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Politics


A chat with DC Council candidate Robert White

Robert White, previous counsel to congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, is challenging at-large incumbent Vincent Orange for his seat on the DC Council in the democratic primary this June. He has some "out of the box" ideas on housing affordability, economic opportunity and transportation for DC.


Robert White (right). Image from the candidate.

White joined the at-large race in late 2015, months after opponent David Garber announced his campaign. In a recent interview with Greater Greater Washington, he points to his legislative and work experience, and the support network he built during his at-large campaign in 2014 when he finished fourth in a pack of 15.

"Our campaign in 2014 left people with, I think, a positive feeling about me and so we have a very good start this time around," he says.

White has a self-described out-of-the-box approach to many of DC's challenges, including housing affordability, economic opportunity, and transportation.

On housing affordability: it's personal

"[My father] stretched every dollar to send me to a Catholic school to give me opportunities that he didn't have but, as DC got more and more expensive, he couldn't afford to hang in there," says White. "Now my father, who is the proudest Washingtonian you would ever meet, looks at DC from his balcony in Prince George's County."

While it may not get his father back into the District, White presents a three-facet approach to addressing the issue of affordability: enforcing inclusionary zoning requirements, studying additional residential development in underperforming commercial corridors, and transforming underutilized downtown commercial space into housing.

"I'm going to enforce the inclusionary units for new developments," he says on the first point. "We can't keep letting people off the hook and not building affordable housing when we do these developments."

Asked for examples of developments that skirted the requirements, White says there are "many" and points to the "massive new buildings" that are going up in booming neighborhoods like Navy Yard and NoMa.

"I don't think that there is a percentage of affordable housing that is sufficient for the size of those developments," he says.

On his second point, White says underperforming corridors along sections of Georgia Avenue NW and Martin Luther King Jr Avenue SE, for example, could benefit from added housing, both new development and additional dwelling units on existing properties.

"We have to look at all ways to increase housing options in order to push down the cost of housing," he says, emphasising that any additional housing in these areas would be dependent on neighborhood support.

Councilmember Orange sponsored a bill that would prohibit pop-ups or other accessory dwelling units in April 2015. More recently, he proposed building 1,000 600 square foot houses across DC for young buyers, which has been criticized by many.

"The incumbent is running around talking about a gimmick solution to affordable housing, while real people are losing their house by the day for developments that they won't realistically be a part of when they're done," says White. "I think that it's time we start to take these issues with the seriousness that they deserve."

To his third point, White sees underutilized commercial buildings in downtown as opportunities to build more transit-oriented housing in the center of the District.

In addition to his three-pronged plan to add housing in the District, White also believes in preserving existing affordable housing. He says it's more difficult to to build new affordable units than keep them.

On economic opportunity: local business

White wants to see more opportunities for local residents through encouraging and supporting local business rather than big corporations like Walmart.

"I'd like to see a more targeted approach, where we are tying DC tax dollars to local businesses that can provide the amenities and services that neighborhoods need specifically, and always contingent on hiring DC residents and serving those communities," he says.

This complements his idea to add housing in underperforming corridors around the District. More residents could generate more economic activity for local businesses in these areas.

White criticizes the DC government's deal with Walmart to build two stores east of the Anacostia that fell apart in January.

"A large part of how Walmart got support in this city was by promising fresh food options in an area of the city that was starved for it," he says. "But I don't think we needed Walmart in order to accomplish that. If we incentivise businesses to go where they are not necessarily going organically, we can accomplish that same goal using local businesses."

"There are plenty of people, residents in Wards 7 and 8, that would jump at the chance to be a business owner and part of the solution in their own communities," says White.

On transportation: prioritize a reliable, multimodal network

Metro's poor reliability, fixing potholes and creating a unified bike lane network are tenets of White's transportation vision for the District.

"The capital city, I think, can do much better than an increasingly unreliable rail system, congested streets that are full of potholes and fragmented bike lanes," he says. "All reliable modes of transportation have to be prioritized."

