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Politics


Our endorsements for races across the Washington region

Tuesday, November 8 is Election Day, and most area jurisdictions have early voting which has already begun. Here are our endorsements for some key races on your ballot.


Photo by League of Women Voters of California LWVC on Flickr.

We recommend area voters choose:

  • Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for President
  • David Grosso and Robert White for DC Council at large
  • Mary Lord for DC State Board of Education
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton for DC Delegate
  • DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission: Read our endorsements here
  • For DC's statehood referendum
  • LuAnn Bennett and Don Beyer for Congress in Virginia
  • John Delaney and Jamie Raskin for Congress in Maryland
  • For the Prince George's at-large council seat proposal
  • Against Montgomery County term limits
Below is our rationale for all endorsements in races other than Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. You can read our detailed reasons for our ANC endorsements by choosing your ward from this page.

President and Vice President of the United States

We know, the whole nation was waiting with bated breath to find out what Greater Greater Washington thinks about the presidential race. Your long suspense is over: after some very contentious balloting, our contributors unanimously recommended voting for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. We figured we'd start this post off with a shocker.

Seriously, whether you're Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, pro-urbanism or anti, for goodness' sake, vote for Hillary Clinton. As one contributor put it, "because it's the only choice to keep our national government from slipping into utter chaos." Clinton is, they said, "most likely to continue the Obama Administration's urban policies and really enhance his domestic policy legacy."

Anyway, you probably want to get on to the local races where our endorsement is more likely to sway you. Fair enough!


David Grosso (left) and Robert White (right). Images from the candidates' websites.

DC Council at large

Each November in even years, voters pick two at-large members of the DC Council, but the law limits the number of Democrats (or members of any other party) who can be on the ballot simultaneously. The Democratic nominee is Robert White, whom we endorsed in the June primary against Vincent Orange. Also running as a technically-not-a-Democrat is incumbent David Grosso, and both deserve your vote (if you vote in DC).

One contributor, who lives east of the Anacostia, said of White: "Robert White is appealing for a person East of the River, as he has articulated a policy for preserving affordable housing, but also pairing such efforts with economic development. Typically we get one but not the other. His proposal to increase density along major corridors also has the beneficial effect of encouraging improvements in mass transit."

As for Grosso, he has been a progressive champion on many issues and a strong fighter for better education in DC as head of its education committee for the last two years. He is one of the council's best members and we look forward to the next four years on the council with Grosso and White.

State Board of Education

Voters also choose members of the State Board of Education. Incumbent Mary Lord is running against two challengers, and we encourage voters to return her to the board. While we don't talk about the SBOE much on Greater Greater Washington (want to write about it? Get in touch) and one contributor said, "I'm pretty sure I keep forgetting this group exists until election time," the board sets important education priorities.

Our contributors said that Lord "has the experience and knowledge" to serve effectively on the board, and others noted that respected ANC commissioners and neighborhood groups are supporting her.

There are also races for council ward seats (not expected to be competitive) and some State Board of Education seats (some possibly competitive) in wards 7 and 8 (and uncontested ones in 2 and 4). We did not have enough contributor consensus to make endorsements in the contested races.


Photo by Michelle Kinsey Bruns on Flickr.

DC Statehood

DC voters will weigh in on an advisory ballot referendum about statehood. Our contributors who filled out our survey universally agreed DC deserves statehood, and even if some didn't agree with every detail of the proposed constitution or process, they felt it sends an important message for voters to ratify this by large margins.

One contributor, who didn't support the process, said, "I think there are a lot of issues with how residents will be represented in the constitution developed (ANCs stay with similar power, bigger council). If we really want statehood, we need to put forward a more serious, thoughtful constitution before taking this further, or else no one else will take it seriously."

But others, while agreeing in part, suggested a yes vote: "Its not perfect, but we goddamn deserve to be a state," one wrote. Another: "It's not perfect, but it's still worth supporting."

And: "Any vote against this will be used as a cudgel by those opposed to statehood for a generation." This referendum is not even binding on the DC Council, let alone Congress which has to act to make DC a state. So the vote really is symbolic, but for an important symbol. Please vote yes on DC Advisory Referendum B.

Delegate to Congress

Speaking of DC's non-representation in Congress, our contributors support re-electing Eleanor Holmes Norton as DC's nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives (but support changing that to a voting representative, of course).

