Arlington, VA

Get ready: the massive, every-seventeen-year generation of cicadas known as Brood X is about to emerge from the soil in Arlington and the D.C. area.

According to the Capital Weather Gang, the emergence is expected to kick into high gear over the next two weeks.

We’ve analyzed soil temperatures and the weather projections and, in our first-ever cicada forecast, predict a noticeable emergence of cicadas next week, starting as soon as between May 3 and 6. Then they should arrive in large numbers by the beginning of the following week, between May 10 and 12.

The swarm and the attendant cacophony of buzzy mating calls is expected to stretch into June.

Though the real action is predicted to start next week, there are already reports of cicadas sightings around the area.

Soon enough, cicada encounters will be unavoidable. But today we’re wondering how many readers have spotted the early birds.

Photo courtesy Fred Cochard

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It’s safe for those who are fully vaccinated to skip wearing masks outside in most situations.

That’s according to new federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Biden announced the new guidelines Tuesday, as vaccinations continue at a quickening clip locally but are slowing nationally.

Walking down the street, running, laying on the beach, and dining or hanging out with small groups of people you know — all can now be maskless for the fully vaccinated. The only exception: you should still wear masks when among large outdoor crowds.

“Starting today, if you’re fully vaccinated and you’re outdoors… and not in a big crowd, you no longer need to wear a mask,” Biden said.

The new CDC guidance will not immediately change Covid restrictions in Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his administration are reportedly considering relaxing the state’s mask mandate, which requires wearing masks outdoors if you cannot maintain social distancing. The mandate generally exempts outdoor exercise.

In Ballston yesterday evening, plenty of people could still be seen walking down the sidewalk with masks on. While mask wearing in such a setting doesn’t hurt, it’s probably unnecessary if you’re fully vaccinated at this point, according to the new guidance.

When walking outdoors in a populated but uncrowded public setting, when will you feel comfortable going maskless?

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Arlington County yesterday revealed the five finalists for the new county logo.

Aiming to replace the current logo that depicts Arlington House, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s former mansion, the county asked community members for design suggestions in February. Those were narrowed down with the help of a design firm and a Logo Review Panel, which met on April 15 to discuss the designs.

The county is now asking the public to vote on which of the colorful logo designs they like best. The Board is expected to hear a final recommendation from the Logo Review Panel in June.

The logos have some detractors, even among those who agree that the old county logo needs to change. What do you think of the designs?

Images via Arlington County. Note that ARLnow’s poll is unscientific, unofficial and not intended as a replacement for the county’s survey about the logo designs.

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Last week, the Arlington County Board approved a new budget that holds the current real estate tax rate steady.

In some ways, that’s a win given the fears of a pandemic-caused budget crunch. Tax revenue ended up coming in above estimates and federal funding freed up million in local funds. Instead of making significant budget cuts, as originally feared, the Board was able to add in numerous initiatives, paid for with one-time funding.

The budget maintains the current base real estate tax rate at $1.013 per $100 in assessed property value, a de facto tax hike for most homeowners given that residential property assessments up are 5.6%. Assessments on commercial property, including office buildings, slumped 1.4% this year.

Some called for the Board to lower the property tax rate, as Loudoun County is doing and Fairfax County is considering, “to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments.” In the end, the Board decided to do more rather than less, keeping the tax rate where it is and adding funding for things like housing, hunger, fiscal reserves, and raises for county employees.

Perhaps there is a calculation here, that an expected strong economy will further buoy tax revenue and property assessments over the next year, and that the next (FY 2023) budget is the time to trim the tax rate a bit, rather than now when many are still suffering as a result of the pandemic.

What do you think of the Board’s decision?

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) After more than a year of online-only Arlington County Board meetings, some have decided they actually prefer it to in-person.

Instead of schlepping to a Courthouse office building and sitting quietly for hours, one can now speak at Board meetings at home, in your pajamas if you prefer. Board meetings have been broadcast on local cable TV and online for years, but the virtual format now provides an opportunity to participate in the meetings to those who cannot attend in person.

Parents who would otherwise have to hire a babysitter in order to attend, for instance, are now more likely to be able to speak at a meeting.

