It was a vote that, to some, came out of left field. But the elected official who cast it said he had the best interests of his constituents in mind.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) was the only one of four members of the House of Delegates representing Arlington – the only one of the county’s seven-member delegation at all, in fact – to vote against the proposed economic-incentive package binding the state government and Amazon in what supporters say is a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Lopez, however, did not see it that way. While acknowledging there are good parts to the incentive package, which could net Amazon $750 million over the course of a decade or more, Lopez said the arrival of the retailer’s hordes was likely to put too much stress on housing costs in the 49th District, which includes much of Arlington south of Columbia Pike as well as adjoining areas in Fairfax County.
“My concern is for the current residents of the 49th,” Lopez said. “Folks are worried that they and other low-income families are going to be priced out.”
Higher housing costs will hurt renters, who make up a large segment of the district, but also could be problematic for homeowners, who face spiraling tax bills due to increasing assessments, Lopez said.
“I’ve heard repeatedly from my constituents . . . who are scared about their property values going up and up,” Lopez said Jan. 28 on the floor of the House of Delegates, where he was one of only 16 members to vote against the first Amazon-incentive bill in the pipeline. That bill, which drew support of 83 delegates, already had been passed by the state Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Northam.
A day later, Lopez was one of 14 members who voted against a second, identical bill that had originated in the House of Delegates and was sent over to the Senate. That bill picked up 85 votes in support.
In each instance, other members of the county legislative delegation – Dels. Patrick Hope (D-47th), Rip Sullivan (D-48th) and Mark Levine (D-45th) – supported the measures, which have the backing of the Northam administration and Arlington’s three state senators.
On the broader issue of housing affordability, if not on the specifics of his Amazon vote, Lopez could find some solace in the words of state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th), whose district overlaps in parts with the 49th House District.
“We must refocus our efforts on vulnerable populations and enable them to stay in the communities they have developed and in the homes that they have created,” Ebbin said in a recent newsletter to constituents. Ebbin made the pitch that legislation to support affordable-housing initiatives promoted by Democrats in Richmond was a positive development.
As to the Amazon vote itself, Hope suggested that Lopez was failing to see the forest for the trees.
“Opposing Amazon because of affordable housing fails to acknowledge the simple fact we had an affordable-housing crisis long before Amazon ever set its sights on Arlington,” he said. “The very best thing we can do to solve our affordable-housing crisis is to embrace Amazon and its 25,000 jobs coming to Arlington, and use the local and regional revenue generated from this once-in-a-lifetime investment to plow back into solving our affordable-housing crisis.”
Most of the delegates who voted against the Amazon measures came from their parties’ left and right flanks, strange political bedfellows but sharing philosophical objections to government funds being spent on what critics deride as corporate welfare. Lopez, however, positions himself as an insider, and has worked hard to be seen as pro-business.
But 2019 is shaping up to be an interesting year on the Democratic side, with a number of Arlington elected officials (including Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and state Sen. Barbara Favola) finding themselves facing challenges coming from their left. Lopez, too, appears marked for competition in the June 11 primary, although the prospective challenger has not formally kicked off his campaign.
Even at the local level, Arlington elected officials appear to be treading lightly on Amazon – an issue that, just months ago, they were positively giddy to be associated with.
County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey said approval of the state’s economic-incentive package was a “welcome” development. But the County Board has been on the receiving end of some grief from left-leaning activists for its own, much smaller, incentive package that was announced when Amazon last November picked the Crystal City area to share with New York City in the spoils of its “HQ2” decision.
In what appeared to be words that were chosen with care, Dorsey said that the economic-incentive package between the local government and Amazon currently on the table is the product of the county manager, not the County Board, and is not fixed in stone.
The County Board “continues its conversation with our community – that package will come before the board for its consideration in the coming months,” said Dorsey, whose seat, along with that of colleague Katie Cristol, will be on the ballot in November.