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A Few Things Alan Howze and the Arlington County Board Should and Shouldn’t Do

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1. They absolutely, positively should NOT back off on the streetcar project. All the evidence indicates that this is a huge winner for Arlington, generating billions of dollars in development and enough tax revenue to more than pay for the streetcar. If that’s not a “no brainer,” I don’t know what it is. Also, politically, backing off the streetcar at this point will just look politically craven, phony, etc, after all the strong arguments made by the Board and by Alan Howze in favor of the project. Flip-flopping now, after a low-turnout special election, would be a lose-lose any way you look at it.

2. They absolutely, positively SHOULD forcefully counter the disinformation, distortions, and outright lies about the streetcar project. For instance, the claim that the streetcar has taken away from “core services” is utterly absurd, since the county hasn’t even spent any money (other than a small amount in studying it) on the streetcar yet — so how could it have taken away funds from anything else? Also, in the future, the streetcar will NOT take money away from “core services,” since it will a) have a dedicated funding source that isn’t “fungible” with other things; and b) again, it will bring in enough new revenues to MORE than pay for itself. Finally: if anything, the streetcar will – ceteris parabis – results in lower tax rates for Arlingtonians, not higher ones. The list goes on and on…call out the lies!

3. The Board absolutely, positively SHOULD examine the way it does business. The perceptions of “arrogance,” “insularity,” “non-communicativeness”  and “opacity” are most definitely NOT figments of people’s imaginations. Heck, I’ve experienced them many times myself. So did Cord Thomas, who told the story about how hard it was to get a simple response from County officials, when he was offering to create jobs and economic activity in Arlington County. That’s unacceptable. It’s also unacceptable that the Clarendon businesses assessment fiasco reported by ArlNow back in February has STILL not been seriously addressed. Also, why on earth aren’t those assessments available online, for all Arlingtonians to see, on a real-time basis? And why can’t reporters get any answers from the Director of Real Estate Assessments in Arlington County? I tried weeks ago, for instance, and never heard back. Why not?

4. Alan Howze needs to give people reasons to vote FOR him. That includes calling out – angrily/passionately when justified – Arlington County government when it’s seriously off course, as with the assessment fiasco. It also includes giving voters a vision for what he might bring to the board, for instance from his experience at IBM. As an Arlington Democratic friend of mine said yesterday: “How about making the county a wi-fi hot spot? turning crystal city into a tech incubator? working with his old boss Warner to bring tech businesses here. upgrading county computer systems so people have an easier time doing x, y, z. Gimme something. Honest to god that was what he came up with. GPSs on snowplows.”

5. Any Democrat who says that we should chill out because we’ll “win easily” in November, when Mark Warner is on the ballot and turnout is way up, needs to stop talking. Immediately. And everyone else needs to stop listening to them if they DO talk. Seriously, that’s one of the stupidest and most arrogant/clueless things I’ve ever heard in my life. Whether in sports, business, politics, or any other field, the LAST thing you want to do is take your opponent lightly (especially when said opponent just kicked your a**), to assume you’re going to win (which is exactly when you are most likely to lose!), and in general to take your pedal off the metal. Instead, assume we’re a run or two down in the final innings of the baseball game, and play like your future career in the major leagues depends on how you perform in the final weeks/months of the season! I’d also argue that the argument’s just fundamentally flawed, that just because turnout will be higher, that those voters will go overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate for County Board. To the contrary, I’d argue that if voters could easily split their ballots, going for Mark Warner, the Democratic nominee for House of Representatives, and John Vihstadt for County Board (especially if he performs well from now through election day in November). Assuming anything else is simply political malpractice of the highest order.

  • JHooe44

    How does either a streetcar (without a dedicated lane) OR bus-rapid transit (no dedicated lane) alleviate problems on Columbia Pike?

    The comparisons to Metro are erroneous, in my opinion, because Metro is unimpeded in it’s travel through Arlington and through DC. Can you imagine if Metro was a street-level train system that ran in-line with existing automobile traffic? It would be a catastrophe and failure. I feel like the streetcar falls to that same logic (on a smaller scale).

    If the streetcar (or BRT for that matter) could be unimpeded by existing automobile traffic, then I think it’s an absolute no-brainer to build it as a form of quick transit through the area. As such, because there is no plan for that to be the case, I don’t see how it’s a “slam dunk.” Granted, I am no transit expert, but I just don’t see it. If the street-car can’t move any faster than traffic it is nestled in, just like a bus, then what exactly does it fix?

    I suppose a possible argument is that a number of people will give up their cars and use public transit instead, and that alleviation of traffic will allow the street-car to function efficiently? If that’s the case, then why is the Court House parking lot always full on Friday and Saturday nights? Why can you not find a parking spot in Clarendon or Ballston, either? Or Rosslyn? Even in Arlington, people love the independence of driving places on their own schedule rather than waiting for public transit (for leisure activities – many more people willingly commute to work via public transit). I don’t think a mass movement of people to public transit is realistic when (1) the public transit won’t save the passenger any time on the Pike (as Metro does to get to DC because it is unimpeded) and (2) people can drive to where they want to get just as easily as use mass transit, because it uses the exact same route.

    The County definitely needs to make a serious investment in developing the Columbia Pike corridor – I totally understand that and am in no way opposed to that. I just don’t believe that a the streetcar or BRT will make much of a difference, because it won’t save time for the commuter in comparison to street-level traffic (because the transit mode will be stuck in line with existing street-level traffic). You’re basically relying on people to willingly give up their cars for an alternative which does not save them any time, and I don’t think that is a reasonable expectation.

    I don’t know what the correct answer is here, but I just believe that focusing on BRT v. Streetcar without any additional ideas being introduced is narrow-minded. I’m not sold that either is a sure-fire way to alleviate transit problems in that area to help spur business development. If there were a way to create an unimpeded transit method, that would be the slam dunk. As it stands now, I’m not sure that’s even possible.

  • DennisJaffe

    Very well written, Lowell!

  • Ingrid

    As far as number 3 is concerned, the lack of responsiveness regarding the excessive assessments in Clarendon demonstrates the need to return the “Department of Real Estate Assessments” (DREA) to the office of an independently elected official who is accountable directly to the public. I assure you that the public would have gotten an explanation within a day. Instead, we have been waiting for almost two months for a response. There seems to be no accountability on the part of DREA. Totally unacceptable.