Arlington, VA

Architects have developed three different visions for the new park at S. Eads Street and Army Navy Drive, an open space and proposed park in Crystal City.

Through Friday, Arlington County is once more accepting feedback on the space, which borders Pentagon City and is also known as the “Teardrop Parcel.” A third online engagement period will occur in February.

“We’ve received an incredible number of questionnaires from the community, about 160 in fact,” said Mark Gionet, the Principal at LSG Landscape Architecture, during a presentation in December.

The new park is located by the Verizon telecommunications facility site (400 11th Street S.) and the construction site for a new, 19-story residential building. It’s adjacent to the recently-built Altaire apartments and across the street from the second phase of Amazon’s permanent HQ2. The park project, with a $2.6 million budget, is funded by set-asides from the Altaire and the new residential building.

Most respondents to an earlier feedback round said they live nearby and use the park to pass through the area. They would like a place “where they can feel connected to nature,” Gionet said.

Many respondents said they would like pop-up programming, benches and attractive design features. Popular name ideas include Pentagon Park, Teardrop Park, Canal Park and National Landing Park.

“There is an overwhelming preference that this park site remain a natural refuge in character,” Gionet said, adding that respondents support preserving the mature cottonwood tree on the site.

He proposed three ideas. The first, which he called “The Meander,” is an “immersive walking experience” with a curving paved path bordered by greenery and habitats for pollinators.

The second, called “Canal Walk,” traces the historic route of the old S. Eads Street and “grounds the new park in its historical context,” he said. The park would have amenities for working out and socializing.

His third concept, “Central Hub,” focuses on passive green spaces and dog amenities, including a dog run.

After the third online engagement period, the project is expected to be reviewed by County commissions in March and go before the County Board for approval in April.

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While VDOT considers lowering a section of Route 1 to a surface boulevard, a group of civic associations, known as Livability 22202, recommends going below ground instead.

As development activity in Crystal City and Pentagon City continues, VDOT and Arlington County are looking for ways to improve the pedestrian and transit experience along Route 1, also known as Richmond Highway. The study directly responds to the increased demand for transportation resulting from the construction of Amazon’s HQ2.

VDOT’s study will examine the feasibility of an at-grade boulevard, with the current overpasses removed, comparing it to the current elevated route and the changes prescribed in the Crystal City Sector Plan, according to a presentation from December.

Following online public engagement in the fall and a virtual public meeting, Livability 22202, which represents the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations, published a series of alternatives to an at-grade boulevard — including taking part of Route 1 below-grade.

The group suggests going underground for at least the 18th Street S. and 23rd Street S. intersections, creating patterns similar to those in Washington, D.C., where through-traffic is below-grade and local traffic uses at-grade streets — like Connecticut Avenue NW through Dupont Circle.

For a more extensive below-grade roadway, the group suggests trenched express routes from 23rd Street S. to 15th Street S., flanked by at-grade roads. The underground portion would eventually transition into the 12th Street overpass.

“This concept would solve side-street traffic issues, create far-safer pedestrian crossings, create a brand-new open space in what is now wasteland, and open up myriad redevelopment opportunities,” the group said in its response. An even more extensive “big dig” is also proposed, though the group acknowledges is may be “infeasible.”

Dropping Route 1 to grade and creating more signalized intersections would make pedestrians and cyclists less safe unless significant measures are put in, Liveability 22202 predicted. They suggested lower speeds, bike tunnels, signalized right turns and pedestrian-led crossings.

The group also envisions an at-grade boulevard as a “linear park” with retail, wide sidewalks and an abundance of trees.

If VDOT keeps Route 1 elevated, Livability urged VDOT to consider something like a viaduct. Such a bridge would allow the space below to be activated with open spaces or retail.

In a letter, the presidents of the three civic association said “a study of Route 1 in this area is long overdue,” but until VDOT conducts a broad stakeholder review of multiple alternatives, “we endorse the Crystal City Sector Plan as the best alternative.”

The 2010 sector plan keeps the grade separations at 12th, 15th and 18th streets, reconfigures the 15th Street intersection and takes traffic below-grade at 26th Street S., under a newly-created National Circle, as pictured below.

