Good evening. Thank you for joining us.
First, thanks to my County Board colleagues for your support. I am honored to work with you in service to our community, and look forward to collaborating with each of you to meet Arlington’s needs and make our community even better in 2017. And our team includes our highly skilled and experienced County Manager, County Attorney and Clerk – Mark, Steve and Hope – and the extremely talented County staff.
It’s said that the only constant in life is change. But the pace and impacts of change vary greatly. This year is likely to bring dramatic, unsettling changes in our national government and on the international scene. Arlington will feel some effects. But we’ll respond as we have before in times of turbulence and periods of more gradual change: with sensible actions inspired by a shared community vision and shaped through thoughtful dialogue and open debate.
What makes us such a healthy community?
First, let’s recognize how fortunate we are – in our location next to the Nation’s Capital, in our income and education levels, and most of all in our community values and tradition of strong, open government with engaged citizens.
Second, Arlington continues to excel in the provision of core government services – public safety, education, transportation, and basic social services for those in need. Our crime rate continues to decline; our streets are safe. We hire educated public safety officers, we train them well, and our community-oriented policing model works. Our public schools are outstanding, as we have always recognized that high-quality public education is an investment in our future. And our transportation system and staff are second to none in the country. Of course we’re not perfect. Yet in our last survey of residents, overall satisfaction with the quality of local government services remained at 89%, which is 32 percentage points above the national average.
Third, our smart growth planning is a national model that relies on transit and thoughtful land use planning as our prime engines of redevelopment. As a result, our tax base is well balanced between commercial and residential properties. Our tax rate is among the lowest in the region and our triple-AAA bond rating reflects strong fiscal management.
We are small, yet smart. We are ground zero for the Creative Class. Our 2.8% unemployment rate remains the lowest in Virginia – and well below the 4.6% national figure.
What are the keys to our success?
- Have a Vision and Plan for the Long Term.
You know what they say: Vision without action is a daydream. Action without a vision is a nightmare. Arlington is guided by a shared vision built on progressive values. And then we plan, plan and plan. Anyone can plan for tomorrow. Few find the political will and community support to develop plans for the long-term – as we do. And our dynamic community will demand even more creativity in future planning efforts to respond to population growth, changes in office markets and the nature of work, and the pressures to provide more community facilities and amenities in our very small space.
- Engage Our Community.
We meet, discuss and debate a lot. We are always open to new ideas of constructive engagement, yet can’t be held hostage to efforts to delay, distract or undermine. I firmly believe that trying to forge a broad understanding and consensus on a path forward is worth the time and energies involved because it improves the decision and builds trust. We have launched ambitious planning efforts for Lee Highway and the Four Mile Run Valley, and must press forward with true premium transit service on Columbia Pike. In these and other initiatives, we should look to combine the wisdom of veteran activists with fresh perspectives and youthful ideas, and bring ever more diverse interests and voices to the table.
- Partner and Leverage.
Local government can’t do it all ourselves. Beyond our citizens, we turn to the State, the federal government and the private and non-profit sectors to partner in doing good things. We leverage their talents and funds.
- Commit to Act, Not Just Talk.
And finally, we do what we say we’re going to do. It’s not just talk. The plans don’t sit on the shelf; they inform policy and budget decisions, and then we must monitor and track outcomes, and make midcourse corrections where needed.
So what’s our job in 2017?
To listen and lead. To ensure Arlington continues to move forward and does not get stuck or stagnate. We should always work to streamline processes, to improve the predictability and equity of services, and make all County agencies fully responsive to residents’ and businesses’ questions and needs. Continuous improvement in our customer service needs to be part of the DNA of our organization, and includes harnessing technology, adapting to the sharing economy and even better communication and notification tools.
Some of our largest challenges, and those that I intend to focus on in 2017, are: (1) the need for facilities, including schools, within the constraints of limited land; (2) strengthening our economic competitiveness; (3) housing affordability; (4) environmental sustainability; (5) METRO, and: (6) staying true to our vision and values.
On facilities, we continue to work well with our elected School Board colleagues. We must continue as partners in local government, sharing fiscal resources, facilities and land. We are all in this together – because we all need fire stations, bus storage facilities, parks, schools and more.
The 2015 award-winning Community Facilities Study (CFS) provided us with a strong framework for refreshing the Arlington Way and making siting and capital investment decisions with better community input up front. Actions earlier today keep us moving forward in implementing the recommendations of the CFS. We appointed members of the Joint Facility Advisory Committee (JFAC), which will get to work immediately.
And we adopted a charge for the newly created Advisory Committee on Transportation Choices (ACTC) – a joint effort with the Schools to help maximize transportation choices for students, parents and employees within the school system. A special thanks to School Board Chair Nancy Van Doren who worked with me to bring this initiative forward. Our staffs are very excited to work together to design and encourage healthy and safe transportation options as our schools grow.
