Arlington School Board’s Priorities in Question

Comments at Arlington School Board Meeting on April 19, 2018.

Earlier this year Superintendent Patrick Murphy was confronted with a tough directive from the County Manager. Cut costs in the face of declining County revenue despite burgeoning enrollment. In response the Superintendent proposed a combination of spending cuts and draw downs from reserve accounts. The spending cuts will be achieved through reductions in staff and employee benefits and increasing class size to eliminate 57 teaching positions.

At its April 5 meeting, the School Board resolved to restore some of the cuts primarily through reductions in IT spending and staffing reductions at Arlington Tech. Continue reading

Arlington School Board’s Brass Not Included In Budget Cuts

Comments at Arlington School Board Meeting on April 5, 2018.

Consistent with the County Manager’s direction to cut costs, the Superintendent has proposed a balanced budget for FY19. He achieves this through a combination of spending cuts and draw downs from reserve accounts. The spending cuts will be achieved through reduction in employee benefits and increasing class size to eliminate 57 teaching positions.

While I applaud the Superintendent’s general direction, I am concerned about the equity of the proposed cuts. Continue reading

Arlington School Board to Demolish an Historic Renovation

Comments at Arlington School Board Meeting on April 5,2018.

While I share the Westover community’s opposition to the Standalone Scheme, I am dismayed at its preferred option–the Integrated Scheme–because it will require demolition of a building less than ten years old.

Not only is this environmentally wasteful, it also once again throws the County’s commitment to historic preservation under the bus. The Reed School was redesigned in 2009 by the prestigious Georgetown architectural firm Cox, Graae + Spack, which preserved the original structure when it reconfigured the site to include both a library and a school. This is the same firm that has renovated or restored numerous notable DC area structures over the past twenty years, including:

• Daughters of American Revolution Constitution Hall, 1997
• GWU Law School, 2002
• Arlington Glebe House, 2004
• Arlington Arts Center, 2004
• DC’s Eastern Senior HS, 2010
• DC’s Woodrow Wilson HS, 2011
• Duke Ellington School of the Arts, 2017
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Arlington Housing Investment Fund Trumps Other Vital Programs

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on April 3,2018.

The County Manager’s proposed budget calls for closing a $20.5 million gap with $9.3 million in expenditure reductions, $6.6 million in increased taxes and fees, and $3.9 million in savings.

While I applaud the move to streamline operations, this budget lays an ax to a whole slew of County programs, some of which are critical to County operations. Continue reading

Arlington’s Housing Conservation District: A Cruel Joke

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on March 17,2018.

On December 16, 2017 Arlington County Board adopted a Housing Conservation District (HCD) zoning overlay that effectively declared a moratorium on demolition of garden apartments in Westover and elsewhere in the County until a policy could be worked out providing landlords with incentives to preserve the buildings rather than demolish them.

In February tenants of 5709 and 5715 10th Road North located in the HCD learned from County officials that the moratorium did not spare them from eviction. They all must get out as per notices received from the landlord on January 31, 2018. Continue reading

Pricing Carbon in Virginia?

I am speaking on my own behalf. My remarks have not been authorized by nor do they reflect the position of any organization with which I have ever been associated.

I support adoption of Executive Directive 11 (ED 11), which directs the State Air Pollution Control Board to regulate carbon emissions in Virginia through a cap and trade program. I further support the regulation’s requirement that Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as the most efficient way to price carbon in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Virginia Sierra Club has provided statistics showing both the need for this rule and the economic and health benefits to be derived.

However Sierra Club has omitted a key fact–namely that the General Assembly is owned by Dominion Resources, which will see to it that any carbon emissions regulation contemplated by the Pollution Control Board proves a dead letter. To those who doubt that Dominion has purchased the best legislature that money can buy, a few statistics should suffice.

According to Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), Dominion donated almost $1 million to political causes in Virginia in 2017, including $369,000 to Republicans, $317,000 to Democrats, $175,000 to Senate candidates and caucuses, and $210,000 to HOD candidates and caucuses. Continue reading

Citizen Opposition to High Density Ballston Development Quashed

Remarks at Arlington County Board Meeting on February 24, 2018.

While ignoring citizen concerns about the impacts of high density development is routine in Arlington County, there are two remarkable features about the plan to densify North Ballston:

  1. At its February 12 meeting, 2018, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan even though the developer rejected its modest recommendation to limit the development to six stories and maintain a thirty foot separation between the proposed apartment building and the south wing of the Westview condominium.
  2. County staff contradicted itself in arguing that the quiet enjoyment of Westview Condominium residents would not be disturbed.

Regarding the first point, Commissioner Iacomini opined at the February 12, 2018 Planning Commission meeting that despite her misgivings about the plan, it would be “churlish” not to go along with it.

Commissioner Iacomini did not elucidate why it would be churlish to stand her ground on recommendations that she herself proposed. Evidently the Commissioner was cowed by County Board’s earlier rejection of her recommendations on advice of County staff. What this ethic implies is that whenever a commissioner is overruled, he/she ought to roll over.

Regarding the second point, County staff acknowledged in its report that both sunlight and views will be disturbed by the development.

The building will cast a new shadow to the east onto the 9-story Westview building during the spring, summer, and fall during the afternoon and evening hours. However, the shadowing at this specific site is more related to the heights of buildings, and it is unlikely that adjusting the placement of the subject building by several feet will have an effect on the shadows being cast onto the existing buildings. In addition, the shadow studies show that for much of the year, the existing Westview buildings will cast shadows onto the new building. The placement of the subject building will not result in a detrimental impact to the existing Westview buildings’ access to sunlight. p. 31.

What this means is that because building height is the culprit, building separation doesn’t matter, and because both the new high rise and the existing condominium will produce shadows, there will be no detrimental impact on Westview neighbors.

With rationalizations like these, it is no wonder that staff has also concluded that impacts in the form of increased congestion and student enrollment will also be negligible.

In the larger scheme of things, none of these impacts matter. All that matters is the financial impact of the development, which will enrich both the developer and the County.

School Board Squirreling Away Unspent Funds

Remarks at Arlington County School Board Meeting on January 18, 2018.

Welcome members of the School Board, the Superintendent and APS Staff. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. The Superintendent’s FY17 Closeout Presentation indicates the availability of $18.1 million to spend, consisting of budget savings and increased tax revenue from the County. Of these funds, the Superintendent proposes to allocate the majority–$11.8 million–to reserve accounts, including:

  • $6 million to the Compensation Reserve,
  • $3.8 million to the Capital Reserve, and
  • $2 million to the Debt Service Reserve.

These funds will be added to existing reserve accounts, which–as indicated by the sum of reserve items listed in Resolution 4 before you tonight–total $83.7 million. They will thus bring APS reserve accounts to $95.5 million or 15.5 percent of the adopted FY18 budget of $613.6 million. This is excessive.
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Stop Paving Over Parkland

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on December 16, 2017.

While I generally support the Framework Plan for Benjamin Banneker Park, I oppose the widening of the multi-use trails from 8 feet to 12 feet with a ten foot minimum.

First, most of the park lies within a resource protection area (RPA) defined by the watershed created by Four Mile Run. Four Mile Run Trail runs close to the stream throughout the park—as close as three feet from the stream bank in some areas. Continue reading

Housing Conservation Districts: the Solution to Ongoing Demolitions

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on December 16, 2017.

I support County staff’s proposal to create a Housing Conservation District (HCD) consisting of the remaining affordable neighborhoods in the County, as well as the incentives provided to preserve the garden apartments therein. Continue reading