Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a weekly column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com

By Maggie Davis

While there are many ways to define the Arlington community — subjectively and objectively — one crucial factor is the baseline data of how many people live in the County, as collected by the decennial Census.

Last year, I wrote about how census data affects Arlington’s bottom line. While there are still concerns regarding the logistics of administering the Census, the larger concern now is the Trump administration’s aggressive and persistent fight to include a citizenship question in the Census. Wrangling over this question has sowed distrust that is expected to result in an undercount. Arlington has to come together and work harder than ever to ensure an accurate and thorough Census in 2020.

In July 2018, then Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol submitted a letter on behalf of the County Board to the U.S. Department of Commerce urging it to omit the Trump administration’s proposed citizenship question from the 2020 Census because it “is divisive in nature, is unnecessary and will result in an undercount of residents.” Similarly, several states and other interested parties sued the Trump administration to prevent the question from being included in the 2020 Census, with the issue eventually rising to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether the Commerce Department Secretary, Wilbur Ross, had the authority to include a citizenship question in the Census. In its June opinion, the Supreme Court determined Secretary Ross did have the discretion to include the question. However, a narrowly divided (5-4) court found the Trump administration’s stated reason for including the question — to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act — to be pretextual.

Recently uncovered evidence showed a key section of the administration’s rationale for the question was written by a longtime Republican strategist who asserted a census citizenship question would disadvantage Democrats and be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites.” The Supreme Court did not rule that the census could not include the question — only that the administration needed to provide a different and more convincing rationale for the question to one of the U.S District Courts with pending cases (New York and Maryland).

Then the process got weird.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction for having violated a federal bribery law spurred some small reforms to Virginia’s ethics laws, including a $100 cap on gifts to state legislators.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court, on somewhat narrow and technical grounds, overturned McDonnell’s conviction, ruling that his conduct didn’t violate the applicable federal bribery law.

However, even after the Supreme Court’s McDonnell decision, states like Virginia retained the power to enact state ethics laws. Virginia can decide whether politicians who do things like McDonnell did should be:

  • excused for doing something that is just part of the old-school “Virginia way,” or
  • subject to significant penalties for doing something that the community and a new legislative majority now believes is a conflict of interest or corrupt

We need further, more significant campaign finance and ethics reforms, but efforts to get them have failed so far. In the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions, when Democrats held only 34 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates (HOD), no such reforms were passed. And, even in the wake of the major Democratic HOD legislative gains in 2017, more significant reforms have been blocked by slim Republican majorities.

Democrats will need to take control of both legislative chambers this year to enable significant reforms to pass in 2020.

Campaign Finance Reform

In the recently concluded Democratic primaries for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington and Fairfax counties, a PAC funded by George Soros contributed nearly $1 million dollars to the successful challengers. These contributions were legal under Virginia’s current campaign finance laws.
Our laws contain no campaign contribution limits.

Virginia’s campaign finance laws have been ranked 47th out of 50 in America, and received a grade of “F” from a State Integrity Investigation.

Three Democratic legislators (including Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47)) recently announced that they intend to introduce new legislation in the 2020 session substantially to reform these laws.

Their legislation will be modeled after an unsuccessful bill introduced in the 2019 session, and would “prohibit individuals and political action committees from making any single contribution, or any combination of contributions, that exceeds $10,000 to any one candidate” for statewide, General Assembly, or local offices, “of which no more than $5,000 may be contributed for the primary or other nominating event for the office the candidate is seeking.”

But wouldn’t such contribution limits violate the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision? Maybe not. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals ruling upholding Montana’s state campaign contribution limits. The Court of Appeals rejected a claim that Montana’s campaign contribution limits violated Citizens United.

The proposed new Virginia legislation co-sponsored by Delegate Hope would be a significant and desirable reform. But it is unlikely to pass unless Democrats take control of both legislative chambers this November.

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The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Seeing all of the reports from the flooding throughout Arlington County yesterday reminds me of the responses Arlingtonians have made to previous natural disasters in the area.

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel wiped out power throughout much of the county and the region. However there were areas where houses on one side of a street had power and their neighbors on the other side had none. We live on one of those streets.

