Walter Tejada became the new Arlington County Board chairman on Tuesday and unveiled an agenda that includes an increased focus on affordable housing and encouraging healthy lifestyles.
Tejada was unanimously elected to the leadership post, which rotates annually, at the board's traditional New Year's Day organizational meeting.
"The heart of Arlington is our community, our inclusion, diversity, mutual respect and sustainability," Tejada said in his remarks. "…So the question for us is how can we make it even better for all of Arlington?"
The "moving forward together" agenda — or "juntos hacia adelante" as Tejada, an El Salvador native often referred to it — breaks down into four key focal areas:
- Affordable housing, including looking into new ways to finance such housing and working to end homelessness.
- Fitness and health, including promoting healthy lifestyles and working to prevent childhood obesity; Tejada announced a series of "town walks" that will take place throughout the county this year.
- Urban agriculture, or working to provide healthy food to the community; a task force dedicated to such will make recommendations to further this goal in the spring.
- Pedestrian and bike safety, including the promotion of the county's "Be a PAL" campaign; the principles of the campaign — predictable, alert and lawful — should be aimed at motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, Tejada said, among all of the county's diverse population.
While all of these ideals have guided Tejada's past work with the Arlington County Board, affordable housing in particular has become an increasingly critical issue.
Tejada and board member Chris Zimmerman have tried three times to get the county to commit more money to its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, and County Manager Barbara Donnellan has been instructed to analyze and recommend the best way to create a transit-oriented housing fund along Columbia Pike by June.
"I will continue to strongly advocate for an increased investment in affordable housing," Tejada said. "We need this to house our healthcare workers and teacher aides, our cashiers and restaurant workers, our cleaning staff and small business employees, and other hard-working people so vital to our county’s economic health. We need it to maintain the cultural and economic diversity that is so vital to Arlington’s soul…"
Tejada announced a new initiative to reduce childhood obesity that the county and Arlington Public Schools will kick off at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 17 at the Fairlington Community Center.
Tejada also announced a series of 10 neighborhood town halls that will be held throughout the county in an effort to increase civic engagement — building on the PLACE initiative spearheaded by outgoing Chairwoman Mary Hynes.
The first town hall begins at 6:46 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Drew Community Center in the Nauck neighborhood.
Board Members Talk Priorities
The four other members of the Arlington County Board also took time Tuesday to talk about their priorities.
Jay Fisette, who was elected vice chairman, spoke about the "evolving dysfunction of the federal government."
"The self-contrived crisis across the river is a case study of unhealthy leadership and misguided values. We live in the shadows of this drama, and we, along with American communities across the country, continue to be directly affected," he said.
"If Washington worked according to Arlington’s vision statement, our values and our long-standing collaborative decision making process – the problem would be quickly resolved."
Fisette also talked about his "personal crusade" to reduce the use of plastic water bottles and his commitment never to use such a bottle or a single-use plastic bag again.
Board member Libby Garvey also discussed the PLACE initiative, but used it to show why she believes the county's past attempts at community engagement regarding the Columbia Pike streetcar fail live up to Arlington's own standards.
Garvey has been the lone board member opposing the county moving forward with the streetcar in recent months.
"We need to have the conversation about the streetcar at the right time, which is now, this year," Garvey said. "The conversations of seven to nine years ago got us started on designing a good transit system, but that was then. Much has changed since, including our economic outlook and what transit systems our neighbors are planning."
She added: "I readily admit I could be wrong in my conclusions about the streetcar. But I know I’m right about the need to have a robust and informed conversation about the streetcar and possible alternatives, before we commit our community to a multi-year project costing around $300 million to start with, and then costing more each year in operating subsidies that will go on for far longer than any of us will be at this table."
The complete remarks of all five board members are attached as PDFs above.