I hope everyone had a good summer. September started off with a lot of items and a lot of emotion.
Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) is expanding and needs our approval to do so. While there have been many meetings, both the neighbors and the Planning Commission said the VHC plans did not feel appropriate and welcoming for the homes nearby, nor did they believe the plans were thoughtful about future construction. Many VHC employees came to say how needed the expansion is.
We voted to defer the project briefly to allow VHC to work more with their neighbors, to make the building feel less like a wall to the neighbors, and to think more about future implications. I asked VHC to treat their neighbors as well as they treat their patients and to understand that we on the Board value what they do, but we also value our residents as much as they value their patients. The poor communication between VHC and their neighbors is a concern for me. I am hopeful this delay will help start a more neighborly relationship. VHC and we should be partners in our work to serve the people of Arlington.
The Salt Dome on 26th and Old Dominion is being replaced as quickly as we can because we need to have salt in it and ready to go in time for winter storms. We are preserving as many trees on the site as we can. We adopted a charge for a working group to plan the whole site including leaf and mulch piles as well as a park. We are all grateful to Noah Simon who has agreed to lead that group.
Scooters have popped up everywhere in the past few months. We now have a new acronym: SMD for Shared Mobility Devices, which includes shared scooters and bikes. Our staff prepared a pilot program so we can begin to get some control over how and where these devices are used. For example, code says now that motorized vehicles cannot go on bike paths. Perhaps scooters and electric bikes should be allowed there. Now they are allowed on roads. Should they be? What should the speed limits be for these devices? You can read our pilot regulations. I hope everyone will wear a helmet to ride any of these devices and be cautious of cars, pedestrians, and others. They can seem like toys, and they are fun, but they can be hazardous.
Childcare is a major issue for families with young children. We heard again from parents about the difficulty of finding good childcare. I hear about it from my own daughters and their friends. Neighbors are often concerned about traffic and other issues whenever a day care provider wants to expand or begin. In the case of Little Ambassadors, which is building a new center on Lee Hwy, we heard the item extensively this summer. Our professional staff continues to tell us transportation and parking will not be a problem. Little Ambassadors already has two other similar locations and has had no problems, but many very happy clients. We renewed their use permit and will look at it again in about a year, when they have been in operation for about 6 months.
Our Manager presented a preliminary look at our budget situation earlier than usual. This will be my 24th County or School Board budget, and we are looking at a different situation from my past experience. In short, revenues are up only a little and expenses are up a lot. Medicaid expansion in Virginia is a good thing, but it will cost us $1.5M more a year unless changes are made at the state level. Dedicated funding for Metro is a good thing, but it took away funds we previously used for Arlington projects. Excellent schools are a good thing, but new schools for the expanding school population cost more. I always remember how lucky we are in our problems, but they are problems nevertheless, and this likely will be the toughest budget year I’ve experienced.
Finally, as I drafted this, the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings were concluding. They have prompted excellent discussions with my daughters, friends, and, especially, those who work to combat domestic abuse. I watched the backsliding and experienced the dismay after the Anita Hill hearings and hope, however this turns out, our nation will begin some difficult and long overdue discussions that lead to real social change.