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meeting, County Attorney Steve MacIsaac insisted that Governor Northam’s March 12 declaration of a state emergency superseded the County’s authority to act on its own.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

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.