Our May meetings had few, but significant, items.
Police Practices Group
Probably the most important issue we discussed was the advertisement of a new Police Practices Review Board and changes to our policing code. When we “advertise” an issue, it is meant to give time for residents to consider and discuss the issue and give us their opinion before we vote to adopt it a future meeting. We can adopt something narrower than what was advertised, but not broader.
Although our police department is excellent, no community or police department is perfect or immune from the systemic way people of different races and backgrounds are treated differently in our American society, even when there are good intentions and well-meaning efforts to ensure fair and equal treatment for everyone. Disparate treatment is baked into our systems so that we often do not even see it for what it is. This is one of the reasons systemic racism is so difficult to address and eliminate. Last year as we all grappled with the ramifications of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis, the Manager formed the Police Practices Group to take a look at our own police department policies and recommend which policies and practices should be changed. You can read their suggestions but one of the important recommendations was for a citizens review board.
We voted to advertise how that Board will be set up and operate. We will vote to adopt it in July after people have a chance to look over the proposal and make any suggestions to the Board. An important question for the County Board is the scope of power this body will have. We want it to have a broad ability to make sure that our police treat everyone well and justly, but we need to keep their authority appropriate for an appointed group of residents.
We also advertised changes to several items in our County code, including removing as a crime the refusal to identify oneself at the request of an officer. Research here and elsewhere shows that laws like this too easily create bad outcomes for populations of color and are not necessary for public safety.
With the pandemic, civil violence in DC, and general anger at police whether deserved or not, our police officers have been under tremendous pressure this past year and more. I was pleased we could approve a donation of services from the Cummings Foundation for Behavioral Health that is designed to improve services and resources for the wellness of Arlington County public safety workers. The Foundation is looking to conduct research and will be working with us for about 2-3 years to design a model program that will help our employees and can be a model for public safety employees in the nation. This is welcome expert resources and funds.
We also adopted our Vision Zero strategy to eliminate all transportation fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. This program focuses on every aspect of transportation safety from road and sidewalk design to human behavior. It brings a holistic vision and approach to transportation safety and has proved successful across Europe. We have joined over 40 other communities in this country to use this approach to reduce the risk of serious injuries and fatalities. The need for improved pedestrian and traffic safety is something I hear more and more about as people increasingly walk or bike. Moreover, the number of people moving around in Arlington is increasing.
We voted to allow increased density and the redevelopment of Crystal Plaza at 2001 S. Clark Street. This will add good public spaces and 758 dwelling units along with some new retail space. It will improve the transportation network and meets many of the goals of our planning for that area. And the green building has a number of climate friendly features and actually will be the color green which will help improve the current monotony of building design and color.
Transitional Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
Finally, the Manager presented our CIP. Readers will remember that 2020 was meant to be the year we adopted our 10 year CIP. However, once Covid hit it was clear 10 year planning did not make sense at the time, so we adopted a 1 year CIP only which focused on completing projects we had to complete and on storm water infrastructure improvements that we knew were needed. This year is a transition CIP that has a 3 year term and focuses on shorter term priorities like bridge renovations and improvements, storm water infrastructure again, and some parks and public facilities improvements. Next year we anticipate returning to the 10 year planning cycle and a 2 year CIP schedule. We have a number of work sessions and will adopt this CIP in July.
Arlington Vaccine Status
I hope all my readers are now vaccinated. Over 60% of Arlingtonians who are eligible for the vaccine, have been vaccinated. I think we can all sense life returning to something more like normal. I had the wonderful experience of visiting my mother in Wisconsin for her 93rd birthday. We talk by phone almost every day, but there is nothing like being able to see her in person. I am acutely aware how many of us have lost loved ones during the pandemic, often not being able to be with them or mourn for them with others after. It will take some time for all of us to process the experiences of the past 18 months. I continue to wear a mask traveling and in indoor situations. Much of Asia has always worn face masks whenever it seems advisable. It’s possible mask wearing will become something we do as a matter of course sometimes. This is probably the first winter I have not had even one cold.
Finally, we have some important election primaries going on right now with early voting and voting at the polls on June 8. I intend to return to voting at my Fairlington polling place on June 8 and look forward to that. Some of you have asked about my opinion on various races. I’ll send out a brief email just focusing on some of those primary races soon.