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JBG Smith is proposing to replace the Crystal Plaza One office building with two multifamily towers in Crystal City.

As part of the project, the Bethesda-based developer will be shifting S. Clark Street to the east to create a new S. Clark-Bell Street and “create greater connectivity” in the area, according to a recent JBG Smith presentation.

After a public comment period closed yesterday (Monday), the project is in the home stretch, with only a few meetings to go before an expected review by the County Board later this year.

JBG Smith proposes 786 units across two LEED Silver-certified buildings bisected by a new S. Clark-Bell Street. A pedestrian pathway would form the eastern border of the East tower.

The towers would replace an aging office building at 2001 Richmond Highway, along with a surface parking lot previously used for some public events.

The West tower (2000 S. Bell St.) has the following specifications:

  • 250 feet tall
  • 365 units
  • 18,510 square feet of ground-floor retail
  • 180 parking spaces

The East tower (2001 S. Bell St.) has these specifications:

  • 200 feet tall
  • 421 units
  • 11,060 square feet of ground-floor retail
  • 167 parking spaces

The new S. Clark-Bell Street would shift S. Clark Street east and, south of the buildings, tie into the existing S. Clark Street, according to a county report. The northern end of the road would line up with S. Bell Street north of 20th Street S.

In response to the proposal, members of the Crystal City Civic Association, as well as a few transportation and pedestrian commission, have pointed out the project fails to meet some basic requirements of the Crystal City Sector Plan.

In a letter provided to ARLnow, the civic association said the planning process “failed to meaningfully address long-range planning issues implicated by the proposed site plan.”

Transportation Commission member and Aurora Highlands resident Darren Buck said efforts to expand cycling options in the area will be hampered by the buildings, which are eight feet closer to their property lines than the Crystal City Sector Plan calls for.

Buck wrote that the project is part of a trend in which “the strict terms of the [Crystal City Sector Plan] are used to justify refusing or ignoring minor deviations from the plan sought by members of the public (particularly in regards to non-motorized transportation), while substantial deviations are advanced when they originate from an applicant.”

Meanwhile, the Crystal City Civic Association said the sector plan calls for “trees, gardens and benches” for the space where JBG Smith proposes a cement pedestrian plaza. The association characterizes the plaza as “an afterthought,” and Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Pamela Van Hine said it should be a pocket or linear park, not a hardscape.

The civic association also expressed concerns about the future of the network of tunnels in Crystal City, known by locals as the “Underground.” JBG Smith proposes an underground garage, which the civic association said would interfere with the tunnels.

The association credited JBG Smith for changing its plan so the new garage and existing tunnels link up and said it supports the developer’s commitment to “a holistic approach to revitalizing the entire Underground.”

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Starting today (Tuesday), fencing is set to be installed for an interim dog park in Rosslyn’s Gateway Park.

Work on the dog park, including the installation of lighting and a water fountain, started in 2020. It is slated to finish in the first quarter of 2021, said Mary Ann Elliott, the director of R-Dogs, which is one of the main forces behind the project.

Eventually, the area will be fenced-in, with a section for small and disabled dogs and one for large dogs.

“Fencing is the last major part,” Elliott said.

The interim dog park at 1300 Lee Hwy fills Rosslyn’s growing need for dog parks, of which the county will need three by 2035, according to a county planning document. The temporary facility will be in place until a Park Master Plan is developed and funding becomes available for a potential permanent replacement.

The plan could be finished in 2022 and funded in 2028, Elliott said.

The interim park is the result of nearly three years of work by R-Dogs, a community group-turned-nonprofit, and the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

“It has been a long process with rules and regulations that one comes to find with any rules of county governance,” said Elliott. “I’m very pleased, overall, with the County, and thrilled with what the BID has contributed.”

Mary-Claire Burick, President of the Rosslyn BID, said the park represents a “wonderful partnership” among the County, R-Dogs and the BID to meet the needs of Rosslyn’s growing residential population.

“We are excited to add in a designated place where owners and their pets can safely enjoy the fresh air,” she said in a statement.

The Arlington parks department anticipates a dog park will be considered in the master planning work, but will need to go through a community process before it can be more specific, department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said in an email.

