Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Michelle Winters
For Arlington to realize the benefits anticipated when the County approved its first Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) in 2015, we need greater urgency in making the decisions needed to implement it.
Without some bold actions, most parts of Arlington are at risk of becoming enclaves for the rich rather than communities that welcome people from all walks of life. If Arlingtonians value our diversity, are we doing enough to keep Arlington accessible to people with a broad range of income levels – Arlington for everyone?
The AHMP, a component of Arlington County’s Comprehensive Plan, calls for 17.7 percent of the County’s housing stock to be affordable to renters earning no more than 60% of area median income (AMI) by 2040. Is 17.7 percent a lot? Not really. It’s basically holding steady – representing roughly the same share of households at this income level that we had in 2015. Just holding steady on affordability may be considered ambitious in a community like Arlington, because it will take a lot of investment to make it happen.
This winter, the County published its first annual report on the AHMP – Investing in Our Community. It’s an impressive report that shows progress on several fronts. Yet, a problem remains because the County is nowhere near the pace it needs to be in adding and preserving affordable units if it intends to meet the goals expressed in the 2015 plan.
In FY2016, the County added 219 units of committed affordable housing, but lost 874 units of market-rate affordable housing that had been affordable to renters at 60 percent of AMI. Contrary to the belief of many who are skeptical of investment in affordable housing, the County’s investment is not adding to the affordable housing stock — it’s not even keeping up with the loss.
With this track record, the County Manager’s proposed FY 2018 contribution to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund is not enough to stem the inevitable losses in coming years. He has proposed a contribution of $13.7 million, flat from the level provided in the prior year. Implementing the County’s plan will actually require at least double that amount over the long run.
Housing advocates recognize that there are other important needs that deserve attention and public support, especially in tough budget years. But shortchanging affordable housing compromises other County goals.
Take the educational achievement gap as an example. Research has shown that living in housing that’s healthy, safe, and affordable has positive impacts on a child’s ability to focus on her education. It also reduces stress for parents so that they can engage more with their children and the community. Housing is a critical investment that leverages returns in many other areas, an impact many have likened to a “vaccine” that can prevent a host of other problems.
We have other real world examples. In addition to affordable homes, our award-winning local affordable housing providers such as AHC and APAH provide after school programs, food distribution, workforce development, backpack drives, and other services that enhance the lives of their residents and set them up for success. Keeping a child in stable and affordable home is probably one of the most fundamental ways of supporting them, and without that support additional investments in education will not be as effective.
What will it take to meet the County’s affordable housing needs?
A principal County priority should be allocations for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund that are commensurate to the challenge. It can also mean looking at new ways to leverage the resources that we already have. With high demand and low affordable supply, we will need more than business as usual to make a dent in the problem.
For example, we issue bonds for school construction, infrastructure, and neighborhood improvements, but doing the same to invest in the long-term affordability of our housing stock has not yet been on the table. This kind of option — used recently in Seattle and Austin — deserves a closer look.
If we are going to break through and finally start making the right levels of investment in housing, County residents need to make it clear to the Board during this year’s budget cycle that Arlington cannot stay on its current trajectory. An affordable Arlington for everyone — including our workforce, our children, the elderly and the disabled — requires an investment, not just a plan.
Michelle Winters is the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions in Arlington. AHS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working to increase the supply of affordable housing in Arlington and Northern Virginia through public education, facilitation and action. Learn more about the Arlington for Everyone campaign at http://www.allianceforhousingsolutions.org/.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Gillian Burgess
As Arlington grows, more people will travel around our County. Realistically, we don’t have space for more pavement, so we must find a way to allow more people to make more trips without clogging up our roads and parking lots.
Over the past few decades, Arlington County has steadily increased transportation choices, by making it safer and easier to walk, bike, and take transit to get around. Despite our growth, traffic congestion has stayed steady. This year, Arlington has the opportunity to make another such improvement on Washington Boulevard.
Arlington County is planning to expand the transportation network between East Falls Church and Westover by adding bike lanes on Washington Boulevard between North Sycamore Street and North McKinley Street. Best of all, the Virginia Department Of Transportation will contribute by painting the travel markings to incorporate bike lanes after the street is repaved later this year.
These lanes, which are called for in both the East Falls Church Area Plan and the Master Transportation Plan, will make biking west from the Metro and east to Westover (both of which will have Capital Bikeshare stations by the end of this year) much easier.
The route between the Metro and Westover shops via Washington Boulevard is shorter, flatter and easier to follow than via the trails. The lanes will connect to the current bike lanes on Washington Boulevard stretching east to George Mason Drive.
In order to fit in the bike lanes, VDOT will reallocate space that is currently used for parking cars in front of 21 houses, mostly on the south side of the road. This reallocation of space will allow for bike lanes in both directions.
The County has studied parking along Washington Boulevard and has observed parking patterns that support reallocating this space. People will generally have to go only one block farther away to find a free parking space and, in most places, people will only need to cross the street. Additionally, County staff believes that there will be significant available parking on side streets (which were not in the study, but should have been).
Bike lanes on Washington Boulevard will improve the transportation network for everyone in this area.
By allowing space on the road for people on bikes, people biking on Washington Boulevard will be safer, and cars won’t get stuck behind slower moving cyclists.
By making biking more comfortable, less hilly, and easier to follow, more people will choose to bike, improving traffic and parking availability. Moreover, by diverting some bike traffic off of the W&OD and Custis Trails, these bikes lanes will improve the experience for people on our trails.
Putting in bike lanes now is also fiscally responsible. Because the lanes are being installed with repaving, the costs above what would already be spent for repaving are negligible.
By building out a transportation network that gives people options beyond the car, the County stands to save significant money in the future.
Arlington is building more schools, parks, and community centers, and car parking is a significant cost to these projects. By making it easy and attractive to get to County locations by foot, by bike and via transit, we can reduce the amount of parking needed — with significant savings to the County.
Reallocating this space from parking to bike lanes is a good deal for the County and for the neighborhood. Change, of course, is difficult, especially for those immediately impacted. The County should look for creative solutions to ease the transition.
For example, Arlington could look at options for allowing Sunday-only parking on some of the neighborhood streets around Resurrection Lutheran Church. Arlington should also work with the schools and preschools in the area to ensure there are safe places for children to be dropped off and picked up by car or bike or on foot.
Westover and East Falls Church are becoming interesting, dynamic activities centers. With the opportunity to add an elementary school at the Reed School beside the Westover Library, delicious restaurants at the Westover shops, and expected development near the East Falls Church Metro stop, we can expect activity — and travel — through this area to increase.
