Civic Association Newsletter

May/June 1997 - Volume 20, No. 7

Independent Candidates for the May 31, 1997, Arlington County Board Republican Canvas

On Wednesday evening, April 30, 1997, the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association sponsored a Candidates Night Debates for the Arlington County Board. The Independent Candidates session featured Arlington County board candidates Ben Winslow and Amy Jones-Baskaran. The session started with a five minute opening statement from each candidate, followed by questions from the audience and candidate responses. The candidate responses were limited to three minutes.

Statement of Ben Winslow (I)

Ben Winslow: "Good evening. I'm Ben Winslow and I am a candidate for the Arlington County Board. I'm running to finish what we started in 1993. I was elected then and I spent two-and-one-half, almost three 3 years, as a Board member before losing in 1995. We worked to make the County more efficient, providing the voters with a real alternative to the current Board. We did much, you and I, in those three short years, because I got there mostly because you supported me.

The County now sets the budget and the tax rates on the same day. They didn't previously. That was my initiative. The Winslow budget estimates, a no-growth budget estimate, is routinely prepared now. And it was done at my request and it has continued to be prepared every year. Unfortunately, a no- growth budget is not enacted by our current Board. The County has started a viable low-income home ownership program, which I initiated.

I fought for more police and firefighters and began programs to control gangs. I supported and will defend neighborhood integrity. I proposed that Virginia Gardens be renovated as a senior citizens living center, reducing the demand on the neighborhood schools. Of 45 votes on taxes, I voted against raising 44. When I am your candidate in the future, and this year I will work to reduce the tax burden. I will work to make government better, not bigger. I will fight to increase public safety, support quality education, and improve and maintain public works. These are things I've always done anyway.

I will support expanded home ownership programs and housing for senior citizens. I will be a watchdog guarding your pocketbook and preserving what is best about Arlington. We can do much together if you will help me return to the Board. I ask for your support and your vote on May 31st and on November 4th. Thank you for your kind attention."

Statement of Amy Jones-Baskaran (I)

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Good evening, I'm Amy Jones- Baskaran and I'm running for the Arlington County Board because I believe in public service. I grew up sitting around the dining room table, talking with my parents about local politics. My father was in local politics and my mother was very active in the community. And sitting around the table and learning about issues, I also learned how to listen to people out in the community. And being with my family out in the community, I learned how to listen and respond to all people of all walks of life and all ages.

As a lawyer, I have been listening in Arlington, and I have been battling uphill for less government and more public access and due process. Now I need your need support in the Republican Primary or Canvass rather, on May 31st. It's going to be in the NRECA building [National Rural Electric Cooperative Association building, 4301 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.] Tonight, I want to talk about three main issues: (1) taxes and spending, (2) public safety, and (3) our quality of life. First, taxes and spending, I have talked to Arlingtonians and I've heard them saying, Democrats and Republicans alike, that the constant tax increases that we've experienced over the last several years are simply unacceptable. I have heard many Arlingtonians complaining that our spending priorities are out of balance and I agree with them. Property taxes for the average homeowner have risen 60% since 1991, even though our population only increased 2.6%. What explains that? If you go back 10 years, which is roughly the same period that the Democrats have controlled the County Board, our general government spending has increased 90% and that 6 times over our population growth. Social services spending has gone up a relative 236% above that.

Unfortunately, my opponent was part of the problem when he served on the Board. Voting to increase our taxes twice and proposing a third increase. Now, I'll bet that tonight that none of the other candidates are willing to take a no new taxes pledge, but I will take a no new taxes pledge and I will keep it. And unlike the County Board on the meals tax, I will protect your right to vote in a referendum on the County income tax. We can and must balance the budget by trimming waste, demanding value for money, rethinking our priorities without increasing taxes. While we are a compassionate community and provide many services, we must seek a path of balance.

Turning to public safety, we have to admit that Arlington Police and Fire Departments have been "done wrong" by the County Board. Our police officers are over worked and they are low on morale, but they are doing their best. Crime has increased, juvenile arrests alone were up 40% in 1996. This is simply unacceptable. Youth gangs are growing and their graffiti scars our community.

Our fire department has not grown in 25 years and that's from the fire chief, himself. Fire trucks are understaffed and when their union leaders complain, they are demoted. This is scandalous. We need more police on the streets and more firefighters on our trucks.

As to quality of life, there should be more than just beautiful parks, beautiful neighborhoods, it should include neighborhood integrity. This means we should not impose dinosaurs in our residential neighborhoods, like the case of the Demeter House, or the baseball stadium, or home depot at Clarendon's Metro stop. I don't hate sports and I certainly don't hate drug addicted moms. But we must use common sense in our siting priorities, siting our projects in appropriate places.

