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Op-Ed: The Tragedy of the Commons

by RestonNow.com October 16, 2017 at 2:45 pm 73 Comments

This is an op/ed submitted by Dennis Hays, president of the Reston Citizens Association. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

It seems like every day, a major new development project in Reston is announced. And it seems like every day, traffic gets a little worse and schools and athletic fields get a little more crowded.

Is there a connection here? Well, of course there is.

Reston, since its founding, has excelled and prospered as a planned community. And the plan has been that development and the requisite infrastructure would go hand in hand. The problem is not (always) new development; the problem is that new development calls for a corresponding investment in roads, bridges and underpasses, schools, playgrounds, storm drainage, additional open space and, yes, trees — and this isn’t happening.

Economists often point to a phenomenon called “the Tragedy of the Commons” — the observation that when individual users of a commonly held resource are free to maximize their personal benefit at the expense of the larger community, they will generally do so. The “commonly held resource” in this case being the unique and special nature of a Reston where one can Live, Work and Play in harmony with nature. In a perfect world, everyone — the County, the developers and residents of Reston alike — would work together to grow Reston while preserving those things that make this community what it is.

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.

The County and the developers want to dramatically increase the population density of Reston. They are naturally driven by, and give priority to, a desire for tax revenue and profits respectively. Not bad things in themselves, of course, unless they come at the unwarranted expense of others — which, in this case, they do.

That leaves those of us who live and work here as the ones with both the most to gain and the most to lose as decisions about our future are made. In the coming weeks a number of key issues — ranging from whether to triple the density of Reston, to what kind of library we will have, to how crowded our schools will be — are to be acted upon. As individuals, we have scant ability to ensure infrastructure is given equal priority to development. But this is Reston, and Reston being Reston, we have a vast community of engaged citizens with a deep commitment to balance and fairness and a future we can proudly pass on to our posterity.

Three weeks ago, over 400 individuals turned out for the County’s fourth attempt to justify the density increase — only to have the meeting canceled because we far exceeded the room’s capacity. Now the meeting has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23 at South Lakes High Schools. The County will draw upon the full-time lawyers and urban planners we as taxpayers pay for to tell us what they say is in our best interest. On our side we have — each other. We need everyone who believes in defending the Commons to attend this meeting.

As Margaret Mead observed, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

  • Greendayer

    Where is our supervisor at? Does she receive a lot of developer money?

    • Anonymous Poster

      I dunno where our supervisor is, but our delegate is busy protesting the NRA.

      • Greg

        And that’s worked out how well for him (or anyone)?

        • SuperCoop1280

          Given that he has been in office since 1982, I would say, really well.

          • SouthLakes

            He’s also running opposed this year. For all the stink brought up in every single one of his op-eds here, it doesn’t seem as if any of his detractors want to do more than bloviate on the message boards.

          • JoAnne Norton

            Excuse me. Please keep this respectful Or are you only a troll.

          • Greg

            Calling others trolls is respectful? For shame!

          • SouthLakes

            My original post said opposed when it mean to say unopposed.

            With that in mind, nothing I have said is untrue. He is running unopposed and he receives plenty of flak on this website.

          • The Constitutionalist

            Or maybe we do other, just as important things.

          • SouthLakes

            Such as?

          • The Constitutionalist

            Hmm, I don’t know, in addition to skewering each one of your idiotic arguments and completely demolishing everything you put before me in front of your peers like the unmatched playground bully that I am…

            Running campaigns
            Fundraising for politicians
            Fundraising for 501s
            Running a business
            Signing paychecks
            Doing hobbies
            Winning awards
            Taking care of family
            Having a Job
            Contributing to the economy
            Complaining on social media
            Laughing at liberals
            Begrudgingly paying ridiculous taxes

            I can keep going but I’m hoping that some of your synapses will make a connection here, which I know… is a long shot, but for you I have faith, even where your parents don’t.

          • SouthLakes

            Reston man does completely normal things during course of his day. Was your award for #1 dad because buddy I’ve got some bad news for you. Those mugs are sold at Target and not actually awards.