Elliott said the interim dog park will cost about $40,000, and the BID, a veterinary practice, several small businesses and individuals have chipped in to fund it. This sets the dog park apart, she said.

“All of the other dog parks in the County have a sponsor group of community residents, but did not raise money or establish a company with by-laws in order to make it a reality,” she said.

Photo (bottom) via Arlington County

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. The new 2800 Shirlington recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center, and is adding spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village.

(Updated 9:30 p.m.) Ballston-based Fluence is ramping up its efforts to tackle climate change with energy storage systems for renewable energy.

The energy storage company was founded three years ago this month as the joint venture of Berlin-based Siemens and Arlington-based Fortune 500 company, AES Corp. It enjoyed torrid growth over the course of 2020: About 100 staff came on, including a new CEO, and it acquired a company in October.

This year is off to a great start, too, with a pledge of $125 million in investment from the Qatar Investment Authority.

“We have been experiencing an enormous growth since the inception of the company,” said Vice President of Strategy Marek Wolek.

Fluence develops batteries that store energy from wind and solar. Since 2018, Fluence had quadrupled the amount of energy storage it has deployed or is working on, from 600 megawatts to 2,400 megawatts. It has deployed or been awarded contracts for storage in 24 countries.

The work is “a little bit more complicated” than just batteries, however, Wolek said. It also makes sure the supply of natural, renewable energy can be converted into enough electricity to meet demands, without leading to surges in electricity or deficits for customers.

“That’s extremely valuable, and makes the whole energy grid stable,” Wolek said.

But to keep up in a rapidly innovating market, the company started seeking out investing partners about six months ago, he  said.

“How we effectively create a grid of future requires investments,” he said. “The mark is moving very fast: We have to make sure the technology is easier and faster, and efficient to use, for our customers.”

With the $125 million from Qatar Investment Authority, a founding member of the One Planet Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative, which invests government funds into climate change solutions. Fluence will be investing in hardware and software, as well as staff to further develop the battery technology, he said.

In a statement, CEO Manuel Perez Dubuc said tackling climate change requires both technology and investment worldwide.

“We see energy storage as the linchpin of a decarbonized grid and adding QIA to our international shareholder base will allow Fluence to innovate even faster and address the enormous global market for large-scale battery-based energy storage.”

Dubuc came on as CEO in May 2020, after serving on the company’s board. He switches roles with Stephen Coughlin, who now sits on the board, said Director of Communications Alison Mickey.

He and the newly hired 100 staff members grew the company’s workforce to more than 300 worldwide.

In October, the company bought Advanced Microgrid Solutions, which develops AI bidding software for batteries and other tech for storing and generating renewably sourced electricity. The merger will help to improve energy storage, grid reliability and efficiency, Wolek said.

Fluence is headquartered at 4601 N. Fairfax Drive, and has offices in San Francisco, suburban Atlanta, Germany and Australia.

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Arlington resident Celia Edwards Karam is at the top of her game.

She is the Chief Audit Officer for Capital One, and was just named the first independent member of the Board of Directors for Zola, a popular online one-stop-shop for wedding planning services.

Zola’s founder, Shan-Lyn Ma, tapped Karam for the position, and after a series of conversations with the company’s leadership, Karam was officially in.

“I guess I must have done okay in those interviews,” she said, laughing.

While she got married before anything like Zola existed, Karam said she is joining the board to help Zola find opportunities for growth and new corners of the $55 billion wedding industry to explore.

The appointment adds to a resume that includes degrees from Harvard and Stanford universities, 14 years at Capital One and volunteer work with the nonprofit Commonwealth, which helps vulnerable people achieve financial security.

Her achievements seem to flow from one source. “It all comes back to [the question], ‘How might we make choices that are actually helping people get to better outcomes?'” she said.

Karam draws inspiration from her experience as a Jamaican immigrant. She came to the U.S. with her family when she was five years old, and watched her parents work hard to give her and her siblings access to education and better opportunities.

“Financially speaking, we didn’t have a lot to work with,” she said. “The sense you get instilled is one of gratitude and one to give back.”

This sense manifests in Karam’s concern for people, and making their lives easier. She says Capital One, Zola and Commonwealth share this customer-centered pursuit.

