Arlington, VA

Arlington has long had a childcare shortage problem. During the pandemic, strangely, that helped its programs survive.

Although childcare programs across the nation have shuttered due to the coronavirus, in Arlington, only three licensed programs have closed, said County Board member and childcare advocate Katie Cristol. One is reopening in a new location better equipped for social-distancing, while two others closed permanently (one of those closures was virus-related).

“The good news is, what has been one of the biggest challenges of the landscape of Arlington has been an asset,” she said, adding that demand remained strong locally, buoying Arlington’s centers, “most of which have faired fairly well.”

Amid the three closures, Cristol — who helped launch the county’s Child Care Initiative in 2017 — helped welcome a new addition to Arlington’s stock of early education and childcare options this week. Looking to help address Arlington’s demand for early education options, two sisters, Saniya Dhala and Zahra Isani, opened Primrose School of Arlington in the Courthouse area yesterday (Thursday).

“There continues to be a great need for high-quality early education and child care options in our community and Primrose Schools delivers that in a convenient setting, close to neighborhoods and businesses,” Cristol said.

It is independently owned and operated by Dhala and Isani, who quit their jobs in the finance and food industries to open this Primrose School location, the 450th nationwide. The school at 2107 Wilson Blvd can accommodate up to 185 children.

“The pandemic has been devastating to so many businesses and industries, and the childcare industry is no exception to that,” the sisters tell ARLnow. “Some schools have had to shut their doors, and some have had to reduce hours and capacity. As we start to return to normalcy things are opening back up, many schools are ready to welcome families again and we are excited to be opening a high-quality option in an area where it’s needed.”

This location is one of five Primrose locations scheduled to open in the D.C. area — joining 11 existing outposts — in the middle of a pandemic that has shined a light on deep problems in the industry, such as a shortage of spots, high staff turnover and thin operating margins.

There are some signs of relief, however. President Joe Biden announced that $39 billion of the American Rescue Plan will help sustain these programs, Gov. Ralph Northam announced $203 million to expand eligibility for the Commonwealth’s Child Care Subsidy Program.

While Dhala and Isani said they started the process of opening their franchise location before the pandemic hit, the coronavirus did reinforce their decision to open a school.

“Being in the process of opening during the pandemic allowed us to be agile and adjust our space on the front-end to ensure we met and innovated around all the new safety guidelines,” they said. “Childcare is essential to our workforce and to our nation’s economic recovery, not to mention to prepare our next generation of leaders for the future.”

The pandemic made more people realize the dearth of options available, as waves of women have exited the workforce to take care of their children full-time, Cristol said. The county initiative she helped launch is still working to address the high demand and low supply of options.

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Passed Virginia legislation allows Arlington County to rename Lee Highway, but it’s unlikely to be “Loving Avenue.”

Yesterday (Feb. 23), HB 1854 passed the Virginia State Senate after passing through the House of Delegates late last month. The bill now goes to Governor Ralph Northam for his signature, which will officially codify it.

The bill specifically authorizes the Arlington County Board to name the section of U.S. Route 29, known for decades as “Lee Highway,” located within its boundaries.

However, it’s unlikely to be renamed Loving Avenue in honor of the Virginia couple whose fight to get married went to the U.S. Supreme Court despite the recommendation of the Lee Highway Alliance work group in December..

This is due to the family’s objection, says Arlington County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol. The Loving family has reiterated that the couple was extremely private and would not want a road named after them.

“I’m saddened but understanding that [the family] is strongly opposed to renaming [Route 29] in honor of their parents and grandparents,” she tells ARLnow. “Privacy is a prevailing value for them.”

Late last year, a task force put together by the Lee Highway Alliance recommended renaming Arlington’s section of Route 29 to Loving Avenue. However, they also suggested four alternatives: John M. Langston Boulevard, Ella Baker Boulevard, Dr. Edward T. Morton Avenue, and Main Street.

