by Peter Rousselot — October 1, 2015 at 1:00 pm 549 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.

Is Airbnb legal in Arlington? It’s hard to tell, and that’s a problem.

Airbnb certainly is doing business in Arlington. Airbnb’s website currently boasts 300+ Arlington rentals, including:

  • a “cozy Ballston 1bd” @ $45 per night,
  • a $350 per night “huge 3bd” one block from Metro, and
  • hundreds more all over Arlington.

At the same time as it promotes these listings, Airbnb is passing the buck of regulatory and tax compliance to Arlington property owners via a “help center” on the Airbnb website:

When deciding whether to become an Airbnb host, it is important for you to understand the laws in your county. As a platform and marketplace we do not provide legal advice, but we want to give you some useful links that may help you better understand laws and regulations in Arlington County.

The website then lists some of the laws and regulations that might apply to Arlington property owners who use Airbnb’s services:

  • zoning ordinance
  • building code
  • short-term rental building registration and record-keeping
  • transient occupancy tax
  • other rules (like those set by condo boards, home owners associations, etc.)

Finally, this Airbnb website urges property owners to contact Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) or other county agencies or to “consult a local lawyer or tax professional.”

Airbnb nowhere mentions the laws or regulations that might apply to Airbnb itself.

Where have we seen this movie before? Although there are differences, the name Uber comes to mind. Last year, we began the Uber conversation when some argued that Uber was operating taxis illegally in Arlington. This year, some are arguing that Airbnb is operating hotels illegally in Arlington.

As was the case with Uber, in a Dillon Rule state like Virginia, the appropriate regulatory framework for a service like Airbnb must first be established at the state level not the local level. The need for the state to act now is underscored by the fact that the legality of Airbnb’s operations already has been questioned in:


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.

by Peter Rousselot — September 24, 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.

On Aug. 17, Arlington County launched a six-month food-truck-zone pilot program in Rosslyn:

The program — designed to create pedestrian-friendly food truck access for area workers and residents — sprang from discussions among food truck owners, local restaurateurs and County and [Rosslyn] Business Improvement District [BID] staff. Participation is voluntary, meaning food trucks can park in other areas of Rosslyn and the County, provided owners observe the parking rules for those streets.

Four Rosslyn pilot zones have been established:

  • On 19th Street N. just past N. Lynn Street
  • Along Wilson Blvd above N. Kent Street
  • At the intersection of N. Nash Street and Wilson Boulevard
  • On N. Pierce Street along Wilson Blvd

Food trucks can park for four hours rather than two in these zones.


In developing this pilot, the County took a holistic view of curbside management, soliciting input from both food trucks and brick and mortar (B&M) establishments. In selecting the zones, the County and the BID pursued a consumer-centric approach. The goal: maximize public spaces, parking and infrastructure so that all retail establishments (B&M and trucks) are visible and easy to access.

Since the launch, the BID has continued proactively to communicate with and collect feedback from the community, food trucks and other stakeholders. The goal: to help inform how the zones might evolve. Most people in Rosslyn who were surveyed about the zones (through an online survey and by BID staff on the street) appreciate that N. Lynn Street is less congested. A majority of the respondents initially surveyed (68.75 percent) indicated they approve of the zones.

For the most part, those who do not approve of the zones would like to see the trucks return to N. Lynn Street. During the current Central Place construction, this is not feasible, but it may make sense for the trucks to return after construction ends in the first quarter of 2016.


Any fair appraisal of this Rosslyn experiment must answer the question: compared to what?

Based upon the experience and feedback developed during this worthwhile pilot program, the County and the Rosslyn BID will be better positioned to answer critical questions about food trucks.

If some zones are better than no zones, the County and the BID must find a balance among:

  • expanding zones in size to allow each to hit a critical mass, while
  • complying with Arlington’s Vending Ordinance, and
  • trying to avoid empty or near-empty zones, and
  • deciding whether two or some other number of hours is the most appropriate incremental food-truck-parking benefit

If there continue to be advocates for no zones, the County and the BID must provide convincing reasons why some zones are better than none.

by Peter Rousselot — September 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,050 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.

