Several weeks ago, at the invitation of their leader, I spoke to a group of Boy Scouts about government and the responsibilities of citizenship. Talking with me helped the Scouts meet one of their requirements for a merit badge.
One of the Scouts asked me about the most important legislation I had ever gotten passed. I told him about multiple issues on which I had worked, but I focused on one that I thought he might know little about but would show the range of issues with which legislators deal. I told him about my work to expand infant screening in the Commonwealth.
Prior to my election to office, I served on the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board. A member of that Board whose adult son was a resident at the Northern Virginia Training Center told me of the great hope there was in detecting health issues in infants at the time of their birth with blood screening. At the time Virginia had only three tests, one of which was PKU testing. I remembered our conversation after I was elected, and I got new tests added as scientists developed them.
Metabolic disorders that can be discovered from a pinprick of an infant’s heel can generate early and sometimes simple treatments that can lead to a healthy child and adult. Without treatment, numerous medical conditions can develop including severe developmental delays and chronic illnesses. Metabolic disorders affect the chemical processes in your body that must work together correctly for you to stay healthy.
I was honored to work on legislation that added most of the 30 tests that are done in Virginia on that same spot of blood from an infant to detect these disorders. Last week, I was reminded of the experience that I had working with Dr. Barry Wolf of the then-Medical College of Virginia, who had discovered that the disorder in which the body is unable to recycle the vitamin biotin can lead to developmental delays in children, hearing and vision loss, breathing problems, and problems with balance and movement. When discovered early such as through a screening test, the disorder can be treated with nutritional supplements that can result in a normal life for the person.
With Dr. Wolf’s research and my legislative proposal, in 1984 Virginia became the first state in this country to begin infant screening for biotinidase deficiency. Since that time, every state and many foreign countries have started the screening. The March of Dimes recognized us for that accomplishment.
The reminder of this story came from a local doctor in Reston who was a medical student at MCV at the time and knew of Dr. Wolf’s research and my bill. She wrote to us both, telling us of a teenage patient she had just met who at birth had been found to have the deficiency but, with treatment, was living a normal life. She wrote to both of us that “because of researchers like you and advocates like you… our world is made a little better for all, and lives are saved for some precious few. That’s something to be proud of.”
I hope the Boy Scouts understood why I consider the work on infant screening to be among the most important I have done.
Our County Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Sharon Bulova, is in the process of overbuilding and underserving residents in Reston and across the county. The result will be the eroding livability of Reston and other county areas facing urbanization.
And this is being accomplished by a simple arithmetical trick: Overstating the amount of space new housing and office space require to accommodate residents and workers. Very simply, county planners continue to overstate the space needed for office workers as 300 gross square feet (GSF) per worker when studies globally over nearly a decade show it is now under 200 GSF/worker and could be headed to 150 GSF/worker.
At the same time, as it started to plan for Tysons’ redevelopment nearly a decade ago, the County raised its planning assumption for the size of station area dwelling units (DUs) from 1,000 GSF/DU to 1,200 GSF/DU. Nonetheless, a County planning study for Tysons showed then (2007) that the average size of Tysons residents was 1,100 GSF, mostly in garden apartments before the recent advent of massive high-rise residential development there. Now, the average high-rise DU size is shrinking well below 1,000 GSF/DU, more than offsetting the few mid-rise and single-family attached DUs in station areas, as some recent Reston development proposals show:
- JBG/Wiehle and partners plan for 1,300-1,500 residential units in 1.2 million GSF of development in two 5-story buildings, or 800-925 GSF/DU;
- Golf Course Plaza proposes 413 DUs in a 392,600 GSF multi-family building or 950 GSF/DU, also in 5-story structures;
- Faraday’s proposes redeveloping the area just south of Wiehle Station with up to 500 apartments in two buildings with about 487,000 GSF of residential space that will reach about 975 GSF/DU according to its plan submission.
- Lerner Enterprises is planning a 457-“luxury apartment” complex called Excelsior Park with average unit size at about 1,050 GSF in 423,587 rentable square feet (RBA), which equates to 481,350 GSF.
That’s nearly 3,000 DUs, including luxury apartments, whose average GSF is about 925 GSF/DU — nowhere near the County’s assumed size of 1,200 GSF/DU — and suggesting the number of future residents and DUs in Reston’s station areas will be nearly one-third greater than planned under existing allowable densities. This is consistent with national data: A study of apartment sizes over the last decade shows that their average size has shrunk — not expanded — from 1,015 square feet to 934 square feet.