Ginger Brown, Executive Director for the Lee Highway Alliance, tells ARLnow that Langston Blvd is the “strong second” choice.

Cristol noted that there remains some follow-up to be done with the Loving family, but at this point, naming Route 29 in Arlington after Mildred and Richard Loving isn’t likely.

“At some point, I’ll have to take a vote on this,” she says. “With what the family has said, we know that it would be hurtful for them. It would be hard for me to vote for that.”

Either way, HB 1854 — first introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) — will allow the renaming, though it only applies to Route 29 in Arlington.

The bill notes that while the Virginia Department of Transportation will place and maintain the appropriate signage, the county has to pay for that signage.

Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said the legislation is a “shared priority” at yesterday’s Board meeting.

“We are enthusiastic about the success of Del. Sullivan’s bill, and the County continues to work with our regional partners to seek a regionally consistent name for Lee Highway,” de Ferranti wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “The legislature advancing this bill to the Governor is an important tool now available to Arlington County in the renaming of Lee Highway and we will continue to seek a common name with our neighboring jurisdictions.”

Cristol says the timeline for the change is being coordinated with neighboring jurisdictions that the east-west artery also runs through, including Falls Church, Fairfax City, and Fairfax County.

“We have a shared interest in settling on the same name, for obvious reasons,” she says.

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Morning Notes

Distance Learning Only for APS — “Due to inclement weather… Level 1, in-person learning support, Level 2 Career & Technical Education students and staff supporting these programs will temporarily revert to distance learning.” [Arlington Public Schools]

County Government Open — “Arlington County Government offices, courts, & facilities are OPEN Friday, 02-19-2021. Courts will open at 10AM. All facilities will follow normal operating hours.” [Twitter]

Be Careful Out There — “Northern Virginia crews continue to clear and treat roads overnight, for both some additional wintry precipitation as well as refreeze from low temperatures. Drivers are asked to continue to limit travel if possible, or to use extreme caution and be aware of the potential for slick pavement, even where surfaces appear clear or were previously treated.” [VDOT]

Doses May Be Delayed — “Virginia is seeing delays in this week’s vaccine shipments due to severe winter weather in the Mid-Atlantic region and across the country. The Virginia Department of Health says the state will likely see a delay in the delivery of approximately 106,800 doses, due to distribution channels in the Midwest and elsewhere that are currently shut down.” [InsideNova]

Architectural Review of HQ2 Phase 2 — ” It very intentionally does not look like anything else in Pentagon City or Crystal City, or anywhere else in the region. The style, a populist, jazzy take on high-tech modernism, isn’t aimed at architecture critics, but at the public, which shows remarkable forbearance to the predations of large corporations so long as they have a reputation for being innovative and forward thinking.” [Washington Post]

County Board Members Endorse Candidate — “Alexandria City Council member Elizabeth Bennett-Parker has picked up the endorsement of two Arlington County Board members in her quest for the 45th District House of Delegates seat. Board members Libby Garvey and Katie Cristol endorsed the candidacy.” [InsideNova]

New Spanish Publication on the Pike — “As part of its increased business support efforts, the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) has launched a new publication dedicated to supporting the area’s Hispanic business community. The publication, Boletín, is a small booklet of resources and information specific to those Spanish speaking businesses serving Columbia Pike’s residents.” [CPRO]

Arlington Man Arrested for Armed Robberies — “An Arlington man was arrested last night and is facing charges in connection with a series of recent armed robberies. Detectives from our Major Crimes Bureau determined that in three of the four robberies, the suspect approached the victim, displayed a firearm and took their personal property. In the other case, the suspect took a victim’s purse by force.” [Fairfax County Police Department]

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Morning Notes

ACPD Salutes Fallen Officer — “ACPD Officers honored fallen @CapitolPolice Officer Brian Sicknick as his procession traveled through Arlington County. In Valor, There is Hope.” [Twitter, Twitter]

M.J. Stewart Makes Splash in Upset Win — “Former Yorktown HS standout M.J. Stewart was one of NBC’s players of the game in the Cleveland Browns’ playoff upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight.” [Twitter]

National Award for County Naturalist — “Alonso Abugattas, natural resources manager for Arlington County, VA, received a Regional Environmental Champion award at the 2020 Natural Latinos conference.” [Bay Journal]

Cristol to Chair NVTC Again — “Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol will go another round as chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) for 2021.” [InsideNova]

McAuliffe Picks Up Local Support — “Four of the seven members of Arlington’s legislative delegation, including all three state senators, have announced their support for Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s bid for governor. McAuliffe ‘has the bold vision and proven track record we need to push Virginia forward,’ said state Sen. Adam Ebbin.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Fairfax Vaccinating Teachers — “Starting as early as Saturday, Jan. 16, the Fairfax health department has partnered with Inova to vaccinate an estimated 40,000 teachers and staff of public and private schools and childcare programs across the health district.” [InsideNova]

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The Arlington County Board unanimously elected Matt de Ferranti as its Chair and Katie Cristol as its Vice-Chair during a virtual meeting on Monday.

Elected in 2018, de Ferranti is serving as Chair for the first time, succeeding Libby Garvey. During the year that he occupies this role, he will set the Board’s meeting agendas and preside over the meetings. The first regular Board meeting of 2021 will be held on Saturday, Jan. 23.

Colleagues heaped praise on the new chair.

“One of the most under-sung attributes in an elected official is earnestness, [and] our colleague, Mr. de Ferranti has earnestness in spades,” Cristol said. “[With] a pandemic, a reckoning over racial injustice, it is a moment that calls for a chair like Mr. de Ferranti.”

Cristol, elected in 2015 and a former Board chair, fills a role that was vacated in April, when then Vice-Chair Erik Gutshall resigned after doctors discovered a brain tumor. He died shortly after, and his successor, Board Member Takis Karantonis, was elected in July.

Board member Christian Dorsey lauded Cristol for her activism for accessible, affordable childcare and her work with regional partners on transportation in Northern Virginia.

Dorsey said he nominated Cristol “with great confidence that she will not only be able to perform the role of Vice-Chair, but that she will join Mr. de Ferranti in a dynamic duo for leading Arlington.”

During the meeting, de Ferranti and Cristol commended Arlington for coming together during the pandemic, and outlined their visions for recovery. The new Chair said in his remarks that recovery efforts must focus on stabilization, recovery and a systematic commitment to racial and economic equity.

“Our response to COVID-19 is the biggest test we face as a community,” he said. “As difficult as this winter is and will be, spring will come: More and more will be vaccinated and a new Biden administration will lead our nation’s recovery.”

De Ferranti’s other stated priorities for 2021 include addressing hunger and food insecurity, preventing evictions, and boosting the production of missing middle housing.

“Without changes in our housing supply the 60% of Arlington residents who currently rent cannot realistically save up to buy a place,” he said. “We risk becoming as unaffordable as San Francisco if we do not plan for replacement of existing moderately priced housing and grow in a thoughtful, managed way.”

In her remarks, Cristol said that like 2020, the new year will be characterized by the coronavirus, as cases continue to surpass the peaks seen in March. With the vaccine, however, comes a chance to reimagine Arlington, the Vice-Chair said.

“Rebuilding after this once-in-a-century pandemic is a unique opportunity to think afresh about what future we want for ourselves and our children in our County,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Cristol Recovering from Surgery — County Board member Katie Cristol was absent from this week’s Board meeting. She is on medical leave after surgery to treat Graves’ disease, she said. [Twitter]

Axios Makes Local News Moves — Clarendon-based media company Axios has purchased North Carolina-based Charlotte Agenda as it makes a push into local news. [New York Times]

Board Balks at Preservation Request — “Efforts to place the 9-acre Rouse estate at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road into a local historic district appear to have pushed the property owner to move forward with the ‘nuclear option‘… And, county officials say, there is not much they can do to prevent it. ‘Our hands are pretty much tied,’ County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said Dec. 12, effectively rebuffing a request that the county government take stronger actions.” [InsideNova]

