Press Club

Morning Notes

The U.S. Air Force Memorial and surrounding construction at twilight (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Cristol Calls Out Displacement ‘Lie’ — “Time will tell, as it always does, but Arlington elected officials say the public and some activists are mistaken if they believe there will be wholesale displacement of residents of the Barcroft Apartments complex in South Arlington. At a May 14 meeting, County Board Chairman Katie Cristol – not one normally known for getting rattled while on the dais – decried as a ‘lie’ the displacement rumors at the sprawling, 1,334-unit apartment complex.” [Sun Gazette]

Crash Last Night on GW Parkway — From Alan Henney: “Another auto went over the wall on the northbound side of the GW Pky prior to the Key Bridge in Arlington. Amazingly driver is out uninjured after his auto slid down the embankment.” [Twitter]

Marymount University Commencement — From Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S.: “It was my tremendous privilege to give the commencement at @marymountu, a university that like many around the U.S. hosts Saudi students. It was my absolute honor to receive an honorary doctorate, thank you to the faculty and Dr. Becerra for this special day.” [Twitter, Sun Gazette]

Metro CEO and COO Resign — “The WMATA Board of Directors has accepted Paul Wiedefeld’s decision to make his retirement effective today. In addition, Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader has resigned, effective immediately.” [WMATA, DCist]

New Skyline Development Proposal — “Madison Marquette has filed plans to convert two Baileys Crossroads office building into live/work lofts, advancing a vision to resuscitate the huge multibuilding cluster known as Skyline Center. By repurposing the mostly emptied office spaces — which meet planning and code requirements to serve as apartments and/or offices for small firms — Skyline can once again become ‘the gravitational center for the area.'” [Washington Business Journal]

Body Cams for Falls Church Police — “Police officers with the City of Falls Church will now be equipped with body-worn cameras beginning this month.” [WJLA, City of Falls Church]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 77 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:17 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Ground was officially broken yesterday morning on the first phase of the $29 million extension of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway.

At a brief ceremony on Monday (May 9) near the site of a future Crystal City bus station, at the intersection of 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive, local officials gathered for remarks and photos with golden shovels to christen the first phase of the long-planned transit project.

“The transit way extension is really important because it is going to support the increase in regional travel demand in Pentagon City, Crystal City, and our partners in Potomac Yard,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol during the ceremony. “As they continue to boom with the arrival of new businesses.”

Just last week, aerospace company Boeing announced it was moving its corporate headquarters to its existing Crystal City office — a short distance from where the groundbreaking was taking place.

The planned Pentagon City extension will add just over a mile to the 4.5-mile rapid bus transit corridor, eventually to connecting Amazon HQ2 and the Pentagon City Metro station. The Transitway will include center-running transit-only lanes cutting through 12th Street.

The first phase is expected to take about a year to finish, with an estimated April 2023 completion date. The work over the next 12 months will include the installation of two new transit stations at Crystal Drive and 15th Street S. and at 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive.

Locals will also see streetscape improvements along 12th Street S. between S. Eads Street and S. Clark Street, as well as the intersection of 12th Street S. and Crystal Drive. Some existing street parking  along the route will become part of the dedicated bus lane.

Added transit stations that are set to be constructed during the first segment of the Transitway to Pentagon City extension (image courtesy of Arlington County)

Surveying work started last month with actual construction expected to start in June, a county spokesperson told ARLnow. Street parking will be limited in some of those areas when construction begins, but residents will be notified prior.

The Transitway is dedicated infrastructure for the Metroway rapid bus transit line. It first debuted in 2014 and was hailed for being the first of its kind in the region. While it has achieved some of its initial goals,  a lack of ridership, planned features not yet implemented, and confused motorists sometimes driving the wrong way in bus-only lanes have been ongoing challenges.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is contributing most of the funds needed for the extension, including $19 million to the first phase alone.

Despite recent significant shifts in commuter patterns due to the pandemic, NVTA chair Phyllis Randall says the project remains a necessity and a good investment.

