Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) On Friday, Arlington County workers — dispatched after a resident complained — power washed away a girl’s Black Lives Matter chalk art from in front of her Boulevard Manor home. After an uproar, the county later apologized.

A memo from County Manager Mark Schwartz, sent to county employees on Saturday and obtained by ARLnow, shows some of the internal soul searching that followed the incident.

The memo says that Schwartz first heard about what happened due to “an inquiry from the press” — ARLnow first asked the county for comment around 10:30 a.m. He learned that the sequence of events started when “a resident complaint about ‘graffiti.'” Then he saw the photos of county employees erasing quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among other phrases and drawings.

“A series of flowers, hearts, and quotations focusing on understanding and the sanctity of Black lives had been removed by 3 county employees — all 3 are Black,” Schwartz wrote. “What was first described as graffiti removal became obviously something very different. My heart sank. How could this have happened? On Juneteenth of all days? I was sick.”

Schwartz says he asked himself a series of questions, including how those involved in the incident were doing and “In the time of pandemic, why are our limited resources being used to remove chalk from the street?”

He concluded that the employees and family involved, as well as county taxpayers, are all owed apologies. He personally delivered the apology to the workers. Among those to reach out to the family were Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey and Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Director Greg Emanuel.

Schwartz ruminated on how the incident could have taken place despite the county’s focus on equity. He focused both on how the employees involved did not feel empowered to question their orders, and how the county has created a complaint-based system of resident services.

“Calling the ‘authorities’ is the wrong way to address our concerns as neighbors and community members,” Schwartz wrote. “This should be reserved for cases where our safety is at risk.”

The workers involved were not empowered “to make a judgment better than stipulated by the letter of the policy,” the county manager wrote. “The way we currently operate, it is too hard for employees to question what they are asked to do under a policy that is blind to feelings, nuance and the world we live in.”

Other notable questions raised by Schwartz in the memo include:

  • “Was this possibly the worst example of how we ignore equity in doing our work?”
  • “[Does] our complaint driven enforcement efforts lead us to address concerns (regardless of how serious they are) by some residents for any problem that frustrates them, while larger problems that affect our residents go unaddressed?”
  • “[Are we] intentional about reaching impacted residents during public engagement processes, or only those who show up regularly?”

In the memo, Schwartz notes that the county will soon be hiring a Chief Equity and Diversity Officer, who will report directly to the county manager.

“This will take some time, but it is an overdue step,” he said.

The full memo is below.

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Arlington County is apologizing for an “unfortunate situation” — ordering three Black employees to remove a girl’s Black Lives Matter chalk art from in front of her home on Juneteenth.

A neighbor complained about the chalk creations, which included quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, leading to the county response. Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services crews will remove any such markings, regardless of the message, upon receiving a complaint, the county said.

The county issued the following statement Friday night:

We apologize for this unfortunate situation, particularly on such an important day, Juneteenth. Our crews were following policy to remove markings, regardless of the message, on County right-of-way in response to a received complaint.  None of the markings were removed from private property.

We understand the deep feelings that are present in the community. Our mission is to deliver public services based on established policies in a consistent manner. We’re reviewing our policy. Our crews take great pride in keeping Arlington clean and safe.

The action drew widespread condemnation from residents and others after a neighbor wrote about it on social media and ARLnow subsequently published an article.

On Friday night, the neighborhood’s civic association condemned the removal of the chalk art and demanded answers from the county.

“These chalk drawings were expressions of solidarity with current racial justice protests done by African-American children, and whose father is a US Navy officer,” wrote the Boulevard Manor Civic Association. “The DES employees were ‘ordered’ to power wash the children’s chalk drawings as another resident in BMCA ‘complained.’ BMCA strongly condemns, is saddened, and is disappointed in the above action taken by DES.”

The Arlington branch of the NAACP said it “sent the County Board a communication” as well.

Earlier Friday, Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey called the removal “a mistake” and “wrong.”

