Arlington, VA

More than 350 people have signed a petition calling for the S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395 to be renamed “Black Lives Matter Bridge.”

The petition was created amid dueling efforts to place and remove the letters “BLM” on the bridge’s chain link fence, a thus far nonviolent dispute that has resulted in multiple calls to Arlington County police.

The BLM art first appeared about a month ago, during nationwide protests over the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.

Two weeks ago, the red cups used to form the letters were removed, promping locals to replace them with new cups and to write new chalk slogans. Among them: “no justice, no peace” and “take it down and we’ll do it again.”

Melissa Schwaber, who sent photos of the cups being replaced, described those doing so as “Fairlington moms and their kids.”

The cups were later removed again, which led to Black Lives Matters supporters creating a heart and spelling out BLM with harder-to-remove ribbons. That won Twitter praise from Arlington County Board Chair and Fairlington resident Libby Garvey. The next day, however, someone spray-painted “TRUMP 2020” under the letters.

The spray paint was in turn sprayed over later that morning, and “BLACK LIVES MATTER” written in chalk over it. Then, more spray paint appeared.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, July 1, a local resident posted photos of an older man and a younger man — wearing a motorcycle helmet and a Liberty University shirt — who she accused of vandalizing the bridge and the lettering.

On Friday, a tipster said the “BLM vs. MAGA battle” was continuing to escalate.

“Now there are people putting up conspiracy theory banners on the bridge and people camped out on the bridge with large dogs,” the tipster said. The banners included a photo of Hillary Clinton under the words “WANTED 4 Crimes Against Humanity.”

Later that day, there were more skirmishes.

“I was driving on the Fairlington Bridge an hour or so ago and saw a man arguing with several white women near the BLM signs,” said another tipster. “He was waving his arms in one woman’s face. About 15 minutes ago, on my way home, I saw that the Arlington PD (about 3 cars) had detained the man at the gas station in Shirlington.”

An Arlington County police spokeswoman tells ARLnow that officers have responded to the bridge several times.

“ACPD has responded to multiple reports of disputes in the area of the S. Abingdon Street bridge regarding the posting and removal of signage,” said Kirby Clark. She said that “no charges have been filed related to any incidents involving the signs,” but one incident is under investigation.

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Morning Notes

March Planned Tonight in Crystal City — “This Tuesday (6/30) we will be gathering in Crystal City Courtyard Green to march to Pentagon City in defense of Black womxn.” [Twitter]

Petition for APS to Require Masks — “To maximize the chances of success for Arlington Public Schools (Virginia) hybrid return to school model we urge the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán to make face coverings compulsory for both students and teachers during the days they are at school for in-person learning. Those who object to wearing masks can always choose the distance-learning option.” [Change.org]

Local Church to Feed Thousands — “On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) in south Arlington is working with José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) to feed families in need of food assistance. World Central Kitchen is providing 3,500 meals to OLQP for distribution to the community. Meals will be offered to take home in conjunction with pre-packed food the OLQP food pantry distributes every Wednesday morning. This is the second time WCK will be providing meals to OLQP during the pandemic.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]

Catholic Churches Enter ‘Phase 3’ — “All 70 parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington will move into phase three of Virginia’s reopening plan on Wednesday. Officials announced Monday that each parish is ‘able, but not mandated, to celebrate public Mass with capacity restrictions lifted’ beginning on July 1.” [Fox 5]

County Adjusts Committee Meeting Rules — “After facing a rebellion from members and chairs of advisory commissions, the Arlington County Board has revised rules for holding meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the two biggest changes from the original plans: Commission chairs (apparently) will no longer have to seek county-staff permission to hold meetings. Advisory-group meetings will be allowed in-person or in a hybrid format, in addition to the previously announced “virtual”-only arrangement.” [InsideNova]

New Construction Contract for VHC Inked — “Skanska USA has inked more work with Virginia Hospital Center as the Arlington hospital soldiers on with its $250 million expansion project. The construction company said Monday it signed a contract worth $96 million for site work for the new outpatient pavilion and parking garage at the hospital. That’s on top of a $37 million contract with VHC it grabbed late last year.” [Washington Business Journal]

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In the midst of an uptick of activism in Arlington, both current and former students of Arlington Public Schools are calling for reforms to the school system.

Sparsh Srivastava, a 2016 graduate from H-B Woodlawn, has gathered over 750 signatures on a Change.org petition launched earlier this week asking APS to offer a racial education elective course for high schoolers to take as a social studies credit.

According to the petition, the course would be “a discussion-based, socratic format,” that would “discuss systemic racism by examining Jim Crow minstrel shows and segregation, burning of Black Wall Street, generational wealth accumulation,” and more.

