Just a few random things….
Good response to last weeks post on part of the CIP program. Got some interesting responses from a couple of our elected leaders. Whatever happens it is pretty clear this hasn't been well communicated or even thought out….why else would you buy property before "anything has been decided"? This is bad for an expenditure of this type. Hopefully our government gets it together although I see nobody picking up the standard and making it happen so I'm not all that optimistic. Saying you support something is a lot easier and politically cheaper than building the consensus necessary to make things happen. I hear a lot of the former and none of the latter. We shall see.
I had occasion to travel to the Chicago suburbs this week. I didn't like it much. The roads were horrible and they have unattended toll booths there. I expect a love note from the state of Illinois on that matter. They also have "right turn on red" there but many of the intersections are marked "no turn on red". I expect a further love note from my friends in Illinois on that front. The weather continues to suck anywhere that I happen to be and the place where I was this week was just kind of "meh". Chain restaurant hell, lousy hotel gym. No pool. Long meetings. It seems odd to say but I am glad I went as I learned a lot but I didn't much enjoy the experience. The first night the thunderstorms were so intense I kept checking my phone for tornado alerts. Interestingly, the tornado shelters in O'Hare airport are the bathrooms. Wonder if it matters which one you go in during a tornado?
Speaking of which. While I was waiting for my return flight I went into the bathroom and was standing at the urinal when a person dressed in a skirt and blouse walked up to a urinal a couple down from mine, hiked up their skirt and peed in the urinal. I am proud to announce that the world didn't end. It was unusual for sure and, as I was busy, I have no idea if that was a male or female. I honestly don't care. I understand that my lady friends may have to conduct more complicated business in the restroom but if you want to dress up like a woman (or be an actual woman) and go into the Men's room, be my guest.
My take on this issue is two-fold. First off, from a cynical point of view, I'm suspicious of the timing. I hate to be that cynic but it reminds me of the I-66 toll "issue" last year. It seems like a convenient way to distract folks from the persistent and, as of now, unsolved problems in our country. It's a powerful, visceral issue and, in the hands of our political machines, sure to turnout voters on both sides of the issue while leaving our more serious problems untouched.
As to the issue itself, I understand that people have real and deeply held opinions on this issue. Many of those opinions are tied to their faith. I get that. I also get that folks in the LGBT crowd feel as though their rights have been abridged. My take on this comes from my years in municipal government and in civil administration simpler is better: if you look like a woman, use the ladies room. If not, use the other one. I realize that answer will make nobody happy but it does work in the real world….and quite frankly has been how the world has worked until this debate arose. Imagine a place like Fedex field with men wandering into the womens rest room….and vice versa. I think that's chaos. Laws that say "go to the restroom of your original sex" just seem problematic to enforce. It's going to take about 10 minutes until there is a "prove it" moment in a public place….and it is going to be a woman dressed as a man….going into the ladies room. Not hard to see that coming.
There's some problems that maybe the government shouldn't solve?….and maybe some problems right up the governments alley that are being ignored?
The big tamale in the City's Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) is the "Public Safety Building" (PSB). $30 million bucks worth of big tamale. This is a facility that has been under consideration since I was first elected. The big idea then was to buy up some (most?) of the Georgetown South Shopping center and put a large police headquarters on the property. I didn't really know where this project currently stood so I emailed the Council and Mayor. Of the 2-3 replies that I received (only 2 from incumbents running for office) what was clearly communicated was that "no decision has been made and in fact we aren't sure if this will ever happen"……imagine my surprise when I was watching the Council meeting last night and they voted to buy a hunk of the Georgetown South shopping center for a "public purpose"…..sounds like we're a little further along than "no decision" to me…..
The PSB has looked different according to different plans but the general idea is that it would be a place where we consolidate all of our public safety administrative offices and maybe some operational space. Back in the day, the facility also included a firing range. With the advent of Elite shooting sports that may or may not be necessary but it has been part of the plan. It has also included a fire/rescue station at times in the past. Is consolidating all of these offices in a single place a good idea? I really don't know. There is so much that goes into this. The cost to build is high. Could we use the current Rescue Squad building for something else? The current state of the office market is cheap and the rent on the Fire department HQ space is quite modest. Would it be nice to have a shiny new administrative building? Sure….but I'm not sure it makes fiscal sense. Yes, we need a second fire/rescue station over in Wellington but a new admin HQ ?
There is no denying the police need more space. The department has continued to grow over the years as our population has expanded. The size of their building has not expanded to keep pace. Instead they have converted interior space to accommodate their staff. About the only thing that hasn't been "reconfigured" is the public conference room and lobby. The police department needs more space…but I think the police department's building is in the right place: right next to the largest concentration of schools and students in the city. And maybe in northern Virginia. I'm wild about the fact that the police are literally next door. I'm pretty sure I don't need to draw you a picture as to why I'm so taken with their proximity. In my mind, it makes a lot more sense to keep the current facility and expand it. If we need to buy adjacent property then let's do that.
Ten years ago, the idea was that the PSB would be built on the north side of the Georgetown South shopping plaza. I don't know that it was ever communicated to the public as such but the thinking in City Hall was that this might possibly be the impetus for a massive redevelopment of the GTS shopping plaza area. It appears that, in this vein, we are indeed converting part of a bustling, if not exactly attractive, commercial center into a public use….and taking it off the tax rolls. In any event, We didn't talk much about the PSB project over the ensuing years because the economy went south not too long after I was elected and the Council spent a lot of time trying to balance the operations budget and ultimately eliminated almost all CIP spending. The project now seems to be back and I think it is time for a more thorough airing of our options. I'm not interested in "well we had a public hearing on the CIP and nobody came forward." That's weak sauce and a cop out. Take a look at the process that the schools used when they were preparing to build the new Baldwin.
There is also this: I believe that the optics of building a huge police / admin facility immediately adjacent to our largest immigrant neighborhood sends the whole wrong signal. My friends on the Council can tut-tut all they want and insist that this isn't an issue but I'm not buying it. Think about a very large 2-3 story government building in that parking lot. How do you think the residents of GTS are going to receive that? The schools do huge outreach into these communities, the city does it through enforcement. I'm not sure this is the way to handle this. It continues the tendency of the City government to govern the city they want to have, not the one that is here. If we're to be successful, that has to end. Face it, diversity is our hallmark and these communities must be engaged if the city is to grow to our full potential. The sooner the government gets down with that and figures out a way to embrace it instead of holding it arms length like an inconvenient truth that nobody wants to recognize, the sooner things will get better in Manassas.