Arlington Democrats say they’re pushing for an open debate down in Richmond on a redrawing of some of the state’s electoral lines, but hope seems to be fading among state lawmakers that a special session convened on the issue will yield many results.
Gov. Ralph Northam reconvened the General Assembly today (Thursday) for its second gathering outside of normal business this year, with the avowed purpose of approving a new map governing district lines for 11 districts in the House of Delegates.
A three-judge panel on a federal court ruled last month that those districts, concentrated in the Richmond and Norfolk areas, were improperly drawn to pack African American voters into safely Democratic districts. The court gave lawmakers an Oct. 30 deadline to correct the problems it identified, or else it will appoint an independent arbiter to do so.
House Democrats introduced their own attempt at crafting a new map yesterday (Wednesday), but Republicans have so far declined to do the same. They’re appealing the federal court’s ruling on the districts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the GOP’s slim, 51-49 majority in the House potentially hanging in the balance ahead of next November’s elections.
“We just feel Republicans are delaying, delaying on this,” Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) told ARLnow. “The fact is, we’ve gone through four cycles with racially unconstitutional maps, and that’s eight years too long. It’s high time that we changed these maps.”
Republicans have charged, however, that Democrats haven’t engaged in the process in good faith. They argue that the map lawmakers presented is simply gerrymandering the map in the direction of Democrats, claiming that it would imperil five Republican-held districts while further shoring up margins of four Democratic districts.
“It’s clear that this is hypocritical partisan power grab that would fail to pass legal muster,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-15th District) wrote in a statement. “For almost a decade Democrats have pushed for so-called independent redistricting commissions. Yet when they had the chance to do so, they drew a partisan plan in secret without any input from the public or Republicans.”
Yet local Democrats like Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) point out that Republicans controlled the General Assembly by wide margins when these lines were first drawn back in 2011, creating these “constitutional infirmities” in the first place.
Lopez, who doubles as House minority whip, believes there are a whole host of reasons why the Democratic proposal is worth considering — arguing it creates districts that are “compact, contiguous and protects community interests” — but he also notes that Republicans have so far declined to offer their own alternative.
“They’ve shown indication they’ll propose their own map,” Lopez said. “Even the court is calling them out for stalling, so we are in an interesting place right now. Hopefully, it’ll all work out.”
House Republicans agreed to debate the Democratic map in committee this afternoon, and Lopez and Sullivan would both like to see them bring it to the floor for debate in the coming days.
Yet Lopez’s hope is flagging on that count. The Supreme Court has already sent back a previous appeal of a ruling on the district lines to a lower court, but that was before then-Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. With President Donald Trump’s nomination for a replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, expected to receive Congressional consideration next month, the GOP could hold out for a hearing from a court with a newly replenished conservative majority — and Lopez added that Democrats proposed setting a firm date to return and debate the maps, but Republicans defeated that measure.
“It’s up to the call of [Speaker Kirk Cox] for when we come back for next steps,” Lopez said. “We just don’t know right now.”
Sullivan, however, is a bit more hopeful. While he’d greatly prefer to see an independent commission of some kind draw district lines instead, he claims that Democrats are committed to “address the court’s concerns until the process changes.”
“I’m sort of a cockeyed optimist,” Sullivan said. “I would hope that the Republicans would engage on this issue, would debate the map we put in or put in one of their own. The court has asked them to do that, I think the citizens of Virginia want them to do that, and hopefully that’s what they’ll do.”
Heat Advisory in Effect — Arlington and D.C. are under a Heat Advisory from noon to 8 p.m. today. The heat index this afternoon is expected to reach between 100 and 105 degrees. [National Weather Service, Twitter]
Hacked Sign Causes County Concern — ARLnow’s report about an electronic road sign near Shirlington being hacked to display a vulgar video game meme prompted a serious conversation at county government headquarters. “To some this is a ‘prank’ to me it is an indication of a lack of security on a portion of our [technology] infrastructure,” Arlington’s Chief Information Officer wrote in an internal email chain. “What if the message was ‘Terrorist Attack in Washington, please leave the area'[?]” [State Scoop]
Flag at Gov’t Buildings to Be Lowered for McCain — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the state flag lowered to half-staff until sunset on Sept. 2 in honor of the late Sen. John McCain. The order applies to all local, state and federal buildings in Virginia. [Twitter]
Late Night Ramp Closure Planned — “The ramp from the southbound George Washington Memorial Parkway to eastbound I-66 and westbound Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) will be closed Wednesday night, Aug. 29 and Thursday night, Aug. 30 from midnight to 4 a.m. each night for work on the I-66 overpass, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.” [VDOT]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
(Updated Aug. 1, 9:15 a.m.) For Rosslyn, and perhaps Arlington itself, Nestle’s arrival could represent a bit of a breakthrough.
