Some Arlington residents may have hit another pitfall while registering for fall classes with the parks department.
It appears some may have been charged more than once for the same purchase, according to social media posts and receipts reviewed by ARLnow. The Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation confirmed this afternoon that it has heard from registrants who have been inadvertently charged multiple times.
After registration opened last week for fall ENJOY classes, DPR said its credit card system was malfunctioning. It asked those who were attempting to register on Thursday to pay using an electronic check until the issue was resolved.
One parent reported he was charged three times for one purchase and knows others who faced similar problems.
The parks department confirmed the issue could be related to the malfunction from Thursday.
“We’ve been alerted of the issue and have staff working on diagnosing the problem,” spokesman Jerry Solomon told ARLnow. “At this moment, we are unable to identify the specific cause, but believe that it is related to the issue experienced with the third-party processor last Thursday. Staff is actively reconciling and processing the refunds for those who have been double charged.”
“We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to resolve this issue and will continue to look for ways to improve the process moving forward,” she added.
Last week, Solomon said the snafu only affected registration on Thursday and was resolved within an hour. By 1:20 p.m., more than 3,600 people were able to successfully register for classes. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the system logged more than 8,000 total registrations, including more than 7,000 completed online.
“We will have a better sense of what occurred today once our payment processor has diagnosed the issue,” she said at the time.
Resident walk-in registration for the fall classes began on Friday. Starting this Wednesday, those who live outside the county will be able to start registering, according to the 2023 ENJOY booklet.
The parks department has been battling technical problems during the class and camp registration processes for the past few years, at least in part due to the high volume of parents trying to register their kids for classes at the same time.
(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Registration for fall classes through the parks department hit a snag this afternoon.
Spots opened up Tuesday for this fall’s slate of recreation and nature and history classes, dubbed ENJOY classes. Today, however, users may have experienced a slow system with error messages not authorizing credit card payments or delays receiving receipts.
Early this afternoon, the Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation announced it was having technical difficulties with accepting payments by credit card.
In posts on social media, DPR encouraged people to instead pay by eCheck as it does not go through the same payment system as credit cards.
About 30 minutes later, the parks department said the issue had been resolved.
The issue has been resolved.
— ARL VA Parks & Rec (@arlparksrec) August 10, 2023
DPR spokeswoman Jerry Solomon tells ARLnow the payment snafu only briefly affected registration today. Between Tuesday and yesterday, she said, the system successfully logged more than 8,000 total registrations, including more than 7,000 completed online.
“The payment issue was only experienced during today’s registration,” she said. “We posted on our webpages and social media to make sure the community was aware, however as soon as the issue was rectified, people were able to resume their registration process as normal.”
Just after 12:50 p.m. the parks department received the all-clear from the payment processor that the system is fully functioning. By 1:20 p.m., more than 3,600 people were able to successfully register for classes, Solomon noted.
“We will have a better sense of what occurred today once our payment processor has diagnosed the issue,” Solomon said.
There was an issue with the payment processor during the Summer ENJOY registration process but she said it is unclear if this issue is the same.
“During the summer, staff were able to quickly respond by sharing an announcement online, helping callers, and making arrangements for payment by eCheck or at a later date,” she said.
This bug may be new but DPR has a history of issues with its registration platform.
In recent years parents would wake up bright and early, mouses at the ready, they would encounter problems logging in and navigating error messages — due to the crush of people trying to register at the same time.
Longstanding issues bubbled over last year when, despite efforts to beef up the system, it still crashed. County leaders put pressure on DPR to study what went wrong and develop a corrective plan. The break down also prompted the county to focus on ensuring departments properly vet technology services vendors.
After some tweaks and the addition of a wait room, this year’s summer camp registration process seemed to go off without a hitch — only for this new credit card payment issue to arise.
For the sixth year in a row, Arlington County has been named the No. 1 Digital County for 2023 for counties of comparable size.
