State, district, and school board candidates seeking to represent Mason District residents in 2020 gathered at the Moose Lodge on Scoville Road in Falls Church for two hours on Mar. 18 to lay out their ideas and hopes for the area to voters.
Hosted by the nonprofit Bailey’s Crossroads Seven Corners Revitalization Corporation, the candidate forum focused predominantly on attracting more robust economic and community investment to a portion of Fairfax County that has not flourished with mixed-use neighborhoods like Merrifield’s Mosaic District or urban centers like Tysons.
Fairfax County data shows that, with a 2018 population of 24,076 people, 19.4 percent of Bailey’s Crossroads residents lived below poverty, more than twice the rate seen in the county overall.
According to the Fairfax County 2018 annual demographic report, 7.6 percent of households and 5.9 percent of families in the county received an income under $25,000.
In addition, 86.7 percent of the housing units in Bailey’s Crossroads are more than 30 years old, suggesting a lack of development, at least on the residential side.
While there is likely no single solution to fix the myriad issues that the area faces, the candidates who participated in Monday’s forum pointed to transportation and education as two factors that will be critical to the economic viability of Bailey’s Crossroads in the future.
“It’s about education. That is our number one priority as the Board of Supervisors, has been for decades,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “It’s also about the economy. The economy includes transportation improvements. It includes housing that is affordable and good jobs.”
Describing Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners as “older, commercial centers that are showing some signs of deterioration,” the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, updated through October 2018, calls for the two centers to be redeveloped and revitalized as “pedestrian-oriented, mixed use center.”
The plan envisions the overall Bailey’s Planning District being developed primarily as suburban neighborhoods with commercial development focused in the Seven Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads Community Business Centers.
Gross says that redeveloping the area has been challenging in part because, unlike the Mosaic District, which took over mostly vacant lots, much of the property in Bailey’s still belongs to private owners, and the county cannot force them to remove existing tenants.
However, she expects to see the Columbia Crossroads development first announced by Fairfax County in July 2017 within the next five years after some delays.
The proposed mixed-use development will take over a site that currently belongs to the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, which will be relocated to a commercial property a quarter of a mile away on Seminary Road in October.
Republican Gary Aiken, an insurance chief risk officer who is challenging Gross for the Mason District supervisor seat, questioned the appropriateness of placing a shelter for the homeless in a neighborhood that the county hopes to revitalize.
“I’m not going to stand by and see your tax dollars spent on something that doesn’t make sense,” Aiken said.
Gross countered that the location provides access to county services, transportation, and jobs that is critical for the shelter’s population.
“That’s how a caring community takes care of its people,” Gross said.
According to Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th) and State Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35th), the two sitting state representatives present at the forum, a lack of funding has hampered efforts to improve Mason District’s transportation infrastructure.
One community member who submitted an anonymous query during the forum’s question-and-answer section referred to the district as the “pothole capital” of Northern Virginia.
Saslaw successfully introduced a bill to provide $154 million in dedicated funding to Metro in 2018, but Republicans in the House of Delegates ultimately killed proposed tax increases that would have paid for the new funding, instead necessitating a reallocation of money that would have otherwise gone to road improvement projects under the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
Raising Northern Virginia’s transient occupancy and real estate transfer taxes would have brought in almost $250 million over a six-year period that could have funded local governments’ share of a rapid bus transit service that has been proposed for the Route 7 corridor.
Arlington County scrapped its original plans for a streetcar line on Columbia Pike in 2014, but it is currently collaborating with Fairfax on a project that would include revised Metrobus service between Fairfax, the Pentagon, and Washington, D.C.
“This is a worthwhile venture, and this is an area that’s primed for this,” Saslaw said.
While Saslaw’s primary challenger, human rights lawyer Yasmine Taub, was sick and, as a result, unable to attend the forum, Kory emphasized her record of bipartisanship, while her opponent Andres Jimenez pitched himself as a champion of progressive causes.
Currently the senior director of government affairs for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Jimenez previously served as a staff member for Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Howard Berman, who represented California’s 28th House District until 2013. He also staffed the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee during the 2009-2010 Congressional session.
Jimenez was also a legislative representative for the City of New York under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Emphasizing his environmental activism, which includes work with GreenLatinos, the Ocean Conservancy, and the Rock Creek Conservancy, Jimenez argued Monday that bike lanes are “a must” for Mason District.
The two candidates for Mason District’s Fairfax County School Board seat share extensive histories as educators, though their most recent work has been for other districts in the D.C. region.
After beginning her career as an elementary school teacher, Annandale resident Ricardy Anderson pursued administrative roles until she eventually became principal of Loudoun County’s Waterford Elementary School and then Cardinal Ridge Elementary School, where she served as the founding principal in 2014.
Anderson left Cardinal Ridge in 2018. She has children in the first and fourth grades at Mason Crest Elementary School.
“Fairfax County has a lot of great things that are happening, but I want to be sure that these great things can happen for all of our students,” Anderson said. “We have some achievement gaps, and I have ideas in terms of how we can address those gaps, because this has been my day-to-day work for many, many years.”
Now the budget strategy director for D.C. Public Schools, Swanson has lived in Mason District for the past decade and previously ran against Gross in the 2015 Democratic primary for district supervisor.
Swanson says her interest in local politics grew out of her participation in advocacy efforts to get more funding for Fairfax County Public Schools and to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School, which was officially renamed Justice High School on July 1, 2018.
In addition to expanding the availability of early childhood education and improving compensation for teachers and other school staff, Swanson says she thinks FCPS needs to do more to promote the positive work going on at Justice and other schools in Mason District.
Justice High School, for instance, is rated only 3 out of 10 from the nonprofit GreatSchools in part because the site considers Advanced Placement course participation in determining students’ college readiness.
Schools in the Justice pyramid follow the International Baccalaureate program instead of AP.
As a result, Swanson believes that some residents have a misplaced lack of confidence in their school system, so supporting the local school system is crucial to revitalizing the district as a whole.
“We have a ton of diversity in Mason District, and it’s really amazing,” Swanson said. “We also have a ton of need, and so I think it’s just really important that we work to address all those needs so that families, especially those who have a choice, are choosing to stay and invest in our system with us.”