Last May, two months into the pandemic, we asked whether the county should “consider making virtual meetings a more regular feature of citizen participation” after the pandemic. About 73% of more than 900 respondents said yes.

At least one civically-engaged local called keeping Board meetings open to virtual participation after the pandemic “a no-brainer.”

Of course, there are downsides. Older and disadvantaged residents may lack the technology and/or the know-how to participate in a virtual-only meeting. And there is something to be said for in-person meetings helping to keep elected officials accountable to their constituents.

A hybrid option that allows virtual and in-person participation is an option — in fact, one that the county appears to be pursuing (see below) — though virtual participation could come to be seen as less impactful than speaking at the meeting in person. And it could be more difficult to coordinate the combination of in-person and virtual speakers.

What about streamlining things and making all regularly-scheduled, monthly County Board meetings online-only on a permanent basis after the pandemic, however? Would that be a better idea than a hybrid participation option or the in-person-only way of yore?

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that in order to facilitate virtual-only meetings, Arlington library branches can open during meetings and offer video conference stations from which library staff can help people speak and participate. And the Board can still hold certain special meetings in person.

What do you think?

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Last week the Virginia General Assembly approved a marijuana legalization law that will take effect this summer.

Yes, come July 1, you can legally possess, cultivate and share small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Regulated, commercial sales of cannabis products are not set to take place in Virginia until 2024 under the legislation.

When we asked ARLnow readers what you thought about marijuana legalization in the Commonwealth, about 85% of respondents said they supported it, either this summer or a few years from now, as originally proposed. (Gov. Ralph Northam sent the bill back to the General Assembly to move up the timeline for legalization to July.)

Given the support for legalization, we were wondering how many readers were actually planning to partake in the newly-legal weed.

Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Though coronavirus cases in Arlington are up over the past couple of weeks, there’s hope that progress is being made against the virus as vaccinations quicken.

Nationally, cases are up in some places and down in others — a stalemate as vaccinations are countered by increasing prevalence of more infectious variants. Still, some experts believe continued vaccinations will ultimately prevail, muting the impacts of new variants and leading to a relatively quiet summer in terms of infections.

Despite the optimism, there’s also new cause for concern about the longer-term health impacts of COVID-19.

It’s becoming more apparent that so-called “long Covid” — physical and neurological symptoms that linger even after the infection is over — is a significant public health problem. By one estimate, about 10% of COVID-19 cases result in long-term symptoms. In the UK, more than 100,000 of the country’s National Health Service personnel have varying degrees of debilitating, long-term symptoms, causing staffing problems.

Long Covid sufferers, also known as long-haulers, have been undergoing both physical rehabilitation, in an effort to increase endurance, and brain rehabilitation, to combat persistent “brain fog” and other cognitive problems. There’s also new evidence that vaccinations may help clear up lingering symptoms.

Still, the research into Long Covid is in the early stages, and the extent of it remains not fully known.

This morning, we’re hoping to take a local sample with a poll: have you had Covid, and if so, did your symptoms linger?

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President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan has added a glimmer of hope to those who would like to see an expanded Metrorail system.

The initial planning for the system in the 1960s envisioned a line down the Columbia Pike, ultimately terminating in Annandale, but the proposed line was nixed in order to save on costs. A physical remnant of the planning is a pair of stub tunnels near the Pentagon Metro station, built to accommodate a potential future Columbia Pike expansion.

Decades later, in 2019, Metro published the results of a study that suggested a number of ways to expand the capacity of the Metrorail network, including a second Rosslyn Metro station and tunnel, and a Silver Line expansion down the Pike and up Route 7.

Proposed new Silver Line Connection through Columbia Pike (via 2019 Metro study)

The possibility was especially enticing considering the disappointment of transit advocates following the 2014 cancellation of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar line.

While Metro faces plenty of maintenance, service, budget and ridership challenges — the latter three exacerbated by the pandemic — that hasn’t stopped some from dreaming of a world in which more local residents are within easy walking distance of a light rail commute.

Among those discussing such a possibility, given the massive infrastructure spending that would result should Biden’s plan pass, are some of Arlington’s state lawmakers.

Even should the stars align and federal funding become available, digging up Columbia Pike and building a new Metrorail tunnel and stations would be fantastically expensive and would likely require a decade or more of planning and construction.

