Arlington, VA

Deputy County Manager Samia Byrd has been promoted to the new position of Chief Race and Equity Officer, Arlington County announced today.

Byrd, a long-time county employee who previously worked in the Department of Community Planning, Housing and a Development, will oversee work “to inform the County’s development of its plan for addressing race and equity issues.”

A University of Virginia graduate and Hampton, Va. native, Byrd said she is looking forward to the challenges ahead in the new role.

“The time is past due to dedicate and commit our time, resources and effort to advancing race and equity in achieving Arlington’s vision of a diverse and inclusive community,” she said in a statement. “It is an opportunity we should not take lightly or as a response to the moment, and one I approach with humility.”

More from a county press release, below.

As the Chief Race and Equity Officer for Arlington County, Samia Byrd will lead the County’s work to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion both internal and external to the organization. This includes guiding and facilitating the development and implementation of important policies and practices through an equity lens.

“Samia will be instrumental to helping Arlington better understand the cracks in our foundation,” stated County Manager Mark Schwartz. “I am excited to have her in this new leadership role as we identify the solutions moving forward to ensure that everyone in Arlington has the same opportunities regardless of the color of their skin, their education level, their housing type, their job, or the Arlington ZIP code where they live. I am honored that she will take on this work.  She will bring a deep sense of commitment, faith, and insight to a subject that is profoundly, at its core, about what type of community we want to be.”

Ms. Byrd will continue to oversee and manage the County’s coordinated work with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government (COG) Racial Equity Cohort comprised of Senior County and Arlington Public Schools staff, to inform the County’s development of its plan for addressing race and equity issues. This includes working closely with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network of governments working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all, to help guide the development of a racial equity tool later this year.

Once developed, the racial equity tool will be used in guiding policy, practice, program and budget decisions and offer new strategies for achieving racial equity outcomes in Arlington. Ms. Byrd will also have a pivotal role in developing and implementing a Countywide Racial Equity Action Plan.

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Virginia’s Phase 3 reopening starts today, with relaxed rules for restaurants, stores, fitness studios and social gatherings.

But as new coronavirus cases continue to surge in the South and West, the reopening raises the specter of Virginia’s waning epidemic returning.

Unlike New Jersey, which recently postponed the return of indoor dining, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is opting to continue reopening indoor, communal settings. He announced yesterday, however, that bar seating will be prohibited inside restaurants.

Arlington County, meanwhile, is encouraging residents to stay “safer at home” and to continue social distancing, telecommuting, and wearing masks in indoor public settings.

“Because Arlington is an urban, high-density area — and because there is still community spread of the virus — the County is going to similarly move forward with caution in the hopes of continuing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of the entire community,” the county said in a press release today.

The press release notes that fitness rooms and gyms will reopen at four community centers — Fairlington, Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Langston Brown — next Friday, July 10.

The good news for Arlington is that the current level of coronavirus spread remains low: five new cases were reported overnight, for a seven-day total of 46. The seven-day rate of new hospitalizations stands at just three, a new low since such data started to be reliably reported by the Virginia Dept. of Health.

The county press release about the reopening is below.

Arlington County, along with the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, is transitioning to Phase 3 of the Forward Virginia plan on Wednesday, July 1.

In Phase 3, Arlington will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing and teleworking, and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings. All businesses should continue to follow physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces and keep enhanced workplace safety measures in place.

As part of a cautious approach to entering Phase 3, Governor Northam on Tuesday announced that bar seating will remain prohibited in restaurants to reduce the likelihood of patrons gathering in bar areas without observing social distancing guidelines. The Governor added he is prepared to implement tighter restrictions if needed.

Because Arlington is an urban, high-density area — and because there is still community spread of the virus — the County is going to similarly move forward with caution in the hopes of continuing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of the entire community.

Arlington will continue to open government facilities gradually to ensure adequate space for social distancing and follow public health guidelines. […]

Playgrounds and Outdoor Restrooms Now Open, Select Fitness Rooms to Open July 10

Continuing its gradual reopening, in according with public health and safety guidelines, Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation reopened playgrounds and outdoor restrooms, including playgrounds located at Arlington Public Schools, effective Friday, June 26. Additionally, athletic field and court lighting returned to regular schedules.

