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by Del. Ken Plum — March 23, 2017 at 10:15 am 69 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Explanation of the recently announced American Health Care Act usually starts with an expressed need to clean up the mess that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — or Obamacare — had made.

Most all agreed that the massive transformation the program of health care had brought about could use some tweaking and refinement, but clearly a seven-year campaign against the Affordable Care Act left a blurred view of what the program did for consumers. If the ACA had created a mess, the recently proposed replacement of it will certainly create an even messier and unfair situation.

Virginians in particular will suffer a double hit on health care, especially for those most in need. The General Assembly would not approve an expansion of Medicaid that would have brought health care to as many as 400,000 uninsured most in need in the Commonwealth and would have expanded the health care network with the $4 billion that would have flowed into the state. While the new program would eliminate Medicaid expansion in 2020, persons would have been able to get health care in the interim rather than to go without or have to seek help at free clinics or one-time-a-year Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinics. States that have expanded Medicaid would continue to get full coverage for persons already enrolled but would get a lesser amount for new enrollees beginning in 2020. That provision alone would add to the $4 billion loss already incurred in Virginia.

There are 327,000 Virginians who gained coverage under the ACA as it expanded access to affordable health care. The proposed replacement to the ACA would do away with federal health insurance subsidies that helped people afford their monthly premiums and lowered out-of-pocket expenses. Subsidies would be replaced with tax credits. Currently insurers can charge older customers up to three times what they charge younger customers; under the new plan that would increase to five times.

Although some would never acknowledge it, there are features of the despised Obamacare program that were maintained. Insurers would still be banned from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions. Dependents would still be able to stay on parents’ insurance plans through age 26. Caps on annual or lifetime coverage would still be banned.

Clearly fewer people will have access to affordable care under the AHCA. Virtually every developed country in the world with the exception of the USA has decided that access to health care is a basic human right. What is the biggest objection to the program enacted under President Obama? It included targeted taxes on investment income and wages for the very high income individuals and couples. The new AHCA eliminates many of the taxes. The wealthiest 400 households including the billionaires in the new administration would get an average tax cut of $7 million per year while taxes for many low-income working families would increase. Eliminating the two taxes on very high-income households would cost the federal government $275 billion over 10 years.

Most Virginians will lose under the replacement proposed for the ACA. Only the very rich will gain. Maybe that is what the debate is really about!

by Del. Ken Plum — March 16, 2017 at 10:15 am 46 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

A headline in The New York Times in December 1992 proclaimed that “Virginia Aims to Shed Image as a ‘Handgun Supermarket.”’ The Commonwealth got that reputation when a Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms study found that one of every four guns used in a crime whose origins could be determined had been bought in Virginia stores. In Washington, D.C., one in three traceable guns had been bought in Virginia.

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder was quoted in the news story as saying that “Virginia is the No. 1 source for handguns on the East Coast, and we must stop the trafficking or become known as the ‘Grim Reaper State.'” The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia at the time was reported as saying that, “No other East Coast state has gun laws as lax as Virginia’s laws — not South Carolina, not Georgia, not Florida. Nobody. This has to stop!”

I was in the House of Delegates and supported Gov. Wilder in getting a one-gun-a-month purchasing limitation law passed in 1993. I have been in the House in the period since then and have watched in opposition as the gun supporters passed exemption after exemption to the limitation until in 2012 they repealed the law, with Gov. Robert McDonnell signing the bill to repeal it.

Last week, an Associated Press headline brought back the theme from 1992: “NYC cops thwart gun ring that exploited looser Virginia laws.” Twenty-four people, including 22 from Virginia, were charged in a 627-count indictment for trafficking guns bought in Virginia and sold in New York.

The traffickers were caught on wiretaps. One was quoted by New York authorities as saying, “There’s no limit to how many guns I can go buy from the store. I can go get 20 guns from the store tomorrow. I can do that Monday through Friday. They might start looking at me, but in Virginia, our laws are so little, I can give guns away.”

As we work to build the image of the state to attract business and industry and to break free from an Old South reputation, events like last week bring back references of Virginia being the gun-running capital of the East Coast. The repeal of the one-gun-a-month law is but one example of a series of bills that have been introduced to weaken Virginia’s gun safety laws. There were other bills that nipped away at the few gun safety laws that remain. Fortunately in the last three years and again this year, we have had Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto these bills.

The influence of the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association and the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is enormous. With few exceptions, the members of the majority party fall in line to support or defeat bills as directed by the gun lobby. My background check bill supported by about three-fourths of voters and the governor cannot get past a subcommittee, where it is continually defeated on a straight party-line vote, four to one. Too bad we have not learned from history!

To better appreciate the debate that goes on about gun laws in Virginia, watch the gun bill debate video.

by RestonNow.com — March 10, 2017 at 12:30 pm 66 Comments

Park Free RTC protestThe following open letter by Aaron Gordon of the Reston Merchants Association is offered in response to the open letter penned by Boston Properties that appeared on Reston Now on March 3.

Dear Fellow Community Members,

Reston is a unique place. Besides living, working and playing here, we are a close-knit group, brought together by the desire to know each other and to be part of a distinct community. Boston Properties’ implementation of a paid parking system is tearing the fabric of who we are, how we choose to live and what we do within Reston.

For 26 years, we have enjoyed the ability to park in Reston Town Center, meet friends or be alone, go to work, walk around, shop (or not), dine and take advantage of the entertainment opportunities. The Town Center has been a formal and informal gathering place, a place that often costs nothing to use, but provides much enjoyment.

