Thank you everyone, for coming out this morning or watching at home to join us for our tradition of getting right to work on the first day of the New Year.
And thank you, Walter for the terrific work you did last year as our chairman. You were a real champion for Columbia Pike, for affordable housing, in promoting a culture of fitness and in advocating for the less fortunate in our community. Under your leadership, we made progress on all fronts.
Thank you, too, to my colleagues for choosing me to lead this Board in 2014. I look forward to working with Ms. Hynes as Vice Chair, with Mr. Tejada and Ms. Garvey, for the good of our community.
As for Mr. Zimmerman, as you know he is stepping down, after decades of public service and many, many accomplishments. The official time to praise and embarrass Chris is set for late January – so I will hold back today.
It’s not news that 2014 will bring changes and challenges. Change is the only constant in life. We in Arlington have always welcomed change — carefully managed, with broad community involvement and thoughtful review. Sound planning and adaptability are two of our civic strengths.
It won’t surprise you that my focus this year will be on sustainability – the ability to prosper through change. Everything we do should be judged by how it advances our goal of building a community that will sustain Arlingtonians for generations to come.
We have such a strong foundation on which to build.
When I moved to Arlington in 1983 – 31 years ago – it was a somewhat sleepy place with an uncertain future. From my rented apartment in River House III, I walked on a dirt path through a field to reach the newly completed Pentagon City Metro Station. That field today is Fashion Center and Pentagon Row, filled with people shopping, working, dining and ice-skating in the plaza. At that time, the most common landmark in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor was a used-car lot. The Sears automotive center had not been transformed into Market Common. Long Bridge Park was an industrial wasteland. Shirlington was dominated by the Best big box store and a large surface parking lot. Many of our schools parks and public buildings were in need of repairs.
We had made the commitment to transit as our prime engine of redevelopment but were not sure how far it could take us. Now, after years of persistence, patience and sound investment, the results are clear.
Between 1972 and the end of 2013, we have added about 40,000 homes, 40 million square feet of office space and 4 million square feet of retail and services – and yet traffic on many arterial streets has decreased. Our emphasis on moving people and goods, not just vehicles, has been so effective that today, more than half of all daily household trips in Arlington’s dense urban corridors are made on foot, bike or transit, and 40 percent of all transit trips in the state – in the entire state — begin or end in Arlington.
We have won many awards for smart growth. More important than plaques are the people who have been attracted by our exciting urban villages, strong neighborhoods, transportation options and more walkable, bikeable streets. Today Arlington has the nation’s highest concentration of 25 to 34-year-olds – and is the home of the region’s “creative class.”
I am particularly proud that, through this growth and change, we have maintained the very best characteristics of a small town.
Our crime rate is low. Our streets are safe. Neighbors help neighbors. We continue to embrace diversity and to care for the most vulnerable among us. We have maintained our connectedness and a strong civic culture where the “Arlington Way” continues to thrive. Even through the worst of the recession, Arlington maintained a strong social safety net and continues to invest in our future.
Our development policies have created a broad property tax base that is well-balanced between commercial and residential assessments, so the tax burden is more equitably shared, instead of being disproportionately born by homeowners.
Thanks to strong fiscal management, Arlington has been able to keep its tax rate among the lowest in the Washington Metropolitan region.
We have also maintained our coveted triple-AAA bond rating – one of only a handful of jurisdictions across the country with this highest rating by all three bond rating agencies. This ensures that Arlington can borrow money at the lowest available interest rates, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in financing capital improvement projects.
I feel confident that we can meet any challenges that come our way. This morning I want to focus on the three largest challenges I believe we now face: (1) growing school enrollment; (2) housing affordability -and (3) economic competitiveness.
Meeting the needs of our public schools
The first is the growing enrollment in our public schools. This is a symptom of success: families are settling in Arlington because our public schools are so good. And that reflects the fact that this community and this County Board have always made public education a top priority – because we believe in the value of education. We know that every child deserves an opportunity to succeed.
Arlington taxpayers, again and again, have voted for bonds to improve and expand our public schools – despite the fact that just 13% of the adults who live here have children in those schools. This is a civic commitment that few communities can match.
