Following the terribly sad death of Falls Church City Council member Dan Sze in July, a special election was announced, to be held concurrent with the November General Election. This is a nonpartisan position, and the winner will serve the remainder of the term, one year. Three candidates qualified for the ballot–Joshua Shakoor, Debbie Hiscott, and Simone Pass Tucker. I interviewed all three last week; the following is a slightly edited transcript of the conversations.
Why are you running for Falls Church City Council, and what makes you the most qualified candidate at this time?
JOSHUA: I’m running for City Council of Falls Church because I believe the greatest threat to Falls Church families is a lack of affordability, that is the preservation of affordable homes. We’re about to see hundreds of these units expire between five to ten years at the going market rate–that includes 96 units of affordable homes in The Fields, which is a largely Hispanic community. The federal subsidies on it are going to expire in five years, and the for-profit owner s likely to try to sell it, and try to do market rate units. So that’s going to be 96 affordable homes, 96 Hispanic families that are going to have nowhere else to go. The other affordable dwelling units that are in the new developments in the past 10 to 15 years they’re going to expire too because of covenants that were placed on them when they were initially designated to be affordable. If no negotiations are made with landlords, then we’ll lose pretty much every affordable home in the city. I am running because I feel that without my voice on Council and my effort in this area that there won’t be any action placed on preventing this loss. I believe I’m the one who’s most experienced in this area. I have a Master’s in public policy, I interned with the city’s housing and human services department, I’ve worked as an analyst for a national affordable housing developer that is an affiliate of the Falls Church Housing Corporation and owns Winter Hill Apartments, which is again a largely diverse community of mostly Vietnamese. I also now am housing finance policy analyst for an organization representing the largest public housing authorities in America. I’ve been on the Housing Commission for two to three years now, and helped write the affordable living policy. My big contribution to that policy was pushing for all new affordable dwelling units that are designated in every new development to not have covenants attached to them, but to remain affordable for the life of the building. I’m also a second-generation American who was raised by a single mother on a single income, so I know that living in the city and growing up here directly influenced my pursuit of a Master’s in policy, and my civic work. I just think that if we don’t push for more inclusive policies through housing, people who share a similar background and stories will not be able to access the same opportunities I was provided in the little city.
DEBBIE: I have been thinking about running for city council for a couple of years now, and I really thought I would run in 2021. I have three daughters, and my youngest will graduate in June 2021, so November of 2021 seemed like a really good opportunity to give even more back to Falls Church City in the form of serving on city council. Obviously due to the incredibly sad and sudden death of Dan Sze, the special elections happening for just a one year term, so I just thought it’d be a good opportunity to go ahead and bump that time frame up a year and put my name in the ring. Why I’ve been thinking about running for a number of years is that my personal and my professional life were both completely intertwined in Falls Church City. I’ve lived here for 24 years, I’ve worked, volunteered, raised my family of three kids here. I’ve been incredibly involved in the community from the start really, but in particular, the last eight years with the Falls Church Education Foundation (FCEF), my job is really being the bridge between our local businesses, and working with the businesses and the schools to try to find a symbiotic relationship, such that we receive funding from the businesses and then the businesses receive additional contact with our 6,000 plus strong school community supporters. The Foundation is a nonprofit, and I’m paid by the Foundation; I’m not paid by the schools or the city, but I really work on both sides of the aisle, if you will. I see my strengths as building community and building compromise. Our three pillars of the Foundation are equity of access, innovation, and advanced teacher training. This year during the pandemic we raised $120,000 for our Family Assistance Fund, for food, sports, and a lot of it was gift cards to restaurants in Falls Church City, so helping prop up those local businesses while we’re also feeding our communities that’s in need. So that’s an example of bridging both the business and the school side and wrapping social justice around it at the same time. I think public schools are the bedrock of everything that we do, most of us have been supported by some taxpayers somewhere to go through our public school system, and I’m looking to continue that support of the public schools both through our general tax fund but also through my work at the Education Foundation.
