75°Partly Cloudy

by Peter Rousselot August 17, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On July 11, Arlington posted a “Preliminary Draft” of its new Public Spaces Master Plan. This draft reflects considerable thought and effort. I encourage you to provide your comments by the newly-extended August 31 deadline.

The PSMP (p. 2) seeks to provide the foundation for:

a network of publicly- and privately-owned public spaces that connect the Countys established neighborhoods and growing corridors to natural areas, protect valuable natural resources, provide opportunities for structured and casual recreation, and ensure access to the Potomac River, Four Mile Run, and their tributaries.

Today’s column discusses only a small number of issues raised by this 272-page draft.

Discussion

I have highlighted previously  the urgency of preserving and materially increasing Arlington’s inadequate park and recreation resources to address dramatically increasing demands from the projected county population growth of 63,000 people (29 percent) by 2040.

The PSMP core “Strategic Direction 1 – Public Spaces” seeks to “ensure equitable access to spaces for recreation, play and enjoying nature by adding and improving public spaces.”

These proposed changes can help reach this goal:

Counting “parkland” 

The PSMP states (p. 44): “Arlington has over 2000 acres of parkland, both County and non-County owned…”  However, without greater clarity as to what is being counted as “parkland” (e.g., possibly all APS facilities and “unusable” portions of the federally-owned GW Parkway are included), this global number appears inflated and misleading.

The relevant issue is the amount of additional parkland needed in Arlington to meet present and future demand.  See the “Population-Based Standards” chart (p. 90).

New “Public Space” 

Proposed “Action” 1.1 (p. 70) states: “Add at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years.” Inclusion of this land acquisition goal is critical and has widespread community support.

However, “Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats” ranked as the second highest outdoor need on the statistically valid 2015 Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Survey, and county citizens are consistently calling for more natural green space: “We want natural grass, trees, and a place to relax.”

This goal should be clearly focused on the county acquiring more “green parkland” or it will be “fulfilled” in large part by more hardscape plazas and/or synthetic turf in our urban corridors.

The PSMP should also incorporate the three separate sub-categories of “natural lands”, “unstructured” (or “casual use”) areas, and “structured” areas, i.e. athletic fields and courts I previously recommended. This should also provide explicit prohibitions on any loss of natural lands and “casual use” areas.

New Land Acquisition Policy

While hopefully facilitating parkland acquisition, this policy needs revisions to avoid filtering out critical present and potential “natural lands” and “casual use” areas. Higher points must be awarded to such “natural lands” that don’t have “special features.” Criteria affording points to such “casual use” areas need to be added. Points should also be reallocated from existing plans where parcels may already have been developed to parcels with strong community support identified on an “ad hoc” basis.

Conclusion

The PSMP is a new step forward for Arlington’s park and recreation resources.  Although creative mechanisms to acquire more parkland are identified, our critical need for preserving and increasing our parkland — particularly our “green parkland” — can only be met with a strong commitment by the County Board in our budgets and CIPs for the foreseeable future.

by Peter Rousselot August 10, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week, The Washington Post published a story about newly-imposed parking restrictions on a one-block, dead-end street in the Woodmont neighborhood.

After initially receiving a complaint from one street resident, county staff decided that parking on certain narrower portions of the street should be prohibited even for residents, per the article: “Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten said that the county does not seek out violations of its parking or zoning laws but that once a complaint is filed, it is obligated to respond.”

The Post story explained that the county’s decision to ban parking was based on “rules that allow the government to ban parking on streets narrower than 21 feet (24th Street N. is only 15 feet wide in places) and concerns about how fire department vehicles could quickly get in and out.”

Arlington County staff’s solution was worse than the problem

Once county staff received the original complaint, staff were obligated to “respond” by investigating, learning about all relevant facts and circumstances, and respectfully seeking to engage with all street residents (there were only 13 homeowners) regarding possible solutions.

One of those solutions could have been: take no action. The county’s “rules,” as quoted in The Post, are not mandatory. Even if they were, the county could change them. Justifiably, when residents of the block finally found out that “most of their curbside parking was about to disappear…they were outraged.”

Understanding the character of the neighborhood puts their outrage into context:

All of the houses on the block have at least one off-street parking space. Edwards and his wife, Vicki Edwards, 80, who has an artificial knee and artificial hip, share a steep private driveway with Joe Ruth and Sharon Rogers. When it rains or snows, however, both households prefer to park on the street, which gives them easy access to their front doors. “This is definitely limiting our goal of aging in place,” said Rogers, 75, who has helped organize the street’s resistance.

After the original complainant withdrew her complaint, all street residents opposed county staff’s solution.

The squeaky wheel shouldn’t always get the grease

There are too many instances in which County staff receive a complaint or a request from an individual citizen that at first blush suggests taking an action, but after careful investigation and consideration actually deserves a no-action response.

Another example is the Nelly Custis playground request I discussed in a column a few months ago. In the Nelly Custis situation, the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation initially decided to install a 3d playground in a .8-acre park located in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

That neighborhood already had two playgrounds within a little over one block. DPR made that initial decision at the request of a nearby day-care provider, but without taking into account the objections of many other neighbors who preferred to retain open green space at that location in their small park.

