Category: Transportation

PRESS RELEASE: Candidate Responses to Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future Questionnaire

ASF QUESTIONS FOR ARLINGTON COUNTY BOARD NOVEMBER 3 ELECTION CANDIDATES, August 31, 2020.

Below are County Board Candidate Audrey Clement’s responses to an Arlingtonians For Our Sustainable Future (ASF) candidate questionnaire. These responses are also available on the ASF website.

Question 1 (two parts):
ASF KEY ISSUE: DEVELOPMENT
Cost-Benefit Analysis for New Development – Reflecting a key recommendation of the 2015 Community Facilities Study, our County Board in 2017 directed the Manager to study options for county performance of cost-benefit analyses for new site plan projects. Such analyses, done by many jurisdictions, quantify likely tax and revenue income generation per site plan, as well as potential incremental costs on nearby schools, parks, water/sewer and other community infrastructure. So far, the Arlington County Board appears to have done little or nothing to implement this recommendation. What would you do, if anything, to move forward on this directive?

Population Density – Our county board currently supports very high growth/density rates. (Estimated U.S. census growth from April 2010 to July 2019 was 14.0%. U.S. census density in 2010 was 8,309 people per square mile, the highest of any county in Virginia.) If you are elected, would you support growth/densification at the same, a greater, or lesser pace and why?

Answer(s) for Question #1: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Population Density

Cost-benefit analyses for new projects are routine for most local governments. Arlington County is an exception. Its site-plan impact analysis is perfunctory, at best. Two recent examples come to mind—both reviewed by Arlington’s Transportation Commission, of which I am a member: 1) the Key Bridge Marriott redevelopment site in Rosslyn and 2) and the plan to redevelop Shirlington Village.

Though I spoke in favor of the Marriott design on March 5, I objected that the traffic impacts of three other nearby redevelopment projects were excluded from the Marriott’s traffic impact analysis (TIA): Rosslyn Gateway, Rosslyn Plaza and the Ames Center at 1820 Fort Myer Drive.

These three developments could easily double the traffic at Lee Highway and Fort Myer Drive, an intersection that the TIA says is already congested. A traffic impact analysis that excludes the cumulative impact of all new sources of traffic isn’t real planning.

On July 2, I challenged staff’s claim that Shirlington Village could accommodate even more traffic than generated by its recommended redevelopment proposal — without bothering to prepare a TIA. Staff advised that GLUP studies don’t require TIAs and that a TIA would be produced during the site plan review process. This is why we see no discussion whatsoever of redevelopment impacts on schools, green space, historic structures or public safety in the 200-page Shirlington Village GLUP study. If the County routinely disregards or avoids performing impact and cost-benefit analyses during the initial GLUP planning process, then the cumulative impact of these projects is never quantified or addressed.

If elected, I will insist on impact and cost-benefit analyses for every major site-plan project as well as a study outlining the economic benefits of the 40% population increase that staff intends to effect over the next 25 years.

Question 2 (one part):
ASF Key Issue: DEVELOPMENT

Answers for Question #2: Covid-19 and Missing Middle Housing

Impact of Covid-19 on Missing Middle Policy – With Covid-19 showing few signs of significant decline either nationally or in many states, both anecdotal evidence and recent statistics reveal that people may once again be moving out of central cities and first-tier suburbs to outer suburbs and even rural areas—looking for more room for living and more accessible and abundant green space. At the same time, many employers with an Arlington or Metro area presence are reconsidering the need to have workers concentrated onsite in dense employment centers, facilitating even greater telework and materially reducing the need for home-to-office commuting. Many experts believe that these changes will endure well after the pandemic subsides.

Should the County plan to measure and factor in these apparent trends for Arlington as it pursues greater densification of housing at a time this concept may be losing favor locally and regionally? If not, why not?