The accolade highlights Arlington’s progress toward moving its operations onto the cloud — which Arlington County Chief Information Officer Norron Lee says makes county processes safer, greener and easier — as well as its broadband access study and the priority placed on customers.
These achievements exist alongside the reality that many residents have reported not-so-seamless experiences interacting with certain county processes online. Perhaps this happens once a year when the sign their kids up for camp or apply for a residential parking permit or more frequently, for instance when builders interact with Permit Arlington.
System crashes, delayed launches and slow service have made local news headlines over the past few years. While not headline grabbing, other issues linger: having separate logins for various county systems, minimal online-based support, and — in at least one recent case, for a specific business tax — a requirement to receive mail or make phone calls in order to register for a new “paperless” system.
One issue, according to multiple interviews conducted by ARLnow over the past month, is a highly siloed approach to technology at the county level, with departments making their own tech decisions despite limited expertise.
“I think we started to deviate from best practice when, in other parts of the world, technology was more of a component of every other department’s daily life, not a separate entity unto itself,” says Aneesh Chopra, a longtime resident, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama to be the first Chief Technology Officer of the U.S.
Arlington may have world-class broadband but, he says, “when it comes to these applications that are effectively run by different departments, it feels like they stopped innovating since the 1990s.”
Arlington County Board members and the County Manager’s Office say they are aware of the frustrations their constituents face and envision a day when technology does a better job of streamlining bureaucratic processes, freeing up staff for complex issues, and houses all government interactions in one place.
“We are in a good place, in my opinion, but I do think — instead of trying to adopt a relatively bureaucratic system with a digital face or front — we have to think about how those processes can be streamlined,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said, when talking about Permit Arlington. “This is a work in progress, still.”
He and County Board Chair Christian Dorsey say Arlington needs a one-stop shop for people to take care of all the ways they interact with government.
“There ought to be some… seamless way to [respond to bureaucratic needs] in a central web portal that’s also optimized for mobile use as well, where people can do this with a minimum of user names passwords to recall,” said Dorsey.
Dorsey alluded to “an articulation of way forward” before he leaves the Board this December.
“We can easily articulate what we need to be doing but getting there needs resources the Board has felt uneasy committing while we’ve had other pressing priorities,” such as the response to Covid, he said.
The county does not have someone whose sole responsibility is inter-departmental technology integration. The effort instead falls to the County Manager’s Office and the Dept. of Technology Services, which is guiding a cooperative effort across 26 county departments that have staff with varying technological literacy.
For Deputy County Manager Aaron Miller, the county’s “federated” structure has its pluses, like staff who are more responsive when there are problems, but there are downsides.
“When we do have to have centralized discussions it takes a lot of time to get everyone on the same page,” he said. “It’s a lot of time to pull everyone together… What we want to do is make sure that we are implementing systems that get the best experience but, sometimes, that comes with trade offs. When you look to centralize those systems, you essentially can water down functionality that might be important.”
Striking that balance and reaching this goal is fraught technological and legal hurdles, Miller says, but the county is motivated by hiccups people experienced getting permits and signing up for camp.
Already, the Dept. of Technological Services has stepped up its vetting of technology vendors for other departments. Miller says vendors often come “promising us that they can solve all of our problems,” but it can be difficult for someone without a technical background to evaluate a vendor’s ability to actually deliver on their promises.
Arlington County is looking to tweak how its athletic fields are used and reserved.
Through Sept. 8, residents will have the chance to participate in a survey which county staff plan to use to develop policy that will “ensure more equitable access for recreation.”
The study is part of the Public Spaces Master Plan which calls for the county to solicit feedback from residents every five years on how frequently and at what times of day people use the fields.
In the initial survey, residents highlighted that there was not enough time and space dedicated to unscheduled casual “drop-in” or “community use” of athletic fields for community activities and requested better access to lighted fields — currently 36 out of 96 fields have lights — on weeknights and weekends.
The issue of access to athletic fields for unplanned athletic and non-athletic activities has become increasingly contentious in recent years.