Conclusion

Even the intervention of a sympathetic County Board member, John Vihstadt, didn’t fundamentally alter the outcome in Woodmont: “‘It’s sometimes hard to fight city hall, even from the inside,’ he said.”

We need a new culture at city hall: first, do no harm. Why is the current culture so often oblivious? What happened to common sense?

Ms. Minton told one resident that staff’s solution couldn’t be changed because “this ship has sailed.” This ship should be returned to port.

by Peter Rousselot August 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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 close Redskins watcher says Virginia is the most likely site for a new Redskins stadium because team President Bruce Allen has “significant personal ties at the highest levels of the Virginia government,” and the amount of public financing for a new stadium will be the “single most important factor” in site selection.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is “vigorously pursuing” the stadium. On July 27, McAulliffe renewed his lobbying of Redskins owner Dan Snyder:

“We’ve laid everything out and served it up beautifully,” McAuliffe said …. McAuliffe pivoted to the latest method of financing massive NFL projects in which a stadium is part of a vast retail, shopping and hotel complex, by relying on development funds (in addition to considerable tax breaks) to foot the bill….

Football stadiums do not spur significant economic growth

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

Roger Noll, an economist who studies sports-stadium subsidies at Stanford University, says he has never witnessed the construction of a football stadium that has had a significant positive impact on the local economy.

Direct costs far outweigh the benefits

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

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

Opportunity costs further tilt the balance against taxpayer funding

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

  • fund Virginia’s state share of a new dedicated funding stream for Metro
  • redress some of the many remaining critical deficiencies in Virginia’s mental health facilities
  • help bring high-speed broadband to rural areas of Virginia that currently lack it
  • expand Virginia’s Medicaid program

These are only four of hundreds of more deserving needs.

Dan Snyder doesn’t need the money

Redskins owner Dan Snyder is a billionaire who doesn’t need a public hand out. Any Virginia tax dollars for a new Redskins stadium will go directly into Dan Snyder’s pockets.

A 2003 study by a member of the University of Texas economics department documented that a new stadium increases:

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

All these numbers are likely to be much higher in 2017.

Conclusion

I admire McAuliffe for his tireless work to promote economic development in Virginia. But, Virginia should not offer to give Dan Snyder either “development funds” or “considerable tax breaks.”

Nothing related to the stadium should be subsidized by Virginia taxpayers. Dan Snyder should arrange 100% private financing. Under these conditions, Snyder could build his stadium in Virginia if he could find a welcoming local government.

Seattle Seahawks all-star cornerback Richard Sherman gets it: “I’d stop spending billions of taxpayer dollars on stadiums…and maybe make the billionaires who actually benefit from the stadiums pay for them.”

by Peter Rousselot July 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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 April, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments released a report recommending a new 1 percent regional sales tax for Metro as the best way to generate a dedicated source of funding:

A 1 percent sales tax in Metro’s eight city and county jurisdictions would provide the transit system with adequate revenue to cover its most urgent infrastructure and maintenance costs over the next decade, according to a new analysis …

On July 20, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution opposing this COG recommendation: “Supervisors argued the proposed regional sales tax was not fair to a county like Loudoun that will only gain about three miles of track.”

Metro needs dedicated funding

Dedicated funding is money that is not subject to an appropriations process.

Most other metropolitan transit systems in America have a dedicated revenue stream to supplement the contributions of local governments. Our Metro system doesn’t have one:

“Instead, Metro relies on a patchwork of annual subsidies from local governments. In effect, Metro competes yearly against myriad other public spending priorities, its operating budget consistently facing some level of appropriations risk.”

Arlington will pay more for Metro without dedicated funding

Metro will continue to deteriorate without dedicated funding, and will eventually go into a death spiral. Arlington and the entire region which depends on Metro cannot allow that to happen. The longer the region drags its feet, the financial burdens on Arlington to keep Metro afloat will put greater and greater pressure on our local budget — leading inexorably to:

  • higher local property tax bills
  • crowding out of other critical local budget priorities
  • a combination of both of the above

Metro dedicated funding should be conditioned on bipartisan reform

As I have written previously, a dedicated funding source for Metro should be tied to a bipartisan, regional Metro reform plan that will maximize the chances that both the new and the existing funding for Metro will be spent wisely.

Dedicated funding source need not be identical in every jurisdiction

As originally proposed, COG’s 1 percent sales tax envisioned a uniform new tax in every participating jurisdiction. But, that kind of uniformity is not the only possible outcome. It’s on this point that Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey has demonstrated leadership. While Dorsey is Arlington’s representative on the Metro Board of Directors, Arlington’s Metro representative no longer is a voting representative.

When Loudoun’s opposition to the 1 percent sales tax first surfaced, Dorsey took the lead in proposing options, while emphasizing the responsibility of each jurisdiction to participate equitably in a regional solution:

“I’m not an apollite that says we gotta all do the same thing, but don’t use this as an opportunity to shirk your responsibility to participate equitably, and if that means something different out in Loudoun than in Arlington, it wouldn’t be the first time, and that would be OK.”