We asked a neighbor if we could run an extension cord across the street to run a few essentials, including a mini refrigerator to keep a few things cold, a couple of lamps and a fan for sleeping through a few warm nights. All of this came in especially handy as we had a toddler running around the house.

Soon, we noticed extension cords running all over the neighborhood. And then we heard stories of it happening all across the area as power outages stretched out for a week.

During one of the more severe winter storms a couple years back, a neighbor told another that his wife was in the hospital with late term pregnancy complications. Next thing you know, there was a small army shoveling out the street so he could get his vehicle out of the neighborhood.

These things happen regularly here in Arlington, not just in my neighborhood. It is what living in a community is all about.

Two weeks ago, the author of the Progressive Voice suggested Republicans represented a “cacophony of terrible.” It does not quite rank up there with Senator Barbara Favola’s 2017 line that Republican candidates were “evil”, but it does reflect a troubling partisan tribalism in our society today.

Both sides have been guilty of falling into it. But, this attitude is dangerous to the social fabric of our communities.

As neighbor helps neighbor again this week, may we all feel more connected and invested in making Arlington a great place to live, work and raise a family. May it also be a time to re-evaluate the emphasis we put on politics. And may it be a reminder to treat each other the way we want to be treated at all times, not just in times of crisis.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Claire Noakes

Remember reading those books, with choices every few pages? Now we live in one, where we have multiple decisions to make on clean energy policy that could lead to breakthroughs and a resilient community, or to dead ends. Choose wrong, however, and we fall into a trap that lulls us into believing we have made virtuous choices when we have in fact overlooked a huge variable. Let’s start the storyline.

It’s 2013, and you generate 12.9 metric tons (mt) of carbon dioxide emissions annually, which is unsustainable. You create a Community Energy Plan (CEP), with goals (but no budget or regulations) to lower that amount to 3 mt by 2050, and to improve economic competitiveness and energy security. Turn the page to the year 2018. You read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, which states dire consequences if emissions are not dropped further.

It’s 2019, and the County Board responds in the CEP Update, aiming for 100% renewable electricity for County operations by 2025, 100% renewable electricity for the community by 2035, and net zero emissions by 2050. Net zero is ambitious– if a resident uses a gas stove, there must be a carbon offset. If this draft CEP Update is adopted (and you can provide input during the July 13 County Board meeting), where will we choose for this storyline to go next?

Here’s a favorable set of possibilities:

We have chosen well at every turn.

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

It’s the 5th of July, which means you’ve survived the Fourth of July crowds and DCA delays and you’ve made it to the weekend.

While you’re cooling off from the heat, here are some other stories you might have missed:

How do you plan to celebrate the weekend? Feel free to discuss that or any other topic of local interest in the comments below.

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Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In April 2019, the Arlington County Board approved a new Public Open Spaces Master Plan (“POPS plan”). The POPS plan includes a commitment to “add at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years.” Sadly, this commitment is merely an aspiration backed up by zero Arlington tax dollars.

Arlington’s Parks and Recreation Commission has rightly condemned (at p. 3) this lack of funding:

The commission is extremely disappointed with the lack of commitment by the county manager’s CIP [Capital Improvement Plan] proposal for park land acquisition funds… for the next ten years. This decision represents a retrenchment on established county policy to provide funds for strategic and opportunistic park land acquisition. As the county grows in population the need for open space opportunities, both for casual use and recreation purposes, and for natural resource preservation, continues to grow… [W]e believe that a proposal in line with what the current POPS process is proposing of acquiring 30 acres of land over the next 10 years must be supported with a realistic funding commitment…

Arlington continues to fall behind other localities and Arlington’s own prior practices in providing access to parkland

A comprehensive 2016 report from the Civic Federation (“Civ Fed report”) documents how Arlington has continued to fall behind other localities and Arlington’s own prior practices regarding:

  • ratio of parkland to population
  • dollars devoted to new parkland acquisition

The Civ Fed report explains (at p. 5):

As of 2015, Arlington County had 1,784 acres of parkland within its borders. Of those 1,784 acres, 949 acres were owned by Arlington County, 700 acres were owned by the National Park Service (most of which is Arlington Cemetery), and 135 acres were owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

In 1995, Arlington County had 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. By 2014 the County’s population had grown by over 43,000 residents, and the parkland to population ratio had declined to 7.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

By contrast, Washington, DC, has 13.2 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and Fairfax County has 28.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.

