BALLSTON-VIRGINIA SQUARE

Civic Association Newsletter

December 1996 - Volume 20, No. 3



BOARD'S PUBLIC HEARING FOR THE 1997 LEGISLATIVE PACKAGE (DRAFT # 2)

The following are some of the highlights of the citizen participation at the [Arlington] County Board's public hearing on the 1997 Legislative Package (Draft #2).

Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance.

BVSCA President Ragland: "Good morning Chairman Hunter and Members of the County Board. My name is Ernie Ragland and I'm the President of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association. I'm here to speak on their behalf, today. At the prior County Board meeting of October 26, 1996, I testified on behalf of BVSCA in support of an ordinance against aggressive panhandling. In my discussion, I stated that I'd been before the County Board several times, I've been before the Arlington County Delegation on this issue and before the Civic Federation. I have provided a letter to each of the members of the Board, today.

I have been asked to put in writing how many enforcement actions had been taken. I contacted Prince William County and the City of Alexandria. I talked to the County Attorney's Office in Prince William County and the Attorney's Office in the City of Alexandria to determine if there were any enforcement action data that I could present to you today. On page 2 of my letter, I would like to refer to the second paragraph. I got a response from Captain Howard of the City of Alexandria Police, who stated that they do not track enforcement actions concerning aggressive panhandling but recalls that when the City of Alexandria first implemented the ordinance, five arrests were made in July and August 1994. Captain Howard indicated after these first arrests were made there was initially a significant change in behavior. The panhandlers especially reduced their aggressive behavior when uniformed police officers were visibly nearby. When these police officers were not visible to the panhandlers some returned to their aggressive behavior, because citizens generally are not willing to write criminal summons when they are aggressively panhandled. To discourage any further incidents, Captain Howard indicated to me that the City of Alexandria used bicycle officers and plain clothes police officers to help inhibit this kind if behavior. Prince William County police officers have yet to return any of my calls.

But I would like to say in my prior coordination with the City of Sacramento, California, which has a similar type of law, they feel that it is an effective deterrent against such behavior. But it also has educational value to the citizens, so that they better understand what is acceptable behavior. I refer you to page 2 of the attachment under Prince William Code on Panhandling, Section 16-55, Panhandling (a) (1) Aggressive manner means: approaching, speaking to or following a person in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to fear imminent physical injury, or the imminent commission of a criminal act upon the person or upon property in the person's immediate possession; touching another person without that person's consent; and intentionally blocking or interfering by any means with the free passage of a person. [Also, aggressive manner is defined under this ordinance to include: engaging in any conduct with the intention of intimidating another person into giving money or goods to any person.]

Our members in our Association have from time to time experienced such aggressive behavior at the Virginia Square Metro, and there have been some incidents in the Ballston and Clarendon area. So, I strongly urge you, as the Arlington County Civic Federation has done these past two years, to support an ordinance against aggressive panhandling.

Also, I would like to say through our annual fall survey, over the last three years, by more than 85%, our members have consistently told us that on-street parking in our neighborhood is in critically short supply, and that off-street residential parking requirements should be increased to a minimum of two spaces per unit, along with the implementation of an on-site guest parking ratio for multifamily residential projects.

Even though our membership overwhelmingly supports increased on-site parking and guest parking, and the County Board has, since Mrs. Whipple's last tenure as Board Chairman, asked for a proposal from the staff to address these issues, we were seriously disappointed to learn of the staff's October 1996 proposal to the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee not to add any additional parking requirements above two spaces per unit, but to suggest that guest parking may be allocated within an overall ratio of two spaces per unit.

What we would like you to do is to direct the staff to work to implement a proposal that provides 1) a solution to the existing shortfall in the Ballston townhouse area by providing more off- street parking supply; 2) at least two on-site spaces per unit going forward; and 3) and an on-site guest parking requirement, in addition to the two spaces per unit, of .5 spaces per unit in multifamily and townhouse projects. And I thank you."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Let me ask a question here. We have from the prosecutor's office and from the police statements that, in fact, they believe that there is already sufficient law to handle the problem of aggressive panhandling. This is why I have been hesitant to press forward on the issue, because those who are most close to the issue are telling me that there is already sufficient law. So there is something of a quandary. We don't want to promote or pass any laws or ordinances that are not necessary, or duplicative. Now, when you conducted your survey, did you indicate that the prosecutor and the police have indicated that they believe there was already sufficient law?"

