Arlington, VA

Masks significantly reduce the transmission of coronavirus, making their usage during the pandemic a public health priority.

To encourage wider use of masks, Arlington County is planning to give them away for free.

Earlier this month County Board member Katie Cristol revealed that Arlington had “recently put in a pretty significant order for cloth face coverings that were intended to be distributed around the county.” The idea, she said, was to encourage rather than mandate mask usage — a carrot vs. stick approach.

During last night’s Board meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz said the masks will be given out in various parts of the county.

“We’re going to be setting up locations across the county where people who do not have masks could go and get them if needed,” he said, adding that more details will be released next week.

The county, Schwartz noted, has established something of an “emergency logistics operation” since the start of the pandemic, distributing hundreds of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment to first responders, healthcare providers and others.

A county spokeswoman tells ARLnow that much of the new mask distribution effort will be accomplished through community organizations and nonprofits.

“Arlington County has procured cloth facial coverings to distribute to Arlington’s most vulnerable populations,” said Jennifer K. Smith. “The County is planning to enlist the help of community-based organizations (CBOs), including safety net nonprofit partners, to help distribute the facial coverings. The County will be reaching out to these CBOs in advance of the delivery of the face coverings, which is expected in the coming weeks.”

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Arlington County is working to publicly release data on payments to vendors, according to an email exchange between county officials and a local resident.

The new initiative came to light after a local resident filed a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain a list of county expenditures, sorted by vendor, for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Some other localities publicly list such information, in the interest of transparency and showing which companies were being paid by the local government.

The county’s initial response to the FOIA request was to demand payment of $8,750 to produce the information, citing a need for a budget analyst to spend 250 hours to compile it.

“The County is permitted to make reasonable charges to cover the County’s actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for any potential responsive records. The estimated cost associated with the request is $8,750.00,” the Arlington County FOIA office said in a letter. “Arlington County must review the financial data for potential exemptions to protect sensitive information on a line-item basis, which is the reason for this cost estimate.”

The resident, Patrick Lockhart, then appealed to the County Board and the County Manager to intervene. In response, the County Manager’s office agreed to waive the fee, noting that vendor payment information is set to be released through the county’s Arlington Wallet portal.

The website, which launched in early 2019, contains charts and graphs intended to give residents a clearer look at how officials are spending money each year.

There’s no word yet on when the new vendor-level expenditure information will be released, but a county official said it’s coming soon.

“Our Department of Management and Finance (DMF) has been working on the next phase of Arlington Wallet for some time now, and is actually getting close to being able to roll that out publicly,” wrote Ben Aiken, Director of Constituent Services in the County Manager’s office. “This next phase will contain the transaction level detail that will include vendor name and transaction descriptions, amongst other attributes.”

The full email is below.

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The upshot of most Arlingtonians being confined to their homes is that Arlington is seeing fairly high rates of responses to the 2020 census.

County Manager Mark Schwartz said at Tuesday’s County Board meeting that the Arlington is already seeing higher rates of people turning in census forms than at this time in the 2010 census. The rate currently sits at 27.4%.

“We went back and looked at 2010 and we’re doing better than we were doing in 2010,” Schwartz said. “I think part of that is because people are at home… It’s really good for where we are in the process.”

County officials are pushing census participation, the upshot of which is more representation in Congress and more federal assistance. County Board member Katie Cristol said that respondents should remember to “count their babies” in the census, noting that populations under five-years-old were the most underreported demographics in the last census.

Households can respond to the census online, by phone, or by mail until Aug. 14. Households should have recently received census mailers.

Schwartz said county officials are still hoping to set up mobile census assistances stations outside places like grocery stores and community centers once the pandemic concerns have died down.

Many of the traditional methods the county uses to encourage people to fill out the census, like pop-ups, have been canceled. The county government is still finding other ways to promote responding to the census.

“We’re including information about the census with food distribution that’s going on,” Schwartz said. “Several hundred tote bags have been given to AFAC as a way of emphasizing that.”