“It was a mistake to prioritize responding to this call during a pandemic where our workers should not be deployed unnecessarily,” Dorsey told ARLnow. “Furthermore, removal of the chalk art from a driveway apron, widely known to be the responsibility of the resident, was wrong.”

“We apologize to the residents for erasing their expressions from their property and to our workers who were directed to do it,” Dorsey continued. “That this occurred as our County gathered to reflect on the unfulfilled promise of Black liberation on Juneteenth adds further insult, and compels us to confront the role of our government in perpetuating systemic inequities. We can, must, and will do better.”

Despite rain yesterday, residents came out to support the family whose drawings were removed, adding more chalk art and quotes to the street, sidewalk and driveway. More expressions of solidarity are expected today.

“We plan to go out again to line the streets and sidewalks with messages of solidarity and support for the Hamptons,” a tipster tells ARLnow.

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Arlington County workers power washed away Black Lives Matter chalk art in front of a home in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood this morning.

An outraged neighbor posted on social media about the removal of the chalk art, which featured words and phrases like “There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” “Justice 4 All,” “MLK,” and “BLM.” A portion of the art was on the county-owned sidewalk and road, while the rest was in the home’s driveway.

“I am both saddened and outraged. My friend and colleague at Ashlawn has had a formal complaint made about her daughter’s chalk art on the driveway, sidewalk and street in front of their home,” wrote Dana Crepeau. “I spoke with the Arlington County employees, who did not want to remove the chalk but were told they must. I asked permission to post their photos.”

“It appears the neighbor who called the county has previously taken it upon herself to erase other chalk drawings in support of Black Lives Matter,” Crepeau added. She noted that today (Friday) is Juneteenth, a day that celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved persons during the Civil War, which just became a state holiday in Virginia.

“Do I understand correctly that the county forced Black employees to erase messages in support of Black Lives Matter on Juneteenth and apparently saw no problem with that?” asked a commenter on Crepeau’s Facebook post.

“Yes, you are understanding this correctly,” she replied.

The residents were not home when an ARLnow reporter knocked on the door shortly before noon. The mother of the girl whose art was erased — Yvaal Hampton, a second grade teacher at Ashlawn Elementary — said in an email sent to the neighborhood listserv that “today, I feel like an outsider.”

Dear Boulevard Manor,

When my family and I moved into the neighborhood about a year and a half ago we were welcomed by a few amazing neighbors and I thought “this is going to be great.” Well today, I feel like an outsider. With the on-going racial climate that we are in, my kids and I wanted to express some of our feelings and thoughts in chalk outside of our house. Not a novice idea, right? Well this morning I hear loud voices outside of my window, so I go outside to see what’s going on. There were three African American city workers outside power washing our chalk expressions/drawing away because a neighbor complained. I had a lot of emotions running through me, but then one of the gentlemen said “Miss I don’t really want to have to do this, but my boss told be that I have to do it.” Then I felt sad for them, they were forced to remove a Dr. King quote and children’s artwork because a neighbor felt someway about it (angry, threatened… who knows). If it were flowers and sunshine drawings would she have complained?  Today, I feel like an outsider, but this outsider stands by her chalk messages “Justice for All”, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Thank you Dr. King for your wise words. #BlackLivesMatter

ARLnow is still awaiting an official statement from Arlington County, which held a Juneteenth Peace Rally in front of county government headquarters in Courthouse this morning. (Update at 9:15 a.m.: The county issued an apology last night.)

Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey told ARLnow that he is disturbed by the incident and awaiting more information on what happened. In the meantime, he offered an apology to the residents.

“We await a full understanding of the facts, but what is known at the moment disturbs us greatly,” Dorsey said. “It was a mistake to prioritize responding to this call during a pandemic where our workers should not be deployed unnecessarily. Furthermore, removal of the chalk art from a driveway apron, widely known to be the responsibility of the resident, was wrong.”

