By MARZANNE DELAPP DE ANAYA
February 7, 2013
Girl Scouts is one of the most influential programs that any young girl can participate in. Based around the principles of respect, responsibility, leadership, courage, strength, and many other important skills and values, this program is made up of millions of girls of all ages and cultures around the world. I’ve personally been a Girl Scout for ten years, and it’s helped me learn about myself, community, and the world I live in.
Girl Scouts everywhere are known for kind service, and of course, cookies! Through cookie sales each year, girls incorporate goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics into their sales. By participating in door-to-door and booth sales, girls build character and confidence by setting goals and determining how to reach them through selling cookies. For example, my troop planned our money earning activities around a trip to Japan we took this past summer. We met with Girl Scouts in Japan, visited many shrines and monuments like the Hiroshima Peace Museum, and expanded our cultural awareness while traveling all over the country. Read more
BY GREG RASNAKE
August 13, 2012
During a recent work session discussion regarding allocation of a portion of City excess revenue to fund school technology upgrades, a City Council member stated that the Council is responsible for representing the entire City, not just the schools. I won’t argue with that. My issue with the current Council is the seemingly low priority and increased deterioration of actual support for our schools.
In the strongest possible way, I submit that our schools and the children that attend them should be the number one priority of every Council member and citizen of this City. The schools and the needs of our children should come first. This is the socially responsible thing to do. Our children are our future doctors, teachers, engineers, artisans, writers…you get the point. If we want to remain a world class school system, then we have to make investments in technology. Read more
By: STEVEN VALLEY
June 10th, 2012
I've know Bruce for over 12 years now. I was on his team at Microstrategy. Even during difficult times, he was a motivating and incredibly professional boss. I enjoyed seeking his advice on any number of issues. In every one of my interactions with Bruce I was able to see the leader, the friend, and the compassionate person he is. Party politics aside, our district needs a new voice and Bruce is that voice.
I was forwarded the note below, written by someone in our district and it covers all of the points perfectly and really represents the guy I know would be a perfect catalyst for change: Read more
March 19, 2012
To the Editors of the Falls Church Times,
I am running for re-election to the Falls Church City Council. It took time to make the decision to run again considering all the difficult decisions the council had to make during the economic downturn. My friends and family helped me to see that those difficult decisions are starting to pay-off and the City of Falls Church still needs energized voices to completely return to its strong fiscal state. I believe I am capable of providing a balanced approach to helping the city completely recover; moreover, I recognize the council cannot complete this task without the assistance of our citizens.
Growing up in rural southern Virginia my parents instilled the value of hard work and giving back to your community. They also gave me the value of spending for necessities and saving up for big ticket items. With that being said, I have brought those small town values with me to our “Little City”. We have experienced one of the most challenging recessions in years; one that made us make some tough choices to be able to get to this point today. Our “Little City” is in the beginning stages of observing a recovery and we are seeing increased interest from developers. With the current work being done on area plans, we will be in a stronger position to share what we want in future development in the City of Falls Church. I am looking forward to engaging our citizens in conversations about what we want the City of Falls Church to look like in the next decade.
We have heard about “The Falls Church way” is to get buy in from citizens because we know a plan without citizens input will be dead on arrival. At this time a taskforce has been established by the city council to begin the tough work on developing an affordable housing policy that will set realistic goals when it comes to taking cash versus units within mixed use developments. The group has all the stakeholders at the table: developers, city board and commission members, community groups and citizens talking about all the different aspects of what a good policy will need to be effective. As the council liaison to the taskforce, I will make sure when a decision is rendered to take cash in these developments there will be a plan in place. One that will either maintain existing affordable housing or work to expand regionally affordable housing near the city limits.
Fortunately our schools are one of the best in the state. For the past two years I’ve visited George Mason High School to help provide information to seniors and parents on what will be the first of many challenges that a student will face and that’s choosing the right college to attend. I believe strongly in the value of education; however, I will continue to advocate for a revenue sharing agreement between the schools and the city. This plan can strike a balance that will fully fund our schools while taking into account the services we provide to city residents. After witnessing the flooding experienced by residents during several storms this fall, it is very important that we continue to fund and expand our storm water management plan in the city. We have an updated Watershed Management Plan which outlines the needs of our city. One of my goals is to make sure we have the appropriate resources to alleviate flooding in our city.
