amendment protections] should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings…

All we need in Virginia is for our legislators to have the courage to legislate within the constitutional boundaries that the U.S. Supreme Court has provided to them.

by Peter Rousselot — December 3, 2015 at 2:00 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. 

As the Washington Post reported on Nov. 25, the Arlington School Board is “moving toward a compromise” under which the historic desegregation events at the Stratford school site on Vacation Lane would be honored. However, under the compromise, the school building itself would not receive a formal “local historic designation” as demanded by the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB).

This is the type of compromise the School Board should have reached much sooner.

Background

According to the Post story:

The School Board last week adopted a plan for an addition that leaves intact the façade of the building and that satisfies some of the requirements of historic designation. The planned remodel will cost between $31 million and $36 million, according to preliminary estimates, and will add 35,000 square feet of space to the school. And the board set aside $250,000 for commemorative artwork and educational displays to ensure the community knows the history of the building. School Board members said the money might also be used to enhance what is taught in the classroom about Arlington’s history of desegregation.

The vote on this proposal was 3-2 (Van Doren, Lander, and Violand-Sanchez voting for; Kanninen and Raphael voting against).

The final School Board vote on whether to grant formal local-historic-designation status to the current building is now scheduled for Dec. 8.

Discussion

This most recent Stratford compromise plan, while certainly not the only compromise that might be appropriate, does contain the two critical elements that should be present in any compromise:

  1. Honor the historic desegregation events that took place at this site, but
  2. Do NOT formally designate the current building as a “local historic site,” thereby triggering all the review and approval requirements for subsequent changes to the building that would flow from such a formal local historic designation.

As I have written recently, our community is confronted with a set of serious challenges to build new schools, fire stations, and other public facilities without clear priorities to fit the cost of all these new facilities within a budget we can afford. The School Board is absolutely correct to be concerned about unnecessarily adding to this cost at the current Stratford school site:

Such a [formal local historic] designation could hamper school officials’ efforts both at the proposed $30-plus-million renovation, but also would add hurdles for any future exterior changes to the school.

Conclusion

In light of the complexity and cost of all the new construction issues APS has to confront throughout the County, the School Board quickly should wrap this one up by voting NO on local historic designation for Stratford.

by Peter Rousselot — November 19, 2015 at 2:00 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. 

A soon as possible after it takes office on Jan. 1, the new County Board needs to make a series of important decisions regarding recommendations in the final report submitted by the Community Facilities Study Group (CFSG). As explained below, these decisions involve both substance and process.

Background

The CFSG highlighted five pressing community challenges:

  • A scarcity of land for public facilities — Just 2.2 square miles of Arlington’s 26 square miles are public land owned by the County or APS. That public land is needed for schools, fire stations, community centers, storage and maintenance facilities and more.
  • Changing demographics — Arlington’s population is projected to grow from 216,700 today to 283,000 in 2040. School enrollment is expected to exceed 30,000 students by 2024.
  • A threatened commercial tax base — A shrinking federal presence, shifts in the way businesses use office space, and a competitive regional market have combined to push office vacancy rates to a historic high in Arlington.
  • Strategic facility planning and priority setting — The County needs a clear and open structure for setting priorities among competing needs.
  • Revamping the community dialogue — To reach all members of our community, Arlington needs to make participation easier, earlier, and more meaningful.

In accepting the CFSG report, the current County and School Boards directed their staffs to present initial responses no later than Feb. 2016, followed by community feedback and formal staff recommendations due by Sept. 2016. Under the current schedule, both Boards then are supposed to “reconvene” with the CFSG by the end of 2016.

Discussion

One of the most important issues the new County Board needs to address ASAP is the conflict between the current schedule to review the CFSG report and the traditional schedule to adopt Arlington’s next 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP). Under past practice, the next CIP is due for adoption in summer 2016.

But, the current County Board has just approved a timetable for review of the CFSG report that strongly suggests that the new County Board will not be ready to address the last two of the five pressing community challenges identified by the CFSG — priorities and transparency — until well after the new County Board actually has adopted the next CIP.

It is incongruous that the new County Board actually would make major decisions regarding what is likely to be a $3 billion, 10-year capital improvement plan without first agreeing upon and then utilizing, the types of priorities recommended by the CFSG.

Conclusion

To enable setting priorities, the new County Board should design a transparent 2016 CIP process that mandates:

  • financial modeling of appropriate alternative development scenarios, and
  • alternative capital cost assumptions for individual major capital projects.

by Peter Rousselot — November 12, 2015 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.

Early in 2016, the new County Board should overhaul the seriously-flawed process the current County Board uses to allocate any surplus funds left over at the close of the County’s fiscal year.

Background

Both the County Board and the School Board have fiscal years that end on June 30. Each Board is required, by law, to adopt a balanced budget. In many years, the County Board has closed its fiscal year with substantial surpluses. Since the School Board receives the lion’s share of its revenues from the County Board, the School Board receives a pro-rata share of any such locally-generated surpluses.

However, each Board currently has very different processes for deciding what to do with such surpluses. The School Board’s approach is far superior to the County Board’s approach.

