Get Going on Open Space
On May 3, the Alexandria City Council pledged to raise at least $10 million next year to buy more parkland ["Alexandria Drops Tax on Property to Under $1," Metro, May 4]. But what did we really agree to, and will it be too little, too late?
The promise came in the form of a "sense of council" memo that said we should wait until the first half of 2005 to float open space bonds, because we didn't know what land we wanted to buy yet and because we didn't know what the full price tag would be. The memo was shown to us just minutes before we voted on the FY 2005 budget. In fact, I felt strongly that we needed $25 million in the budget right then, but I decided that this verbal and written commitment was better than nothing, so I didn't fight it.
But now the issue is: Will we get the money in time to purchase the Second Presbyterian Church site and several other endangered properties? Indeed, at least three properties (including Second Presbyterian) that have already been designated priority parcels by the open space committee are about to be developed. If we wait until the fall, or, worse yet, 2005, it will probably be too late to save these and other sites.
Ten million dollars will not buy a lot of open space in Alexandria. The six-acre Second Presbyterian parcel alone has been priced at about $6 million now that a developer has it in his sights. But this is what land costs these days, and we must be willing to pay it when the opportunity arises.
At present, there is only about $2 million in the open space fund, not $16 million as suggested by The Post.
So, my question is, how can we uphold the "intention" of council's memo between now and the first part of 2005?
Andrew H. Macdonald (D)
Alexandria City Council
With its stunning vote April 29 to retain Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry, the Alexandria School Board dealt our school system a terrible blow, undercutting 10 years of progress since the city first began electing its School Board in 1994.
After hours of closed-door meetings and considerable amounts of hand-wringing and arm-twisting, the School Board voted 7 to 1 to keep Perry in her job. The School Board effectively ignored the fact that Perry had been arrested at 12:35 a.m. April 23 for driving while intoxicated and having a blood alcohol level 50 percent higher than permitted by law. She apologized. Well, it would have been an additional outrage if she hadn't.
Since Alexandria opted to move from a school board appointed by the City Council to one elected by the voters, the positive changes in the school system have been remarkable. Families that once shunned the public schools are entrusting their children to them. Test scores have risen dramatically; schools are accredited; and social promotions have virtually ended. The graduating class at T.C. Williams High School has students bound for Harvard, Duke, Yale, University of Virginia and William and Mary.
In electing a school board, Alexandria turned away from a school system where standards and expectations were low, students weren't challenged and promoting self-esteem was valued above encouraging and rewarding achievement. The bottom line was that too often children got left behind.
What changed with that first elected school board and a new superintendent, Herbert Berg, was that the school system began to offer students encouragement and opportunity, trust and rewards. Goals for achievement were set and met. But most importantly, it was made clear from the first day of school that behavior that disrupted learning would have consequences. A zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol and drugs was adopted, and students who violated it were subject to sanctions, such as removal from athletic teams.
Allowing Perry to stay in the superintendent's job, no matter how deep her regret and humiliation, reverses all the years of progress by raising questions in the community about the School Board's judgment, the school system's values and the integrity of its adult leaders.
By their inaction, the School Board is telling children that all that talk about opportunity and responsibility is just so much talk and that the rules don't apply to the people who make and enforce them. Some message.
Last week's Alexandria Arlington Extra contained a letter to the editor from Kathleen M. Burns of Alexandria titled "Surreal Government." In her letter, Burns criticized Alexandria's Open Space Steering Committee and one of its co-chairs based on a May 4 joint work session between the City Council and the planning commission. Although I was out of town for the May 4 meeting, I am compelled to give a different view of Alexandria's Open Space Steering Committee and its co-chair, Judy Guse-Noritake.
The issue of protecting open space in Alexandria is boiling. This brings out passionate rhetoric and personal attacks, neither of which addresses the substance of the open space issue. It may surprise Burns to know that the members of the Open Space Steering Committee are also passionate about saving Alexandria's remaining open space and have gladly volunteered time for several years to help develop Alexandria's open space master plan. In fact, the steering committee criticized by Burns largely comprises members who served on the committee charged with developing Alexandria's open space master plan. The city manager, I believe, recognized that the continuity of knowledge gained by those who helped develop the open space master plan would benefit its implementation. To balance the steering committee membership with new ideas, the city manager also appointed several citizen members.
As for the timing of the steering committee meetings, I understand Burns's frustration. There isn't a time that will satisfy everyone. Guse-Noritake was simply supporting the will of committee members to continue meeting in the mornings. I have children, a short commute and at least three evening volunteer meetings per week. I make the time once or twice a month to get to the 7 a.m. steering committee meetings, despite my schedule. The Open Space Steering Committee is one of several bodies that meet in the mornings, including Alexandria's Waterfront Committee. Finally, the Open Space Steering Committee is also considering holding scheduled public hearings in the evenings (in addition to our regular morning meetings) to accommodate input from public participants.
As I recall, the primary purpose of the May 4 work session was to discuss possible open space opportunities for the Second Presbyterian property, at the corner of Quaker and Janneys lanes. Guse-Noritake was a vocal advocate of purchasing the property when the presbytery presented the city with the opportunity in early 2003. We were all saddened to hear the decision not to buy this property for open space. It was this lost opportunity that I believe helped strengthen the movement to create an open space fund from a 1-cent-per-dollar property tax earmark. It is unfortunate that a few individuals would try to make this one property a litmus test for the success or failure of the city's open space process. As for the "byzantine ranking system" Ms. Burns refers to, it uses criteria drawn directly from the city's final open space plan. I realize that there are many ways properties could be ranked and many criteria. However, the final ranking system used by the city (the steering committee's system is only a recommendation) should not be benchmarked to a single property.
Finally, Guse-Noritake is not only a co-member of the steering committee with me but a good friend. It was wrong for Burns to make a personal assault on someone she does not appear to know outside her impression from a single meeting. In her more than 12 years of volunteering to improve Alexandria's parks and recreational facilities, I have never known her to put her personal needs before the city's.
I invite Burns to get to know Guse-Noritaki and, more importantly, give her your ideas about Alexandria's open space. She will listen. She cares about our city for real, not surreal.
Kenyon A. Larsen
Alexandria Open Space