In the first gubernatorial race since Virginia implemented an array of voting reforms, one thing remains the same: early voter turnout in Arlington continues to surpass regional and state levels.
It’s a trend that Arlington’s general registrar and election director Gretchen Reinemeyer says she has seen since she started working with the county in 2008 as a seasonal employee with the Voting and Elections Office.
As of yesterday (Wednesday), over 27,000 early ballots in Arlington County were cast, consisting of nearly 10,000 mail-in ballots and over 17,000 in-person votes.
Thus far, Arlington’s early voting rate is nearly 18%, higher than Northern Virginia’s rate of roughly 16% rate and the Commonwealth’s 14.4% turnout, according to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project
Arlington held its first Sunday voting ever on Oct. 24, with 1,454 voters casting ballots in four hours, according to the county. As of July 1, the state permitted the general registrars or electoral boards of jurisdictions to decide if they want to provide voting on Sundays.
“I thought [it] was a very successful inaugural Sunday voting event,” said Matt Weinstein, chair of the county’s three-member Electoral Board, adding that he’d like to see the county do it again.
Arlington’s elevated early voter turnout rate may not be a new phenomenon, but there are a few new changes Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law last year to improve voter participation.
One law dropped the requirement of voters providing an approved reason for absentee voting as of last year’s presidential election. Another law automatically registers people to vote (unless they decline) when they get a driver’s license or make other changes with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
While early voting may increase access to the polls, it does make the job of election outcome predicting more difficult, according to former Arlington County Treasurer and local amateur election prognosticator Frank O’Leary.
“In the past, it was possible to estimate absentee turnout, as Election Day approached, and from that statistic estimate total turnout,” he said. “Unfortunately, ‘absentee voting’ (which was relatively restrictive) has been supplanted by early voting… Thus, all my prior statistics of absentee voting are rendered null and void, which reduces me to ‘guesstimating’ Arlington’s turnout and by inference that of all Virginia.”
This year, he estimates a voter turnout of 56.7% or about 87,000 people for Arlington County, compared to the county’s turnout for the last gubernatorial race in 2017 of 59.4% or 85,382 votes.
Sunrise Senior Living is looking to rebuild, expand and modernize a decades-old facility in Arlington that serves people with memory impairments such as Alzheimer’s.
Members of the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) said last Wednesday that they need to study the site more as part of their review, but neighbors are voicing concerns about expanding the facility at 2000 N. Glebe Road in the Glebewood neighborhood.
“There’s a great need for this type of housing in Arlington today, and it’s likely to only get worse in the future,” said Clyde McGraw, Sunrise’s senior director of real estate, development and investments, during the LRPC meeting.
Sunrise’s facility is in a neighborhood that’s designated as “low residential” and is currently legally nonconforming, county staff told committee members. As such, the organization needs permission for the proposed redevelopment.
An initial proposal calls for keeping the property three stories and adding an underground parking garage. If the county requires the facility to be set back farther from the road as part of the redevelopment, a fourth story may be needed to maintain or add units, according to McGraw.
The proposal looks to increase Sunrise’s residential capacity from up to 50 residents to somewhere between 85 and 90, he said. Changing the upward capacity limit, which the county set in 1986, would require a rezoning request, according to staff.
During the meeting, neighbors raised questions about Sunrise’s proposal to expand.
April Myers, who lives in a nearby townhome, said she’s okay with the current size of the facility, but is concerned with increasing it and questioned if that was the best path forward. Others expressed frustration with how the zoning code is applied in the neighborhood.
“Most of my neighbors cannot rebuild a porch because it’s nonconforming,” resident Cynthia Hoftiezer said.
The Arlington County Board has tweaked an existing lodging tax, making sure it covers the entire bill.
The Board passed the measure Saturday, which means the existing 5.25% tax affecting hotels and other lodging will also now apply to any accommodation fees charged by intermediaries, such as Airbnb and online booking sites.
