Updates from Letty – November 12, 2021

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,

After the election, City Council was back in the saddle this week. Congratulations to my new and returning colleagues and a big thanks to all of the candidates who selflessly stepped forward to run for office. This week’s TL;DR:

  • We covered one of my favorite regular topics – our City Council work plan and capital projects. I field a lot of questions about projects within these plans so if you’re wondering when construction on S. Washington will end, where are those new LED street lights, how we’re improving pedestrian safety, stormwater, or some other project around town – do read on. Capital projects are where your tax dollars are most visible and have been one of the top areas of focus during my time on Council. Now that the really big projects are done (multiple schools, city hall, library)…what’s in the queue?
  • We also passed two equity policies for affordable housing and local government participation. I look forward to more work to come.
  • We advanced at first reading a new plastic bag tax – if we adopt it in December, expect the new tax to begin in April 2022 in grocery, drug, and convenience stores.

As we look ahead to seating a new City Council in 2022, I want to hear from the community about your priorities as we develop our next work plan. Speaking of feedback, the input forms for ARPA (the federal COVID relief/recovery funding) close today, so get your comments in! We’re planning to vote on the next allocation of the funds right before Thanksgiving, so your input will be valuable.

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

(1) Plastic bag tax

We passed at first reading a 5 cents per plastic bag tax to be charged at grocery, convenience, and drug stores. As I wrote in October, the tax is leveraging new authority the General Assembly granted us in 2020 and intended to discourage the consumption of plastic bags, which is a top environmental polluter, not revenue generation. If adopted, the tax will go into effect likely around April 2022 and you should see more regional communication and coordination with the impacted businesses (about 20 within the city) ahead of the effective date. Most of our neighboring localities have already adopted this ordinance, so there will be a consistent approach across Northern Virginia.

We’ll have a public hearing before final adoption in December.

(2) New Equity Policies

We cast two small, yet symbolic, votes to continue advancing our equity work. This week:

  • We voted to affirm the removal of citizenship requirements to qualify for the city’s affordable housing program. The citizenship requirement was initiated when the program began in the early 2000s. Applicants will still need to meet income thresholds, but citizenship will no longer be a requirement. Applicants will also continue to be prioritized based on the current criteria – we give priority to seniors, residents with disabilities, current city residents, and people who work in the city.
  • We voted to request a amendment to the City Charter to remove the requirement that members of boards and commissions be qualified voters (ie US citizenship). There are many non-citizens in the community who are affected by the decisions of the City’s advisory boards and commissions and there is consensus among many staff and board and commission members that those persons should be able to participate equally in the commission system. The General Assembly will have to take action to amend the charter in their 2022 session.

Letty’s thoughts – I’ve written about this topic plenty and look forward to additional concrete policy actions and investments to make equity an ongoing commitment. For another perspective, this resonated with me: what’s next after racial equity yard signs/book clubs/etc?

(3) Capital Improvements & City Council Work Plan

We hold quarterly reviews on both the CIP snapshot (Capital Improvements Program – projects that cost $150K+ and have a useful life of 5+ years) and our City Council biannual work plan, which was last created 2 years ago right before COVID.

Letty’s thoughts: I readily admit my impatience about the status of projects that seemingly take forever – especially transportation ones that help us evolve from a car-dependent suburb to a more walkable (and transportation-equitable) community that I wish were done yesterday. But as I take a step back and reflect on the breadth of work in both plans – I am grateful to city staff who have diligently pursued transportation grants, creative funding, and partnership in the region to help our small government plan and implement projects in the queue that support that vision.

Below I’ll highlight the items where I hear the most community interest (again, heavy in pedestrian and transportation items), but I encourage you to dive deeper into either plan where you’d like more details.

  • S. Washington project – the improvements along S. Washington should finally be complete by the end of the year! The project includes elimination of the slip lane at S. Washington/Hillwood and addition of brick sidewalks, crosswalks, and a new “multi-modal transit plaza”. New lighting, signal poles, and street trees will be installed in the coming weeks. While the new geometry of that S. Washington/Hillwood intersection will take some adjustment, the design is intended to be more pedestrian friendly by slowing cars down. The new streetscape will be a much needed investment in this area of the city and align more closely to the tree-lined streets, brick sidewalks, lighting we all enjoy on Broad Street.
  • S. Washington/S. Maple – a new signalized intersection (rendering below) is coming! Construction is expected to begin next spring. Further improvements are needed along Rt 29 (kudos to advocacy from the Rt 29 working group), but this is the beginning of several other projects we’re pursuing.
  • Neighborhood Traffic Calming – while all of the prioritized NTC projects have funding, it’s important to note that the current construction date for the Greenway Downs project won’t be until 2024. Several of us requested more interim measures for that neighborhood before then.
  • Broad Stnew Hawk signals coming to Oak, Fairfax, Berry – work is expected to begin early next year.
  • Stormwater – the “big 6” gray infrastructure projects were prioritized by the Stormwater Task Force and funding is proposed within the next ARPA allocation. That won’t take care of all stormwater needs across the city, so we’ll need a plan and funding for other needs. Staff is keeping an eye towards federal aid like the infrastructure bill that recently passed Congress. I also strongly believe we need to look at “upstream” policies – ie, how to reduce runoff via stricter requirements and mature tree preservation especially in residential redevelopment and encourage more retention in existing neighborhoods by boosting the incentives and tax credits programs.
  • W&OD Trail Crossings – while the new dual trails pilot opened in October, another project to widen and improve the crossings at the streets is planned to begin in 2024. (Hence the yellow bollards that pinch the W&OD trail to accommodate the narrower crossings.)
  • LED Streetlights – coming soon: pilot streets with new LED bulbs installed so we can collect feedback on brightness, bulb color, etc ahead of the full city-wide streetlight conversion to LED.
New 3 legged intersection coming to S. Maple/S. Washington – new signal, ADA curb ramps, crosswalks, and pedestrian push buttons

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, Nov 15 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, Nov 22 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, Dec 6 – City Council & School Board Joint Work Session*

Monday, Dec 13 – City Council Meeting*

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