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Peter Fallon: Arlington County Board Candidate Q-and-A

Three Democrats are vying for their party's nomination to succeed Chris Zimmerman on the Arlington County Board.

Peter Fallon is one of three Democrats seeking his party's nomination in a special election for the Arlington County Board. Submitted photo
Peter Fallon is one of three Democrats seeking his party's nomination in a special election for the Arlington County Board. Submitted photo

Three Democrats are vying for their party's nomination in a special election for the Arlington County Board. Democrats will hold an unassembled caucus this week to pick a nominee. A special election will be held in the spring.

Patch sent a questionnaire to candidates Peter Fallon, Alan Howze and Cord Thomas in advance of the caucus, which will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Key Elementary School and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at Kenmore Middle School.

Fallon's answers are below.

Click here for our complete special election guide.

Name: Peter Fallon

Age: 49

Occupation: Accountant, specializing in taxation, small business advisor, former auditor.

Relevant Experience:

  • Arlington County Planning Commission from 2004 through 2013, serving as chair in 2009. I was an active member of the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC), Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC), and Zoning Committee (ZoCo). Peter served for three years as the chair of the Zoning Committee. He has chaired numerous LRPC planning efforts and site plan proposals in all corners of Arlington.
  • Planning Commission liaison, Arlington Housing Commission (3 years).
  • Former Member, Arlington County Transportation Commission (3 years).
  • Master Transportation Plan (MTP) Plenary Group
  • Arterial Traffic Task Force
  • Long Bridge Park Master Plan and Design Advisory Task Forces (6 years)
  • Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC -10 years).
  • Appointed by Arlington School Board to serve on the Yorktown High School building level planning committee (BLPC).
  • Member, Cherrydale fire station task forces.
  • Member, Cherrydale Revitalization Task Force.
  • Chair, Fort Ethan Allen Community Canine Area (CCA).
  • Active volunteer on multiple local political campaigns.
  • Area Chair (“River”), Arlington County Democratic Committee.
  • Past president, Donaldson Run Civic Association (DRCA- 11 years).
  • Board member, Donaldson Run Recreation Association (DRRA- 10 years).
  • Past delegate, Arlington Civic Federation.
  • Member, County task forces, Marymount University.
  • Board Member, Arlington Committee of 100.
  • Supporter of local nonprofit and charitable organizations.

Website: http://fallonforcountyboard.org

1. What would be your top three priorities for Arlington County? Why?

Arlington is a caring community that promotes equality, values diversity, helps those at risk, has great schools, invests in our future, and has a reputation for good government. My priorities represent these shared values.

Affordable housing & human services: so we remain a diverse, caring, and inclusive community.

Fiscal Accountability: The County must restore citizen’s confidence in how public money is spent, maximize value for tax dollars, and make our financial resources go further to accomplish our goals as a community. We need to replace aging public facilities, build new ones for our growing population, with the reality that we have limited supply of both publicly-owned land and financial resources.

Great Schools: Education is a long standing Arlington community value. We need to make sure every child gets a great education as the foundation for reaching his/her full potential in life. The County’s Board’s role is to provide the financial resources to operate the schools, maintain small class sizes, and equal access to quality instruction opportunities in all of our schools. The County Board needs to work collaboratively with APS to resolve overcrowding and capacity issues at all levels of the school system.

2. What differentiates you from the other candidates in this race?

My experience and definition of public service, which comes from having deep community roots and a long record of community advocacy. I am longtime civic association president with years of service on multiple advisory commissions and community groups. I have acquired firsthand, relevant experience is all major areas of the County Board’s responsibility including affordable housing, recreation, open space, the environment and sustainability, schools, transportation, infrastructure, finance, zoning and long range planning. This experience led me to work with community leaders in all parts of Arlington. I have a strong record of independent leadership and advocating for citizens that are not well served by the current public engagement process. I have worked with communities in our Metro corridors and in our older established neighborhoods. I am first and foremost a community advocate, focused on making Arlington even better. I have always stressed the importance of getting results. I have actively worked to get six school projects approved and many units of new affordable housing built. I have seen firsthand what we do well in Arlington, and where we can do better. We need to think of new ways to do things in Arlington and I have the experience to do that.

My definition of public service reflects my personal belief in trying to help others because I CAN be of help. Helping others should not be about “what’s in it for me.” It should not be about seeking recognition or collecting favors in return for helping others. It is about trying to do the right by people, even when it’s not the popular choice. It is about speaking up and speaking out, when needed, for those not being heard.

3. Name one issue you're willing to compromise on for the greater good. Name one issue you will not compromise on under any circumstances.

I am not a one-issue candidate and Arlington should not have a one-issue county board member. Good government requires balancing competing priorities for the greater good of the community. Consensus and compromise are essential components of good government. My experience as a Planning Commissioner has shown me time and time again, that finding common ground, building trust, and listening to stakeholders is essential. Arlington must not get distracted as we pursue our idealism. Citizens are telling me that they believe Arlington is losing sight of the importance of delivering core county services. We must acknowledge this perception, and change it, while we pursue our long term aspirations and projects to better our community.

4. Arlington County has invested heavily in maintaining affordable housing for lower-income families. But what about housing for young professionals, or families who may earn too much to be considered "low-income" but still have trouble paying rent here? In other words, what could or should Arlington County do to combat the escalating cost of living for all segments of the population?

Housing affordability affects all residents directly. Arlington has long been a place where people of different income levels could feel welcomed and call home. We have a high quality of life, which has been reflected in the increasing cost of housing. As housing stock turns over, higher incomes are required meet mortgage or lease payments. We are losing our workforce and middle class.