It’s time for the County Board to vote to reject historic designation for Stratford. The mere possibility that Stratford might receive such a designation is substantially hurting APS’ ability to design a new middle school to add desperately needed seats.

The current process–which relies on the false hope that a reasonable compromise can be reached between the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) and APS staff–already has proven that no such reasonable compromise will occur. Why prolong the agony?

(1) APS staff’s top priority is to design a school that makes sense – for programming, student circulation and overall school community. HALRB’s top priority, per its guidelines, is that there be minimal changes to the original building. These are two irreconcilable priorities.

(2) APS staff has announced publicly that its preference is the “link” design, which builds an atrium over the historic south building façade. During two work sessions (the Aug. 11 School Board work session and the Aug. 19 APS-HALRB work session), HALRB strongly criticized the “link” design. APS has proposed a wide variety of ways to honor Stratford’s desegregation history, but would definitely change the outward appearance of the building.  HALRB’s mission is to protect the history of the building by maintaining its appearance.  These are two irreconcilable historic preservation strategies.

(3) The idea of a compromise is clearly unrealistic. APS staff continues to present options partially to appease HALRB, but APS continues to promote the design APS believes works best for students. HALRB continues to throw up roadblocks, coming up with additional problems for each APS design. For instance, HALRB provided significant pushback to one of the APS “compromise” designs because the soccer field’s position relative to the school was changed by a matter of several yards. HALRB’s alternative solution basically eliminated a new parent drop-off plaza–an important safety enhancement. HALRB’s unwillingness to make even minimal changes to the outside view of the school is unreasonable. While some of APS’ own designs might prove to be too elaborate or expensive, that is a separate issue that can and should be addressed separately.


The County Board should vote now to reject historic designation for Stratford because it is clear that there will not be a reasonable compromise between two such diametrically opposed organizational missions as those of APS and HALRB.

The new Stratford Middle School should:

  • Incorporate design elements that sensitively and appropriately celebrate the historic desegregation events that took place at Stratford, BUT
  • Only celebrate them in a way which does NOT significantly add to the cost of the building nor otherwise restrict its use as a new middle school, as determined by APS not by HALRB.

by Peter Rousselot — September 10, 2015 at 1:30 pm 970 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.

Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine justifiably are worried about the Virginia economic impacts of the automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Absent a Congressional budget deal by Sept. 30–less than three weeks from now, we face either those automatic cuts, a partial federal government shutdown or both:

“If we have the return of sequestration, it’s going to be even worse than it was a couple of years ago, because every agency, particularly the Defense Department, has cleared out most of their coffers,” Warner said. “So that’s why they’ve got to get rid of sequestration and those negotiations need to be starting now, and not wait until the end of September.”

The Virginia economic effects will be dramatic and negative, Warner warned even more recently. And Northern Virginia, including Arlington, is the area of Virginia that is most at risk.

Even prior to this latest threat, Arlington and the Northern Virginia regional economy were experiencing the significant negative impacts of the slowdowns in federal spending that began in 2011. Federal government downsizing “has seen the D.C. region’s gross regional economy shrink two years in a row beginning in 2013.” Federal government downsizing has led to the large increases in commercial office vacancy rates in Arlington and throughout Northern Virginia. There is no end in sight.

The ripple effects are predictable:

As government contractors consolidate, they’ll need less office space. That puts pressure on lease rates region-wide, there will be less construction work, and the necessary process of restructuring from inefficient and expensive land-use patterns to more cost-effective patterns will drag out.

For these reasons, Northern Virginia business leaders are speaking out in favor of a bi-partisan Congressional budget deal:

Where we want to see bipartisan support and having the parties work together is the avoidance of a government shutdown”, says Jim Corcoran, chief executive of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. … Another shutdown “is the most disruptive thing that can happen.”


The slow-down in federal spending that began in 2011 already has had a serious negative impact on Arlington’s economy. That negative impact has manifested itself in our average 21 percent commercial office vacancy rate, producing annual losses of tens of millions of local tax dollars, and putting added pressure on the residential tax rate. Sequestration and/or a partial government shut-down would have additional dramatic and negative impacts.

