Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Police Trying to ID Robbery Suspect — “The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating a series of convenience store robberies and is seeking the public’s assistance identifying a suspect captured on cell phone image.” [ACPD]

Gymnasts May Be Barred from State Tourney — “The [Washington-Liberty] girls high-school gymnastics team won its third straight 6D North Region championship… The Arlington school system has made a preliminary decision not to allow the W-L team to attend the state meet because of the pandemic. Parents of the W-L gymnasts are asking the school system to allow the Generals to participate.” [InsideNova]

Local Architects Like HQ2 Design — “The majority of architects and designers who spoke with the Washington Business Journal about the NBBJ-designed Helix had a positive take on Amazon’s plans and its new flagship structure. Most said it could become an iconic building that would give Arlington a sense of place. But a few were more cautious, noting there could be ramifications of allowing a megacorporation to build and own such an architecturally striking landmark.” [Washington Business Journal]

Va. Bishops Support Death Penalty Bill — “Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond issued the following statement on passage of death penalty abolition legislation: ‘We welcome today’s vote by the Virginia House of Delegates to abolish the death penalty, as well as the vote by the Virginia Senate to do so earlier this week.'” [Diocese of Arlington, Arlington Catholic Herald]

Pot Legalization Bill Passes — “Lawmakers in both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly approved legislation Friday that clears the way for legal cannabis sales in the state. The move sets up Virginia to be the first southern state to establish a recreational marijuana marketplace, and potentially the first to do so in the Washington region.” [DCist]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Va. Supreme Court Passes on Pot Prosecution Case — “The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected an effort by Arlington’s chief prosecutor to rein in judges who are skeptical of her refusal to prosecute marijuana possession. But the court did not resolve the conflict, saying it could not weigh in because it had not been asked to consider any specific case.” [Washington Post]

Big Response to Mailbox — “‘We’ve collected at least probably 500 letters in the two weeks that we’ve had the [Santa] mailbox out,’ Rachael Tolman, the Park Manager at Gulf Branch Park said. ‘It’s a lot of letters.’ The lists some children put in the mailbox looked different, with requests for masks and good health.” [WUSA 9]

Nonprofit Merger Complete — “Bridges to Independence, a Northern Virginia provider of housing and vital services for at-risk families and individuals, has finalized its merger with the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corp., a community-based non-profit with a mission to address the health, education, financial empowerment and social service needs of people living in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.” [InsideNova]

Pedestrian Struck in Ballston — “Police and medics on scene of a pedestrian struck by a driver in front of the Ballston Harris Teeter on N. Glebe Road. So far, the victim’s injuries sound minor.” [Twitter]

Holiday Pop-Ups in National Landing — “As part of National Landing’s mission to activate public spaces, the BID has unveiled ‘Turn Up the Love,’ a winterlong campaign featuring a series of engaging outdoor pop-ups. These festive installations include a larger-than-life boombox adorned with thousands of colorful ornaments, three shareable photo frames and even more surprises to be announced after the holidays.” [National Landing BID]

Nearby: BB Gun Shootings in FC — “Police investigated calls of vandalism and found a teen who confessed to at least 50 incidents of shooting vehicles and people. Some victims have been identified, but police believe there may be more.” [City of Falls Church]

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Morning Notes

A First for ACFD — “A veteran firefighter in Arlington County, Virginia, is breaking barriers as she rises through the ranks. Tiffanye Wesley is the first African American woman named deputy fire chief in all of Northern Virginia.” [NBC 4]

County Wants Feedback on Camera Policy — ” The Arlington County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Fire Marshals’ Office are seeking the public’s input and feedback on draft Digital Evidence Management System policies, regulating digital audio and video recordings captured by body worn cameras, in-car cameras, and interview room cameras.” [Arlington County]

Guilty Plea in Murder Case — “Jose Angel Rodriguez-Cruz, 54, pleaded guilty in Stafford County Circuit Court on Monday morning in the killing of 28-year-old Marta Haydee Rodriguez, who was last seen walking to a bus stop in Arlington, Virginia, in April 1989.” [WTOP, Washington Post]