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) It was a seemingly uncontroversial item on the County Board agenda: shifting a temporary parking lot for television station WETA down the block, in order to allow renovations to Jennie Dean Park to proceed.

But the proposal, which was approved unanimously last night after a detailed discussion, ended up raising questions about race, equity and public engagement. It was the subject of a recent op-ed published by the Sun Gazette entitled “Arlington government again fails Green Valley,” accusing the county of repeatedly ignoring the wishes of the historically Black neighborhood.

“While millions marched for equity and racial justice last week, the Arlington County government posted a board agenda item that turns these actions into mere slogans,” wrote Green Valley Civic Association members Robin Stombler and Portia Clark. “A license agreement would have the county government turn a newly acquired $1 million property in the Green Valley community into a parking lot for WETA. This action is but one in a series of events that draw attention to the inequity systemic within the county.”

The discussion at Tuesday’s County Board meeting did not include much talk of race or equity. Instead, it mostly addressed the practical matter at hand: about 10 employees of the nearby WETA facility, which produces the PBS NewsHour, were parking on a temporary, county-owned lot that is set to become a playground in Phase 1 of the Jennie Dean expansion. To allow construction to move forward, they would be moved to a lot a short distance away on S. Four Mile Run Drive, between a small commercial building and the Weenie Beenie.

Demolition of the building that will become the new WETA lot started last week, a county staffer said. Heavy construction on the park is set to begin in late summer or early fall. Without use of the current temporary lot, “we would not be able to build out the project as designed,” the staffer said.

The Green Valley neighborhood didn’t want the current WETA lot and doesn’t want the new lot, said Stombler. And notification of the change — it was advertised in the lightly-read Washington Times newspaper, as are Arlington’s other public notices — was inadequate.

“Publishing notices in the Washington Times and considering it an outreach method is very telling of how the county regards Green Valley and community input in general,” Stomber said. We deserve much better… The county’s engagement processes must be improved.”

The remarks echo complaints from Green Valley residents two years about the lengthy design process for Jennie Dean Park.

“This community has been ignored repeatedly by the Arlington County Board while the requests and desires of several other, predominantly white, Arlington neighborhoods are being placed ahead of those of the people who live here,” one resident told ARLnow at the time.

“I feel like we’re second class citizens,” said a resident during the public comment period last night.

Nonetheless, under an agreement approved by the Board, WETA will be granted temporary use of the newly-created lot for a year, after which its use can be reevaluated. Eventually, the lot will become part of park, in the second phase of its expansion. And the county will get something in return for the temporary use.

“The compensation to the County for the Amended and Restated License Agreement will be in the form of 12, 15-second promotional underwriting credit spots on WETA’s radio programs during each calendar year,” a staff report says.

Stombler and Clark — who support the expansion of WETA’s Shirlington headquarters that will see its aging NewsHour studio eventually demolished — said that the radio ads will not do anything to benefit the neighborhood.

“The county government must reassess its engagement processes to correct these actions, and must be held accountable for practices that marginalize segments of our community,” the op-ed said. “More innovative and compassionate solutions should be encouraged. Local hiring, paid internships, job fair hosting and community clean-ups beat 12 ego-boosting radio spots any day.”

Photos (1-2) via Arlington County, (3-4) via Google Maps

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(Updated at 10 a.m.) Despite what you might have seen on TV, the Arlington police officers who were sent to assist the response to protests in D.C. conducted themselves professionally, county leaders say.

In a half-hour phone interview with ARLnow, Police Chief M. Jay Farr, County Board Chair Libby Garvey and County Manager Mark Schwartz discussed the decision to send officers to help U.S. Park Police in D.C., and the subsequent decision to bring them back to Arlington — which is facing criticism from the local police association.

The origin of what has become a national news story started Saturday night, when U.S. Park Police — facing mounting officer injuries and exhaustion from guarding Lafayette Square, near the White House, amid large-scale protests over the death of George Floyd — formally made a mutual aid request for Arlington County Police to assist 0n Sunday. Such requests are common in the multi-jurisdictional D.C. region, and made for everything from suspect searches to large events like an inauguration.

