Citizens for Balanced Growth

Author: Ralph Stephenson (Page 2 of 30)

Letter to BOCS on 19 May Bipartisan Vote, Ending Lockdown

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Stephenson, Ralph
Date: Mon, May 25, 2020, 9:13 PM
Subject: Letter to BOCS on 19 May Bipartisan Vote & Ending Lockdown
To: BOCS, Prince William County <BOCS@pwcgov.org>, Angry, Victor S. <vsangry@pwcgov.org>, Wheeler, Ann <awheeler@pwcgov.org>, Candland, Peter <gainesville@pwcgov.org>, Vega, Yesli <yvega@pwcgov.org>, Boddye, Kenny <kboddye@pwcgov.org>, Jeanine Lawson <jlawson@pwcgov.org>, Franklin, Margaret <mfranklin@pwcgov.org>, Bailey, Andrea <abailey@pwcgov.org>, <PCandland@pwcgov.org>

BOCS members:

The 5-3 BOCS vote on opening some parts of the economy noted in the news article immediately below is one of the first truly bipartisan policy votes — even if perhaps symbolic — on a major controversial issue that we can recall since the new BOCS took office in January 2020.  (See: https://www.princewilliamtimes.com/news/northam-denies-request-to-open-local-restaurants-to-outdoor-seatng-hints-at-statewide-mask-policy/article_51a422e2-9c68-11ea-af0b-e758dd6e6ae6.html )

Bipartisanship and compromise are often the fruit of unselfishness, tolerance of other points of view, humility that acknowledges that no one person or group has all the right answers (least of all those who think they do), political maturity, and a focus on achieving the greatest good for the greatest number.  All of these virtues enable a healthy democracy, happy citizenry, and lasting legislative achievements.
We ask that you continue to do everything you can to open the county’s economy very soon, as soon as possible, with as many safety measures as possible for workers and customers.  The decision of when and how to open up is not an easy one.  Nor, as the many doctors and biomedical researchers in our extended family tell us, is it one for which existing templates or science provide any definitive answers, notwithstanding occasional and nonsensical pretenses by politicians to the contrary.

Please ensure that the county’s already fragile commercial economy (only about 15% of the county tax base) is not sacrificed for a level of safety and security on Covid-19 that will not and never can be achieved,  while ignoring the long-term health, financial, social, and other consequences of the expanding economic catastrophe.

Remember that many of those who, after the lockdown, have been or will be first to lose their jobs or businesses in the previously-booming economy and labor market and who are suffering most now are currently and were before the lockdown the most economically vulnerable.  They cannot afford the luxury of an unachievably optimal or near-zero level of Covid-19 risk, while those who are well-off perhaps can.  But those who are well off and have relatively secure jobs and finances, and little or nothing to lose, should not be dictating policy for those who are desperate, have everything to lose, and yet have no voice in those decisions.

We think this problem is largely articulated  by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Peggy Noonan in the following 14 May Wall Street Journal commentary:
https://peggynoonan.com/scenes-from-the-class-struggle-in-lockdown/

Regards, 

Ralph & Kathy Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured,
while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.

A Critical Look at the Current State of American Politics

Wall Street Journal — OPINION  COMMENTARY
America Doesn’t Need a New Revolution
Can the country confront its current problems with its traditional can-do spirit? We have barely four months to figure out how.
By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
June 26, 2020 4:04 pm ET


Outrage is the natural response to the brutal killing of George Floyd. Yet outrage and clear, critical thinking seldom go hand in hand. An act of police brutality became the catalyst for a revolutionary mood. Protests spilled over into violence and looting. Stores were destroyed; policemen and civilians injured and killed. The truism “black lives matter” was joined by a senseless slogan: “Defund the police.”

Democratic politicians—and some Republicans—hastened to appease the protesters. The mayors of Los Angeles and New York pledged to cut their cities’ police budgets. The Minneapolis City Council said it intended to disband the police department. The speaker of the House and other congressional Democrats donned scarves made of Ghanaian Kente cloth and kneeled in the Capitol. Sen. Mitt Romney joined a march.

Corporate executives scrambled to identify their brands with the protests. By the middle of June, according to polls, American public opinion had been transformed from skepticism about the Black Lives Matter movement to widespread support. Politicians, journalists and other public figures who had denounced protests against the pandemic lockdown suddenly lost their concern about infection. One Johns Hopkins epidemiologist tweeted on June 2: “In this moment the public health risks of not protesting to demand an end to systemic racism greatly exceed the harms of the virus.”

