CANDIDATE Q&A: Johannah Barry
Barry is founder and president of the Galapagos Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the Galapagos Islands.
My husband Dave and I have lived in Falls Church for 25 years with our sons Cieran and Eamonn, who attended City schools. I am a career environmentalist and development officer, working on domestic public lands issues and international park management, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable society issues. I serve on the East Jefferson Street Neighborhood Association Board and have been active in neighborhood issues. Also, I am a 2nd-degree karate black belt and have served as a volunteer self defense instructor with the Fairfax County Police.
Ira Kaylin and I are running a coordinated campaign, and we hope you will join us in bringing new ideas and energy to the City of Falls Church. As part of our campaign, we have developed a 5-year plan that we call “Falls Church 2015.” For more information, please visit our web site, www.barrykaylinforcouncil.com.
1. Why do you want to be on City Council?
The recent series of decisions made by the current majority on City Council regarding development, housing, and resource use suggests a trajectory which moves this City further away from economic stability and independence. I am a long-term resident of the City and want to be an active part of building its future. My skills in long-range strategic planning, financial management, and fundraising, and my professional focus on conservation can, I hope, move us towards an economically and environmentally sustainable community. As a citizen, I have felt disenfranchised, as have many City residents serving on commissions. I want us all to be part of charting a different course for this City which values transparency, inclusive decision-making, and fiscal strength and stability.
2. What has City government done well in the last 10 years? What has it done poorly?
Over the last 10 years, the City government has made important steps in charting and articulating its future through its current five year comprehensive plan. The development of citizen commissions, including the new long-range financial planning commission, suggests that the City values confronting emerging social and financial issues, and building a shared vision. Soliciting the input of our talented citizens on economic development and creating strong and regular links with commissions and Council are all positive. Proactive facilities planning produced the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School which serves this community well.
The City has not fared well in its financial forecasting, and its inclusion of water fund monies in the general operating fund. This latter, indiscriminate use of funding resulted in a legal action which not only encumbers the City currently and in the near future, but may have implications for past years which will further affect available revenue. To compensate for poor planning, the City has taken money from its reserves and used it to balance the budget – consequently we are facing an already difficult economic climate without critical reserves. Putting off capital improvements due to our risky financial situation is another example of poor planning and bad precedent
3. If you could determine the physical nature of Falls Church, what would the City look like in 20 years in terms of buildings, green space, transportation, and other physical aspects?
The vision of this City was well articulated in the City’s Comprehensive Plan and I would not depart significantly from that future. Given the small physical space of this City, I would hope that in 20 years, we see an increasingly walkable City, welcoming and attractive commercial development at its gateways and along its major commercial corridors, full and integrated use of its commercial properties in the downtown area and a zoning scheme which retains the village neighborhood structure. As property becomes available, I hope there is a continued commitment to building greenways and green spaces. The W &OD Trail is a terrific asset to this City (I am a bike commuter) and given my particular interest, I would support the addition of bike lanes to major thoroughfares and bike friendly streets.
4. Aside from the physical nature of the City, what should change and what should remain the same?
Our schools’ excellent reputation is certainly an aspect to retain and ensuring that our students are intellectually equipped to meet future challenges will be key. Our small feel, our commitment to green spaces, and the inclusionary principles which guide our planning and our development should continue. What should change are our fiscal policies and financial planning models which have not been based on actual performance and which are annual in their construction and content. A city of our size with our current lack of economic diversity should be looking at five year models (three year projections and two years trailing) for budget planning and capital investments, and should require new revenue streams to be brought on every two to three years. A strong push to develop new revenue sources will focus staff and Council’s attention on proactive, aggressive marketing of this very attractive City.
5. How would you propose to balance the City budget? Please identify any specific spending cuts or revenue increases you would suggest.
The budget cuts to the 2011 budget should be viewed through a multi-year optic. Cuts this year will need to continue over the next several years until we recover from the water fund impact, we build back reserves, and we adjust to the external market forces which have reduced commercial revenue and suppressed or in some cases reduced the value of our homes. Functionally-driven budget cuts will reduce the ad hoc nature of current budget reductions and allow our City to ensure key safety, public welfare, and services (including education). This decision model will address reducing expenditures, or eliminating whole programs, in a tiered and logical fashion
6. When the City’s budget situation improves to allow capital improvement projects, which project would be your top priority?
I would certainly support the renovation of George Mason High School, long overdue. This will not only provide our children and teachers with a safe and welcoming place to learn, but also provide our community with meeting spaces and other opportunities to gather. If allowed a second priority, it would be watershed protection
7. What is your position on the proposed affordable housing project, “The Wilden”?
Our Comprehensive Plan identifies affordable housing as a central component of our economic development and a critical need for a variety of our citizens. It reflects who we are and what we value in this City.
I have opposed moving forward with the Wilden solely on the basis of its fragile economic underpinnings, the interlocking financial mechanisms that are required for its success, the loan of $2 million from the City at a time when we are in financial crisis for the foreseeable future, and the financial encumbrances to the City from its development over the next 10 years. Public discussions regarding the future sale of Winter Hill and use of those revenues to cover loan obligations strongly suggest we may see a net decrease in affordable housing at the project’s end.
Further, the claim that an affordable housing unit will kick start development in the City’s center is one which I find difficult to accept. As presented, the Wilden puts City taxpayers last.
8. What was your position on moving City Council and School Board elections from May to November?
Along with many citizens, I opposed this move and presented this objection publicly. The move was unilaterally taken by the majority on City Council without consultation with the citizens and without reasonable explanation. The citizens of the City were effectively disenfranchised and subjected to a time consuming and capricious decision. This is neither good politics nor good planning.
9. What changes, if any, should the City make regarding its water system following the recent litigation with Fairfax County Water Authority?
The City’s recent litigation with FCWA was unfortunate, expensive, and ill advised. Our relationship with Fairfax was jeopardized and reestablishing a respectful working relationship is important. Assuming that the water litigation is completed by June, the City should continue marketing this service to our City and our neighbors, securing appropriate revenues and investing those revenues in what will likely be growing infrastructure needs.
10. Are there any practices or programs you have seen in other communities – nearby or far away – that should be adopted by the City of Falls Church?
Reston Town Center is an example of a downtown area which has attracted high end commercial retail and office buildings and is an attractive, “foot-friendly” location. It serves as a safe and welcoming gathering place. Parking is contained at the borders of the Center and is both paid and public. The same is true for Shirlington which has transformed its center to a destination point for the surrounding neighborhoods. Both are bike friendly and easily reachable from the W &OD Trail. Arlington’s long view of development, perhaps 20 years in the making and planning, has done much to transform the area from Rosslyn through Ballston in a coherent, planned manner. Falls Church could benefit from a long view as to its potential and a willingness to think ingeniously about its future. Its size and location are tremendous assets but require sensitive planning which is proactive and directive. This is what Arlington and Fairfax have done well, and what I am certain Falls Church can do.
By Falls Church Times Staff
April 5, 2010