74°Partly Cloudy

by Del. Ken Plum — August 17, 2017 at 10:15 am 72 Comments

This 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 “Unite the Right” event that happened in Charlottesville this past weekend could have happened in any community in America, but apparently it was the discussion about removing a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park that led to the white supremacists, Nazi sympathizers, and hate mongers to converge on the city. To bring their message of hate from distant places to Charlottesville, where its University has a world-class law school that teaches the rule of law and where its most famous resident who penned the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom lived, created a startling contrast.

The photograph widely circulated on social media of the Tiki torch carrying thugs marching on the lawn of the University of Virginia with the Rotunda of the University in the background heightened that contrast of the ignorance of those involved in the march of our history and the rule of law and their shouts of “Heil Trump,” “white power,” and other racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic language. They demanded their rights to assemble and speak while waving Nazi flags. They wanted their rights as white persons with no recognition of the rights of anyone who might not look like them. They wanted to use their liberties as Americans to tear at the very fabric of what makes America great.

As the President of the University of Virginia Teresa Sullivan expressed in a letter to alumni, “The University supports the First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly. Acts of violence, however, are not protected by the First Amendment. Violence and bigotry are not political positions. We strongly condemn intimidating and abhorrent behavior intended to strike fear and sow division in our community.” Too bad the President of the United States did not speak so clearly about the event.

One Nazi sympathizer who seemingly could not control his hate for society as he knows it rammed the only weapon he had available, his car, into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring more than a dozen. Fortunately, none of the agitators fired the guns they were carrying, for certainly a bloodbath would have followed.

Where did these people come from? Apparently, from all over the country. It was a rally to unite right wing causes of white supremacists, alt-right and Nazi sympathizers. They apparently felt safe crawling out from the figurative rocks under which they live and parade in public with torches to spread their revolting messages of hatred. They did not just happen. When leadership at all levels of government support openly and forcefully the rule of law under which we live and there is a general understanding of our history, these people do not have many public displays of their beliefs. But when leaders from the highest levels of government give them a wink and a nod, they move out into the sunlight. They do not represent any of what makes America great. In contrast, their disgusting and vile behavior makes us appreciate the real meaning of freedom for all and should motivate us to fight against those who would seek to take our country down a road of bigotry and exclusion.

by Del. Ken Plum — August 10, 2017 at 10:15 am 17 Comments

This 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.

Never in my years in politics have I gotten as many questions from people as to what they can do to be more active in political affairs.

While the circumstances at the federal level that have given rise to this question are deplorable, there is a need to take advantage of this new or renewed interest on the part of citizens to get involved with their government. For folks who have been involved as volunteers in political campaigns or as advocates in issue-oriented organizations the lack of awareness and knowledge of the governmental processes on the part of their new helpers and associates is astonishing.

Even so, it is absolutely essential that the new interests be acknowledged and respected and activities and mentoring take place to ensure that the maximum number of people participate in civic affairs and upcoming elections. I was pleased that a civic engagement fair that I sponsored on a Saturday morning earlier this year attracted more than 300 attendees. The goal of the event was to match up organizations with potential volunteers and members. New movements like Indivisible have sprung up around the country, with the local Herndon-Reston Indivisible attracting as many as 400 attendees at one of its early meetings. The group has formed several very active interest groups.

Strong interest in more involvement in civic affairs is of course not limited to this region or state; it is national in scope. The most recent issue of the Council of State Governments publication, Capitol Ideas, has civic engagement as its theme. It looks at such concerns as “the key to repair trust in government” and “how technology reshaped civic engagement.” If one word was used to summarize the articles in this edition of the journal read by state government officials nationwide, it would be education. An article entitled “Civic Education: A Key to Trust” includes a harsh review of the way civics is taught in the public schools: “Unfortunately, the nation’s schools have been generally unhelpful in providing the kind of information that can teach their students how their governments actually work.” The result is that only 23 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above proficiency in civics, according to research by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2014.

Improving civic education in our schools is critical to expanding engagement in the future, but action needs to be taken to involve more adults right now. The most obvious place to start is with voter participation in elections. Among the 35 nations involved in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States ranked a shameful 31st in voter turnout. Laws need to be changed and increased emphasis needs to be given to removing barriers to voting and to getting people to the polls.

The recent influx of citizens interested in working for civic engagement can do a great deal to improve our political system — starting by encouraging others to vote on Election Day.

by RestonNow.com — July 31, 2017 at 1:30 pm 32 Comments

This 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.

Fairfax County’s development strategy of pursuing high-density residential development around Metro stations and other commercial centers (e.g. — Seven Corners, Lake Anne Village Center) will fail in its fundamental goal of generating large new tax revenues. This is due to the demonstrated fact that the cost of community services for residential services substantially exceeds the revenue it generates.