Discussion

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the County Board is scheduled to vote to allocate tens of millions of dollars in prior fiscal year surplus funds. The County Board has scheduled that vote based on a proposed allocation contained in a staff report not posted on the County website when this column was submitted to ARLnow.com. This is exactly the same process the County Board has followed for years. You can review last year’s County staff report’s recommendations regarding how to allocate prior fiscal year surplus funds here.

Many activists believe that the County overestimates expenses and underestimates revenues in the operating budget it adopts each spring. They claim the County does this deliberately so that during the following fall’s fiscal year close-out, the County can eliminate a public review of its close-out recommendations comparable to the public review the budget receives in the spring. County staff counters indignantly that any such suggestions are false because the County’s spring budgeting approach simply demonstrates prudent financial planning for which the staff should be praised.

It isn’t necessary to resolve this heated annual debate over motive because there is a far better process available to guard against the possibility that the activists are correct.

The School Board first receives, posts on its website, and discusses in a public meeting its staff’s recommendations regarding how to allocate any surplus funds. But, the School Board does not vote on its staff’s proposal until the following month. This much fairer and more transparent process allows the School Board to:

  • discuss the initial APS staff recommendations at a public meeting,
  • receive a public report from the APS Budget Advisory Committee, and
  • wait a month to get further input from the general public, before finally
  • adopting the final allocation of any APS surplus funds.

Conclusion

The new County Board should adopt the School Board’s close-out process.

by Peter Rousselot — November 5, 2015 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.

A poop fence and an APS trailer both represent choices that our local governing bodies have made in the past. We can do much better in the future.

Background

In October, ARLnow.com posted a story about the completion of a public art installation on a sewage treatment plant fence. The County Board properly was ridiculed.

In September, ARLnow.com posted a story warning that more trailers were coming to certain schools. Most Arlington parents agree this is a bad idea.

Will the new County and School Boards continue to make choices like these?

Discussion

I believe the new Boards must make smarter choices. The new Boards must deny certain constituencies funding to which they aspire in order to provide more funding to other priorities that have greater community support.

The current County Board has dodged certain critical issues such as developer proffers for school construction. While Fairfax and Loudoun require such education proffers, our current County Board continues to claim that Arlington lacks the legal authority to require them. I say: prove it, then get it.

The new County Board should direct the County Attorney to publish a legal opinion explaining why he claims Arlington lacks the authority. After other lawyers examine the County Attorney’s opinion, if there is a consensus that Arlington indeed does lack such authority, the new County Board expeditiously should direct our Richmond legislative delegation to get that authority. Arlington needs a level legal playing field to enable us to require developers to contribute to all different types of “community benefits.”

The new County Board should lead in organizing a transparent community conversation about our next capital and operating budgets. What priorities does our community assign to using either developer proffers or general obligation bond financing for:

  • education?
  • open space acquisition?
  • affordable housing?
  • public art?
  • other?

We need to develop such priorities to direct both our tax dollars and developer contributions.

At the same time, the new School Board should lead a transparent community conversation regarding new and innovative ways to cut the cost of construction of new schools and additions.

New modular school construction technologies are much:

  • cheaper,
  • greener, and
  • faster

than the current school design and construction approach to which APS staff stubbornly clings. Cheaper new classrooms = fewer trailers.

Examples of modular construction that APS should investigate include:

Conclusion

We need to prioritize spending on core services, not on “totally redefining the traditional role of a fence.” We need more regular classrooms much faster.

by Peter Rousselot — October 22, 2015 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.

Arlington faces competing demands for investment in schools, parks, housing and economic development. It is essential that our County Board members have a record of accomplishment, a demonstrated willingness to exercise independence, and the ability to bring people together to move Arlington forward. That’s why I am strongly supporting both Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey for election to the County Board.

Both candidates support reforming the way our participation process works to make it more accessible and more representative for all Arlingtonians, and have voiced support for the “72-hour rule” for public posting of Board documents.

Katie Cristol will draw on her background working with resource-constrained localities across the country to bring a comparative perspective to Arlington’s challenges. As an education policy advisor, Katie has experience asking tough questions about efficiency: is a dollar spent on a program more effective than a dollar spent elsewhere.

Katie also has proposed more accessible avenues for community input, like open houses in parks, so that residents unable to participate in lengthy meetings still can share their thoughts. Katie’s professional experience with community engagement, which is vital for utilizing the knowledge of Arlington’s many well-informed residents, will make her a thoughtful steward of Arlington’s resources. Rather than seeking to join or represent a particular faction on the County Board, Katie offers an alternative: fiscal responsibility and responsiveness paired with progressive values. To learn more, please visit Katie’s website.

Christian Dorsey’s career has centered on promoting broadly-shared prosperity for communities across the country. This requires critical thinking about budget priorities. That type of thinking, along with his commitment to open, responsive, and inclusive County government, is why Christian has been endorsed by all five members of the County Board.