Adding bike lanes on Washington Boulevard is an important step in improving our transportation network to address the increased needs in this area.
More information about this project can be found on the County’s project site. The County is accepting public comment on the project until Friday, March 17.
Gillian Burgess is the current chair of Arlington County’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the founder of Kidical Mass Arlington, and a member of the County’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission and APS’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Choices. She lives in Cherrydale with her husband and three children.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Lawrence Roberts
This May, Arlington Democrats will participate in a caucus to nominate the Democratic candidate for County Board. The winner of that nomination will, in all likelihood, have the opportunity to be sworn in for a four-year term commencing January 1, 2018.
The new Board member will be succeeding Jay Fisette, the current Board Chair who has served as a County Board member since 1998. Jay has chaired the Board on five separate occasions (2001, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2017).
It is sometimes hard to notice progress, and even history, when it is occurring. But as Jay is about to enter the final nine months of what will be 20 years of service on the County Board, I think it is important to remember the odds that Jay overcame to become the first openly gay elected official in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and to reflect on how Jay has served as a “progressive voice” in Arlington and on the Board during a time of great change and progress in the County.
When I first met Jay, he was serving as the Director of the Northern Virginia AIDS Project of Whitman-Walker Clinic, a nonprofit community health center that was a leader in HIV/AIDS education, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. He had previously served as an auditor with the U.S. General Accounting Office.
Jay’s public service was inspired by the martyrdom of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, who was assassinated while serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 1993, he decided to run for the County Board and joined a field that included future County Board members Charles Monroe and Chris Zimmerman as well as School Board member Darlene Mickey.
Although Jay won the March 1993 caucus to the surprise of much of the Democratic establishment, he lost a special election that May by 206 votes. His opponent did not raise Jay’s sexual orientation as a campaign issue, but there is little doubt in the minds of those of us who worked for Jay’s election that even in Arlington many voters were not yet comfortable with electing a gay public official. Only two years later with another candidate, Democrats easily won back the seat in a general election.
Jay’s loss did not deter him from remaining active in electoral politics and he won many friends and additional supporters as he re-dedicated himself to Democratic politics and community service.
As Arlingtonians became more progressive in their views about sexual orientation, the electoral climate became more favorable. Jay ran again in 1997 and made history with his election to the Board – winning nearly 62 percent of the vote in the November election.
It is a testament to Jay’s successful tenure on the Board that the history he made is now almost an afterthought while he paved the way for many LGBT Virginians serving in elective office and as community leaders.
Speaking of his own future, Jay has said that he wants to work on “embracing and advancing a set of progressive values that are so important; values we have championed here in Arlington…” That serves as an excellent description of Jay’s tenure on the County Board.
He has been a consistent champion of environmental and open space initiatives, smart growth planning initiatives, multimodal transportation options, affordable housing, inclusiveness, and a strong social safety net. At the same time, he has been integral to the County’s sterling fiscal reputation and performance, maintaining its low crime rate, and the County’s increasing attractiveness to families, millennials, and seniors.
In recent years, Jay has worked to help Arlington to respond to increased competition to Arlington’s economic successes and to promote cooperation between the County Board and School Board to keep the Arlington Public Schools system among the best in the nation.
Jay will be remembered by those who lived through the experience for his steady leadership as the County and its public safety agencies responded to the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
He also has gained respect around the region and the Commonwealth through his many leadership positions in organizations such as the Virginia Municipal League, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
Jay will accomplish even more before stepping down at the end of the year. But as people campaign to succeed him, it is a good time to consider his many accomplishments for Arlington County.
Larry Roberts has been active in civic and political life in Arlington for nearly 30 years and is an attorney in private practice. He chaired the Arlington County Democratic Committee, a successful Arlington School Bond campaign, two successful statewide political campaigns, and served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond.
By: Alfonso Lopez
This past weekend, the 2017 General Assembly Session adjourned after reviewing almost 2,000 bills and numerous changes to the two-year State Budget.
While we saw bi-partisan support around many budgetary issues and took some important steps forward, there remains much work to be done in job creation and economic development, public education, transit and transportation infrastructure, environmental protection, affordable housing, and protecting civil rights of all Virginians.
Instead, Republicans wasted time pushing Trump-like messaging bills attacking immigrants, the LGBT community, and women’s health care providers. They pushed legislation protecting polluters and predatory towing companies while opposing legislation to help working families in Virginia. As a result, Governor McAuliffe will have to use his veto pen, as he already did with legislation that would restrict access to women’s health care and expand access to deadly weapons.
We were able to close a budget shortfall while protecting core services, like K-12 education. We secured overdue raises for state police, teachers, and state employees and increased funding for opioid treatment and supportive housing for those suffering from mental illness. Other bright spots included $11 million for Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $1.3 million for the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, and a 2.5% increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.
Unfortunately, this budget does not fund Virginia’s solar development authority and the Republican majority continues to refuse federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage for those Virginians most in need. They also shortchanged programs such as the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Program that helps train Virginians for unfilled jobs.
My legislation to cut red tape for small businesses that want to become certified as Small, Women, and Minority-owned passed, as did my legislation ensuring fair treatment for tenants. In addition, I am working with the Governor to improve lead and copper safeguards for our drinking water.
Other victories included requiring insurance company coverage of birth control pills for up to 12-months, ensuring that school systems test drinking water for lead in pre-1986 buildings, and requiring community colleges to award academic credit for individuals that complete registered apprenticeship credentials. We also passed the METRO Safety Compact that establishes a safety oversight authority and creates financial/operational improvements for WMATA (Metro).
Among the steps backward was a bill making it harder for Arlington to address predatory towing. Despite this being a real problem in our community, Northern Virginia can no longer use commonsense protections available in other Virginia localities.
By extending coal tax credits despite market forces that have driven down demand for coal, we continue to give away millions to polluting coal companies while they slash jobs in Southwest Virginia.
Despite major pressure to end partisan gerrymandering, the General Assembly refused to support nonpartisan redistricting. To avoid going on the record, the majority used a procedural tactic in subcommittee over member objections to avoid a recorded vote.
Also defeated were stricter oversight of the student loan industry, common sense felony larceny threshold reform, and universal background checks to reduce gun violence.
The General Assembly continues to push legislation demonizing immigrants and stoking anti-immigrant sentiments for political gain. These bills ignore the complicated nature of federal immigration law and make it very difficult for Virginia’s cities and counties to use effective policies that build trust among police departments, public schools, and immigrant communities that is essential for greater public safety.
