Reston from above.

Reston from above.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Op-Ed: Not-So-Independent Review of Lake House Overrun, RestonNow, August 9, 2016

This is an op-ed by Reston resident Terry Maynard. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Reston Association (RA) is in the midst of soliciting proposals to conduct what it calls an “independent” review of its handling of the Tetra (Lake House) purchase and renovation overrun, a process that promises more of the same poor processes and politicized results Restonians have seen for 18 months.

Most importantly, there’s the matter of RA characterizing this review as “independent.”  It is anything but that.

To be truly “independent,” the RA Board needs to step away completely from this process. Let the three community members named to the selection committee set the criteria for the review, let them then make the actual selection of the review firm and have them receive and approve the final report.

Further, and equally important, the RA staff should have no participation in the review other than to answer questions, provide information (including internal e-mails and discussion notes), and explain processes.   

Contractor Selection. The only element of the review that has even a hint of independence is the selection process for the contractor. It will be selected by a committee comprising a majority of the RA’s Board Governance Committee (four members) and three Restonian volunteers whom RA’s Board Operations Committee has selected. We understand the Reston citizen selectees are Janine Greenwood  (retired counsel to non-profits), Steven Garver (local attorney), and Eric Carr (CIA executive), although we have not yet seen their names announced by RA.

The Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP has already been prepared and sent by RA to several dozen potential contractors with virtually no community input, so there is no significant “independent” aspect of the substance of what RA is seeking from potential contractors.

Limited Goal. What does the RFP for the “independent” review say RA intends to accomplish? The RFP states: “Specifically, the goal of this project is to identify areas for process improvement, potential changes to internal controls  and/or  modification  to  governance  procedures  to  help  ensure  situations  like  the Lake  House  cost overrun can be avoided in the future.”

So what’s missing in the RFP? Most importantly, nothing in the RFP calls for addressing the issue of accountability of anyone — staff, Board, contractors — for the Tetra debacle:  What bad decisions were made?  Who made those bad decisions?  How were they made?  What should be done about that?  Etc.

In short, there is nothing that looks at the roots of this debacle.  Not so much as an acknowledgement that “mistakes were made” either organizationally or individually, intentionally or inadvertently, appears to be desired in this “independent” report. Certainly nothing suggests that the reviewing consultant should identify potentially illegal or unethical activities, or even improper actions under existing RA processes or procedures by staff or Board members, much less simply stupid decisions and actions.

The RFP is looking only for a whitewash of RA’s and the Board’s actions over the last two years with some suggestions about potential processes and procedures for the future.

Unrealistic Schedule. According to RA’s schedule, by early September RA will select and hopefully sign a consultant for the task of reviewing the Tetra mess. It expects a final report by the end of October — a mere seven weeks later. That is not enough time for a serious review of all that has occurred (see Reston 20/20’s list of eight key issues), much less the preparation of well-founded and appropriate recommendations about the future.

The Board’s explanation for that short schedule is that the report’s results will be needed in November for consideration in the 2017 budget cycle, although there is virtually nothing about the stated goal of developing new processes and procedures that generates much budget impact — ever.

Moreover, RA budget amendments are fairly routine at any point of the year. The review contract itself will require a budget amendment late this year that has not yet even been proposed to the Board, much less approved. RA just made a $430,000 budget adjustment mid-year to cover the cost overruns in renovating Tetra.

The 2017 RA budget schedule is no excuse for the limited timeframe the prospective contractor has to carry out this “independent” review. The contractor should have 4-6 months to do a thorough job.

No External Oversight. As it stands now, only the RA staff will be guiding the contractor’s work, no doubt with some offline kibitzing from insider Board members, but nothing the Reston public or even some Board members will know about. It will be providing guidance as to what work it expects (and expects not) to be done along the way and what the final report should address.