“I believe in the scope and I believe in the extension,” said Randall, who is also the Loudoun County Board Chair. “We know that people are going to keep moving to Northern Virginia… for jobs, for schools, for so many reasons. We need these transit options because people are coming here. I don’t think the need is diminished at all.”

Boeing’s increased presence in the neighborhood was noted several times in the ceremony as further proof that this extension is needed.

While it may not result in many new jobs, Cristol said the corporate giant’s decision shows that the county’s efforts in becoming more business-friendly are working.

“Arlington has spent a lot of time during my tenure on the [County] Board to reoriented ourselves to be more business friendly, to be more creative, to be more flexible, and to build better relationships with our commercial tenants. So, it feels like validation,” she told ARLnow.

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Stay. Lost Dog Cafe is going to stay.

With help from the Arlington County Board, Lost Dog Cafe’s parking situation is now nearing a resolution which has prompted the restaurant to renew its lease on Columbia Pike.

Last June, ARLnow reported that confusing and high parking fees in a county-financed Columbia Pike garage, owned by Ballston-based developer AvalonBay, was potentially costing Lost Dog Cafe and fellow tenant Joule Wellness Pharmacy thousands of dollars a year in customer revenue.

Because of this, both businesses were planning on not renewing their leases on the ground floor of the Avalon Columbia Pike apartment building.

But, in January, the County Board revised an unusual 2006 agreement that essentially allows AvalonBay to stop paying back the county for contributing nearly $3 million to the construction of the privately-owned garage.

This has led the developer to agree to lower parking fees inside of the parking garage at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive.

Starting as soon as the end of this month, the developer is changing the fee structure at the parking garage to allow customers to park for free for one hour, AvalonBay spokesperson Kurt Conway confirmed. It’s $2 per hour after that.

Additionally, more employee parking spots will be available to the businesses.

This change has resulted in Lost Dog Cafe signing a six-year lease extension to stay on the Pike. Added to the two years left on its current lease, the neighborhood eatery is planning on staying at its current location until at least 2030.

“We believe that the change in the parking situation will allow us to run our business more successfully,” Lost Dog franchise owner James Barnes tells ARLnow.

Joule Wellness Pharmacy director of marketing Alex Tekie also says that this change will significantly help their business. However, he notes that the pharmacy has actually not yet been informed by AvalonBay of this change.

Most of the parking woes began back in March 2020, when the pandemic hit and, incidentally, higher fees, tickets, and threats of towing began after years of lax enforcement, according to tenants.

At a time when many businesses were struggling and shifting towards more take-out, charging for even just a few minutes of parking made it even more difficult for the local businesses.

“This parking issue has made it so untenable,” Barnes said last June. “We link this to our sales and our sales are not good. There’s a correlation with this parking lot.”

Joule Wellness Pharmacy ownership also told ARLnow at the time they were shelling out nearly $800 for employee parking. This prompted both businesses to threaten to leave the development and Columbia Pike.

This was all coming to a head as the Pike, in general, continues to grapple with redevelopment and questions of how to keep small, local businesses on Arlington’s “main street.”

But, at least in this instance, a change to a 16-year-old agreement appears to have solved at least a couple of tenant renewal issues, for now.

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Morning Notes

Washington Blvd and N. Nelson Street at night (Flickr pool photo by Cyrus W)

APS Looking for New Academic Officer — “The Arlington school system is on the hunt for a new academic chief, after the incumbent in the position was dispatched to serve for a second tour of duty as a middle-school principal. Bridget Loft, the current chief academic officer, on April 28 was appointed principal at Swanson Middle School, a post she held from 2011-17 before moving on to serve as principal at Yorktown High School and then hold the school system’s top academic-focused leadership post.” [Sun Gazette]

Taxes Up By a Sixth in Three Years — “Another year of no reduction in the Arlington real-estate tax rate to offset spiraling assessments means that the typical county homeowner will be paying 17 percent more in taxes to the government compared to three years ago.” [Sun Gazette]

Cristol Weights in on Possible Roe Decision — From Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol: “Anticipating the impending decision to fully overturn Roe vs. Wade didn’t make it any less shocking. The reality that our nation is moving backwards on the fundamental right of women to exist in a democratic society without being forced by the state to give birth is chilling.” [Twitter]

It’s Wednesday — Possible light rain in the morning and storms around midday. High of 77 and low of 60. Sunrise at 6:08 am and sunset at 8:05 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Cyrus W

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The Arlington County Board discusses the budget at a meeting (via Arlington County)

In addition to approving a new county budget Tuesday night, the Arlington County Board also approved a $20,000 pay raise for each of its members.

