There were over 100 individual questions submitted at the 2 candidate forums over the past two weeks. It is impossible to answer each one individually. Instead, they have been bucketed into categories with broad responses provided. If there is an individual question that you still feel has not been answered, please send me a note and I will do my best to answer.
The city needs a better mix of housing choices, including affordable and senior options. We are currently heavily weighted in single family homes and need to add some percentage of multifamily rentals and condos, and townhomes. This mix will allow for some level of affordability and attract millennials and young couples who want to live in Fairfax but cannot yet afford to purchase a single family home. I am also interested in some innovative solutions to deal with housing including a public-private partnership between the city and developers to construct some affordable and/or senior housing. We can also adaptively re-use some properties for this type of housing including the Paul VI and Green Acres sites.
We also need to support a city wide program to keep our older housing stock attractive to existing and new home-buyers. We should also encourage usage of available fund programs that enable the revitalization of older apartment and commercial properties. We should enforce residential and subdivision code guidelines and restrictions to keep our neighborhoods safe and attractive.
Collectively, a better mix of housing and updated older homes will make the city more livable and vibrant and improve property values.
The city has a vision, a comprehensive plan and a master plan and all indicate that we have a good understanding of what we need to do to create value for all of us. However, we do not seem to have the political will power to act upon that vision and those plans. Plans are nice, but delivering or actually growing value is much more difficult but imperative. If we really want to keep our status as the place with low property taxes and great amenities, then we must work harder to compete with the surrounding county that is creating strong economic centers on our borders.
I envision a well-established business corridor on Route 50 with mixed use developments completed at Fairfax Circle, Northfax and Kamp Washington. I would also add Fair City and targeted and appropriate portions of Old Town to the list of activity centers. Interim uses like strip malls are not good enough. If the projected job growth in the city over the next 10 years is mostly strip mall oriented retail and restaurant, then we are not encouraging the higher paying jobs that create disposable income for spending in the city. Mixed-use developments in the areas identified above will attract those businesses that will create those jobs that will be filled by residents.
I believe we can implement this strategy by embracing change, being innovate and taking some measured risk. This will spur both economic growth and a renewed vitality without losing a places history or character.
Our tax burden continues to be one of the lowest tax burdens in the greater northern Virginia area. Whether you look at the tax rate or the average tax bill based on the rate times the weighted average assessed value for the city as a whole. So by my standards, and based on our high level of services, we are by far the best value for the money in the region.
But to better understand what all residents are seeing, I went back and looked at my tax bill over the last 10 years through 2014 (I’ll update this sometime soon). It went up 51% over that period of time, of which approximately half is due to higher assessed values and the other half due to a higher tax rate. However, what I do want to point out is that our school contract cost went up 61% and our public safety cost (Police and Fire) went up 60% during the same time period. Yes our taxes have gone up allot over the last 10 years but as compared to other jurisdictions, we have done a very good job with all residents’ tax money given the increased cost pressures of schools and public safety.
But we still have to be vigilant stewards of our taxes and my focus is to continue to stimulate economic growth in the city to boost our commercial revenue to ease the burden on residential property owners.
Communication and transparency are critical to our success and to keeping our citizens engaged and informed. City Council and staff are in discussions to create and deliver a 4-page annual report to highlight the city’s progress and its opportunities for improvement. This will be a quick and easy way for the city to show its progress in meeting its goals and objectives.
In terms of communication tools/technology, we also have a website, Channel 12, the Cityscene and social media as part of a comprehensive communication toolkit. But we still must do a better job and strive to communicate “7 times in 7 different ways” to get more citizens engaged.
A few weeks ago the US Census Bureau published survey results looking at commute times for 76 communities in Northern Virginia. The census bureau asked questions on more than 40 topics over the last five years including commute times. At the top of the list, residents in Herndon reported commute times of less than 26 minutes. Locations like this near the top of the list likely benefited from large business and commercial hubs in close proximity. The average commute time in the Washington DC metro area was 34 minutes. The City of Fairfax came in at 19th on the list with an average commute time of 31 minutes. This is better than 75% of all other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia.
I understand that there is congestion in the City of Fairfax and during rush hour, at times, it can be gridlock. But this is a function that we live in a large metropolitan area and the city is in the middle of one of the largest counties in the country.
But we as a city can do more. We need to play an active part with regional agencies to support multimodal transportation improvements. We need to support improvements on I-66 including bus rapid transit and eventually metro.
