Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Blogpost #14 - It seems to me that Fisette and Hynes are in kind of a pickle, now

I responded to the SunGazette editorial at

"Arlington Sun Gazette editorial: Will we hear the real streetcar story?

Someday, the full story behind the change of heart on the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar projects by County Board members Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes may come to light. We’re not suggesting that Fisette and Hynes were being untruthful in explaining last week’s stunning turnabout. They explained their decisions as an attempt at ending community discord and moving forward in what clearly has become a new political and economic environment across the county.
But we doubt Arlington has been told the FULL story. Was this decision a knee-jerk reaction to John Vihstadt’s election victory earlier in November? Did it come about because Fisette and Hynes have seen financial projections – for the streetcar project or for the county government as a whole – that scared them so much they decided to drop the project? Those who know aren’t talking, and those who are talking, well, they likely don’t know..."

I’m not convinced it’s so mysterious: John Vihstadt got twelve percent more votes than Alan Howze in a congressional/senate election which the ACDC was convinced was going to produce the most favorable electorate possible for the ACDC’s candidate (‘all these sheep will take the Dem sample ballot and vote our way’). Howze had run a perfectly decent campaign, at least as good as Walter Tejada’s and Mary Hynes’ had been the last time they ran, he spoke at every civic association and had a booth at every public event. And he got his clock cleaned. A reasonable reading of this is that the ACDC had run out of good will in the living rooms of Arlington, and that if the ACDC members of the Board continue to push the trolley, and if Vihstadt and Garvey decide to join together in endorsing independent candidates for 2015, Mr Tejada and Ms Hynes will lose. The way Jay Fisette chose to describe this was ‘community discord’, which is quite true, as far as it goes.
It seems to me that Fisette and Hynes are in kind of a pickle, now. They cannot go back to backing the trolley: that bridge is burned. Much of their argument before the cancellation had been based on the claimed utter impossibility of reexamining the project, which argument they have now destroyed. Tejada has been making ‘my way or the highway’ noises about his former allies, so it’s very hard to see them coming to a joint enterprise with him, at this point. So they really have to come up with a strategy which will attract at least one of the Garvey-Vihstadt faction, preferably both of them.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Blogpost #13 - Fisette's Fiacre

Blogpost #13 - Fisette's Fiacre

This is a letter I sent to the Sun Gazette in response to its article at

Dear Editor: your article “Arlington Democrats start to regroup after County Board election debacle” said “Apparently, they did not see it coming, and Arlington Democratic leaders’ public and private reactions to the party’s drubbing in the County Board election ranged from nonplussed to borderline apocalyptic.”  Let me try and help, on the ‘nonplussed’ part: the article notes that “.. voter discontent at County Board decision-making was palpable.”  The first huge clue for me that change was in the air was two years ago when I was discussing the Garvey-Bondi primary with a friend who had always seemed to me a Dem loyalist, and he said, “Don’t vote for Bondi, she’ll just be Zimmie’s poodle”.  Lots of Dems made the same choice, and Garvey is on the County Board today.

The Clinton-era political operative James Carville got a lot of his national reputation from his colorful sayings, mostly sort of zoological: “That dog won’t hunt”, the parable of the frogs in gradually heated water, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch”, “Why do dogs lick their...” um, let’s not go any further with that last one, we’ll go back to the frogs. The frogs story said they will boiled alive in water which is very gradually brought to a boil, because they don’t notice things getting worse until it is too late.  A nice story, which has passed from use in the last few years both because these things have a shelf life and because it is scientifically Not True, gradually heated frogs in fact notice that things are getting bad and try to escape.

The application of this story in Arlington, I think, is that the Dem-dominated Board amassed huge stores of good will during the Bozman-Whipple-Eisenberg-Milliken-Brunner era. The Board made a lot of good decisions, listened carefully to citizens and tried to go forward in ways which they would support. During what I’ll call the Zimmerman Steamroller era there was a shift from that public servant model to what you might call a ‘leader’ model - Zimmerman himself was remarkably candid about it as he left office, was quoted in the Arlington Now blog on Feb 11th: “In the end, each Board member has to make a judgment about what is best for the community...Leadership is the unflinching exercise of that judgment without regard to momentary swings in popularity. I believe that the great success Arlington has had is the result of the combination of leaders who actively engage the people; listen closely to what they’re saying; and then chart a path that they, in their best judgment, believe is most likely to result in the ultimate happiness of the community; and the willingness of the people in this community to let them do so.”