Board Chair Katie Cristol said she’s uncomfortable voting on her own salary, but nonetheless in the approved budget her salary as this year’s Chair will increase from $63,413 to $83,413.

“I think what ultimately has persuaded me to support this idea is sort of depersonalizing it and the recognition that it’s actually not about my salary, it’s about a Board member’s salary,” she said.

Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey pointed out that the increases make the positions more competitive. Higher salaries — the salary for a Board member is increasing from $57,648 to $77,648 — will make members less dependent on high-earning spouses or other sources of supplemental income like consulting jobs.

“I’ve talked to far too many people who, I think, would make great County Board members and they tell me, ‘I simply can’t afford to do it,'” Garvey said. “So I’m hoping this is going to be a step in the right direction to make it, I think, actually more democratic, better representation.”

The set salaries remain below the cap set by the Board in 2019 — $95,734 for the Chair and $89,851 for members.

The Board can only raise the salary cap in the year that two board members are up for reelection, which will next happen in 2023, when Cristol and Christian Dorsey are up for reelection.

After a community survey a few years ago on the compensation of Board members, the Board came to the general consensus that it would be appropriate for members to earn a salary equivalent to the area median income for a one-member household, Cristol said. The pay raise just approved will not reach that level, but will get closer to it.

“I believe that was the benchmark, the idea there being that Board members ought to make not more than the average Arlingtonian, but not less either,” she said. “So this would get us I think about half of the way there. I believe this roughly shakes out to about a Board member making 80% of the area median income for a household of one.”

De Ferranti said that a seat on the Board, while originally intended as a part-time position, is effectively a full-time job and ought to be paid as such.

“My view is that for a locality that is approaching 240,000 people, the job of being a Board member is a full-time job,” he said. “There’s been some analysis in the past as to the number of hours, sometimes it’s 50 or 60 hours per week and sometimes it’s 35 but I think this is a full-time job.”

Member Takis Karantonis said he’s struggled with juggling the amount of work that comes with the County Board and his other work. He has had to excuse himself from certain votes, which can be uncomfortable, he said.

“This is really not helpful. It is not helpful for the Board as a whole, it is not helpful for the way this body works, it is not helpful for anybody,” he said.

Dorsey said he didn’t want any part of this issue when it came up while he was chair in 2019 — he was in the midst of personal financial troubles that would later lead to a bankruptcy filing and accusations of unethical behavior related to political donations. He said he supports the raise now because public servants should be valued for their work.

Dorsey thanked Garvey for “pressing the cause.”

“When we do the public’s business, we cannot do that effectively without really good public servants and, you know, for far too long, public servants compared to their private sector counterparts make sacrifices that often go underappreciated,” he said.

The pay raise will take effect with the county’s new Fiscal Year 2023 budget on July 1.

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George Mason University has ceremonially broke ground on the quarter of a billion dollar expansion of its Arlington campus.

At an event held yesterday (Wednesday), ceremonial shovels picked up ceremonial dirt to mark the beginning of construction of Fuse at Mason Square, a new $235 million building in Virginia Square that will house the university’s new School of Computing.

In fact, work had actually already begun a few months earlier on the 345,000 square foot facility. It’s the main piece of the quarter-billion-dollar expansion of the Arlington campus, which was recently renamed “Mason Square.”

The groundbreaking, which was one of this week’s events celebrating the university’s 50th anniversary, was marked by a litany of speeches, food, and shoveling of dirt.

In attendance were a number of Arlington officials including Board Chair Katie Cristol, County Manager Mark Schwartz, Arlington School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen, Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, and Arlington NAACP President Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr.

Cristol spoke of her pride that this state-of-the-art facility will have a home in Arlington.