While we haven't always agreed with all she's done, contributors said "she has years of experience working across the aisle in Congress and bringing home much needed funds for DC transportation projects; she has proven herself a partner and ally to my community;" and called her "a long-time fighter for social justice."


LuAnn Bennett on a sidewalk. Image from the candidate's website.

Congress in Maryland and Virginia

If you live outside the District and are a US voter, you can cast a ballot for a voting member of Congress. By far the most hotly contested race in our area is in Virginia's 10th district, between incumbent Barbara Comstock and challenger LuAnn Bennett. The district contains parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties as well as all of Loudoun, Clarke, and Frederick counties, plus the cities of Manassas Park, Manassas, and Winchester.

Comstock, the Republican, is portraying herself as a moderate, but as one contributor noted, she "is much more conservative that most people realize, for example a 3% environmental vote score." But even more critically for Greater Greater Washington, she has been unhelpful on issues about WMATA and transit funding.

Further, one contributor noted, "she's shown that she is not very friendly to legislation that would protect cyclists and she also signed legislation that prioritized driving over public transit infrastructure. Knowing her record indicates to me that the 10th district should have a candidate who wants to work with others to promote smart growth, which LuAnn Bennett has made one of her campaign issues."

Just over the Potomac, Maryland's 6th district streches from Montgomery County to western Maryland. Incumbent John Delaney (D) faces Amie Hoeber (R). Our contributors are not huge fans of Delaney, noting that he "is a captive of the highway lobby" and "is determined to widen I-270." However, they said, "his opponent is even worse" and "Amie Hoeber wants to basically widen everything." We encourage voters to return Delaney to office despite his flaws.

In less competitive Congressional races, contributors also had glowing things to say about Don Beyer in VA-8, who "has made smart growth and transit part of his campaign. He's promoted clean energy and public transit, including BRT in Fairfax County."

They also recommended Jamie Raskin, who won a 3-way primary for the open seat in Maryland's 8th district. "Jamie Raskin should easily win but he has been a progressive champion in Annapolis and deserves to be recognized," one wrote. And "Jamie Raskin has been great on Purple Line for many years despite opposition." Raskin has sometimes sided with residents opposed to any new housing in their areas, like on the Takoma Metro station development, but as a member of Congress he would be even more removed from this day-to-day NIMBYism and his record on other issues is very strong.


Images from the campaigns for No On B (Montgomery County term limits) and Re-Charge At Large (Prince George's Question D).

Montgomery County term limits

Montgomery and Prince George's voters will decide whether to change some of the mechanics of their counties' systems with ballot initiatives on November 8.

In Montgomery County, the main question is whether to impose a 3-term limit on county executive and all county council seats. Our contributors who answered the survey unanimously recommend no on Question B. Here's some of what they said:

  • Term limits shift the balance of power away from democratically elected officials and into unelected entities forces like interest groups and agencies.
  • Depriving the Council of experienced members is likely to lead to a Council with a short-term outlook that aims to split the difference between nimby homeowners and real-estate developers, at the expense of county residents who need housing.
  • Honestly, I'm really frustrated with the councilmembers in place today and would like to see them change, but I'm not convinced that term limits will guarantee the change I seek.
  • Term limits remove choices from the voters, and in this case is just a trojan horse for creating several open seats for wealthier residents to buy their way onto the Council.
One particularly nasty part of the term limits proposal would count a full term against anyone who served even a single year (or a day) of a partial term. That would force out Nancy Navarro, who won a special election in 2009 and then her first full term in 2010.

The county council has put Question C on the ballot to change this so that a partial term only counts if it's two years or more, the same as the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution for Presidental term limits. While we hope voters reject term limits entirely, voters should vote yes on Question C to make the law fairer if it does pass.

Prince George's at large

In Montgomery, DC, and other jurisdictions, there are at-large councilmembers alongside ward members. This means everyone still has one person representing his or her area, but also some people who take the larger view. This system works well, and Prince George's could adopt some of it with an initiative to add two at-large members to its currently nine-member council.

Our contributors suggest approving this idea with a vote of yes on Question D. One said, "I live in a city now without any at-large representation. It's awful. You need some politicians who can focus on the governance of the municipality as a whole, instead of just parochial issues in their own district." Another felt at-large seats are "essential to end the pattern of individual councilmember vetoes over building in their districts, which empowers NIMBYs and promotes corruption."

One controversial element of this proposal would let members who are term limited as ward members then move up to at-large. Tracy Loh and Matt Johnson discussed this, and other facets of the proposal, in an earlier post.