It’s time to contact our Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, and urge them to reach a bi-partisan budget deal to avoid this. You can do that by emailing them as follows:

by Peter Rousselot — September 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm 846 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.

It’s time for Virginia legislators to do their very best to re-examine carefully and calmly what further legislative steps Virginia should take to reduce the number of people who are killed or injured by mentally unstable shooters.

Andy Parker, the father of Alison Parker, one of the two Roanoke, Virginia TV reporters who were killed while conducting an on-air broadcast last week, put the issue this way:

I’m not going to rest until I see something happen. We’ve got to have our legislators and congressmen step up to the plate and stop being cowards about this…describing himself as a supporter of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. How many Alisons is this going to happen to before we stop it?

We owe it to Andy Parker and other Virginia family members who have been seared by similar tragedies to take another look at this issue.

Arlington Del. Patrick Hope launched an online petition to assess support for his proposal to take another look. Hope’s petition received more than 20,000 signatures in the first 24 hours. As Hope explains:

Many people feel powerless in these situations because of the political climate that holds us back from real change. I’m asking my colleagues to put people first to get this done once and for all. I know we can’t end all acts of gun violence, but that doesn’t need to stop us from advancing common sense solutions like background checks that can help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Hope is aware that if there is any chance of legislative success, large numbers of Virginia Republican legislators must support any bill. No such bi-partisan support will emerge if Democrats and Republicans spend their time accusing each other of “callous disregard of a tragedy” or trying to “capitalize on a tragedy.” Also, no progress will be made if politicians refuse even to discuss issues relating to tightening Virginia’s current background check system by arguing that “no system could have prevented this particular shooting.”

Instead, our legislators should approach with open minds a stem-to-stern re-examination of every aspect of the ways in which Virginia collects mental health data to be entered into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system. There should be some quiet, behind-the-scenes discussions among legislators from both parties to explore potential areas of agreement.

There are many local and national resources available. For example, The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police supports strengthening background checks.


Hope deserves praise for his leadership on this. If you have suggestions for him, you can send them to [email protected].

by Peter Rousselot — August 27, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,442 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.

For nearly a year, residents of the Claremont neighborhood adjacent to Wakefield High School have been trying to get Arlington Public Schools (APS) to replace dead trees and address other landscaping problems on portions of the Wakefield site. Photos of some of these dead and dying trees and landscaping problems are available here and here. Thus far, APS has failed to fix these problems. APS’ latest promise is to try to do so by the end of September.

The experience of these Claremont residents exposes serious APS management issues. The issues need to be resolved before they inevitably are magnified as APS continues to pursue major school facilities construction projects throughout Arlington.

Michael Graham is a concerned neighbor who lives on South Chesterfield Road directly across the street from Wakefield. He has tried–unsuccessfully–to get APS to fix things:

APS has failed to do what was needed on its landscaping and planting tied to the final stages of the Wakefield HS tear-down and rebuild. Trees, shrubs, etc. all planted within the past year or so are dead and dying. The whole trees thing has turned into a time wasting, frustrating nightmare.

Environmental Benefits of Trees and Landscaping

Trees and landscaping provide aesthetic and environmental benefits. The environmental benefits, including removal of atmospheric CO2, have been documented repeatedly. Arlington’s Urban Forestry Commission is an important local resource. This Commission provides advice on tree and plant care, including watering and other important maintenance tips. A glance at the photos of the dead Wakefield trees shows that APS did not follow this locally-available advice.

Trees and Landscaping as a Neighborhood Buffer

Trees and landscaping also act as a buffer between school property and adjacent residential neighborhoods. Regrettably, APS’s earlier experience in cutting down mature trees at Ashlawn Elementary may show a pattern of insensitivity to the role of trees in community relations.

At Wakefield, there also are community dangers such as metal poles sticking out of the ground, exposed electrical wires, and dirt craters big enough to hold/hurt small children. Some neighbors believe APS has failed to use trees to conceal adequately the backs of scoreboards on an athletic field. Future uses of that field also will require APS to consult with Claremont residents.


APS consistently needs to be a thoughtful steward of its trees and grounds and a good neighbor. If the School Board and Superintendent currently can’t do that due to budget constraints, that needs to rectified. If the issue is not budgetary, the Board and the Superintendent still need to fix it.

