One seat on the Arlington County Board is up for re-election this year. Two Democrats, Matt de Ferranti and Chanda Choun, are vying in the June 12 primary to defeat Independent incumbent John Vihstadt. We plan to speak further with both of them to determine our endorsement.
Both de Ferranti and Choun answered our questionnaire (click the names for responses). So did Vihstadt and another independent challenger, Heitham Ghariani. The Elections Committee is not evaluating Independents right now because they aren't on the ballot on June 12. We will consider them and decide whether to make endorsements before the November election.
Here are some of the issues in Arlington
There are many urbanism-related decisions facing the next iteration of the county board. One is the future of Columbia Pike, which is consistently congested and difficult to navigate. Another is how the county will address its goal of 600 new affordable housing units per year and ensure that 17% of these units will go to people making 60% of AMI or less.
Both Choun and de Ferranti are new candidates to the county council, but de Ferranti has years of experience working with civic groups in the county. He has been a member of Arlington County’s Housing Commission and the Arlington Public Schools Budget Advisory Council. He has also worked on numerous political campaigns. De Ferranti represents a tradition of Arlington residents becoming deeply involved in policy issues through commissions to gain very specific experience that can be valuable on the County Board.
Choun has not been involved in “Arlington Way” policy commissions but he is no stranger to Arlington civic groups; he has been Vice President of his neighborhood civic association and a Delegate to the Arlington County Civic Federation. Choun is the son of Cambodian refugees who fled the Cambodian Civil War and genocide happening at the same time as the Vietnam War. We are interested in his ability to reflect and connect with groups of residents not as commonly represented in Arlington politics.
Overall, their questionnaire answers showed them both to be urbanist-friendly candidates who believe in better public transit and improving the county’s affordability. In our head-to-head rating tool, de Ferranti scored higher than Choun, with 55% favorable rating, but both candidates rated evenly among the Elections Committee’s ratings.
Perhaps because of de Ferranti's background, his answers were considerably longer and more detailed. However, the committee feels that while that is relevant information, it is far from the only consideration, and we wanted to speak to them further to get a better understanding of how they will make decisions on controversial and important issues.
The candidates on the issues
Both candidates supported revisiting the cumbersome process to approving accessory dwelling units, pointing out that just a handful of them have been approved in the past few years. Choun added that he would remove parking requirements as well. De Ferranti said, “The vision on ADUs has not matched the need for more options to serve our seniors and Arlingtonians interested in practical solutions” and said he would also support short-term rentals like Airbnb to help give older residents a way to earn additional income.
The two also support Arlington County’s goal to add 600 new affordable housing units. De Ferranti said he would like to see vacant office space converted to housing, and Choun said that he would consider waiving some fees and permit requirements and reducing requirements for development.
Choun and de Ferranti also offered their ideas for walkable communities and better transit solutions along Columbia Pike. Choun said he would implement the Columbia Pike Premium Transit Network and, “widen sidewalks where still narrow to accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists” and “encourage adoption of “last mile” mobility options such as compact electric scooters.” De Ferranti said he would support reducing the speed of car traffic as long as there were also more bus and bike options for residents.
We sent our questionnaire before the Virginia General Assembly voted to approve $154 million in in dedicated Metro funding, to be paid for in large part through cuts in other Northern Virginia transportation funds. In the questionnaire, we asked Choun and de Ferranti what they would do to address potential cuts to transit projects in Arlington County should the decision go through.
De Ferranti said he would consider re-evaluating and reducing ART bus service meant to supplement Metrobus, and not building some of the proposed Metro station entrances. Choun said he would examine reducing the current plan to install cameras on board buses, a new program to get real-time bus information through text messaging, and improving radio coverage.
Before making our endorsement, the Elections Committee would like to talk to both candidates and get more detail about how they would address potential cuts to the county’s transit projects now that the decision has been made and cuts seem more likely.