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by Mark Kelly August 17, 2017 at 3:00 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

As a result of numerous complaints about predatory towing practices, Arlington passed towing restrictions which required business owners to sign off on each tow.

The ordinance met resistance from some in the business community who felt the “second signature” requirement was unduly burdensome.

Unfortunately, managers of business, often restaurants, tell those towed they have no power over the decision. So what is a person to do as they stand in the parking lot with no car but a receipt from the business in hand? It is no wonder they often lash out at the Advanced Towing attendant like one ESPN reporter did.

There is little recourse for the person other to pay the $135 to get their car back. Most do not have the time or the resources to even attempt to get their money back, something Advanced knows. Even if they wanted to bring a small claims court action against the towing company or the business who owns the parking lot, the process seems daunting to most.

If business owners refuse to be held accountable and the towing company refuses to be held accountable, then who is to blame when the towing company gets it wrong? That is the question the Arlington County Board tried to answer with its new ordinance.

The coalition opposed to Arlington’s ordinance went to the General Assembly to overturn the County Board’s decision. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) initially rejected the legislation, but eventually signed it into law.

After hearing about another victim of Advanced Towing last week, I did another online search on the company. What did I find?

According to this NBC 4 report, the company made a $1,500 contribution to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) to encourage her to meet with Gov. McAuliffe and share the “pros and cons” of legislation after she initially opposed it.

The contribution was made April 13. The meeting with the governor took place April 24. It was part of what was called “a full-court press by Democratic senators and the business community that convinced the governor to back the bill.”

Favola and McAuliffe eventually sided with Advanced Towing and the business owners who did not want to be hassled with signing off on each tow.

Arlington’s towing ordinance may not have been the perfect solution. To be sure, businesses have a right to ensure their parking lots are used by their customers. But Advanced has towed people who were lawfully parked and may continue to do so without fear of any meaningful repercussions.

by Progressive Voice August 17, 2017 at 2:30 pm 0

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 Graham Weinschenk

At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I stood in front of the Arlington School Board along with fellow members of the Student Advisory Board leadership team and declared that we had just experienced “The Year of the Student” in the Arlington Public Schools.

Multiple times throughout the school year, large numbers of students had expressed themselves in front of the School Board and attempted to influence policy; something unseen before this year.

Most notably, on February 16 over 100 students, parents and staff from Yorktown High School walked into the Arlington Education Center and took their places facing the School Board. Nearly 40 of those students spoke out, providing over an hour and a half of testimony. They spoke out because after dozens of incidents of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and hate, the response from the Yorktown High School administration appeared to be non-existent. There was either no punishment or little punishment for those who made inappropriate and callous remarks. Targeted students had no tangible support from their school administration.

So, the students took their concerns to the School Board. Thirty-nine speakers later, the members of the School Board gave their responses. The Superintendent of the Arlington Public Schools, Dr. Patrick Murphy (whose contract was recently renewed a year early), said, “I am stepping up. This is not acceptable.” Yet, what has come to fruition from the outrage expressed by parents, teachers and, most importantly, students?

Speaking as the former Vice Chair of the APS Student Advisory Board, my conclusion is that seven months later we have yet to see a single proposed policy change. The School Board and the Superintendent heard, but they did not listen.

Today, we continue to hear a lot of talk, but there remains no tangible commitment by the Arlington Public Schools to make changes on this issue. The frustration that still exists among students, especially on this topic, leads me to call for a student representative to the Arlington School Board.

Student representatives are nothing new, and it would be fairly easy to introduce one to the Board. The Virginia Code (§22.1-86.1) has allowed for the appointment of student representatives to local school boards since 1999. The Alexandria School Board has had two appointed student representatives since 2013 while the Fairfax School Board has had a student representative since 1986.

Under state law, student representatives are eligible to sit with school boards during public and closed meetings, introduce resolutions for consideration, and be able to say how they would have voted. However, there are still some restrictions. Student representatives are not allowed to vote on matters before the board, and they are not allowed access to confidential information, including information related to a specific student, teacher, or employee.

Last school year was a hallmark year for student involvement in the Arlington Public Schools. Like never before, students were able to translate their anger and disappointment on numerous issues into direct action – at times flooding the board room to make their voices heard on multiple occasions and for numerous issues.

