PRESS RELEASE: County Board Talks the Talk

In a recent article, ARLnow columnist Peter Rousselot castigated County Board for failing to address local flooding, even though it denounced Donald Trump for failing to deal with climate change. Rousselot said:

“Arlington talks the talk about global climate change, but fails to walk the walk locally.”

Peter Rousselot, ARLnow.com

Rousselot called on County government to “[s]low the dramatic increase in impervious surfaces” that causes flooding in low lying areas.

Unfortunately that’s not likely to happen. Just last week County Board rubber stamped two major planning documents–the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) and the Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan. Both of these documents call for widening bike trails in the Four Mile Run Valley to handle increasing bike traffic.

At an April 23 public hearing on the Bicycle Element, County Board ignored calls to remove projects to widen the W&OD and Mount Vernon trails, even though the result will be more flood inducing runoff.

County Ends Curbside Glass Recycling

Recycling is another issue that demonstrates the County’s commitment to lip service only on environmental issues. On April 25 the Board voted to authorize the County Manager to terminate curbside glass recycling as a cost cutting measure.

From now on residential glass waste will be trucked with other trash to Alexandria’s waste to energy (WTE) facility to be burned. The County Manager provided no information on the cost savings of burning glass versus recycling it, and the Board didn’t ask.

I Walk the Walk

Are you tired of the doublespeak you get from County Board on everything from recycling to runoff? Then you should consider an independent alternative.

If elected to County Board, you can be sure that I will lobby against paving over the County’s remaining natural areas and for alternatives to ending curbside recycling.

In addition, if elected, I pledge to:

  • Seek other tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Public Spaces Master Plan Calls for Widening Bike Trails

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19

The same environmental considerations that govern the Bicycle Element should guide the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) especially for those areas that are located in Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) governed by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA). This includes the entire linear regional park along Four Mile Run and all of the local parks that abut it.

Dr. Bernard Berne has forwarded to you amendments to the draft PSMP to remove language to widen trails located in urban parks, on the grounds that:

“Wide paved trails within natural areas and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) add impermeable surfaces that disturb natural areas, harm nearby trees, reduce the size of adjacent meadows and other natural features, and increase stormwater runoff.  Further, wide trails detract from the experiences that people visiting the areas for reasons other than transportation wish to enjoy.”

Dr. Bernard Berne

Dr. Berne cites the 2012 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, which recommends designing trails for lower speeds in urban parks (p. 5-12).

He also recommends removing Section 2.3.4 (p. 90): as inconsistent with preservation of natural areas stipulated in Section 3.2 (p. 98):

2.3.4 Explore ways to safely separate modes, where space allows, on high traffic trail routes and where user conflicts commonly occur, while minimizing impact on natural resources and trees.

Separating bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the most heavily used routes will enhance the safety of all users.

And adding a second sentence to Section 6.1.4 (p. 128):

Mowed buffers adjacent to paved trails in natural areas should not exceed three feet in width, except where environmental conditions prevent this.

As authority, Dr. Berne cites the AASHTO Guide (p. 5-5), which recommends that:

. . . a graded shoulder area at least 3 to 5 ft (0.9 to 1.5 m) wide with a maximum cross-slope of 1V:6H, which should be recoverable in all weather conditions, should be maintained on each side of the pathway.

Finally Dr. Berne recommends an appendix that contains all existing County maintenance standards for parks and trails, so that the public can determine if the County is adhering to them.

Arlington County Pays a Bounty to DEA Landlord

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19.

According to civic activist Suzanne Sundburg:

The underlying question in subsidizing the DEA lease is whether it is equitable to pick winners and losers (i.e., financially benefit some long-standing tenants and/or landlords, but not others). Those tenants and landlords not benefiting from a subsidy may be resentful of having their tax dollars spent to subsidize others’ rent when they cannot obtain the same benefit. Alternatives to targeted incentives include:

Suzanne Sundburg

1) low-interest or no-interest loans to landlords to pay for upgrades that result in retaining large commercial tenants, or

2) tax cuts financed by ramping back wasteful spending on “economic development” such that all tenants and property owners could equally enjoy the fruits of a tax-rate cut,  and/or

3) soliciting feedback from larger tenants in order to redress problems/irritants that are related to county bureaucracy, etc.