Whereas many U.S. economic sectors have contracted since the national pandemic emergency was declared in mid-March, the housing market has rebounded, with previously owned home sales increasing by almost 25% in July. Telework is the new normal for many American workers, who are seeking more space at home instead of easier commutes to the office. Rather than moving into city centers, people are seeking safe havens outside major urban corridors where land and housing costs tend to be lower. Telework will almost certainly continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Most Metrorail lines are still operating well below capacity — even during rush hour. It’s doubtful that Metro itself can sustain current operations after congressional subsidies run out. Having relied on transit-oriented development to attract new residents, Arlington real estate developers and county government must adapt.

Under these conditions, more intense infill development fueled by the so-called Missing Middle upzoning proposal seems risky. Arlington County should acknowledge the speculative nature of the Missing Middle initiative, its inflationary impact on land values and assessments, its questionable benefits for the middle class, and the danger of displacing existing lower and fixed-income households — especially the nearly 17% of homeowners who spend less than $1,000 per month for housing.

Instead, Arlington should incentivize preservation of its existing low-density residential neighborhoods and older (a/k/a more affordable) homes as a hedge against an exodus to the far suburbs by middle-income families seeking better value for their hard-earned dollars and a place to work more safely from home.

Question 3 (one part):
ASF KEY ISSUE: ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP

Trees – Residential and commercial development are putting major stress on Arlington’s tree canopy, now hovering near 40%. What specific steps would you take to stabilize and expand Arlington’s tree canopy

Answers for Question #3: Tree Canopy

First, based on expert advice, I would be skeptical of claims that Arlington’s mature tree canopy is increasing. County Board members and staff argue just the opposite. Yet the County’s own numbers indicate that the amount of impervious surface has increased from 40% to 45% since 2001. The additional hardscape came from somewhere, and it’s likely from clearcutting and excavating residential lots. It is also estimated that the County itself permitted the removal of at least 1,000 trees in conjunction with construction on a handful of public sites between 2014 and 2020.

Next, I would acknowledge that the loss of tree canopy and related pervious green space amounts to a crisis, because the county is suffering increasingly frequent and severe floods. And its mature tree canopy is the first line of defense against flooding. The County’s latest 10-year CIP allocates $200 million for storm water mitigation (p.11), of which I estimate that $26 million is needed to mitigate runoff due to tree removal from public property. It is estimated that every 1% increase in impervious surfaces accounts for a 3.3% increase in annual flood magnitude.

To discourage the loss of mature trees on public and private land, I would advocate for stronger stormwater management regulations, as permitted by the State Water Control Board; close loopholes in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act that permit the removal of large numbers of trees in riparian areas; and work to adopt stricter zoning and other regulations to reduce the growth of impervious surfaces.

Question 4 (two parts):
ASF KEY ISSUE: INFRASTRUCTURE

Stormwater Management – Severe flooding of July 2018 and July 2019 caused massive property and environmental damage; climate change will trigger more such events. What should we be doing to factor in the adverse consequences of climate change in Arlington’s stormwater management policies and capital projects, as well in private sector developments?

Schools and Transportation Needs – Planning and growth must also account for infrastructure needs of growing populations, whether schools, water, wastewater, fire/police systems, or transportation systems. Pre-Covid-19, schools and traffic had become major stressors for residents, yet the county takes ad hoc approaches, with school reshufflings and traffic jams increasing without meaningful steps to increase public transport use. Do you believe these are problems and what changes would you endorse?

Answers for Key Issue #4: Stormwater, Schools, Transportation Needs

It’s imperative that public officials acknowledge the connection between mature tree removal and flooding. Arlington Public Schools demolished a grove of mature trees near the new Reed school addition, a few feet from the epicenter of 2019 100-year flood — despite wide publicity. Because of school officials’ ignorance of basic hydrology and the willful ignorance of other officials, Arlington taxpayers will be paying $200 million over the next 10 years for stormwater mitigation. That high cost wasn’t inevitable.

Nor was permitting the demolition of a 100-foot state champion Dawn Redwood in North Arlington in 2018 located in a resource protection area defined by Little Pimmit Run. The County’s approval of the related subdivision not only violated the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA), it also compromised stormwater management for the entire neighborhood. If elected, I plan to enforce CBPA, not look for loopholes to circumvent it.

