ANALYSIS: A Sterner Turnout Test is Two Years Away

November 7, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

By George Bromley
Special to the Falls Church Times

November 7, 2013

As expected, the city’s first November election of municipal officers saw a significantly higher turnout than was achieved in recent May elections.  According to unofficial totals, 54.6% of the registered voters turned out last Tuesday, slightly more than double the percentage reached in May 2012.

However, as a substantial number of people did not vote for city council or school board candidates, the actual city election turnout was somewhat lower.  Furthermore, given previous results, it seems unlikely that anywhere near half of the registered voters will stroll to the polls in the next city election in November 2015.

Although nearly 5,000 people voted on Tuesday the best showing by a non-partisan candidate was by Marybeth Connelly, who won 3,515 votes.  This was far short of the number that voted for any of the Democrats running for constitutional offices or that voted on the referendum to sell the water system.

The other four candidates running for council averaged around 2,800 votes.  Since voters could vote for more than one candidate it is impossible to determine exactly how many people cast votes for council.  If Ms. Connelly attracted 7 of 8 council voters, then the rough city turnout would be around 4,000 or 44%, a percentage below that reached in several May elections in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Odd year November elections always have lower turnout rates than those held in even years, especially in the years not featuring a gubernatorial contest.  City turnout in such elections has been declining since the mid-1990s.

In November 1995 over 2,900 residents voted in the November races for Virginia delegate and senator, a turnout of about 50%.  Turnout in such elections then began to fall, declining to around 47% in 1999 and to 42% in 2003.

In November 2007 only 28% turned out, a number below that for some of the contested May elections held since 2000.  The turnout in 2011 was only 31%, even with the controversial referendum to move local elections from May to November on the ballot.

These trends indicate that the level of turnout in 2015 probably will much lower than Tuesday’s and perhaps only several points higher than the 26% of May 2012.  Without a hotly contested gubernatorial race to lure them to the polls, most local voters may again choose to ignore the municipal election.

CANDIDATE Q&A: Robert LaJeunesse

October 25, 2013 by · 10 Comments 

RobertLaJeunesse_cropBy Falls Church Times Staff
October 25, 2013

The Falls Church Times recently invited each candidate running in the November 5 election for Falls Church City Council to respond to an eight-part questionnaire.  Today we publish the responses of Robert LaJeunesse.

BACKGROUND

LaJeunesse is a Ph.D. labor economist at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he testifies in the litigation of employment discrimination cases.  He previously worked as a financial economist at the US Treasury.  He and his family have lived in Falls Church for several years, and his daughter attends Falls Church City Public Schools.  He has served as a volunteer for Falls Church Youth Lacrosse, Falls Church Community Service, Neighborhood Clean-Up and various PTAs.  Additional information about LaJeunesse is available at his campaign website, www.boblaj.org.

QUESTIONNAIRE

1. Qualifications. Why are you running for City Council? What strengths and experience would you bring to the job?

I am running for Council because I like to fix things. I believe I can help the City build the capacity needed to accommodate recent and forthcoming growth that is bringing greater density to the City. My background in social economics and finance will allow me to balance the social, fiscal, environmental, educational, and commercial needs of the community.

2. City Finances. Financial pressures facing the City include rapidly growing schools, aging facilities, increased demand on city services, pensions liabilities, and the need for an appropriate fund balance.  Although budgeting always requires “balance,” Council members must establish priorities.  What will be your priorities as you face these pressures?

All budgeting decisions should be governed by the long-term goal of fashioning a vibrant, attractive city with an expanding tax base. Fostering a diverse and growing tax base is the best way to ensure that the City can meet any future financial obligation. Attempting to “pre-fund” future obligations by saving more will have the paradoxical result of diminishing our ability to pay those liabilities. When the City saves more money than it needs to (relative to our regional counterparts), it destroys economic activity. Sequestering an extra $20 million in taxes, for example, keeps that money from multiplying through the economy 4 to 5 times – ultimately reducing economic activity and the future tax base by $80 to $100 million. At the individual level, prematurely collecting taxes limits the ability and willingness of households and businesses to pay taxes in the future. Indeed tax fatigue will set in sooner if citizens do not see their taxes being spent in a tangible manner.

This November voters have the opportunity to choose if they want their taxes to sit idle in the city coffer as a “rainy day” fund, be squandered on future pet projects, or be invested in tangible infrastructure projects. The major initiative of my campaign is to “leverage” the surplus revenues from recent tax collections and forthcoming private development to improve the equity, livability, and infrastructure of the City. Investing the City’s surplus funds in the community is a much better way to prepare for any future financial obligation than saving for a rainy day. Perhaps Edmund Burke summarized it best when he wrote that “Mere parsimony is not economy…Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part of true economy.” The most “economical” use of City resources may require new buildings rather than renovating old ones, or to build capacity and infrastructure now before further grow takes place.

We need to stop being paralyzed by parsimony. Our overly-restrictive budget stance has lead to a fiscal paralysis that threatens the civility, livability, vitality, and charity of the City. Prolonged parsimony threatens our civility by creating false battle lines in our community such as those between the school community and tax-payers, between developers and downstream homeowners worried about inadequate storm drains and traffic, between cycling lanes and street parking. Restrictive frugality reduces the livability of the City by denying adequate infrastructure investments for pedestrians, baby-strollers, cyclists, park-users, and many others. Being penny-wise and dollar dumb threatens our vitality by reducing our economic growth and tax base. Finally, our excessive parsimony crowds-out private charity. If people are paying more in taxes, they have less to donate to worthy causes.

The ability to collect taxes represents an unencumbered income flow to the City, which gives it preferential borrowing status. It can borrow money on much more favorable terms than any household or business in the city. Yet having the “authority” to collect taxes does not mean that the City has to use it preemptively. By assuming a fiscal stance similar to neighboring jurisdictions and leveraging the revenue from new development, the City can meet its basic infrastructure needs through traditional municipal finance. There is no need for one generation of tax payers to bare the brunt of infrastructure investment as those assets will be in place for 50-plus years. Moreover, moderate economic growth and the effects of inflation will make it easier to pay for the investments we make today. This is especially true given that interest rates are currently negative after adjusting for the regional rate of inflation. This is a great time to invest in our future. (It is worth noting that the City’s statutory borrowing limit is $335 million, which is 10 percent of the $3.3 billion worth of assessed land in the City. The City’s FY2013 debt obligations amounted to just $35 million.)

Spending on infrastructure should not be equated with the wasteful government spending that has happened in the past. The City’s new revenue streams should be put to long-term use to build the capacity that has been neglected during the recent surge of private development. Since the larger infrastructure projects will require a bond referendum, I will use my background in economics to achieve the best financing, scale, and scope for these projects so that Broad Street has more say in the outcome than Wall Street.

3. School facilities. Ideas have been floated by a number of people on how to pay for new facilities at George Mason High School and Mt. Daniel Elementary. Some of those ideas include commercial development in the area near GMHS to bring in more revenue, tearing down City Hall to build a new GMHS there, and selling the Mt. Daniel property and moving those students to Thomas Jefferson Elementary. Do you favor any of these proposals? What would you propose as a way to deal with school facility needs?