Before it was adopted in 2019, the Public Spaces Master Plan came under fire from opponents who argued the county had set aside more space for athletic fields than it needed, reducing the amount of available land for other facilities, such as parks and schools.
In 2021, the Aurora Highlands Civic Association wrote numerous letters to the Arlington County Board and circulated a petition pushing for “open access” to nearby diamond athletic fields during hours when there are no scheduled games “to relax, throw frisbees, sunbathe, or even write petitions.”
However, proponents claim demand for scheduled use of sports fields is growing and believe the county should invest to help solve this problem.
To resolve these issues, Jennifer Fioretti, deputy director of Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said county staff have proposed two solutions via the Athletic Field Availability Draft Framework.
First, staff have developed a formula that calculates the “utilization rate” for each field in the county. Fioretti said she believes this strategy will help the department better understand individual field use, thereby improving “operational efficiency.”
“We will use the data, for example, to inform the re-balancing of scheduled activities and to create opportunities for community use that may have not been available in the past,” she told ARLnow in an email.
Second, county staff propose reclassifying the six fields currently labeled as “Drop-In/Community Use” to a “Permit Takes Priority” status.
Fioretti said the six drop-in fields, which include Gunston 3, Barcroft 5, VA Highlands 2, Westover, TJ Lower Field and Rocky Run, can still be reserved, which causes confusion because “Community Use/Drop-In” implies there are no activities scheduled.
The idea, she noted, is to “further simplify our field designations” in order to “spread scheduled community time throughout the County.”
“By eliminating the Drop-In/Community Use designation we will be identifying community time and scheduled sport specific times at more locations throughout the entire county,” Fioretti said.
Of Arlington’s 96 athletic fields, 12 are currently “Permit-Only,” 78 are “Permit Takes Priority,” and 6 are “Drop-In/Community Use fields.”
By participating in the second survey, residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback about the proposal which Fioretti said will help county staff determine whether it is “on the right track” or whether its proposal needs to be modified.
Arlington County is seeking $1.9 million in federal funding to plant trees on school grounds and in neighborhoods with less tree canopy.
The funding will help maintain 4,400 trees, plant 400 additional trees and treat 138 acres of invasive species, a county report said. If the county receives the funding, tree planting could begin as soon as next summer.
On Saturday, the Arlington County Board retroactively approved an application county staff filed with the federal government last month. The funding would come from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, via a grant program supporting local efforts to address tree canopy and green space shortages in underserved communities and mitigate the effects of climate change.
With the grant, the county says it is “seeking to improve the livability of neighborhoods with historic and current tree equity deficits.”
While Arlington has an overall tree canopy level of 41%, it varies significantly by neighborhood, according to a 2017 county report. More urban and historically disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to have lower canopy levels, some below 20%, while wealthier, less dense neighborhoods had levels exceeding 70%.
A 2023 citizen-funded study suggests these canopy levels could be even lower.
Last year, the local nonprofit EcoAction Arlington embarked on a multi-year effort to tackle these inequities. The county says the federal funding would boost this effort while also halving the current 16-year turnaround time for pruning and maintaining its 19,500 street trees.
“This turnaround time is too long to proactively reduce risk from tree or branch failure, which often affects lower income residents more,” the county report said.
“Plant healthcare will prevent or delay tree decline, particularly of trees at risk from invasive species and the impact of climate change,” it continued. “It will help save mature trees, which have significant embodied carbon and provide the greatest ecosystem service to our community.”
Plantings will target neighborhoods with an “equity score” below 100, according to the forest conservation group American Forests. The nonprofit has a map showing Arlington’s varying tree canopy levels and how that maps onto other indicators, such as socioeconomic diversity.
The county will also focus planting efforts on school properties, which have low tree canopy levels owing to black tops and large buildings. It says Arlington schools have an average tree canopy level of 23%, while green space makes up less than 25% of land.