Returning to his support for local business, White uses his neighborhood of Brightwood Park as an example of an area that could benefit from more reliable transit, like a Circulator bus line, for both residents and to bring more potential customers to the section of upper Georgia Avenue.

"We have an opportunity to both attack our transportation infrastructure needs to solve, not only our transportation problem, but also as a job training and career programme," he says. "We have a win-win if we're willing to prioritize it."

While White talks about a unified bike lane network, he skirts the controversy over the proposed north-south protected bike lane between 5th Street NW and 9th Street NW. A number of churches along 6th Street NW have come out against the lane, elevating the issue to one of affordability, gentrification, and changing neighborhoods.

"I think we can build a safe and reliable bike network without displacing people or making them feel like they're not part of the city's priorities," he says when asked about the controversy. "So we have to keep working."

Politics


Vince Gray could win a seat on the DC Council if he decides to run, a poll says

If former mayor Vince Gray decides to make a political comeback, he'd be very likely to unseat either Vincent Orange for an at-large seat on the DC Council or Yvette Alexander in Ward 7, according to a new poll.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Former Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies raised money for a citywide poll. Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,569 people likely to vote in the June Democratic primary, including 407 in Ward 7, using an automated telephone system where people press buttons in response to questions.

Would Orange challengers split the vote (again)?

For the at-large seat, incumbent Vincent Orange is expected to run for re-election. Two challengers, David Garber and Robert White, have announced candidacies to beat him, and both have good ideas for the future of DC, but there's a significant danger that both could split the vote from similar constituencies.

Orange has often pursued a divisive strategy in his races of playing on fears from some "old DC" voters and communities against newcomers. This has certainly left him vulnerable: only 28% of voters citywide see him favorably.

The City Paper's Will Sommer thinks vote splitting will happen, giving Orange another term, should Gray not run in that race. It's still somewhat unclear what would happen in that situation; the poll only asked about a field that also included Busboys and Poets restaurateur and recent mayoral candidate Andy Shallal.

In that scenario, if the primary were held today, Orange would get 28% of the vote, Shallal 19%, Garber 8%, and White 7%. However, most voters don't know Garber or White, with more than three-quarters having no opinion of either.

If Gray were to run, he leads the pack with 32% of voters, versus 20% for Orange, 10% for Garber, and 6% for White. (It might just be a statistical fluke, but this suggests some Shallal voters would go to Garber.)

The clear question is how this could change over the course of a campaign. Is about a third of the vote a ceiling for Gray, who won about that percentage of the vote in the 2014 mayoral primary? And would that be enough anyway in a split field? Would Garber or White gain Gray voters, or Gray win some Orange voters, or other combinations?

For the Ward 7 seat, Gray polled 48% to Alexander's 32%. Gray had higher name recognition and favorable ratings than Alexander, though Alexander's favorables are much better than Orange's.

You can read all of the citywide and Ward 7 results here.

Were writers and prosecutors unfair to Gray?

The poll also asked if people think federal investigators or the media treated Gray fairly or unfairly. Generally, black voters were much more likely to say that Gray was treated unfairly.

Count me in the minority of white voters who think Gray was treated unfairly by prosecutors. We might still not know for certain everything that happened in the illegal 2010 "shadow campaign," but the US Attorney's office absolutely became a player in the 2014 election by announcing suspicions of Gray weeks before the primary.

I spoke to some voters outside polling places at the primary, and many knew virtually nothing about the race except that they wanted to vote for whoever would beat Gray. Unfortunately, they generally didn't know a thing about Gray's own policy positions and views.

He consistently supported efforts to give residents more transportation choices, including better bus service, a stronger Metro system, bike infrastructure, and safe places to walk. He pushed for new housing to welcome new residents and keep room for long-time ones, even suggesting targeted changes to the federal height limit to create areas like Paris' La Défense near the Anacostia River.

It's hard to say if the media really treated Gray unfairly. Some columnists and editorial writers who were fans of Adrian Fenty never forgave Gray for beating him. On the other hand, nobody could expect the press to ignore a scandal so serious as the shadow campaign. I think most media coverage did concentrate too much on personalities rather than on the issues that really affect life in DC.