Park users must continue to social distance and comply with the appropriate usage guidelines. Learn more on the Reopening Arlington Parks FAQ page.

Starting Friday, July 10, fitness rooms and gyms will reopen in four of DPR’s centers: Fairlington, Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Langston Brown.

Community and nature centers and spraygrounds remain closed.

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Morning Notes

March Planned Tonight in Crystal City — “This Tuesday (6/30) we will be gathering in Crystal City Courtyard Green to march to Pentagon City in defense of Black womxn.” [Twitter]

Petition for APS to Require Masks — “To maximize the chances of success for Arlington Public Schools (Virginia) hybrid return to school model we urge the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán to make face coverings compulsory for both students and teachers during the days they are at school for in-person learning. Those who object to wearing masks can always choose the distance-learning option.” [Change.org]

Local Church to Feed Thousands — “On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) in south Arlington is working with José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) to feed families in need of food assistance. World Central Kitchen is providing 3,500 meals to OLQP for distribution to the community. Meals will be offered to take home in conjunction with pre-packed food the OLQP food pantry distributes every Wednesday morning. This is the second time WCK will be providing meals to OLQP during the pandemic.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]

Catholic Churches Enter ‘Phase 3’ — “All 70 parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington will move into phase three of Virginia’s reopening plan on Wednesday. Officials announced Monday that each parish is ‘able, but not mandated, to celebrate public Mass with capacity restrictions lifted’ beginning on July 1.” [Fox 5]

County Adjusts Committee Meeting Rules — “After facing a rebellion from members and chairs of advisory commissions, the Arlington County Board has revised rules for holding meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the two biggest changes from the original plans: Commission chairs (apparently) will no longer have to seek county-staff permission to hold meetings. Advisory-group meetings will be allowed in-person or in a hybrid format, in addition to the previously announced “virtual”-only arrangement.” [InsideNova]

New Construction Contract for VHC Inked — “Skanska USA has inked more work with Virginia Hospital Center as the Arlington hospital soldiers on with its $250 million expansion project. The construction company said Monday it signed a contract worth $96 million for site work for the new outpatient pavilion and parking garage at the hospital. That’s on top of a $37 million contract with VHC it grabbed late last year.” [Washington Business Journal]

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You might have trouble trying to reach Arlington County via phone today.

The county government has been experiencing technical difficulties with its phone lines since earlier this morning.

“We are currently experiencing intermittent disruptions to some of the County’s call center numbers and are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible,” says the county’s website.

“Try the appropriate email addresses off arlingtonva.us for now,” advised Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services.

Update at 12:40 p.m. — The phone issue “has been resolved.”

File photo

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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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The Dept. of Justice has filed a civil action that would seize nine acres of county land on the eastern end of Columbia Pike by eminent domain, in order to expand Arlington National Cemetery.

The suit appears to be part of the long-standing plan to expand the cemetery around the Air Force Memorial, and includes no indication of resistance from the county. Arlington endorsed the federal proposal in April, which realigns and upgrades a portion of Columbia Pike in exchange for the county-owned land next to the cemetery.

As of Tuesday morning neither the Justice Department nor the county responded to requests for comment by ARLnow.

The action was announced Monday, with the DOJ touting it as a win for both military veterans and local residents.

“When completed, the Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Project will provide for approximately 60,000 additional burial sites, including an above ground columbarium,” said a press release. “The expansion will extend the timeline for Arlington National Cemetery to continue as an active military cemetery.”

“The expansion project will benefit Arlington County and its residents by, among other things, burying overhead power lines and incorporating the Air Force Memorial and surrounding vacant land into Arlington National Cemetery,” the press release continues. “The project will transform Columbia Pike from South Oak Street to Washington Boulevard by re-aligning and widening it. The project includes streetscape zones with trees on both sides of Columbia Pike, adding a new dedicated bike path, and widening pedestrian walkways. The project also provides for the construction of a new South Nash Street.”

The full press release is below.

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Dog parks, basketball courts and volleyball courts will reopen Friday, along with gyms and restaurant dining rooms.

Arlington County announced that it was reopening the additional park facilities as Northern Virginia enters Phase 2 of the reopening. The county previously reopened athletic fields, batting cages, tennis courts, tracks and picnic shelters last Friday.

Arlington Public Library, meanwhile, will offer book returns and pickup service at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) starting Monday, June 15.

