The Council Connection
your connection to City Council by: 
Vice Mayor Justin M. Wilson
Alexandria, Virginia
September 1, 2016
In This Edition
Quick Links
E-Mail Me
Past Newsletters
City of Alexandria Website
Pay City Taxes Online
Call.Click.Connect (Submit Service Requests to City Agencies)

Register to Vote!

The deadline to register or change your registration to vote is October 17th.

Any changes can now be done online or in person at 132 N. Royal Street. 

Absentee voting will begin this month on September 23rd. You may register for mail absentee balloting online.
Back to School Nights

With schools back in session, the Alexandria City Public Schools have scheduled Back to School Nights for parents throughout this month. 

First Thursday Returns! 

Tonight is the next "First Thursday" of the year! 

This month's event highlights health and wellness!
Sunday Library Hours Return

Fiscal Year 2017 began July 1. In adopting our Fiscal Year 2017 budget, the City Council included funding to restore Sunday hours to Burke, Duncan, and Barrett libraries. 

Please take the opportunity to enjoy the expanded availability of our great system of libraries. 

The changes affect the AT1, AT4, AT5, AT7, AT8 and AT9 routes. 
Give Feedback on Simpson Park

The workshop is scheduled for Thursday, September 8th, at 7 PM at Mount Vernon Recreation Center (2701 Commonwealth Avenue). 
See The Stars

One of the little known treasures of Alexandria is the Planetarium at T. C. Williams High School. 

Even lesser known is that each month, Bob Nicholson, who has long managed the Planetarium, opens it up for the community for free. 

Reservations are required, but don't miss out on this great resource! 

The first show of the school year is Tuesday, September 20th, at 7 PM. 
Request a Bike Rack

Know a good place in the City where we should place a bike rack? 

Racks are installed on a seasonal basis and cannot be installed on private property. 

Council Portrait
September is here. The Council summer recess has now concluded and we have a lot of work ahead of us for this Council year. 

On Tuesday, the Alexandria City Public Schools will open (our friends at Tucker Elementary have already been hard at work for a month) and welcome back our kids for another year. 

This is an exciting time for our kids (and their parents) and I wish all of the students heading back to school a successful year full of learning and adventure!

Please be careful on the roads to ensure that all students have a safe trip back to school! 

We were proud to welcome the Governor of the Commonwealth to Alexandria yesterday to celebrate the expansion of Port City Brewery. Port City's expansion will bring $2.6 million of new capital investment and the creation of 26 new jobs to our City. 

In addition to making a great brew, Port City is a great Alexandria employer and an ambassador for our community. I'm thrilled that they are growing with us. 

Contact me anytime. Let me know how I can help. 
Council Initiatives
Paying For Cleaner Water

Some of the efforts that a municipal government works on see quick results. Some efforts take a few years. Our efforts to achieve cleaner waterways will take decades, but the payoff will be for multiple future generations. The efforts are on-going and constant. The improvements continue nonetheless.

Early in the last Council term, the members grappled with the challenges that the City faced from Federal environmental regulations that govern how we handle sewage from homes and businesses. Those efforts culminated in the adoption of the  City's Sanitary Sewer Master Plan.

Our federal obligations for cleaner water do not end with waste water. The City also has significant obligations to protect waterways from polluted storm water. The  City's MS4 Permit Program spells out specific pollutant reductions that the City must meet over a 15 year time period. 

There are  a variety of ways the City can meet these obligations. Redevelopment can help, in that it can convert impervious surfaces into areas that can handle stormwater. For example,  a residential project in the Eisenhower Valley that was approved by Council in 2013 has created a new pond. That pond alone will account for a substantial portion of our pollutant reduction obligations until 2018.

In the end, meeting these obligations will be expensive. Current estimates have the costs at $65 - $100 million dollars over the next 15 years, including $33 million over the next five years. 

In 2008, the City Council appointed a citizen group to review the costs and funding mechanisms available to address the City's responsibilities. In the spring of 2010, one of the City's previous City Managers proposed the creation of a Stormwater Utility Fee to fund these obligations. 

As proposed in 2010, the fee would apply to all property owners (regardless of their taxable status) and be assessed based on the impervious surfaces on their property. Essentially the fee would be structured to be a user fee for the City's stormwater handling. 

In adopting the budget in 2010, the Council instead chose to simply raise the real estate tax and dedicate a portion (a half cent) of the rate to stormwater projects. Essentially, the decision was to fund stormwater management based on the value of properties rather than the amount of stormwater runoff they create. 

That funding has proven insufficient to cover the City's obligations. Based on the staff's current projections, the City will need to spend an additional 1.27 cents beyond the dedication, for a total of 1.77 cents on the City's current real estate tax rate. Ultimately, to address our obligations, annual spending will need to rise to $6.67 million per year. To address this mandate in later years, the annual spending will need to be even higher. 

Alternatively, the Council could increase the real estate tax dedication to continue funding these costs using that mechanism.

There are pluses and minuses of both approaches. 

With the current real estate tax funding approach, 58% of the costs are today paid by residential tax payers and 42% by non-residential tax payers. Yet stormwater runoff is caused by impervious areas. The distribution of impervious areas is 63% non-residential property and 37% residential.  

Funded as a component of the real estate tax, it is tax deductible on federal and state income taxes. 

With a Stormwater Utility Fee, the cost burden would shift. Residential fee-payers would pay 37% of the stormwater costs and non-residential fee-payers would pay 63% of these costs. 

For many property owners, this will reduce their cost. This will also require non-taxable property owners (places of worship and non-profit properties primarily) to cover their impacts on the City's stormwater system. 

The fee would be assessed on the impact the property has on stormwater runoff in the City as opposed to simply the valuation of the property. 

For residential properties, our staff will be proposing a relatively simple tier structure with different tiers for different types of residential properties. For non-residential properties, a calculation based on impervious areas on a property will be proposed. 

They will also propose a series of available credits for fee-payers based on actions property owners can take to reduce their impact on the City's stormwater system. 

This fall, our staff will be beginning a series of public engagement efforts to educate the community on this proposal. Later in the fall, the formal proposal will be brought to the Council for our first action to implement this new mechanism.

It is proposed that the first billing under this new funding structure be made in 2018 if the Stormwater Utility is approved by the City Council as part of our Fiscal Year 2018 budget. 

Let me know your thoughts  as we explore this change. 
More Success In Our Schools

On Tuesday, I will drop off my kids for 6th grade and 3rd grade in the Alexandria City Public Schools. With their hard work, great educators in the classroom and our efforts at home, my kids will meet success. That's typically the measure most parents hope for. 

Whether we like it or not, our schools, our kids, and our educators will ultimately have their success each year measured by standardized tests. In our case,  the battery of tests we call the Standards of Learning (SOL) is how we measure that success.

Most significantly this year was the narrowing of the achievement gap; primarily for students of color, students with limited financial means, and students with limited English proficiency. 

Alexandria continues to have good schools, filled with dedicated, creative, and hard-working educators that inspire our children every day. I see it in my own children when I drop them off excited to learn, and I see it in their faces when they recount their days after school.

However, we cannot be satisfied with the fact that we have children who are not achieving in our schools. 

Yet there are school systems around the country that have excelled in educating children challenged by poor backgrounds or limited English proficiency. 

The variation in test scores within our City show that there are schools in Alexandria that have even excelled in educating these children. 

As a member of the City Council, it can be easy to make the case that this is an issue for our School Board. There is no question that the Board, which was elected to lead our schools, have an enormous responsibility for ensuring our students' success. 

That being said, our children are in school for 32.5 hours a week. What they experience in the other 135.5 hours of each week (as well as the five to six years before they enter our schools) has a dramatic impact on their achievement. 

We cannot ignore the significant role that the City government plays in the success of our children.

Many of our children receive pre-school, day care, after-school and summer camp from City government. They may access programs from our Health Department, our Recreation Department, our Court Services Unit, or some of the many non-profit organizations that receive City funding. 

The children may live in public housing units owned and operated by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority or in affordable housing units created or supported by the City. 

Throughout the past two years, the Council and School Board have been working collaboratively to improve coordination and delivery of early childhood services and after-school services. These two areas are currently provided in partnership with existing public and private providers and provide us with a great opportunity to improve the success of our children.

This is part of the rationale behind our effort to adopt our  new Youth Master Plan. A coordinated approach tailored to each child, utilizing all of the resources available within our City will best equip us to reach every child.
Transparency in Our Government

About 13 years ago,  Alexandria became one of the earliest jurisdictions in Virginia to post local campaign finance reports online. Anyone can easily review who finances the campaigns of Alexandria's elected officials. 

In 2009, I, along with Councilman Smedberg and then-Councilman Krupicka,  successfully sought approval from Richmond to impose new restrictions on land-use applicants. Specifically, the new laws we adopted  require land-use applicants to reveal any financial interests that they might have with policymakers

Three years ago, we made improvements to the motions that the City Council makes and votes on to initiate executive sessions. 

Three years ago, we moved the Council's work sessions from the Council Work Room (off camera) into the Council chambers so that the public can more easily observe our discussions.  

All elected officials in the state are required to submit an annual  Statement of Economic Interests. Last year, Alexandria  became the first local government in Virginia to post these disclosures online.  

In January, the Council adopted a Transparency Resolution to consider ideas for improving transparency in City operations . The adopted resolution included language that I drafted requesting that our Clerk begin producing an annual report detailing the Council's use of executive session during the previous year. Executive session is a closed meeting of Council, neither televised nor witnessed by any members of the general public, for specific purposes. 

The Code of Virginia strictly limits the circumstances where the City Council can meet in executive session. As a practical matter, the sessions are used primarily to address personnel issues, litigation strategy, and the acquisition or disposition of public property. In the case of the latter two examples, the executive sessions are used to protect the City's negotiating posture and thus protect the taxpayer dollar. 

Before going into executive session, the Council must vote on the reason for the executive session. After the executive session concludes, the Council must return into public view and each member must certify that we complied with the law during the private session.

The first of these executive session reports is now posted and available for public consumption. It shows that the Council met in executive session 15 times during the last Council term and each vote to go into executive session was unanimous. 

This new report will be docketed in September for our discussion. I hope the public finds this new measure of transparency helpful in shedding additional light on Council's work. 
Where Will All of the Kids Go to School? 

Almost four years ago, the City convened the Joint  Long Range Educational Facilities Work Group. The group was given the essential charge to understand our recent increase in student enrollment, better project enrollment growth in the future, and decide what to do about it. 

The School Board Chair, Vice Chair, the Mayor and I joined a group of community members and staff to steer the effort. 

A year ago,  14,670 children started school in the Alexandria City Public Schools. That constitutes a 3.6% increase from the previous year or about 500 additional students. If our projections are correct, on Tuesday about 15,298 students will start school in our system, another increase greater than 4%. 

This year is the tenth straight year of enrollment growth. During that period, ACPS has added over 5,000 students. 

We have also worked to understand where the enrollment is coming from. For example, we learned that low-rise apartments generate nearly three times the students as high-rise or mid-rise apartments do. We learned that single family homes generate nearly double the students as townhouses. We now know that public housing and other income-restricted units far outpace any other property type for student generation.

These data points remind us of the need to address this enrollment growth head-on. 

In June of last year, the City Council and the School Board adopted the  Long Range Educational Facilities Plan. The Plan is the culmination of the group's work in conjunction with the efforts of both ACPS and City staff. The plan looks at each elementary school building in the City, assesses the facility's educational adequacy, and provides a roadmap for increasing capacity and addressing deficiencies. 

We recently launched the next phase of this effort, planning for additional capacity at the high school level and in the pre-school area. With important decisions for the Council and School Board ahead over how to address capacity challenges for 9th Grade at Minnie Howard School, this process has urgency to it. 

The City Council's approved Capital Improvement Program included funding for a new Patrick Henry Elementary School and Recreation Center with increased capacity. This fall, the Council will be asked to approve the land-use approvals for the design of the new school and recreation facility. In July, the School Board approved the selection of a construction management firm to manage the effort

In Council's budget approved in the spring, we also included both operating and capital funds to support the School Board plan to use leased space for both a new West End Elementary School and a West End early childhood center. Utilizing leased space, while not the most efficient, would allow us to bring new capacity on line even sooner than new construction would allow. 

With the release of the docket for next week's Planning Commission meeting, the public is now aware of one of the properties being considered for this new educational use. This required public process would need to occur before the public use of any new property. In this case, ACPS has identified a potential property that might be acquired instead of leased. 

Even as we plan for new growth, ACPS is already working to accommodate the current growth in our schools. The School Board is continuing the long-overdue process of drawing new attendance zones. The current timeline assumes that the new redistricting plan is approved later this year. 

We have more work to do as we welcome new kids to our schools, but it is certainly an exciting challenge for our community.  
New Broadband For Alexandria

In  Chattanooga, Tennessee, a community of 170,000, a public electricity utility used hundreds of millions of dollars to build thousands of miles of underground fiber. In doing so, the utility enabled the residents and businesses of Chattanooga to receive the fastest Internet connectivity in our nation.