Before I worked with the FCEF, 24 years ago, when I moved to Falls Church City, I was a senior manager in business development and corporate finance for MCI-Verizon, I worked on the business terms and contracts for our fortune 1000 clients, so my background is actually not in non-profits it’s in business development and finance–24 years of being really involved in budget for MCI and the FCEF. This year the focus is a one-year term, and the responsibility of a city council person is twofold–first and foremost because it’s going to be a budget year, it’s going to be all about pandemic recovery, both the health and safety of our citizens, but the health of our financial bottom line as well. It’s going to be a really tough year to work on the budget, it’s not going to be an opportunity to add a lot of new projects and new ideas necessarily, so I think given my experience that I have a good perspective on the process. I also think it can be incredibly important for the winning city council person to be planting seeds and by that I mean continuing to work on the ideals that are really important to Falls Church City and our residents and business members. We’re all pretty progressive when it comes to politics and policies that we’re interested in. Dan Sze was an excellent supporter of our environment and strong architectural standards in Falls Church City and his passing leaves perhaps a gap.
SIMONE: I decided to run because ultimately I believe that City Council and just Falls Church in general is ready for a change beyond the scope of what we’ve seen so far. I think that the current council is doing a fairly good job–i appreciate the gun ordinance that they passed recently; but i really do think that for a majority liberal area I really think we can be doing more and enacting more policies. I think we have a pretty unique place in terms of being such a small city, and such a majority white, majority wealthy, majority liberal city, that we have the ability and the privilege to be enacting more progressive policies and working towards progressivism in ways that other communities aren’t afforded. I decided that I wasn’t entirely sure that the other candidates–due to it being a special election and not having platforms out–I just wasn’t confident that they would enact the changes that I was passionate about seeing, and I wasn’t sure if they would stick up for the little guys, so to speak. I’m very passionate about people who are underrepresented in local government. I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am trans non-binary, and I would be the second non-binary person to be elected in the United States, first in Virginia. I am Jewish, I am obviously not as wealthy as the majority of people living in Falls Church, I’m only 22. So I definitely know a little bit about what it feels like to be unrepresented and I would really like to be a voice for the people who also feel unrepresented by Falls Church government, local government, in general every facet of government really, and especially for folks who are even less privileged than myself, because, you know, I am privileged enough that I have the time to commit to a position like city council, and not everyone can say that even if they are passionate about the issues. So I guess the reason that I think I am the most qualified candidate is I think what I bring to the table is not necessarily traditional, but I think that what I bring to the table is what Falls Church City needs.
I think we’re at a unique point in time where people seem to be having this big realization on Black Lives Matter, and white people are finally becoming aware of these issues that people of color and other marginalized groups have been struggling with for years and trying to get our attention about, and it feels that this is a very important moment, and a really great time to focus on what we can actually do concretely to help these communities. I have tons of work in advocacy and activism and I do know things that need to be done, and I know how to advocate for marginalized groups. I also have been educated on public policy and political science in college, I have been involved in campaigns and politics since 2008– my parents are very political, so I’ve been canvassing since 2008 in every major election, and then particularly my activism experience comes to light with J Street and Sunrise Movement and other organizations like that for social progress.
How do you think Falls Church City has handled coronavirus, and do you think our local businesses are going to recover and survive?
JOSHUA: I would have to say that from where I’ve been walking around, and my interactions with businesses and in the city, I’d say we’re handling it pretty well. We’ve got a solid mask mandate, social distancing procedures are in place, and various — restrictions in offices seem to be there, as well as in local businesses. I do see that this has deeply affected small businesses in the city, and their employees especially. My father came to this country, washed dishes, and then eventually had enough money to open a small business that he had for 30 years, but I took over when he fell ill, for about three years. So I understand the challenges that come with running a small business, and the sacrifices that you make or the investment that’s made when you open up your doors, especially in Falls Church. I know they’ve been hard hit, being out of business for about three months, then seeing a downtick in patrons is devastating. But I think as long as we further the initiative to live, eat, and shop local, we can bring a boost to our local small businesses. I think we just have to be able to push it even further than what’s been done so far. I think 90% of my spending consumption is done in the city. I’d like to see that translate to other families and residents in the city doing the same.
