Updates from Letty – July 1, 2016
We had a lengthy City Council meeting this week and covered several big topics, enough to tie us over until July 11th which is our next scheduled meeting. We are taking next week off due to the July 4th holiday, so there won’t be an email/blog post from me next week either.
Read on to hear what we discussed with WMATA/Metro executives, library referendum, and the latest on GMHS campus planning. Even if you’re not a regular Metro commuter who sees the current issues first-hand, the discussion was very eye opening so I encourage you to read on or watch the video. As the region grows more transit-oriented, we’ll need transportation options that are more reliable, frequent, and safe and funding to Metro is a decent chunk of our own city budget – so this is a topic that merits deeper understanding.
Have a safe and fun holiday weekend. As always, I look forward to hearing your questions and comments.
What Happened This Week:
City Council Meeting – June 27, 2016
(1) WMATA/Metro Presentation – Acting Chief Operating Officer Jack Requa and Chair of the Board (and DC Councilman) Jack Evans were the special guests discussing WMATA issues, the 3T bus line that was eliminated this week, and opportunities to work together at the GMHS and West Falls Church Metro site. Hearing the state of WMATA finances and operational challenges was sobering. In contrast to our Little City finances, I lost track of how many times “billions of dollars” was referenced. If you’re curious about we ended up with the current Metro headaches, Mr. Evans’ presentation was especially interesting, so I encourage you to watch that part of the video.
Some highlights I took away:
- Of the 7 large transit systems in the country, DC’s Metro system is the 2nd largest at 117 miles long (the largest is New York City’s at 230 miles)
- Despite the importance of transit to the DC area, Metro is a drag on the region and an annual money loser – original construction budget was $2B, and it ended up costing over $10+B and additionally loses $900MM each year.
- According to Mr. Evans, Metro was built with several fundamental flaws that are core to the financial and operational issues we’re currently facing – 1) it was built as a 2 track system, meaning that it can’t shut down for maintenance or repair during regular operating hours and relies on a very small window each night when the entire system is closed for maintenance 2) there is no dedicated funding source, especially at the federal level. Out of its $1.8B annual operating budget, DC, MD, and VA share half the cost with the other half being fare-supported. With no money, little time for maintenance, and poor management – the Metro infrastructure has been degrading – hence the acute need for the SafeTrack program to expedite safety fixes.
- Metro has a grim financial outlook ahead – in order to “right the ship”, they expect to need $300MM to cover an expected FY18 budget shortfall; $18B capital plan for the next 10 years to replace cars, perform ongoing maintenance, and build a new tunnel to address the bottleneck at Rosslyn; a $2-5B unfunded pension liability that will also need bailout. The federal government will be asked to help, but as one of the local jurisdictions that funds WMATA – I expect we’ll be asked to foot larger bills as well, which has implications to our own annual budgets as it did this year.
- We heard many public comments about the elimination of the Metro 3T bus line due to low ridership. The 3T was one of two remaining routes that ran on Broad St/Rt 7 that connected West and East Falls Church Metro stations. It was encouraging to hear the WMATA execs express openness to look at options for restoration of the 3T.
- Finally, there was a brief discussion about our desire to work with WMATA on synergies for development at West Falls Church metro, adjacent to the GMHS campus planning project that we are re-booting. Now that we’ve stopped the PPEA process started last year, I hope we’ll be free to explore more creative opportunities on commercial development and shared parking with WMATA (parking can be prohibitively expensive to build on our own).
(2) Resource Guide for Displaced Businesses – During public comment, the Chamber of Commerce provided a quick overview of their Resource Guide for Displaced Businesses. I actually think its usefulness for small businesses goes beyond displaced businesses – it has tips and best practices on negotiating leases and understanding the redevelopment process that may be of interest to any business or citizen.
(3) Library referendum – after a lengthy discussion, we ultimately passed 7-0 first reading of the ordinance to place the library project up for referendum in this November’s general election. If the ordinance passes at 2nd reading, it does not issue the bonds – City Council still needs to take another action before any bond issuance, if the referendum passes. For a recap of what the $8MM project entails, my blog post from last week includes a brief summary based on the discussion in work session.