As the federal government’s cut back on office space and more companies shift to telework, the neighborhood has seen its office vacancy rate skyrocket over the past few years, straining the county’s finances in the process. But the packaged food giant’s decision to relocate its corporate headquarters from California to Arlington, bringing 750 jobs to a high-rise at 1812 N. Moore Street, could very well signal the reversal of that trend.
Or, at least, that’s what local leaders are counting on.
“We were in a long kind of slump,” County Board member Libby Garvey told ARLnow, reflecting on Nestle’s impact as the company officially opened its Rosslyn offices today (Tuesday). “But this is really a turning point, and I think it’s really positive.”
Garvey points out that the building Nestle is moving into was built “on spec,” without any tenants locked in before its construction, and sat vacant for years after its completion in late 2013.
But since Nestle announced last year that it’d be moving to Arlington, she’s seen a domino effect in the neighborhood. The company’s not only brought one of its subsidiaries to Rosslyn, announcing Gerber’s relocation to the area this spring, but Nestle’s arrival also helped convince the Grocery Manufacturers Association to move to get closer to the company, Garvey says.
“It just put us on the map,” Garvey said. “You just start to attract birds of a feather.”
While those businesses may very well help fill the county’s coffers, they didn’t come without a cost. The Board handed out about $4 million in performance grants and committed to $2 million in infrastructure improvements to woo Nestle to Rosslyn in the first place, earning criticism from people all along the political spectrum in the process.
Yet Garvey points out that the county’s denied relocation incentives for some smaller companies looking to come to the area in the wake of Nestle’s move, only to win their business anyway. She has full confidence in county staff to make sure that Nestle is living up to the economic benchmarks laid out in the grant requirements, noting “if there’s a problem, I assume they’ll tell us.”
“But I don’t think there’s going to be a problem,” she said.
Incentives for corporations are a touchy subject around the county these days, with much of the debate around Arlington’s bid to win Amazon’s second headquarters centered on what exactly the county’s offered the tech company to move here.
Officials have largely been silent on the subject, citing the fierce national competition to win HQ2 and its promised 50,000 jobs. But with other states publicly offering billions in incentives and transportation improvements, Virginia leaders have noted that the county’s surest path to luring the tech giant may be highlighting its highly educated workforce and top-ranked schools.
Steve Presley, Nestle USA’s chairman and CEO, repeatedly highlighted the quality of the school system in laying out why his company picked Arlington, and that’s the sort of feature the county’s boosters believe could prove similarly persuasive to Amazon.
“They’ll be thinking not only, ‘Can we find the qualified workers we need?’ but, ‘How do our workers feel about coming to Virginia?'” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) “Workforce and the education system go hand in hand. That’s what we always need to focus on to attract businesses and we need to sell the fact that we have a really good education system compared to other states. That’s a real strength.”
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has certainly been involved in making that pitch to Amazon, reasoning “the more talent we bring in here, the more folks that follow.”
But he says there’s no telling when Arlington might know if Nestle is the biggest fish the county will land, or if there are more ribbon cuttings in its future.
“I think they’re keeping their cards pretty close,” Northam said. “I don’t know anything you don’t.”
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) says he’ll renew his push for a set of Northern Virginia tax increases to fund Metro next year, a move that could help Arlington win back some critical transportation dollars.
Republicans in the General Assembly narrowly defeated Northam’s efforts to add the tax hikes to legislation providing the first source of dedicated funding for the rail service earlier this year.
The tax increases would’ve been relatively modest, bumping up levies on real estate transactions and some hotel stays, but they could’ve helped the state avoid pulling roughly $80 million in annual funding away from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The group uses regional tax revenue to fund transportation improvements across Northern Virginia, and the NVTA has already had to scale back its plans to help Arlington pay for construction projects like second entrances at the Ballston and Crystal City Metro stations.
That’s why Northam says he plans to propose the tax hikes once again when lawmakers reconvene in Richmond in January, setting up another tussle over the issue several months ahead of an election where all 140 state legislators will be on the ballot.
“We’ve got to be so careful pulling resources out of the [NVTA],” Northam told ARLnow in a brief interview in Rosslyn. “It threatens other projects we were working on. It also makes Northern Virginia compete with other parts of Virginia. It was a bad idea, and that’s why I amended [the original bill]. We’re going to continue to work on that.”
There’s no guarantee that Northam’s second effort will be any more successful than his first, however. Republicans still hold a slim, 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates where GOP leaders, particularly Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District), have pledged to beat back any tax increase to fund Metro.
But Democrats are eager to take up the fight once again, especially with other contentious issues, like Medicaid expansion or the freeze on state utility rates, off the table.
“It’s worth coming back and doing this right,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District). “The way we funded this thing was clearly shortsighted.”
Neither Hugo nor a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox responded to a request for comment on Northam’s Metro plans. But Hope believes Republican lawmakers, particularly those outside of Northern Virginia, will come around on the tax hikes as they begin to feel the impacts of the funding deal’s structure.
Specifically, he points out that without seeing all the money they’d like from the NVTA, Northern Virginia localities like Arlington have already started applying for more funds from statewide entities. That will put Northern Virginia projects in competition with applications from cities and counties without the same level of traffic congestion as the D.C. region, meaning places like Arlington could end up winning out in plenty of cases.
“Everyone else is going to get less money,” Hope said. “Nobody likes to be stuck in traffic and nobody wants to get blamed for causing that.”
County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey points out that applications for the state’s “SmartScale” transportation funding program have already “more than doubled” this year, with counties like Arlington on the hunt for more construction dollars. He expects that will only continue as time goes on, and he was similarly pleased by Northam’s plans to bring the tax increases back.
“It wouldn’t just relieve the funding pressures on us, but everyone else,” Dorsey said. “The way Metro funding was accomplished this year ends up hurting the entire state.”
In the meantime, however, Dorsey notes that the county can’t assume that Northam’s efforts will be successful.
As the Board has started work this summer on its latest revision of Arlington’s 10-year construction spending plan, county staff have repeatedly expressed hope that the Metro funding equation changes and opens up more room for spending on big transportation projects. But without any certainty on that count, they have to prepare as if things will remain the same.
“Hopefully, this is something we can correct in two years,” Dorsey said. “But we can’t know for sure.”
It might seem odd that the consulting firm Accenture would open a second Arlington office in Rosslyn, just a 10-minute drive from its current location in Ballston and a brief Metro ride away from its office in D.C.
But company executives believe Arlington’s pool of talented tech workers is so deep that such a move makes perfect sense — and state leaders are hoping tech giants from Apple to Amazon are similarly swayed by the strength of the county’s workforce.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) helped Accenture christen its new “cyber fusion center” inside the new CEB Tower at Central Place (1201 Wilson Blvd) today (Wednesday), hailing the company for its plans to create 1,000 high-paying tech jobs in the D.C. region by 2020.
Marty Rodgers, Accenture’s metro D.C. office managing director, says the firm ultimately plans to have 4,500 employees at its Arlington locations alone, and they’ll have plenty of company. As of last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 17,000 people in Arlington work in IT-focused jobs, and Rodgers adds that 185 cybersecurity startups in the area won outside funding in 2017.
Observers have speculated that those numbers are part of why Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook are eyeing Arlington so closely for expansion. Northam hopes they’re right.
“I’ve always been a big believer that if we bring talent to the area, talent will attract other talent,” Northam told reporters Wednesday. “We’ve made that pitch and we’re excited about that opportunity, and we’ve had those discussions with Amazon. But whether it’s Amazon or Apple or any other company, in order for them to grow or come here, we’ve got to be able to train our workforce.”
Northam credits his predecessor, ex-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, for putting a focus on tech training programs at both the higher education level and in K-12 schools. But it also helps that many of those workers have gained experience in the area’s bevy of federal government tech jobs, making them even more attractive to companies like Accenture that do plenty of business in D.C.
“This is where all the talent is,” Rodgers said. “You need people who have that combination of experiences, with for-profits, with nonprofits, with government.”
Rodgers noted that those sorts of employees will be particularly important at the company’s new Rosslyn center. It’s designed as not only a cybersecurity research hub, but also as a meeting space for Accenture to help its clients, from governments to massive corporations, investigate cyberattacks in real time.