Moving the location of present buildings should be done for logistical or efficiency reasons, not for financial reasons alone. This question falsely assumes that the City cannot afford to pay for its basic infrastructure. Through the proper financing arrangement, the City can easily afford to build an new high school and city hall of the appropriate scale and scope. The issue of scope requires that multiple interests be willing to engage in a common planing vision and share resources when feasible.

Any future development of the “area near GMHS” should not be governed by the desire to maximize revenue per square foot alone. Other social, health, communal, environmental and educational needs must also be considered.

4. Real Estate Development. Falls Church City is looking at a number of approved and prospective real estate developments in the coming years, such as the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad, the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple, a possible mixed-use project at Broad and West, and the potential development of land linked to the sale of the City water system.  In your view, what community values should new real estate developments reflect, and what specific features and characteristics should be included to make them enjoyable and valuable for the community?

I am glad this question mentions “community” values rather than simply “commercial” values. As previously noted, our planning process ignores the social, health, environmental, and educational value of alternative land use. In addition to improving the balance between public and private infrastructure, our development policy should preserve and foster the “CRAFTINESS” of Falls Church. We have craft beers, arts and crafts, farmers’ market vendors, and many other boutique establishments that differentiate us from Tyson’s Corner. We should ensure that these locally-owned businesses are given a level-playing field in their competition with large corporations and absentee landlords. There is no doubt that there are still development opportunities in the City and that we will always need re-development, but we need to restrain the scale of development to retain the small town feel that sets Falls Church apart.

Any new development project should include ample underground parking. The City should also work with developers to create bicycle lanes, bike racks, solar-powered street lighting, and ADA compliant sidewalks.

5. Economic Development.  Separate from real estate development, what can the City do to generate increased economic activity?  What kinds of businesses and activities should we recruit and promote?  What tools should we utilize?

We should pursue balanced development, not hyper-development! What does “balanced” mean? Balance requires public investment in lock-step with private development to avoid public squalor in the face of private affluence. Public infrastructure investments – underground parking for example – can actually “crowd-in” more private investments by making the City a vibrant, attractive place to live. Past leaders have been so preoccupied with private development that they have neglected basic municipal infrastructure. It is time to build greater capacity into our City to handle increases in traffic, enrollments, and congestion in general.

6. Storm water.  The City Council recently passed a plan to enhance the city’s storm water infrastructure.  It features a new user fee that would be paid beginning next year by homeowners, businesses, and churches.  Executing the plan would require a number of new full-time employees.  Do you agree with this approach?  If not, how would you modify it?

The intent of the storm-water fee should be behavior modification, not revenue generation. If we want to reduce runoff, we should be focusing on large parking lots and roofs. Therefore, the average homeowner should receive a generous exemption of impervious surface that declines over time. The storm-water fee is a punitive approach. We should also offer incentives. In order to reduce the disposal costs of retro-fitting impervious cover, the City should begin a concrete and asphalt recycling program. The resulting crushed aggregate (or Stone Dust) can be used to stabilize the City streets and replace the neglected walking trails.

7. “Ped” Plan.  In 2012, the City announced that the Council “withdrew consideration of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan to allow for changes to the plan and additional time for public input, review and approval.”  To date, the Council has not resumed consideration of the plan.  Do you feel the City should pursue such a plan?  If yes, what changes, if any, should be made to the 2012 version of the plan?  If not, why not?

The moth-balling of the Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Traffic Calming plan is prime example of the City being paralyzed by its own parsimony. The City’s apprehension to spend and borrow created a false dichotomy between bike lanes and parking. It is perfectly legitimate to pay for infrastructure improvements with traditional municipal finance, not to mention the Federal dollars we missed out on. The Ped plan has some excellent priorities. It provides a useful inventory of problems and a road map for essential upgrades. We should implement most of the suggested sidewalk repairs and bike trail extension immediately.

Certain suggestions in the plan still need to be tailored to specific neighborhoods. For example, there is no need for 5-foot bike lane and a 6-foot sidewalk if that means a substantial loss of parking. In these areas, a compromise can be forged – 3-ft bike lane, 4-ft sidewalk, and parking for compact cars and motorcycles. Moreover, we need to rethink the physical barriers in the plan – medians, bulbs, and other traffic calming devices. These obstacles often force bicycle and car traffic into one another and eliminate escape routes. Large medians also create view obstructions.

8. Current Council. What has the current Council done well and what has it done poorly?

The Council has acted to secure federal and state resources appropriately. The shiny trucks, cars and motorcycle you see around town were of little expense to the City. The current council has also taken a unique and aggressive approach to the storm water demands facing all municipalities in the wake of new EPA regulations.

As suggested above, and by recent disclosures of another surplus*, the council has done a poor job managing its finances. Government budgeting should not be conducted like a household, a business, or a college endowment. Governments are not supposed to sequester taxes. Failure to invest in the capacity needed to ease the growing pains of greater density amounts to fiscal mismanagement. We need to stop taking taxpayers for granted as a bottomless well of tax revenue.

*I consider the current budget to be in surplus because the Council has devoted revenues to CIP and pay-go accounts over and above the surpluses already built into the budget. Moreover, the current budget assumes a 3 percent growth in City expenditures and a 6 percent increase in school expenditures next year, which may not be necessary if the 2014 Council assumes a different spending/saving posture. In addition, real estate valuations are bound to increase sharply next year based on recent residential sales and growing commercial occupancy rates.

This is the last of five candidate questionnaire responses published by the Falls Church Times, and we would like to thank Mr. LaJeunesse for his participation.  We encourage all registered voters to go to the polls on Tuesday November 5.  Information on polling place hours and locations is available at www.fallschurchva.gov/Content/Government/Voting/RegistrarVoters.aspx  

CANDIDATE Q&A: Dan Sze

October 24, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

DanSze_cropBy Falls Church Times Staff
October 24, 2013

The Falls Church Times recently invited each candidate running in the November 5 election for Falls Church City Council to respond to an eight-part questionnaire.  Today we publish the responses of Dan Sze.

BACKGROUND

Sze recently retired from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as Deputy Director of State Energy Programs.  He served on Falls Church City Council from 2006-2010, and currently sits on the Board of Zoning Appeals.  He has also served on the City’s Economic Development Authority as member and vice chair.  He and his wife have lived in the City of Falls Church since 1988. Additional information about Sze is available at his campaign website, www.dansze.com.

QUESTIONNAIRE

1. Qualifications. Why are you running for City Council?  What strengths and experience would you bring to the job?

I am running because I am passionate about preserving, enhancing and celebrating what is special about the City of Falls Church…our people. When I retired from the Department of Energy last year, my wife Elisabeth and I explored other places to live and came to the conclusion that the City of Falls Church offered us everything we want.

I want to be of service to everyone living here: those of you who have children in our schools and those of you, like me, who do not, but who celebrate our schools, recognize their value and take pride in their achievements. I want to make sure that if you make the same decision that Elisabeth and I did to stay in our City, you can do so.

My past experience in service to the City includes a term on City Council (2006-2010) and four years on the Economic Development Authority, where I served for two years as the Vice-Chair. I currently serve on Board of Zoning Appeals, where I have been a member since January 2013.

I am an architect and have a Master of Science in Urban Design from Columbia University. My last decade has been spent in the cause of clean energy technologies. During my past term on City Council, I helped create environmentally-sustainable development. I will use my knowledge, experience and strategic viewpoint from my work and city service to help create a better city and rebuild our commercial corridors.