Dorsey noted that some of his constituents were for a regional sales tax that “wouldn’t disproportionately harm one sector of the taxpaying community,” while others preferred a meals tax that would concentrate on development around the Metro stations. 

Conclusion

It’s challenging to find a way to get to yes on a bipartisan regional proposal for dedicated Metro funding. Thanks to Christian Dorsey for his leadership in carefully exploring various alternative ways to get there.

by Peter Rousselot July 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last Thursday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled the latest Trumpcare bill. There aren’t enough Republican Senators who support this latest version. McConnell has now scheduled a vote on outright repeal of Obamacare for “early next week.”

Drastic Virginia Medicaid cuts

The most remarkably bad thing about Trumpcare is its persistent focus on drastically cutting Medicaid benefits. The per-capita caps would cost Virginia’s Medicaid program at least $1.4 billion over seven years.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) previously blasted these cuts:

Virginia historically has run one of the leanest Medicaid programs in the country…. But as a result of the steep cuts to Medicaid in Trumpcare, Virginia would be forced to pick up an additional $900 million in costs for Medicaid over the next ten years in order to maintain the same level of care.

Virginia Republican legislative leaders already are on record condemning these cuts: “Proposals to impose per-capita caps on federal Medicaid spending would put Virginia at a severe disadvantage.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) aptly summarized what’s wrong with her Senate leadership’s approach:

We should not be making fundamental changes in a vital safety net program that’s been on the books for 50 years, the Medicaid program, without having a single hearing to evaluate what the consequences are going to be.

Virginia children disproportionately harmed

The proposed Medicaid cuts would particularly harm Virginia’s children:

The bill would have a disproportionate effect on children, who make up about 60 percent of Medicaid enrollment in Virginia. During the 2014-15 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, Virginia school districts received $33 million in Medicaid reimbursements.

Virginians with pre-existing conditions lose coverage

The latest Trumpcare bill contains a new provision (the so-called Cruz amendment) that major health insurance companies say is “simply unworkable.” It would deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and de-stabilize insurance marketplaces in Virginia and across the nation:

The protections for preexisting conditions are gone. The GOP vision is of health markets where the very sick can buy unaffordable Obamacare-compliant plans that are, maybe, made affordable by subsidies, but most people are back in an insurance market where past allergies or future pregnancy or a history of knee problems will leave you basically uninsurable.

Conclusion

Republicans and Democrats remain divided over their contrasting degrees of respect for the principle of mutual obligation:

If [Trumpcare] passed, the Republican reform would eventually return the country to a system a lot like the one in place before the A.C.A., when older people, sick people, and the working poor struggled to find coverage–or went without.

Supporters of Trumpcare claim it would enable everyone to have access to affordable healthcare. But, the truth is that only those wealthy enough to pay would have access to meaningful healthcare.

Repeal of Obamacare without a replacement would be even worse. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that repeal would cause the number of uninsured people to rise by 18 million next year and by 32 million by 2026.

Both approaches are bad.

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has issued a call for a fresh, bipartisan start for healthcare reform. He’s right.

Responsible Republicans and Democrats now should join together to hold open and thoughtful public hearings to fix those parts of Obamacare that need fixing.

by Peter Rousselot July 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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 last week’s column, I noted that Arlington residents are increasingly concerned about the challenges of future growth and development.

I suggested that the Arlington County and School Boards should do some long-term strategic thinking about aspects of our smart growth policies that should be re-examined and new tools that should be considered to address our challenges.

I further recommended that the County Board should propose for community discussion a draft of topics to discuss in a broad-based community process leading to Smart Growth 2.0.

This thoughtful response to my column was provided on social media:

We need a new vision and I think you are really into something important. For those of us that care about the County’s future I wonder if you would consider translating this piece into “layperson’s” terms. You assume a tremendous base of knowledge in the description of the problem and the solution. It will continue to be a small group of people making decisions for a large and diverse group of residents if the process is typical.

Discussion

We do need a new vision. That new vision should not be decided by a small group of people making decisions for a large and diverse group of residents.

In the spirit of translating last week’s piece into “layperson’s” terms, and at the (very acceptable) risk of offending some of the lawyers and Smart Growth 1.0 theologians in the audience, there are two types of development in Arlington.

By-right development

By-right development is the kind of development that already has been authorized by the County Board through prior zoning decisions. The way Virginia law works, this is the kind of development that the County Board can’t revoke.

So when you hear somebody calling for a “moratorium on development because we are growing too fast,” forget about a moratorium as applied to by-right development. However, there are many policies that the county legally could undertake that would spur or restrain by-right development.

Discretionary development

Discretionary development can only occur if the County Board takes affirmative action to change existing zoning to enable it. Here, the County Board has a lot more power: it can deny a development proposal outright, or it can say: yes, you can–but only if you agree to certain conditions.