Many people saw him as just being the anti-Adrian Fenty and a return to some things they didn't like about Marion Barry, but Gray continued most of Fenty's policies. He did better in some spheres and worse in others. Certainly, the streetcar project was not executed well, and past and future transportation directors like Emeka Moneme, Gabe Klein, and Leif Dormsjo were more effective than Gray's pick of Terry Bellamy.

But Gray was also an exemplary council chair, perhaps the best in some time. I'd like Muriel Bowser to have a chance to demonstrate her vision and governing ability before there's too much talk about the 2018 mayoral race; so far, her cabinet has been very high-quality (with a few exceptions). But if Vincent Gray were to return to the DC Council, residents who want to see DC move forward boldly but inclusively would have a lot to cheer.

Note: The Greater Greater Washington Editorial Board has not yet chosen to endorse any candidates for the 2016 election. This post is David Alpert's personal opinion as Greater Greater Washington's founder.

Politics


Arlington's naysayer-in-chief is now its chair. Will she move the county forward?

Two years ago, Libby Garvey was the lone voice on the Arlington County Board opposing most of the county's major capital projects. On January 1, she was elected the board's chair.


Garvey. Image from Arlington County.

Garvey has spent most of the last two years being most vocal about what she was against. We're familiar with her opposition to the controversial Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar, but that was only the most visible such campaign.

The streetcar represented a compromise among unattainable ideals. Metro is too expensive to build under Columbia Pike, and a dedicated bus or rail lane is not physically possible. Yet the street is reaching the limit of what more and larger buses could achieve, making some higher-capacity transit solution necessary.

Not being able to offer high speeds, however, made the project's costs look less worthwhile, and Garvey led the fight against the project, even going to Richmond to try to talk Virginia officials out of sending state money to Arlington County.

This was always about much more than the streetcar

Garvey's opposition fit into a broader backlash against the Democratic Party establishment in Arlington. A disaffected group including Peter Rousselot, a former county party chairman who formed the anti-streetcar group, Garvey, and John Vihstadt attacked the county board's actions and spending, sometimes fairly, sometimes deceptively.

Some residents were frustrated with ways the county government had been unresponsive and non-transparent. Others wanted to see a more conservative shift amid a period of economic difficulty, where sequestration and BRAC cut incomes and removed federal jobs.

Rousselot, later joined by Garvey, waged a campaign against county spending with high-profile projects like the Artisphere in Rosslyn or an aquatic center in Long Bridge Park. The streetcar was the biggest fight, and Rousselot's group won over some voters who genuinely didn't support it after weighing the pros and cons, but also fooled many others with impractical comparisons to imaginary, unrealistic "alternatives."

What's next, for Garvey and for Arlington?

A year after the county board suddenly reversed course and canceled the streetcar, the county's current vision is drastically less ambitious than it was five or ten years ago. The only ideas for transportation in Garvey's public statements thus far are small-scale bus improvements like letting people pay the fare before boarding and having signals give them more green time—potentially valuable, certainly, but ultimately likely to have minor impact at best on Columbia Pike's and Crystal City's transit capacity needs.

Garvey has also started criticizing county officials for not moving faster to implement these, even though it was clear when the streetcar was canceled that it would take time to replace a transportation project decades in the making.

A big part of the reason for choosing rail, with its concomitant costs, was to drive significant new development to Columbia Pike, to make it the next booming corridor like (though somewhat more modest than) Rosslyn-Ballston. The plan also used the revenue from this development to pay for large quantities of new and preserved affordable housing.

People can debate whether the streetcar would have done this, or that the reason it's not happening now isn't because of the economy instead, but right now the idea that Columbia Pike will ignite into the county's next big growth area (while protecting lower-income residents) seems distant.

The rhetoric from Arlington used to be one of great vision—that Arlington could grow substantially without adding traffic, could use transit to enormously improve people's mobility and reduce car dependence, and could provide first-class public services to make the county a top place to live. Now the talk at the county board is mostly about customer service, civic participation, and sign regulations—again, all valuable, to be sure, but without big ideas.