2. City Finances. Financial pressures facing the City include rapidly growing schools, aging facilities, increased demand on city services, pensions liabilities, and the need for an appropriate fund balance.  Although budgeting always requires “balance,” Council members must establish priorities.  What will be your priorities as you face these pressures?

We deserve fair and reasonable taxes. The citizens of the City of Falls Church deserve to have every one of their tax dollars count for something. We are beyond simply being unhappy that residential property taxes continue to escalate. We need to reassess our position on risk and cash needed on-hand in our fund balance reserve.

Although I am running to preserve our residential neighborhoods, I am also running to represent all of us. Those who live in our mixed use developments deserve to have a voice because they are tax-paying citizens as well. We all deserve to have great schools, fair taxes and a well-designed city

I will work with the School Board, who has shown by dedication and experience, that they bring abundant fiscal responsibility and credibility during the annual budgeting process. In fact, our schools’ share of the annual budget has declined over time due to our School Board’s diligence. It is myopic to underfund our educational system since it has a positive effect on city real-estate values and we recognize our reliance on future income earners will be better served if they are truly prepared to be competitive in the global marketplace.

My preferred solution is to grow the revenue pie from smart, appropriate redevelopment of our commercial corridors. We need to seek a way to increase the base of young, single professionals who want to live here since they would create a demand for commercial and retail services that would follow them to support a way of life and, importantly, contribute to funding public and education facilities. We need to maximize the opportunity created by land next to the West Falls Church Metro Station which would become available to our control upon a positive vote to sell the water system.

The difficult decisions that will affect our Falls Church citizens must be made with their input and agreement through referendums and after public discussion. This includes major infrastructure and municipal projects under discussion: city hall, library, police station, judicial space and the new high school. Even if we were able to enlarge the revenue stream to offset most of the cost, the larger question of what is appropriate for our future city depends on the voices of our citizens, who are the ones best able to inform and decide on critical decisions.

3. School facilities. Ideas have been floated by a number of people on how to pay for new facilities at George Mason High School and Mt. Daniel Elementary.  Some of those ideas include commercial development in the area near GMHS to bring in more revenue, tearing down City Hall to build a nw GMHS there, and selling the Mt. Daniel property and moving those students to Thomas Jefferson Elementary.  Do you favor any of these proposals?   What would you propose as a way to deal with school facility needs.

We need to maintain focus on funding our schools as a top priority. I recognize that revenue generation is the proper way to get them funded, but we need to minimize increased residential taxation to do so. I support smart growth and sustainable development that addresses an underserved demographic – young professionals and singles – who will create a critical mass of residents who will attract interesting and unique high-revenue generating retail regional attractions and bring truly wonderful places to shop and dine in our City.

I support the sale of the Falls Church City Water System and will vote in favor of the referendum in November. I urge you to do the same. It bears repeating to say we need to recognize opportunities – to invest in smart development activities to ensure future stability. I would move out quickly following a positive decision to sell the water supply utility to begin discussions on how to create a revenue-generating set of facilities on the 30 percent of the land set aside for non-educational uses. I do not favor a commercial shopping center on that site. Based on prior and new relationships and experience, I will seek interaction and partnerships with our adjoining jurisdictions to maximize these opportunities and other possibilities for our mutual benefit.

I would need additional information to convince me that tearing down the current City Hall and/or selling the Mt Daniel School property are prudent and beneficial actions.

4. Real Estate Development. Falls Church City is looking at a number of approved and prospective real estate developments in the coming years, such as the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad, the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple, a possible mixed-use project at Broad and West, and the potential development of land linked to the sale of the City water system.  In your view, what community values should new real estate developments reflect, and what specific features and characteristics should be included to make them enjoyable and valuable for the community?

Growth will come to our city. I believe our city needs leadership on council that understands the built environment, how a well-designed city looks and works; and someone who understands the development community. We need to properly redevelop our commercial corridors to sustain the future. My experience on City Council (2006-2010) produced environmentally-sustainable mixed-use developments aimed towards achieving economic prosperity. Projects I helped shape deployed green strategies that conform to the United States Green Building Council definitions for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Development (LEED) buildings that will survive the test of time and will help ensure a livable planet for future generations. These include BJs, the Northgate mixed-use rental complex (LEED Silver), the Flower Building (LEED Gold), and finalizing negotiations for the Gateway, City Center South (LEED for Neighborhoods) and Broad Street Hotel projects. Without these projects, residential taxpayers would have been on the hook for at least another ten million dollars of taxes.

Smart Growth is part of the path forward. I will provide the leadership that understands and engages with the development community. We need a city council that is focused and has the far-sighted vision to find a way to end the continuous need to finance city and school requirements by annual tax rate increases. The pay-off is the preservation of residential neighborhoods and a well-designed city as an outcome of smart leadership.

5. Economic Development.  Separate from real estate development, what can the City do to generate increased economic activity?  What kinds of businesses and activities should we recruit and promote?  What tools should we utilize?

There’s no question that real estate development is the single largest driver in our city, going forward, to generate non-residential taxes. We cannot separate real estate development from smart land-use decisions and impacts on transportation. I will work with all those that believe we should have additional capacity in our city in order to bring revenue into the city’s coffers by encouraging advanced manufacturing and industries of the future. I will do my best to fully utilize the city-wide tax overlay that encourages high-technology companies and startups.

Another avenue of revenue generation will be to remake our city as a net-zero producer of energy. The laws that will make it possible for us to stand up renewable power generation will become effective January 2014. Although this means that the city needs to recognize a new type of utility, a green power and clean energy entity, I believe that our city can lead the way in Northern Virginia, and the rest the country, as a model in how a municipal entity and private enterprise can create a clean technology scenario. It is now possible for all of us to engage in and be part of a revenue-generating utility that puts solar and wind resources on our roofs. My endorsement in this November election by the Sierra Club recognized that I have the knowledge and that the technology to do this is already here. Part of this enterprise has already been accomplished; we should take full advantage of the smart meters that were installed on a city-wide basis in 2010. I promise to provide the necessary leadership.

6. Storm water.  The City Council recently passed a plan to enhance the city’s storm water infrastructure.  It features a new user fee that would be paid beginning next year by homeowners, businesses, and churches.  Executing the plan would require a number of new full-time employees.  Do you agree with this approach?  If not, how would you modify it?

The issue of storm water management has emerged as a prominent issue in light of failed voluntary efforts of the past to address the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay.  Pollution from urban storm water runoff, including Falls Church City, has contributed to the Bay’s problems.  So we need to do our part to help correct the problems.  The City also has some level of responsibility to address areas within our boundaries prone to flooding.  The plan to address these problems by setting up a separate utility, measuring every parcel’s impervious surface, assessing a non tax-deductible fee (which may be offset with credits) is a complicated approach that the City’s own consultant has said is without precedent.  Because we have taken a very different approach from our neighbors (and the rest of the state), we need to learn quickly from experience, and be willing to make adjustments. For example, we may need to consider ways to ease the transition to new fees, especially for non-profit organizations.  We should ensure that credits are available to all sectors, so they act as incentives to take actions to reduce storm water runoff.  We may even have to take another look at whether setting up a separate organization just to address storm water, with all the accompanying overheads, really makes sense for a jurisdiction as small as ours.  It will be especially important for the City to explain the purpose and details of the plan to our citizens.  Right now, I think there is quite a bit of confusion over just what the new fees are intended to accomplish. I advocate evaluating the effectiveness of this structure after it has been fully operational for a period of time and we need to have the patience to allow that enterprise to become more mature.