Cost of new school seats

Based on the best available projections of school enrollment growth, and the cost of new school seats, Arlington should exercise its power to condition some discretionary development proposals on a developer’s acceptance of certain related conditions. For example:

  • a developer seeks to build a large, multi-family rental apartment building containing hundreds of units
  • the existing zoning for that site currently does not permit anything like such a project

The county should negotiate more effectively with developers of such discretionary projects to obtain cash or in-kind contributions from those developers to defray the costs to the public of the new school seats, parks, and other public infrastructure required to serve the new residents in such a proposed new building.

Some county insiders claim that Arlington is prohibited either by the Dillon Rule or by state law from ever imposing these kinds of conditions. Their claims are false.

Conclusion

Together as a community, we should adopt a new vision of Smart Growth 2.0 that is appropriate for today’s circumstances.

by Peter Rousselot July 6, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week, the County and School Boards held a combined work session with the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. County Board chair Jay Fisette also delivered a mid-year State of the County address.

Some of the comments made at these events reflected welcome candor — possibly a much-needed acknowledgement of the multiple, urgent challenges confronting Arlington.

As Fisette stated, Arlington’s critical response must be to “plan, plan, plan, plan.”

Arlington needs comprehensive, integrated long-term planning

Smart growth 2.0

Arlington’s much-praised transit-oriented smart growth vision was adopted in the 1970s. Almost 50 years later, residents are increasingly concerned about the challenges of future growth and development.

I have written columns about some of these challenges, including:

Between now and September, the County and School Boards should do some long-term strategic thinking about:

  • aspects of our smart growth policies that should be re-examined based upon projected macro-economic conditions for Arlington over the next 30 years
  • new tools that should be considered to address our challenges

Such internal deliberations must consider policy and priority choices that range far beyond the appropriate scope for JFAC.

By September, the County Board should propose for community discussion a draft working list of topics that ought to be reviewed in a very broad-based community process leading to Smart Growth 2.0.

JFAC

Over the summer, the County and School Boards need to adopt a new work plan on which JFAC can commence at its scheduled September 20 meeting.

Comprehensive long-term facilities planning is paramount

JFAC’s highest priority must be the integrated assessment and planning for long-term County and APS facility needs, including of course APS capacity needs, for the next 15 years. This JFAC process must be continuously informed by and integrate the interim conclusions and decisions made by the County Board’s parallel Smart Growth 2.0 planning process.

JFAC should not be distracted by further BUCK and VHC responsibilities

To ensure that JFAC can focus its limited resources on the demands of its long-term planning process, the County Board should not task JFAC with any further significant leadership or operational responsibilities regarding land use decisions for the Buck and VHC sites. Instead, separate working groups should be convened for each of those sites, including neighborhood representation, to lead and make these decisions — perhaps with a JFAC liaison or co-chair.

Maybe relieve JFAC of short-term bus siting responsibilities

Only if resources permit should JFAC be tasked to conduct a short-term study of bus storage siting options. In any event, whatever group studies these options should not be artificially constrained either by locations within Arlington’s geographic borders or conventional approaches to bus storage.

Conclusion

With growing acknowledgement of the significant fiscal and physical challenges confronting the county, the County Board needs to commence in September a broad public conversation ultimately leading to an updated vision for future growth and development that commands substantial public support.

JFAC should focus beginning in September on a long-term, comprehensive assessment across county and APS of likely facility needs and siting proposals to be informed ultimately by the results of the “visioning” process.

If resources permit, JFAC should undertake a short-term project re bus storage siting.  Any other possible JFAC projects should be addressed through separate processes.

by Peter Rousselot June 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last Thursday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally unveiled the Senate’s version of Trumpcare.

On Tuesday, faced with a revolt in their own ranks, Senate GOP leaders postponed a vote on their bill until after the July 4 recess.

Virginia political leaders from both parties strongly oppose the Medicaid cuts

Both Republican and Democratic legislators in Virginia have condemned the Senate bill.

Virginia House of Delegates Appropriations Committee chair Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), and state Senate Finance co-chair Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), co-signed a letter to McConnell, noting that his Trumpcare bill:

“fails to address the inequities in the federal funding allocation between states” for the Medicaid program that Virginia has operated in partnership with the federal government for a half-century.

These two Virginia Republican legislative leaders, who also serve as the co-chairs of the Joint Subcommittee for Human Resources Oversight, stated that their subcommittee:

is especially concerned that proposals to impose per-capita caps on federal Medicaid spending would put Virginia at a severe disadvantage because they would base the future federal share on past spending that has been among the lowest in the country and would not take into account measures adopted this year to expand treatment of people with mental illnesses or addictions.

These per-capita caps would cost Virginia’s Medicaid program at least $1.4 billion over seven years.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also blasted the Trumpcare Medicaid provisions:

Virginia historically has run one of the leanest Medicaid programs in the country, with lower reimbursement rates than many other states. But as a result of the steep cuts to Medicaid in Trumpcare, Virginia would be forced to pick up an additional $900 million in costs for Medicaid over the next ten years in order to maintain the same level of care.