It's not just Arlington. There has been a similar trend in many jurisdictions around the region to shrink our ambition and work on little things. But this isn't the kind of thinking that propelled Arlington to transform itself when Metro arrived.

Garvey gains an opponent

Perhaps the coming year will offer opportunities for Arlingtonians to choose a vision once more. Planning Commission member Erik Gutshall has announced he will challenge Garvey for the Democratic nomination in June.

Gutshall said he wants "to engage our community in a forward-looking vision for Arlington." We can look forward to hearing more about what kind of vision he might have in mind. Meanwhile, Garvey will have a few months to start articulating some vision of her own.

It's always easier to criticize the work of others than to get something done yourself. Denouncing the county's work from the sidelines helped Garvey get into office and elect some allies. This year will be a chance for her to demonstrate she can also lead—or have this turn at the chair be her last.

Politics


For Alexandria and Arlington elections: Bill Euille, Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey

Many residents of Arlington and Alexandria watched Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate, but there's an election coming up much sooner which will have a major impact on life in those Northern Virginia localities.

Virginia voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect representatives in local county or city offices and state legislature. In the local races in Arlington and Alexandria, Greater Greater Washington endorses Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey for Arlington County Board and recommends writing in Bill Euille for mayor of Alexandria.


Left to right: Bill Euille, Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey. Images from the candidate websites.

Arlington County Board

In Arlington, incumbents Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada both decided not to run for their seats on the five-member board this year, shortly after the other three members voted to cancel the Columbia Pike streetcar.

Democratic nominee Katie Cristol stands out as the strongest on urbanism. In Friday's debate, she expressed strong support for a better transit network, protected bikeways, and allowing the county to grow.

Christian Dorsey, the other Democratic nominee, is clearly a step behind Cristol on transportation and growth but far ahead of the other two. (Voters will vote for two candidates for two seats.) He supports better transit, but is nervous about transit-oriented development without high parking requirements and doesn't yet understand the need for protected bicycle infrastructure.

Dorsey also has support from Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, two members of the county board who won office largely by telling voters in the most affluent parts of the county that they shouldn't have to pay to build transportation and recreation infrastructure for anyone else. However, this doesn't mean he will take a similar approach, and he seems open to learning from his colleagues on the board and people in Arlington. He's also clearly superior to the other two options, Audrey Clement and Mike McMenamin.

Clement thinks Arlington has grown too much and doesn't want to build more bike trails. McMenamin doesn't want more density either because it could add to traffic (not realizing that Arlington has grown without making traffic worse), thinks adding more parking is more important than better transit, and would only consider bike infrastructure in the context of how it would affect drivers.

To make an endorsement, Greater Greater Washington polls our regular contributors and makes an endorsement when there is a clear consensus. Here's what some of our contributors had to say:

  • Cristol is great on transit—understanding the need for supporting non-work trips to really enable car-free and car-lite living. She has actual concrete suggestions on improving Columbia Pike bus service. She understands and talks about the economic benefits of cycling infrastructure and supports the expansion of protected bike lanes. She's the best candidate in the bunch.
  • [Cristol and Dorsey] have a firm commitment to affordable housing, without Audrey Clement's anti-intensification NIMBYism.
  • Clement just doesn't know how cities work and many of her proposed policies are way too proscriptive and busy-bodyish. McNemamin is one of those who sees everything as waste but wants to widen 66 and make parking easier.
  • I know Katie Cristol and she is a pleasure to work with. She seems to be the most in line with smart growth ideals than any of the candidates. Dorsey seems OK and better on the issues than the two other candidates, though his positions seem a bit more qualified.
Alexandria mayor

In Alexandria, there is only one candidate for mayor on the ballot, but there's a hotly contested race nonetheless that will determine the city's path for years to come. Alison Silberberg narrowly won the Democratic primary by 321 votes over incumbent mayor Bill Euille, but only because Kerry Donley played the role of spoiler, competing for the same base of voters as Euille.

