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 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.
By EDIE SMOLINSKI
November 4, 2011
A NO Vote on the referendum — which proposes switching Falls Church City Council and School Board elections from May to November — will keep those elections in May.
Preserving the nonpartisan election tradition. Newcomers seem surprised when they hear that our May City Council and School Board elections are nonpartisan. Voters who strongly favor keeping May politics nonpartisan wish to retain some diversity on City Council and School Board, where differences of opinion are valued. November elections will most likely become partisan; May elections are nonpartisan. If we were to lump City elections with state elections held in November, we could lose the nonpartisanship. We are too small a City to allow divisiveness to replace diversity.
Attracting voters to the polls. The referendum provides that City elections would occur in odd years. Since presidential elections occur in even years, we would not be voting for local officials at elections with the highest voter turnout. In elections for governor, in alternate odd years, voter turnout is higher than in elections for state offices. In 2007, (not an election for governor but for state offices) turnout was 28%. Consider past City elections. From May 1974 through May 2010, five out of the 19 elections had unusually low voter turnout because of being un-contested (no more candidates than open seats). In all other elections, with opposition candidates, turnout ranged from 24% to 55%. Highest voter turnout occurred in contested elections (more candidates than seats) when major City issues were on the table. The sometimes-silent majority becomes less silent when it is perceived that something valued is at stake and that voting will make a difference.
Focusing on state and local issues and candidates in separate elections. The General Assembly of Virginia enacted a law which took effect July 1, 2000, which provided local option for Cities and Towns to switch to November elections. Nineteen of the 39 Cities and 28 of the 190 Towns have switched their local elections to November. Imagine combining the state and local contests. If you campaign for a state senator and a delegate, and some City Council and School Board candidates, will you be campaigning for all of your choices at one time? Will candidate forums be doubled? Let’s preserve our City’s nonpartisan tradition of focusing on local issues and candidates by continuing our May City elections.
Vote NO on the Referendum!
Edie Smolinski is a member and past president of the Citizens for a Better City and the Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters. The views expressed are her own.
This is the fourth and final Community Comment in our series regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November. The four commentaries have included two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolinski, a private citizen active in local civic organizations – and two advocates of the change – City Councilman Lawrence Webb and Robert Loftur-Thun, also a private citizen active in local organizations.
Those interested in the referendum also are encouraged to watch the Town Hall programs on FCC-TV. A link to the schedule is available here.
COMMUNITY COMMENT: The Voting Date Referendum: Remain Independent or Fall Prey to State Party Politics?
By DAVID F. SNYDER
November 1, 2011
The November 8th referendum on voting in Falls Church is about much more than deciding what date to hold local elections; it is about the very democratic system under which we live. Since its creation, the City of Falls Church has held independent, local issue-focused elections that are separate from state and federal elections. This has worked well for the City. Now, however, some people want to change this approach and make our independent-based local political system more like the party-controlled system in Richmond, and even Washington.
There is mounting pressure coming from political machine-dominated Richmond to force local elections and issues onto state or federal Election Days in November, virtually assuring that the two major parties will control the candidates for whom we have the opportunity to vote. So far, the pressure has been in the form of statutes and fines that dissuade localities from continuing to hold local elections in May. However, according to the Washington Post, there is now additional movement to make municipal elections partisan, just as state elections already are, leading to the dysfunctional government we have in Richmond. [See "Virginia Ballots Skimp on Party Affiliation," Metro section, October 26, 2011.]
By moving local elections from May to November, the City would hasten the day when our system would resemble the one in Richmond where two well-heeled, special interest-driven machines determine who our candidates are and require those candidates to adhere to rigid orthodoxies, until one of the parties achieves total dominance. Then that one party effectively selects who is elected, as is the case in the majority of the state legislative districts in Virginia. [See the Washington Post editorial "RIP Democracy in Virginia," October 26, 2011.]
By contrast, citizens in Falls Church currently have a wider selection of candidates for local offices, including a pool of talented federal civil servants who, as a result of the so-called Hatch Act, are prohibited from running for office in partisan elections. Indeed, any resident of Falls Church can run for City Council or School Board because we have independent local elections: just get a relatively small number of signatures of registered voters, and you’re on the ballot. Further, we are probably one of the last few jurisdictions in a major metropolitan area where you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to successfully run for political office or swear allegiance to a political machine and its beliefs. No, here you only need listen to voters, have good ideas, and work hard to be elected and to serve.
Some who argue for November elections would like to believe we can preserve our independence and switch to state or federal-based elections by amending the City’s charter to safeguard non-partisan elections. But such a charter change requires the vote of the General Assembly, the same body that is pushing for more partisanship in local elections. And, a non-partisan clause relies for sponsorship on our own likely new State Senator, Richard L. Saslaw, who as Senate Majority Leader clearly has done well in the Richmond political environment and equally clearly stated his support for November elections in Falls Church.
So the referendum isn’t about just May or November. This vote one week from today is about how we define democracy and opportunities for citizen involvement in our Falls Church local government. A vote for May (“No” to the referendum) will help preserve true independence, assuring that any of our citizens has a real chance to hold office. A vote for November (“Yes” to the referendum) is a vote that increases the risk of being swept into the machine-driven system in Richmond, where the party apparatus determines who you vote for and demands adherence to party dogma.