The need for massive new County tax revenues is driven primarily by the deteriorating fiduciary position of its four pension funds (civilian, police, uniformed, and education). At the beginning of the century, all four funds were essentially fully funded (97 percent to 102 percent), but they have deteriorated almost continuously since then. The FY2016 County annual financial report shows a $4.7 billion funding shortfall despite the quadrupling of County (and additional employee) contributions since 2000. That represents about a one-quarter shortfall in required funding across the four funds. This growing shortfall is why Moody’s issued a warning on the County’s AAA bond rating several years ago and the County made a commitment then to reach 90 percent funding by 2025. One obvious approach to addressing such a shortfall is to dramatically increase development that creates new taxable value. From Reston’s perspective, this has taken the form of two County zoning initiatives linked to the revised Reston Master Plan:

  • The passage last year of an amendment to the PDC/PRM (Planned Development Commercial/Planned Residential Mixed-Use) zoning ordinances to increase the allowable density from FAR 3.5 to FAR 5.0. From a Reston perspective, this primarily affects the Herndon-Monroe and Wiehle station areas as well as the southern half of Reston Town Center. The zoning ordinance also covers Commercial Revitalization Areas (CRAs), including Lake Anne Village Center. The two ordinances focus on commercial and residential mixed-use development respectively, and the residential-focused PRM would allow up to as many as 200 dwelling units per acre (DU/AC) at FAR 5.0. No place in the Washington metropolitan area has that much density.  
  • The recently proposed amendment to the Reston PRC (Planned Residential Community) which would increase the community-wide population density from 13 to 16 people per acre, about 21,000 people. More importantly, it places no limits (except Board discretion) on the number of DU/AC in “high density” development areas. This includes the Town Center north of the toll road and Ridge Heights to the south. Making the matter worse, the Reston plan was amended behind closed doors (not by the Reston planning task force) to eliminate any limits on high density multi-family development. Currently, the limit is 50 DU/AC.  

Aside from the many reasons Restonians do not want the intensity of residential development allowed in Reston, there is one vital reason for the County not to want to pursue this ultra high-density residential development strategy: The cost of community services (COCS) for residential development — especially high-density development — exceeds the tax revenues it generates. Residents require schools, streets and other transportation, parks and recreation, libraries, and much more. This is especially important in the ongoing dialogue about increasing residential density in Reston’s PRC zoned area.  

Research on this issue by the US Government, private sector, and academia is extensive and it virtually all comes to this same conclusion. All these studies highlight the importance of methodology, assumptions, other values than tax revenue in development decisions, etc., but none we have discovered suggest that residential development will ever generate a net gain in tax revenues for the County.   

Probably the benchmark study on COCS is an overview by the Farmland Information Center (FIC) of the American Farmland Trust in a public private partnership with the US Department of Agriculture last September. The overview records the results of analysis of the COCS by type of development in more than 150 communities, counties, etc., across dozens of states over more than two decades. The results of FIC’s studies show that, on average, for every dollar in tax revenues generated by tax revenues, the median residential development is a cost $1.16 in community services, a 16 percent loss. By contrast, commercial and industrial development costs $.30 in community services for every $1 generated in tax revenues, a better than three-fold tax revenue return for the County.

(more…)

by Del. Ken Plum — July 27, 2017 at 10:15 am 43 Comments

This 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.

Any report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is met with skepticism in some quarters, because these were the same people whose findings found that climate is changing and that human behavior is one of the causes.

The so-called “climate change deniers” continue to insist, regardless of the scientific evidence to the contrary, that humans are not to blame if there is any change in the climate. We can deny the latest report of the UCS, “When Rising Seas Hit Home,” at our own peril, especially in Virginia.

The scientists found that “important consequences of climate change are more subtle and slower moving than disasters. One such consequence is sea level rise. Unlike the catastrophic flooding that can accompany hurricanes, sea level rise impacts can take time to manifest. The final result, late this century and beyond, may be neighborhoods underwater.”

In a state like Virginia, with a major region named “Tidewater,” the impact can be especially great. UCS has identified three Virginia communities that will face chronic inundation by 2035, and 21 more by 2100. In the highest level scenario considered by the scientists, 38 communities would be exposed to chronic inundation by the end of the century. Visit the website to see a list of communities that will be hardest hit. Of little surprise is the finding that in the highest scenario, by 2080, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and the Naval Air Station would have up to a quarter of their land chronically flooded.

