By Letty Hardi
“Leave it better than you found it.” That was my answer when I had the opportunity to join a Boy Scouts’ meeting a few weeks ago and they asked what good citizenship means to me. Helping kids understand local government and the outsized role it has on our daily lives — and more importantly, our collective responsibility to make the good happen -— has been one of the most rewarding parts of this job. As your new Vice Mayor, I am honored to continue to serve and do my part in “leaving it better.”
Seating a new City Council is a good time to reflect on our achievements and the way ahead. In my six years on City Council, I’ve had the fortune of working with the most collaborative, and some would say, the most ambitious City Councils ever in Falls Church. We’ve all had a hand in that, and I hope that continues. Regardless of who is in leadership, there are multiple smart and dedicated people working on your behalf. And we are a team that actually likes working together — that’s a great, rare thing in politics that our residents should take a lot of comfort in!
After inheriting a backlog of capital needs, we’ve worked hard to renovate/expand/build new schools, parks, sidewalks, a library, a city hall, and other infrastructure that has raised the quality of life for all generations. After years of espousing welcoming values, we’ve made the most significant strides in affordable housing ever. Not to mention diversifying our tax base via development, growing new businesses and jobs, lowering our taxes ahead of schedule, and advancing walkability and transportation projects. Of course there is always room for improvement and more to do, but I am proud of our accomplishments and ready to turn our focus on what’s ahead.
The City Council will meet next week to map out priorities for the coming two years. I share my early thoughts below, but our priorities should ultimately be the community’s priorities, so I look forward to hearing from you.
(1) Covid-19 — Even if we want to be done with the pandemic, it is clearly not done with us. With our high vaccination rates and adherence to public health guidance, we will get through this. The past 21 months should teach us that when all things fall to the side, it is the people around us who matter the most. Focusing on community and collective good is our best shot out of our greatest challenges.
(2) Community for All – We can’t let up the gas on affordable housing and other equity work. This goes beyond housing – we need to ensure our infrastructure and policies work for everyone. Our evolution from a car-centric culture means we need to keep advancing safer and accessible streets, protected bike lanes, and traffic calming. Places that work for all means we need to have green space and tree canopy and invest in public art and holiday lights that support a vibrant business district. Striving for social and racial justice means we move from a check the box exercise to an everyday lens we use across our decisions. We should ask: does this lift up all, especially those who may not have a voice?
(3) Development and Housing Diversity — With the West Falls and Broad and Washington projects set to break ground this spring and two additional projects in the pipeline, we have cultivated a healthy queue of re-development. Yet we don’t want a multi-acre project on every corner, so we should have tools to enable the next generation of smaller, infill projects and more diverse housing types. We should have housing options that match our inclusive values — where seniors can age in place, college grads can afford to return home, families of all kinds can attend our top-notch schools, smaller homes can co-exist in neighborhoods, and homeownership can be a reality for more.
(5) Reinvest in Our People – Foundational to all of the above, we need to continue with the mid-year investments we’ve made in our workforce. As part of the past several City Councils who asked departments to freeze budgets in order to take on all of the capital projects now completed, I now bear the responsibility to do what is right by our employees. Without talented professional staff, none of these ideas will turn into reality. A compensation benchmarking study is underway, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to responsibly balance this important priority in the upcoming budget.
Despite the weariness and challenges we have all faced, I remain optimistic about our future. We have steadily delivered real results across the City and laid the groundwork for more progress ahead. I am committed to continue being accessible, thoughtful, and transparent in representing you and helping you engage in local government via my blog posts and office hours. Let’s keep Falls Church moving forward together.
Letty Hardi is the Vice Mayor of the City of Falls Church.