Under state guidelines, the Phase 2 reopening will allow restaurants to open indoor areas at 50% capacity and indoor gyms to open at 30% capacity. Social gatherings of up to 50 people will now be permitted.

In a press release about the reopening today, Arlington County encouraged residents to continue taking safety precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“Arlington will maintain a Safer at Home strategy, with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings,” the county said.

The press release also contained a gentle reminder that parking restrictions were never lifted during the pandemic.

“The public is reminded that parking meters are being enforced,” the county said. “Motorists should be particularly mindful of posted signage in commercial areas as businesses are beginning to reopen.”

More from Arlington County, below.

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Protests over the death of George Floyd and others killed at the hands of police have sparked a debate: should police budgets be cut and the money re-allocated to social services?

The “defund the police” movement has been a particularly hot topic on social media, where some proponents have shared charts showing police budgets in U.S. cities dwarfing other expenditures, including education. The charts are misleading, though, according to fact checks — while police budgets are indeed significant, they are smaller than expenditures on schools.

In Arlington, the police department budget in the just-passed Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which takes effect on July 1, is $74.7 million. That’s 5.3% of the overall Arlington County government general fund of $1.4 billion. The police budget is one-ninth the size of the $670 million Arlington Public Schools budget passed last month.

By comparison to another locality of note, the ACPD budget — which rose from $72.1 million in the prior fiscal year — is just over a third of the police budget for the city of Minneapolis, where major changes to the police department are being formulated in response to the killing of Floyd by its officers. The city’s population is 429,606, compared to Arlington County’s population of 235,000.

The police department is one of the larger line items in Arlington County’s budget, and is just one component of Arlington’s overall public safety and law enforcement expenditures. It is, however, not the biggest single department in the budget: both the county’s Dept. of Environmental Services and Dept. of Human Services have budgets over $100 million.

Here are a few selected line items from the county budget:

  • $147.6 million — Dept. of Human Services (social services, health department, housing)
  • $110.9 million — Dept. of Environmental Services (road maintenance, water infrastructure, waste collection)
  • $103.7 million — Utilities
  • $75.0 million — Debt service
  • $74.7 million — Police department
  • $68.5 million — Fire department
  • $47.6 million — Sheriff’s office (county jail, court security)
  • $17.7 million — Courts, prosecutor’s office, public defenders
  • $13.8 million — Public safety communication and emergency management

The police department investigates thousands of crimes annually and last year faced 36 external complaints about police conduct.

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With Arlington and Northern Virginia poised to begin a Phase 1 reopening on Friday, the Arlington County Board today took a first step towards allowing more business to be conducted outdoors during the pandemic.

A growing body of scientific evidence has found that coronavirus spreads primarily in confined, indoor settings. That’s why Virginia’s Phase 1 reopening only allows restaurants to reopen to “dine-in” customers outdoors, with physical distancing requirements between diners and other restrictions.

Outdoor dining space is limited, however, and restaurants that want to have sidewalk cafes in Arlington have to go through lengthy approval processes.

With many restaurants facing severe financial distress, after more than two months of only being able to offer takeout and delivery, the County Board took action Tuesday afternoon that may help.

The Board voted 4-0 to approve, on an emergency basis, a process that would allow restaurants to apply for a temporary, expanded outdoor seating area, on sidewalks or in parking lots.

The Temporary Outdoor Seating Area (TOSA) process for restaurants would allow rapid approval by county staff and does not have an application fee. With written permission in hand, restaurants can then apply for an additional, needed permit from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority that would allow beer, wine and cocktails to be served in the new outdoor dining areas.

(Virginia ABC is allowing alcohol to be served in TOSAs between 6 a.m.-11 p.m., though County Board Chair Libby Garvey expressed concern about the early hours and asked county staff whether the county can restrict hours of operation. Existing rooftop dining areas, meanwhile, will be allowed to reopen under Phase 1 guidelines without additional permits.)

TOSAs could be created in on-street parking lanes, county staff told the Board in a presentation, but a more common use for parking lanes would be as “pedestrian circulation” zone, allowing people to walk around expanded sidewalk cafes. On-street parking spaces could be blocked off via rubber barriers or bollards, county staff said, though they noted that that might shrink existing, temporary restaurant pick-up and delivery zones.