These findings should come as no surprise to Virginians. In 2015, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) completed a study on this issue at the request of the General Assembly. Its report, “Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia,” found that “recurrent flooding already impacts all localities in Virginia’s coastal zone and is predicted to worsen over reasonable planning horizons of 20 to 50 years due to sea level rise, land subsidence, and other factors.” The scientists wisely did not use the term “climate change,” which continues to be politically charged among some of Virginia’s political leaders.

Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded a grant to VIMS that, along with its match, will total $1.25 million to support “nature-based infrastructure” to help coastal Virginia counter and recover from flood events. Nature-based infrastructure includes tidal wetlands and living shorelines that can help to blunt and even absorb the effects of rising seas and recurrent flooding.

These efforts are important, but the UCS found even bolder policy changes and enhanced coordination among all levels of government must happen to protect our coastal areas. UCS concluded its report, “And even as the Trump administration seeks to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we must work at state and local levels and with other nations to cut global warming emissions aggressively in order to help slow the pace of sea level rise.” Maybe then we can keep our heads above water!

by Del. Ken Plum — July 20, 2017 at 11:15 am 12 Comments

This 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.

While there are a myriad of issues facing government, some advocacy groups are working on changes to the basic way government works as a fundamental means to respond to a host of issues. There are many such advocacy organizations; this column describes a few.

Probably most people would agree with the contention that “there is too much money in politics!” If the influence of big money could be removed from political campaigns and from the legislative process, we would have better government and many issues would be resolved. Every Voice is an organization addressing this issue. In its most recent survey of candidates running in Virginia elections the group introduced its survey by stating that “People of all political stripes believe politicians are influenced by their dependency on wealthy donors and therefore don’t always act in the public interest. This perception fuels cynicism and drives distrust of politicians and our government.” Every Voice goes on to point out that “Virginia is one of just a handful of states with absolutely no contribution limits on what wealthy and corporate donors can give to candidates running for office.”

At the same time, there are states like Maine, Arizona and Connecticut that have made reforms in campaign financing, providing candidates the opportunity to raise money for their campaigns through small donations and limited public funds if they agree not to accept big donations. I support such a movement in Virginia. While my political stance on issues has never attracted big donors, I would support a statutory limit on the size of donations, especially those from corporations. While this action is important for Virginia, it is even more critical at the federal level to limit corporate contributions in elections.

Another group working in Virginia to bring about systemic change to the way the government operates is OneVirginia2021 that focuses on legislative redistricting. Under the present system of drawing legislative district boundaries in Virginia and in most states, the organization contends legislators pick their voters rather than the voters picking their legislators. Known for years as “gerrymandering” as boundary lines are drawn around friendly voters to ensure the outcome of elections, OneVirginia2021 has adopted the term “gerryrigged” to describe the same activity. Their documentary by the same name explains the process and its impact on election outcomes and legislative activity (“GerryRIGGED“).

In the early 1980s, I worked with Common Cause, another organization that proposes basic changes to improve governance, on this issue and introduced the first bill in Virginia and one of the first in the nation to propose that an independent, non-partisan commission be given the responsibility of drawing legislative district lines after each federal census. OneVirginia2021 has done a remarkable job of informing citizens and of enlisting voter support for candidates who support independent and non-partisan redistricting.

Working on individual issues facing the government and society is very important. Equally as important is working on reforms that would make our government work better.

by Del. Ken Plum — July 13, 2017 at 10:15 am 11 Comments

This 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.

During the primary election season when both parties in Virginia were making their selection of a candidate for governor, one candidate who went on to get his party’s nomination proposed the clincher of a policy proposal to secure his success in the election: a billion-dollar tax cut!

For those who have been around the state for some time it may sound familiar; the successful car tax cutting proposal that elected a previous governor is still costing the state about a billion dollars each year. That cut was particularly ironic in that it had the state cutting a local tax by reimbursing the localities for taxpayers. It was great for Northern Virginians as less wealthy downstate taxpayers reimburse the wealthiest jurisdictions in a reverse “Robin Hood” plan.

Before voters jump at a promise of reduced taxes, I hope there will be a serious consideration of the consequences. Virginia prides itself on being a “balanced budget” state; its revenues cover its operational expenses. Borrowing is permitted under the State Constitution for capital projects when approved by voters unless the project raises enough revenue to pay for itself. All that is good with a major exception. At no time does the state quantify its needs in order to determine what the cost of government would be if the state met its responsibility in providing funding. Two examples are offered below to make my point.

The first example is the state’s refusal to fund education at the level it has in the past and that is required by the Constitution. A report by the Commonwealth Institute, “State Cuts Mean Fewer Staff and Resources for Virginia Students,” in April 2017 makes the point.

