Monday, July 16, 2007

Readers' Choice

Tomorrow is the special election to fill the City Council seat vacated by Andrew Macdonald, and while the Growler leaves it to each reader to make an informed choice there's a couple of points residents of Parker-Gray need to keep in mind before they twirl the dial on the voting machine.

Mr. Wilson is a smart, informed, well-spoken and fiercely ambitious young man who probably sees himself as the next Mark Warner. But he also understands that to get to the top he needs the Democratic machine, whose price is rigid adherence to the party line and complete political orthodoxy. And we know what the party wants to do in Parker-Gray.

While the Growler appreciates Mr. Wilson's publicly stated opposition to BRT on Patrick and Henry Streets — he prefers an alternative Powhatan to Washington Street route — there is not much else in his message for Parker-Gray homeowners to applaud. Instead, there's much to be concerned about.

Under the rubric of economic development and "economic sustainability," Mr. Wilson is an advocate for high density transit-oriented development. He said as much at last Wednesday's forum in the West End, and the fact that he barely modified the message for our community at the Charles Houston forum indicates he isn't interested in any compromise on the Braddock Road Metro plan.

In fact, Mr. Wilson used the phrase "economic development that supports our entire community," code which sounds like he is ready to throw this neighborhood to the wolves to pick up more revenue to spend on City-wide projects.

When queried about how housing density improves quality of life for neighborhood residents, Mr. Wilson skirted the question and claimed people want safety as well as "a mix of housing choices." That's code for (1) density (the "more eyes on the street" theory) and (2) affordable housing, which we know the City uses as an excuse to promote density bonuses, reward developers and reap property tax revenue.

And Mr. Wilson's advocacy for slashing bureaucratic barriers to economic development at City Hall can cut both ways for us; if the SUP process is streamlined for restaurants, we will have no weapons with which to control carryouts with liquor sales — a longstanding problem in this district.

So what does Bill Cleveland have to offer besides 15 years experience as a Council Member and Vice Mayor and a long and distinguished record of service as a mentor and guide for disadvatanged young people?

At both forums, Mr. Cleveland advocated much less development and lower heights around Braddock Road, pointing out that we've already taken our density here. He also noted that the City budget has doubled in the last six years and that he was prepared to introduce an element of fiscal sanity into budget deliberations. That's good because we know revenue is the driving force behind building Braddock Road Metro out to the max.

Some participants at the Houston forum were surprised that Mr. Cleveland didn't come out more strongly about BRT on Route 1. Others were disappointed that he supported Resolution 830, though Mr. Cleveland says he's willing to sit down and talk about housing dispersal. (In the course of the discussion he threw out another amazing statistic, stating that Alexandria had the highest concentration of public housing in the Commonwealth of Virginia.)

To be fair, however, Mr. Wilson's answers to a query about the Fair Share policy and public housing dispersal tiptoed around the question of the sanctity of Resolution 830, merely noting that he supported Planning & Zoning Director Farrol Hamer's plan to perform a comprehensive planning analysis of ARHA's properties.

So your vote tomorrow, dear reader, will probably be conditioned on what your hot button issues are. If you are concerned about dense development and congestion, then Bill Cleveland will offer you the best hope. If the prospect of BRT on Patrick and Henry has you steaming, you may throw your support to Justin Wilson.
If it's public housing ... well, no-one distinguished themselves on this issue and both avoided the poisoned chalice. As another commenter noted earlier today it will be up to this community to organize around that issue independent of party or civic association, regardless of who is elected.