Democratic candidates for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors met in two forums to give communities their ideas and solutions to the county’s numerous challenges, such as affordable housing and education. On May 11, the Fairfax County NAACP hosted a forum at Heritage Fellowship Church in Reston and on May 13, the Fairfax County Healthy Communities Coalition hosted a forum in Fairfax.
Jeff McKay, Ryan McElveen, Tim Chapman, and Alicia Plerhopes all hope to succeed current chairman Sharon Bulova, who is retiring. (The county calls the position chairman regardless of sex.) Here’s what they said.
Affordable housing was a hot button topic
“We’ve left many people behind, and we are often asked to settle for less,” Alicia Plerhoples said at the Fairfax County Healthy Communities Coalition Forum on May 13. “We deserve a chairman who treats affordable housing crisis as a crisis, because that’s what it is.”
To support affordable housing initiatives, Plerhoples said she would like to revisit the meals tax that failed in 2016. This was a proposed tax on restaurant meals and prepared foods at grocery stores, which would have funded schools and county services but lost at the ballot 44%-56%.
She proposed passing the meals tax as an ordinance instead of the ballot, and that “if we do not enact a meals tax we will not have money for the things and the quality of life residents deserve.” Plerhoples also proposed re-evaluating real estate tax rates if the meals tax does not pass, and adding escalation clauses to developer contracts, though increasing real estate taxes would not be ideal if they affect senior residents.
She said that the county needs to move in a “progressive manner” so that people are not left behind. Plerhoples said she had previously experienced homelessness as a child when her father lost his job, and said that affordable housing must be built everywhere, not just in areas that will divide low income residents from high income residents and create “pockets of poverty.” She also discussed how the county needed to take some of the single family residential areas and rezone for higher density near transit, and how the county needed to hold developers accountable for building affordable housing. She has also pledged not to take any donations from developers.
“When I say that ‘affordable housing is not just what I do, it’s who I am,’ I have a clear understanding of what it means for a sheriff to stand at your door and take you out of the house. I have a clear understanding of what it means to have your goods put out on the street,” Tim Chapman said. He proposed making 10% of the housing stock affordable housing by 2035, and called it “shameful” that the county only set aside $5 million for affordable housing during the latest budget cycle, for a total of $15 million.
Chapman said there’s an income and equality disparity, and the Board of Supervisors favor larger developers and ignore residents’ opinions about development in their neighborhoods. He used ANCs as an example, saying that nothing gets through the DC government without residents having a say, though he did also point to NIMBYs in wealthy neighborhoods who use local meetings to oppose affordable housing.
McKay agreed that affordable housing needed to be spread throughout the county and not focused on only some areas, and that under his tutelage the county would be more adept at describing to residents what the county envisioned for housing and assistance. At the Fairfax County Healthy Communities Coalition forum he said that under his leadership, Lee District has been a leader in affordable housing construction, and as chairman he would provide funding and other incentives for nonprofits to work with the county to build affordable housing and he would ensure that the county would hold developers accountable for building the right amount of affordable housing.
McKay also said that the Embark Richmond Highway model, which affects Lee District, would be a good plan to implement affordable housing and mixed use development across the county to increase building while ensuring residents would not be displaced.
At the Fairfax County Healthy Communities Coalition forum, Reverend Sarah Scherschligt of Peace Lutheran Church acted as moderator and asked what the candidates would do to promote walkable, bicycle friendly and transit oriented communities that have “a clear sense of place.”
McElveen began by hitting the top wishes of most commuters in the region: expanding Metro (though he misspoke by saying it was the Blue Line by Mount Vernon, when it’s the Yellow Line), adding more bike paths, improving the sidewalks and ensuring they are connected, and placing transit, housing, and work opportunities near each other so that people can do all in the same area. McKay touted the bicycle master plan, more bike lanes, and better sidewalks. Pointing to the Route 1 corridor again, he said that Lee District and other districts on the corridor have made progress in connecting sidewalks.
“People want to live in places where they can walk, where they can bicycle safely” he said, adding that they wanted to be multi-modal and have bus, trains, and walkable communities.
“We need to make sure we are not gentrifying neighborhoods,” Plerhoples said, noting that this is what she has been seeing in many mixed-use developments. She also said the county needed to adopt creative solutions to solve the first mile and last mile problem.
She also addressed this at the NAACP forum, saying “We often have these deserts where transit doesn’t go.” She said that with the 70 miles of smart roads that allow for testing for autonomous vehicles and that innovation in autonomous vehicles may provide opportunities to bring transit to areas that aren’t currently connected to transit lines, especially to help seniors who want to age in place and not move, but also don’t have access to transit.
“Our transportation system in Fairfax County imprisons us in cars,” Chapman said. “We need a transportation system that moves people and not cars, and does not unjustly tax the poor.”
Amazon, Amazon, Amazon
At the NAACP forum, Perryman asked McElveen how his vision of the county as a leader in innovation could be achieved without displacing residents and gentrifying neighborhoods. McElveen said that he thought that the influx of Amazon (and Google) in the region will add vastly more residents, and that the county needed to “plan wisely” for the low and middle income individuals.
McElveen said that an innovation-oriented county should focus on internships and apprenticeships for students and add makerspaces to all schools that will bring together students with professionals in the area who can teach important STEAM skills.
Plerhoples said that she would like to see county’s innovation focus on small businesses and nonprofits.
“Some of the [innovation hubs] are in the community, and they are coworking spaces and bring technical services to small business and to nonprofits,” she said, adding that these organizations work with low income business owners and those who have just been released from jail. She would like for the county to provide innovation opportunities for more than just “the 30-something middle class millennial.”
Rev. Scherschligt asked how the candidates would ensure that equity remained a priority as the county embarked on large scale developments and ambitious programs like the Fairfax Green initiative and “One Fairfax” policy, which requires county government and the school system to “intentionally consider equity when making policies or delivering programs and services.”
Plerhoples lamented that there was only one equity officer in the county and that there was not enough support for this person’s work.
McKay took a broad approach, saying that leaders need to take care of “all corners of the county” and include racial and social justice in decision making with regard to the comprehensive plan and how the county writes land use plans and sets its priorities.
While the candidates agreed on many other positions, they differed on how effective and proactive the county has been so far to address climate change. McKay proffered the most positive outlook, saying that the county has done a great deal. He noted that the board adopted a storm water tax in Fiscal Year 2010 and has improved erosion and drainage problems.
At the NAACP forum, McElveen said the county was not doing enough and has to support the countywide energy and action plan as well as a resilience plan since the county is by the Potomac. He also discussed one of his major achievements while on the school board, which was banning styrofoam trays. He supports the Virginia Green New Deal’s goals, including switching completely to renewable energy by 2050.
“Let’s be clear, we are in a climate crisis,” Plerhoples said at the Fairfax County Healthy Communities Coalition forum. She said that the current efforts to promote climate change planning should have been done years ago, and that the county needs to work with the private sector to reduce greenhouse gases. Hewing close to her other comments on housing developers, She also said that the county would need to be stronger in preventing developers from building on flood plains where residents would be vulnerable.
The primary is June 11, when one candidate will earn the nomination and square off in the general election against Joseph Galdo, a Republican who entered the race in late April. He last unsuccessfully ran for office in 2014 as a Green Party candidate in the state’s 11th district race.