On transportation needs, educating public officials is also central. County officials argue that traffic congestion isn’t an issue because VDOT traffic data indicate that annual average daily traffic (AADT) has decreased on Arlington’s arterials. This may be true, but VDOT traffic counts don’t measure congestion on neighborhood streets. And levels of service at key intersections has worsened.

As a Transportation Commission member, I can attest to the fact that staff routinely present Transportation Impact Analyses (TIAs) that deny or discount impacts from major developments — even to the point of justifying more traffic, because existing congestion is already so bad more traffic won’t hurt. The County also refuses to factor in the traffic impacts of projects in the development pipeline that have not yet been approved.

Arlington County did well to reduce the minimum parking requirements for developments along the R-B corridor. It must also produce TIAs that factor in the likely traffic impacts of pipeline developments.

Question 5 (one part):
ASF Key Issue: DIVERSITY

Housing Affordability – The county is losing demographic and economic diversity as a consequence of economic and development trends of the past two decades. ASF believes that key zoning decisions of past boards, and plans for denser zoning known as Missing Middle Housing, will only exacerbate these trends. How would you propose to address this challenge during your term in office?

Answers for Question #4: Housing Affordability and Diversity

The County acknowledges that its housing policy has gentrified low-income people out of the County. Yet they disclaim responsibility for the elimination of two thirds of the County’s market-rate affordable rental units over the past 20 years, since it was done by right. Yet on April 30, 2020, the County Board adopted a budget that includes elimination of a tax incentive for landlords who renovate their properties. Instead, Arlington County under the rubric of “Missing Middle” is promoting the myth that densifying Arlington’s residential neighborhoods through upzoning will provide more affordable housing.

The Myth of Missing Middle was challenged by a July, 2020 analysis of the consequences of duplex development on single-family home sites by Wharton professor Jon Huntley, who demonstrated that Arlington property values are already so high that duplex ownership will remain beyond the reach of a household earning 100% of area median income (AMI) in most neighborhoods. This is because new duplexes, which are central to Missing Middle, will compete on price with new single-family homes, which typically start at $1 million and above. Thus, they will be unaffordable to median income earners, who can afford to pay no more than $525,000 for housing.

Instead of Missing Middle densification, I propose to restore and promote the tax incentive for the renovation of privately owned apartment buildings. Not only will this bring a lot of dilapidated buildings up to code, it will do so at a price that is affordable to both landlords and moderate-income tenants.

Bike Activist Who Opposes W&OD Trail Widening Supports Mt. Vernon Trail Widening

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on July 21, 2020.

Some who oppose NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD Trail widening in Arlington, support widening the northern section of the Mt. Vernon Trail. Longtime bicycle activist Allen Muchnick says the proposed Mt. Vernon Trail widening is not really comparable to NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD widening for multiple reasons:

1) Due to past NPS policies and funding constraints, the Mt. Vernon Trail has generally been paved no wider than 9 feet. For busy shared-use paths, an 11-foot paved width is the minimum recommended. Consequently, much of the Mt. Vernon Trail is clearly substandard and needs work.

2) Unlike NoVA Parks’ proposal to build dual adjacent pedestrian and bicycle paths for the W&OD totaling 22 feet in width, the widened Mt. Vernon Trail would generally consist of only a single path just 11 feet wide. Thus, the Mt. Vernon Trail widening would generally only approximate the current width of the W&OD Trail and would be only about half as wide as NoVA Parks seeks to make the W&OD in Arlington.

3) The northern section of the Mt. Vernon Trail in Arlington carries a very high level of weekday trail traffic, about 300 trail users/peak hour. It’s much more heavily used than the W&OD Trail in Bluemont Park.  Because it provides a) a vital route for several long-distance, interstate bikeways, b) foot and bike access to four existing Potomac River crossings, and c) sweeping views of our nation’s capital, the Mt Vernon Trail is one of our nation’s preeminent bikeways.

4) Unlike the W&OD Trail in Arlington, the Mt. Vernon Trail lacks any nearby parallel path, such as the existing Four Mile Run Trail, that could accommodate much of the trail user volumes.

5) Unlike the W&OD Trail that follows Four Mile Run in Arlington, the Mt. Vernon Trail is generally located much farther away from the Potomac riverbank, and the Potomac River is a navigable tidal river, not an eroded urban stream.

6) Although the Mt. Vernon Trail widening would be funded with VDOT money, it is subject to NEPA review because it’s on federal land and VDOT money includes federal transportation funds.

Nevertheless Muchnick endorses Arlington civic activist Bernie Berne’s recommendation that County Board approval for project construction be contingent on review of the environmental assessment by relevant County advisory bodies.

Shirlington Village Slated for Densification

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, July 18, 2020.

I am the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board. I also am a member of the Transportation Commission speaking on my own behalf only. On July 2 the Commission voted unanimously to recommend deferral of a vote on the Shirlington General Land Use Plan (GLUP) study until outstanding transportation issues can be addressed.

While I agree with most of the Transportation Commission report, I disassociate myself from the following:

“While the commission feels confident and satisfied that the automotive trips generated by the additional homes, businesses and offices proposed in the GLUP Study Plus can be readily handled by the existing street network, the comission is concerned that the recommendations and planning for transit, walking and biking are insufficient and will leave Shirlington ill-equipped to support non-automotive modes as it grows under this study.”

Actually I am concerned about inadequate attention given to all modes of transportation in the area, particularly the study’s claim that “even a level of density greater than what would be approved for the Village at Shirlington could be accommodated without a noticeable diminution of service at the key intersections in and around the study area.” 

On July 2, I asked staff how it is so sure of this, given that no Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) had been done. Staff advised that GLUP studies don’t require TIAs. The TIA will be produced at site plan review. This reasoning is circular, since we all know that the adopted GLUP study will provide the rationale for approving several site plans in Shirlington irrespective of the TIA. Circular reasoning also explains why there is no discussion in the GLUP study of impacts on schools, green space, historic structures and public safety—in other words, all the things that matter.

My concerns are heightened by the applicant’s objection to the height limits imposed by the study and the fact that under the GLUP amendments soon to be adopted, the applicant could in fact double the density of the entire neighborhood.

Equally alarming is the applicant’s objection to building preservation. Instead it proposes to preserve facades on a case by case basis. Shirlington Village’s selling point is its historic restaurant district. When those structures are reduced to rubble and replaced with mere facades, its attraction as a destination will disappear.

While full scale densification will surely ruin the Shirlington Village restaurant district, partial densification will also fail unless impacts are addressed.

What Goes Around Comes Around on North Vermont Street in Ballston

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, June 13, 2020.

Plans to redevelop the North Vermont and 11th Street site in Ballston have been on the drawing boards for more than four years. During this time Ballston has added 2,000 additional high-rise housing units with 1,000 more on the way.

Residents of the neighborhood protested the first site plan adopted by the Board in February, 2018 because of unmitigated impacts in the form of impaired views and increased traffic congestion. Now comes a new developer with a plan to increase density even more.

At an LRPC hearing in 2017, North Ballston neighbor Annette Lang, explained why the original site plan had little community support. She put it this way.

“Specifically, residents should not bear the burden of proving that exceptions to land use plans and modifications to zoning codes are appropriate. Rather, developers should bear the burden of establishing that unless an exception and/or modification to current plans and zoning codes is granted, development of a particular property will not occur. That is the core meaning of ‘exception’.”

County staff, were as unswayed by this argument then as they are today. The fact that the Vermont Street developer needed a GLUP amendment to rezone the site is irrelevant. All that matters is that the Ballston Sector Plan encourages high density development.

