The deadline looms for public reaction to the latest proposed redistricting of Virginia’s congressional and state legislative boundaries, which according to what has been proposed to the Virginia Supreme Court so far, would realign maps around the City of Falls Church resulting in altogether new representation in Richmond. According to the proposed maps drawn up by appointed bipartisan “special masters” in this new process, the City would lose its State Senator Dick Saslaw and State Delegate Marcus Simon, having them replaced by Sen. Barbara Favola and Del. Patrick Hope.
Del. Simon told the News-Press yesterday that the first of two virtual hearings this week, held yesterday afternoon, has seen a lot of concern and objections with the proposed plan. A second and final virtual public hearing, set for Friday afternoon, will consider comments that have to be submitted via email by 1 p.m. today (Thursday, Dec. 16).
The biggest concern about the fate of Falls Church in this complicated new process has to do with disconnecting it from adjacent areas of Fairfax County that consider themselves part of “Greater Falls Church” and putting the City in an area that otherwise consists entirely of the County of Arlington.
In addition to disconnecting from areas like Culmore and Pimmit Hills, the change for Falls Church will subsume it under a much larger and cohesive jurisdiction of Arlington that would entirely overshadow the Little City. Whereas Arlington would continue to function as the integrated entity it always has been, the addition of Falls Church as an outside entity would tend to relegate it to second-class status.
Even more potentially impactful would be the effect that new boundaries might have on the City’s ability to maximize the impact of its 10-acre west end megadevelopment, especially in terms of its integration into the the adjacent properties owned by Virginia Tech and WMATA (that is, the West Falls Church Metro station), both of which would fall outside of the proposed new districts. Currently the whole 43-acre integrated plan all falls within the state delegate district represented by Del. Simon.
In the 51-page memorandum that the “special masters” (being Bernard Grofman and Sean Trende) submitted on Dec. 7 with their proposed new boundary maps, it was noted that criteria for the new district lines “shall be drawn to preserve communities of interest,” such communities being defined as “a neighborhood or any geographically defined group of people living in an area who share similar social, cultural and economic interests” (and not based on factors of political affiliation, while acknowledging that no formal definitions exist).
Moreover, the memo acknowledges with the creation of a proposed District 40, anchored in Arlington/Falls Church that there was “some debate in the COIs [communities of interest–ed] about whether to place Falls Church with Arlington or with Fairfax.”
Simon conceded to the News-Press in a telephone interview Tuesday that he did not feel he would fare as well in the proposed new maps compared to his current district that includes Falls Church.
It has long been thought that when the 81-year-old Sen. Saslaw retires, for example, that the 51-year-old Simon would be the logical candidate to replace him, and it is not clear how that would work out with the new maps as they are now.
Per Falls Church’s official response, City Manager Wyatt Shields, in a brief statement in response to a request from the News-Press, stated, “We will review the proposed redistricting maps and coordinate with the City Council on any comments the City may want to make in the coming days.”
As for Del. Simon, he was originally part of the Virginia Redistricting Commission but resigned this fall because, he said in a letter to the Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, “it is not clear what the members’ parameters are for speaking to the media or in general settings regarding the commission’s work.”
Specifically, he was concerned that the terms of participation “prohibit members of the commission from granting interviews to members of the media verbally or in writing, or prevent them from writing guest columns, letters to the editor or op-eds regarding their experiences as commissioners,” and requested an opinion from the attorney general.
In order to participate in Friday’s hearing, participants, according to a memo from the Supreme Court, “must notify the Clerk of Court prior to the meeting by sending an email to ‘[email protected]’ indicating they wish to offer public comment, specifying the Dec. 17 date, that should include the requester’s name and email address and indicate what area of the commonwealth the person resides. In response, a meeting link will be sent by email in advance of the hearing. Requests must be received at least 24 hours before the start of the public hearing. Individuals will be given an amount of time to provide comment not to exceed three minutes…The court’s Special Masters will be listening to all comments.”