At Wakefield, APS must move quickly to solve the identified problems, involve Claremont residents in the proposed solutions, and restore goodwill.

by Peter Rousselot — August 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,560 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 County is considering selling approximately 5 acres of County-owned land known as the Edison site adjacent to the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC). This County land could be sold for cash, VHC land or a combination. The VHC land would consist of other Arlington properties VHC owns. The County has created a special website for this proposal.

Arlington faces a crisis. It lacks adequate County-owned land for both current and future needs for core services like parks and schools. If we are to avoid–or at least minimize–continuing community conflict by trying to address too many public needs in too limited space, the County must enlarge “the box” of available County land. The County’s proposal to sell its Edison property in exchange for VHC land represents just such an opportunity.

aerial photo of the Virginia Hospital Center Carlin Springs Road propertyThe County has scheduled a Sept. 9 public meeting to discuss the proposal. While many details remain to be worked out, one of the really promising aspects of the proposal is that Arlington might be able to acquire an 11.57 acre VHC property located at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road.

Due to the relatively large size and location of the Carlin Springs Road property, it offers great potential to enlarge our public land inventory and thereby address a number of critical needs the County faces over the next decade. This potentially can be done for no, or relatively limited, tax payer dollars.

Among the critical public needs that could be met by this South Arlington property are additional parkland and school capacity.


As shown in the aerial photo, the site contains at least 2.7 acres of natural areas and open space abutting Glencarlyn Park. The site offers a unique opportunity to add material acreage to a park at little or no cost. Typical park additions are a fraction of an acre of developed land at a cost of millions of dollars per acre.


The site currently contains a former hospital building, an adjacent multi-story parking garage, and a multi-story office building.

The site could become a future location for multiple school uses, such as:

  • choice or magnet school programs;
  • swing space for both North and South Arlington to permit additions to existing schools, enabling “building up” rather than out; and
  • short or long-term locations for other APS programs and functions, thereby potentially freeing up hundreds of seats at already over-crowded schools.


Obviously, issues such as compatibility, transportation, and refitting costs will have to be considered. However, obtaining the Carlin Springs Road property is a great win-win opportunity for Arlington.

by Peter Rousselot — August 13, 2015 at 2:00 pm 834 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.

An excellent new report (“Valuing Arlington’s Community Parks and Open Space“) demonstrates the value of parks in our community dialogue about major issues, including:

  • Development
  • Zoning
  • Siting school facilities and housing

The new report should help us avoid serious mistakes like Arlington’s decision to sacrifice Rosslyn Highlands Park to the interests of a private developer.

The new report is sponsored by the Arlington Park & Recreation Commission. The principal authors are Elizabeth Gearin, who has a PhD in Urban Planning and Development and William Ross, who has a PhD in Economics. Both are long-time Arlington residents. They combined their individual expertise to highlight both the qualitative and quantitative benefits parks provide.

Neither author has any direct financial interest that would be served by accepting their conclusions. They prepared this report as a community service. Backed by extensive research and analysis, the report cites both intangible and tangible benefits of parks and green space.

Intangible Benefits (traditional literature review)

  • Health

Parks provide opportunities for exercise, creative play, and lowered stress levels.

  • Community Cohesion

Parks reinforce the social fabric, providing opportunities for residents and visitors to participate in activities, socialize with one another, and form a neighborhood geographic focus.

  • Environmental

Trees, shrubs and grasses improve air quality by reducing air pollution; ameliorating the urban heat-island effect with shade and cooling; acting as a noise barrier, and reducing urban runoff as roots capture and filter rainwater.

Tangible Benefits (economic analysis)

Some of the intangible benefits of parks are priceless, but the report provides a helpful methodological framework to quantify the tangible benefits of Arlington’s parks. The report quantifies for Arlington the dollar impacts of these 10 benefit categories:

  • Increased Property Values from Park Proximity
  • Increased Property Sales Taxes from Park Proximity
  • Increased Value of Annual Property Sales from Park Proximity
  • Direct Use Value for Park Users
  • Tourism Tax Benefits Attributed to Parks
  • Tourism Profits Attributed to Parks
  • Health Value of Parks
  • Storm Water Management Value of Parks
  • Air Pollution Mitigation Value of Parks
  • Community Cohesion Value of Parks

As summarized on the Arlington County website, the bottom line is that:

[T]he annual, ongoing benefits from Arlington parks and open space is $155 million. On top of that, “the existence of parks and open space may have resulted in a one-time increase in residential property values estimated at $160 million…”

These valuations represent a preliminary approximation. Arlington should study these issues further.