Some are calling the current majority the Trolley Troika, but discontent is about far more than the trolley.  Hynes’ Hackney Carriage?  The Tejada Trimotor?  Fisette’s Fiacre?  The sterile legalisms with which the majority attempts to cow citizens away from opposition to the trolley, the temporary classrooms on the athletic fields, the thriftlessness of demolishing Old Wakefield as the need for a new middle school came into view, use of proffers as a slush fund for Board hobby horses, the threat to divert scarce parks to other public purposes - all of these things combine to breed skepticism about Board statements.  The water’s gotten hot, and the frogs have noticed.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blogpost #12 Guidance for letter writers?

Looking at Garrett McGuire’s peevish letter ( peevish letter I was struck by its similarity to the Smith ( and Lewan ( letters from last week, and I wondered if guidance for letter writers is being distributed from the Democratic HQ and Bat Cave over on Jeff Davis Hwy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  But if this is the Dem line it suggests a couple of things: that the Dems have noticed that their stance from last time (Reeps are mouth breathing knuckle draggers!  Vihstadt is a known Reep!  Arlington can’t possibly!) was not a winner, and that the new stance is: Howze is forward looking!  Young professionals need forward looking!  Housing costs too much for young professionals! 1951-model Vihstadt is too old to be marching towards Arlington’s glorious future!!  Ethics concerns are a trivial distraction Vihstadt is placing in the way of the progress of People’s Arlington towards its glorious future!

I kind of like the LaGuardia line:  "There is no Republican or Democratic way to clean streets." And the Little Flower must have been doing something right, since there’s an airport named for him.  I’m a Vihstadt backer and a historical Dem, and I think he’s been playing it very straight and not partisan so far.   And as a ‘40s model myself, I am very pleased that a young and vigorous and forward-looking person like Vihstadt is willing to put some effort into County affairs!

McGuire seems to assume that County efforts for affordable housing will in fact benefit young professionals like himself.  There’s a lot of debate on the actual effect of inclusionary zoning (IZ) requirements in providing housing. A piece by Emily Washington on the right-of-center Market Urbanism website discusses exactly that: (, and suggests:
“’s hard to deny that inclusionary zoning beneficiaries win a lottery. They live in new construction in desirable neighborhoods, housing that would cost several times as much at the market rate. However, IZ’s effects are not limited to beneficiaries, and its costs are not fully borne by developers. Because developers will lose money on the IZ units they build, this cost has to be made up in the market rate units in order for the project to go forward. This adds to construction costs and also incentivizes luxury units that can better absorb the cost of the IZ units relative to more affordable construction. While providing affordable housing to a few lucky low-income people, IZ also makes housing less affordable for everyone who doesn’t receive the benefit by reducing housing supply and skewing the market toward luxury housing that can subsidize the affordable units. IZ appears free to everyone except developers because it’s not paid for out of city budgets. But ultimately housing consumers share in the cost of IZ units through a hidden tax. By making new construction more expensive, IZ also reduces the rate at which the prices of older or less desirable housing filters down to the point that it becomes affordable to low- and middle-income residents. Putting affordable housing in new construction ensures that it will benefit fewer people than the same amount of resources otherwise could...”