“Before, transient occupancy taxes were collected and remitted… by hotels and other lodging providers based on the amount of the room charge paid by the guest,” county spokesperson Cara O’Donnell said in an email.
Last year the state legislature updated the law authorizing a Transient Occupancy Tax, which is paid by lodging customers, allowing localities like Arlington to make the change. It also requires that a portion of proceeds be sent to the Virginia Tourism Authority.
For Arlington County’s tax, just under 5% of the money collected will go to promote tourism and business travel in Arlington.
The update also suggests that intermediaries, such as online companies, will have to collect and send the tax to the government.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether that means Airbnb hosts with smaller rental setups will no longer have to file monthly tax reports.
A restaurant specializing in traditional foods of a northwestern Chinese ethnic group has opened in Cherrydale.
“If one [new] Uyghur restaurant opens… everybody knows,” said Tahir Imin, of D.C., who ate at Bostan last week with friends from New York.
Owner Abudushalamu Mirezhati was hard at work in the kitchen when ARLnow stopped by, but another kitchen worker tells us this is the first restaurant Mirezhati has opened. Bostan replaces Bistro 29, a casual Mediterranean spot that closed in January 2020.
In the dining room, Imin endorsed the lagman, a $13.95 dish featuring stir-fried meat and vegetables with “hand pulled noodles,” according to the restaurant’s menu.
Also on the menu are a range of kababs — filled with beef, lamb, chicken, salmon and grilled shrimp — as well as eggplant and Turkish shepherd salads, soups, dumplings, and a Uyghur flatbread called nan.
Like some other early patrons, Imin says he is Uyghur, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group connected to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a diverse area that grows most of China’s cotton. The U.S. government, news outlets and others have accused China of genocide and human rights abuses against Uyghurs, though a four-year crackdown against the ethnic group is waning, according to some reports.
The close-knit community of Uyghurs in the U.S. remain connected to their homeland and culture, in part, through restaurants like Bostan.
“Its culture and food… music, everything is very special,” Imin said of the region, noting that Uyghurs consider themselves to “be an independent nation occupied by China.”
Bostan is the second restaurant to refresh business to the low-slung commercial building on Langston Blvd, which includes a 7-Eleven. The former Billy’s Cheesesteaks — which also closed in January 2020 — reopened as Billy’s Deli/Cafe in June under the ownership of Bill Hamrock, who stepped away from Billy’s Cheesesteaks five years ago.
Bostan opens at 11 a.m. daily, closing at 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Dozens of Arlington residents are now receiving a supplemental income through a new pilot program.
The nonprofit Arlington Community Foundation, which oversees the outreach, will unconditionally give $500 a month to 200 low-income households for two years. Fifty have been enrolled so far, chosen at random from current Arlington County housing grant recipients.
“This new initiative equips families with funds that can be used for whatever is needed most in real time — paying off debt, pursuing education or employment goals, college savings for kids, or allowing parents more time with their children and less time away from home in a second job,” the foundation said in a news release.
Housing grants from Arlington’s Department of Human Services, part of the criteria for eligibility for the pilot program, are restricted to two-person households earning $43,860 or less, three-person households earning $49,343 or less, and four-person households earning $54,825 or less.
The foundation says the pilot further restricts participants to those at or below 30% of the area median income, which is $38,700 for a family of four.
“One participant, a single mother who works full time, says this assistance will give her the much needed breathing room to finish her GED and attend nursing school,” the foundation says.
The county partnered with the foundation for the initiative, dubbed Arlington’s Guarantee. Participants will have access to one-on-one coaching, and a team of experts will be monitoring participants’ health, wellbeing and financial stability.
People can donate to the fund covering the pilot, which the foundation sees as a resource for future policy outreach and philanthropy.
“Arlington’s Guarantee is an opportunity for donors to support a pilot that holistically and unconditionally promotes power, dignity and belonging for families in Arlington,” the foundation said. All administrative costs have been covered by a grant from the Kresge Foundation, so 100% of what is contributed to this fund will go directly into the hands of people in our community who need it.”
