Federal Government Response to COVID-19 Inadequate

PRESS RELEASE: March 29, 2020

I’m Audrey Clement, and I’m running for Arlington County Board in the November 3, 2020 election. Like most other Arlington residents, I’m focused on the government’s response to the coronavirus.
Congress just enacted a $2 trillion economic relief bill, including: cash payments for people making under $100,000, $500 billion in business loans, and expanded sick leave and unemployment benefits. This is good. But these measures, which are designed to stimulate the economy, will not prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What is needed is a massive federal government effort to requisition ventilators, masks, goggles, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) from private industry for use by both medical professionals and the public.

To this end President Trump announced a National Emergency on Friday, March 13. However, except for an order of ventilators from GM, Trump has resisted requisitioning supplies needed to fight the spread of COVID-19. This in turn has engendered a bidding war for PPE among hard hit states.

Arlington officials could play a pivotal role in getting Trump to act by pointing out that unless PPE is made available locally, the spread of the virus could impact White House operations. This eventuality represents a threat to the national security.

You can be sure that I will exhort Arlington elected officials to hold Trump’s feet to the fire as long as the COVID crisis persists. If elected, I also plan to:

  • Seek tax relief for County residents.
  • Say NO to a recently authorized County Board pay grab.
  • 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 16-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.

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.

County to Eliminate Tax Exemption for Apartment Renovations

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, March 21, 2020

Buried in the County Manager’s proposed FY21 budget is a proposal to repeal the partial tax incentive for renovating multi-family properties. Yes, you heard me. After all the song and dance about affordable housing, the County Manager wants to scrap the one program in the County’s arsenal of housing tools that actually delivers affordable housing. He wants to transfer the revenue stream of additional taxes to the County’s so-called affordable housing programs. Here’s the proposal:

“The Proposed Budget recommends repealing Partial Exemption for Certain Rehabilitated Residential Real Estate. At this time the Manager is recommending that the exemption for owners/developers of multi-family properties be discontinued and that the County Board should consider investing in the County’s affordable housing programs instead of providing tax abatements to renovated properties. Repeal of the ordinance will not impact the FY 2021 Budget. Current applications will be allowed to continue to utilize the tax exemption. It is estimated that the collection of otherwise foregone revenue will not be realized until FY 2022 or FY 2023. This is due to the normal delay which occurs from the filing of the application, construction and rehabilitation, and the ultimate assessment and billing for the approved exemption.”

Budget Book 87-97

This initiative is directly contrary to several goals outlined in the Affordable Housing Master Plan, among them to:

“1.2.1 Incentivize the production of moderately-priced ownership housing through land use and zoning policy.

“1.2.2 Encourage production and preservation of family-sized (e.g. 3+bedroom) moderately-priced ownership units.”

It’s also fiscally irresponsible. At $400,000 and up, the cost of construction of a so-called committed affordable unit (CAF) exceeds that of a luxury condo. Renovation of an existing market rate unit might cost $200,000 or less. Housing non-profits like APAH will tell you that the loans they get from the County to build CAFs are all paid back in the form of rent. What they don’t tell you is that these rents are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. So whereas tenants make out like bandits, the taxpayer is gouged.

Scrapping the tax incentive to renovate market rate units belies the County’s commitment to affordable housing and is unfair to taxpayers.

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.

Misconceptions About “Missing Middle” Housing

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, February 22, 2020

On February 6, housing planner Russell Schroeder outlined the Housing Division’s “Missing Middle” housing study to the Transportation Commission. According to the study’s framework document, one of the goals is to arrive at “a shared definition for the term ‘missing middle housing’ for Arlington”.

The Transportation Commission, which embraced the plan, conceded that missing middle does not mean affordable housing. Indeed, ARLnow quoted Commissioner Kristin Calkins, who said: “The point of the Missing Middle Study is not to create affordable housing, but is to create housing for different needs.”

Commissioner James Lantelme said the purpose of Missing Middle is to further densify the County in order to reduce suburban sprawl and provide people who can afford to do so the opportunity to live here–in other words, to promote “Smart Growth”.

There was no concern expressed about the impacts of densification on County residents, including increased congestion, overcrowded schools, loss of green space and tree canopy and attendant runoff and flooding. To housing advocates like AHC who believe that Missing Middle will provide affordable housing, civic activist Suzanne Sundburg has this to say:

So all these folks who claim to support increasing the number of “people of color” and/or “affordability” are being intellectually dishonest. Increased density inflates land values. And inflated land values drive up assessments, which, in turn, drive up the tax burden. That increased tax burden falls heaviest on fixed- and low-income households . . . which often comprise people of color, seniors and the disabled. These developer welfare upzoning/densification programs increase the cost of housing for all Arlingtonians, and result in the displacement of the very people that they and the county claim they want to “help.”