DEBBIE: I think our council’s done a pretty good job. I’m the one of two employees for the FCEF right now, so we’re a really small non-profit that’s dramatically affected by not being able to have in-person fundraising and in-person gatherings, as evidenced by our Run For the Schools this past weekend–we had to do it virtually. The city has awarded about $250,000 in small business grants and about $160,000 in rent relief, and then health and human services and non-profits like the Foundation also have stepped in, as I mentioned. So I think we’ve been taking steps we’ve also been flexible with moving businesses out into the parking lots, like at the State Theater and Clare and Don’s. Our music scene’s been really lively, and that’s been one area that is helping the restaurant industry stay afloat. I think the city should be doing additional small business grants, I think that is really important as some of the PPP protections are going to be lasting, those businesses are really going to need some additional support in addition to some increased flexibility, and that may be on noise restrictions as you continue to want to have some businesses operating outside you might need some flexibility there. I think the Economic Development Association has done a pretty good job with providing signage, advertising you know “mask up and shop local”
SIMONE: We’ve been slower to open, which I think is good. I appreciate the efforts that our local government has made with the sanitizing stations, and everything. I do think we can be doing a lot more to help with our local businesses because I am very concerned that they’re not going to recover and to me they are really the lifeblood of Falls Church City. They’re what makes us unique and gives us that small town feel, even though we’re inside the beltway. So i think something that would be really instrumental in helping these small businesses, something that I came up with, and that I am trying to flesh out into a fully-fledged plan right now, is creating a small business liaison–just one person to help connect the local businesses with federal funding. The federal funding that was available in the last package from the Trump Administration–there was over a hundred billion I want to say–there was a lot of money that was not used and is still available. I think it would be great to have someone to reach out to the small businesses to help them find the money, and apply for it. I own a small business myself–not in Falls Church, it’s just me–so I know how hard it can be to operate a small business, even without having to apply for federal funding, even not being in a pandemic, so I really can’t imagine how difficult it is for our small business owners to be juggling all of that right now. Ultimately it would be a great solution, it would be one person’s position and we wouldn’t have to spend money that we don’t have. The federal government has this money, so we don’t need to be looking into our own budget for this.
What can we do in Falls Church City to encourage the development of more affordable housing, what are some of the obstacles, and what can we do?
JOSHUA: I’ve worked in affordable housing for several years, and I have an Associate background in anthropology. I would say that first off, I am kind of against standalone affordable properties or developments, unless maybe they are mixed income. We are now about to have a partnership, that we used to have with Arlington, it’s now going to be through Fairfax, and Fairfax has a Housing Authority, which we don’t have. Housing authorities have a lot of money, and a lot of tools for affordability. So if we did want to do a purchase of land to try to create a development, we’re going to have a Fairfax Housing Authority that can help out with this regional problem–we have to look at this as not just a Falls Church problem, but a regional problem. The housing authority has partnerships with nonprofits to develop, and they have the money to do so and the financial knowledge. Rather than doing standalone, I would push, as I have been pushing for years now, for a higher percentage of set asides, so affordable dwellings in a development from six percent to–why not push for twenty percent? We might not get twenty percent, but if we’re not fighting for a higher percentage, then we’re not doing anything, because we’re never going to recoup the losses of affordable units that we’ve already seen over the past 10 years. We have to prioritize that this is an issue, and push for that higher percentage. Of course there’s got to be sacrifices made in the city. We’re going to have to look to see if is this our priority. And if it is, then we will be receiving less voluntary concessions in other areas, such as proffers that would go to things that we’re used to getting from developers. But I think we can do this and we can work together to accomplish that.