BVSCA President Ragland: "No, I did not. In the survey I asked simply of our members--would they support an ordinance against aggressive panhandling. Our Association has had many meetings on this, and in May 1995 we looked in detail at the existing ordinances in the City of Alexandria, Prince William County, and Montgomery County. We looked at this from both sides. We want to be fair, but I think you need to recognize that the City of Alexandria puts great emphasis on the educational value. I think that is needed for people who do this kind of thing, so that they better understand what is reasonable and what is not. I'm not arguing your point. There may be sufficient law, but we have a problem in communication in the community. You only need to visit Clarendon sometimes, and from time to time we have had some very extreme cases when people have had too much to drink and they lose sight of what is reasonable."

Board Member Eisenberg: "I happen to live in Clarendon and I'm very familiar with the issues there. The question is though what is appropriate on a broad basis in terms of the imposition of new law. Now, I don't have any idea right now as to what the police experience is. Have your members communicated with the police about particular incidents? If so, that should show up in reports.

I'd like to get that from the police about the extent to which they have individual reports from people that have created a problem in the citizens' view, and then get a sense from the police as to what they've done with that and what they've been able to do with that kind of report. My sense is that there may be some enforcement problems, but I think we need to have some more information. We will be able to look at this between now and the 7th of December, and see if we can't come to grip more tightly with the issue. I think all of us respond to the very basic concern that people have the right not to be bothered by other people, certainly not intimidated, frightened, and harmed. In that regard, if law is necessary because there's a reported identifiable problem that current law can't handle then we ought to do something. I think we need to find a way to work together here even more so, even more deeply, to figure out whether or not something like this exists. The information to date does not indicate that, and if the issue that you bring forward and I'll close on this, Mr. Chairman, and defer to Mr. Ferguson. If the issue is one of communication and education, which I think is very interesting and an important point, then I think that is what we should get about doing on a public/private partnership basis. I think it's a good point."

Chairman Hunter: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Mr. Ragland. I appreciate it."

Board Member Ferguson: "Mr. Ragland, I had a meeting earlier this fall with Chief Stover; with Dick Trodden, who is our prosecutor; Delegate Darner; and Mike Edwards, who was there, who is our legislative assistant. And it was the feeling of the prosecutor there were sufficient laws on the books. There was some difference of opinion in that meeting. Chief Stover said that he didn't think this would hurt for us to have it. So what Mr. Trodden and Chief Stover agreed to do was to work together to enforce the current laws on the books. And then we would take a look at this problem a year from now. I had originally thought that I was going to push this aggressive panhandling ordinance, but I agreed to hold off to see how this enforcement of the current laws works.

I think it was helpful to have this meeting, because if Mr. Trodden is the one, who is going to be prosecuting these alleged offenses, then he needs to be coordinating with the police and what actually they should be going out and arresting on, given the particular circumstances. Also, Crystal City I think is a big problem area. I've been getting a lot of complaints from there. So, I ask you to continue to monitor the problem and let us know how things are going in this upcoming year. I'll assure you that I will personally push for the panhandling ordinance if it continues to be a problem."

BVSCA President Ragland: "Well, I want to express my appreciation for your consideration of this and I think it's a very reasonable position you have taken. I encourage the Board from time to time to monitor this. And we certainly will get back to you. If I get any data from Prince William County, I'll share that too."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Your folks should call in and if they've got legitimate and definitive experience they ought to report that."

BVSCA President Ragland: "Mr. Eisenberg, I have personally reported several incidents and I don't think it gets included in the documentation."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Well, that's a problem then on our end and we need to deal with that. That's part of the communication and education. We need to make sure--some people will just tolerate it and walk away frustrated. But it helps us to determine patterns, it helps us to determine degree and level of the problem if people report it. Even if the police can't do anything about it in that particular incident, we need the data."

BVSCA President Ragland: "Thank you Mr. Eisenberg."