          • The Constitutionalist

            🙂

        • JoAnne Norton

          The Virginia Legislature has never been a warm, inviting environment. When Ken Plum was first in office, many members of the legislature were pro segregation. Now many of them are Tea Party who wish the state to be financial conservative. That no money to counties or schools. For mental health. etc. He has bucked these people as much as he can to get services for all Restonians. You can help him by voting for the plank this year that will help him get services to us. NAMELY MORE MONEY FOR METRO SO WE CAN HAVE A CLASS A TRANS SYSTEM.

          • Greg

            Sorry. He’s not getting our votes. Then, now, or ever.

            Especially if he advocates for a penny more for the dysfunctional and disastrously overseen Metro.

          • Mike M

            More money. How’s that been working for us?

          • EliteinReston

            I do not want to come off snarky, but in order to have a class A transit system you need plenty of riders. That is the underpinning of the county’s proposed plan to increase Reston’s density. That is what the supervisors are trying to navigate: Now that we are extending transit, what is the appropriate level of density the community will tolerate?

          • Amy Sue

            So my quality of life should suffer so we can possibly feed more people into the failing metro system? I don’t think so. I also wonder if it’s a bit pollyannish to believe county officials are interested in greatly increasing density in Reston to help the ailing metro system. Call me cynical but I guess it has more to do with increasing their political power and/or enhancing their personal finances. If I had the time, I would love to do an in-depth investigative study on corruption in “local” government.

          • EliteinReston

            A new generation is taking the baton from us with a different definition of quality of life. They like density. The market is responding. We can either fight it or accept it and try to find a middle ground.

          • Amy Sue

            You cannot generalize about an entire generation without some scientific proof. Also, not certain what “taking the baton from us” means. I plan to be around for several more decades. Should I, and others like me be counted out of the equation because we’re not millennials?

          • JoeInReston

            I am not convinced that millennials are any different than prior generations. The dense urban life style is ideal for twenty year
            olds – particularly single ones. Millennials being twenty year olds, will fit the pattern.

            But once they reach 30 get married and have families, their needs will change. They’ll need space, security, and good schools.

          • 40yearsinreston

            Spoken like a Realtor

          • 5 YR Planners

            you re right!: so power first and with that comes corruption. in the planning since 2014 and even before then. although his entourage did slightly cringe “community is density” got them very very honey
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/05/02/how-suburbs-change-more-density-means-more-democrats/

          • Dale

            Really?

          • The Constitutionalist

            LOL!

            And you people wonder why Trump is president.

          • John Farrell

            Have you written Putin your thank you note yet?

          • The Constitutionalist

            270 days later, have you come up with a new excuse?

          • Greendayer

            Metro is another issue. And not a pretty one for advocates. It has been mismanaged from the start.

      • JoAnne Norton

        Delegate Plum has no power over what the county plans, I do not think. He is in State Government.

        • JoAnne Norton

          And protesting at the NRA is not connected to increased density.

          • Greg

            And it’s not connected to anything benefitting anyone anywhere.

            Not happy about guns? Then change the (federal) 2A.

          • John Farrell

            Don’t need to. Just change 2 vote on the Supreme Court.

          • The Constitutionalist

            Well… The only people protesting the NRA are also supporting increased density, so….

        • Mike M

          But they both speak to divisive “social justice” comments and not about really issues.

        • 40yearsinreston

          Delegate Plum is a lazy blowhard

          • Move

            Local Democrat politician has pals in the local Democrat party is not exactly groundbreaking.

    • SuperCoop1280

      She is for increasing. She has always been sketchy about population growth (see WaPo article from 2015 elections when she declined to answer) on a similar topic.

      Interestingly enough, you can track where local money goes and when you look at Hudgins top donors over the years, you see a lot of construction companies, property management companies, husband and wife each giving the legal max where the husband is the owner of a construction company, and so on.

      Hudgins is for herself and those who give the most to her. Heck, even if she voted against the measure, it would be facade. She is not going to fight for Reston and the rest of the Commission could care less. I would only ask that she be more vocal about her position and not sketchy. Of course politically, that would be dumb.

      Best care scenario is she gets primaried. We need to remember her actions during this issue.

