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Immigrant Advocates Rally in Arlington

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm | 2,721 views | 222 Comments

Local supporters of immigrant rights held a press conference in Arlington today to voice their opposition to a slew of anti-immigrant legislation in Richmond.

Speaking in front of TV cameras and about 15 audience members at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Route 50, immigrant advocates said the bills represent the kind of “divisive, partisan politics” that Virginia’s immigrant community has “always feared.”

“Now more than ever we cannot be silent, we have to act,” said Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez, an Arlington County School Board member and a board member of Northern Virginia Community College. “We have to defeat all these anti-immigrant bills.”

Violand-Sanchez said she was particularly concerned about HB 1465, which passed the Virginia House of Delegates by a vote of 75-24. The bill would deny undocumented students the opportunity to attend public colleges, including community colleges, in Virginia. Violand-Sanchez said the bill would affect about 200 undocumented Northern Virginia Community College students who are currently paying the out-of-state tuition rate.

“We cannot create a permanent underclass of marginalized young people who are not allowed to continue to their education,” she said. “These students work hard to pay for their education… Will we close the door to them now?”

Melanie Maron Pell, Director of the American Jewish Committee of Washington, which supports immigrant rights, said there’s an economic argument to be made for the defeat of HB 1465.

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Arlington Hotel Tax Surcharge Passes House Subcommittee

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm | 730 views | 6 Comments

It looks like Arlington has a chance of getting its top legislative priority through Richmond, after all.

A House of Delegates Finance subcommittee approved Arlington’s hotel tax surcharge bill today. It’s expected to be taken up by the full committee on Monday.

The bill that was under consideration today was approved by the Democrat-controlled state Senate in January, under the leadership of Arlington’s Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple. A House version of the bill, introduced by Del. Bob Brink, failed to make it out of committee after being blocked by a key Republican.

A Democratic legislative source tells ARLnow.com that the current bill has about a 60-40 chance of ultimately passing the House and becoming law. Del. Tim Hugo (R), who blocked Brink’s bill in retaliation for Arlington’s lawsuit against the proposed I-395 HOT lanes project, has said he would vote against the current legislation but not try to block it, according to the source. Arlington took steps to withdraw its lawsuit yesterday.

The bill would renew Arlington’s ability to impose a 0.25 percent surcharge on hotel rooms. The county uses the tax to fund its tourism promotion programs. The bill has the support of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

If the bill passes in its current form, Arlington would have to lobby Richmond again next year to renew the surcharge authorization. In the subcommittee today, members changed the bill’s “sunset provision,” which sets an expiration date on the bill, from three years to one year.

Passage in the House still won’t be easy, however. Since the bill applies to only one locality, it requires a two-thirds House vote to pass.

Changes Coming to Local News Site TBD

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm | 1,029 views | 16 Comments

Changes are coming to TBD.com, a Rosslyn-based local news web site that launched six months ago.

The management of TBD will be taken over by its corporate sibling, television station WJLA (ABC 7), the Washington Post reported today. Station Manager Bill Lord will now oversee TBD’s operations, according to the Post. WJLA.com, which has merely redirected to TBD.com for the past six months, will be run as a separate web site. No staffing changes are planned at TBD.

WJLA and TBD are both owned by Allbritton Communications and operated out of the Allbritton offices at 1100 Wilson Boulevard.

The change comes three months after TBD founder Jim Brady left the site, citing differences with company CEO Robert Allbritton and culture clashes with personnel at WJLA. TBD Managing Editor Paul Volpe left the site two weeks ago for the New York Times.

Keen observers of local media may have noticed that TBD’s Rebecca Cooper, who represents one-third of Arlington’s full-time reporting corps along with ARLnow.com and the Sun Gazette, has been posting fewer Arlington articles as of late — including only one so far this week. But TBD Editor-in-Chief Erik Wemple says that’s because she’s on vacation.

“No conspiracy here,” Wemple wrote via email. He also said that TBD’s Arlington coverage will continue.

An internal source tells ARLnow.com that TBD staff have attended a number of meetings over the past week or two about the direction of the site, and that some new features may be in the works.

At the same time, however, there has been a noticeable drop in the number of stories aggregated on TBD’s home page in the past month. The site has a feature that allows you to plug in a zip code and get headlines from other local web sites. At least for Arlington zip codes, that list is now only sporadically updated.

Disclosure: ARLnow.com was the first web site to join as a member of TBD’s “Community Network” of local web sites. We still maintain that relationship.

Flickr pool photo by BrianMKA

Comcast Going All-Digital In Arlington, Will Add HD Channels

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm | 5,842 views | 81 Comments

Starting next month, Comcast will be expanding its HD channel selection in Arlington as it transitions to all-digital cable service.

Comcast recently mailed informational material to customers regarding the changes, and earlier notified the county’s Cable Television Policy and Administration office of its plans.

Starting on or about March 3, Comcast will stop transmitting most basic cable channels in analog. Instead, anybody who currently watches cable TV without using a set-top box or a CableCARD device (like TiVo) will need to get a digital adapter to see the channels. Comcast is offering up to two digital adapters free of charge, with each additional adapter priced at $1.99 per month.

The switch from analog will free up space for new HD channels. Comcast will offer about 50 new HD channels to Arlington customers, most of which will be included in the Digital Starter cable package. Many of the new channels will be rolled out on March 15, with a few other channels set to come on-line on April 12.