The frustration that many students feel goes beyond not feeling included; it stems from a feeling that not only is the student voice not wanted, but that it is also not an important factor for consideration in the decision-making process. The relationship between the Arlington School Board and the Student Advisory Board is similar to the relationship between a teacher and a student and as long as that attitude of keeping students at arms-length exists, the voices of students will never truly be heard.

Now more than ever, students need a sign from APS that they matter, and a student representative on the School Board would show that the student voice is important. Student apathy toward the Arlington Public Schools is dead. It is time to include us in the decision-making process.

Graham Weinschenk is a former Yorktown High School student who graduated in 2017. He served as the Vice Chair of the Arlington Public Schools Student Advisory Board for the 2016-2017 school year. Outside of APS, he serves as the Secretary of the Virginia Young Democrats and will be attending the College of William & Mary in the fall.

by Peter Rousselot August 17, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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.

On July 11, Arlington posted a “Preliminary Draft” of its new Public Spaces Master Plan. This draft reflects considerable thought and effort. I encourage you to provide your comments by the newly-extended August 31 deadline.

The PSMP (p. 2) seeks to provide the foundation for:

a network of publicly- and privately-owned public spaces that connect the Countys established neighborhoods and growing corridors to natural areas, protect valuable natural resources, provide opportunities for structured and casual recreation, and ensure access to the Potomac River, Four Mile Run, and their tributaries.

Today’s column discusses only a small number of issues raised by this 272-page draft.

Discussion

I have highlighted previously  the urgency of preserving and materially increasing Arlington’s inadequate park and recreation resources to address dramatically increasing demands from the projected county population growth of 63,000 people (29 percent) by 2040.

The PSMP core “Strategic Direction 1 – Public Spaces” seeks to “ensure equitable access to spaces for recreation, play and enjoying nature by adding and improving public spaces.”

These proposed changes can help reach this goal:

Counting “parkland” 

The PSMP states (p. 44): “Arlington has over 2000 acres of parkland, both County and non-County owned…”  However, without greater clarity as to what is being counted as “parkland” (e.g., possibly all APS facilities and “unusable” portions of the federally-owned GW Parkway are included), this global number appears inflated and misleading.

The relevant issue is the amount of additional parkland needed in Arlington to meet present and future demand.  See the “Population-Based Standards” chart (p. 90).

New “Public Space” 

Proposed “Action” 1.1 (p. 70) states: “Add at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years.” Inclusion of this land acquisition goal is critical and has widespread community support.

However, “Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats” ranked as the second highest outdoor need on the statistically valid 2015 Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment Survey, and county citizens are consistently calling for more natural green space: “We want natural grass, trees, and a place to relax.”

This goal should be clearly focused on the county acquiring more “green parkland” or it will be “fulfilled” in large part by more hardscape plazas and/or synthetic turf in our urban corridors.

The PSMP should also incorporate the three separate sub-categories of “natural lands”, “unstructured” (or “casual use”) areas, and “structured” areas, i.e. athletic fields and courts I previously recommended. This should also provide explicit prohibitions on any loss of natural lands and “casual use” areas.

New Land Acquisition Policy

While hopefully facilitating parkland acquisition, this policy needs revisions to avoid filtering out critical present and potential “natural lands” and “casual use” areas. Higher points must be awarded to such “natural lands” that don’t have “special features.” Criteria affording points to such “casual use” areas need to be added. Points should also be reallocated from existing plans where parcels may already have been developed to parcels with strong community support identified on an “ad hoc” basis.

Conclusion

The PSMP is a new step forward for Arlington’s park and recreation resources.  Although creative mechanisms to acquire more parkland are identified, our critical need for preserving and increasing our parkland — particularly our “green parkland” — can only be met with a strong commitment by the County Board in our budgets and CIPs for the foreseeable future.

by ARLnow.com August 17, 2017 at 12:45 pm 0

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by writer and Washington-Lee High School graduate Waleed Shahid, who has started an online petition to push for removing Robert E. Lee’s name from the school.

Activists are also expected to call for Lee’s name to be removed from W-L at tonight’s Arlington School Board meeting, in the wake of this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, sources tell ARLnow.com.

When I was a student at Washington-Lee, I clearly remember being taught in history class that Robert E. Lee “did not fight for slavery; he fought for Virginia.” I didn’t make much of it until I left Virginia for college. Many of my classmates thought it was strange that I went to a school named after the leader of the Confederate Army and that there was a highway that ran through my hometown honoring Jefferson Davis. These were racist slave-owners who rebelled against the American government and Abraham Lincoln, they told me. I shrugged and didn’t make it much of it.