Accenture executives demonstrated for the gathered elected officials and journalists how the company might educate an oil and gas company about how to prevent a phishing attack on a refinery. After hackers tried, and failed, to blow up a Saudi Arabian refinery by breaking in to a company’s networks via a fraudulent email, company officials warned that such a scenario isn’t terribly far-fetched.
Rodgers believes the center will even be innovative enough to help the D.C. region become the top global destination for cybersecurity companies.
“This region is fundamental to cybersecurity for the country and the world,” Rodgers said. “This is a mantle we hope this cybersecurity fusion center can claim here, as compared to Silicon Valley.”
The issue of children being separated from parents seeking asylum at the U.S. border has prompted both words and actions from Arlington’s members of Congress.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) yesterday signed on as a cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act — Democratic-backed legislation that would end the family separation policy that has sparked nationwide and even international outrage.
“Donald Trump’s family separation policy is immoral and Congress must put a stop to it,” said Beyer, in a statement. “Treating legal asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing violence which endangers their lives, in such a cruel manner is a violation of our country’s values and internationally-accepted agreements on human rights.”
Beyer yesterday also visited two fathers who were separated from their children at the border and being held at a detention center in Maryland. TV cameras were there as Beyer and his wife Megan described a “very emotional, very difficult” discussion with the men.
Today I visited an ICE detention facility outside Baltimore with @Call_Me_Dutch.
There we spoke for an hour with two fathers, Carlos and Mario, who had been separated from their children, a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, for months.
What they told us was so disturbing: pic.twitter.com/MZTifSlKzc
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) June 19, 2018
Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, have written a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, requesting an “immediate response” to a number of questions about the family separations, including:
- Whether any facilities in Virginia are being used to house children separated from their families
- The rationale for the “zero tolerance” policy that prompts separations
- The plan for detention infrastructure to hold asylum seekers
- Resources for separated children, including medical and mental health services
- Specific information on the conditions for girls and toddlers
- Plans for facilitating family reunification
Also yesterday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recalled four members of the Virginia National Guard from their service on the U.S. border.
Today I'm recalling four Virginia National Guard soldiers and one helicopter from Arizona. Virginia will not devote any resource to border enforcement actions that support the inhumane policy of separating children from their parents. https://t.co/AmdbE0XoFi
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) June 19, 2018
There’s more local fallout from the family separation issue. The Methodist church is considering expelling Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a member over his enforcement of the policy and justification of it by citing a Bible verse.
News outlets reported that Sessions is a member of the Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, in addition to a Methodist church in his home state of Alabama.
Photo via @RepDonBeyer
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A dispute between two private country clubs and Arlington County that resulted in some wrangling in Richmond seems to have come to an end.
The Army Navy Country Club (1700 Army Navy Drive) and Washington Golf and Country Club (3017 N. Glebe Road) were both pushing for property tax changes that could have cost the county roughly $1.4 million in tax revenue each year, even backing legislation at the state level this year to force those alterations. That miffed county leaders, who bristled at attempts by the state General Assembly to change Arlington’s tax policy to save money for the golf courses.
Now, the county has agreed to reduce the tax burden on each club by tweaking how it values their land, according to an April 27 email sent out by the Washington Golf and Country Club’s president and obtained by ARLnow. County attorney Steve MacIsaac confirmed that the parties have signed off on a settlement agreement, putting to bed a 2014 lawsuit brought by the clubs over the tax question.
“Like any settlement, both sides give a little bit to get to a mutually acceptable outcome,” MacIsaac told ARLnow.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) had vetoed the bill addressing the issue in the hopes that the county and the clubs would come to some sort of compromise, and his spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said his office is “still evaluating the details but support[s] a locally negotiated solution here.”
The country clubs had backed the legislation, sponsored by Del. Tim Hugo, R-40th District, which would have forced the county to change how it assesses the value of the roughly 630 acres held by the two clubs.
Currently, the courses are valued as “large acreage parcels” at $12 per square foot, while residential land near each course is valued as high $100 per square foot. Hugo’s legislation would have slashed the rate to about 50 cents per square foot, in a bid to meet persistent concerns from the courses that they were overtaxed.
Washington Golf and Country Club President Stephen Fedorchak wrote a letter to members explaining that the county now has agreed to reduce the club’s valuation from “approximately $93 million to approximately $47 million” in 2018, which reduces the club’s property tax bill this year to about $460,000. Arlington also plans to credit $815,000 toward the club’s current tax bill to make up for the last three tax bills the club has paid at the previous, higher valuation, MacIsaac added.