“The numbers and the amount of protests had accelerated to the point that they definitely could use our assistance,” Farr said. ACPD was also asked to help fill in for USPP by patrolling the George Washington Parkway. Alexandria and smaller local jurisdictions were not asked to provide

Farr agreed to the requests, Schwartz and Garvey were informed and concurred with the decision, and on Sunday Arlington officers in riot gear made their way to the District.

The officers were held in reserve for much of the day but at night, as peaceful protests gradually gave way to violence and destruction, they were called to help push protesters back, allowing D.C. firefighters to battle several fires, including at St. John’s Church. Live news footage showed the officers in their ACPD riot helmets, maintaining a perimeter as objects were thrown in their direction,

On Monday, Park Police asked ACPD for another day of aid, pending the arrival of backup from other federal law enforcement agencies. Dozens of USPP officers had been injured in the protests, out of a force of about 300, Farr said. Arlington again agreed to the request. But this time turned out to be different.

A harbinger, Schwartz said, was a conference call President Trump held with the nation’s governors, in which he told them that “you have to dominate” to control the protests.

“It was a disturbing phone call,” said Schwartz. But it wasn’t until shortly after he read about the call that word reached him about what had happened in front of Lafayette Square.

It was 6:35 p.m when police at the park, including Arlington officers, started to suddenly move toward the crowd, which had to that point been mostly peaceful.

Live coverage on CNN showed Arlington officers on left side of the screen, forcefully but steadily pushing back a small group of protesters. To their right, other riot gear-clad officers — Farr believes at least some of them were Park Police — shoved members of the crowd much more aggressively. Cloud-spewing munitions were fired, which some believed to be tear gas, something USPP denied Tuesday.

Shortly after protesters were pushed out of the way, President Trump walked out of the White House, walked to the fire-damaged church, held up a bible as photos were taken, and then walked back.

Outrage followed on social media. Images of Arlington officers in the midst of the fracas, including one holding a pepper ball gun (as seen above), started to make the rounds.

“This is absolutely not what our tax dollars should be used for,” one local tweeted. “Nothing about this made Arlington or DC safer.”

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Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol says she was wrong to suggest that a local beer garden should be shut down over the weekend.

Cristol retweeted a photo posted by Democratic strategist Adam Parkhomenko on Friday night, which showed a large crowd — none wearing masks — outdoors at The Lot beer garden near Clarendon.

“A bunch of selfish a**holes in Arlington, VA this evening,” Parkhomenko said in his tweet, which went viral and racked up thousands of likes and retweets. Many of those sharing the post decried how such crowding could exacerbate the pandemic.

“Well, this sucks,” Cristol wrote in her response to the tweet. “We’re in this together, and are going to have a hard time continuing to move forward if folks/establishments won’t do the basics of masks & distancing. All: Please help us follow up (and shut this stuff down) by reporting.”

Cristol also shared a link to a “non-compliance of social distancing practices” reporting form created by the county.

In response, however, The Lot said in a social media post on Saturday that it followed “all CDC, state, and local guidelines,” noting that it has “a large patio so naturally there will be more people, attention, and visibility.”

While The Lot posted a sign encouraging mask usage, Virginia’s new mask requirement only requires it for indoor public spaces.

A huge thank you to all our amazing patrons for the support and patience last night. We’d also like to thank the county…

Posted by The Lot VA on Saturday, May 30, 2020

On Sunday, Crisol posted an apology, acknowledging that Arlington police and fire personnel had visited The Lot and verified that it was following all of the requirements. She added, however, that “too many ppl = an administrative problem the County needs to fix.”

The risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors is considered to be low, though extended exposure and close proximity to someone with the virus — particularly if they’re talking and not wearing a mask — can result in infections even outdoors.

