New Fairfax Co. policy puts stronger focus on ‘equity’ for underprivileged

WASHINGTON — From playgrounds and transportation to schools and affordable housing, officials in Fairfax County are taking new steps to ensure that minorities, those who live in poorer communities and other disadvantaged groups get the same opportunities as other county residents.

A new policy adopted Tuesday by the county’s Board of Supervisors will consider the “equity” of all decisions going forward.

“We’re looking through the lens of equity to make sure that all people within our community have … the same potential for opportunity, including workforce development, education, employment, affordable housing … [and] healthy living,” Chairman Sharon Bulova said.

The development of turf playing fields was brought up as a specific example of how equity could have been better factored into prior county decisions. Many of the fields were initially funded by booster clubs or large sports organizations that could afford to offset the cost.

“I got news for you,” Supervisor Jeff McKay said. “In some parts of the county they’re paying for scholarships for kids to be able to play on a team. They’re not building turf fields because they’re just letting kids have an opportunity to play.”

“I think it’s very clear that there are different opportunities in this county depending on where you live and depending on what school you go to,” McKay said.

Supervisor Catharine Hudgins cited the presence of turf fields in wealthier areas of the county and concerns about the juvenile justice system as two of the clearest examples of why the county needs to put a new focus on equal opportunity.

“We sometimes are not the best that we can be,” she said.

Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors decides which county plans are funded and approved. The school board decides how money in the schools budget is spent.

County Executive Ed Long Jr. said the county will have metrics to measure the potential impacts of changes and the benefits new opportunities could provide.

While those metrics are important, Supervisor John Cook said less-tangible benefits may provide some of the greatest boosts.

“It matters when a child is 5, or 6, or 8, or 10 years old, whether that child believes he or she has an opportunity to achieve a dream,” Cook said. “[You] can’t measure that with a number, but it’s a concept we want to work towards.”

The resolution, which is also supported by the school board, passed without opposition — but not without some criticism. Linda Smyth was among supervisors who expressed concern that the measure may be too broad to have an impact.

“This is a lovely statement, nice words, but in some ways you do sort of sit back and say, ‘Where do we go from here?’” Smyth asked.

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