Board Member Katie Cristol’s March 16, 2019 closing remarks following the Board’s unanimous vote to approve a performance agreement with Amazon for HQ2.
Thank you to everyone who came out to share their thoughts and comments, not only today, but over the past four months of engagement, over the course of an unprecedented number of public hearings, town halls, and community meetings in all corners of the community.
In fact, this is still the beginning. Today’s action is specific to a performance agreement. Still ahead are many land use decisions and site plan negotiations; I’m looking forward to putting our heads together – community, professional staff, Amazon and JBG – to achieve great urban design, sustainable buildings, and aggressive transit and multi-modal practices.
I draw this distinction because the current “state of play” for Amazon’s plan to locate in Arlington County, if not the performance agreement itself, does fall short of my aspirations in a specific way. The headline-making nature of Amazon’s location decision has pushed Arlington into a very big picture conversation about economic fairness, corporate responsibility, and the future of cities. We’ve heard that today. And I am genuinely disappointed by the missed opportunity, at least to date, by Amazon and JBG to achieve an agreement with working people that will disrupt Northern Virginia’s exploitative construction market for the better, and create a national model for a more inclusive city, that will raise up all economic classes as it grows.
I will keep arguing for this, and I will keep pushing for the legal tools at the state level that will allow me as a local elected official to require it.
But. Nearly every vote (in fact, every vote) that we take from this dais falls short of my overall aspirations for transforming our regional or national economy. That’s not a standard to which I can hold my decisions – I’d have to vote no on every single item to come before the Board. The standard is whether our community will benefit, on balance, if I vote yes.
On this performance agreement, the answer, to me, is an overwhelming yes. I believe this community will benefit from our voting “yes” today. Not just wealthy people, not just corporations, not just homeowners. This whole community.
A diversified economy is good for this community. We have a structural problem in Arlington County, having been excessively reliant on the federal government. It means a hole in our budgets, yes, but it also means that a federal shutdown (or worse, a federal realignment of priorities) is catastrophic for our small businesses that rely on office traffic. A diverse economy means that we can attract entrepreneurs to come from all over the world to open their businesses here; that our people in diverse sectors don’t have to commute out of the County for work; that our students interested in a broad variety of careers can see their future in their hometown.
Redeveloping Crystal City is good for this community. We have big plans for this corner of the County, as many have mentioned today, but they’ve languished. No one benefits when parks and green space go unbuilt, when major transit infrastructure projects like the Crystal City second station entrance are deferred. We’ve sought to make public investments, but the public sector alone cannot make up for lack of private investment. Amazon’s location, and the TIF element of this performance agreement, is both a testament to the quality of those plans and a down payment on making them reality.
Above all, having the resources to support the very priorities that so, so many speakers have discussed today — educating our children, from Head Start to the Career Center, offering safety net supports for our neighbors in moments of vulnerability, and above all, investing in affordable housing — is good for this community. The 23 million dollars at issue here in this discussion can’t be reinvested in those things if it doesn’t go to Amazon; it doesn’t exist if Amazon doesn’t locate here. Instead, that $23m comes with a 14:1 return on investment, for this community to do what it does best: Reinvest in our people.
Which is where I’ll wrap up. Of course it’s hard to hear that so many in our community believe that County government, including this Board, doesn’t hear them and doesn’t have a plan to address the biggest challenges in their lives: Affordability and risk of displacement. But that’s not an Amazon problem, that’s an us problem. Because we do have plans, we do have a policy structure that is making a difference — for example, there are more rental apartments affordable to families making 60% or less of area median income today in Arlington than there were when we adopted the Affordable Housing Master Plan in 2015 — and we do know how to supercharge that effort with the right resources. Resources like the hundreds of millions of dollars that Amazon will pay in taxes over the term of this performance agreement
There is so, so much more for us to do in terms of affordability. We haven’t come close to replacing the market rate affordable units lost since the beginning of the 2000s, let alone grown the supply since. We have zoning reforms ahead to add more housing, including ownership housing, throughout the County. We welcome your partnership and we feel your accountability to make progress faster.
To vote no on this performance agreement, however, is not to vote to keep or to make our community more affordable. A “no” vote would leave us with the same challenges and needs on housing, education and beyond — only with less money to tackle them.
Instead, I will be voting yes, for a diverse economy, for an opportunity to realize our vision for Crystal City, and above all, for the resources that we, and County Boards for the next generation, will reinvest in Arlington.