Our quality of life also includes giving our children the very best education. But we must demand value for educational dollars. We can save dollars and give more money to students by consolidating functions that are duplicative between the County Board and the School Board. And while the County Board can't dictate the school budget, we can't just write blank checks. We need more teachers and not swimming instructors. In closing, like when I was growing up, I am still listening. Many Arlingtonians are telling me they feel shut out. But I will listen to all of the community, and I will stand up against the majority if I feel it is in your best interests. You can vote for me on May 31st for balance and common sense. Thank you."

Questions and Candidate Responses

After the candidates made their opening statements, people in the audience were allowed to ask them questions. The first three questions were available for Association members, followed by questions from non-members or members attending the meeting. Candidate responses were limited to three minutes for each question.

Question #1, BVSCA President Ragland: "My question is to both candidates. I would like to ask Mr. Winslow a question on the Buckingham Redevelopment project. Based on memory Mr. Winslow you voted to support that project, and I would like to know why you did? And Amy, I would like to know your view on that project."

Mr. Winslow: "The final vote on the Buckingham project, I did vote for it and the last vote that was to provide the money for it. I did that because I had negotiated with the other members of the Board to transform my vote on Buckingham into a usable and viable homeownership program. That has been started and I admit that I was defeated in the following year. But that since has been started and it is working now. So I think it was a vote that was well worth taking. I voted against Buckingham on every other vote prior to that."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Well, I don't recall any homeownership component of the Buckingham project but I could be incorrect. I think that the Buckingham issue was one where the County Board did not balance what the community's input was. In terms of overall development, the Buckingham affordable housing units were actually reduced. And I have heard horror stories now of people being harassed to move out of the units. So I publicly opposed that at the time, because I felt the investment was not appropriate."

Question #2, Jack Marks: "My name is Jack Marks, I am an Independent candidate for the County Board. The most important meeting of the Arlington County Board during the year is the budget meeting. The budget meeting was on the 12th of April. I didn't see either of you there, at the meeting. I didn't see you speak during public comment, or make a stand on the budget. I did."

Ben Winslow: "I was there, I made a statement."

Jack Marks: "At public comment?"

Ben Winslow: "Yes sir. Not only at the budget meeting, but at the tax meeting."

Jack Marks: "I'm talking about the 8:30 meeting, 12th of April. Where the County Board had to decide on the budget."

Ben Winslow: "No, I did not attend that meeting." Jack Marks: "That's the meeting I was talking about. The most important meeting of the year."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Well, Mr. Marks, I have been consistently speaking out on the budget issue and I have been at every tax night hearing since 1993, talking about spending priorities and where we should be allocating our resources, which are not unlimited. I was there on April 12th."

Jack Marks: "I didn't hear you speaking at public comment."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "I didn't speak at public comment, but I watched them vote and I was very disappointed."

Jack Marks: "You should have spoke."

BVSCA President Ragland: "While it is not appropriate for me to respond, but the County Board asked for public input at the appropriate meetings. The public is not allowed to speak on the item [April 12th], because they give us a chance at the budget hearing on Tuesday night and the tax hearing on Thursday night. And that's early March. I think it was March 4th and 6th. We advertised that in our Newsletter."

Question #3, Jim Charleton: "I would like to invite both candidates to comment on the County's proposal in its Consolidated Plan to increase the percentage of subsidized housing in Arlington County, not homeownership in Arlington County, from approximately 6 to 10% over the next few years. How will you as a Board member vote on the future subsidized housing projects that are going to be placed in this community and the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association has done the public a very good service by publishing a complete list of it, derived from county sources. How will you vote on those other 4% of all the units in the County that the Board majority wishes to subsidize?"

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Well, I think we need to take a long, hard look at where our subsidized rental housing program is going, because I think that the percentage that the County has set, I'm not certain what they have used as the basis for that. So I don't believe that it's reasonable. I think their approach to this has been unreasonably aggressive. While the neighboring jurisdictions are supporting homeownership, Arlington County is still going headlong into subsidized rental housing. And I don't think that's an investment in the community and I don't think it creates stability. I think we need impact statements also for these programs to see how they are affecting our schools and affecting the demand on public services."