“Where appropriate, repurposing parking lanes may add flexibility,” the presentation said. “[The] review process will prioritize proposals where [the owner has] consulted with neighbors.”

Reuse of parking lanes will be subject to review by Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services and must comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Vehicle travel lanes are currently expected to remain open.

The TOSA permits will be valid until the county decides to terminate them, either all at once as the pandemic abates or individually for restaurants “flaunting” the rules, officials said during today’s special online Board meeting. Violations could also be considered a crime — a Class 1 misdemeanor — though a representative from the police department told the Board that ACPD is “trying to educate,” not arrest violators.

County staff said that a TOSA-related page on the county’s website, including an application for restaurants, is expected to go live tomorrow (Wednesday). Arlington Economic Development and the Arlington Restaurant Initiative will be holding a webinar on the Phase 1 reopening and TOSAs for businesses on Thursday, while county officials are expected to address both during Arlington’s regularly-scheduled Friday online town hall for the general public on Friday.

The TOSA web page is eventually expected to include a map of approved, temporary seating areas and a form for submitting complaints, in lieu of complaints being phoned in to the county’s Emergency Communications Center.

County staff are now working on additional guidelines for bringing more activities outdoors, including religious services, fitness classes, farmers markets, brick and mortar retail, child care, and mobile vending.

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Exactly two months after closing amid the pandemic, Arlington’s parks are partially reopening in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Arlington County made the announcement shortly before 1 p.m., noting that a number of park amenities will remain closed.

“While parks will reopen, amenities in the parks such as playgrounds, picnic shelters, athletic courts, restrooms and dog parks will remain closed,” said a press release. “The County’s nearly 49 miles of trails and community gardens remain open, as they have throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Spraygrounds, tracks and skate parks are also still closed, the county said in a Q&A page. Some facilities may reopen early next month.

“Arlington anticipates a phased reopening of its Parks and Recreation facilities, with open spaces as a first step,” county officials wrote. “In early June, the County plans to reopen athletic fields (with restrictions), batting cages, dog parks, pickleball courts, shelters (with restrictions), tennis courts and outdoor tracks. As the County looks towards reopening additional park amenities, we will continue to monitor guidance from the national, state and local health officials.”

Summer camps and programs, however, remain cancelled.

Park-goers are being asked to maintain physical distancing — staying at least 6 feet apart — and groups of visitors should not exceed 10 people. Organized sports are still banned.

“Arlington County Police, park rangers, and park rovers will be monitoring parks, trails, playgrounds and fields to ensure people are social distancing and that groups are no bigger than 10 people,” the county said.

A growing scientific consensus suggests that the risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors is very low, though those who cannot maintain a safe distance from others are still encouraged to wear masks. Brief exposure from walking and jogging is likewise thought to carry few risks, though talking or singing in close proximity to one another for a sustained period of time may still be risky, even outdoors.

More on the park reopening from the county press release, below.

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Morning Notes

No Word Yet on N. Va. Reopening — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday he has not decided whether Northern Virginia can enter Phase One of reopening on May 29. Northam last week delayed the region’s entry into the first phase of easing restrictions designed to slow the spread of coronavirus until at least midnight on May 28. Most of the rest of the state began easing restrictions on Friday, May 15.” [InsideNova]

Nam-Viet Back Open — Long-time Clarendon restaurant Nam-Viet is back open, starting today, for takeout. “The last two months have been the most challenging time for our restaurant since we first opened our doors 34 years ago,” Nam-Viet said on social media. [Facebook]

County to Restart Commission Meetings — “The Arlington County government’s ability to jumpstart its board and commission process in a social-distancing environment remains, in part, at the mercy of technological and scheduling challenges… The Arlington government has dozens of advisory panels on subject areas ranging from aging and the arts to historic preservation and sports.” [InsideNova]

DCA Passenger Volume Plummets — “DCA overall is registering barely 1,500 passengers a day. The slowest day since the coronavirus outbreak brought just 641, Potter said… Overall, passenger volume at Reagan and Dulles is down 97%.” [Washington Business Journal]

Dumpster Fire at Grocery Store — “Scanner: Firefighters working to extinguish a dumpster fire behind the Giant at the Arlington Ridge Shopping Center (2901 S. Glebe Road).” [@ARLnowDOTcom/Twitter]

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