Christian also embraces the idea that progressive values are, in fact, compatible with fiscal prudence. That’s why, even as a resident living near Columbia Pike, Christian was a voice of thoughtful opposition to the streetcar. Not because he opposes investments in transit and infrastructure, but because Christian wants to ensure those investments make sense and produce optimal outcomes. As a macroeconomist, an APS parent, an appointee to the Planning and Tenant-Landlord Commissions, and a civic activist who has served our community for over two decades, Christian Dorsey will be ready to lead on day one. To learn more, please visit Christian’s website.

Conclusion

Registered voters in Arlington are entitled to cast two votes for the open seats on the County Board. The best way to ensure your say in how our County is governed is to cast both votes, and Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey are clearly the best choices.

by Peter Rousselot — October 15, 2015 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.

Twice this year (in May and again this month), the County Board scheduled, but then postponed, a vote on a County staff recommendation to extend parking meter hours from 6-8 p.m.. The Board should just say NO.

Background

In support of its recommendation to extend the hours from 6 to 8, County staff stated:

Use of curbside space by long-term parkers after 6 p.m. limits the number of spaces available for short-term parkers. This limitation has a negative impact on adjacent commercial businesses that are generally dependent on convenient curbside parking … The proposed changes in … hours of operation would help achieve the goals adopted in the Parking Element of the Master Transportation Plan…

The Parking Element is a 31-page, single-spaced document adopted in November 2009. This document proposes an explanation why, in theory, at certain times of the day, parking meters and their fees can play an important role in fostering the health of adjacent businesses.

Discussion

The Arlington businesses whose health properly is the concern of the staff’s recommendation are strongly OPPOSED to the staff’s recommendation. In a Sept. 24, 2015 letter to the County Board, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce had this to say:

The Chamber recently reached out to our retail and restaurant members regarding the proposed parking meter hour changes …The feedback we received was unanimously in opposition to the extension of parking meter hours…The Arlington Chamber represents 700 businesses with an interest in Arlington County. We appreciate the planning theory that increasing parking meters and hours can in fact lead to more parking spaces and thus more people willing to drive to an area to frequent businesses. However, our members … do not believe that the proposed changes will produce the intended result.

The Crystal City BID wrote a Sept. 25, 2015 letter to the Board, similarly requesting that the two-hour extension be denied:

Despite Arlington’s success in transit-oriented development, retail and restaurant businesses still rely heavily on patronage by customers who drive. With other emerging centers of activity in Tysons, Mosaic District, National Harbor and many more, additional consideration must be given to ensure that the County is not driving people, potential customers, and tax dollars away with ill-timed and burdensome policies.

Conclusion

Without extending hours, ideas worthy of discussion with stakeholders include:

  • smart phone aps that would inform drivers of availability in nearby parking garages and potentially curbside spaces as well,
  • surge pricing technology where meter rates could be calibrated up or down to demand,
  • special parking-garage rates for restaurant service workers, many of whom occupy curb space that businesses with scarce parking would prefer be left to customers.

by Peter Rousselot — October 8, 2015 at 1:30 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.

Starting in summer 2015, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has been holding a series of public meetings on VDOT’s proposal to impose tolls during rush hour on I-66. VDOT’s proposal has generated substantial support from smart growth advocates. They argue that this proposal is far preferable to the status quo.

However, on Oct. 1, Virginia Republican legislative leaders held a press conference to condemn VDOT’s proposal:

Calling the proposal “outrageously expensive” for commuters, [Virginia House Speaker William J.] Howell … called on the governor to trash the idea and launch a plan that includes promptly adding new lanes to the heavily congested highway.

Of course, “adding new lanes” presumably includes adding them to the portion of I-66 inside Arlington’s borders far sooner than such lanes would be added under VDOT’s proposal.

Regardless of the conceptual merits of VDOT’s proposal, the Virginia Republican legislative proposal, or any other proposal, critical details regarding the costs and benefits are missing from all of these alternative proposals. The Arlington County Board should NOT vote to approve any proposal (including VDOT’s proposal) until all critical details are supplied. Arlington residents also need a reasonable amount of time to examine and comment upon those details before any Board vote.

Among the critical details needed to evaluate the Arlington impacts of any proposal (including VDOT’s) are:

  • numerical estimates of the traffic flowing on I-66 that will be diverted to major alternative routes (e.g., Lee Hwy., Washington Blvd., Route 50),
  • specific infrastructure improvements necessary to accommodate the diverted traffic,
  • how much each infrastructure improvement will cost,
  • who will pay those costs, and
  • what other Arlington neighborhood impacts will be incurred.

At this writing, none of this information has been supplied to nor vetted by Arlington residents.

Any estimates of diverted traffic (and all the improvements and costs attributable to that diverted traffic) will contain a high degree of risk. Such estimates depend on very subjective judgments regarding how many commuters will stop driving alone and choose to carpool instead, or choose some other transit option. Who bears the risk and pays the cost if these subjective estimates are substantially wrong?

If the VDOT toll proposal survives the Republican vow to kill it, Arlington should insist upon a toll exemption for all intra-Arlington trips on I-66. Arlington residents with vehicles registered to an Arlington County home address should be permitted to travel during rush hour on I-66 between any two exits from exit 68 to exit 75 without paying any toll.

Conclusion

The County Board should lead transparently on all these issues. The issues are complicated. There’s no need to rush to judgment.

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