Sadly, Boston Properties’ decision to install paid parking has turned a once vibrant community into just another mall.

Boston Properties has given many excuses over the past year for its decision to institute paid parking. Excuses like parking convenience and combatting Metro commuters. Don’t let them fool you … the truth is there is only one reason to charge for parking — profit.

Ray Ritchie, Executive Vice President of Boston Properties, set out his case back in 2011, when in a shareholders call, he laid out just how much money the company would make by charging us for parking. Ritchie outlined that the paid parking plan would make Boston Properties $8 million per year and would be worth $130 million of additional value to the company.

On March 3, 2017, Boston Properties, in an open letter to the community published in Reston Now, stated that their three primary goals for activating paid parking include protecting parking rights for the RTC tenants and visitors, enhancing the parking experience of tenants, visitors and patron and augmenting revenues dedicated to reinvestment in the Reston community.

In the same letter, Boston Properties listed a series of reasons attempting to validate their paid parking program. We find many of these justifications to be inaccurate and offensive and underscores Boston Properties’ overreach.

Paid parking will help manage unwarranted commuter parking.
Commuter parking was never the issue. It is easily solvable by instituting 3-4 hours free parking and charging commuters. Also, Boston Properties lumps overnight and out-of-town parking into this category. This is different from commuter parking. Boston Properties’ paid parking plan is an overreach designed to add revenue for the company.

Boston Properties is committed to assisting retailers during this period.
There is not “regular communication” and “open and honest dialogue.” Rather, Boston Properties gives the same automated answer to everyone, which is to say that it will take months to analyze the situation and right now it is too early to formulate any conclusions.

Paid parking is not having the adverse impact that has been reported.
Why would merchants be so upset if their numbers were not down dramatically?

Boston Properties’ statement is not accurate. Of course paid parking and the onerous parking system has had, and is having, an adverse effect. Most of the retailers have indicated that paid parking has been a disaster for business and projected sales are down dramatically. We are losing long-time customers who may never return. If this continues, many merchants have indicated that they will not be in business long.

Each retailer chooses whether or where to validate parking.
We find it galling that Boston Properties is actually attempting to muddy the waters and place the parking fiasco on the merchants of Town Center!

Boston Properties, which already charges some of the highest rent in the area, now wants its merchants to pay them for validation as well. Validation is extremely costly for every merchant and not workable for stores whose standard items are low value like coffee, baked goods or ice cream. Many merchants simply don’t make enough revenue to pay additional fees for parking. Additionally, it is absurd to expect guests and shoppers to have to figure out which retailer participates in the validation program and where, if the store participates, they may park.

No retailers have closed as a result of paid parking.
Two stores, Origins and BGR Burger, have recently closed and one said that the new paid parking was the “nail in the coffin.” At least one other store has indicated that it will leave when its lease is up in a year. And, new merchants are already shying away from RTC due to the disastrous impact of paid parking.

Boston Properties has already made a number of changes based on customer feedback, including offering: free parking in garages on weekends, holidays and special event days; doubling the number of parking ambassadors, primarily at night to assist retail shoppers; installing additional onsite educational signage; adding a list of validating retailers to the ParkRTC app; regularly updating FAQs on the website.
There is much confusion about this. As it turns out, free parking does not include street parking. It was also not free on MLK Day. And “special event” means any day that Boston Properties deems special, usually an event they are running to benefit their brand.

The “parking ambassadors” are unfriendly and not helpful, and seem to be on hand mostly to warn you that you must pay. They are not knowledgeable about the system and generally can’t help guests figure it out.

Educational signage? The signage is not succinct and/or user-friendly. One customer — an astronaut! — was having trouble figuring it all out in a timely fashion, and complained to the proprietor of the store she was in.

Stop adding things to the app. Treat all retailers the same. Give everyone the same advantage in attracting shoppers. We want everyone to succeed.

As for updating the app, you can update it every day and people still won’t care. People want free and safe parking.

The ParkRTC app is secure to use, and most daily parkers are paying using the app.
The app gets a terrible 1 1/2 stars out of 5 on its reviews from the app store. Users say they don’t trust it, and many wonder why Boston Properties needs all this information about RTC patrons.

Boston Properties remains dedicated to nonprofit fundraising.
Yes, Boston Properties scheduled its last nonprofit fundraiser to coincide with the rally residents and merchants organized against paid parking at the same time on the same day. They did everything they could to limit the protest, including restricting the group from rallying on Reston Town Center property.

Boston Properties remains committed to this paid parking model which they believe meets the objective above.
The longer this situation goes on, and with no negotiating with Boston Properties, the more people will go elsewhere, the harder it will be to bring them back and the community as a whole will become less desirable.

Boston Properties will continue to support our community’s strategic plan.
If the plan is to destroy Reston Town Center, this is the path to take. If the plan is beyond making more revenue, providing conveniences, services, and a gathering place for people to live, work and play, Boston Properties must reconsider the parking program they have implemented.

Aaron Gordon
Reston Merchants Association
[email protected]
www.gofundme.com/reston-merchants-for-free-parking
www.facebook.com/restonunited/
www.facebook.com/RTCparkingfee/
twitter.com/hashtag/ParkFreeRTC?src=hash

by Del. Ken Plum — March 9, 2017 at 10:15 am 32 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The best way I can describe the 2017 session of the General Assembly is to call it a mixed bag. Some good work was done for sure, but if not for the governor’s veto pen, it would have been marred by some backward legislation. Most disappointing are the missed opportunities that were not addressed in the 46-day short session.

