Updates from Letty – June 26, 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,

You’ve marched, donated, signed petitions, ordered new books. Now what? If your social media feeds and neighborhood chatter are like mine, the cynical part of me worries that this activism is already fading. Easy wins like new band-aid colors and bringing down monuments by themselves are hollow. How will you make sure that Black Lives Matter all the time?

My suggestion: stop feeling guilty, acknowledge your privilege, and put it to good use by supporting local policy change. Last week, you learned (or were reminded) that we are a disproportionately white community with immense privilege, far from our aspirations. This week’s post will be a starting list of ideas at the local level. If you’ve been a long time reader, spoiler alert – you’ll know my personal story and belief that real change starts with housing and education policy (see my op-ed from last year). Instead of continuing to hoard your privilege, are you willing to create opportunity and make room for others? If you support BLM, do you support housing for all?

Also this week – the Governor announced all of Virginia will enter Phase 3 of reopening next Wednesday July 1st, so read on for the details. Also be prepared for more messiness on Rt 29 for a good project that is finally re-starting. And we’ve chartered the Police Use of Force Review Committee, so if you’re interested in being a part of police reform locally – consider volunteering for a ~6 month commitment. Applications will be due July 5th.

Since next Monday is a 5th Monday, we get a brief break from our weekly meetings and my blog will also go on hiatus. I am encouraged by all the feedback, ideas, and pledges to “do more” – I’d love to keep hearing from you.

Take care,

(1) Racial Justice in Falls Church

If you need to catch up on the series, in Week 1, I started with a few snippets of Falls Church history, including the gerrymandering of historically Black neighborhoods out of town limits and Virginia’s long resistance to school integration even after Brown vs Board of Education, FCCPS included. (More to come in a few months, when a more thorough history panel will come together.) Then in Week 2, I shared the reality of our current demographics and how far we are from our 2040 vision to being welcoming and inclusive to all.

Housing Policy Ideas

As a primer – besides understanding our own city’s history, you should know that US housing policy has been long anchored in racism – from redlining to racially restrictive covenants to the construct of zoning itself. Early ordinances specifically banned Blacks from certain area. The Supreme Court outlawed that in 1917, but exclusionary zoning was created as a way around the court’s ruling, a means to segregate by income without explicitly banning by racial or religious groups. Middle-class neighborhoods were reserved for single family homes that lower-income families could not afford. Redlining, the government’s grading of neighborhoods for credit risk, with the “redlined” areas as highest risk based on race, kept minority families from getting mortgages. Restrictive covenants were provisions in deeds that explicitly prevented from Blacks from owning the property and were critical in securing home financing. I’ve heard several accounts that City homeowners have been surprised to find racist restrictions still in their deeds today.

Real excerpt from a house deed located in the City of Falls Church

Even if redlining and racist covenants were made illegal by the Fair Housing Act in 1968, they set the stage for our largely segregated communities. And with homes as the largest asset for most Americans, those practices perpetuated much of the wealth gap between white and Black Americans across generations, limited access to education opportunities (as where you live largely determines the quality of your education), and contributed to today’s housing affordability crisis.

If housing and education are at the core of today’s inequities – what better way to begin to fix old harms than to challenge these policies to bring down our walls?

If you’ve come this far, I hope this means you’ve acknowledged that we need to do more. This week, my goal is to share the beginnings of real policies and actions you can support, individually and in this community, so that we can create real change in Falls Church. This is not meant to be exhaustive and I want to hear your ideas too.

–> Increase supply of affordable housing

  • Dedicated workforce housing for people who work and live in city
  • Prioritize developer contributions towards affordable units in new projects (but result in fewer or no contributions elsewhere)
  • Microunit apartments
  • Downpayment assistance to allow wealth building opportunity
  • Fund housing vouchers
  • Preserve the expiring affordable housing we have left – would need to buy out ownership and/or allow for redevelopment density

–> Increase diverse housing types, ie, “missing middle housing”

  • Incentives to preserve older, small houses
  • More cottages or tiny houses
  • Accessory dwelling units – aka granny flats, that create a more affordable rental option and extra source of income for homeowner
  • Zoning parameters like setbacks, lot sizes – what can we do within current Virginia rules?
  • End exclusionary zoning – allow for duplex+

Most of these ideas have a real cost and are complex – they require much thought and care to get right. More so, when these ideas are proposed in real backyards and no longer theoretical – they are seen as a threat to those who have “made it in” and have accumulated wealth in their homes, so they are usually met with loud public opposition. If we have the courage and stomach to take on these ideas, they could foster all types of diversity we value – racial, socioeconomic, generational.