Photo via Twitter

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A banner featuring a collage of photos of Yorktown High School seniors was intended to celebrate the class of 2020, but instead it is being decried as racist.

The banner has since been removed and Yorktown’s principal has apologized, after the controversy blew up on social media yesterday. At issue: the banner uses class photos to form an image of the Yorktown logo, but singles out students of color to create the black outline of the logo.

“I thoroughly don’t understand how Yorktown put forth such a racist banner,” said one student in a social media post. “I understand they were trying to do something nice for the seniors, but the execution was horrible. [People of color] shouldn’t be the outline and there are better ways to highlight the Y.”

“They really used us as the shading cmon now,” said another.

An Arlington Public Schools spokesman said the banner was generated by computer software that creates composite images using hundreds of individual photos, grouped to correspond with colors in the background image.

“A computer program grouped and placed senior portraits over an image of the front of the school and the YHS logo,” said Frank Bellavia. “The printer sent a proof to the school by email, so it was difficult to see how the photos were placed to create image.”

Yorktown principal Kevin Clark said in an email to students and parents that “upon realizing our oversight, we immediately removed the banner and notified the printing company of this issue.”

“This banner does not appropriately reflect our graduating class or our values, and we sincerely apologize to any student who felt offended or marginalized,” Clark said. “We do not condone any activity or imagery that offends our students.”

The outgoing co-editor-in-chief of the Yorktown Sentry student newspaper reported on the controversy via Twitter last night.

Yorktown is the least diverse of Arlington’s high schools, with non-white students accounting for about a third of the student body.

The full letter from Clark is below.

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Parents opposed to a proposed four-school swap, set for a School Board vote on Feb. 6, are ramping up pressure to scuttle the plan.

A new coalition calling itself “No School Moves” has gathered more than 1,700 signatures on a Change.org petition launched earlier this month, calling for the School Board to vote “no.”

The group opposes an Arlington Public Schools plan, endorsed by the interim superintendent, to move Key elementary students and staff to the Arlington Traditional School building, while moving Arlington Traditional students and staff to McKinley and McKinley students and staff to a new elementary school building in Westover. That would free up the Key school building near Courthouse, currently used by a Spanish immersion choice program, to become a neighborhood school as the elementary-aged population in that area continues to grow.

People who signed the petition, however, are not buying the APS rationale for the moves, which would reportedly result in more than 2,400 students moving to a new building.

“Moving schools is not creating more seats,” said one. “It’s a temporary bandaid and there is no data to support these moves.”

“These changes can have profound effects on students who get moved to new schools, and the current process is so flawed,” said another. “It could easily lead to even more rounds of redistricting in the near future.”

In addition to objections to the process, an alleged lack of supporting data, and inadequate communication from school staff, opponents say the moves would make diversity in the schools “more difficult to maintain.”

Per the petition:

The school move proposal exacerbates the county’s broader struggle with diversity. As in other communities, Arlington’s historic housing patterns have effectively segregated low-income and minority families, and its schools reflect those same patterns of segregation. Yet despite repeated requests from PTAs and parents across the county — and in the immediate aftermath of a recent settlement between Arlington Public Schools (APS) and the Justice Department over English language learners — APS staff has not performed any detailed analysis of how proposed school moves would affect the demographics of those school populations.

In a recent survey, more than 60% of Spanish-speaking families currently part of the Key Immersion school community have said they won’t be able to move with the program to its proposed new location. APS argues that Key Immersion would draw more native Spanish speakers if it were in a more central location — but their evidence for this is entirely anecdotal.

What’s more, moving the Arlington Traditional School and its VPI preschool program to the McKinley building would adversely affect low-income families who rely on public transit. Families trying to reach the school on a Metrobus could double their commute time. This would discourage enrollment for families without cars, negatively impacting the diversity of a school that has demonstrated results in closing the achievement gap for high-needs students.