Although budget matters are supposed to be dealt with only in the long, even-year session, there are budget adjustments that creep into the short session as well. The good news is that the Assembly passed amendments to the biennium budget to bring it back into balance from a $1.2 billion shortfall in revenue. There were reductions, but the governor proposed and the Assembly agreed to keeping 3 percent salary increases for state employees who have been without a raise for many years. Funds were provided for the state share of a 2 percent raise for teachers. Additional funds were provided to deal with the critical needs in mental health care.

Four bills were passed to deal with the opioid epidemic. They established needle exchange programs, increased access to the overdose drug naloxone, increased services to infants exposed to opioids in utero, and strengthened opioid prescription policies. Five million dollars was appropriated for permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless because of mental illness. A bill to require insurance companies to cover a 12-month supply of prescription birth control also passed.

Of the bills I opposed, most will be vetoed by the governor. Not only did a committee in the House defeat my bill to require universal background checks for gun purchases, but it passed several bills to make access to guns easier. The Republicans do not have the supermajority that is needed to overturn the governor’s veto of these bills. Likewise, the governor is expected to veto a bill that would prevent localities from becoming “sanctuary” zones. He has already vetoed a bill that would have denied funding to Planned Parenthood, and the House was not able to override his veto.

Despite public support for establishing an independent system to draw legislative boundary lines, my bill and several others with that goal were defeated in a House committee. Bills that passed the Senate on this issue were defeated in the same House committee. The public support for legislation that would prevent legislators from being able to pick their own voters was as strong as I have seen on an issue in recent years.

Beware that a new law passed that creates a fine of $100 for failing to drive on the right side of the road. The intent of this new law is to prevent slow drivers from driving in the left lane. Legislation that would have created a bill of rights for college student loan borrowers did not pass.

by RestonNow.com — March 2, 2017 at 4:00 pm 0

St. Johns Wood apartmentsThis is an open letter submitted by residents of the North Point area, addressed to the Reston Planning & Zoning Committee, Reston Design Review Board, Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, Fairfax County Supervisors, and all affected community members. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

The undersigned residents of the North Point area of Reston seek your attention and assistance regarding anticipated changes to plans for redevelopment of the St. Johns Wood apartment complex.

The property is located at the intersection of Reston Parkway and Center Harbor Road. Please assure that Bozzuto Development Company Inc. (Bozzuto) provides all affected reviewing authorities and the public-at-large sufficient time and information to review the revised plans that the developer has indicated will be made.

The numerous submissions by Bozzuto for redevelopment of the property, seeking to convert 250 multi-family garden apartments in nine three-story buildings to 467 new apartments and 44 townhomes, have undergone many changes over several years. County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins currently advises on her website, “Bozzuto is in the process of revising their plan; therefore, the public hearing was deferred until May 25, 2017.” This postponement by County Planning follows deferral of review by the Reston Design Review Board in October 2016 and a statement of non-support for the Bozzuto application by the Reston Association in September 2016.

More recently, the Reston Planning & Zoning Committee calendared the review of a yet-to-be publically released revision of the developer’s redevelopment plans for St. Johns Wood. That meeting is scheduled for March 27.

Despite the rapidly approaching dates for Reston Planning & Zoning Committee review and the County Planning public hearing, to date Bozzuto has not provided the public with any information about changes to its application.

If the changes are not significant, it is unconscionable to withhold public scrutiny of this potentially neighborhood-altering project. If, as is suspected, the changes to the application are significant, it is even more imperative that the public be provided meaningful opportunity to examine and comment. This is particularly important given the troubling deficiencies cited by the Reston Design Review Board and the Reston Association.

The St. Johns Wood project will so greatly affect the quality of life, environment, safety and property values of the North Point area of Reston that the project must be reviewed in the most transparent manner possible. Please help!

Susan Barse

Stephen Canner

Mark Clyman

Patricia Lentz

John Mooney

Dabney Narvaez

Linda Platt

Jeanne Vasterling

by Del. Ken Plum — March 2, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The General Assembly has adjourned its annual session. In future columns, I will write about bills that survived the governor’s veto pen and those that did not.

In the final days of the session, we honored once again a then-young woman named Barbara Johns, who contributed so much to the history of Virginia. On Feb. 23, Gov. Terry McAuliffe dedicated the renovated former Richmond Hotel and now Office of the Attorney General as the Barbara Johns Building. Barbara is also honored on the grounds of the State Capitol with a statue of her, prominently part of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

Her story is a very meaningful one in the civil rights movement in Virginia, and her example of leadership is one that must be emulated today. Barbara attended Robert Russa Moton High School. While the white children in the community went to a brick school, her school was an overcrowded, dilapidated, tar-paper shanty. She was frustrated with the conditions of the facility. She dreamed of a school where the students did not have to keep their coats on all day to stay warm and where classes were not held in the auditorium.

In April 1951, before Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr.’s movements, 16-year-old Ms. Johns organized a strike at her school. She felt her idea to strike was divinely inspired and sought no outside validation for her actions. She was just a junior in high school when she met with several of her classmates to organize. On April 23, 1951, more than 450 Moton High School students walked out of their school and marched to the courthouse and to the homes of local school officials to protest the conditions of their school.

