Updates from Letty – November 13, 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,

Since my last post in October and what has felt like the longest weeks ever – our community successfully pulled off a pandemic Halloween, led the state with a high voter turnout of 82.5% on November 3rd, and returned another phase of kids to hybrid learning in school this week. And our country elected a new president and vice president in a historic election. Many of us look forward to new national leadership in January and the end of an awful chapter of history.

However, the end is not yet in sight for COVID-19. We are all pandemic-weary 8 months in, but the coming months will be so critical, even in Northern Virginia where the data currently doesn’t look as dire as the rest of the country. Health experts are urging everyone to get through the winter and celebrate the holidays safely. Just like in the spring when we came together to flatten the curve, we still need to continue the sacrifices to protect each other: social distance, wear masks, limit travel, and avoid indoor gatherings. Even with prospects of a vaccine in 2021, we need to make it through the winter first.

City Council, now back to 7 members (welcome Debbie!), resumed meetings this week with a lot of familiar topics: stormwater, affordable housing, our work plan. I’ll also share the latest on school enrollment (no surprise – enrollment is down) and student projections. This was discussed by the School Board and not by City Council, but has important implications on capacity and capital planning, which is a shared priority. Read on, you might be surprised at what the forecast says…

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

(1) City Council Meeting & Work Session – TL;DR version:

  • Budget Amendment – passed 7-0. The budget amendment appropriated another round of federal CARES money, which includes funding for rent relief and food assistance for residents and grants to local small businesses. The budget amendment also directs some of the underspending from the prior year on Next Gen 911 upgrades, the city’s share of lights for the new high school practice field, and sidewalk work on S. Oak/Seaton.
  • Stormwater Task Force 2.0charter amendment passed 7-0. We extended the timeline and scope of the citizen Stormwater Task Force. Besides the 6 gray infrastructure projects, we’ll be looking to the task force to provide recommendations on green infrastructure projects, an assessment of current building practices and water retention requirements, and options to expand or update those requirements and more equitable fee structures to share the cost. Some of these ideas are in the task force’s excellent report, pages 23-27.
  • Affordable Housing – following the joint work session we had in October on recommendations for next steps on housing, we began discussion on potential projects for the Amazon REACH grant application due at the end of 2020. At stake is $3.75M towards housing affordability initiatives. We will need to weigh ownership vs rental opportunities, how to maximize the grant funds to do the most good, potential partnerships, and ways to make our grant application competitive with the largest jurisdictions also vying for the funds. Watch the library’s community panel on affordable housing next Tuesday evening.
  • City Council Work Plan – the work plan is the City Council’s short list of top projects and priorities for the next two years to advance the City’s vision. You’ll see that it contains many initiatives that are regular topics on this blog: traffic calming, pedestrian safety, economic development, equity, environmental stewardship. Of note: in the work plan is also a topic in next week’s work session mechanisms to encourage smaller scale, infill development.

(2) 2020-2021 Student Enrollment

As one of the earliest steps in the budget development process is a review of current student enrollment and projections for the coming year(s). This year’s report was on the School Board’s agenda this week and not ours, but it is a topic of importance to the us on the City Council too.

My main takeaways:

1. This year: Not surprisingly, there is a large drop in enrollment from COVID-19 – 2516 total students, which is 145 less students than last year and 182 less students than projected, about 7% less. This brings us back to 2015 levels of enrollment. The decreases are most pronounced in the younger grades and the transition years between schools, likely due to virtual learning being difficult for our youngest learners.

2. Next year(s): Weldon Cooper Center of UVA prepares student enrollment projections each year for FCCPS. Aside from the dip in enrollment this year, we’ve also been seeing lower birth rates. So WCC’s projections all show a trend of enrollment declining in the short term before rebounding slightly in the longer term. But overall, enrollment is projected to be lower compared to the year over year growth curve we saw about 5 years ago.

3. Caveats and Why This Matters – before considering this final, we should work to make sure the city’s demographic, development, and housing trends are all incorporated. (Remember: mixed use developments to date have contributed little student growth, with most student growth occurring in existing housing stock.) That said, once that’s done – this projection has important implications for capacity planning, capital planning, and budgets. In other words, this will help us understand how many years of capacity we have left in each building, when and how much we should plan on improvements or additions, etc.

What’s Coming Up:

(1) Remaining City Council Meetings in 2020:

November 16
November 23
December 7
December 14

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

(2) Tuesday, November 17, 2020 at 7 pm – Affordable Housing Community Discussion