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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Blue Threads Run Through the Issues
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Blue Threads Run Through the Issues

I write to pick-up salient threads from articles and letters in the Oct. 18-24 edition, beginning by welcoming Ricky Dobb who states in “Local Elections Matter:” “By stacking City Council or the School Board with Democrats, we’re agreeing in advance on a ton of assumptions … like climate change and women’s [citizen/human] rights … [that] leaves time and energy for progress for our community.”

Oh dear, a liberal Democrat myself, and native Alexandrian, I have witnessed too much in-fighting, climate passivity, and neglect of key citizens’ rights/views to agree. See Cavanaugh’s “Re-establish Trust.” Even Independents/Republicans have at times better advocated citizen-determination, historic preservation, environmentalism than Democrats, some better termed “Development-crats.”

First, citizen rights. Brendel’s “Illuminating Case?” describes council’s 6-1 vote implementing the Planning Commission’s revised plan for T.C. Williams High School’s (TCWHS) stadium lights. As explained by Republican Van Fleet’s “Deplorable Attitudes” that vote broke a long-standing trust with African-American opponents that pours salt into wounded history where the very building of TCWHS displaced fellow residents. Up-hill, Fort Ward Park signage describes displacement of African-Americans, remembered by descendants and graveyards. After a divisive Council/AHDA process, razing the Ramsey homes discounted the unanimous decision of Parker-Gray BAR and wishes of those Ramsey residents who wanted both livable conditions and to salvage a piece of post-WWII black history, even just one mustard-yellow unit or section thereof. Instead, more historical signage for the new, livable standard-issue-2018-blocky-brown-toned flat-roofed units for mixed-incomes.

Regarding Historic Old Town, mention of failed opposition to the city’s waterfront projects elicits groans that still reverberate among preservation-minded neighbors, civic and historic society members, arguably the better arbiters of historic “compatibility.” These now focus on forestalling historic attrition, house-by-house, by opposing ungainly additions and infills approved by an architect-clubby BAR and Council-on-Appeal who often cite “millennial tastes” to justify approvals in processes riddled with conflicts-of-interest, inconsistent precedents, rubber-stamping staff recommendations. (In App’s words: “City Council members ultimately abdicate[d] their authority to unelected staff.”). Guess what? Research indicates that millennials value what all generations deserve: historic authenticity (not theme parks).

Next, climate change. As the UN Commission report warns, we have only two years to control carbon before irreversibility. Alexandria has made progress: recycling, composting, the greening of TCWHS. But look around: where are solar panels, geothermal units and wind turbines? None obvious since Earth Day, 1972. Do Ramsey, any city-funded facilities integrate renewable energy options for long-term cost and carbon savings? Will the massively expensive Combined Sewage System (CSS — also long-overdue) add energy/water conservation value to the new pipes and lowered bacterial counts? Perhaps the new Environmental Action Plan?

Despite deep mistrust, I want to be constructive, and offer concrete suggestions for our civic agenda:

  • If 80-foot lights at TCWHS are inevitable, put wind turbines on each tower to power lights and supply free energy to aggrieved opponents.

  • Answer C. Dara’s “Ignoring Wetlands?” question by doing the right thing: Comply with the highest regulatory standards based on environmental science, not pressure from developers.

  • Prioritize City-wide carbon reduction. Facilitate installation of renewable energy options for public, private and business structures. Offer tax incentives.

  • Build value-added options into CSS:

Capture rainwater, separate greywater for heat recapture, irrigation, groundwater re-supply. TCWHS alone saves six-plus million gallons/year

Hydroelectric Energy. Follow Portland Oregon’s Lead: install turbines in water mains (CSS pipes as well?). Portland’s pilot expects power for 150 homes, saving $2,000,000 over 20 years.

  • Devise/employ cost-projection models for affordable housing initiatives under Resolution 830. Clearly-state assumptions, account for key contingencies (e.g. HUD funding), test/validate using prior costs/savings. With transparent methodologies, council won’t need to “rehash that conversation every time.”

  • “Re-establish trust.” Fix public-hearing processes. Practice active listening with open-minds to actions based on input from citizens most impacted. Independently know ordinances; resist rubber-stamping staff. Eliminate systemic conflicts-of-interest. Get external ethics reviews. Preservation matters: err on the side of history.

So, Ricky Dobbs, may you be spared disillusioning frustrations experienced by many Alexandrians despite blue threads that should bind us. I’ll confess to harboring visions of Alexandria as her better self, a Model City based on “tons of assumptions.”

Mary E Palmer MD

Alexandria