Nowhere in the very short period permitted for this review is there an opportunity for the community to know, much less to influence, what will be in the report. That could be done in an RA-sponsored community meeting or two — an opportunity for the consultant to both present early observations and describe its processes as well as listen to the community’s reactions and ideas. That could lead to a more “independent” review and would be “transparent.”  Instead the contractor will be led by the nose by RA staff and Board insiders.

A small bit of good news is that the RFP calls for the consultants to “meet with individuals and organizations from Reston, to ensure the concerns of the community are addressed in the review.”

Still, how much of what the contractor learns from those people and groups will show up in
the final report or be dismissed by inane RA explanations will be driven by RA. It will have the last word, and it won’t be “independent.”

Information Access. RA will also control what information the contractor has to work with although its RFP generally states in a weird way it will make requested information available.

Here is how the RFP makes that statement: “The review will include all materials and documents deemed necessary by the consultant and/or shared with the RA Board and the public related to the Tetra/Lake House.”

So the accessible information includes Tetra-related information shared with the Board and public, but how about information within the staff and its contractors working on Tetra, including communications with RA’s two contract attorneys?

How can the consultant deem materials “necessary” until it knows they exist and reviews them?  How would RA respond to a blanket request for ALL existing information about Tetra?

And that access probably does not include unofficial communications among RA Board members, staff, contractors, and counsel — “personal” phone calls, private meetings, private e-mails, text messages, etc.

“Independent?”  So, please, if anyone can, tell me what is “independent,” much less “transparent,” about this review of the Tetra debacle. As the preceding suggests, there are several ways RA could make the effort more independent, more transparent, and more useful to Reston’s needs even at this late date if it wanted to.

While RA and its Board still has an opportunity to make this review responsive to community needs, more transparent to RA members, and truly independent from RA control, don’t expect it. Restonians should stand by to be soaked with a big consulting bill, little new information, virtually no improvement in RA or the Board, and absolutely no accountability for the continuing disaster that is Tetra.

Terry Maynard

Thursday, July 28, 2016

URGENT -- RA Giveaway of RA Deeded Open Space in RTCN

The following is the text of an e-mail Terry Maynard, Co-Chair, Reston 20/20, sent to the RA Board of Directors and others this morning in preparation for this evening's RA Board meeting.

Message body

Dear RA Board Members--

I regret having only belatedly read this month's Board packet because the last agenda item is a proposed MOU that is a plain and simply a giveaway of RA's deeded rights to ten acres of open space in Reston Town Center North (RTCN).  While both parties would acknowledge that RA has deeded rights to 10 acres of open space in RTCN, the MOU goes on to call everything not covered by concrete as open space, meaning RA will end up with essentially NO open space in RTCN.