Although I am a black African—an immigrant who came to the U.S. freely—I am keenly aware of the hardships and miseries African-Americans have endured for centuries. Slavery, Reconstruction, segregation: I know the history. I know that there is still racial prejudice in America, and that it manifests itself in the aggressive way some police officers handle African-Americans. I know that by measures of wealth, health and education, African-Americans remain on average closer to the bottom of society than to the top. I know, too, that African-American communities have been disproportionately hurt by both Covid-19 and the economic disruption of lockdowns.

Yet when I hear it said that the U.S. is defined above all by racism, when I see books such as Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” top the bestseller list, when I read of educators and journalists being fired for daring to question the orthodoxies of Black Lives Matter—then I feel obliged to speak up.

“What the media also do not tell you,” I tweeted on June 9, “is that America is the best place on the planet to be black, female, gay, trans or what have you. We have our problems and we need to address those. But our society and our systems are far from racist.”

America looks different if you grew up, as I did, in Africa and the Middle East. There I had firsthand experience of three things. First, bloody internecine wars between Africans—with all the combatants dark-skinned, and no white people present. Second, the anarchy that comes when there is no police, no law and order. Third, the severe racism (as well as sexism) of a society such as Saudi Arabia, where de facto slavery still exists.

I came to the U.S. in 2006, having lived in the Netherlands since 1992. Like most immigrants, I came with a confidence that in America I would be judged on my merits rather than on the basis of racial or sexual prejudice.

There’s a reason the U.S. remains, as it has long been, the destination of choice for would-be migrants. We know that there is almost no difference in the unemployment rate for foreign-born and native-born workers—unlike in the European Union.

We immigrants see the downsides of American society: the expensive yet inefficient health-care system, the shambolic public schools in poor communities, the poverty that no welfare program can alleviate. But we also see, as Charles Murray and J.D. Vance have shown, that these problems aren’t unique to black America. White America is also, in Mr. Murray’s phrase, “coming apart” socially. Broken marriages and alienated young men are problems in Appalachia as much as in the inner cities.

If America is a chronically racist society, then why are the “deaths of despair” studied by Anne Case and Angus Deaton so heavily concentrated among middle-aged white Americans? Did the Covid-19 pandemic make us forget the opioid epidemic, which has disproportionately afflicted the white population?

This country is only 244 years old, but it may be showing signs of age. Time was, Americans were renowned for their can-do, problem-solving attitude. Europeans, as Alexis de Tocqueville complained, were inclined to leave problems to central authorities in Paris or Berlin. Americans traditionally solved problems locally, sitting together in town halls and voluntary associations. Some of that spirit still exists, even if we now have to meet on Zoom. But the old question—“How can we figure this out?”—is threatened with replacement by “Why can’t the government figure this out for us?”

The problem is that there are people among us who don’t want to figure it out and who have an interest in avoiding workable solutions. They have an obvious political incentive not to solve social problems, because social problems are the basis of their power. That is why, whenever a scholar like Roland Fryer brings new data to the table—showing it’s simply not true that the police disproportionately shoot black people dead—the response is not to read the paper but to try to discredit its author.

I have no objection to the statement “black lives matter.” But the movement that uses that name has a sinister hostility to serious, fact-driven discussion of the problem it purports to care about. Even more sinister is the haste with which academic, media and business leaders abase themselves before it. There will be no resolution of America’s many social problems if free thought and free speech are no longer upheld in our public sphere. Without them, honest deliberation, mutual learning and the American problem-solving ethic are dead.

America’s elites have blundered into this mess. There were eight years of hedonistic hubris under Bill Clinton. Then came 9/11 and for eight years the U.S. suffered nemesis in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the financial crash. After that we had eight years of a liberal president, and the hubris returned. Sanctimonious politics coincided with deeply unequal economics.

Through all this, many Americans felt completely left out—of the technology boom, of the enterprise of globalization. I never thought I would agree with Michael Moore. But at an October 2016 event, he predicted that Donald Trump would win: “Trump’s election is going to be the biggest [middle finger] ever recorded in human history.” I still think that analysis was right. Mr. Trump wasn’t elected because of his eloquence. He was elected to convey that middle finger to those who had been smugly in charge for decades.