Arlington’s parks and open space are not “free.” When we use our parkland for other purposes, not only do we bear the replacement cost (if we even can afford it), we lose the benefits outlined in this excellent White Paper.

by Peter Rousselot — August 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,317 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 interview (“Arlington Needs to be Innovative Again”), Victor Hoskins–the new Director of Arlington Economic Development (AED)–answered some questions. Based on the partial transcript published last week by the Washington Post, Hoskins offers both promising and questionable approaches to address Arlington’s many daunting economic challenges.

On the promising side, Hoskins recognized that Arlington cannot rest nostalgically on its reputation for having planned well in the past. Dramatic change is needed:

Everything is changing, and we have to change with it or we go down. We’re going down because we haven’t changed. … I loved my BlackBerry. I didn’t want to give up my BlackBerry. But where is BlackBerry now? The competitive landscape has changed so dramatically, conditions have changed. We haven’t dramatically changed.

Hoskins also helpfully provided examples of ways in which excessive micro-management hampers the nimbleness Arlington needs:

  • There was a retail permit in D.C. that used to take four months to get. Now it takes four days. That’s our competition.
  • Do not tell developers what color the grout has to be. Don’t tell them who the tenants should be.

But, there also were telling weaknesses in Hoskins’ presentation. He placed far too much responsibility on County residents for delays in project approval rather than where that responsibility primarily belongs: on County staff. Look no further than County staff’s persistent advocacy for the micro-management philosophy embedded in fatally-flawed proposals like the Retail Plan.

County Board leaders must help Hoskins by making it crystal clear to County staff that in our new, highly competitive environment, Arlington will no longer tolerate the rigid central planning theologies to which too many County staff members cling.

Board leaders also must help Hoskins by clarifying local government policies regarding millennials (those in their 20s and 30s). Hoskins admits “we don’t have a clear vision of where that’s moving.” Arlington has twisted itself into a pretzel by spending millions to attract and retain millennials as residents. Certainly, we want to continue attracting millennials to our community and including them at all levels of our civic life. But focusing excessively on millennials (and their entertainment) at the expense of everyone else is a big mistake.

Workers ages 45-54 generate the highest number of new start-ups, according to the Kauffman Report. The theory that millennials drive the “Creative Class“–a class ostensibly key to urban “vibrancy”–has been discredited.


Hoskins’ fresh perspectives are welcome. The County Board can help Hoskins best by urging him to refine those perspectives into reality-driven policies and streamlined procedures that will encourage businesses and residents of all ages to invest in Arlington.

by Peter Rousselot — July 30, 2015 at 1:00 pm 697 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 recently voted to hire a new independent auditor. As the lone dissenting voice, Board Vice-Chair Walter Tejada stated:

What’s going on is a creation of a culture of distrust of government by the Republican Party.

Tejada is wrong. There is no Republican vs. Democratic issue here.


The bill to grant Arlington the right to establish an independent auditor was sponsored by Patrick Hope, an Arlington Democrat who is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. It passed that very partisan legislative body by a unanimous vote, followed by another unanimous vote in the equally partisan Virginia State Senate. The bill was signed into law by Virginia Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe. Finally, on July 21, Democratic County Board members Fisette, Hynes and Garvey–along with Independent Vihstadt–voted for the new auditor.

More than 50 Democratic elected officials in the state of Virginia now have voted for this proposal, but only one of them voted against it: Walter Tejada. If Tejada couldn’t convince a single other Democratic elected official in Virginia that an independent auditor for Arlington should be rejected, what does that say about the persuasiveness of Tejada’s claims of partisanship?