Let's be clear about what the open space deed, the second of two deeds transferring RTCN land, says.  Here is the language in the deed:
(c)  No building, structures or improvement shall be built or placed on the property conveyed herein, except (a) structures which may be required for storm drainage or sanitary sewage purposes, or (b) any building, structure or improvement which, in the aggregate, covers no more than ten percent (10%) of the land area of this parcel and which is intended for recreational uses; and the property shall otherwise be left in its natural state.  This covenant shall run with the land and be binding on the Grantee and its successors and assigns, for a period of ninety-nine (99) years from the date hereof.
Let's walk through the items characterized as "open space" (p. 2-3 of the draft MOU):
  • Public Recreation Center--The Hunter Mill District does not have a regional recreation center and Restonians have been fighting for years to have the County build one as it has in every other supervisorial district.  The County has agreed to build one (when remains unknown) in RTCN.  That structure and the associated parking (even if combined with parking for other functions) will take at least THREE ACRES AND MAYBE AS MUCH AS FIVE.  While a rec center will clearly be "for recreational uses," it equally clearly will not be open space "left in its natural state."
  • Central Green and Related Streetscape--The central green--whose proposed acreage is not described in the MOU, but appears now to be less than six acres--is open space by any definition, but streetscapes definitely are not.  Streetscapes are an obligatory requirement for developers to insert a few trees, benches, and potted plants along the sidewalks they are required by County code to construct.  We have a few examples already in Town Center.  Surprising as it may seem, a 20' wide sidewalk area (with or without potted plants) typically comprises 5-10% of the total land area proposed for development.  With 34 acres to be developed (out of 40), that means a loss of already required streetscape acreage of between 1.7-3.4 acres.  The notion that required streetscapes should also be double counted as open space is patently absurd.
  • Parcel 3F--This parcel is part of the existing stormwater retention pond area west of Town Center Drive at Baron Cameron Ave.  It comprises 2.3 acres and is legitimate open space.
  • Other Designated Open Spaces--TBD.  Basically, "tree save" areas--the only defined space offered--are (like streetscapes) required to meet stormwater control and other legal requirements for development (or sometimes simply undevelopable).  In essence, this is again double-counting and certainly does not make for any coherent, usable open space for Restonians.
  • Open Spaces within Land Bays--While developers are expected to provide some open space with their individual development initiatives, the size of these spaces is always limited.  In its efforts to advocate for Reston's citizens, RCA proposed that 20% of all redeveloped space be devoted to open space--in the true sense of that concept--but that goal was struck from the Reston Master Plan in the final task force voting.  No similar language appears in the Comprehensive Plan, although Reston's Planning Principle #9 states, "High quality public open spaces will be required."  The phraseology in this MOU offers no assurance than even quality, much less quantity, will meet this planning principle, much less Restonians' needs.  It is also double-counting.
  • Open Space Contribution --  So, with even all these exemptions, if the County can't find 10 acres for true open space, then it can pay off RA according to this paragraph at the rate of $65,340/acre.  Does anyone really believe that this acreage is only work $65K/acre?  This is the inverse of the stupidity of the Tetra purchase where RA paid twice as much as required for a beat up property; now we're looking to get less than half of the real long-term market value of high-density land in RTCN.  Moreover, RA won't receive this funding until "the end of the development process," which is likely to take some four decades.  And who's to say when the process has ended?  Even at an average 2% inflation rate over that four-decade timeframe, that means RA will be receiving less than $30,000/acre in 2016 dollars.  At the minimum, this MOU ought to include an inflation factor for that acreage valuation--not to mention a fair market price for the land with its high-density potential (just like Tetra).

In contrast to this apparent willingness of RA to give away its deeded rights to open space, County guidelines indicate that RTCN SHOULD HAVE MUCH MORE OPEN SPACE than the 10 acres nominally allowed.  Attached is a paper I wrote on this topic early this year based on a discussion with Ellen Graves, Cate Fulkerson, and John McBride about the land use situation in RTCN.  ((See this link.))  I'll highlight two points based on an assessment of the proposed job and residential growth in RTCN under the new Reston Master Plan:
  • There should be at least 11.3 acres of park space in RTCN according to FCPA urban guidelines.
  • There should be at least 10 athletic fields requiring 16.7 acres of space in RTCN. 
Yet this draft MOU not only proposes not meeting the expectations Restonians have of RA to provide, as the planning principles state, "high quality public open spaces," but would fail to meet even the minimalist expectations of County park guidelines.

Once again, it appears the RA Board of Directors is on the way to selling out its members rather than fighting for them.

I respectfully request this e-mail be included in the Board's official meeting records for today. 

Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reston 20/20 Comments on latest JAG proposal for Tall Oaks Village Center

From:  Tammi Petrine 

Dear Fairfax County Planning Commissioners,

I would like to refute several of Mark Looney’s statements made at the Tall Oaks hearing last Thursday that were very cleverly crafted to misrepresent some of the circumstances regarding the Tall Oaks redevelopment effort.  From my perspective as a very alert, active community member for the last 6 years of Reston master planning, I have witnessed similar tactics over and over.  