If you were curious about whether County Manager Mark Schwartz has a poem for the moment, you won’t be disappointed. He recited the following self-written verse at the meeting.

Covid has us all feeling frustration

What a great time to ensure our county’s enumeration

Take a minute or two to complete your census form

Perfect to do while social distancing is the norm

Just go to census.gov and complete all the questions

So Arlington can get our full representation

Schwartz’s full presentation is below.

Image via Arlington County

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Several senior Arlington County employees left the Saturday, Jan. 25, Arlington County Board meeting with renewed contracts and some notable pay bumps.

The County Manager, County Attorney, County Auditor and Clerk to the County Board all had their contracts unanimously approved in a 5-0 vote with no discussion.

County Manager Mark Schwartz got a 4.5% raise to $282,489 annually. It’s a little less than his neighbor, Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks, who earns $288,000 annually, according to the Alexandria Gazette Packet. On the other hand, it’s a little more than the $268,000 salary for Bryan Hill, who has the equivalent position in Fairfax County.

This is also the first time Schwartz’s salary has surpassed his predecessor, Barbara Donnellan, whose salary was $270,000 annually by the end of her five-year tenure. Schwartz became County Manager in 2015.

County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac, meanwhile, got a 3.5% raise to $261,933 per year — more than the $243,812 annual salary paid to Alexandria City Attorney Joanna Anderson.

County Auditor Christopher Horton got a 3.25% raise to $147,493 per year. Horton became the county auditor in 2016 and is the County’s second auditor. The first left the job after less than seven months.

Kendra Jacobs, Clerk to the County Board, had the biggest raise at 6.75%, increasing her salary to $115,749. Jacobs was appointed to the role in 2018.

The top county employees also received a raise last year; for all but Horton the raise was higher this year.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The Arlington County Board will soon vote on whether to spend over $700,000 upgrading the County Manager’s Office.

Member are scheduled to vote on the proposed renovation to the third floor office suite in the Bozman building (2100 Clarendon Blvd) during their meeting this Saturday, November 16.

If members vote to approve the project, the county will award $631,535 to Manassas-based Juniper Construction Company, Inc, plus an additional $126,307 for unanticipated costs.

A staff report to the Board indicates that the contract would fund upgrades to:

  • Create a “joint reception area” for the County Manager and County Board offices as well as a new “huddle room”
  • Several “open office concept work spaces” for staffers
  • Renovated conference rooms on the 3rd floor
  • “New finishes” in the offices and hallway

As of today (Thursday), the item is listed on the Board’s consent agenda, a place usually reserved for issues members expect to pass without debate.

The work is funded by a tenant improvement allowance negotiated as part of the county’s lease renewal and is part of a larger project to renovate the local government headquarters.

“The total project budget for the Bozman Government Center Renovation Project is $23.5M with the 3rd Floor CMO Suite renovation at $757,842.17,” the report notes.

Recently, the Board approved a multimillion dollar contract to replace the heating system at the county’s jail and courthouse building.

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As one fire station faces permanent closure, Arlington County is considering plans to open another one.

Fire Station 7 in Fairlington (3116 S. Abingdon Street) temporarily closed in October due to structural safety concerns. The crews relocated to other stations, with Fire Station 9 and nearby Alexandria and Fairfax stations assigned to cover Fairlington and nearby parts of South Arlington.

The station hasn’t reopened since, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Ben O’Bryant.

That closure could become permanent. Since at least 2014, the station has been on the chopping block. A report from 2012 noted that the station is beloved by the community, but lacks the efficiency of other stations throughout the county.

According to the report:

Station 7 is located in a residential community that has narrow streets and limited access. It does not provide as wide coverage area as do other fire stations in the County. Well maintained and in excellent condition, Station 7 is considered a ‘neighborhood treasure’ to residents of the community. The Routley study also recommended the elimination of Station 7, or its relocation to South George Mason Drive near Wakefield High School. This study found that Stations 7 and 9 could be merged to a location near the intersection of South Walter Reed Drive and South Four Mile Run Drive.