7. “Ped” Plan.  In 2012, the City announced that the Council “withdrew consideration of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan to allow for changes to the plan and additional time for public input, review and approval.”  To date, the Council has not resumed consideration of the plan.  Do you feel the City should pursue such a plan?  If yes, what changes, if any, should be made to the 2012 version of the plan?  If not, why not?

I believe the pedestrian/bike plan in its current state is flawed – bringing it back to life as is would risk further negative reaction.  The challenge is to select parts of the plan that have general agreement, and begin action to implement those parts.  Consistent with our size (and the resources available to us), I believe in doing what is simple, smart and pragmatic.  Let’s start with removing obstacles on sidewalks, improving signage, starting some bike lanes, etc.  Let’s work with our businesses to install more bike racks (I was recently able to accomplish this result with the Burke & Herbert Bank on Broad Street), explore Capital Bikeshare and negotiate with proposed development projects to include more capabilities for pedestrians and bicyclists.  We can start the transition to the concept of Complete Streets (i.e. planning for all forms of transportation to use our public rights of way) without having to adopt inflexible rules on construction and placement of sidewalks or disrupting existing streetscapes. Citizens in affected neighborhoods should be involved in discussions and decisions.

8. Current Council. What has the current Council done well and what has it done poorly? 

I believe in civility and respect on City Council. I also believe that working in a collegial, collaborative manner with council members is the best way to making progress. The current council has not always demonstrated transparency of process, explained financial stewardship practices or has ignored standing resolutions on governance. I am running to shape the future direction to what I believe the citizens of our city truly want and to provide the leadership and knowledge to accomplish that objective. In short, I am running for how we will look and act as a city in the future.

If elected, I would use all available mechanisms to accurately determine the needs, desires and the will of the people. This is not a city for the few; this is a city for all of us. Where others see challenges, I see opportunity. If elected, I promise to serve all of us. I won’t let you down

This is the fourth of five candidate questionnaire responses published by the Falls Church Times, and we would like to thank Mr. Sze for his participation.  We encourage all registered voters to go to the polls on Tuesday November 5.  Information on polling place hours and locations is available at www.fallschurchva.gov/Content/Government/Voting/RegistrarVoters.aspx   

CANDIDATE Q&A: Karen Oliver

October 23, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

Karen Oliver Campaign Headshot_cropBy Falls Church Times Staff
October 23, 2013

The Falls Church Times recently invited each candidate running in the November 5 election for Falls Church City Council to respond to an eight-part questionnaire.  Today we publish the responses of Karen Oliver.

BACKGROUND

Oliver works with DC consulting firm Orr Associates providing non-profit organizations guidance in financial management and regulatory compliance.  She serves on the board of directors of the Winter Hill Community Association, and her children attend Falls Church City Public Schools. Previously, she served on the boards of American schools in Islamabad, Pakistan and New Delhi, India.  Additional information about Oliver is available at her campaign website, www.karenoliverforfallschurch.wordpress.com.

QUESTIONNAIRE

1. Qualifications. Why are you running for City Council?  What strengths and experience would you bring to the job?

I’m running because we need council members who are (1) experienced at working collaboratively on a team, and (2) smart about finances and budgets.

My teamwork and finance skills come from six years on school boards and decades in business, finding the common ground among diverse, competing groups in a way that lets a community make decisions on hard issues. With this experience, I can be both a strong advocate of our terrific school system and smart in getting the absolute maximum from our budget dollars.

I’m energized to bring this experience to City Council by my recent work with the city and the Winter Hill neighborhood on the big Harris Teeter development project, which our residents have been working to improve over the past year. I’ve been pleased to find the city fairly responsive — but as development intensifies in our city, “responsive” will not be good enough. Our city needs to initiate communications with everyone who has a stake in each project that comes along early enough in the process that we can make effective decisions in a timely fashion.

2. City Finances. Financial pressures facing the City include rapidly growing schools, aging facilities, increased demand on city services, pensions liabilities, and the need for an appropriate fund balance.  Although budgeting always requires “balance,” Council members must establish priorities.  What will be your priorities as you face these pressures?

Specific choices on spending can come only when we combine our vision for the community with spreadsheets and real data in front of us. That said, some of our general needs are clear:

  • KEEPING OUR SCHOOLS STRONG. We all know that our terrific schools are a big part of our strong property values and quality of life in Falls Church. I’ll use my school board experience and budget skills to keep our schools strong at the least possible cost.
  • BEGINNING NOW TO RE-WORK OUR OUTDATED INFRASTRUCTURE. Have you seen the photos of our crumbling storm drain pipes?  It’s not a flashy issue, but a high priority must be to accelerate our planning for a broad re-working of storm water runoff management. Similarly, we need to work cooperatively with our neighbors, Arlington and Falls Church, on managing the ever increasing traffic on Broad Street and Washington Boulevard. As we consider the appropriate size of our reserve funds, these infrastructure needs must be part of that math.
  • ENCOURAGING DELIBERATE, SMART DEVELOPMENT. This is not so much a spending issue as a top priority for building the tax revenues that will make all of our community needs easier to fulfill!  If we encourage development that fits within our vision of the Little City that has a positive economic impact we all win.

With a vision, a rolling planning process and a focus on a range of financing options we can balance our budget without unduly burdening any part of our community.

3. School facilities. Ideas have been floated by a number of people on how to pay for new facilities at George Mason High School and Mt. Daniel Elementary.  Some of those ideas include commercial development in the area near GMHS to bring in more revenue, tearing down City Hall to build a new GMHS there, and selling the Mt. Daniel property and moving those students to Thomas Jefferson Elementary.  Do you favor any of these proposals?   What would you propose as a way to deal with school facility needs?

Here, too, a truly responsible answer to any of these proposals must come with real data and plans. But some basic facts that can guide us in smart, creative thinking:

  • OPENNESS TO MOVING CITY HALL. In our city’s two square miles, the current City Hall site, adjacent to Cherry Hill Park, is a prime location for facilities that serve the entire community. If an efficient city office center could be built elsewhere, perhaps as part of a mixed-use site with good transport links, why not consider a new use for the current City Hall land?  What combination of facilities — community center, library, school, farm-market or other event space — would work along with Cherry Hill Park to create a gem of public space for all of Falls Church?
  • OPENNESS TO COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT AT WEST FALLS CHURCH. We would be short on vision to acquire the land beside the West Falls Church Metro station and then not make use of its natural capacity to sustain the economic needs of our city. As our entire region becomes more urban, the best long-term use of this land might involve either moving the high school or rebuilding it in as a denser facility that frees up space for nearby commercial development that can provide a positive contribution to the city’s coffers.

4. Real Estate Development. Falls Church City is looking at a number of approved and prospective real estate developments in the coming years, such as the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad, the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple, a possible mixed-use project at Broad and West, and the potential development of land linked to the sale of the City water system.  In your view, what community values should new real estate developments reflect, and what specific features and characteristics should be included to make them enjoyable and valuable for the community?