“Statewide, state support has fallen 11 percent per student since 2009 in real dollars. This has impacted the ability of schools to maintain staffing and facilities. Across the state, school divisions have about 2,800 fewer staff than they had in 2009, despite growing enrollment. If they had kept pace with enrollment growth, Virginia’s schools would have 10,400 more staff instructing students and making sure the schools run smoothly.”

The other example is in health care. The Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic in Wise County is well known having been featured on an edition of 60 Minutes. There, thousands of Virginians receive their health care for the year in a weekend clinic held on the local fair grounds. The federal Affordable Care Act did not help as the legislature would not take federal monies to expand Medicaid that would have helped these people in need. The state turned its back on nearly $5 billion paid into the federal system by Virginia taxpayers because it did not want to have anything to do with what it termed Obamacare. What has happened in the meantime? A second RAM weekend clinic has been opened in Lee County nearby to Wise in Southwest Virginia, and a new clinic has been started in Emporia in Greensville County in Southside Virginia.

We definitely need to balance our budget, but we need to balance it against our needs. How could we seriously propose to cut our income when there continues to be such extensive unmet needs in the Commonwealth?

by Del. Ken Plum — July 6, 2017 at 10:15 am 32 Comments

This 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.

Proposals are now before the Congress to change the Affordable Care Act. While there have been years of rhetoric on changing the plan that got dubbed “Obamacare,” changing it in a way that would continue to extend care to the most vulnerable people in our country has proven elusive. The proposals that have come forward look more like tax cuts for the very rich than health care for the very poor.

Recently, the Board of Medical Assistance Services that provides oversight for the various health care programs in Virginia wrote to Gov. Terry McAuliffe with their concerns about the new federal proposals. Their letter (available here) was very frank in its assessment.

The proposals before Congress they wrote “will inflict a serious cost burden to the Commonwealth, will expose Virginia taxpayers to an increased tax burden, will significantly harm Virginia’s Medicaid program, will derail important medical innovation, and will hobble Virginia’s ability to care for our citizens most in need.”

Most of the letter is devoted to the technical changes proposed in the new legislation that would reduce coverage to Virginia residents while increasing costs to the state. Most of the potential damage stems from the proposed shift to per capita block grant funding, but other technical changes will cost the Commonwealth citizens in services and in money. Using 2016 as a baseline would be especially costly to Virginia.

That provision alone would exclude the new Addiction Recovery and Treatment Services (ARTS) program designed to address Virginia’s opioid epidemic, declared a public health emergency by Virginia’s Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, MD, MPH. Another example is that the per capita cap baseline would exclude Virginia’s $46 million developmental disability system investment that also begins this year.

In a tone that is unusual for a Board made up of professionals and citizens, the letter went on to conclude, “We have attempted to provide some high level examples of the financial damage that the AHCA would inflict on Virginia, but cannot lose sight of the reality of what that means. It is not just the impact on Virginia’s fiscal health, it is also the impact on the health of individual Virginians. That, in the end, is the purpose of Medicaid and of all the other health measures we take as citizens. One of our Board members provides a striking example. She would have to choose between no nursing care for her daughter who receives 12-16 hours per day via Medicaid (their primary insurance nursing benefit is only $500 per year) or pay more than $86,000 per year out of pocket for nursing care, in addition to having to pay for items such as durable medical equipment and medical enteral formula that would no longer be covered by Medicaid. There are thousands of such examples within our Commonwealth.

Finally, we wish to emphasize one more issue: providing help to our fellow Virginians in need, who cannot help themselves, is a moral imperative, a moral test that we cannot and should not fail. We, as the Board of Medical Assistance Services, strenuously and unanimously urge you to oppose the AHCA or any similar bill that inflicts such undeniable damage to our Commonwealth and her citizens.”

Thank you Board for telling it like it is. Hopefully members of Congress, especially members from Virginia, will hear your plea and respond appropriately!

by Del. Ken Plum — June 29, 2017 at 10:15 am 13 Comments

This 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.

Among the many actions of the new federal administration in Washington, few have drawn sharper disagreement around the world as has the unfortunate decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Only two nations of the world did not join, with the United States being the first and only to withdraw. The Agreement was difficult to reach and showed real promise to bring nations together to curtail climate change.

The response has been swift and determined among those concerned with climate change as to what can be done to stay the course on dealing with the issue. Recently, I joined with more than 550 legislators from throughout the country, including 11 from Virginia, organized by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL, ncel.net) in sending a letter to the administration indicating our opposition to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Following is the text of that letter:

We are state legislators representing 45 states with a total population of over 298 million United States citizens and we stand united in opposition to the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

We are committed to continuing the United States’ leadership in working toward a clean energy economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now more than ever, in the wake of this short-sighted decision by the Federal Administration, it is important that state and local governments come together to strengthen our resolve to meet our regional goals to reduce carbon pollution and our national goals to achieve the reductions agreed to in Paris in 2015.

