Campaigning is fun; governance is hard. That’s the lesson learned, again, by the Trump Administration and the Speaker of the House last week, when the proposed bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act was pulled from consideration in the House of Representatives. If legislation is akin to sausage-making (per Otto Von Bismarck), there is an expectation that it may get messy. But there also should be an expectation that the result of that messy process will be something good. Sausage with the right balance of meats and spices; legislation with the right balance of benefits to the public at-large. When that doesn’t happen, you end up with inedible sausage and an unworkable bill.
The legislative process generally is slow and methodical by design. At all levels of government, much of the preliminary work may be done behind the scenes, not to hide anything from the public, but to make sure that the appropriate research has been done, initial questions answered, and reviewed for legal “solid ground.” Some items never make it past this point, and are relegated to the graveyard of goofy ideas. Others gain some traction, and legislative sponsors, but the public debate may demonstrate the difficulties of finding that right balance of benefits mentioned above. A bill that moves through the process to enactment has gained traction, sponsors, public support, and enough balance that a majority of legislators can vote aye.
In Fairfax County, making changes to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, for instance, takes months, or years, of staff and public discussion before coming to the Board of Supervisors for approval. The Seven Corners plan changes took nearly four years, and more than 80 public meetings, with many changes from the original proposal, before being adopted by the Board. Implementing the changes chiefly will be the responsibility of the private sector, which must make significant investments in the future of their businesses, and our community, during coming decades.
The county also is looking at a multi-year project to modernize its Zoning Ordinance (ZO), last overhauled in 1978. During the past 40 years, Fairfax County has transformed from a somnolent suburban bedroom community of federal employees to a nationally recognized urbanizing jurisdiction with a diversified economy and population. The ZO has been amended many times, but questions remain about its ability to meet the needs of today’s residents and businesses. One interesting example was in the Sully District, where a business owner wanted to open a trampoline center – for exercise, not sales. The zoning of the existing shopping center permitted a variety of recreational uses, but not specifically trampolines. The owner had to go through a burdensome and expensive process, and a public hearing before the Board, to gain approval for the use. Apparently, trampolines were not perceived to be the fun family exercise they are today! Like sausage, modernizing the Zoning Ordinance may be a bit messy, but the result should be flavorful and well-balanced to benefit Fairfax County, its residents and businesses, into the next several decades.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.