“Thinking back on my time at H-B, I received little to no racial education, especially on topics such as affirmative action and systematic racism,” said Srivastava, who has been in contact with APS teachers who expressed interest in creating a “mock,” or trial-run of the course, for the 2020-21 school year.

Srivastava has also reached out to APS Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Arron Gregory in hopes the petition will ” gain enough traction to convince the APS administration of its value.”

The second Change.org petition, authored by Rosie Couture and Belan Yeshigeta, two current sophomores at Washington-Liberty High School, calls for APS to address its education inequities. It currently has more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.

After reviewing the data from Arlington’s 2019 Community Report, Couture and Yeshigeta’s made a list of demands for APS including:

  • Meaningful implicit bias and cultural competency training for APS staff and students
  • A zero-tolerance policy for white supremacy
  • A transparent disciplinary policy that collects and reports disciplinary actions based on age, race, and gender, and limit the types out-of-school suspension
  • A disciplinary policy that includes student participation and oversight
  • A Restorative Justice program for APS that “will address the school-to-prison pipeline and give students the skills they need to properly address conflict”
  • And the elimination of the police department’s School Resource Officer program and redirected resources to fund more school social workers and school psychologists

“We see Arlington as a utopian, progressive county, and while the County and School Board does provide us with a lot of resources, we shouldn’t gloss over change that still needs to happen,” said Yeshigeta.

The pair plan on reaching out to the Arlington County Board and have created an action pledge for APS teachers to take. According to Couture, 54 teachers have signed on, and the list will eventually be publicized to students.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school system has seen both petitions and applauds “students for seeking change.” APS will be hosting a virtual forum on June 22 to further conversation, he said.

The full statement from Bellavia is below.

We have seen both petitions and applaud students for seeking change. We acknowledge the anger and hurt that our APS community and the nation are experiencing, especially our African American community. APS strives to celebrate the differences of all our students and strongly condemns violence and racism.

As Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán and School Board Chair Tannia Talento stated in their June 2 letter to the community, APS pledges to continue the work started prior to the school closures to better educate and train our leaders and staff to tackle systemic bias and inequities, that have led to opportunity gaps and disproportionality in discipline. A first step in this work is to hold a virtual conversation on June 22. This will be the first in a series of conversations with our students, staff and community.

Photo via Change.org

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The Arlington branch of the NAACP has thrown its voice into the push for body-worn cameras to be implemented in the Arlington County Police Department.

A Change.org petition calling for Arlington County leadership to prioritize body-worn cameras sits at 2,409 of its 2,500 goal at the time of writing.

“Arlington is the only jurisdiction of size in the entire DC-region without a Body-Worn Camera (BWC) program,” Arlington Branch NAACP #7047 said in the petition. “As leaders, we must prioritize programs that encourage public confidence in our government.”

The NAACP said in the petition that body-worn cameras:

  • Assist with collection of evidence
  • Enhance transparency, public trust and confidence
  • Provide the best evidence of police/public interactions
  • De-escalate situations

“We must implore our elected leaders in Arlington County to prioritize appropriate funding for the BWC program,” the NAACP said. “Removing programs that are non-essential, ineffective, or which disproportionately target minorities can generate funding for BWCs and support community resources. Additionally, exorbitant funding from Amazon could be immediately reallocated to fund 100% implementation of BWCs.”

The petition has attracted the attention of some local leadership who expressed support.

“I am writing in support of your efforts urging Arlington County to implement a Body-Worn Camera program,” Del. Patrick Hope said in a letter. “While I was aware that these devices are widely deployed throughout the United States, it came as a complete surprise to learn that Arlington County remains the only jurisdiction of size in the D.C.-region without a functioning Body-Worn Camera program.”

Neighboring Alexandria, which has a population roughly two-thirds that of Arlington, also has no body camera program for police officers, after a planned pilot program sat delayed for years due to budgetary concerns. Fairfax County began implementing body cameras in the first quarter of 2020. Body camera footage recently led to a Fairfax County officer being charged with assault.

“These devices help strengthen police accountability, improve agency transparency, reduce use of force incidents, reduce citizen complaints against officers, and help solve crime,” Hope said. “This technology also has proven to produce significant savings in time and expense for communities as both complaints and cases are resolved much faster using body-worn camera evidence.”

Hope wrote another letter to County Board Chair Libby Garvey urging the County to consider creating a body-worn camera program.

Efforts to implement body-worn camera programs on a local level could be stalled by legislation approved earlier this year that would require localities to follow policy and standards yet to be laid out by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Arlington Chief of Police Jay Farr also recently said that costs are a major hurdle for the implementation of body cameras.