The fact that a sector plan trumps the zoning ordinance makes the zoning ordinance a dead letter. Any developer with sufficient financial resources can leverage any site plan he wants irrespective of its impacts on streets, schools, open space and/or public safety. In 2018 residents of North Ballston had reason to feel discouraged because they had lost a battle to preserve their neighborhood. Today they have reason to believe that what goes around comes around, because the pandemic thrives in densely packed neighborhoods, such as the future Vermont Street development

NOVA Parks CEO Says Not to Worry About Doubling Width of W&OD Trail

Reply to Paul Gilbert, June 3, 2019.

In recent commentary in the Sun Gazette, NOVA Parks’ CEO Paul Gilbert argued that concerns about doubling the paved width of the W&OD Trail are misplaced, because NOVA Parks plans to improve storm water management. First, how is the public to assess this claim when neither a preliminary design nor an environmental assessment have been produced?

Second, Gilbert claims that a combination of swales, meadows and wetlands will be installed to control runoff. Yet on a one mile stretch of the widened trail between East Falls Church and Bon Air Park—half the length of the project area–there is no room to put in these structures without ripping out the existing rain absorbing understory along Four Mile Run.

Gilbert allays concerns about tree removal, saying that only 7 mature trees are slated for removal from the trail widening project west of Lee Highway. This is not the scenario relayed by Falls Church residents in a recent letter to the editor of the Falls Church News-Press, who oppose “the proposed elimination of valuable, usable space, and natural assets, including almost 100 trees (oaks, cedars, maples, Japanese cherry, dogwoods, etc.) and bushes adjacent to the proposed trails.”

Gilbert says that trail widening is environmental, because it will induce more bike and foot traffic. Yet NOVA Parks refuses to consider the less damaging alternative of redirecting foot traffic to the adjacent Four Mile Run Trail.

Mr. Gilbert indicates that dual trails are the wave of the future, and Arlingtonians should get on board. I’m all for dual trails, namely an existing paved trail on either side of Four Mile Run. I also insist on a full environmental assessment including an alternatives analysis for W&OD trail improvements.

NoVA Parks Wants to Double Width of W&OD Trail in Arlington Flood Zone

Comments to Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), May 23, 2020

Greater Greater Washington (GGW) has trotted out the commentary of deceased, former Arlington County Board member Erik Gutshall to defend NOVA Parks’ plans to widen a two mile stretch of the W&OD Trail between East Falls Church and Carlin Springs Road.

In November, 2019 Gutshall marveled that bike advocates and environmentalists were pitted against each other on the wisdom of widening the W&OD without the benefit of an alternatives assessment or an environmental impact statement. In his mind, biking is good for both the environment and congestion relief. So everyone should be on board.

Yet it is well known that pavement induces runoff, and runoff induces flooding, which is not good for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is also known that the closer the pavement gets to a Chesapeake Bay tributary like Four Mile Run, the more runoff it induces.

Evidence of that phenomenon occurred during the July 8, 2019 DC area flood event. Runoff from I-66 put an entire Arlington neighborhood north of the interstate under water. Yet an equal if not greater amount of damage occurred along the existing W&OD bike trail when Four Mile Run breached its banks—taking with it tons of infrastructure from two County parks—including part of the trail–and pouring thousands of gallons of polluted water into the Potomac River.

Doubling the width of the W&OD Trail can only exacerbate an already hazardous situation, where erosion of the Four Mile Run stream bank is now a common occurrence. Yet GGW says that opposition to the project is premature, as it hasn’t even been funded. This turns logic on its head, since without a study assessing impacts and alternatives, NTVA cannot know what it should fund.

When NOVA Parks gets $5.6 million to widen the W&OD Trail, alternatives like using the parallel Four Mile Run Trail to mitigate congestion will be off the table. The money for the project has already been earmarked. So reprogramming it on something better or different isn’t going to happen even if a future environmental assessment recommended it.

Pointing to trail work done on widening the trail in West Falls Church, GGW insists that the storm water mitigation will be adequate. Even though Falls Church neighbors are protesting massive tree removal along the trail west of Lee Highway, the impact on the Four Mile Run itself might be limited, since the stream surfaces only a short distance from the trail head at Lee Highway.

