Local Commentary

Editorial: Now’s the Time To Absorb Risk

Risk, of course, is always a concern, and in life it goes with the territory. There is simply no way to get away from it. Even the walk from the recliner to the refrigerator between innings of a televised baseball game involves risk – a very low one in most cases, to be sure, but still the mere act of living and breathing carries risk.

So for someone to use the argument of “risk” to deter a public body from making a major decision on development, for example, is accomplishing little more than inviting fear, unless they can effectively argue that on a continuum of “risk to reward,” the risk factor is significantly high.

Usually, when there is a lack of credible causes to convince someone to avoid a certain course of action, some as-yet-unforeseen doomsday factor gets introduced. Oh, my goodness, we’re on the verge of a catastrophe, so we should run inside, dive under the bed and hoard whatever resources we have.
There are innumerable examples of this. The Falls Church City Council was told in the most exasperated terms that the approval of a new hotel to be built on W. Broad Street would inevitably lead to legions of pedophiles who would check in there to spy on the children at a nearby school. Fortunately, it was documented that the risk of that happening was so minute, that it did not slow down the approval process by a single day.

In all instances, reason has to be paramount in evaluating any “risk-reward” options, and if there are good, rational causes for concern, they need to be taken into account. Concerns for traffic congestion, blind turns, insufficient road widths, and so forth, are often valid in the context of development proposals.

But in many cases, there is the reverse risk, as well, the risk of not doing something, and that also needs to be considered.

In the current economy, it seems to us, this is a much more important factor when it comes to the City of Falls Church moving ahead with cautious and measured plans at three major locations in the City – the 34.6 acres of land annexed into the City limits from Fairfax County, the Mason Row plans for 4.3 acres at W. Broad and N. West streets, and the just announced plans for the development of the northeast corner of Broad and Washington Streets.

There is far more to concern us about not doing these projects than by doing them.

The single biggest factor involved is the continuing huge government stimulus that has been keeping the national economy, albeit sluggishly, afloat. Not enough people acknowledge that the Federal Reserve’s maintaining artificially low interest rates is a massive government stimulus program. Once that policy ends, the cost of borrowing for development will rise.

In short, this is the time to borrow to do things, as the climate could change quickly once interest rates start to go up.