Press Club

Morning Notes

Reuben Tucker (@blurredriff) plays guitar in Long Bridge Park at sunset (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Decal Fee Officially Dead — “Arlington County Board members on May 14 followed through on a promise made last month and eliminated the ‘decal fee’ that has been imposed for decades as part of residents’ car-tax bills. And while the action will save residents a collective $6 million this year, it’s something of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation, as higher assessments on used vehicles in these inflationary times likely will eat up all the savings for some vehicle owners.” [Sun Gazette]

Wild Rosslyn Press Conference in the Works — “WHAT: Jack Burkman to give press conference from wheelchair, after losing more than 65 ibs, and all his hair. WHEN: Monday May 23, 2022 High Noon. WHERE… N Colonial Terrace, Arlington VA 22209.” [Twitter]

Free Fitness Class Tonight — “Join HUSTLE at Long Bridge Park in National Landing for a weekly sweaty and fun outdoor HIIT class. Arlington, VA has been named one of the fittest cities in the country, so get your heart pumping at an outdoor HIIT class with local fitness instructors.” [Twitter, National Landing BID]

Historical Marker for Eden Center — “The Virginia Historical Commission (VHC) has recognized Vietnamese Immigrants in Northern Virginia as a significant part of Virginia history by awarding it an Official Virginia Historical Marker… A dedication ceremony to commemorate the event will be held on May 24, 2022 at Eden Center at 3:30PM.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Wednesday — Sunny during the day, with rain possible at night. High of 74 and low of 54. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:18 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Cranes above construction between 18th and 20th St. S. in Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Police Looking for Missing Teen — “MISSING: ACPD is seeking assistance locating 14-year-old Anahi… Described as a [Hispanic] female, 5’4″ tall with brown hair, brown eyes and a nose piercing. She was last seen at approximately 12:30 p.m. today in the 400 block of S. George Mason Drive.” [Twitter]

Amazon Banana Stand in Crystal City — “Amazon has operated a stand in front of 1770 Crystal Drive, one of the office buildings it occupies in Crystal City, since July. The banistas give away bananas, individually or by the bunch, every weekday between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., Anderson said. And anyone can take them, from Amazon employees to residents to passers-by. The stands have dog treats, too.” [Washington Business Journal]

Reports of Strange Sounds Last Night — “Locals: anyone know what that annoying chime / doorbell thing is that goes off every 10 minutes? I’ve seen reports of hearing it from Arlington to Alexandria.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Power Outage Last Night — “Just over 600 Dominion customers are without power tonight in the Columbia Forest and Claremont neighborhoods. Restoration expected within a few hours.” [Twitter]

Metro Wants to Develop Housing — “Metro has released a 10-year joint development plan that’s chock-full of big projects to extend the agency’s reach and increase ridership… The agency says it could produce 26,000 new housing units and 31 million square feet of new development through joint development projects at 40 stations. This could create a projected $50 million in yearly lease revenue.” [Axios]

It’s Tuesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. Breezy, with wind gusts of up to 31 mph. High of 50 and low of 40. Sunrise at 6:27 am and sunset at 7:50 pm. [Weather.gov]

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An ART bus and driver (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 6:15 p.m. on 02/16/22) For the next 18 months, bus fare will be free or reduced-price for thousands of income-eligible residents and students.

The fare reductions began this month as part of the Low-Income Fare Assistance and the APS Student Fare-Less pilot programs, which are intended to target residents most impacted by the pandemic.

The Arlington County Board signed off on these programs in November as part of a spending plan for $29.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars that apportioned funding for a host of new equity initiatives. These two programs will use about $2.8 million in ARPA funds.

The first provides free transit to work for residents currently enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, run by the Department of Human Services. The department will distribute pre-paid SmarTrip cards worth $150, or 75 rides, to about 7,200 pre-identified residents.

This program is expected to cost $1.2 million in this fiscal year, ending in June, and $250,000 next year.

Meanwhile, the student pilot program subsidizes the currently discounted, $1-a-trip student iRide card for certain students traveling to and from school.

Arlington Public Schools will distribute these cards to up to 2,400 middle and high school students who aren’t well-served by school bus services — such as kids who live at the edges of a large walk zone or attend programs far from home. These cards will be loaded with $10 a week over the course of 18 months.

The program will cost $479,000 in this fiscal year and $878,000 next year. It continues and expands on a pilot program that began in 2019 but was suspended during the pandemic.

Participants in both programs have 18 months to use their cards, which also work on Metrobus and Metrorail lines.

Department of Environmental Services staff will use data from these pilots to inform possible expansions or changes to these programs long term. This work could be funded by a Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation’s TRIP grant, intended to increase regional connectivity and reduce barriers to transit by supporting low-income and free fare programs.

“The County is interested in applying for a TRIP grant in the future, and would use the data collected from the 18-month pilot programs and results from the fare study to support such an application,” DES spokesman Nate Graham said.

Meanwhile, transportation staff are taking steps now to understand how existing free and reduced-fare policies at peer transportation departments impact ridership, operations and regional services such as Metrobus, he said.

Last week, the county requested funding from DPRT for a study that would analyze these questions, as well as equity concerns and stakeholder feedback, he said. The county should know if it received the grant in June.

Arlington promoted these new initiatives on Friday, Rosa Parks’ birthday and “Transit Equity Day.” It honors her legacy as a Civil Rights activist. Parks, who took a stand for desegregated bus seating, sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional.

“These two pilot programs help to further the mission of Realizing Arlington’s Commitment to Equity (RACE), which includes advancing racial equity to reduce and prevent disparities in our service to the community,” said Chief Race and Equity Officer Samia Byrd in a statement. “Even though no longer unequal by law, systemic barriers still exist.”

“Our review of transit through an equity lens is to consider access based on need (meeting people where they are) and work to remove those barriers,” Byrd continued. “Through this we aim to honor the legacy of Rosa Parks — equal treatment and equitable access to public transportation for everyone.”

ART bus fare was suspended for all users from March 2020 until January 2021 due to the pandemic.

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This week, Arlington Public Library will once again be giving away at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Starting Thursday at noon, some 2,000 kits will be available across all seven library locations, the library system announced Monday evening.

“Test kits are dispensed on a first-come, first-served basis, and can be picked up from the service desk at each Library location,” the library announcement says. “Neither proof of County residency nor a library card is required, and the kits are free of charge.”

The distribution follows a similar effort two weeks ago in which people snapped up the 360 available rapid antigen test kits in a few hours. Another round of test kit giveaways last week lasted less than an hour.

Initially, Arlington Public Library estimated new tests wouldn’t come until the new year.

Visitors can pick up test kits, supplied by Virginia Department of Health, for themselves and household members, the announcement says. It advises folks to act quickly.

“Due to increased demand, test kits at library locations are expected to be out of stock very quickly,” the library said. “Please check back for updates.”

Masks are required in all library buildings. The library asks those with COVID-19 symptoms to send someone else to pick up their test for them.

Demand for COVID-19 tests in Arlington has picked up with the holiday season and the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, resulting in long lines and even heavy vehicle traffic as people try to get swabbed.

https://twitter.com/VictoriaBroehm/status/1473411681346895874

For those who can’t get an at-home test kit from the library, Arlington County has three testing kiosks open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

They’re found in the Arlington Mill Community Center parking lot (909 S. Dinwiddie Street), the Courthouse Plaza parking lot (2088 15th Street N.) and the Virginia Highlands Park parking lot (1600 S. Hayes Street).

The kiosks will close at 2 p.m. on Friday and will be closed Saturday, New Year’s Day.

VDH also has a list of testing locations.

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Arlington Central Library (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Within hours of offering free at-home COVID-19 rapid test kits on Friday, Arlington County libraries ran out.

All seven open library locations were offering tests — 360 tests in total, across all branches — but all were claimed by 12:10 p.m.

Demand was higher than expected, Arlington Public Library Deputy Director Anne Gable tells ARLnow, and people lined up at library doors to get the tests. The number of tests sent by the Virginia Department of Health was based on previous responses at other libraries in the Commonwealth, she notes.

Each branch received a different number of tests.

“It was proportional to the user base of the locations,” writes Gable. “Meaning, the more heavily used locations got more tests and the less used locations got fewer tests.”

More test kits are expected to be available sometime this week and staff will make sure more will be offered this time around.

Some residents were upset with the lack of tests.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County Libraries received 20,000 COVID-19 rapid tests and all branches were still stocked as of Friday afternoon.

In recent days, there’s been an ongoing national conversation about why there are so few low-cost, at-home COVID-19 tests available in the U.S., particularly in comparison to Europe.

Arlington’s director of emergency management took to social media to remind residents that if they are in need of a COVID-19 test more immediately, there are three free county testing sites open daily.

Library hours remain limited until Jan. 3, when seven out of eight branches will fully reopen for the first time in nearly two years.

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Morning Notes

The U.S. Air Force Memorial (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

YHS Wins State Field Hockey Championship — “Yorktown field hockey sticks to its routine to accomplish something it never has before… Patriots beat Western Branch, 1-0, for their first state championship.” [Washington Post]

ACPD Ramping Up Seat Belt Enforcement — “The Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the national Click It or Ticket campaign. Law enforcement agencies across the country will increase enforcement efforts from November 16 – 28, 2021, to work towards reducing the number of fatalities that occur when motorists fail to buckle up.” [ACPD]

County Has Available Kid Vax Appointments — “Arlington County Public Health is continuing vaccinations for 5-11-year-olds this week, Monday-Friday from 2-7 p.m. Over 6,000 kids ages 5-11 have already received their first dose. Schedule your appointment today.” [Twitter]

Arlington Man Charged in Fatal Crash — “A tip led to the arrest Monday of a 54-year-old Arlington man wanted on charges of DUI-related involuntary manslaughter and operating without a driver’s license in connection with a Nov. 6 crash in Montclair that killed a Dumfries man. Investigators obtained warrants Thursday for John William Harris… but attempts to locate him had been unsuccessful, police said.” [InsideNova]

Free Coffee at Taco Bamba — “To promote the breakfast menu and the free coffee program, Taco Bamba is giving away branded coffee tumblers to the first 50 guests at each store who purchase a breakfast item.” [Press Release]

Secret Santas Wanted — From Arlington County: “You can make the holiday season a little happier for some of Arlington’s most vulnerable residents by taking part in the @ArlingtonDHS’ Secret Santa/Holiday Giving Program. This program benefits Arlington’s at-risk residents.” [Twitter]

It’s Tuesday — Today will feature mostly cloudy skies through mid morning, then gradual clearing, with a high near 53. Sunrise at 6:52 a.m. and sunset at 4:53 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 65. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington residents can now register to receive a free tree for their yards as part of an effort by the Department of Parks and Recreation to increase the county’s tree canopy.

Registration opened today (Tuesday) for young, slender trees known as “whips.” The whips are in two-gallon containers ranging from 2-4 feet in size.

“This annual program is very popular and has yielded many beautiful trees and benefited our community,” said the county. “The trees you plant are part of our mission to expand and enhance Arlington’s urban tree canopy.”

Residents will be able to pick up their trees at Bon Air Park or Barcroft Park in late October. County landscape staff and members of the Arlington/Alexandria Tree Stewards organization will be on-site to help residents choose their trees, answer questions and share tips on caring for them.

Available tree species include:

  • Black Gum
  • Red Cedar
  • Dogwood
  • Fringe tree
  • Hornbeam
  • Sweetbay Magnolia
  • Red Maple
  • Red Oak
  • White Oak
  • Redbud
  • River Birch
  • Sassafras
  • Serviceberry

The first pickup day is Saturday, Oct. 23 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Tucker Field at Barcroft Park (4208 S. Four Mile Run Drive). The second is Tuesday, Oct. 26 from 4-6 p.m. in the rose garden parking lot at Bon Air Park (850 N. Lexington Street).

One tree is offered per residential property.

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Next to a park bench, across from Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike, there’s a converted newspaper box with the words “Free Blockbuster,” framed by that nostalgic dark yellow movie ticket stub, spray-painted on the front.

Inside, passersby can find free movies, popcorn and candy to enjoy a movie night at home.

The Free Blockbuster box was set up by Ryan Daley, who split his childhood between Arlington and D.C. The Wakefield High School grad said he saw one in Philadelphia filled with movies for locals to take and leave. He quickly decided to set up two here in Arlington and one in D.C.

Daley chose the spot near Bob and Edith’s for the box because, in his words, “I feel like diners and movies go together.” The box has been there since last Monday, July 19.

“I wanted to do something special for the movie lovers in the area, for the ones who enjoy movies as much as I do,” said Daley, who said he is in the early stages of creating an independent movie company. “I went to several thrift stores and pawn shops in the area and hand-picked over 100 movies, all movies I thought were amazing and worth watching.”

Daley also set up a Free Blockbuster in Prospect Hill Park, near Pentagon City, a place he frequently went as a child and has fond memories of. Another is in Lincoln Park in D.C. for the same reason.

Brian Morrison set up the first Free Blockbuster box in 2019. He says there are now over 50 Free Blockbusters across the U.S. and one in Canada. The Los Angeles local and movie buff says the concept is to “take a dead space and make it into a live space.”

Morrison said he wants today’s families to have the experience of going to pick out a movie in person together, an experience he says he enjoyed in his childhood, and one that is rare in the age of streaming services, after the bankruptcy of Blockbuster.

(Out of the thousands of stores worldwide, only one Blockbuster store remains — a store in Bend, Oregon that was recently the subject of a documentary.)

The inspiration for Free Blockbuster came from a trio of observations and experiences, Morrison says. One source was his friend, a fellow movie buff who couldn’t take her large collection of movies with her on a cross-country move and was struggling to figure out what to do with them. At the same time, he noticed a local newspaper, LA Weekly, was cutting down on their print publication, leaving lots of empty newspaper dispensers around the city unused or filled with trash.