As we continue litigation over our water system, I will work hard to ensure that the system continues to provide safe and quality water to all of our customers. I will, when it is appropriate, communicate to our counterparts in Fairfax to discuss and work on positive solutions. Yet, when it’s time to protect the interest of the City of Falls Church I will be the first to protect our rights. I recognize that we have experienced some challenging times in Falls Church and that some decisions made were not popular. But in making those decisions I carefully considered input from citizens and city staff, and weighed those insights with what I thought best supported our city. I have tried to make those decisions that would allow the city to maintain, survive, and eventually thrive.
Over the next several weeks I will work diligently for your support in allowing me the opportunity to continue the job that has started to make our “Little City” a star here in Northern Virginia. I welcome your input during and beyond the campaign.
Lawrence Webb is a member of the Falls Church City Council.
By IRA KAYLIN
February 20, 2012
This week the City of Falls Church announced that Requests for Expression of Interest for possible purchase of the Falls Church Water System had been broadly circulated to potential buyers. I believe this is a great opportunity to convert a problem into a benefit.
At the same time it was mentioned that the process of a possible sale would be deliberative with all options being considered and citizen input sought. Clearly, any process that involves the possible sale of the City’s largest single asset should be a careful, thoughtful process. There can be no argument with such an approach.
However, there are really only two available options: sell the system or don’t sell the system. There is no range of options. It makes little sense to continue to operate a water system under the legal challenges that have been imposed upon us by the Judge Ney decision and, more recently, by the adoption of an ordinance by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that purports to establish an exclusive service area in Fairfax County for the Fairfax County Water Authority and to improperly and unfairly regulate the City’s water rates even though the City is in full compliance with Judge Ney’s rulings.
It is important to emphasize that we are in no way operating in a stress situation. There will be no fire sale, subsidized sales, or giveaways to anyone. The court’s decision is counter intuitive in the extreme as it states, in effect, that the owner of an asset is not entitled to a return on equity. Nevertheless, it is what it is.
The decision converted a water system that was generating over $2 million per year for the City’s General Fund into a system that generates zero income to the City. On top of that Fairfax County is attempting to add another blow in the form of the new ordinance, the result of which would be the City’s water system generating negative income from service in Fairfax County, a loss that would have to be funded by the citizens of Falls Church. At the same time, the City was and is providing clean and affordable water to over 100,000 County residents and businesses. Unfortunately, the water system has become an engine of litigation and associated costs. Falls Church citizens are being treated like a Pinata whose hidden treat just happens to be our water system.
I believe the best approach is the same as the one any business would employ. Sell the non performing asset and invest the proceeds of the sale into another asset—one which does make money on a periodic and long term basis.
Ultimately, there will be four issues involved in the sale of the system: 1) to whom might we sell it; 2) the terms and conditions of a possible sale including the determination of best price, 3) impact on water rates and, 4) possible uses of future proceeds. While it is premature to discuss the first two issues, it is appropriate to discuss the latter two. First, will water rates increase? And second, what is the best use of the water sale proceeds?
The rate impact of the sale of the water supply system is not possible to predict. It could go up or it could decrease depending on a wide variety of variables including the long term business strategy of the purchasing firm or authority.
It is useful to note that water rates, subject to Council approval, are already scheduled to increase by 8% for the years 2012 and 2013, 3% for 2014 and 2015. These increases are based on an outside consultant analysis of the financial status of the system which requires significant infrastructure maintenance and upgrades if reliable and safe water is to be provided to all customers. No matter what path we pursue, we can expect continued interference from Fairfax County making it increasingly difficult for Falls Church to be able to continue to provide water service to its valued customers in Fairfax County. Fairfax County officials may believe it is their destiny to wrest the water system from Falls Church for free, and to monopolize water service in Fairfax County through its own water authority. That is why it is prudent now for Falls Church to explore its options in the open marketplace, free from duress, for the sale of its water system, so that it can obtain the best price for the water system. Fairfax County and its water authority have been invited to participate in that fair and open process.
