Updates from Letty – September 30, 2022

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,

As is sometimes the case, what happened outside of our City Council official agenda is what I found the most interesting and worthwhile to share – this week, I’m going to talk about bicycling infrastructure, the annual Community Profile (like a “state of the union” report for the city) along with some myth-busting (would you believe that VDOT data says we actually saw 9.3% *less* traffic volume from 2007 to 2019), and City Council salaries. A central theme weaving across all three topics is change – changing demographics, changing housing stock, changing infrastructure and as a result, how do we welcome and represent new voices. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

I hope everyone enjoyed the stretch of great fall weather before this weekend’s incoming rain (storm preparedness tips here). While it’s not looking like outdoor dining weather for a few days – our declaration of emergency for Covid-19 ends tomorrow (October 1), and we did vote this week to extend zoning flexibility for all of our new outdoor dining for another 6 months. We’re off to the Virginia Municipal League’s conference next week, so our next meeting will occur on October 11 (October 10 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day) and my next post will be back in two weeks.

Stay dry,

What Happened This Week:

(1) Bike Advocacy

We welcomed an amazing turnout of bike advocates during public comments in our meeting this week, thanks to Bike Falls Church. We heard a diverse array of stories from residents and visitors about why they’d like to see Falls Church up our game when it comes to bike infrastructure. It was heartening to see so many new faces from all walks of life, most of whom have never turned up at City Council meetings – civic engagement at work! We heard common requests to become a “people first” city with infrastructure like protected bike lanes (not sharrows, which haven’t shown to increase cycling or improve bike safety), so that people of all ages and abilities can feel safer on a bike. We heard you: walking and biking are not only healthier and greener, they also create more economically vibrant places.

Letty’s thoughts: I sympathize with the stories we heard this week – I have cautioned my own kids against biking to school (they have been walking to the secondary campus since 2020 – there isn’t yet a direct, safe route to the secondary campus). That doesn’t have to be the reality we accept. We have made some progress with bike facilities in the past few years, and I have confidence that the current City Council shares the same goals as our bike advocates. That said, it does take time and money to retrofit our car-centric infrastructure, so it’s not enough to say we support the goals. Goals and policies are only good if we fund and prioritize them. And sometimes tradeoffs are necessary. As a community, are we willing to make hard calls if we really want to have more mobility options where a car is not the default? When we have the opportunity in upcoming budget decisions, I’d support more bike investments that can be done quickly in the coming year. I’d welcome your thoughts as well.

(2) Community Profile & “Did You Knows”

During this rainy weekend, I encourage you to take 10 minutes to curl up with the 2022 Community Profile, which is an excellent year in review of Falls Church, as we keep advancing the community towards the 2040 Vision. We all can get mired in the day to day, so the report is a good step back – a reminder of votes we cast, projects completed, and the culmination of hard work by city staff through the second half of Covid-19.

A few noteworthy points from the report, many of which come up regularly in my conversations around town and are surprising to many:

  • While we have slightly increased in diversity over the past 20 years (from 85% white in 2000 to 78% white in 2020), we are still considerably less diverse than our immediate neighbors.
  • We actually outnumber Arlington with the % of one member households, largely due to the housing stock we’ve added the past 20 years.
  • Already in 2016, multifamily housing units accounted for the largest segment of housing stock in the city (2700), outnumbering single family housing units (2300).
  • As a result of more rental multifamily housing units, there is an interesting phenomenon with cars in the city – while we have grown a lot of housing units, we haven’t grown the number of cars as much. 65% of owner occupied homes have 2+ cars whereas almost 59% of renter occupied homes have 1 or 0 cars. Correspondingly, VDOT data actually says traffic volume dropped by over 9% from 2007 to 2019 when our population increased during that time.
  • Finally, in response to the concern that we’re running out of land with all of the development underway, you might be surprised that in the past 20 years of development, 94 acres have been redeveloped – which is less than 1/3 of “develop-able” land in Falls Church. (We have about 300 acres in our commercial/revitalization districts and 1400 total acres in the city, not that all 300 acres should be redeveloped).

(3) City Council Salaries

During the work session half of our meeting, we discussed a proposal to increase City Council member salaries from $9200 (council members)/$9800 (mayor) per year to $11,000/$11,500 and provide benefits, such as health insurance, that city employees receive. Salaries were last adjusted in 2007 and are capped by the General Assembly based on a jurisdiction’s size. Even if we vote on increasing salaries, the new salaries would only apply after the next City Council election (November 7, 2023) and take effect July 1, 2024.

Letty’s thoughts: Anytime we discuss or vote on our own salaries, of course it is uncomfortable and uneasy. But it’s important for us to be transparent in the discussion and share the intent. I believe that we should make it easier for a wider array of candidates to take on this job – anyone who is qualified to run and wants to do it should not be limited because of the compensation tradeoff they may be making. In reality, no one can live independently on $11,000 per year with the General Assembly’s cap, but the addition of benefits increases the chances of attracting more representative candidates to run for office. At the end of the day, I believe the best City Council is the one that is the most reflective of the community, and the small increase in salary and benefits can help us get closer.

What’s Coming Up:

Tuesday, October 11 – Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Community Chat (Meridian HS, 630-8 pm)

Tuesday, October 11 – City Council Meeting* (Tuesday due to Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct 10)

Monday, October 17 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, October 24 – 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