We hope voters approve Question D and make the Prince George's council more effective.

Public Spaces


The difference between Maryland and Virginia in one photo

If you've ever flown out of National Airport, you might try to pick out the geographic landmarks you recognize: the Washington Monument, Rock Creek Park, or the Potomac River. Next time you're heading west, keep an eye on the river as it passes through Maryland and Virginia, and you'll notice one big difference between each state.


Virginia sprawl on the left, Maryland farms on the right. Photos by the author.

This is a photo I took Sunday morning when I flew to San Francisco. On the Virginia side, in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, there are all the typical signs of suburban sprawl: subdivisions, freeways, and shopping centers. On the Maryland side, in Montgomery County, there's...not very much.

That's because for over fifty years, Montgomery County has aggressively tried to protect its open space. In 1964, the county's General Plan said that growth should cluster along major highway and rail corridors leading from the District, and that the spaces in between should be preserved.

In 1980, the county made it official with the 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, which covers one-third of the county will remain farmland and nature forever. (Combine that with the county's 34,000-acre park system, and nearly half of the county is open space.)

That decision has lasting effects today. Montgomery County residents benefit from an abundance of open space for recreation, enjoying nature, and of course, keeping our air and water clean.

In order to preserve this open space, we have to accommodate growth elsewhere in the county, particularly in our town centers like Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Rockville. People who try to stop development in their close-in communities may not feel they benefit from open space 30 miles away. But the urban and suburban parts of our region benefit from the Ag Reserve too.


Allowing inside-the-Beltway communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring to grow lets us preserve open space.

Maryland has an abundance of green space thanks to dense urban development

By focusing growth and investment in existing communities, we get thriving downtowns that support local businesses and local culture, and less traffic as people who live closer in can drive less or not at all. We also spend less money building public infrastructure, like roads and utility lines, to far-flung areas, while generating tax revenue to support the infrastructure we do need. (And obviously, those places can and will have open space.)

This is the path Maryland, and Montgomery County, chose over 50 years ago. So far, it's working pretty well. And you don't have to get in a plane to see it.

Development


Why Washington's transportation is a problem, in one map

Why does Metro have budget problems? Why is traffic bad? While there are many reasons, this map shows the biggest one: Our region keeps growing mostly on one side, which taxes strained transportation networks and wastes resources.


Image from PlanItMetro based on COG forecasts. Read the analysis.

This map shows projected growth around the region. There's a stark line between all the highest-growth areas, in the west, and lower growth to the east. The folks at PlanItMetro, who made this map, wrote:

Between 2020 and 2040, the region expects to add about 870,000 more jobs (25% increase) and 1 million more people (16% increase). As shown in the map below, much of that growth is planned where transit is already at or exceeding capacity, while many other areas that have high-quality transit continue to be underdeveloped. The result: more congestion.
These stats were part of a big new study, called ConnectGreaterWashington. Last weekend, I wrote about the broad strokes in the Washington Post. The key takeaway: Our region is not growing enough in areas, mostly on the east side of the region, where there's already ample transit (and road) infrastructure, while the growth that is happening is straining the infrastructure we have.

There's a real price tag for this.

Unbalanced growth costs money

In the ConnectGreaterWashington study, WMATA planners modeled several scenarios. With no particular change in our current path, Metro will have crush loaded trains (which are not just uncomfortable but more often delayed) on the Orange/Silver lines west of Rosslyn and the Yellow/Green lines south of L'Enfant. Meanwhile, its operations will cost local governments $350 million a year by 2040 (up from about $245 now) in subsidy.

Just making the areas around stations more walkable and bikeable and changing fares to encourage off-peak travel helped only a tiny bit on its own. Shifting predicted growth between 2020 and 2040 inside individual jurisdictions, from places far from transit to places near, helped more, but the crowding imbalance on Metro (and roads), where trains (and highways) are packed in one direction and nearly empty in the other, didn't change.

Metro could be profitable! Or, at least, closer to it

There was a scenario which fixed myriad problems: Rebalancing growth more evenly across the region from 2020 to 2040. If the region focused enough of its economic development efforts where there is underused transportation capacity, Metro could even run a surplus of $270 million a year. That's a revenue stream WMATA could bond against for fixes like a second Rosslyn station to relieve Blue Line crowding (costs about a billion), walkways between downtown transfer stations (similar), or all eight-car trains (about $1.7 billion).

