Arlington County Board Plans to Suspend In Person Meetings Till 6 Months After COVID Crisis

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, May 19, 2020

At first blush the ordinance to suspend public meetings and code enforcement during the COVID crisis seems eminently reasonable.

Obviously County Board and other boards and commissions can’t meet in public during a pandemic without jeopardizing the participants. The ordinance authorizes virtual meetings instead, and that’s good.

Also good is the removal of a provision that would have suspended Long Range Planning Committee and Site Plan Review Committee meetings, evidently at the urging of the Urban Forestry Commission, which protested the provision in an angry letter to County Board on May 15.

I’m also happy that the County plans to waive late fees and interest on delayed payments for County services.

But another provision calling for across the board suspension of code enforcement is troubling. I appreciate that enforcement of existing regulations against restaurants or their patrons for parking violations makes no sense when restaurants have been forced to switch to grab and go take out to preserve their businesses.

But I do not understand why enforcement of land use permits has been suspended or what hardship such enforcement would impose either on developers or County staff.

The County Manager has advised that no County staff have been laid off as a result of the pandemic. Some of them are now engaged in relief efforts. But what about the rest? Are they not available to do this kind of work?

Finally I object to the extension of this ordinance until six (6) months after the end of the COVID-19 disaster. Not only does the extension constitute overreach, it makes no sense. The COVID disaster will not end until the risk to public health and safety prompts the lifting of a state of emergency. With the emergency gone, on what legal basis does the County propose to suspend normal democratic processes for another six months?

Northern Virginia Stream Bank Restoration Projects Do More Harm Than Good

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, May 16, 2020

A letter to the editor in this week’s Mount Vernon Gazette entitled “Wrong Approach for Stream Restoration” (pp. 6-7), deplores misguided stream “restoration” projects in our region.  

According to author Rod Simmons, a Fairfax County environmental consultant, the LTE, “identically applies to . . . the currently planned upper Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch projects in Arlington County, as well as virtually all other upper headwater stream projects in our region.”

He says: “The biggest problem with the so-called natural channel design approach to stream “restoration” for us in the greater Washington, D.C. region is that it is planned and implemented in completely the wrong places: small order, interior forested, upper headwater streams and wetlands. Natural channel design (i.e. the Rosgen method) is mainly applicable to large order streams and rivers, especially the kind one finds in the American west. Applying it to small order, upper headwater stream channels of the deeply dissected Fall Zone of our area is a misuse of the methodology, a misunderstanding of eastern Fall Zone hydrology and stream geomorphology, a sure recipe for failure, a mismanagement of public funds by inappropriately targeting sediment-control projects in places with low levels of the very nutrients for which funding is based, and an unacceptable loss of irreplaceable native forest, wildlife, and landscape memory.

“The controversial Hollin Hills stream construction projects in the Little Hunting Creek watershed of Fairfax County, Virginia embody the worst elements of these misguided land use projects at virtually every level, from land giveaway to project planning to backing by elected officials.”

According to Suzanne Sundburg, “the science is clear. Privatizing stream ‘restoration’ has perverted its original intent. No matter how well intentioned, the process — as currently practiced in Arlington and elsewhere — it is incredibly destructive to holistic stream and riparian ecology.

“Corrective measures made solely to the receiving streambed will never correct the root cause: steadily increasing inputs of runoff volume and speed, fueled by increasing impervious surfaces and the loss of mature tree canopy throughout the watershed.”

Do You Want a Rubber Stamp or a Community Leader for Arlington County Board?

Arlington County Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum: Closing Remarks, 5/12/20

The issue in this year’s County Board race is clear. Do you want an engaged community leader or a rubber stamp? I am the former, and my opponent is the latter.

For eight full years Libby Garvey has uncritically endorsed every tax payer rip off since the Pike trolley, including the Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park Aquatic Center. These boondoggles are so overbuilt they are already too expensive to operate. Libby has also rubber stamped every major site plan development project to come down the proverbial pike without regard to their impacts on traffic, schools, parks, public safety, runoff or pollution.

Lately my opponent has elevated her usual do nothing stance to a virtue by suspending her campaign to devote herself to the Covid crisis. Yet in all recent County Board Covid town halls, Libby has insisted that she can do little to regulate local businesses during the crisis, even though Title 44 of VA code provides localities with explicit authority to do just that.

Chairman Garvey’s abdication of her responsibilities has reached a critical stage now that that the Governor has announced a gradual reopening of the state, risking all the progress we’ve made in flattening the curve.

As an Independent candidate for Arlington County Board, I won’t claim credit for rubber-stamping done deals. I won’t beg off exercising County Board’s duly delegated emergency oversight authority.

You can help me help you flatten the Covid curve by:

  • Visiting my website at www.AudreyClement.com
  • Spreading the word about my candidacy
  • Volunteering or donating to my campaign and
  • Voting for me on November 3.

Let’s join together to make Arlington a Covid free place to live and work.