Arlington Public Schools is planning to hold a public hearing on the plan on Thursday, Jan. 30, at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd) at 7 p.m., ahead of the scheduled Feb. 6 School Board vote.

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Morning Notes

Parents Protest APS Proposal — “School officials tasked with the perpetual jigsaw puzzle of reassigning school zones have stirred new tensions… If you drive McKinley Rd., you can’t miss the printed signs ‘SAVE MCKINLEY: Our Neighborhood School Since 1951.’ The Madison Manor Civic Association has revved up with nearby PTAs and community groups to assemble contrary arguments.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Tafti Pushes Back on AG Comments — From Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “We are neither righteous warriors nor avenging angels. We are public servants. So a little humility in how we do our job and how we accept public critique of our work would go a long way toward building a system that is both safe and just.” [Twitter]

Free Holiday Grief Support Service — “For those who’ve suffered loss-whether recently, or even years prior-the holiday stress can make the season more difficult. To help those grieving in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia during the holidays, Capital Caring Health, a local non-profit, offers a wide range of free counseling and support services.” [Press Release, Arlington Public Library]

Special Burial at Arlington National — “Private Edwin Francis Benson was killed in action at Tarawa during World War II. In 2017, his remains were located. Earlier this year, his remains were identified and a couple weeks ago he was laid to rest in Section 60. We honor his service.” [Twitter]

APS Students Learn About the Census — “The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off its Statistics in Schools program, offering Arlington teachers and others a wide array of resources that teach students not only about data but also about the importance of being counted in the upcoming 2020 Census. Arlington Public Schools shared the free program with its teachers, who can integrate it into their lesson plans.” [Arlington County]

Road Closures for Race in Pentagon City — “The Jingle Bell Run/Walk 5K for Arthritis will take place on Saturday, December 7. Police will conduct road closures in the area of South Joyce Street and Army Navy Drive to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

New Additions to Story Map — A number of properties have been added to the Arlington Historical Society’s Story Map, per organizer Charlie Clark, including: 817 N. Irving St. (Lyon Park), built circa 1904; Hendry House, 2411 N 24th St. (Woodmont), built circa 1900; 3405 N. Glebe Rd. (Country Club Hills), built circa 1907. [Arlington Historical Society]

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(Updated at 9:15 a.m.) Leaders from Arlington’s Parent Teacher Associations are speaking out against Arlington Public Schools’ plans for a major elementary school boundary swap.

In a joint letter to the School Board, PTA presidents from seven Arlington elementary schools requested that members “not vote on any elementary school moves.” Rather, the PTA members presented a “holistic, twelve-month process” that incorporates more analyses and data review.

“We appreciate the complex nature of the task and the hard work of APS staff and believe adjustments to the process will result in more meaningful community engagement,” the group wrote in the letter.

In October, APS proposed a pair of options for shuffling up to a quarter of the county’s elementary school students, including moving the majority of McKinley Elementary School students to the new Reed Elementary School, among other switches.

The Arlington School Board is expected to take action on one of two final proposals during its meeting on February 6, 2020. If approved, it would take effect for the 2021-22 school year, per APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

During a Q&A session Monday night between area PTA presidents and APS staff, PTA leaders alleged that the plans fair to address issues of diversity or equity.

“While demographics and economic diversity might not be considered by everyone an element of equity, it is a pivotal factor,” said County Council of PTAs president Maura McMahon. “To leave it out is a major concern for many people.”

APS officials repeatedly defended their choice to leave out demographics in the proposals, and emphasized that because entire school communities will be moving, they are not defining this as a boundary change.

“When we say we’re going to move a school community, we assume the entire community will move,”said APS Integrated Project Planner Gladis Bourdouane. “When we do boundary changes, we will of course consider changes that include demographics, but if the school moves, the communities will move together.”

The first proposal — which APS said would require boundary changes that would affect around 2,400 students — would make the following changes.