Hunting and sterilizing deer and fencing off parks are options Arlington County could pursue to cull its reportedly oversized, and hungry, deer population.
Over the last two years, consultants estimated Arlington has a herd of whitetail deer numbering 290 and, in some areas, the concentration exceeded “healthy” levels.
These large herds are overgrazing the local forest understory and eating away the habitat that sustains birds, insects and bats, according to consultants, the Dept. of Parks and Recreation and some local naturalists.
Now, the parks department is investigating ways to cull the deer. Interested residents can attend a forum on Tuesday, July 11 at the Lubber Run Community Center to learn about management options and share their thoughts.
Through Thursday, July 13, residents can take an online survey to share their thoughts on the four lethal and non-lethal methods on the table:
- professional sharpshooting
- surgical sterilization of female deer
- public archery hunting
- fenced parks
“We want to be good stewards of Arlington County we’re trying to do the best that we can and this assessment is part of it,” county Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas said in a recent video. “We’re hoping that, through this, we can decide how we can best proceed. This is just the beginning of what promises to be a conversation with the public.”
In the feedback form, Arlington County says sharpshooting, with professionals using sound-suppressed rifles and lead-free bullets, is safe for the public and “the most effective and fastest method for controlling overabundant deer.”
The practice meets euthanasia criteria set by national veterinarian groups. Meat from sharpshooting is donated.
Right behind sharpshooting, in terms of efficacy, could be sterilization. The county says experimental research has shown that, four years after surgical sterilization, deer populations may be reduced to almost half their original size.
Both these would require state permission. Arlington could instead change its own codes to expand archery hunting areas. If it took this course, vetted hunters, using modern compound bows or crossbows, would cull deer.
The county acknowledges the efficacy of archery “is unlikely to be at the level necessary for plant and forest regeneration” on its own and may need to be combined with sharpshooting or sterilization.
Or, Arlington could simply build fences around entire parks — a method that avoids death and sterilization but may be costly and ineffective, the county says.
Fencing “can be expensive to build and maintain, displaces deer into adjacent communities, limits vegetation regrowth to within fence boundaries, and requires vigilance in keeping gates closed and a plan to remove deer should they enter Arlington Parks,” per the form.
Survey respondents are asked how much they support or disagree with the four methods. The county asks which goals it should prioritize in choosing a method, such as forest health, minimized deer suffering and safety.
In the video, Abugattas emphasizes that doing nothing is not an option. An adult deer eats 5-7 pounds of vegetation in a day, or about one ton in a year. After their first year, an adult can produce two fawns every year for up to 20 years.
Arlington County’s pickleball plans continue to peeve particular people, prompting a potential project pause.
The Donaldson Run Civic Association (DRCA) sent a letter to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) late last week expressing the belief the department did not sufficiently involve the civic association when making the decision to re-line several tennis courts for pickleball at Marcey Road Park in North Arlington.
“DRCA does not believe the public engagement process for selecting Marcey Park as a pickleball destination provided any real opportunity for input from our neighborhood,” reads the letter signed by DRCA President Bill Richardson.
When initially shown plans for the redesigning of Marcey Park, it did not include any pickleball courts, the letter says, adding that the neighborhood had “specifically rejected pickleball use there.”
Parking is one of the big issues, says DRCA, due to the popularity of the park as well as nearby Donaldson Run Pool and Potomac Overlook Park. Adding pickleball would only exacerbate the issue.
“As we understand it, DPR believes that these problems will not be significantly aggravated by adding pickleball to the already growing existing demands for these various facilities concentrated at the end of Marcey Road,” Richardson writes in the letter. “This view seems inconsistent with the extent of the pickleball craze.”
What’s more, the letter alleges — perhaps erroneously, per the county — that this restriping is scheduled to take place as soon as early as next week, providing a very shortened time frame for the DRCA to provide its thoughts.
“This appears to underscore your determination to disregard any input from our neighborhood in making this decision without regard to the unique problems here,” the letter says.
