Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Merlene Accuses Favola of Sexism — “Normally, Democratic debates in deep-blue Arlington are wonky, congenial, staid, even boring affairs, where the candidates at least pretend to be cordial to each other. And tonight’s 31st State Senate district Democratic debate, between incumbent Sen. Barbara Favola and challenger Nicole Merlene, largely held to that model for the entire debate… until the closing statements, when basically all hell broke loose.” [Blue Virginia, PDF]

Metro Closure This Weekend — “[On] May 4 and 5, Metro will be closed south of Reagan National Airport– six stations in all. Trains will be replaced by free shuttle buses at Braddock Road, King St-Old Town, Eisenhower Ave, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield.” [WUSA 9]

Arlington and Amazon Emails Revealed — “Arlington County officials worked closely with Amazon.com Inc. to present a good public relations strategy in the weeks leading to their passage of the company’s $23 million incentive package, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show. The emails indicate some county officials were trying to develop a cozy relationship and wanted to help Amazon navigate challenges and smooth over some criticism.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Man Donates Flag Tie to New U.S. Citizen — Arlington resident Marc Johnson was trying to sell a patriotic American flag tie on Ebay after cleaning out his closet, but ended up donating it to the would-be buyer when he learned that the buyer was planning to wear the tie to his swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen. [Washington Post]

Arlington Sheriff’s Office Turning 150 — “The 150th anniversary of establishment of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office will be commemorated on May 7 as part of National Correctional Employees Week. The Arlington Sheriff’s Office was established at a time when Arlington (then known as Alexandria County) was being separated from the town (now city) of Alexandria and into its own self-governing locality.” [InsideNova]

History of Harry W. Gray House — “On this day in Arlington history: May 1, 1881 Harry W. Gray and his family move into their house. He and his family took years to build it and it is the only one of its kind for miles… The house remains a sturdy structure, its longevity a testament to Gray’s workmanship.” [Facebook]

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Disagreements over campaign contributions and criminal justice reform during a debate last night revealed fault lines between some of the Democrats running for the party’s nomination.

Six candidates running for Commonwealth’s Attorney, state Senator and Delegate who sparred during the Wednesday night debate agreed on green energy and defeating Republicans. But their disagreements on other topics showed that even in an all-Democratic playing field there are shades of blue.

One area of disagreement was campaign contributions.

Sen. Barbara Favola was asked by a moderator why she continued to accept contributions from the controversial Advanced Towing company in light of complaints about employees allegedly towing a vehicle with the owner’s pet still inside.

The state senator called the story “extraordinary unfortunate” but said that the solution was for people “to go back to the landowner and complain about the contract” they have with a company.

Her challenger, Nicole Merlene hit back by referring to the 2017 NBC 4 report that Advanced Towing gave Favola $1,500 in campaign contributions after she voted to loosen towing regulations and allegedly convinced then-Governor Terry McAuliffe to do the same.

Favola said she voted “with the county” and that “what Governor McAuliffe had decided to do is Governor McAuliffe’s prerogative.”

Both candidates spoke in strong support of increasing affordable housing and paying interns.

A flash point Wednesday night was the issue of criminal justice reform.

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Morning Notes

Tree Falls in Aurora Highlands — A large tree fell across 23rd Street S. in Aurora Highland, near Crystal City, yesterday evening around 5:15 p.m. It happened near the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church, between S. Ives and Hayes streets, amid gusty winds that felled other trees and branches around Arlington. The tree reportedly fell on a passing car, but those inside the vehicle were not injured. [Twitter]

Challenger Presses Favola — “Affordable housing and ethical issues took center stage as Democratic contenders for the 31st state Senate seat last week squared off for the first time leading up to the June 11 primary. Facing an uphill battle to knock off a two-term incumbent, challenger Nicole Merlene pressed the case that state Sen. Barbara Favola is too beholden to special interests to effectively represent the district.” [InsideNova]

Overturned SUV Along I-395 — Around 6 p.m. Sunday, an SUV overturned on a ramp to I-395 near Washington Blvd. A photo sent by a tipster shows the SUV on its side near the guardrail. No serious injuries were reported. [Twitter]

Barcroft Principal Lauded — “Judy Apostolico-Buck, who has spent 32 years in the Arlington school system, has been named the county’s 2019 Principal of the Year.” She was also a finalist for Washington Post Principal of the Year. [InsideNova, Washington Post]