Not so the impact of the trail east of Lee Highway, which is located in a stream valley and a flood zone. For a full mile between East Falls Church and Bon Aire Park, the trail is sandwiched between the I-66 retaining wall a few feet to the left and Four Mile Run a few feet to the right. There is no place to divert the stream let alone plant trees or add to the under story.

Finally GGW argues that widening the trail will provide congestion relief. Yet the Toole Design report commissioned by NOVA Parks to support the project indicates much of the traffic along the trail is recreational rather than commuter.

Thus even if this stretch of trail is congested some of the time, NOVA Parks has not demonstrated that widening the trail will provide congestion relief relative to cost (CRRC) on nearby roads. Without that key metric, NVTA cannot legally fund this project.

Marriott Hotel Redevelopment To Dump More Traffic at Key Bridge

Comments for Arlington County Board Meeting, March 24, 2020

I am speaking on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Transportation Commission of which I am a member.

Approval of the Master Transportation Plan for the Key Bridge Marriott site was heard by the Transportation Commission on March 5.

While I spoke in favor of the design, I abstained from the vote for want of an adequate traffic impact analysis (TIA).

Specifically I objected to the fact that traffic impact of three important pipeline developments was excluded from the TIA: Rosslyn Gateway, Rosslyn Plaza and the Ames Center at 1820 Fort Myer Drive.

Failing to report the impact of the latter site is egregious since the Transportation Commission heard that item on March 5 also, and a TIA for it has already been prepared.

The Ames Center alone will dump 630 vehicles from 788 new residential units on Rosslyn streets a block away from the Marriott. The redeveloped Marriott site will dump another 623 vehicles. The Holiday Inn site directly across the street from the Marriott will dump 818 vehicles housed in two garages.

These three developments could easily triple the amount of traffic at Lee Highway and Fort Myer Drive, an intersection that the TIA says is currently operating at LOS F.

According to the Marriott TIA, the combined impacts of the Holiday Inn and four other major developments in the immediate vicinity will generate 21,517 weekday trips exclusive of the Marriott (Table 5-1, p.44).

Rosslyn developers refuse to scale back the amount of built parking, even though Arlington County recommends doing just that. These developers evidently believe that they can’t market their luxury condos unless they provide at least 1 parking space per unit.

Will someone tell them that if buyers can’t get their car out of the garage, and can’t make headway on Lee Highway at rush hour, they will sell?Developers should focus on marketing spectacular views of the DC skyline, not the ability to park a car.

WMATA to Slash NoVA Metrobus Service

Comments at WMATA Public Hearing in Ballston, February 24, 2020

In its latest operating budget WMATA proposes to slash bus service in Northern Virginia for a savings of $7.5 million. Affected are a dozen Arlington routes, including: 2A, 3A, 5A, 7Y, 10N, 15K, 16C, 16E, 16G, 16H, 22A, 22C.

Lower ridership accounts for the reduction or elimination of service on only about half of these lines. The rest are being cut because alternative service is available on ART or Metrorail. Thus the heavily used 5A to Dulles will be eliminated. The Pentagon to DC leg of routes into and out of Arlington will be eliminated, including service provided by 7Y, 16C, and 16E. Routes to outlying sections of Arlington and Fairfax County will be gutted entirely with no convenient alternatives available on the 3A to Annandale, the 3T to Tysons and the 15K to McLean.

These service cuts are draconian, and I say this advisedly because as a regular Metrobus patron I can vouch for the fact that a lot of buses–both Metrobus and ART—ride empty during off peak hours.

Metro should not be cutting service on those routes with sustained ridership like 5A and 16C. Metro should also not use the rationale that alternative service is available from end point to end point, when the purpose of bus service is to shuttle passengers between end points. It does no good to a 3A rider who lives on Annandale Road to know that alternative service is available on Leesburg Pike and Little River Turnpike.

If Metro wants to triage bus service in favor of extended rail service fine. Then the localities that fund Metrobus should reprogram Metro subsidies to local transit service or other priority needs.