But you can’t give the middle finger to a pandemic, and 2020 has exposed the limitations of Mr. Trump as a president. Yet when you look at the alternative, you have to wonder where it would lead us. Back to the elite hubris of the 1990s and 2010s? I can’t help thinking that another shattering defeat might force sane center-left liberals into saying: That wasn’t a one-off; we’ve got a real problem. They’ll be in the same position as the British Labour Party after four years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and two election defeats, when eventually the moderates had to throw the leftists out. One way or another, the Democratic Party has to find a way of throwing out the socialists who are destroying it.

The Republicans, too, have to change their ways. They have to reconnect with young people. They have to address the concerns of Hispanics. And they have to listen to African-Americans, who most certainly do not want to see the police in their neighborhoods replaced by woke community organizers.

We have barely four months to figure this out in the old American way. To figure out how to contain Covid-19, which we haven’t yet done, because—I dare to say it—old lives matter, too, and it is old people as well as minorities whom this disease disproportionately kills. To figure out how to reduce violence, because the police wouldn’t use guns so often if criminals didn’t carry them so often. Perhaps most pressing of all, to figure out how to hold an election in November that isn’t marred by procedural problems, allegations of abuse and postelection tumult.

Who knows? Maybe there’s even time for the candidates to debate the challenges we confront—not with outrage, but with the kind of critical thinking we Americans were once famous for, which takes self-criticism as the first step toward finding solutions.

Ms. Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

ACTION: Taxes, 1st Amendment, Devlin Rd., and BOCS Chair’s Hamster-Wheel of Government

[Mass e-mail to county citizens by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]

Fellow county voters, taxpayers, homeowners:

Since taking office in Jan 2020, Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) Chair Ann Wheeler is off to a decidedly undemocratic start by:  

  • Officially attempting to restrict citizens’ First Amendment rights at BOCS meetings in March;
  • Planning to raise on 28 April, rather than reduce, government spending and private employer & homeowner taxes during a severe economic recession that threatens to bankrupt tens of thousands of county residents and businesses; and
  • Forcing the big Devlin Rd. residential development project upon West County citizens on 10 and 31 March, ignoring virtually unanimous local opposition, including over 1,000 petitioners, while also ignoring BOCS rules and procedures and unresolved flooding, eminent domain, phasing, and housing density problems. 

(For info on what you can do to oppose Chair Wheeler’s attempt to raise taxes on 28 April, see:  https://www.facebook.com/144935038911635/posts/3723679831037120/?sfnsn=mo …  You’ll need to sign up before 5 pm 27 April.   Also, see Coles Supervisor Yesli Vega’s message below and this message posted at:  https://pwcbg.org/2020/04/action-taxes-1st-amendment-devlin-rd-and-bocs-chairs-hamster-wheel-of-government/ )  

An already clear, well-established pattern — In attempting to deflect near-universal criticism of her gambit to restrict First Amendment rights at BOCS meetings, Chair Wheeler denied involvement — a lie that convinced no one, since calling, controlling the agenda for, and leading BOCS meetings is solely the BOCS chair’s responsibility.

At the 10 March hearing on Devlin and thereafter, Chair Wheeler, followed by other members of the BOCS Democratic majority, blamed the pre-2020 BOCS for her own regime’s abusive decision on Devlin.  This was yet another lie followed by an attempt to avoid responsibility for her own bad decisions and unethical behavior.  But she who thinks nothing of trashing another’s neighborhood, leaving behind a mess for others to clean up, would clearly think nothing of then lying about it to try to avoid responsibility.

Leading up to and during the 21 April BOCS budget markup, Chair Wheeler repeatedly attempted to avoid responsibility and divert attention from her tax increases on businesses and ordinary citizens who are already in jeopardy from the ever-deepening recession.  She also repeatedly attempted to deflect efforts to cut spending anywhere.  (See county government’s video archive of 21 Apr BOCS meeting at https://pwcgov.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=23&clip_id=2706, from about 2 hrs 30 minutes to the end.)