The Civ Fed report also traces the history of Arlington’s declining investment in acquiring new parkland (at p. 3):

[B]etween 1995 and 2008, funding for parkland acquisition per two-year bond cycle was between $4.0 and $8.5 million, with most cycles at $8.5 million. Since then… there has been a decline…. Over the six years between 2008 and 2014, land acquisition bond funding totaled only $3.0 million, but [was]supplemented by a total of $5.47 million in pay-as-you go (PAYGO) annual budget allocations. Yet, the total funds of $8.47 million available for land acquisition during the latter six-year period was still far less than the $8.5 million that was typical for each two-year cycle between 1996 and 2004 (an eight-year period).

The next CIP must fully fund the open space acquisition targets in the POPS plan

In accordance with prior practice, all relevant County departments and agencies already are planning for the next CIP (covering fiscal years 2021-2030). The next CIP will be adopted one year from now.

Arlington County’s latest population growth forecast (Profile 2019) projects (at p. 5) that our population will rise from the current 226,400 to significantly more than 270,000 by 2040. Without allocating enough Arlington tax dollars for new open space acquisition, Arlington’s ratio of parkland to population will continue to degrade.

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Arlington’s newest Pet of the Week is a rescue bunny named Bobby.

Bobby’s owner Inger rescued the English spot rabbit with the help of the Arlington Animal Welfare League last January. Here’s what Inger says Bobby thinks of his new life in Arlington:

Here’s what I love: I like to flop on the floor and stretch out. The wood floor is nice and cool on these hot days. In the morning and evenings, I do my zoomies where I run around the living room in circles super fast. Then I do my binkies where I jump and twist at the same time. The hoomins really like it when I binky. I love my litter box. Mommy laughs at me when I nap in it after dinner. Every night when I get tucked in, I get lots of pets and kisses. My mommy and grandma tell me I’m the best bunny ever. And I’ve trained grandpa to feed me carrots. I’m very good at looking like I have not been fed in a long time!

Here’s what I don’t like: I’m really scared of being picked up. If my hoomins want me to go somewhere, I’m easily persuaded with banana chips or a piece of banana. I am crazy for banana! I don’t like taking any medicines and I don’t like having my nails trimmed. The bunny doctor says I’m sassy!

But the best part is the love, good food, fun toys and cozy home that I have. In return I give lots of kisses to my mommy! She loves my kisses! And grandma is really good at petting me. She calls me her little puppy.

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email [email protected] with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet. Please don’t send vertical photos, they don’t fit in our photo galleries!

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care is the winner of six consecutive Angie’s List Super Service Awards, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year and a proud supporter of the Arlington County Pawsitively Prepared Campaign.

Becky’s Pet Care provides professional dog walking and pet sitting in Arlington and all of Northern Virginia, as well as PetPrep training courses for Pet Care, CPR and emergency preparedness.

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The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It is a big summer for Arlington Public Schools. It started with the June 12th announcement that Superintendent Patrick Murphy is leaving his post September 3rd after a decade at the helm.

Yet, according to incoming School Board Chair Tannia Talento, the search for his replacement still has not begun, nor have they named an interim superintendent who can be an active part of the transition. Talento noted the School Board plans to hire an executive search firm, but has not done so yet. In fact, Talento says the search firm may not be in place until sometime in the fall.

Murphy’s decision must have caught the School Board members off-guard. Three weeks have already gone by, and apparently it will be three months before the search begins.

This is the second instance that calls into question the priorities of the School Board when it comes to staffing APS. Just a couple months ago, we heard that APS does not have an effective exit interview system in place to determine why staff leave.

This is a school system with a budget that will approach $700 million next year, but may not have a new leader in place when budget negotiations commence. Regardless of whether you agree with the outcome or not, Superintendent Murphy was able to shepherd through the request for a tax rate increase to give the School Board nearly everything it could have asked for in the most recent budget process.