Very few of us citizens have either the time or the knowledge to protest the enormous development that Fairfax Co. in general and Reston in specific are undergoing by attending multiple meetings and hearings.   I was encouraged at this hearing to hear good questions coming from some commissioners that signal that perhaps there is a modicum of hope to reign in some of the outrageously poorly designed projects.  The Tall Oaks Village Center is such a beast.

  • Tall Oaks Village Center plan as presented now is neither a village center in spirit nor design.
o   There is not enough retail to qualify.  8500 square ft. is ridiculously small.  The question was asked of Looney: How many stores would 8500 sq. ft. accommodate?  His answer between 8 – 10.  8500 / 8 = 106.25 sq. ft.   Info from brief online search: An average 7/11 in this country is between 2400 – 3000 sq. ft.  The average size small restaurant that seats 58 is 2550 sq. ft.  The required work space alone for a small bakery would be 1500 sq. ft.   Retail and seating spaces would be extra.  A small ice cream retail shop with no seating needs 400 sq. ft. (Check out this link for more info on required sq. footages for other types of stores:  I think you get the idea.  PS: We would be thrilled with 8 - 10 stores!  Please require more retail square footage to make that possible.  The reason Reston was planned with 5 Village Centers is to make it walkable in the medium density areas with enough parking to accommodate the SFH residents who would likely drive to designations.
o   The outdoor community space is contrived and too small.  The county staff is abrogating the required backyard 200 sq. ft. per unit, claiming that there is community space for the owners to use instead.   Using grandiose terms like ‘promenade’ for a sidewalk does not make the proposed space either usable or sufficient for community gatherings for even the new # of units proposed for Tall Oaks let alone the wider neighborhood!  The closest existing neighbor is an assisted living center yet this developer claims to be serving that neighbor by providing fitness equipment in the public area.  Seriously?  A person is not in an assisted living center if s/he can jog outside to do stretches, etc.  What would be appropriate and appreciated is an adult-scale row of cocoon swings (with backs and arms).  The water feature with surrounding benches and children’s’ climbing area are great for intergenerational activity.  However, the outdoor congregating area is too small for concerts, puppet shows or other entertainment/meetings needed to qualify for community meeting space.
o   The public parking is totally unreasonable and inadequate.  There is NO adjacent street parking for this site.
o   Can you imagine 2 public bus lines (RIBS & Fairfax Connector) turning down your internal narrow residential access street on a regular basis to accommodate in internal bus stop?  One glance at this plan shows the inadequacy of the layout and over-crowded site plan.  I am astonished that this ever made it through the staff review!
  • Traffic in this area is already catastrophically impacted by arrival in Metro.   
    • In the AM, when existing residents of this area attempt to exit neighborhood going southbound onto Wiehle, the cars already backed up from the Sunset Hills Road intersection prevent  left turns: Tall Oaks residents have zero space to merge.  Light cycle after light cycle provides no relief. 
    • The Tall Oaks neighborhood east of Wiehle which includes this new JAG development has NO other exit.  If the developer wants to add well over 100 more living units to the mix, he could provide another northbound-only exit to Wiehle.   A community architect met with Robert Simon about this dismal plan before Simon’s death and went over the plan to provide such an exit.  He also made a trip over to FDOT to discuss this and was assured this would doable.  JAG wanted nothing to do with it and ended the conversation.
  • Mr. Looney alluded to the idea that Reston Association’s own Design Review Board had given its blessing to this plan.  Please realize that the RA DRB has NO influence on the content of the plan; it can only regulate the external finishes and details.  It IS the job of the Fairfax County planning and zoning staff to regulate the major details of the plan re: Village Center requirements, parking, building clearances, canopy cover, etc.  You heard multiple issues with insufficient info re: traffic and clearances from just your few questions.  How did this ever get approved for your review?
  • Mr. Looney told you JAG had spent two years and held 54 community meetings of one type or another before arriving at this plan.  Yes, JAG started out with a slightly different plan and was clearly shocked by the idea that Reston was a planned community with specific requirements.  The number of advertised, public meetings were minimal.  Mr. Looney cited one such meeting sponsored by Supervisor Hudgins in the empty Giant.  Let me tell you about that meeting.  (BTW, Reston Association has always generously allowed developers to hold meetings in its state-of-the-art conference center.  In addition, the new supervisor’s office has a large appropriate conference/meeting room so the location was one that JAG selected voluntarily.)