A few days into the strike, the students contacted the NAACP for legal counsel. Civil rights lawyers from the NAACP filed a lawsuit asking for full integration of the county’s public schools. The students who wished to file suit combined their names into a list, and Dorothy E. Davis, the daughter of a local farmer, was the first to add her name. One month later, the NAACP filed Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County in federal court. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court combined its ruling in the Davis case with four other similar cases to form the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that declared the segregation of public schools unconstitutional.

Although the Davis case did not result in the desegregation of Prince Edward County’s public schools — it took 10 years and 40 lawsuits to overcome Massive Resistance — Ms. John’s actions were vital for the future of civil rights movements.

In the words of Gov. McAuliffe, “Ms. Johns’ history is a lasting reminder to inspire men and women to fight for justice and equality and reminds us of the enormous impact one person can have when they fearlessly stand up for what they believe is right.”

Barbara Johns stood up to what she knew was wrong. Her example is one that those who ask “what can I do?” must follow today.

by RestonNow.com — February 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm 7 Comments

StoneTurn Community Forum - Terry MaynardThis is an op/ed submitted by Terry Maynard, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 committee. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins led off her newsletter this month with a two-page article on “misinformation” concerning the proposed Reston Tax Service District (TSD) for homeowners and businesses along the Dulles Corridor, the so-called Reston transit station areas. So far as we know, no one has provided misinformation on the road tax, including Reston 20/20.

What Reston 20/20 has done — and will continue to do — is highlight the vast quantity of vital information about the proposed Reston road tax that neither Supervisor Hudgins nor FCDOT have been willing to acknowledge because, of course, it undermines the validity of having such a tax. Let’s take a quick look.

First, the foundation argument for a Reston road tax is that there is a $350 million gap over the 40-year period of planned station area expansion — less than $9 million per year — in road funding that can absolutely only be filled by another singular tax on Restonians. Supervisor Hudgins doesn’t even mention the “funding gap” in her missive, almost certainly because she knows there isn’t one. The “funding gap” was created by FCDOT to justify creating an added County tax revenue stream (at the Board of Supervisors’ direction) solely on Restonians.

The so-called “funding gap” is the result of a series of FCDOT assumptions about transportation funding that are a fantasy, plain and simple. [This was addressed in an earlier op/ed.]

That’s all not mentioned, much less explained, in Supervisor Hudgins’ letter. And some things mentioned there are less than “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Some example, her letter states, “To accommodate traffic pattern changes, reduce congestion, move traffic efficiently, and provide convenient connections to transit stations, multi-modal transportation improvements were proposed.” That statement alone is loaded with fallacies.

  • Well, yes, multi-modal improvements were proposed in the revised Reston master plan, but the ongoing County transportation proposal addresses only street improvements. Nary a word about more buses, better bike access, improved pedestrian movements, etc. In fact, to the contrary, FCDOT Chief Biesiadny has stated on multiple occasions that no added bus service is required, just a re-jiggering of current routes. Yet, the plan calls for 76,000 new residents and 41,000 new jobs; a total potential of 211,000 people living and working in Reston’s station areas. But no new bus service is needed? Preposterous! And you know that the proposed Reston station area tax will be increased to finance that obviously needed new bus service.
  • And, no, the planned street improvements will neither “reduce congestion” nor “move traffic efficiently.” To the contrary, by County policy intent, the goal is to increase congestion by lowering the acceptable level of service for traffic under the County’s new “urban standard.” Yes, you can expect to wait at least an extra half-minute or more at every already gridlocked intersection in Reston’s station areas as this “urban standard” is implemented.

In fact, proceeds from the County’s Reston road tax proposal will be primarily used (87 percent) to finance the construction of the so-called “grid of streets.” This grid is not being built to “reduce congestion” or “move traffic efficiently”; it being built to improve the profitability of the development of the adjoining properties. In fact, the specific grid streets to be financed by Restonians road tax are primarily those streets at the east and west periphery of the station areas, areas that could not be profitably developed without a public tax subsidy. From your pocket to developer profits.

Moreover, the fact that these streets will be built and the areas developed will mean more, not less congestion, in the station areas. For what it’s worth, not even the developers in Tysons are having the “grid of streets” subsidized by taxes on residents; they will be building all of them there out of their own pockets. Yet somehow Supervisor Hudgins and FCDOT don’t mention any of this. No need to fully inform Restonians, they must think.

And two bits of seeming relative good news in Supervisor Hudgins’ commentary are less than they appear.

  • First, there is the seemingly low impact of the $.021/$100 valuation impact of the proposed TSD tax on station area homeowners’ tax bill, for example, $105 per year on a half-million dollar property. Sounds OK, but it fails to acknowledge: The tax is based on 2016 dollars and will triple over 40 years at three percent inflation, totally ignores any property appreciation above inflation, fails to mention that the Board can raise the tax rate at any time — as it has already done on a similar tax in Tysons, and assumes construction costs will not exceed inflation. So, no, it will cost much more than Supervisor Hudgins’ letter says.
  • Second, Supervisor Hudgins states that there is a new “sunset” provision in the proposed tax without specifying the details. The implication is that the road tax would be used only for construction, not the indefinite maintenance of the streets and intersections. That’s a positive change, but — like the tax rate and adding needed bus service — can be undone by the Board with a simple vote anytime in the future.