Now, Euille is running as a write-in candidate, hoping the large majority of Alexandrians who supported him or Donley (who has endorsed his write-in candidacy) will help him defeat Silberberg.

As mayor, Euille has generally supported a vision of a growing, active, urban Alexandria which welcomes people getting around on foot or by bicycle. Silberberg, meanwhile, is running hard as the anti-change candidate who will stop Alexandria's growth and design the city entirely around the automobile.

Here are our contributors:

  • Bill Euille supports the development that Alexandria needs both in Old Town and at Potomac Yard. Silberberg represents a contingent who act as if Alexandria is "full" and unable to grow.
  • Alexandria's forward progress on cycling and the Potomac Yard Metro station have both come during Euille's tenure.
  • Euille understands how municipal budgets work. He is a big supporter of economic development and smart growth. He is leading the way for a Potomac Yard infill metro station, and has supported transit corridors and improved bicycle and pedestrian ways.
  • Silberberg basically doesn't understand that you can't lower taxes and vote "no" on growth while still providing needed infrastructure, supporting the schools, helping the elderly, funding affordable housing, and preserving every brick more than 50 years old.
This election matters a lot for the future of Alexandria. If you live there, we hope you will write in Bill Euille.

Alexandria council

There are six at-large councilmembers besides the mayor. Incumbents John Chapman, Tim Lovain, Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg, and Justin Wilson are running for re-election. There is also one open seat, the one Silberberg now holds.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee sent a questionnaire to the candidates, and heard back from Chapman, Lovain, and Wilson, as well as Monique Miles and Townsend "Van" Van Fleet.

Even many of our contributors have not followed this race intensely, and so there were not enough votes to make an endorsement. However, of those who did, there was praise for the five incumbents, particularly Lovain and Wilson.

Here's what they said:

  • Chapman: Good thinker, came out with small business initiatives, supports growth around Metro.
  • Lovain: transportation expert; head of TPB next year. Supported streetcars and high capacity transit.
  • Pepper: This vote is for experience more than anything. She knows how government works, and has her ear finely tuned to citizen "wants." She can craft a compromise if needed to help a project move forward.
  • Smedberg: For good government, fiscal responsibility, economic development, and environmental stewardship.
  • Wilson: The brain of the City Council. He knows the ins and outs of every budget line item; can talk for hours on transportation, schools, budgets; has all the facts at his fingertips.
  • Lovain and Wilson are the strongest supporters of Complete Streets, transit-oriented development and Capital Bikeshare. Wilson is also quick to give realistic answers to questions raised by the public, and often gets heat for it because residents don't always like the answers. During recent "add/delete" budget sessions, Lovain has led the charge for funding Complete Streets.
  • Wood and Van Fleet are basically disgruntled about the waterfront plan and don't have anything positive to offer.
Polls will be open from 6 am to 7 pm. You can vote absentee in both Arlington and Alexandria until 5 pm Saturday, October 31, including if you will be working or commuting most of the day Tuesday.

Virginia has vote suppression laws that require voters to have a photo ID; if you don't have one, you can get a voter-only one on Election Day at the Arlington to Alexandria elections office on Election Day (or an earlier weekday).

Politics


Arlington's upcoming County Board election is a big one. Here's the scoop on the candidates.

Elections for two seats on the Arlington County Board are on November 3rd. The results will have big implications for the county. Here's a rundown of where Arlington's candidates stand on issues related to I-66, bike safety, and transit.


Photo by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr.

This is the first time since 1975 where two seats are open on the five-member Arlington County Board. Meet the candidates:

  • Katie Cristol, though a newcomer to the Arlington political scene, won the most votes in June's heated Democratic primary.
  • Christian Dorsey, the second Democratic nominee (he finished behind Cristol in the primary), is a long-time political activist in Arlington, though he has been less visible in recent years.
  • This is Audrey Clement's fifth attempt at securing a County Board seat, though this is her first as an Independent rather than under the Green Party label.
  • Mike McMenamin has had two failed campaigns under the Republican banner, but is hoping to follow in John Vihstadt's footsteps and launch a successful campaign as an Independent this year.
  • Of note: there are no incumbents. Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada were both up for re-election to the Arlington County Board this year, but after John Vihstadt won a full term and the board canceled the Columbia Pike streetcar, Hynes and Tejada announced they would not run again, leaving the two open seats.
Arlington's board has undergone massive turnover in the last four years. After this election, Jay Fisette will be the only active board member who was also around at the start of the 2012 session. Will this be a new board finding a new way forward? Will it search out and implement "Smart Growth 2.0," as departing chair Mary Hynes suggested? Or will it slide back toward the car-dependent policies some of its neighbors are known for?