More from the press release:
24,700 people, or about 10,000 households in Arlington, make under 30% of the area median income (AMI), or $38,700 for a family of four. These working low income families rely on a combination of earned income, public benefits, and community support to survive. With even a minor rise in earnings, these families can lose their eligibility for subsidies for health care, food, child care, transportation, and housing, meaning the worker has to refuse raises and promotions that could ultimately leave their family worse off. Arlington’s Guarantee has secured local and state agency commitments to ensure the monthly cash payments do not affect benefits and subsidies eligibility. In addition to $500/month and protection from benefits loss, Arlington Guarantee supports the participants with access to trained mobility teams and one-on-one coaching.
Similar tests of Universal Basic Income-like programs — though more targeted and on a smaller scale than UBI — have been rolling out elsewhere in the D.C. area and across the country. In nearby Alexandria, the city plans to use $3 million in American Rescue Plan money to provide $500 a month to 150 low-income households, starting on Nov. 1.
According to research conducted on a similar program in California, participants were more likely to land full-time jobs, pay down debt and report better emotional wellbeing.
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash
After the pandemic put a fledgling outdoor beer and community event on hold last year, Valley Fest is back.
The festival, organized by New District Brewing Co., will take place from 12-5 p.m. on Sunday in the Green Valley neighborhood, near Shirlington.
Entry is free, and a pass for three beer tickets — which includes a commemorative pint glass — is $22 the day of the event. Beer will be served inside the brewery (2709 S. Oakland Street) and at a tent in the parking lot.
But forget about trying to get a space in the parking lot: The brewery is advising people to park on S. Four Mile Run Drive, and the county is encouraging people to consider other ways to travel there.
The festival will include kids activities, art, music and food as well as dessert trucks.
The Arlington County Police Department will close several roads from approximately 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the Sunday festival. Closures include:
- S. Oakland Street from S. Four Mile Run Drive to the Shirlington Dog Park
- The 2700 block of S. Nelson Street, though the Arlington Food Assistance Center and part of the self-storage facility will be accessible
Parking will be limited around the festival, and area street parking will be restricted with temporary “no parking” signs. Illegally parked vehicles may be ticketed or towed. Those whose vehicles get towed can call the Emergency Communications Center at (703) 558-2222.
The Shirlington dog park will remain open during the event but the parking lot between S. Nelson Street and S. Oakland Street will be unavailable. Pet owners are encouraged to use the S. Oxford Street access point if entering from S. Four Mile Run Drive or the Four Mile Run Trail footbridge when walking from Arlington Mill Drive, police say.
For Arlington’s environmentally-sustainable schools — one of which was praised as a model for the country during an event yesterday — the buildings are teaching tools.
Agency heads from former presidential administrations and other boldface names in education toured Alice West Fleet Elementary School yesterday, highlighting the building as an exemplary, energy-efficient school, while teachers noted the impact it has on students.
“I hope school districts around the country can learn from Arlington,” said John King Jr., former Secretary of Education under Barack Obama.
The school opened in the fall of 2019 and cost around $59 million, according to Arlington Public Schools. A contract allowed a company to put solar panels on the roof at no upfront cost to APS. Seventy-two 560-foot-deep underground wells exchange heat with the ground.
“It’s an all-electric building, so no fossil fuels are burned operating this building,” Wyck Knox of VMDO Architects, whose firm designed the school, told visitors.
Fleet is one of three schools that the school system considers net-zero in terms of energy usage — the others being Discovery Elementary School and the newly opened Cardinal Elementary School.
“Generally, the building doesn’t cost more to do these features,” said Jeffrey Chambers, the director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools. “A sustainable building should not cost you anymore than a regular building if you’re smart about what you do.”
