Thank you for your warm welcome. I am excited, humbled, and honored to join you on this dais today.
The two biggest issues we face over the next six months will be Amazon and the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. I’d like to share my initial thoughts on both.
Amazon. As I consider any agreement we may reach, I’ll apply the following four standards:
- First, an agreement must provide a significant net benefit to our whole community—this cannot be a close call.
- Second, we need to know that an agreement considers and furthers our plans on Housing, Transportation, and our Schools.
- Third, as we implement an agreement, we must fully consider small businesses.
- Fourth, we must have a fair and transparent process. Our community must have a chance to consider the choices we will make.
I am confident—but not certain—based on the documents that are already public, that we can reach an agreement that meets these standards. I do not, however, prejudge the outcome—I look forward to hearing from and listening to the community before making a decision.
Beyond these standards for an initial agreement, I am hopeful that we can engage with Amazon and the developer, JBG Smith, to reach an even better win-win partnership to expand opportunity for all Arlingtonians.
Three key investments could make this a once in a generation, transformational win-win.
- First, significant public and private investment in affordable homeownership and rental housing.
- Second, energy efficient buildings and renewable energy. Amazon’s renewable commitments in Virginia are significant. We should be able to get to yes on this.
- Third, fair pay for those who work on and in the buildings that will be built. Virginia law does not allow this body to require Project Labor Agreements, but it also does not preclude such agreements between private parties. I agree with you, Ms. Cristol, that this is an area that we should proactively discuss with JBG Smith and Amazon.
These three goals are each possible, but not inevitable. They will take leadership and vision from everyone involved—Amazon, JBG Smith, County staff, Arlingtonians, community-based organizations, and the Board. I look forward to digging in.
Second, the FY 2020 Budget. Our projected deficit of up to $70 million is the most difficult budget estimate the County has faced in almost 10 years, since the Great Recession. A few thoughts. We must be fiscally responsible, but we cannot allow our day-to-day needs to prevent us from investing in our future. Among our priorities, I believe, should be the resources to put the County in a position to fund the building of another high school. There will be twists and turns: The State’s budget and our own projections will change, impacting the revenues available to the County and the Schools. I commit to working hard, staying engaged, and focusing on equity.
Those are my thoughts on Amazon and the Budget. I also want to share my priorities for the coming year.
First, our office vacancy rate and economic development. HQ2 doesn’t change the commitment I made last year to stay focused on our office vacancy rate. It could help address deficits three years from now, but it will not eliminate our 19 percent vacancy rate. I look forward to supporting Arlington Economic Development’s continued work, and strongly support following through on making our permitting process as efficient as possible.
Second, providing the funding to build the schools to educate every child well. I am thrilled to be joining Mr. Gutshall as a liaison to the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, and I want to thank Ms. Garvey for the opportunity to serve in this role as we work to find space for the facilities and schools we need.
Third, housing affordability. On Sunday, I met two homeowners from South Arlington who shared their stories. Florencia is a health care researcher and Ruben is a retired government employee. Both asked me how it can be that they may be priced out of their condos and have to leave Arlington.
To serve families like Ruben’s and Florenica, we must be creative and relentless on housing affordability. I will be open to ideas to help get closer to our goal of 600 affordable units per year from our average of 280 since 2015.
I am open to adjustments to our zoning code and look forward to working with you, Mr. Chair, to reach solutions that will be workable for Arlington and address the need for increased supply. I also look forward to working with you, Mr. Gutshall, on the missing middle, and to learning from and working with each member of the Board on housing. As we do so, I ask that we fully consider the Community Land Trust idea that I discussed during the campaign, and that we look for land for a building that could serve as the site for a Trust.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as the liaison to the Housing Commission and to work with the community and affordable housing advocates to make a measurable difference on housing and the American Dream in Arlington.
Fourth, climate change, renewable energy and our environment. I look forward to serving as the liaison to the Environment and Energy Conservation Commission to work on this issue—which I believe joins equity as one of the two biggest issues we face as a country. We must put the County back in a leadership role on this issue in our region and in our nation. That means funding for the AIRE program, and time and energy on ideas like Purchase Power Agreements. It also means working constructively with the state where possible to develop our renewable energy portfolio.
Fifth, ending child hunger in Arlington. I look forward to working with you, Mr. Dorsey, on the Destination 2027 effort to help serve the 2,200 families seeking AFAC’s help every week. We are the fifth wealthiest County in the country. We can invest in equity and end child hunger.
So those are my priorities—the office vacancy rate/economic development, positioning our community to be able to build the high school we need, housing affordability, renewable energy, and ending child hunger. There are others, but that’s plenty for now.
Thank you for your time, service to Arlington, and Happy New Year.