Use of Proceeds
The question is, how can the citizens be assured that the funds will not be poorly spent? I believe that is a totally justified concern. Even though I am an elected official, it is recognized that, over time, there is the magnetic attraction of elected officials to spend money until it is no longer available.
A basic consideration when selling an equity asset is retention of the long term income generating capacity of the new equity asset. Use of the proceeds of an equity sale for capital and/or operating cost coverage is a reduction in the value of an equity asset. Such transformation is frequently by used firms that are on the brink of failure.
Virginia statutes prohibit Cities from investing General Fund resources in long term assets. Rightly so. Some long term assets are not easily converted to cash without paying a penalty. Also, well-intentioned, but not well-informed officials may be tempted to engage in market speculation with taxpayer money. Only the largest cities would have “in house” capability to understand and monitor large scale, long term asset management.
Because of the above constraints, under current market conditions cities receive virtually no return on assets sitting in bank accounts eligible for General Fund uses.
One Approach to be Considered
I believe we should consider investing the proceeds in a yet-to-be-created Falls Church City Teacher Pension Plan whose returns would be used to help pay for the City’s Virginia Retirement System obligations and add to the City’s existing pension plan.
Pension plans are expected to invest primarily in long term assets that earn much higher return than short term assets. These funds are never mixed together with General Fund resources. Pension plan returns fluctuate with market movements but can be expected, over the long term, to generate annual returns of 6% to 8%. To put it in another way, for every $10 million of sale proceeds we can be expected to earn $600 to $800 thousand per year.
The business climate is unusually good for a utility sale. Cash rich companies can not place these funds in easily accessible, low risk securities that generate a decent rate of return. If funds are to be borrowed, long term bond rates are now at historic lows. In the current market environment, Falls Church becomes even more interesting as an investment opportunity.
Importantly resources used to fund pensions can not be directly accessed by a City Government for current expenses. They are effectively “lock boxed”.
Impact on Tax Rate
The pension-generated income would lessen transfers from the City’s General Fund to cover pension expenses by an equivalent amount. These returns could amount to two to three cents on the tax rate for every $10 million in proceeds.
It is possible that the City’s employment attractiveness would be enhanced since our pension plans would be well funded and more robust than other municipalities.
We should recognize the caveat, however, that returns generated by the pension plans would effectively represent a new revenue stream that will greatly help in the short and medium term, but is in no manner sufficient to cover Falls Church’s long term needs. Economic development must proceed at the fastest prudent way possible.
A Start to the Discussion
There may be other viable approaches which could be presented during the deliberative process. The information and opinion presented above is provided to help start the community discussion.
Ira Kaylin is a member of the Falls Church City Council.
By MIKE NOVOTNY
February 15, 2012
As residents of Falls Church, we are incredibly fortunate. We are the beneficiaries of earlier generations who decades ago created something special – a small, personal place with great schools. Great local institutions were created around that concept, like Citizens for a Better City (CBC) and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS), which have made our home even better.
And we are fortunate in other ways. By geography, we have incredible assets. Land within the Capital Beltway. I-66 and I-495, two Metro stations, two airports, and the crossroads of two major thoroughfares – Leesburg Pike and Lee Highway. We are one of the most affluent and best educated communities in the nation. And we are surrounded by some of the best examples of new urban development in the country. If utilized properly, through thoughtful planning and development, all of these assets can make our future even brighter.
High-quality development, however, has not always been our history. Stretches of our main street are home to haphazard buildings and tired storefronts, there is a lack of good public pedestrian space, and there is an abundance of asphalt parking lots. What we need is 21st Century planning that proactively addresses these issues and incorporates the spirit of the community.
For the past several years a number of us on the City's Economic Development Authority have been pushing for “Area Planning,” also known as ”Sector Planning”. I wrote on this topic in an earlier article in the Falls Church Times in 2010. Since then we are fortunate that Jim Snyder agreed to become the City's Planning Director, and that the current Council has made Area Planning a priority. Snyder is a world-class planner previously working in Arlington who is now laying the foundation for Falls Church City's first Area Plan, focused on North Washington Street. The development of this plan, and others to follow targeting the West End, Broad Street and areas near Seven Corners, is extremely important if we are to take full advantage of the assets we have inherited.