I have been working directly on this issue as one of the concerned citizens within the Winter Hill neighborhood who sought to improve the proposed “Harris Teeter project,” rather than shout “not in my backyard.”Here are some essential values we should pursue to build a people-friendly downtown:

  • CONSULT ALL PARTICIPANTS FROM DAY ONE. The neighbors of the Harris Teeter complex got an early voice in the project, but only because they seized the initiative. The city must be active, not passive, in holding the dialogues with neighborhoods, the business community and other stakeholders in each project.
  • MAIN-STREET DESIGNS. Let’s avoid concrete-and-glass towers, and encourage development that belongs in a small town, not at Tyson’s Corner!
  • LEAN AWAY FROM CARS. Especially as young Americans shift away from owning private cars, our designs should not thoughtlessly increase our city’s reliance on autos. They should invite people to use them by walking, cycling, car-sharing or public transport, as well as by driving. New projects should be required to provide enough parking, but this should be encouraged to move underground or otherwise out of view.
  • VARY THE RETAIL. Retail spaces should be sized to invite the smaller businesses that will help us keep and build the attractive character of our downtown — something that big chain stores don’t always do!
  • APPEAL TO YOUNGER AND OLDER RESIDENTS. The people-friendly downtown will help draw in key demographics of residents — young, early-career adults and older, empty-nesters — who are especially attractive to business, and whose households put less of a burden on our schools.

5. Economic Development.  Separate from real estate development, what can the City do to generate increased economic activity?  What kinds of businesses and activities should we recruit and promote?  What tools should we utilize?

Falls Church is a gem of a city, with a desirable demographic for many businesses. Why is it that parents are pounding on our doors to find a home here so that their children can benefit from our schools, but we don’t see the same active interest by businesses?

I hope that the City can find a way to exploit our unique character by better publicizing the benefits of operating a business here in Falls Church. If we identify the types of organizations that can complement our current business base and fit with our vision we can target our marketing to the types of organizations that will benefit us all.

6. Storm water.  The City Council recently passed a plan to enhance the city’s storm water infrastructure.  It features a new user fee that would be paid beginning next year by homeowners, businesses, and churches.  Executing the plan would require a number of new full-time employees.  Do you agree with this approach?  If not, how would you modify it?

Check out the city’s photos of our crumbling underground storm-water pipes, and you’ll agree that we need urgently to update the system!  Or, you could ask the folks on Sherrow Avenue, as just one example, who have waded through the ponds left by the derecho and other recent storms!  As our population density grows, our work to preserve lands and water grows more complex — and user fees are a fair part of sharing that cost within our community.

Also, starting next July 1, all Virginia localities will have the responsibility to implement new state regulations on storm water runoff, and I would not assume that we can fulfill these environmentally important tasks without hiring some additional staff, at least during an initial period while we’re installing new systems. Whether we must do so or for how long, are detail questions that can be answered only with data and the evaluations of our city managerial staff.

7. “Ped” Plan.  In 2012, the City announced that the Council “withdrew consideration of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan to allow for changes to the plan and additional time for public input, review and approval.”  To date, the Council has not resumed consideration of the plan.  Do you feel the City should pursue such a plan?  If yes, what changes, if any, should be made to the 2012 version of the plan?  If not, why not?

The “Ped Plan” released last year obviously troubled some neighborhoods over a loss of parking spaces, and with what some folks felt was a regimented approach to implementing it. Fair enough. But if we need to rework parts of the plan to be fairer in its details, that should not delay implementing the many parts of it that had broad public support. Our community generally supports the broader vision of keeping our community on a human scale, with safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists. City Council needs to lead in gathering concerned neighbors to begin re-working the disputed parts of the plan that created sharp contention. And should move ahead with steps that we can implement with little cost — such as simple painted bike lanes throughout the town to connect and build upon the bike trails we already have.

8. Current Council. What has the current Council done well and what has it done poorly?

The current Council is a really talented, hardworking group, and no one can doubt their commitment to improving our city!   In the past couple of years they have advanced the interests of the city by reaching a reasonable agreement on the sale (subject to referendum) of the water system and in making progress on key economic development efforts that have lead to the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad and the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple that are under development.

At the same time, the current Council has sometimes had trouble collaborating constructively on tough issues. Teamwork can be improved, and that would be one of my goals. Also, we’ve had some communication problems such as the Council’s perceived adversarial approach to the last school board budget. I would like to improve on this, and on the Council’s communications, such as on development project, with the wider community.

This is the third of five candidate questionnaire responses published by the Falls Church Times, and we would like to thank Mrs. Oliver for her participation.  We encourage all registered voters to go to the polls on Tuesday November 5.  Information on polling place hours and locations is available at www.fallschurchva.gov/Content/Government/Voting/RegistrarVoters.aspx  

CANDIDATE Q&A: David Snyder

October 22, 2013 by · 4 Comments 

DavidSnyder_CropBy Falls Church Times Staff
October 22, 2013

The Falls Church Times recently invited each candidate running in the November 5 election for Falls Church City Council to respond to an eight-part questionnaire.  Today we publish the responses of David Snyder.

BACKGROUND

Snyder is an attorney specializing in litigation, administrative law, and international trade. He has served on the Falls Church City Council since 1994, including terms as Mayor (1998-2000) and Vice Mayor (1996-1998, 2010-present). He has also represented the City regionally and has chaired several boards, including the Metropolitan Washington Transportation Planning Board, the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. Snyder began his public service as President of the Falls Church Housing Corporation.  David has lived in Falls Church City with his family for 28 years, and his children attended Falls Church City Public Schools from grades K-12.  Additional information about Snyder is available at his campaign website, www.snyder-for-the-people.com.

 QUESTIONNAIRE

1. Qualifications. Why are you running for City Council?  What strengths and experience would you bring to the job?

Local government needs to perform, and we are held accountable if we don’t. Today, our City is financially strong with high quality schools and public services. If we do it right, our City’s future can be even brighter.

We are seeing new people and new energy that bode well for the future. And there are economic development projects in the works with more to come to further our goals and at the same time reduce the burden on current taxpayers through the increased commercial activity they will bring.

None of this happens by accident. Success at the local level is all about applying fundamental principles and working hard. While our City must and should change to meet new challenges and opportunities, our values should not; those values include quality schools, public service, environmental sustainability, community engagement and dialogue, diversity, and most of all, never ending effort for the benefit of the public.

For five terms, the voters have allowed me to serve them on the Council, both as Mayor and Vice Mayor, and as their representative on regional environmental, transportation, and public safety agencies. I have learned over the years that only hard work leads to success. Applying high principles, listening to all sides, and striving for consensus are the lessons that I would like to contribute to our combined effort to make the City’s future bright.

2. City Finances. Financial pressures facing the City include rapidly growing schools, aging facilities, increased demand on city services, pensions liabilities, and the need for an appropriate fund balance.  Although budgeting always requires “balance,” Council members must establish priorities.  What will be your priorities as you face these pressures? The fact is that, as a City, we must address all of these issues and at the same time work to keep our tax level as low as we can.

The fact is that we need to responsibly address all of these issues while holding taxes to the lowest necessary levels. There are no shortcuts. Strong City finances require discipline, dialogue with our citizens, careful planning, encouraging economic development, supporting our business and non-profit community, and prudent financial management. We have generally balanced these factors in the past, and we must do so in the future.