But over the past few years — and particularly over the past week — many Americans have been beginning a conversation about our nation’s living wounds. It’s clear that too many are ignorant of our country’s history. And this past week has shown that a small minority of white nationalists are increasingly comfortable with publicly stirring up the worst aspects in American society by pitting Americans against each other.

To these white nationalists, Robert E. Lee represents their deep commitment to racial hierarchy. When three of his slaves escaped, Lee whipped them and had their backs washed with stinging brine. Lee ordered his Confederate soldiers to respect white property, but declared that any black people they encountered — regardless of their previous ‘status’ — were to be seized and returned to the South to be sold into slavery. At the Battle of the Crater, Lee’s Army even killed black prisoners of war. This is the history we honor when we name our school after Robert E. Lee — and why white nationalists felt so threatened by the removal of his statue in Charlottesville.

We must understand the stakes too. Arlington Public Schools should not shy away from taking a clear stand on this issue. It’s up to our civic leaders and institutions to take steps toward reconciling and repairing our nation’s living wounds where we can make a difference. Washington-Lee High School should be renamed so that we can move toward creating a school, county and country that truly belongs to all who call it home. If the President of the United States is unwilling to provide the leadership our country needs, then we need to provide it ourselves.

America was founded upon a revolutionary promise: freedom and justice for all. But, the revolutionary promise of America has never been fulfilled. We, the people has never included all of us. The story of our nation has always been a struggle over who America belongs to: the chosen few, or all of us? This is what is at stake when we honor the leaders of the Confederacy. Which side of that struggle will we honor? Germans don’t honor Nazi soldiers; South Africans don’t honor those who held up Apartheid. But Americans still honor Robert E. Lee and countless other Confederates who raised up a new flag and started a rebellion against the United States of America. Why?

It’s time Arlington honor those who fought tirelessly to create an America for all of us. As an alum of Washington-Lee High School, I urge you to consider re-naming our school Washington-Douglass or Washington-Tubman High School. As a Muslim-American who grew up in Arlington, continuing to have my alma mater named after Robert E. Lee is like seeing a Confederate Flag being constantly waved in my face. It makes me sick to my stomach knowing that we are honoring a man who fought to shackle and chain other human beings.

In many ways, Washington-Lee is a microcosm of America. My alma mater — just like my country — is still working to perfect our experiment in constructing a vibrant multi-racial democracy. This past week has been a reminder that some still hope to thwart our collective project and take us back to darker times. But by committing to change the name of Washington-Lee High School, we can take concrete steps toward living up to our best traditions and creating a nation where we all feel like we belong and where “We, the People” includes all of us. This is our historic responsibility as Americans in this moment in our history.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by Chris Teale August 11, 2017 at 6:00 pm 0

The discovery of what appeared to be a self-driving car dominated the news this week in Arlington, and more than 900 of you think that testing such vehicles is fine in Northern Virginia, even in areas like Clarendon.

But before we get to the other popular stories from this week, here are some you may have missed:

Gov. Terry McAuliffe came to town to help break ground on the I-395 Express Lanes, a letter to the editor argued for decriminalizing marijuana in Virginia and a new Arlington Forest cafe features a “laptop free” coffee bar.

And, in case you missed it, the Arlington County Police Department released its highly anticipated video of officers performing a synchronized swimming routine to advertise its upcoming block party.

These were this week’s top five most read articles:

  1. Crime Report: Someone Broke into a Rosslyn Apartment and Cleaned It
  2. SPOTTED: ‘Driverless’ Vehicle Cruising the Streets of Clarendon
  3. Car Flips in East Falls Church Parking Lot
  4. Filipino Restaurant Bistro 1521 Now Open in Ballston
  5. Mother Appeals For Witnesses After Daughter Struck By Hit-and-Run Driver

And these received the most comments:

  1. Letter to the Editor: Arlington Needs New Options for High-Speed Internet Service
  2. Cristol: Pedestrian-Only Street Can Help Make Rosslyn a Destination
  3. Morning Notes (August 10)
  4. Confirmed: Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins Coming to Clarendon
  5. Morning Poll: Self-Driving Vehicle Testing in N. Va.

