Five candidates who are vying to serve as the Democrat party’s nominee in Fairfax County’s Providence District Supervisor race this fall discussed their stances on everything from neighborhood safety to affordable housing at a public forum Tuesday night.
Hosted by the Jefferson Village Civic Association at Graham Road Elementary just outside the City of Falls Church, a modest crowd gathered to hear what these new candidates intend to do in the wake of incumbent Linda Q. Smyth’s decision not to run for a fifth term in office.
The candidates, who bring an assortment of experience to the race, include Linh Hoang, a technology professional in the private sector who served on the boards of various Democratic organizations at the state and local level. Edythe Kelleher is a longtime veteran of the Vienna Town Council. Phil Niedzielski-Eichner currently works on the county’s planning commission and is an alumnus of the Obama administration. Dalia Palchik is the Providence District’s current representative on the school board, and Erika Yalowitz is a nearly two-decade volunteer for a range of issues from Human Rights to environmental causes.
There were minor gradations between the candidates’ overall views on each issue, though they were able to differentiate themselves with their specificity in the short two minute response times.
In addressing speeding and a general lack of pedestrian infrastructure in neighborhoods, Niedzielski-Eichner, who noted the problem comes from GPS apps such as Waze and Google Maps that have made neighborhoods into travel lanes, suggested more sidewalks and stronger enforcement of crosswalks by local police would be an efficient way to address the tendency to use neighborhoods as cut-throughs.
Kelleher added on to Niedzielski-Eichner’s point about GPS apps to say the county should use those algorithms to assess the effectiveness of traffic calming measures. Palchik mentioned that looking into traffic circles, similar to how Annandale did in a recent study, would be the bridge to a more walkable community.
But Yalowitz thought there was a disconnect in budget priorities.
“We have talked many times about budgets and how budgets reflect values. Our budget has a little over $500 million in road-widening projects, but a little over $200 million unfunded in pedestrian and bike safety projects,” Yalowitz said. “Switching those priorities to offer safety where it’s needed is of key importance.”
Another prompt asked the candidates how they would go about improving the physical state of Providence District schools.
Kelleher talked about how rebalancing the populations in the districts by redoing the school boundaries was the big-picture step, but in the short-term repurposing old office buildings into schools was a solution, similar to how Bailey’s Upper Elementary School came about in 2014. Palchik added that most school boundaries hadn’t been revised since desegregation and that, as a member of the school board, she thinks that the board’s list of 60 priorities should be narrowed down to concertedly tackle this issue. Hoang elaborated on how the state of schools is causing residents to look elsewhere for a permanent living situation. Niedzielski-Eichner, however, knocked the county for not using the full toolkit at its disposal.
“We need to push our borrowing up to the limit, particularly in these non-recessionary times,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “Push our borrowing to the 10 percent [of general revenue] cap. We generally only go up to eight- to eight and a half percent. We don’t push up to the full 10 percent that the principal allows, [which will] give us more revenue to do the renovations that need to be done.”
All candidates lamented the flight of millennials from the county and the barriers for first-time homebuyers face when it came to the topic of affordable housing. Palchik cited that the county’s affordable dwelling units and workforce housing is lagging behind neighboring Arlington County. Yalowitz believes the penny fund toward affordable housing needs to be honored while Niedzielski-Eichner thinks that fund should be upped to a penny-and-a-half fund, with a cent going toward new housing and half a cent helping preserve old housing. Hoang came down strongest on the county’s current efforts.
“Our budget for affordable housing is laughable,” Hoang said. “The number of folks on the waiting list will never get their home. The improvement made of 5,000 units in the next 15 years is not going to be enough.”
Development in the district should also benefit residents first in the candidates’ eyes. Yalowitz noted the district’s county-high six metro stops made it a target for homegrown wealth, and Hoang believed the gains from commercial investment in Tysons Corner should be distributed to the Providence District community. Kelleher suggested a partnership with the City of Falls Church along the shared Route 29 corridor should be a focal point in revamping an area with old land that isn’t generating enough revenue.
The Democratic primary to select a Providence District candidate will be held on June 11.