Affordable housing is a top priority of mine, and my civic experience reflects this. Given the obvious desire to help those least fortunate in our community, legislative authority and financing tools generally favor creating new committed affordable housing (CAF) units (rentals) in the 60-80% average monthly income (AMI) range. Units at lower AMI generally do not provide sufficient monthly cash flow to cover debt costs on the property. Arlington has a housing grant program to assist households at the lower AMI levels to cover rent payments.

The subsidies required (over the period of affordability) can exceed $200,000 per unit of committed affordable housing. The key to getting more affordable housing units is to use different financing tools available to get the per unit subsidy down, so we can get more results.

People at higher AMI’s, seeking affordable housing options primarily rely upon MARKS (market rate affordable housing units), Typically, these are older garden style apartments or are located in pre 1980 high rises, farther from the Metro corridor. Because of the location, age of the housing stock, and fewer amenities offered to tenants, the rents are typically more affordable, but can increase over time or be repositioned as full market rate housing. Development pressures in Arlington put these units at a greater risk of losing affordability. The County cannot limit a property owner’s ability to increase rents (CAFs excepted). Currently, our primary tool would be to seek new CAFs through site plan or use permit, in exchange for granting more density. I have called for reviewing our tools to increase affordable housing for different income levels. We need to consider public land for affordable housing, while recognizing space is also needed for schools, public facilities, recreation, and open space. Improvements to our transit system would improve connectivity between existing market rate affordable housing and the places people are trying to get to for work, shopping, recreation, and entertainment.

5. The planned Columbia Pike Streetcar is only one aspect of a larger attempt to improve transportation and transit across all of Arlington. What's your vision for the future of transportation and transit in this county?

I support the planned streetcar line running along Columbia Pike and through Crystal City. There has been a 10 year planning and community process, which I come to the table respecting. The County Board has already approved density increases for the Pike corridor which will lead to approximately 25,000 new residents at full build-out. It is essential to have quality transit service in place to limit the number of additional personal vehicles new residents would otherwise bring and the resulting congestion.  I believe the redevelopment strategy for Crystal City and the Pike requires an upgrade of high quality transit service to increase rider capacity, accelerate development, and improve ride quality.

Like most Arlingtonians, I have unanswered questions about the streetcar. Cost is a major concern of mine. I believe Arlington must obtain outside money to help with the construction cost. In 2013, the Virginia General Assembly passed a major transportation funding bill. Resources will now be available to Northern Virginia to help fund local projects to reduce congestion. We should also look at possible public-private partnerships and developer contributions (just as we do with our Metro Stations). Major capital projects are typically paid for through public bonds, and the use of bonds should go before the voters for approval as required by Virginia law. All local governments subsidize the operating costs of transit service. We do this now with Metro and local bus service. For the streetcar lines, I want to put in place a dedicated funding source to offset the subsidy. I do not want to create a new competing use in the General Fund, which pays for schools, public safety, human services, parks and recreation, and all other county services. We need a long term funding strategy for the streetcar lines. I believe we can do this.

At the time, the decision to locate the Orange line under Wilson Blvd (originally planned for the I66 median) was controversial due to the considerably higher expense and disruption during construction. However, Arlington embraced Metro, and approved urban development above it. This decision has given us a strong commercial tax base, which is the envy of communities nationwide, and subsidizes our residential tax base (schools, public safety, parks). It was a “risky” decision that has benefited all of Arlington.

6. Increasing student enrollment is sometimes said to be a good problem to have — that is, families are moving and staying in Arlington because of its schools. But a finite supply of available land can be more problematic. How would you juggle continued growth with the needs for new or expanded public facilities, open space, and affordable housing?

Arlington is a community that values education and makes significant financial investments in our public school system.  The current “baby boom” in our public schools is adding 700 to 1,000 additional students per year county-wide. Large undeveloped parcels of land are not available in Arlington, so purchasing land for new schools is not an option. Therefore, we need to use the land we have wisely, among different and sometimes competing needs. My preference would be to build up, to minimize the building footprint, while adding classroom capacity. However, there are practical constraints to this approach, as the students have to be relocated during construction. We will also need adaptive building designs, that can be repurposed into middle schools and high school programs as needs change. APS offers some programs that do not require a “traditional” campus. These programs could potentially be located in vacant office space. I have worked with all members of the school board and county board. I seek to be a bridge between the two bodies to improve collaboration and integrate planning. The two bodies must work together, as citizens expect, for the common good.

As my experience has taught me again and again, we need to make decisions that have a positive impact on Arlington as a whole, not just one part of it. This can require tough choices, but elected leaders have to be willing to do this for the future good of the community.

7. Name one life lesson you've learned in Arlington and explain how you would apply that to governing.

If you want residents to participate in the Arlington Way, and become civically engaged, it is necessary to reach out to them repeatedly, until they become engaged.  Emails, websites, social media are great tools for notification, education, and to collect feedback, but generally don’t get people to deeply engaged on an issue. This is also a one-way communication approach, because people are not together “at the table” to share with each other and have a dialogue.

Arlington’s civic engagement process works best when stakeholders and community members come together and talk with each other, not at each other. We need to respect each other’s views, even if they differ from our own. We can learn from one another, and find that we have common ground, not just differences. The outcome can be much better through this open process.

Once a stakeholder has been engaged, he/she should be treated respectfully, even if they have an opinion that differs. Board members need to be out in the community at large, not just events held by certain groups. Getting out into the community, including walking town meetings is a great way to engage residents, to see and hear firsthand.

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