Updates from Letty – June 30, 2023

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,

During this week’s City Council meeting, there was a poster in the audience that read “action > words”. That has always resonated with me. As the legislative body in a Council-Manager form of government, our role on the City Council is primarily to set policy and budget and then rely on professional staff to execute based on that directive. (In contrast, I’m most excited when we follow up our policies with real actions and initiatives, especially with metrics and accountability – ie, the less glamorous work of rolling up the sleeves to do the work vs making speeches and public comments.) In any case, “actions > words” is a fitting theme for the topics I’m sharing this week:

  • East End Small Area Plan (aka the area around the Eden Center)
  • City Council Work Plan
  • Pride Month Wrap Up

A few administrative items to note before we break for the holiday next week: Falls Church’s Independence Day celebration will be on Sunday, July 2 (fireworks are back!); the T Zones walking tour was postponed due to risk of inclement weather to Monday, July 17; and our remaining summer meetings will be July 10, July 17, and August 7.

Happy Fourth,

PS – You might have seen news about a Candidate Integrity Pledge, initiated by the Citizens for a Better City. As I had already planned to limit campaign contributions to $100 per person like I did in my last re-election campaign, I plan to endorse and sign the new pledge. More to come.

What Happened This Week:

Photo: dcist.com

(1) East End Small Area Plan

After much public comment, we unanimously adopted the revised East End Small Area Plan, the culmination of a multi year effort by city staff and the community. Small area plans are ambitious, visioning documents meant to elicit community input and discussion on the future of the commercial corridors in the city. (This is the final SAP for the 7 commercial corridors in the city which was started over 10 years ago, which means it’s time to refresh those original ones!) The plan includes a vision for future investments in the East End such as improved sidewalks, arts and culture, sustainability, and the community requested emphasis on support for small businesses and anti-displacement tools.

Letty’s thoughts: While there is no imminent risk of displacement (because there are no plans for redevelopment), it’s evident that the small area planning process brought forward the need to better invest and connect the east end and Eden Center with the rest of the city. But plans just stay plans without perseverance and follow through (action > words). I encouraged the community advocates and the property owner of the Eden Center to continue the dialogue and begin the real work together – implementing public art, adding gathering spaces, managing the parking more efficiently, joining the Chamber of Commerce, pursuing the honorific name of Saigon Blvd for Wilson Blvd. The city also has a responsibility to lead with more public investments in the east end with improvements like transportation infrastructure. We can also pilot the role of a part-time outreach coordinator in the next budget so that this engagement with the city can continue and not be a one time effort.

Much thanks to staff and the activists who challenged the city to pause and re-start different community outreach so we could have more diverse voices from the Eden Center business and patron community at the table. The model of “meeting people where they are” is different than traditional public engagement where the voices that we hear may not be the most representative of the entire community, so it’s a model I hope we’ll keep using in the future. Out of the handful of small area plans I’ve had a role in adopting, the East End SAP is the most comprehensive and creative – and I believe it is because of the significant amount of community input we gathered.

(2) City Council Work Plan

Every two years, the newly seated City Council develops a new work plan and on a quarterly basis, we review project status with staff. A few highlights in this latest update, based on the community’s priorities I hear the most:

  • HAWK signals – the long-awaited new HAWK signals project on Broad St (at Oak, Fairfax, Berry) will begin construction this fall and expected to complete Spring 2024 (HAWKs are “High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacons” – ie, ped activated buttons that will require traffic to stop to create a safe crossing, at mid blocks where there is no traffic signal).
  • Speed & Red Light Cameras: 800 Broad St, which was recommended by the consultant’s speed study, is expected to be the first pilot location for the city’s speed camera program – to be implemented this fall/winter 2023. One additional red light camera is expected to be added in the city during winter 2023 as well.
  • Bikes: we approved a budget amendment this week that will revise and update the 2015 Bike Master Plan, with specific focus on a safe biking route to the secondary focus. Staff also committed a retroactive and forward look at where we can add bike facilitiies based on road paving.
  • Great Streets/Park Ave – following last summer’s walking tour, the project has been in 60% design. There will be a briefing for us at our August 7 before plans are submitted for the 90% design phase in Fall 2023.
  • Neighborhood Traffic Calming – with the very large Greenway Downs traffic calming proposal now approved by the neighborhood and proceeding, the NTC “pause” is expected to lift so other projects can be prioritized and work through the queue.
  • Parks – the design for the Fellows property based on the master park plan that was adopted last November will be underway. Expect community discussion on the design plan in the coming year. If you’re interested in rolling up your sleeves on this specific park – there is an opening on our Rec and Parks Advisory Board (along with a few other vacancies).

While this work plan is very ambitious and there are many projects underway and soon to be visible around town – there is a huge cost risk out there. Staff prefaced the update with a brief snapshot of select capital projects that are facing significant cost inflation – to the order of more than 2x the original total budget. Rather than decide if we’ll fund each project with more money individually (as they are all worthy, important projects) – I asked that we have a more comprehensive, holistic look at our capital projects and whether a re-prioritization/re-sequencing of projects would make more sense – so I expect that tough conversation to happen this fall.

Letty’s thoughts: The work plan is one of my favorite recurring topics. As the stewards of the city’s budget and shepherds of the community’s priorities, the work plan is where the magic happens – ie, where broad policy and ideas come to life into real projects that deliver services for our residents and businesses (action > words).

(3) Wrapping Up Pride Month

Many little hands make light work! (action > words)

A big thanks to my colleagues Debbie and Caroline and the families who helped paint the latest rainbow crosswalk with me last weekend in front of the Community Center. Besides beautifying and brightening up the city and a visible statement of our inclusive and welcoming values to wrap up Pride Month (a good reminder that our policies also match our values – all City-run programs, events, and activities are open for to all to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity and sexuality), pavement art makes streets safer!

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, July 10 – Quinn/Homestretch Project Walking Tour (6 pm) & City Council Meeting (730 pm)*

Monday, July 17 – T Zones Walking Tour (6 pm) & City Council Meeting (730 pm)*

Monday, August 7 – City Council Meeting*

*Mondays (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings