A multitude of issues were raised at last Saturday's McLean "Town Hall Meeting," which was held at the McLean Community Center. For two hours, State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), Del. Vince Callahan (R-34) and Del. James Scott (D-53) fielded the questions and concerns of local residents. Topics ranged from transportation and taxes to voting practices and gay marriage.
"It's going to be a really, really busy and exciting [General Assembly] session," said Sen. Howell at the meeting.
Not surprisingly, traffic congestion and development were weighing heavily on the minds of citizens. Many who spoke at the meeting wanted to know how their state legislators plan to improve the ever-growing traffic problems of the area. Del. Callahan warned residents that a significant portion of state funds are already spoken for as a result of government mandated obligations such as Medicaid, the cleaning of the Chesapeake Bay and higher education needs.
"All of these add up considerably," said Callahan.
For his part, Del. Scott emphasized his belief that transportation problems need to be addressed in "other ways than just building more capacity." Scott has been promoting the concept of "telework," which is when companies allow their employees to work from home part-time to cut down on the amount of people on the road during rush hour.
"We need to have a strategy for reducing demand, and telework, in my view, is one way to do it," said Scott.
Sen. Howell expressed her excitement about the fact that there are currently two transportation plans on the table of the General Assembly that "for the first time ever, plan to link transportation and land use."
"All I have to say is it's about time, Virginia," said Howell.
ANOTHER HEATED ISSUE under discussion was that, when it comes to development conflicts, citizens often feel that they are volleyed back and forth between the state legislators and their local government officials.
"We are tired of the Board [of Supervisors] saying, 'We don't have the power to do anything,'" said John Adams, president of the Georgetown Pike Association.
Susan Turner, president of the McLean Citizen's Association (MCA) echoed similar sentiments.
"We are told that there is nothing that our supervisors can do to stop this [development], and Vince tells me all the time that it's our supervisors who can change it, so I'd like to see them both hash this out right here," said Turner. "I want someone to tell me the truth here."
Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois attended Saturday's meeting, and both Turner and Adams challenged her to tell the state legislators exactly what powers the Board of Supervisors needs to help control development in McLean. DuBois said that as there is not much open space left in McLean, the primary tool for keeping development in check would be the Adequate Facilities Ordinance which would require developers to provide extensive proffers with each project.
"It would enable you to set a rate — it's not voluntary … in other words, if you're going to build something you have to pay something for this," said DuBois.
DuBois also defended herself and the other members of the Board.
"The county can ask for proffers. We do get money for parks, we do transportation studies on major zoning cases, we get money for schools … for everybody to say that we're not doing anything is not true," said DuBois.
However, Del. Scott, as a former local official, confirmed the fact that "changes in the Comprehensive Plan are the decision of the local government."
TAXES AND TRANSPORTATION were a somewhat contentious issue. Del. Callahan mentioned several possible tax hikes to deal with transportation projects. These included an increased auto insurance tax, an increased auto title tax and an increased gas tax. Sen. Howell pointed out that the State Senate is aggressively pursuing money to reach the projected $2.7 billion by 2010 that will be required for transportation projects.
"It is the Senate's position that we have a crisis that is so impacting the lives of Virginians in terms of time loss … and ultimately we are paying for that, so we need to do something bold that meets the needs," said Howell, citing the rescinding of tax benefits for groups that already have exemptions as one example of how more money can be raised for transportation solutions.
Resident Dorothy Watling expressed her desire to avoid increased taxes.
"I think at this point in time, to raise the gas tax, you would become very unpopular in Richmond," said Watling. "You haven't been in session that long and, whoops, all of a sudden you're talking about more taxes."
Del. Callahan said that Northern Virginians have "a misconception" about how much money is being spent on their transportation problems.
"For every dollar you send to Richmond, you're getting a dollar and a quarter back," said Callahan. "A lot of money is being spent up here right now, to the point where we are being criticized by the rest of Virginia, saying that all transportation money is being spent on up here, and we say, 'Right on.'"
THE BAN ON GAY MARRIAGE was also a hot topic at Saturday's meeting. Paula Prettyman, president of Equality Fairfax, spoke out against the proposed amendments to the state constitution.
"We hope that you will do the best you can to understand the issues that our community has to face," said Prettyman.
She pointed out that these amendments will hurt more than just the gay community, as they will put very stringent restrictions on the definition of marriage. In addition to banning gay marriage, the proposed amendments would ban civil unions, gay alliances in schools and would prevent unmarried couples from being able to adopt children.
"The whole enchilada is going to go into the Virginia Constitution to discriminate against me for the rest of my life," said Prettyman. "It goes beyond marriage."
Sen. Howell described the amendments as "poorly written," and sympathized with Prettyman, saying that "Virginia is quite hostile to some of its citizens."
"What is happening here is truly frightening," said Howell. "Regardless of how you feel about marriage itself, this amendment is going to apply to more than just same-sex marriage."
Del. Scott agreed that the proposed amendments were overkill.
"We've had a prohibition against same-sex marriage since 1965, there is no reason for this constitutional amendment," said Scott. "It's just outrageous."