For years, Alexandria has sought new private investment in broadband infrastructure. For most of our residents, we have one  company providing Internet connectivity and television. Regardless of the performance of that company, technological innovation and reliability thrives on competition. 

This is an issue that affects not only residents but also our businesses and the ability of our community to attract commerce. 

Our efforts to bring new broadband infrastructure to Alexandria are entering a new phase. 

Last July, the City took a significant step forward in our efforts to bring new broadband options to Alexandria. The Council had supported the idea of issuing a Request for Information (RFI). This RFI solicited concepts from the private sector for partnership with the City in expanding broadband options, availability, and capabilities. 

The  RFI was issued and we actively solicited those partnerships. We received 10 responses from potential private partners. 

In March, the City completed the  initial financial estimates for the first phase of the infrastructure build-out. With a full cost of just under $8.5 million, the plan is designed to replace the City's existing connectivity agreement for City facilities with a City-owned fiber network. 

By  leveraging E-Rate funding from the FCC , achieving operating savings from the costs of the existing agreement, and the potential for private leases of our infrastructure, the effort may be able to pay for itself. 

One of the core components of the original proposal I made three years ago was that the City adopt a "Dig Once" policy. Essentially that's a policy that makes the City more efficient by leveraging existing underground infrastructure work to also make broadband infrastructure investments. With hundreds of millions of dollars of sewer and transportation work scheduled over the next decade, we should sequence and combine that work to be the most efficient. 

As we now begin the City's municipal infrastructure build-out, we are going to do just that. 

The City is in the process of implementing an unrelated transportation project, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). This effort provides for the installation of conduit and fiber connecting traffic signals along arterial roads to improve our traffic management and incident response. We will now be combining three phases of our municipal fiber build work with this project. Doing so will save the taxpayers $1.2 million and reduce the amount of community disruption required.  

This is an exciting project and one that gives the City the best chance to leverage its unique assets to bring new broadband services to our residents and businesses.
Shorter Summer Break For Council?

The work of the Alexandria City Council continues to evolve as the City changes. The Council officially meets three times a month, two Tuesday "legislative" meetings and one Saturday Public Hearing where we accept testimony from the public and take final action on items. Nearly every other day, there are community meetings, committees, commissions, etc. 

The Council does not meet officially during July and August. For a part-time Council, this is a useful time for the members to reconnect with families, our "day" jobs, and sleep. It's also a time for our City staff to catch up on significant policy work that can be hampered by the pace required to prepare for Council meetings and respond to Council actions. 

Yet the current schedule comes at a cost. 

For land-use applicants, if Council approval is required, failure to get on a June docket requires that an applicant wait until September. That delay can be dangerous for the viability of a small business. 

The last minute rush to squeeze items into the docket before our break can also be troublesome. 

In June, the Council received a study from the International Association of Chiefs of Police on the staffing of our Police Department. This study was an important analysis of one of the most vital services government provides. It was on a Council agenda packed with matters that had to be addressed before our recess. We BEGAN our discussion of this important study a little after 11 PM. 

We are also an anomaly. Alexandria City Council is the only jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to take a 2 month summer recess. 

We have recently made changes to improve the efficiency of our meetings. During the last Council term, at the suggestion by myself and Councilman Smedberg, we formalized the "Oral Report" process, to better organize individual members' reports from the boards and commissions they serve on. We also changed the timing of our executive sessions; moving them before the open meetings, instead of after. 

Previous Councils have limited the number of proclamations to make the meetings more efficient.

While these efforts have been helpful, I do believe more must be done. The length of our meetings now challenges members of the public to both participate and follow our proceedings. It limits the quality of our deliberations, and burns out our staff who must wait until the wee hours of the morning for their docket items to be addressed. 

I believe we can better organize our dockets to focus our discussions on the matters that require Council deliberation and quickly dispatch with the pro forma work of the municipal corporation. 

Yet, I do think we have reached the time where the Council should entertain the possibility of summer meetings. Perhaps not a full tempo of meetings as we do the rest of the year, but some ability to address issues during July and August is likely required. 

Last month, I asked my colleagues to begin this conversation . While it will be inconvenient for us, I believe we need to make changes to preserve the quality of our governance. 
Justin Speaking At Town Hall
Host a Town Hall in Your Living Room!

My regular series of Town Hall Meetings continue! 

You supply the living room and a bunch of your friends and neighbors. I will supply a member of the Alexandria City Council (me) with the answers to any of your questions about our City. 

Just drop us a line and we'll get a Town Hall on the calendar! Thanks for the interest! 