At an audit meeting last week regarding the overuse of overtime in the Fire Department, County Board Vice Chair Libby Garvey said part of the reasoning behind Fire Station 7’s closure is that 60 percent of the station’s runs are to Alexandria and Fairfax.

The County Manager is close to making a decision on the future of Fire Station 7, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith, and more information should be forthcoming “soon.”

Meanwhile, the County is in the early days of scouting sites for a new fire station on Columbia Pike. No timeline or site has been identified, but County Manager Mark Schwartz noted that the eastern end of Columbia Pike is a desirable location based on previous studies.

In the audit meeting, County officials also noted that new development planned for the eastern end of Columbia Pike and in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area — notably, Amazon’s HQ2 — will also likely increase demand for fire services in that area over the next few years.

“The current high demand at Fire Station 5 in Aurora Hills, combined with anticipated development and population growth in Crystal City/Pentagon City, may affect priorities in the next Capital Improvement Plan, which will be proposed in May 2020,” Smith said.

Photo via Google Maps

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(Updated on 07/29/19) Arlington County will not be paying for the cost of clean-up from sewage back-ups into people’s homes during the July 8 flash flood emergency.

A spokesperson for the County Manager’s office said today (Friday) that the county “sympathizes with proper owners” recovering from the unusually strong storm and “regrets” any damage caused, but “unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm.”

As the rainstorm dumped water on Arlington two weeks ago, stormwater runoff filled basements in homes and businesses — as did some sewage. The Department of Environmental Services previously told ARLnow that water flooded some sewer pipes, backing up sewage into people’s homes.

The result was raw sewage flowing into basements, and in some cases, potentially washing up to the first floor of homes, as evidenced by the smells still lingering days after the storm in some houses hit hard in Westover.

“Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual,” said County Manager’s office spokesman Ben Hampton. “While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm.”

One tipster who lives near the Cherrydale and Waverly Hills neighborhoods said his house was flooded after the main sewer line near his house flooded, “leaving us pretty much helpless as the county sewage flooded into our basement.”

When asked how many homes were affected by damaged sewer lines during the sewer line, county spokeswoman Bryna Helfer did not yet know and added that, “our primary focus right now is on pursuing the federal and state assistance.”

Over 1,000 residents and business owners filed post-storm damage claims with the county as part of Arlington’s preparation to request aid from the state or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hampton said the county is currently reviewing the the damage assessment from the claims which determines the county’s aid eligibility.

“At this time, we have no reason to believe that homeowners with major damage would not be eligible for aid if it’s approved,”  added Helfer.

“The most likely form of aid is from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides low-interest loans to disaster victims, including homeowners, renters, and businesses, for repairs or replacement of disaster-damaged buildings and property,” she said. “SBA can also provide capital to businesses. The County is also pursuing aid under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individual Assistance program, which provides financial assistance to individuals and families who have sustained losses due to disasters.”

Prior to the July 8 flooding, damage from clogged county sewers has occasionally damaged homes, including several incidents in the Madison Manor neighborhood, leaving residents on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs.

The full response from the County Manager’s office is below.

The County sympathizes with property owners recovering from the July 8, 2019 storm, which dumped an unprecedented amount of rain in the region and caused significant damage to public infrastructure as well as private property. The County regrets any damage that may have been caused to private property from the County’s public sewer lines being damaged or overwhelmed by this storm. Unfortunately, the County is not in a position to accept responsibility for damage to private properties resulting from this storm. Under Virginia law, the County is legally immune from these sorts of claims and using County tax dollars to pay for damages for which the County is immune would constitute an illegal gift to a private individual. While the County will investigate all reported claims on a case-by-case basis, there is no legal basis for it to accept liability in the vast majority of cases resulting from the July 8 storm. Property owners are encouraged to check with their insurance carriers and to explore the possibility of obtaining flood insurance for their properties. Additional information regarding the July 8 storm is available on the Flood Recovery Center at arlingtonva.us/flood-recovery.