Arlington Sets Up Motorist Speed Traps With $200 Fines

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, January 28, 2020

I am speaking on my own behalf as a non-car diet commuter, not on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.

This item was heard at the January 9 Transportation Commission meeting. While there was considerable discussion of the merits of penalizing excessive speeds, there was no attention given to the actual criteria for designating speed traps.

The staff report defines the types of road segments that could qualify as speed traps and indicates that it will evaluate existing traffic data, police reports and citizen complaints in targeting “residential streets that carry relatively higher traffic volumes and have documented speeding issues.”

But nowhere is “documented speeding issues” defined. When I asked a question about how the County determines a speed zone, County staff said this information is available elsewhere in Section 14.2 of County code. I couldn’t find it there and shouldn’t have to. Basic information about a proposed regulation should be in the ordinance itself or in a document linked to it.

Accepting at face value the information or lack thereof provided by planning staff is referred to in public policy literature as staff driven decision-making. Staff driven boards and commissions ill serve the public interest, since an uniformed decision is generally a poor one. The fault lies not with staff, but with the decision makers who fail to solicit the information they need to make intelligent decisions.

I recommend that County Board require language inserted into this ordinance that stipulates what constitutes a speed zone. Otherwise it will lend itself to abuse.

County Board Member Dorsey Hasn’t Reported Return of Union Donation

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, January 25, 2020

This letter was directed on 1/18/20 to the WMATA Board Ethics Officer and/or WMATA Inspector General pursuant to WMATA Board Code of Ethics, Article XI: Other Reports of Conflicts of Interest and Suspected Ethics Violations, in the matter of WMATA’s Board’s earlier determination that Board Member Christian Dorsey had violated the code as a member of the Board.

On or about November 7, 2019, the WMATA Board sanctioned Board member Christian Dorsey for failing to report timely a $10,000 campaign contribution he received in 2019 from Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 689, which represents Metro transit workers.

The Washington Post reported Dorsey’s conflict of interest on November 7 as follows:

“Dorsey received the union donation on June 21 and reported it to Virginia authorities in accordance with state campaign finance law. It was one of the two largest contributions he received this year, the other being a $10,000 contribution from the InternationalBrotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“But he waited until Oct. 30 to report the ATU Local 689 contribution to Metro.

“The board resolution said that because of the reporting lapse, ‘Dorsey participated in several matters as a Board Member from which he should have recused himself during the period June 21, 2019 to October 30, 2019.’

“Metro Board Chair Smedberg said Dorsey had participated improperly in three “high-level briefings” on contracting matters, all held in executive session, where no board action was taken.

“’The Board reprimands Mr. Dorsey for violating the Board Code of Ethics by failing to timely disclose the Local 689 campaign contribution and failing to recuse himself from Board matters where Local 689 had an interest,’ the board resolution said.”

The minutes of the November 7, 2019 WMATA Board Meeting read in relevant part:

“The Ethics Committee determined that, despite Mr. Dorsey’s good faith disclosure and return of the $10,000 campaign contribution from Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689, he violated the Code of Ethics and should be reprimanded and removed as Chair of the Finance and Capital Committee.”

While WMATA Board minutes clearly indicate that Dorsey returned the $10,000 ATU contribution in accordance with its direction, I can find no evidence of the return of the contribution in Dorsey’s campaign finance reports available here:

As an Arlington resident who ran against Dorsey for Arlington County Board in 2019 and exposed his conflict of interest vis-a-vis ATU 689 during the campaign, I am requesting that the WMATA Board provide proof that Dorsey has indeed returned the contribution from ATU 689, as it directed him to do.

It is one thing to demand compliance with WMATA Board’s Code of Ethics. It is another to determine whether this has actually occurred. Transparency requires both.

***

Dorsey explained at the meeting that the check he wrote to return the union donation never cleared, and he can’t return the check till it does. Just the opposite. According to the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) official I spoke to “checks must be recorded when they’re written.”

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