On multiple occasions over the last two months, Wheeler and other BOCS Dems implied they could not have known the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect when they approved the county’s 1.17% advertised real estate rate (at least a 4% overall increase, depending on property value increases) and that they all along intended to lower the tax rate to 1.145 or 1.125.  Besides ignoring that a politician’s alleged and unexpressed state of mind and intent never trumps his written record, the problem with that argument is that Chair Wheeler and other members of the BOCS Dem majority were sending messages to county citizens and beyond throughout March and April taking credit for how up-to-date they were on the pandemic and how much the county government was supposedly doing to alleviate the effects of the pandemic.  But they can’t have it both ways.  Per their own claims, they were very sensitive to the health aspects of the pandemic — regarding which they have little or no expertise or ability to do anything — but completely missed, didn’t understand (economic incompetence), didn’t care about (economic neglect), or ignored the economic effects on county employers, employees, and homeowners of their decision to raise taxes during the economic collapse (economic abuse.) Anyway, a smaller tax increase is still highly inappropriate and should not even be considered at this time.

Furthermore, during the 21 Apr markup, Chair Wheeler chose to focus her frustrations at badly mishandling the tax issue, and being thwarted on raising taxes even more, by claiming that Republicans, particularly Supervisor Lawson, were working to “inflame” their constituents by earlier reporting to constituents how much the proposed tax increases were going to cost them, especially at this perilous economic time when the BOCS should be reducing taxes.  So, according to Chair Wheeler, by doing part of their core jobs, reporting tax issues to constituents, Supervisors Lawson and Vega were supposedly inflaming them, while Chair Wheeler, by not doing her job, is, once again, blameless.  (Chair Wheeler should consider the reality that she is the one inflaming much of the county with her hubris and flippant disregard for anyone but those who think just like she does.)

So just four months into her term of office, Chair Wheeler has established a clear, well-established pattern of lying and avoidance of responsibility.  Apparently for Chair Wheeler, the buck stops nowhere … or at least anywhere but with her.

The evil twin — Corey Stewart, our least favorite BOCS chair before Chair Wheeler, raised taxes over 35% in 12 years, while home values declined, in order to fund the mostly tax-negative residential development of which he became so fond.  Taxes increased dramatically while services to ordinary citizens declined dramatically — as evidenced by increasingly overcrowded roads and schools, increasing environmental damage, and little or no improvement in the very small commercial tax base.  Chair Wheeler apparently wants to become Stewart’s evil twin by not only approving as much tax-negative residential development as possible, but also by mindlessly expanding county government — because the hive, the collective, the government, not the individual worker bee, is what matters, what lasts, at least in the fevered minds of big-government ideologues.

The “fabric of our community” — Chair Wheeler remains cloaked in unfounded confidence, supported by no evidence whatsoever, in what she has repeatedly called “the fabric of our community,” the part of the county government that is run by the BOCS.  No wonder she cares so much about the government and continuing to feed that beast, while caring so little about what happens to businesses small and large, families, and other private groups that are the real fabric of our county.  Collectivism requires sacrifice by and of people and smaller groups, the worker bees, for the good of the government and the ruling party, the hive, which is what really matters … not the other way around.

The wheel — When we see Chair Wheeler frenetically sending scores of messages and press releases about what the county is doing about Covid-19, about which it can do very very little, including one message to the Vice President of the United States … while abusing ordinary citizens on 1st Amendment, tax, and land use issues, we’re reminded of something else:  A hamster on a wheel.  The similarities are striking.  The cage, the county is littered with Wheeler press releases and other stuffing and trash, which covers up the really nasty stuff that falls on top of the ordinary citizens, taxpayers, homeowners, private employers and employees at the very bottom of her cage.

Chair Hamster-Wheeler

Sincerely,

Ralph Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured,
while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Yesli Vega <yesli.vega@yestoyesli.com>
Date: Thu, Apr 23, 2020, 2:05 PM
Subject: 25,000 Lost Jobs & A $177 Tax Increase
To: Ralph <stephenrkg@gmail.com>



Now Is NOT The Time To Be Taking Even More Money From our Citizens

At a time when nearly 25,000 of our citizens have lost their jobs (a number that will increase this week) the Democrat majority on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors is poised to raise the average residential property tax bill $177 (in addition to increasing vehicle fees).

If you’ve paid attention to this year’s budget process my colleagues in the majority have argued repeatedly that we must increase your taxes because they don’t have enough of your money to spend.

These two graphs speak for themselves:


The blue axis shows how your home values have decreased since FY2008 (the reason I chose FY2008 is because it’s still the closest our homes have gotten to pre-recession values). Even so, the average home value is still almost $27,000 less  than it was 13 years ago – assessed pre-COVID.