The Independent Auditor is a non-partisan, good-government initiative

Municipal and state governments throughout the United States–regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans control them–have recognized the value of independent audits. Here’s why:

Financial audits play a vital role in helping to preserve the integrity of public finance and maintain citizens’ confidence in their elected leaders. Audits provide independent assurance that financial information is reliable. Transparency and accountability in government is essential to show that public functions are being carried out efficiently, ethically, and equitably.

Democratic County Board nominee Christian Dorsey has applauded the creation of Arlington’s independent auditor. In 2013, all five Democrats on the Arlington School Board voted to establish an independent auditor reporting to the School Board. Fairfax County has an independent auditor reporting to its overwhelmingly Democratic Board of Supervisors.

Far from being a partisan Republican plot to sow seeds of distrust in government, establishing an independent audit function just makes good common sense.

Are there legitimate questions about the scope and future of Arlington’s new independent auditor? Sure. Here are four of them:

  1. Are the reporting requirements and structure of the office independent enough?
  2. Does the office need more funding?
  3. How quickly will Arlington be able to fill the position?
  4. What initial priorities should the auditor have?

Regardless of the answers, there’s no merit to Tejada’s claim that Arlington’s independent auditor is a partisan Republican tactic.

by Peter Rousselot — July 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm 1,007 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.

How significantly will Donald Trump’s candidacy for President affect Virginia politics? The closeness of two recent statewide elections provides clues.

Virginia has moved from reliably red to purple. Combining the closeness of these elections with the profiles of the four candidates involved (compared to Trump’s profile), we can get a sense of the likely impact.

Here are the Virginia statewide results from the two elections:

  • Attorney General 2013
    • Herring (D) 1,103,777
    • Obenshain (R) 1,103,612
  • U.S. Senate 2014
    • Warner (D) 1,073,667
    • Gillespie (R)     1,055,940


Democratic and Republican partisans looking at these elections have argued that the opposing party’s candidate was an extremist. We could debate whether such partisan claims are accurate, but I believe a large number of Virginia voters perceived (accurately or not) that all four of these candidates were in the ideological mainstream of their respective parties. That perception was an important factor in the close outcomes.

Personal Qualities

Inclined to support candidates whom they perceive to be in the ideological mainstream, Virginia voters also have a historic tendency–other things being equal–to support candidates whom they perceive as sensible and pragmatic. Candidates who come across as too brash generally have not fared well. I believe large numbers of Virginia voters–rightly or wrongly– found all four of these recent statewide candidates to be sensible and pragmatic.

The Trump Effect

During the Republican Presidential primary process so far, Trump has been polling at or near the top (10 to 15 percent) nationally and in Virginia. In the most recent Post-ABC poll, his national Republican support spiked to 24 percent. Unlike all of the other Republican and Democratic primary candidates, Trump has the personal wealth to finance his campaign using 100 percent of his own money. He also has a personal brand name that is nationally known. These factors make him much more formidable than 2012 Republican Presidential primary candidates like Michelle Bachman or Herman Cain.

While it is highly unlikely that Trump can win the Republican Presidential nomination, it is very possible that he can stay in the Republican race for many months at or near at least the 10 percent Republican popularity level no matter how offensive his views strike the other 90 percent. Moreover, he has refused to rule out the possibility of running as an independent in the general election assuming he loses the Republican nomination.


The longer Trump stays in the race, the longer his views are publicized and associated with the Republican brand, the more damage he will do to Republican prospects–particularly in a purple state like Virginia. Based on recent statewide election results, only a little damage could be enough to sink the Republican Presidential nominee in Virginia in 2016.

by Peter Rousselot — July 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,246 0


Peter’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 latest Arlington County Retail Plan— scheduled for County Board review on July 18— remains far too prescriptive. The plan’s underlying, fundamentally flawed methods dictate overly specific retail outcomes on a block-by-block basis.

To get a flavor of the scope of this government exercise in micromanagement, simply skim the combined total of 113 single-spaced pages in the two key Retail Plan documents posted on Arlington’s website:

Efforts to revise the Retail Plan can be traced back at least to a 2009 Arlington Economic Development Commission (EDC) report (p. 3) recommending greater flexibility. While the current plan claims to have abandoned the “retail everywhere” approach, it still embodies a heavy-handed approach that is fundamentally inconsistent with what the EDC recommended.