But these companies also share Karam.

In recent years, the chief audit officer has grown more confident in sharing her perspective as a Black woman — something that she did not always do. As a child, she was taught that the way to achieve equality was by ignoring color.

“The way to succeed, in my mind, was for my bosses not to notice the differences,” she said. That changed five years ago.

“I came to what might sound like a ridiculous conclusion: The fact that I am a Black woman actually makes me different,” she said.

Keeping in mind her bad experiences suppressing her identity, today she encourages business leaders to show employees that their perspectives, informed by their diverse identities, are valued. It is one reason she said she admires and wants to work with Ma — one of the relatively few women running successful new tech companies.

“If you don’t have the numbers, there’s nowhere to go from there,” she said. “But you only get a diversity of perspective if the people who are there feel like they can actually share what’s on their minds.”

Karam jokes that outside her work, she does not have too many hobbies she can pursue because she has three kids — ages seven, 10 and 12 — who she shuttles to “what feels like hundreds of sports activities.”

In the 10th month of remote work since the shutdown this March, she said she and her kids have started taking lots of walks with the family dog through Arlington. She, her husband and kids have called Arlington home since 2007.

“Arlington is actually a pretty amazing place to live,” she said. “It’s exactly right mix of urban and suburban for our family.”

Photo courtesy Celia Edwards Karam

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McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group has taken over plans to convert the RCA building in Rosslyn into a 27-story mixed-use residential complex.

The next steps for the proposed retail and residential building at 1901 N. Moore Street include community engagement — an online feedback form available through next Wednesday — and site plan reviews in February and March.

In 2017, Weissberg Investment Corp., which developed the RCA building in the 1960s, filed plans to redevelop the RCA site — but those plans were put on hold indefinitely in 2018. Jefferson started filing application materials in May 2020.

Jefferson proposes a building with two towers, 260 feet and 239.5 feet tall, atop a base, connected at the top by a penthouse level, creating “a sky window” in the middle, according to staff and architect presentations. As currently planned, the building will have 424 residential units and nearly 12,000 square feet of retail space.

Though it has some ground-floor retail, the current building is mostly devoid of street-level activity, while the sidewalk around it is shaded by an overhang.

“In 1969, the current RCA building was constructed, and quite unfortunately drained the site of that rich pedestrian environment that formerly occupied the site,” Shalom Baranes, the architect for the project, said in the developer’s presentation. “One of our goals with the proposed project is to restore the street-level retail vitality that existed years ago.”

Parking access will take up most of N. Moore St while retail — dining, entertainment, services and repairs and sales — will be housed on the other three sides of the block: 19th Street N., N. Lynn Street and Lee Highway.

The site will have 280 parking spaces, including 10 retail and visitor spots. Not all of the 270 residential spots can fit below-grade, due to “particularly dense rock” and some Metro tunnels, Baranes said.

Two levels of parking, or 102 spaces, will be inside the building — above the retail and below the residential units.

“We have been very careful to integrate the parking architecturally so that it appears to be part of the overall building composition,” Baranes said.

There will be 171 long-term and 12 short-term bike spaces.

Arlington County principal planner Kristen Walentisch said that increasing the share of housing will make Rosslyn more vibrant and economically competitive.

“Historically, Rosslyn has been dominated by commercial office spaces and hotels, so the Rosslyn Sector Plan adopted in 2015 includes several land use goals aimed to establish a greater balance between commercial and residential uses and activities,” she said during a staff presentation.

Photos (2-3) via Arlington County

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Arlington Public Schools is holding off on announcing future dates for returning students to school.

Sending back students and staff together is unsafe, Superintendent Francisco Durán told the School Board during a meeting on Thursday. For now, APS will focus on its timeline for returning staff to their buildings, he said.

Students with disabilities have been learning inside school buildings since Nov. 4. Shortly after, APS began providing learning supports — but not instruction — to additional elementary students at four schools, and “work space” programs at five high schools.

But before more students return, Durán said it is important that staff have “a buffer so they can prepare, feel confident, air any concerns with us… and acclimate to teaching from their classrooms.”

