Energy, Equity, Emergency Preparedness, and a Controversial Site Plan

The Board plunged into the fall with our Community Energy Plan, an equity resolution, flood resiliency, and a controversial site plan.

Energy: We found ourselves discussing renewable energy and climate change the day after students around the world demonstrated to save our planet. Our Community Energy Plan (CEP) was an update from 2013, and was needed because renewable energy is much improved and the dangerous state of the globe’s climate is even more dire. We set the goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and of County government using 100% renewable electricity by 2035.

Buildings and transportation are the two sectors that use the most energy in Arlington. We do not yet know exactly how we will achieve our goals, but know how we can get very close already and expect breakthroughs to get us all the way by 2050 and 2035. I’m confident we can do it and that we can do it locally, without buying energy from solar arrays that cover green space outside Arlington. My study tour in Germany this spring showed me how much is already being achieved by other countries in renewable energy, including producing energy on-site in cities.

Equity has become a theme throughout the region and is an excellent way to look at our work. Our resolution includes the clause that “equity is defined as all populations having access to community conditions and opportunities needed to reach their full potential and to experience optimal well-being.” For me, providing this access in our community is the definition of the work of good government.

While this is the right thing to do morally, all too often the fact that it also is what is best for everyone in a society gets lost. When everyone’s gifts are maximized, everyone can contribute to the community, and we are all the stronger for it. We will be analyzing data and collaborating with organizations and institutions across the County to achieve equity in our work, including our renewable energy work. There are 4 questions that can guide us: Who benefits? Who is burdened? Who is missing? How do we know?

Emergency Preparedness: On Tuesday, I gave my usual September, quick and simple tips for preparedness (if you do nothing else, please make sure you are signed up for Arlington Alert). Stormwater safety was a major presentation in the Manager’s report, and I expect stormwater management to be a major issue for Arlington well beyond our Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) this spring. The July 8 storm brought an intensity of rain never before seen here. In some areas the rain was, statistically, of an intensity to be expected every 1,000 years. It was as if Mother Nature stopped using a sprinkler and simply upended a bucket over Arlington, and it made clear the effects of almost 80 years of development here, which has enclosed most of our natural streams. While new development has exacerbated some situations, the fact is that no pipes can contain water when it reaches a certain volume, and it will revert back to flowing over land in the original stream bed, which, today, means flowing through homes and businesses that have been built in its way.

Our staff, my colleagues, and I have been to homes and civic associations listening to residents who suffered incredible flooding on that day and, in some cases, have had almost as much flooding over the past several years in less intense storms. It was a miracle that no one died or was seriously injured on July 8. It is clear we will need to do some things differently to preserve property and lives in our changing climate. There is information about recovery and, for seriously affected homeowners, about help planning ahead on the Flooding page on our website. There will be a Flood Resilient Arlington Workshop on October 24 at 6:30 pm in the Central Library auditorium and on October 26 at 10:00 am at George Mason University. I expect difficult community conversations and difficult Board decisions as we address this in our CIP.

The Rosslyn Holiday Inn site redevelopment took up much of our Tuesday meeting, which went into Wednesday. In the end, we approved a mixed-use project with 502 new residences, a conference center, and a new hotel. Near neighbors, particularly those on Nash Street, were understandably concerned about traffic and the loss of parking and of sunlight.

Dittmar Company built the original hotel in 1972 and has managed it since. They will be building and managing the new development as well. Dittmar agreed to manage large trucks and tour buses so they arrive at the site outside of peak traffic times. They agreed to work with neighbors to come up with a plan to provide some lower-cost parking spaces to replace the lost County spaces. Both Dittmar and our staff will take another look at the effect of an existing slip lane. While the lane helps keep traffic moving on Nash street, it can be quite dangerous for pedestrians. The current difficult conditions are made worse by traffic diverted by construction on Memorial Bridge. There are long-term plans to improve traffic overall.

Our Planning Commission was concerned that the project did not adhere to the Rosslyn Sector Plan and, as the first project since the new plan, set a bad precedent. Our staff was satisfied that it did adhere to the principles of the Plan. I believe the development will be a major benefit to Rosslyn and Arlington. However, while Dittmar and we will work to mitigate construction effects as much as possible, the next few years of construction are likely to be particularly difficult for people in the area.

Finally, as those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen, I’ve knocked doors for Dan Helmer and Hala Ayala recently. I’ve also attended events and donated to help elect a number of Democratic candidates for the State Legislature outside of Arlington. I believe it is important for the Commonwealth, and for Arlington, that the General Assembly do a better job of passing legislation that provides all Virginians “access to community conditions and opportunities needed to reach their full potential and to experience optimal well-being”. This would include support for sensible gun control, renewable energy, affordable health care for all, broadband internet, and quality education across Virginia, among other things. A Republican-controlled legislature has blocked far too much good legislation that can make everyone’s lives better and safer for too long.

As always, I hope this information is helpful.

Oct, 07, 2019