APS Testing for Lead in Pipes — Arlington Public Schools has been testing systemwide for lead in pipes. Already, the school system has replaced a water fountain in Jamestown Elementary School found to have lead levels above a level considered safe by the state health department. [InsideNova]
Bayou Bakery Raising Money for Flooding Victims — Bayou Bakery in Courthouse is raising money for Louisiana flooding victims. The restaurant is offering a special Shrimp Creole appetizer for $9 this week; half the proceeds from that dish will benefit flood victims, including chef/owner David Guas’ own aunt, whose home in Abbeville, LA flooded with two feet of water. [Bayou Bakery]
Arlington Names New Communications Director — Dr. Bryna Helfer has been named Arlington County’s new Director of Communications and Public Engagement. She joins county government from the federal government. “Helfer currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Engagement at the U.S. Department of Transportation and also serves as Senior Advisor to the Secretary on Accessibility and Workforce,” a press release notes. [Arlington County]
Crystal City Boxing Recap — It was a nine-bout, nine-knockout night at the Crystal City Hilton Friday night. [Fight News]
Transport Nerds ‘Playing With Traffic’ — A big group of “transportation techies” gathered recently at WeWork in Crystal City to discuss creative and tech-based solutions to transportation problems. The group is sponsored by Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County Commuter Services. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
County Backtracks on Uber Story — Arlington County is in the early stages of considering a plan to replace low-ridership ART service with some sort of partnership with ridesharing services, like Uber. However, the county is backtracking on an official’s statement that the service would be subsidized. “A recent press account quoted a County staff person as saying, incorrectly, that we will be subsidizing this service,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “No such decision has been made at this preliminary stage of analysis.” [Arlington County]
Advisory Group: Change Name of Jeff Davis Highway — An advisory group appointed by the City of Alexandria has recommended changing the name of Jefferson Davis Highway. Alexandria’s “Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names” says the Confederate president’s name should be removed from Route 1 in the city. [Patch]
Ultimate Frisbee Vote — Arlington Public Schools is now the first school system in Virginia to make ultimate frisbee an official school sport. The Arlington School Board voted Thursday night to implement ultimate as a sport in middle and high schools, on an initial countywide budget of $90,000. [WTOP]
New ART Bus Route Launching Monday — The new ART 54 bus route will begin serving Dominion Hills, Madison Manor and East Falls Church on Monday. The new bus will run every 24 minutes on weekdays, during the morning and evening rush hours. [Arlington Transit]
Medicine Dispensing Exercise — Arlington residents are being encouraged to participate in the county health department’s mass medication dispensing exercise on Saturday. Volunteers are needed to form a crowd seeking medication (the county will be dispensing two types of candy during the exercise.) [ARLnow]
United Bank Purchasing Cardinal Bank — Two regional banks are coming together to form what may be the “most dominant community bank” in the D.C. area. United Bank, which has four Arlington branches, is purchasing Cardinal Bank, which has five Arlington branches. [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Arlington residents are now able to check the status of road work, look at traffic conditions and access information on local real estate development projects on the County’s mobile app.
The county this week added these and a few other new features to My Arlington, the app for iPhone and Android devices that launched in February.
Users can now use the app to access real-time information on paving and milling operations on county-owned streets, view traffic camera feeds and get traffic updates using data from Google Waze, said Shannon Whalen McDaniel, a communications manager for Arlington County.
“County staff enters data into Waze daily, noting if a street is partially or fully closed, along with an estimated time of completion,” Whalen McDaniel added.
Other recent additions to the My Arlington app include:
- Voting information, with Arlington polling and precinct locations.
- A county staff search directory.
- Information on development projects with county site plans.
- Notices about stop work orders and unsafe buildings.
Screenshot via Arlington County
Diana Sun is set to retire from her post as Arlington County’s chief spokeswoman this summer after 13 years on the job.
Sun, who joined the county as director of communications and assistant county manager in 2003, is slated to step down in the next couple of weeks. Her last day will be Friday, Sept. 2.
County Manager Mark Schwartz, who announced Sun’s retirement at a County Board meeting last month, said her communications department had “excellent relationships” with journalists and was available at all times to help with media relations.
“She’s held our communications efforts to the highest ethical standards and she has enhanced our reputation as a national leader,” he said.
Prior to working for the county, Sun served as the vice president of corporate communications at Capital One. The experience she brought with her had an immediate effect on the county government, her co-workers said.