We saw more bills designed to restrict women’s reproductive rights and give people license to discriminate against LGBT Virginians. We should never be writing such discrimination into the Virginia Code.
On April 5th the General Assembly will return to Richmond for the Reconvened Session to consider the Governor’s amendments to bills and vetoes. We intend to sustain the Governor’s vetoes of legislation that “…makes Virginia less safe, economically vibrant, or open to people and businesses from every walk of life.”
Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates and serves as the Democratic Whip. He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington.
By: Nicole Merlene
For decades, Arlington has been at the forefront of community planning and development trends in the D.C. metro region, leading to significant economic successes.
For example, we advocated for and helped finance an underground Metro system along the Wilson Boulevard corridor that spurred development in areas like Ballston, once known primarily for car dealerships, and Rosslyn, which had problems with gang crime – turning them into leading neighborhoods in the County.
ART was created in 1998 to provide intra-County transit and affordable access to Metro hubs. After these milestones, we still have important work to do to achieve new heights as a leader in regional economic vitality.
To do so, Arlington should be more proactive in our approach to build on the successes we have created and move forward successfully. We are in need of honest self-reflection about our role and place in the DMV.
First, we should exercise greater leadership roles in regional planning discussions. A more active and consistent role by Arlington representatives with these stakeholder groups is essential to both our County and regional economic development goals. Too often we are presented with options rather than formulating and presenting them.
Second, with Arlington’s physical size restrictions, a commercial vacancy rate near 20%, a population considered fully employed, and housing prices that have been skyrocketing for decades, it is imperative that we provide a state of the art transitive community to move people as easily as possible into and out of Arlington to entice major employers to move here.
Commercial real estate taxes provide almost half of Arlington’s revenue, so we should be creative in finding ways, including net positive incentives and expenditures, to lower the commercial vacancy rate. Greater and more sustainable economic development will increase the county’s resources and the community benefits that we enjoy in Arlington.
Third, we need a widely-known and available “economic development toolbox” for developers, employers, and other community stakeholders to access and easily understand incentives for doing business in Arlington.
Our highly-educated population has been a potent tool in driving development to date, but there are programs at the local, state, and federal level that have been underutilized. At the federal level, programs such as New Market Tax Credits incentivize new development in areas that include census tracts surrounding areas like Ballston and Crystal City. On the state level, many programs remain largely untapped.
With a fully integrated economic development toolkit, we can maximize the accessibility and impact to our community.
If we are not proactive and innovative we won’t merely stay the way we are, we will lose out to competing localities that are more active in pursuing major employers aggressively – including federal agencies.
Other major cities have taken on and successfully contracted creative solutions for economic development incentives. New York City, for example, has taken on a $20 billion initiative for 2025 — OneNYC — to improve infrastructure, environmental, and social service assets across the city. They are relying on public-private-partnerships with private capital firms that invest in infrastructure and finding other creative financing solutions that benefit the both residents and business interests.
Various West Coast cities are developing plans with Uber to create large scale ride-sharing that is affordable for their respective metro regions.
At the same time, we should not only be looking at new possibilities, but also maximizing existing assets – ensuring that ART bus routes are highly efficient, Metro is properly maintained, and we are also taking seriously other infrastructure priorities such as the Arlington Memorial Bridge. We cannot merely wait for the federal government when faced with systemic failures.
There is little progressives and conservatives can agree on these days, but if Senator Schumer and President Trump are serious about getting an infrastructure deal done then our Congressional delegation needs to be sure it works for Arlington. In the same vein, Arlington needs to be ready to assert viable infrastructure options in anticipation of an infrastructure deal that may well be on the table.
To assure that we are heavily engaged in discussions on all levels, we also need to forge consensus within our County. Of course no solution pleases everyone – especially without consideration of multiple options guided by proactive initiatives for receiving community feedback.
In addition to our County Commissions, we should be attentive to conversations in forums such as the Civic Federation, various Business Improvement Districts, and more. Proactive and innovative idea communities can also serve as a great way to get more people more fully engaged.
Nicole Merlene is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington Young Democrats and the North Rosslyn Civic Association. She is Associate Director of Public Policy for Invest in the USA.
By: Emma Violand Sanchez
The Trump Administration’s words and actions regarding immigration and refugee ban have sparked fear in many communities across America, including Arlington County. They have also sparked broad discontent among Americans who believe, as I do, that the United States has been and IS a nation of immigrants — a land of opportunity where newcomers can, through hard work and perseverance, achieve better lives for themselves and their families.
But in today’s world, realizing the American Dream is becoming nearly impossible for our undocumented youth, our Dreamers. Instead of focusing on their education and the positive contributions they already bring to our nation, many immigrant and refugee families are now terrified that their hopes will be quashed and their hard work will have been for nothing.
Already we are hearing news of ICE raids in communities across Northern Virginia. These news reports do not even begin to describe the tragedy that is happening in our immigrant communities.
When you see a headline that says “ICE rounds up ‘illegal’ immigrants for deportation,” I want you to picture this: Picture a family that is working two or three jobs (jobs that other Americans do not wish to do); children who arrived here as toddlers or perhaps were eve born here and feel that this is their home; high school students who, like other young Americans, have dreams for the future – dreams of college, of marriage, of good jobs – paying back to society many times over the cost of their education.
Most importantly, I want you to picture your neighbors, for this tragedy is happening under your nose, to people who you cross paths with every day — to children who sit in the same classrooms and play in the same playgrounds as your children.
Currently public schools in Arlington serve students from 122 countries, including refugees from countries banned by President Trump’s executive order. Among those immigrant and refugee students enrolled in our schools are some exceptional students who add many positives to the school environment.
In light of this reality we founded the Dream Project Inc. in 2011 in order to raise money to fund college scholarships for Dreamers – young people who live in and contribute to our community but whose immigration status (or that of their parents) prevents them from benefiting from in-state tuition rates at Virginia colleges.
In 2016 we provided 76 such Dreamers with scholarships to allow them to pursue post-secondary education at 18 different universities.
One such student, Ola, came to the United States with her mother and sister after fleeing a dangerous political situation in Sudan. For Ola’s mother, who was raising her children alone, the last straw was when extremists in Sudan tried to force her daughters to undergo female circumcision.
Ola was behind in her studies but was able to enroll in a local high school to catch up. With the help of the Dream Project’s mentoring program and scholarships, Ola achieved academic success is now enrolled in a four-year university. As Ola told me, “My past is not a dark story – it is an engine that drives me to shoot for the stars.”