  • The majority of current McKinley students would move to Reed.
  • The Arlington Traditional School (ATS) program would move to the McKinley building.
  • Key Immersion School would move to the Arlington Traditional School building.
  • The Key building would become a neighborhood school.

In the second — which APS says would require fewer boundary changes and thus affect around 2,100 students — involves the following.

  • Campbell Elementary School moving to the ATS building
  • Key, along with its immersion program, would move to the Carlin Springs Elementary School building
  • The majority of students at Carlin Springs would move to the Campbell Elementary School building
  • Campbell building becomes a neighborhood school
  • The Key building becomes a neighborhood school

If neither plan is put into place, APS says, more extensive elementary boundary changes will be required.

APS has several community events planned in December to discuss elementary school planning, including a “What We Heard” meeting on December 9 at 7 p.m. at Swanson Middle School , and another in Spanish on December 16 at 7 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School.

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If there’s one thing that drives passions in residential neighborhoods, it’s parking. And Arlington County is gearing up to change some of its residential parking policies next year.

The forthcoming update to Arlington’s Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program promises to bring out strong opinions, with some residents very much in favor of keeping the program as is, and others saying it promotes inequity and should be scrapped. The county staff recommendation, however, is likely to be somewhere in the middle.

The RPP program focuses on neighborhoods around Metro corridors and other high-demand areas where commuters, diners, shoppers or hospital visitors tend to fill up street parking spaces. It restricts on-street parking to certain residents and their guests during certain times of the day.

“I know this program is important and popular — and not popular in certain places,” County Manager Mark Schwartz at Tuesday’s Arlington County Board meeting, as county staff provided an update on its work, which has been underway for more than two years.

The RPP program tends to favor single-family home owners over apartment dwellers, many of whom are excluded from receiving parking permits, raising questions about fairness, staff said.

“As a whole, there is little resident agreement on how the Program should function going forward,” said a staff presentation to the Board. “Resident opinions frequently vary with type of housing in which they live and whether they have RPP restrictions.”

Schwartz placed additions of new areas and other changes to the program on hold in 2017, at a time when staff said the county was receiving “a large volume of applications” from mostly single-family home owners who wanted parking restrictions on their streets. Most of those applications were being rejected, staff said, demonstrating a difference between program requirements — including at least 75% parking utilization on the streets in question on weekdays, with an abundance of parked cars registered in other areas — and resident expectations.

“Our public expects parking to be easy,” said Arlington County Parking Manager Stephen Crim. “They want to park in front of our houses and want their guests to park on the same block.”

County staff are still gathering public feedback but presented a number of guiding principles ahead of formulating recommendations for Board consideration this spring.

Among the changes to the program now being considered:

  • Make all housing types eligible for RPP, but exclude housing developments that go through a site plan and use permit process.
  • Cap the number of parking permits any given household can receive based on off-street parking availability (like a driveway or parking lot.)
  • Make parking easier for household visitors, perhaps by enacting two-hour parking without permits on RPP streets.

(Two hour visitor parking in RPP zones is in place in a couple of parts of Arlington, but police say it is difficult to enforce and meters would be preferable. Board member Katie Cristol said she would be in favor of more parking meters in RPP zones, with those displaying parking permits exempt from the meters.)

RPP as currently conceived does have some interesting side effects, Crim noted. For one, it has a placebo effect: people in RPP zones who have parking permits said in surveys that parking was easier than residents in areas without RPP restrictions but similar street parking utilization. Also, people who have RPP restrictions are more likely to be supportive of new housing developments in their neighborhood — as long as the new residents won’t be eligible for residential parking permits.

(About 40% of survey respondents said they liked RPP because it discourages people in apartments and condos from parking on the street, according to Crim’s presentation.)

The current RPP moratorium is not expected to be lifted until the changes are enacted. And the public process related to those changes is expected to be contentious.

“No principal or policy will please everyone,” said Crim.

“I look forward to deliberating on this next spring, it’s going to be a doozy,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.

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