Discovery’s energy costs are less than $15,000 per year, which compares to around $120,000 for a typical elementary school, said APS Director of Facilities and Operations Catherine Lin, as visitors toured a classroom overlooking a playground and the solar panel-covered roof.
The school also takes advantage of the sunlight to turn off electric lights and illuminate classrooms naturally whenever possible.
Aspen Institute leaders lauded Fleet Elementary as an example of what districts can do with new and retrofitted buildings.
“This is an amazing school and precisely the thing we want to highlight,” said New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who served in President George W. Bush’s administration.
King and Whitman, the co-chairs of the climate initiative, noted the impact the nation’s school districts have on the environment with the amount of land, buses and other resources at their disposal. Others in attendance included American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, teacher and philanthropist Valerie Rockefeller, and APS Superintendent Francisco Durán.
Along with other environmental efforts, APS announced last month that it’s getting three fully electric school buses to replace those with diesel engines. The district aims to debut them next fall.
Fourth grade history and science teacher Ashley Snyder said that the school’s sustainability efforts have inspired students to talk with their families about the environment — including one family that’s now getting a rain barrel and another that’s talking about installing solar panels in the community.
She noted how the building itself is part of a student’s education. Each floor teaches students about earth science, while a cylindrical column with blue and red lights displays live data about how much energy the building is creating and using.
“Being able to have a field trip right at our school has been so life changing,” Snyder said.
The recently-renamed Langston Blvd is getting a larger-than-life mural of its namesake, Black abolitionist John M. Langston.
The public artwork commemorates the struggle for racial equality in Arlington and the renaming of Route 29, previously named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Work on the outdoor public art is set to finish within the next week and a half, Langston Boulevard Alliance executive director Ginger Brown said. The mural adorns a wall on the side of swimming store Sport Fair (5010 Langston Blvd), which was chosen for its location in the historically Black neighborhood of Hall’s Hill, as well as its visibility from the road.
The new name and mural pay tribute to Langston, who was Virginia’s first Black congressional representative and served as the first dean of Howard University’s law school and the first president of Virginia State University.
It will also incorporate the places and moments in Arlington’s history of racism and racial progress. The Langston Boulevard Alliance says it worked with the artist, D.C. native Kaliq Crosby, to include depictions of Arlington’s Freedman’s Village, established after the Civil War, the segregation of the Hall’s Hill neighborhood and the integration of public schools.
“There is a significant piece of the mural that… came [about] during the design process,” Brown said. “The historic John M. Langston School will be included in the mural. It is the school where all of the Hall’s Hill children went before the Stratford School was integrated.”
About a block from the mural, the elementary school for Black children operated until Arlington County closed it in 1966 as part of its desegregation plan. Today it is the Langston-Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street), which also houses alternative high school programming.
A ribbon cutting for the mural, which was co-sponsored by Arlington Arts and Arlington Economic Development, is slated for later this week. Crosby has completed other racial justice and civil rights-themed murals in the D.C. area, including a recent mural of inaugural poet Amanda Gorman in Dupont Circle.
The Langston Boulevard Alliance will celebrate the renaming of the corridor next month with a pair of public events on Saturday, Oct. 2: a walking tour of Langston Blvd’s racial history and a fall festival at Woodstock Park featuring food, music and family-friendly activities.
There will also be an art gallery featuring the works of local Black artists at Dominion Lighting (5053 Langston Blvd) from Oct. 2-31.
(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) A public-records request sheds light on how the Arlington County Police Department justified a change to what the public can hear via police radio channels.
The Freedom of Information Act inquiry by ARLnow uncovered documents about the department’s March change to encrypt more radio chatter. The documents cited safety and security concerns, including some related to last summer’s police reform protests and the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.
Whereas the public — including news outlets like ARLnow and local TV stations — used to be able to hear more details about a police incident in progress in Arlington, now in most circumstances only the initial dispatch and basic information from the scene can be heard.