Feel free to discuss anything of local interest in the comments below. Have a great weekend!

by Katherine Berko August 11, 2017 at 3:35 pm 0

When I first began my ARLnow internship, I knew nothing about Arlington. A native New Yorker, to me, Arlington was just some place across the river from D.C. I was a bit of a “big city” snob, so I expected very little from the area.

Three months later, as my internship comes to a close, my view could not be more different. After writing dozens of articles about Arlington, from covering the opening of a Clarendon tattoo parlor to a piece about the county’s decreasing homeless population, I’ve developed quite a fondness for the community.

“Arlington is the smallest self-governing county in the U.S. And no, the Pentagon is not in D.C., it’s actually in Arlington,” I would proudly tell my friends when they asked about my job.

Of course, I am no “Arlington expert” but I have dipped into the pool of what Arlington has to offer and boy, is it deep!

There is something for everyone here: urban enclaves like Clarendon or Crystal City are just minutes’ drive from quintessential suburban neighborhoods with cozy brick homes and tumbling gardens. There are free yoga classes every Sunday throughout the summer and so many events that we publish an event calendar that is updated daily.

The variety in Arlington’s food scene made me feel like I was back in my hometown, except here, there’s elbow room and you’re not rushed after paying your check. I have eaten dinner while watching artists paint at Palette 22 and I’ve tried ice cream made with Nitrogen. I slurped up bubble tea from bottles shaped like lightbulbs at Kokee Tea and had my first taste of kangaroo at Oz (in case you were wondering, it tastes like a hamburger).

Perhaps more impressive than the free events and delicious food are Arlingtonians themselves. Every week, ARLnow publishes a weekly Startup Monday article, in which we write about a startup based in the county. I remember when I wrote my first Startup Monday, I was told to find a startup in Arlington that our website had yet to write about.

I wondered how many startups this one county can have. It turns out, it’s enough that ARLnow has been able to write about a new one almost every week since September 2013. That goes to show the incredible talent and creativity found in Arlington. There’s a guy giving free rides thanks to his advertising model; a couple with a company that plans “surprise” vacations; somebody creating an app to ensure people know their rights.

Even my boss — the founder of ARLnow — Scott Brodbeck, was once one of those Arlingtonians with a startup dream. He noticed that parts of Arlington had very little news coverage and saw an opportunity for a business. Seven years later, ARLnow is alive and thriving, and I got to intern with it and you’re reading it right now.

Tonight, as I leave Arlington to return to New York, I will wave goodbye to this place that has shown me so much, as I relish one of my favorite vistas: the sprawling Pentagon and graceful Air Force Memorial, set against a backdrop of pink skies.

by ARLnow.com August 11, 2017 at 10:15 am 0

As tensions with a nuclear-armed North Korea escalate, it may be prompting some who live here in the D.C. area to reflect on the threat of nuclear conflict.

While experts say nuclear war with North Korea is unlikely, and both the North Koreans and the United States continue to talk about deterrence rather than aggression, there is no denying that the nation’s capital is a prime target for anyone who wants to attack the U.S.

Even in the event of a conflict, North Korea’s intercontinental missiles would not be able to reach D.C., according to news reports. Still, given our proximity in Arlington to places like the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon, how worried are you — in the back of your mind — about nuclear warfare given the latest escalation in rhetoric?

Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman

by Mark Kelly August 10, 2017 at 2:15 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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’s August and the County Board is on its annual summer hiatus, so why not talk about bringing back an annual holiday tradition?

Last year, incoming Board Chair Libby Garvey convinced her colleagues to move the New Year’s Day organizational meeting. Garvey’s rationale was that it was easier on the families of county staff and Board Members not to come back one day early and work for a couple of hours.

The Sun Gazette noted last week that presumed 2018 chair, Katie Cristol is at least open to the idea of moving the meeting back to its traditional place on January 1, which is a Monday this coming year. The story touched on the number one reason to end the one year experiment of moving the meeting – the public was not as interested in attending.

While some of the rhetoric can seem stale, or even empty, it is the one time each year that Arlingtonians can hear from each Board Member on their individual priorities, not on the pressing issue of the day. Sure, the same speeches can be made a few days later, but this year proved, it’s not quite the same.

6,204 Reasons Democrats Are Unlikely to Win the Virginia House?