Aside from the inequitable nature of incentive payments is the question whether subsidizing particular tenants actually benefits the economy.

According to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center:

Moreover, targeted subsidies are most often used to benefit large, highly-visible corporations rather than small local businesses. As a result, struggling local businesses must pay higher taxes to fund public subsidies for politically well-connected larger corporations.  —“Amazon HQ2 Is the Only Competition Where the Losers Are Winners: Why Economic Development Subsidies Hurt More than They Help,” 11-13-18.

Mercatus Center

No More Curbside Glass Recycling

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19.

I oppose the County Manager’s recommendation to amend Chapter 10 of the County Code to enable it to ship residential waste glass to the waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerator in Alexandria on both economic and environmental grounds.

The County argues that it is compelled to stop recycling glass, because the cost of disposal has gone from $4.66 per ton to $16.31 per ton.

Yet according to civic activist Suzanne Sundburg, who cites the County’s own recycling website, that cost is dwarfed by the $43.16 per ton fee the County pays to haul its trash to the WTE facility in Alexandria.

So the move makes no economic sense. It also makes no environmental sense, since glass, which doesn’t burn, must ultimately be trucked to a landfill.

The move away from recycling glass isn’t necessary. Alexandria has established 4 waste-glass drop-off centers; this material will be sent from the drop-off centers to a Fairfax County processing facility to be recycled into gravel and sand that can be used locally.

If Alexandria, which co-owns the WTE plant, can find a way to recycle waste glass without inconveniencing its residents, Arlington can too.

Arlington “Bicycle Element” Calls for Widened Bike Trails

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, April 23, 2019.

Several organizations have recommended widening bike trails in County parks to handle a growing population of bikers. This is the same mantra used to widen highways in Northern Virginia with the same result–more congestion, unsafe conditions, loss of wildlife habitat and excessive runoff.

Dr. Bernard Berne, a long time community leader and avid cyclist, reports that he is “not aware of any studies that have demonstrated that widening existing trails in urban areas increase[s] their safety or decrease[s] speeding. In the absence of such demonstrations, the Bicycle Element should not ‘consider widening to accommodate heavy use’ (Policy 10.b, p. 25).”

Dr. Berne has forwarded to you a set of proposed amendments to the draft Bicycle Element that would proscribe or limit road widening in urban parks.

He also recommends that you add the following sections to Policy 5 (p. 19) consistent with the 2012 AASHTO Guide for Development of Bicycle Facilities:

i.   To protect natural areas near trails, limit the maximum widths of paved trails to 10 feet.

i.    Mowed buffers adjacent to paved trails in natural areas should not exceed three feet in width, except where environmental conditions prevent this. 

Please add a sentence to Appendix C. Design Guidance (p. 46):  

The AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities is used by Arlington County staff primarily for the design of multi-use trails. ASHTO guidance includes limitations on the widths of heavily used trails that are constrained by natural areas and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs).

Please remove from Appendix D projects to widen both the Four Mile Run (2-02) and Mount Vernon Trails (2-09), as both transect Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) along the Potomac River and/or a major tributary thereof.

Finally remove the 8th Road N./Bluemont Park Connector (2-30) and the Bluemont and Upton Hill woodland trail linkage (2-29), neither of which are needed and both of which would adversely impact an RPA.

Rosslyn Affordable Apartments To Be Recycled Into Luxury Condos

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/23/19.

I’m concerned about the lack of specificity of the proposed Best Western site plan. On the one hand, staff says the developer might replace the rental units in the building to be demolished at 1523 Fairfax Drive with new rental units on site. Or he might provide a cash payment to the County to purchase replacement rental units elsewhere.

So which is it? How can County Board make an informed decision about the project without knowing exactly what is going to replace the Ellis Arms Apartments—one of the few remaining market rate affordable apartment buildings in the County?

