Local Commentary

Editorial: Who’s Going to Bell the Cat?

In a departure from the usual way in which Falls Church City Council retreats have been conducted, usually for the purpose of some brainstorming among Council members about the coming year, last Saturday’s session at the Henderson Middle School library was filled with many invited members of the City’s volunteer boards and commissions, along with Council members and others. The main exercise of the day was conducted by the City’s new chief planning officer, Paul Stoddard, who put up sheets of butcher paper and elicited topics, issues and themes from the audience to set the stage for a deliberative review of the City’s “visioning statement.”

The statement, which is periodically subject to review and revision, begins in its current form, “In the year 2040, the City of Falls Church is a welcoming and inclusive community — a special place in the heart of Northern Virginia.” In a key line in the single-paragraph text, it reads, “The City preserves small-town character and history while honoring a deep commitment to progress and a growing community.”

Stoddard produced a worksheet for everyone that identified eight core values that are contained in the long-range 2040 Vision, to be used in small-group discussions on “major accomplishments you want to read about in the Falls Church News-Press in 2020.” The values he listed were these: 1. Small town character in an urban setting, 2. Economic sustainability, 3. Environmental sustainability, 4. Inclusiveness and social sustainability, 5. Education, 6. Mobility and accessibility, 7. Public health and safety and 8. Responsive and accountable governance.

All the areas were touched on, and the City Council will review a compilation of the issues discussed at a work session early next month. Presumably, the input from Saturday’s retreat will help set priorities for the upcoming budget season, the process that runs through April for the City and its schools to finalize a roughly $88 million annual operating budget, and a capital improvements budget, and to set the tax rate required to balance such a budget.

Even though the word didn’t appear on the list of core values, the discussion on Saturday focused mostly on housing, affordable housing, that is, presumably under the “inclusiveness and social sustainability” category. Council member Letty Hardi called attention to that fact at Monday’s Council meeting when the F.C. Housing Commission presented its annual Sprague award to Christopher Fay of Homestretch.

In fact, it could be said that for all its achievements and generosity, the biggest unresolved bugaboo here is the City’s inability to effectively address the affordable housing issue. The is not the right place to rehash the long and painful history that led to a completely frustrating non-outcomes in the past decade.

But, who’s going to put the bell on the cat, now? The issue is critical and there is “not in my backyard” resistance everywhere. Who on the Council is, or are, going to face down this issue once and for all?