Sierra Club Mount Vernon Group
Arlington County Board Candidate Questionnaire
Below are Erik's responses to the Sierra Club which helped earn him their endorsement.
A. The Community Energy Plan (CEP) creates a methodology for a sustainable Arlington. Critical elements include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions more than 70% of 2007 levels by 2050; more efficient buildings; 160 MW of solar; and targets for renewable energy. The CEP is due for updating in 2018.
Do you support the goals of the CEP to make Arlington a sustainable community?
I support and embrace the goals of the Community Energy Plan. The development of the CEP was a model process that included a broad and diverse range of stakeholders. As an element of the County’s comprehensive plan, the CEP sets an ambitious yet achievable goal: reduce Arlington’s green house gas (GHG) emissions from 2007 to 2050 by over 70%. Arlington’s commitment to 3 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per capita per year encourages other communities in the region and the Commonwealth to follow our lead. As a Dillon Rule state, however, we do not have complete control over our options, yet we must remain creative and diligent in developing the new tools necessary to reach our goal. Ultimately, if we all do our part, we may be able to avoid the worst case scenario of climate change.
What elements of the CEP, if any, do you think should be updated?
The overall goals and objectives of the Community Energy Plan remain strong. As we look to update this important document, I am particularly interested at what Arlington residents can do at the hyper-local level to promote the CEP’s goals.
As I’ve noted in the past, Arlington County’s Green Home Choice program is very strong, yet needs to expand. My company, Clarendon Home Services, does both home renovation and maintenance work. We work with clients on improving the energy efficiency of their homes, educating them and showing them the bottom line benefits. I know the County can do more to engage developers and trades businesses that regularly build or work on single family homes. They need to be better educated about energy efficiency options, equipment and incentives. We also need to educate homeowners the consumers, because if they understand the benefits and demand energy efficiency, contractors will fill the demand. Energy efficiency improvements are primarily driven by environmental consciousness and not by economic analysis. We will see real gains in wider spread adoption when we make the financial case for the improvements.
The updated CEP should focus on promoting solar co-ops. Solar co-ops are essential to expanding residents access to solar panels. We should be promoting these opportunities to buy our solar panels in bulk through a cooperative community process. Doing so will save our residents money and reduce emissions in our County.
The updated CEP should also highlight the important role of our partners. ACE, the Virginia Cooperative Extension, and LEAP three excellent partners to further promote renewable energy and energy efficiency to homeowners. The CEP should also encourage the County to partner with educational organizations, including Northern Virginia Community College and Arlington Tech at the Career Center, to greatly expand training for trades workers in the clean energy and energy efficiency fields.
B. Do you support continuing the dedicated funding to maintain the staffing and work being done under the Arlington Initiative to Reduce Energy?
Would you support increasing the funding through use of the Residential Utility Tax?
County Board Members must keep the commitment to use the Utility Tax only for environmental initiatives. I pledge to keep this commitment so that Arlington’s leading environmental initiatives can continue and hopefully expand in the future.
When the Utility tax was instituted in 2007 to fund the AIRE initiative, Arlington was the only jurisdiction in the region who did not have a utility tax. The tax was instituted on a sliding scale basis to provide a small financial incentive for those who conserve energy or who receive energy from renewable sources.
The funding allows Arlington’s Leading Edge Environmental programs to continue. The savings from all of the energy efficiency measures for the County and Schools helps the County and Schools Budgets although it is not always acknowledged. The environmental programs serve as a model for other jurisdictions.
Increasing the utility tax to the same level of neighboring jurisdictions would allow the Community Energy Plan to become a reality. Arlington has offered a leading vision to encourage buildings that run on renewable energy. Funding is needed for the initial higher costs of building net zero and more sustainable buildings but over time, the lower energy bills repay this investment. Staffing is also needed to market and provide technical expertise.
C. The Sierra Club is currently running the Ready for 100 campaign in Arlington. It calls for a commitment to getting 100% of Arlington’s electricity from renewable sources by 2035, while allowing for renewable energy credits and other methods of offsetting any non-renewable electricity Arlington receives from the grid. If elected would you support this commitment?
Successful public policies are built on ambitious goals. If elected, I would support the Sierra Club’s campaign and commit to getting 100% of Arlington’s electricity from renewable sources by 2035. While there may be challenges given Virginia’s Dillon Rule status, the opportunities for growth and expansion of renewable energy sources and storage capacity could make this a very achievable goal. I would also like to use this ambitious goal to help position Arlington as the premier location for innovators in the renewable energy sector.
Arlington is facing a range of issues related to congestion and mass transit. The Columbia Pike corridor still lacks a transit system that will meet the needs of growth projections. Metro has both funding and performance issues. Both the I-66 and I-395 corridors through Arlington are changing due to tolling and additional lanes.
Arlington will receive millions of dollars over the next five years from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for local priorities. What are your top three priorities for that funding? Briefly explain your choices.
