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Rob Krupicka Lays Out His 2010 Agenda

Kirsten Obadal
By Kirsten Obadal
Posted on Jan 26,2010
Filed Under Local Politics , Politics,
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Photo by John Arundel <br /> <br />City Councilman Rob Krupicka with Mayor Euille <br />
Photo by John Arundel
City Councilman Rob Krupicka with Mayor Euille

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Alexandria City Councilman Rob Krupicka provided Local Kicks with his 2010 Legislative Agenda this week.  

Krupicka addressed a number of issues that the Council will address in the forthcoming year, including HOT Lanes, BRAC, the Budget, Ethics Reform, Children & Youth Policy, Environment & Health Policy, the Soft Play Room opens, Cameron Station businesses, and a plan for a regional streetcar.

The issues Krupicka says he hope to address this year include:

HOT Lanes

"The City Council adopted my proposed resolution in opposition to the I-395 HOT project Lanes last week.  This overturned the past city position which withheld support, but did not formally oppose the project.  I first proposed this resolution to the city’s Transportation Commission, which unanimously supported the Council taking a stance in opposition given VDOT’s lack of cooperation with the City on a wide range of questions and concerns.  I think it was important for this Council, with three new members, to strongly affirm its view about the problems of HOT Lanes project.  Most specifically, the plans to use Seminary Road and the Shirlington Circle as overflow exit points when traffic gets backed up – which ultimately would send the traffic into Alexandria neighborhoods."

BRAC


"The Council is reviewing options for direct access from 395 to the new BRAC site at Mark Center.  This will be on the agenda at our next meeting (docket item 17)  It is also reviewing traffic plans to address the increase in traffic coming in and out of the Mark Center site when the new command center opens.  The purpose of the direct access option is to minimize traffic on Seminary and Beauregard.  There are a lot of question still about the options under review.  The Council will be discussing some of the traffic issues at our next meeting on November 10th and I have asked the City to also hold a public hearing on the direct access issue so we can gather citizen comments and develop a set of city recommendations to share with VDOT.  This hearing on the VDOT study of I-395 access to the BRAC site is scheduled for Saturday, November 21st.  I would also point out that we need to ensure we don't forget the mass transit elements of our transportation master plan.  The BRAC project only works if it includes huge improvements in transit service.  That has to be a high priority."

City Budget

"Even though there are signs that our local economy is improving (unemployment rates fell last quarter and sales are picking up), government revenues continue to decline because of their strong reliance on property values. The next year’s budget process will be the most difficult in memory.  We have a choice as a community to either adopt a race-to-the-bottom economic plan or to make strategic budget choices that will strengthen our economy for the long term.”

Schools


“Our schools are facing rising enrollment and a substantial budget gap.  State budget cuts will be the most severe we have seen.  Employee health care costs are expected to grow by double digits this year.  We know that we are behind on maintenance of important city infrastructure, like our storm water system, fire stations and our transportation system.  We are not adequately staffing our fire department to ensure the highest level of staff or community safety.  And we are not competitively paying our outstanding police department and other city staff; for two years, our staff has not received even a cost-of-living increase in pay, and when you factor in health care costs, they have actually received a net pay decrease.  All of these facts, if left unanswered, will ultimately harm our property values and economic recovery.

“We can’t just grow our way out of these budget challenges; the economy can’t be expected to grow at the bubble economy rates of recent years – our country needs to move beyond a dependence on unsustainable, over- leveraged growth.  And we need to understand that state and local program cuts are not going to reappear once the economy improves; it just isn’t realistic to assume property values will grow fast enough to quickly replace eliminated programs.  This downturn is cutting too deep for that – most programs, if they justify restoration, will take years to be restored, if at all.  Given that, Alexandria needs to have a conversation during this year’s budget about the importance of good schools, public safety and basic infrastructure to our city’s future.  I’d argue that all three are critical to our home values, to our economic development prospects and to our overall quality of life.