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Arlington County has a plan to lure in fitness-lovering tourists with retro sports ads.

The County Board is considering accepting $10,000 in state funds for a marketing campaign designed to attract exercise enthusiasts to Arlington, as the state celebrates the 50th anniversary of the “Virginia Is for Lovers” slogan.

staff report to the Board said the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service (ACVS) will use the money to promote sports tourism in the county:

The goal is to attract travelers from at least 50 miles away to stay in Arlington hotels on vacation. Centered on the fall race season and major Arlington-based events like the Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon, ACVS’s initiative will appeal to fitness-focused leisure travelers through retro, 1969-style visuals and sports accessories, along with creative storytelling via blogs, videos and national social-media influencers.

The item is included in the Board’s agenda for its meeting this Saturday.

If approved, the county would accept $10,000 from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and apply the funds to the Arlington’s Economic Development Commission.

“This fall, ACVS will use the grant funds to collaborate with local fitness and neighborhood organizations to fuse Virginia’s ’50 Years of Love’ campaign with the idea that ‘Arlington is for Fitness Lovers,'” said the report.

The report also noted the county’s 2018 ranking as the fittest American “city” — a title it won again this week.

Photo via Arlington Sports Hall of Fame

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Morning Notes

VHC Land Swap Ready to Move Forward — “Nearly six months after a divided Arlington County Board approved a major expansion of Virginia Hospital Center, board members are set to take the next step.” [InsideNova]

Ballston IHOP Reopens — “Good news IHOP fans: the Ballston location is back open and serving customers. Here’s why it closed.” [Twitter]

DEA Finds Temporary Digs — “The Drug Enforcement Administration has found temporary space in Crystal City for its employees while its… headquarters in adjacent Pentagon City gets a major makeover. Representatives for the DEA recently applied to Arlington County for interior alteration permits to renovate three floors at 2200 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal]

Road Closures for Ballston 5K Race — “The 2019 Girls on the Run 5K Race will be held in the Ballston-Virginia Square area on Sunday, May 19, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement the following road closures from approximately 8:15 AM to 10:15 AM to accommodate the event.” [Arlington County]

Carlee Defines the ‘Arlington Way’ — “‘In its most positive framing’ [the Arlington Way] means ‘engaging with the public on issues of importance or concern (not always the same) in an effort to reach community consensus or… a shared understanding and an opportunity for everyone to be heard,’ [former County Manager Ron Carlee] writes. ‘In its negative framing’ the phrase has been ‘derided as a way to talk everything to death so that ideas are killed or that people are so worn-down that by the end, they do not care what happens as long as it is just over.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

Photo courtesy @klk_photography11/Instagram

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A new county initiative aims to help find ways to solve Arlington’s affordable housing shortage.

County Manager Mark Schwartz introduced “Housing Arlington” during Thursday night’s Arlington County Board meeting. Billed as an “umbrella initiative” for the county’s existing affordable housing programs, Schwartz said it will help officials and the public brainstorm solutions together.

During presentations Thursday night, county staff said Arlington has lost 17,000 market-rate housing units since 2005. With 58,000 more residents expected by 2045 and current rent for a 2 bedroom apartment averaging $3,000 per month, they said the squeeze for affordable housing is likely to worsen.

“If we are successful in this event, we will create and preserve more housing for Arlington residents,” said the Housing Division Chief David Cristeal.

The county currently creates affordable housing in a couple ways, including by subsidizing its construction with the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund (AHIF) and by subsidizing rent for low-income residents.

In 2015, the county officials pledged to create 15,800 affordable housing units before 2040, but have since fallen short of the yearly creation benchmarks.

“Housing Arlington is different first because it’s a County Board priority to bring solutions sooner… and the expectations are higher,” said Cristeal, adding that the initiative means the Arlington will be “even more focused on this challenge” and will be “more proactive” in collaborating between public and private sectors.