Next, regarding economic competitiveness our commercial vacancy rate has recently dipped below 20%, though it is still much higher than our historic averages. We have had some strong wins in attracting and retaining businesses, yet we must continue to make progress in branding Arlington as a hub for the innovation economy and marketing our assets aggressively.
The good news is that we have the workforce everyone seeks, with thousands of millennials and the most educated community in the U.S. with 72% of Arlingtonians having a BA or higher. The Pentagon and National Airport are not relocating. We have an outstanding transportation system and strong amenities.
Third, affordable housing has become a bellwether issue that expresses the soul of our community. We are victims of our own success, as far more people want to live here than we have homes to fill. The average home price is $603,000, and we lost 13,500 market rate affordable units between 2000 and 2013.
In furtherance of the recently adopted Affordable Housing Master Plan, we will review and update our accessory dwelling unit ordinance in 2017. We will also consider tools for preserving our attractive and affordable garden apartments that are such an important part of the stock of affordable housing and of the character of our community. And we will further explore the mysterious “missing middle” in housing – that “middle” refers to modest densities and also to middling incomes — in an effort to provide more options for people of modest means, multi-generational households, and aging in place.
Fourth, environmental sustainability is the planetary challenge of our generation and Arlington must be a leader. In 2013 this Board adopted the Community Energy Plan which set goals for the entire community through 2050. Unlike many communities, we did not just sign a proclamation, we adopted a plan after 3 years of collaboration among all County stakeholders and we have implemented policies and programs to achieve our targets.
Nearly two-thirds of our community’s carbon emissions are from buildings. While County and APS buildings have seen an overall 23% reduction, more needs to be done. In 2017, new public buildings should strive to the net-zero standard set by our own Discovery School, at least three public buildings should host large solar arrays through private power purchase agreements, and Arlington should be the first locality in Virginia to establish a PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program to assist commercial property owners in financing energy retrofits.
Fifth, ensuring the success of WMATA (METRO) is the top priority for the region and will require all our attention in 2017. The regional rail system is the backbone of our transportation network and our economy. 84% of office development in the pipeline in the region are within ¼ mile of a METRO station.
WMATA, under strong new leadership, has taken bold steps to address the system’s safety and reliability. As the only large rail system in the U.S. without a dedicated funding source, we must help our region find a sustainable path forward and we are ably led by our colleague Christian Dorsey in this task. This is a Pass-Fail test for our region.
Yet maybe our most significant task in 2017 will be to advance our values, our vision, and our community ethic as we collectively grapple with the broader uncertainties and threats to social and environmental programs and to individual liberties anticipated with the incoming federal administration. While many of us have embraced the newly coined disruptive innovations – the latest Presidential election was more than we bargained for. No longer can we rely on the federal government to guide and support us with allegiance to shared purposes and our common humanity.
It is becoming all too clear that local governments will be called upon to lead. Communities like Arlington can serve as a model for how progressive social policies can work in tandem with conservative and responsible fiscal policies.
Arlington must continue to stand by our convictions and pursue our aspirations. Our ability to think big in spirit and deed has distinguished us and should still. While we should diligently strive to provide core services even better, we should not be limited to that out of fear or defensiveness. We also need to invest in the arts, parks, trails, libraries and human services that help define us and enhance our quality of life.
Arlington must continue to value the common good, not individual greed.
Arlington must continue to prize a public education, whether we have children today or we do not. We will showcase that local government can excel at educating all our children.
Arlington must look after the most vulnerable among us – whether in the dawn of life, the twilight of life, or the shadows of life. Our senior citizens and persons with disabilities should be cherished, nurtured and supported. And homelessness and affordable housing shall remain a priority.
Arlington must strengthen our efforts to protect the environment. We DO accept the reality of climate change. In the absence of federal leadership and assistance, cities and urban counties across America are taking the lead.
Arlington must continue to build public trust through broad civic engagement and careful fiscal management and oversight. Civility and accountability are important. As a former GAO auditor, I hate to waste anything, and look forward to continued work with our new County Board Auditor to find savings and improve program performance.
Finally, Arlington must continue to treat our foreign-born residents with the respect and human dignity they deserve. Our young Dreamers deserve special attention and protection. I want to reassure Arlingtonians of all stripes, hues and homelands that Arlington will remain a welcoming and safe community. We value diversity and embrace people’s differences as a source of this community’s strength.
In conclusion, the Washington Post recently referenced our “common humanity” as the guiding principle – the glue – that keeps our democracy on track. We have such a common humanity. Arlington will continue to strive to create a more sustainable, equitable and healthy community – a community that works. We will do this together.
Thank you and Happy New Year.