Letty’s thoughts: the library has been an invaluable resource for my family and many in the community (especially during the summer!). I am always impressed by its example of “doing a lot with a little.” I also understand the need for overdue updates and that it’s been a long-discussed project. I am concerned about balancing other pressing capital needs, like several school projects and City Hall, and worry this will take up debt capacity. In the ideal scenario, we would have more clarity and resolution on Mt. Daniel, cost estimates for what we can afford and choose to build at GMHS and a path forward, and a prioritized sequence of City-wide capital projects before voters decide on the library. So why did I vote for this ordinance? Much like the City Hall project which I advocated for also putting up for referendum, I think voters should be able to weigh in on this level of investment. I did again stipulate that we learn from the Mt. Daniel bond and the bond and referendum language needs to preserve maximum flexibility in these areas: 1) allow the money to be used at another location(s) should other options arise 2) no debt be issued until all approvals/permits done and 3) consider bond issuances in tranches instead of all $8MM at once to limit risk and exposure. Several of us also asked that communication and community engagement be stepped up so we can hear from more citizens before 2nd reading. 2nd reading was moved from July 11th to July 25th, to allow more more public comment time and for the Fairfax County meeting on Mt. Daniel to occur on July 21st.
(4) GMHS campus planning – the City Manager presented an update with recommendations on GMHS/MEH campus planning that culminates in a November 2017 referendum. Previously in our June 2nd work session, a March 2017 referendum was proposed, which I thought was both odd timing and aggressive. While I appreciate the desire to have a new/renovated GMHS ASAP, we also need to be realistic about the amount of pre-work necessary before GMHS is ready for referendum. I’d also like to ensure we build in time for community engagement on options, and again – get clarity or resolution on Mt. Daniel. The City Manager’s roadmap was a good first draft that includes land use planning with WMATA, UVA/VT, transportation, sustainability, utilities, financial planning. A number of us provided first blush feedback/questions. I emphasized the importance of collaboration with the School Board on the first two chunks of the plan – demographic projections and school cost options – which need to be precursors before we do any land planning or any new RFPs. As part of the commercial planning, I also think we need to be comprehensive and ambitious in looking at all 4 corners of Haycock/Broad and be actively recruiting and shopping the site in the market to see what options come forward. As our next step, I am eager to getting a joint City Council-School Board meeting on the calendar, hopefully in July so both bodies can move forward together on a shared plan.
What’s Coming Up:
(1) Today – FY17 begins and new Virginia laws in effect. The City’s adopted FY17 budget is available online as well as a handy summary of the most citizen-impacting legislation enacted by the General Assembly.
(2) Fourth of July celebrations – from the City’s e-newsletter (subscribe here if you don’t get them):
Enjoy free Independence Day celebrations in the City of Falls Church on Monday, July 4! The main event of music and fireworks will take place at George Mason High School (7124 Leesburg Pike).
Seating is available at Moore Cadillac Stadium and the Northern Virginia Graduate Center Parking Lot. Music performed by Flashback starts at 7PM and fireworks start at 9:20PM. Blankets and flat-based chairs are allowed for seating on the field. Food and drinks will be sold on site, but alcohol, smoking, fireworks, and pets are not permitted. In the event of rain, the celebration will be held on Tuesday, July 5 at the same location and time. Follow the City’s accounts on Facebook and Twitter for updates on any delays.
Don’t miss the Independence Day Readings of the Founding Documents of the Nation at 12 p.m. in Council Chambers of City Hall (300 Park Ave.), hosted by the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS).
(3) City Council Meeting – July 11, 2016 – we will not be meeting next week due to the holiday. Our next scheduled meeting is July 11th and the agenda will be posted by the end of next week.
(4) Community Visioning
In case you missed the Community Visioning session, the supporting documents are now posted. I’ve heard great feedback about the infographic handouts, so take a look! The video is also available if you’d like to watch the speakers’ presentations or hear the recaps from the breakout groups.