This year’s budget is an example of how I work to achieve the balance needed to address all of these issues. We fully funded the well documented needs of the schools, provided for the City’s needs, maintained the recommended financial reserves, funded some of the storm water requirements, moved forward on school and City capital projects such as facilities and fire equipment and came in at a tax rate far below the rate predicted. That said, we need to find additional ways to reduce the burden on fixed income taxpayers. And the increased economic development, including the two major projects we approved this year, is an important way to do that.

3. School facilities. Ideas have been floated by a number of people on how to pay for new facilities at George Mason High School and Mt. Daniel Elementary.  Some of those ideas include commercial development in the area near GMHS to bring in more revenue, tearing down City Hall to build a new GMHS there, and selling the Mt. Daniel property and moving those students to Thomas Jefferson Elementary.  Do you favor any of these proposals?   What would you propose as a way to deal with school facility needs?

Providing adequately for our schools’ operational and facilities needs is essential, not optional. Moving forward, I would apply the model that we used to build the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. I was on the Council during this project and served as a member of the contract negotiating team. Our approach was first to establish basic facts so that any community discussion related to policy, not disputes over facts. We then engaged the community in extensive dialogue and laid out a prudent financial plan for the preferred alternative. The end result was strong community support for the middle school plan and a project that came in on time and at budget.

4. Real Estate Development. Falls Church City is looking at a number of approved and prospective real estate developments in the coming years, such as the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad, the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple, a possible mixed-use project at Broad and West, and the potential development of land linked to the sale of the City water system.  In your view, what community values should new real estate developments reflect, and what specific features and characteristics should be included to make them enjoyable and valuable for the community?

I firmly believe that our future lies in being the attractive, green, real community alternative to Tysons Corner. That means we support the arts, preserve and celebrate our history, encourage more community events, engage in environmental initiatives and support and grow our unique business community. I think we need to encourage alternatives to the use of motor vehicles and urge developers to do the same, even as we provide adequate parking for today and green space. I also prefer as much of the desired commercial activity as possible in the mixed-use developments.

I hope in the future, we will be able to focus on cultural, historic, environmental and entertainment resources and have both a local and regional transportation system that provides better alternatives to the use of motor vehicles. Key components include making the City more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, providing commercial spaces for business incubators, having more hotel and meeting space, increasing housing options for younger and older citizens, increasing our parking capacity, providing green space and local transit service that connects the City to the Metro stations and through our business corridors.

5. Economic Development.  Separate from real estate development, what can the City do to generate increased economic activity?  What kinds of businesses and activities should we recruit and promote? What tools should we utilize?

We must meet the needs of our changing population and serve them in the future. Among other things, we need more entertainment and retail options and better transportation options. I would also like more housing options for the young and old.

While we have many tools, I would renew our focus on achieving more commercial activity to attract people from outside the City. I urged that we engage in the mediation that led to the proposed water system sale, including control of more land for development. I believe that if voters approve the referendum to sell the water system, we should use this land to attract high revenue-generating occupancies and thereby reduce the burden on our current taxpayers, enabling us to better finance long-term school and other needs.

6. Storm water.  The City Council recently passed a plan to enhance the city’s storm water infrastructure.  It features a new user fee that would be paid beginning next year by homeowners, businesses, and churches. Executing the plan would require a number of new full-time employees. Do you agree with this approach?  If not, how would you modify it?

Following Tropical Storm Lee, it was apparent that our citizens wanted greater resources and levels of activity dedicated to renewing the City’s storm water infrastructure while also encouraging sound environmental practices and beginning to address our future Chesapeake Bay mandates. The storm water initiative will do that. The credit program is still being debated, and I will be on the lookout to make sure that the money we spend will produce the greatest results.

7. “Ped” Plan.  In 2012, the City announced that the Council “withdrew consideration of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan to allow for changes to the plan and additional time for public input, review and approval.”  To date, the Council has not resumed consideration of the plan.  Do you feel the City should pursue such a plan?  If yes, what changes, if any, should be made to the 2012 version of the plan?  If not, why not?

As the City’s representative on regional transportation bodies, I have helped gather resources to improve our transportation options. As I have said publicly, a systematic approach for making the City friendlier for walking and bicycling should be brought back to the Council, after deleting its controversial aspects, such as eliminating parking and tearing up peoples’ lawns.

There is much that we can and should do in the original plan without its controversial aspects. We should move forward on projects such as adding bike lanes without taking out parking, removing impediments for pedestrians and overall creating a comprehensive system of pedestrian and bicycle-related facilities and routes.

At the same time, we need to look at improved transit service and reducing motor vehicle congestion on Broad and Washington Streets. I am representing the City on a study to examine alternatives to improve transit for the long term on routes 7 and 29, including in the City. As this study moves forward, we will need a thorough community discussion.

8. Current Council. What has the current Council done well and what has it done poorly?

I believe the current Council, on which I serve, has helped the City adjust to changing conditions and set the stage for a bright future. We are once again financially strong, with several major development projects on the way. We are also moving forward on transportation improvements, and our schools and City services remain quite good.

I would like us to engage in a community dialogue on where we want to be in 20 years and discuss the components of how we get there. I believe that the keys to the future are our values, our unique assets of culture, history, environment, community engagement, and our willingness to work hard to achieve our goals.

At the same time, I am very sensitive to concerns about rising taxes. The fact is that we get only 10 cents back for every dollar we send to Richmond in income and sales taxes. Even 50 cents on the dollar would dramatically reduce the local tax burden. We must insist that this imbalance change, even as we find ways to provide some tax relief locally, especially for people on fixed incomes.

I did not agree with terminating our local transit system, especially now that there is renewed interest in creating a similar service for the future. I do support the water system sale, because of its positive financial and future development aspects and because the alternative is maintaining a risky, non-productive asset. I also look forward to working with the community to address our facilities challenges through collaboration and dialogue.

This is the second of five candidate questionnaire responses published by the Falls Church Times, and we would like to thank Mr. Snyder for his participation.  We encourage all registered voters to go to the polls on Tuesday November 5.  Information on polling place hours and locations is available at www.fallschurchva.gov/Content/Government/Voting/RegistrarVoters.aspx  

CANDIDATE Q&A: Marybeth Connelly

October 21, 2013 by · 14 Comments 

MarybethConnelly_cropBy Falls Church Times Staff
October 21, 2013

The Falls Church Times recently invited each candidate running in the November 5 election for Falls Church City Council to respond to an eight-part questionnaire.  Today we publish the responses of Marybeth Connelly.  

BACKGROUND

Connelly is the Community Outreach Coordinator for Falls Church City Public Schools.  She serves on the boards of directors of the Village Preservation & Improvement Society,  Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, and Falls Church Education Foundation.  She is the staff representative on the FCCPS Business in Education Partnership, and serves on the Falls Church Alliance for Youth, CATCH and the FCCPS Support Employee Advisory Committee.  She has lived with her family in Northern Virginia for 20 years, most of those years in Falls Church. Her three children are students in Falls Church City Public Schools.  Additional information about Connelly is available at her campaign website, www.connellyforcouncil.com.

QUESTIONNAIRE

1. Qualifications. Why are you running for City Council?  What strengths and experience would you bring to the job?

I have been serving the City of Falls Church in many ways since moving here in 1995. My knowledge of the City’s strengths and needs comes from broad and deep connections within the community.

As the community outreach coordinator for Falls Church City Public Schools, I serve on the board of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, and have strong relationships with people in the business community. I’m also on the board of the Village Preservation & Improvement Society, and have gotten to know many committed citizens. As a parent of three FCCPS students, I am involved in PTA, PTSA and Athletic Boosters. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

For many years, I’ve collaborated with citizen volunteers, city employees and elected officials. I will bring long-term knowledge and strong connections to the Council.

2. City Finances. Financial pressures facing the City include rapidly growing schools, aging facilities, increased demand on city services, pension liabilities, and the need for an appropriate fund balance.  Although budgeting always requires “balance,” Council members must establish priorities.  What will be your priorities as you face these pressures?

We are growing at a faster rate than ever before in Falls Church, and growth affects everything. As our tax base increases, demand for City services grows. Our library is used to capacity and beyond, and many departments are understaffed. We are never sure how many students will enroll in school, and how world events will affect us.

With so much growth, it becomes difficult to budget because we aren’t on a predictable curve. It is as if we are on an exhilarating ride, and need to be bold, but cautious at the same time. We aren’t always certain how revenues will increase, and how many needs will arise. According to CFO Richard LaCondre’s recent report on the surplus, some sources of revenue increased more than others, and in unpredictable ways. That’s why teamwork between School Board and City Council is essential. The next Council and School Board need to look at the operating budget and CIP as one big pie, not as separate courses. I support the development of a Revenue Sharing Agreement that will designate a specific percentage of revenues to go to the schools, and I encourage current and future City Council and School Board members to get to work on this immediately. Not only will this take a big question mark out of budgeting, it will also temper the debate regarding the annual budget process.

I want a robust, and appropriate, fund balance. Several years ago we had to dip into the fund balance to stay afloat, and thanks to good stewardship and growth in revenues, we have regenerated that fund balance. Now it is time to decide how much to save and how much to spend or leverage for the benefit of citizens.

Regarding facilities, we need a universal look at many areas, also undertaken jointly by City Council and School Board. The Mary Riley Styles Library, City Hall, Mt. Daniel, George Mason, and our stormwater system all are in need of significant upgrades or rebuilds. We can’t keep looking at them in silos, as individual projects. We are a single city, and we need to see how they all fit together. Pension liabilities aren’t nearly as flashy as a new school or library, but they are a reality, and require careful attention in budgeting.

3. School facilities. Ideas have been floated by a number of people on how to pay for new facilities at George Mason High School and Mt. Daniel Elementary.  Some of those ideas include commercial development in the area near GMHS to bring in more revenue, tearing down City Hall to build a new GMHS there, and selling the Mt. Daniel property and moving those students to Thomas Jefferson Elementary.  Do you favor any of these proposals?   What would you propose as a way to deal with school facility needs?

Putting GMHS on City Hall site would not work. There isn’t enough space or road capacity for a high school there. Combining TJ & Mt. Daniel on a single site was one possibility among many in a draft facilities plan five years ago. It was an idea not pursued for good reason. The site is limited by the Tripps Run flood plain. Combining the schools would mean an elementary school housing more than 1100 students! This is not what we are about in Falls Church.

So much of our flexibility for future facilities depends on the Water Sale Referendum. I encourage everyone to vote “Yes” on the referendum. After the vote, Falls Church boundaries will expand by about 38 acres. Much of that land is the GMHS/MEHMS campus, and we will have the ability to use that part of the city as we determine to be the highest and best use. According to the terms of the mediation between Fairfax County and Falls Church City, 70% of the land will be reserved for educational use for the next 50 years. The remaining 30% of the land (about 10 acres) will be for Falls Church to use as we deem best.

For the first time Falls Church will have the opportunity to develop 10 acres of prime Metro-accessible land. We need to take every step to make sure that this land is developed to the highest tax potential for our citizens. There are many possibilities, and much to consider. I favor Class A Commercial space with a retail component that has worked in many jurisdictions, and we need to make sure it, or something similar, works for us.

Mt. Daniel is currently a moving target, and it is urgent that population growth at this school be addressed. Mt. Daniel is a jewel of a school, and we should do all we can to maintain it. According to the FCCPS web, 5 acres are necessary for a multi-level k-2 school. If there are 5 acres available in the city we should consider selling the Mt. Daniel land and building a new school. If it is not possible to acquire that much contiguous land in an appropriate space, we need to make sure that the current school site accommodates all the children who live in Falls Church.

4. Real Estate Development. Falls Church City is looking at a number of approved and prospective real estate developments in the coming years, such as the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad, the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple, a possible mixed-use project at Broad and West, and the potential development of land linked to the sale of the City water system.  In your view, what community values should new real estate developments reflect, and what specific features and characteristics should be included to make them enjoyable and valuable for the community?

Real estate development should contribute to the life of the whole community. It should add to the existing city that we all treasure. It should add walkability, interesting features, and bring in customers who do not live here. Sometimes it takes a while – but when it works, it is wonderful. For example, the Spectrum took several years to sell and lease, and it has brought amenities to the life of our city. It is a beautiful condominium building with underground parking. There are friendly restaurants and an acclaimed brew pub that brings in thousands of non-residents for weekend festivals, and provides a place for community to gather. The pocket park in the middle is not perfect, but it provides a great place to sit and be part of the neighborhood.

Cities and counties don’t embark on economic development because of love of overcrowding and massive buildings. Economic development is to enhance the existing City that we hold dear – so that we can afford to rebuild our high school and our library, so that we can provide services to citizens. And when those buildings are added they need to add value to the lives of existing citizens.

5. Economic Development.  Separate from real estate development, what can the City do to generate increased economic activity?  What kinds of businesses and activities should we recruit and promote? What tools should we utilize?

Falls Church has a thriving and active business community. New economic development should complement and expand our current commercial base. When I moved here in 1995 there weren’t many restaurants or retail businesses, and slowly it has grown to a more impressive mass. We need to recruit businesses that bring in people from all over Northern Virginia, not just residents. We need to find a will and a way to build Class A Commercial buildings. Those buildings will bring in employees and clients all day long, and will provide opportunities for smaller businesses to grow up nearby.

There are financial tools like arts district and technology districts that provide incentives for certain types of businesses to relocate here. We can also look at the Business/Professional/Occupational License (BPOL) to determine if there is a way to better align it with nearby jurisdictions.

6. Storm water.  The City Council recently passed a plan to enhance the city’s storm water infrastructure.  It features a new user fee that would be paid beginning next year by homeowners, businesses, and churches. Executing the plan would require a number of new full-time employees. Do you agree with this approach?  If not, how would you modify it?

As I understand it, the fee will be imposed to cover the watershed management plan required by state and federal regulations related to the Chesapeake Bay and to replace aging infrastructure within the city. These two aspects are predicted to cost the city upwards of $10 million in the next 10 years.

The new employees will be both administrative and maintenance workers. It seems that if that much money will be coming in, it needs to be properly administered and carefully used, so qualified employees will be necessary.

The city needs to be clear about how and when the funds will be spent. Some citizens think that the plan will fix their flooding basements and streets right away. Others think it will help us comply with Chesapeake Bay requirements.

