Your View: Critical investments are needed, despite city budget crunch


By Scott C. Anderson, Alexandria

To the editor:

What can be done about the Alexandria budget?

City Hall is facing, yet again, a budget difficulty, which seems to be an established and permanent condition. Deputy City Manager Laura Triggs at a DASH board meeting put it nicely: every year our revenue goes up 2 percent, while our expenses grow by 5 percent. The city manager’s budget attempts to meet the difficulty with cuts, and he has done a decent and thoughtful job. The difficulty is that cuts won’t solve the chronic problem and are dangerous in the long run; what we need is a strategy to grow the city’s top line, as retailers put it.

If you want to see the difference between the two strategies, go to Landmark Mall and look at the stores at either end.  Cut, cut, cut, year after year, and what do you get? Sears. Market, transform and find new customers while keeping your existing base, and instead you get Macy’s.

So how does Alexandria transform? Well, the good news is, we have plans. The bad news is, to implement the plans will require an investment both of money and of political capital. To implement our various transportation plans — Potomac Yard Metro, the West End transitway, expansion to Capital Bikeshare, complete streets and basic bus improvements called for in the DASH comprehensive operational analysis — will require a good deal of money, both up front to build and in the long term to operate.

But these investments are absolutely critical and must not be delayed. When you provide, in an inside-the-beltway city, suburban and soulless infrastructure like the current state of Eisenhower West, you get suburban, soulless and dead results like the ironically-named Victory Center, a million square feet of office abandominium.

Implementing our various redevelopment plans, such as at the waterfront and Eisenhower West, will require a willingness to stand up to entrenched interests that I’m not sure I have entirely seen. Well-organized and well-spoken people in Old Town, opposed to critically necessary redevelopment, have shown a determination and perseverance that city leadership has had difficulty standing up to.

I’m not thoughtless and I see the point those folks make, but city officials must stand up to them; the city’s future is too important to concede the waterfront to the existing long-term residents and the abandoned warehouses they seem happy to let lie.

If the leaders of Alexandria can find the financial capital and muster the political will to ensure these pending developments move forward in a thoughtful and controlled fashion, we will all be the better for it, even if some of us don’t think so.