Vehicle and Business Break-ins — Arlington County police are investigating a pair of business burglaries in the Rosslyn area, and series of vehicle break-ins in the Barcroft neighborhood, according to Monday’s crime report. [ACPD]

Gov. Backs Marijuana Legalization — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The announcement comes as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana.” [Commonwealth of Virginia]

Amazon Order Boosts 23rd Street — “By early May, more than 400 meals a day were leaving the Freddie’s kitchen and reaching firefighters, police, hospitals, and area residents in low-income housing… Due to the size of Amazon’s order, he enlisted a dozen other nearby restaurants. This joint effort ‘breathed life, energy, and activity into the independent restaurants that make up the core of 23rd Street.'” [Amazon]

Reopening Groups Blast Teachers — “Our coalitions of over 5,300 parents, teachers and Northern Virginia residents unite today to express dismay and concern of the latest efforts by a group of Northern Virginia education associations pushing Governor Northam to remove the option for in-person school for all of Virginia’s children.” [Arlington Parents for Education]

Local Districts Pause Reopening — “As COVID-19 cases surge, Fairfax County Public Schools will delay bringing back early HeadStart, pre-K and kindergarten students, plus some students who receive special education services… [and] Falls Church City Public Schools announced Tuesday that they will temporarily ‘pause’ in-person learning for the week of Thanksgiving.” [NBC 4, InsideNova, Washington Post]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

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Morning Notes

Crystal City Development Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved JBG Smith’s plan to develop Crystal Gateway, a nine-story office building with ground-floor retail,  at 101 12th Street S. in Crystal City. Community benefits associated with the project include the developer conveying 54,500 sq. ft. of land for Gateway Park, which will connect Long Bridge Park to Crystal City.” [Arlington County]

Teacher Groups Banding Together — “Representatives from teacher associations in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Manassas Park will host a news conference Monday urging a return to virtual-only learning. In a statement Sunday evening, the Fairfax Education Association said it ‘stands with our colleagues from the Northern Virginia region to ask the Governor to return the Commonwealth to a full Phase II of the reopening plan and to recommend that our schools return to a fully virtual method of instruction.'” [InsideNova]

Feedback Sought for Police Chief Search — “The County Manager has launched a search for a new leader of the Arlington County Police Department. During the first phase of the search, the County is interested in hearing from the community. ‘We value the perspective of every resident and business,’ said County Manager Mark Schwartz… You can offer feedback through December 11.” [Arlington County]

Joint Chiefs Chair’s Wife Saves the Day — “When a bystander collapsed at the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, a nurse was nearby and rushed to his aid. She happened to be the wife of the nation’s top military officer, Gen. Mark Milley.” [NBC News]

‘Click It or Ticket’ Starts Today — ” The Thanksgiving celebration is traditionally one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. As the holiday approaches, the Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on a high visibility Click It or Ticket campaign.” [Arlington County]

State Sen. Pushing Pot Legalization — “We’re continuing to build a bipartisan coalition to #legalize responsible adult use of #marijuana in Virginia. I am working hard to ensure that ending the war on drugs is a top priority.” [@AdamEbbin/Twitter, Virginia Mercury]

N. Va. Delivered State for Biden — “Updated counts from the Virginia Department of Elections show that President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump by over 520,000 votes in Northern Virginia, defined as the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park… Across the rest of Virginia, Trump, a Republican, defeated Biden by about 70,000 votes, winning 50.2% to Biden’s 47.9%.” [InsideNova]

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(Updated at noon) The Arlington County Circuit Court rejected a plea bargain that would place a Maryland man on two years of probation for allegedly bringing 50 pounds of marijuana and 400 cartridges of hashish oil into the county.

