Arlington on a ‘Money-Hungry Crusade?’ — Arlington is on “a money-hungry crusade for increased revenue at the expense of neighborhoods and communities,” writes the Arlington Connection. The paper suggests that “residential neighborhoods are increasingly in the crosshairs of developers seeking larger and larger densities,” and the County Board is acquiescing to their demands in an effort to drum up more tax money. “This is a County Board that acts like Republicans even though they’re all Democrats,” one civic association president is quoted as saying. [Arlington Connection]
Governor Backs Bipartisan Transportation Deal — A bipartisan compromise on transportation funding in the Virginia General Assembly has won the support of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). The deal, which will ultimately raise $880 million per year for transportation projects, replaces the 17.5 cent gas tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gas and a 6 percent wholesale tax on diesel. It also raises the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent and imposes a $100/year fee on hybrid vehicles. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
Shakespeare Production to Include ‘Splash Zone’ — The Synetic Theater production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” opening today in Crystal City, will include 2,500 gallons of standing water on stage, an on-stage rainfall, and a “splash zone” (a section of audience seating likely to get wet during the show). [Washington Post]
Parks Dept. Says Camp Registration Went Smoothly — The Arlington County parks department received more than 1,900 summer camp registrations between 7:00 and 7:10 a.m. yesterday. Officials said the registration process, which has been beset by technical problems in the past, went smoothly this time around. [Patch]
ARLnow Commenters Called ‘Offputting’ — An Arlington “community notable” has “found the ranting of loony respondents on ARLnow to be offputting,” according to Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey. McCaffrey predicts that of Arlington’s three online-only news sites, “odds are not all will survive the year.” [Sun Gazette]
Wakefield Captures District Championship — On Friday, the Wakefield High School boy’s basketball team defeated Mount Vernon 69-60 to become the National District champions. Wakefield is now competing in the Northern Region regional tournament. Yorktown, which fell 42-82 to Wakefield in the National District tournament, is also competing as a lower seed in the Northern Region tournament. [Northern Virginia Sports]
Neighbors Want Security Guard at New Homeless Shelter — Residents of the Woodbury Heights Condominium in Courthouse are pressing Arlington officials to place a 24-hour security guard at the county’s planned year-round homeless shelter at 2020 14th Street N. Residents say they’re worried about an increase in crime as a result of the shelter moving next to their building. A resident’s Freedom of Information Act request revealed that there have been just under 6 police responses to the existing shelter per year, on average, between 1994 and 2011, mostly for alcohol-related incidents. [Arlington Mercury]
Arlington Tourism Tax Bill Passes General Assembly — A bill that would restore Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge is destined for the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell. The state legislature approved the bill, which will restore the tax authority — which is used to fund tourism promotion — for three years. [Sun Gazette]
Conservative Tech Biz Booming in Arlington — Business is booming for a small Arlington-based conservative digital advocacy company. The co-founder of Red Edge, which is based above an antique shop in Lyon Park, says he expects the business to double or triple this year as Republicans look to make up ground lost to Democrats in the online sphere. [New York Times]
Registration Open for Ballston LaunchPad Challenge — Registration is now open for the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge. The contest challenges entrepreneurs to come up with the “next great idea,” for a chance to pitch their innovation to billionaire Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. [Ballston BID]
Va. Senate Passes Transportation Bill — The Virginia state Senate yesterday passed a Democrat-backed transportation bill that would raise gas taxes and index them to inflation, impose a gas wholesale tax, and would allow Northern Virginia localities to impose a sales tax surcharge to pay for transportation projects. Unlike a version of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan that passed the House of Delegates, it does not increase the overall statewide sales tax rate. [Washington Post]
House Rejects Income Tax Proposal — A bill that would have allowed Arlington and other Virginia localities to impose a one percent income tax in order to pay for transportation improvements has failed in the House of Delegates. The House Committee on Finance voted to reject the bill. [Sun Gazette]
GGW: Pike Bus Proposal is Not BRT — Those who are proposing a more modern bus system for Columbia Pike as an alternative to the county’s streetcar plan are falsely calling calling it Bus Rapid Transit, writes David Alpert. Also, the proposed bus system might be just as expensive as the streetcar, Alpert said. [Greater Greater Washington]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada has suggested that he’s open to a discussion about imposing a local income tax and using it to fund transportation projects, the Washington Post reports.
