Growth, Schools Infrastructure Key To Their Cases
If there were any significant differences expressed this week among the five candidates vying for four seats on the Falls Church City Council in the upcoming Nov. 5 election, they had more to do with Detroit than Falls Church.
Vice Mayor David Snyder, seeking a sixth term on the Council, while exuding optimism about the City’s future, cautioned that he fight against excessive spending that would lead to conditions like the recently-bankrupted Detroit. He said it not once, but twice during Tuesday’s candidates’ debate during the monthly luncheon of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce at the Italian Cafe.
That prompted fellow candidate Robert LaJeunesse, a government economist currently furloughed during the federal government shutdown, to take up the Detroit issue, arguing that it was not over-spending, at all, that drove it to bankruptcy.
Detroit’s problems, he said, was due to urban blight resulting from people leaving the city in favor of its suburbs. It was created by people who did not want to live there anymore because there weren’t the services to provide for them. “They didn’t invest wisely,” he said, using the example to underscore his campaign theme of utilizing resources, including the City’s borrowing capacity, to improve the City’s public infrastructure.
A spellbound Chamber of Commerce crowd of about 40 munched their lunches silently so as not to miss anything that the candidates were saying in response to questions read out by the Chamber’s Gary LaPorta.
All the candidates were upbeat about the City’s future, echoing themes that Snyder introduced about the advantages of the distinctiveness of the City, as apart from Tysons Corner, being “walkable, bikeable, with unique business models, real culture, history and the arts.”
Dan Sze, who served one four-year term on the Council from 2006-2010 before declining to run for a second, began his pitch for another term by calling for “great schools, fair taxes and a well-designed City.” He said the City should address the needs of its older population while also attracting young professionals and singles who can walk or use public transportation to get to their jobs. He called for addressing the “regressive” business and professional operating license tax (BPOL), higher in Falls Church than surrounding jurisdictions, and the need for more downtown parking.
Karen Oliver, running for the first time as a fairly new City resident, said she was “inspired” by the collaboration in the community, including in her Winter Hill neighborhood, that went into the approval of the large Rushmark Properties’ mixed use project, with its state-of-the-art Harris Teeter, that will bump up against Winter Hill.
“I was very inspired,” she said, “that my neighbors did not take a ‘not in my back yard’ (NIMBY—ed.) approach to the project,” but recognizing it as a plus for the City, worked to express the neighborhood’s concerns to make it a better plan.
Marybeth Connelly, like Oliver and LaJeunesse, running for public office for the first time, hailed the Chamber audience, saying Falls Church has “a great business community.” She added, “It has always been involved with the wider community, and it understands the importance of that.” She said that the City “is doing a lot of things right, and needs to stay on that path.”
All five candidates said they support the passage of the referendum on the Nov. 5 budget asking Falls Church voters if they favor the sale of the City’s water system to the Fairfax Water Utility.
Snyder said that the terms of the proposed sale, the transfer of almost 40 acres of Fairfax County land into the City, “will allow us to control additional property to develop resulting in significant tax revenues.” He said the sale would also be for the market price of the system and that it would also break the log jam that has prevented a lot of regional cooperation with Fairfax County.
Sze said that being able to control those 40 acres, with 30 percent of it available for dense development by the West Falls Church Metro station, “would bring a tremendous advantage,” allowing the City to benefit from its central location between two major airports with Metro and an interstate running right past. “I don’t want to see another shopping center” at the site by the Metro, he said, but something that will represent “a best use.”
Oliver said that while there are pros and cons on the water system sale, “I urge a yes” vote.
Connelly also said she’ll vote yes. She said that presently the City owns but does not govern the land where the high school and middle school sit, which was why when the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School was built, the gym had to go underground, “because that’s what the Fairfax Planning Commission wanted.” She said the land right next to the West Falls Church Metro will be prime for “Class A office space.”
LaJeunesse said that while the Falls Church water system serves a “public good” and therefore needn’t derive a profit to serve its purpose, the fact it will be sold to a public entity is reassuring to him, and that he will vote yes. However, he added, “it would not be the end of the world” if the vote were no, noting that a larger overall budget would allow the City to borrow more.
Snyder concluded by reiterating his optimism about the City’s future, saying it is a result of the City’s long-standing commitment to “a first-rate product, hard work and prudent planning for the future.”
LaJeunesse said the future of the City is “exciting,” with greater vibrancy already evident. The City needs greater public infrastructural capacity, he said, that can be achieved by leveraging not only federal and state funds, but its own money to keep taxes competitive.
Connelly hailed the entrepreneurial spirit of the City’s business community and said her strengths will be in “bringing people together, listening and building consensus.”
Oliver concluded by saying “there are no really bad choices up here” (among the candidates—ed.), adding, “I am a fan of deliberate development and strong schools with an eye on infrastructure.”
Sze said “this election is about all of us. He cited his endorsement from the Sierra Club, and called for a symbiotic “environmental and economic sustainability” where “rooftops will be the front yards of tomorrow.” He said that more efficiencies and one-bedroom housing is needed to attract young professionals and singles.
Chamber board chair Chris Bergin concluded the event by saying, “I have a lot of admiration for people who do this.”