Those fixes would be even more needed than they are today, as under this scenario, Metro would also need more capacity. And I wouldn't oversell the chance that Metro becomes "profitable"—it probably requires more shifting of growth than most governments, employers, or developers are willing to go for.

Besides, it's not clear that running a surplus is what a transportation system ought to plan around. We build transportation systems to move people, and they cost money. Many European cities happily spend much more on their transit systems, because they find them valuable and are willing to invest in public works projects. It's worthwhile to have transit even if its ridership isn't astronomically high.

The hole will just get deeper

However, we need to recognize that for every year the western edge of the region grows much faster than the east side, we're digging a bigger hole. New COG projections, which come from local governments' own growth plans and aspirations, estimate that Loudoun and Prince William will add 100,000 jobs each by 2045, or 75% more than they have today. Meanwhile, the forecast estimates Prince George's will just gain 19% more jobs and 10% more residents.

For every year that kind of pattern continues, we're making Metro more expensive, fiscally, than it needs to be and making the challenges of crowding on roads and rails worse. This is costing every jurisdiction and taxpayer far more than it should, including those on the west side of the region.

Or, to put it more starkly: Even Virginians and western Montgomery residents pay every day for the lack of growth in Prince George's, and it's in their interests as well as everyone else's to better balance our growth.

Architecture


A future football stadium may have a moat. Is that a symbol of a sustainable future or an exclusionary past?

We don't know where a stadium for Washington's football team will go, but now there's a design. Bjarke Ingels Group, the architects engaged by Dan Snyder to design a stadium, showed a rendering to 60 Minutes, and it includes a moat. We asked our contributors what they think.


Rendering by Bjarke Ingels Group via CBS/60 Minutes.

While there has been no decision about where a stadium would go, and the National Park Service has said that (at least under the current presidential administration) the team can't locate at the RFK Stadium site unless it changes its racist name, the moat is likely designed to relate to the Anacostia River. (Though the future Loudoun Gateway Metro station, where Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wants the team to go, also is next to a small river, Broad Run.)

Ingels is clearly thinking about the fundamental problem that a typical pro football stadium occupies acres and acres of space, mostly for parking, which sit empty up to 357 days a year (a team plays eight home games, and sometimes stadiums attract a few very large concerts or other events).

According to the Post's Jonathan O'Connell, Ingels told 60 Minutes, "Is it waste of resources to have giant facilities that are only active 10 times a year. Obviously. Therefore we have worked with our team to imagine a facility that can be active both inside and outside all year and all week—not just on a game day."

He therefore designed a park around the aforementioned moat and envisions the tailgating to happen there, rather than in parking lots. "Tailgating literally becomes a picnic in a park. It can actually make the stadium a more lively destination throughout the year without ruining the turf for the football game."

However, this still leaves open the question of where people who drive would park. Would this stadium sit among mixed-use buildings with garages that serve the occasional football game? The rendering doesn't show the larger context.

Ned Russell wrote:

I like the design. I tend to like BIG's work and I really like designs that break out of DC's somewhat sterile and overused mold. But I really want to know about how they're going to do development around the stadium.
Canaan Merchant agreed:
It's not the stadium design itself I'm worried about. It's the twin issues of what is the best use of the land where it's probably going to be built and whether or not the city (or locality where it ends up) should be expected to pay for significant part of it. Architecture is nice, but we are too early for that discussion yet.
As for the design itself, which looks a lot like my Crate and Barrel fruit bowl, Tracey Johnstone worried that it appears to be much shallower than RFK.
Why do stadium architects think EVERYONE at an event wants to sit out in full sun for hours? NO cover at all. The shallow bowl is great for people with close seats and completely sucks for those who do not.

RFK was a great venue because of the upper deck overlapped part of the lower deck and there was a VERY narrow luxury level. This stadium has the upper deck up much higher and farther back than was the case at RFK. Might as well stay home and watch the game on television. And, at least there was some cover at RFK in both levels.

Many people will (perhaps rightly) remain suspicious of anything that comes from the team, given Dan Snyder's long record of anti-fan behavior and clear incentive to squeeze a sweetheart deal out of local leaders eager to give one. To Nick Keenan, the moat is a perfect symbol of Snyder's past deeds:
When I see the moat of think of Snyder's long-running effort to put up obstacles to pedestrians walking to Fedex Field so that people are forced to pay for parking.
But Steve Seelig sounded an optimistic note:
Truly a beautiful stadium design, and one that seems to evoke some of what made RFK a great venue. Going to FedEx is akin to what it must have been like at the Altamont Rolling Stones concert. I am hopeful there is a way to preserve the tailgating has become such a large part of football, but without acres and acres of surface parking.