He decided to find a use for the receptacles and create a way for people to get and give movies to their neighbors — following the model of Little Free Library, a nonprofit that helps people set up free libraries across the U.S.

Morrison emphasized that the box is for borrowing movies, not taking them, saying, “we generally hope things make their way back.”

And movies are not the only items one might find in a Free Blockbuster. Some can be found filled with candy and popcorn, and sometimes gaming consoles, VCR players and VHS tapes, said Morrison.

The Free Blockbuster website sells all the supplies one would need to make a Free Blockbuster, including a logo stencil, logo stickers and Free Blockbuster box.

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to make a Free Blockbuster,” said Morrison.

But Daley decided to use his own supplies to build Arlington’s boxes. He drove around a few different neighborhoods and found some abandoned newspaper stands that he took home to spray-paint.

“I had to laser print the stencil myself,” he said.

Daley dubbed the boxes “Kurt’s Movie Rack,” which he said is an homage to his “favorite human, Kurt Cobain,” the late frontman of ’90s grunge band Nirvana.

Daley has been documenting the creation of his Free Blockbuster boxes and the development of his indie movie company on his Blue Tape Movies Instagram account, which already has more than 10,000 followers.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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Pints of ice cream from Nicecream (courtesy of Nicecream)

Arlington-based Nicecream will be celebrating National Ice Cream Day this Sunday (July 18) by offering free scoops of its frozen-to-order ice cream.

Guests can get one free scoop all day at any of Nicecream’s four locations across the D.C. area, including its original spot at 2831 Clarendon Blvd in Clarendon. For founder Sandra Tran, it’s a nice gesture after weathering COVID-19.

“The past year was scary and very, very tough for us. We are happy to have be on the other side of the pandemic and want to celebrate with the community,” she said.

It’ll also be a sweet relief from a scorching week.

Nicecream uses liquid nitrogen to freeze servings of ice cream right in front of guests. Popular flavors include Nutella, Wild Blueberry, Cherry Bourbon Chocolate Chunk and Sweet Corn.

Nicecream’s Clarendon location closed for about a month and a half last year due to the pandemic. Adapting to the decline in in-person customers, Nicecream introduced national shipping and expanded its delivery capacities.

The company opened its first storefront in Clarendon in May 2014.

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If you’ve ever dreamed of filling an empty space with a towering scarlet oak tree in your neighborhood, at your place of worship or in your yard, now’s your chance to get it delivered and planted for free through EcoAction Arlington‘s Tree Canopy Fund.

The application deadline for free trees to be planted on private property is Friday, January 8. There are 11 tree varieties available for individuals, nonprofits, civic and homeowner associations and a number of other groups.

“The Tree Canopy Fund is limited to property owners planting trees on private property,” according to EcoAction Arlington. “We can’t accept applications for planting on school property, parks, or other property maintained by Arlington County or Arlington Public Schools.”

Available trees include American beech, tulip, white oak, willow oak, red oak and bald cypress.

Separate applications must be made for anyone wanting more than one tree, and successful applicants will need to send in a picture of where they want their young tree planted. When it arrives, it should be about two inches wide and up to seven feet tall. Some of the trees will grow upward of 50 feet, like the white oak, which can stretch to 80 feet at full maturity.

The effort is intended to increase Arlington’s tree canopy, which stands at 41%, as of 2017. The Tree Canopy Fund was founded in 2009, and since then more than 1,200 trees have been planted.

Here’s the application and planting schedule:

  • Fri., Jan. 8, 2021: Deadline to submit an application
  • Mid-to-late Feb. 2021: Applicants will be notified of final decision
  • March/April 2021: EcoAction Arlington will contact applicants with an estimated planting date. Trees will be planted by the end of April.

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Greens Want Tax Hike for New Initiative — “The Arlington Green Party is seeking a five-fold increase in one local tax in order to fund an environmental initiative. The party in late October promoted the idea of the county government giving owners of single-family properties in Arlington $1,000 credits to have energy audits conducted and then take cost-effective steps to improve efficiency…. The party wants to increase the existing utility tax from $3 per household per month to eventually hit $15 per household per month.” [InsideNova]

Looking On the Bright Side — “And the winner is: free paper yard waste bags. Available at five County sites during leaf season.” [@ArlingtonDES/Twitter, Arlington County]

Improvements Proposed in Seven Corners — “The Virginia Department of Transportation has provided another in a series of updates on potential improvements being studied along Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) between Jaguar Trail and Wilson Boulevard in the Falls Church/Seven Corners area.” [InsideNova, VDOT]

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