Further, he said he does not want to make promises he cannot keep regarding getting kids in the building.

“I don’t want to have to give dates that we have to take back,” he said, adding that both Fairfax County and City of Falls Church public schools have had to do just that, as the latest pandemic wave still rages.

The return-to-school schedule for staff is as follows:

  • Week of Jan. 25: preschool through second-grade teachers, and all countywide teachers and staff for elementary special education programs (dates for third through fifth-grade teachers will be announced “at a later date”)
  • Weeks of Jan. 25 and Feb. 1: Central Office staff
  • Week of Feb. 1: secondary teachers, staff, and all countywide teachers and staff for secondary level special education programs

The first in-person School Board meeting is set to be held on Feb. 4. More information on the staff return plans will be released during the Jan. 21 meeting.

Meantime, APS will launch a COVID-19 app that allows employees and families to complete health screening questions about symptoms and exposures in multiple languages.

Temperature checks will still be completed at school, he said.

“The platform will enhance the process for reporting exposures and positive tests, to assist with the speed and efficiency of our contact tracing process,” Durán said.

He also acknowledged the “many, many times” staff requested more granular data on the number and location of cases in school buildings. Previously, staff told ARLnow that they would learn only through word-of-mouth if an outbreak occurred in their building.

Depending on the number of reported cases, COVID-19 statistics will now be broken down by building or facility, or division, he said.

The superintendent also welcomed the news from Gov. Ralph Northam, announced on Wednesday, that K-12 teachers are included in the state’s second phase of the vaccine rollout.

“With the arrival of a vaccine in Arlington, I hope we will be turning a corner in how we manage and get through this pandemic,” the superintendent said.

Some teachers, however, have expressed concern about returning to school buildings.

“APS is not a jail system, but for the teachers who will be forced to come to work without any guarantee of safety, it is not an inappropriate comparison,” one H-B Woodlawn teacher said in an email to ARLnow. “The only reasons school statistics are not
comparable to prison statistics are because of cancellations and virtual options that have allowed teachers and students in APS to stay safe. Undoubtedly, coming back to school will result in higher infection rates in Arlington.”

“I understand there are many pressures for action from conflicting positions, but I implore them to make the choice that errs on the side of safety and a value for life,” the teacher wrote.

Meanwhile, a distance learning task force — focused on improving instruction and social-emotional learning — had its first meeting on Wednesday, Durán said. The force has 65 members, representing teachers, administrators, students and parents.

After its final meeting on Feb. 17, it will recommend specific steps to be taken “immediately,” Durán said.

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(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Vaccine distribution in Virginia started three weeks ago, and in Arlington County, the focus remains on healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Officials say widespread distribution is still months away.

“We certainly share the enthusiasm about the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, and we appreciate everyone’s patience during this initial rollout,” Ryan Hudson, the acting public information officer for the Arlington County Public Health Division, told ARLnow in an email.

“As quantities are limited, [the vaccine] may not be widely available to the general public until at least mid-2021,” he said.

As of this morning, 2,216 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Arlington County, according to Virginia Department of Health statistics. At the current vaccination rate — around 150 per day — it would take more than three years to vaccinate Arlington’s adult population. The county, meanwhile, saw 121 new coronavirus cases reported today.

Statewide, 116,247 doses of the vaccine have been administered.

Gov. Ralph Northam acknowledged during a press conference on Wednesday that the state could be going faster. To that end, he announced a state goal of administering 25,000 vaccine doses a day in the coming weeks.

Virginia is planning for a weekly allocation of about 50,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines apiece, Hudson said. The actual amount received, however, depends on “when and how quickly vaccination doses are manufactured,” he said.

Arlington County is following the vaccine prioritization list that Northam outlined. The focus through the spring will be on people categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state authorities into Phases 1A, 1B and 1C.

The state is currently in Phase 1A, immunizing doctors, EMT workers, nurses, and those who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

A Virginia Hospital Center spokeswoman said its allotment of doses of the vaccine have been allocated to staff or an affiliated frontline health worker.

“The first wave of over 2,000 VHC physicians and employees are receiving their second dose of the vaccine this week,” she said. “The second wave of staff received their first dose in late December and will return for the boost in late January.”