“It’s extremely expensive,” Farr said in an interview with local Black Lives Matter organizer Yolande Kwinana last week. “The County Board, after getting all the facts, made the decision not to fund them.”

Farr said the total for the first year of using the body cameras was $2.5 million, which he attributes primarily to regulations requiring departments to retain terabytes of data for years, in addition to the cost of new full-time employees to manage the data and the cost of the cameras themselves.

Body-worn cameras could be a tough sell for a county still reeling from the financial cost of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“While I recognize all localities are struggling due to the financial impact of COVID-19, as leaders we must prioritize programs which encourage public confidence in our government,” Hope said. “It is my belief that a fully-funded body-worn camera program would do just that.”

Part of the NAACP petition also included a call for the implementation of a civilian review board of the police department with subpoena power, something for which Farr had earlier expressed some support.

“We must implement this technology and civilian oversight to protect citizens from police brutality and enforce accountability,” the NAACP said. “This is a humanitarian crisis that should be acted upon now to end racial injustice and improve equity in our criminal justice system. Our demand for compliance and accountability from law enforcement will not go unheard.”

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Morning Notes

Petition for Intersection Improvements — “Last Friday, our life turned upside down when a car traveling upward of 40-50 mph mowed down our 10-year old daughter and puppy… We would like to see three simple measures put in place at each of these intersections – (1) stop signs, (2) crosswalk stripes on the asphalt and (3) curb extensions or mini-circles if deemed appropriate/necessary by County traffic experts.” [Change.org]

County: Support Civil Rights By Taking Census — “Census data on both race and origin are used to ensure civil rights protections including voting rights and fair housing. The data are also used to address employment discrimination, provide language services and fund schools, as well as many other programs and services.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: Foot Chase in Falls Church — “Police received two separate calls about two women who felt threatened by a man while they were walking near the 400 block of W. Broad Street. Police located the man and pursued him as he fled on foot. Officers attempted to communicate with the man, but he became aggressive. Officers gave warning, then used capsaicin or “pepper” spray… After officers consulted with one of the victims, no arrest was made and no charges were pressed at this time.” [City of Falls Church]

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A petition calling for Amazon to halt construction on its $2.5 billion HQ2 project in Pentagon City due to noise has attracted a raft of local media coverage.

The Change.org petition, which as of noon Friday had just over 275 signatures, says the massive construction project should stop as long as a stay-at-home order is in effect in Virginia.

Under ordinary times, the work by Clark Construction in Arlington County to build Amazon HQ2 can be considered excessive, unreasonable and unsafe.

These are not ordinary times — we are all grappling with the severe shock to our daily lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as many are working from home, and many are with children juggling with competing demands. […]

In addition to the noise issues, there is neither oversight nor accountability in ensuring that Amazon and Clark Construction are maintaining public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition attracted coverage from a number of local broadcast outlets this week. WJLA reported that it was started by a resident whose fourth floor apartment faces the construction site. WTOP and Fox 5 quoted County Board member Matt de Ferranti and chair Libby Garvey, who both expressed empathy for residents working at home amid the noise, but stopped short of promising action.

“Now that many people are home during the day, it is especially difficult for them to tolerate the noise and disruption of construction,” Garvey told Fox 5.

The primary noise generator thus far has been pile driving at the HQ2 site along S. Eads Street, for which contractor Clark Construction Group has offered residents of nearby highrises ear plugs.

Clark, meanwhile, said in a construction update that it “is taking every precaution to minimize the risk of infection on our jobsites… as part of our overall COVID-19 management plan.”

Amazon, which has seen its sales and stock soar during the coronavirus crisis, plans to eventually hire 25,000 employees for its second headquarters, and currently has more than 500 job listings in Arlington.

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Parents opposed to a proposed four-school swap, set for a School Board vote on Feb. 6, are ramping up pressure to scuttle the plan.

A new coalition calling itself “No School Moves” has gathered more than 1,700 signatures on a Change.org petition launched earlier this month, calling for the School Board to vote “no.”

The group opposes an Arlington Public Schools plan, endorsed by the interim superintendent, to move Key elementary students and staff to the Arlington Traditional School building, while moving Arlington Traditional students and staff to McKinley and McKinley students and staff to a new elementary school building in Westover. That would free up the Key school building near Courthouse, currently used by a Spanish immersion choice program, to become a neighborhood school as the elementary-aged population in that area continues to grow.

People who signed the petition, however, are not buying the APS rationale for the moves, which would reportedly result in more than 2,400 students moving to a new building.