So “cui bono?” Who benefits?  By our estimate based on an analysis of Boston Properties’ annual report, developers in Reston’s station areas stand to earn $45 billion over the next four decades in 2016 dollars, roughly double that in future dollars, from fulfilling the Reston master plan. And, as stated above, the County stands to receive $11 billion in property tax revenues at current tax rates in 2016 dollars over the same period.

And station area residents? They get a larger property tax bill every year and increased congestion.

What could be wrong with that?

As the late radio commentator Paul Harvey (for those of you old enough to recall) would say, “And now you know the rest of the story.” So you can accept Supervisor Hudgins’ Tetra-esque one-sided sales promotion or you can consider the proposed Reston road tax in the context of this more complete picture. If you believe, as we do, that the TSD road tax is little more than a fraud, please do any or all of the following:

  • Join the more than 200 others who have signed Reston 20/20’s petition to stop the Reston TSD tax which we will submit to Chairman Bulova and the Board of Supervisors before the upcoming public hearing on the Reston road tax proposal.
  • Share with Supervisor Hudgins your concerns about the proposed Reston road tax by any means you choose — email, telephone, letter, social media, whatever.
  • Take the time to attend and even testify at the public hearing at the Government Center on Feb. 28.

There is no good reason that Reston station area homeowners, current or future, should subsidize developer profits or bolster County coffers for basic public infrastructure requirements. Next they will be taxed for schools, parks and more. Tell Supervisor Hudgins and the Board of Supervisors you oppose this misguided and ill-conceived Reston TSD road tax proposal.

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair

Reston 20/20 Committee

by Del. Ken Plum — February 23, 2017 at 10:15 am 16 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

In a previous column, I addressed in part the question I get from more and more constituents about what they can do to be more active in public service. Their concern, of course, comes from the outcome of the presidential election and the unbelievable events that have occurred since that time.

Adding to that December column, in which I highly recommended membership in the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center and involvement in the gubernatorial election of 2017 in Virginia, I have decided to further facilitate individuals seeking to find a place in which they could become involved in civic affairs.

I am sponsoring an event at Langston Hughes Middle School on Saturday, March 11, from 9:30 a.m.-noon. “What Can I Do? A Civic Engagement Workshop” is designed to bring people who want to be more active in their community and in civic matters at all levels of government together with individuals and organizations that can provide opportunities, direction and assistance in becoming an activist, advocate and participant in their community.

There will be no formal program or speeches. Rather, representatives of at least 15 different organizations who are known for their civic involvement will be there to answer questions and give advice on how persons can get involved. It will not be necessary for participants to attend the entire time. No registration is required. Attendees can “shop” from among the organizations represented to explore their interests and get to know the representatives who themselves are already actively involved in the community.

Issues and interest areas to be represented include voting, redistricting, elections, immigration, political campaigning, women’s rights, poverty, gun violence prevention and others. Groups from both political parties have been invited, as the event is nonpartisan. Participants include the AAUW, Centreville Immigration Forum, Community Matters, Cornerstones, Emerge Virginia, Equality Virginia, Giving Circle of HOPE, Herndon Reston Indivisible, League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, Moms Demand Action, NAACP of Fairfax County, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Reston-Dulles Section of National Council of Negro Women, New Virginia Majority, OneVirginia2021, Reston Environmental Action and SALT.

I share the concern and fears expressed by many people about the future direction of our country. I am greatly disturbed about the negative impact that evolving events are having on my neighbors, our children and grandchildren; our form of government; and the culture of inclusiveness we have spent centuries building. It is time for the people to take back their government with a strong and informed voice.

To the extent to which the workshop contributes to empowering more people to become involved in their government, I feel it will be a success. Plan to participate and invite your neighbors and friends to come as well.

by RestonNow.com — February 17, 2017 at 11:30 am 35 Comments

Fairfax County logoThis is an op/ed submitted by Mary Nell Clark, a Reston resident and a South Lakes High School mother. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

The Fairfax County Executive’s new budget removes funding for youth with intellectual disabilities leaving Fairfax County Public Schools in 2017.

The people of Fairfax County are not that uncaring. You are not that selfish. I know because I have seen how amazing you are. But the County’s budget introduced Tuesday cut all funding for the youth with intellectual disabilities who will be leaving the school system this year.

The state has a program called the Medicaid Waiver, which provides support to Virginia individuals with developmental disabilities, enabling them to live and thrive in our community. But there are over 11,000 Virginians on the wait list for those services. My daughter, Beth, who has Down syndrome, has been on that wait list for years.

Because Fairfax County is a caring community, for years and years the Board has chosen to provide some support to those waiting for the waiver so that they can continue to be active after leaving FCPS. Each year, a new group of students graduates, and the county has realized that FCPS has invested and believed in them and we shouldn’t now abandon them to the sofa. The County has provided some support so these young people can continue to stay active, safe and, hopefully, find employment in the community.

This year, my daughter Beth leaves FCPS. Tuesday, we were heartsick to be told the County Executive did not think she or her graduating classmates were important enough to make the budget. But I know this is not true of our community.

Beth was born here and has always lived here. She was included in Terraset Elementary, Langston Hughes Middle, and South Lakes High School — with the support of amazing teachers and classmates. She was in a Reston Girl Scout Troop for over 10 years, earning her Gold Award — with the support of leaders and community members. She was on the SLHS Swim Team for four years and the Glade Gators for 13 through the support of cheering coaches, parents and friends. She was a part of a wonderfully inclusive SLHS Choral Program with Ms. G, and Dance Program with Ms. Girdy. She was “Defying Gravity” as she danced at Broadway Night. She was twice SLHS Homecoming Princess.

