The latest round of FOIA Documents have recently been released by the City of Alexandria, which shed light on the descoping process of the Potomac Yard Metro project. Please see all of the documents at the link here. These were released to use in mid-August 2018, so apologies for the delay to post. We will have a slide deck ready soon that analyzes this latest information, so stay tuned here for that link and please share YOUR findings if you have the time to dig into this. Thanks!
The Potomac Yard Concerned Residents group appreciates the apology written by City Manager Mark Jinks to the entire City of Alexandria on June 21, 2018 (see below) indicating that the public should have been included in the descoping process from the outset, however, more than an apology we would appreciate hearing concrete steps about how the City will restore Southern access in the PY Metro Project. This is the most important remedy to this epic failure and mismanagement from the City of Alexandria.
Further, it’s important to remind everyone that the City made public the RFP and Amendments for the Potomac Yard Metro Project. While this is much appreciated, a substantial amount of documents remain confidential despite the FOIA submitted by our community and the insufficient response submitted by the Office of the City Attorney. We honestly believe delegating a decision to WMATA on the confidentiality of documents is not aligned with the spirit of that act. In addition, we have not heard back from you on concerns regarding WMATA’s compliance with its own procurement policies. Given that the awarding of the contract is imminent, we truly hope you will address them as soon as possible.
On that note, we were able to review the RFPs and Amendments. Through that documentation, a few things are quite clear:
- The July 2017 request is not a list of options as City Council seems to have suggested, it is a directive to remove specific elements from the proposal – all of which were ultimately removed.
- When the city felt a public push-back on the released one-mezzanine design in April, City Staff told vendors to expect an amendment. That communication, combined with the fact that the south access bridge was not included in July 2017 as it could have been, suggests that this addition was directly in response to public outcry. City Staff seemed not to consider relevant to look for alternatives to restore meaningful access to the south of the station as part of the process that was held under confidentiality.
- The proposed south access bridge finally gets added as an optional element to price on May 3, 2018 – the day before the Jinks memo is released. Therefore, the proposed south access bridge shared with PYMIG was not part of a planned response to a descoping problem. It is a reaction, only possible due to public engagement.
- At this point, however, we expect that City Staff should have detail on the south access bridge addition, including costs. Therefore, the City of Alexandria through WMATA is in a position to award the contract with that amendment from Day 1.
Finally, it should be noted that the City still owes us two more sets of documents. One is the 600+ pages withheld from our original FOIA because they supposedly pertain to a “confidential procurement process” but the Virginia FOIA law will compel them to release that information once the design build contract is awarded (any minute now…). Secondly, we are awaiting a follow up request we made on specific items related to the first FOIA, such as when the City Council knew about the changes, what other cost savings options were considered back in July, what economic analysis was done and when did the bridge back to Glebe first get discussed.
We truly hope that City Staff will make all efforts to make sure that is the case. It is the minimum that the residents of Potomac Yard expect to partially address a situation that will need to be reviewed and properly explained in the future.
To the Alexandria Community:
Since the 1970s, the City has worked closely with residents and businesses towards the vision of a new Potomac Yard Metro Station. After decades of hard work, we are closer than ever to the significant transit, environmental and economic benefits the station will provide.
While there has been extensive communication, consultation and engagement among stakeholders throughout this long and complex process, this was not the case for the procurement phase of the project last year and this year. On behalf of your City government, I apologize that we did not live up to the standards we set and our community expects.
To maintain the integrity of the competitive procurement process, we were required to curtail some of our communication with the public while Metro reviewed confidential bids from prospective construction contractors. City staff were permitted to participate in the process only if they adhered to Metro’s strict confidentiality rules.
The station was originally designed to have two entrances on the west side of the tracks (one on the north end of the platform and one on the south end), and another entrance on the east side of the tracks. When initial bids far exceeded the project’s budget, the only practical way to keep the $320 million station financially viable was to remove the south entrance along Potomac Avenue. The north entrance will be accessible about a block away.