The impact is straightforward: The resulting planned densities (total GSF of development divided by the square footage of the lot on which it sits) will allow half-again as many office workers and 28 percent more residential units than the County plan officially intends. Yet developers and the County are only planning to provide services — improved roads, schools and parks, and more — based on the lower count envisioned in the plan. The result will be reduced services and higher taxes.
So what does that mean for “real people?” Based on GSF information provided by FCDOT to the Supervisors serving as the Board Transportation Committee, the current Reston station area plan offers the potential for 76,280 added residents (at 2.0 residents/DU) and 29,059 added office worker jobs (at 300GSF/worker) in the next four decades.
If instead of using the County’s faulty planning assumptions, we use real world experience, we can anticipate that the allowable development could result in an addition of 101,492 total residents in 50,746 DUs and 78,559 office workers, including retrofitted office buildings, market conditions permitting. More specifically, it suggests an order of magnitude explosion in residents (11,720 in 2010 vs. 113,212 then) and more than twice as many office employees (69,941 in 2010 vs. 148,500 then) in Reston’s station areas. Overall, Reston can expect twice as many people living and working in the station areas as is anticipated by the Reston plan.
Virginia has the distinction of having had the first mental health hospital in the country, although it was called an insane asylum, which more correctly described the work it did.
From colonial days to the present, the role of the state in providing treatment and services for those with mental illness has been widely debated, filled with different theories and approaches, and always critically underfunded. It took a massacre of students at Virginia Tech and a state senator’s son attacking his father with a butcher knife, then shooting himself, to bring a higher level of urgency and seriousness to the discussion. A commission has been meeting the past couple of years and will continue to meet for at least a couple more to develop recommendations on what the state should do.
In the meantime, some hopeful progress is being made. After the Virginia Tech shootings, state appropriations for mental health programs were increased dramatically, only to be reduced again after the onset of the recession. Funding for programs for those with mental illness has been slowly increasing again but still does not come close to the levels requested by professionals in the field. Additional funding was provided in the most recent General Assembly session to allow for transitional housing. Statewide, there has been more clarification of the role of the Community Services Boards for the treatment of mental illness.
The practice of “streeting” persons, by putting them back on the street when there was no treatment option available to them, has largely been stopped. Emergency and temporary custody orders can be issued to ensure that those needing emergency care will receive it. Crisis treatment centers are being opened around the state.
We are blessed in Fairfax County that local government has for decades been offering mental health treatment and services well beyond that provided in most parts of the state. The most recent example is the Diversion First program, which just issued its first annual report. The program came about from the recognition that more than a quarter of the inmates in local jails have mental illness. They came into contact with law enforcement because of a behavior that needed treatment, not incarceration.
Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, the Fairfax County Police Department and the Community Services Board cooperatively put together a program that offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses. As stated in their annual report, the goal is to intercede whenever possible to provide assessment, treatment or needed support in an appropriate setting for those who struggle with mental illness, developmental delays or substance abuse, instead of jail being the default solution. In its first year of work, the program diverted 375 persons from jail into treatment programs. Both money and lives are saved with the shift of emphasis.
More about this important new service made possible by Fairfax County government officials working together is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/DiversionFirst.
Nearly two hours of the eight-and-a-half-hour reconvened session of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly were taken up last week by speeches from retiring members and acknowledgement speeches by others about their service and achievement.
The length of the tribute time was driven in large part by the fact that eight members, all of whom are Republicans, are retiring. Heading the list is the Speaker of the House, followed by a senior member who chairs the important Courts Committee. For some, like the Speaker, the longevity of service was a key factor. Others cited family and financial concerns. Another one or two may re-appear running for another office. Legislative service that is considered part-time with a low level of remuneration but takes full-time commitment always has some turnover, but the number this year is significant.
Another factor that may have influenced some decisions is the sense of changing political winds in the Commonwealth. Never in my years of service have I gotten as many phone calls, postcards and emails as I have this year. Traditional groups have gotten re-energized, and many new groups have formed. Activism is in the air.
For me, it has been reassuring. As a progressive, I feel less like I am speaking into the wind and more like there is a force of people behind me. For years I worked on the redistricting issue almost alone and now thousands of people are contacting their legislators asking that they support redistricting reform. The public has become keenly aware of the adverse impact that gerrymandering has had on the Legislature.