The federal government must continue to finance a major share of Medicaid costs

Although the U.S. Senate’s proposed Trumpcare bill is far worse in this respect, a fundamental flaw in both the Senate and House bills is that Trumpcare’s approach to Medicaid represents a massive and historic retreat by the federal government from supporting healthcare for the most poor and vulnerable:

States would continue to receive extra funding for Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to more poor adults, but only temporarily. After several years, states wishing to cover that population would be expected to pay a much greater share of the bill, even as they adjust to leaner federal funding for other Medicaid beneficiaries — disabled children, nursing home residents — who are more vulnerable.

It’s appropriate for the federal government to insist that each state have at least “some skin in the game.” However, one of the worst defects in Trumpcare’s approach to Medicaid financing is that it fails to account fairly for the vast differences in median household incomes and poverty rates among the states.

Conclusion

Trumpcare’s latest state’s rights approach is “mean” (h/t Donald Trump).

If enacted, Trumpcare will produce the largest single transfer of wealth to the rich from the middle class and poor in American history.

“A basic test of government is its ability to prevent large-scale harm to its citizens’ health and survival. This bill, and this Administration, are failing that test”– Atul Gawande.

This bill is still very much alive. All Virginians should join their political leaders in the fight against this cold-hearted proposal.

by Peter Rousselot June 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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 Public Schools’ current strategic plan is up for revision. One of the goals of the current plan is “Development of the Whole Child.”

Part of APS’ current approach to this goal is what APS calls “personalized learning.” The one-to-one device program is an integral part:

In the APS 2011-17 Strategic Plan, the community set a goal to ensure that every student from grade 2 through 12 has a personal digital learning device to support instruction. The Strategic Plan states that APS should create vital and engaging, technology-rich learning environments, provide an infrastructure for learning and utilize state-of-the-art technology that creates engaging, relevant and personalized learning experiences for all learners regardless of background, language or disabilities.

In developing its new strategic plan, the Arlington County School Board should:

  • involve the Arlington community in a truly-interactive, transparent conversation about all the critical issues
  • offer compelling proof that all proposed instructional uses of personal digital learning devices provide evidence-based instructional benefits and consistent instruction to all students

By contrast, over the past three years, the use of these devices has been characterized by poor communications, inconsistent instruction, and lack of evidence-based benefits.

This column focuses on two controversial, critical issues.

One-to-One Program Devices Should Not Be an Integral Tool Used For Personalized Learning

APS definitely should continue to create “engaging, relevant and personalized learning experiences for all learners regardless of background, language or disabilities.” However, in its new strategic plan — in any grades in which APS ultimately decides to continue the one-to-one program, APS should make it clear that the program is not an integral part of personalized learning. For some children, e.g., those whose parents cannot afford a personal digital learning device, APS should provide one.

A June 2017 comprehensive and convincing history of the development of personalized learning in education provides a withering critique of the risks of making personal digital learning devices an integral part of personalized learning. The article describes at least four other approaches to personalized learning that do not entail such heavy reliance on personal digital learning devices.

Other relevant sources also criticizing such heavy reliance are available.

APS’ current linkage between personal digital learning devices and personalized learning should be severed and replaced with an alternative approach. The one-to-one program is actually a form of depersonalized learning.

The One-to-One Program Should Be Ended — At Least in the Elementary Years

APS definitely should continue to provide a “vital and engaging, technology-rich learning environment for every APS student.” However, at least in the elementary years, the one-to-one program should be ended.

Too many elementary school parents believe that Development of the Whole Child in elementary school is fundamentally incompatible with the one-to-one program. These parents are seeking less screen time, and more face-to-face teacher-student interaction, athletic activity, and socialization.

Moreover, scientific and health studies published since the current strategic plan was adopted demonstrate that there is too great a risk from the cumulative exposure to these devices that results when the 1:1 program in elementary school is combined with home use. APS’ current position that school screen time shouldn’t count because it is for educational purposes defies common sense.

Conclusion

In its new Strategic Plan, the School Board should reemphasize the role of Arlington’s great teachers and deemphasize the role of Silicon Valley.

by Peter Rousselot June 15, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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 his column last week, Mark Kelly asked whether fundamental reforms to Metro are “myopic GOP grumbling or necessary?”

Discussion

Mark is right that fundamental reforms to Metro are necessary.

Bipartisan support for a regional solution

Because Metro serves three independent jurisdictions (D.C., Maryland, Virginia), Metro had to be created by an interstate compact among those three jurisdictions. Under federal law, all interstate compacts also must be approved by the federal government.

The current interstate compact governing Metro establishes how it will be governed and financed. All amendments to the current Metro interstate compact similarly require agreement among those three jurisdictions and the federal government.

If anyone reading this thinks that Metro’s current problems can be solved using Metro’s current governing structure and financing, there is no point reading any further.

If you’re still with me, the reason I agree with Mark about the need for a bipartisan solution to Metro’s woes is that the Maryland and D.C. legislatures are currently controlled by Democrats, while the Virginia and federal legislatures are currently controlled by Republicans.

We cannot afford to wait to fix Metro in hopes (if you are a Dem) that the Democrats will take over the legislatures in Virginia and the federal government, or in hopes (if you are in the GOP) that the GOP will take over the legislatures in D.C. and Maryland. And I haven’t even mentioned the chief executives!

Since a partisan solution to Metro’s critical problems is impractical, we must arrive at a bipartisan solution to those problems — whether we like it or not.

More importantly, no matter which political party happens to control the legislatures at any given time in these four jurisdictions, millions of voters of the other party will still live there. Metro is vital to all of us regardless of our political affiliations.

Fundamental reforms

There are a variety of fundamental reform plans for Metro that already have been offered. For example, each of the following three fundamental reform plans would require Metro interstate compact amendments:

In addition to these plans, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has asked former Republican Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to lead a panel to develop a plan expected to be published this fall. It is virtually certain that whatever plan the LaHood panel develops also will require amendments to Metro’s interstate compact.

New, dedicated revenue stream

Most other metropolitan transit systems in America have a dedicated revenue stream to supplement the contributions of local governments. Our Metro system doesn’t have one:

“Instead, Metro relies on a patchwork of annual subsidies from local governments. In effect, Metro competes yearly against myriad other public spending priorities, its operating budget consistently facing some level of appropriations risk.”

Conclusion

Without a dedicated revenue stream (e.g., a regional sales tax), Arlington County and other local governments cannot afford to keep Metro afloat much longer.

Metro will eventually collapse without a dedicated revenue stream.

The only way for Metro to get a dedicated revenue stream is through interstate compact amendments.

Republicans won’t agree to a dedicated revenue stream unless Democrats agree to fundamental reforms of Metro governance and spending practices.

So, Arlington County needs to back a bipartisan deal to save Metro. 

by Peter Rousselot June 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter Rousselot

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.

APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy has recommended a short-term plan to add 1,300 new high school seats by 2022. Under Murphy’s “hybrid proposal,” 600 seats would be added at the Ed Center and 700 seats would be added at the Career Center.

Good news: need for long-term planning acknowledged

Murphy has publicly acknowledged that:

  • Arlington County forecasts continued total population and school enrollment growth for many years beyond the cut-off date (2026) in the current Capital Improvement Plan
  • Arlington’s total population aged 0-14 will exceed 40,000 by 2030
  • APS needs to develop its own long-term new school construction plans well beyond 2026:

In his report to School Board members, Murphy said the school system will need an additional 2,200-seat high school, plus up to two middle schools and up to four elementary schools, if enrollment continues to push toward and beyond 30,000 students.

So long as these population and enrollment forecasts continue to represent the County’s and APS’ best estimates, they should be employed systematically to make long-term planning decisions for all land use and public infrastructure investment (e.g., schools, parks, roads).

It is neither prudent, realistic nor fair to fail to plan for this growth because some people think or hope that it might not occur.

Murphy also made welcome remarks at the May 18 School Board meeting (between 1:37:30 and 1:40:25) that he is “hearing from the community some concern about the CIP”, and that for future new school construction projects “there will be three flavors of budgets: Low, Medium and High.”

This good news needs to be verified by careful scrutiny of the future “three flavors of budgets” to be sure that all three estimates are genuine and reflect new initiatives to bring per seat costs down substantially from current levels.

Bad news: long-term planning needs a jump start

Parent reactions on social media reflect justifiable disappointment at the lack of long-term planning. A substantial number of parents share this sentiment:

It is the lack of a meaningful long-term strategic plan that is troubling. If we go the smaller choice school route, what does that look like? What programs are we building out? What is the timing? We can’t keep doing this whack a mole approach to planning with the influx of students that we know is coming into the system over the next few years — the equivalent of a new elementary school every year.

Several parents are particularly critical of the disappointing Alphonse and Gaston routine between the County and APS relating to transportation challenges at Kenmore. In response to the excuse that such planning naturally ceased once the option of an elementary school at the Kenmore site was dropped, one parent convincingly counters:

  • The problem will get significantly worse as large, underutilized parcels become more fully maximized for whichever uses (speaking of 32 acres at Kenmore and approximately 17 acres at the Urgent Care site)
  • The County can’t wait for APS decisions in part because APS can’t move to use Kenmore without some promise of County assistance both with VDOT around Route 50 and with Fairfax County

Conclusion

The County and School Boards must demonstrate that they are:

  • collaborating seamlessly and transparently
  • listening to public concerns and adjusting accordingly
  • developing fiscally-sustainable, long term plans to build the new schools we need when we need them

by Peter Rousselot June 1, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter Rousselot

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.

On November 28, 2016, the county received a proposal from a private developer, Arcland Property Company. Under the proposal, Arcland would exchange land it owns on Shirlington Road for part of the N. Quincy Street site (known as the Buck property) located across the street from Washington-Lee High School.

The county has an option to purchase the Buck property. That option must be exercised by November 20. If the County Board approved the Arcland land swap, that swap necessarily would take place after November 20. As a condition of Arcland’s proposal, Arcland wants the right to use a portion of the Buck property to build and operate a private self-storage facility.

Discussion

Arcland’s proposal should be promptly rejected so that the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission and the county can focus on identifying a more appropriate solution for locating ART buses.

In the six months since the Arcland proposal was first unveiled, JFAC has been holding more and more community meetings in different parts of the county, and has been alerting wider segments of the community to the details of the Arcland proposal.