Between 1988 and 2010, Arlington made major improvements to 25 schools and entirely re-built six elementary/middle schools and three high schools. We have built one entirely new school, Carlin Springs Elementary, another new elementary school will open next year. We proudly lead the region in our $18,000+ investment per student, which ensures that we are able to attract outstanding teachers
Yet we must do more. Over the next five years, Arlington Public Schools projects 4,160 more students will enroll in our schools – an 18% increase. APS estimates that it will need to complete four to eight construction projects in the next decade in addition to those already underway.
This poses major challenges both for our capital budgets and for land-use planning. Arlington has just 26 square miles and is nearly built out. We have growing demands for space not just for schools, but also for affordable housing, recreation, parkland and other public facilities. Every square foot of public land is precious and must be wisely used. Everything we build should be carefully planned and creatively designed to meet as many community needs as possible.
Thus it is essential that the County and the Schools work together even more closely and effectively than we already do. We will initiate monthly joint staff meetings to ensure good communication and collaboration in developing the 10-year Capital Improvement Program. Our elected leaders will also meet regularly. My goal is to work with my colleagues to identify medium and long-term needs and make decisions together that benefit students, families, and our entire community.
Investing in affordable housing
A second, and perennial, challenge is to ensure that persons of all economic levels can continue to live in our community. On this front too we are victims of our own success.
Between 2000 and 2011, Arlington lost more than half its remaining inventory of market rate affordable units – over 11,500 units. High housing costs are squeezing out the low and moderate-income earners who are our teachers, health care providers, office workers, store clerks – our neighbors. They are essential to the fabric of our community and to our economic health.
Our community has responded aggressively. From my eight years on the Virginia Housing Development Authority board, I know that Arlington’s housing efforts dwarf those anywhere else in Virginia. Since 1990, the Board has allocated about $220 million in local and federal funds to build, buy or renovate multi-family affordable housing.
For every local dollar dedicated to affordable housing, we leverage $2-3 in state, federal and private funds.
These investments have created over 6,600 Committed Affordable Units – homes contractually obligated to stay affordable for decades – accounting for 15 percent of Arlington’s multi-family rental stock.
Last year, we adopted our most ambitious plan to date, to ensure no net loss of affordable housing as Columbia Pike redevelops into a more transit-oriented, walkable Main Street. We adopted several creative tools to help achieve this goal. For instance, we will be the first locality in America to use TDRs (transfers of development rights) to help preserve affordable housing. Because this is a novel strategy, we are starting with caution and fiscal restraint .
Another creative initiative is the County’s partnership with non-profit developer APAH to create 122 affordable units on County land next to the new Arlington Mill Community Center. This Board is committed to the concept of using Public Land for Public Good. As noted above, we have directed the County Manager to work with the Schools to assess all public properties for their potential use for affordable housing, schools, open space and other public facilities, during this year’s Capital Improvement Program process. In addition to better integrating county and schools planning, we want to identify three to five sites with potential for future affordable housing.
We also expect significant progress on the Affordable Housing Study. Its Working Group is charged with crafting a shared community vision of Arlington’s affordable housing program and recommending priorities to help us allocate housing resources.
And finally, this year we will celebrate the opening of our first year-round Homeless Services Center. This facility will provide up to 80 beds and integrated services to help many who have been living on the street become more self-reliant and rebuild their lives. This too is the Arlington Way.
Upping our economic competitiveness
The third large challenge we face is staying competitive in a rapidly shifting economic environment. Our planning decisions over the last generation have created unprecedented prosperity here and caused an array of businesses and institutions to choose Arlington as their home.
Today other localities are learning from us and making smarter planning decisions themselves. The Silver Line is bringing rail transit to Tysons and beyond. DC is revitalizing and creating new office markets. Meanwhile, the federal government is putting lease limits on federal tenant space that disadvantage Arlington’s properties.
The regional demand for office space is also being reduced by Federal budget shenanigans and uncertainty, coupled with increased teleworking and more firms using hoteling (open shared work space design). The changing workplace means that even as we see job growth, we may not see a large demand for office space.
