Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
This week’s update will be a little different. While we covered several important topics in City meetings (I’ll still do a quick recap) – given that half of City Council traveled to Richmond mid week for a day of lobbying, I’ll also share my thoughts on the workings of the General Assembly and specific legislation that could impact Falls Church for those who would like to expand their awareness of state level politics.
Before getting to the updates – two plugs:
Consider joining a Board & Commission! We have vacancies on boards that span interesting, important policy areas for the City while being relatively low commitment (usually a monthly meeting). We especially have a critical vacancy for realtors, accountants, and attorneys on the Board of Equalization, which is responsible for determining real estate assessment appeals. Other B&Cs openings cover transportation, including traffic calming, pedestrian needs; environment; history; housing; and trees. In the current climate of increased activism at the national level – getting involved in your local government can be a great way to make a difference close to home. I hope you will consider applying!
Calling parents, taxpayers, interested citizens – mark your calendars for a Town Hall about the GMHS/MEH project on next Saturday, Feb 4th at 9 am at MEH. While high school may seem like a long ways off if you have little ones, the current elementary kids are the ones who will attend the school so it’s important for you to understand the project and weigh in. Our goal is to provide Falls Church with updated school buildings for 21st century learning and space for our growing population – in a way that is as affordable as possible – potentially leveraging commercial development at this strategic site for the City. There are many options on the table – spanning renovation to new construction to phasing – and we need to hear from you! I recognize that it’s the start of a long weekend for families, so it may be difficult to attend the meeting. It will be recorded and available on FCC-TV and YouTube. For those who are in town, we would like to provide child care to make it easier for parents to come – read on for more details on how to sign up.
What Happened This Week:
City Council Meeting:
- Cottage housing ordinance – deferred to Feb 13th meeting for final decision to allow for more comments from the public and boards & commissions.
- Fiscal policies – based on our last work session that I wrote about here, the majority of Council preferred to defer adoption of new policies until we have a more defined path forward with the GMHS/MEH campus project. So in this week’s meeting, we re-affirmed the current policies on the books, with some minor technical changes. These are the policies that will guide the upcoming FY18 budget cycle.
- Land Sale – We authorized the sale of a small strip of City owned land in the Hillwood Ave right of way (7500 square feet) near the the Red Top Cab property. That land is under an easement currently granted to Red Top Cab and used by the company for extra parking. The sale of the land will enable us to get separate easements for streetscape and utility undergrounding along the rest of S. Washington at no expense and maintenance commitments from Red Top. Expect the major S. Washington streetscape improvement work to begin this spring, lasting 1-2 years – with the end goal to increase pedestrian, bicycle and bus accessibility in that corridor.
- 116 Great Falls – we passed at first reading the rezoning and subdivision request from 116 Great Falls and Columbia Baptist Church (corner of N. Maple and Great Falls), so it will now be referred to the Planning Commission and other B&Cs for comments and recommendation.
- How energy efficient is your home? Thanks to a generous VPIS grant, the ESC (Environmental Sustainability Council – one of the B&Cs with an opening!) purchased thermal cameras that attach to your smartphone that can detect hot and cold spots (ie, energy leakage) in your home. Read more about it here – you can check them out at the library starting this week.
- What’s next with the library? We’ve heard several questions that since the referendum passed last November, what happens next with the expansion and renovation project. Design and procurement processes are beginning now, but major decisions will happen next year with the actual bonding to occur in the next fiscal year FY18 as well.
City Council Heads to Richmond
- Half of your City Council traveled to Richmond for our annual whirlwind day of lobbying the General Assembly. This involves door to door office visits with state legislators, watching committee meetings, testifying in hearings, meeting with neighboring jurisdictions to partner up on advocacy efforts, and seeing legislation change on the fly. There are 2600+ bills in the current 45 day session! For photos from the day- you can see them on my Facebook page here.
- Every year, Falls Church adopts a Legislative Program, which contains our positions on various topics; you can see that it reflects the priorities of Council as well as the schools, library, transportation and environmental policies.
- The Good News
- We have a great relationship with our state representatives, Senator Saslaw and Delegate Simon, and they take the time to hear from us and you and advocate on our behalf. They hosted a standing room-town hall last weekend in the Community Center, sharing their thoughts on the session so far and Q&A. The official video is not yet available, but Delegate Simon posted a Facebook Live video on his page you can view.
- Our state-level legislative priorities are also largely aligned with our neighbors, and our staffs do a nice job of coordinating and working together so we can make a bigger impact.
- Congratulations to Liv Scappa, a seventh grader at MEH, for her winning essay in the Virginia Municipal League’s “If I Were Mayor” contest! She was awarded by the Governor and met with our City Council delegation in Richmond.
- The Bad News
- Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities don’t have authority unless it’s expressly granted by the General Assembly. For example, we have considered prohibiting smoking in our public parks, but as a Dillon rule state, we aren’t legally able to do that unless the General Assembly passes a bill to give us the authority. (SB938 would allow us to do that, although faces a tough battle with the strong tobacco lobby.)
- Legislation that aligns with our community values and priorities in Falls Church – like prohibiting guns in public buildings and schools or taxing plastic grocery bags so more will use reusable bags – rarely make it out of committee in the General Assembly.
- Virginia is facing a $1.5 BILLION shortfall this year. No budget amendments or real discussions have happened yet, so we’ll have to stay tuned to any fallout impacts to localities.
- While there is a lot of good legislation (eg, redistricting, ethics reform, transportation funding) that is in progress, we focused our lobbying discussions on a few specifics that could have impacts to us. Two specific ones:
- Wireless communication infrastructure in the public right of way – we live a wireless smartphone world and we all want to see continued improvement wireless service, however we have concerns that this bill would enable wireless companies to put their infrastructure in the streetscape without our say or be compensated for using public property…ultimately cluttering up the streetscape that we have been trying to improve for walkability.
- Towing – there is a bill that again raises the towing fee (that was already increased by mandate in the 2016 session) to $150 per tow, which may incent more aggressive towing practices.
- More to come! Bills change daily, if not more frequently, as hearings and negotiations occur, so City staff diligently monitors the evolution of bills and stays in contact with our representatives.
What’s Coming Up:
- Have you voted for next year’s decal? The annual Vehicle Decal Design Contest is underway; voting is now open and closes on 2/9. Voting is limited to City residents and employees of the City government and schools. The winner will be announced at the 2/13 City Council meeting.
- Tuesday 1/31, 730 pm – Joint City Council & School Board Work Session – GMHS Campus (Dogwood Room, City Hall)
- Saturday 2/4, 9 am – Community Town Hall on GMHS Project (MEH). We will provide an update on enrollment trends, facility needs, and financing constraints and the options under consideration that need YOUR input. We would like to provide child care to make it easier for parents to come. If you are interested in child care, please complete this form. We will be in touch with you.
- Monday 2/5 – City Council Work Session
- Monday, 3/13 – City Manager Presents FY18 budget