A few examples illustrate the plan’s flawed methodology:


Most of Clarendon is locked into the “red” shopping and dining/entertainment category (Retail Plan, PDF p. 39), which is the narrowest and most restrictive of four separate categories. Other retail uses — like gyms or hair salons — are excluded. Government-enforced clustering of too much of the same type of retail in a small geographic area can create an artificial retail “monoculture,” risking a domino-effect collapse if its popularity wanes or businesses begin cannibalizing one another’s customer base.


Forcing retail space to be added to the west side of Glebe Road (Retail Plan, PDF p. 43), and then also trying to set rules that push competing retail to be located outside Ballston Common Mall, is self-defeating. It makes little sense to set up a public-private partnership with Forest City and provide taxpayer funds to aid a failing mall, while at the same time undercutting the mall by creating lots of competing space directly across from it.


Previously, the plan acknowledged “issues associated with the lively, noisy, energetic and, sometimes, messy environment created by night life uses.” The County’s noise ordinance doesn’t apply to mixed-use, multifamily housing (and is basically unenforceable after 6 pm and on weekends countywide). All four street categories permit “dining” establishments like A-Town to be located in close proximity to people’s homes. Thus, the current plan exacerbates the ongoing and inherent conflict between the operations of A-Town-style businesses and the right of residents to get a decent night’s sleep.


Though this plan now applies only to the major corridors, it will eventually be extended to all site plan development countywide, wherever it occurs. The County Board should:

  • reject the flawed, inflexible, interventionist methods driving this plan, and
  • direct the staff to submit a revised plan reflecting marketplace realities.

by Peter Rousselot — July 9, 2015 at 1:45 pm 1,241 0


Peter’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 out-of-court settlement between Virginia and a private-consortium shows that bad things can happen when government fails to understand the risks of public-private partnerships. Under that settlement, Virginia taxpayers will lose over $200 million that the state paid to the private consortium to build a 55-mile highway that was never built.

Virginia’s 1995 public-private transportation law was hailed as a way to enable state and local governments to stretch their tax dollars by entering into partnerships with the private sector to build transportation projects. But, there were significant flaws in the way the 1995 law was designed.  Disastrous results often followed when those flaws were combined with the frequent mismatch between the technical and legal expertise available to the private sector (usually superior) compared to the public sector (usually inferior).

The public-private partnership contract to build U.S. Highway 460 was negotiated under the administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. After Terry McAuliffe became Governor, he asked his top transportation official, Aubrey Layne, to look into this troubled project. Layne described what happened next:

[A]fter he had a chance to get into the nitty-gritty of the contract …, he learned that the risks associated with obtaining a construction permit for the road rested on the state, not the contractor, as he and others on the Commonwealth Transportation Board had been led to believe. That meant, Layne said, that the contract called for [the private partner] to keep getting automatic payments regardless of whether it had the permits to build anything. Moreover…the deal was structured to front-load state payments to the company, with the justification being that doing so would lower borrowing costs and save the commonwealth money. In fact, the arrangement ended up doing the opposite.

Governor McAuliffe has just signed the new public-private partnership transportation law designed to cure the flaws in the old law.

Implications for Arlington

At the end of 2012, with inadequate public notice, Arlington rushed to enact its own local guidelines for public-private transportation partnerships. Those guidelines are now obsolete because they are based on the old law.

Virginia wisely has recognized the many flaws in its old public-private transportation partnership law and procedures. It’s time for Arlington to do the same.

The financial calamity exposed by the U.S. Highway 460 settlement also raises a broader issue. Public-private partnership agreements, whether or not they relate to transportation, often can be complex. Arlington needs to take care that it knows what it’s doing before it signs them. The County Board’s recent directive to the County Manager to explore a public-private partnership to redevelop Ballston Mall challenges the County government to see if it does know what it’s doing.

by Peter Rousselot — July 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm 2,019 0


Peter’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.

What do Mitch McConnell and the Dean of the Washington National Cathedral have in common? They both want to stop the public veneration of Civil War “heroes.”