As Chair in 2005, we had a full frontal assault from the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations. It was a shock. For the first time, leased space was targeted – not just military bases. We saved one key agency, yet Arlington was hit harder than any community in the nation losing 17,000 jobs over 6-10 years.
In response, we took charge of our future and created a vision for a new, more dynamic and appealing Crystal City. BRAC losses continue us but we have shown resilience to a challenge that would have crippled many localities.
I was also Chair in 2001 when we were struck by a terrorist attack. Along with the challenge to our psyche, there was a tangible threat to our economy, often forgotten, as National Airport was shut down. It was unclear whether it would ever reopen. That airport is a major anchor to our local and regional economy, we fought hard, developed a public-private coalition, advocated at the highest levels, and our airport reopened.
The point is that Arlington has amazing assets that will continue to be a fundamental part of our economic strength. Our location is not going to change. National Airport and the Pentagon are not going anywhere. Our outstanding transportation system, smart growth policies, great schools and creative class workforce will be protected and enhanced.
We have already shown that, when challenged, we can step up our game to remain the best place in America to start and grow a business. We’ve already taken some steps, This year we will do more.
Arlington as a hub for the innovation economy
I plan, we plan, to lay the groundwork for Arlington to become a hub for the innovation economy – the 21st-century economy of flexible, creative enterprises and high-tech services.
I have always described Arlington as a great place to do business. This government strives to give great customer service. Not long ago, we overhauled and greatly improved our building permitting process. Our Small Business Initiative and BizLaunch have helped businesses establish themselves and thrive.
Recently my Board colleagues and I joined the County Manager’s listening tour with representatives of small and large businesses throughout Arlington. Our goal was to learn about their experiences in dealing with County government, and to hear their suggestions. We learned that they love our community and value the business opportunities here. We heard that we can do more to streamline processes, improve predictability, and improve customer service. My goal is to ensure that County government facilitates new business creation and expansion. Here is a 6-Point Plan – that may grow into a traditional 10-point plan before year’s end:
- Target university/start-up/corporate federal science agency partnerships. Arlington is uniquely positioned as the home for early-stage, technology product-oriented startups with the potential to sell those products to the federal government, particularly in national security fields. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is approaching a critical mass of science, technology, art, research and education. In 2014, we will accelerate the growth of that ecosystem of startup technology product companies through a new public-private partnership funded by $700K in combined state funds and County matching funds.
- Strengthen partnerships. The Board will work to strengthen communications and partnerships between County government, businesses, entrepreneurs and residents by fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.
- Engage in aggressive business development. We will focus on strategically marketing Arlington to businesses and developers nationally and internationally.
- Update our Retail Action Plan. We established the initial plan for first floor retail in my early years on the Board, and it’s time for a refresh. The update will be expanded to areas beyond the R-B corridor and will strengthen support and opportunities for small businesses and retailers.
- Work with commissions. The Board relies heavily on the guidance and efforts of the many talented, dedicated residents who serve on our County commissions. The Planning Commission has a unique and essential role. I want to support its efforts to find efficiencies and improvements in its own procedures.
- Be flexible where possible. One area for study involves our largest malls. Both Ballston Mall and the Fashion Centre are planning major makeovers that will be good for them and good for our community, and they will need our help.
Strategic investments in infrastructure
In addition to this 6-Point Plan, continued strategic investments in infrastructure – particularly transportation and technology – will be critical to our future economic health.
The County this year will take several actions to advance the streetcar system planned for Crystal City and Columbia Pike. This Board, along with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has voted multiple times since 2006 to add streetcars to meet our growing needs along the Pike, already the most heavily traveled bus corridor in northern Virginia.
In recent years questions have arisen and there is a more organized effort to derail the streetcar. I would like to take a moment to reiterate why I continue to believe the streetcar is the best option for the corridor from Skyline to Pentagon City to Potomac Yard.