“Knowing we are unlikely to grow the economy, most specifically property values, over the next few years at a rate that will keep up with these needs, we have to have a frank discussion about priorities.  We can’t just kick the can down the road and pray for double-digit property value growth of past years to come back and “save the day.”  We have been cutting programs and services for over four years now. We had one of the largest percentage reductions in city staff in the region last year and combined with a longstanding hold on hiring, city staff is stretched thin.  Councilman Smedberg and I pushed for the consolidation of programs and audits of city departments over the last few years.  Those efforts have saved taxpayers millions a year and must be continued; we need a culture of constant improvement in government and must search for more opportunities.  But efficiency alone isn’t going to provide the resources to hire more fire department staff, fix our flood-prone neighborhoods, repair our roads or metro system, repair non-code compliant fire stations, pay our staff or magically address rising student populations.

“Ultimately, we have to decide what we see as important to our economic success and quality of life.  Most reasonable economists predict at least two more years of tough city revenues from declining or flat property values.  And after that, I think its fair to expect that property values won’t grow at the speeds we’ve seen recently. We could adopt a race-to-the-bottom economic strategy focused on deep cutting to schools, infrastructure and public safety, but that approach risks harming our long-term economic competitiveness and our quality of life.  Hawaii recently scaled back its school week to four days a week to deal with their budget – I’d argue that is going to hurt them in the long run and their economy is going to take some real time to earn back the money to fill that hole.

“I don’t like the idea of raising tax rates, especially in a tough economy, but I dislike the idea of letting our safety, schools and infrastructure go downhill even more.  We need to be honest about our need to make hard cuts, but we also have to be straightforward about what we value and want to protect.  A race-to-the-bottom economic strategy would have a dramatic impact on our long-term property values and prosperity and isn’t something I would support.  Putting in place a budget that reflects economic reality, our community values and positions us for the future is my top priority this year.  I’ll count on all of you to provide your best ideas about how to do that.

Ethics Reform

“I also hope to address Ethics reform.  Last year, Councilmen Smedberg, Lovain, Wilson and I brought forward a legislative change to enable the city to increase accountability and transparency in development applications.  We want to make sure, as in surrounding jurisdictions, that potential conflicts between developers and public officials are disclosed as part of development applications.  The General Assembly supported our proposal, and city staff is now bringing forward proposed zoning changes (docket item 6) to incorporate a higher standard for transparency.  I’m pleased that the planning commission has also supported this effort.  We expect there may be some modifications to the draft as it works its way through the process, but I am hopeful we’ll have a final package for the Council to consider in the next month or two.  I have consistently worked to bring greater transparency to the way the government works and this effort continues that work.”

Signs

“Last year, I proposed that the city create a temporary sign program to help Old Town businesses on side streets off of King Street market themselves.  It was adopted by the Council has had enormous success in increasing business for these retailers.  At our last Council meeting we unanimously adopted this program for another two years (docket item 16).   This program, which creates little paperwork for city staff, puts much of the management responsibility on the small businesses. This is how we should do more things in the city – give the business community clear, simple rules, and let them implement.  This saves staff time and empowers business owners to control their own destiny.  Keeping with that theme, Councilman Smedberg and I have a proposed zoning change (docket item 4) for Old Town that would allow business owners to bypass the lengthy and expensive Board of Architectural Review process for store signs.  Under the proposed rules, if a business is willing to choose from a collection of pre-approved sign materials and design approaches, they can bypass the BAR and save money.  This will also save staff time so they can focus on more valuable historic preservation work.  We need to do more of this kind of thing in City Hall — cut down on unneeded paperwork and make it easier for businesses to work in our city.

Children, Youth and Families

Councilwoman Hughes and I are leading the effort to develop the city’s strategic priorities around children, youth and families.  While we have recently seen some slight progress in graduation and dropout rates, we have a long way to go so that Alexandria no longer leads the region in drop out rates.  And we need to keep making progress on teen pregnancy rates.  We need to make sure more children show up to kindergarten ready to learn and succeed in school, and we need to make sure every youth program in the city is accountable for addressing the risk factors that we know lead students to drop out of school. School attendance as well as reading and math scores help to predict pretty accurately which kids will graduate and which kids won’t.  My ultimate goal for this process is to break down silos (budget memo 95 from last year) between children services and youth services in the city to increase the accountability of our programs and to set us on a course that will lead to dramatic increases in high school graduation rates and decreases in drop-out rates.  Better opportunities for our youth and higher graduation rates ultimately lead to lower teen pregnancy, lower youth crime and higher college attendance and workforce preparation for our kids.  Getting this right gives Alexandria kids the opportunity to truly contribute to society.  It saves society money by reducing the need for social programs and prisons.  It also strengthens our community economically by improving the skill level of our workforce and by attracting new businesses to the city – as businesses often want to be near good schools where their workers will be proud to send their kids.  I look forward to hearing your ideas about priorities for youth and children for Alexandria.