“The vision of Fuse [reminds] me of a term I learned in a laboratory in St. Louis — serendipitous collisions. What an evocative image of the kind of partnerships and encounters that are going to happen here at Fuse at Mason Square,” she said. “Between cutting edge facilities, labs with futuristic devices, and human talent of educators and entrepreneurs as well as this rising generation of creators. The serendipitous collisions that occur on this campus are going to shape our community in ways that we can only imagine today.”

Back in the early 1970s, the late Arlington developer John “Til” Hazel acquired the Virginia Square property that included the former Kann’s Department Store in order to house for GMU’s new law school. The property eventually became a larger graduate school campus, and the former Kann’s building is being replaced with the new computing school.

Hazel died last month at the age of 91. His son James revealed at the ceremony that his dad grew up “not a few blocks away, not down the street. It was right there at [N.] Kenmore [Street] and Wilson Blvd.”

Hazel shared other memories of spending time in this neighborhood before GMU moved in.

“If my mom wanted to take us to get new clothes for school, we came to our grandparents. We parked the car, we came over to Kann’s, got the clothes, and saw the monkey display,” he said, to some laughter. “But best of all, we got pizza from Mario’s Pizza.”

The ceremony was also supposed to include an announcement of a “landmark tenant” at the new building, but that didn’t happen, with GMU officials telling ARLnow that the announcement was delayed.

The $235 million building will house faculty from the Institute for Digital InnovAtion as well as the university’s new School of Computing. Also being planned is an atrium, a 750-seat theater, a public plaza, and a below-grade parking garage.

About 60% of the available space will be occupied by the university, with the remaining 40% aiming to be leased out to tenants and private companies.

Fuse at Mason Square is expected to be completed in the summer of 2025.

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Chair Katie Cristol issuing a resolution condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine (screenshot via Arlington County/YouTube)

The Arlington County Board has issued a resolution condemning Russia’s “unprovoked attack” on Arlington’s sister city Ivano-Frankivsk in southwestern Ukraine.

At last night’s special County Board meeting, Chair Katie Cristol announced a resolution declaring the county’s solidarity and support for the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk. Last week, a missile hit the city’s airport amid Russia’s ongoing, bloody invasion of Ukraine.

“The Arlington County Board… stands in support and solidarity with the people of Ivano-Frankivsk and all of Ukraine in their defense of sovereignty and democracy,” reads the resolution, in part.

The resolution also defends Ukraine’s right to be independent and self-governing. It condemns the invasion and attacks on Ivano-Frankivsk, which has also made international headlines during the conflict due to the hundreds of Indian college students that are stranded there.

Ivano-Frankivsk is one of five Arlington sister cities. The designation became official in 2011 when, in March of that year, then-Board chair Chris Zimmerman was joined by the city’s mayor for a signing ceremony in Crystal City.

A number of Board members have visited the city of about 240,000 people, Cristol noted in her remarks.

The relationship also extended to first responders with Ivano-Frankivsk firefighters having become “friends and students” of their Arlington counterparts. There was also a student exchange program with Swanson Middle School.

“It has been a sister city in every sense of the word,” Cristol said.

In recent days, both D.C. and Alexandria have lit up government buildings and monuments in a show of solidarity with Ukraine. While Arlington has no current plans to do that, a county spokesperson tells ARLnow, the resolution shows the connection the county has with the eastern European country.

“We are keeping our sister city and all of the people of Ukraine in our thoughts and hearts at this time,” Cristol said. “And I know many members of our community are joining us in doing so.”

Full resolution is below.

SUPPORTING ARLINGTON COUNTY’S SISTER CITY IVANO-FRANKIVSK DURING THE RUSSIAN MILITARY INVASION OF AND ATTACK ON UKRAINE

Whereas, on March 4, 2011, the Arlington County Board voted to establish a partnership with the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, the purpose of which is to foster friendship and promote mutual tolerance and understanding by establishing ties between the citizens and institutions of the two communities.

Whereas, our two communities through its Sister City partnership have welcomed opportunities to participate in mutual exchanges of people, culture, and ideas, including a student exchange program with Swanson Middle School.