Ben Winslow: "There are several things, one is when I'm on the Board I will immediately put pressure on our Zoning Administrator to insist on adequate code enforcement. Let me give you an example, there's a very large apartment building in South Arlington along Columbia Pike or near Columbia Pike that is rapidly going down hill. I expect that may well become one of the sites that they will use to try to turn that into subsidized housing. I don't think it ought to be done. I think we ought to have code enforcement on a more stringent basis. I think we ought to be enforcing these property owners to bring their properties up to code and to maintain them with code; and I think that would resolve a lot of the problems. As far as voting on it, I'm going to support homeownership. I have always supported homeownership programs, I think that's the way to go in the County. And I will continue to support homeownership programs."

Question #4, John Antonelli: "My name is John Antonelli. I have a question for Ms. Baskaran. Amy, I would like to know, since you're looking for the Republican endorsement, I would like to know who you voted for in the last two presidential elections. Who you voted for, for president?"

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "I would like to know how that's relevant to the County Board race?

John Antonelli: "You're seeking the Republican endorsement, I'm correct on that, am I not? I want to see whether or not you are really a Republican, or are you a political opportunist?"

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Oh, okay. Well, maybe I can enlighten you. I'm an Independent, John. I don't claim to be a Republican, but I would propose that I'm more Republican in my values than my opponent. In 1992, I voted for Mr. Perot; in 1996, I voted for Bob Dole. So am I an opportunist, or did I vote my principles? I think I voted on principles."

Question #5, Joyce Bunch: "I'm Joyce Bunch. I am an Arlington County resident for almost 10 years and I've been trying to get adequate affordable housing. I need a three bedroom townhouse with a handicap access accessibility with a one bedroom down on the ground floor in North Arlington. I've been looking for 10 years but my husband and I are low and moderate income. And my complaint I think should be not based on a ceiling limit of maybe $32,000 but maybe more like a 25% of income level. And then I could get adequate housing in Arlington County. Thank you for your comments."

Ben Winslow: "Are you speaking about owning your own home?"

Joyce Bunch: "Yes."

Ben Winslow: "Absolutely, I think that should be available to you. I think there are a number of programs in fact that this County has never taken advantage of. There are HUD programs, there are first time homeowner programs where you can get relief on the down payment, where you can get down payment assistance, where you can get relief on the tax rate rates or on the interest rates. And there are a number of HUD programs like that. I don't know why the County has never taken advantage of them. They have not and when I tried to get the County to do it, I've talked to them about various programs around the country, I always got this look at me like they were a tree full of owls. You know what I mean? We don't know what you are talking about. But I would take them by the hand and show it to them. Then I would and I would ask them if they would like to know more about it. But there are some programs there and I will make sure that they continue to press forward on this."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Has the County been responsive to your request? Or what have they done to help you?"

Joyce Bunch: "Well, they sent me one form and it was like a ceiling limit of $33,000. Our income is $3300 [per month] so that knocked me out. There is one program that I know of, it pays for the closing costs and whatever but you still got to have money. Most of the ceiling limit is $40,000 to really be able to buy a decent house in Arlington."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "There's a program I just recently read about and I think it's picking up around the nation. It's a program to help people in your situation invest in their own homes through matching grants so to speak, but it encourages savings. So for every one dollar of savings that you put into an account through some of these funds that maybe Ben was responding to or referring to, there are matching programs that can be developed. I don't know if that would be appropriate in your circumstances; obviously, there is probably a very complex situation, but I think the County has been less than forthcoming in promoting homeownership. In reviewing the Ballston- Virginia Square Civic Association Newsletter, I noticed that these programs where they are talking about homeownership is mostly giving you information. It's not actually helping necessarily to give you dollars. So, for what that's worth."

Question #6, Rohan Samaraweera (BVSCA): "To both of you. It's not specifically one subject or issue, but more of a general one, really. We had two presentations tonight [at the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association Membership Meeting]. One developer asking for about 90,000 square feet of bonus density; and another, staff came to change plans in the neighborhood for intense commercial use. Ours is a neighborhood that is under a lot of pressure. Traffic starts at Washington Boulevard in-bound at 6:00 in the morning and you can't literally cross the street. I just want to know if either of the two of you are on the Board, what's your orientation going to be toward which community interest group--the business community, or the residential community going to take priority in terms of your mode of thinking towards quality of life and these improvements that are presented to us. The enhancement of our tax base, or our quality of life? What's your general approach? Whose view points are you going to emphasize?"

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "I believe that the community's interest is significant. It's the residents who live there. It's also the businesses that are involved. It's a balancing process that you have to go through. If there is overwhelming opposition, in case for example, like the Demeter House situation, I wouldn't support that because it's not an appropriate use. Here we already have a situation where there is a significant amount of density, while there are other concerns for how much density can this area support with the infrastructure. It's a balancing test and it has to be case specific. I couldn't predict in advance whether I would say "yes" or "no," but I think that if it is overwhelming opposition in the community, I would represent the community and oppose it."

Ben Winslow: "I don't see much disagreement with Ms. Baskaran's statement. I think that one of the problems that we have is though, and I would have to be very, very careful about any bonus density that was awarded. On the entire time that I was on the Board bonus density only came up once, and it was rejected at that time. So, I have a real problem with bonus density, because first of all I'm never sure what we get back in exchange for that bonus that we give to the builder. And we have seen a pretty rotten apple of misuse of the bonus density program in this specific area here, on the Stuart Park site, where they used bonus density to pay for the property. I thought that was extremely generous of that builder, you know, to give away $2 million to the County so somebody else could have the advantage of a $2.5 million reduction in price of the property that they were getting.

I have a lot of problems with bonus density, because of the pressure it puts on the infrastructure. And unless there is real benefit to the community and unless they are willing to pay for the increased demand on the infrastructure, I don't think that should be authorized or awarded. As far as Demeter House is concerned, I opposed it before, and I will continue to oppose it. I have done all I can to help stop that."

Question #7, Robert Atkins: "Robert Atkins from the neighboring association [Stonewall Jackson]. I have a question primarily for Amy. I've gone before the Board a number of times, trying to get them to cut things. They always want specific cuts. If you don't know Ben's idea of having a zero based budget for the manager to start with, how will you cut the budget so you don't have to raise taxes because things such as interest payments keep going up. Where is the specific plan to meet the pledge?"

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Well, I support zero based budgeting and I know Ben. He ran on that platform, but I didn't see anything come out of it while he was on the Board. I think there is a lot of waste that can be identified, and I have specific proposals in my platform statement that deal with identifying waste, fraud, and abuse. One of the things I would like to do is to appoint an Inspector General and have him look at the programs. I also would require performance reviews of county programs to see whether we are getting value for money, because we're putting a lot of money into social services.

And the spending is out of balance. I have seen that area, that component of the budget, grow extraordinarily compared with the population, compared with the spending on fire protection, public safety, and road repairs, etc. I think there's a lot of waste and bloat within that budget that can be looked into and cut. In terms of statistics, I would look at some of the salaries that some of these people are being paid in social services. An Abusive Rehabilitation Specialist is paid $37,000. I think $37,000 is a little too high. There are the same sort of salaries for Teen Program Specialists. So, I think salary levels really need to be examined across the board, particularly these areas. Those are some of the statistics."

Ben Winslow: "Well, when I was on the Board, every year I proposed zero based budgeting. Saw where it got me. Every year I proposed an Inspector General, and asked that it be included in the legislative initiatives. Never got there. Every year I asked for a top to bottom evaluation of county programs. Never got one. You have to have a second vote on the Board to make it work. If you don't have that second vote, if you don't have somebody that says I'll second the motion, you're dead in the water.

I can propose it and I did propose it. But you have to have more than one person on that Board, who agrees with you. Now, we've got a couple of young Democrats that I think might be willing to move toward the center and start to look at some of these things. Certainly, Zimmerman's budget proposal, even though he waffled on it in the end. His budget proposal was pretty close to a no-growth budget. I think we need to push for those kinds of agreements. You're not going to do anything by one person standing up and saying--this is what I want, this is what I want, and this is what I want. You have to find a way to negotiate, you have to find a way to come to agreements with people, who are in opposition to you. You have to work within that system, that's the one they have, that's the one you have to work in, and that's what I did. And I did a pretty effective job of it, too. Like I said, we have a single tax and budget day, we never had it before."

Question #8, Jim Pebley: "Jim Pebley, one of your neighbors from over at Waycroft Woodlawn. I like to ask each one of the candidates what would be the first and most important thing they would put in their legislative package to go to the state after they're elected?"

Ben Winslow: "Elimination of the personal property tax, elimination of the special business professional occupational licensing tax. The latter was established in 1814 to help pay for the cost of the War of 1812. I said before and I'll say it again-- that war has been paid for over and over again. We ought to abolish it [audio recording tape is changed here]... Those are the first two initiatives that I would put in, the BPOL and the personal property tax, to get rid of. We don't need them."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "I'm sorry, were you talking about initiatives for the General Assembly, or local initiatives?"

Jim Pebley: "General Assembly."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "I would put forward a change in the law on the local income tax and also for initiative and referendum."

Question #9, Alfred Olson: "Ben, I voted for you and worked for you when you won the seat on the Board. But by doing things the way you did it within the system, you never brought these matters which you say you fought for to the public's attention. And therefore, when you came up for re-election, nobody knew that you had ever done anything. Now, is this the way you would do it again? Work within the system, go in the back of the room with the other Board people, and never let the public know what is going on in this County?"

Ben Winslow: "No, no, no. It wasn't like that at all. I brought these things up in Board meetings every year. In fact, the last two years I was on the Board, I remember Al Eisenberg castigating me thoroughly for bringing things before the Board that he didn't want before the Board. Like the elimination of the BPOL, like a lot of other things. But you have to do both. You have to bring the issues forward in public meetings, you also have to work to negotiate what you can get on any final issue. I'm not saying that I did it the best way I could of. But I did pretty well and I got a lot of things. We got a homeownership program, we got a single tax rate hearing, we got a number of other things that I initiated, that I put in place, that I will continue to press for."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "I have worked in forging coalitions between Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, a broad range of people. I did it for Ben's campaign in 1993. I've been on the Visitor's Commission, I've worked with Democrats and Republicans together, working for economic development, making Arlington more attractive to visitors, people who live and invest here. And I cooperate with other people. But when decisions have to be made, I will stand firm on decisions that I think are in the community's best interest, and that's how I feel."

Question #10, De Andrea Beck (BVSCA): "I'm curious to know what steps, if any, each of you would take to stem the proliferation of used car lots in Arlington County?"

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "First of all, I would investigate what taxes are being paid on these car lots. It's my understanding that half of these lots are not even being assessed at commercial rates. I think the proliferation, and I mentioned this in the Visitors Commission; in fact, two years ago before the big drug bust, I said I think these (because of the proliferation) may be fronts for drug money laundering. I still suspect that, I may be wrong, but I think that the case that was brought shows that something may be afoot. Arlington is now probally the Used Car Capitol of probably the entire East Coast and there has to be an underlying reason. I would try to find out what the underlying reason is, because it is not attractive for our community. It doesn't invite people to invest here. Frankly, we probally have enough used car lots, anyway."

Ben Winslow: "As far as the proliferation of used car lots are concerned, the real problem is the lack of development within the community. Where you see a used car lot, you see an interim use of that land. That is, that parking lot is there, or that used car lot is there only so long, as they don't develop that piece of ground. It's not a permanent use and it's not intended to be a permanent use of that parcel. Same thing of a parking lot. One example, I can give you is that the parking lot at Sears, the old Sears site, was interim use of a piece of property that was zoned for a high-rise office building and some townhouses. So, when they build that high-rise and they build those townhouses, or they build those apartments, that interim use will disappear. Same thing is true of the used car lot on the corner there. I think there ought to be some way to control that. I think that zoning would be helpful there, or get the approval of the County Board. Many of them are approved as interim uses and they are done routinely. But I think that you could probally control it there."

Question #11, John DePauw: "I'm John DePauw from a neighboring community, East Falls Church, and I would like to ask you both to comment on what is sometimes known as the "Arlington Way." We have tossed this around. We have made it a pillar of our community, but what does it mean? Would you both comment on that?"

Ben Winslow: "The Arlington Way, I think is probably the Democrats way of talking a problem to death. Really, the Arlington Way was intended to be and if it is used properly it could work. It was to allow appropriate citizen input into a problem, develop a set of solutions through citizen input, synergism, and interaction, and then come to a conclusion about the problem. But, it doesn't work that way because mostly it just gets buried."

Amy Jones-Baskaran: "Well, my response to the Arlington Way is, I think that what was originally intended has been alluded to, was a way for the community to voice its concerns. As it has developed, it's seems to be more of a show, just for the effect. Because there are very many circumstances all over this community where citizens have been very vocally opposed to things, have been over ridden, decisions have been made early, and then it's a show. And I think we need to have a genuine public dialogue. A genuine dialogue for win-win solutions, with Democrats and Republicans, because we all live here together. We don't need to dismiss one or the other party, as irrelevant, as has been recently done. I think that's a real disservice to genuine democracy and I think we should have full and frank discussion and open debate about issues. With open debate about issues, we can bring ideas together that can work, Republican ideas, Democratic ideas, and work for the community together. And I think that's what the Arlington Way should be. I think it can be that way if people on the Board actually listen and act."

The Arlington County Board Republican Canvas is scheduled for Saturday, May 31, 1997, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association building,4301 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia.

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