Arlington County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey’s Jan. 2, 2018 Remarks
As I reflect on 2017, I am mindful of how grateful I am that Arlingtonians selected me to serve this incredible community, and we should recall, with pride, the many notable advancements we made together.
We committed to invest in 600 units that will provide long-term affordability for low and moderate income families.
We acquired property that will complete the vision for a public square, a source of community pride in Nauck—the fulfillment of a vision that has existed for well over a decade but that has been needed for generations.
We made substantial reductions in the office vacancy rate punctuated by Rosslyn becoming the new home of Nestle’s headquarters, but also seen in the way many other businesses chose to remain in or operate from Arlington—most without any taxpayer support.
I wish time allowed me to speak to the innovative advancements in environmental sustainability, energy efficiency, public safety, community facilities and bridging the digital divide along with all the other notable efforts from this past year.
And I am also keenly aware that we have had missteps and occasions where we have fallen short of the high standards I hope we all have for our community.
Let it suffice to say that these and all our other accomplishments are the products of what we do well—smart planning, effective service delivery, and good governance. And even our missteps are instructive and provide lessons learned that we will apply in serving the Arlington community even better.
In looking at the challenges and opportunities in the year ahead, among the many areas I will emphasize are:
This year, I urge that we make concrete strides toward a more affordable Arlington, and it starts with our FY 2019 operating budget and biennial CIP update. While headwinds abound in the form of rising costs, expanding needs and uncertainty surrounding federal policy decisions, I challenge us to meet our commitments and the needs of the community while limiting budget increases.
Additionally, because our principal program for affordability in rental housing is tied to a budget outlay—our Affordable Housing Investment Fund—it is essential that we stretch those dollars as far they can go. This will involve a rethinking of the requirements, conditions and incentives associated with committed affordable unit rehabilitation and new construction while allowing sensible increases in density.
And, our efforts toward greater housing affordability must also be innovative in permitting and encouraging housing that is affordable by design and not via public subsidy. Currently, the market for new construction on both the single-and multi-family sides produces pretty homogeneous results. Yet, there exists strong demand for different housing sizes and types. By better meeting these market demands we will, in my opinion, enhance neighborhoods, promote environmental sustainability and make life in Arlington more attainable for middle income workers and families.
And, I look forward to working on proposals that will better allow moderate income seniors and persons with disabilities to remain in their homes, and that will provide families with more opportunities to secure high quality, yet affordable, care for their children.
At certain times and with great frequency, every resident and entity that does business in Arlington is a consumer. And as the state and nation move towards more deregulation, there has been an erosion in effective ways to protect consumers from deceptive and fraudulent business practices. Arlington should fill the void by creating a consumer protection bureau that consolidates our efforts at educating businesses and consumers about their rights and responsibilities; aggregating and investigating complaints about illegal and unfair practices, and providing guidance to those who seek redress of their complaints.
We frequently hear complaints involving predatory towing, billing and service issues with cable and telecommunications companies, predatory lenders, identity theft, hired transportation, rental housing, and general contract enforcement. I believe there are beneficial outcomes in dispute resolution and prevention that a consumer protection bureau can promote.
My vision for starting this bureau does not require substantial new funding, and can be achieved by consolidating existing resources, currently spread across departments, and by creating an on-line portal that provides consumers with a way to easily connect with the resources available to them.
Properly organized, a consumer protection bureau will provide a benefit to both consumers and businesses that value fair marketplaces. Essential to a business-friendly Arlington are systems that encourage faith in businesses and promote engagement in commerce. And as case studies from other jurisdictions show, the costs of a well-designed bureau can be substantially, if not entirely, offset by what it recovers for consumers.
Data and technology
One of our Manager’s key initiatives is Open Data. There has been substantial work already in providing data sets provided to the community across a range of subjects and areas of work. I look forward to even more data sets becoming available, and we should improve our data visualization capacity to promote broader understanding of the content that is presented.
