Updates from Letty – October 20, 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,

With so much pain in the world, hopefully this post about local government is a momentary distraction. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering in Israel and Gaza. It reminds me we have a lot to be grateful for here in Falls Church.

My last post was indeed a popular one based on the input and questions I received – thank you for the engagement. (ICYMI, it covered the “report card” on development and a preview of new businesses we’re excited to welcome). Our City Council work session was a meaty one, but for the sake of efficiency, I’m going to highlight the most timely topics and/or where I’d welcome input ahead of votes. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Retail Landscape: Continuing on the development theme, we heard a consultant report on the state of retail, so I’ll share the takeaways, including real data on the continued misconception about vacancy rates and how we compare with our neighbors. You might be surprised to hear whether there’s room for another grocery store!
  • Surplus & Budget: We have a budget amendment up for a first reading vote next week – I’ll share the staff recommendations that’s been discussed in our two work sessions so far, what I support and why, as I’ve also fielded questions about this.
  • Community Energy Plan: As climate change is an existential threat, we reviewed the draft Community Energy Plan that has been in the works this year and planned for adoption in November. It’s an excellent plan with bold community-wide changes we need to take on, and I’ll pull out items you can do to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We’re in the final stretch of campaign season. I’ve included links to various voter guides below. What is your plan to vote? You can early vote through November 4 or vote on Election Day on November 7.


PS – Do you know what a Kidical Mass is? Join us for a Halloween-themed parade bike ride down Park Ave next Saturday (you can also join in modes other than bike); we’ll be meeting in the Founders Row plaza.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Retail Landscape Report

It’s important to continuously monitor the broader commercial environment especially with how much it’s changed and continues to change so we can adapt our economic development strategies. For example, with working from home trends holding, I believe “where you live” will matter a lot more than “where you work” and Falls Church is in a great position for this. A few takeaways from this report:

  • With more people still working from home, downtowns matter less and there’s more demand for “neighborhood-serving” retail and services, blurring the line between weekday vs weekend activities.
  • Experiential retail, where people are not just getting goods, has been more resilient.
  • The consultant believes there’s still more demand in Falls Church for grocer, restaurant, co-working, and medical/health and wellness uses.
  • Falls Church is insulated from the most severe pressures of the region when it comes to vacancy rates, mostly because we don’t have a huge concentration of office space which we used to envy, but now may be blessing in disguise. (High office vacancy leads to decrease in commercial assessed values which leads to lower commercial property taxes…this will be putting a lot of pressure on our neighbors’ budgets.) You might be surprised that our retail vacancy rate is low and on par and our commercial vacancy is a fraction of our neighbors.
Falls ChurchTysonsArlington
Retail vacancy rate3.5%3.2%4.8%
Office vacancy rate6.2%19.4%21.6%

(2) Surplus & Budget Amendment

We’ve been discussing the plans for the budget surplus (see my post from September for the recap) in the past two work sessions and a first reading vote is next Monday. Here is the staff recommendation from our work session and my thoughts below it. I’d welcome your input.

Letty’s Thoughts:

  • While the overall surplus is $5.2M, about $200K needs to replenish our unassigned fund balance (our rainy day fund) per our financial policies and another $900K is to be shared with the schools per the revenue sharing agreement we established 4 years ago. I support both of those initial uses. That leaves $4.1M available to the City Council.
  • Of that list, I support the transportation projects that improve walkability/pedestrian safety that have project shortfalls due to inflation, the environment plans, and the smaller items that reflect priorities I’ve heard from the community at my office hours, while doorknocking, and that reflect the City Council workplan we adopt every 2 years. In the meeting this week, I raised concerns about spending $250K to upgrade leaf vacuums and other fleet, when we should be transitioning to greener options. (That said, I know leaf vacuum is a popular service and we need to start with more education that composting/mulching leaves on site is a far better practice.) There’s also a $290K item to hire short term contractors, given the hiring challenges, which I support.
  • The proposed expenditures are about half of the surplus – about $2M as we think it’s important to have fiscal restraint for 2 reasons:
    • Metro funding is a big regional risk that we need more information on what our share might be, and we likely won’t have that info til early 2024.
    • Taxpayer burden continues to be top of mind and we need to be good stewards of taxpayer money. It’s generally unwise to take one time money and use it for ongoing items like a tax rate decrease. I am cognizant that taxes are still high because property values are high even if we have dropped the tax rate 12.5 cents the past few years. We have been discussing augmenting programs like low income senior tax relief programs, affordable housing, and first time homebuyer downpayment assistance – so in this coming Monday’s meeting, I expect those items to be added on the list for consideration. 

(3) Community Energy Plan

The draft Community Energy Action Plan (CEAP) is excellent 50 page report (the presentation deck is a good cliffs notes version), with specific strategies, actions under each, proposed metrics and tracking. The most meaningful ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) require changes in transportation and buildings. That requires some bold changes in behavior, like making choices to drive less and keep investing in other modes of transportation like walking and biking. All of this will also need a commitment of resources, investment (see budget amendment above), and real action by the community to do their part. On that note, here’s what you as an individual can do.

Your Choices Matter: What Falls Church Residents Can Do to Reduce GHG Emissions

  • Consider Other Transit Options: Go “car free”, combine trips, or choose the bus, metro, biking, or walking as your means of transportation as much as possible.
  • Choose an Electric Vehicle: If you choose to drive, commit to purchasing an electric vehicle.
  • Be More Energy Efficient: Implementing energy efficiency retrofits on your home or business, including installing insulation, weatherizing, and changing to LED lighting. Moreover, consider upgrading to a more efficient HVAC system than required by law.
  • Electrify Your Property: Switch to electric from gas by installing a heat pump HVAC system and/or heat pump water heater, install an electric stove, cooktop, and heat pump clothes dryer, and use electric landscaping equipment.
  • Install Rooftop Solar: Power your home directly with clean electricity by installing solar on your rooftop.
  • Compost Food Scraps and Yard Trimmings: Reduce what you send to the landfill by composting food scraps and yard waste through curbside collection services, the City’s drop-off location, or your backyard.
  • Help Cool the Heat: By planting and maintaining healthy trees, you can help cool the urban heat island effect, reducing the amount of energy needed in the summer months to cool our buildings and providing shade along sidewalks, pathways, and transit stops

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, October 23 – City Council Meeting*

Tuesday, November 7 – Election Day

Monday, November 13 – 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

Voter Guides & Endorsements: