PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not To Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 3

February 6, 2019

Virginia is roiling over a photo posted in a 1984 yearbook allegedly depicting Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface. No matter that the news was surfaced by opposition research or that the current sitting U.S. President was himself sued as a young man by the U.S. Department of Justice for discriminating against Blacks. State and national Democratic leaders have fallen all over themselves demanding Northam’s resignation.

A Bribe Is a Bribe

I too question Governor Northam’s leadership, but not because of his youthful indiscretions. I’m concerned about the deal he negotiated with Amazon to site one of its new headquarters in Crystal City. Specifically I don’t like the extortionate $550-$750 million “incentive payment” Amazon extracted from the state to move here. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not to Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 2

January 20, 2019

Pundits speculate why with bigger concessions offered by other competitors, Amazon chose to put half of HQ2 in Crystal City. Some ascribe the move to the area’s transportation infrastructure and highly educated workforce. Others think it’s the convenience of Crystal City to CEO Jeff Bezos’ new home in Washington, DC.

Still others point to Bezos’ proximity to the Pentagon, where Amazon Web Services is poised to win a $10 billion cloud contract. Roshan Abraham of Our Revolution Arlington (OR-A) declared at the January 8 Civic Federation meeting that it’s the access Amazon will have to federal officials.

Seattle City Council Knows Who’s Boss

Another obvious advantage to Arlington for Amazon is the ability to manipulate local government officials. Consider that in May, 2018, Amazon spearheaded a petition drive to oust the entire Seattle City Council after the Council imposed a head tax on companies grossing over $20 million per year to pay for housing for the homeless.

Within a month all but two Council members had capitulated, and the head tax was repealed. Evidently Bezos didn’t buy Seattle City Council’s argument that there’s a direct relationship between high priced tech jobs and inflated housing prices. What he did buy was Seattle City Council. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: What’s Not to Like About Amazon In Arlington, Part 1

January 13, 2018

Corporate and civic leaders throughout the Washington metropolitan area are ecstatic about Amazon’s decision to locate one of its two new headquarters to Crystal City. In announcing the deal, outgoing Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol boasted that Amazon’s decision was “a validation of our community’s commitment to sustainability, transit-oriented development, affordable housing and diversity.”

Victor Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development, remembers shouting “yahoo!” when he heard the news.

George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller declared: “The benefits are so humongous. This is really big. Nobody has really covered how big this is for a region like the Washington region”.

Fuller now estimates a $26 million annual net tax benefit to the County or half his original published estimate of $52 million, which assumed twice as many jobs created at HQ2. This is substantially less than the County’s unsubstantiated estimate of $32 million.

Yet even Fuller’s reduced amount overestimates the net tax benefit, since his calculations on the Amazon deal underestimate per pupil school costs by $3,000 per year. Table 6 in Fuller’s report on the Amazon deal assumes a per pupil cost of $18,015 per year, whereas numbers published in Exhibit 4 and Table K the 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) indicate a per pupil cost of $21,313 per year.

The Amazon deal is also inequitable. For one thing, according to Bernie Sanders, Amazon reaped $5.6 billion in profits, yet paid no federal taxes in 2017.
Continue reading

Crystal City Traffic Impact Analysis Misreported

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on May 19, 2018.

Although I’m a member of the Arlington Transportation Commission, I’m speaking on my own behalf, and my opinion does not reflect that of the Commission on the matter at hand.

I like this plan because its principal feature, a 21 story residential tower, represents a practical way to reuse a vacant office building that promises to remain vacant otherwise. It will meet the demand for more housing while promising economic benefits to the developer and the County. The architectural design is aesthetically pleasing, and the developer promises to dedicate a major portion of the site to a public park.

However, my principal focus is traffic generated by the development, and I am concerned about the numbers reported and the conclusions drawn by the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA), which is referenced in the staff report accompanying this agenda item. Continue reading

Traffic Impacts? What Traffic Impacts?

Remarks for Arlington County Board meeting on April 21, 2018.

Although I’m a member of the Arlington Transportation Commission, I’m speaking on my own behalf, and my opinion does not reflect that of the Commission on the matter at hand.

I applaud Wesley Housing Development Corporation’s ambitious plan to put in affordable housing at Route 50 near George Mason Drive. But analysis of the traffic impact analysis (TIA) prepared by Wells + Associates belies its claim that the traffic impacts of the project will be negligible. Continue reading

Citizen Opposition to High Density Ballston Development Quashed

Remarks at Arlington County Board Meeting on February 24, 2018.

While ignoring citizen concerns about the impacts of high density development is routine in Arlington County, there are two remarkable features about the plan to densify North Ballston:

  1. At its February 12 meeting, 2018, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan even though the developer rejected its modest recommendation to limit the development to six stories and maintain a thirty foot separation between the proposed apartment building and the south wing of the Westview condominium.
  2. County staff contradicted itself in arguing that the quiet enjoyment of Westview Condominium residents would not be disturbed.