The National Housing Trust right now is doing a study that hopefully will be released here soon that should provide us some kind of policy map. I’m for providing various middle housing selling to ease the single-family restrictive zoning that we have now. Granny flats can provide that and can allow for empty nesters to turn their garage into a residential unit that could potentially help subsidize their property taxes. They can also provide for my generation, who is very burdened financially, whether it’s student loans or having gone through two financial crisis, they provide an opportunity for bringing graduates of the school to come back here and live maybe on their parents land in a garage or an accessory dwelling unit and be able to engage in and invest in the community that invested so heavily in them. But even when it comes to say middle housing or duplexes–in Falls Church I feel if you build it people will come no matter the price, so I don’t know if laws of supply and demand will work in that kind of way in the city. That’s why I feel that there need to be subsidies for dedicated affordable housing, rather than just hoping the market will work itself out.
DEBBIE: We absolutely are in need of affordable housing and workforce housing. We have a guideline of six percent ADUs; we need to continue that, and look at that and see who’s living there, and has it provided us the diversity that we are looking for and hoping for. We also need to look at multiple other avenues, whether it’s standalone Section 8 type housing, or infill type housing, looking at zoning laws. In both DC and Arlington, their accessory dwelling unit laws that have been–from what I hear–pretty successful. For instance, in my lot we could build a “granny flat.” I’d really love to have my elderly parents move down from New York. They could never afford to buy anything here. So it’s not just affordability for people who already live here, but it’s affordability for seniors, affordability for families. That said, we also kind of have a “missing middle” of housing that includes townhouses, condos, other forms of living that will provide different socioeconomic strata for residents of Falls Church City, so we don’t have just single-family homes in our population; and that tends to bring greater diversity and a greater range in age and socio-economic status of course.
SIMONE: We definitely need more affordable housing. I like to say that we need to have more affordable living, because I really think that affordable housing should include more than just housing. I think it should include walkability, and public transportation, and all of that good stuff as well. In terms of specifically the housing, we definitely need more, and the reason that we need more is to attract more people to Falls Church that are from a more diverse background, specifically lower income people, people who are younger like myself, people in their 20s and 30s that maybe don’t have kids, or people that do have kids and want to be able to send their kids to good schools but couldn’t traditionally afford to live in Falls Church. Because their kids deserve the same amazing education that I got, even though my parents at the time were able to afford it. Also because of how hard it is to be a person of color in the United States with systemic and structural racism, people of color tend to be of lower income so generally affordable housing is seen as a diversity initiative, which would be great because Falls Church city is 80% white.
Affordable housing is not just apartment buildings. When we develop, we definitely need to have higher percentages of affordable units than six percent, it’s definitely not enough. Also, this has been talked about in some planning commission meetings that I have sat in on recently, but accessory dwelling units are great ways to increase affordable housing without these big new developments that clog traffic and take a million years to build. What an ADU–accessory dwelling unit—is, it’s like a “granny flat,” a rentable one bedroom or two bedroom or garage that you can rent out. In some cases, depending on the zoning, most places don’t go this far, but sometimes it is purchasable if you want to section off your lot. It really increases the population, and it doesn’t add to the crowding of Broad Street. Another way to increase affordable housing is to look into our zoning code a little bit more to see what the restrictions are. A lot of people don’t know this, but interestingly zoning laws are actually the legacy of segregation, so when segregation in housing based on race was outlawed, many communities across the United States said we need to find a way around this and created single-family home zoning laws in order to essentially continue segregation without calling it segregation. As a progressive city, we need to grapple with this history, and say we’re better than this, and really change that. Looking into our zoning code and getting rid of those sort of weed-out type of rules is a really great way to do that as well.
Do you support requiring or at least strongly incentivizing that all new commercial buildings in Falls Church City follow the highest possible energy efficiency standards?