On Friday night, all four candidates participated in a candidate forum sponsored by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and the Sierra Club's Mount Vernon Group, all organizations that can comfortably be described as pro-urbanism.

Here's what the candidates had to say:

What to do about I-66

Virginia's Department of Transportation has long wanted to widen I-66, and Arlington has a long history of fighting it. VDOT finally agreed to do a study that would not just examine widening, but also a range of ways to make traveling inside the I-66 corridor easier.

The results of that study formed the basis of the current VDOT proposal for I-66 inside the beltway: High Occupancy Toll Lanes during both peak travel periods in both directions, the toll money going toward multimodal travel solutions. Also, a a commitment to only widen if the conversion to tolls and multimodal solutions were insufficient to handle congestion on I-66.


Photo by Adam Fagen on Flickr.

Dorsey says that the current VDOT plan needs more work and that he is still waiting to see more data on what effect it will have on traffic. He also is concerned that the tolling project is just a setup for pushing through a widening of the highway.

Cristol, the other Democrat, says she still has a lot of questions about the proposal such as what multimodal solutions the tolls will fund, what impact it will have on Arlington's local streets and whether tolling the non-peak direction is truly necessary.

Clement supports focusing on better enforcement of the existing HOV rules via "high tech cameras" that can "definitively determine the number of occupants in a car" and stated that if enforcement is insufficent to improve congestion on I-66, that it should switch to HOV-3.

The other Independent, Mike McMenamin expressed support for widening I-66 and stated that Arlingtonians must face that widening is inevitable.

Build more protected bike lanes?

Protected bike lanes are the new gold standard in bicycle infrastructure, as they're the kind of thing that makes biking attractive and pleasant for everyone, not just the bold or athletic. DC has been moving forward with a network of protected lanes, and Montgomery County has put forth a bold vision for White Flint and is working on a county-wide plan.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Arlington, on the other hand, has a bike plan from 2008 that still thinks sharrows are an exciting new innovation in bike infrastructure, and there's no concrete plan to update it.

Cristol supports building protected bike lanes "where possible" throughout the community but also stressed that community engagement is key to bike lanes' success.

In contrast, Dorsey admits that he has a lot to learn when it comes to bike infrastructure, and is open to what people's experiences are. He isn't fully convinced that it's necessary to protect cyclists from cars and noted that he spoke to some cyclists in DC who said they preferred riding in traffic over riding in protected bike lanes.

Clement supports more lanes, but says she's against building more trails because it would require cutting down trees.

McMenamin says he would consider protected bike lanes on a case-by-case basis and that their impact on drivers is a major concern for him.

How to expand transit

With the Columbia Pike and Crystal City Streetcars cancelled, Arlington is re-examining what the future of transit is for the County as a whole and for Crystal City and Columbia Pike specifically. Will it be Bus Rapid Transit? Personal Rapid Transit? Metrorail expansion?

At the forum, all four candidates spoke in favor of improving Arlington's transit network, though McMenamin tempered his remarks by asserting that transit is important but not enough; Arlington, he said, also needs to increase its parking supply.


Photo by Cliff on Flickr.

Both Cristol and Dorsey spoke at length about a transit network that supports car-free living by serving trips beyond the regular commute. They also spoke about the current state of Metro and how important it is to turn Metro around, while acknowledging that Arlington cannot do so alone.

Clement wants a reversible lane on Columbia Pike to speed buses in the peak direction of travel and an extension of Metrorail from the Pentagon to Skyline. Beyond that, she claims that Metro's problems are the direct result of Congress cutting the transit benefit.