I read this to suggest that, despite County Board Democrats’ charitable and inclusionary motives, the effects of their IZ policies will be largely perverse - a few lucky winners and lots of people squeezed out.  The people who get squeezed out will include McGuire, Smith, and Lewan, the young professionals who are too well off to enter the affordable housing lottery and not well enough off to afford the $750,000 condos whose profits pay for the affordable units.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Blogpost #11 - Proffers Should Not Be a Slush Fund

Blogpost #11 - Proffers Should Not Be a Slush Fund

This letter to the SunGazette was posted (somewhat truncated) on its web site Oct 29 at  as “Letter: Howze not telling whole truth in discussing housing”

This letter responds to the Sun Gazette article “County Board contenders vow to protect open space” which covered the October 15 Cherrydale Citizen’s Assn candidate night. ( Both candidates made the crowd-pleasing statement that existing park space ought not be converted to affordable housing nor schools.  It’s particularly encouraging to read this from Mr. Howze, who is running with the endorsement of the Board majority which has encouraged identification of park space for just this sort of conversion!  Mr. Vihstadt spoke more to the origins of the problem: the Board has been whooping through thousands of units in new projects, and “..“We ask for all sorts of things” from developers, Vihstadt said, from public art to placing utilities underground, “but we don’t ask anything for schools.”” Mr. Howze’s response was sort of a red herring: he “..seemed less inclined to make developers pay the price...Student growth is “overwhelmingly coming from single-family neighborhoods,” Howze said. “A block that had two families on it a decade ago now has 10 families on it, 12 families.””

I’ve got a going-in assumption here: that County expenditures can be categorized as ‘nice-to-do’ or ‘must-do’, and that having adequate schools for our children is a ‘must-do’ and public art and underground utilities and affordable housing are ‘nice-to-do’.  This makes a very strong public policy argument that expenditures for ‘nice-to-do’ items should be on the budget as much as possible, so that the Board is forced to examine them in the context of everything else discretionary for which it is spending  If we have off budget resources coming in, as we do from the proffers we extract from developers in exchange for site plan approvals, those resources should be devoted entirely to ‘must-do’ expenditures.  Proffers should not be a slush fund for Board members to dip into for the ‘nice’ items they like. This would be true whether or not schools growth was coming largely from single-family neighborhoods, as Mr. Howze claimed.  Mr. Vihstadt's ads say No Vanity Projects, and I think that's not quite true: we are a very rich county and we can and should do some vanity and charitable things.  But they should be compared to our other expenditures, not shielded from scrutiny.

Even though Howze’s claim that growth is overwhelmingly coming from single-families would be a far weaker argument against developer payments toward schools, I want to raise doubt about whether it’s even true: in a June 19 Article, the Sun Gazette quoted APAH officials that of the 375 people in lottery winner families for the 122 units in the new Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH)  Arlington Mill Residences apartments, 147 were children under 18.  At $20,000 per year per kid, this is a very large charitable expense the County has taken on!

Now, it may be that residents in non-subsidized apartments are less reproductive than those in subsidized, but I’m going to make up a story about life cycle: some fellow buys a two bedroom condo and rents out the second bedroom to help on the mortgage.  He checks out a couple of library books every year, and consumes $1500 in arrest and booking services for some unfortunate events after a pub crawl involving vomiting on somebody’s lawn while loudly singing Hokie fight songs. With the taxes on his apartment, this guy is pure profit for the County, very nearly!  But then, he turns 30, and he meets somebody nice while pub crawling, and she moves in and nature takes its course and there is now a little one in the second bedroom.   Used to be, someone like that would buy a town house in Vienna, but these guys like Arlington and Vienna’s gotten expensive, so - bang! - another $20000 a year.  I have two kids as Washington-Lee, and both have several friends who live in apartments, so I think my story is at least as plausible as Howze’s.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blog Post #10 Streetcar tracks and bicycles

Blog Post #10 Streetcar tracks and bicycles

Paul Goddin wrote at Mobility Lab “...There will always be those who are resistant to change.
These are the people who fight the Columbia Pike Streetcar despite credible evidence of its return on investment. These are the ones who use rhetoric like “war on cars” and are fond of excessive punctuation.
And lately, these are the people who write angry op-eds to their local newspaper, decrying bicyclists as out-of-control “terrorists” running roughshod over normal car-driving Americans and calling city officials who install bike infrastructure “totalitarians.” Oh, the humanity!
TDM Takeaway When educating about multiple transportation options and freedom of choice, know that some people are going to be afraid of the changes this implies.
This phenomenon has a name: “bikelash” – a clever word used to describe the resistance and hostility some people demonstrate towards the growing presence of bicycles in their cities..”