JOSHUA: Yes of course! I’m big on the environment, I sold my car not just because I didn’t need it, but it reduces my carbon footprint. Climate change is an existential threat to all of us, even in Falls Church, and we can lead–pun intended–by example to ensure that all new developments follow the strictest energy guidelines, and that they are sustainable going into the future.
DEBBIE: Absolutely. I think that the George Mason High School LEED Gold net zero geothermal is incredibly exciting! That should be a standard that we pursue. It’s our deal moving forward. Is that something we can require of all construction? I don’t know if we can require it, I would like to require them in all new constructions. I don’t know the current regulations that allows us to do it the way it is right now, but it’s certainly worth pursuing and exploring and encouraging with financial incentives or otherwise.
SIMONE: Yes, absolutely. Are you referring to the LEED Gold standards? I think we can really go beyond that, honestly. I would love to see implementation of more geothermal energy like Dan Sze advocated for with George Mason High School and did a wonderful job with that. And solar panels, these giant developments that are coming in are million dollar endeavors, and you’re telling me that they can’t put solar panels on top of them? They absolutely can, and they should. We really have the leverage here, and with how valuable our real estate is, so we need to be pushing for what we want our city to look like.
What are your thoughts about the two “bookend” development projects–the one on Washington and Broad, and the West End project: do they meet the needs of our community, are they good for our community, and what challenges remain?
JOSHUA: I’m very pro-development; I don’t think density is a bad word. I believe the West End project is going along well. Again, I do have issues about affordability, and prioritizing higher percentage. I know that initially we agreed on a lot of things with the developers, but now that we see that the Virginia Tech development is about to occur, and WMATA is looking into doing something, and the owners at Falls Plaza are looking at redeveloping that area, I think there’s going to be a lot more revenue generation in the city that could offset any kind of potential losses the owners of those properties might be seeing by increasing affordability in those buildings. I would say same thing at West End as I would say at Broad and Washington with those issues; Broad and Washington specifically though, I think with any kind of development we need to have smart development. The thing that provides the most character to our city, I believe, are our small businesses and we have two great small businesses in Clare and Don’s and Thompson Italian, that I don’t want them to suffer through the development of this Broad and Washington project via through parking, so I think we have to have better arrangements going forward when it comes to these kind of parking issues during construction, and then after construction.
DEBBIE: I think they’re both critical revenue sources for the successful continuance of our city. That said, I do think that we still need some input to make sure that we minimize the change and look to the city and we minimize the impact on our businesses and our neighbors. West Broad or the West Area small area development plan is going to be really critical–we have a 120 million dollar high school opening in January, and while we were really cautious with the financing behind it, unfortunately nobody ever anticipated the pandemic. We’re going to need to have the business development continue to support that, so it’s pretty critical. We have significant growth opportunities, but we have to make sure that it works within Falls Church City and that it works with our small businesses and our neighbors.
SIMONE: In terms of Washington and Broad, that’s the Whole Foods development, I am not a huge fan. I don’t think it meets the needs of Falls Church personally. I’m very concerned about the parking issues which are also being addressed by a couple of members currently on the council that I read in the Falls Church News Press from this past week, so I’m appreciative that we’re not being pushed around on the parking issue. I personally don’t think that Whole Foods aligns with the values of Falls Church City. I know that they have organic food, and fair trade products, but Whole Foods even before the pandemic had worse labor practices for its employees than Walmart and it has just gotten worse since the pandemic began, and also Jeff Bezos is not exactly a model of someone that I would like to see glorified in our Falls Church economy. He didn’t pay income taxes last year, and just doesn’t seem to be thinking much at all about his environmental impact. I’m not sure how many people know that Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, but I don’t think that it aligns with our values. I also know that there is a tendency once a development like Whole Foods pops up that more corporate commercial endeavors will pop up nearby like chain stores, and a lot of voters that I’ve spoken to agree with me on this: I don’t want to see Falls Church become the next Tysons. I know that Whole Foods will bring a lot of commercial revenue, but I also know that there is a trade-off with that commercial revenue, and I don’t think that we should sell out for this development. In terms of the West End development that is the new high school, correct? I am a little bit less familiar with that, but I am not confident in the way it seems that traffic is going to be managed around it. If traffic is going to be managed around it, and I’m not sure about the strain it’s going to put on local traffic, but we did really need a new high school, and I do admire the fact that we were able to get one.