“She joined us when we had at best a rudimentary public information office structure and she was bought in to professionalize and modernize the effort and she succeeded brilliantly at the task,” said Schwartz. “She built what I think is one of the best communications teams of any jurisdiction in the commonwealth and perhaps the United States. We are regarded as leaders and innovators in so many areas.”
During her time in the county government, Sun helped oversee the building and rebuilding of the county’s website, led the county’s expansion into social media, redesigned its Citizen newspaper and tracked down the history of the county seal, eventually getting it trademarked.
“The length of time you’ve been here, there’s been an enormous evolution of the communications function here in the county and a professionalization of that,” County Board member Jay Fisette said.
Photo via Arlington County
Wahlburgers Coming to Ballston — Wahlburgers, the burger chain founded by the show biz Wahlbergs (Mark, Donnie, Paul), is coming to Ballston next year. The eatery will be located near the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Glebe Road. [Washington Post]
SER Expanding to Capitol Hill? — The team behind SER restaurant in Ballston — or, at least, part of the team — is opening a new restaurant on Capitol Hill in the former Sona Creamery and Wine Bar space. [Washington Business Journal]
Metro Releases Cause of Derailment — What caused a Metro train to derail near the East Falls Church station on Friday? The transit agency says it was a deteriorated section of track in which the rails became too wide. [Washington Post]
Dark Star Park Day — Yesterday Arlington County held its annual observance of Dark Star Park Day in Rosslyn. The public park, built in 1984, is designed to have its shadows line up once a year, on Aug. 1. [Storify]
County Touts Innovation Recognition — Three Arlington County programs have been recognized for innovation from the Virginia Association of Counties. [Arlington County]
Road Rage on a Bike Trail — Road rage isn’t something that only happens with motorists. Occasionally, it happens among cyclists as well, as this story from an incident on the Mt. Vernon Trail demonstrates. [Storify]
Visitors Gathering at Khan Grave — The grave of an Army Captain who died in Iraq in 2004 has become something of a destination for visitors at Arlington National Cemetery. Flowers and American flags are being left on the grave of Capt. Humayun Khan, whose parents spoke out at the Democratic National Convention against GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s stance on Muslim immigration. [WJLA]
What’s Next for County Parcel Near Marymount? — Officials are beginning the process of deciding the future of a county-owned parcel of land near Marymount University, after the County Board nixed a plan to permanently move Fire Station 8 there. Possibilities for the seven-acre parcel at Old Dominion Drive and 26th Street include a small park, a new salt dome, a large mulch pile, a fueling station and a temporary home for the fire station. [InsideNova]
Richard Thompson Dies — Longtime Arlington resident and “Cul de Sac” comic strip creator Richard Thompson has died at the age of 58 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease. [Washington Post]
Body of Missing Maryland Man Found — The GW Parkway was shut down for a period of time after a body was found in the area of Donaldson Run. Police say the body was that of a missing Maryland man. [WJLA]
Charles Hernick AMA — The Republican challenging Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) in November’s congressional race recently conducted an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. Charles Hernick sparked a vigorous debate among users after saying he supports a cap and trade system to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and “clean coal” regulations. [Reddit]
What Is Old Is New Again — A 1965 issue of the Northern Virginia Sun newspaper included two hot topics of the day that should sound familiar to anyone following local news over the past couple of years: a “crisis in low-cost housing” in Arlington and complaints about aircraft noise from National Airport. [InsideNova]
It’s August — Today is the first day of August. Summer doesn’t officially end until Sept. 22, but get ready for plenty of indicators that fall is around the corner: back to school sales, Oktoberfest beers on store shelves and pre-season NFL games.
Minor Charges for Man Who Ran from Cops — The man who ran from police Tuesday in Ballston did so, apparently, to avoid being charged with driving on a suspended license and improper registration. He’s now also facing eluding and failure to I.D. charges. The passenger in the car did not flee and is being charged with identity theft and possession of drug paraphernalia. [Arlington County]
I-395 HOT Lanes ‘Pretty Close to a Done Deal’ — A plan to convert the I-395 HOV lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes appears to be proceeding. Thanks to promises to use toll revenue to enhance carpooling and express bus service, Arlington officials have been generally supportive of the plan so far. That, after the county sued to block a previous I-395 HOT lane plan. [Washington Post]
Arlington Names New Zoning Administrator — Arlova Vonhm, the county’s Acting Zoning Administrator, has been appointed to the position on a permanent basis. “Vonhm, who joined the County in 2012 as a principal planner, leads a team of 30 Zoning staff. Her team collaborates with Inspection Services and other County staff to process and approve building permits, while actively enforcing the County’s Zoning Ordinance,” notes a press release. In the past few years, Arlington’s zoning administrators have drawn the ire of many in the business community for a heavy-handed approach to enforcing Arlington’s zoning rules. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
That’s according to the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties, which gave Arlington high marks for its tech related to “open government, transparency, citizen engagement, security and operations.”