“We are gratified by this reasonable, sustainable resolution,” Fedorchak wrote to members. “It will benefit the club’s general fiscal health for years to come.”
Raighne Delaney, the Army Navy Country Club’s secretary, did not respond to a call seeking details on the structure of his course’s deal with Arlington. But MacIsaac estimated that the club will receive about $1.25 million in credits toward its tax bill, and the valuation of the property will shrink by 25 to 35 percent under the terms of the settlement.
The Army Navy Country Club was assessed at just over $149 million for 2018, and was set to owe about $842,000 in taxes this year before any credits.
Starting in 2019, the clubs’ assessments will “increase or decrease based on the average annual change in the county’s residential real estate assessments,” Fedorchak wrote. Should the assessment change “outside those parameters” the clubs reserve the right to challenge that valuation, Fedorchak noted.
Arlington officials have previously argued that land is at a premium in the 26-square-mile county, necessitating the higher taxes.
“Our community is already grappling with reductions to services in order to address budget gaps for the upcoming fiscal year and larger projected budget gaps in future years,” the county board wrote in a March 21 letter to Northam urging him to veto Hugo’s bill.
(Updated at 2 p.m.) Baby food and products company Gerber is moving its headquarters from New Jersey to Rosslyn and creating 150 jobs, officials announced Monday afternoon (April 16).
The company, a Nestlé subsidiary acquired in 2007, will invest $5 million in the relocation.
The announcement comes a little over a year after Nestlé announced its move to Arlington to a 250,000 square foot office space at 1812 N. Moore Street.
Gov. Ralph Northam made the announcement at Nestlé’s Rosslyn headquarters, noting that his excitement in announcing the move partially stemmed from his 30 years as a pediatrician.
“We want to be the most business-friendly state in the country,” said Gov. Northam at the relocation announcement.
A line of elected officials at the state and local level praised the relocation at a brief media event, including Rep. Don Beyer, Del. Rip Sullivan, and County Board Chair Katie Cristol.
Esther Lee, Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, who also spoke at the event, was quoted in a press release saying that “gaining the headquarters of the iconic Gerber brand is an important win for Arlington County and the Commonwealth.”
At the event, Cristol presented a key to the county to Steve Presley, Nestlé’s chief financial officer.
More from the press release regarding funding:
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Arlington County Economic Development to secure the project for Virginia. Governor Northam approved a grant in the amount of $862,500 from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist the County with the project. The company is also be eligible to receive a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit.
Funding and services to support the company’s employee training activities will be provided through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
Beyer’s GOP Challenger Holding Arlington Event — “Republican congressional candidate Thomas Oh will host a campaign kickoff on Tuesday, April 24 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Spider Kelly’s, 3181 Wilson Blvd. Oh is the GOP challenger to U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th), who is seeking a third term. He was the only Republican to file for the nomination.” [InsideNova]
Local Scenes on Sale at Arts Fest — Among the artists at the upcoming Arlington Festival of the Arts in Clarendon will be Joseph Craig English, whose “silkscreens and lithographs capture local landmarks and street corners in vivid colors,” including “an architectural juxtaposition of old buildings and new construction in Courthouse; Potomac River vistas; local murals and street signs known to commuters who’ve passed by them for years.” [Arlington Magazine]
Arlington Tourism Surtax Gets Gov’s Signature — “The Arlington County government will be able to continue collecting a surtax on hotel stays to pay for tourism promotion, now that Gov. Northam has signed legislation extending the measure for three more years.” [InsideNova]
Don’t Try This at Home — Per scanner traffic, police officers responding to a call yesterday afternoon were advised that “the suspect is known for using hand sanitizer as an alcoholic drink.”
Nearby: Alexandria OKs More Funding for Metro Station — “Plans to build a new Metro station at Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Virginia, took a crucial step forward Tuesday. Alexandria City Council unanimously approved raising the budget from $268 million to $320 million. The change was made in part to reflect the rising cost of materials and labor.” [WTOP]
Photo by Dwayne Stewart
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has vetoed legislation that would have dramatically reduced Arlington County’s tax revenue from two country clubs.
HB 1204 would have reduced the tax bills for Army Navy Country Club and Washington Golf and Country Club, but would have cost the county’s coffers nearly $1.5 million annually.