Under the new administration, major obstacles have arisen. Ola’s mother had an interview as part of her quest to gain political asylum; but asylum approval now have been placed on hold. As a result, Ola’s mother has lost her job. A family that had hoped their nightmare was behind them is now confronting new fears and anxieties. Ola continues to persevere with her studies at Marymount University. What possible benefit is served by denying someone like Ola an opportunity to pursue her dreams?
As I wrote at the beginning, many communities across America are feeling anxiety in the new political environment. I share their concerns and encourage all of you to join us in solidarity. Because only in solidarity will we be able to turn back the forces that have lost sight of what America truly stands for – as recognized by our iconic Statue of Liberty.
Dr. Emma Violand Sánchez is the founder and President of the Dream Project Board. She is a former chair of the Arlington School Board member and retired administrator. In January 2017 she was selected as a Washingtonian of the Year.
By: Matt de Ferranti
If the past three weeks are prologue, we will be called upon frequently over the next four years to oppose policies that threaten longstanding American and Arlington values.
One way we can respond is to work locally to make sure that every Arlington student, regardless of his or her income or ethnicity, has a real opportunity to obtain an excellent education and pursue his or her version of the American Dream.
Education in Arlington
Two truths about the Arlington Public Schools (APS) stand out simultaneously: (1) APS is very good for many, many students across all demographic groups; and (2) for some students, our work to make sure they receive the education they need to succeed in the 21st Century is not done.
APS’s overall graduation rates, rates of proficiency on the Standards of Learning (SOLs) that the Commonwealth of Virginia requires for high school graduates, and other external indicators of school quality and student success are very good.
APS graduates 91.1 percent of its students by the most recent measure available and has one of the highest graduation rates in the state.
On SOLs skills proficiency Arlington also does well. In both the reading and math Standards of Learning Assessments, Arlington had an 87 percent pass rate in the 2015-2016 school year. Both rates beat the statewide averages by 7 percent.
The numbers also show that access to the American Dream through high quality education is not yet real for all students in Arlington.
- Arlington graduates only 74 percent of its low-income students compared to the overall APS rate of 91 percent. Graduation rates for Latino and African-American students are slightly below the statewide average.
- As for proficiency on the SOL’s, low-income students reading pass rates are 71 percent, slightly better than the statewide average but well below the overall Arlington average of 87 percent. Similarly, proficiency rates in math for low-income students are better but still more than 10% below Arlington’s average. Proficiency rates for Latino and African-American students, while above 75 percent, are below the 87 percent average for APS as a whole.
So, what do these statistics mean?
To be clear, this does not mean APS does a bad job. APS leadership and the committed educators in APS are skilled, high quality, relentless, and do inspiring work.
This isn’t to be critical of the significant investments Arlington makes in education. We have the best results in the Washington DC region in part because we believe in education as the path to success for all and invest accordingly. As we continue to grow, we’ll need to keep our eye on investing appropriately to educate our growing and changing student population.
This isn’t to say that more money spent on schools is the only way to improve schools. Accountability for student outcomes for every student at the APS and school level is essential.
Instead, these numbers show that Arlington is not yet a community where every child attains an excellent education.
How can we strengthen the American dream in Arlington?
It is going to take broad-based community engagement — parents and non-parents — to help all our kids get there. To be clear, APS has an important role to play, focusing more directly on identifying students who are at risk of not demonstrating proficiency of SOLs or not graduating at all and providing additional resources to improve their odds of succeeding in life.
For example, some students joining the system are behind students who have been in APS from the beginning. We should analyze with more granularity the needs of these students and how to maximize their chances for success.
Similarly, APS should focus additional resources on Arlington’s Tiered System of Support, which improves instruction for all students. APS needs a targeted strategy with specific actions and a timeline to ensure measurable progress.
But Arlington parents, community members, and volunteers should also play a greater role. We can volunteer through our PTAs and APS Advisory Committees. We can ask questions about graduation and proficiency rates for all students.
And our decisions about important topics such as boundaries, academic expectations, and investments in our schools should reflect a broad community commitment to the success of all students in Arlington.
By engaging as a community and living our values, we can successfully take responsibility for making sure all our students, from Westover to Carlin Springs and from Nauck to Spout Run, graduate from APS ready to realize the American Dream.
Matt de Ferranti works at a nonprofit that improves education outcomes for Native American students. He is a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap, the Budget Advisory Council to the APS School Board, and the Joint Facilities Advisory Board.
By: Jill Caiazzo
I have often questioned the effectiveness of marches. This confession might be surprising, coming from one of the organizers of the Arlington Democrats’ participation in the Women’s March on Washington. Marches can be large, fun affairs — but also somewhat unfocused. Even in their most focused form, marches by themselves rarely result in concrete change. They may succeed in sending a message to those in power, but the likelihood of future action based on that message seems low. So, why march?
In a word: inspiration.
While a march may have minimal relevance to a disinterested policymaker, it is deeply meaningful to its participants. To know that your outrage and frustration are shared, to see the many diverse faces of those who share it, and to find unexpectedly that you are emboldened to share your own views — no participant could walk away from an experience like the Women’s March without feeling moved and motivated. I certainly did not.
Capturing that sense of inspiration is critical to the future success of the Democratic Party, especially in non-presidential election years. Although multiple factors contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss in November, a failure to inspire broad swaths of Americans surely was one of them.
It pains me to make this point, because I was profoundly inspired by such a well-qualified candidate who fought her heart out to break that highest of glass ceilings. I worked hard to elect her, and I met scores of volunteers who felt the same.
Still, it is undeniable that many others did not share that enthusiasm. The winning Obama coalition did not turn out in the same force, and a large portion of millennial voters stayed home. Lacking inspiration, these voters critical to Democratic victories opted for apathy — with devastating consequences for Democratic candidates and, ultimately, the country.
Rekindling Democrats’ foundering inspiration is no easy task. Inspiration is organic; it cannot be manufactured. Still, it can be encouraged and guided. President Trump proved this point on the campaign trail. Much of President Trump’s electoral success can be attributed to the fear that he inspired — fear of being left behind in the new digital economy or being marginalized in an increasingly diverse culture. These fears existed before President Trump’s candidacy, but his rhetoric amplified them and fueled his ascent.
Should the Democratic Party similarly seek to inspire based on fear? Certainly, there is much to fear in this new Trump era: inability to access lifesaving medicine without brokering bankruptcy; suppression of scientific information necessary for sound environmental stewardship; replacement of religious freedom with unconstitutional bans. And that was just the first week.