Also the staff report itself is unclear on the legality of replacing rental units with condo units under the County’s Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD) policy, which governs this property. According to the report:

. . . the SAHPD designation is intended to replace the existing affordability levels of the property being demolished. The inclusion of up to 80% AMI condominiums would not replace the up to 60% AMI existing affordable rental units at the Ellis Arms (p. 21).

Staff Report, Item 41, 4/23/19

An agent for the developer stated upfront at the April 4 Transportation Commission hearing on this matter that Ellis Arms is going to be replaced with condos not rental units.

The developer himself has no illusions. He thinks he’s fulfilled his end of the bargain by making a generous affordable housing contribution. It’s not his problem if the stock of affordable housing in the County is further reduced in the process.

The fact that staff continue to equivocate about the disposition of Ellis Arms suggests to me that the County is acting duplicitously to cover its own tracks. It doesn’t want to let on that this project violates both the spirit of the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and the intent of the SAHPD. So it’s fostering an illusion that affordable housing might be saved.

PRESS Release: What’s Not to Like About Your Property Taxes?

In a recent editorial, the Arlington Sun Gazette warned readers not to be “fooled by [the County’s] budget ballet.” The editorial observed that the slew of budget cuts proposed in this year’s School Board and County budgets . . .

are part of a plan to foment community outrage in order to both grease the wheels for a higher tax rate (to “protect” the programs from the chopping block) and to shield from public scrutiny a host of other government operations that probably could stand a little slicing and dicing, but which top officials want to protect from the budget guillotine.

Sun Gazette Editorial, 4/11/19

Exactly. The Sun Gazette knows that placing vital programs on the chopping block is the best way for County Board to push a tax increase, while concealing real pork in the budget.The April 2, 2019 budget hearing did not disappoint.

On that occasion, dozens of angry residents from organizations dependent on County largesse descended on the County Board room to express their outrage at proposed cuts to their budgets.

The groups were outdone by some individuals who actually demanded a tax increase! These folks evidently don’t care that their taxes are raised every year in the form of steadily rising real estate assessments and that these increases are driving people out of the County.

In fact the County Manager’s own budget report(budget book 144, web 152) together with the annual Consumer Price Index indicate that Arlington real estate taxes have increased more than double the rate of inflation over the past ten years.

Yet every year the County Manager trots out the same canard that the Arlington tax rate is lower than surrounding jurisdictions (budget book 105, web 113).

What matters is not the tax rate, but your tax bill, and by that measure, Arlington tops every other jurisdiction except Falls Church (budget book 147, web 155).

I’m A Fiscal Hawk

Are you tired of your annual property tax increases and bored by the budget ballet that the County puts on every year to justify them? Then you should consider an Independentalternative.
If elected to County Board, you can be sure that I will not approve tax rate increases that exceed the rate of inflation.
In addition, if elected, I pledge to:

  • Seek other tax relief for residents and businesses and stop the exodus of federal agencies from Arlington.
  • Preserve green space and emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Promote transparency by requiring publication of official documents at least 72 hours before board and commission meetings.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

As a 15-year Westover resident, long-time civic activist and current member of the Transportation Commission–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Quid Pro Quo Needed To Raise Taxes

Comments at Arlington Budget Hearing, April 2, 2019.

The principal fiscal impact of County Manager’s proposed budget is a 1.5 cent increase in the real estate tax. The tax increase approximates $10 million restored to the maintenance capital budget, which was slashed in last year’s budget (book 23, web 31).

Bike commuters like me welcome the restoration of funds for street paving as a public safety measure. But the tax increase is not needed to achieve it.

According to numbers reported in the proposed budget (book 144, web 152) and the annual Consumer Price Index–Arlington real estate taxes have increased more than double the rate of inflation over the past ten years.

Given that rising assessments drive healthy revenue increases every year, the County should not add to the tax burden without extracting quid pro quos from the principal recipients of its largesse—Metro and Arlington Public Schools (APS).

In the case of APS, the County should scrap any increase in the 46.6 % schools transfer (book 104, web 112) absent a commitment to reduce costs. In his proposed FY20 budget, Superintendent Patrick Murphy has offered to do just that through efficiencies, reductions and a modest increase in class size resulting in savings totaling $10 milllion (p. 57).