“Once a call for service is stabilized, it may be moved to an encrypted channel to protect the personal and confidential information of members of the public interacting with law enforcement and for tactical, operational and investigatory security reasons,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in an email.
Authorities drafted a policy and created a memo in February after a workgroup focused on police radio traffic hashed out details and the department’s now-permanent police chief, Charles “Andy” Penn, wrote that he expected “questions/complaints” about the encryption.
The Feb. 23 police memo gives information about why the department encrypted an administrative channel and details that other channels were encrypted, too, including special ops for presidential and dignitary escorts and other special events, a civil disturbance unit’s operational channel, a frequently-used “talk around” channel for officers on the scenes of incident to communicate with one another, and an outreach zone channel involving school resource officers.
Authorities shared their reasoning in wanting to encrypt more channels, noting police in Illinois and Texas heard on their radios the hip-hop group N.W.A.’s anti-police song — apparently transmitted by someone with access to a radio capable of broadcasting on police channels — amid nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.
“During the summer of 2020, protests and civil unrest across the country highlighted the growing threat to public safety communications and exposed its loopholes,” one email said. “Factions in Dallas and Chicago targeted these vulnerabilities by playing music over unencrypted radio channels, preventing legitimate use. This sort of tactic threatens both public safety personnel, who rely on the radio to communicate with each other, and the general public, who are in potential danger during an incident.”
An Arlington County document also stated that the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol rioting also involved bad actors trying to gain access to police radio systems to cause disruptions. Additional details were not given in emails obtained by ARLnow, some of which were redacted.
“We also took into consideration the events of January 6 as we witnessed bad actors actively trying to gain access to radio systems to cause disruptions,” one email said.
When asked about the alleged Jan. 6 police radio incident, Savage said Wednesday in an email that they weren’t aware of this happening on ACPD’s own channels. In D.C., Metropolitan Police Department also noted they didn’t observe this.
But ACPD’s emails did cite unspecified incidents in which individuals used police transmissions to create disruptions.
“We have experienced numerous occasions where individuals created problems for first responders by having had access to information conveyed over unencrypted channels,” the department said in drafting its policy. “This includes but is not limited to people coming to scenes and disrupting or causing delays in the handling of the call.”
Without the added encryption, authorities say criminals could have advanced warning of police actions, citizens could arrive at a scene before emergency responders, and law enforcement tactics and movements could be compromised.
Savage said all dispatched calls for service, including emergencies such as an armed robbery or school shooting, are broadcast over the primary radio channel, which is not encrypted and available for monitoring by the media or interested members of the public, using either commercially-available scanner radios, online services or smartphone apps.
Savage noted the department shares information about some police incidents through daily reports, an online crime map, Arlington’s Open Data Portal, news releases and Arlington Alert for emergency notifications in the event of public safety threats and traffic disruptions.
Arlington’s pickleball players, eager to see the sport grow, will soon have more courts to play on.
The YMCA Arlington Tennis & Squash Center, at 3400 13th Street N. in the Virginia Square area, is repainting three tennis courts to make room for six pickleball courts. This change is part of an effort to meet the growing demand for facilities as the sport gains popularity.
“In the D.C. region, pickleball is exploding,” said Carlo Impeduglia, Associate Director of Racquets at the Y in Arlington.
He attributes the local and nationwide surge in interest in pickleball and other racquet sports to people searching for social sports where players can stay distanced during the pandemic.
The new courts at the Y facility will feature blended lines and changeable nets so players can choose either tennis or pickleball, Impeduglia said. Currently, the tennis courts have pickleball lines taped on.
Members will be able to reserve courts and participate in drop-in play, instructional clinics, socials and special events, he said. More permanent courts could be added in the future, too.
The changes come as the YMCA (3422 13th Street N.) seeks to upgrade its facilities in Arlington, replacing the Y as well as tennis and squash center with a seven-story tall apartment building and three-story tall facility that has a swimming pool and tennis and pickleball courts.