Democrats can find potential fear-based sources of inspiration at the state level too. In Virginia, only the veto power of our Democratic governor has saved us from the dramatic job loss and economic stagnation that would be wrought by needlessly divisive bills passed by our Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Our neighbors in North Carolina — home of the infamous “bathroom bill” (whose Virginia corollary was introduced this year) — have not been so fortunate. In 2017, a year when Virginians will elect a new governor, there is indeed much to fear in state politics. Democrats, in turn, should not be afraid to make this fear-based case. We should make it forcefully and loudly.
Yet, as a Democrat — as an American — I cannot advocate for an inspiration strategy based solely on fear. The American Dream is the product of an inherently optimistic people. Democrats must inspire with positivity as well.
The Women’s March, like this weekend’s immigration-related protests, did that wonderfully — but we cannot stop there. We must find other ways to inspire — in particular, ways that counteract the specific fears stoked by President Trump.
When he invokes fear in the new digital economy, for example, we must harness its promise. We can do so by engaging everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, in that economy, such as through skills-based training and affordable access to broadband internet. Initiatives like these benefit both workers and employers, when communicated effectively.
Here in Arlington, we have a unique opportunity not only to generate inspirational ideas but to ensure that our Democrat-controlled local government implements them successfully.
The Women’s March has inspired me and many others to work even harder to seize that opportunity. In that way, the Women’s March has done a great deal — and its inspiration will continue to pay dividends now and for months and years to come.
Jill Caiazzo is senior counsel for government and regulatory affairs at a Fortune 50 technology company. She is a member of the Arlington Economic Development Commission and the Board of the Virginia Democratic Women’s Caucus. The views expressed are her own.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.
Last weekend’s Women’s March on Washington saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in Washington and millions more around the country and the world to show their concern about the direction of our country and their commitment to progressive values and actions.
That commitment and the resulting sense of empowerment will now be carried forward to address federal, state, and local issues – especially those of government overreach.
This time of year is a time that Arlingtonians are greatly affected by the meeting of the General Assembly in Richmond. Decisions made in the General Assembly during its six to eight-week sessions can greatly affect our lives here in Arlington.
Too often those effects reflect state overreach in trying to control how Arlington addresses concerns raised by its residents. A prime example this year is a threat of state weakening of County protections against overly aggressive towing of parked cars.
Many have heard or experienced “predatory” towing. The reports of predatory towing are increasing all over the country, including in Arlington. And many residents are getting really angry.
Have you ever had your car towed within just a few minutes of parking it because someone employed by a towing company was spotting the lot and you stepped over an ill-defined property line?
Or perhaps at night you missed seeing a small sign in a poorly lit parking lot?
Such a small, often unintentional, mistake would cost you $185, along with lots of panic about what happened to your vehicle and the stress of having to find where the vehicle was being held. The punishment, not even handed down by a court of law, is certainly excessive.
Who actually benefits from aggressive towing practices?
While I appreciate the need for businesses to have parking spaces available for their customers and for apartment buildings and condominiums to have spaces available for their residents and residents’ guests, many unsuspecting people get very harsh punishments for rules that were not clear. This creates ill will that is not beneficial to retailers and landlords. The real beneficiary is the towing company.
As Chairman of Arlington’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, I now know more about towing than I ever wanted to know. The result is my strong support for the County Board’s 2016 amendments to the towing ordinance to strengthen consumer protections against predatory towing. I am also pleased that a dialogue has been established with the local Chamber of Commerce to consider best practices and protections.
This positive outcome is under threat at the General Assembly via two bills that would gut the County’s actions and protect companies engaged in predatory towing.
As originally introduced, House Bill 1960 (Delegate Hugo, R-Centreville) and Senate Bill 1468, (Senator Marsden, D-Western Fairfax County), would hurt Arlingtonians in at least three ways:
Raise fees again. If these bills are enacted, maximum towing fees in Arlington will have increased by 60% over three years — from $125 to $200 per tow. These increases are imposed on Arlington and the County may not set lower rates. By contrast, you can get a private, consensual tow for $65 and $3 per mile!
Prohibit Arlington from protecting its residents. Arlington’s plans to require an authorization at the time of a tow in some circumstances would be nullified. When Virginia Beach and Stafford and Montgomery Counties do this successfully, Arlington should not be stopped by the state from doing the same.
Limit service by residents on towing advisory boards. The board is dominated by towers already. There is only one voting resident permitted. The Chairman is chosen by a vote of the advisory board members – not appointed. Instead of adding resident voices to the towing board, the bills leave only one citizen member and mandate that the Chair be a representative of the towing industry.
If predatory towing practices concern you, please express that concern to your Delegate and State Senator and to the members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees in the General Assembly.
Let them know that you believe overly aggressive and expensive towing practices require fair and reasonable consumer protections. Ask them to oppose HB 1960 and SB 1468.
There is also an online petition where you can also sign on to express your concern.
Let’s stop this overreach.
Nancy Iacomini has resided in Arlington since 1980 and has undertaken many civic endeavors during that time, including leadership positions in various boards, commissions, and working groups.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.
By: Kip Malinosky
Democrats must be an effective, aggressive opposition party to President-Elect Trump. When President Obama was elected 8 years ago with nearly 10 million more votes than Senator McCain, in the face of the worst economic crisis in 80 years, Republicans settled on a strategy of total congressional opposition to his agenda.
When President Bush was elected 16 years ago, during a time of peace and prosperity, while losing the popular vote by 500,000 votes, dozens of Democratic legislators voted for Bush’s tax cuts and the war in Iraq.
Now President-Elect Trump will take office while losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, what will Democrats do?
To me the answer is clear. We must resist, organize and try to win every elected office we can through 2020. It’s unfortunately more apparent than ever that playing nice in politics is dangerously naive.
People mostly view politics through the prism of the presidency: if the President is popular his party performs well and if he is unpopular his party performs poorly. We should not hurt people through legislative resistance. Therefore, we should avoid anti-government and economy-damaging tactics like the Republican threat to default on our national debt.
But on every effort by the Republicans to push nominees and legislation that are contrary to the will of a majority of American voters, Democrats should place holds, filibuster and vote no. If Republicans are willing to pursue a radical conservative agenda based on a razor-thin victory in a few states that created an electoral majority for the President-Elect, we Democrats must resist.
Let’s make no mistake, Trump’s agenda is frightening: beginning a new nuclear arms race, mass deportations, a Muslim travel-ban, stripping away every regulation preventing runaway climate change and of course, massive tax cuts for billionaires. There’s no giving a President with these plans a pass, especially one who got a smaller percentage of the popular vote than Mitt Romney, who in turn lost decisively to President Obama.