Comcast is in the midst of a nationwide transition to all-digital and Arlington is just the latest area to get the service, which the company has alternately dubbed “Xfinity” and “The World of More.”

Last month, an ARLnow.com poll of nearly 800 people indicated that many local residents are unhappy with the quality of Comcast’s service.

Robert Billingsley, Cable Administrator for Arlington County, said that anyone who has unresolved complaints about their cable service can instead contact his office at 703-228-3242. He said his office gets about 15 complaints about Comcast per month, compared to 7 to 8 complaints per month about Verizon FiOS.

See a list of the new HD channels, after the jump.

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Miss Margaret Serves Up Soul Food in Green Valley

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm | 1,545 views | 35 Comments

It’s easy to miss the unpretentious storefront of Margaret’s Soul Food and Catering Services, located at 2534 S. Shirlington Road in Arlington’s Green Valley (Nauck) neighborhood. But the down-home cooking inside the barred windows of the one-story brick building is worth the 10 minute walk from Shirlington.

The county-run Arlington Virginia Network recently visited Margaret’s and found a treasure trove of soulful cooking, including jerk chicken, BBQ ribs, pulled pork, Italian sausage, collard greens and potato salad — all made according to proprietor Margaret Gardner’s family recipes.

In the video, Gardner’s demeanor appears to be even sweeter than the tea she serves.

“In this business, honey, if you don’t crack a smile you won’t make a dime,” she told host Katie Greenan.

In addition to serving take-out customers (menu), Margaret’s caters events and is a regular vendor at the Arlington County Fair.

Is a Vegan Restaurant Coming to Shirlington?

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 9:48 am | 1,746 views | 65 Comments

The good news is that a new restaurant is apparently coming to Shirlington.

The bad news is that we’re pretty thin on details.

A restaurant called Native Foods Cafe has registered for a license to serve beer and wine. The license seems to suggest the restaurant will be in Shirlington, in the old Bear Rock Cafe space.

If you go to Google, you’ll find out that Native Foods Cafe is a chain of Vegan restaurants in Southern California. Is this restaurant going to be the company’s first east coast location, or is the name merely a coincidence? We don’t know, since the company’s Director of Marketing has declined to respond to an emailed request for information and since the address of the holding company listed on the ABC application comes back to a UPS Store in Henderson, Nevada.

There’s also a “Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe” in the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C., but so far we haven’t been able to establish a connection there, either.

Will Shirlington be getting a Vegan restaurant? Stay tuned.

APS Appoints Interim Williamsburg Principal, Hires Lawyer

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 9:14 am | 3,283 views | 43 Comments

Update at 11:10 a.m. on 2/10/11 — APS has clarified that the scope of the “legal services” provided by the outside legal counsel has yet to be determined.

The brouhaha over the resignation of Williamsburg Middle School principal Kathy Francis continues.

Arlington Public Schools announced last night that it had approved the hiring of an outside legal counsel to defend the school system against review allegations made by Francis, who sent a lengthy resignation letter to parents last week. In the letter, Francis accused superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy of “discrimination” and harassment.

APS also announced additional, temporary leadership changes at Williamsburg. Retired Wakefield High School principal Doris Jackson will work part-time as interim principal of the school, alongside Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Meg Tuccillo.

Assistant Principal Dr. Eileen Wentzel will delay her move to another position in order to stay on at Williamsburg through the end of the school year, the school system said.

“I want to thank the Williamsburg staff for the work they have been doing with our children,” Dr. Murphy said in a statement. “I especially appreciate the leadership of this team, particularly during the past week. Finally, I am grateful for the added help of Ms. Tuccillo and Ms. Jackson.  I am confident that this team will work to ensure that the education and success of our students remain the primary focus for the school.”

The school will start the process of hiring a new principal “in the next several weeks.”

UPDATED: The Smell of Natural Gas in the Morning

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 8:52 am | 1,047 views | 18 Comments

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Residents in some parts of Arlington woke up to the smell of sewer natural gas.

Many called the fire department to report the gas smell, which the county’s Department of Environmental Services says is an issue that Washington Gas is investigating.

According to DES, the smell was reported in Fairfax County, Northwest D.C. and as far away as West Virginia.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | February 9, 2011 at 8:39 am | 419 views | 4 Comments

Water Woes Continue in Ft. Myer Heights — Some Ft. Myer Heights residents were without water last night as crews worked to repair a persistent water main leak. Workers installed some temporary piping as they worked deep below the surface to repair the leak. [Ode Street Tribune]

Libraries Will Offer Self-Checkout — As part of a host of changes set to take place next week, Arlington Public Libraries will now be offering self-checkout at its Aurora Hills, Cherrydale, Columbia Pike and Glencarlyn branches. [Library Blog]

Artisphere Restaurant Name Contest Begins — Do you have a creative idea for the name of the new restaurant in Artisphere? If so, submit it online for a chance to win prizes. The arts center is letting the public decide the name of the restaurant, which is tentatively expected to open next month. [Artisphere / Washington Post]

Artisphere Appears on TLC Reality Show — The task of creating large, elaborate balloon sculptures (WARNING: link contains NSFW material) for the opening of Artisphere in October was the subject of an episode of the TLC reality series ‘The Unpoppables,’ which aired Monday night. [TLC]

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