A bill that would allow Arlington and other Virginia localities to impose a 1 percent income tax without a voter referendum passed the Virginia state Senate last week. It’s now under consideration in the House of Delegates, although most tax bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-majority body.
(Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and other jurisdictions are currently authorized to impose a 0.25 to 1 percent income tax, but must first have it approved by voters.)
Tejada told the Post’s Tom Jackman that the Board is following the bill “intently.”
“We’re always trying to find ways to fund transportation projects, and considering we were ranked number one in gridlock, any resources would be helpful,” Tejada said. “We’ve been trying different things, and traffic’s not going anywhere.”
At last month’s meeting, County Board members said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) transportation plan might not raise enough new revenue to meet Northern Virginia’s transportation needs. McDonnell and state lawmakers are currently working to hash out a compromise version of the governor’s proposal.
Man Sentenced for Harassing Arlington Woman — A 47-year-old I.T. worker from New England has been sentenced to 7 years in prison for stalking and harassing an Arlington mom and her 16-year-old daughter. Bruce Stimon was accused of emailing the woman’s friends and saying she had an STD; posting her name, photo and work phone number on prostitution sites, secretly recording a video of them having sex, posting it on porn sites, and sending it to her daughter’s Twitter friends; and repeatedly slashing her tires. [WJLA]
Arlington Hotel Tax Passes House — A bill that would restore Arlington’s authority to levy a 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge has narrowly passed the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill earlier passed the state Senate, but the House bill contains a three year sunset provision that wasn’t in the Senate version, meaning the House and the Senate will need to hash out a combined bill in order for it to reach the governor’s desk. [Richmond Sunlight]
Navy Sets USS Arlington Commissioning Date — The new USS Arlington will be commissioned in Norfolk on April 6, the Navy has announced. [Sun Gazette]
Tejada Says No to Anti-Streetcar Groups — Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada has declined requests from groups critical of the Columbia Pike streetcar seeking to make presentations at an upcoming streetcar community forum. Tejada said the purpose of the forum, on March 27, is to “update the community” on the streetcar project, not to debate the Board’s decision to build the streetcar. [Sun Gazette]
A redistricting effort by Republicans in the Virginia Senate, which would have resulted in Arlington losing much of its legislative clout in that body, has been defeated.
The state Senate passed the surprise redistricting plan on Jan. 21 by a party-line vote of 20-19, thanks to the absence of Democratic Senator Henry Marsh, a civil rights lawyer who was attending President Obama’s inauguration that day. The unexpected vote drew strong criticism from Democrats and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
The redistricting plan would have benefited Republicans, turning several Democratic-held districts heavily Republican. It would also have reduced Arlington’s legislative influence, moving veteran state Senator Janet Howell’s district back out of Arlington (she represents part of north Arlington as a result of the 2011 redistricting) and reducing state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s portion of Arlington to a small sliver of south Arlington.
Arlington’s interests would have been represented in the state Senate primarily by Sen. Barbara Favola, the former Arlington County Board member who was elected to the state legislature in 2011.
The redistricting plan, which was tacked on to a bill that was supposed to make small technical changes to House of Delegates districts, was ruled not germane by Republican House Speaker Bill Howell on Wednesday, defeating it.
Kaine Meeting With Defense Contractors in Arlington — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) will be in Arlington today meeting with Northern Virginia defense contractors. Kaine will be holding a roundtable discussion at Courthouse-based contractor Dynamis at 3:00 p.m. “The event today in Arlington will discuss the upcoming sequester cuts that are reported to threaten 1 to 1.4 million jobs with a disproportionate effect in Northern Virginia,” a Kaine spokeswoman told ARLnow.com.
Arlington Tax Surcharge Advances – A bill to restore Arlington’s 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge is closer to passing in the Virginia General Assembly. The bill has passed the state Senate and last week passed the House of Delegates Committee on Finance, albeit with a three year sunset provision. The Arlington Chamber of Commerce supports the tax surcharge, which helps to fund county tourism promotion efforts. [Sun Gazette]
PBS Doc Films at Glebe, H-B Woodlawn — An upcoming PBS documentary called “The Path to Violence” filmed at two Arlington Public Schools on Sunday. The production filmed at Glebe Elementary School and at H-B Woodlawn, according to an email from Arlington County. The Path to Violence, which is expected to air the week of Feb. 18, will tackle the topics of school safety and school violence.