Even on an issue where there would seem to be symmetry between the parties, like infrastructure spending, what Trump is proposing would harm more than help the country. As Bernie Sanders put it, “Trump’s plan to repair our infrastructure is a scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies and billionaires.” It skimps on public investment and is a giveaway to proponents of projects that would have been built even without the tax cuts. Voting ‘no’ is the principled and politically advantageous position to take.
In 2004, when President Bush was re-elected, he bragged about earning political capital and intending to spend it on privatizing Social Security. Congress stopped him. Democrats in the minority were united in resistance, Republicans in the majority were divided, and Democrats won. Bush’s second-term agenda unraveled shortly thereafter. Once again, the specter of privatization of Social Security and now even Medicare, along with repeal of the Affordable Care Act haunts the land. Democrats need to be united in resistance to these privatization schemes.
Ironically the Tea Party, formed in large measure to prevent the Affordable Care Act, may show the best tactics to save Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act itself. Several Democratic congressional staffers created a guide (www.indivisibleguide.com) to show how the Tea Party was stunningly effective at grinding the gears of Congress to a halt.
In short, we need to focus on members of Congress, partner with other progressive groups, and advocate resistance to Trump’s agenda through attending town halls, district office meetings/sit-ins and coordinated calls.
You can meet one of the authors, at our Commonsense Commonwealth Rally with Leah Greenberg this Sunday at Mad Rose Tavern.
Arlington Democrats have already initiated action by taking a resolution against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare.
And you can call Senator Warner’s office at 703-442-0670 and call Senator Kaine’s office at 703-361-3192 and tell them to join us in resistance.
Finally, we need to win elections at the state and local level. We can start now. In Virginia a new Governor will be elected this year. We have two great candidates — Lt Governor Ralph Northam and former Congressman Tom Perriello vying for the Democratic nomination. You can hear them both speak this Sunday at the Commonsense Commonwealth Rally.
For the New Year let’s resolve to resist and win.
Kip Malinosky is Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. A different version of this column originally appeared in the ACDC Voice.
By: L. Karen Darner
The recent public spat over the Vice Chair election at the County Board’s organizational meeting was a sad new chapter in our civic life.
The simple and standard selection of Board leaders from the ranks majority was instead turned by Mr. Vihstadt into a public and political issue. The move was unnecessary and unwise at a time when federal and state Republicans are moving aggressively to undermine liberal values, policies, and programs strongly supported by Arlington’s electorate.
The meeting should have focused on community issues and aspirations, not overtly political efforts followed up by a paid Facebook ad seeking to capitalize politically on the Vice Chair maneuver.
I have attended over 30 such organizational meetings. At nearly all, we had on display hard work and collaboration of Board members to build a place where people want to live and work, of which most of us have been very proud — as we should be.
Board members shared their priorities for the new year with County residents and voted for Chairs and Vice Chairs collectively identified as best able to lead the County forward.
The County Board has had a decades-long liberal majority of Democrats and/or Arlingtonians for a Better County members.
Arlington voters still maintain a strong liberal voting record. All but one of our elected officials locally, in Richmond, and on Capitol Hill are Democrats — generally elected by wide margins.
Arlington voters in 2016 gave Hillary Clinton an extraordinary victory margin — a reflection of liberal values and fears of what Donald Trump and highly partisan Republicans would do to undermine so much of the progress made by Democrats.
Our County Board has reflected the electorate’s support for a government that promotes those values, implements progressive policies, conducts government with fiscal prudence and a strong safety net, and delivers public services efficiently and effectively.
For those reasons, I believe that Arlington voters expect the County Board — with a 4-1 Democratic majority — to be led by Democrats.
And until now, Board members have been able to work together, without partisanship and overweening personal ambition, to elect Chairs and Vice Chairs.
Through it all, we saw high levels of mutual respect. When Board members did not agree, we saw healthy discussion, persuasion and compromise focused on what’s best for Arlingtonians. We learned the rationale for policies, processes or projects, changes that might be possible and how compromises were achieved.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, we saw increased divisiveness in our politics — pitting parts of the County against each other and an elected official hurling accusations of impropriety and unethical behavior against elected colleagues.
When I endorsed Katie Cristol (and Christian Dorsey) to be 2015 Democratic nominees, I looked forward to returning to a more positive mindset. I saw Katie as a creative mind with a strong commitment to Democratic values — the worth of each person, quality education, fairness and justice, compassion and unselfishness.
She has developed a strong track record on the Board, fusing her interest in public policy with a practical sense of good governance and an openness to hearing and understanding the viewpoints of all Arlingtonians. She has represented us ably in her regional responsibilities.
An added plus is that Katie’s a millennial. Giving someone from the next generation a chance to step up, especially in a county with the highest proportion of millennials in the country, provides for an important perspective.
To favor Katie for the Vice Chair position is not to denigrate the John Vihstadt’s public service. But John is neither a Democrat nor a liberal.
The January remarks by each Board member about priorities and policies reflected substantial difference between Mr. Vihstadt and his Democratic colleagues. He sounded like a Main Street Republican — and someone with a partisan perspective.
The Board Chair and Vice Chair are the public face of our community and set the Board’s agenda. Our leadership team should not equivocate on fundamental Democratic values that have made Arlington such a great community.
Moreover, at a time when liberal values will be under threat at the state and federal levels by highly partisan Republicans, it is certainly not time for decidedly Democratic urban and suburban jurisdictions to turn to a Republican to lead our governing efforts.
That’s why Mr. Fisette and Ms Cristol were properly selected as County Board leaders and spokespeople. They represent what Arlington stands for and they will continue to work with all residents to seek solutions while showing respect to the people of Arlington.
Karen Darner served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1991 to 2004. In 2009, she received the Arlington Community Foundation’s William T. Newman Jr. Spirit of Community Award in recognition of over 30 years as an educator and an active member of numerous community organizations.
By: Jay Fisette
The following is an excerpted version of a statement delivered at the Arlington County Board’s January 3rd Organizational Meeting. The full text will be available on the County web site.
It’s said that the only constant in life is change. But the pace and impacts of change vary greatly. This year is likely to bring dramatic, unsettling changes in our national government and internationally. Arlington will feel some effects, but respond as we have before in times of turbulence and more gradual change: with sensible actions, shared community vision, thoughtful dialogue and open debate.
What makes us such a healthy community?
Let’s recognize how fortunate we are in our location next to the Nation’s Capital, income and education levels, community values, and tradition of strong, open government with engaged citizens.
Arlington continues to excel in the provision of core government services — public safety, education, transportation and basic social services for those in need. Of course we’re not perfect, yet in our last resident survey, overall satisfaction with the quality of local government services remained at 89% — 32 percentage points above the national average.