All along the way, the Reston community has supported her. She could have done none of it alone.

So I know that Fairfax County is a caring community. Can you please let the County Executive Ed Long (703-324-2531) know that we are? More importantly, please let the Board of Supervisors know that the budget must include support for these young adults as it has in the past.

Beth has spoken to Supervisor Cathy Hudgins. We know that she cares. Let her and the other supervisors know that we value these young people with intellectual disabilities and will support them.

Mary Nell Clark

by Del. Ken Plum — February 16, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photo

Although the “short sessions” of the General Assembly held on the odd-numbered years are about two weeks less in length than the regular session in the even-numbered years because they do not consider a biennium budget, the fact is that the budget is adjusted at every session of the General Assembly.

Revenue projections that are made over a couple of years’ time frame almost always need to be adjusted. Revenues come over or under projections, necessitating corresponding changes to the budget. Recession-level declines like that in 2008 required severe budget reductions. The economic recovery has been slower than in the past, resulting in some tweaking being needed every year. The Commonwealth operates on a balanced budget with funds going into a rainy day fund when economic growth is strong, and the fund being used to smooth out declines from loss of revenue.

The House and Senate approved different versions of a revised budget for the next fiscal year without prolonged debate, which has been a part of these deliberations for many years. The governor presented a revised budget that brought the next year into balance and funded some high-priority items, upon which there was bipartisan agreement. Differences do remain that will be ironed out by a conference committee over the remaining weeks of the session.

Highlights of the budget include important new funding for mental health services. Although the needs in mental health have been recognized for a long time, it took advocates many years and the suicide of a senator’s son to finally get agreement on funding critically needed services. An important aspect of the new services will be to get mentally ill persons out of jails, where they have found themselves in recent years when they acted out and there was no other place for them to go.

State employees will finally be getting a raise after many years of waiting. The situation has become increasingly desperate with a high turnover rate. Teachers who are employed by local school boards will not be getting a direct appropriation for a raise from the state, but hopefully the modest increase to localities can be used in part to fund teacher pay raises that are likewise long overdue.

Although the action in the short session on the budget will get us through the next fiscal year, there are long-term structural issues that remain — particularly in funding education. While the division between state and local funding had historically been 60 to 40 percent, the actual division in recent years has been closer to 40 percent state and 60 percent local. The result has been that increasing costs have fallen on local property taxpayers.

Virginians like to brag about their low per capita state taxes at $2,275, 36th-lowest among the states. Sometimes overlooked is the fact that per capita local taxes in Virginia are $1,928, or 15th-highest among the states. We are going to balance the budget for the short run this session, but we need to do a lot more work about more fairly balancing the budget for the long term.

by RestonNow.com — February 15, 2017 at 11:30 am 33 Comments

Lake Newport Pool/Credit: Mike CollinsThis is an op/ed submitted by Adam Huftalen, a Reston resident. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

As we do each year, my wife and I paid our Reston Association assessment this week.

Typically, after we’ve paid our dues, we reflexively take the opportunity to purchase our annual pool and tennis passes — our family’s favorite RA benefit. This year, however, we were taken aback by an unsettling new RA requirement that would-be pool-goers provide RA with digital photos of each family member, including children, to be stored in an RA database. The logic, as I learned after a call to RA, is that the database would allow RA employees to retrieve photos on demand to visually verify paid-up pool and tennis users.

RA exercises considerable authority to impose on its members in the name of cluster design uniformity or infrastructural upgrading, and does so often at great expense and questionable necessity. This new imposition, however, is akin to an inverse Reston Association photo ID. It is an unnecessary, perturbing and frankly outrageous invasion of personal privacy.

Events of the past year have unequivocally illustrated that we live in an era of digital uncertainty, one in which we struggle with vexing issues like hacking and identity theft. Sadly, no amount of precautionary behavior can be air-tight. But for those of us who go out of our way to protect our privacy online, this needless invitation of additional risk, especially for children, is unconscionable.

Some may argue that thousands of RA members already willingly provide digital images of themselves either on social media or for health club memberships. But to suggest that RA’s new requirement is analogous to making a personal choice about posting on Facebook or joining a gym is mistaken.

For one thing, choosing to post on social media or join a gym with a photo requirement is just that, a choice. RA members have no choice to pay their annual assessment, lest a lien be placed on their property. While voluntarily purchasing the additional pool passes is also a choice, suggesting that this is the same as the scenarios above also misses the point.

Aquatics and tennis represent roughly 13 percent of RA’s total expenses. Since a portion of each RA member’s required annual assessment is used to maintain pools and tennis courts, RA members make compulsory, not just voluntary, payments for their pools and tennis courts. Because of these compulsory payments alone, we deserve access to those facilities. The additional user fee for passes is reasonable, but making access to passes contingent on providing RA with a digital photo of one’s children is an unreasonable and startling invasion of privacy.

I can certainly appreciate the desire for RA to ensure that only those who have purchased a pool pass can use Reston’s pools, but surely there must be a better way of achieving that without invading the privacy of children. One alternative could be to require adult pool and tennis users to present a picture ID, such as a driver’s license, when signing into use those facilities. Under the circumstances, it’s unclear how such a simple solution could have been cast aside before moving forward as proposed.

