Erik Gutshall. Image from the candidate.

On June 14, Arlington Democrats will choose a nominee for one of the five seats on their county board. We encourage voters to support Erik Gutshall in his efforts to unseat incumbent Libby Garvey in the Democratic primary on June 14.

Erik Gutshall has served Arlington well as a member of its planning commission and wants to bring a forward-looking philosophy to Arlington. He told Saty Reddy, “Are we going to stay true to progressive values or turn inward and insular? Does Arlington want to be push bold ideas, or be stagnant?”

On housing, Gutshall wants to ensure that middle-class residents have opportunities to live in Arlington as well, by adding more “medium-scale, neighborhood-density” housing. Arlington has built many high-rises, but has added no residents in many other neighborhoods.

On transportation, he has committed to finding a good solution to transportation needs along Columbia Pike, for strengthening bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly design. He will make it a priority to identify solutions to Arlington’s school capacity problems and supports funding for the county’s recently-passed affordable housing plans.

Overall, Gutshall has demonstrated a strong grasp of the challenges facing Arlington and an ability to work with others to find solutions.

Why you should not vote for Garvey

Libby Garvey, his opponent, has not demonstrated these qualities. She is often surprisingly poorly versed on policy issues and has not built consensus toward solutions.

She has said things we like on issues including development and pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure. But on other issues, her statements worked as political sound bites but were logically nonsensical.

With Columbia Pike’s streetcar now long dead, Garvey continues to promote false choices that obfuscate rather than enlighten.

When Saty Redy interviewed her, she cited Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a possible transportation approach. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, one of BRT’s biggest backers, says a BRT line needs to have “at least three kilometers of dedicated bus lanes” to be true BRT.  That’s not possible on Columbia Pike.

Back when the streetcar debate was raging, opponents continually showed pictures of buses in dedicated lanes like in the suburbs of Eugene, Oregon despite there being no space to fit such things on Columbia Pike. When pressed, they acknowledged that there wouldn’t be a dedicated lane on Columbia Pike, but then kept talking about how great BRT is in other cities.

Garvey was at the time not overtly a part of the opposition group, but even now as board chair, she continues to push that same misleading idea. She mentioned Los Angeles’ rapid bus system and said 90% of US BRT lacks dedicated lanes. But what Garvey didn’t say was that most of LA’s buses aren’t BRT (only the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley, which has a lane) and that most BRT advocates are really frustrated at how many cities claim their buses are “BRT” but aren’t.

It’s politically convenient to use a term that sounds great and then build not-great transit. Rail in mixed traffic might not have been so great either, but had other benefits like capacity. Garvey and other opponents were not, and still are not, willing to debate on the actual pros and cons of the issue; instead, they pretended, and now pretend, that there’s a magic transit solution out there which only they have the courage to implement.

On I-66 widening, county officials had a solid agreement about what to push for and what the county would give up, and had reached consensus with state legislators. But several Arlington leaders say Garvey then undermined that consensus and Arlington’s unified front in direct conversations with delegates. In the end, the legislature pushed through a worse version of the I-66 plan.

Garvey sounded compelling on development in our interview. Saty Reddy wrote, “Garvey would like to loosen zoning laws and housing regulations to allow more flexibility when it comes to developing residential units. This includes everything from streamlining the process for developers so smaller projects become more economically feasible to easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and promoting affordable dwelling units, she says.”

But votes she has made against funding affordable housing are troubling. There’s a dangerous trend in Arlington of affluent neighborhoods turning against funding for projects, whether transit, housing, or others, in less-wealthy south Arlington.

Garvey won office in part on the wave of that sentiment, which ultimately drove three of the county board’s long-serving members to step down. Those leaders have been attacked unfairly for their efforts to make Arlington a better place.

Even if they made some mistakes, they wanted to move Arlington forward. Garvey has not shown the drive to do this. Gutshall says he will. He deserves that chance.

All registered Arlington voters regardless of party are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary on June 14. Find out where and how to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement. No Arlington County employees participated in any way in the survey, deliberations, final decision, or writing for this endorsement.