Other Policy Ideas

It’s worth noting that racial and socioeconomic disparities exist in our well-resourced small school district. I’m heartened that it has been openly acknowledged and made a priority by school leadership to close those achievement gaps.

  • Adopt a school outside our borders via PTAs or other groups
  • Build local history into curriculum that is not teacher-dependent
  • Add tuition-free or sliding scale spots for non FCC students
  • Fund preschools for all
  • Incentives for Black-owned businesses to locate here
  • Increase share of Black authors in library collection
  • Ensure capital investments are spread equally across the city and benefit all, and not just for the loudest who have the privilege to speak up
  • Public celebration of diversity – art reflects true history, city-led celebrations
  • Dual language signage and communication throughout the city
  • Review DEI leadership and advancement practices – hiring, promoting, and supporting

It’s not lost of me that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and recession, local and state budgets are tight, and we’ve maxed out our debt capacity with a new high school, city hall, and library. So new bonding, increasing taxes as a new stream of revenue (even a more progressive tax like the meals tax), or diverting resources away from another area to fund these ideas will be tough. But if budgets reflect our priorities, and our new priorities include Black Lives Matter and increasing diversity in our city, how will you prioritize this? Will you speak up for these ideas, even if they make you uncomfortable? Will you support these ideas, even if they require a personal sacrifice?

If you still are looking for more resources, here are a few others: current FC info on housing and affordable housing, add to your daily schedule, and weekend viewing.

(2) Phase 3 Reopening Begins next Wednesday July 1st

Still practice social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing…

  • Non-essential retail businesses will no longer have to restrict the number of people in their stores, but social distancing and face coverings will still be required
  • Restaurants will no longer have to restrict the number of people in their restaurant, but social distancing and face coverings will still be required.
  • Entertainment establishments like museums and zoos may open at 50% capacity, but they will be capped at 1,000 people.
  • Gyms may open at 75% capacity or 250 people, with 10 foot social distancing requirements.
  • Salons and barbershops will continue as in Phase Two.
  • Overnight summer camps will still closed.
  • Recreational sports attendees (including both participants and spectators) cannot exceed the lesser of 50% of the occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy, if applicable, or 250 persons; For sports played on a field, attendees are limited to 250 persons per field.
  • Pools will be able to open at 75% capacity, with 10 foot social distancing requirements.
    • Related: Hot tubs, spas, saunas, splash pads, spray pools, and interactive play features must remain closed. 
  • Entertainment and fun — performing arts venues, concert venues, movie theaters, drive-in entertainment, sports venues, botanical gardens, zoos, fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, museums, aquariums, bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, carnivals, arts and craft facilities, escape rooms, trampoline parks, public and private social clubs, and all other entertainment centers and places of public amusement: open with occupancy at 50% of the lowest occupancy or 1000 patrons; 10 foot social distancing requirements.

(3) Rt 29 / S. Washington Transportation Improvements

A project 12+ years in the making will finally begin in earnest this summer. The S. Washington Street Transportation Improvements Project will provide safe access for pedestrians and cyclists, encourage multimodal transit options, improve traffic flow and encourage economic development in the area. Will include a redesign of the S. Washington/Hillwood intersection, new traffic signals, a new transit plaza, bus shelters, bicycle racks, community gathering space with interpretative history panels, crosswalks, and new streetscape.

You may recall a lot of utility undergrounding and other preparation work happened along this corridor previously. With our approval of the construction contract (funded by federal grants), work is scheduled to begin in July 2020 and run through Dec 2021.

At the transit plaza, you can look forward to public art in the form of history panels. See here for the proposed text about the history of the City of Falls Church.

(4) Police Use of Force Review Committee

As part of signing President Obama’s pledge for all cities across the US to take action, we are committed to continuous improvement, transparency, and accountability. This week, the City Council chartered the Police Use of Force Review Committee to undertake that process and hear from the community on your experiences. Applications are due after the holiday on July 5th and we’ll look to stand up the committee by the end of the month.

(5) Looking ahead to summer

West Falls Church Project Site Plan

With the submission of the West Falls Church project (aka 10 acre project) site plan, we’ll be reviewing at our first work session when we resume meeting on July 6th. Boards and Commission will be reviewing in their meetings in July and August. The site plan materials are posted here: https://www.fallschurchva.gov/1599/West-Falls-Church-Project

Metro news

Metro will reopen six stations and restore Silver Line service on August 16 – weeks earlier than originally planned: McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro, Spring Hill, and Wiehle-Reston East, West Falls Church.

Assuming the platform work continues at its current pace, the remaining three west-of-Ballston stations (Vienna, Dunn Loring, and East Falls Church) are expected to reopen around Labor Day.