Corps of Engineers to Review Tree Concerns — The Army Corps of Engineers says it will revise its Environmental Assessment of Arlington National Cemetery’s planned expansion in response to concerns from residents about the loss of old-growth trees. [Arlington Mercury]
Flickr pool photo by Jorge Bañales
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) County Board members spent a portion of Tuesday’s meeting expressing distaste with Governor McDonnell’s proposed transportation plan, namely the idea of eliminating Virginia’s gas tax.
The proposal would do away with the 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax, but would increase the state’s sales tax from five percent to 5.8 percent. The plan also would increase vehicle registration fees and add a yearly $100 charge for drivers with alternative fuel cars. McDonnell said that would raise about $3.1 billion over five years to fund road, transit and rail projects across the state.
County Board member Jay Fisette said that while it’s good to have some sort of proposal on the table in order to start a conversation about transportation funding, this plan is not the answer. He further stated that the plan was offered to the General Assembly at the last minute, without adequate time to review and understand it.
“Many people see this as a vehicle on which to find a better compromise or a more functional proposal,” he said. “This is hugely important to Arlington, to Northern Virginia and to the future of this state. I’m willing to give kudos for starting a conversation, but if this passed it would be a big mistake in the form it was proposed by the governor.”
Fisette believes eliminating the gas tax would incentivize driving and reduce the use of public transit.
“While it sounds good to eliminate a tax, they would be adding others. This is a user fee. There is a gas tax in every state in the United States. We would be the first to decouple the incentive to drive with the cost of driving,” said Fisette. “You’re still looking at a fee to ride transit, but you’re going to remove the gas fee for driving and spread that cost among everyone who buys something in Virginia. That doesn’t seem fair to people who choose to use transit.”
Several Board members worried that the proposal wouldn’t actually raise the additional money McDonnell says it will, but simply moves it over from a different area.
“It shifts money from the general fund, which has been the basic source of funds for education, human services and public safety, and shifts those to transportation,” said Fisette. “So it’s robbing the basic source of funds for the rest of our needs to pay for transportation.”
Board member Mary Hynes echoed Fisette’s concern.
“We can talk about how poorly they’ve spent the money they have, but the reality of what the governor has proposed is it’s mostly smoke and mirrors,” she said. “It’s taking away with one hand and putting it in another place. The actual new money that’s involved in any near term frame is very small.”
Both Fisette and Hynes pointed out that nearly one-third of the proposed funds ($1 billion) would not be immediately available because it’s tied to pending legislation in Congress regarding internet sales tax revenue.
The transportation plan’s perceived dilution of local government’s authority and an increased role for state government proved to be another recurring topic of discussion. Board member Chris Zimmerman called it a “blatant power grab.”
“This is getting very frustrating to a lot of people in local government, that the administration has been not only not helpful in providing more funding, but essentially is continually distracting the conversation with these efforts to shift power away from people who have to pay the bills,” said Zimmerman.
A legislative committee approved the governor’s proposal today, and it’s expected to go before the full House and Senate in the Virginia General Assembly next week. The General Assembly is currently about halfway through its short 45 day session.
Independent’s Day is a weekly opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
On Wednesday night the Washington Post reported that some of our Virginia Senators cast a vote to change our local districts and favor their party. They did this despite the reality that our Commonwealth, along with many states in our union, just recently redistricted all of the state “lines” last year.
Around this time a year ago, I shared a conversation with fellow Virginia independent candidate for U.S. Congress, Mr. Mark Gibson. He ran against newly re-elected U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly in Virginia’s 11th Congressional district. Mark shared that Reston, part of the then current 8th Congressional District, was being moved back to the 11th. I hadn’t realized that this was going into effect so soon. I nervously made multiple phone calls to our Virginia State Board of Elections. It wasn’t until late March that the new districts had been confirmed and my signature gathering process could confidently continue.
As frustrating as the jostling of entire townships was to me as a first-time candidate, it was even more disheartening to read into the possible motives. The documentary film Gerrymandering describes well the process, perpetrated by both major parties, that leaves the true “electing” to state representatives. The movie used to be free on their website but now you may have to dig around on-line for it. It’s worth the find but be careful; the film may encourage you to do something crazy like run for office as an independent.