It would be fair to assume that as a result your tax bill would also be less.

Wrong.

The red axis is how much your bill will have increased over that time. If the current proposal passes (the vote is scheduled for April 28th) the average residential tax bill will increase by an additional $177 on average meaning your average yearly bill has increased by over $1,200 – or 35% – while your home value has gone down 6.5%.

Home values down. Taxes up. Way up. And going higher.

The second graph shows how county spending has increased over the last decade compared to population growth.


Assuming the Board majority forces through their current budget next week county spending will have increased by almost $500 million over the last 10 yearsa 56% increase.

Meanwhile, our population has only increased by 16% in that same period.
When the size of the government bureaucracy grows 3.5x population growth it becomes pretty clear why your taxes have increased so much.

Yet the Board majority thinks this is perfectly reasonable. In fact, they think you should be grateful that they’re only increasing your taxes by $177 – indeed, their initial proposal raised your taxes by twice the amount.

I hope the cake is good at least.

I think it is downright immoral to forcefully take more money out of your pocket than last year in a time of such economic turmoil.

You ALREADY pay the second highest residential tax rate of any county in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

And the worst part is, this tax increase will be felt as equally by the single mom having increased rent payments passed down by her landlord and lower income homeowners as the wealthiest citizen in our county.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, you have my word that I will NOT vote to take even more money out of your pocket next week.

I believe you’re taxed enough already.

For Coles,

Yesli Vega Coles District Supervisor 



Follow Yesli on Twitter and Facebook @yestoyesli.

Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Yesli Vega

Friends Of Yesli Vega | yestoyesli.com

Chair Wheeler’s Fake Reversal, Under Pressure, on Real Estate Tax Increase, Replacing It With Even Higher Business Taxes

[13 April 2020 mass e-mail to county citizens by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, PWCBG]

Under pressure, Chair Wheeler backs off the 4% real estate tax increase — In her message this morning to county residents, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Wheeler, under intense public pressure, backs off from her late-Feb-March 4% real estate tax increase, but then immediately proposes an 8% increase on businesses in the next paragraph. Continue reading

What You Can Do 11-16 Apr Re: BOCS Dem Majority’s Callousness in Proposing Tax Increases Amid Employer/Jobs Meltdown

[11 April 2020 mass email by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, PWCBG]

 

All:  As you know, Prince William County and much of the country is in a far-reaching economic lockdown of still indefinite duration.  If  small- and medium-sized businesses and the most at-risk households in our county are to economically survive, the county government should be freezing spending, cutting taxes, or even declaring tax holidays until the economic crisis passes — not raising taxes. Continue reading

BOCS Majority’s Economic & Land Use Incompetence, Vindictiveness , False Pride Endangers County; Tax Increases Despite Growing Business/Jobs Meltdown

[Mass e-mail to county citizens by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth]

Fellow citizens, taxpayers, voters:

Chair Wheeler kicks the can down the road — Here’s how the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) Democratic majority closed the door on bipartisan requests to fix major defects in the residential developer/Stanley-Martin Homes’ Devlin Rd. rezoning request on 10 and 31 March, and how the BOCS majority thus unnecessarily kicked the can down the road, leaving a major mess for others to clean up after them — homeowners, taxpayers, commuters, schools, flood control officials, lawyers, etc.  We’ll also discuss the longer-term implications of that and other BOCS-majority tendencies that have become increasingly noticeable in the last three months, following strong initial indications that we warned about repeatedly during the 2019 election campaign. Continue reading

Urgent Plea to BOCS Dem Majority Regarding 31 March Chance To Fix Defects in Devlin Rezoning

——– Forwarded Message ——–

Subject: Urgent Plea to Victor, Kenny, Andrea & Margaret Regarding 31 March
Date: Mon, 30 Mar 2020 13:26:44 -0400
From: Stephenson, Ralph & Kathy <email address>
To: Angry, Victor S. <vsangry@pwcgov.org>, Franklin, Margaret <mfranklin@pwcgov.org>, Bailey, Andrea <abailey@pwcgov.org>, Boddye, Kenny <kboddye@pwcgov.org>
   

Victor, Kenny, Margaret, Andrea (info Doug Widener/Citizens Alliance of Prince William):