Regarding the first point, Commissioner Iacomini opined at the February 12, 2018 Planning Commission meeting that despite her misgivings about the plan, it would be “churlish” not to go along with it.

Commissioner Iacomini did not elucidate why it would be churlish to stand her ground on recommendations that she herself proposed. Evidently the Commissioner was cowed by County Board’s earlier rejection of her recommendations on advice of County staff. What this ethic implies is that whenever a commissioner is overruled, he/she ought to roll over.

Regarding the second point, County staff acknowledged in its report that both sunlight and views will be disturbed by the development.

The building will cast a new shadow to the east onto the 9-story Westview building during the spring, summer, and fall during the afternoon and evening hours. However, the shadowing at this specific site is more related to the heights of buildings, and it is unlikely that adjusting the placement of the subject building by several feet will have an effect on the shadows being cast onto the existing buildings. In addition, the shadow studies show that for much of the year, the existing Westview buildings will cast shadows onto the new building. The placement of the subject building will not result in a detrimental impact to the existing Westview buildings’ access to sunlight. p. 31.

What this means is that because building height is the culprit, building separation doesn’t matter, and because both the new high rise and the existing condominium will produce shadows, there will be no detrimental impact on Westview neighbors.

With rationalizations like these, it is no wonder that staff has also concluded that impacts in the form of increased congestion and student enrollment will also be negligible.

In the larger scheme of things, none of these impacts matter. All that matters is the financial impact of the development, which will enrich both the developer and the County.

PRESS RELEASE: Compromise On Community Concerns Not an Option for County Board

September 25, 2017

I’m an Independent candidate in the race for an open seat on County Board in November, and I seek your endorsement.

Do you wonder why Arlington streets are so congested, its schools overcrowded, and its parks candidates for the Endangered Species List? Arlington County Board will tell you that the County is a victim of its own success in attracting new residents to its walkable, Metro accessible neighborhoods.

The fact of the matter is the County could easily accommodate more new residents with fewer impacts if it adhered to its own written policies, the recommendations of its commissions and the advice of the public.

Consider that on September 16, the County approved the design for a new community center near Lubber Run that was deprecated by the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission (E2C2), Natural Resources Joint Advisory Group (NRJAG), the Public Facilities Review Committee (PFRC) and the Urban Forestry Commission, because it will necessitate major excavation of the site to put in a massive underground parking garage in contravention of its Car Free Diet policy. It will also require removal of 100 shade trees in contravention of the County’s Public Spaces Master Plan. These features will likely induce runoff and degradation of the nearby Lubber Run watershed.

On September 19, the County approved the location of new a VRE rail station in Crystal City, ignoring the pleas of the Planning Commission, Crystal City civic organizations and condo association leaders to defer a decision until the costs and impacts of alternative sites are fully evaluated–a modest request considering that the new rail station will be a permanent landmark and a major Northern Virginia transportation hub.

Also on September 19, the County ignored the pleas of numerous residents of the Leeway Overlee community to approve a day care center that will likely engender cut through traffic on an adjacent one lane street off Lee Highway that has already experienced major traffic accidents.

In each instance the demands of development superseded the concerns of residents about the environmental impacts of the project. In each of these cases, modifications to the scale or siting of the proposed facility would have appeased neighbors and resulted in a structure more in keeping with its surroundings.

So why isn’t County Board listening to all of its citizens? The simple answer is that confident that it will get reelected no matter what it does, the Board simply doesn’t care.

You can help turn that situation around by electing another Independent to Arlington County Board who will be accountable to the voters. Arlington currently has one Independent on County Board, who is well respected among County residents. Let’s make it two!!!

If elected, I pledge to:

  • Seek ongoing 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 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

To find out more about my campaign, visit my website. Better still you can make a difference by endorsing my candidacy.

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

VRE Crystal City Rail Station Needs More Study

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on 9/19/2017.

The fact that VRE is planning a new rail station for Crystal City points to the success of its rail operations in Northern Virginia. The fact that it has actively solicited input from VRE rail riders demonstrates its commitment to serving them. Unfortunately VRE’s consensus building efforts have excluded residents of Crystal City, who challenge VRE’s claims that construction of Option 2 will have no significant noise or pollution impacts. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: Demolitions Ongoing in Westover Village

August 7, 2017

I’m an Independent candidate in the race for an open seat on County Board in November, and I seek your endorsement.

Among the principal issues facing the County is the steady loss of market rate affordable housing. This week one more Westover Village apartment building was demolished to make way for luxury town homes.

Next week the garden apartment next door to it will be leveled. This brings to 9 the number of garden apartments in Westover Village leveled since 2013.

In 2016 the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) purchased eight apartment buildings housing 68 units to stave off more demolitions. But more than half the tenants in those buildings were evicted because they exceeded 60% of area median income of about $46,000 for one person. So according to APAH’s strict income guidelines, they had to go.