Board Responds to Reopening Request — “A request that Arlington County Board members use their influence – whether through sweet-talking or something more forceful – to get county schools back up and running fell largely on deaf ears Dec. 12. Board members said they were working with their School Board counterparts, but had no power to force a reopening of schools that have been shuttered since last March.” [InsideNova]

Local Nonprofit Expands Aid — “Since April of this year [Arlington] Thrive has provided more than $5 million is assistance to 1,300 families and individuals, a dramatic increase from the $805,000 Thrive provided to families and individuals during the same period last year. Typical requests to Arlington Thrive used to be for one or two months rent but since the pandemic now extend to six or seven months.” [Press Release]

Church Continues Drive-Thru Donations — “Clarendon Presbyterian Church recently announced that it will continue holding monthly Drive-thru Food and Toiletry Collections to support our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Since the first Collection in June through the most recent one in December, the community donated the equivalent of 756 brown paper bags of groceries – an estimated value of $30,000.” [Press Release]

Northam Proposes State Budget — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday proposed a state budget that would restore some spending frozen earlier this year amid uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, updating a spending document that the General Assembly just finished tinkering with last month.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

RBG Buried at Arlington National Cemetery — “The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was buried at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court confirmed that she was laid to rest and said it was a private service. She was set to be buried alongside her husband, Martin David Ginsburg, who was buried there in 2010.” [WJLA]

DCA Work May Cause Traffic Delays — “Beginning on or about Thursday, October 1, portions of the Terminal B/C Ticketing (upper-level) roadway will close for work related to Project Journey. At least two vehicular lanes will remain open as the construction areas periodically change.” [Press Release]

Police Investigating Lyon Park Attack — “As the parties exited the business, the dispute continued and became physical. The suspect waved a knife at Victim One, who then fell to the ground. The suspect kicked her, at which point a second victim attempted to intervene, but was struck with the knife by the suspect. The suspect then fled in a vehicle.” [Arlington County]

Cristol Joining New Equity Program — “Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol has been named one of 14 Southern elected leaders who will form the inaugural class of E Pluribus Unum (UNUM) fellows. The program is designed to equip Southern leaders with resources that advance racial and economic equity within their communities.” [Arlington County]

Ballston Hosting Local Restaurant Week — “You’re invited to sip and savor your way through Ballston. Join our neighborhood’s Sip & Savor Restaurant Week. From October 1st through the 4th, support your favorite restaurants and eat local!” [Ballston BID]

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Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol says she was wrong to suggest that a local beer garden should be shut down over the weekend.

Cristol retweeted a photo posted by Democratic strategist Adam Parkhomenko on Friday night, which showed a large crowd — none wearing masks — outdoors at The Lot beer garden near Clarendon.

“A bunch of selfish a**holes in Arlington, VA this evening,” Parkhomenko said in his tweet, which went viral and racked up thousands of likes and retweets. Many of those sharing the post decried how such crowding could exacerbate the pandemic.

“Well, this sucks,” Cristol wrote in her response to the tweet. “We’re in this together, and are going to have a hard time continuing to move forward if folks/establishments won’t do the basics of masks & distancing. All: Please help us follow up (and shut this stuff down) by reporting.”

Cristol also shared a link to a “non-compliance of social distancing practices” reporting form created by the county.

In response, however, The Lot said in a social media post on Saturday that it followed “all CDC, state, and local guidelines,” noting that it has “a large patio so naturally there will be more people, attention, and visibility.”

While The Lot posted a sign encouraging mask usage, Virginia’s new mask requirement only requires it for indoor public spaces.

A huge thank you to all our amazing patrons for the support and patience last night. We’d also like to thank the county…

Posted by The Lot VA on Saturday, May 30, 2020

On Sunday, Crisol posted an apology, acknowledging that Arlington police and fire personnel had visited The Lot and verified that it was following all of the requirements. She added, however, that “too many ppl = an administrative problem the County needs to fix.”

The risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors is considered to be low, though extended exposure and close proximity to someone with the virus — particularly if they’re talking and not wearing a mask — can result in infections even outdoors.

Photo via Twitter

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Arlington County has seen a slight, week-long slowdown in new coronavirus cases, but is pushing back on Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to partially reopen statewide by the end of the week.

As of Monday morning, there were 1,399 known coronavirus cases in Arlington, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. That brings the trailing 7-day rise in cases to 293, down from a peak of 349 on May 4.

The state health department is also reporting 60 deaths and 286 hospitalizations in Arlington, up from 57 deaths and 227 hospitalizations on Friday.

Statewide, 25,070 cases have been reported, along with 3,300 hospitalizations, 850 deaths and 167,758 total tests.

According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, 1,504 confirmed and potential COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized statewide, while 3,273 have been hospitalized and subsequently discharged. There are 4,647 hospital beds available statewide and 21% of ventilators in Virginia are currently in use.

Over the weekend, Gov. Northam released more details about his “Forward Virginia” plan to reopen the state, which could happen as early as Friday. From a press release:

Under Phase One, the Commonwealth will move to a Safer at Home strategy, which continues the ban on social gatherings of more than 10 people and maintains recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and wearing face coverings. All businesses should make modifications to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitization of high contact surfaces, and provide enhanced workplace safety measures.

Retail establishments will be allowed to operate at 50 percent occupancy, restaurant and beverage establishments may offer outdoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, personal grooming services may begin operating with one patron per service provider, and fitness centers may offer outdoor exercise services. Campgrounds may also begin taking reservations for short-term stays.

Places of worship have had a 10-person limit and have been allowed to hold drive-in services allowed. In Phase One, drive-in services may continue, and services may be held inside at 50 percent capacity. Specific guidelines for religious services can be found here.

Many of the restrictions put in place by Executive Order Fifty-Three will remain in place in Phase One. Entertainment and public amusement venues will remain closed and beaches will continue to be open only for exercise and fishing. Childcare centers remain open for children of working families. Overnight summer camps will remain closed in Phase One.

Arlington County and other Northern Virginia governments, however, are asking for the ability to delay its implementation. The county released the following statement Friday evening.

Arlington County supports Governor Northam’s detailed framework for “Forward Virginia,” and appreciates the Commonwealth’s acknowledgement that the Northern Virginia region faces challenges that differ in number and scale from the Commonwealth as a whole. Over half of the cases and hospitalizations and nearly half of the COVID -19 deaths are here in Northern Virginia — despite our constituting a little more than a quarter of the state’s population; and we continue to see a rise in hospitalizations. Arlington is working closely with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which comprises other localities in the region, to coordinate with the Governor’s office to determine the safest path forward, with an extended timeframe for entering Phase One.

Arlington County’s top priority is to ensure the safety of the entire community; and we believe we must meet the criteria for entering Phase One. At this point, based on the data for our region as well as Arlington specifically, the most responsible path forward is maintaining our current operating status until these criteria are met.

That message was echoed by County Board member Katie Cristol, in an interview on WAMU Friday. She was asked by host Kojo Nnamdi about potentially opening up on Friday, May 8.

“I think that is going to be a timeline that works for some part of Virginia. And we are grateful that, in recent days, it is recognized that that is not a timeline that is likely going to make sense here in Northern Virginia,” she said.

“Generally, we are coalescing around more or less the same criteria,” she said, “downward trend in positive tests, downward trend in hospitalizations, testing, tracing PPE, and so forth.”

Cristol also revealed a bit of news in the interview: Arlington County is planning to distribute cloth face coverings, as a way to further encourage their use.

“We recently put in a pretty significant order for cloth face coverings that were intended to be distributed around the county,” she told Nnamdi. “And we’ll have more details on that, we hope, in the next week or so. So, I suppose a carrot, not a stick approach on that one.”