The Episcopal Dean concluded that two stained glass windows at the Cathedral–depicting the Confederate battle flag, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee–should be removed. The Dean explained:

While the impetus behind the windows’ installation was a good and noble one at the time, the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent. There is no place for the Confederate battle flag in the iconography of the nation’s most visible faith community. We cannot in good conscience justify the presence of the Confederate flag in this house of prayer for all people, nor can we honor the systematic oppression of African-Americans for which these two men fought.

The Republican Senate leader concluded that a statue of Jefferson Davis, a native Kentuckian, should be removed from the state capitol in Kentucky.

What lessons should Virginia and Arlington draw from McConnell and the Dean?

Let’s stop treating Confederate leaders as revered heroes. Let’s remove their names from the commons by rebranding streets and schools. As long as we have to subliminally pay our dues to General Lee every time we go to work or go shopping, we will fail to understand slavery for the prolonged act of violence that it was. As for schools, what is the bigger lesson imparted to a child who attends schools that celebrate Confederate “heritage” with these names?

The right thing to do is for the appropriate Virginia authorities to rename Jefferson Davis and Lee Highways, and for the appropriate Arlington authorities (the School Board) to remove General Lee’s name from Washington-Lee HS.

But, every aspect of the American Civil war should remain wide open for discussion and debate in our:

  • educational institutions,
  • museums,
  • history books, and
  • civic life.

Moreover, let’s not let the politicians off the hook. Taking an image of a Confederate flag off a license plate or removing the name of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis from a major highway won’t suffice.

After the Charleston massacre and the high-profile wave of deaths of black men and boys at the hands of police officers across the country, there is no denying the persistence of institutional racism.

Our state lawmakers need to do their part by doing such things as reforming overly-restrictive voter ID laws. As they create new seats for students, our county leaders must close achievement gaps and re-balance school districts so that none of our schools remain intensely segregated.


Let’s eliminate both the major symbols of racism and the lingering effects of racism.

by Peter Rousselot — June 25, 2015 at 12:15 pm 895 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 designed a fundamentally flawed process in its Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) charge. The principal flaw was to require the WRAPS group to proceed without first disclosing a Letter of Intent between the County and a private developer (Penzance) that was a precondition for the site’s redevelopment.

By later issuing the more holistic (and County-wide) Community Facilities Study group charge, the County Board implicitly acknowledged imposing unreasonable constraints on the WRAPS process by trying to accomplish too many objectives on this one small site.

The Board set July public hearings to review the County’s proposed plan for this portion of Rosslyn. Seeking to defend that plan, Board Chair Mary Hynes argued:

The proposed plan seeks to balance the need for open space in Western Rosslyn with the need for a new school with associated gym and playing field accessible to residents, a new fire station and more affordable housing in collaboration with commercial redevelopment.

Measured by this standard, the proposed plan fails miserably.

The plan makes a small park much smaller and disproportionately favors commercial redevelopment over scarce green space in a rapidly urbanizing area. It also conflicts with several existing plans–The Rosslyn to Courthouse Urban Design Study (2003), the Natural Resources Management Plan (2010), and the Draft Rosslyn Sector Plan (2015) –all calling for increased open space and/or no loss of open space.

The Board’s final, approved plan for this site must assure that the entire current, contiguous acreage of Rosslyn Highlands Park remains dedicated to park use in perpetuity.

To that end, the final site plan should adhere to these principles:

  • Each current land owner should retain ownership of its land;
  • Rosslyn Highlands Park should be preserved in its entirety as public parkland;
    APS should proceed with building a new structure to house the HB Woodlawn program on the land it currently owns;
  • Penzance may develop the land it currently owns and should be relieved of any obligation to pay for a new fire station on the site;
  • The County should follow existing procedures by conditioning the award of any bonus density on contributions to affordable housing and other community benefits, if Penzance seeks bonus density on this site, and
  • If the County determines that the current site of Fire Station #10 is the only appropriate County site for a new fire station serving Rosslyn, then it should finance that new fire station’s construction with general obligation bonds.


Preserving existing parkland is more important than giving one of Rosslyn’s largest private developers a new development opportunity that current market conditions would not otherwise support.


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