We and the thousands of people with whom we correspond and/or who have made their concerns and wishes known regarding the Devlin rezoning proposal were deeply disappointed by the BOCS’ 10 Mar Devlin rezoning decision.  On the other hand, you undoubtedly believed that you were doing the right thing by instructing the developer to work with Supervisor Lawson to cover many of the concerns raised by citizens at the hearing. Continue reading

Open Letter: Holding PW County Attorney Accountable on Land Use, Covid-19

[Open letter to Prince William chief County Attorney Michelle Robl and county leadership and mass email to county citizens]

Ms. Robl:

Rapacious residential developers — We have lived in Prince William County for 20 years.  For the last 15 years we have been working to defend our district, and other districts of the county as well, from rapacious residential developers who:  overcrowd our roads and schools, increase our taxes through mostly tax-negative residential development, damage the environment, and corrupt our politics.  As residents of the county, in recent years we have watched the quality of education decrease while our taxes have greatly increased, much faster than inflation and than in Loudoun, for example, where we used to live.  We have experienced the traffic gridlock caused by inadequately planned residential development.  In short, we live with the reduced quality of life caused by out-of-control residential development. Continue reading

Civic Associations — Holding Public Hearings During Pandemic with ‘Greatly Reduced Public Participation’ Will ‘Undermine the Public Process’

Prince William Conservation Alliance (PWCA)
Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA)
Lake Ridge Occoquan Coles Civic Association (LOCCA)
Mid County Civic Association Of Prince William (MIDCO)

Date: March 26, 2020

To: Prince William County Government Partners

Dear elected officials and staff:

Since the organizations listed above are engaged in promoting transparency in government, we have to take exception to the county’s plans to continue to hold Public Hearings during the health emergency. Whether or not the county is bound by the state’s restrictions on public gatherings, holding meetings at this time will result in greatly reduced public participation due to the current pandemic, and therefore will undermine the public process. Continue reading

Chair Wheeler Holding Semi-Public 31 Mar BOCS Meeting To Suspend ‘Public Comment,’ Assume Greatly Increased ‘Emergency’ Powers

All:

This is an open letter to Prince William County citizens and the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS.)  It concerns Chair Ann Wheeler appearing to put politics and greater power for a BOCS “quorum” (typically, five of eight members) above public safety, good governance, and liberal democratic principles by:

  • Holding a semi-public meeting on 31 March amid the Covid-19 pandemic and thus likely contributing to the spread of the virus (see see BOCS meeting agenda attached or at https://www.pwcgov.org/government/bocs/Pages/Meeting-Room.aspx ; also see https://thederecho.blogspot.com/2020/03/pwc-foregoes-public-health-concerns-in.html);
  • Using the 31 March meeting, ostensibly focused on the pandemic, to propose granting any BOCS quorum that can be mustered sweeping “emergency” powers, following the Virginia governor’s emergency declaration, through four “procedural matters” on the attached BOCS agenda (see items 4A thru 4D — 4b, #14, for example) that would potentially give five BOCS supervisors power to make controversial budget and land use decisions with little or no transparency, opposition, or public comment and review, and possibly with a shortened, expedited approval process;
  • Proposing suspending “public comment time” (i.e., “Citizens Time”) at all BOCS meetings until further notice and proposing to make this permanent even after the pandemic passes (see our colleagues Tammy Spinks and Bob Weir’s 27 March messages to the BOCS linked here .. https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/bocs-urged-to-ensure-banning-of-public-comment-does-not-become-permanent/ and here, respectively ..  https://thederecho.blogspot.com/2020/03/a-warning-from-history.html , as well as the joint letter of four county civic associations here ..  https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/civic-associations-holding-public-hearings-during-pandemic-with-greatly-reduced-public-participation-will-undermine-the-public-process/. )
  • Undoubtedly using the second and third bulleted items above to stop growing momentum and pressure for the BOCS to pass a motion to reconsider the 10 March Devlin rezoning approval.  (Chair Wheeler and the BOCS majority strongly — unquestioningly and thoughtlessly, in our view — supported the Devlin rezoning.)  The motion to reconsider can only happen at this, the next BOCS meeting on 31 March.  Please note that mounting pressure for the motion to reconsider the Devlin decision follows numerous irregularities and mistakes by the BOCS at the 10 March hearing.  (See:  https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/second-chance-for-5-new-bocs-members-deceived-by-developers-on-devlin2-pwcbg-suggests-tax-relief-for-local-employers-employees-facing-layoffs/  Also see our colleague Doug Widener’s 24 March message to the BOCS below.)   We can see nothing in the four “procedural” emergency measures above that would prevent the BOCS quorum from passing the controversial Kline residential developer proposal or implementing controversial planned big real estate tax increases or approving harmful policies regarding the Rural Crescent — all without transparency and serious public comment and scrutiny.