Our smart growth planning is a national model, relying on transit and thoughtful land use planning as prime engines of redevelopment. Our resulting tax base is well balanced between commercial and residential properties. Our tax rate is among the lowest in the region. Our triple-AAA bond rating reflects strong fiscal management. Our unemployment rate remains the lowest in Virginia and well below the national rate.
So what’s our job in 2017?
Listen and lead.
Ensure Arlington continues to move forward.
Improve the predictability and equity of services with County agencies responsive to residents’ and businesses’ questions and needs.
Harness technology, adapt to the sharing economy and improve our communication and notification tools.
Some challenges I intend to focus on in 2017 are: (1) the need for facilities, including schools, within constraints of limited land; (2) strengthening economic competitiveness; (3) housing affordability; (4) environmental sustainability; (5) METRO; and (6) staying true to our vision and values.
On facilities, we continue to work well with our elected School Board colleagues — as partners in local government, sharing fiscal resources, facilities and land. We are all in this together. We all need fire stations, bus storage facilities, parks, schools and more.
Regarding economic competitiveness, our commercial vacancy rate has recently dipped below 20%, though still much higher than our historic averages. We have attracted and retained businesses, but must continue to brand Arlington as an innovation economy hub and market our assets aggressively.
Affordable housing has become a bellwether issue that expresses the soul of our community. We are victims of our own success. Far more people want to live here than we have homes to fill.
To further the Affordable Housing Master Plan, we will review and update our accessory dwelling unit ordinance, consider tools for preserving our attractive and affordable garden apartments, and explore more options for people of modest means, multi-generational households and aging in place.
Environmental sustainability is our generation’s planetary challenge. Arlington must be a leader. Our 2013 Community Energy Plan was adopted after three years of collaborative effort. We did not just sign a proclamation. We have implemented policies and programs to achieve our targets.
Ensuring the success of METRO is the region’s top priority and will require all our attention in 2017. It is a backbone of our transportation network and our economy. 84% of office development in the region’s pipeline is within ¼ mile of a METRO station.
WMATA, under strong new leadership, has taken bold steps to address the system’s safety and reliability. Having the only large U.S. rail system without a dedicated funding source, we must help our region find a sustainable path forward.
A significant task in 2017 will be to advance our values, our vision and our community ethic as we collectively grapple with broader uncertainties and threats to social and environmental programs and individual liberties anticipated with the incoming federal administration.
Local governments will be called upon to lead. Communities like Arlington can serve as a model for combining progressive social policies with conservative and responsible fiscal policies.
Arlington must continue to: stand by our convictions; pursue our aspirations; value the common good; prize public education; look after the most vulnerable among us; strengthen environmental protection; build public trust through broad civic engagement and careful fiscal management; and treat our foreign-born residents with respect and human dignity. We embrace people’s differences as a source of this community’s strength.
Arlington will work to create a more sustainable, equitable and healthy community — a community that works. We will do this together.
Jay Fisette will serve as 2017 Arlington County Board Chair. He was elected to the County Board in 1998 and previously served as the Board’s chair in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2014.
By Krysta Jones
The Arlington section of Columbia Pike runs from Arlington Cemetery and Fort Myer to the western end of Arlington approaching the Skyline area of Fairfax County. For decades, Arlington County, in partnership with local organizations, has sought to make the Pike a destination instead of a thoroughfare, a hub of economic development and a community of vibrant, diverse neighborhoods.
County and regional plans show two-thirds of Arlington’s population growth and nearly half of its employment growth over the next 30 years will occur along Columbia Pike.
In the wake of the cancellation of a streetcar project that was a key element of the plan to revitalize the Pike and protect affordable housing, determined residents are working to find other ways to continue to attract development to the area.
The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and numerous civic associations have stepped up their efforts to work with the County government to transform the Pike, albeit more slowly, into a model of community development.
While more — and more sustained — focus is needed, in light of recent changes along the Pike 2017 is shaping up to be a year of progress for the community.
- In July 2016, the County Board unanimously adopted a new Transit Development Plan that includes improvements through 2026 and will explore the possibility of customized bus vehicles, larger articulated buses and more frequent off-peak service that could encourage more people to use transit.
- Orr Partners is scheduled to break ground on the Columbia Pike Village Center in 2017 at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive. The Village Center will include a 6-story mixed-use building on the site currently occupied by the Food Star grocery store. In addition, there will be 350 new residential units, ground floor retail including a Harris Teeter and three levels of below-grade parking. The development will also include a public square.
- The iconic Rappahannock Coffee shopping area (now referred to as 2400 Columbia Pike) across from Penrose Square will be converted to a 6-story mixed-use building with 105 new residential units.
- The revitalization of Columbia Pike is integrally tied to the growth of recreation and entertainment opportunities. The Pike has been home to the Columbia Pike Blues Festivals and a Sunday farmers market. Recently the Fall Wine and Craft Beer Fest has been a popular attraction. The Penrose Square and Arlington Mill movie nights are also welcome additions for family nights for those who live on the Pike and throughout the area. The Arlington Mill Community Center is a refreshing addition to the west end of the Pike and hosts County and civic meetings and activities.
- Despite some concerns expressed about affordable housing, particularly from several residents on the west end, the County seeks to preserve 6,200 affordable housing units along the Pike. Some residents fear the concentration of affordable housing along the west end will deter new retailers from investing in new developments in that area. As previous Progressive Voice columnists have written, affordable housing is an important aspect of Arlington’s economy, schools and public safety and mobility. Continued conversations about affordable housing are critical to the area’s future development.
These are just a few of the changes that have occurred along the Pike in recent years, but many would not have occurred without years of planning and discussions by visionary officials and determined community leaders.
If the Pike is to reach its potential and be able to accommodate successfully the likely population and employment growth it will experience, Pike residents will need the County to keep up its commitment to preserving the diversity and economic vitality of the Pike.
Our hope for 2017 is that Arlington County will continue to reflect our progressive values as it works to make Columbia Pike, and all of our communities, better places to live, work and play for all Arlingtonians.
Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of Virginia Leadership Institute and serves on the board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization.
By: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz
Over the past six years we have lived Arlington, my wife and I have seen how our community gets involved proactively in the process of effecting positive change. That is why we both joined boards of directors of Arlington-based non-profit organizations that seek to provide a chance for success to underserved portions of our community.
We have further invested in our community by buying a home here and sending our 5-year old daughter to an Arlington public school. Once he is older, our 1-year old son will also attend an APS school.