The state legislature will now have an opportunity to override the veto.
More from an Arlington County press release:
“We are grateful to Governor Northam for vetoing HB 1204,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “The governor, by his action to keep authority over local property assessments in the hands of local government, and not in Richmond, has shown real leadership. This legislation had major implications for all localities across the Commonwealth.”
Arlington encourages all local governments to unify and ask their legislators to sustain the veto when the General Assembly reconvenes April 18 at the State Capitol, Cristol said.
“We are committed to resolving the assessment issue with the golf courses, and we are confident that we can find an equitable solution,” she said. “I want to thank our Arlington delegation for standing strong with us throughout this process.”
In his veto message, Northam says that he expects Arlington and the clubs to reach a compromise soon. The clubs are suing the county, fighting back against what they say is an unfair way to assess what is essentially open space — treating the many acres of golf courses as developable land.
The governor’s veto message is below.
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 1204, which requires the County of Arlington to assess two private country clubs within its boundaries as land dedicated to open space rather than its current method of highest and best use.
This is a local dispute over a local government’s method of assessing land for property taxation. As such, the solution to this dispute should be reached on the local level without the involvement of the state.
I have been assured that an agreement acceptable to both sides of this dispute is close to being reached. I encourage the parties to continue negotiations to find a solution so that similar legislation will not be necessary in the future.
Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Ralph S. Northam
Northam Talks Golf Course Bill — Speaking on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) addressed the country club tax bill that Arlington officials want him to veto. Northam said the taxation of Army Navy Country Club, which counts numerous veterans among its members, particularly “needs to be addressed” and that if negotiations are not successful he will “step in and take action,” though the exact action he would take is unclear. [WTOP]
How Arlington Almost Was Home to the Nationals — Boosters of baseball in Arlington almost succeeded in bringing a Major League Baseball team to the county. The Nationals, before landing near Navy Yard in D.C., were considering a stadium site in Pentagon City, but a series of unfortunate events nixed it. [Arlington Magazine]
ART Bus Turns into Sauna — From a Twitter user yesterday: “@ART_Alert my bus driver just begged me to contact you and ask to get his bus fixed. The heat is stuck on the bus and it must be 95 degrees inside.” [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
The Arlington County Board sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam today (March 27) requesting that he veto a bill adopted by the General Assembly that would provide big tax savings to two Arlington country clubs but cost the county millions.
The bill would mandate an open space assessment of golf course properties in the county, providing big tax breaks to Washington Golf and Country Club and Army Navy Country Club. According to a county press release, the assessment changes would result in a county revenue loss of about $1.43 million per year.
The hit to the county’s coffer would require “significant potential reductions in the areas of student education, public safety, transportation, community health, and social services,” the letter said, suggesting also that the “preferential tax treatment” conflicted with the Code of Virginia and the state constitution.
“This bill comes at a time when our community is already grappling with reductions to services in order to address budget gaps for the upcoming fiscal year and larger projected budget gaps in future years,” said the letter, which was signed by all five County Board members.
The full text of the letter after the jump.
Dear Governor Northam:
We are writing to respectfully request that you veto HB1204, a bill adopted by the General
Assembly mandating the open space assessment of golf course properties in Arlington County.
In an effort to provide preferential tax treatment to two golf clubs in Arlington, the bill conflicts
with the Constitution and Code of Virginia, sets a dangerous precedent for real property tax
assessment decisions to be made in Richmond instead of at the local level, and undermines state
laws related to the preservation of open space. Moreover, this legislated tax relief solely for two
golf clubs has a substantial budgetary impact on Arlington County at the expense of schools,
public safety, public services, public health, and transportation.
This bill would require Arlington County to assess the two country clubs located in the County
as land devoted to open space. It mandates an assessment for Arlington’s golf courses that
currently is only available through an optional program local governments may adopt by
ordinance. Such programs would require participating properties to pay taxes on the full fair
market value of their property for the five years prior to when they choose to leave the program
(“roll back taxes”), something HB1204 does not require.