Small Explosion in Falls Church Condo — “At 11:10 a.m. today, a contractor working on a stove received minor injuries from a gas flash explosion in a unit at the Falls Chase Condominium, located at 1136 S Washington St. Arlington Fire and Fairfax Fire Departments responded to the scene.” [City of Falls Church, Twitter]

Nearby: Peeping Tom in Falls Church — “City of Falls Church police are looking for more information regarding a peeping tom seen outside of Saint James Catholic School.” [Tysons Reporter]

Photo courtesy Ray Villarreal

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Morning Notes

First Debate in Prosecutor Race — “In a contentious series of exchanges that marked their first debate, candidates for Arlington commonwealth’s attorney left no doubt they have decidedly different views on the role of prosecutor – and aren’t particularly fond of one another, either.” [InsideNova]

Road Closures Tonight in Crystal City — “The Crystal City 5K Fridays races will take place each Friday evening in April (5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th). The Arlington County Police Department will close the following roadways each race day from approximately 6:15 p.m. until 8:15 p.m. to accommodate these events…” [Arlington County]

Pentagon City Ritz Hosting Easter Event — “Based on the huge success we had in 2018 holiday season with Breakfast with Santa, we have decided to celebrate Easter with the Easter Bunny for our little ones.” [Ritz-Carlton]

School Board Challenger Announces Candidacy — “He aims to knock off incumbent School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein, but in a kickoff April 3, David Priddy avoided mentioning the incumbent by name and only tangentially touched on reasons he thinks Goldstein should be ousted.” [InsideNova]

County Starts Census Push — “In a packed room at Arlington Mill Community Center, County Manager Mark Schwartz launched Arlington’s Complete Count Committee — a group of 39 community members who will serve as Census ambassadors to ensure that every person in Arlington County is counted in the 2020 Census on April 1, 2020.” [Arlington County]

Arlington Tech Firm Acquired — “Tetra Tech, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTEK) announced today that it has acquired eGlobalTech, a high-end information technology (IT) solutions, cloud migration, cybersecurity, and management consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia.” [BusinessWire]

Police Warn of Numerous Scams — Arlington County Police are warning members of the community about a number of scams that have recently been reported, among them the “Imminent Account” fraud, the “I am in Trouble” scam and the “Jury Duty” or “IRS” scam. [Arlington County]

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Arlington’s lone County Board race this fall has largely been a genteel affair so far, but Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti is sharpening his attacks on incumbent John Vihstadt’s record, claiming the independent hasn’t done enough to address the county’s high office vacancy rate.

County officials of all stripes have long identified Arlington’s challenges filling vacant office space in corridors like Crystal City and Rosslyn as a prime reason that the county’s tax revenues have shrunk, squeezing its budget and creating a whole host of challenges for the county government.

Accordingly, both Vihstadt and de Ferranti have made the issue a central one for their respective campaigns, particularly because whoever wins a spot on the Board will likely need to wrestle with a budget that includes tax increases to tackle those revenue challenges.

Yet the Democrat has pledged a laser focus on the issue in recent debates and forums, and the Committee of 100 Board debate on Wednesday (Oct. 10), moderated by ARLnow’s Scott Brodbeck, was no exception. De Ferranti even went a step further to critique Vihstadt’s handling of the vacancy rate since he first won a special election four years ago, when he became the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999.

“It’s been at 20 percent for four years,” de Ferranti said. “We need to bring it down and make it our priority to bring it down… and we need new vision to bring down that vacancy rate.”

Vihstadt pointed out that the county has successfully lured major companies during his tenure, with few bigger than Nestle and Gerber, in addition to smaller firms like trade associations and tech companies.

He added that he remains committed to “business and tax base diversification” to address the office vacancy rate as federal tenants increasingly go elsewhere, noting that “we’re not just a company town anymore.”

“We need green tech, med tech, cybersecurity and so forth,” Vihstadt said.

De Ferranti agrees on that point, but noted he’s been discussing the prospect of luring those industries to Arlington since his successful primary campaign this spring, charging that Vihstadt was coming to that particular talking point a bit late in the game.

“I’m glad that we’re both mentioning now, clean tech, green tech, energy efficiency technology,” de Ferranti said. “Those are the right fields, but we should’ve identified those four years ago.”

The spat over the office vacancy rate also carried over to perhaps the most contentious topic in Arlington at the moment: whether Amazon’s potential arrival in the county should be welcomed, or feared.

Vihstadt, as he has for months now, struck a cautious tone on the matter, noting that the county winning HQ2 would be a “mixed bag” in terms of its impacts on Arlington.