      • EliteinReston

        The ad hominem, often mean attacks on the Hunter Mill Supervisor on this and other development issues in Reston beg a question. If people are so unhappy with her, why don’t they run someone against her? If it is factually true that the county government is proposing to triple Reston’s density or triple its population–I’ve seen both assertions– it would seem pretty easy to beat the incumbent. How could a candidate lose with this campaign theme: “I am opposed to tripling Reston’s density. She is for it.” Watch how fast the supervisors knock down this proposal.

        • SuperCoop1280

          That is why it is important for us to remember her actions on this issue. I get the sense she will either vote for it because it is a boon for construction and developers or votes against but did not make a cogent case to her fellow Supervisors for them to also vote down, meaning she still did not represent Reston.

          I think this will be the issue where you see people remember and file to challenge her. I sincerely hope the citizen groups (i.e. Reclaim Reston and RCA, etc.) keep this issue fresh in our minds and help put up a candidate to represent the people of Reston and not the developers.

          • EliteinReston

            These same developers are the ones giving us a Chick-fil-A at North Point and a planned Wegman’s, which folks seem excited about. They are building housing for our millennial kids, the same kids who want to find good paying jobs from employers attracted to a vibrant area that includes mass transit. We can’t be against everything. At some point we have to find a middle ground and tell the county what we can live with. First we have to agree on a set of facts. Has the county in fact proposed a tripling of Reston’s density and or its population? I can’t find that.

          • Amy Sue

            hhhh. Yes, the developers are building wegmans, chick-fil-a and housing for our kids because they care about our community and want to make sure we’re all happy. Not because they can make wild profits. So nice of them.

          • 40yearsinreston

            Hudgins, ,Bulova and Plum have the local party in their grip
            They are a disgrace

          • John Farrell

            Hardly.

        • JoAnne Norton

          I just checked Cathy’s donors. Mark Silverwood is there because HE BUILDS AFFORDABLE HOUSING. McDean is a friend of her son’s, I believe. Do not see any big donors from building.

          • SuperCoop1280
          • John Farrell

            And those numbers are cumulative over the 18 years that she’s been in office. So $1800 is the equivalent of $100 per year.

            Yeah, that’s going to induce a Supervisor to vote against their own agenda.

            NOT

            Get your tin-foil covered head around the idea that she thinks she’s doing the right thing and come up with an argument to change her mind.

          • SuperCoop1280

            If she were a Congresswoman, obviously she would be more active in the fundraising department. However, she is a local official and does not need to raise as much but the numbers are telling. Those who have given is also telling. Let the facts speak for themselves don’t try and skirt the reality. I get those in Section 8 or those with the Hunter Mill Dem party are going to try and defend but the numbers don’t lie. Her sketchyness about this issue has also been obvious.

            There is nothing wrong with growth, especially with bringing in businesses, but to raise the population cap without plans on how to better the roads and add more schools is irresponsible.

            If the party is smart, they will be open to all candidates when the time comes.

          • John Farrell

            During the most recent reporting period on VPAP, Cathy raised $135. Total! $135.

            Her colleague from Braddock, John Cook, raised $80,000

            Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity raised $205,000

            Her biggest donor is the Firefighters Union.

            Your analysis fails.

            She’s not doing this for the contributions. She’s always been a horrible fundraiser. She’s doing this because she believes its the right thing to do.

            I disagree with her and we have to change her mind or live with this until after 2019!

          • SuperCoop1280

            Wrong! I am a democratic lobbyist and when I support MoC’s, its not for immediate action. It’s to build and cultivate a relationship to help educate on issues down the road. The early supporters are always remembered. Plus, if you are an elected official with no real challenger election after election, you don’t need to focus on fundraising. Now, I have yet to deal with JV or local officials, but my guess would be she does not have party dues like Connelly, Kaine, and Warner have to DCCC, DSCC and the DNC. In fact, our “Supervisor” hasn’t had any real challenges, as you pointed out, just last election ran unopposed. However, she has cultivated those relationships with building development companies, construction companies, real estate developers, and property management companies.

            She has failed because instead of listening to the people, she is acting on her own, doing what she wants to do. Now, that is fine when people don’t speak up on issues, but the people have been very clear on this issue and yet she is still marching to the beat of her own drum. I shouldn’t have to change her mind because it is very clear on where the people stand. Sadly, even if she decides to vote no, I still won’t trust her because of how she has been in the past on this topic. I know that her vote would only be a facade. My only hope is that local party leadership is open to other candidates. If not, I will have no problem opening my checkbook and getting my colleagues to do the same. It is time for new leadership that is there for the people and will listen to them not talk at them.