Moreover, one need only consider the trouble with which multinational corporations and even the United States Government (each with far deeper pockets than RA) have struggled to secure customer or employee personal information to become anxious about RA’s ability to secure similar information. And this says nothing of the questionable cost involved with equipping seasonal employees with the technology necessary to access the proposed photo database; a cost that will no doubt be borne by assessment-paying RA members in 2018.

Plainly speaking, I consider this proposal to be a deeply disturbing invasion of privacy. I not only question the wisdom and judgment of requiring children’s photos to be placed in a RA database for the purposes of using a community pool, but also the legal authority with which RA could pursue such a requirement. One must wonder if the RA Board has considered the risk and likely consequences of a security breach.

Each year, my family proudly pays our RA assessment knowing that we generally get an excellent return on investment for the money we contribute. Unfortunately, this ill-conceived new requirement places an unwelcome invasion of privacy between my family and our desire to take advantage of RA’s most attractive member benefit: its pools and tennis courts. Worse still, it exhibits a clear and unacceptable disregard for personal privacy on the part of the RA Board.

I strongly encourage the Board to reconsider this new rule before the 2017 pool season begins.

Adam Huftalen

Reston, VA

by Del. Ken Plum — February 9, 2017 at 10:15 am 9 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photo

Most people can remember the flowchart from high school civics class that graphically showed how a bill becomes a law.

According to the chart, a legislator gets an idea for a bill that is drafted, introduced into one house of the Legislature where it is heard by a committee, sent to the floor for a vote if approved, and sent on to the other house for the same routine. Generally, that is what happens in the best of circumstances, but reality is much more complicated.

I can best make my point about what really happens in too many cases by reviewing the erratic course of a couple of bills in this session of the Virginia General Assembly that will not become law.

There is an increasing realization that many legislatures — including the General Assembly in Virginia — are not as responsive to public opinion as would be expected from democratically elected bodies, because of the way that legislative boundaries are drawn. An intense campaign by an organization named OneVirginia2021 has made many people aware that under the current system of having the Legislature drawing its own district boundaries, legislators are picking their voters rather than voters picking their representatives.

By comparing voting histories with census numbers, district boundaries can be drawn that are safe for incumbent legislators. The likelihood of incumbents being defeated is so slight that they go unchallenged. I have been working on this issue throughout my political career and once again introduced legislation to establish an independent legislative redistricting commission. My bill was sent to the Privileges and Elections Committee, where it was assigned to a subcommittee. The subcommittee allowed me and others with similar bills to make presentations with comments from the public.

A survey of my district indicates that about 80 percent of my constituents support a nonpartisan approach to drawing district lines. Other legislators introduced bills to accomplish the same result. My bill and all the others were swept together in one motion and defeated by a vote of four to one. On this important issue, four legislators made the decision for the entire 140 members of the General Assembly.

This is not an unusual situation. My bill that would have required universal background checks for gun purchases had the support of the governor and 90 percent of my constituents. It was sent to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee and then to a subcommittee of five legislators, four of whom have an A+ rating by the National Rifle Association. There was little surprise when my bill and all the other common-sense gun safety measures were defeated by a vote of four to one.

Under the Rules of the House, the Speaker of the House makes all committee assignments. Rather than a balance of points of views, the committee membership is stacked to reflect his position of the majority party. The Speaker also decides which committee will consider which bills. The rigged committee membership makes it easy to explain how a bill does not become a law in Virginia.

by RestonNow.com — February 3, 2017 at 10:15 am 9 Comments

Ed Abbott addresses RA board - Jan. 26, 2017This is an op-ed submitted by Ed Abbott, co-coordinator of Reston Recall. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Reston Association still lacks a Code of Ethics, but we know a conflict of interest when we see one.

Eve Thompson, Director At-Large, and her husband, Rick, own the Lake Anne Coffee House as well as their condo at Lake Anne. Her husband, Rick, heads the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association (LARCA), which represents the owners of commercial and private properties in Lake Anne.

One of many items on a very crowded agenda at the last board meeting was a discussion of improvements to the Lake Anne docks, above and beyond the necessary repairs that are already in the budget. Mr. Thompson explained the project to the board with a very nice slideshow. He showed the board the location of the new docks and what a nice improvement they would make to the ambience of Lake Anne.

Unfortunately, neither Mr. Thompson nor Ms. Thompson, nor anyone else for that matter, volunteered the information that the presenter was the spouse of Director Eve Thompson. Nor did the Board discuss the possible conflict of interest inherent in having the husband of a board member present before the board as president of a condominium association seeking to get the RA to spend RA members’ money on a new capital spending project that would primarily benefit the property owners and businesses of Lake Anne.

A motion was introduced to hold a public hearing related to the proposed capital improvements of the docks. When Eve Thompson started to speak in favor of the motion, Director Lucinda Shannon raised the issue of Ms. Thompson’s conflict of interest. Ms. Thompson retorted that her ownership of a condo and a coffee house at Lake Anne were not conflicts.

So what are the obligations of directors when it comes to conflicts of interest (COI)? First and foremost, the COI statement must be complete and accurate, signed under penalty of being removed from the board. What does Ms. Thompson disclose about her potential conflicts? Not a whole lot. Her ownership of the Lake Anne Coffee House isn’t included. Nor is her husband’s connection to the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association.

Just to be clear, the statement requires that “all assets… located in Reston or involved in Reston-based activities” be listed. Ms. Thompson’s statement was incomplete and inaccurate when she signed it in April 2015, and it is still incomplete and inaccurate.

