Updates from Letty – July 10, 2020

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

It’s been nearly 4 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when we’ve lost an entire spring and too many lives, jobs, and sacrifices all around. While new positive cases in Falls Church have significantly slowed and Virginia has made progress on testing, tracing, and hospital capacity – we are not out of the woods yet. So that all the hard work hasn’t been in vain, please keep up the social distancing, mask-wearing, and handwashing this summer.

City Council resumed meetings this week from our brief break and had a record breaking long work session. This week’s post will include links to various updates from the past two weeks, including good news on the transportation grant applications many of you helped support.

Finally – the conversation on racial and social equity is never over. To continue my recent series of posts (if you missed them: weeks 1, 2, and 3) – I collaborated on a guest commentary in the Falls Church News Press this week. Long time readers won’t be surprised about the topic, but I hope you’ll take the time to read and see 1) how the national awakening on racial justice connects to home and 2) the variety of voices standing up. The guest commentary is not yet online, so I’ve included it in my post below.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Take care,

PS – This week’s big storms was a reminder of last July’s flood and how stormwater issues are top of mind for many residents across the city. If you experience sewer backflows during these summer storms – consider the Backflow Preventer reimbursement program that is available to homeowners.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Phase 3 – Virginia is now in Phase 3 of Reopening. You may have seen these sandwich boards with reminders and Safe Little City posters in local businesses, which are part of a self pledge businesses take, to ensure they’re following the Virginia re-opening guidelines and to rebuild consumer confidence that it’s safe to return to Falls Church businesses. Businesses can pick up the posters at City Hall’s front desk or download them directly.

We also want to keep hearing from our businesses how we can continue to support their safe reopening: www.choosefallschurch.org/EDASurvey

(2) West Falls Project

The site plan for West Falls (fka 10 acre development next to the new high school) was submitted in June and we had our first work session on it this week. We will be voting to refer it to boards and commission reviews next week, to occur during the summer months. There are a lot of documents and materials online – I suggest starting with the developer presentation which gives a good overview before diving into other materials.

With the obvious elephants in the room that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and a sudden economic recession that is severely impacting office, hotel, and retail markets – there will be inevitable bumps in the road before any ribbon cuttings at West Falls will occur. At the earliest, development will begin after the new high school is delivered and the old high school is demolished in Spring/Summer 2021 so we have time. Besides new architectural details, there are several notable changes the developer team has made in response to changing economic conditions and other unknowns, while keeping the commitment to the same mix of uses and financial agreement from previous approvals:

  • Street grid changes
  • Combining the micro unit and market rate apartments into one building for efficiency
  • More above grade parking
  • Change in orientation of the Phase 1 and 2 office buildings
  • New intersection design at Rt 7/Commons Dr/Chestnut St

You can send us your comments or join any of the board and commission virtual public meetings, if you’re interested in a particular aspect of the project to learn more as well.

(3) Your voice matters!

Last night, the NVTA (Northern Virginia Transportation Authority) approved funding for *both* of the grant applications from the city. Thank you to so many of you who helped write in letters of support back in May for $6.9M for the Shreve project and $8.3M for downtown improvements. Out of 1000+ comments made to NVTA across 41 projects, one-third of them were in support of the city’s two projects – so your voices do matter. Construction will not start for many years, but the award of the grant money will go towards design, right of way acquisition, and other prep work necessary in the meantime.

(4) Police Use of Force Review Committee

Speaking of voices mattering, we received an impressive 68 applications for 7 citizen spots on the Police Use of Force Committee we chartered. We will be interviewing applicants over the next few weeks and will vote on final appointments by the end of July.

(5) Racial Equity Starts with Housing – FCNP Guest Commentary

As the guest commentary is not yet available online, below is this week’s column

Last year, Falls Church updated its vision statement, declaring: “In the year 2040, the City of Falls Church is a welcoming and inclusive community.” In the midst of a national reckoning with systemic racism, it is clear that, despite our aspirations, this vision is far from our reality.