“It makes more sense to make masks available and distribute those to whomever needs them, rather than trying to, for example, give tickets to those who aren’t wearing them,” she added.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’.

By Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti

In a conference call, Progressive Voice editors asked Arlington County Board members Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti about their insights on the challenges of being a leader in local government during the trying time of the COVID-19 epidemic.

PV: Tell us about the challenge of making pressing leadership decisions, such as on the County budget, when there are fewer known facts, data and projections about 2021 and beyond.

MD: This isn’t an easy budget. In normal years, we have about 10-12 budget work sessions. You have time to learn, synthesize. This year, the fiscal reality has changed during the middle of the process, so it’s challenging to accept the new reality and adjust quickly.

Ultimately, we have to focus on values and what we must do: keeping people safe, making sure people are not evicted, and meeting our commitments and basic human needs. So we will do a pretty basic budget, and in the coming year, may come back and make adjustments. It’s a dynamic environment.

KC: It helps that Arlington’s fiscal fundamentals are still strong. Arlington is in very good fiscal health–such as our bond rating, our fully funded pension plan. What we are really talking about is lost opportunities–the investments we hoped to have made in this budget to attract good people to work here, expand human services, expand our capacity to fix street lights more quickly.

There may be harder times ahead. But what enables me to tell residents we can weather the pandemic as well as the economic challenges is that the fundamentals are still there. We have excellent public health and emergency response teams. We have staff who were with us during 9/11, during the recession starting in 2008. Our public health director got us through H1N1. I hope people feel confident by the amount of expertise brought to bear. We [County Board] are the faces on policy, but a lot of the pandemic response is at the professional expert level.

KC: I was reading through comments, a chat that the county manager did with staff, and it was a reminder of how dedicated the people who work for government are…. EMS, Fire are top of mind but also people who administer food stamps…they are risking their own safety to do that.

PV: What ways have you found to balance necessary health and safety (such as physical distancing) with the desire to shore up the economy, small business and workers? Any new insights about the role of government?

MD: Local governments and state governments have had to step forward, particularly because of an absence of leadership from the federal government, so the breadth of what local government can do is more clear to me than ever. There is an opportunity for innovation as we seek to serve all of our residents well.

KC: At the policy level, we’ve been providing small business technical assistance through BizLaunch, trying to help owners navigate SBA loans.

KC: We’ve been wrestling with how to support our restaurants, which are hurting so deeply. Very quickly, DES [Department of Environmental Services] traffic management set up free parking zones marked with signs outside the restaurants. Those are safer and easier for people [to pick up takeaway orders].

Doing things so quickly now will carry over to expecting it to always be so quick. When people discover how quickly we can do these changes…[laughs] without so much public engagement. People are used to [a long time of] hashing out pros and cons for something like curb space management.

PV: Will there be lingering after-effects on public engagement, move more quickly after the emergency passes?

MD: I think there will be some changes in public engagement. People will still want input and we will engage fully, but I think we will evolve a bit, so our input is both thorough and effective in making sure we hear from our whole community.

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Alternately billing it as a happy hour for renters and a millennial outreach event, a pair of Crystal City organizations is hosting an event geared toward younger residents tomorrow night.

The Crystal City Civic Association and the neighborhood’s business improvement district are co-hosting the event to engage renters in the quickly changing community.

More from Arlington County:

Co-hosted by the Crystal City Civic Association and Crystal City Business Improvement District, this happy hour is your opportunity to get engaged, get involved, and get a little refreshment in the process. Featuring special remarks from Katie Cristol, Arlington County Board member and former Crystal City resident. This event is targeted for renters in the 22202 area to promote how to get involved in civic engagement and advocacy, with the rapid changes in the neighborhood. Free drinks and light refreshments will be served. Find out more by checking out the Facebook event here.

Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol is expected to deliver remarks at the free event, which is being held at the JBG National Landing Marketing Center (241 18th Street S.) from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Attendees are asked to RSVP online.

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