Wildest Dreams and Worst Fears
Faced with a grueling budget cycle and the arrival of Amazon, like the opening of a Dickens novel, 2019 begins for Arlington with both awesome opportunity and daunting challenges. While we won’t realize the significant benefit of Amazon’s rent, tax, and payroll payments for a few years yet, the issues highlighted by our vote on the incentive agreement provide focus on our future and frame our enduring discussion of exactly what kind of community do we want to be?
Are we destined for our wildest dreams or are we doomed to suffer our worst fears? I firmly believe that neither scenario is ordained, but instead, will depend on the choices we make, and the leadership this Board provides this coming year. In short, we control our own destiny.
If we have spent decades preparing for Amazon’s arrival with award-winning citizen-driven master planning for transportation, housing, energy, and public spaces, among others, then Amazon’s choice to fulfill those plans in Arlington should be a dream come true. Yet, when we see the strains on our crowded schools, struggle to preserve open space, lag in needed investment in regional transportation infrastructure, and, perhaps most pointedly in Arlington, find too many valued members of our community unable to afford housing, I understand completely why some see Amazon primarily exacerbating our worst fears.
I thank Chair Dorsey for elevating the incredibly important question of who is living the dream in Arlington and who, historically, has endured the worst of our fears? Equity in Arlington must mean that no one’s dream comes at another’s expense.
As we set our agenda for 2019, I pledge to join my colleagues on this Board and the School Board, together with our talented professional staff and our amazing citizen volunteers to meet the challenges posed by our worst fears with the optimism and vision that have long been the hallmarks of Arlington’s Dream. I will continue my focus on three primary fronts:
First, Missing Middle housing. Recognizing that we can’t subsidize our way to mass affordability, I am eager to build on the modest improvements to our zoning ordinance this Board enacted in 2018 with a laser focus on modernizing our zoning to allow market-driven housing forms for the middle class. With Board support, a Missing Middle Directive will provide coherent direction for our staff to leverage the opportunities of existing efforts like Housing Conservation Districts and Plan Lee Highway to develop the zoning and financing tools needed to deliver 2,700 ownership units affordable to households between 80 percent and 120 percent of Area Median Income (roughly $500,000 price range) by 2040. That’s our goal – our wildest dream – in black and white in our Affordable Housing Master Plan, and it’s entirely within our control to achieve it.
Second, schools and community facilities. The addition of 25,000 jobs over 12 years does highlight the inevitable: we are going to continue to grow as a community, and whether parents work for Amazon or not, student population will also continue to grow. But our worst fear of crowded schools only happens if we fail to plan.
I thank Ms. Garvey, my colleague on the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) this year for her steady insistence that we plan schools for the future, not the past. As new Board Member Matt de Ferranti takes her spot on the JFAC, I look forward to working with him and our School Board colleagues as the JFAC embarks on a multi-year visioning and planning effort to develop a long-range comprehensive schools and community facilities plan.
Such a plan would allow us to look beyond our 10-year Capital Improvement Plan cycle to coordinate both County and Schools needs farther into the future, thus moving away from crisis management toward more thoughtful, efficient, and equitable solutions. Whether for a 40,000-student system eventually, or more, future tax revenues from a balanced commercial/residential tax base restored by Amazon will pay for new schools when we need them, but only our community’s vision and leadership now can develop the plan to ensure the schools we dream of become our destiny.
My third focus in 2019 will be the update of our Community Energy Plan. I am particularly excited by the prospect of merging our environmental principles with our intentional focus on the value of equity. I propose that Arlington join the growing Green New Deal movement, a big, bold transformation of the economy to tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change. Supported by 43 (and counting) members of the new Congress and hundreds of grass roots organizations like the Sierra Club, a Green New Deal recognizes that economic stability is not independent of environmental sustainability. The trade-off between the environment or the economy is a false one. The goal of a Green New Deal is to build the 21st century economy, which by design will mitigate the causes of climate change while building resilience to its effects, with investments that prioritize justice and equity while transforming the economy with clean and green jobs.
Fortunately, we have reason to expect that Amazon will be an eager partner in our community’s quest for sustainability, and we should work with them to achieve a Net Zero Energy campus at National Landing. Arlington dreams of a truly sustainable future and it is within our grasp to achieve it.
However, to fulfill our wildest dreams (control our own destiny), we must be able to move forward decisively and expeditiously. Therefore, I will continue to work my colleagues and our staff to define and engender quality civic engagement over quantity. I’ll also look for every opportunity to deploy a test pilot methodology that allows us to experiment at small scale, learn, adapt, and then expand, being mindful that in pursuit of the bold ideas of our dreams, failure is a learning opportunity to be embraced rather than a deficiency to be shamed.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve this community, even as we face a tortuous budget. But I am especially proud to serve with this Board and this Manager and his staff, knowing that there is no crisis of confidence. Instead, we can have every confidence that for all the right reasons that we were the obvious choice for Amazon, we are in control of our destiny, and with diligent focus, tenacity, and bold leadership, we will succeed beyond our wildest dreams.
Happy New Year!