Information reveals talks between Councilors, ZFH advocates

Information reveals talks between Councilors, ZFH advocates
(Graphic/city of Alexandria)

By Denise Dunbar |

Residents have been sounding the alarm that members of Alexandria’s City Council have had their minds made up about the Zoning for Housing initiative prior to the public input process, and have been actively working with pro-ZFH advocates to advance the initiative. 

A resident-filed Freedom of Information Act request recently shared with the Times reveals various members of City Council have met and collaborated with YIMBYs of NoVA leaders on ZFH while sharing pro-YIMBY materials. YIMBY stands for “yes in my back yard.” 

Councilor Kirk McPike in particular had frequent communications with YIMBYs of NoVA Chief Executive and Founder Luca Gattoni-Celli in advance of key dates during the unveiling of the city’s ZFH initiative. In one text McPike disparaged the Coalition for a Livable Alexandria, an anti-ZFH group in the city. Councilor Alyia Gaskins also met with YIMBY leaders the day of a key ZFH event. 

McPike had a lengthy, collaborative text exchange with Gattoni-Celli about ZFH that began back in July. On July 25 at 6:20 p.m., Gattoni-Celli texted McPike asking, “How do you think staff work is going behind the scenes? On Zoning for Housing” 

There is no texted response from McPike on that date in the FOIA documents; however, Gattoni-Celli texted McPike again at 10:24 a.m. on August 29, the morning of a ZFH launch event, stating, “The primary opposition argument seems to be that things are being rushed, which is good for us as supporters” 

McPike responded via text to this, stating, “No matter what speed you move at, if someone opposes a proposal they will say it’s all moving too quickly.” Gattonni-Celli liked the comment. 

There’s another text at 10:44 p.m. that night, this time from McPike to Gattoni-Celli, asking, “How did it go tonight? I was on a plane.” 

To which Gattoni-Celli responded, “Karl [Moritz, Alexandria’s director of Planning and Zoning] did a particularly good job. Staff ably answered leading questions.” 

McPike wanted to know the ratio of supporters to opponents, asking, “What do you think the breakdown of the crowd was?” 

Gattoni-Celli said, “Pretty even, not as many opponents as I was expecting. There were also hardly any disruptions. There were about a dozen YIMBYs and a dozen different people affiliated with VOICE.” VOICE stands for Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement. 

Gattoni-Celli then said of Councilor Canek Aguirre, “Canek kind of sat with us,” and Gattoni-Celli added that he didn’t see ZFH opponent Bill Rossello at the event. 

On September 5 – the date the city released the specific language of the ZFH initiative – at 6:42 p.m. Gattoni-Celli texted McPike saying Planning Commissioner, “Melissa McMahon is right” without elaborating. McPike did not text a reply but had apparently called Gattoni-Celli because Gattoni-Celli had texted McPike at 8:47 p.m. saying, “Was wrapping up bedtime, but I’m ready for you to call again.” 

In the same group of texts Gattoni-Celli gives McPike the contact information for YIMBYs of NoVA Vice President for Alexandria Alex Goyette, “in case I do not pick up.” 

To which McPike responded, “I’m available for a while if you want to call. Just wanted to check in because you message[d].” 

Gattoni-Celli responded a bit later that night: “We’ll catch up with you soon once we process all of this, we should do a video call.” 

On September 7, Gattoni-Celli texted McPike a screenshot of talking points from the CLA, followed by the text: “I’ll try not to say this too often but concessions don’t work.” 

McPike responded in a text, saying, “I don’t think staff made any concessions to appease this group that was literally formed to say ‘no’ to whatever was produced.” 

Additionally, on the day of the August 29 launch event, email exchanges reveal Councilor Alyia Gaskins held an hour-long video meeting at 1 p.m. with Gattoni-Celli and Goyette. A reminder email that morning has as its subject “Re: Connecting: Alyia Gaskins, Alex Goyette & Luca Gattoni-Celli – Zoning for Housing. 

In the email, Goyette said: “Hi Councilmember Gaskins, Just writing to confirm our call this afternoon at 1 pm. Looking forward to chatting and hope to see you at the Zoning for Housing launch event this evening!” 

To which Gaskins replied, “Hi Alex. Yes on both fronts. Talk to you at 1. Alyia” 

Another email chain existed in which McPike on August 9 forwarded Mayor Justin Wilson a detailed article by Matthew Yglesias entitled “YIMBYs keep winning: Other movements should pay attention and learn lessons.” McPike commented “This is pretty on point.” 

On August 16, Wilson then forwarded the article to Amy Friedlander, the director of acquisitions for the development company EYA – which has built numerous multi-family housing complexes in Alexandria – with the comment “FYI.”