“Moving schools is not creating more seats,” said one. “It’s a temporary bandaid and there is no data to support these moves.”

“These changes can have profound effects on students who get moved to new schools, and the current process is so flawed,” said another. “It could easily lead to even more rounds of redistricting in the near future.”

In addition to objections to the process, an alleged lack of supporting data, and inadequate communication from school staff, opponents say the moves would make diversity in the schools “more difficult to maintain.”

Per the petition:

The school move proposal exacerbates the county’s broader struggle with diversity. As in other communities, Arlington’s historic housing patterns have effectively segregated low-income and minority families, and its schools reflect those same patterns of segregation. Yet despite repeated requests from PTAs and parents across the county — and in the immediate aftermath of a recent settlement between Arlington Public Schools (APS) and the Justice Department over English language learners — APS staff has not performed any detailed analysis of how proposed school moves would affect the demographics of those school populations.

In a recent survey, more than 60% of Spanish-speaking families currently part of the Key Immersion school community have said they won’t be able to move with the program to its proposed new location. APS argues that Key Immersion would draw more native Spanish speakers if it were in a more central location — but their evidence for this is entirely anecdotal.

What’s more, moving the Arlington Traditional School and its VPI preschool program to the McKinley building would adversely affect low-income families who rely on public transit. Families trying to reach the school on a Metrobus could double their commute time. This would discourage enrollment for families without cars, negatively impacting the diversity of a school that has demonstrated results in closing the achievement gap for high-needs students.

Arlington Public Schools is planning to hold a public hearing on the plan on Thursday, Jan. 30, at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd) at 7 p.m., ahead of the scheduled Feb. 6 School Board vote.

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Morning Notes

Happy Trails to Barry TrotzArlington resident and Stanley Cup winning coach Barry Trotz is stepping down as head coach of the Washington Capitals. (A number of Caps coaches and players call Arlington home, given that the team’s home base is the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston.) [Washington Post, WJLA]

Crash Closes Departures Roadway at DCA — A vehicle crash and the subsequent cleanup effort closed the departure level roadway for an extended period of time yesterday. “A car with three occupants accidentally ended up on a jersey wall and rode along it for approximately 100 yards before coming back down,” an Arlington County Fire Department spokesman told ARLnow.com. “One occupant had minor injuries, but none were transported.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Neighborhood Battles to Save Tree — “Another development-preservation battle is gearing up in Arlington, this one focused on the fate of a dawn redwood on Ohio Street… A petition was recently initiated by Todd Murdock who lives several houses away from the tree. In a day the petition had 500 signatures and by June 10 the number of signatures had grown to more than 700.” [Arlington Connection]

Kaine on Housing Affordability, Amazon — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) swung by Clarendon on Monday to speak at a forum on housing affordability. He believes localities like Arlington that are dealing with skyrocketing rents need help from the federal government, but he lamented that the Trump administration’s policies could be actively making the problem worse. Afterwards, he told a reporter that rush hour traffic may be a significant detriment to Northern Virginia’s bid for Amazon’s HQ2. [Twitter, Washington Business Journal]

Nearby: Wawa Coming to Georgetown — Rosslyn residents and workers may be able to walk — or take a gondola? — to the next D.C. Wawa. The convenience store chain plans to open in the former Restoration Hardware space on Wisconsin Avenue NW. [Washington Business Journal]

Photo courtesy @NineTiger

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Morning Notes

L.A. Bar and Grill Reopening — After closing for renovations (and because it was late in renewing its state alcohol license) Columbia Pike watering hole L.A. Bar and Grill is planning to reopen this weekend, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. [Facebook, Facebook]

The D.C. Case for the Rosslyn Gondola — “The Gondola will provide anyone within the Metro catchment area a faster trip to Georgetown. With the Gondola, the total travel time to Georgetown drops to less than 30 minutes for a much larger part of the region, including areas of the District with the greatest need for employment opportunities, giving them a faster way to connect with jobs in Georgetown.” [D.C. Policy Center]

Petition Against iPads in Middle School Cafeterias — An online petition, signed by nearly 100 people, seeks to have Arlington Public Schools strengthen its rules regarding iPad use in middle schools. Specifically, the signers want iPads to be used in classrooms and not during lunchtime or recess. Such a policy, the petition creators wrote, would “ensure that APS electronic resources enhance, and do not detract from, the learning process of middle school students.” [Change.org]

More ART Arrival Info IssuesOnce again, Arlington Transit is having problems with its real-time bus arrival system. Officials told ARLnow.com that a technical issue with the contractor that provides the system was to blame. [Twitter]

