To the editor:
On Jan. 20, I organized an Amazon Town Hall and called it a Deeper Dive because I believe whether you are for or against providing subsidies to Amazon to locate in Northern Virginia, the public needs more information. Even though there is a lot of information online, on both Alexandria.va.gov and Arlingtonva.us, people want to be able to ask elected officials and the people who negotiated this deal questions in person.
We had a great discussion and a vigorous debate, and I want to thank all the elected officials who came prepared to discuss this issue. Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and 31st Virginia Senate Candidate Nicole Merlene came from Arlington, and we had Del. Mark Levine and Sen. Adam Ebbin, who both represent part of Arlington as well as Alexandria. Former Mayor Allison Silberberg attended, as well as Del. Lee Carter, who came from Manassas where the effects of Amazon are also being felt.
A representative of the Carpenters Union, Neri Canahui, talked about the need for project labor agreements. And Sandra Klassen and Roshan Abraham from the co-sponsors Our Revolution Northern Virginia and Our Revolution Arlington also participated.
What we didn’t have was much of the information citizens are craving. How much are housing prices and property taxes going to go up? What are the transportation and affordable housing improvements, and when will those happen? Where exactly is National Landing? What kind of programs will be at the new Virginia Tech Campus, and what will the campus look like? How will this technology pipeline actually work? How will Amazon be held accountable and what leverage will our local communities have moving forward?
We thought some of the stakeholders involved would set up displays, provide information and put a face to some of the big players: JBG properties, Virginia Tech and Amazon. I was never given contacts for any of these three groups from economic development officials in Arlington or Alexandria. I know their numbers are in easy reach. It was also clear from our long line of questioners, and the applause of the audience, that many people still need to be convinced that the positive impacts will outweigh the negative impacts on our region.
Arlington, to its credit, has had two listening sessions, and both Alexandria and Arlington have had virtual town halls. Even though there is no vote regarding funding in Alexandria, we are all contributing tax dollars to the state deal, and Alexandria was closely involved in negotiating the deal. I would also suggest that since, in the information that Arlington has provided, 80 percent of employees will live elsewhere, that elsewhere is Alexandria. These impacts will probably be felt in some of our most diverse and economically vulnerable communities like Lynhaven and Arlandria.
It is time for our city government to hold its own Town Hall and make sure that the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, which negotiated the deal for us, JBG, Amazon and Virginia Tech are there, and that the information is provided in multiple languages. It is imperative that our own city provide the information citizens are craving.
-Boyd Walker, Alexandria