This spring’s last public meeting was a classic ‘check the box’ offering but with a couple of twists:  The space was dark and freezing cold.  JAG had set up a buffet of food (?) but did not have either adequate lighting, heat or enough folding chairs to accommodate  even ½ of those to who turned out to hear JAG’s long awaited “new” proposal that was supposed to answer previously defined problems.  JAG had provided 4 or 5 construction lights on tripods to light the ‘meeting space’ which was bounded by tape stretched between roof support posts.  They had a slide show but NO microphone.  The kicker was that the generator that provided the power for the lights and projector/computer was so loud that no one could hear a thing.  Repeated requests for speakers to talk/yell loud enough for everyone to hear failed.  

To add insult to injury, the time limitations on the evening meeting prohibited many folks who came to the meeting from asking questions or giving comments except for one current tenant of the shopping center who is the owner of the nail salon.  He spoke at length TWICE denying others a turn.  You should know that at previous meetings, he and other tenants had railed against the former owner, detailing how horribly they had been treated and leaving no question as to why other tenants had fled the center.  Now at this meeting, Mr. Nail Guy lifted the barricade tape and made his way to the front of the seating area to inform us how wonderful this current JAG plan was and how we needed to support it as scary guys were now casing his business and he was afraid of being robbed.  He expounded that we would never get anything better and he was sick of waiting, etc.   Imagine our surprise when it was disclosed that JAG had offered him a prime space in the newly acquired office building!   
This meeting was manipulated for maximum effect by Looney and JAG.  There is a recently vacated restaurant space two stores down from the Giant space that was adjacent to an operating business.  It has low ceilings and JAG could’ve run an extension cord from next door to provide a satisfactory space with lighting and a microphone where folks could see, hear and speak.  Nope.  JAG wanted to showcase an empty grocery store cavern to make us believe that retail would fail in this location.  Barbara Byron of the Fairfax Revitalization office was sitting right in front of me.  Something Looney said in his remarks set her off.  She told the lady next to her that something was inaccurate.  She made a beeline for him after the meeting but I was never able to discern the issue that so angered her.  I would love to know.

The community is not responsible for the time JAG is taking to come up with a decent plan...  You heard Looney insinuate that we are the problem because we cannot make up our  minds.  He blames the victim.  It is not Restonians holding up progress but rather JAG’s inability to accept that a PRC means something out of their typical realm.  We pay a high price for living in Reston.  For that, we expect that our community remain true to the master plan.  This iteration fails in numerous respects. 

The types of housing proposed take up too much space and the number of units is too high.  Living spaces that are smashed together with minimal clearances/driveways/garages/sidewalks are not what should be approved.  The result optimizes profit at the expense of all in the Reston community, new residents and existing neighbors.  Would you want to live in a development billed as a Village Center with insufficient retail, minimal open space, walls of fences and alley-way type streets, limited parking, already terrible traffic where you are smashed into a ‘cluster’ devoid of any of the requirements of a planned community?  Will this development provide a long-term success for Reston or for just the pockets of Mr. Looney and JAG?  Does this plan in any way satisfy the requirement of a Village Center?  The answer is unequivocally “NO!”

I have lived in Reston for over 40 years, have attended over 600 planning meetings and know what is required to keep our community viable.  Slowly the continued approval of poorly conceived projects is killing our gem and ultimately Fairfax County’s tax revenues.  Please send this iteration of JAG’s plan back to the drawing board.  It is not ready for prime time.