Shirlington is an area far removed from any Metro station, but it has become a very dynamic place to live, work or enjoy dinner and a movie. Its strengths are a pedestrian-friendly area that supports restaurants, shops, and an artsy movie theater within a few compact blocks. The entire area was achieved through significant planning and related efforts on the part of Arlington County. The small scale of Shirlington makes it an especially good example for Falls Church City.
Clarendon shares some characteristics with Shirlington, preferring small shops and ethnic restaurants over shopping malls. Its progressive design, mix of retail, and availability of mass transit makes the area attractive to young professionals.
Bethesda. Downtown Bethesda really came to life with Bethesda Row, built in phases beginning in the early 1990’s by Federal Realty Investment Trust. Bethesda Row was a revitalization of a suburban commercial area into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly downtown. The design of the area and mix of uses provides a great example of how a downtown area can go through a complete transformation.
Ballston took a different approach and tried to create a “downtown” feel, with a greater emphasis on high-density office and residential, a shopping mall and hotels. Many people think Ballston is too big for a comparison with Falls Church City, and I agree. But still there are lessons we can take from Ballston and apply on a smaller scale. For example, Ballston has achieved a nearly 50/50 balance between office and residential uses, which drives a significant portion of Arlington’s tax base. Further, they are incorporating more street-level retail to enrich the area, and the County has modified its roads in the area to make them more pedestrian-friendly.
1. Develop the Vision, Allow for Variation. We need to establish a vision for the City's commercial areas, but still allow variation between them. The areas near the East Falls Church and West Falls Church Metro stations, as well as the area near Seven Corners, have the best chance at attracting office space because of their proximity to Metro. Areas along Broad Street, on the other hand, which have more limited land and are farther from public transit, could be more focused on a retail and residential mix. South Washington has critical mass of land, is centrally located, and is buffered from most neighborhoods, which provides great potential for becoming our most urban and vibrant downtown area.
2. Street Level is Important. What happens at the street level of any new building is really important. This is the part of a development that people experience the most. Both the “design” and “use” of this space is critical. First-floor retail should be included in all new developments in our commercial areas, providing neighborhoods with amenities, encouraging pedestrian activity and attracting employers. There should be high-quality design standards to ensure attractive storefronts with transparency, ventilation for restaurants, and the ability of retailers to be unique and successful.
3. Public Space is Critical. Public space is also critical when planning an area. Good urban public spaces have wide sidewalks, quality street furniture (benches, bike racks, etc.), well-spaced tree pits, pedestrian-scale lighting, and interesting art and signage throughout. Travel lane widths should be squeezed down to 10-11 feet to slow car traffic and make room for bike lanes or on-street parking. There should be more frequent and well-marked pedestrian crosswalks, sometimes even mid-block, and sidewalk bump-outs at crossings to emphasize the pedestrian over the vehicle. Long stretches of sidewalk along Broad Street are too narrow and have long, raised planters that limit space for street furniture and pedestrian activity. This actually encourage cars to travel faster. It is not the design we want moving forward – we can do much better.
5. Transportation Is Crucial. Transportation is a crucial component of any area plan. For the North Washington area, for example, we absolutely must support the concept of the western gateway entrance to the East Falls Church Metro station, which Arlington proposed in its earlier planning efforts. This would significantly shorten the walking distance to the North Washington area and downtown Falls Church City. We also need to contemplate future streetcar service, currently being planned and implemented in Arlington, Fairfax and D.C.
I think these principles are important and will serve us well. But I also believe it is critical for planners to hear from others in the community regarding their values and desires. Any successful planning effort must be a joint partnership between jurisdiction, developers and residents. Creating this partnership and laying the foundation for a strong path forward is the real value of Area Planning, and I encourage all Falls Church residents to let their views be known.
Mike Novotny is a real estate development professional, a member of the Falls Church Economic Development Authority, and served on the City's Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee.
By MATT ABEL
January 30, 2012
There is no doubt that we face difficult times. The rising cost of fuel is driving up the price of living and the our enormously interconnected economy has been sending shock-waves around the world. However, we often feel powerless against the forces driving peak oil, economic interdependence, and climate change. We fear that government is unresponsive and that individual action is not enough. Instead of facing these issues as individuals we can work together on a community level to improve the way we live.