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Metro which has been awarded a 12% increase in its operating subsidy (book 25, web 33), beyond a statutorily required 3 percent “COLA”. In return for Arlington County’s generosity, Metro demands even more. Its quid pro quo? A promise to shut down 5 Northern Virginia Metrorail stations feeding Reagan National Airport for three months beginning Memorial Day weekend.

This is unacceptable. Arlington County must deny Metro the 22 percent increase in operating subsidy it demands until/unless it promises an immediate cessation or reduction of planned service disruptions.

Toll Cheating on I-66 Drives Up Tolls

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, March 16, 2019

I’m speaking on my own behalf as an Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST) director, not as a member of the Transportation Commission.

Recently, ACST made FOIA inquiries with Virginia State Police (VSP) and VDOT to determine whether toll cheating on I-66 Inside the Beltway (ITB) by solo motorists is inflating the toll prices.

Reportedly, pursuant to the attached, redacted Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between VDOT and VSP, during the first year of tolling, VDOT reimbursed VSP approximately $550,000 from I-66 toll revenue for new VSP enforcement activities, including at least four additional state troopers to monitor the gantries along I-66 for toll cheaters.

Under this MOU (p. 4), the VSP Area Commander is supposed to issue daily, monthly, and quarterly HOV-enforcement reports–“with vehicle information and the time/date of violations”–to VDOT’s “I-66 ITB Facility Manager”. VSP indicated that it does not routinely do this.

Instead, it produces database-generated summary reports showing incidents and citations by incident type. The incident summary report for the first 53 weeks of I-66 tolling shows 1,326 HOV stops resulting in 702 citations.

Dividing the 702 HOV citations by 253 8-hour tolling days in this 53-week reporting period, yields an average of 2.77 HOV citations for every 8 hours of tolling.

A 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility’s 14,000 daily trips vehicle trips/day taken with an E-ZPass Flex set in the HOV mode would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day, whereas the VSP has cited fewer than 3 vehicles/day, on average, for HOV violations.

Moreover, ACST suspects that HOV enforcement on I-66 is largely limited to westbound travel, allowing eastbound solo motorists to routinely cheat the tolls with near impunity.

Populist outrage over the “sky high” AM eastbound tolls threatens to undo the Transform 66 initiative, leading to more traffic congestion in Arlington and DC and an even wider I-66. Unless elected officials and VDOT get serious about enforcing I-66 tolls, I fear that will happen.

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not To Like About Amazon in Arlington, Part 4

The Arlington Chamber of Commerce recently urged its members to support the deal that will install Amazon’s second headquarters in Crystal City in return for $750 million in state cash incentives–plus many other freebies from the state and county.

Also “expressing full support for a County agreement with Amazon” was the Crystal City Crystal City Citizen Review Council (CCCRC) which ruled that concerns about the impacts of HQ2 on housing and schools must be subordinated to reducing the office vacancy rate.

According to the Sun Gazette, opposition to the deal has been limited to a “largely left-wing contingent” that has nevertheless given the Chamber of Commerce a lot of heartburn.

Will someone please tell the Chamber of Commerce not to worry? Amazon HQ2 is a done deal. County Board has openly admitted that it had no input on the Governor’s secret negotiations with Amazon last year. And–unlike self respecting New York state elected officials who resented being side lined by their governor in negotiations with Amazon—County Board is serving as a rubber stamp for HQ2 right now.

Also you don’t have to be a leftist not to like the deal. All you have to do is earn less than $150,000 per year—the average wage of an Amazon hire at HQ2. To see the inflationary impact of HQ2 hires on housing prices, go to the federal government’s benchmark housing price (HP) index.

The HP index shows that over the past five years, when Amazon completed its conquest of the e-commerce market, King County, Washington (Amazon’s current location) registered three times the housing price inflation as Arlington.

What that means is that once Amazon comes to town, a lot of tenants are going to be looking for cheaper digs, and a lot of fixed income single family homeowners will have no option but to sell or face foreclosure.