Thank you.
Tammi Petrine
Co-Chair, Reston 2020

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Key Issues in RA’s Planned Independent Tetra Audit, Reston 20/20, July 10, 2016

The paper below identifies eight issues and numerous related questions that Reston 20/20 believes the RA independent audit of the Tetra debacle should address.  The paper has been sent to the RA Board of Directors for its consideration and action by the Board Governance Committee.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Find out about new road taxes at the RNAG Community meeting next week.

Next Monday, June 27, 7PM, North County Government Center, FCDOT will present a community meeting on funding the proposed re-shaping of the roadways in and around the Dulles Corridor to accommodate the massive growth planned there over the next 40 years.  We anticipate two key elements of the FCDOT presentation (although we do not have the presentation). 

  • First, an update on the scope of the mitigation efforts that will be required to handle the traffic expected as density mushrooms along the Dulles Corridor.   So far, FCDOT has gone through two of the three tiers of mitigation (from easiest/cheapest to most difficult/expensive).  According to  in late March, even with these Tier 2 improvements, 31 station area intersections will still be operating at Level of Service (LOS) “F” during the peak AM or PM or both hours.   

Second, in a presentation to just the Advisory Group this week, FCDOT noted that it has found unexplained $223,000,000 in savings for the “grid of streets,” which were always planned to be paid for by developers only.  However, no explanation is provided on how all this money is to be saved.  

We are perplexed by how FCDOT managed to reduce the cost of the “grid of streets” for developers by nearly a quarter-billion dollars (22%) without significantly lowering County expectations for these roadways.   We don’t know what features (number of lanes) or amenities (bike lanes) might have been cut to achieve this savings.  In short, it sounds too good to be true. 

On the other hand, FCDOT is proposing that station area residents pay a new property-based tax.   It described two new funding options (new #6 and new #7) that would entail a new Tax Service District (like the one all Restonians pay for the Reston Community Center) for station area residents that would cost them $0.015/$100 valuation to fill an $85-$110 million funding gap depending on the option selected.   Please see the footnote below that says New Option #6 would actually need to have another $0.005/$100 valuation—or a total of $0.020/$100 valuation—to cover cash flow needs.  Always read the small print.  FCDOT says this would add $75 to $100 to each taxpayer’s bill (depending on the option) for a property valued at $500,000.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we would make the following points on the proposed taxation of Reston station area residents to fund these roadway improvements:

  • Station area residents will derive no benefit from these roadway improvements; in fact, just the opposite.  It is the stated intent of FCDOT to degrade to intersection Level of Service goal for these streets from LOS “D” to LOS “E.”  More broadly, this degraded service intent extends specifically to the through streets—the ones Restonians beyond the station areas use to travel from one side of Reston to the other—even though they do not intend to go to or from the station areas.    
  • At the same time, developers will likely earn nearly $6 BILLION over the next five years from their existing and new Reston station area construction.   The roughly 6,000 homeowners in the station areas will not receive one extra dollar in income because they live in the station areas, yet they will be taxed an added $85-$111 million over the same five-year timeframe.   If that tax cost were paid by the developers, it would represent less than two percent of their net operating income in the same five-year period.
And please note that:
  • The $.015/$100 valuation (or the more likely $.020/$100 valuation) tax is almost certainly a “teaser rate” introductory tax.  Tysons’ Tax Service District tax rate went up one full penny per $100 valuation in one year, and will likely continue to rise.  We can expect the same in Reston.
  • Property appreciation will have its usual impact on property taxes:  As the property value rises, so will the Tax Service District tax—even if the rate doesn’t change.
  • Tax Service District will never go away.  Just because the construction cost gap is closed in five years doesn’t mean there won’t be maintenance costs forever that will be paid by this residential tax.  And it is not at all clear that the money will even go to Reston or to roads.
  • Forcing residents of the station areas (or all Reston as previously proposed) to pay an additional tax for roads that will be less passable than at present is nothing less than massive and grotesque corporate welfare served up by the County to appease developers who are already making billions in profits each year.