Suzanne Sundburg

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.”

Arlington County Opposes Laws Requiring Police To Verify Immigration Status

Comments at League of Women Voters Hosted Hearing For Arlington Legislators, December 19, 2019

On Immigration:

I oppose an initiative included in the County Board legislative package to the General Assembly that would:

“Oppose any state mandate to localities requiring local law enforcement officers to evaluate the immigration status of individuals encountered during lawful stops or other routine police activities.”

First, this language turns the law on its head, because police officers are required to enforce the law, including immigration laws. See 8 U.S. Code § 1373 and 8 U.S. Code § 1644.

Second, proscribing traffic stops for immigration offenses amounts to selective enforcement, insofar as it requires police to ignore immigration offenses while citing non-immigration offenses. Selective enforcement of the law is a per se violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Third, it is well known that the principal victims of crimes perpetrated by illegal immigrants are legal immigrants. Barring police from citing undocumented persons will serve to oppress the many thousands of legal immigrants and naturalized citizens who reside in Northern Virginia.

Fourth, those who promote non-enforcement of immigration laws are using the issue as a cudgel to score political points by race baiting opponents. This type of demagoguery should not be tolerated by the General Assembly.

On Transportation:

A recently published VDOT report indicates that average speeds are down and travel time is up on eastbound I-66 Inside the Beltway toll lanes.

The likely culprit is tolling cheating on eastbound I-66 resulting from lack of enforcement by Virginia State Police due to unsafe road shoulders from which to monitor toll traffic. I urge the General Assembly to consult with VDOT regarding the installation of electronic detection devices at toll gantries to enable adequate surveillance of road traffic on eastbound I-66.

Upzoning the Arlington Way

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, December 14, 2019

The Arlington Connection recently ran a story on upzoning the Arlington way. It went like this. A large lot on North River Street in Chain Bridge Forest was recently sold by the estate of its former owner to a developer. He leveled the home and all 200 trees on it to make way for 4 new McMansions.

At a recent County Board meeting Christian Dorsey informed one of the impacted neighbors that the County Board couldn’t do anything about it. Appeals to the County Manager’s office, CPHD and the Zoning Administrator likewise fell on deaf ears. The reason is by right development according to Libby Garvey, who commented on “the need to examine regs that can discourage such projects.”

But that’s not likely to happen when the County Board votes to upzone residential neighborhoods. Then the plight of Chain Bridge Forest will play out across the County. Housing advocates like Affordable Housing Solutions are cheering the developers on, because they  naïvely believe that upzoning will produce affordable housing. That’s delusional. Upzoning will simply replace each million dollar tear down with 4 equally unaffordable pre-fabs.

A recent Sun Gazette editorial opined that upzoning will pit single family homeowners against recently “woke” voters who own no property and have no interest in preserving single family neighborhoods. Their votes will be bought by outside money from the likes of George Soros, who recently purchased the election of the County’s new Commonwealth Attorney.

 “Woke” voters are no doubt easily led. But their votes won’t be needed once existing owners realize that they can make a killing by selling to a developer, who will then cannibalize their property and immiserate their neighbors.

County Board Loosens Regulations on E-Scooters

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, November 16, 2019

Last month I protested the advertisement of this regulation as an exercise in reckless endangerment. As an example I related an experience reported by my physical therapist.

Several months ago, the therapist was biking on the Mount Vernon Trail near Gravelly Point, when he approached a helmetless 10 year-old travelling in the same direction on an e-scooter. Since the e-scooter was moving erratically, the therapist attempted to pass him from the left. As he did so, the e-scooter swerved into his path, causing the biker to wipe out.

I further related that the biker, a young, physically fit adult male, was not seriously injured. I have since learned that I was misinformed. The therapist suffered lacerations the length of the left side of his body and required physical therapy to alleviate the pain in his badly bruised left shoulder. The therapist further reports that his facility has been treating e-scooter riders for elbow injuries. His colleagues report a surge of ER visits from people with e-scooter injuries.

With adoption of this regulation, incidents like that reported by the physical therapist will become routine rather than incidental. Even those who want this regulation acknowledge that its limited protections are unenforceable. Absent an enforcement mechanism, it represents a public hazard.

Image the consequences of adding a complement of e-scooters to the additional traffic County Board authorized today at the intersection of Glebe Road and North Randolph Street. Personal injury lawyers will benefit from this regulation. No one else will.