Good policy takes time

Good policy takes time

Like an aromatic soup, good policy shouldn’t be rushed – or overloaded with unnecessary ingredients.

Think of the omnibus bills passed across the river. They are invariably loaded with items that both haven’t been individually considered and stray from the stated core purpose of the bill.

Not rushing or overloading are two elements The Coalition for a Livable Alexandria, which had its public debut on Monday at Market Square, is urging Alexandria’s City Councilors to consider as they prepare to vote on the controversial initiative “Zoning for Housing/ Housing for all” this fall. (See the Times’ page 1 story, “Coalition for a Livable Alexandria launches” for the full story.)

It would be better policy to consider potential changes to single family zoning in Alexandria, which is a huge issue, on its own without lumping it together with other major changes such as modifying current height restrictions.

Both proposals are related to the overarching issue of making Alexandria even more densely populated than it already is. But they’re also different concepts that will have disparate consequences.

We have never heard a single person in Alexandria say they oppose housing affordability. So this initiative isn’t about whether one is in favor of more affordable housing.

To be more blunt, the “race card” has no place in this discussion about whether to fundamentally alter how Alexandria is zoned. What does have a place is measured consideration of the proposal’s likely consequences, especially unintended ones that proponents would rather wish away than face.

CLA board member Will Shen, an urban planner who works for the federal government on housing affordability, sounded the alarm at Monday’s launch that Council will set a cascade of unintended consequences in motion if the weirdly named Zoning for Housing/Housing for All initiative passes as is.

Shen warns that the proposal will not lower housing prices – but it will create an overwhelming burden on city services due to the influx of residents that will outpace infrastructure improvements.

From where we sit, it appears that the winners from this initiative as currently structured would be developers – who are undoubtedly already working on proposals for larger, taller buildings throughout Alexandria – rather than low-income residents.

This is not to say that we wholeheartedly endorse CLA. While its leaders were visible at Monday’s rally at Market Square, information on how the organization is structured, who its leaders are or where its funding comes from is lacking from its website “

An organization that exists to critique policies and decries city processes needs to be more transparent if its leaders hope to garner widespread support.

We are also heading into an election year – and not just any year but a once-in-12 years election when our local elections, held every three years, coincide with federal congressional and presidential elections, held every two, four or six years depending on the office. Election seasons are bad times for good policy, as office seekers are often more concerned about perception than fundamentally sound initiatives.

If City Councilors themselves won’t slow consideration of ZFH/HFA and discuss this enormous initiative piece-by-piece, we call on City Manager Jim Parajon to do so. After all, it’s the city manager, not the mayor or council, who sets the docket for City Council meetings.

Alexandria’s city manager has the ability to make sure ZFH/HFA is not considered until or unless concerns about unintended consequences are addressed. We urge him to use that authority.