Arcland has been advocating, and the county’s interest in the Arcland proposal reflects, the county’s need to find a long-term solution to ART bus storage.

Although space to store ART buses is a high public priority for the county, adopting the Arcland proposal is the wrong solution because it will have too high a negative impact on the value of the current configuration of the Buck property.

For example, adopting the Arcland proposal would:

  • mean the permanent loss of 38 percent of the property’s acreage
  • severely limit short and long-term flexibility in county use of the property, e.g. for school athletic fields
  • limit the potential to expand adjacent park space
  • preclude the long-term potential to deck over I-66

The location, size and flexibility of the Buck property is too unique and too valuable in a fully developed county like Arlington to pay the price of the Arcland proposal.

Moreover, whereas space for storing ART buses does not necessarily need to be located within Arlington County (e.g., it could be in Fairfax County), the types of urgent county uses that can be located on the Buck site, like school swing space, parks and recreation space, office space for critical county or Arlington Public Schools services, should be located within the county’s geographic borders.

Conclusion

The county should promptly reject the Arcland proposal.

The JFAC and the county should immediately conduct cost-benefit analyses of alternative scenarios for acquiring land for ART bus storage without the significant negative impacts of the Arcland proposal.

Such scenarios might include, for example:

  • acquiring all or portions of the Arcland property through negotiations or exercising the power of eminent domain
  • acquiring property outside of Arlington, e.g., land along Route 50 and/or Columbia Pike for a joint Arlington/Fairfax below ground bus facility/above ground playing fields or other sports facility
  • locating ART bus parking below one or more of the Long Bridge Park soccer fields

Rejecting the Arcland proposal is the appropriate thing to do even if it were to turn out that the out of pocket cost for obtaining access to alternative, incremental land for ART bus storage were to exceed the out of pocket cost of accepting the Arcland proposal.

by Peter Rousselot May 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter Rousselot

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.

At its May 23 meeting, the County Board authorized the issuance of $185.3 million in new bonds for various spending, added to $552.4 million in outstanding bonds issued since 2008. There are an additional $281.8 million in bonds already authorized, but not yet issued. Plus, there are $49 million in bonds that have been issued, but not yet spent.

Discussion

Does the County Board’s latest action leave Arlington with too much total debt?

For many years, the standard answer from county government has been and continues to be “no.” The reason given has been and continues to be that Arlington is one of the relatively few municipalities in America that has maintained the highest possible credit rating (AAA/AAA).

Whereas this is certainly one legitimate way to evaluate Arlington’s status, there are other legitimate ways — some of which raise cause for concern. A more extensive county government explanation of our current and projected future debt levels, followed by a full public discussion, is in order.

Arlington can maintain its current credit rating — despite having roughly $1 billion in total debt (including revenue bonds and other debts) compared to roughly $1.2 billion in total annual revenue (83 percent leverage) — because the bond/credit rating agencies have confidence in Arlington’s ability to continue raising property taxes to generate sufficient revenue to service (repay) its mounting debt load.

An authoritative municipal finance source  lists 10 financial ratios (e.g., per capita debt, total debt to fair market value, and total debt to average individual personal income) that should be analyzed and discussed publicly in determining the relative risks of a municipality’s debt load.

In a 2014 opinion column, the Sun-Gazette examined Arlington’s debt level in terms of these ratios, concluding:

Think the Arlington government’s debt has gone up significantly over the past decade? You have a 75-percent chance of being right. There are (at least) four ways to measure the county government’s bonded debt. Three of them show a significant increase, while the fourth shows almost no jump at all.

A 2014 study in The Connection Newspapers concluded that “Arlington County has one of the highest per capita debt loads in Northern Virginia”:

The Government Finance Officers Association recommends that government “issuers undertake an analysis of their debt capacity prior to issuing bonds” because a “comprehensive and routine analysis of debt capacity provides assurance that the amount of debt issued by a government is affordable and cost-effective.” In so doing, government officials can keep debt at affordable levels.

Further, assessing debt capacity on an ongoing basis is essential for effective debt management and ensuring that debt-planning activities are integrated into the capital improvement process. This assessment, in short, ensures that “an appropriate balance is struck between a jurisdiction’s capital needs and its ability to pay for them.”

Conclusion

By continuing to focus on maintaining our AAA/AAA credit rating as the determinant for deciding whether to incur more debt, we are making a mistake. Attaching too much weight to this factor ignores other county debt. It also assumes that borrowing the maximum amount allowed by the ratings agencies is wise, and that Arlington’s tax base has a virtually unlimited capacity to absorb ongoing tax-rate and assessment increases without suffering ill effects.

by Peter Rousselot May 18, 2017 at 2:15 pm 0

Peter Rousselot

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.

As Arlington grows and urbanizes rapidly, conflicts are increasing among different users of our parks.

Arlington should give higher priority to open, un-programmed and natural parkland

The county government continues to demonstrate that it is not giving fair, transparent and due weight to the wishes of those who desire access to multi-use, un-programmed, open or natural spaces.

