Home Local Politics 9 Ways the Fisette/Hynes Decision to Ditch the Streetcar Seriously Harmed Arlington

9 Ways the Fisette/Hynes Decision to Ditch the Streetcar Seriously Harmed Arlington


1. First and most obviously, this decision was wildly wrong on policy grounds, with the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in future tax revenues to Arlington County that would have been spurred by billions of dollars worth of streetcar-generated economic development. Those revenues could have been spent on “core services” like education and other important infrastructure, while helping to keep property tax rates among the lowest in the entire region. Now, that’s all gone, with nothing to replace it. Greeeeaaaat.

2. The decision essentially rewarded a campaign of lies and demagoguery waged by anti-streetcar forces. As this Greater Greater Washington commenter notes: “[Arlington County Board member and streetcar supporter Walter] Tejada’s anger is well placed. And its even more telling when [Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette] constantly (and rightly) responded to streetcar criticisms from prominent groups as misinformation. To give in basically admits that a constant stream of BS works. Unfortunately the streetcar isn’t the only example of this in our world but its one of the more blatant ones.”

3. The decision has seriously harmed relations among Board members. For starters, “The decision by Chairman Jay Fisette (D) and Vice Chairman Mary Hynes (D) to abandon the streetcar infuriated their longtime ally and fellow Democrat, J. Walter Tejada.” At the same time, “Three of the members” (that would be Tejada, Fisette and Hynes) “are accusing the two others” (John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey) “of spreading misinformation.” And they are correct, of course. The question is, how can a working relationship, based on any level of trust whatsoever, be rebuilt out of the rubble of this debacle? Got me.

4. The decision to ditch the streetcar left Columbia Pike businesses and residents who had made investments and other plans based on a rock-solid promise from Arlington County that the streetcar was coming are now left high and dry. As the Post article reports, “Inta Malis, an Arlington planning commissioner, said retailers on Columbia Pike have been operating at a loss, banking on future revenue that would come with a revitalized, streetcar-anchored corridor.” So now what happens? Does anyone have a plan, now that the methodical, painstaking 15-year planning process was just tossed to the curb by Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes? I strongly doubt it. And no, Vihstadt and Garvey were never serious about “BRT,” since that’s not possible on Columbia Pike.  

5. The summary manner in which the 15-year planning process for Columbia Pike and Crystal City’s futures was ditched makes an utter mockery of the “Arlington Way,” and of Arlington County’s reliability for local/regional/state partners pretty much for anything. To paraphrase what a super-smart local Democrat said recently in an email, this sudden, unilateral decision shocked and even angered supporters of the streetcar project, many of whom had worked hard on this for many years. Yet, with the abrupt announcement the other day by Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette, essentially decades of community planning were simply tossed aside. So much for Arlington’s supposedly progressive planning model? It sure feels like that’s now in ruins. Furthermore, after this fiasco, how can the public have any confidence whatsoever in Arlington’s planning process on anything else going forward?  I have no idea.

5a. Further elaborating on point #4, announcing the cancellation of such an important project, one that took so many years to develop, in a unilateral, surprise manner, with apparently no discussion or outreach, is simply not acceptable. Nor is it professional. Nor is it consistent with the “Arlington Way.”  Nor does it bode well for the future.

7. In a way, this decision and the way it was carried out represent the worst of all worlds. On the one hand, some of the strongest supporters not just of this project, but of the Democrats on the County Board, feel betrayed, blindsided, you name it. Personally, I’m seriously questioning whether I can support Jay Fisette or Mary Hynes going forward. So are others, such as this Arlington County Democratic Committee precinct captain, who writes that the “uproar and eventual cancellation of the streetcar have shaken my confidence that Arlington is the place that I thought it was.”  Me too.