In simple terms, gerrymandering is the process by which politicians outline the neighborhoods that will likely vote in their party’s favor; they then “draw” them into their voting district. This nearly guarantees that their party will win the November elections (and that unless they lose in the primary, they will win individually). November elections have become less of a deciding factor than the primary elections held earlier in the election year, when fewer people are casting votes. This is a big reason why we have had U.S. Congressional retention rates hovering over 80% since 1964. In addition, most people casting votes in June (our 2012 primary month) are traditionally more partisan; which leads to more polarity in our political choices.
The apparent gerrymandering in Richmond this week continues to drive a familiar political wedge between our neighborhoods. These divisions are not reflective of our true nature to understand then be understood. We are better able to “come to the table” when we are not sent to our corners — so are our legislators.
Our governor has an opportunity to veto this bill should he be interested in distancing himself from the appearance of unhealthy partisanship. Having just performed a redistricting action last year, he could easily question the constitutionality of another plan, just one year later. Governor McDonnell could also have a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act to lean on for this veto action, should he go in that direction.
Virginia is once again making national news with this latest action by members of our legislature. Here’s hoping our Governor has the support he needs to make a wise decision about our commonwealth’s future and reputation.
Jason Howell, a former accountant and a motivational speaker, ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012.
The legislation defines the term “bullying” and requires school boards to prohibit students and school employees from engaging in any actions that fall under the definition. The bill also requires local school boards to implement policies and procedures for reporting, investigating and addressing acts of bullying.
The part of the bill defining bullying reads:
“Bullying” means any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma. “Bullying” includes behavior motivated by a real or perceived differentiating characteristic of the victim and cyber bullying. “Bullying” does not include ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict.
The legislation requires each of the school boards around the state to add a portion to its code of student conduct addressing bullying by July 1, 2014. This would prohibit bullying in classrooms, on a school bus, on school property and at school-sponsored activities.
Each code of conduct must also be updated with provisions to protect students and school employees who come forward to report instances of bullying, and must allow the reporting individuals to remain anonymous. School administrators or their designees would be required to promptly investigate every credible report of bullying.
“Sen. Favola patroned this bill because she believes it is an important message to put language in the law to protect our children and create safe learning environments,” said Legislative Assistant Arlene Spinelli. “Studies demonstrate that when bullying takes place in the school environment, academic performance is impacted and suffers. This issue is a priority of the Virginia Education Association.”
The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the state Senate Education and Health Committee.
Two state lawmakers who represent parts of Arlington have proposed a gun safety legislation package in the Virginia General Assembly.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin and Del. Patrick Hope, both Democrats, introduced bills that would close the so-called “gun show loophole,” require universal background checks on gun purchases, require gun owners to report stolen firearms, and restrict weapon sales to the mentally ill. To drive home the point, the lawmakers recorded two videos (above and below, after the jump) showing them buying a handgun without a background check and buying a high-capacity magazine at a recent gun show in Chantilly, Va.
The legislation was introduced Wednesday, a day before President Obama proposed legislation to require universal background checks, ban high capacity magazines, and ban assault-style weapons.
The gun control bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-controled state legislature; Hope and Ebbin called on Virginia residents to contact their legislators in support of the legislation.
From a press release:
Virginia State Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Delegate Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington) have introduced a package of gun safety legislation to require universal background checks on prospective firearms purchasers (SB 1232 / HB 2025), close the gun show loophole, and tighten restrictions on the sale of weapons to the mentally ill (SB 1109 / HB 2221).
SB 1109 and HB 2221 would make it a Class 6 felony to sell firearms to persons found mentally incapacitated or who have been involuntarily admitted.
Ebbin also introduced legislation to require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms (SB 965) and to outlaw firearms in legislative buildings (SB 1012).
“We easily purchased a handgun at a Virginia gun show, without undergoing a background check. Sadly, nearly 40% of all gun sales are conducted without a background check. In the interest of community safety, it’s not too much to ask for responsible gun purchasers to undergo a background check to screen for criminal history or history of serious mental illness,” the two wrote in a joint statement.
The lawmakers discussed their visit to a gun show in a January 15th news conference at the Virginia Capitol. Hope showed the High Standard Sentinel Revolver he bought for $175; because he purchased the gun from a private dealer, he did not have to undergo a background check to screen for a criminal record. “Today, a felon with a violent past can walk into a gun show or go on the Internet and buy any gun with no questions asked,” Hope said. “A law we could pass today, requiring universal background checks for all gun sales, would have an almost immediate impact on gun safety. No responsible gun owner is afraid of a background check.”
