It has been an unusual spring with my trip to Germany with the Northern Virginia Regional Council (NVRC), quarantining with Covid and participating virtually in my May Board meetings from overseas. I appreciate the many expressions of concern and well wishes over that time. Happily, I never felt very sick (being fully vaccinated and double boosted). I seem to have no lingering issues as I know some do. I hope all my readers are staying well!
You can watch my trip report here: http://arlington.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=4114; please fast forward to minute 38:48
Shirlington Road & Public Trust Policy
We’ve had a number of work sessions lately, but we were able to keep this month’s regular meeting very light with two items. We approved a site plan for a residential apartment building with ground floor retail on Shirlington Road, and we advertised our Public Trust Policy. The site plan was supported by our commissions and the civic association, and easily approved. The Trust Policy is intended to make it clear that our local law enforcement do not support ICE more than necessary and to reassure immigrant members of our community that they can interact with their local government and not have concerns about immigration action by the federal government. We heard a number of speakers come who were concerned that our policy does not have a blanket prohibition on our police working with ICE.
While I understand our immigrant community’s fears about ICE, we make it very clear that we do not voluntarily work with ICE beyond what is required by law. There may be instances where an individual is suspected of engaging in human trafficking, drug marketing or violent crimes. I believe all my Board colleagues want our police to be able to apprehend those people and prosecute their crimes, which could involve ICE if the person is here without documentation. The public hearing has been closed on this issue, although we will continue to gather information from interested people through the usual channels of discussions: email, Open Door Monday, etc. We vote on the policy at our July meeting.
Capital Improvement Program (CIP) The Board is in the middle of our work sessions on the 10-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The CIP is the County’s plan for building, maintaining, upgrading or replacing County facilities and infrastructure. This includes parks, community centers, technology systems, water, sewer, stormwater and transportation infrastructure and more. It is prepared on a biennial basis, with any adopted general obligation bond referenda presented to voters in November of even numbered years. We will adopt our CIP at our July meeting.
Missing Middle Housing Study (MMHS)
“Missing middle” is a term that refers to the range of housing types that fit between single-family detached homes and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings. Examples include duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and more. Fairlington, where I live, is an example of “missing middle”. Obviously it exists in Arlington, just not in large numbers. Our Missing Middle Housing Study explores how new housing types throughout Arlington could help address Arlington’s shortfall in housing supply and gaps in housing choices.
This is the most controversial issue we are working on currently. The Study has been going on for about 2 years. It was launched to address the problems created by our zoning policies that prohibit anything but single family houses in about 80% of Arlington. This exclusionary zoning has created the economic incentive for tearing down small houses throughout the County and building very large single family homes in their place. This is diminishing our tree canopy and making it harder and harder for anyone but very wealthy families to afford a home in much of the County. I highly recommend this podcast if you’d like a quick and entertaining summary of the issues we face.
We are concluding Phase 2 of the study and our staff have made preliminary recommendations. We will hold a work session on July 12th about those recommendations. That session will indicate the direction we want our staff to take moving into Phase 3 for finalizing the recommendations into policy. We will not vote at our work session. A large group of people came to the Public Comment portion of our meeting this month, some in support of the work and some against it. I was disappointed in the behavior of those who came to show their disapproval of our work because of the yelling, booing and general attempt to bully the Board and anyone supporting the work. While I now expect this behavior in many places in this country, which has led to the degradation of our public dialogue and democracy, I expect better from Arlington.
I continue to try to shed more light than heat on the issues on which we work. I had the pleasure of meeting this month with a group of about 10 Civic Association presidents about the MMHS to hear their concerns. We disagreed on a lot, but I think we all found the discussion helpful and agreed to meet again on a somewhat regular basis. While many people say they want us to pause the work we are doing, I do not see any benefit in that. The work done so far outlines the research and reasons for looking at changes to our single-family zoning and the reasons for the recommendations staff have made. I do not believe a pause at this point would be helpful. In my experience with large and complicated issues like this, most people do not really pay attention until there are specific recommendations like we now have to discuss at our July work session. Specific proposals, such as those we will be discussing at our work session, make it clear what changes will be considered. And this will yield more fruitful public discussion and debate than talking about possibilities that may or may not apply.
Lifting of COVID Health Emergency
We are reaching a sort of milestone on August 15. That is when the Manager’s March 2020 declaration of a health emergency will finally be lifted. That declaration allowed us to take a lot of measures to combat Covid including virtual meetings. The effect of lifting theemergency status felt by some Arlingtonians will be that our commissions will be limited in how they meet virtually and will need to meet in-person again. This is due to State requirements for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which we managed to modify some this past year in the General Assembly but not enough to fully adapt to the realities of 21st-century technology and needs. Most of our commissions have found they have much greater participation with virtual meetings. The ability to stay at home enables people with caregiving responsibilities, health issues, and time constraints to participate. Requiring in-person meetings limits who is able to participate. Unfortunately our commissions now will only be able to hold two meetings per year virtually, except for those commissions that have some legal authority like the Planning Commission. They cannot hold any virtual meetings at all. I’m hopeful we can get legislation to pull Virginia all the way into the 21st-century on this issue in the next year or so.
Two Personal Notes
My favorite local non-profit, Phoenix Bikes, will be holding its annual Raise ‘N Ride. While I won’t be actually riding, I’ve registered and will be working to help them raise money through the ride. If you’d like to support the ride by riding yourself or putting in some money for my virtual participation, follow this link: https://secure.qgiv.com/event/raise/
Finally, Townley and I are finishing up this newsletter right after the Supreme Court made women second class citizens again. They ruled that it was OK for states to tell any pregnant woman that she has to give birth whether it will have adverse effects – even kill her – or not. I was a senior in college when Roe vs Wade was decided, and remember all too well the feeling that my ability to determine my life was severely limited before that. It was not only that a pregnancy could destroy your life, but at that time contraception was illegal in my home state for unmarried women. While people can have differing moral views about abortion, I believe this Supreme Court decision is about power and control over women’s bodies by the government and it is appallingly wrong. I agree with the minority opinion that this Court is not likely to stop here when it comes to curtailing civil rights. I believe the right to contraception, gay marriage and more will soon be threatened.
We have entered a very dark time in our country. We all need to pay close attention and support Democratic candidates and democracy itself which – as the January 6 hearings are making very clear – is under attack as it has not been since the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The below links provide some ways you may want to become involved in helping women who need abortion care. It feels to me like we are returning to the time of free states and slave states and an underground railroad to help those trying to escape.
Access to Reproductive Care and Health (ARCH): https://archfund.org/about-us/
Volunteer to provide practical care for those seeking abortions: https://secure.everyaction.com/0EKqu2APtESwUa1OkHrxKw2?ms=Dobbs_Loss_CAN&emci=0c14c006-d1f3-ec11-b47a-281878b83d8a&emdi=6f340c86-d5f3-ec11-b47a-281878b83d8a&ceid=227327
Again, I hope everyone is well and, as always, invite your comments, suggestions and observations.