7a. While the abrupt, strange, bordering-in-bizarre cancellation announcement angered supporters of the streetcar, if anyone thinks this will mollify streetcar opponents, they’re dreaming (or smoking something, or dreaming of smoking something – heh). To the contrary, my bet is that Vihstadt et al now sense weakness and even ineptitude, and will press forward to complete their takeover of the County Board. Which, of course, would seriously harm all of Arlington on a wide variety of issues. We saw an example of that recently, when Republican (whoops, almost forgot, he keeps calling himself an “Independent”) Vishtadt voted…yes, like a Republican, against heretofore noncontroversial incentives for developers to incorporate “LEED” energy/environmental standards into their buildings. I’d expect a lot more of this type of behavior in the future, particularly if the Vihstadt crowd gains even more seats on the County Board. Ugh.

9. All of this has harmed the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC), which for many years has been – rightly or wrongly – closely tied in people’s minds to the Democratic leadership on the County Board. Keep in mind that, at least until recently, ACDC had been consider the gold standard among Democratic committees in Virginia, and even in the country. Now, it’s hard to say what the future will hold for ACDC. Among other things, dysfunction and division in ACDC could harm efforts to rack up huge margins in Arlington County for Democratic statewide candidates, in 2016 and beyond (are you reading this Robby Mook?). Let’s hope that doesn’t come to pass, but the reverberations of this fiasco have only begun to be felt, with a potentially nasty 2015 ahead of us in Arlington Democratic politics, and with important decisions to be made regarding how ACDC will move forward with previous members who supported John Vihstadt in 2013/2014. Good luck.

  • fendertweed

    that IMO/IME living in Arlington for nearly 30 yrs and dealing with the county on various issues …

    the so-called “Arlington Way” has been a mockery of itself for quite some time and is not made such by this issue or this election.

    That horse was out of the barn long ago, led by the various iterations of the County Board’s arrogance and insularity and dismissiveness towards community (civic associations, for ex.) input and advice.

    We’ve jawed plenty over the other 8 but you really can’t get away with that one, it’s simply attaching a fact (that the “Arlington Way” has become a joke) with a cause that is just a post hoc rationalization that ignores years of other relevant history.

  • fendertweed

    1.  I disagree with you that this can lead to a takeover of the County Board because a lot of people I know (including my own household) are not going to continue to support “dissidents” (for lack of a better word) if they start acting like garden variety Republican freakazoid teabaggers … if that happens Vihstadt will first lose support of many crossovers (it could even happen before next year’s election) and the crossovers won’t vote for other Independent/Republican types.

    2.  This may have harmed the ACDC but they have contributed mightily to their own diminution in the public eye by behaving like some Soviet appartchiks in their petty disdain for any disagreement and their ostracism of those who dare to question their orthodoxy.   That isn’t a result of this election.  I think it may’ve been a contributing factor in some small way, though.

    I continue, too, to be disappointed at the chorus that must cast every discussion of this as the revenge of N. Arlington on S. Arlington, when in fact the voting pattern & results clearly show that there was much more than that going on and that many people of good faith and good will and not 1% venality simply saw what they think is a pattern of bad spending decisions (not just streetcar) and voted accordingly — not as a N. Arlington v. S. Arlington thing.

    Again, none of this is intended as a ringing endorsement or defense of Vihstadt.  He’s on the hot seat now and if he doesn’t produce and turns out to be a teabagger in disguise, he’ll lose a lot of support, as will those who try to emulate him in future elections.  

  • andrewinva

    Thanks for these 9 points- prescient and insightful.  In the days, months and years ahead, I believe we will see the Vihstadt victory and the streetcar demise as a singular event – a pivot point for the County.  How leaders and citizens adjust and help Arlington thrive within a new reality (new economic pressures, mistrust regionally, and an emboldened political opposition) is really the question going forward.

  • MonopolyGuy

    I am just back from a wonderful weekend in Williamsburg. I sparked up a nice conversation with a small business owner about our ACB who initially revealed very poor judgement in initiating and supporting a street car. She joked that Williamsburg had a few trolleys then abandoned them to just one as it was too high of an operation and maintenance cost. It would seem the real operating costs are hidden by the Democrats as they want the implementation of the trolley/street car despite the poor decision it appears to take ownership. Why do Democrats need things that are so destructive to their local community?