Transit-oriented development and parking

Arlington has been a leader in Transit-oriented Development, concentrating growth around its Metro stations to create a series of "urban villages." The county has seen great success, growing its population and tax base without large increases in traffic congestion.

McMenamin says Arlington needs to get "smarter about smart growth" because in his mind, more cars join the road when places get denser.

Clement has issues with Arlington's development practices, but for a different reason, saying that while she likes Transit-oriented Development, Arlington has engaged in too much "densification," which has, in her estimation, increased land values and therefore housing prices.

Dorsey says that Transit-oriented Development is important, but that there are certain types of residential units that can support reduced parking requirements and others, such as large family units, cannot.

Cristol says "stopping development doesn't solve our problems," that "growth is better than stagnation," and that the key to parking reductions is to put alternative transportation options in place.

Arlington residents should be sure to cast their votes in the County board race on November 3rd. What stands out to you? Which candidates are getting your vote? What smart growth messages are getting through to candidates, and which issues do urbanists need to do a better job on?

Politics


A chat with DC Council candidate David Garber

David Garber, a former Navy Yard ANC commissioner and author of the And Now, Anacostia blog, is running for the at-large DC Council seat currently held by Vincent Orange. Already a popular voice of the District's revived urbanist crowd, Garber says he wants a more sustainable, inclusive, and safe city.


David Garber. Image from the candidate.

Really, Garber is running against Orange in the Democratic primary, which isn't until June. But his schedule is already packed with everything from visiting urban farms in Ward 7 to sharing his views on the RFK Stadium redevelopment. He recently set some time aside to chat with Greater Greater Washington about some of the issues facing the District.

On transportation: bike and bus lanes, the Streetcar, and cars

On transportation, Garber envisions a multimodal future where everything from improved buses to better dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure and cars has a place in the District.

"When we talk about actually putting dollars towards infrastructure, we have to remember that we get the city that we invest in and we get the modes that we put real dollars into," says Garber. "I know that there's interest in spreading [investment] to modes and infrastructure upgrades that promote a more efficient, healthier, and stronger city. And getting to that more sustainable place requires more investment in a built environment and in transportation modes that get us there."

Bus, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure are examples of such modes, he says.

"I think it's really important that we invest in things like better dedicated bus service and 16th Street NW is a great example of that," says Garber. "That's a corridor where improvements to the current status quo have been discussed for a number of years now and a lot of people have asked for more efficient bus service. It's one of those types of projects that feels like it gets studied and studied without actually ever moving forward. I'd love to see leadership take initiative to make it happen."

Better bus service on 16th Street may actually move forward before the 2016 election. DDOT announced that it was studying a variety of options, including dedicated bus lanes for the corridor, earlier in October.

Asked his view on DC's delay-plagued streetcar, Garber says: "[The streetcar] is something that I've been a supporter of and excited about but, unfortunately, like a lot of people around the city, I've been disappointed with the roll out and the way that it has been built. I don't think there was as much planning early on as could have happened."

"That said, I don't think that the hurdles and hiccups are a reason to not do more of it in the future," he adds. "Just that we have to take a step back, rebuild the public trust, and learn lessons for next time."


Maybe we'll get the next one right. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Garber is supportive of dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure but feels the District could take more of a lead in developing these amenities in outlying neighborhoods.

"With any changes to infrastructure, you often have the lead with real investment before people take a chance on it or believe in it," he says. "People feel safest taking a chance on a new transportation mode when the infrastructure is in place and they feel protected in it. And if we're truly committed to upping the sustainability ante, we have to be consistently investing in the infrastructure that will get us there."

While a clear advocate of transit, cycling and walking, Garber contends that personal vehicles have a place in the city's transportation infrastructure.

"A lot of communities east of the river and closer to the city's edges are less dense, have fewer local amenities currently than areas closer to the center of the city and a lot of people do rely on personal vehicles," he says. "I think [it's important] that we consider that there are a lot of different types of built environments, that this is a diverse city, and that for many, vehicles are a big part of the equation when we're thinking about the city as a whole."