Since most directors are property owners in Reston, potential conflicts of interest are inevitable when the board conducts business. The right way for the RA board to handle these issues would be for a director to disclose a potential conflict up front, before the discussion starts. The other members of the board and/or counsel can then decide if it is appropriate for the director to participate or if she should recuse herself.

The worst way for a board to conduct business is for the director to fail to disclose a potential conflict and then disagree about it when called on it by another director.

If the board is so lackadaisical in enforcing its own COI rules, what other conflicts and self-dealing has occurred or is occurring? The Tetra property purchase comes to mind. This may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We may never know unless we change the membership of the board.

by Del. Ken Plum — February 2, 2017 at 10:15 am 13 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThe 2017 session of the General Assembly, that got underway on Jan. 11, is barreling ahead toward its midpoint of Feb. 7.

At that midpoint, referred to as “crossover,” the House of Delegates and the State Senate must have completed action on bills that were introduced in their own chamber and start to work on bills from the other chamber. In order for a bill to become law, it must pass both houses exactly alike before being sent to the governor for his signature.

Already, about half of the bills that were introduced will have been defeated. See how your favorite bill is faring by going to http://lis.virginia.gov/lis.htm.

If the bill you felt most important to pass has been defeated, there really is no hope that it can be revived unless there was a companion bill that survived the other house of the Legislature. For bills you really oppose that passed their house of introduction, it is time to get to work lobbying members of the other house. Keep in mind that all the work of the Assembly for this annual session will be finished by about Feb. 24.

Some generalizations that can be made about the session to date, subject to shifting winds in the next few weeks, follow. There is a commitment to giving state employees a raise especially for State Police where turnover has become excessive with the low rate of pay. Providing the state share of funding for teachers who are local employees remains in doubt except that additional funding to schools is likely in a small amount. Funding for expanded mental health services that the Governor and a legislative study group recommended is likely. The need in this area is very serious.

The Republican majority that has a history of supporting less government but obtrusive laws into people’s private lives defeated an anti-LGBT bill much like the one that passed in North Carolina. The bill they passed last year was vetoed by the governor. There are bound to be more restrictive laws on women’s reproductive decisions passed, but Gov. McAuliffe has pledged to veto such bills. The appetite to expand access to guns seems insatiable. Numerous bills to expand access to concealed weapons and the defeat of bills that promote gun safety continues unabated. My bill to expand criminal background checks for all gun purchases was defeated in sub-committee.

Redrawing legislative district boundaries after the next federal census is of increasing concern to citizens who want voters picking their representatives not legislators picking their voters with most elections consisting of uncontested incumbents. My bill to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission was defeated. A bill to define the process as being non-political may sound good, but it is unlikely to have any effect without the process being taken over by a truly non-partisan group.

Bills that are common sense to me and to most of the constituents with whom I talk like banning the use of cellphones while driving continue to fail in the Legislature. Much more to come after the half.

If you have a position on an issue before the Legislature, email me at [email protected].

Each year, I survey constituents on issues of concern to them and on issues that are likely to be considered by the General Assembly. Your views are important to me. Please take a few minutes to respond to the survey that can be found at www.kenplum.com.

by Del. Ken Plum — January 26, 2017 at 10:15 am 8 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoLegislatures are about the serious work of governance even though they are often the brunt of jokes and criticism. For every seemingly weird bill that is introduced, there is a legislator representing a segment of his or her constituency. Delegate Bob Marshall is one of the better known members of the House for the anti-LGBT, anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality bills he introduces. He was first elected in 1992 and reelected every two years since then. Clearly, he is representing the point of view of a significant enough segment of his constituents to remain in office. Likewise, I believe I am representing my constituents in voting against his bills.

The diversity of Virginia is reflected in the representatives that are sent to the Legislature. But the state is changing. Look at any of the maps that show by red and blue the outcome of statewide elections. The cities and suburbs are most often blue with a huge segment of the map being red to reflect the more conservative voters in the rural areas. Even this generalization is not always true as more of the state has turned blue in recent years. Party organization and discipline work to hold onto or gain power. The artificial forces of gerrymandering slow changes in partisan control of the legislature in spite of strong citizen interest in changing the gerrymandering or gerryrigging process of drawing district boundaries. My bill to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission was defeated once again this session.

New people moving into a legislative district can change the political complexion of a district, leading voters to ask whether the incumbent continues to represent their points of view. Such shifts in population can lead to a rare electoral defeat of an incumbent or an early voluntary retirement of a member. While the legislative agenda of a given member may seem to be too extreme in whatever direction, that member is representing a constituency. For the Commonwealth to move in a desired direction it may be necessary to “throw the bums out,” or there may be the need to better inform and educate the general public. I make it a point to try and inform my constituents as much as possible on issues and on resources they can use to learn more themselves. As far out as some legislative proposals you hear about may seem to be, they are important to someone. The challenge for the Legislature is to determine the public good among the diverse opinions and to govern in a way that is open and inclusive to all. When the Legislature is captured by extremists, the outcome will not be the best for citizens.

This weekly column will not be able to report the outcome of all or even a fraction of the bills being considered in this session of the General Assembly. News media will help, but to keep up in a comprehensive way go often to this website. You will come to appreciate the diversity of the Legislature even more. I would be pleased to hear your views on any issues; write to me at [email protected].

Each year I survey constituents on issues of concern to them and on issues that are likely to be considered by the General Assembly. Your views are important to me. Please take a few minutes to respond to the survey that can be found at www.kenplum.com.

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