The new connectivity would also result in new development, sharply higher property prices, and other big changes, which could be viewed in a positive or a negative light, depending on your perspective.

What do you think about the idea of a Metro line on Columbia Pike?

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Gov. Ralph Northam announced this morning a proposal to move up the legalization of marijuana in Virginia to this summer.

A legalization bill championed by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who represents part of Arlington, passed the General Assembly earlier this year. But it called for legalization of recreational marijuana possession and cultivation on Jan. 1, 2024.

Northam is sending the bill back to the state legislature to consider a July 1, 2021 implementation.

“Governor Ralph Northam today proposed moving up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana to July 1, 2021, nearly three years sooner than previously planned,” said a press release. “The Governor also announced he is proposing changes that advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records [of past marijuana convictions] immediately.”

Ebbin told news outlets he thinks the sped-up timeline will be approved.

“My colleagues and I worked closely with Governor Northam to ensure this bill prioritizes public health and social equity,” Ebbin said in a press release from the governor’s office. “I look forward to adopting these amendments and passing this important legislation into law.”

While small-scale marijuana possession was decriminalized in Virginia last year, Northam said those facing fines under the new statute are disproportionately Black.

“Virginia’s communities of color deserve equity — and that means taking action now to end the disproportionate fines, arrests, and convictions of marijuana offenses,” Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax said in the press release.

The bill allows people 21 and over to “legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis, without intent to distribute,” and will also “allow households to grow up to four plants… out of sight from public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21.”

Smoking marijuana while driving and possession of it on school grounds will remain illegal.

Previous ARLnow polls revealed strong local support for marijuana decriminalization. When Ebbin proposed it in 2016, nearly 80% of poll respondents said they supported decriminalization. In 2019, when then-candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti pledged not to prosecute simple marijuana possession charges as Commonwealth’s Attorney, more than 75% of poll respondents said they supported that.

Legalization obviously goes beyond decriminalization, however, and there are some who believe the risks associated with marijuana use call for something less than full legalization. There are also some who think Virginia should take more time to legalize weed, in order to allow a more orderly establishment of a statewide marijuana industry.

Still, Northam’s changes to the legalization bill reportedly have support on both sides of the aisle and are expected to pass

What do you think?

Photo by Roberto Valdivia/Unsplash

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There’s word this morning that the idea of a Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola might not be as dead as we first thought.

Just over four years since the Arlington County Board said it was “not in favor” of the $80-90 million project, which always seemed to be more attractive to Georgetown business interests than to those on the other side of the river, a D.C. Council member is raising the hopes of the gondola’s cult-like following with a new funding request.

Per the Washington Business Journal’s Alex Koma:

https://twitter.com/AlexKomaWBJ/status/1375439112237424643

While the idea of aerial lift transportation from Manhattan on the Potomac directly to the Exorcist steps — not to mention the sweeping views in between — may make gondola advocates giddy, the initial estimate of $3.25 million in annual operating costs puts a damper on the chances of it actually happening.

Nonetheless, should Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s proposal go through, purchasing the former Exxon station and completing an Environmental Impact Study would eliminate major hurdles to the gondola project moving forward. Next stop: getting Arlington County elected officials to climb on board.

What do you think of this latest gondola news?

(If you can’t see the emojis, here is the key: 1 = happy, 2 = unhappy, 3 = shrug.)

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The pandemic is still here, but — with rising vaccinations — there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

It could yet be many months before things return to some semblance of normal, but today let’s try to imagine the pandemic being over.

There was immense suffering and death over the past year, and plenty to complain about even for those who were fortunate enough to remain healthy and employed.

Lockdown life has not been all bad, however. There are perhaps some pandemic practices that you wouldn’t mind sticking around, even when the COVID threat has declined.

For instance, thanks to social distancing and mask wearing, sales of cold and flu remedies are way down. Perhaps if we adopt the Japanese practice of wearing a mask when sick as a courtesy to those around you, along with more liberal use of working from home when under the weather, we make the common cold less common.

Then there’s the fact that you can have cocktails delivered to your door and there are more outdoor dining options that ever before. Oh, and many now don’t have to make miserable commutes to an office five days a week.

Which of the following would you most like to keep in place post-corona?

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