It is unfortunate that using NVTA funding to meet our most pressing need - Virginia's share of increased dedicated funding for Metro - is currently not possible under the statutes that created NVTA until a multi-year capital plan is adopted by the Metro Board of Directors. As a County Board member, I would do everything possible to support the creation of that regional consensus funding plan and the resulting dedication of revenue, where a variety of sources could be tapped to meet Virginia's fair share. It's critical for our economy that Metro get back on track, operating safely, reliable and efficiently.
It's worth noting that Arlington has successfully competed for regional funding for a new entrance at the Ballston Metro and that it is very possible that additional entrances at Crystal City and/or Courthouse would also compete well for regional dollars. The County should continue to pursue that strategy - tapping into our fair share of the regional tax revenues.
In the interim, I support using Arlington's NVTA 30% local funding for:
Columbia Pike Transit:
Columbia Pike's transit future should not be hung up in Metro's troubles. I support using NVTA local funding to provide the ART buses, parking areas, and maintenance facilities necessary to create the main trunk line service that was the alternative solution to the streetcar. As a County Board member I would prioritize building agreements as soon as possible with Fairfax and Alexandria to ensure the Skyline-to-Potomac Yard connectivity that studies show have so much power to drive our inside-the-Beltway economy.
Transit Improvements Countywide:
As a County Board member, I would support increasing the frequency for our core transit routes to at least every 10 minutes. If people are going to rely on transit, it needs to be able to handle more than just the daily commute. It must be able to get people to their shopping, recreational, and daily needs. This includes expanding the number of routes that run frequently late into the evening and on weekends. We must also invest in technology and road reconfigurations that help passengers get to their destinations more quickly. Some examples of this successful transportation infrastructure and technology include transit signal priority, off-board fare collection, stop consolidation, and dedicated transit lanes.
Bicycle & Pedestrian Improvements:
On the County Board, I would support the installation of HAWK signals at key locations to ensure those on foot and bikes can safely and efficiently cross arterial roads. We must also initiate a robust community process to update Arlington's bike plan with the goal of identifying a prioritized list of projects, targeting and expanding our network of low-stress bikeways, building protected bike lanes, and expanding neighborhood greenways.
3. DEVELOPMENT AND SMART GROWTH
Smart growth practices include mixed use development and development in coordination with transit options. Energy efficient building design and retrofits also are important to a sustainable Arlington.
A. Do you support mixed use development in metro corridors? If so, what do you see as the major challenges to success?
Mixed use development in our corridors is and remains essential to Arlington’s long-term development strategy. I recognize that the mix of development over the past few years has been more towards residential buildings and less towards office developments. Changes in work patterns, including reduced office footprints and increased use of telework by employers, has resulted less demand for office space. Impacts to the federal workforce and reduced federal footprints also represent a challenge to mixed-use development. As the Chairman of the Planning Commission and the Planning Commission’s liaison to the Arlington Economic Development Commission, I have been a strong advocate for mixed use development and finding innovative ways to promote mixed use in our community.
However, a significant challenge to our successful smart growth strategy is the strain on our schools and community facilities due to a lack of long-term planning for community facilities. On the County Board, I would work with the new Joint Facilities Advisory Commission, which I lobbied for last year, to develop a comprehensive plan that allows the County to meet the facility needs of a growing community within our limited space and budgets.
B. Arlington currently uses criteria based adjustments to provide trade-offs, offering developers options, such as increased density, in return for LEED building design, first floor retail, and committed affordable housing. Do you agree with this process? What changes, if any, would you want to see made? Please explain.
In Arlington, under special exception site plan rules, developers of new buildings can be granted additional bonus density in return for meeting a variety of goals, including promoting vibrant retail, expanding the County’s affordable housing stock, and achieving the County’s energy efficiency goals.
As Chairman of the Planning Commission, I have a long record of supporting transit-oriented development which focuses development within our urban corridors. The process of increasing density within our corridors concentrates developments and reduces the environmental impacts associated with sprawling, lower density development.
I support this process because it has generally worked quite well. However, we need to recognize that as technology advances and the barriers to adoption are lowered, Arlington should continue to “raise the bar” on what is expected in exchange for incentives. For example, I would examine from time to time the amount of bonus density granted for a given LEED level.
C. Do you believe that Arlington should try to retain its current amount of affordable rental housing? If yes, what are the methods strategy would you support to achieve that goal? If no, what is your vision for development in Arlington?
I am a strong supporter of affordable housing and as a member of the County Board, I would be committed to attaining the 17.7% called for in the Housing Master Plan through a mix of preservation and new construction with an eye toward improved energy efficiency in all these homes.
I also strongly support expanding the affordable housing stock through growing the “Missing Middle”. The Missing Middle includes modestly scaled lofts, flats, apartments, condominiums, and townhouses located along transportation corridors and designed to preserve neighborhood character. These building types can fit into the edges of single-family neighborhoods and along commercial streets, with ground floor retail and restaurants to serve adjacent homes. This kind of infill development improves the connections between existing neighborhoods and adjacent commercial cores, and at the same time, provides a transition of uses that buffers homes, schools, and parks from more intense development. With new opportunities for small scale projects, the Missing Middle could unleash the ingenuity of architects and developers to create new housing formats (cohousing, micro-units, co-ops), and use market forces to diversify our housing stock so that Arlingtonians can stay here - in the community they love - even as their housing needs change over time.