Chairman Hunter: "I think the point has been made well. But I want to make sure that we understand if there's an incident that is reported, and the police investigate it and find out that there is an offense that occurred; and if somehow the current laws on the books don't provide us enough authority to prosecute when something on the face of it appears to be the kind of offense that we don't want to have in this County, then it's clear to me that we would want to push forward to have some additional authority which we have to get from the state."

Additional Comments: At the second half of the Arlington County Civic Federation meeting of December 3, 1996, a presentation was made on Arlington crime statistics by categories of crime, including major offenses, felony, and misdemeanor type offenses. The presentation was made by the Assistant Chief of the Arlington County Police, Dan Boring (703) 358-4151, and representatives of the Crime Analysis Unit of the County Police's Criminal Investigations Division. Overall, the slide data that was presented showed that Arlington was very effective in closing major type offenses and major type crime was not increasing in the County. Vehicle theft and misdemeanor type offenses, however, continue to be a problem.

During the question and answer session, BVSCA President and Delegate to the Civic Federation, Ernie Ragland, inquired about the reporting process for aggressive panhandling type offenses, and who our members should contact to report such activities. Also, he briefly described the recent County Board discussions on this matter and the Association's longstanding support for the County adopting such ordinance against aggressive panhandling. In response, Chief Boring stated that the County has not documented such activity in the past, because aggressive panhandling was not a reportable offense in Arlington. On the other hand, Chief Boring indicated that he thought it was an excellent idea to establish a reportable category and agreed to track such activity in the future. The BVSCA Executive Committee encourages members and citizens to report all incidents of aggressive panhandling in the future to the Arlington Crime Analysis Unit at (703) 358-4068. You should dial 911 for any emergency and (703) 558-2222 for non emergencies. Also, please call the BVSCA Member Information Line Telephone Number (703) 528-1887 to help us follow-up on incidents of aggressive panhandling. This information will be needed by the County Board next year, as part of their decision-making process. The Association encourages members to be patient on this matter and to work with the County Board this upcoming year.

Affordable Housing, Local Income Taxes, and Initiative and Referendum.

VIA Coalition President, Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Good morning Chairman Hunter and members of the Board. Before we get onto our VIA Coalition's legislative packet, I would like to address the Industrial Development Authority bond issue, as well. We oppose this and frankly, I don't see any governmental reason for the County engaging in what is essentially a private enterprise, or should be a private enterprise matter of owning property and leasing it. Unless there is sound justification, we don't support that.

To our legislative package proposed for 1997, I'm the President of the VIA Coalition. My name is Amy Jones-Baskaran and our organization, if you don't know, is dedicated to public accountability and integrity, fiscal responsibility, and open government. We have proposed a package this year that significantly tracks our package for 1996, which included a provision to repeal the local income tax authority. Right now, the Code provides that income taxes can be imposed by a county for transportation purposes and that there has to be a referendum of the voters to approve such a tax. We propose that this be repealed. But this last year there is a new proposal, a bill in Richmond, that is supported by Delegate Almond not to repeal the local income tax provision but to expand it greatly. And we definitely oppose this. It permits a county to impose a income tax, not only for transportation purposes but for any purposes, and further it removes the voters rights to a referendum on this. And this is totally unacceptable. I believe and our Coalition believes that this bill adds insult to injury. And VIA requests that the Board oppose the income tax bill and include such opposition in its 1997 legislative package. We note that Chairman Hunter has expressed his opposition to a local income tax and we ask that Chairman Hunter add this item today, no local income tax.

Next, VIA supports citizen participation in government. We have for the last four years proposed that the County include "initiative and referendum" in its legislative package. For the last four years, the Civic Federation has also proposed initiative and referendum. Yet, in spite of this broad community support, the Board has consistently failed to include an initiative and referendum proposal. And it is ironic that certain members of the Board have based their opposition to initiative and referendum on the fact that we have a representative democracy. Yet, we have gotten no representation on our request for initiative and referendum.