Upcoming Issues
Jones Point Park

Last month, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrated 100 years of the service it provides our nation. At 65 acres and with the only river lighthouse remaining in Virginia, Jones Point Park is one of resources that makes the National Park Service so special

Over a decade ago, the construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge necessitated changes to the park. As the City Council at the time provided input to the NPS's planning efforts, there was community tension between desires for active and passive uses in the park.

In the fall of 2015, the NPS began a new effort to evaluate and improve Jones Point Park. After several community meetings and opportunities for input, the NPS has now released a Draft Recreation and Visitors Services Plan  for the future of the park. 

NPS will be accepting public comment from now until September 9th. Comments can be submitted online, and the City will be submitting comments on behalf of the government. 

Confederate History

In the aftermath of the tragic murders in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, communities across the nation have reexamined their representations of Confederate history. None was more visible than the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. 

Here in Alexandria, we have received similar requests from residents to reexamine examples of such representations in our community. 

Since 1970, the City has displayed the first flag of the Confederacy (not the battle flag) on Robert E. Lee's birthday and Confederate Memorial Day. 

There are at least 30 streets named for prominent leaders of the Confederacy. The most significant one is Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1). 

A plaque on the  Marshall House (now the Hotel Monaco) tells the story of the shooting of a Union officer from a Confederate perspective. 

My view is that there is little gained for Alexandria to re-litigate a war that concluded 150 years ago. However, our community has changed over 150 years. 

At the end of September last year, the Council made the decision to end to flying of the flag of the Confederacy. We also created a community group to take public comment and advise the Council on other potential changes. 

While the report goes into considerable detail, the group recommended that the Appomattox Statue remain in place. Jefferson Davis Highway be renamed, and other potential street re-namings be initiated individually using the existing process.  

The Council will be holding a public hearing on these recommendations on Saturday, September 17th, beginning at 9:30 AM. 

Honors and commemorations that seemed appropriate a century or even 40 years ago, may no longer be appropriate in a modern Alexandria. Furthermore, a modern Alexandria should focus not just on what should be removed or renamed, but how to portray a more accurate and fair telling of our history. 

In my view, that would be a just reaction to the events in Charleston, and indeed many other injustices and tragedies in our country's history. 

Let me know your thoughts as the Council discusses this later this month.  

Equal Pay For Equal Work 

To ensure that Alexandria government leads the way, the City Manager worked to collect similar data across the City workforce. The data looked at subgroups of employees, and compared similar tenures. 

In April, along with my colleague Councilwoman Pepper, we proposed that Alexandria mimic new Federal policy and require that those who do business with Alexandria government disclose summary pay data to help ensure voluntary compliance with pay equity laws. 

This proposal should be back before the Council for consideration later this year. 

230 KV Transmission
Two years ago, I wrote about Dominion Virginia Power's proposal to construct a new 230 KV transmission line through the northeast corner of our City. 

In June of 2014, the  City formed a community group to begin reviewing Dominion Virginia Power's proposal and offering feedback to the Council and directly to Dominion Virginia Power on their proposed routes. 

The most important occurrence at the first meeting was the release of Dominion Virginia Power's  proposed routes. Each of these routes have negative impacts for our community. 

As this process concluded, Dominion believed that the urgency behind the proposed transmission line had subsided. The process was then delayed for some time to allow them to analyze their studies. 

In February, Dominion again approached the City with a timetable indicating that they will apply to the State Corporation Commission this summer. 

Ultimately, the decision about the necessity of this transmission line and its routing will be made by the State Corporation Commission. However, the City and its residents will have some opportunity to help shape that decision. 

The City continues to have significant concerns about this proposal and the potential impacts on Alexandria. 

The City reconvened the community group and a series of meetings were again held. 

The Council adopted a resolution opposing and above ground routing, and identifying the "least objectionable" routes as ones that either:
  • Used the existing CSX railroad right of way
  • Used waterways, both Four Mile Run and the Potomac River
  • Used the George Washington Parkway
Last month, Dominion formally notified the City that they will now be filing with the State Corporation Commission. That filing will include two routes, the route utilizing the CSX railroad right of way, and an alternate scenario where Dominion "reconductors" an existing route primarily outside of the City.

We look forward to  Dominion Virginia Power's filing with the State Corporation Commission so that we can work with both parties to minimize negative impacts on our community.
Vice Mayor Justin M. Wilson 
Alexandria City Hall
301 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Paid for by Wilson For Council