We’ve noted recently that in an authoritarian system, the ruler knows what is best for his subjects, and they must serve him.  On the other hand, in a democracy, the citizens know what is in their best interests, and elected representatives serve the citizens and their interests.  We fear that Chair Wheeler may be inadvertently moving closer to the former and farther away from the latter, and is unaware that she may also be exhibiting too much of a need for control, too much intolerance of dissent.

We hope that our worst fears are not realized.  Please give Chair Wheeler lots of feedback to help her see that we support her when she does well, supports ordinary citizens’ interests, is tolerant of dissent, listens to and learns from criticism, and supports our most fundamental democratic rights (including the three of the five core First Amendment rights that most directly apply here — petitioning the government, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.)  But when she does the opposite and shows elite indifference to ordinary citizens’ freedoms, needs, interests, and concerns, she will earn our relentless opposition.

ACTION FOR CITIZENS:  If you have not already done so, please sign the online petition supporting the motion to reconsider the Devlin rezoning decision here and urge your friends to do the same:  http://chng.it/57d9SJBQyf  Please help get the word out via social media, email, etc.  (Feel free to use an online link to this message at https://pwcbg.org/2020/03/chair-wheeler-holding-semi-public-31-mar-bocs-meeting-to-implement-greatly-increased-emergency-powers-suspension-of-public-comment/) 

And let’s also urge the BOCS to “first do no harm” by keeping its actions during the pandemic to the bare minimum necessary, not using the pandemic as an excuse, in the absence of public scrutiny, to abuse power, as it has already done, though hopefully unintentionally, in its first major land use case, the 10 March Devlin rezoning. Please send that feedback to Chair Wheeler and the other BOCS members at  BOCS@pwcgov.org and/or the cc addresses above.

Best wishes to all and stay safe,

Ralph & Kathy Stephenson
Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth

Only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured,
while in darkness and obscurity the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail.


[Note:  Per Doug Widener and Citizens Alliance of Prince William (CAPW), the following “March 24, 2020 email is an unpolished, interim message to BOCS members to let them know” CAPW’s preliminary findings, “so far, of an unfinished in-depth review and analysis of the Devlin Road public hearing video” posted on the county’s website.  A “final report will be written and published” by CAPW, but possibly not in time for the 31 March BOCS meeting.  Italicization of passages below added by Prince William Citizens for Balanced Growth, PWCBG.]

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Doug Widener <citizensalliancepw@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 3:04 PM
Subject: Update on Reconsideration of Devlin Road Decision
To: Andrea Bailey <abailey@pwcgov.org>, Ann Wheeler <awheeler@pwcgov.org>, Candland, Pete <gainesville@pwcgov.org>, Kenny Boddye <kboddye@pwcgov.org>, Lawson, Jeanine M. <jlawson@pwcgov.org>, Margaret Franklin <mfranklin@pwcgov.org>, Yesli Vega <yvega@pwcgov.org>, Victor Angry <vsangry@pwcgov.org>

Prince William Board of County Supervisors:

Since my email message with an attached letter to you on March 15, regarding the need for a reconsideration of the new board’s decision on March 10 to approve the Devlin Road project, research continues, including a second-by-second analysis of the video recording of the public hearing.  Findings, so far, significantly add to the reasons why a reconsideration appears to be necessary.  Unfortunately, many of those reasons do not reflect well, to say the least, on individual members of the board who voted to approve Devlin Road.  Here’s an overview of some of the reasons identified, so far:

  • School overcrowding, the most important issue that should have been considered during the hearing, was largely ignored.  A reconsideration is the new board’s opportunity to correct that big mistake.  Count how few minutes of the hearing were devoted to schools.  Was the fact that the School Board stated in writing that it was opposed to approval of Devlin Road even mentioned?  Why wasn’t someone there from the school division to answer any school-related questions?  Are you aware of how your attention was distracted from the fact that the 13th high school will be overcrowded in five years (and 10 years) according to the School Division/School Board Development Impact Statement (DIS)?  Was that fact even mentioned during the hearing?  Are you aware of how you were misled about the 14th high school?  It’s not even mentioned in the DIS, since it’s not been funded and it’s location, which is highly controversial, has not been finally determined.  If it’s built in eastern county, it will not significantly help overcrowding in western county.  Did you read the document I sent you on March 8, regarding just one example of how the school division’s CIP projections do not work to address overcrowding?
  • Widespread false statements during the hearing by new board members who mistakenly believed that Supervisor Lawson could continue to work with the developer after the board approved Devlin Road.  No one seemed interested in the correct explanation by Supervisors Lawson and Candland as to why that is not possible.  The new board members’ reliance on that false belief was a big mistake that can be corrected with a reconsideration.
  • New board members appear to have allowed themselves to be misled by the applicant’s use of words such as “intends” and “assumes” with regard to issues such as the construction timeline and house prices.  Another big mistake that can be corrected with a reconsideration.
  • Misunderstanding by new board members about how the land planning process actually works (e.g., “kicking the can [Devlin Road] down the road”, unfairly “inheriting” projects, etc.)
  • No mention of any consideration of the Devlin Road project in relation to the potential negative impact of the huge, already BOCS-approved housing inventory “pipeline” on school overcrowding and traffic congestion.
  • Failure of new board members to recognize the need to have the current Planning Commission review this case, as was recommended to them, since the last review was by the former Planning Commission in 2018, and the concerns of the Brentsville District’s Commissioner from that review have not been adequately addressed.      
  • No recognition of the precedent-setting impact that approval of the Devlin Road project will have on DAPS overall (and the Kline Property proposal by Stanley Martin, in particular).    
  • New board members appear to have either been misled or followed false beliefs or assumptions with regard to the Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Ordinance, density, house types, lot sizes, proffers after the 2019 VA Code changes, the saving of mature trees, the ineffectiveness of stormwater management (even when done in accordance with local and state standards), etc. 
  • Huge discrepancy between what new board members actually said at this hearing — and at other public hearings — about the need to have infrastructure in place before development, etc., and how those members voted on Devlin Road

With regard to the issue of “project denial would mean a winnable lawsuit”, please read the material in my letter of March 15 regarding that, and consider this short description of the Fairly Debatable Rule:  https://definitions.uslegal.com/f/fairly-debatable-rule/. Ask the County Attorney for case law examples that prove her theory regarding a lawsuit in this matter.  What do the supervisors who voted to deny Devlin Road know about this issue that you don’t?

Many of the reasons that justify a reconsideration are understandable “rookie mistakes” by new board members with little or no development-related experience or background knowledge, other than what they’ve been told by lobbyists for the building industry and Chamber of Commerce, Planning Office staff focused on job protection, certain members of the previous Planning Commission who never met a proposed development they didn’t want to approve, the ever-present “Land Lawyers” in this and most other land use cases over the last four years and a County Attorney too fearful to put anything in writing. The influence of these biased information sources on new board members + Devlin Road being the first major land use case considered by the new board members + A vote to approve Devlin Road that didn’t take place until well after midnight during a board meeting that began at 2:00 PM + The appearance that all but one new board member intentionally ignored the advice of the two experienced board members during the hearing, apparently for politically partisan reasons = What looks like a recipe for “Devlin Road disaster”, cooked up by new board members from eastern county and served to western county supervisors and residents on March 10.

The negative impacts of the Devlin Road approval — unless formally reconsidered (but not necessarily changed) — will be far-reaching and long-term for both countywide residents and the new board members.  Considering all this, why would a competent new board member who intends to serve the best interests of all county residents not take the opportunity for Reconsideration to review the Devlin Road proposal again and determine — in light of facts, not reliance on misleading statements, misinformation and unfounded assumptions/beliefs — whether or not the project should be approved?  Reconsideration is available for a reason. The Devlin Road approval is the perfect illustration of that reason.

Citizens — especially those who worked tirelessly to help elect new board members they thought would focus on fixing school and traffic problems, not making them worse with more new home development — deserve to be made fully aware of this situation and the opportunity the new board members have to correct it, no later than the next meeting of the board.  Once this analysis is completed and published, this overview may be looked upon as only “the tip of the Devlin Road iceberg”.       

Doug Widener Citizens Alliance of Prince William (“Putting Children and Families First”)

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