Just a week after all the sound and fury of the national presidential election and its ongoing aftermath, an historic meeting of governance took place in the City of Alexandria this Tuesday, bringing together the leading elected officials and top staff members of the City of Falls Church, Arlington County and Alexandria. It was a first of its kind and couldn’t have been more timely.
That’s because, in stark contrast to all the optics and atmospherics of the national election, those present at the meeting see their work as delivering meaningful services to their constituents and communities. The aura of congeniality and shared values that was demonstrated there was heartening in its contrast to what is gripping the nation’s capital just across the Potomac.
Identifying the inherent virtue in such an event is not a matter of pandering or Pollyanna wishes, it is integral to the real meaning and functioning of America’s democratic system, and national party leaders and their U.S. Congressional and administrative counterparts should share a sense of awe and reverence for this example.
Ways in which the three neighboring jurisdictions are committed to working together for the benefit of the fast-growing population of the entire region were highlighted at the meeting, including plans for transportation, transit and alternatives to the existing car-centric system, for upgraded and integrated emergency services and communications and model ordinances to handle new challenges, such as Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and the food truck phenomena.
Not touched but identified as a major problem for the region that was pinpointed in summary remarks by Falls Church Council member Letty Hardi was housing affordability, and numerous other elected officials acknowledged that. That would be good subject matter for the next such meeting, which Falls Church Mayor David Tarter offered be held in the Little City.
The Airbnb subject, concerning the national movement of homeowners to make their homes, or parts of them, available for rent to travelers as alternatives to traditional hotels or bed-and-breakfasts, was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. Arlington is taking the initiative to develop an ordinance that will regulate the process. They hope to get something approved before the reconvening of the Virginia State Legislature in January, as the state legislature passed initial legislation earlier this year tentatively restricting the ability of localities to regulate this “industry.”
But the question of Airbnb policy begged the deeper question of housing affordability for permanent residents of the region, and some of the issues were cited that communities like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco have encountered addressing the problem.
For example, does allowing “auxiliary housing units” on existing residential properties lower the cost of housing, or not? Many in Falls Church have been talking about the need for such a policy here, as it faces the persisting complaint that children of the City’s school system who do so well here can’t, upon their adulthood, afford to live here.