Given the outcome of the recent presidential election, I strongly believe that local initiatives and solutions throughout our country will be important in determining the wellbeing of our communities in the years to come.
Local initiatives and solutions are more effective when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.
Recently, our elected officials, the people’s representatives, on the Arlington County Board and the Arlington County School Board decided to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) as an advisory body jointly appointed by both Boards. This action is the type of significant step forward in providing a way for encouraging multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs to be addressed at a strategic level.
The overall mission of JFAC is to provide input to the Boards on capital facilities needs assessment, capital improvement plans and long range facility planning for both the Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools.
In accordance with this mission, JFAC will have the ability to provide recommendations and feedback to the Boards on many key matters that will have an impact on the lives of all people who reside, visit and do business in Arlington.
The Arlington County Board in early November provided some specifics about the intended functions and scope of JFAC:
- Review the APS and County needs assessment reports prior to their presentation, receive and review public input on them, make recommendations to the respective Boards on each report and provide input on the development of the CIPs.
- Review both CIPs prior to their adoption, receive and review public input on them and make recommendations to the respective Boards on the adoption of each CIP.
In performing these reviews as a jointly created advisory commission, JFAC should identify and carefully consider partnership opportunities between County and APS to maximize public benefit. Examples of partnership opportunities include, but are not limited to, co-location, joint or shared use, adaptive reuse and efficiencies in construction timing.
- Review periodic updates from County and APS staff on trends and forecasts affecting the community, including economics and revenue, population and demographics, school enrollment, student generation factors, and development activity. This information will inform JFAC’s recommendations on capital facility needs.
- Place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs based on analysis of the latest trends, forecasts and service delivery models. Big picture, visionary thinking is encouraged, and JFAC should be a forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely.
- Partner with staff on facilitating broader community engagement on facilities issues, including hosting fora and public comment periods on both individual siting decisions and longer-term planning.
The mission, functions and scope of JFAC affords an opportunity for the kind of local initiatives and solutions that I think are so necessary in the wake of November’s presidential election.
In this regard, I was inspired by Mary Hynes’ recent Progressive Voice column in which she wrote about her “Thoughts After a Difficult Election” and particularly her paraphrasing the Prophet Micah: “We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God.”
Regarding serving one another and walking humbly, I remain committed to moving from the sidelines to the center of public policy debates in my community. My goal has been to get involved in ensuring traditionally underserved voices are part of public policy decision-making processes in Arlington.
JFAC would afford just such an opportunity were I chosen to serve. Whether or not I am chosen, I hope all JFAC members will consider the importance of those less heard voices in our community deliberations.
We can be a stronger and a more stable and equitable community when all voices of Arlington are heard; when all of us proactively get involved in how public policies are developed; and when we hold each other accountable for the short-term and long-term impacts of the decisions made.
Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Pr
By: Jarrod Nagurka
Last December, the Arlington County Board moved forward with plans to give the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) the option to purchase County-owned land (either with cash or through a land swap) adjacent to the hospital. The land became available after the County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) moved its programs from that location to the Sequoia complex.
The likely VHC expansion provides the hospital with the opportunity to make important improvements to its psychiatric ward to better serve Arlingtonians with serious mental illness (SMI).
As many as 300,000 Virginians live with SMI, including thousands here in Arlington. Individuals with SMI are often diagnosed with disorders ranging from schizophrenia to severe bipolar. And just like any other illness, mental illness can affect anyone — one in 17 people live with SMI. Considering its impact on friends and family, chances are you or someone you know is affected by it.
Left untreated, SMI can be devastating. However, for those who receive proper treatment and management, there is hope.
Individuals can go through recovery and lead fulfilling lives as productive members of society. High-quality psychiatric services are proven to reduce future hospitalizations and jail visits. That’s why it’s so important that we ensure individuals have access to services that align with industry best practices. It’s not just the right thing to do morally, but it’s smart economics too.
VHC’s potential expansion is an opportunity for the hospital to meet the community’s great unmet need for additional mental health services.
In FY 2016, 208 (42%) individuals in treatment with DHS who were deemed by a magistrate in Arlington to be a risk to themselves or others couldn’t get a bed at VHC because there were no psychiatric beds available. Moreover, this only reflects some of those turned away from VHC. It doesn’t count individuals who are seeing private providers, individuals who are not in treatment at all or individuals who voluntarily sought psychiatric hospitalizations.
To meet Arlington’s true demand for psychiatric services, VHC should use an expansion to take two major steps to better serve our community:
- Expand the number of psychiatric beds. Arlington has far fewer psychiatric beds than the generally accepted standard of 50 per 100,000 residents. As a result, those in need of hospitalization often have to seek services located hours away. This forces individuals to receive treatment far from family, friends and doctors. While VHC has said they will seek to expand overall beds, they have thus far not committed to using these beds for psychiatric purposes rather than in other, oftentimes more profitable, wards.
- Move the psychiatric ward out of the basement. During a renovation roughly a decade ago, VHC moved the psychiatric ward to the hospital’s basement with no exposure to natural light. This is VHC’s only inpatient ward located underground. Lack of sunlight has proven to lead to depression and is certainly not conducive to recovery. Additional space should allow VHC to move its psychiatric ward above ground and configure and equip it in accordance with best practices to include ample natural light.
Though there’s a stigma often, though fortunately less so over time, attached to mental illness, the truth is that SMI can affect anyone at a moment’s notice — even someone who has not previously exhibited symptoms. Just like a stroke, heart attack or any other medical emergency, those experiencing a psychotic break need access to emergency services immediately.
It is very unfortunate that Arlingtonians currently living with SMI are often forced to undergo treatment in VHC’s underground psychiatric ward (if a bed is even available) or seek treatment hours away.
In Arlington, we embrace the idea that we’re stronger together — measured not by individual success but by how we collectively care for our most vulnerable neighbors. Nobody believes that someone having a stroke should have to drive hours away for treatment or recover in a basement. We shouldn’t tolerate those conditions for Arlingtonians living with SMI either.
Commendably, Virginia Hospital Center prides itself on its desire to meet the healthcare needs of the community. In many areas, VHC lives up to this goal and provides world-class healthcare services. By committing to use newly acquired land to improve its psychiatric services, VHC can yet again demonstrate its commitment to serving our community.
Jarrod Nagurka is a lifelong Arlingtonian. He was appointed by the County Board in 2015 to the Arlington Community Services Board, an oversight body for services provided by DHS. Jarrod has previously worked in the state legislature and on federal, state, and local political campaigns in Virginia. He currently works in education policy.