The signs of change were evident in the reconvened session last week. While the House of Delegates did not respond favorably to my plea that we approve an amendment by the Governor to expand Medicaid, there was discussion by majority party leaders in the House and Senate that a new group is going to be looking at how medical services can be expanded to the poorest in our state. I continue to be amazed at the argument that leaving $40 billion on the table in federal dollars could somehow be considered “fiscally responsible.”
The majority party may have felt somewhat humbled by the fact that the Legislature upheld 40 vetoes of bills by the Governor, extending the record of his administration to 111 with none being over-ridden. Of course, a two-thirds vote is required, but in the House only a couple of deflections by Democrats would have made an over-ride possible. The vetoes by Gov. Terry McAuliffe have kept Virginia out of the news with crazy legislation that has passed in other states.
Certainly there is also an eye to November, with 77 Democrats lining up to challenge 49 Republican incumbents. As that number is reduced by primaries and conventions, it leaves hotly contested races that could dramatically change who is in charge in the House, and/or the attitude of those left in charge. Democrats have challengers to incumbents in the 17 districts held by Republicans that were won by Hillary Clinton. For those who continue to ask what they can do, there is a clear sense emerging that much can be done this year to put Virginia on a more progressive track.
When Thomas Jefferson finished what he considered one of the most significant deeds of his lifetime in writing the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776, he returned home to Virginia and set about turning the ideals of the Declaration into steps that could lead to the formation of the first democratic republic.
Among his proposals was that a system of grammar schools be established throughout the state to be topped off by a grand university. He lived to see the University of Virginia become a reality, but his plan for a universal form of education for the masses did not come about in the Commonwealth until 1870 with a Reconstruction-era system of public schools.
The genius of Mr. Jefferson was the recognition that government by the people in a republic could be successful only to the degree that people were educated and that education could make them informed participants in the election of their representatives. Education is as important today, if not more so, as it was in the formation of the union. I am reminded of that fact daily.
The experiences of my early days as a classroom teacher remind me that there is a sharp difference between being schooled and being educated. The emphasis in recent times on the acquisition of facts with Standards of Learning and standardized testing fall short of the educated citizen that we need in today’s world. What facts could I have transmitted to my students that would stay with them to guide them through the rough waters of governance today? A few of course, but more important are the skills they may have learned by being social scientists, historians, and political scientists in my classroom and using the skills of those disciplines to understand and react to the world we face today.
Popular in the mid-1960s, when I was in the classroom, was the discovery approach to teaching the social studies made famous by Amherst College. There were few lectures in the classroom about what happened in history. Rather the students were taught to collect information, weigh evidence, identify points of view, question sources, draw conclusions and “discover” what went on in historic periods of history and why.
Those skills are more important today than ever. The ability to separate among news stories the fake news, alt-news, satire, points of view and evidence is increasingly vital. Hopefully there will come a time when more of those who make the news will be acting in an ethical and responsible manner, motivated to serve with the good of the whole in mind rather than simply personal gain.
With the increasing speed and number of sources of mass communications, skills of the social scientist are more important than ever. Thomas Jefferson was right — schools are critically important to democracy. Even more important is that the students coming out of school have the skills necessary to be functioning members of society that will preserve and strengthen our democratic republic.
This 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!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
This 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 this time, most Restonians are aware of the County transportation department’s (FCDOT’s) efforts to add an additional property tax on Metro station area residents to pay an estimated $350 million for improvements in their streets to accommodate developer growth. The entire 16-month-long process to get Restonians, particularly the Restonians selected by Supervisor Cathy Hudgins to serve on the so-called Reston Network Analysis Group (RNAG), to nod “yes” to yet another Reston tax has been filled with lies and deception well worthy of our new President’s world of “alternative facts.”
We have already detailed a key Reston road tax assumption that is obviously false (p. 5): That the County cannot divert tax revenues from existing or future uses to improve Reston’s urban intersections. The County won’t even address the fact that the diversion of less than $9 million of the more than $4 billion in annual General Fund tax revenues will pay for all the roads it proposes to improve under its cost assumptions. That’s just two-tenths of one percent from current tax revenues, well less than its mid-year budget adjustment. Instead, FCDOT simply refuses to acknowledge this reality.
But there are so many other intentional, incessantly repeated mis-statements, failures to recognize certain obvious truths, and just plain poor County analysis that comprise the entire “big lie” of the need for a Reston road tax. An obvious place to start is the other side of the road improvement cost equation: The grotesquely huge profits of developers and massively increased property tax revenues of the County because of the major development that will occur in Reston’s station areas over the next four decades. Not once has FCDOT acknowledged that reality, much less used it in any analysis of how street improvements could be paid for.