“We need to confirm the purported positives of this development coming to Arlington, but we also need to be mindful about addressing mitigants and negatives,” Vihstadt said.

De Ferranti acknowledged that caution is warranted, given the myriad ways in which the sudden arrival of 50,000 Amazon workers could disrupt the county’s housing market and strain its infrastructure. But he was also considerably more bullish on how the company could solve the very problem he spent so much time discussing, should Jeff Bezos follow through on the rumors and tab Crystal City for his second headquarters.

“With a vacancy rate of above 20 percent in Crystal City, we can’t turn it down,” de Ferranti said. “Count me as someone who says, we have conditions, but we have to move forward. That’s not to say your anxieties, and all Arlingtonians’ concerns on this, aren’t relevant, but eventually you have to take a position. My position is we need to ensure there are net benefits…but we also need to have a solid plan before we sign on to anything.”

You can listen to the entire debate on this week’s edition of the 26 Square Miles podcast.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Morning Notes

Man Punched Outside Ballston Subway — A man was punched in the face outside the Subway on Fairfax Drive in Ballston yesterday. The assault occurred just before lunchtime and those flocking to the restaurant for footlongs had to step over splatters of blood on the sidewalk. No word yet on what prompted the fight nor whether the suspect, who reportedly fled into the Metro station, was later apprehended. [Twitter]

Tonight: Committee of 100 County Board Debate — The Arlington Committee of 100 will be holding a County Board debate tonight at Marymount University. The program, moderated by ARLnow’s Scott Brodbeck, will start at 8 p.m. after a meet and greet and dinner. [Committee of 100]

History of the W&OD Railroad — Before it was a bike and pedestrian trail, the W&OD was a regional railroad that transported goods and people across Northern Virginia. How would the area and our transportation problems be different if it had stayed a transit corridor, asks a GGW contributor. [Greater Greater Washington]

Local Social Media Influencer Profiled — Clarendon resident and mother of two Angelica Talan “has made a career out of building a loyal following on social media.” She blogs at Clarendon Moms and Angelica in the City and also has done some modeling and acting. [Arlington Magazine]

Tree Group Wants More Trees — The Arlington Tree Action Group replied on Twitter to a posting of the photo above: “Beautiful sky! It would look even better with more trees! #ArlingtonVA #trees.” [Twitter]

Nearby: Alexandrians Worry About Takeout Window — A proposed takeout window for a new Mexican restaurant on King Street prompted a protracted debate among members of the Alexandria city council. Said one opponent on the council, who ultimately lost out on a 4-3 vote: “I think this is maybe one small step in the direction of what we don’t want Old Town to become.” [Washington Business Journal]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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When it comes to how to best grapple with Arlington’s gloomy economic future, the two contenders for County Board are pitching two decidedly different strategies: one with a look inward, another with a look outward.

Independent incumbent John Vihstadt spent a Wednesday night candidate forum hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce outlining ways he hopes to change county policies to wring more money from developers and manage growth, and strategies for reforming the county’s permitting processes for new businesses.

Democratic nominee Matt de Ferranti, however, dedicated most of his time to discussing his commitment to luring in businesses to reduce the county’s persistently high office vacancy rates, while pursuing tax increases in the meantime.

The business-focused debate, moderated by ARLnow, was perhaps best defined by an exchange where Vihstadt emphasized “the cold truth that we can not afford to do everything we might like to do, especially all at once.” The independent has been a sharp critic of some county infrastructure projects since winning a pair of elections to the Board back in 2014, particularly the Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center.

De Ferranti says he fully recognizes that Vihstadt’s assessment of the economic challenges ahead are certainly accurate, but he had a “cold truth” of his own to offer.

“The cold truth is that if we don’t grow, and don’t invest in the vision of a greater version of the American dream applied to Arlington, we won’t be able to address our challenges,” de Ferranti said. “We do face challenges, but the sky is not falling. We have resources, and we can invest in them.”

The Democrat reiterated his belief that “we can’t cut our way to prosperity,” pledging to work with the relentlessness of ex-Gov. Terry McAuliffe to attract businesses to Arlington and slash the county’s office vacancy rate to 15 percent over the next four years — it’s hovered around 20 percent for the last several years.

But de Ferranti noted that tax increases would have likely have to be part of the equation as well. He worked to make it clear that he’s “not a tax-and-spend liberal,” but also slammed Vihstadt for his decision to vote against soliciting community input on a tax rate hike this year.