There is an attempt to credit some of the fee, for landowners who have implemented stormwater mitigation on their properties, but from what I have heard the credits will be small. A committee comprising business, Church and community representatives have been meeting to advise the city on the structure of credits for the fee, which is based on the amount of impervious surface on each property.

I am looking forward to hearing more about the recommendations of the committee, and how it will be implemented.

7. “Ped” Plan.  In 2012, the City announced that the Council “withdrew consideration of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan to allow for changes to the plan and additional time for public input, review and approval.”  To date, the Council has not resumed consideration of the plan.  Do you feel the City should pursue such a plan?  If yes, what changes, if any, should be made to the 2012 version of the plan?  If not, why not?

At the CBC Transportation Forum last week Councilwoman Johannah Barry said that the Council will consider version two of the Ped Plan in November. She said that the plan maintains some parts of the original plan, and eliminates others. I think the City should pursue such a plan, and should make sure that the concerns of all citizens are incorporated into the plan. It will be interesting to see what is presented next month. Hopefully it will include simple things like moving telephone poles from sidewalks and adding crosswalks in dangerous areas, and it will eliminate the controversial parts like reducing parking on some streets and adding sidewalks in areas where it is not absolutely necessary.

8. Current Council. What has the current Council done well and what has it done poorly?

The current Council has been dealing with the same ambivalence towards growth that affects all Falls Church citizens. Growth is a good thing, when it is managed appropriately, and scary when it is out of control. Recent councils have approved many mixed-use buildings with a mixed record of predicting their impact on the City. We are far enough down this road that we need to look at our models and see if they are working or if the planning process needs to be tweaked so that we aren’t blinded by revenue projections, without taking into consideration the costs to the city like increased traffic and growing school enrollment.

Members of the current Council have governed from an abundance of caution (with good reason, since many of them had to make tough choices when funds were tight 4 years ago). Now we are in a position to look to the future with optimism and expect that our City will grow in the way we want it to. We should be able to fund all of our needs without raising taxes to exorbitant rates that have been predicted.

City Council and School Board need to work together to reduce the School vs. City mentality that sometimes overtakes our best intentions. As one who has good relationships with so many in town, I hope to build on what we have in common, and set us on a path of greater comity. The schools are part of the city, not in opposition to the city. The people who are served by the schools are also served by the police, library and community center. All pay taxes and want a great sustainable place to live for many years.

This is the first of five candidate questionnaire responses published by the Falls Church Times, and we would like to thank Mrs. Connelly for her participation.  We encourage all registered voters to go to the polls on Tuesday November 5.  Information on polling place hours and locations is available at www.fallschurchva.gov/Content/Government/Voting/RegistrarVoters.aspx  

Candidate Q&A to Begin Monday

October 19, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

By Falls Church Times Staff
October 19, 2013

Beginning Monday, the Falls Church Times will publish the questionnaire responses of candidates running for Falls Church City Council in the November 5 election.  The order of publication, determined by random selection, will be:

Monday, October 21 – Marybeth Connelly

Tuesday, October 22 – David Snyder

Wednesday, October 23 – Karen Oliver

Thursday, October 24 – Dan Sze

Friday, October 25 – Robert LaJeunesse.

The questionnaire appears below.

FALLS CHURCH TIMES QUESTIONNAIRE FOR CANDIDATES FOR THE NOVEMBER 5, 2013 ELECTION FOR FALLS CHURCH CITY COUNCIL

1. Qualifications. Why are you running for City Council? What strengths and experience would you bring to the job?

2. City Finances. Financial pressures facing the City include rapidly growing schools, aging facilities, increased demand on city services, pensions liabilities, and the need for an appropriate fund balance. Although budgeting always requires “balance,” Council members must establish priorities. What will be your priorities as you face these pressures?

3. School facilities. Ideas have been floated by a number of people on how to pay for new facilities at George Mason High School and Mt. Daniel Elementary. Some of those ideas include commercial development in the area near GMHS to bring in more revenue, tearing down City Hall to build a new GMHS there, and selling the Mt. Daniel property and moving those students to Thomas Jefferson Elementary. Do you favor any of these proposals? What would you propose as a way to deal with school facility needs?

4. Real Estate Development. Falls Church City is looking at a number of approved and prospective real estate developments in the coming years, such as the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad, the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple, a possible mixed-use project at Broad and West, and the potential development of land linked to the sale of the City water system. In your view, what community values should new real estate developments reflect, and what specific features and characteristics should be included to make them enjoyable and valuable for the community?

5. Economic Development. Separate from real estate development, what can the City do to generate increased economic activity? What kinds of businesses and activities should we recruit and promote? What tools should we utilize?

6. Storm water. The City Council recently passed a plan to enhance the city’s storm water infrastructure. It features a new user fee that would be paid beginning next year by homeowners, businesses, and churches. Executing the plan would require a number of new full-time employees. Do you agree with this approach? If not, how would you modify it?

7. “Ped” Plan. In 2012, the City announced that the Council “withdrew consideration of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan to allow for changes to the plan and additional time for public input, review and approval.” To date, the Council has not resumed consideration of the plan. Do you feel the City should pursue such a plan? If yes, what changes, if any, should be made to the 2012 version of the plan? If not, why not?

8. Current Council. What has the current Council done well and what has it done poorly?

SUNDAY, 10/27: League of Women Voters Forum on Money in Elections

October 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The League of Women Voters of Falls Church will host a forum Sunday, October 27 at 3 p.m. at the Community Center examining the potential for corruption in elections resulting from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision recognizing corporations as people for the purpose of exercising rights under the Constitution and money as a protected form of speech. The moderated program will review what can and is being done to reverse the 2010 Supreme Court decision and is expected to generate discussion about the need for campaign finance reform.

Speaking at the program will be former state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple; Sean Barnett with Northern Virginia Move to Amend, a national grassroots coalition committed to a democracy accountable to the people, not corporate interests; and, Dick McCall, a former legislative aide and foreign affairs expert who is a Falls Church City resident. League of Women Voters of Falls Church member and City resident Robert Crowe will moderate the program.

The League is deeply committed to reforming the nation’s campaign finance system as well as opposing the Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee decision and similar cases (i.e. McCutcheon v FEC). The League’s commentary on the Citizens United decision back in 2010 included the following statement:

“The Supreme Court has made a tragic mistake. Their decision announced today in Citizens United v. FEC is constitutionally irresponsible and will surely bring about an anti-democratic revolution in how we finance elections in their country. Today, basic pillars of American democracy have been undermined – that elections should not be corrupted by vast corporate wealth and that the voters should be at the center of our democratic system.” (LWVUS 1/21/10)

As predicted, Citizens United v. FEC has dramatically changed the landscape of modern political campaigns in America. Total independent expenditures by corporations, other outside groups, and wealthy individuals has grown to more than $1 billion in the form of Super-PAC contributions.

“The forum is very timely in light of the current discussion in Virginia’s gubernatorial and legislative races,” according to Linda Garvelink, LWVFC Vice President – Programs. This issue was highlighted recently in a Washington Post article titled “Battleground Virginia: The Ad Wars” as well as multiple national news stories detailing the impact of Super PACs and the flood of money from outside interests now infused in local elections.

For more information on the Oct. 27 program go to www.lwvfallschurch.org. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy thorough education and advocacy. Membership is open to men and women of all ages.

 

 

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