At the regional level, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is jumping on the craze and opening pickleball courts throughout the D.C. area. Other new courts can be found at the Y’s locations in Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Silver Spring.
“The response to pickleball has been overwhelming by our membership,” said Pamela Curran, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. “Pickleball is the perfect pandemic sport since people can still socially distance and get great exercise both outdoors and indoors at an extremely affordable price.”
Adrie Custer, the moderator of the Facebook group Pickleball Friends of Arlington, Virginia, said she has also seen a surge in interest. The group was founded in 2016 and today has more than 430 members — but nearly 200 of those members joined in the last year, she said.
“Once someone actually plays pickleball, they are hooked,” she said. “We expect our numbers to keep climbing. I believe it’s true that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. It is a game that can be played enjoyably at many skill levels and by people of all ages.”
Players typically are 50 years of age and older, but Impeduglia said he has seen and heard of kids as young as 4 and seniors as old as 90 hitting the courts.
“It’s really all ages, all levels,” he said. “The sport has no boundaries.”
Nationally, the sport grew 21.3% to 4.2 million players in 2020, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Arlington County Parks and Recreation provides indoor as well as outdoor courts for the sport, and classes are available for young players, too.
The county has added pickleball lines to multiple courts over the last few years and noticed an increase in overall use in parks amid the pandemic.
“The pandemic has not seemed to slow its growth,” county parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said of the sport. “It’s definitely popular in Arlington and the region in general.”
Photo via Lauren Bryan/Flickr
A weekend of bike races, including one of the most difficult closed-road events in the U.S., is on tap this weekend in Arlington.
The annual Armed Forces Cycling Classic is back after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic. The two-day event, which includes pro/am races in Clarendon and Crystal City, will close off roads and restrict parking.
“[The] Armed Forces Cycling Classic’s Clarendon Cup has been the Washington, D.C. region’s premier Pro/Am races since 1998,” the race’s website says. “The famous 1km course will test the athletes’ skill and stamina, as it carries a reputation as one of the most difficult criterium races in the U.S. due to technical demands of the course and the quality of the participants.”
Police will close the following roads in Crystal City from approximately 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, June 5, for the event.
- Crystal Drive, from 15th Street S. through 23rd Street S.
- Wilson Blvd, from N. Kent Street to the Route 110 ramp
- Route 110, from Rosslyn to Crystal City
- S. Clark Street, from 20th Street S. to 23rd Street S.
- 20th Street S., from Crystal Drive to S. Clark Street
- 18th Street S., from Crystal Drive to S. Bell Street
- 23rd Street S., from Crystal Drive to S. Clark Street
- Crystal Drive (West side), from 23rd Street S. to the Central Center Parking Garage
- 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive
For Clarendon, roadway closures will run from approximately 3 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 6, according to ACPD.
- Wilson Blvd, from N. Fillmore Street to Washington Blvd
- Clarendon Blvd, from Washington Blvd to N. Fillmore Street
- Washington Blvd, from Wilson Blvd to N. Highland Street
- N. Highland, N. Garfield and N. Fillmore streets, from Wilson Blvd to Washington Blvd
Apart from the races, the Armed Forces Classic features a Challenge Ride that’s open to military members and corporate groups. Registration — now closed — is linked to a participant’s service branch and status, including active duty, reservists and veterans. Riders of all abilities also participate in the closed course to see how many laps they can complete.
In preparing for this year’s event, organizers created a wave format to adhere to the Virginia’s now-former COVID-19 restrictions. Instead of 1,500 participants for the ride being released at once, they’ll start in groups.
The new system is still being used because organizers realized it might be a better way to conduct the rides, the event’s founder, Rob Laybourn, said.
“It’s kind of a COVID silver lining,” Laybourn told ARLnow. “We’re kind of excited to see how it works.”
Photo  courtesy Aaron Webb,  and  courtesy Armed Forces Cycling Classic