“I am not saying that I necessarily would’ve voted for a half-cent tax increase,” de Ferranti said. “But we did not have that debate that we need to have. And I’m concerned that our community might be at risk over the coming years of having some shock at the struggles we’re going to face because we’re opening four schools this coming year… It’s about how soon to be honest with the community about difficult decisions that we face.”

Yet Vihstadt pointed out that the county just raised taxes last year, including a property tax rate hike that was “the largest in years,” and he felt that the county was better served by taking a “pause” this year. After all, he noted that County Manager Mark Schwartz fully expects to propose tax hikes next year, and perhaps the year after as well.

“We trimmed in some places, we hiked fees in others; it wasn’t easy,” Vihstadt said. “But we honored our commitments to schools, Metro and public safety personnel.”

Vihstadt took no firm stance on the possibility of tax increases going forward, but did stress that rate hikes could provide further challenges to seniors looking to remain in the county, a demographic he felt is often overlooked in the debate over affordable housing.

But he also pointed out that he believes there’s a better way to secure more cash for government services: extracting more concessions from developers.

The county can currently secure transportation improvements or affordable housing commitments from developers — but those changes only come on the site of the properties being developed. Vihstadt would rather see the county require developers kick in money for countywide services, even if the county’s own legal team believes such a move would ultimately be counterproductive.

“A new development, depending on what it is, means material impact on our already bursting schools, our limited green space, public safety resources and more,” Vihstadt said. “Our lawyers and planners have issues with modifying the way we do things. Change is tough… but I believe we need to start this community conversation soon.”

De Ferranti agreed that such a conversation might indeed be a worthy one to have. But he believes “those [changes] alone will not be sufficient to get us growing.”

“We have to have some tough discussions about where we’re going to invest to move our economy forward,” de Ferranti said.

The Board contenders will square off in several additional forums between now and the Nov. 6 election, including ones hosted by the Yorktown Civic Association on Oct. 1, the Committee of 100 on Oct. 10 and the League of Women Voters on Oct. 25.

Photo via @ArlChamberVa

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Morning Notes

Civic Federation Holds Candidate Forum — The unofficial kickoff to the local fall campaign season took place on Tuesday: the Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum. Contenders for County Board, School Board and Congress squared off in front of a standing-room-only audience at Virginia Hospital Center’s auditorium. [InsideNova, InsideNova, Blue Virginia]

Drug Take-Back Boxes Deemed a Success — “In June, Arlington County installed three permanent drug take-back boxes to address a crucial public safety and public health crisis facing communities across the country – prescription drug abuse. In the first three months of the program, the public safely disposed of 407 pounds of unused, unwanted or expired prescription medications. Due to the success of the program, the police department is exploring expanding the program.” [Arlington County]

New Commuter Store Opens — A new Arlington Commuter Store opened at the Pentagon on Tuesday, near bus bays 7 and 8. [Commuter Page]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Road Closed Due to Downed Tree — Williamsburg Blvd is closed at N. Westmoreland Street due to a tree that fell overnight and took down several utility lines with it. Arlington’s emergency management office says the closure “may last through evening rush hour.” [Twitter]

Reminder: DUI Checkpoint Tonight — The Arlington County Police Department will conduct a sobriety checkpoint in an undisclosed location tonight. “Officers will stop all vehicles passing through the checkpoint and ask to see the licenses of drivers. Any driver suspected of operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be directed to a safe area off the roadway for further observation.” [Arlington County]

Metro Could Become Larger Financial Burden — “Metro expects to turn to state and local governments across the region to cover the costs of pay raises for workers an arbitration panel ordered last week, but the Metro Board chairman is warning of a more significant fiscal ‘ticking time bomb’ just over the horizon.” [WTOP]

Annual CivFed Candidate Forum Scheduled — “The unofficial kickoff to Arlington’s fall election season begins on Tuesday, Sept. 4, when the Arlington County Civic Federation holds its annual candidate forum. Candidates for 8th District U.S. House of Representatives, County Board and School Board have been invited to participate.” [InsideNova]

Basketball Player Punched at Gym — A man who plays professional basketball for LaVar Ball’s Junior Basketball Association says he was sucker punched while playing a pickup game at a Crystal City gym. [Fox 5]

One Hurt in Lee Highway Apartment Fire — A resident of a Lee Highway apartment building suffered burn injuries after a fire broke out in an apartment kitchen Wednesday morning. The fire was out by the time firefighters arrived on the scene. [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by Arlington VA

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The two Democrats vying for the chance to run for a seat on the Arlington County Board this fall will square off in another debate tonight.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee will host the debate between Chanda Choun and Matthew de Ferranti at 7 p.m. at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association building in Ballston. Karen Nightengale, president of Arlington’s chapter of the NAACP, will moderate the event.