Instead, the percentage of open green space in existing parks is declining, while:

  • dedicated, programmed space is increasing despite usage data not being publicly available for a transparent analysis
  • uses of existing programmed space are intensifying through paving, turf, lighting, fencing, expansion, pay-per-use only and access restrictions
  • not enough parkland is being acquired to accommodate residents’ needs

Some examples of prioritizing organized recreational use over other needs include:

  • refusal even to consider community proposals to convert existing softball fields to un-programmed space at Virginia Highlands Park
  • initial proposal to fence off entirely the diamond at Bluemont Park
  • more dedicated playground space at Nelly Custis Park
  • proposals to install new lights at Discovery Elementary School/Williamsburg Middle School
  • a request to buy more land for open green space in Alcova Heights denied because the proposed acquisition in part was too small “which limits recreational opportunities”

These decisions are at odds with the results of the county’s 2015 Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Survey. That survey established that natural areas and wildlife habitats — as well as hiking trails — were two of the three most important outdoor facilities that Arlington residents want.

Best practices elsewhere do give higher priority to open green space

The best city park planning is based on the principle of the most uses for most of the community. Travel and Leisure magazine listed the World’s Most Beautiful City Parks where “for city dwellers and tourists alike, an urban park becomes a shared backyard.”

In New York City, many playgrounds and basketball courts are designed into urban space, e.g. on rooftops or located between buildings, and not into natural parkland.

New York is enormously more populated and denser than Arlington, but the principles of giving sufficient priority to natural, un-programmed spaces can and should be similar. Current efforts in Arlington appear to be designed to provide enough paved sports courts, playgrounds, and playing fields to accommodate every league, paying user and sports type – all occupying a larger percentage of our limited public parks.

In contrast, cities around the world place a high priority on their parks’ function as natural spaces interspersed and accessible throughout city landscapes: e.g., Atlanta’s BeltLine project and an excellent report from Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority on sustainability and parks planning.

Conclusion

The POPS Update Advisory Group is currently working on an update to the Public Spaces Master Plan. The Parks and Recreation Commission should propose, and the POPS Group should be directed now, to develop principles giving due weight to open green space based on best practices elsewhere.

Pending adoption of such principles, the County Board should direct the Manager to report how to prevent open green space from being short-changed.

Continued shoehorning of single-use sports fields into our limited park space guarantees increasing conflict. Applying reasonable principles of equitable expectations of use, while simultaneously expanding our parkland to keep pace with population growth, are the correct solutions for a rapidly growing county.

by Peter Rousselot April 27, 2017 at 1:15 pm 0

Peter Rousselot

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.

Last week, ARLnow.com reported that the Neighborhood Advisory Conservation Committee voted to suspend its spring funding round.

Discussion

NC’s financial crisis provides yet another occasion to reconsider the program. The safety of pedestrians and need for safe, walkable streets continues to grow more acute in our urbanizing neighborhoods.

As I have written previously, the NC program should be phased out entirely.

NC has problems in at least three key areas: equity, timeliness and cost.

Equity. NC’s principal inequities arise because tens of thousands of Arlington residents are denied timely and critical neighborhood infrastructure improvements and access to the NC Program’s roughly $12 million bi-annual budget because they are:

  • Living in areas lacking a properly functioning civic association.
  • Required to have a County-Board approved NC Plan documenting all potential projects.
  • Lacking consistent NC volunteer representatives to complete projects.

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

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

Cost. As I mentioned previously, project delays and unnecessary add-ons like street lights (which Dominion will install at no charge) and components like curbs, gutters and sidewalks (which sometimes are unnecessary), make projects more expensive.

Conclusion

Many commenters on last week’s ARLnow.com article on NC offered horror stories about how improperly functioning civic associations cripple the NC program. But, Arlington cannot mandate that any — let alone every — civic association function properly. Nor can Arlington mandate that residents volunteer for any activity, including the NC. Thus, the NC program cannot be fixed.

The County should not allocate further bonding authority to the NC program. Instead, the County Board should direct staff to phase out the NC Program entirely over the next two years, and re-allocate current NC Program bond funding.

In 2007-2008, County staff began assembling Neighborhood Infrastructure Plans to identify missing critical infrastructure: curb, gutter and sidewalk, storm drains, etc. Revised and updated NIPs can provide the tools needed to prioritize critical infrastructure projects and rotate among neighborhoods to allow greater and fairer access to funding. We cannot leave this job to NC’s volunteer patchwork quilt.

A revised and updated Neighborhood Complete Streets Program is one alternative funding recipient for street-related infrastructure.

An alternative to the current NC process could include:

For sidewalks:

  • High priority areas, schools and urban Metro corridors could be addressed by engineers and County staff first.
  • For missing links, neighborhoods could propose sidewalks directly to staff for analysis and priority.

For park beautification:

A reformed department of parks and recreation could allocate small sums annually and equitably so that neighborhoods could spend on their parks as they decide. Neighborhoods could request to withdraw funds for small improvements like flowers or trees, accumulate for a small amenity, or bundle their allocated share to apply to one neighborhood park in need of the most attention.

Finally, it’s important that the County commit to a robust, thoroughly updated civic engagement process for all projects across all departments.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list