Does Falls Church City have enough public transportation infrastructure to get people off the roads and back and forth to the metros and wherever else?
JOSHUA: No. I would say especially as we increase our population, we need to work with public transit authorities to have more frequent public transportation opportunities in the city. I know that we have two bus lines really go that through and they aren’t that frequent. I loved the George–I was very young when they had it, and they got rid of it. I think it might have been some kind of financial issue, it not bringing up revenue, or maybe people not utilizing it as much. But I think now if we had something like the George that’d be great, but I don’t know that that’s actually possible. I think in terms of not just public transportation, but safety, maybe more designated bike lanes. I know this is very costly, but necessary. I work in DC–I haven’t been to DC since March, but I work in DC, and I live right in the heart of the city, and I use the Metros. And when I would bike to the Metro, or all the way home, it’s not that safe; there’s a lot of drivers who can be kind of aggressive, or just have their blinders on. So I do think maybe creating buffers or bikers to limit traffic vehicles from interacting with bikers, that would be a great step, and in general just improving the walkability of the city.
DEBBIE: I think we’re making progress in that area, but I’d still like to add more investments in the bike share program–we had the scooter share program that was starting, it kind of fell off with COVID. We’ve been working with the Regional Parks Authority to double track part of our W&OD trail so that we have a biking lane and running or walking lane. I think that’s incredibly helpful. We need to continue to extend bike lanes. I also think that for a couple of reasons we may want to consider, not a full-on George bus, but a small type of transportation between metro stations or perhaps a couple of stops along Broad Street that’s not a full city bus but can bring people back and forth and minimize having numerous cars and allowing for some easier transportation. I also would love to invest more in sidewalks and street lighting. Sidewalks are particularly expensive, but if you walk around Falls Church City, it can be mid-sidewalk and it kind of drops off or it ends in the middle of the street. Ideally we could have a sidewalk on every main artery for safety walkability; and in my perfect world I’d put all the power lines underground; if you’re pushing a stroller or a grocery cart or a wheelchair down the sidewalk, it would be really nice to have a clear path. You could do that, but all of these obviously have to be balanced with our current fiscal reality, to see what are going to be the most important things to our residents and our businesses and weigh those decisions in this coming year.
SIMONE: Definitely not, As an avid user of public transport, and a public transport enthusiast pre-COVID times, I really only know of two buses that go through Falls Church, there’s the 28A and the 3T, and the 28A just goes on Route 7. It’s definitely better than some areas, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better. I think that we need to have more bus stops on streets that are not just Route 7, and I know that this is not quite the same, but I really would like to see more bike lanes especially on large roads like Route 7 and West Street. As a biker, it’s quite terrifying to bike on busy streets without a bike lane, and they really don’t take up that much space.
Falls Church City spends more per capita on policing than almost any other jurisdiction in the entire Commonwealth, I think we’re in second place. Do you think that’s our best use of our resources, or are there other services that we should be investing more in instead?
JOSHUA: I would say no, it’s not the best use of our resources. I understand that we are a small city and we get a lot of traffic coming in and out of here. We’re not a rural small city but we’re a small, densely-populated city with a busy, bustling road that goes right through us. So I understand it might be a little higher than some jurisdictions per capita, but I would have to see some research done to see exactly where all those funds are going. But I think that we probably could reduce the budget and put those funds to other places whether it is [inaudible], to reduce the need for law enforcement in certain places or more human services and housing to reduce any kind of extra burden that might be on law enforcement. I think that if we’re going to try to be a more welcoming, inclusive community we have to look at how we practice law enforcement in our own community, and I know it’s already started with use of force, but I think that maybe we can look at other services that we can begin here that could be helpful, where we don’t need to send a law enforcement officer every time.