The School Board should have a contingency plan in place for these circumstances. Even if they did not, they should have made starting this search process a higher priority. If the School Board does not get more serious about finding a permanent replacement, it will not help their cause as the next budget is being written next spring.

Speaking about getting serious, APS is taking another step toward school security by testing a visitor management system this summer that would require a photo ID for those wishing to enter a school. Acceptable forms of ID can include any ID, regardless of where it was issued, so long as it contains your full name, date of birth and photograph. APS will work out the kinks before the system is rolled out county-wide in the fall.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Sheila Fleischhacker

It’s unthinkable any child goes hungry or experiences “summertime anxiety,” which is associated with summer’s unstructured nature and is marked by the lack of predictability in what each day is going to look like or, for some children, whether there will be enough to eat.

Yet hunger among Arlington kids does exist. One in 10 Arlington Public Schools (APS) middle and high school students reports having experienced hunger. A third of APS students qualify for federally assisted school meals — from less than 1% at Tuckahoe to 81% at Carlin Springs.

“Many Arlington children rely on school meals,” explained Charles Meng, executive director of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), which served more than 12,000 people last year. “During the summer, our families face higher food costs on already-tight budgets (an estimated additional $800 per child).”

All APS summer school programs offer federally supported meal services. Any child not enrolled in summer school can participate in summer meal services at Barrett, Carlin Springs, Kenmore and Hoffman-Boston. “While enjoying a delicious school breakfast with Carlin Springs students, I have seen first-hand how dedicated our schools are to getting students excited about school meals,” observed Matt de Ferranti, an Arlington County Board member. “It’s inspiring to hear about creative solutions to ensure access to healthy meals while decreasing stigma, such as breakfast in the classroom at Oakridge and Hoffman-Boston.” Strengthening each school’s local wellness policy is another important tool.

Outside of school, Arlington’s community centers, parks and recreational centers, childcare centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, faith-based organizations, and others participate in federally assisted programs that provide free, healthy summer meals to children. SummerFoodRocks helps locate meal sites or text “FOOD” to 877877 and, after providing an address, you will receive a message about free summer meal sites.

Individuals can engage in partnerships or volunteer opportunities such as developing innovative transportation approaches to sites or providing musical entertainment during lunchtime. AFAC, for instance, depends on more than 2,200 volunteers to help bag, distribute, drive, glean or grow food for participating families.

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Has the following happened to you?

You’re in a car, bus or on a bike, waiting at a traffic signal. The traffic light turns green, but a driver in front of you doesn’t budge. Other drivers honk, and you see the perpetrator hurriedly putting down a phone and mashing the gas pedal.

Anecdotally, it happened to one ARLnow employee every single day last week.

Needless to say, distracted driving (or distracted non-driving) is bad. It’s first and foremost incredibly dangerous to you and those around you. It is also infuriating, particularly at rush hour as those behind you are trying to get home and safely make it through short turn signals and green lights.

It sends a message: what’s taking place on my phone is more important than you, your time and your safety.

It is, however, not entirely illegal — Virginia’s existing texting-while-driving law applies to use of the phone in a moving vehicle, not when legally stopped. This year Virginia’s legislature failed to pass a more expansive bill, though it did pass a bill prohibiting phone use while driving through highway work zones.

We’re wondering: have you experienced what’s described above? And do you think it’s getting better or getting worse?

File photo

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

It’s Friday and nearly the Fourth of July, which means it’s hot and people are leaving town.

It’s been a busy week for transportation-related stories, between county plans for safety improvements on Military Road and Lorcom Lane and a new pedestrian-bicycle corridor. And officials shared more information about why scooters get dumped on trails and why sidewalk building takes so long.

A development in Rosslyn, meanwhile, announced plans to build a bike esplanade. And for all the complaints in the comment section about “Maryland tags,” there has to be some self-reflection that maybe we mostly ourselves to blame: a new Allstate report ranked Arlington pretty low for safe driving.

Here are the top five most-read posts from the past week:

Here are some other stories of note:

Feel free to discuss any of the stories above, or any other topic of local interest, in the comments.

Image via Arlington County

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