Updates from Letty – January 14, 2022
Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
Happy 2022 – I hope you are staying healthy and well. City Council held our organizational meeting this week and elected new leadership. Mayor Tarter was re-elected and I was elected to serve as Vice Mayor for the next two years. It’s not something I’ve pursued or aspired to do, but I’m honored to serve. Seating a new City Council is a good time to reflect on our collective achievements and the way ahead. I am committed to continue being accessible, thoughtful, and transparent in representing you and helping you engage in local government. In that vein, read on for my early thoughts on priorities (if you’ve been a long time reader, there will be no surprises), business this week including more good news on the affordable housing front. I look forward to hearing from you – I’ll also be holding my next virtual office hours on Monday, Jan 24 from 12-1 pm so would love to “see” you there.
Two calls to action for this weekend:
- Monday is MLK Jr Day and in honor of Dr. King’s legacy, we’ve again declared it a city-wide day of service. Besides joining the annual Tinner Hill march, a few ideas for service: donate blood to make a dent in the worst nationwide blood shortage in 10 years, donate or fulfill the Falls Church Homeless Shelter wish list, or contribute to the schools’ GIVE Day event to help pack meals and address food insecurity.
- Brush up on the city’s snow removal policies before more winter weather this weekend and keep the sidewalks safe for all.
Hang in there,
What Happened This Week:
First, the elephant in the room: the omicron variant of COVID-19 has surged dramatically since the holidays, testing has been in short supply, we’re experiencing cancellations, pauses, and short staffing all around. While the variant may be causing less severe disease, we’re not talking enough about how hospital capacities are at critical levels. Our vaccination rates have been high, but our booster stats are less so. Only 50% of our eligible 12+ population have received boosters – please get boosted for the most protection and keep following public health guidance.
Personally, I am also trying to remember to offer grace and kindness, recognizing the weariness we all feel with the 2 year anniversary of this pandemic approaching.
(2) New Leadership Thoughts
Seating a new City Council is a good time to reflect on our collective achievements and the way ahead. In my 6 years on City Council, I’ve had the fortune of working with the most collaborative, and some would say, the most ambitious City Councils ever. We’ve all had a hand in that and I hope that continues. Regardless of who is in leadership, there are multiple smart, committed, and passionate people who want to serve the city and actually like working together. That’s a great, rare thing in politics that our residents should take a lot of comfort in!
After inheriting a backlog of capital needs, including a new high school, – we got it done. After years of espousing welcoming values, we’ve made the most significant strides in affordable housing ever (see #3 below). Not to mention a solid queue of development projects, diversifying our tax base with new businesses, lowering our taxes ahead of schedule, and walkability improvements with real results visible across the community. I am proud of our accomplishments and ready to turn our focus on what’s ahead together. Some early thoughts on my priorities:
- Even if we want to be done with the pandemic, it’s not done with us. With our high vaccination rates and adherence to public health guidance, we will get through this. Let’s continue focusing on our collective responsibility to each other.
- Community for all – we can’t let up the gas on affordable housing, equity work, and progressive policies. This goes beyond housing too – we need to ensure our infrastructure welcomes a community for all: from pedestrian and bike safety to accessibility to green space to supporting a vibrant business community.
- Development and housing diversity – with the West Falls and Broad and Washington projects set to break ground this spring and two additional projects in the pipeline, we have cultivated a healthy queue of development. Yet we don’t want a multi acre project on every corner of the city, so we should have tools to enable the next generation of smaller, infill projects and more diverse housing types beyond the barbell strategy. We should have options so seniors can age in place, college grads can afford to return home, smaller homes can co-exist in neighborhoods.
- Climate – like COVID, climate change needs to be our next big, shared existential crisis to rally around. We have the opportunity to live up to our green values and be willing to make bold, decisive investments here.
- Reinvest in our people – foundational to all, we need to continue with the mid year investments we’ve made in our workforce. Without talented and engaged city staff, none of this can get done.
I expect these will get refined as I collect more feedback. City Council will also be holding our biannual planning retreat at the end of the month, so stay tuned.
(3) More Affordable Housing Good News
There were two pieces of good news that didn’t get much fanfare over the holidays. We passed a budget amendment at first reading this week that covered both items:
- The city was notified we won a second Amazon grant of $3.75M for affordable housing, which will help seed a new acquisition strike fund to purchase housing that can be preserved as affordable. Remember, we had won an earlier $3.75M grant from Amazon last year that will go towards extending the affordability period for teacher housing units that were set to expire this year and start a new affordable homeownership program.
- The city, via the Economic Development Authority, will be purchasing its 5th quadplex at Virginia Village with ARPA funds, to preserve as affordable and open up options for additional affordable housing in the future. It’s worth nothing the remarkable progress as we started 2021 with only 1 quad under city ownership.
- West Falls Street names – Husky Street coming soon? – our sentiment was admittedly lukewarm to the developer-proposed street names, but they were passed this week.
- Pensions – we received a very thorough report on the status of the city’s pension, which like the stock market, had a banner year in performance and remains very healthily funded. Of note is that we expressed support in divesting our investments from fossil fuels as part of our climate strategy – as over $200M of assets are in the pension, this is a big deal and an important way to live our values.
- 405 Van Buren – after deferring last year to ensure neighbors had adequate time to review and provide comments, we voted to release a restrictive covenant, vacate an old easement, and add a new restrictive covenant (fancy words for restrictions to build) in response to 405 Van Buren’s owner to request to build an accessory structure on their property. Here’s a cheat sheet from the city’s zoning code on the difference between accessory structure vs accessory dwelling. I believe we gave careful consideration to property rights and whether the city still had a need for the covenant and easement vs impact to neighbors.
What’s Coming Up:
Monday, Jan 17 – MLK Jr Day
Tuesday, Jan 18, 2022 – City Council Work Session*
Monday, Jan 24, 2022 – Letty’s Virtual Office Hours (12-1 pm)
Monday, Jan 24, 2022 – City Council Meeting*
Monday, Jan 31, 2022 – City Council Planning Retreat
*every Monday (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm at City Hall and livestreamed. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings