My experience as a member of the Arlington School Board for 15 years, including 5 terms as Chair of the School Board, is an important and unique part of what I offer on the County Board. I retain my deep connections with APS leadership, understand the needs of our schools, and know how to balance those needs with others in the County. My ties with our schools are personal, as well: my children are both APS graduates, and I am now proud to have grandchildren attending our schools. As more of Arlington’s economy depends on a well-educated workforce, with 21st century skills, the quality of our schools is key to Arlington’s success.
Ensuring adequate funding for schools
Our schools account for about 40% of the County budget and employ more people in Arlington than any organization except the Federal Government. Through four budget cycles as a County Board member, I have voted to retain our revenue sharing system with approximately half of all tax revenues going to our schools. I am committed to retaining this revenue sharing agreement, and further committed to working closely with the School Board to ensure that we fund our most important educational priorities. This includes maintaining the high-quality education that APS offers as student enrollment continues to grow, and continuing to close the achievement gap, so that all students succeed. I will continue to make sure that we adequately support our schools so that they, in turn, support the future of Arlington.
Space for all our students
Arlington’s population is growing, and more residents mean more students. The challenge is finding space for more students, while balancing the need for open space and recreational space.I support the implementation of last year’s Community Facilities Study and creative approaches to our need for more classroom space. I was the first of my County Board colleagues to support the new Thomas Jefferson elementary school, which will turn a parking lot into playing fields and a much-needed school in South Arlington.
One community: Schools and County
Cooperation between APS and County government has increased in the two decades that I’ve served this community, but we still too often talk about the “Schools” and “County” as if they serve two different groups. We can do more, and it is crucial both that our County Board members have a deep understanding of our schools and that the County and School Boards work closely together as Arlington grows and develops. As County Board Chair, I meet regularly with School Board members to promote open dialogue between the two Boards. I will continue these meetings and encourage deepening connections between APS and County staffs. This enhanced collaboration will benefit our students and families, particularly those in poverty, by working together to ensure that those in need receive the support that is already available through local government, non-profits, and the business community. When our students succeed, Arlington succeeds.
We have done an excellent job so far in Arlington, especially along the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, encouraging growth around the metro and other local transit options. The more we can weave mass transit into the community, the better we, and the planet, will be. We must work closely and well with regional and state officials in planning and creating efficient, affordable transit options.
But changes and development should make life better for our residents and be affordable. Our transportation decisions, both large and small, affect residents living nearby, and it is crucial the County Board be clear about costs and benefits of these changes so not only County Board members, but residents also easily understand them.
State of the ART transit for Arlington
We can make it easier for people to move around without a car. We have all been frustrated at how long it seems to be taking to design a substitute for the canceled streetcar project on Columbia Pike. At our very first Board meeting on New Year’s Day, I moved for the Manager to report to us in under a month about our transit plans. In his report, he addressed issues like signal prioritization, off-board fare collection, a mix of express and local service buses, and the feasibility of level boarding throughout our system so those with wheelchairs or strollers can easily get on and off our buses. We have a good start with the Metroway service in Crystal City and Potomac Yards, and I am looking forward to stepping up our bus service on the Pike and throughout the County.
Regional cooperation: Getting where we need to go
Our own system will only be as good as its connections with the rest of the region. Transportation is one of those issues that cuts across boundaries, and we can do more to improve cooperation. So I will continue the conversations I’ve been having for some time with our counterparts around the region. We need to work regionally to improve the regional bus system and to get Metro back to being a reliable, safe, and efficient way to get around.
Securing the future for Metro
Metro’s challenges are well known throughout the region. I am encouraged by the approach of WMATA’s new General Manager and will continue to follow up with him and his team about how Arlington can help improve Metro. I believe very strongly in securing dedicated funding for Metro from all three local jurisdictions AND from the Federal government, and am leading colleagues from across the District, Maryland, and Virginia to lobby the Federal government for this support. As we work to improve safety and reliability of our transit systems in Arlington, I will stay active in ensuring that Metro improve the safety and reliability of its rail and bus services.
Monitoring State changes to I-66 and I-395
VDOT recently announced a plan to move ahead with adding tolls on I-66 and to widen the highway inside the Beltway immediately, which is a change from the Governor’s original proposal last year. Like many of us, I am concerned about the impact that this widening and tolls will have on Arlington’s environment and on our roads. I will continue to work hard with colleagues in Arlington and in the region, and with leaders in the administration in Richmond to ensure that any adverse impacts on Arlington from this project and from the addition of HOT lanes on I-395 are as small as possible. I will push VDOT to study the impact of its changes on our local roads so that the streets we use to get around are not clogged with toll-avoiding traffic, and I will continue my push for integrated, regional bus rapid transit so that commuters to Arlington and DC have reliable alternatives to their cars.