Research shows that the Washington, DC area is one of the least racially equitable and economically inclusive in the country. Within this region, Falls Church has the smallest share of black residents, and the second-lowest share of residents who are foreign-born. Conversely, Falls Church has the highest incomes and the highest share of white residents in the region. 

How did this happen? And what can we do to work towards a more inclusive Little City? How can we channel the energy of our Black Lives Matter signs, our petitions, and our protest marches to learn from and redress the effects of past racist decisions here at home?

We don’t have all the answers. But we are publicly committing, as private citizens and as individual members of several elected and appointed boards and civic organizations, to doing this work. 

Since the City’s inception, political and racial gerrymandering, as well as a set of entrenched policies, programs, and planning have excluded minority and low-income households. 

Take housing and land use.

About two-thirds of the City of Falls Church is zoned for single family residential housing. After the Supreme Court deemed race-based zoning unconstitutional in 1917, this type of zoning emerged as one of several tools used by white communities to effectively enforce segregation. Visit the Tinner Hill Historic Site to learn how this played out locally.   

Single family zoning excludes those who have not accumulated enough wealth to buy into these neighborhoods. Due to generations of structural racism, people of color are far less likely than white Americans to have accrued the wealth necessary to live in places like Falls Church. Nationally, in 2016 white households had a median net worth 10 times that of Black households and eight times that of Hispanic households.

Falls Church housing remains the most expensive in the region. Through our current practices, we have lost workforce housing or homes that are affordable to families that are not in the highest income brackets. Other cities are experimenting with granny flats, duplexes, tiny houses, and other forms of missing middle housing in place of single family homes. In contrast, Falls Church has the highest share of “very low intensity” developed land in the region. 

We have also failed to provide low income affordable housing, a key opportunity for historically marginalized people. Due to market rate increases and the expiration of committed affordable units, Falls Church lost most of its affordable housing stock over the past decade, with more on the chopping block if nothing is done. The Fields of Falls Church, a largely Hispanic community, is the City’s last affordable housing property, with subsidies slated to expire in 2026. That’s 96 families with nowhere else to go in the City.

But we can change this together.  

Ask City Council to charter a new Racial Justice Commission. It should be charged with identifying systemic barriers to racial equity across the City–from housing to transportation to more Black and Brown authors at the library–and advising leadership on how to root out those barriers. 

Get involved with grass-roots organizations working on racial justice issues locally, such as the Social Justice Committee of Falls Church or Welcoming Falls Church

Consider what you are willing to change to achieve a racially diverse community, because the status quo will not get us there. Changes in housing policy will require real trade-offs, with impacts on property taxes, services, and neighborhoods. In a resource-constrained world, how would you advise City Council to fund affordable housing? Could you imagine the next tear-down on your street being replaced with 4,000 square feet for two families instead of 4,000 square feet for one?  

Urge City Council to expand our stock of truly affordable and workforce housing. Ask them to 1) allocate funds in the annual budget for affordable housing (currently $0 each year), 2) request a larger share of affordable units in new mixed-use developments, 3) support zoning changes that allow for alternatives to single family homes, such as granny flats or duplexes, and 4) thoroughly examine the City’s housing, building, and zoning codes to remove barriers to our vision of being an inclusive community. 

Show up. Participate. Listen. Volunteer. Vote. We know that where children grow up has a profound impact on their health, education levels, and job prospects. Falls Church is a wealthy and privileged community. Let’s open our doors. That’s what it means to be welcoming and inclusive.

Andrea Caumont, Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation Chair; Letty Hardi, Councilmember; Erik Pelton, Economic Development Authority Vice Chair; Robert Puentes, Planning Commissioner; Joshua Shokoor, Housing Commission Member; Kathleen Tysse, Library Board of Trustees Member and 2019-2020 Elementary PTA President; Cory Weiss, Planning Commissioner; Andrew Young, Environmental Sustainability Council Chair

What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, July 13: City Council Meeting
  • Monday, July 20: City Council Work Session

City Council Meetings start at 730 pm, unless otherwise specified. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of all of our other virtual Board & Commission meetings: https://www.fallschurchva.gov/471/Watch-City-Council-Meetings