Whereas, the Arlington County Board has welcomed several exchanges to share information and expertise with public safety responders in our Sister City and the Board has participated in formal meetings with government officials, while the Government of Ivano-Frankivsk has similarly participated and welcomed delegations of our own Government and staff.

Whereas, in the spirit of friendship, understanding, and mutual respect of our cultures and histories, we believe it is important to speak out against unjust actions and demonstrate our support for our friends and partners.

Whereas, we learned on February 24, 2022, a Russian missile struck the airport in Ivano-Frankivsk, Arlington’s sister city in Ukraine, only hours after leaders of the Russian Federation launched an invasion into the sovereign country.

Resolved, that the Arlington County Board –

Condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine and unprovoked attack on our Sister City, Ivano-Frankivsk.

Reaffirms our community’s unwavering belief in the principles of international law and in the right of sovereign nations like Ukraine to be respected and safe within their established borders, independent and self-governing, and free to follow their own values and build their own future.

Stands in support and solidarity with the people of Ivano-Frankivsk and all of Ukraine in their defense of sovereignty and democracy.

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Morning Notes

Aerial view of Rosslyn (staff photo)

County Board Wants Camp Revamp — From County Board Chair Katie Cristol: “More from the Board on expectations for reforming summer camp registration, below. Importantly for this year: 6,000 spots are still open for this summer, and families who need DPR camp can continue to register online or w/ customer service team, [email protected]” [Twitter]

Jobs in Arlington Increase Slightly — “Year-over-year employment within Arlington County improved in the third quarter of 2021, according to new federal data, but lagged the overall national rebound. There were a total of 172,600 jobs recorded in Arlington for September 2021 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and reported Feb. 23. That’s up 0.4 percent from a year before.” [Sun Gazette]

New ACPD K9 Graduates — From the Arlington County Police Department: “Join us in congratulating Cpl. Doescher & K9 Wilson on their graduation from basic patrol K9 school, which includes training on conducting building and area searches, advanced obedience and tracking!” [Twitter]

Yorktown Hockey Is Undefeated — “With blowout victories in their final two matches, the Yorktown Patriots completed their first undefeated regular season since 2003 with a 10-0 record in high-school club ice hockey. In its final match, Yorktown blanked Flint Hill, 10-1.” [Sun Gazette]

High School Hoops Update — “Two Arlington teams advanced to the semifinals and another lost in first-round action of the girls and boys 6D North Region high-school basketball tournaments the night of Feb. 22. Moving on are the Washington-Liberty Generals in boys action and the Yorktown Patriots in girls, each Liberty District tournament champions. The Wakefield Warriors (11-10) had their season end with a first-round 69-56 loss to the host Madison Warhawks in a boys game.” [Sun Gazette]

Va. ABC Removes Russian Vodka — “In the spirit of Gov. Youngkin’s call for decisive action in support of Ukraine, Virginia ABC is removing 7 Russian-sourced vodka brands from our store shelves. Russian-themed brands not produced in Russia like Stolichnaya and Smirnoff will not be removed.” [Twitter, Axios]

Nearby: Bailey’s Xroads Arson Suspect Sought — “Fire investigators are seeking the public’s help in identifying a person of interest related to a fire that occurred on Tuesday, February 22, at approximately 6:30 a.m., in the 5600 block of Columbia Pike.” [Twitter, Fairfax County Fire/Rescue]

It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 43 and low of 31. Sunrise at 6:43 am and sunset at 6:01 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Barcroft Apartments, a 1,334-unit, market-affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike (via Google Maps)

It’s been two months since Arlington County and Amazon agreed to loan more than $300 million to facilitate the sale of the Barcroft Apartments on Columbia Pike.

In exchange for these loans, developer Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners agreed to preserve 1,334 units on the site as committed affordable units for 99 years.

Since the deal in December, Jair Lynch has started conducting initial property assessments to understand what substantive repairs and renovations need to be done in the short term to improve residential quality of life and building safety, Anthony Startt, the company’s director of investments, tells ARLnow.

It’s also working with Barcroft Apartments property management company Gates Hudson to meet with residents individually and at welcome events and administer surveys to understand their living situations.