Politicos from across the country will be watching our November elections here in Virginia and studying the results to see what it foreshadows for the 2018 mid-term Congressional elections. Democrats in the General Assembly and their activist supporters on the left are excited about the prospect of winning House of Delegate seats across the Commonwealth as well as holding the three statewide elected offices.

Delegate Rip Sullivan is Chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Virginia House. As part of his leadership of the Democrats’ efforts to win control of that legislative body, he launched Blue Dominion PAC last year.

ARLnow gave Sullivan a recent shout out for his efforts. But as the races are heating up throughout Virginia, Sullivan’s PAC reported raising just $4,296 in the most recent quarter and having $6,204 in the bank.

To put that in perspective, the PAC could send out about 12,000 of those full color, oversized post-cards you receive in the mail around election time. That’s roughly 700 for each of the 17 districts Democrats need to flip.

In terms of attempting to help win these campaigns, that is drop in the bucket and an anemic effort from a member of the Democratic leadership who represents one of the wealthiest districts in Virginia. Maybe the excitement to toss all the Republicans out of office is not quite as widespread as the Democrats think?

by Peter Rousselot August 10, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Peter RousselotPeter’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.

Last week, The Washington Post published a story about newly-imposed parking restrictions on a one-block, dead-end street in the Woodmont neighborhood.

After initially receiving a complaint from one street resident, county staff decided that parking on certain narrower portions of the street should be prohibited even for residents, per the article: “Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten said that the county does not seek out violations of its parking or zoning laws but that once a complaint is filed, it is obligated to respond.”

The Post story explained that the county’s decision to ban parking was based on “rules that allow the government to ban parking on streets narrower than 21 feet (24th Street N. is only 15 feet wide in places) and concerns about how fire department vehicles could quickly get in and out.”

Arlington County staff’s solution was worse than the problem

Once county staff received the original complaint, staff were obligated to “respond” by investigating, learning about all relevant facts and circumstances, and respectfully seeking to engage with all street residents (there were only 13 homeowners) regarding possible solutions.

One of those solutions could have been: take no action. The county’s “rules,” as quoted in The Post, are not mandatory. Even if they were, the county could change them. Justifiably, when residents of the block finally found out that “most of their curbside parking was about to disappear…they were outraged.”

Understanding the character of the neighborhood puts their outrage into context:

All of the houses on the block have at least one off-street parking space. Edwards and his wife, Vicki Edwards, 80, who has an artificial knee and artificial hip, share a steep private driveway with Joe Ruth and Sharon Rogers. When it rains or snows, however, both households prefer to park on the street, which gives them easy access to their front doors. “This is definitely limiting our goal of aging in place,” said Rogers, 75, who has helped organize the street’s resistance.

After the original complainant withdrew her complaint, all street residents opposed county staff’s solution.

The squeaky wheel shouldn’t always get the grease

There are too many instances in which County staff receive a complaint or a request from an individual citizen that at first blush suggests taking an action, but after careful investigation and consideration actually deserves a no-action response.

Another example is the Nelly Custis playground request I discussed in a column a few months ago. In the Nelly Custis situation, the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation initially decided to install a 3d playground in a .8-acre park located in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

That neighborhood already had two playgrounds within a little over one block. DPR made that initial decision at the request of a nearby day-care provider, but without taking into account the objections of many other neighbors who preferred to retain open green space at that location in their small park.

Conclusion

Even the intervention of a sympathetic County Board member, John Vihstadt, didn’t fundamentally alter the outcome in Woodmont: “‘It’s sometimes hard to fight city hall, even from the inside,’ he said.”

We need a new culture at city hall: first, do no harm. Why is the current culture so often oblivious? What happened to common sense?

Ms. Minton told one resident that staff’s solution couldn’t be changed because “this ship has sailed.” This ship should be returned to port.

by Progressive Voice August 10, 2017 at 1:15 pm 0

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 Andres Tobar

Today’s national media attention on immigration is primarily focusing on the deportation of undocumented immigrants and on the building of a border wall and who will pay for it.

Less attention is focused on the positive work being achieved in local jurisdictions where immigrants are viewed as an asset, not a liability, and the work that they do to bring a civil tone to the immigration debate.