D. Do you support increasing the use of renewable energy for County owned facilities, including building net zero buildings and/or retrofitting buildings to provide for better energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy (solar and geothermal)?
Yes. As noted above, the AIRE Program is essential to providing green building site plan review, education, and outreach services to residents and businesses to encourage construction of energy efficient new buildings as well as renovation of existing facilities. This expertise can be applied to County owned facilities as well.
We have made energy efficiency improvements to our facilities, including the County’s detention center, in the past decade. As a County Board member, I will continue to work for energy efficiency and increased utilization of renewable energy for county owned facilities. For example, I would like to investigate options for a power-purchase agreement (PPA) and “green” bonds as potential low- or no-cost financing alternatives for energy efficiency retrofits of county and school facilities.
4. GREEN SPACE
Arlington’s residential, employment and school populations are all increasing, putting pressure on Arlington’s open space. What would you do to preserve existing open space and to provide new open space, especially in the Metro corridors, where the lack of adequate parkland is most severe?
I support six strategies for preserving and expanding open space in Arlington:
- Establish an Open Space Fund for the Urban Corridors: Greater density within our urban corridors has stressed our already over-burdened parks and open spaces. I believe that developments should be responsible for mitigating the effects of their new residential and office building populations on the community; this includes meeting the need for open space and recreational opportunities. I would support the creation of an “Open Space, Park and Recreation Fund” similar to the Tree Canopy Fund, for developments not able to meet open space requirements on site. In addition, we need to ensure that open space and recreational community benefits agreed to through the site plan process are tracked, delivered, and maintained over the lifespan of the site plan. We should re-evaluate what constitutes a “minor” site plan amendment and ensure that any potential loss of a community benefit is acknowledged, properly evaluated, and captured through some other mechanism.
- Fully Evaluate the Real Cost of Land: At 26 square miles, Arlington’s land is one of our scarcest and most valuable resources. I strongly support the work of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission; a group I helped lobby for last year. Their work will appropriately evaluate the true cost of land in making development decisions. Given that school grounds are treated as open space by residents and play an important part of school programming, we must consider what is really being lost through school expansions that consume scarce open space. Likewise, the cost of underground parking should be evaluated in the context of the cost of the land. Any land swaps with public or private partners must include a transparent accounting of what is being given away and what is being gained.
- Commitment to Land Acquisition: Prior to 2008, the county regularly funded the parkland acquisition fund through the CIP, recognizing the importance of being able to respond to emergent land acquisition opportunities as they arose. Since 2008, funding for land acquisition has dropped precipitously. I support efforts to rebuild the land acquisition fund so that we have the ability to respond as land acquisition opportunities arise. I am encouraged by the ongoing Plan our Open Space (POPS) update to the 2005 Public Spaces Master Plan. This plan includes draft land acquisition criteria which the County can use to identify and rank acquisition priorities for future parks and open space.
- “Create” More Land: In addition to recommending the creation of JFAC, the 2015 Community Facilities Study suggested that we think more broadly about seizing opportunities to “create” more land. Other planning initiatives, such as the Realize Rosslyn sector plan have promoted creative solutions to our parks and open space challenges. We should be open to the range of opportunities before us and those that we currently may not foresee. These include but are not limited to: exploring options for decking over more sections of I-66; improving access to the Potomac River through partnerships with the National Park Service; and exploring creative land swaps with public and private partners.
- No Net Loss: The county should set the goal of no net loss of open space. While additional open spaces will be needed to keep pace with the growing population, we need to staunch the loss of existing land and ensure that we continue to have a base of open space for residents and workers as our population grows and density continues to increase.
- Arlington Green Loop: I believe Arlington should set as a major multi-generational goal the establishment of an uninterrupted “green way” around Arlington that builds on existing multi-purpose trails, creating a contiguous wildlife corridor circumnavigating the County and ideally within a 15 minute walk of every resident.
Arlington has been lauded as a model for smart growth planning. However, our parks and open space have often been forgotten in that equation. The County needs to strengthen our commitment to expanding park and open space in the highest demand areas. The research is clear: there are significant economic and health benefits associated with parks and open space. We also know that great parks help create places that people want to live, work and play. I am committed to investing in and expanding our parks and open space both today and in our future.
Arlington has adopted a “zero waste” goal by 2038. If elected to the County Board, what measures would you support to move Arlington closer to its zero-waste goal?
I strongly support the recently adopted zero waste goal. This is the type of ambitious goal that progressive, forward-looking communities such as Arlington should embrace. The year-round yard waste program is excellent, and I look forward to considering an expansion to include organic kitchen, garden and yard waste for composting.