The suspect is accused of arriving on a flight to Reagan National Airport in November 2018 with a checked bag stuffed with drugs. He was arrested by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority at baggage claim.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and the attorney representing the alleged drug carrier agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to two felony charges and be placed on probation, wrote the presiding judge. After completing the probation and 200 hours of community service, he would be able to withdraw the pleas to the felony charges and instead plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges while having a $100 fine imposed but then suspended.

Judge Daniel Fiore, II, in a memorandum of opinion that was obtained by ARLnow, said the punishment would not deter the defendant, or anyone else, from carrying large amounts of drugs into Virginia for distribution.

“Virginia jurisprudence has long and consistently recognized deterrence as means for a court to determine an appropriate sentence, no matter the criminal statute violated,” Fiore wrote. “Deterrence disincentives unlawful behavior both for the individual and for society.”

Excerpts of Fiore’s opinion were published in late September in Virginia Lawyers Weekly. A call to judge’s chambers was not returned. Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow that she could not comment on the case at this point.

This rejected bargain is part of a larger theater taking place across the nation, as some prosecutors are changing their approach to drug crimes and judges are fighting back. The tug-of-war reached Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who signed a law last month that would require judges to dismiss charges when both the prosecution and defense agree to a bargain or deal.

Fiore wrote that he rejected the bargain in part because the prosecution and defense had understated how much marijuana and hashish the defendant had. The amounts, once disclosed, merited prison sentences between five and 40 years and fines of up to $500,000, Fiore wrote.

Focusing on the quantity of drugs strikes Public Defender Brad Haywood as a bit naive, considering the defendant was likely a low-level “drug mule” put in a high-risk situation by higher-level drug traffickers. He might not have known the quantity of drugs he was carrying, as mules often do not, Haywood said in an email, adding that mules are often thought of as victims of drug trafficking.

“They are under duress; fearful for their safety, desperate for money, or desperate to feed their own addictions,” he said. “They are easy to manipulate precisely because they are suffering. They can even be pressured into doing something as irrational as traveling on a plane with tons of narcotics.”

Given the risk involved, mules are often caught, Haywood said. Instead of harshly prosecuting mules, however, the government frequently offers them leniency so they can help apprehend the supplier.

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Arlington is rolling marijuana in with efforts to prevent opioid abuse, but some see the anti-weed campaign as outdated.

Nicole Merlene, a former state Senate candidate and an ARLnow columnist, noted on Twitter that Arlington is promoting a campaign called ‘NoWeedArlington.org’, which links back to a county health department page on the dangers of marijuana.

“Despite the fact that marijuana is legalized in many states, marijuana still poses many health risks including the risk for addiction,” the page says. “The surgeon general has put out a warning related to marijuana use – specifically related to the risks of marijuana use during adolescence.”

Kurt Larrick, assistant director of the Arlington Department of Human Services, said the campaign is meant specifically to prevent marijuana use among children and teenagers, and is part of a larger effort to prevent opioid abuse.

“The ad is an awareness campaign against marijuana use by youth,” Larrick said. “The information conveyed in the message is directly from the current Surgeon General’s message of the negative impact of marijuana use on the adolescent developing brain. The correlation between early marijuana use and opioid abuse later in life is a commonly known fact within prevention/substance use literature.”

Larrick said the campaign was not launched in response to the impending decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia.

The movement towards decriminalizing marijuana has also taken hold at a local level, with Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti ousting an incumbent last year with promises to stop prosecuting marijuana cases, among other reforma. Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano was elected in Fairfax with a similar platform.

“This ad has nothing to do with ‘decriminalization’ or ‘legalization’ of marijuana,” Larrick said. “The ad was developed by [Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative] and Prevention with support/approval from DHS leadership. The ad is supported by SOR (State Opioid Response) funds and approved by the grant administrator.”

Larrick said the County’s position and its partnership with other local organizations is longstanding and also addresses other underage drug abuse issues.

“Arlington County, the Department of Human Services, Arlington Public Schools, and our community partners — including the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, the Ready Coalition, and the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative have long been on the same page when it comes to the harmful impact of marijuana on the teenage brain,” Larrick said. “We have also partnered on initiatives related to underage drinking, smoking, and vaping.”