Environment & Health

Councilwoman Pepper and I are working on the environment and health section of the city strategic plan.  This is an exciting, yet challenging, time to be working on these areas.  The City just received a platinum award – the highest there is – for our environmental programs from the Virginia Municipal League.  I just hosted a forum that drew about 200 residents to talk about the need for healthy food to improve our health, fight obesity and to help our environment.  The Council also approved a loan guarantee to the Arlandria Neighborhood Health Services (docket item 15) so they can double their space – provided they get a grant from the federal government.  With over 10,000 patients a year and over 32 thousand visits a year, ANHSI’s patient and visit numbers have almost doubled in the last three years. They desperately need the space to expand.  As I learned from city staff: The Alexandria Health Department was chosen as one of two health districts to be included in the Virginia Department of Health application for federal stimulus funds to address chronic disease prevention.
If funding is approved, the Alexandria Health Department could receive as much as $3.9 million over 2 years to fund the city’s obesity prevention initiative that focuses on pre-school aged children.

“At the same time, state funding for mental health and other related services continues to decline.  We have a rising obesity problem as well as increases in diabetes and other weight-related illnesses.  And we see more and more people without health insurance.  My hopes for this area of the strategic plan is to lay out priorities that ensure Alexandria continues to be a leader in smart conservation practices (many of which save us money) as well as community health.  Please share any thoughts you have about priorities for these areas.

“A group of residents is working on building more community gardens.  If you are interested in helping, please contact Carrie Fesperman, Health Planner, at carrie.fesperman@vdh.Virginia.gov or 703-838-4400 ext.263

Alexandria’s First Soft Playroom

"Your comments really can make a difference.  About three years ago I got an e-mail from an Alexandria resident asking why she had to go to Fairfax County for a soft play room where her very young children could romp around indoors.  It was a good question.  I hosted a meeting of a group of parents a few years ago to talk about what we could do. That meeting eventually led to a partnership between the city and a local non-profit group – the Natural Exploreum.  Now, I’m pleased to announce that after almost three years of work between city staff and a group of caring parents and businesses, Alexandria has its first Soft Playroom at the Chinquapin Recreation Center.  The room is an indoor play space for children five and under.  Its available for birthday parties, as well as drop-by visits on a cold, rainy day…or any day.    Parent volunteers worked with City staff, who were involved and active from the start.  Local families and businesses raised about $30,000 to help buy the flooring, wall mats, play materials and equipment for the room. A local architect and parent, Joe McCoy, worked pro-bono on the design, and two local artists, Peggy Ashbrook and Luisa Tio, donated their talents to create a beautiful wall mural for the space.  I’m proud to report that my aide, Elizabeth Jones, played a huge role in coordinating all of the fundraising and design activities.  Next time you are at Chinquapin, you should check it out.

Cameron Station Businesses

 Cameron station has a number of great businesses.  Unfortunately, the zoning that set up Cameron Station had made it very hard for new businesses to open – forcing them to go through a much more lengthy regulatory process than other areas of the city.   I started working with Cameron Station businesses last spring to fix this problem.  Staff worked hard to develop a solution (docket item 9 from last month’s public hearing) and I’m happy to report the Council unanimously adopted it at our last public hearing.  This is a good step to reduce staff time spent on business applications and to also speed up the time for businesses trying to open in the city.”

“I plan to hold community budget meetings this year as I did last year.  There is a lot to talk about.  If you would like to organize a budget discussion with me and your neighbors, please contact my aide, Elizabeth Jones at Elizabeth.jones@alexandriava.gov.”



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