Voters will pick a Democratic nominee in the June 12 primary. The winner of the two-way race is set to run against incumbent County Board member John Vihstadt, an independent who is vying for his second term on the board after winning in 2014.

Arlington Republicans endorsed Vihstadt in that race, though the committee has put out a call for candidates that’s set to close next Tuesday, May 9. The GOP will hold a mass meeting on May 23 to pick a nominee if multiple candidates express interest in running, though committee spokesman Matthew Hurtt says it’s possible that no Republican steps forward for the race. Heitham Ghariani, an IT worker at the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, has filed to run as an independent.

Democrats hope that a surge of enthusiasm associated with the national midterm elections helps the party restore its total control of the five-member County Board; Vihstadt was the first non-Democrat to win a seat on the board in 15 years.

De Ferranti, who currently works as legislative director of the National Indian Education Association and sits on several county advisory committees, has so far earned the support of local elected Democrats in his primary bid. Former County Board Chairman Jay Fisette announced his endorsement of de Ferranti on April 30, joining several other state legislators and local officials.

Choun works for a cybersecurity company and as a part-time U.S. Army reservist. He’s also the vice president of the Buckingham Community Civic Association and serves as a delegate to the Arlington County Civic Federation.

Photo by Anna Merod

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This month, the three candidates for the Arlington School Board faced a series of questions at a forum hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100.

Like the three Arlington County Board candidates earlier this week, they then faced additional unanswered questions from the audience — due to time constraints — that ARLnow collated and emailed to them.

Two candidates’ unedited responses are below. (A third candidate, Mike Webb, did not respond.)

1. How do you plan to deal with the exploding student population in Arlington schools?

Alison Dough:

The simple and easiest answer would be to build more schools. If land is not available – build schools up. Ashlawn Elementary is an example of a school that recently and successfully built-up to address the increase in students.

I think that the school board needs to partner with the county board on this issue as it economically impacts both boards and together we should be able to work towards a possible solution that resolves the need for overcrowding in the schools and classrooms.

Monique O’Grady:

APS must get in front of its capacity crisis with better planning and a strategy on how to effectively provide seats for all of its students. As a member of the school board, I will work with my colleagues to plan with members of the county board to make best use of our limited dollars, limited space, and limited time. Through this collaborative effort we can reach decisions that will not only best serve our students, but also make efficient use of Arlington tax dollars.

2. Do you think a career teacher should be paid enough to afford to live in Arlington?

Dough:

Perhaps we need to consider housing-vouchers for teachers that make a very good case for the need to live in Arlington County. I work for a non-profit in Arlington and I know many of my coworkers would rather not commute in from Fairfax, Alexandria, Loudoun, eastern Maryland, Baltimore – but they do because they cannot afford to live in Arlington.

O’Grady:

Yes. Arlington should continue to find ways to support middle class residents who are at risk of being priced out of living in Arlington. This “missing middle,” as County Board candidate Erik Gutshall calls it, is an essential and invaluable component of our community and workforce. Teachers want to be able to live where they work. It fosters a closer connection between educators and their students as well as between educators and the larger community; this connection assists teachers with their work, making them even more effective in their jobs. Therefore, it makes sense to look for ways to attract the best and brightest teachers, including supporting policies that make it easier for our teachers to make Arlington home.  This will help recruit and retain teachers – one of the current strategic plan goals.

3. Identify the area of waste you would like to eliminate if elected.

Dough:

I propose looking at areas that do not directly impact the children. We should first take a look at administrative costs and other overhead.

O’Grady:

As a new member of the school board I would welcome an emerging practice that gives APS the ability to consider three different plans for new school buildings. Plans will be offered that show a design using the minimum budget, a mid-range budget, and maximum budget. This policy would seek avenues to eliminate waste, yet not at the expense of essential, quality services.

I also welcome more collaboration between the school board and county board. I think collaborative planning will help eliminate wasted time, eliminate wasted dollars with consultants and contractors, and will lead to more efficient use of our tax dollars and limited county- and school-owned land. 

4. If elected, would you support changing the name of Washington-Lee High School?

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