Native Plant Sale This Weekend — The Long Branch Nature Center will host a sale of “plants that are accustomed to local climate and wildlife” on Saturday afternoon. [Arlington County]

Scott McGeary Lauded — “Decades ago, Scott McGeary’s parents would take him to occasional celebratory dinners at the Key Bridge Marriott, where they would enjoy both the food and the vistas of the nation’s capital… On May 2, McGeary was again at the hotel, this time in the 14th-floor ballroom as he was inducted into the Arlington Business Hall of Fame.” [InsideNova]

Four Mile Run Dye Testing — Arlington County is conducting dye testing along S. Four Mile Run Drive today. Traces of green and red dye may be seen in Four Mile Run as a result. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

Petition in Support of Affordable Housing Project — The website Greater Greater Washington is helping to promote a petition that intends to counter resident complaints about a proposed affordable housing project on the former Red Cross site along Route 50. Neighbors are concerned that the project might “defile” the Buckingham neighborhood, with increased traffic and school overcrowding and a loss of green space. [GGW, GGW]

‘A Friend’ Writes Thank You Note to ACPD — From the Arlington County Police Department Twitter account: “To the citizen who left this unexpected note on one of our cruisers, thank you. ACPD is grateful for the support we receive from the community and small gestures like this mean a lot to our officers.” [Twitter]

Arlingtonian Places 23rd at Boston — Among other impressive finishes by Arlington residents at the Boston Marathon on Monday, Graham Tribble finished 23rd with a time of 2:30:06, the fastest among the D.C. area contingent at the prestigious race. [RunWashington, Patch]

High Schools Students Learning How to Spot Fake News — “At Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, outside Washington, some high school seniors are bent over their laptops, engaged in a digital course called Checkology that helps them figure out what makes news and information real, misleading or just plain false.” [Voice of America]

Elementary Girls Heading to Int’l Problem Solving Competition — “An all-girls engineering team from Glebe Elementary School is heading to the 2018 Odyssey of the Mind World Finals where they will compete with students from nearly 25 countries… The team of fourth graders from Glebe, who are all ages 9 or 10, became state champions last weekend at the Virginia Odyssey of the Mind competition, which was held April 14 in Newport News.” [Arlington Public Schools]

ACPD Forms ‘Restaurant Liaison Unit’ — The Arlington County Police Department has formed a “Restaurant Liaison Unit” to work with local bars to tamp down on drunken and sometimes violent incidents. One Clarendon bar in particular had police responding to it for a call almost every other day in 2017. [Washington City Paper, Twitter]

Glebe Lane Closure Causes Backups — Commuters heading northbound on Glebe Road today faced major backups due to a lane closure near Ballston. Washington Gas has been performing emergency repairs in the roadway since Wednesday. [Twitter, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Rex Block

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Two residents have launched a petition to try to change the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance after the Board of Zoning Appeals denied their plan to add a story to their home.

John and Gina Quirk, who live on 20th Road N. in the North Highlands neighborhood north of Rosslyn, had an application to convert an unused attic at their duplex home (pictured above) into a third-story bedroom rejected by the BZA late last year.

John Quirk said the “minimal” addition to make more room for their expanding family had the support of all their neighbors. It also had the support of some BZA members, who said at their December meeting that the fact that it stayed within the property was laudable.

“I think this is a really wonderful attempt to gain more space without increasing the footprint, and if we don’t grant these kinds of variances, then we’re faced with variances where they want to expand with the footprint,” said BZA member Charles Smith. “I think this gives developers and builders a [really] good model on how you can gain more with less.”

But the BZA voted down the proposal by a 3-2 margin on the grounds that the R2-7 zone for the property, a residential zone for townhouses and two-family homes, does not allow for such expansions by homes that were built before the Zoning Ordinance took effect. This home was built in 1939.

Such extensions are allowed for homes in other, similar residential zones, but in the Quirks’ zone it requires a special exception from the BZA.

In denying the extension, BZA members urged the Quirks to petition the County Board to change the Zoning Ordinance to allow the extensions in the zone where their home is.

“There’s hundreds like you, so maybe it could be a worthwhile community project for you to be the poster child for,” said BZA member Peter Owen, who also said the Zoning Ordinance is “broken.”

So the Quirks have done just that, and launched an online petition that has 91 supporters so far. The pair said their efforts could help the county address its lack of affordable housing and help people not be priced out of the county when they need more space.

“New county initiatives champion Missing Middle Housing as a strategy to support walkable, urban neighborhoods,” they wrote. “Duplexes are a perfect example of Missing Middle Housing if they can be improved to be compatible in scale to single family homes.”

Image via John and Gina Quirk

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