In Arlington County, many Latino activists have worked over the years with other community and civic leaders to ensure that Arlington remains a place of welcome and inclusion. One outstanding leader is Leni Gonzalez, a Latina from Mexico who came to the United States several decades ago to study on a Fulbright scholarship. She later moved to Arlington when, in 1986, she married her husband, Lee Niederman. Later this month, Leni will leave Arlington to move to El Salvador, where her husband has accepted a job.

During her time in our community, Leni has always worked to improve the lives of immigrants and new Americans. In the last decades, her experience and compassion for others has made her an important leader on numerous fronts.

For example, Leni was one of the founders of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center (SEEC), a day laborer center established in 2000 to help immigrants find employment by matching them with employers who are in need of temporary labor. She has been a member of the Executive Board, including serving as its Chair for the past several years. Leni has worked closely with SEEC’s community partners to strengthen SEEC’s programs and build upon its successes.

SEEC is the only local nonprofit organization in Virginia that works with the County government in providing a welcoming venue for immigrants seeking temporary employment and a convenient process for employers.

As SEEC Board Chair, Leni’s leadership helped expand SEEC’s mission to train immigrant women on using green cleaning products in their housekeeping businesses, improve their marketing and safety, and increase their business opportunities. Leni also championed a SEEC program to train Latinas on starting their own businesses, an initiative that SEEC has hosted in partnership with El Poder de Ser Mujer (The Power of being a Woman).

Leni was one of the founders of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), a coalition of Latino organizations advocating for immigrant rights and in opposing anti-immigrant legislation in the Virginia State legislature. Leni served on its Executive Committee and for more than 10 years helped organize advocacy activities in Richmond by bringing immigrants, many of them students, as well as members of the faith community, to meet with General Assembly members to express opposition to numerous anti-immigrant bills.

A number of these bills focused on immigrant students and higher education. These bills were intended to block immigrant students, even if they graduated from our local schools, from entering college or paying in-state tuition. The testimony of the students helped humanize immigrants before legislators, most of whom had rarely encountered this community in their everyday life.

Leni’s understanding of the Latino community and the need to participate in the political process led to her being the first Latino leader to Co-Chair an Arlington Democratic Joint Campaign in 2000.

In 2002, Leni worked in Gov. Mark Warner’s Administration, followed by a similar appointment in Gov. Tim Kaine’s Administration. Most of her work was in the Department of Motor Vehicles, where Leni was a Department Liaison to the community. She did extensive work in clarifying the driver’s license eligibility requirements for legal residents. Leni also promoted through the Latino media information to help immigrants navigate DMV processes.

For Leni’s years of service as a multicultural outreach worker, she has received recognitions and honors, including Northern Virginian of the Year in 2016, Distinguished Latina Women Life Achievement Award in 2014, and Arlington County’s James B. Hunter Human Rights Award in 2015.

There are few Latinos in Virginia who have demonstrated over time the ability to work effectively with both state and local government agencies and in the immigrant community. Leni is one of those few. Fortunately, she has set an example that other Latinos have learned from and will be able to follow.

Leni will be dearly missed by both the immigrant community and those in government circles who had the privilege of working with her.

Andres Tobar has been the Executive Director of SEEC for the past 13 years and has worked and served with Leni on many Latino advocacy and political organization efforts.

by ARLnow.com August 10, 2017 at 11:00 am 0

The owner of a small technology business wrote to the Arlington County Board this week to argue that the existing choices for high-speed internet service in Arlington are inadequate and new options should be considered.

Josh Blanchard, a Ballston resident, shared his letter with ARLnow.com.

Dear County Board of Arlington,

Imagine that new residents in Arlington routinely went for days or weeks without power, or water service in their new homes. Imagine that the power company routinely shut off service to new and old residents for arbitrary reasons, and that restoring service required dozens of hours spent on the phone battling a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

This is the situation we have in Arlington county right now with internet service, and it is untenable. I’m writing to ask what plan the county has to improve competition in Arlington for reliable, high speed Internet service.

My wife and I have been Arlington residents for 10 years, and recently moved to a new home in Avon Park just west of Ballston. Our experience with Verizon FIOS has been so aggravating that I find myself regretting our decision to remain in Arlington. The prior resident at our new home had Verizon FIOS working, we are FIOS subscribers. The switch should have been flawless, as it was for our other utilities. It was not. Our service worked for 24 hours before Verizon arbitrarily shut us down, and now insists that it will be a week before they restore service. We have been on and off the phone with Verizon for days, in a series of increasingly more futile conversations. Our only other option for high speed Internet is Comcast, who offers incredibly unreliable Internet and also has terrible customer service. In our old house (also in Avon Park), we repeatedly suffered similar outages and aggravations at the hands of both Comcast and Verizon. Our experience is far from unique – terrible treatment and unreliable service from Verizon and Comcast is par for the course in Arlington County.