Displaying a 30-round ammunition magazine he purchased for $20, Ebbin said, “Buying a 30-round magazine should not be as easy as buying a candy bar.” He noted that a 30-round magazine was used in the recent Newtown, Connecticut tragedy that left 26 dead.
Citing the need to pass SB 965, Ebbin said, “When a gun is stolen, a deadly weapon is in criminal hands—a combination we all want to avoid. Reporting lost or stolen guns can help police avert a tragedy.”
Hope and Ebbin called on Virginians to contact their legislators in support of the gun safety legislation.
(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) In the wake of a presidential election that saw 3+ hour lines at polling stations in Arlington, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has proposed a bill to extend polling hours in Virginia.
Ebbin, who represents parts of Arlington and Alexandria, is proposing extending the poll closing time to 8:00 p.m. from 7:00 p.m.
“My legislation to extend polling hours to 8:00 p.m. is designed to make it easier for Virginians to participate in our democracy,” Ebbin said in a statement. “Particularly in Northern Virginia, unforeseen circumstances like ice storms, earthquakes, traffic tie-ups and work emergencies have prevented people from getting to vote. Based on our recent presidential election, we know that a successful voter turnout can lead to long lines at the polls, particularly early in the morning. SB 964 would make it easier to vote — as it should be!”
Ebbin’s bill, SB 964, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Privileges and Elections committee on Tuesday, Jan. 15, according to the legislative tracking website Richmond Sunlight.
Photo courtesy Arlington Public Library
Girls entering the sixth grade in Virginia are already required to get vaccinated for HPV, which can cause cervical cancer. By law, parents can opt out of the HPV immunization, if they wish. Still, the measure isn’t without controversy — Republicans in the General Assembly nearly succeeded in lifting the mandate last year.
Hope’s bill would simply remove two words — “for females” — from the mandate, thus requiring boys to receive the vaccines too. Hope said he realizes his bill is not likely to see the light of day on the House of Delegates, but proposed it because it’s consistent with current medical best practices. In boys, the HPV vaccine can prevent certain types of genital warts and cancers, and prevent them from spreading the disease to girls, who can suffer more serious consequences from contracting it.
“Given last session where a majority of House Republicans wanted to gut existing law that simply recommends girls receive the vaccine, this legislation will be met with extreme opposition,” Hope told ARLnow.com. “But there is absolutely no controversy within the medical community: Immunizing boys against HPV will help save lives.”
“As the father of three young girls, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect them,” Hope continued. “I just hope we can let the expertise of the medical community guide our policy decisions and not let politics get in the way.”
The surcharge expired on Jan. 1, 2012 after Del. Tim Hugo (R), of Fairfax County, blocked a renewal bill in retaliation for Arlington’s lawsuit against high occupancy toll lanes on I-395. The Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce has been calling for the Virginia General Assembly to reestablish the taxing authority, which brought in nearly $1 million per year to fund tourism promotion efforts.
A bill proposed by Howell today would allow Arlington County to reinstate the tax surcharge on hotel rooms, and extends the taxing authority in perpetuity. The bill has been referred to the state Senate’s Committee on Finance.
Streetcar Referendum Might Be Necessary — Arlington County might be forced to hold a bond referendum for the Columbia Pike streetcar if it’s unable to sell a certain type of revenue bond to partially fund the $250 million project. For now, the project is awaiting word on whether it will receive up to $75 million in federal funding. [Sun Gazette]
Higher-End Stores at Pentagon City Mall — The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City has undergone a transformation that brought higher-end “aspirational luxury” stores to the mall. Recent addition to the malls include Oakley, Sperry, Mezlan and Cole Haan. Among the stores that have recently left is Aeropostale, which was forced out by a Microsoft Store. [Washington Post]
‘Dooring’ Law Proposed in Richmond — A law has been proposed for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session (which starts tomorrow) that would make a vehicle occupant liable in the event they open their car door in the path of a cyclist, causing an accident. Similar laws are already on the books in Maryland and D.C. [WTOP]
State Dept. Cancels Search for Lease in Rosslyn — The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, based on Lynn Street in Rosslyn, has canceled a search for a new lease. The agency is now looking for a building to buy, raising the prospect that it may be looking to move into the District. [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Jkurl11