Newer stadiums like Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara have severely curtailed places where tailgating is permitted, but still have a huge parking footprint. Let's see if Snyder's desire to have a stadium in DC that will serve as a de facto national monument can outweigh his historical desire to make everyone pay to park.

What do you think of the design?

Architecture


An NFL stadium in DC could be suitably urban, but it probably wouldn't be

Rumors are swirling once more that the Washington NFL team could be moving from its stadium in Landover, possibly to the District. A new stadium in DC is almost certainly a bad idea, though it's possible—just very unlikely—it could actually have positive effects.


RFK in the 1960s. Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

The most logical place for a stadium is the Anacostia riverfront site where there's an existing, unused, aging stadium already: RFK. But RFK occupies a massive amount of waterfront land that could be far better used for new housing, fields for community sports, monuments, or just about anything else.

It's not that a stadium is so noxious. But around it is 80 acres of parking lots. Not only are they almost always empty, they're damaging ecologically, pouring stormwater runoff directly into the river, absorbing heat, and depriving the District of other ways to use valuable land.

Could a stadium exist without such surface parking lots? In theory, sure. Since games are on weeknights and weekends, one could imagine a new district with office buildings, each with underground garages that serve workers by day and football fans during games.

That, however, would interfere with tailgating, a strong fan tradition outside football games. It also would mean yielding some control over the parking arrangements, something owner Dan Snyder is unlikely to do without strong incentives. He makes big bucks on parking charges at FedEx Field (and tried to charge fans for walking to the stadium instead).

The team recently made news by hiring Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), a highly-respected architecture firm, to design a potential new stadium. The team didn't announce where, but if that's DC, BIG is capable of creating something much more innovative than the typical bowl-in-sea-of-parking.

Citylab's Kriston Capps says that even if Snyder were willing to go with an urban design that doesn't involve massive surface parking, the NFL would not then let a Super Bowl be played there, and a Super Bowl represents massive revenue.

What else a DC stadium should have

If a stadium were to come to the District, a few other elements should be prerequisites for any deal:

Change the football team's name. It's offensive. This has already been discussed extensively and need not be rehashed here. But the team should change it.

No public money. Economist after economist has demonstrated that public subsidies for pro sports stadiums rarely come anywhere close to paying off for cities, and least of all for football, where teams play just eight regular home games a year.

No free tickets for public officials. The mayor and DC Councilmembers get free tickets to Nationals games. This is a big perk for top officials, who can enjoy the games and give out tickets to staff, constituents, and donors. It also means that everyone potentially voting on such a deal has a massive conflict of interest—they can spend taxpayer dollars and get a perfectly-legal kickback.

Some argue that a city-controlled box is a valuable tool for wooing economic development to DC. If that's true and not just a rationalization, perhaps there's a way to set up an independent body that gives out tickets only when there's a strong enough case, and sells or lotteries the tickets to residents the rest of the time. But it shouldn't be yet another perk of incumbency.

This probably won't happen

Unfortunately, there's little reason to believe DC would successfully push for such features or that Snyder would accept. There's too much political pressure on officials just to get the team to DC regardless of the cost, and a traditional parking lot-ringed stadium would serve Snyder's interests fine.

The chance of that got a little stronger thanks to a baffling Washington Post editorial that called a stadium at RFK "the logical and obvious move" because of its transportation access and "waterfront vistas that can't be beat." (Never mind that there are trees in the way of waterfront views from RFK; trees on federal parkland have not stopped Snyder before.)The editorial made no mention of the opportunity cost of foregoing ball fields, bucolic parks, and buildings.

If a football stadium won't be urban in nature, there's no reason to have it in DC. The District has scarce land and huge demand for housing and offices. For something that needs 80 acres of almost-always-empty land around it and gets used eight or so times a year, suburban areas are far more sensible.

Landover is a fine place for a stadium. A site in Loudoun County, near a future Silver Line stop, has been widely discussed as a likely contender, especially since Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has been wooing the team, and its practice facilities and headquarters are already in Ashburn.

DC might have once needed the kind of pride and reputation that comes from having a team inside its borders, but now it has plenty of other reasons for pride (and the team will still be called Washington, anyway). A stadium that truly anchors a new neighborhood could be great, though. It's just extremely unlikely. I'd love to be surprised, though.

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