Moreover, if $233 million FCDOT cut in the “grid of streets” cost can be cut from developers’ contribution to the grid, why couldn’t the developers easily pick up the $85-111 million FCDOT wants the residents of the Dulles Corridor to pay?  After all, to do so would still mean a savings of $122 million or more for them—and presumably decent streets.

All these are observations and questions Reston attendees at next week’s RNAG community meeting may want to pursue with FCDOT.  Again, that meeting is next Monday, June 27, at 7PM at the North County Government Center.  

Come and learn about the cost and financing of future streets in our station areas and how much you may have to pay for them.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

RA is counting pennies while spending millions on Tetra.

Among the agenda items for the RA Board of Directors meeting this week is an item (Item I) to review whether RA should answer RA members’ requests for information about Tetra or refer it to the not-as-yet approved “independent” task force already on the agenda.  The topic arises because three Restonians, including myself, have asked for information concerning Tetra.  
For the record, Cate Fulkerson has been very good about answering our questions (and we presume questions asked by others).  But within the last week, Eve Thompson—a maniacally obsessed supporter of all things Tetra—asked Cate to keep the Board informed about these inquiries.  Danielle DeLaRosa and President Ellen Graves quickly endorsed Ms. Thompson’s query.  Here is what Eve & Dannielle said and Ellen concurred in:

  • Eve:  “given the scope of this request for information would you please provide the Board with an estimate of man-hours it will take to assemble this data?”
  • Dannielle:  “I have a similar question to Eve.  Can you tell us the cost of those man-hours?  . . . some of this will take a lot of staff time.  The accounting department is already down a full time person.”

Cate said she would compile the information requested by the Board (but not the answers to the questions).  

As readers can see in the Board packet, the queries the three of us posed are pretty straightforward.  They are most definitely the kind of questions a thorough “independent” task force will be asking of RA staff if one is approved by the RA Board of Directors and appointed. 

One of our highlighted questions, in fact, will be answered at this month’s Board meeting:  What is the specific source in the Operating Budget of the $430K the RA Board so easily transferred without knowing (or even asking) what RA would need to give up to shift funds to cover the huge Tetra cost overrun?  Ms. Fulkerson has now prepared a “Permanent Variance” spreadsheet that will be discussed at this month’s meeting (Item G, p. 100). 

For the record, Reston 20/20 discovered an error in the “Permanent Variance” spreadsheet in reviewing this month’s RA Board agenda package.  We informed Ms. Fulkerson that there is an error in the estimated impact for the January-May 2016 timeframe in the Permanent Variance table.  The total should be $255,650, not $225,650 as printed, a $30K shortfall.  A typo no doubt, but then who’s proofreading the documents sent to the Board?   

Please note that we did this on our own initiative without having Ms. Fulkerson fill out any forms or charging RA for the cost of time and materials to make her record correct.  We have not been thanked yet for our correction.

The other of our “questions” is not really a question, it is an offer for RA to review a cash flow spreadsheet we prepared on the amount RA has spent on Tetra and the associated revenues.  RA has not responded, but others discovered an error in my calculations (actually favoring RA) that we corrected.  We have since published the revised spreadsheet with a blog post.    

The bottom line of that post is that RA has spent more than $687,000 of Restonians’ money to repair and renovate Tetra (about $28/household), the total Tetra R&R costs, including Tetra Properties’ $275,000 to make exterior improvements, have skyrocketed to $962,000, and the total net cash flow loss through the first two years will be $911,000 (or about $41 per RA household)And that doesn’t include the $1.2 million the Tetra working group has proposed to spend on the Tetra grounds.   

You’d think RA would appreciate the opportunity to comment on these massive cost overruns, but apparently not.

A pair of questions we asked separately and are not on the agenda here concern how RA arrived at its new forecast of $175K for program revenues (not profits) this year (May-December 2016) and $389K next year—both of which are much higher than forecast earlier in the year (notwithstanding the previously expected $100K rent from Tetra Partners this year).    We can't help but observe that suddenly the prospects for program revenues look so much rosier in the face of the huge renovation cost overruns.  