In addition to initiative and referendum rights, VIA believes that public accountability would also be enhanced by strengthening Virginia's Conflict of Interest law to require disclosure of contracts with the government, disclosure of interests in companies and limited partnerships anywhere, and certification requirements that will require a public official to certify that he has both read and understood the law. Currently, ignorance of the law is a defense, and this is unacceptable. This was proposed last year and is also supported by the Civic Federation.

As an adjunct, VIA proposes an Office of Inspector General to be elected statewide with jurisdiction to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse, wherever state funds are used. This proposal in substantial part is also supported by the Civic Federation. [The Civic Federation proposes in their 1997 Legislative Package the establishment of an Inspector General for Arlington County.] To further enhance accountability of public officials, VIA has again proposed disclosure of names of limited partners for certain specified reasons, including to prevent bankruptcy and rollover fraud.

Finally, in the judicial arena, VIA proposes again reforming the judicial nomination process to make it based on merit selection rather than partisan reasons, and letting voters decide on merit retention. VIA also proposes mandatory audio recordings of all judicial proceedings to ensure a complete record of proceedings, and to ensure their integrity and prevent mistakes. Both of these also are endorsed by the Civic Federation. We support the County's proposal to establish economic rent as the basis for assessing commercial properties. We thank you for including this item in the package from the County, and that concludes our presentation of VIA's 1997 Legislative Package. For more information, or details, I think you got substantial details last year in your package. You can click on to our Internet home page ["http://www2.- dgsys.com/~via"], VIA Coalition, and it also has links to the Virginia General Assembly proceedings. So it's easy to participate. Thank you."

Chairman Hunter: "Thank you very much, Ms. Jones."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Let me ask you a couple of questions, if I can. First, with respect to the Industrial Development Authority, the purpose and its actions are directed toward providing low cost loans to private development interests. In the case of housing, it is non-profit interests but they are still private organizations. And while there are a number of severe restrictions that the federal government established, the basic purpose is still there. Are you having a problem with the existence of the authority, itself, to make loans to private organizations in order to lower the costs of their business through a tax-exemption provided to those who buy the bonds."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "In general, yes. That was our opposition also to Buckingham."

Board Member Eisenberg: "It's a blanket opposition to the issuance of tax-exempt bonds for the purpose of helping private enterprise."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Yes, because it is a cost to the taxpayers. For example, in Buckingham, it was not used for the benefit of the taxpayers. And in fact, the affordable housing component for the Buckingham units was decreased, even though it was purportedly to increase affordable housing. So, we think it could be abused and misused and this is why we oppose it."

Board Member Eisenberg: "I'm talking now about generally, whether it's a ...."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Well, yeah, it's open to abuse and we have seen this repeatedly."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Well, that's fair enough, although some would argue that improving a housing project so that it's not run down, to charge higher rents, its value is increased, and it pays higher taxes of course is just one of the benefits besides improving the neighborhood, improving the opportunity for people to live in the community. But leaving that alone, I appreciate your view--it's an understandable view. In terms of the initiative, the opposition is actually also practical. If you have a piece of legislation put on the ballot for adoption whereby the exact measure is legislative language, not just a notion, not just a general idea, but the legislative language is actually on the ballot, which is the way most initiatives are presented. There is no opportunity for anybody to work with that language. It's either up or down. If one word is off, "shall not" as opposed to "shall," and the measure passes, then its in effect."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Well, let me interject here. First, I think you have to have confidence in the voters. We are intelligent persons when we go in there to vote. Plus, there's plenty of opportunity beforehand, before the language is crystallized. If there is a concept out there, that people want to support in terms of an initiative, or referendum item, then there is certainly time for discussion to crystalize language that is appropriate."

Board Member Eisenberg: "But it doesn't happen."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Well, it happens in 25 states."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Not that way, the issues are developed. They are then brought forward, the petition process occurs, they're on the ballot. Nobody has it, that's when most people see the measure."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Then fine, let's debate the issue as it's proposed on the ballot and vote it up or down. That's the way it works, and we deserve that right. We feel strongly about it and the Civic Federation does too." Board Member Eisenberg: "I hear what you're saying. We brought in the San Francisco ballot a couple of years ago when this came up."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "I remember that."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Yeah, on the ballot was one item for survivor benefits for local employees. It ran on for three pages, three columns per page."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "I don't think San Francisco or California can be used as a case example for the rest of the states where we never hear anything cited. Look at Colorado, they just had initiative and referendums, initiatives that were voted down and up. So, California is California and we always have remember that it's a little, it's different. It's almost a country unto itself."