In a fact sheet published in 2016 APAH estimated that there were 450 remaining affordable units in Westover. Subtract from that the 68 it salvaged and the 16 units just demolished, and there are maybe 375 units left.

Since APAH has essentially maxed out its debt capacity in Westover, the only way to prevent the demolition of the remaining units is local historic designation, a petition for which was submitted to the Arlington Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (AHALRB) over a year ago.

At a public hearing in November, 2016, Westover single family homeowners opposed local historic designation. It didn’t matter that the neighborhood is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor that they can reap federal tax benefits from renovations to their homes as a result of such designation. They were outraged at restrictions it would place on exterior alterations to their homes. Some even argued that the apartments are an eyesore that should be demolished to make way for upscale housing and guarantee more profits for Westover businesses.

AHALRB attempted to appease homeowners by narrowing the boundaries of the proposed local historic district to the apartments, and it tasked County staff to study the matter, but since then the review board has done nothing. No wonder.

County records indicate that the sale price of the three Westover garden apartments demolished in 2013 was $4 million. The total sale price of the 20 luxury town homes that replaced them was $16.8 million dollars or more than 4 times the value of the original properties.

Not only has the developer made a killing on these properties, but the County has profited in the form of increased real estate tax revenue. In fact a net present value analysis that assumes a current tax rate of $1 per $100 of assessed valuation, an annual effective tax increase of 3 percent, and a current APR of 2 percent, put the tax revenue accruing to the County over fifty years at about $8 million.

If the County realizes the same rate of return on the demolition of the remaining Westover garden apartments, it will reap over $100 million in increased tax revenue over the lifetime of their replacements. So what’s not to like about that?

For one thing, there’s a fairness issue. A lot of longstanding, hardworking, responsible tenants are now facing long commutes as a result of displacement from Arlington County.

For another thing, there’s a public health issue. The most recent demolitions were put on hold when it was determined that both buildings were insulated with asbestos, making demolition hazardous for anyone in the nearby.

And there’s an economic issue. While the speculative prices commanded by the developers of Westover Village might be attractive to high income wage earners, they drive up assessments overall, spelling hardship and possible foreclosure for people on fixed incomes, single heads of households, and those who find themselves out of work.

This should be cause for concern to most government workers, given the imminent downsizing of the County’s biggest employer, the federal government, should Trump’s proposed budget cuts be enacted.

Finally the ongoing evictions in Westover undermine the Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP), the primary purpose of which is to preserve the County’s affordable housing.

If elected, I am going to call upon AHALRB to expedite consideration of petitions for local historic designation to preserve Arlington’s remaining affordable housing and stabilize Arlington’s housing market.

If elected, I also pledge to:

  • Seek ongoing 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 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Arlington currently has one Independent on County Board, who is well respected among County residents. Let’s make it two!!!

To find out more about my campaign, visit my website. Better still you can make a difference by endorsing my candidacy.

PRESS RELEASE: Just Say No To Business As Usual On Arlington County Board

July 8, 2017

I’m an Independent candidate in the race for an open seat on County Board in November, and I seek your endorsement.

Although my Democratic opponent Erik Gutshall claims to be a progressive, he was nominated in a “firehouse” caucus, imposed by party insiders that required all voters to sign a pledge that they

“do not intend to support, endorse or assist any candidate who is opposed to a Democratic nominee in the ensuing election.”

It’s bad enough that the “Caucus” was meant to stack the deck in favor of Gutshall, the insiders’ favorite. What’s even worse is that the pledge itself infringes on your right to vote your conscience when you go to the polls in November. How arrogant! Any candidate who benefits from this undemocratic process is progressive in name only.

Politics aside, Arlington County is facing major challenges, including:

  • a 20 percent office vacancy rate;
  • an estimated 3,000 students in trailers;
  • major future Metro shortfalls; and
  • the likely disproportionate impact on Arlington businesses and residents of anticipated federal budget cuts this fall.

Meanwhile Erik’s record as a longstanding member of the Planning Commission and its current Chair, indicates that he is content with business as usual.

In fact a survey of recent Planning Commission decisions shows Gutshall endorsed every site plan development project submitted since the beginning of 2016–expressing little concern about the impacts on transportation, schools, parks and other public services.

If you are complacent about the future of Arlington County and content with someone who goes along to get along, then Gutshall is your man. If you feel as I do, that Arlington’s uncertain economic environment requires a more proactive form of leadership–INDEPENDENT LEADERSHIP–then I am your candidate.

If elected, I also pledge to:

  • Seek ongoing 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 13-year Westover resident and long-time civic activist–with a Ph.D. in political science and service as a Congressional Fellow–I have both the experience and independence to promote these reforms.

Arlington currently has one Independent on County Board, who is well respected among County residents. Let’s make it two!!!

To find out more about my campaign, visit my website. Better still you can make a difference by endorsing my candidacy.

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