Sharing our streets: Bikes, Buses, Cars, and Feet
I never forget that many Arlington residents walk, bike, and drive cars. We all need safe sidewalks, roads that don’t have potholes and places to park. We should continue our work designing roads that pedestrians, bikers, and vehicles can share, including protected bike lanes along high-traffic routes. .
Maintaining a diverse supply of housing is crucial for the Arlington that we know and love to survive. We must ensure that we support our core services and safety net as Arlington grows and develops. The safety net includes affordable housing, which is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. There are two main parts to our commitment: preserving existing affordable housing stock, and creating more affordable housing in new development; both are important to maintaining the culture of Arlington. We must also go beyond housing to make sure that every Arlingtonian, including middle income families, can live and thrive in our community.
Encouraging Diverse Communities
We must preserve Arlington as a diverse community; people of all income levels must be able to live and work here. Since 2000, affordable housing has declined by two thirds. Many of our people who form the backbone of our community—our police, firefighters, teachers, and nurses— find it just too expensive to work and live in Arlington. Many of us who raised families in Arlington find that our own children cannot afford to live here, or struggle to do so. There is no single solution. We must continue working with developers as we have —for example swapping density requirements for guarantees of affordable units or contributions to the revolving fund to support affordable housing—and we must monitor to make sure we are getting the full benefit promised. We must also work with property owners through tax incentives, credits, and loans, so that they can maintain affordable rates. We must also encourage development of housing for all income levels throughout the county.
Affordable living: more than just your home
It’s not enough to be able to afford your home; we need to ensure that everyone in our community can meet their basic needs here. Childcare is a particular challenge for parents who have to work long, and often multiple, jobs to make ends meet. We take pride in ensuring that Arlington’s service providers meet the highest standards of safety and care, but we must make sure that our regulations focus on the essentials and do not price providers out of the market. Similarly, we must make sure that people from all income levels have access to groceries and other necessities within their price ranges, and I will continue to work with Arlington Economic Development to see our economy supports businesses that serve the entire economic ladder.
Supporting our non-profits
Arlington is fortunate to be home to so many wonderful non-profit organizations that uphold our values as an inclusive community. We must work both sides of this equation to be successful, and that means supporting the wide range of non-profit organizations that support our community on matters ranging from healthcare and housing to supporting immigrants and fighting hunger, and more, We are also fortunate to have local churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious communities that work within our community to maintain affordable housing to provide a civic backbone. Successful non-profit and community organizations extend the helping hand of government by leveraging volunteers and private funds and excelling at personalized service delivery.
Quality living: Recreation and green space
Quality living also means a quality environment. Arlington’s scarcest resource is open space – at just 26 square miles, we are the smallest self-governing county in the United States, and it is essential that we maintain as much of our space for recreation and nature as we can, despite the increasingly tight constraint of a rising population. We need to balance parkland for both active and passive uses: ball fields, trails, and preserved forest and waterways. We also must embrace opportunities to enhance the green space in our urban centers – urban forestry, green roofs, pop-up parks, and more. I support preserving existing parkland throughout the county and making it accessible for everyone – the County Board just approved our first all-ability playground at Quincy Park. I look for opportunities to create more open space. For example, the Thomas Jefferson elementary school project will add public green space where we now have an asphalt parking lot by moving that parking to an underground garage. I also want to explore opportunities to acquire the air rights over I-66 to construct fields and park space or other public uses, improving our environment and stitching our community back together. I look forward to updating our public spaces master plan, including community input in this effort.
A Safe Place for All
Arlington must remain a welcoming community for everyone in order for all of our residents to thrive here. Our diversity enriches our community, and especially our schools. While on the School Board, I helped initiate policies that assured the safety of every child every day, such as our award winning anti-bullying policies and translation services for families that need them. We are at the forefront on this issue for schools in Virginia with non-discrimination policies including gender preference. Our diversity enriches our community, and I am committed to preserving Arlington as a welcoming community for everyone.
The Arlington Way very simply means we solve our problems as a community: active citizens who are engaged, inquisitive, and solution-oriented make Arlington a wonderful home. That’s who we are. We work best when we rely on the involvement of the community in setting goals, helping to plan to reach those goals, and helping out as our County government and staff do our work. I’ve learned that the clearer people are about the extent of a problem, and the more involved they are in setting the criteria for the solution — the better it goes. It is also important to involve the community early, and continue to make room for everyone, original participants and newcomers to the process, to weigh in as we work and implement our solutions. We always benefit from feedback and engagement; this is the Arlington Way.