Board Member Eisenberg: "Then, you don't favor the California type of initiative, where the entire law is placed on the ballot, and people vote on the entire law.?"

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "I support, we support, initiatives that can be written to how the people of Virginia want to write them and vote them up or down. It's up to the people of Virginia and that's the whole point."

Board Member Zimmerman: "I would have to say that you are certainly right, California isn't the example I'd be citing of I was advocating initiative. On the other hand, they're the one that gets the most attention. But if you looked at what goes on in the other states, it's basically the same thing. It's particularly bad in California, in part, because it's easy to get on the ballot...It's terribly unfair to people to say you must vote yes or no the way I've written it. It's the tyranny of the petition."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Well, I disagree with that because the people are the ones who formulate the language."

Board Member Zimmerman: "No, a small group of people, sitting around the living room get a petition together and a small minority get it on the ballot."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "I don't think your example is valid."

Board Member Zimmerman: "That's how initiative works."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "How do initiatives pass then if a small minority of people create them as you assert, and then they get on the ballot and they pass?"

Board Member Zimmerman: "I'm not saying you can't put something together that a majority will vote for. I'm saying the results of the process is not the best law possible."

Board Member Eisenberg: "The only way to overturn it is either to have another ballot issue, which then costs an enormous amount of money, time, and effort. And it may be wrong again. Or to go to court, which drags the whole thing through an incredibly lengthy process. It wears everybody out." Board Member Zimmerman: "You bring me to the second problem with it, which is that if we were to pass something, say in this body or the General Assembly and problems arise the next year you go back and you amend it. The problem here with an initiative-based-law is whether you can amend it, in which case you are obviating the process by which it became law and arguably repudiating the voters. And in fact that very argument makes it difficult to amend something, or you do what California did and say it can't be amended in which cased you have created a new class of law which can't be adjusted to work with other new law that comes along years later. This is precisely the kind of problem they ran into California."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "I'll address your specific points in a second, but I think it is ironic that the people of this community have consistently voted for initiative and referendum and you [the Arlington County Board] have consistently opposed it."

Board Member Zimmerman: "When have they voted for that?"

Board Member Eisenberg: "When have they voted for it?"

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "The Civic Federation is representative of all the civic organizations in the County. For four years, for four years, and then you sit here like the people really don't know what they're doing. This is a travesty. It's wrong."

Board Member Zimmerman: "I dispute your assertion that the people are, the Civic Federation, of which I'm a member, necessarily represents all 185,500 Arlingtonians."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Why don't you give us an opportunity to vote on it here in Arlington County? Why don't you put a referendum in your package to allow us to vote on referendums."

Board Member Zimmerman: "To close on this point I want to make my position clear which is that there really needs to be one legislative body. And if I was to support the method you suggest, then I would say "plebiscite" is the only you should make law, because having competing legislative bodies is I think the source of the problem. I think you either want a representative body or you want to do it by town meeting, which is one form of plebiscite. But I personally could not support something where you have two different bodies engaged in writing one set of law. I don't think it works and having looked at the way it works in other states I've become quite convinced that it's not good government."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Have you investigated the other states how they operate, and have you made studies on that?"

Board Member Zimmerman: "Yes, I'm actually very familiar. I have had the occasion to see these things in operation. But that's my opinion, we can differ. I would like to ask you one other thing though. Generally speaking, I was interested in a number of your other proposals. I've not seen, did you submit this whole legislative package in writing?"

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "No, it's from last year's."

Board Member Zimmerman: "I would be interested in seeing it, there were a couple of things there, I won't ask you about now. There were a couple of points I would like to pursue."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Great, I'll provide you and all the other Board members a package. You could get on it today by clicking on the Internet ["http://www2.dgsys.com/~via"]."

Board Member Zimmerman: "Thank you very much."

VIA President Jones-Baskaran: "Thank you."

Chairman Hunter: "Thank you very much."



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