We stand with the 292 United States mayors representing more than 60 million Americans, the governors of 12 states with a total population of over 102 million, and 194 countries committed to upholding the ambitious goals adopted in the Paris Agreement. At the same time, we explicitly refuse to stand with President Donald Trump in his repudiation of the agreement.

Climate change is not a conspiracy, a hoax, or a partisan cause. Climate change will not affect just a few low-lying countries and the polar regions. Climate change is real and caused by human activity. People around the world and here in our own country, in our own states, in our own communities have already experienced the impacts and will see significantly increased impacts in the coming decades.

As state legislators, we declare our commitment to work with our legislative colleagues, our governors, and our constituents to ensure that we continue this country’s leadership role to build a 21st Century clean energy economy and that we meet or exceed all of the deliverables in the Paris Agreement. To this end, we will reach out across local, state, and federal borders to work together for our future. These ties will strengthen our economy as we build upon American ingenuity, entrepreneurship, productivity, and scientific and technological know-how to reduce carbon pollution while producing the next generation of clean transportation, clean power and energy-efficient devices and strategies.

With or without the president’s leadership, our country must continue to lead the fight for climate action. Working together across multiple states, we will ensure our great nation does not go backward and meets or exceeds the Paris Agreement.

If you decide to write a letter as well, please feel free to borrow any or all of the text of this letter.

by RestonNow.com — June 28, 2017 at 10:15 am 21 Comments

This letter was submitted by Reston resident Bruce Ramo, of Reclaim Reston. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

Last week, Reclaim Reston, a grassroots citizens group of concerned Reston residents, asked the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to issue a moratorium on proposed zoning amendments that increase density limits and the approval of new development applications not currently in process.

Our group, Reclaim Reston, and the many friends and neighbors with whom we have discussed the proposed zoning amendments to increase density in Reston, recognize the County’s priority is economic development. We welcome compatible re-development in Reston and the new and diverse neighbors that it will bring.

However, we think that the County’s push for greater density will overwhelm the current plans and funding for the schools, parks, roads and other infrastructure needed to support new and current residents. Fairfax County Superintendent Cathy Hudgins has been emphatic in asserting that Restonians should simply accept the fact that infrastructure will lag population. We should not allow that to happen to Reston.

The re-development process for Reston and the other portions of Fairfax County is a labyrinth frequently navigated by large developers in lockstep with their high-end legal counsel and County staff. One needs no more than a random peek at one of the news bulletins posted by the County to understand the symbiotic relationship of developers and the County.

For example, last fall the County announced approval by the Board of Supervisors of a relatively modest project called “Lofts at Reston Station” that will consist of 12 town homes and a 32-unit apartment building on a 1.58 acre-site near the Wiehle Metro stop. Here is a portion of the County’s statement (emphasis added):

As the second largest office market in the county, Reston features many low-density, suburban office parks are ripe for redevelopment. We reworked its land use plan two years ago to encourage more mixed use development and housing near the rail stations.

The Lofts join other approved and proposed development around Wiehle.

Under construction now, Reston Station will erect 1.3 million square feet in homes, offices and shops with direct access to the station.

The self-congratulatory tone of the announcement is a “tell” for Fairfax County’s insatiable appetite for greater density in Reston and corresponding higher tax revenue for the County. Reading through the Staff Recommendations and approvals for this and other projects you will see numerous zoning exceptions and modifications as well as developer-friendly calculations. For example, the County frequently approves modifications of open space requirements, reductions in required parking spaces and setbacks, or deviations from the tree preservation targets.

And as for those developer-friendly calculations, how realistic are the estimates of the number of students to be added by each development? According to those calculations a 500 unit multi-family high-rise will yield only 57 students, elementary school through high school. Such calculations are the basis of the developers’ proffers to “offset the impact of new student growth” at approximately $12,000 per student. Lower calculations of the number of new students reduce the developers’ costs and increase the likelihood that the citizens of Reston will be stuck with over-crowded schools and the tab for school expansions.

Similar developer-friendly calculations by the County also understate the impact to existing infrastructure, such as roads and parks, as is well documented in the recent report by the Reston 20/20 Committee (The Proposed Reston PRC Zoning Amendment: The County’s Rush to Ruin Reston). Also, keep in mind that the developers do not pay their promised “proffers” until the issuance of the first “Residential Use Permit” when their projects are suitable for occupancy. Thus, the funds to help fund infrastructure are not available to the public until new residents are moving in, essentially guaranteeing that the supporting public infrastructure will lag far behind the impact of the higher density.