We simply wanted to know how these large figures were calculated.  What fees/rates were used?  What assumptions were made about usage rates (market demand)?  What percentage would be RA vs. non-RA usage (presumably at higher rates)? etc.  In fact, we believe the new program revenue forecast vastly overstates the program revenues Restonians will see generated by Tetra through next year and, therefore, will require added RA assessment fee increases or more program cuts. 

More importantly, we find this sudden visored “tsk, tsk” bookkeeping cost-consciousness by RA’s Board disingenuous and hypocritical in the extreme.  This cost questioning comes from some of the same Board members who:
  • Purchased the Tetra property at more than twice its market price, costing Restonians and extra $1.3 million;
  • Stated that Tetra Partners would pay the cost of exterior repairs at $275,000, and still ran over budget costing Restonians more than $30,000;
  • Stated that the cost of renovations and re-purchasing the interior of the facility would cost $250,000 when the cost is now nearly triple that at $687,000; and
  • Stated that exterior repairs and renovations would cost $9,000 in their financial statement supporting the referendum and a consultant now tells us it will cost $1.2 million. 

Suddenly the RA Board is all atwitter about three information requests when it failed abysmally to carry out any kind of fiduciary responsibility in getting the costs somewhere near correct in selling the Tetra purchase to RA members.

And now we even have a cost figure for one of the requests as prepared by RA, which—in the end—highlights both how overstated it is and how the referendum vastly understated the costs of renovating Tetra were going to be.  According to RA (see the document below), the cost of answering one of Mr. Dean’s questions will be $1,231.  Yes, that is $1,231 for 27 hours of work by 3 people!

Using that same average hourly rate ($1,231/27 = $46/hour), all the work RA proposed needed to be done on the interior of the Tetra property ($250,000) could have been done by the same three people in 45 weeks. 

Do either of those outcomes make any sense at all?  NO, they are both imaginary numbers to make a point:  How cheap it was going to be to fix Tetra and how expensive it’s going to be to answer a simple question.    

This is your RA staff and Board trying to mis-lead Restonians again, just as they did a year ago, to save a few pennies while spending millions more on Tetra. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Did RA commit to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Tetra without Board authorization?

Below is a spreadsheet provided by Reston Association showing RA costs it has budgeted and incurred ("Actuals" in green) on Tetra as of May 2016.  As we all think we know at this time, the RA Board of Directors authorized $259,000 towards the renovation and re-purposing of the Tetra office building to RA uses in 2016.

What the table appears to show by way of the green cells extended across the calendar year is that RA committed to spending $625K on Tetra before the May 2016 meeting at which the Board added $430K to cover cost overruns above the $259K budget, including $504.5K to the general contractor for interior work.  The single line, covering actual and expected payments to "Construction--General Contractor, Interior" suggests that RA knew by March (when the first payment was made) that it had a contract or other agreement with this contractor to pay nearly double what the RA Board had budgeted for work on Tetra.  Actually, RA had made payments on eight of these contractual arrangements before the May RA Board meeting, all pointing to contracts or agreements reached months in advance of Board approval to commit to this spending.  In fact, the RA staff had to get the RA Board of Directors' approval at the May Board meeting because more than $249K was due in that month--which would have blown up the budget--alone on top of the $139K spent already this year. 

If we are reading this spreadsheet correctly, it appears that RA staff committed RA and Restonians to spending some $366K that the Board had not approved and, in fact, may not have even been aware of.  Of course, this all occurred in RA Board election season, so it would have been impolitic for RA or the Board to let the public know of these known large cost overruns on a timely basis.  It could have been very costly to incumbents trying to be re-elected.

If the above is true, shouldn't those RA staff who were not authorized to commit these funds be removed from their positions for this egregious breach of trust?   And if members of the Board of Directors knew about these unauthorized financial commitments before the May Board meeting, shouldn't they be removed from office?