In the comments,  Greg posted: “..Greg October 15, 2014 at 11:47 AM Yet another reason to dislike cyclists. What the f*** does the Streetcar have to do with this?”

in response, I wrote: “dave schutz October 27, 2014 at 7:38 PM
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Streetcar tracks regularly cause bicycle accidents. Toronto has had a huge problem with this.


Here are four pieces brought up by a quick Google about trolley tracks causing bicyclist accidents.

- See more at:

Blogpost #9 Sungazette put up an article saying Frank O'Leary predicted a Howze win. I put up this comment:

Blogpost #9

Sungazette put up an article saying Frank O'Leary predicted a Howze win. I put up this comment:

Frank O’Leary is a gray eminence genius of Arlington Politics.  Most of what I know is either what I read in the Sun Gazette or what I hear from my close neighbors.  He may well be right.  But his is a sort of static analysis here: this is what Dem voters do, this is what Reep voters do, there will be a lot more Dem voters in the mix in the general than there were in the special which elected John Vihstadt.  Thus: Howze triumphs!  And this whole Vihstadt interlude can be pleasantly forgotten, Libby Garvey’s requests to talk about issues will die for lack of a second, the good times will come again.

Maybe.  I will say that I have never seen my neighbors so cross at the Arlington Board as they are this year.  It’s not just Zimmie’s Twee Little Trolley, it’s the staggeringly bad planning for schools expansion, the casual acceptance by the Board of the idea of converting scarce park space to other public uses, and the sense that this government is NOT operating in the sunshine, as decisions appear in Board sessions with little apparent discussion behind them.   So this suggests to me that ‘what Dem voters do’ may be different this year than in previous years.

It’s certainly not propitious for the Trolley Troika that their hopes are pinned to the lowest-information and least-frequent voters giving them a victory this year, looking forward to 2015 when those folks will stay home. Democrat Howze on track for election in Arlington

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blogpost #8 - letter about legitimacy of reexamining Streetcar decision

 I sent this letter to the Post July 20

Dear Editor:

This letter is to respond to two points from the Patricia Sullivan July 20 article, “More State Money to fund contentious Arlington Streetcar” - Sullivan writes of Libby Garvey’s statements: “... (Board) majority has voted not to hold a citizens’ referendum on the matter “and says the time for discussion is long past... but we also need to be respectful of where the public is now.”” The Board majority is pointing to neighborhood meetings at which the trolley - then estimated at less than half the cost now being quoted - was talked up as part of a general Bethesda-ization of the Pike.  They whooped it through.  Now that the cost has ballooned to a ‘bet-the-company’ number and the rest of the County has noticed, trolley proponents are saying that any rethink is illegitimate.  I don’t accept the idea that a ‘popular approval’ expressed for a hugely less costly project, and only in meetings held in one area of the County, can’t be reexamined.

Sullivan also refers to Walter Tejada, vice chairman when the Board “approved a plan that tied new development on the Pike with saving 6,200 currently affordable housing units.”  This is not quite right: the plan is to extract 6200 affordable units of new housing from developers who, we are supposed to believe, will be magically attracted to a Pike with a trolley, and who would not be attracted to a Pike which has bus transit. The Board has written off the 6200 units of affordable which exist, no hope of preservation, and has written a land use plan calling for an enormous number of additional units in the idea that this will be attractive enough to developers to pay for new affordable units.  And then they say that this will overstress the existing transit, so there must be a trolley.  Everybody knows the story of the man who killed his parents, then asked the judge for mercy on grounds that he was an orphan.

Residents are shaken by the amount of green space proposed to be paved to provide schools for the thousands of new residents for whom the Board has approved units in the last two decades.  No one can reasonably expect that the effects of grossly overcrowding the Pike will be confined to the Pike.  Nor does it seem likely than an overcrowded Pike with a poky 7-mile-an-hour trolley (if it matches the speed of the Portland trolley on which the Board wants to model it) will draw large numbers of eager developers when the Silver Line offers both a speedy Metro and an area with many jobs.

Sincerely, Dave Schutz