While the legalization of marijuana is lighting up across the U.S., the impacts of marijuana use on brain development remains a topic of study.

Photo by Roberto Valdivia on Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Coronavirus Cases at Arlington Nursing Home — “Rossie Bratten, a 21-year-old Virginia resident, is calling on nursing homes to be more transparent about COVID-19, claiming an Arlington facility caring for his mother never informed the family of positive cases at the site. Bratten claims they only called to be told their mother had tested positive.” [Fox 5, YouTube]

Construction Continuing at DCA — “The coronavirus pandemic has slowed air travel to a trickle, but it has not hindered Project Journey at Reagan National Airport. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority reports that the new 14-gate north concourse at Reagan Airport remains on schedule to open in July 2021.” [Washington Business Journal]

Bullet Hole Found in Roof of Douglas Park Home — “At approximately 2:31 p.m. on April 13, police were dispatched to the report of a missile into occupied dwelling. Upon arrival, it was determined that contractors performing maintenance on the victim’s house located a hole in her roof and recovered a bullet in the crawl space. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.” [Arlington County]

Sen. Ebbin Lauds Signing of Marijuana Bill — “The prohibition on cannabis has for too long had life long impacts on Virginians and disproportionately affected communities of color. Thank you @GovernorVA for signing my and @C_Herring’s bills to decriminalize marijuana.” [Twitter]

County Observes Sexual Assault Awareness Month — “Arlington County’s Project PEACE is recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) with virtual observances and daily online opportunities. During the COVID-19 public health crisis, survivors of sexual assault need support, champions and affirmation of their stories and voices.” [Arlington County]

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State Senator Adam Ebbin celebrated a win on Sunday as the Virginia legislature approved the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Under the new legislation, recreational marijuana will remain illegal, but the penalty is reduced to a $25 civil fine rather than the current penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. The decriminalization also includes hash and oil concentrates, of which it is currently a felony to possess, according to Virginia Mercury.

It’s been a long-running fight for Ebbin, who represents parts of Arlington and has frequently proposed decriminalization laws with limited success.

“This is going to make a tremendous difference in up to 30,000 Virginians lives who receive a criminal charge each year,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “They’ll no longer have the repercussions that come with a criminal charge. I think we’ll be in a much better place with a modest fine.”

Ebbin described decriminalization as a necessary step forward. Legalization is the eventual goal, and Ebbin’s legislation has faced some pushback from advocates like the ACLU who says it doesn’t go far enough.

Ebbin said a study of the impacts of decriminalization — which was also approved by the newly Democrat-controlled legislature — is necessary before the state can more broadly legalize marijuana.

“I want to make sure we get it right in terms of taxation, distribution, keeping it away from minors,” Ebbin said. “Those are all things to be considered as we come up with the structure. No state, to my knowledge, has ever legalized without decriminalizing first.”

The bill still has to be signed by Governor Ralph Northam, but if it is, Ebbin noted that decriminalization would take effect on July 1.

The move toward decriminalization was celebrated by some on Twitter, including Arlington Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who was elected last fall with a platform that included ending prosecution of some marijuana possession cases.

Ebbin said the next steps are to work on the study and get more information to start on the path to legalization.

“[Then] we can start to work on the structure by which we might legalize or introduce legislation to legalize, but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Ebbin said. “Nothing decriminalized until July 1, but I think it would put us in a good place.”

File photo

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

There is one thing I have found that my libertarian Republican and social justice Democrat friends can mostly agree on — it is high time Virginia passes marijuana reform.

It is my opinion that: 1) marijuana should be governed similarly to alcohol, legal at age 21; 2) doctors at hospitals or assisted living facilities should be able to administer prescriptions to anyone; and 3) we should create an automatic expungement process for people previously convicted over 21 and have a clear path to expungement for those under 21 for both marijuana and alcohol.