Communication is two-way
Effective communication is crucial to representing this community and to the Arlington Way. We need to find better ways to let technology connect our County government with the people we serve. When I was first chair of the School Board, I started open office hours to make it easier for people to talk with their School Board. On the County Board, my colleagues and I continue our practice of “Open Door Mondays” where members of the community can visit with us around the county and discuss any issue. I meet regularly with civic associations and community groups to hear feedback and concerns, and bring them to County staff. I plan to continue looking for new opportunities for residents to communicate with me, and for me to speak with them. I especially want to connect with Arlingtonians who don’t feel like they have a voice in our community or government.
Streamline our public processes
We must bring the Arlington Way into the 21st Century. Our processes keep multiplying and getting more complex so that it is harder and harder for both our residents and our staff to keep up. We’re pretty much conducting forums, hearings, and charrettes the way we always have, but doing more of them. There are still far too many people who have the talent and expertise our community needs, who want to contribute, but who cannot. Many have small children and/or demanding work schedules. Few of our residents and business owners have the time to sit in a long meeting every month as is required to serve on most of our commissions and task forces. Commission chairs should have training available to them to run efficient meetings and to use the technological tools we have. We should use clear language, and not an alphabet soup of terms that confuses people and makes them feel like they can’t speak the language of Arlington.
Create channels for residents to observe and participate in their government
Many of our most important meetings – County Board work sessions, and Commission meetings – have occurred in obscurity for too long. Although they are open to the public, the only way to observe or participate them has been to attend in person, and many of these meetings happen during the workday or run late into the night. We need to make sure that residents with busy lives, jobs, or childcare responsibilities can observe and participate in our meetings. The County Board recently voted to webcast our work sessions and the Planning and Transportation Commissions’ meetings. This is a good first step, and I will work to expand this pilot to more, and eventually to all, County meetings. Moreover, too much of the Arlington Way is tied up in giving feedback at these long meetings, often more than once. Everyone’s needs are different, so I believe that we need to try out lots of different ways to get feedback, from the high tech to the low tech. Our Arlington Way will grow to include more residents and everyone will have an opportunity to have a voice.
Arlington has unparalleled talent and resources: a diverse, highly educated population, beautiful and safe neighborhoods, outstanding schools, and a committed business community. With the resources we enjoy, the answers to just about any problem we have are right here. The challenge for government is to tap these resources effectively by doing a better job of engaging with the many people who live and work here. We can make Arlington a place where it is easy to live and work by ensuring a responsive government that serves its constituents.
Improve coordination to provide better service
Public services generally work quite well in Arlington, but we can do a better job supporting our residents and our businesses as they cope with everything from aging to zoning. The customer experience with zoning and permitting is a great example: In general, the permitting and zoning staffs are polite and friendly, but the two offices don’t seem to communicate well and the whole system is so Byzantine that even employees don’t always understand it. We have made steps in the right direction, including the introduction of online permitting, but we need to do more. I follow this work closely and will make it my top priority.
Eliminate barriers to small business growth
Arlington County also must improve its licensing processes to help small businesses start and succeed in Arlington. I support Arlington Economic Development’s BizLaunch program to help all sorts of start-ups, from high tech to a local restaurant, get off the ground. Our regulatory and permitting agencies play an important role in making sure that our businesses are up to code and safe for their customers and employees, but they should not be an impediment to starting a business. I will continue to work to eliminate unnecessary barriers to ensure a good climate for businesses in Arlington.
Focus regulations on critical issues
Arlington is in many ways a world-class community, and we have the resources and talent to maintain our very high standard of living. We also have the resources and talent to help our residents and businesses offer the highest quality services possible. Local government can, and should, help our residents and businesses to improve our community, but we in government need to take care that we don’t overstep our role and risk stifling innovation. An example that comes to mind is our sign ordinance: We have people coming up with really cool and exciting ideas for signs, and then we tell them their ideas don’t fit within the confines of our regulations. Another, more concerning example, is the recent draft childcare center regulation, which proposed to micromanage paint colors, snacks, and even the relationship between attending children and their parents. Many of these practices are good, but it is important that we do not codify perfection or best practices into regulations, which are binding on every business in Arlington
Budget responsibly to reflect our values
Fiscal accountability is a key component of my vision for sustained excellence. Budgets are statements of priorities. On the County Board I work to set clear overall priorities as a county so we can meet our long term financial goals for the county. I also work to have a regular and thorough evaluation program so we are constantly looking at how we can provide quality services more efficiently. Knowing where we are and where we are going helps us use our resources in the most efficient way possible.
Quality counts for County staff
Selecting the right people and then treating them well is the key to top quality service. Arlington County is among the best managed in the country, but we cannot rest on our accomplishments. I consistently work to ensure that we have a top quality workforce, and that employees are compensated fairly, with competitive salaries and benefits. Also, I support programs that encourage and sustain improved performance. We are an extremely diverse community and that is something we all treasure. I am committed to supporting a workforce that reflects this special character.