David F. Snyder is Vice Mayor of Falls Church City
This is the first in a series of four Community Comments regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November. The four commentaries include two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolenski, a private citizen active in local civic organizations – and two advocates of the change – City Councilman Lawrence Webb and Robert Loftur-Thun, also a private citizen active in local civic organizations.
Those interested in the referendum also are encouraged to watch the Town Hall programs on FCC-TV. A link to the schedule is available here.
By ROBERT LOFTUR-THUN
November 3, 2011
This November, citizens in Falls Church City have a choice that will have a major impact on the City for a long time to come. The choice is whether or not to have local elections in May or November. It is a choice that goes to the heart of who we are as Americans.
It is a fact that voter turnout in our City in May elections is very low—an average 27% but as low as 13%–and much higher in November—an average 71% in even years/48% in odd years, and even as high as 86%. Some say those who vote in May elections are “more engaged,” “better informed” and “more thoughtful.” I think this woefully underestimates the intelligence and capabilities of City residents, as well as all Americans who vote in national, state and local elections in November.
Others say new members of City Council and the School Board need time to get up to speed on the budget before voting on it. Currently, office holders elected in May take office July 1 and serve an entire year before a budget reflecting their decisions goes into effect. I think City voters would prefer newly elected leaders to make an impact right away rather than a year later.
Some people say that by having local elections in November, elections will be more partisan. There is no reason that a particular month whether it is May or November will result in more partisan elections, and partisan elements have already been playing a part behind the scenes in the “non-partisan” elections in May. I believe in the City’s non-partisan tradition, but Falls Church can maintain non-partisan elections by a change to the City Charter, prohibiting partisan elections in the City of Falls Church, as other cities in Virginia have done. More voters participating in elections will result in greater scrutiny, transparency, and accountability.
We should not fear engaging a wider electorate, and should engage more voters and then let candidates make their case for different political philosophies. Elected officials decisions should reflect the will of the majority of voters – that’s what a democracy is all about. When such a small percentage of voters vote in May elections, how can we make sure elections don’t get hijacked by special interests and make sure our elected leaders understand the will of the people to build the consensus needed for action?
So for me the choice is clear – have the elections when the most people vote. Believe in the American people – we’ve done pretty well as a Republic so far.
Robert Loftur-Thun is a local businessman, member of the Falls Church City Planning Commission and past Chair of the City’s Environmental Services Council.
This is the third in a series of four Community Comments regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November. The four commentaries include two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolenski, a private citizen active in local civic organizations – and two advocates of the change – City Councilman Lawrence Webb and Robert Loftur-Thun, also a private citizen active in local organizations.
Those interested in the referendum also are encouraged to watch the Town Hall programs on this topic on FCC-TV. A link to the schedule is available here.
By LAWRENCE WEBB
November 2, 2011
With Election Day fastly approaching the residents in the City of Falls Church will have to cast their vote to answer the Referendum question, “Shall the City of Falls Church hold its City Council elections in November”?
This is a topic of great importance and I began pondering the question after campaigning in 2008. As I walked around the neighborhoods knocking on doors asking for support I noticed for every five doors visited three of them had no idea that elections were taking place and thought all the city’s elections happened in November. As I explained to them the process in Virginia many still had questions but took the information and thanked me for coming by.
After being elected the elections process still resonated with me and I began inquiring about what if we decided to change our elections to November instead of May. I received many different responses and reactions and in 2010 offered an ordinance to change the city elections from May to November of odd years. My one and only motivation for following through with this was I wanted to make sure that every person in the city had an opportunity to take part in electing those who make important decisions in the city. Later after conversing with several constituents I amended my proposal to a referendum that failed and ultimately I supported the date change. When this topic resurfaced my feelings were still the same in that I wanted the maximum number of citizens to take part in our elections. With this referendum we will have this issue settled.
I have been listening to all sides on this issue and the number one reason that most do not support changing the elections from May to November is the fear that partisanship will make its way into Falls Church City elections. Both parties have indicated that they have no desire to get involved with endorsing candidates in city elections. I too strongly support our elections staying non-partisan and that no political parties get involved in city elections. The first thing that I would propose is to add to our city charter provisions that address persons running for election in the City of Falls Church shall be independent and follow all laws to get on the ballot. Currently the only candidates that can be listed on the ballot with party affiliation are federal and state candidates. The second argument is when canvassing will candidates for city office and those running with a political party be canvassing will all material. The answer is simple. It is up to the candidates to make sure that when his/her folks knock on doors that they only have their materials and nothing involving a political party thus avoiding confusion.
When asking other jurisdictions that moved their elections if the elections became more partisan the response was no. When asked if it cost more for candidates to run in November versus May the response was no. Finally when asked if there was an increase in the number of citizens that voted in elections the response was yes.
Our Little City is one of highly educated citizens with a strong since of civic activism. By having our elections move to November gives our citizens even more of an opportunity to have their voices heard by the leaders of the community.
I urge you to get out and vote YES on The Election Referendum on Tuesday, November 8th.
Lawrence Webb is a member of the Falls Church City Council.
This is the second in a series of four Community Comments regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November. The four commentaries include two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolenski, a private citizen active in local civic organizations – and two advocates of the change – City Councilman Lawrence Webb and Robert Loftur-Thun, also a private citizen active in local civic organizations.
Those interested in the referendum also are encouraged to watch the Town Hall programs on this topic on FCC-TV. A link to the schedule is available here.