The sharp increase to the Reston density cap being pushed by the County planning and zoning staff would empower the County to keep approving developer-friendly re-development applications without reasonable attention to the infrastructure needed to support the new residents. Restonians can push back by signing the Reclaim Reston petition to insist that the County keep development and infrastructure more closely aligned.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 22, 2017 at 11:30 am 11 Comments

This 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.

With the conclusion of the political party primaries last week, the general election is now teed up for Nov. 7.

There were some surprises coming out of the Democratic and Republican primaries. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic primary to be the nominee for governor, even though there was discussion beforehand that polls indicated a tight race. Polling for primaries is notorious for being inaccurate because with a typically light turnout, the universe of potential voters is almost impossible to determine. Former one-term Congressman Tom Perriello has a great deal to offer and will hopefully stay on the scene for future opportunities. Although the term “establishment” was grossly overused in describing Ralph Northam, his service in the state Senate plus his active role as lieutenant governor made him well known and greatly admired throughout the state.

Justin Fairfax gained everyone’s admiration after a primary loss to Attorney General Mark Herring four years ago led to his active campaigning during the interim time, making him well known for this primary. He was also well known for his work as an attorney. If you review the areas where Ralph Northam did well and compare them with where Justin Fairfax was strongest, you create a strong statewide team that will be nearly impossible to defeat. Attorney General Mark Herring was not challenged in a primary and will be on the ballot to succeed himself in November. There is no one-term limitation with the attorney general and the lieutenant governor as there is with the governor.

The greatest surprise of the primaries may have been on the Republican side to pick a candidate for governor. Ed Gillespie who has been mentioned for years as the next Republican governor of Virginia barely got through the primary with a shockingly strong showing by Corey Stewart, who is known for his anti-immigrant work in Prince William County and for campaigning with a Confederate flag. He has the distinction of being so over the top that he was fired by the Trump campaign. Turnout was especially low in the Republican primary, and Stewart was just over a percentage point from taking out Gillespie. It will be interesting to see if the folks who voted for Stewart will vote in the general election or decide to stay home.

The Republican primary for lieutenant governor was a slugfest between two state senators, with Sen. Jill Vogel winning after a mud-slinging campaign that left neither candidate looking good.

All 100 seats for the House of Delegates are up for election this fall with a record number of contested elections. Historically, it has been difficult to recruit candidates to run for the House of Delegates, but events of the past year have brought forth more candidates than ever before. There was a record number 27 seats where the candidates were determined by the primary because there was so much interest in running. Democrats will certainly pick up seats in the House of Delegates getting closer to shifting or sharing power in that legislative body.

While I am uncontested in my race for the House of Delegates, you can still expect to see me campaigning. It is a good way to stay in touch with constituents and to increase turn-out for the statewide elections. Expect a busy fall of campaigning leading up to the fall elections in Virginia that will send a signal to the nation as to the public’s reaction to national events.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 15, 2017 at 11:00 am 24 Comments

This 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.

One of my favorite classes to teach in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at George Mason University is a course I have entitled “A New Look at the Old Dominion.”

It came out of my experiences growing up in Virginia and attending public schools from elementary through graduate school and using state-approved textbooks, at least in the early years. A persistent problem I had was matching up the romanticized version of Virginia’s history with realities I read about in source materials. This problem is not unique to Virginia or its history; every state and every culture always attempts to put its best foot forward. It skews our view of events and may lead us to believe that America was at its greatest in some bygone era. The fact of the matter is that our greatness has been evolving.

Reading early Virginia textbooks could lead one to believe that slavery was good for all, until what some termed the “War of Northern Aggression,” and then there was the Lost Cause movement that restored faith that Virginia was right all along. We still hear remnants of that line of thinking as the debate on Confederate monuments is going on.

I was reminded of this background as I recently visited a new exhibition at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County. Through extensive archaeological work there is an attempt to tell “a more complete American story.” The title of the exhibition, “A Mere Distinction of Colour,” is a phrase from Madison’s writings: “We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”

Despite that observation, the Father of Our Constitution was the owner of hundreds of slaves who worked his farms and did his labor allowing him time to be a statesman. He did not free his slaves at his death. Enslaved families were split up and sold to retire the debt he left behind.

Visiting Montpelier today, you can see the mansion beautifully restored, including the upstairs room where Madison probably did his writing about the Constitution. Thanks to important archaeological work, you can visit the area around the mansion where the slave quarters were located, with several reproductions having been added in recent years. A tour of Montpelier can be eye-opening for your children, to contrast the home of the owner with the quarters of the enslaved.