DEBBIE: I don’t know that it is. Of course, it’s difficult to judge because we are such a small population–fifteen thousand–when you look at anything per capita it’s hard. But I’m really excited about the work that the commission on police reform is doing. I think taking a look at all of our policies and all the work that’s being done in the police force is going to give us some information. You know, they’re not city government and they’re not police; they’re citizens that’re on the commission. I think their input is going to be incredibly valuable to help determine whether we have the right policies. I don’t know that their mission is to look at the expenditures per se, but police reform should certainly include a look at the budgets for them. Across the country it has been proven that there is overspending on police forces and that perhaps the best use for some of that money is to go back to social workers or health and human services that could provide a lot of that first line of defense for the mentally ill. A lot of things don’t need to go necessarily through the police department. So that’s a long-winded way of saying I don’t know specifically what I would cut from the police department, but I am listening and learning from citizens who are working from the outside in police reform specifically, and I think that’ll help give us an idea of not only policy but how we’re staffed and how we handle a lot of those instances where it might be a better to have a mental health professional addressing issue than a police officer to really focus on those who are trained to handle the incidences.
SIMONE: I definitely think that it’s quite alarming how much of our taxes goes to policing, especially for such a small jurisdiction. Predatory parking and speeding tickets that are targeting the residents largely are annoying for white people like myself, but they’re a legitimate safety concern and from what I’ve heard seem to be a major stressor in daily life for our citizens of color, and that’s not fair. I think that it is not necessary for our police to have a Mustang vehicle. I’m not sure why that happened, why we have a squad car sports car when our jurisdiction is literally two square miles. There’s definitely been some misuse of or misappropriation of funds. We could definitely be putting that into our city budget in different ways. I would love to see more social services, human services build up. We have a really big strain on our city services as it is, and given that, I don’t know that it makes sense to be putting so much towards policing that we are spending an inordinate amount more than other jurisdictions that are also safe. Okay, actually there was a murder last week, did you hear? Definitely concerning, but I think that just speaks to the fact that we can spend however much we want on policing and people are still going to commit crimes. It’s unfortunate, and we have to deal with it, but I don’t think the solution is giving more and more money to our police, because they could be doing the same job that they’re doing now and not be in sports cars, and not every officer needs to have a squad car. The list goes on, but I don’t think that if they had more funds that homicide wouldn’t have happened.
What is your vision of the City of Falls Church in the near (say, five-year) future and then in a farther out 10- or 20-year future?
JOSHUA: The catalyst for this campaign was–while I’ve been fighting for these issues in the city for a few years now, what made me actually decide to run (I was going to run next year before the unfortunate loss of Dan Sze) was the young people in this community, and how they responded to the movement going around nationally after the murder of George Floyd, and their own reflection on their own community, on how non-inclusive we are, and how non-racially diverse we are. So my goal would be again, in the next five-ten years to have our city come together on a coalition to create more housing opportunities and access for people of color, or lower income people in the city, and of course teachers, city staff, and also employees of small businesses. I want us to be a more engaged network of citizens, but I also want to preserve against the affordability that we have here, so in 5-10 years, if we’re able to preserve the units we’re about to lose, that would be a win and a great step going forward, but also increasing access to our community those are my two critical issues. And then going forward 25 years, we have that goal that by 2040, Falls Church will be a welcoming community. If we are there by that time, that would be amazing, and that would complete he vision that I see for Falls Church, and that Falls Church views for itself.
