2024 Candidate Profile: Sarah Bagley seeks second Council term

2024 Candidate Profile: Sarah Bagley seeks second Council term
Councilor Sarah Bagley is seeking her second term on City Council. (Courtesy photo)

By Wafir Salih | wsalih@alextimes.com

Sarah Bagley is raring to bring the insights she’s gained from her first term on Alexandria City Council to a second term. Her top priorities if reelected are gun violence prevention, housing and transportation, with an overall climate-conscious focus.

“[The] work remains to be done, and that in large part informs why I’m seeking a second term, because the nature of that work is incremental. There is more to be done to reduce gun violence in our community, there is more certainly to be done to expand housing opportunities – affordable and at other price points – and we have a significant environmental element to tackle in our transportation policies,” Bagley said.

Bagley was born and raised in Hampton Roads at Virginia Beach. She attended a private Hebrew school from kindergarten through third grade, but transitioned to public school thereafter. She attended the College of William & Mary to earn her bachelor’s degree in government. She said she initially had various interests but eventually narrowed it down to government.

“I thought I knew what I wanted to do like a lot of young people. … I knew I was interested in a liberal arts education. I was a big reader, I thought I was interested in teaching, I thought I was interested in journalism, but along the way, that turned into a government degree,” Bagley said.

Bagley then came to Washington, D.C. in 2003, where she attended law school at The Catholic University of America. She practiced law from 2007 to 2015 before becoming the executive director of the Chisom Housing Group, an organization aiming to preserve at-risk affordable housing, where she has worked since. She relocated to Alexandria in 2016.

Bagley said her education and near decade of experience as a trial lawyer have informed her work on Council.

“It gives me a background in the basics of how a bill becomes a law. The considerations that go into how a bill becomes a law. What is the role of government? What are the effects of government?” Bagley said. “The legal practice has honed my ability to marshal facts, listen to witnesses, consider expert testimony and try to bring that all together in a quality product for my clients, customers [and] constituents.”

In early 2021, Bagley observed that two women on Council, the long-tenured Redella Pepper and then- Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, weren’t running for reelection. She was encouraged to run and, after seeking feedback from those close to her, decided to do so.

“I remember conversations where people were sort of all saying, ‘What woman is going to step up and run for that seat?’ And several people looked back at me and said, ‘Well, why not you?’” Bagley said. “I also felt that given my local volunteer work combined with the affordable housing work I’d been doing at that point for six years, that I had something to contribute.”

Before running for office, Bagley was a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention organization, which she said showed her how a small change can beget a larger change.

“It taught me never to underestimate the value of one conversation, one policy change,” Bagley said.

Bagley highlighted her efforts to secure more funding for affordable housing during her first term.

Sarah Bagley at the ribbon cutting for the opening of the Revolve Cares nonprofit. (Courtesy photo)

“In my first year in office, we increased dedicated revenue funding to our affordable housing fund. In my second year, I wrote an add to the budget to expand our rental inspection program,” she said.

Bagley stressed the importance of maintaining safe and sanitary conditions in affordable housing.

“Something you see all too often, unfortunately, in market affordable or affordable communities is that the conditions are not maintained as well as they should be, but people without a lot of other choices will accept them, so I wanted to be sure that simply because housing is affordable, it’s still safe and sanitary, and that we’re monitoring that,” Bagley said.

A project Bagley helped move forward in her early days as councilor was a partnership with the Clerk of Circuit Court’s office, which agreed to start handing out gun and trigger locks and educational information to people who apply for a concealed carry permit.

“It felt like a really nice way to make gun ownership safer in Alexandria, and the clerk [Greg Parks] was receptive to the idea and implemented it very quickly, and it’s been really successful,” Bagley said. “They’ve distributed hundreds of locks and education about safe storage to gun owners in the city.”

Cycling is both a mode of transportation and a policy priority for Bagley. She said her cycling experience is why she supports the Complete Streets program, an initiative she said would create safer and more accessible streets.

Sarah Bagley biking with residents in the Alexandria Pride Ride in June 2023. (Courtesy photo)

“Ironically, cycling is not much of a hobby; it’s how I get around. … It’s an incredibly joyful way to move around. It is inexpensive and it is one of the most environmentally sustainable ways to move around your environment,” she said. “In my first year on Council on the budget, I added another position to the Complete Streets Program, so we have another urban planner working on [the] program, which is designed to make our streets safer for all – for bicyclists, for pedestrians, for those who roll.”

Bagley defended her vote for the Zoning for Housing initiative, which Council passed unanimously on Nov. 28, 2023. She emphasized that the city spent the year prior to passage of the ordinance engaging with the community through symposiums to discuss redlining and the impacts of zoning.

“The conclusions that we came to as a Council in that unanimous vote, and that we heard from a large portion of the community, was [that] excluding any other type of housing in large portions of the city was not ultimately serving us as well as allowing a few other options in those locations,” Bagley said.

Bagley said the new zoning regulations are designed to allow more housing options and noted Council is closely monitoring the impact of the ordinance as it unfolds.

“You can still build a single-family detached home in Alexandria. What we’ve done is say, where the lot is big enough and where what you want to build is small enough, you can build a duplex instead, and we can house two families or two households in that same lot of land and we’ve doubled the amount of people we are serving, and at the same time, potentially reducing the cost of the homes being sold on that parcel,” Bagley said. “We’ll see what happens next. No zoning change is permanent, so we’ll react to what we see take place.”

Bagley highlighted the proposed Monumental Sports & Entertainment arena proposal, stating it sparked a community conversation about how the city should utilize its valuable transit-adjacent properties.

“I think it’s unfortunate we didn’t get to have the kind of in-depth, year-long conversation that a project of that scale really deserved, but I have found in talking to voters that they now are very curious about, well, what is next? How do we solve commercial development?” Bagley said. “I think, if nothing else, that’s a valuable side effect of the arena proposal. It has crystallized for a lot of people in the community that we need some economic movement, we need some commercial activity.”

Bagley said she’s become familiar with the North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan in recent months and believes it still holds viable solutions for how to develop the area.

“I think there’s a lot of good answers still in that plan. The plan always envisioned a walkable, transit-rich, dense, mixed-use environment. While the office element of that vision has obviously changed, I still think a sound mix of commercial and entertainment– venues and restaurants–and housing [would work,]” Bagley said.

Bagley said she’s learned a lot in her first term and is dedicated to continuing her work for the community in a second term.

“To not seek another term would almost be to waste all the time, energy and effort that so many residents have given to me of their time. … I wanted to honor that by applying that knowledge in another term,” Bagley said.