Enacting this legislation is a dangerous intrusion into the local real estate assessment process
which has traditionally been the sole province of local decision making, and sets a dangerous
precedent of the General Assembly becoming the venue for what is at its core a local issue,
potentially leading to further future carve outs for preferred property owners through legislation
sought under the pretense of equity. Further, the legislation undermines the Use Value Taxation
Program in Virginia, which since its inception in 1972, has provided preferential tax treatment
for certain categories of real estate in exchange for their preservation. HB1204 clearly provides
the preferential tax treatment but, contrary to the Code of Virginia, does not require preservation
of the property as open space, and absolves property owners from paying any tax recapture upon
sale of their land.
Finally, HB1204 would result in a decrease of County tax revenue by $1.43 million annually,
necessitating significant potential reductions in the areas of student education, public safety,
transportation, community health, and social services. This bill comes at a time when our
community is already grappling with reductions to services in order to address budget gaps for
the upcoming fiscal year and larger projected budget gaps in future years.
The County and the clubs had been utilizing the process established by the General Assembly for
all property owners to challenge their assessments – namely through the Board of Equalization
and the Circuit Court. While this process is not yet completed, we understand the concerns
expressed by Washington Golf and Country Club and Army Navy Country Club. The County
has, in the context of settlement discussions, proposed a revised approach to valuation of the
clubs, and has expressed our willingness to work together to identify options to reduce their tax
liability under the law. Given the good faith efforts to resolve the pending litigation with both
clubs, and to mutually agree upon a valuation approach going forward, the County is requesting
the time to address this matter locally instead of through legislative mandate. We are confident
that we can reach a mutually agreeable resolution with both clubs, preventing this issue from
returning to the General Assembly in the 2019 session.
For these reasons, we respectfully request that you veto this legislation. Thank you in advance
for your consideration and for all that you do to support counties, cities and towns throughout the
Katie Cristol – Chair
Christian Dorsey – Vice-Chair
Libby Garvey – Member
John Vihstadt – Member
Erik Gutshall – Member
Beyer to Host Helicopter Noise Forum — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is hosting a forum about “excessive noise from military helicopters” at Abingdon Elementary School in the Fairlington neighborhood on Jan. 16. [Associated Press]
Arlington Buying New CNG Buses — Arlington Transit is buying 13 Xcelsior compressed natural gas (CNG) forty-foot, heavy-duty transit buses, according to a press release from Minnesota-based manufacturer New Flyer of America. [New Flyer]
Recounting Jay Fisette’s Career — “It was pure chance that led Jay Fisette to Arlington in 1983. A college friend had rented a cheap, spacious apartment in Pentagon City, and a nearby unit was available. So Fisette found a roommate among his college swimming buddies and began hoofing the ‘cow path’ — open land that would become the Pentagon City mall — and hopping the Metro to his new job downtown.” [Washington Post]
Northam Re-Appoints Two Arlington Residents — Arlingtonians Richard Holcomb and Jaime Areizaga-Soto have been re-appointed to their state posts under the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Ralph Northam. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
After a contentious race for governor in Virginia, the campaign managers for the two major candidates had a few flashpoints as they reflected on the contest in Arlington on Monday night.
Chris Leavitt, who managed Republican Ed Gillespie’s campaign, said his opposite number on Democratic candidate Ralph Northam’s campaign, Brad Komar, was a “liar” for saying he and his colleagues had no knowledge of an attack ad run by the Latino Victory Fund against the Republican.
Komar said the ad came from a community that felt it was “under attack,” but that the Northam campaign was not involved.
“It’s not how I would have responded,” he said. “We did not see the ad; I did not authorize it.”
The ad showed a white man in a pickup truck with a Gillespie bumper sticker and a Confederate flag threatening minority children. It ran on Spanish-language channels for two days before being taken down after the terrorist attack in New York by a man driving a pickup truck.
The pair were in conversation before more than 250 people at George Mason University’s Arlington campus at an event by the Virginia Public Access Project and GMU’s Schar School of Policy and Government. It came less than a week after Northam beat Gillespie to the governor’s mansion, thanks in part to the 68,315 votes he received in Arlington to Gillespie’s 16,160.
Komar said he regretted the campaign leaving then-lieutenant governor candidate Justin Fairfax, who also triumphed last week in a Democratic clean sweep alongside Attorney General Mark Herring, off a mailer that was sent to some houses in Northern Virginia.
At the time, the campaign said it was accommodating the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which did not endorse Fairfax as he opposes two planned natural gas pipelines, but endorsed the other two.
“We handled a regular, normal thing badly,” Komar said, noting that it should not have been sent out by the campaign but by someone else.