DEBBIE: I’ll start with longer term because right now I’m just concerned about the pandemic and its financial impacts, which will probably be, based on the 2008 recession, an 18 to 24 months lag time, so I don’t know how much is realistic to expect to be able to invest in the next 24 months, but I’m talking about planning the seeds for what I hope Falls Church City looks like. I’d like to have a much more diverse population, both in terms of socioeconomic status and race variety. We’re predominantly white obviously–I think we’re the least diverse in the region right now, so absolutely a priority would be having a more diverse community, and I think that’s done through housing. You know, we’re as white as we are because originally back in the 50s, it was really gerrymandering and segregation that caused us to have the Little City that we do, so I’d like to bring it back to what it hopefully would look like if we hadn’t gerrymandered, which means different types of housing, having apartments, affordable dwellings, as well as accessible dwelling units in Falls Church City, and then I’d like to see that we continue to expand. I love having the old State Theater. I’d love to see where that little cabinet maker is, I’d love to see that strip rehabbed with any number of businesses that would be fun to have at Falls Church City, so really reinvigorating or continuing to invigorate our business team and having a much more diverse and socioeconomically diverse city. I also have been interested in working for years on equity in our education system and really trying to push for more diversity in the types of books that we read, the type of history that we teach, the way we teach. We at the Education Foundation funded copies of How To Be An Anti-Racist this summer for our school administrators, and there was a Twitter book discussion about it. But really focusing on how we as a community, specifically as a school district, can be actively anti-racist. You know my lived experience is as a white woman but it doesn’t leave me disconnected from those who are in the communities as well, so that’s what I’ve seen in 40 years.
Then in a few short years I think we can make strides I think we can plant those seeds and start working on that we have to lay the groundwork for affordable housing. It won’t be cheap, we have to convince the people that that is worth–whether it’s worth an investment, whether it’s worth cutting something else and spending it on that. We’ll have to make some really tough decisions to get there in the future but in the short-term future, we’re going to really have to do the legwork based upon recovery from economic constraints from the pandemic.
SIMONE: In five years, I would like to not see a Whole Foods development popping up. I would really like to see some green roofing, more renewable energy being built, perhaps even some that is done being built and implemented, some solar panels maybe. I would love to see some accessory dwelling units, some changes to our zoning rules. I would really like to see a higher proportion of commercial businesses and commercial space in our new large developments, because personally I don’t appreciate the way that developers have been promising to have, say, 40% commercial and 60% residential in their buildings, and gradually decreasing that, saying that they can’t fill the space because they know it’s going to take too long, and they want to save money and get the project done quickly. We have more leverage than the developers. Their only leverage is to say that they’re going to walk away, so of course they are going to say that. We can always find someone else. I really cannot stress enough the fact that our real estate is not going to lose value in the long term, it is going to increase in value because Washington DC is a growing city, and is really not going to stop growing anytime soon. Additionally, the commercial space would really lower property taxes, which is a major concern for most folks, and a reason that a lot of people move out of Falls Church after their kids are done with school. The sales tax revenue that would be generated from these commercial endeavors would offset the property taxes to an extent.
I would in 10 years love to see renewable energy on our public buildings, initiatives for incoming residential development people who are doing tear down projects. I would love to see more strict rules about permeable versus impermeable surfaces. I would love to see incentives for greener buildings. i think that that is a great way to attract like-minded people to Falls Church. A big issue among voters that I’ve spoken to has been storm water runoff and environmental concerns locally, so I think that having green initiatives like that is a really great way to make sure that everyone continues to be environmentally focused. I would like to see ADUs, perhaps even accessory commercial units that would allow people to sell their crafts–it would be a really easy way for folks to get small businesses started, to change the zoning code on operating a business out of your house. I would really like to see a more community-oriented Falls Church, perhaps some community gardens in these green roof endeavors–I’ve spoken to a lot of people that have said they’re willing to volunteer to help get the community garden started and the produce could be given to the community, could be sold to the benefit of the community, could be given to homeless folks or food insecure individuals. I would love to see more diversity, in terms of race, income level, in terms of age. I would like to see more unique businesses on Route 7, like Northside Social and Liberty barbecue, and stuff like that that are good for families, young people without children, older folks, really everyone that lives here and everyone who might move here. I would also like to see more public parking, that would be really great, perhaps a public parking garage owned by the city.