Nearby at Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, there is an expansion of the tours to include a slave tour. The tour guide says very clearly what was denied for generations, that Jefferson fathered several children by Sally Hemings. Of the more than a hundred slaves owned by the writer of the Declaration of Independence who said “all men are created equal,” on his death only those slaves that he had fathered were freed.

The historians at Montpelier call it “a more complete American story.” It is being written way past time. While we need to acknowledge and embrace a history that is inclusive of the men and women who did the work in founding our country, acknowledging the arbitrary distinctions of the past will make us stronger as a nation.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 8, 2017 at 10:15 am 5 Comments

This 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 Virginia General Assembly will celebrate its 400th anniversary in a couple of years, making it the longest-running representative legislative body in this hemisphere.

Although not much has changed in the basic procedures of lawmaking with committees and structured floor debate, over the centuries there have been adaptations to the times as the Legislature has sought to best serve those it represents. Most recently, the biggest changes have been to the housing of the legislative functions.

For those interested in details, here is a summary of the major changes — past and present. The General Assembly in 2004 abandoned Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol for the first time since the Civil War to give the place a major renovation that would keep it standing and expand its size underground so as to not take away from its iconic exterior. For that renovation, the Legislature moved to the former state library, whose upstairs had been renovated to be the Governor’s Office but whose reading rooms downstairs had been left intact and became very efficiently the House of Delegates and Senate chambers for several sessions.

Meanwhile, the offices of legislators in the General Assembly Building (GAB) have been crumbling asbestos, explaining the white dust that periodically appeared on the furniture. Legislating should not be considered hazardous duty, at least in a physical sense, nor should failing plumbing and heating and cooling systems cause delays in the work of the Legislature.

For decades, the Life Insurance Company of Virginia had occupied the building before it moved to an office park in the suburbs and sold its aging building to the Commonwealth. The building is currently being demolished, and a new office building will be constructed in its place with a parking garage across the street. That will be good news for those who want to participate in the legislative process but have been prevented from doing so because they simply could not find a place to park.

The last act of legislators this past session was to pack ourselves up for a move down Richmond’s Capitol Hill to the Pocahontas Building, formerly in private hands as the State Planters Bank of Commerce and Trust Building, where we will have temporary but nice and asbestos-free offices for several years while the new building will be constructed. The Pocahontas Building was available to us as the Attorney General and his staff, who had offices there, have recently relocated to the Barbara Johns Building, formerly the Hotel Richmond and later state offices, just across the street from where the new General Assembly Building will be.

Regardless of whether you chose to follow all that, the good news is that when you come to Richmond you will be much more likely to find a convenient place to park, and you will be in a safer setting.

With our physical surroundings taken care of, now we need to go to work on bringing the legislative process up to date by making it more transparent and responsive. Maybe a significant anniversary and a change in working environment should be viewed as a time to start anew.

by Del. Ken Plum — June 1, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

This 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.

My credentials as a progressive Democrat (capital D) are well established; sometimes missed in the political back and forth of an election year might be my earnest effort to be a democratic (small d) advocate.

The outcomes of elections can be no more reflective of the public mood and aspirations than substantial participation by voters in the electoral process. That observation has been made over and over, yet elections occur with only a small fraction of eligible voters taking part.

Voting does take some time and effort. To vote one must register, but registration is active as long as you have not moved. Even though elections take place on a weekday when many people work, it should be possible to find some time between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. in order to vote. If not, absentee voting is an alternative. There has been much legislation over the years designed to suppress the vote, but I and others have spent a lifetime working to get it defeated in the courts or in the Legislature.

Although candidates spend huge amounts of money and time selling themselves to voters, there are many voters who consider themselves too ill-informed to vote. Bringing a realistic vision of a candidate to a voter is not an easy task. Candidates need to keep trying, and voters need to step up the effort to find out information on candidates for themselves. The recent growth of interest groups registering voters and informing people on the issues is a very hopeful sign. I believe it will help change the outcome of some elections, and for sure it is likely to increase participation.

Virginia has an election every year. While most states skip the odd-numbered years for elections, Virginia — along with New Jersey — will elect a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all members of the House of Delegates this year. That election will be on Nov. 7. But even before we get to those campaigns, there are many more primary elections in both parties this year than I can ever remember.

June 13 is a most important date when primary elections will take place. Voters do not register by political party in Virginia. To vote in the Democratic or Republican primary on June 13, you need to declare your political party at that time. You cannot vote in more than one primary.

Of course, I am voting in the Democratic primary and will be voting for current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam for the Democratic nomination for governor and Justin Fairfax as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Attorney General Mark Herring will be the Democratic nominee for re-election, as he is not being challenged in the primary.

If you are voting in the Republican primary on June 13, you have a choice of three candidates for the nomination for governor, and three for lieutenant governor.

