Editorial: On the waterfront, knee-jerk reactions are not solutions

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The waterfront plan work group hadn’t yet released its long-awaited, 142-page dossier of recommendations for improving the city’s blueprint for the Potomac shoreline before critics were rallying, once more, against anything and everything connected to City Hall.

Led by former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald, Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan upstaged what should have been a time of careful consideration — the least those eight brave souls who sacrificed hours of their lives tweaking the plan deserve — with political one-upmanship.

We respect CAAWP’s right to agitate against a proposal it feels strongly against, but the time for fiery rhetoric is at an end. We advised city officials in these pages against rushing toward adoption of the waterfront plan. Now we turn to residents: Get moving.
You’ve stopped a waterfront plan once seemingly destined for a quick city council vote. You’ve forced City Hall to consider alternatives. You’ve pitched homegrown ideas of your own. Well done.

If CAAWP is interested in preserving the waterfront — a noble goal, no argument there — it would have already begun pursuing pragmatic solutions. It’s easy to blame city officials for not bargaining with the Robinson Terminals Co. for its much sought-after waterfront property, either through sale or donation.

But what’s stopping you?

CAAWP released a competing waterfront plan emphasizing parks and cultural centers in October. No one disagrees with the document’s goals, but the oft-cited problem is the city, frankly, can’t afford it.

If City Hall will not, then you must. Form a nonprofit organization and contact the Robinson Terminals’ owner, The Washington Post Co., for negotiations. Find those wealthy donors and individual contributors and raise money for museums, parks and art centers.

Macdonald told the Times on Tuesday that CAAWP organizers are considering forming a Friends of the Waterfront group, but said they felt it was the city’s job to negotiate with riverside landowners. And so the multiyear waterfront debate is distilled into a simple question: What can City Hall do for us? The question should be: What could we do for ourselves?

CAAWP has proven its ability to organize, shape the debate, affect change and leverage the expertise of residents to draw up an alternate proposal. Now it’s time for CAAWP to move from knee-jerk reactions to proactive solutions. The clock is ticking.