The future without oil can be better than the present with oil. We can build genuine relationships with our neighbors instead of the people on reality TV. We can transition Falls Church to a self-reliant, sustainable, and resilient future powered by local food, economy, energy, and ingenuity. Instead of waiting around for government to act, we can act as a community of individuals.
This is the hope of Transition Falls Church. Transition is a student-initiated project that emphasizes a grass roots response to the greatest challenges of our time. By unleashing the collective genius of the Falls Church people, we can respond to the issues posed by climate change and peak-oil while simultaneously building a closer, tight-knit community.
We will be holding events over the next several months to teach people about this exciting new movement starting with a film screening at the Community Center on Saturday, February 18th. We will be showing a documentary called Transition 1.0 starting at 4:00pm. Please come as early as 3:30pm to ensure your seat. The documentary will last about an hour and there will be an opportunity for discussion at the end of the film. Please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for email our email list and receive updates about upcoming events.
Although our initiating group will be steering the project for the next several months, it is ultimately something we are going to leave in the hands of the community. You can start the transition on the neighborhood level! Get together with the people on your street to discuss the Transition idea. Develop projects designed to make your neighborhood a more sustainable, vibrant place to live. Your neighborhood can practice community composting, develop a neighborhood garden, or start teaching people about a special skill (this can be anything from knitting to box gardening).
It starts with you! Hold a meeting in your neighborhood and send us an email. We will provide you with the information and resources necessary to make your idea a reality. Also, if you are interested in becoming a leader in the movement please let us know. We look forward to making Falls Church a better place to live.
Matt Abel is a student at George Mason High School.
TO THE EDITORS OF THE FALLS CHURCH TIMES
November 10, 2011
I’d like to offer my congratulations to all of the referendum supporters. Though I opposed the referendum, I am very happy the question was brought to City residents to decide.
Though many are ready to now move on, I think we’ve really just begun. November elections on local issues are completely new to Falls Church, there is a lot of work to be done and I hope the community will stay engaged.
Starting first with the election results, I am concerned to see that voter turnout for this first November vote on local issues was still only 30.7%. As one of the biggest selling points for the change, moving to November didn’t magically improve turnout. As a community, we need to keep thinking about how to keep everyone informed and engaged, and continue to improve turnout. One idea that has been raised in the past is introducing vote by mail. Perhaps we should think about acting on this or other ideas to get the vote out.
Second, I was really struck with what appeared to be a partisan vote. Consider:
- 1,738 votes to pass the referendum
- 1,730 votes for Democratic Candidate Saslaw (the only contested race on the ballot)
Perhaps it’s some anomaly or strange coincidence, but I suspect the local Democratic Committee’s support of the referendum through sample ballots, emails, etc. had some influence on those numbers being virtually identical. To be clear, it is freedom of speech and well within their right to support anything they want to quite frankly, but in my view this is a slippery slope of political endorsements that will allow partisanship to become an integral part of our local elections.
Going forward, I hope the City Council will do everything in its power to limit partisanship in our elections. This includes not only a charter change which Mr. Webb recently raised, but I would ask the Council to go further and pass a resolution, or intent statement, stating why this was put to a referendum to begin with, and declaring for future generations that they hope it will not enable partisanship at the polls. While not binding, my hope is it sets the tone for generations to come, and helps preserve the proud
non-partisan tradition that we have.
Second, and equally important, I hope the local Democratic and Republican Committees adopt similar resolutions or intent statements, and perhaps even a code of conduct that reaffirms their current public positions of not allowing partisanship to influence local elections. Political endorsements of candidates, co-mingling political advertisements, canvassing door to door for state and local party candidates should all be declared off-limits. I hope this will also help set the tone within their respective organizations to
prevent future partisanship.
While these actions would help, I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think our City Council and the local political committees alone have the final say on whether or not our future elections become partisan. It really will be up to each and every one of us as individuals to stand firm, stay vigilant and ensure it does not become a staple in our future. The diversity of candidates and opinions that we gain from staying non-partisan will benefit our City for generations to come.
Falls Church City