As that work continues, I’d also like to see it expand to better harness “Big Data.” Everything that is digitized is data, and organizations that capture data and have the policies and tools to perform advanced analytics on those data are better equipped to save time and money, and to be more responsive to their constituents. Whether analyzing transportation impacts, developing budgets, or mining public opinions and attitudes; harnessing “big data” effectively will allow us to better steward taxpayer resources, create an even safer Arlington and have a better engaged community that our local government can be ever responsive to.
I see clear progress in professionalizing and standardizing our public engagement processes. Yet shortcomings remain. Notification about projects proximate to interested parties is not as reliable as I would like, and we are not always clear with the community about engagement timelines and how they can best participate.
Each time we engage our community, there will always be participants and observers dissatisfied with the outcome. Yet, when our engagement activities are thoughtful and transparent, even those who don’t get their desired result are enriched through the process and committed to future opportunities for civic participation.
2018 is a pivotal year for the sustainability of the Metro system. For all of the inherent challenges that arise in having the federal government, three states, and nearly a half dozen Virginia localities involved in funding and governing WMATA, I never lose sight of this fundamental truth: Metro is a $40 billion asset that Arlington co-owns and that is essential to what we are and indispensable to what we will be.
We cannot allow it to be degraded with insufficient funding, nor can we accept that our financial contributions continue while our governance role is eliminated. I appreciate that outgoing Governor McAuliffe has offered a framework for Metro funding that is sufficient and sustainable. I encourage Governor-elect Northam and the General Assembly to improve it by diversifying the revenues included in the funding package to come from as broad a base as possible. As essential as Metro is to our local community and economy, it is equally true that it provides a tremendous return on investment to our entire Commonwealth in the form of increased sales and income tax receipts. The magnitude of Metro’s funding needs is too great for local governments to shoulder alone. We must have the Commonwealth step up and lead the region in putting Metro on a sustainable path.
Our high recycling rates are a testament to the shared value we put on sustainability. Year-round yard waste collection is producing astounding results in diverting waste from landfills. This year, I would like to study the efficacy and economics of recycling items that we don’t process but that are recyclable: polystyrene foam and shredded paper.
And let’s make sure all indoor and outdoor public spaces have refuse containers coupled with recycling containers, and that they are collected often enough to limit detritus that ends up littering our streets and clogging our storm drains.
When it comes to storm water management, I anxiously await the deployment of staff efforts to assist property owners with developing plans and securing permits to affordably comply with storm water requirements.
While my focus is squarely on Arlington, we are not immune to or dissociated from issues and concerns that may manifest elsewhere. Federal legislation—principally new tax laws—may be top of mind, and we will need to be vigilant in addressing any areas of community need that arise.
Two years ago, the well-publicized shootings of people of color by law enforcement produced an internal review of our use of force, community policing and body-worn camera policies. This year, I encourage the Manager to initiate a review of our gender identity, sexual harassment and assault policies.
In addition to reviewing our administrative regulations for clarity and sufficiency, I urge that we prioritize prevention through robust training of our employees to raise their awareness. And, both within and outside of government, and among adults and children, I want us to ensure we have a culture that doesn’t deter complainants, fully investigates complaints and seeks justice for victims.
For the next four months, our focus will be on the operating budget and then the biennial CIP. Whether anything I or my colleagues present today become priorities in the year ahead will be subject to broader discussion and community engagement. Yet it is safe to say that our needs exceed our means.
When faced with that reality, many communities either scale back – leaving more needs unmet — or make taxpayers more vulnerable by spending more money.
I want us to continue pursuing the third way: where we prioritize what is essential and inspire our talented staff to find creative ways to deliver more with less, make dollars stretch further and produce beneficial outcomes leveraged by modest government investments, or through policy changes that require no investment at all.
Just this past year, the Lubber Run and Long Bridge projects, the C-PACE program, and the work on the Housing Conservation District and Accessory Dwellings show that Arlington is fully up to meeting the challenges that await.
Together, with my colleagues, our staff, our schools leadership and the Arlington community, I look forward to getting to work.