The initiative will focus on addressing the shortage of affordable homes for low-income and middle-income residents, per its website, and plans to leverage the county’s existing housing programs along with zoning tools and private-public partnerships to accomplish that goal.

Schwartz noted during last night’s meeting that Arlington’s “dilemmas of costly housing can’t, and should not, be solved with AHIF funding.”

He added that the money he and the County Board increased for AHIF’s budget this year “is a really good step” but that “it will never meet the full scope of the need.”

“We know residents across generations are facing pressures from multiple angles, and this interconnected solution allows our community to be responsive and efficient,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey in a press release.  The challenges don’t exist in silos and their solutions don’t either.”

Schwartz says the public has submitted ideas to the county before which are now research-able due to the Housing Arlington initiative. The ideas include:

  • Can publicly-funded housing be created specifically for teachers?
  • Should individuals let public safety staff live in accessory dwellings on their property?

Schwartz mentioned the initiative was also a response to the  “strong headwinds” the county faces in addressing affordable housing with Amazon coming to town.

The hearing to approve Amazon’s incentive package was dogged by activists who fear the company’s “HQ2” will hasten gentrification. Several residents shared how their rent has already increased since the company scouted its new headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

“What I’m sensing is a real concern about loss and vulnerability,” Dorsey during the March hearing in between protests.. At the time, Dorsey added that the “the history” of Arlington neighborhoods was that of gentrification and increasing property values.

“We never really had a way to stop it,” Dorsey said.

The Housing Arlington initiative will be housed in the Housing Division of the county’s Community Planning, Housing and Development Department (CPHD), per its website. Funding details for the new initiative were not shared.

The Housing Arlington initiative is scheduled to hold its first public engagement forum at Kenmore Middle School on Wednesday, May 29 from 6-9 p.m.

Flickr photo via woodleywonderworks

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Arlington officials are proposing a $12,000, mid-year funding bump for a program aiding the county’s undocumented residents.

Last week, County Manager Mark Schwartz published his recommendation to the County Board that they give an extra $12,250 from the county’s current budget and transfer the funds to the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC). The Board is set to the weigh the issue this Saturday at its monthly meeting.

The funds are earmarked for the undocumented residents the Justice Center is providing with immigration assistance, such as visa consultations or asylum petitions as part of a program called “200 bridges.” Twenty-eight out of the 50 participating families have undocumented members, Schwartz wrote in the proposal.

If approved, the $12,250 would be a funding raise for the Justice Center — the county already granted $40,000 this year to fund legal rights workshops and counsel for individuals and families. Last fiscal year, the county allocated $100,000 to the Justice Center.

Since the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration enforcement, Arlington officials have acknowledged they want to remain “inclusive” to undocumented residents, but that they cannot provide “sanctuary” from federal agencies like ICE. Residents responded by raising thousands of dollars of their own money to cover the cost of local immigrants’ citizenship applications.

The county has taken steps to make some services (like public schools, health clinics and employment aid) available by not requiring users to show proof of residency.

Last week’s proposal suggested moving money out of Department of Human Services’ general fund for fiscal year 2019 and giving it to the legal aid provider to “bolster its provision of legal consultation and representation for undocumented Arlingtonians and mixed-residency status Arlington families.” (The current fiscal year ends in June, meaning the funds would have to be spent before then.)

About 23 percent of all 234,965 Arlington residents were born outside the United States, according to the latest Census data.

There are no data for the total number of residents who are undocumented, but in 2014 the American Immigration Council estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Virginia, making up approximately 28 of the total immigration population.

A 2016 research study by the Pew Research Center estimated 25,000 people live without immigration documentation in the total Greater Washington Area.

Schwarz’s proposal would allocate the $12,250 to the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Arlington office, not its other offices in Charlottesville, Petersburg and Richmond.

Image via Youtube.

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