In response, a DPR spokesperson told ARLnow that there have been numerous opportunities for the public to provide feedback over the last several years. That includes the Outdoor Courts Assessment project, which dates back to the fall of 2021. That assessment determined that Marcey Park was one of eight county parks or community center where it was appropriate to restripe for pickleball.
Altering courts for multiple uses is also a fairly common practice in the county, the spokesperson said.
“Restriping courts or athletic fields for multi-use is a common operations practice in Arlington,” they said. “DPR often puts down soccer lines on diamond fields or have hard surface courts that are striped for basketball and volleyball, for example.”
In addition, restriping for pickleball will not begin next week, but rather basic maintenance work and the repainting of tennis lines will be taking place.
“Starting the week of June 26, the courts at Marcey Road Park are being repainted and relined for tennis. The addition of pickleball lines at Marcey Road Park does not begin on June 26,” said the spokesperson. “This is in preparation for the addition of pickleball lines later this summer.”
The latest opposition to DPR’s attempts to increase pickleball facilities across the county echoes other concerns that have played out in recent months.
Arlington County, like the rest of us, is realizing $250,000 does not get you as far as it used to.
With inflation, gone are the days that a construction contract of any significance could realistically come in under that sum, the threshold for a project that requires Arlington County Board approval. Gone too are the days that most professional services contracts, for things like engineering work, would cost under $80,000.
So, on Saturday, the Board adjusted for inflation — and then some — greenlighting a new threshold of $1 million for capital construction contracts and professional services. Contracts under this sum will no longer need Board review and approval.
“Establishing a higher threshold corrects for these cost increases and provides some
insulation against future inflationary pressures, which is prudent given the infrequent nature of these threshold adjustments,” a county report says.
The two thresholds were last set in 2000 and since then, the impacts of inflation in the D.C. area construction market “have been particularly acute,” the report says.
“While different construction market indices reflect varying degrees of inflation, they consistently support that $250,000 in the year 2000 more closely approximates $500,000 [to] $600,000 in 2023,” it said.
Although $1 million is a higher threshold even after adjusting for inflation, the county says it is reasonable.
“The proposed $1 million threshold would still be the lowest among major counties and cities in the Northern Virginia region and among the lowest in the D.C. metro area,” per the report.
In fact, of all the 70 road, sewer and park projects between 2015 and 2022 that received bids — dubbed invitation to bid or ITB projects — none were under $250,000, the county says.
The majority, 62%, were more than $1 million — the kind of capital construction projects that “also tend to be those with the most complexity and public interest and impact,” the report said.
The Gazette Leader newspaper, however, lamented this as a loss for those seeking a more transparent government.
“The proposal likely will add more fuel to the fire among critics of the government like the Arlington County Civic Federation, which has contended that the government is failing the public on the transparency front,” editor Scott McCaffrey wrote.
The county has a different take, saying projects under $1 million are largely “minor renovations and smaller maintenance projects.” That includes minor sidewalk or park improvements, such as those recently undertaken at Towers Park Playground, Oakland Park and Edison Park.
These projects can generate public interest but, the report says, the county has existing engagement processes to respond to such interest.
Arlington County is working on a replacement for the two bridges over Lubber Run destroyed in severe flash flooding four years ago.
The Arlington County Board is set to discuss a $360,000 construction contract for a new pedestrian bridge at its meeting this weekend.
Flash flooding in 2019 washed away six pedestrian bridges in Arlington, including two in Lubber Run Park and four in Glencarlyn Park. The overall damage to county property was estimated at $6 million at the time.
On Saturday, the Board will consider approving the new bridge in Lubber Run, in place of the two that were destroyed. The contract — of about $329,000 with a $33,000 contingency — is expected to go to Fairfax-based Bright Masonry.
A lower bidder — by just over $30,000 — was “deemed nonresponsive” by county staff, according to a report to the Board.