I am not being challenged in the primary but several delegate districts have primaries in Northern Virginia. To look at a sample ballot for each party, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/upcoming.htm.

However you choose to vote, do get out and vote and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

by RestonNow.com — May 26, 2017 at 10:15 am 10 Comments

This letter was submitted by Reston resident Bruce Ramo. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish article and opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content.

Too much, too soon.

This is the crux of the community’s concern with the proposed zoning amendments, which were the subject of a community meeting with Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins on May 24.

  • Too much emphasis on promoting economic growth, without firm commitments for the infrastructure to support it.
  • Too much willingness to give legal priority to the quantitative possibilities of increased density presented by the Master Plan, without addressing the qualitative conditions of the Plan’s Vision Statement and Planning Principles.
  • Too much form over substance in engaging the public in three quick presentations rather than collaborating to develop a balanced approach for the future growth of Reston.
  • Too much hubris in assuming that the County’s evaluation and analyses of the impact of increased density, without a willingness to consider other thoughtful analyses of the impact to roads, safety, schools and recreational facilities.
  • Too much commitment to the County’s internal work plan for modifying the zoning ordinances.
  • Too much emphasis on getting it done now instead of getting it done right.

Each day, many of us pass a dangerous portion of Wiehle Avenue near Sunset Hills Road where a pedestrian bridge is slated to be built someday. The area is the gateway between the Planned Residential Community of Reston (PRC) and the Metro station area with its thousands of new apartments and townhouses.

The missing pedestrian bridge is a symbol of all that is wrong with the County’s zoning amendment and the manner in which it would facilitate growth without the infrastructure to support it.

The proposed amendment would allow even more development throughout the PRC and elsewhere, but where is the pedestrian bridge? Where are the other new or improved parks, roads, schools and paths to service the higher density? Why is the County pressing to facilitate more growth in Reston, but not balancing the growth with near-term action to make that growth safe, convenient and sustainable? Why is Supervisor Hudgins content to tell Restonians that infrastructure is not her job, as she did [Wednesday] night?

This is the essence of the community’s challenge to the proposed zoning amendment. The County’s approach simply enables far too much development too soon. Please urge the County Planning Staff and Supervisor Hudgins to step back, table the proposed zoning amendment, and work with the community on a more sensible zoning plan to support the future growth of Reston.

by Del. Ken Plum — May 25, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This 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.

For more than a half century, signs along the roadsides and ads in local newspapers featured Smokey the Bear with a message “Keep Virginia Green.” His reference was to forest fire prevention, for which he said 9 out of 10 could be prevented. Forest fires were a big concern because wood products were big business in Virginia.

A campaign continues today with a “Keep Virginia Green” theme as part of the “Keep Virginia Beautiful” effort. It has a broader meaning, as it now includes stopping littering and other actions consumers can take as part of caring for the environment in the Commonwealth.

Maybe the most meaningful effort ever taken to protect Virginia’s environment was announced last week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — that he had signed an Executive Directive ordering the Department of Environmental Quality to begin the process of establishing regulations in Virginia that will reduce carbon emission from power plants. As the Governor explained, “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void. … Virginia will lead the way to cut carbon and lean in on the clean energy future.” The current federal administration has moved to rescind actions of the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and to act on climate change.

While proponents of states’ rights may applaud the shift from the federal to the state governments, wind currents from power plants and airborne pollutants do not recognize state boundaries. It is critically important that other states follow the actions of Gov. McAuliffe.

According to the press release announcing the Governor’s Executive Directive, the Commonwealth has seen an increase from just 17 megawatts of solar installed to more than 1,800 megawatts in service or under development. Revenues in the rapidly growing clean energy sector have risen from $300 million to $1.5 billion between 2014 and 2016. In the last year alone, solar installations have risen nearly 1,200 percent. The number of Virginians employed by the solar industry rose 65 percent to 3,236 — twice the number of jobs supported by coal. An analysis by The Solar Foundation quoted in the release said that Virginia is now second in the Southeast and ninth in the nation for year-over-year solar growth. As of 2017, Virginia is first in the Southeast for corporate clean energy procurement.

Dominion Energy, the Commonwealth’s largest electricity producer, announced earlier that it intends to follow the federal Clean Power Plant regulations even if they are rescinded by the current administration. Older coal-powered plants are being converted to natural gas or closed. The company will be subject to any additional regulations that result from the Governor’s Executive Directive.

It is heartening to see the number of citizens who have expressed a greater interest in environmental matters as they realize the threat to current protections under the new administration. We need to thank and applaud the Governor for his action and at the same time keep the pressure on federal and state elected officials to see that our air is kept clean and safe. I am pleased that both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have recognized my efforts in this regard.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list