My View – Summer recess: A time to reflect on top news stories


Every year at this time, when the City Council is in recess, I like to look back over the fiscal year that has just finished and list the top 10 news stories that have occurred in that year beginning July 1 and ending June 30. In my view:

1. Retreat/Budget
The Nov. 4 City Council retreat focused on the economic outlook for fiscal year 07-08, and the picture was grim. Council voted unanimously to ask the city manager to prepare his budget assuming no increase in the tax rate and therefore increasing the budget by only 2.25 percent, or by only $11.2 million. After two public hearings and 14 work sessions, Council adopted the 07-08 budget on May 7. It provided a 1.5 percent COLA for both city and school employees and raised the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents to 83.0 cents per $100 of assessed value.

2. Resignation of Vice Mayor Macdonald and the July 19 Elections
On May 7, Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald submitted his resignation from the City Council, citing personal reasons. On May 22, I was elected Vice Mayor by the Council. A special election to fill the vacant seat on Council will occur on July 17.

3. Mirant Potomac River Generating Station and its Operating Permit
In September, city staff, our attorneys, several elected officials, including me, and 16 residents attended a public hearing before the State Air Pollution Control Board in Richmond and persuaded the Board to take over the operating permit process from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

In April, the city received two unfavorable court decisions, the more important of which was the Virginia Supreme Courts decision that the city could not reclassify the power plant from a noncomplying use to a nonconforming use. The court ruled that the city could not use zoning laws to force the plant to close.

On May 23, the SAPCB voted to require VDEQ to issue a State Operating Permit to Mirant, limiting the plant to 3,813 tons of sulphur dioxide emissions each year, which was what the city had argued for. Mirant sued VDEQ and the SAPCB. The city has filed to intervene in the case to defend the Boards decision.

In June, VDEQ notified the city that based on a new engineering analysis; it had reversed its earlier determination that had required a permit in order to allow the proposed stack merger to go forward. The city has protested and has met with the Governors representatives. Discussions continue.
4.  Personnel Changes
Police Chief Charles Samarra retired effective August 1. City Manager Jim Hartmann appointed Acting Chief David Baker as Chief in September.
Planning Director Eileen Forgarty left for Santa Monica in September and was replaced by Faroll Hamer, who began in April.
Art Dahlberg, Director of Code Enforcement, left in September and was replaced in February with John Catlett.
Fire Chief Gary Mesaris left in March to work for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and in June, Adam Thiel from Goodyear, Ariz., was appointed as fire chief.
William Dearman, CEO of the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority, (ARHA), retired in May. A nationwide search will be made for a permanent CEO. In the meantime Roy Priest is serving as the CEO.
In March, the city appointed its first Poet Laureate, Mary McElveen.
In May the School Board decided, in a 5 to 4 vote, not to renew Superintendent Rebecca Perrys contract. The present contract runs through June 08.

5. Smoke Free Restaurants
On June 16, City Council voted to change the zoning ordinance, to provide that restaurants either become smoke-free, or have their zoning rights reduced. A reenactment clause was included in the ordinance, meaning that the new rules would not become effective unless Council readopts it during the legislative session that begins in September.

6. Potomac Yard
Council approved plans for Land Bay H and Part of I, and for the construction of a 4-bay fire station within Land Bay G. All but the fourth bay is to be paid for by the developer. Sixty four units of affordable/workforce housing will be constructed above the fire station.
The straightening of the Monroe Street Bridge began in spring 07. A decision was made on April 22, 2006, to place a dedicated transit lane in the Route 1 corridor. In a separate decision, Council voted to locate the dedicated lane within a central landscaped median.

7. Studies
These studies have occupied Councils attention this year: the Braddock Road Neighborhood Plan, the report of the Transportation Task Force, the Environmental Health Assessment Plan, the Glebe Park Restoration plans, the Landmark Van Dorn plans, and the Economic Sustainability Task Force report.

8. City Awards
Alexandria received the 2006 Achievement Award from the Virginia Municipal League for Chatham Square a mixed income Old Town community, replacing the Samuel Madden Homes public housing.

Alexandria has been chosen to be featured in the August, 07 issue of United Hemispheres.

In January, Alexandria was chosen as one of Americas 100 Best Communities for Young People for 2007 by The Alliance for Youth.
Alexandria conducted a Quality of Life Survey last September. Ninety seven percent of those surveyed said that the quality of life here was either very good or good.

Lastly, in May, the citys AAA/Aaa bond ratings were reaffirmed by Moodys Investors Service and Standard and Poors. Our bond ratings are the highest ratings possible.

9. National Harbor
This 300 acre mixed-used development will open in April, 2008. City Council approved docking space for the operation of a new water taxi service that will operate between National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria.

At the Mayors request a stakeholders group was convened and the National Harbor Collaborative was formed. In a June report the Collaborative identified 18 items that need to be addressed before the April 08 opening. Council has designated $700,000 to fund necessary improvements.

10. Forums
In March, the city sponsored the State of the City Town Hall Meeting. In April, Council held a forum on Local and Regional Transportation Initiatives. In May, a two day Historic Preservation Town Meeting was held and on May 30, Council held a Pandemic Influenza Town Hall Meeting.