This is the first time Arlington has achieved the honor.
“We’re proud of this award and for the work that was done this year to help create a more streamlined, responsive and inclusive government using technology,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a press release (below). “Arlington will continue to innovate and explore new technology tools with the goal of creating the best possible experience for residents and businesses when they interact with the County.”
The county is ahead of the curve in tech in a number of ways. In the past couple of years Arlington has launched a dark fiber network that’s open to businesses, a data-driven smartphone app, online streaming of commission meetings and an “open data portal.”
The full press release from Arlington County, after the jump.
In 2012 and again in 2014, a number of local firms were vying for new allocations of taxicab certificates from Arlington County. Both established companies and fledgling startups presented their case to county staff and to the County Board, arguing that Arlington needed to add to its taxi fleet.
That is a scene that may never repeat itself again.
A memo sent by County Manager Mark Schwartz earlier this month shows just how precarious of a drop in business Arlington cab companies are experiencing, thanks largely to competition from ride hailing firms Uber and Lyft.
Dispatched cab trips, the predominant measure of taxi activity in the county, plummeted by a third — from 2.6 million to 1.7 million annually — between 2013 and 2015, according to the memo.
The memo suggests that cab activity at Reagan National Airport and local hotels is likely up, due to more passengers and hotel check-ins, but says that there are fewer hail-based trips than dispatched trips among local taxi companies.
Schwartz says there’s currently no way to measure Uber and Lyft activity in Arlington, but concluded that the two companies are not only taking passenger business away but are also making it harder to recruit drivers and collect “stand dues.” Uber and Lyft have operated legally in Virginia since 2014.
From the memo:
Based on information gathered during these exchanges and the data collected as outlined above, staff has concluded that the amount of available taxicabs seems sufficient to support passenger business within Arlington County in general. The Arlington County Police Department has experienced fewer drivers coming to take the required exam than in previous years. For the past two years, the industry has been facing the existence of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) that operate in Arlington under Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles authority. Currently, there are two companies Lyft and Uber. These companies provide service
on demand through a mobile application to individuals.
TNCs are creating a change in market conditions and impacts on the taxicab industry. There is no data available to quantify the number of providers although it is believe[d] to be significant. One thing the industry has brought up numerous times is the shortage of available drivers. This is impacting the industry which has dropped significantly the stand dues in order to attract drivers from other companies. The recent 60 wheelchair certificates that were awarded to Blue Top and All Access in 2014, most of these have not been filled with drivers. Other companies are reporting additional vacancies at the moment. The Arlington County Code provide steps in order to address this issue that will take into consideration during the Allocation Certificate Report due this fall.
As the Washington Post reported today, the last company to receive a large allocation of taxi licenses — All Access Taxi — has only one of its promised fleet of 50 wheelchair-accessible cabs in operation. The company blames problems with driver recruitment.
Von Pelot, marketing director for Red Top Cab, Arlington’s largest cab company, said “there is more at stake for our community than the amount of business we have lost to Uber and Lyft.”
“We provide wheelchair accessible service with the most wheelchair-accessible taxicabs, both in number and as a percentage of our fleet in Northern Virginia,” Pelot told ARLnow.com. “The evidence from San Francisco is that the loss of drivers to Uber has resulted in a reduction of wheelchair accessible service.”
Pelot said that Red Top offers “regulated, predictable and affordable pricing along with a discount program for seniors and persons with disabilities” whereas “Uber offers surge pricing.” He added that Red Top drivers regularly go through fingerprint-driven police background checks and receive special screening and training, a more rigorous process than that offered by Uber.
“As a locally owned and operated company, we contribute in numerous way to the community we serve,” he said. “We are NOT, a huge multinational organization without community ties.”
Taxis, meanwhile, aren’t the only transportation option that have suffered drops in ridership in Arlington over the past couple of years. The memo reveals that annual ridership of both Metrorail and Metrobus in Arlington is down nearly 3 percent from Fiscal Year 2014 to FY 2016. MetroAccess ridership is down 6 percent.