We need to use advanced technology to alert drivers of drive times and inform them of alternative routes. These would be critical to have at the major entrances to the city like at Route 50 and Pickett Road to the east and Route 50 and Shirley Gate to the west, to name a few. We also need to look into smart or intelligent traffic lights that combine traditional traffic lights with an array of sensors and artificial intelligence to intelligently route vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The city is in the process of completing a transit development plan for the CUE Bus to guide its improvements over the next six years. In addition to revising and adding service routes, there are several other improvements under consideration including additional bus shelters, an increased marketing focus, dynamic transit information signs, a new transit guide and new electronic fair boxes.
We also need to proactively support Bus Rapid Transit as part of the I-66 improvements and the expansion of the Metro’s Orange Line along I-66.
Promoting Business and Job Opportunities
In order to promote business and job opportunities we need a multifaceted strategy that addresses Economic Growth, Quality of Life, Transportation, Education, Capital Investment, and Partnership with all community stakeholders. Components of this strategy will include the kind of sustainable development we want and where, revitalizing our economic base, supporting small and medium-sized businesses, strong schools, programs to revitalize our aging housing and aging office space, a mix of housing choices, including affordable and senior options, active support for real regional transportation solutions and strong leadership to do what we say. If we get all of these components of our strategy right, then businesses and workers will want to locate in the City of Fairfax; “Self-Promotion through Success.”
But the immediate task at hand is to increase our commercial tax base. As part of our strategy we must deliver right sized, mixed use development to include residential, retail and office. We must fulfill our vision of mixed use activity centers along Fairfax Boulevard, the Downtown and the Picket and Main node. At the same time, we must implement programs in the city to support our retail establishments through innovative marketing and to revitalize our class B and C office stock through tax assessed financing. A comprehensive marketing program to promote the city as a great place to dine, shop and be entertained and as a great place for businesses will be critical to our success. Finally, we must take advantage of new state legislation to allow us to implement a commercial property revitalization program using creative financing tools that will help us attract new businesses.
Qualities of a Mayor
Several years ago, I was ExxonMobil’s selection to attend the Leadership Fairfax Program. As part of that program, each participant developed a short personal vision statement. Mine was: “I am an active listener and learner, and develop thoughtful solutions to challenges facing the community, and mobilize resources to action.”
The qualities that are needed to fulfill this vision are a thirst for knowledge, facts and data and then the ability to turn information and insight into strategic vison and action. I am collaborative but deliberative. I have found in my experience that a hybrid solution is typically the best solution versus an extreme solution. This is where we find win-win solutions for the community. I am hard working, willing to roll up my sleeves and best able to effectively utilize the resources available to us. I also have very strong interpersonal and communication skills to present and fight for the interests of our city within the region and Richmond.
My career at ExxonMobil has enabled me to build a varied skill set including sales, finance, marketing, and customer service. But one of the greatest principles that I learned at ExxonMobil is that honesty, integrity, ethical behavior, and fair dealing is critical to success and “how we get results is just as important as the results themselves.”
I will continue to be attentive, thorough, and diligent, and will always give careful consideration to all of the issues that we face both locally and regionally. Effective leadership is the only way we will be able to follow through on our promises to our citizens.
Most Important Challenge Facing the City
It’s been a difficult year in many ways including for the City of Fairfax. And this is exactly why I’m running for Mayor because we need effective leadership to help us re-group, come together and move forward.
The only way I can think of progressing as a community is to rebuild our values of collaboration and problem solving. And our decision making must be based on strategy and facts and not on emotion and sensationalism.
In the private sector, leadership drives culture. And this must be the same in the public sector as well.
As I have continued to say over the past 6 years, I truly believe we need to embrace a culture of economic growth to support our quality-of-life and diverse population. Economic growth is about right sized redevelopment consistent with our strategy, focused in activity centers, while protecting our neighborhoods yet allowing for walkable and easy connections from our neighborhoods to our city’s retail establishments. We need the city to be an economic engine.
We also need a culture of efficiency and effectiveness. Let’s take a holistic view of everything we do in the city. Are we leveraging the county and other third-party providers to implement some programs and services more effectively? And we must look for process efficiencies to enable our internal and external resources to do the same or more with less. How we do things is very important.
And we must have a culture of regional cooperation where we look for regional solutions to common problems most importantly transportation and traffic congestion. For this we must have an effective and forceful leader who will fight for our interests with the Fairfax County Board, Regional Agencies and Richmond.
A change in culture starts at the top with leadership, and if we build this culture of economic growth, efficiency and effectiveness and regional cooperation, then this new culture will drive the behaviors of our staff and community and these behaviors will drive our actions.