The project’s goal is to “design one new bridge in the most suitable location for enhancing accessibility around the park,” the staff report said.
One of the bridges in Glencarlyn Park that was washed away was replaced in February of last year.
The proposed construction for Lubber Run involves building one new bridge in the southwest portion of the park to replace the previous two, as explained in the county’s project webpage.
“Through our community engagement and engineers’ analysis, we have found that this location will provide a significant, positive impact on park users and supports the community’s interest,” the webpage noted.
For parkgoers, the proposed bridge will provide access from Lubber Run to Edison Park, staff said. The bridge would also provide a connection between the southwest portion of the park and its east side.
Construction is estimated by staff to take around 12 months and seeks to minimize environmental harm.
“One tree, with exposed roots on the bank, will need to be removed. It already has a very low chance of survival due to its current condition,” the project webpage said. “We will plant healthy trees in the same general areas, which will better support our tree canopy in the long term.”
(Updated at noon) Air quality measurements have exceeded Code Red levels in the D.C. area, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
It’s no surprise to anyone who can see and smell the smoke outside. The thick haze has been wafting into the region from the north, amid severe wildfires in Canada.
The Council of Government says it expects tomorrow to be a Code Red day as well.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has issued a Code Red Air Quality Health Advisory for the metropolitan Washington region. Current air quality conditions have reached Code Red, unhealthy levels for everyone. In addition, tomorrow, June 8, is currently forecast to be a Code Red day.
The region has experienced 6 Code Orange days (unhealthy for sensitive groups) so far this year, and no Code Red days until today.
Smoke coming from fires in Quebec, Canada is contributing to the increased levels of fine particle pollution.
COG advises the following health precautions:
- Everyone may experience health effects and should limit outdoor activity.
- Members of sensitive groups like individuals with respiratory and heart ailments, emphysema, asthma, or chronic bronchitis may experience more serious health effects.
Residents can check current air quality conditions and the forecast on COG’s website or by downloading a free air quality app from COG’s Clean Air Partners program.
Among other impacts, at least one Arlington elementary school postponed a planned outdoor field day due to the unhealthy air. And, just before noon, Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation cancelled all outdoor programs.
It’s not only people who are being urged to stay inside. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington is reminding residents to keep their pets inside as well.
The DC area is under a Code Red Air Quality warning due to the wildfires in Canada. We will be limiting our dogs’ time outside to short bathroom breaks and encourage our community to do the same! Keep your pets (and yourself) indoors as much as possible today and tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/FU4CNMlAP8
— AWLArlington, VA (@AWLAArlington) June 7, 2023
“Everyone may experience more serious health effects and should avoid outdoor activities,” the MWCOG air quality table says about the level.
The Arlington County Fire Department, meanwhile, has responded to several calls this morning for people — including an Arlington Public Schools student — experiencing trouble breathing, according to scanner traffic.
Sprayground season has finally arrived in Arlington.
Families will be able to put the county’s spraygrounds to use starting this Friday — the beginning of Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start to consistent summer weather.
These outdoor spaces, where children can play for free in water during hot summer months, are located throughout the county:
- Drew Park at 3514 22nd Street S. in Green Valley
- Hayes Park at 1516 N. Lincoln Street in Virginia Square
- Lyon Village Park at 1800 N. Highland Street in Lyon Village
- Virginia Highlands Park at 1600 S. Hayes Street in Pentagon City
Interactive Water Features
“Spraygrounds at Drew Park, Hayes Park, Lyon Village Park and Virginia Highlands Park will be open on Friday, May 26,” Dept. of Parks and Recreation Jerry Solomon told ARLnow. “Spraygrounds at Mosaic and Penrose Parks will be undergoing some final system adjustments and open on Saturday, May 27.”
Weekly hours vary by location and are listed online.
Although the parks are open to everyone, the parks department requires appropriate swimwear and adult supervision, as no life guards will be present.
The spraygrounds are scheduled to remain open through Labor Day weekend.