Q&A: Competing for Seat on Arlington County Board

Q&A: Competing for Seat on Arlington County Board

Matt de Ferranti, challenger, Democrat

Matt de Ferranti between four candidate debates this week and canvassing the Yorktown neighborhood later in the afternoon: "I love it; Every time I go out, I hear an inspiring story."

What would you say is the major challenge facing the County Board moving forward?

de Ferranti: We've got to reduce the commercial vacancy rate or we can't afford all of the investments that have made Arlington Arlington for so many years. We can't afford the new high school we need.

We have to think about how the economy will grow in the future and prioritize the sectors of business growth that will have the most potential for us, like cyber security and renewable energy.

Looking back over the five years you have lived in Arlington, what changes have you seen?

de Ferranti: Interesting. I live two blocks from the courthouse area, and two buildings were constructed right across the street from me and two more are going up close. All are residential and were appropriate without significant detrimental impact, but density is a controversial word now in Arlington.

Arlington County is continuing to become a more affluent county, and affordability is as much of a challenge as ever. School capacity is as bad as it has ever been. I know kids in 6th grade who will need a seat when they get to high school.

You argue that it is important to have diversity on the Board.

de Ferranti: I think it is important to recognize that 50 percent of the people who live in our County live in apartments or condos, and they have a different perspective that it is important to reflect. For instance, transportation by Metro is a day-to-day experience in these multi-unit buildings. I think I would be the first board member to live in one of these units.

There is also diversity of population with our two biggest cohorts being seniors and younger folks like me. That is an important part of the population that we have to listen to. We need to look here for our next generation of leadership.

What is the priority of affordable housing?

de Ferranti: It is very important. I have a volunteer who started out in Colonial Village and now she and her husband own a home. So I think it is important to help the middle class eventually own their own home.

The "Fulfilling the Promise” report last December detailed the slow progress toward meeting the goals voted by the Board for affordable housing. It also suggested strategies for making faster progress. What is the status of these efforts?

de Ferranti: We are very concerned on the Housing Commission that there has not been as rigorous follow-up as there should be. Research has not been as robust or quick as it should be. I think we should look at the idea of community land trusts. Richmond does it; we should explore doing it, too. It is a set of houses the middle class can buy. They keep 1/2 and the co-op keeps 1/2 so when they sell in the future, that unit will be affordable.

Everyone agrees government transparency is important. How does government transparency apply to the recent battle between conservationists and developers over removal of the heritage dawn redwood tree on Ohio Street?

de Ferranti: In the big picture transparency is an important challenge the Board has not really lived up to in all regards. I understand it is important to respect the County Attorney role but would not unquestioningly accept what the County Attorney says. I would want to know for myself. We do need to go to Richmond and make a case for more authority.

What is your greatest worry?

de Ferranti: That we take for granted the best goals of Arlington and don't fully realize the urgency of commitment to the forward-thinking values. We need the vision and the energy to look beyond the day-to-day challenges.

John Vihstadt, incumbent, Independent

Accompanying John Vihstadt on a walk around Lyon Village knocking on one more door of thousands in 32 Arlington neighborhoods where he has been so far. “It is my workout routine; I lost 10 pounds last election.”

What would you say is the major challenge facing the County Board looking forward?

Vihstadt: I would say managing our growth. With our current 225,000 population in Arlington projected to grow to, I believe, 280,000 between now and 2040 how do we manage the impact on schools, public infrastructure, parks, the tree canopy? I have called for the City Manager to study models to do cost-benefit analysis on our development decisions. We haven't done that before. Two other challenges are greater transportation costs and value and high commercial vacancy rate.

Looking back over the 30 years you have lived in Arlington, what changes have you seen?

Vihstadt: The thing I've not seen change, and I'm hoping won't, is Arlington is still a large small town. We have a deep sense of community.

You argue it is important to have diversity on the County Board and you provide that as an Independent. Can you give me an example of when that diversity mattered?

Vihstadt: My vote with the 3-2 majority in disagreement on the intent to advertise a property tax increase. I felt that we needed to bite the bullet without raising property taxes because we had raised them a cent and a half a year ago. We are required to balance the budget. Instead of property taxes we raised utility taxes, extended parking meter hours, cut salaries and laid people off. It wasn't pleasant.

The County Manager recently gave us the 2020 budget which projected revenues at half of the projected expenditures. We are working hard on filling the commercial vacancies and we have made some progress with Nestle, Gerber and other businesses. But we've never fully recovered from the BRAC (base realignment) efforts 10 years ago, and also there is more telecommuting from home. We can't wait for the next shoe to drop. Who knows what will happen in D.C.? We have to prepare for the future.

There are people who want to restore the one party government and turn it back into an echo chamber.

What is the priority of affordable housing?

Vihstadt: It is an important priority but so are schools, infrastructure, parks and green space and public safety.

The “Fulfilling the Promise Report” last December detailed the slow progress toward meeting the goals voted by the Board for affordable housing. It also suggested strategies for making faster progress. What is the status of these efforts?

Vihstadt: The report was an aspirational goal not a hard commitment.

The staff is examining the strategies but the staff is also looking at a couple of other issues including housing conservation districts. Once they have been freed up I imagine they will address these strategies. Of course these ideas cost money. We are caught in the missing middle where people make too much money to receive subsidized housing but not enough to afford to live here.

You listed government transparency as your second goal in your 2018 Organizational speech. How did that process apply to the recent conservationist-developer battle over the removal of the heritage dawn redwood tree?

Vihstadt: Unfortunately not very well I would say. You can't move against the advice of the County Attorney. The staff didn’t feel there was a reasonable basis to say no. But there will be a document intended to inform the public the basis of the decision. In addition, we are consulting and working with the legislature to come up with a tool to protect trees in the future and what we need from the General Assembly.

What is your greatest worry?

Vihstadt: We could have a downturn in the economy and that could set us back in so many important initiatives. We are required to have a balanced budget. It would make it a lot harder.