We believed we were prohibited from informing the public of cost-saving design changes. It now appears there was a critical misunderstanding about what could be released. In hindsight, City staff and I should have pressed harder to clarify the basis for keeping the design changes confidential. This would have allowed us to have a more informed conversation about communicating changes to the public.
Many members of our community are understandably upset. We typically provide better communication, and the community rightfully expected better. We would have preferred to communicate the design changes much earlier and more directly than we did, and we commit to more thoroughly reviewing how confidentiality applies or does not apply to future situations and projects.
The Potomac Yard Metro Station will dramatically improve transit options, help the environment by taking cars off the road, spur economic growth through new homes and jobs, and provide increased tax revenue to meet vital community needs. We are committed to providing timely and accurate information about this project and look forward to a new station that will make our entire community proud.
Mark Jinks, City Manager
- 2 were withheld under attorney-client privilege
- 98 were withheld records of closed meetings (executive session)
- 604 were withheld because they were procurement-related
Concerned PY has received a memo from the City Manager’s Office – they’ve asked us to share it with our readers as well, which we are happy to do in the interest of transparency – you can read it here.
There is only so much we can do as private citizens to shed light on the process that led to this decision. And though we will certainly continue to push there, we also call on the city to help us in that effort by releasing more records. You can start by reviewing and reconsidering the 704 pages of FOIA documents responsive to our initial request that were withheld in the name of a confidential procurement process that both the city and WMATA seem to be saying no longer needs to be confidential (or at least won’t for much longer).
Readers can view our full letter to the city regarding the inadequacy of its initial FOIA response here and we hope the city will see fit to respond to both that letter and the additional FOIA requests we have submitted this week quickly, completely, and without further costs to us.
More importantly though, we call on the city to start showing us real steps toward fixing the outcome.
- Addition of “meaningful south access” as one of the success principles guiding the metro project as a whole (the way both east and west access are included today)
- A commitment to south access that (1) opens along with the rest of the station and (2) maintains a sense of entry to the neighborhood
- A commitment to no more executive sessions regarding the Potomac Yard Metro project and real citizen transparency, openness, and dialogue at every remaining step.
Residents of Potomac Yard set up a Go Fund Me page to fundraise and be able to pay for a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request filed with the City of Alexandria related to the recent changes in scope of the Potomac Yard Metrorail Project. The cost of the request was $810. The response was fulfilled by the City on June 1, 2018 and we have made the city’s full response and document archive available here.
As we start to review all of this information, these are the key findings of our first read of the hundreds of pages of documents:
- When WMATA published an image of a one-mezzanine Potomac Yard station design on April 9, 2018 (subsequently picked up by Washington Business Journal and noted by the public), the city worked directly to have that image suppressed.
- During the discussion of removing the image, WMATA plainly expressed their belief that the station design change was “not proprietary from a procurement standpoint.”
- A secondary FOIA request specifically around WMATA advice to the city about confidentiality of the design change found no written evidence that WMATA ever told the city that the design changes were proprietary under the procurement NDA.
- There is clear evidence in the documentation that Councilmember Smedberg was aware of the change when he assured PY neighbors on April 12 and 13 that the image was inaccurate.
- There is clear evidence in the documentation that Vice Mayor Wilson was aware of the change as of July 2017 (in conflict with what he told the Alexandria Times about finding out in Spring 2018).
- For a more detailed analysis, we have put together a short summary documenting the above.
We also found evidence that contradicts some of the claims made by the Deputy City Manager to the press in articles covering the issue, as demonstrated in the comparison below:
We encourage people reading this site and sifting through this public information to analyze and focus on other aspects worth highlighting, which can be sent to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments section below.
The City of Alexandria also withheld 704 pages of documents related to this request so PY residents filed an appeal to obtain access to this information on June 4, 2018. See both letters below.