Arlington County has 847 taxi certificates currently approved — almost 4 for every 1,000 residents. The memo concludes with Schwartz’s recommendation that no additional certificates be approved this year.
Based on all the information presented in this report, I recommend that there be no increase in the current number of taxicabs authorized by certificates. If an applicant applies for a certificate, the issuance of which would authorize an increase in the number of taxicabs for such applicant or certificate-holder, and which increase would exceed the number of taxicabs determined by the County Manager, then the application must include relevant facts indicating the reasons that the applicant contends that the market change, industry performance, certificate-holder performance, competition, innovation and other specified factors other than those determined by the County Manager.
Katherine E. Young, who has lived in Arlington for three decades, is an award-winning poet and literary translator. She will serve at our local Poet Laureate for two years, receiving an annual honorarium of $1,500.
In a press release sent at 3 p.m. Friday, the county said a ceremony will be held for Young at a County Board meeting next month.
“The new Poet Laureate will work with Cultural Affairs and Library staff to develop and facilitate public programs to engage Arlingtonians of all ages and backgrounds and bring poetry to a wider audience,” notes the press release (after the jump).
Beyer Participates in House Sit-In — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was among the Democratic members of the House of Representatives participating in a sit-in for gun control. Beyer gave a speech on the House floor at 4:15 this morning. [C-SPAN, Twitter]
Arlington’s 11-Year-Old Police Chief — Carlin Springs Elementary student Nathnael Abraham, 11, served as Arlington’s Police Chief-for-the-Day on Tuesday. As chief Nathnael was especially concerned about bank robberies. “I think the most important crime problem would be robberies — bank robberies, because they’re taking money that belongs to other people, and that’s not OK,” he told NBC4’s Pat Collins. [NBC Washington]
Garvey: Vacancy Rate Still Too High — Even though it’s come down by 1 percent in the past year, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey says Arlington’s 20.2 percent office vacancy rate is way too high. The county has been actively working to attract businesses and bring the rate down. Each 1 percent of vacancy costs the county about $3.4 million in tax revenue. [Arlington County]
Whistleblower Hotline to Be Expanded — Arlington County will be expanding its recently-implemented waste, fraud and abuse hotline this fall. The hotline, currently only available for county employees, will be opened to the general public. In its first year, the hotline received 13 complaints, one of which resulted in a policy change and two of which are still under review. No widespread waste or fraud was uncovered, the county says. [InsideNova]
New Agreement With JBMHH — On June 15 Arlington County and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall signed a new memorandum of agreement for a partnership that will provide services and cost savings to the base. [Pentagram]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin
(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) Arlington has more to do to make the county friendlier to small businesses, particularly those with brick-and-mortar storefronts.
That was one of the messages sent by Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey during her State of the County talk this morning.
Garvey discussed the county’s efforts to compete economically during the talk, which is hosted by the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce. While Garvey lauded the county’s push to attract large employers — particularly tech-related firms — to Arlington, she lamented that small businesses are still encountering regulatory road blocks. As an example, she cited the experience of former Democratic state delegate Rob Krupicka, who opened a Sugar Shack Donuts location along Columbia Pike in February.
Garvey noted that Krupicka — who served in the House of Delegates for four years, representing parts of Arlington and Alexandria — had been expressing frustration on Facebook with the process of opening a shop in Arlington. She later reached out to him, asking that he share his experience with county staff.
“It was a little hard as a Board member to sit there and hear it,” she said. “He had to come in six times to get approval for a sign… And this was a small business, [Rob] is the one doing it all. [He also] had to come in to pay for permits and things because you can’t pay online.”
“We need to be thinking of the big guys, going to China [to attract businesses],” said Garvey, “but we also need to be down on the very granular level and make sure people don’t have to come six times for a sign — and can pay online. We’re working on it, we’re not there yet, but we’re absolutely committed to making it work.”
Asked about his experience, Krupicka said it was “definitely easier” to open his first donut shop in Alexandria than it was to open his second in Arlington.
“Both have their issues. Both have good staff. Alexandria has put a lot of effort into streamlining and it shows,” Krupicka told ARLnow.com. “The Arlington permitting process is in need of streamlining and modernization.”
There were five areas in particular where Arlington County could improve, according to Krupicka.