On changing neighborhoods and housing supply

Housing affordability is an ever-growing point of contention in the District. While new construction continues apace, well-established communities are increasingly being displaced by newcomers as prices rise driving fervent calls for more affordable housing in popular neighborhoods.

"The city's growing and I've been a big booster of a lot of that growth, as long as it's done well," says Garber. "But if we grow as a city and we don't take care to include the diversity that exists [today], and don't, from an economic development perspective, invest equitably across the entire geography of the District, then we'll have failed at the end of the day."


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

Putting more money into the city's affordable housing trust fund and making sure a variety of affordable units are included in new developments are two examples of ways to maintain the city's diversity, he says.

Garber is a big proponent of making sure affordable housing goes into neigborhoods where people want to live. He cites the new development at 965 Florida Avenue NW as an example of affordable housing being included in a new development in popular neighborhood.

"These places are attractive because they're close to transit and they're close to amenities," he says. "Too much of the time we only put affordable housing where it's least expensive to do so... We need to do a better and more intentional job of spreading housing for earners of all levels across the city."

The neighborhood-supported 965 Florida Ave project has also been a point of contention for the DC Council. Earlier this year, the council dragged its feet approving the project due to the cost of the affordable component.

"I do think that in some circumstances it's worth exploring the possibility of selling some of our District-owned properties and parcels outright and using that money in more targeted ways for affordable housing across the District as long as, via a comprehensive analysis, we're able to get more money for affordable housing at the end of the day," says Garber.

At market rate, the land at 965 Florida Avenue was appraised at nearly $27 million dollars. A law requiring 20-30% of units in public land deals to be affordable to people making 30-50% of the Area Median Income brought estimates of a fair price down to just under $6 million (the difference going to affordable units that the District would otherwise be building), but the city wound up selling the land for only $400,000.

The DC Council approved the project in September.

On fighting the surge in violent crime, and supporting police

With the alarming rise in deadly shootings in the District over the summer, residents have taken a renewed interest in public safety in the city.

"I've had a lot of conversations with residents and community leaders, and I've spent a lot of time around the District riding along with police officers, and there are a couple of things I consistently hear," says Garber. "Leadership could probably do a better job at listening to the on-the-ground experiences of the officers that are working in neighborhoods across the District and implementing strategies based on that input."


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Garber wants to bring back plainclothes vice units around the District, attract new officers to the force especially as retirements climb as well as improve and increase access to vocational training for city residents, a campaign video shows.

"On council, I would absolutely be having a conversation with the mayor and the [police] chief about whether or not that is something we need to look at again," says Garber on disbanding the vice units. "I do think it's important to have people in positions of public safety around the city who are really tied to the specific communities they're working in. If everything's centralized, you lose some of that institutional knowledge of who the players are in a community, where the hotspots are, and creating a culture of safety."

There's a long road ahead

Garber faces a tough campaign. Vincent Orange, who has been on the council for more than a decade 12 years (though non-consecutively), will likely be a formidable opponent despite his admonishment by the ethics board for intervening to stop public health officials from shutting down a wholesale food business with a rat infestation in 2013.

Orange won his last primary in 2012 with just a 42% plurality of the vote while respected councilmembers Sekou Biddle and Peter Shapiro, along with other opponents, split the remaining votes.

Outside observers fear a repeat of the split vote, especially if Andy Shallal and Robert White enter the race. Garber is, so far, nonplussed at the prospect.

"Right now I am just focusing on my campaign," he says. "I know I'm going to run a viable campaign and I've gotten a lot of enthusiasm and support from all corners of the District."

Asked why he decided to run for the at-large council seat, Garber says: "I want to take more of a leadership role citywide so that I can serve the District as a more effective advocate on issues that really matter to people from the council level."

"I loved being in the position of an ANC commissioner," he continues. "It really taught me a lot about getting community input and feedback, and it engaged me with a lot of the issues that neighborhoods go through when they're growing or changing. I'm running for council because I'm invested in taking that same communities-first focus city-wide."

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