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Video: Sparks Fly Between Del. Lee Carter, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, Sen. Adam Ebbin at Amazon Town Hall

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I didn’t watch all of today’s Amazon Town Hall in Alexandria, but I did watch a chunk of it. See below for the complete, two-hour video of the event, with participants including former Alexandria Mayor Alison Silberberg, Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas), Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, Del. Mark Levine (D-Arlington/Alexandria), Sen Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington/Alexandria/Fairfax), 31st State Senate district candidate Nicole Merlene, Roshan Abraham of Our Revolution Arlington, and Sandra Klassen of Our Revolution Northern Virginia. The organizer of the event was Boyd Walker, and the moderator was Michael Pope.

First, see below for responses to Michael Pope’s hypothetical scenario, “imagine the entire General Assembly was a bunch of Lee Carters and they all voted against this.” According to Carter, the reasons Amazon decided on Arlington “is not because of the work force, it’s because their #1 customer is the Pentagon…#2 is Wall Street, go figure, they ended up in Arlington and New York.” Furthermore, in Carter’s view, “we don’t represent a balance sheet or a corporate real estate vacancy rate,” but instead “85,000 people with real lives.” Carter added that we have an unemployment rate so low that the companies “can’t make any profit off of you,” that “we are currently below structural unemployment, and by continuing to add jobs and add jobs and add jobs, those jobs are not going to people that are already here, those jobs are going to people that they’re bringing here…who are going to be moving into Northern Virginia and competing for the same housing.” Carter also claimed that rents in his Manassas building have already gone up 18% “before a shovel has touched the ground…just for the announcement of Amazon.” And Carter concluded that “we don’t have a joblessness problem, we have an affordability problem, and cramming more jobs into Northern Virginia makes that problem worse.” 

For her part, Nicole Merlene said that she would “absolutely vote for this deal.”

Second, check out the following interesting/heated exchange on the hypothetical question of what would happen if Amazon did NOT come to Northern Virginia. According to Arlington County Board Chair Dorsey, that would result in Arlington’s 17.5% commercial vacancy rate basically staying flat for a large number of years, which would hurt Arlington homeowners.

Del. Carter responded that “we don’t represent commercial vacancy rates,” says “the fact that Arlington has 17.5% of its commercial real estate vacant is not for lack of jobs…we have more job vacancies than we have people; it’s overzoning in the commercial space.” Del. Carter then said, “I understand the Chairman is fairly new to the Board, this is a decision that was made a long time ago.” Dorsey responded, “Actually, I’ve been on the Board for three years, I’m new to the Chairmanship, but I’ve been on the Board for three years, I think longer than he’s been a delegate.” Ouch!

Del. Carter responded that this decision to overzone commercial space decades ago, and that this puts “a lot of pressure on my constituents in Manassas.” Del. Carter said that Arlington should, instead, be focused on increasing residential space. Chairman Dorsey responded that this is a regional issue, that Amazon moved here largely because of the talented workforce in this region, and that our region’s absorptive capacity to deal with jobs and housing is actually “quite strong.” Dorsey said directly to Carter: “If you limit your analysis to Virginia, I can understand where you’re coming to those conclusions, but you have to include the broader picture in your analysis.”

Sen. Ebbin then chimed in, saying he needed to “correct some of the things Lee said,” including his contention that Amazon is “coming here for the Pentagon.” Sen. Ebbin read off a list of the top customers for Amazon web services, and the Pentagon is “not even on [the list].” As for rent increases, Sen. Ebbin cited real estate industry estimates that rent increases due to Amazon will only be minimally (0.2%-0.7%) above and beyond what they would have gone up anyway. Sen. Ebbin concluded that you can’t blame Lee Carter’s rent increase on the 400 new jobs coming into Arlington this year due to the Amazon deal, especially when “he lives quite a distance from the planned jobs.”

Third, check out this exchange, in which Christian Dorsey pushes back on what he calls “the speculative macroeconomic effects that Mr. Abraham criticizes with the Fuller study.” According to Dorsey, you can’t even argue about the return on investment piece, as that part’s a “no brainer.” Dorsey said “you may shake your head, Mr. Abraham, but if you have a different analysis, produce it!” Abraham responded, “If you want to give me the money to commission [my own] study, that would be fantastic.” Dorsey quipped, “that would produce a poor return on investment, so I’m not going to do that.” Abraham responded, “because the study might disagree with the results your study finds.” LOL

Finally, here’s video of the entire forum. Great job by everyone involved in putting this together, and very timely considering that the Virginia General Assembly will be deciding in coming days whether or not to approve the deal (note: that’s looking HIGHLY likely).