To the Editor:
In addition to suffering through some ill-fated decisions by this City Council, we are now seeing end runs without any public discourse whatsoever. Three examples immediately come to mind:
The first issue is the BikeShare program, which has obtrusive bike racks springing up all over the city. One would think that these rack locations would be vetted by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR), the Traffic and Parking Board, the Planning Commission, and the City Council in conjunction with citizen input. However, that is not the case. A few months ago, City Council approved a process to allow the placement of racks without any public interaction whatsoever, and more importantly, without a public hearing.
A second issue concerns food trucks, which is an issue that is almost as egregious as the BikeShare problem. Last year, an Ad Hoc Food Truck Committee established a pilot program and then the committee was disbanded. However, in November of last year, the city manager recommended the establishment of another task force. Regrettably, this recommendation was apparently ignored. Then in April, the city attorney’s office (in conjunction with input from the Transportation and Environmental Services Department) recommended five food truck locations in Old Town, which were approved on April 16 by City Council. Subsequently, two of these locations were disapproved by the Traffic and Parking Board, but City Council placed the program on the docket at one of its Tuesday meetings (May 10) wherein citizens are not allowed to comment. This is just another program that has been approved without a public hearing. The final injustice is that the food truck vending fee of $250 has been waived, with no public input on this matter.
A third issue is the Waterfront Plan. When this was approved by City Council, $120 million was allocated over the next 10 years for improvements, half of which was unfunded. Some of the unfunded $60 million was dedicated to keeping the waterfront in tip-top shape. To help with funding these improvements, a Business Improvement District (BID) could be created for Old Town. The Waterfront Commission established a Governance Subcommittee to study the BID issue. If this group agreed on a BID proposal, it would send its recommendations to the Waterfront Commission, which would in turn decide whether or not to send the BID request to the City Council for approval. To date, the Waterfront Commission has not approved the BID special taxing district, which runs along the waterfront from Jones Point to Potomac Landing, and from the waterfront, along King Street to the King Street Metro. However, one must question why this boundary runs along King Street to the Metro, if the beneficiaries are actually the businesses on the waterfront?
Moreover, this past week, City Council approved the FY 2017 budget, which included funding to study a BID in Old Town, and which was accomplished without any public discourse. This is a circumvention of due process, since the City Council acted without the Waterfront or Planning Commission’s approval. It also excludes citizen input, and casts a doubt on why we even have commissions.
These three examples are symptomatic of a complete disregard for the citizen’s opinions. Without citizen input into the decision-making process, no real democratic decisions can be made, and the city eventually ceases to be a democracy. One might make the case that Alexandria now has taxation without representation.
Townsend A. Van Fleet