Based on Boston Properties per square foot 2015 profits from continuing operations nationwide, we estimate that filling out the Reston Master Plan over the next 40 years will generate more than $45 billion in profits in 2016 dollars for Reston’s station area developers. That’s more than one billion dollars per year on average — about double that with modest inflation — most of it from the operation of existing office and residential structures. Why can’t $9 million of that more than one billion per year — less than 1 percent — be devoted to improving Reston’s urban area streets?
At the same time, the value of property in the station areas will increase at least ten-fold from $6 billion to $60 billion, and possibly as much as $90 billion, with the growth in square footage and appreciation over the next four decades if the Reston Master Plan is fulfilled. That property value will generate over $11 billion in property taxes for the County without increasing the property tax rate or adding a new Reston road tax. Certainly the County can divert three percent of that massive Reston tax revenue flow to the improvement of Reston’s streets, but you haven’t heard a word about that possibility from the County. Not once.
The County clearly does not want to tie any of this huge increase in Reston tax revenues to expenditures in Reston. Reston is just a County tax “cash cow” — as it has been for decades — to be milked for County expenditures elsewhere.
In fact, FCDOT has gone so far as to create a roadway “funding gap” out of whole cloth that it values at $350 million. The gap is merely a foil based on faulty assumptions about the availability of road funds to generate a reason for an added Reston road tax. It has no basis in the reality of available of County, regional, state, or federal tax revenues for road improvement purposes. But if you don’t have a “gap,” no matter how phony, you can’t justify a new tax. So the County made one up.
Worse is the planned use of the Reston road tax funds. About 12 percent of it ($45 million) will be used to actually improve intersections on Reston’s through streets, the streets that are already clogged with rush hour traffic.
The other 87 percent ($305 million) or so will be used to flesh out the “grid of streets.” The purpose of the “grid of streets” is to create street fronts for commercial development. They have no purpose in improving traffic flow; in fact, to the contrary, the development that will accompany them will actually add to the traffic flow burden on nearby through streets such as Reston Parkway and Wiehle Avenue, Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Drive, used to access the rest of Reston, the Dulles Toll Road, and beyond.
Worse, almost all the streets that Reston’s road tax will be used to build are streets that would not be built in the absence of a Reston corporate welfare tax because of a lack of commercial demand. The streets financed by Restonians’ taxes will be at the extreme west and east ends of the station areas, near Centerville Road in Herndon and in the vicinity of the Reston Post office to the east. These locations are too far from any Metro station to be walkable and would not be developed at all unless paid for by the public, specifically Restonians’ tax dollars. In contrast, Tysons’ developers are paying for the entirety of the “grid of streets” there, even those well beyond walking distance to a Metro station. In short, developers will use Restonians’ corporate welfare to increase their profits with no traffic or other benefit to the community.
The entire County assertion of a need for a special Reston road tax, a so-called Tax Service District (TSD), on residents in Reston station areas is nothing more than a massive con built on fraudulent assumptions, half-baked analysis, ignored realities, and the gullibility of Restonians serving on RNAG (none of whom live in the areas to be taxed except an employee of Boston Properties), and even the Reston Association Board of Directors. In fact, the RA Board will be considering a resolution at its meeting this week to support the imposition of the Reston road tax on non-member areas of Reston so long as the rate remains constant at $.021/$100 valuation and the tax has a 40-year sundown provision. The Board of Supervisors will eliminate those proposed constraints with a dismissive wave of its hand if not at the outset, at the first sign that it might crimp its tax collection from Reston’s station areas.
It is time for Restonians, and the RA Board in particular, to quit being the sucker for County taxes imposed on Reston. We already pay an extra $.047/$100 valuation for the Reston Community Center (RCC) which is stealthily moving forward with a plan to build a large regional performing arts center in Town Center North, a mile from the nearest Metro station, and raising our RCC (STD#5) tax rate to pay for its construction and ensuing perpetual operating losses.
It is time for Reston to say not just “No,” but “Hell No” to more property taxes that go to subsidize commercial for profit ventures and county-wide spending initiatives. If a developer can’t pay a few extra dollars per year to cover the cost of the road in front of his property, they simply should not be in the development business in the highly lucrative Reston market. And if the County’s leaders can’t figure out how to do that, then they should be replaced by representatives who can. We, the people of Reston, should not be putting our money in developers’ pockets through added County taxes so they can make even more billions of dollars with no benefits for our community.
Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee