2016 Begins

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In keeping with annual tradition, the Arlington County Board conducted our New Year's Day Organizational Meeting this afternoon. In addition to inaugurating Christian Dorsey and me to the dais, the Board elected a new Chair, Libby Garvey, and Vice Chair, Jay Fisette.

All five Board members made our remarks about priorities for the year ahead. I was encouraged to find the five of us very much on the same page about 2016, with emphasis on:

  • Transportation planning, particularly for the long-overdue Columbia Pike transit plan.
  • Establishing and improving transparency and accountability in everything from our budget process to citizen access to data. 
  • The essential (if somewhat unglamorous) work of streamlining permitting in Arlington County, for homeowners and businesses. This is the "meat and potatoes" work of making Arlington a friendlier place to do business, a major element of restoring our commercial tax base.
  • Protecting our most vulnerable citizens, including adults and children with special needs, with a strong safety net.

My full remarks from this afternoon are below. I'm looking forward to getting to work! Early 2016 will find me: 

  • Learning from the Shirlington / Four Mile Run community as we get a planning study underway;
  • Working closely with the School Board and the community on planning for the new elementary school at Thomas Jefferson;
  • Collaborating with my colleague, John Vihstadt, on a review of our Commissions to ensure new and more diverse perspectives; and
  • Continuing my push to ensure that survivors of sexual violence can get an evidence collection exam done in Arlington County.

Happy 2016 to you and yours,

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Happy New Year, everyone.

I’m delighted to see so many of our fellow Arlingtonians making today’s proceedings part of their start to 2016. I trust this means you all had a quiet, restful New Year’s Eve last night. Thank you for joining us. And thank you to County and APS staff for being here, as well, and to our electeds and citizen commissioners.

Before we leave 2015 entirely behind, I’d like to sound a final note of gratitude to outgoing Board Chair Mary Hynes and Vice Chair Walter Tejada. And, in fact, to the whole of the 2015 Board, including Mr. Vihstadt, Ms. Garvey and Mr. Fisette. After a tumultuous 2014 – and concurrent to a spirited 2015 campaign – this Board was quietly restoring focus and rapport to best serve Arlington County.

In fact, it was the hard work and compromises of the 2015 Board that set the blueprints for our year ahead, along with many citizen and business working groups, including the Community Facilities Study, the South Arlington Elementary Working Group, the Affordable Housing Working Group and the Business Brain Trust.

So, 2016 will certainly be a year of change for the Arlington County Board. With two new members, more committed than ever to listening and to applying new perspectives, it cannot help but be different. With respect to our priorities, however, I can’t help but think of a phrase we use often in education policy: “Follow through is the new innovation.”

In Arlington, we need follow through – on the carefully developed plans, on the clear priorities and identified needs – of the past year.

Land use remains our greatest challenge, both with respect to public facilities like schools and parks, and with respect to attracting and maintaining commercial tenants to restore our tax base. Here, we need to follow through on a series of thoughtful, community-generated recommendations from the Community Facilities Study. The Study group has urged us to action to address our threatened commercial tax base, and we need to focus this year on efforts to streamline permitting, as our new Chair has emphasized, and enabling more temporary commercial space uses to address our threatened commercial tax base.

The Study group has also pushed to address our changing demographics by seeking to increase the availability of entry-level ownership housing and childcare, which I believe are two of the utmost priorities for this Board in the next few years. We will also have a number of public facilities processes this year, beginning with siting an elementary school at Thomas Jefferson and a fire station in North Arlington, that will test what we have learned about improved communication and community engagement in these difficult decisions.  

In 2016, we need to follow through on the implementation of the Affordable Housing Master Plan, and our commitment to a range of housing affordable to a diversity of earners. Here’s where we can innovate as well as follow through: Because housing and transportation are so inextricably linked in a tiny, expensive County like ours, 2016 will also be the year to consider the impact of residential parking minimums on the cost of housing in our metro corridors, guided by able expertise from staff, our Transportation Commission and commercial and neighborhood stakeholders.

I’d also like to echo Ms. Garvey’s remarks and emphasize that we must follow through on a comprehensive transit plan for Columbia Pike this year. Residents and business owners have waited too long for what’s next for the corridor. 2016 must be the year in which we get specific about what state-of-the-art bus service means. And in which we demonstrate continued, creative thinking about economic redevelopment of the Pike, including planning for improved connectivity to the commercial centers in Crystal and Pentagon City.

Finally, this New Year’s day is an opportunity to resolve, as Arlington has done for so many years, to maintain our moral center by taking care of our most vulnerable residents. In the year ahead, I look forward to supporting and strengthening our safety net, as we continue to seek an end to homelessness and to endeavor to meet the needs of adults and children with intellectual and psychical disabilities and mental health challenges. I believe Arlington can do an even better job serving survivors of sexual violence by ensuring that SANE, or rape kit evidence collection, services are available within our County borders - this is a priority for me this year.

Of course, I am – and even the collective five of us are – but one force in Arlington County.  I know our Commissions, our neighborhoods, our citizens all have priorities of your own for 2016, and so I’d like to close by emphasizing that my door is open, and I am looking forward to a full docket.

Happy 2016.

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