I’m a software engineer and business owner who works from home. Internet is not a luxury for me, it is an essential utility. Our home is replete with IoT devices that require Internet to function. The temperate in our home got to 85 degrees in the middle of the night last night because our thermostat does not function properly without Internet connectivity. Our home security will not work without internet. Not to mention, every minute we are without service costs my business money.

We live just 3 blocks away from the Ballston Business Improvement District, and as you know the county is actively courting startups and technology companies to the area. If a fellow business owner were to ask me about locating a new tech startup here, I would caution them against it, as Internet service is too essential to be left to the dreadful oligopoly we have with Comcast and Verizon. Our options for residential internet service are appalling for an urban area, making Arlington an undesirable location for most tech companies who will rely heavily on telecommuting. Commercial service options in the area are no better. If Arlington wishes to grow a tech friendly community, we must address this problem.

To that end, I have a few questions to ask you:

1) What is the county doing to court competitors to Comcast and Verizon, such as Google Fiber?

2) What steps has the county board in Arlington taken to lower the regulatory burden for laying fiber infrastructure, and court new ISP startups, like Brooklyn Fiber, Chattanooga Fiber, or Rocket Fiber in Detroit?

3) Has Arlington county explored establishing a county run municipal broadband service?

4) What other steps does the county plan to improve competition for high speed Internet service to Arlington residents?

Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing your response.

Sincerely,

Josh Blanchard

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com August 9, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

An Arlington resident recently wrote to the Virginia State Crime Commission during the ongoing Request for Written Content period in support of marijuana decriminalization. This issue was considered in the state legislature earlier this year, resulting in a study by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

The resident shared his letter, below, with ARLnow.com for publication. The resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, states that decriminalization could save the state money, keep non-violent offenders out of jail and allow police to focus on more serious crime.

Dear Virginia State Crime Commission,

Thank you all for your hard work on studying this critical issue of whether current marijuana laws are appropriate. The prohibition of marijuana has undoubtedly caused a myriad of unfortunate consequences. Among them the incarceration of many, but disproportionately minorities, for non-violent transgressions. Virginia has severe racial disparities in its arrest rates as well. It’s shocking that one in ten African American males in their 30s are in jail or prison on any given day.

Our state boasts long and punitive sentencing guidelines for simple possession of marijuana. Incarceration often produces hardened criminals. The absence of  compassionate rehabilitation for those who would welcome treatment for drug abuse is inhumane.

Recidivism is an enormous problem in the US. Nearly 68 out of every 100 prisoners are rearrested within three years. Educational and career opportunities are lost due to having a criminal record for a minor offense. The lack of lawful opportunities further encourages the vicious cycle of recidivism.

The Commonwealth of Virginia spends far too much on enforcement and incarceration for marijuana-related crimes in Virginia. According to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, “Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement, which is enough to open another 13,000 pre-K spots for kids.”

Our state spends more than $25,000 per inmate, at an annualized cost of approximately $1.5 billion. With a budget shortfall of $266 million per year, and a potential savings of at least $67 million for just reducing marijuana enforcement, the math is clear. Virginia cannot afford to continue down this path of investigating, arresting and incarcerating non-violent marijuana offenders.

Decriminalization has a positive effect, by reducing law enforcement spending on marijuana to better prioritize resources on serious crime. Lowering the unaffordable and unsustainable cost of our prison system, improving our state’s budget deficit and improving trust in law enforcement.

Obviously marijuana should not be used by developing children and adolescents. However, adults in the privacy of their own home should not have to fear legal repercussions for an activity that seems to cause no serious harm, especially in comparison to alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal.

In closing, I ask that the State Crime Commission takes in to consideration not just the present, but the future. Virginia is respected as a bellwether for legislation by other, nearby states, including North Carolina, which has already decriminalized simple possession of marijuana.