COVID Curtailment and Upzoning Are Key Issues in County Board Race

Arlington Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum: Opening Remarks, 5/12/20

I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board. As a 16-year Westover resident, long time civic activist, and current member of the Transportation Commission, I’m running for County Board because it has pushed harmful policies resulting in: overcrowded schools, traffic congestion, gentrification, and an effective tax rate that is twice the rate of inflation. 

The coronavirsus has challenged residents’ ability to absorb tax assessment increases, with many businesses shuttered and people out of work. While the County deserves credit for abiding by the Governor’s lock down order, it needs to leverage its own independent authority under Virginia’s Local Emergency Statute, to curtail the pandemic. This my opponent Libby Garvey refuses to do, insisting that the Governor must approve any actions the County takes.

Another area where I clash with the current County Board is replacing single family homes with so called “missing middle” housing– multi-family dwellings like duplexes, triplexes and apartments. Contrary to what they say, “missing middle” is a euphemism for upzoning that will not make housing more affordable. Instead it will lead to escalating housing prices, overcrowded schools, traffic congestion, loss of tree canopy, increased runoff and more air pollution. If elected, I pledge to:

  • Act aggressively to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Oppose upzoning.
  • Seek immediate tax relief for residents and businesses.
  • Emphasize basic services like: streets, schools, libraries and public safety.
  • Provide a voice on County Board for all taxpayers.

If you share my agenda, then:

  • Spread the word about my candidacy.
  • Donate to my campaign.

Together we can make the “Arlington Way” more than an empty phrase.

PRESS RELEASE: Arlington County Says Governor Calls the Shots During COVID Crisis

May 2, 2020

I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent for County Board on November 3, and I’m unhappy that County Board continues to waffle in its response to COVID-19.

At the April 25, 2020 County Board meeting, County Attorney Steve MacIsaac insisted that Governor Northam’s March 12 declaration of a state emergency superseded the County’s authority to act on its own.

While Title 44 of Virginia Code does require localities to coordinate with the Governor for goods or services they can’t procure themselves, there is no limitation on their power to act using their own resources during either statewide or local emergencies.

Also if the County Attorney’s reading of Title 44 is correct, why did the County Manager himself declare a local emergency on March 13, a day after the Governor’s March 12 declaration supposedly superseded his own authority?

Nothing in Virginia code prevents local authorities from taking action in local emergencies, and failure to do so can have dire consequences.

For example, because the Governor did not close bars and restaurants until March 24, the pandemic continued to spread along the R-B corridor and Crystal City for a full ten days. This period included Saint Patrick’s Day, which probably generates more disease spreading, bar hopping activity in Arlington than any other day of the year.

If Arlington had exercised its local emergency powers between March 12 and March 24, when the Governor finally shut the bars down, it might have enjoyed a head start in flattening the curve.

Now I know that’s water over the dam. But health experts are predicting another COVID-19 wave in the fall. If and when that happens, we need a County Board that is proactive rather than reactive.

Also the Virginia Health Department reports that a few jurisdictions in northern Virginia account for more than half the cases statewide. This situation begs for mutual aid or coordinated action among neighboring counties, which is already authorized under Title 44.

Yet my opponent Libby Garvey downplayed mutual aid at the April 25 County Board meeting, indicating that coordinated efforts are difficult. If Libby’s right, that could explain why the COVID curve continues to march up rather than down in northern Virginia.

If I am elected before the COVID-19 crisis abates, I will:

  • insist that Arlington County exercise its duly legislated authority to contain the spread of the pandemic;
  • engage in mutual aid efforts with neighboring jurisdictions; and
  • demand that the Governor provide enhanced support to the Northern Virginia region.

I will also:

  • Seek more tax relief for County residents.
  • 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.

Arlington County to Eliminate Tax Incentive for Apartment Renovations

Comments At Arlington County Tax Hearing, April 23, 2020

Buried in the FY21 Budget Book, is the proposal now before the Board to repeal the partial tax exemption for renovation of multi-family properties.

At a recent County Board meeting I commented that 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.”

Christian Dorsey responded that the partial tax exemption incentive is never used. Yet according to the County Manager:

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. (Budget Book 87-97)

Mark Schwartz, Arlington County Manager

If indeed the incentive is not used, then no past revenue has been foregone and no future revenue will be realized. What then is the purpose of the ordinance other than to cut off the only remaining mechanism for preserving market rate affordable housing in the County?

***

Arlington County thinks it’s doing taxpayers a favor with no increase in the real estate tax rate this year. Yet comparison of the numbers in the County’s own FY21 budget book with Bureau of Labor statistics indicates that taxes have increased at double the rate of inflation over the past ten years (web 119).

This taxpayer rip off can be absorbed in a thriving economy. But the unemployment rate has skyrocketed, and there is no end in sight to the pandemic that has throttled the U.S. economy.

As a result, hundreds of people may be faced with foreclosure before the year is out. Under these circumstances County Board should reduce the current tax rate not maintain it.

Arlington County Manager Right Sizes FY21 Budget

Comments at Arlington County Budget Hearing, April 23, 2020

I commend the County Manager for his revised FY21 budget proposal. Anticipating a $56 million drop in tax and fee revenue due to COVID-19, the Manager has reduced expenditures and allocated some of the savings, as well as reserve and unspent funds to COVID relief.