Right now the legislature is favoring bills HB 972 by Del. Charnell Herring (D), and SB 2 by Arlington state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), both supported by Governor Northam (I will refer to these as “the favored bills”). In the favored bills, jail time is eliminated, a reduced civil fine of $50 is implemented, the possession amount to be charged would increase from half an ounce to one ounce, and an expungement path would be created.

These are good first steps, but we can and should do more.

Decriminalization vs. Legalization

The favored bills would decriminalize, not legalize, marijuana possession for adults. While a step in the right direction, I believe this is a missed opportunity.

Perpetuating an underground marketplace for sale is bad policy for two reasons. First, the government cannot impose a sales tax on something that should be a known transaction. In Colorado after just 5 years of legalization, the state has collected over $1 billion in tax revenue. Second, selling on the black market provides opportunity for marijuana to be mixed with harmful substances and makes it difficult for consumers to understand the breakdown of THC vs. CBD in their product, to the detriment of public health.

HB 1507 introduced by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D) and supporters by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D), would support legalization.

Medical Marijuana

There are currently only five facilities, one in each region of Virginia, that can administer medical marijuana. HB 347 by Del. Glen Davis (R) would allow for two facilities in each region, and SB 185 by state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R) would allow nursing homes and assisted living facilities to administer cannabidiol and THC-A oil.

Again, while these are steps in the right direction, this will not do enough to fight the opioid epidemic. I am surprised by a lack of movement here by Democrats.

Expungement

The favored bills would allow a person to petition for expungement after fines have been paid. If we are just going to decriminalize, this seems inherently discriminatory to those who cannot afford a lawyer and an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle that should just be an automatic process. This automatic expungement for marijuana offenses and underage alcohol possession would be tackled in SB 289 by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D), and SB 306 by Sen. William Stanley (R).

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Morning Notes

Trash Collection CancelledUpdated at 8:55 a.m. — Trash and recycling collection is cancelled today, according to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. Christmas tree and brush collection will be completed as normal, however. [Twitter]

Rep. Beyer Calls for Peace — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted the following after Iran’s airstrike on U.S. military bases in Iraq — a response to the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general: “De-escalate. Exercise diplomacy. Talk. Listen. Give peace a chance.” [Twitter]

Civ Fed Worries About Upzoning — “‘None of us are interested in destroying all our single-family neighborhoods,’ new County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said during the board’s Jan. 2 meeting with the Arlington County Civic Federation… At the forum, Garvey promised that the Civic Federation would play an integral role in any civic-engagement process that transpires in coming months. She reiterated the board’s position that zoning changes are not a done deal.” [InsideNova]

Board Defends Amazon’s Housing Contribution — “Arlington County Board members are defending their decision to trade additional office-building density for affordable-housing funding, but the decision provoked tension with some delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation. Meeting with board members on Jan. 2, several federation members asked why the county government had decided to allocate all the $20 million contribution from Amazon to affordable-housing efforts.” [InsideNova]

Marijuana Possession Cases Dismissed — In court Tuesday, Arlington’s new top prosecutor successfully sought for judges to dismiss charges against those charged with simple marijuana possession. [Twitter]

Police Investigate Pike Robbery — A portion of westbound Columbia Pike was shut down near S. Glebe Road early Tuesday morning while police investigated a robbery. An ACPD spokeswoman told ARLnow that a victim was robbed and suffered minor injuries; no weapon was involved in the robbery. [Twitter]

New Coworking Space Coming to Crystal City — “Hana is coming to Greater Washington, and it’s going to be neighbors with HQ2. CBRE Group has picked a Crystal City office building to serve as the first East Coast location of its flexible space concept, named after the Hawaiian word for work.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Pawn Shop Helps Return Lost Ring — “Mary Nosrati, a certified gemologist who works at a pawnshop in Arlington, Va., likes to say that every diamond has a story. This is the story of Marsha Wilkins’s diamond, of how it was lost and how it was found.” [Washington Post]

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