First, the community planning process has been extensive and inclusive, starting in 1998 with the effort to create the Columbia Pike Revitalization Plan. Transportation and land use planning have been integrated at every step. Such a thorough, broad-based decision-making process should not be easily disrespected or reversed. Second, the number of transit riders needs to more than double to 38,000 a day by 2035; the streetcar ensures the capacity to move these people. Third, fixed rail attracts “choice riders” who would not ride a bus and opens more of Arlington to tourists. Fourth, fixed rail incentivizes economic investment. The County’s 2012 Return on Investment Study found that the streetcar would generate additional tax revenues of $292-$532 million over a 30-year period, meeting or exceeding the streetcar’s estimated capital cost. Overall, I believe the streetcar not only fulfills our commitment to the Columbia Pike corridor but also bolsters Arlington’s economic sustainability into the future.
Let me also correct two common misperceptions: First, that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is possible on Columbia Pike. This is not true as BRT requires a dedicated lane at least for a major portion of a route. Second, that funds used to construct the streetcar system could be shifted to other capital needs such as schools. This is not true, as the streetcar will be built with dedicated transportation funds, ineligible for other uses.
For those who want to learn more, check the County website for the gobs of information available there on the streetcar plan and its history. It is also telling that in 2013, New Orleans and Salt Lake City opened streetcar lines. Ten other cities around the country have streetcar projects under construction, with four due to come on line this year – including the District of Columbia, which has a plan to ultimately build 37 miles of streetcar.
As a cyclist, I also want to note that, we will continue our transformation into a great place to bicycle – for work or pleasure. In 2014 we will expand our way-finding signage, adding 500 bicycle directional signs along our high-priority trail network. The County also will mark nearly a mile of protected bike lanes in Pentagon City and Crystal City this year, providing a physical barrier between cyclists and moving vehicles.
Another important investment is ConnectArlington – the most ambitious technology infrastructure investment this County has ever made. We’re laying 38 miles of fiber underground that will link every County and School building, every traffic signal and public safety radio tower. The system will improve the management of traffic and public transportation, and enhance communications for public safety response to emergencies. This year, we will explore more ways that ConnectArlington may benefit our community.
Environmental sustainability increases our competitiveness
And finally, let me speak directly to environmental sustainability, as I am passionate about it and believe that environmental and economic sustainability go hand in hand.
Our Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE) builds economic vitality through smart energy management and lower energy bills. Arlington’s Community Energy Plan has made us as a national leader in long-term energy planning. Arlington now has 72 LEED certified buildings which are ever more energy efficient, thus protecting the environment while reducing tenant costs and increasing our economic competitiveness.
Another great initiative is the Arlington Energy Masters program, a partnership of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, the Virginia Cooperation Extension Service, Arlington THRIVE and the County. It trains volunteers in retrofitting, weatherization, and water conservation techniques for lower-income apartment residents. In each apartment, volunteer teams work through a 25-point checklist of improvements. Since 2011, nearly 250 families have cut their power and water bills by an estimated $250 per year. That’s the Arlington Way!
In 2014, we also will deepen our commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle. I plan to ask the Board to consider implementing a 25-year strategy to achieve zero waste. This means diverting more than 90 percent of waste from landfills or incineration – a lofty goal that several other cities have already set. When we adopted our Solid Waste Management Plan ten years ago, we aimed to increase our recycling rate to 47% by 2024. We have already surpassed that goal, and now recycle 51 percent of our community’s waste. This year our citizen advisory group is likely to recommend that we raise that goal to 60 percent by 2025. We can do that, in part, by adding yard and food waste collection in coming years.
County government is also doing its part — more than 95 percent of the paper County government buys is recycled; more than one-third of the office products we buy are green and many of our contracts include environmental provisions. I have asked the Manager to review our goals and practices, and to develop a formal Environmental Purchasing Policy and education campaign. I want Arlington to lead the region in this effort.
To wrap it up, I have outlined an ambitious agenda – but this is an ambitious community. Arlingtonians are always striving – to help others, to learn, to listen and to strengthen our community. We lean forward. And we are good at turning challenges into opportunities.
I am confident that just as we have remade ourselves during the past decades, Arlington will remake itself again to embrace the challenges of the innovation economy. We have the brains, the heart and the drive to do it. Our community is strong, diverse, caring and incredibly civic-minded. Together, we will build a promising future for the generations of Arlingtonians who will follow us, and we will remain the place that other communities look to for inspiration.