          • Greg

            The last thing Reston needs is more “affordable” housing. Great Falls needs some and McLean needs more.

          • Mike M

            I’d be very OK if the County got out of that business. My taxes are high enough.

          • Greg

            Same. Especially since the county owns more rental units than anyone else. None of which produce a penny of income.

          • Amy Sue

            So true. It always bothered me that apartment owners set aside low-cost housing in the same apartments that many of us have had to work our butts off to afford. I’ve always chosen to live in places I could afford, even if that meant a long commute or living in an older neighborhood. Why do some people deserve the luxury of subsidized housing in the most popular/expensive areas of the county? Especially because in the end, it’s people like me who are paying for them.

          • The Constitutionalist

            Oh, my God. Someone finally gets it.

        • John Farrell

          Because the election happens every 4 years.

          Cathy ran unopposed in 2015.

      • John Farrell

        This just lie.

        See VPAP report here: https://www.vpap.org/candidates/9455/top_donors

        Cathy hardly raises $10,000 per year.

    • JoAnne Norton

      She does not.

    • 40yearsinreston

      Going out to lunch with developers and lobbyists

  • Reston Realist

    Well written piece Dennis. We will be at SLHS on the 23rd!

  • Sick of it in Reston

    Supervisor has been positioning herself for the last decade to accept a developer job at 10x salary for all the favors done while in office

    • John Farrell

      She’s been in office for 18 years. And working for a developer is something that has no attraction for her.

      • Greg

        That’s 18 too many.

  • JoAnne Norton

    There is a course on Coursera which cites the Tragedy of the Commons. I read the article and listened to Wesleyan President Roth discuss it. It is about world over population. We need to talk about a model for this town. What is it going to be like 20, 30 years from now? Can we sustain the output of our car engines on the planet? That is what the tragedy will be like. Rising sea levels, violent storms, deserts, fires. If each of us keep up driving here, driving there, what is the end result? If we have some high rise buildings scattered through our town, people can walk to more places. Bob Simon was a dreamer also.

    • Mike M

      Liberal self-loathing neurosis. No. The sky is not falling. No. Most of us prefer NOT to live in high rises, and that’s OK.

    • The Constitutionalist

      I don’t really think you got the “gist” of the Tragedy of the Commons.

  • TheKingJAK

    This happens to be an extremely well-written commentary on the issues currently facing Reston.

  • rest ez native soul

    no worries re density: the elon musks of this world will sustain the power grid, the jeff bezoses will feed us and the Hillaries will put us to sleep.

    density is the least of our concerns!

  • 40yearsinreston

    The problem is Ms Hudgins and her total disregard for the residents
    Ir can be fixed if she and Bulova are voted out and replaced

  • Donald

    Thank you to Mr. Hays.

    I’m curious, when will we see something from the Reston Association President, Sherri Hebert? RA appears to be quiet on these matters. Is it waiting to test the waters in some way?

    Donald

    • John Farrell

      As they announced at their last Board meeting, they will wait until after the next meeting. They also made individual comments.

      Donald, what’s with the incessant attacks on the new Board?

      See here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUhHji6BpWw

  • RoadApples

    As I have so ‘Un’eloquently stated many previous occasions: I support the efforts to build the Reston Community and also up and down the Toll Road into becoming a mini-Manhattan. This is indeed in fact the 21st Century.

  • Ray Wedell

    Hi Dennis…. I am not going to read any of the other comments, because there is no need. You crystallize many complex points into a clear, common sense essay that should be must reading for everyone in Reston. This piece is brilliant, and should rally every citizen to take just two hours out of one night to attend the South Lakes meeting on October 23. People of Reston, please……this man is doing magnificent work for us, as are the others leading this fight. There are too many to mention here. It is time to follow. Follow and support this leadership. Dennis, thank you again!

  • Slow Growth Enthusiast

    What can we expect when we join the name Comstock to the Lake House? Already selling out to developers! Somebody is getting an under table payoff?

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