“We are assuring all of our residents that no one will be displaced,” he said.

The garden apartments at 1130 S. George Mason Drive sprawl across 60 acres and house more tenants than some rural towns. They happen to be some of the last market-rate affordable apartments in Arlington, and proponents of the county’s $150 million loan heralded the significant investment in preserving affordable housing, while critics said the deal went through too quickly and without enough community oversight.

Now, the hard work on the county side begins: drafting a long-term investment plan and figuring out how to involve the community, particularly Barcroft residents, in the planning process. Community leaders and County Board members say this will have to balance blue-sky ideas with the financial constraints that come with an affordable housing project, all while working within the parameters of the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code that governs development in the area.

“There are a lot of cool things people would love to see, but the money first has to go toward preservation of 1,334 units, which I don’t know of a larger housing preservation deal in the D.C. area, ever,” says John Snyder, the chair of the Columbia Pike Partnership board (formerly the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, or CPRO).

He served as a representative of the Douglas Park neighborhood on the working group that developed the the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code.

Snyder’s must-haves include an on-site bus stop and bicycle stations to ensure there isn’t a large influx of cars clogging up S. George Mason Drive. His wish list includes a municipal swimming pool and playgrounds. There’s also interest in a daycare or a school.

“It’s going to be very interesting as all of this moves forward in the planning process,” Snyder says. “I just envision people getting great ideas and looking at the other end of the table where the engineers and accountants are sweating, wondering how they can do this… In other places, maybe we can raise the rent, but we can’t here.”

The County Board has encouraged county planning staff to prioritize a review the Neighborhoods Form-Based Code — which has some guidance on building size and placement, but not other topics such as form or ground-floor retail — to ensure the plans act as a floor, and not a ceiling, for whatever Jair Lynch proposes.

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Arlington County Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese in March 2020 (via Arlington County)

Local child care centers will have to stay the course with longer quarantine and isolation periods, says Arlington County’s Public Health Division.

That could mean multiple contingency plans for parents with kids in child care, who have already weathered holiday closures and winter-weather closures. (Many facilities follow the snow closure or delay lead of Arlington Public Schools, which was closed all week.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened isolation and quarantine periods last month to five days for the general population. This week, the CDC announced it will be bringing its guidelines for K-12 schools in alignment with the shortened quarantine and isolation.

But the changes have been met with some criticism. The American Medical Association called them “confusing and counterproductive” and other medical providers have said they’re “reckless.”

There’s one place where the new quarantine and isolation guidelines won’t go into effect, save for fully vaccinated and boosted staff: Arlington’s child care settings.

That’s because Arlington’s littlest kids either should not wear a mask or do not wear them reliably, meaning the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant is highly likely in these settings, according to the public health division.

“A full 10-day isolation and quarantine period was recommended because of the difficulty to enforce mask wearing in such a young population (i.e. children under 2 years old should not wear a mask),” Public Health spokesman Ryan Hudson told ARLnow.

The interim guidance came out Wednesday, as Arlington and the Northern Virginia region continue to see high levels of COVID-19 transmission, and will be in effect until the CDC comes out with guidance specific to child care settings — which are known as places where kids pick up all kinds of germs.

“The CDC’s recent updates to shorten the isolation and quarantine period are for the general population, including K-12 school settings,” Hudson said. “In absence of specific guidance from the CDC regarding child care centers, Arlington County Public Health provided interim guidelines, subject to change based on updates from the CDC.”

One local child care provider that had started implementing the new CDC guidance acknowledged the flip-flop may cause disruption for families.

“We had been following the recent CDC 5 day isolation period, which we confirmed with [the Virginia] Department of Health last week,” the facility’s director wrote. “However, in light of the omicron variant and the current surge, Arlington County has recently announced interim guidelines for child care settings which we must follow. We understand that this recent change is frustrating but we are our trying our best to follow the policies, which do keep changing.”

Pre-pandemic child care was in short supply in Arlington, as it was in many parts of the country, in part because of a shortage of child care workers. The pandemic has exacerbated these realities and forced many parents, especially mothers, to quit their jobs.