Leavitt defended the Gillespie campaign’s decision to run television ads attacking Northam as weak on the Central American street gang MS-13, and supporting so-called “Sanctuary Cities,” where local authorities do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
Such “sanctuaries” do not exist in Virginia, but Leavitt said that the Gillespie campaign had data that suggested that some independent voters were concerned about a rise in crime committed by illegal immigrants.
“You have to pick certain spots where there are avenues where you can go after your opponent,” Leavitt said. “This was one of those avenues.”
And Leavitt said trying to find weaknesses in Northam to attack was especially problematic, given his personal history as a U.S. Army doctor then a pediatric neurologist, as well as a stellar career in Richmond.
He said the Gillespie campaign hoped for a bruising Democratic primary against former Rep. Tom Perriello to expose more weaknesses.
“Frankly, the Governor-Elect did not have as many vulnerabilities as we would have liked, and we thought a primary could open up a few more,” Leavitt said.
Looming over the race was President Donald Trump, who was elected last year and has inspired more Democratic activism but left many Republicans walking a tightrope on whether to embrace his rhetoric.
Leavitt said that while it may have appeared Gillespie struggled to find that balance, campaign staff were determined to keep the race about Virginia issues and not “nationalize” it.
Trump did not campaign for Gillespie, and criticized him on Twitter for not embracing “me or what I stand for.”
“At the time, it seemed like the right path,” Leavitt said, noting Gillespie’s emphasis on providing policy to help Virginians rather than be dragged into the national discussion.
For his part, Komar said he and his colleagues looked to capitalize on Gillespie’s apparent reluctance to embrace Trump.
“Trumpism without Trump, I think, is a win for us,” Komar said.
Both agreed that they did not see the wave of anti-Trump sentiment coming in Virginia, a sentiment that has helped almost wipe out Republicans’ advantage in the House of Delegates.
And Komar said the Northam campaign looked to capitalize on Republicans’ inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and shift the attention onto Virginia’s proposed expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, unsuccessful both through the General Assembly and executive action.
“The fact that this remained an issue through the election… this was very important,” Komar said.
“It wasn’t an area where we really wanted to debate,” Leavitt said in response. “We wanted to turn the conversation to something else.”
With this year’s elections over, political attention now shifts to the 2018 mid-terms. Both said that with full control of government, it is on Republicans to get something done, or else they will face the wrath of voters.
Republicans have a “lot to think about and recalibrate,” Leavitt said. “Good luck, because it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is warning that some voters are receiving calls falsely telling them their polling place has changed.
In a tweet this afternoon, VDEM said these calls are false, and that registered voters can confirm their polling place online.
— VDEM (@VDEM) November 7, 2017
The Arlington County elections office said it estimated turnout of 40 percent today at the polls, plus another 8 percent of registered voters voting absentee. That represents a slight slowdown from the noon estimate, when turnout was at about 31 percent at the polls.
Arlington County registrar Linda Lindberg told ARLnow earlier that the arrival of steady rain slowed turnout somewhat. But it still means Arlington is well on track to beat the final turnout of 49 percent in 2013, when Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Plus, a break in the steadier rain is expected as Northern Virginia residents start to leave work.
— NWS DC/Baltimore (@NWS_BaltWash) November 7, 2017
Earlier today, the candidates in today’s election hit the streets, making their final pitches to voters as they headed to the polls.
Greeting voters at Key School — catching up with old friends & new! pic.twitter.com/L9vnxMMfcl
— Libby Garvey (@libbygarvey) November 7, 2017
Gutshall also tweeted a photo alongside Arlington School Board Democratic endorsee Monique O’Grady, while fellow School Board candidate Alison Dough has rolled out yard signs made by her children to try and swing voters her way.
A few of my favorite signs hitting the roads today… art work courtesy of my children – even the baby added hand-art 💕
Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement was out in the Fairlington neighborhood near the Abingdon precinct this morning, sporting a rain jacket and an umbrella while she greeted voters and passed out flyers.
On social media, Independent County Board candidate Charles McCullough shared photos of him out meeting voters across the county.
— Charles McCullough (@VoteCMcCullough) November 7, 2017
And Attorney General Mark Herring visited Arlington this morning as his bid for re-election entered its final hours. Herring tweeted a photo of him meeting potential voters at Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike, also part of the 49th House District, where Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) has faced a challenge from Republican Adam Roosevelt.
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) November 7, 2017