The hospital downplayed reports that some members of the general public are being given the chance to receive excess vaccine doses that would otherwise go to waste.

Doctors affiliated with VHC were told that the hospital received excess dosage that would made available to the general public, and several people successfully scheduled appointments, a reader who wishes to remain anonymous told ARLnow. The reader was able to successfully make an appointment to get the vaccine, which was confirmed with a screenshot.

Maryanne Boster, director of corporate communications at VHC, affirmed Thursday afternoon that the hospital is following VDH guidelines for vaccine distribution.

“The scheduling system referenced is intended for healthcare providers and their staff,” she said in a statement. “Individuals accessed the site and scheduled appointments. We have since corrected the issue. Virginia Hospital Center continues to offer the vaccine to those who meet the criteria defined as the highest priority in Phase 1A and is committed to using all of our allotted vaccines.”

In Arlington, distribution will expand to 1B as supplies and resources increase, Hudson said.

Phase 1B includes those who are 75 years and older, as well as: firefighters, police officers, teachers, hazmat workers, grocery store workers, food processing plant workers, agriculture workers, mail carriers, and those who work in transit and corrections.

Teachers make this bracket because “they’re critical to getting schools open and getting people back to work,” Northam said.

It will take “well into the spring” to immunize Phases 1A and 1B, roughly 2 million people, he said.

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After nearly 60 years, The Inn of Rosslyn is permanently closed.

The Green family, which owned The Inn of Rosslyn and the Americana Hotel in Crystal City — the sale of which was previously reported — has sold both hotels to developer JBG Smith before the new year, according to one family member. The family also sold two apartment buildings: Fern Gardens and Williamsburg Apartments.

“The whole COVID-19 thing has basically bankrupted our businesses,” Katherine Green, whose father built the hotel in 1957, told ARLnow. “There was no other option. There was no end in sight.”

Business looked good, pre-coronavirus. The hotels were generating income, and the general manager of The Americana told Washington Business Journal that 2017 was its best year. But when the economy crashed, Green said she had no income from April 1 until mid-December. (The County records the sales on Dec. 18.) She said a small business loan covered payroll for a few months, but the siblings still emptied their bank accounts to keep the hotels open for a paltry 10% occupancy.

“We were hemorrhaging money,” said Green, who is 60.

A spokesperson for JBG Smith confirmed the purchase of the 38-key Rosslyn hotel and the two apartment buildings, but declined to comment further. The company has been on something of a buying spree in Arlington; an affiliated nonprofit just bought the Crystal House apartment complex with funding from Amazon, as part of a $2 billion commitment by the tech giant to support affordable housing in Arlington, Nashville and the Seattle area.

The Inn of Rosslyn is assessed at $5,070,900, and the two apartment buildings are together worth $8.7 million, according to county records.

Prior to these sales, JBG Smith’s Arlington properties were cumulatively valued this summer at nearly $4.5 billion, according to Arlington County.

“This is an end of an era,” Green said of her family’s business. “It’s hard for the employees. Some have worked for us for 20-odd years. Many were housed in family property and we don’t know if they’ll find jobs.”

The coronavirus was not Green’s only worry. Some of her siblings are too old to be involved, or have died recently, leaving only Green and her sister, Carole Newman, poised to keep the doors open.

The Green’s story is playing out statewide. COVID-19 has crippled the hotel industry statewide, with hotel revenues down 51% from 2019, and the percentage of rooms booked down 33 percentage points, Virginia Business reports.

Still, Green considers herself lucky.

“My father built his businesses in an area that is so valuable that we could sell,” she said.

William Green Sr. quit his electrical engineering job with General Electric to build the hotels.

“He didn’t want to work for a big corporation — he wanted to give his family financial independence, and give them freedom,” she said.

And her father, a child of the Great Depression, chose the D.C. area, she said.

“He knew that if the economy crashed again, D.C. would be more insulated than anywhere else,” she said. “Arlington is really the center of the universe in some ways.”

Today, Green lives on more than one hundred acres in eastern Oregon, and even mulled investing in hotels two years ago — but is glad she did not.

“What is going down is a travesty unlike anything in my lifetime,” she said.

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