Decriminalizing marijuana would send a powerful signal to our other neighbors and bring Virginia in to alignment with 22 other states who have done the same. We owe it to our fellow Virginians to give our laws a second look and determine if the the punishment really and truly does fit the crime.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by ARLnow.com August 9, 2017 at 10:05 am 0

As noted this morning, Virginia has made it legal to test self-driving car technologies in the Commonwealth.

That policy is getting additional attention after a seemingly driverless van was spotted driving around Clarendon last week and, this week, was revealed to be a human-driven Virginia Tech research project.

While the mysterious van was not self-driving, automated vehicle testing is expected to take place in Northern Virginia, as we wrote last week.

VDOT and FHWA recently announced that Virginia Tech would be conducting automated vehicle testing along I-95, I-495, I-66, Route 50 and Route 29. The announcement did not mention testing on primary streets along Metro corridors, however WTOP reported in May that “self-driving cars already on Virginia roads, even if you don’t realize it.”

Self-driving vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives each year by reducing human-caused crashes while also freeing up drivers to focus on other tasks during their daily commute. Such technology could also become an economic engine for the region, should Northern Virginia become a leader in the field.

On the other hand, testing a new technology in a heavily populated region certainly comes with risks. And many fear the unknown with self-driving cars: what if the tech has flaws and causes crashes?

What do you think of automated vehicle testing in Northern Virginia?

by Chris Teale August 4, 2017 at 5:00 pm 0

It’s the end of another week, but before we look at our most popular stories, here are some you might have missed:

Longtime outdoor store Casual Adventure will be open through at least Christmas, while plans for redevelopment nearby could come before the Planning Commission as soon as next month.

This weekend is the fourth annual Kennan Garvey Memorial Bike Ride, while the former Artisphere will become a coworking space and nonprofit The Reading Connection will close on August 11 after 28 years.

These were this week’s five most-read stories:

  1. Naked Man Walking Down the Middle of Columbia Pike Arrested
  2. Whole Foods Parking Lot Closes for Resurfacing, Tempers Flare on the Street
  3. UPDATED: Dog Did Not Die of Rabies, CDC Says
  4. SPOTTED: Driverless Vehicle Cruising the Streets of Clarendon
  5. BREAKING: Fire Reported at N. Glebe Road Business

And these received the most comments:

  1. Survey Says: Millennials Favor More Transit, Less On-Street Parking
  2. Whole Foods Parking Lot Closes for Resurfacing, Tempers Flare on the Street
  3. Morning Notes (July 31)
  4. Morning Notes (August 1)
  5. Naked Man Walking Down the Middle of Columbia Pike Arrested

Feel free to discuss anything of local interest, including the stories mentioned above, in the comments. Have a great weekend!

by Brooke Giles August 4, 2017 at 3:30 pm 0

Applying to college is a scary but exciting process. Picking out schools, writing a personal statement and stacking up all of your best accomplishments.

But there was only one experience that I was never able to put into simple words, and that was the 11 years that I spent in immersion classes.

Arlington County is home to four Spanish immersion programs, at Claremont and Francis Scott Key elementary schools, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

Arlington Public Schools says the goal of the programs is to develop “high levels” of proficiency and literacy in two languages, promote high academic achievement and cross cultural competence.

I started second grade at Claremont Immersion School in 2003. It was the first year the school opened and students came from the immersion programs at Abingdon Elementary and my former school, Oakridge. I spent half my first day reciting the multiplication tables in Spanish, the other half in English.

It was not always easy, I struggled with both science and math as I got older and the content got more complicated. I stuck with it, although it was common for classmates to leave the school so they could thrive in a traditional setting.

Language skills improve even more in middle school, when there are 11 hours of Spanish instruction a week. Because subjects switch throughout the day, there’s a possibility to go back and forth from English to Spanish. It’s a brain workout to go back and forth between the two every 45 minutes. Unlike the elective Spanish classes offered in middle school, the Spanish Language Arts class that immersion students take is structured much like an English class.

High school is the true test. Some students struggle with AP level Spanish, as you don’t practice the language the way you do in middle school. With block scheduling, you may only get one day of Spanish instruction.

Continuing to practice Spanish every day is a valuable commitment. Many of my friends are double majoring or minoring in the language. They have traveled to Spain, Cuba and Costa Rica to practice the language.

“I’ve gotten to travel the world with confidence in my ability to speak the language,” said Peyton Johnson, a senior at James Madison University double majoring in Communications and Spanish.

(more…)

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