- “Payments have to be made by mail or in person rather than online and for some things you can’t move forward without payment, so that means waiting in line in the planning office for hours to get your name called so you can hand a check to somebody.”
- “Planning, Zoning, Health, etc. don’t talk to each other and it appears they don’t understand where each other fits in the process. The process actually seems to assume the small business person will force that communication and coordination. That is crazy, as the small business person shouldn’t have to be an expert on government process, the process should be designed to be easy. The big guys just hire lawyers. Small businesses should not have to.”
- “Many permits need to be applied for in person. You can’t just submit them online. You have to sit in the office and wait to be called, wasting hours of time. I have spent days waiting in the county offices. I have overheard a lot of very unhappy individuals and business people. The elected officials should spend some time walking through this process.”
- “In Alexandria you only need one permit to put up a building sign. It takes 20 days or so. In Arlington, you need two permits, zoning and construction, and it takes 60 days plus. In Alexandria you can apply online and never have to go into the office. My Arlington sign had me to to the County Offices at least 5 times wasting a lot of money on parking and more importantly time.”
- “There is an online system for some things, but in my experience, it was very cumbersome and I spent hours working with tech support to get it to work. I’m hoping that is fixed now.”
“All of this could be streamlined without impacting the proper county regulatory role,” Krupicka concluded. “I was impressed the way Libby Garvey reached out to me, tried to help and then made time and organized county staff to listen to my experience in order to try and fix it. She, [County Board member John] Vihstadt and Commissioner [of Revenue] Ingrid Morroy were the three that made a real effort to help me.”
Historic Designation May Not Stop Westover Redevelopment — It’s probably too late to start the process of designating a soon-to-be-redeveloped garden apartment complex in Westover as a local historic district, county officials said in response to residents who want to stop the development. By state law the county can’t stop a by-right development, so the only option for preserving the garden apartments would be for the county to buy the property, said County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac. [InsideNova]
Zara Now Open in Pentagon City Mall — The fashion retailer Zara is now open in the expanded portion of the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. [Patch]
Continued Kudos for W-L Soccer — After winning the state title, the Washington-Lee High School boys soccer team has since been recognized by the Arlington County Board, the School Board and has received a raft of media interest. [InsideNova]
Wardian Wins Crazy Trophy at Crazy Race — Arlington’s resident elite ultramarathoner Michael Wardian has won the Great New York City 100 Mile Running Exposition and the very unique trophy that goes along with it. [Instagram]
Arlington’s Street Names, Explained — In a post that was just republished, after originally appearing in 2009, urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington explains the complex but mostly logical system for naming streets in Arlington. [Greater Greater Washington]
Photo courtesy Melissa P.
Arlington County is out with a new video Public Service Announcement, reminding residents that they can now text 911 if they can’t call.
The video shows a humble office worker saving the day when he spots a bad guy trying to break into cars in his parking garage.
For the record, the “bad guy” in the video, Arlington County Public Information Officer Peter Golkin, is in fact regarded as one of the nicest guys in county government. Also, as an avid bike commuter, it’s quite doubtful that he would ever feel the need to steal a car.
More information about Arlington’s text-to-911 initiative can be found on the county website.
Jessica Tucker, the county’s first independent auditor to report directly to the County Board, is resigning as of July 8 and taking a new job in California.
The county released the following press release about Tucker’s resignation and the search for a new auditor.
Arlington County will launch a broad search for a new County Auditor, following the resignation of County Auditor Jessica A. Tucker, who has accepted a position in California. Tucker was the first auditor for Arlington County to report directly to the County Board.
“We wish Ms. Tucker success in her new endeavor,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “During her short tenure with the County, she laid the groundwork for a successor to quickly move forward with the Audit Committee’s work plan. At the same time, the work of the County’s internal auditor continues.”
Tucker will end her tenure with the County on July 8. She was named auditor in December, 2015. The County Auditor conducts independent program and operation audits and reviews of County departments, operations and/or County-funded programs, focusing on program efficiency, effectiveness and transparency. The County Auditor augments the County’s internal audit function within the Department of Management and Finance.
In March, The County’s Audit Committee, composed of two Board members, the County Manager, the Acting Director of the County’s Department of Management and Finance and three residents, developed a work plan for the County Auditor, reaching a consensus on the first three assignments:
- Site Plan Process
- Jail Medical Services
- Emergency Medical Transportation (Ambulance) Fee, from a list of 33 audit suggestions provided by the County’s Advisory Commission, the County Manager and the County Auditor.