Board Chair Katie Cristol, who has worked on a number of efforts to fight the local child care shortage, says she’s still learning about the new recommendations and the tensions that public health professionals and child care providers have to navigate right now.

But the biggest challenge facing child care providers during the pandemic remains staffing, which the guidelines could exacerbate.

“From my conversations with providers, their biggest challenges over the last year have been with staffing,” Cristol said. “I think this reflects the general upheaval in the labor market, as well as the ongoing difficulty of affording high-quality staff in a very low-margin business, and — at least anecdotally — the challenge of recruiting and retaining staff seems to be making it hard for some providers to expand hours or capacity as they try to adjust back to ‘normal’ after the first year of the pandemic.”

To boost child care employee recruitment during this time, the county has provided training and is working with the local Richmond delegation to pass legislation that would improve how benefits like retirement and health care get to employees.

“It remains a big challenge, for certain,” she said.

The county also supports centers through ongoing health consultations and informational resources, and has run targeted vaccination clinics for child care providers and employees, Cristol noted.

The new Arlington Public Health guidelines for local child care providers are below.

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County Board Chair Katie Cristol (via Arlington County)

Members of the Arlington County Board say they have their work cut out for them in 2022.

They were unanimous in their chief priorities for the new year — COVID-19, housing, climate change and equity — just as they were unanimous in choosing a new board chair, Katie Cristol, and a new vice chair, Christian Dorsey.

These aims and others need to be tackled with a budget that, despite being impacted by high office vacancy rates, must put the wages of county employees first, they said.

“By no means is this pandemic over, but since it’s clear that COVID-19 will be providing us no respite for reflection, we will have to make our own,” Cristol said in her opening speech as chair. “Given the uncertainty of our commercial revenues, let me be clear: These commitments almost certainly mean less funding available for implementing new priorities or programs, but after two pandemic years, it is time to put our money where our ‘Thank you essential workers!’ window signs are.”

She celebrated the county’s high vaccination rates as a sign that Arlington will get through the pandemic, and the newest wave of cases fueled by the Omicron variant, together.

“[E]ven in this peak, our hospitalizations numbers remain in the very low single digits, and if we keep getting vaccinated, getting boosted, masking and demonstrating responsibility to one another, we will get through this — not as fast as we had all hoped, nor with the finality with which we all long for — but we will,” she said.

Dorsey likewise expressed his confidence Arlington will come out on the other side of the pandemic as a stronger county.

“I am not going to predict when we get to our new normal or even what our new normal will be, but I am certain and quite confident that if we rely on the resilience that has been honed during the pandemic and remain focused on achieving our goals for sustainability, housing our community and achieving racial equity, we will emerge on the other side both better and stronger,” he said.

Cristol will pick up her chief priority — child care — where she left off when she was last the Board’s leader in 2018.

“This pandemic has exposed what we’ve always known to be true: Our country is a hard place to raise children,” she said. “Arlington alone can’t fix all the obstacles facing families, but we can continue to make progress on our own vision, which is that all Arlington County families have access to high quality, affordable childcare.”

This year, she said, the county will focus on increasing the number of child care providers and eligible families who participate in Virginia’s child care subsidy program and providing child care during non-traditional hours.

2022 will be a big year for working toward Arlington’s energy goals for 2025, 2035 and 2050, Dorsey said. Arlington aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

“I propose we prioritize taking every practical opportunity through our budget work this year to de-intensify carbon use in our government operations, and as we look to develop our capital improvements plan, we should plan to utilize sustainable products and systems — even if they are not quite practical today. Let’s envision and dare to dream for when it might be,” he said.

And on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Board members Libby Garvey and Takis Karantonis were thinking about the state of the nation’s democracy. Garvey said she will encourage civil discourse as much as she can in 2022.

“There are lots of angry people in this country and they have guns,” Garvey said. “We here are relatively sheltered, but some of those who attacked the [U.S. Capitol building] stayed in Arlington and many drove through Arlington on their way to the Capitol. The danger to our democracy is not a local issue but it is a local threat. I am not sure what we should do about it, but I do know that we and the entire region need to stay close and keep our public safety systems strong and nimble.”

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