The revised budget economies include:

  • Maintaining staff and salaries at current levels;
  • Reduction in the schools transfer by $21 million;
  • Maintaining AHIF funding at $16 million;
  • Deferral of new bond sales in the current, chaotic market;
  • Deferral of the opening of expensive new facilities;
  • Deferral of short term PAYGO capital projects;
  • Preservation of the General Operating Reserve for future needs.

Reduction of the school transfer has forced APS to increase class size by 1 student. Since APS has the single smallest secondary class size and the single highest cost per pupil of any jurisdiction in the region, this reform is long overdue.

Maintaining AHIF funding at current levels will enable the County to redirect housing funds to rent subsidies for those faced with eviction and is a far more efficient use of taxpayer money than building new committed affordable units (CAFs) at $400,000 a pop.

Foregoing the use of the operating reserve at this time is wise, considering that it will maintain the County’s debt rating and may be needed later.

My only quarrel with the revised FY21 budget is that it should be the norm rather than the exception. If the County had implemented some of these cost cutting measures ten years ago, Arlington taxpayers would not have seen their taxes rise on average at twice the rate of inflation (FY21 Budget Book, web 119).

PRESS RELEASE: Arlington Won’t Invoke Authority Under Local Emergency Statute to Contain COVID-19

April 13, 2020

I’m Audrey Clement, and I’m running for Arlington County Board in the November 3, 2020 election. I’m concerned that the County is not doing all that it can do to stop the spread of COVID-19.

True. Arlington County has announced measures to expand COVID-19 testing, provide food assistance for those in need, and help small businesses. This is all good.

However, at an April 10 virtual town hall my opponent, Libby Garvey, insisted that Arlington has limited authority to act, saying “[W]e don’t always have the authority to do what we see very clearly that we need to do and in an as effective way that we can. [53:22]”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Title 44 of Virginia Code provides localities with the express authority to “control, restrict, allocate or regulate the use, sale, production and distribution of food, fuel, clothing and other commodities, materials, goods, services and resource systems” during a local emergency.

In responding to my claim that Title 44 should have been invoked to shut down bars and restaurants before Governor Northam’s Executive Order closed them on March 24, Garvey told the Sun Gazette:
“Should Fairfax and Alexandria and Falls Church have continued to have their bars and restaurants open, it would only have encouraged our residents to go there, and the problem of viral spread would still exist.”

This is bunk. If Arlington had closed its bars timely, it would have sent a signal to all other localities in Northern Virginia that they could and should do the same.

No N95 Face Masks for Personal Use

The need for standard N95 face masks for personal use is another area where the County lacks leadership. At the April 10 town hall, County Board member Christian Dorsey intoned CDC guidance that do it yourself coverings are adequate. He even cited Libby Garvey’s video on how to make your own. While do it yourself face masks might be reassuring, the notion that they are adequate for protection against COVID-19 is doubtful.

A fact sheet put out by CDC itself demonstrates that N95 masks provide far better protection than even standard surgical masks. If that’s the case, then the County should be skeptical of CDC’s insistence that the public doesn’t need them.

If I am elected before the crisis abates, I will:

  • demand that CDC cease and desist from underplaying the pandemic;
  • demand that President Trump exercise his authority under the Defense Production Act to requisition N95 masks and ration them for personal use; and
  • cite Title 44 of Virginia Code as the relevant authority.

I will also:

  • 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 andindependence to promote these reforms

PRESS RELEASE: Arlington County Failed to Exercise Its Authority to Stop Spread of COVID-19

April 5, 2020

I’m Audrey Clement, and I’m running for Arlington County Board in the November 3, 2020 election. I’m concerned that in following Governor Northam’s half measures in March to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Arlington County officials are now behind the curve.

On March 16 both Maryland and DC closed down all eating and drinking establishments except for take out. Governor Northam kept these establishments open in Virginia for another full week. Anxious that this delay would promote the spread of the virus in their densely packed neighborhoods, Arlington County officials implored restaurants and bars to stop serving customers, arguing that they themselves didn’t have the authority to shut the establishments down.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Title 44 of Virginia Code provides localities with the express authority to “control, restrict, allocate or regulate the use, sale, production and distribution of food, fuel, clothing and other commodities, materials, goods, services and resource systems” during a local emergency.

Arlington invoked the so-called Dillon Rule to abdicate its Title 44 responsibility to shut down eating establishments. While the Dillon Rule proscribes localities from taking actions not expressly delegated by the state General Assembly, the Dillon Rule does NOT prevent them from exercising rights they already have.

While Arlington County government routinely hides behind the Dillon Rule to evade its responsibilities, failure to close bars and restaurants timely was particularly egregious, since it promoted the spread of a deadly disease along the R-B and Route 1 corridors.

You can be sure that if elected, I will oppose blanket invocation of the Dillon Rule to avoid taking actions that will benefit county residents.

I will also:

  • 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.

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.