Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Reminder: Metro Station Closures — The Clarendon, Virginia Square and East Falls Church Metro stations are closed starting today. The closures will impact several ART bus routes, as well. [Arlington County]

Kaine Lauds Passage of Coronavirus Relief Bill — In a statement late Wednesday night, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by the Senate “will backstop the American economy by protecting workers and their families.” [Press Release]

County: Hold Off on Spring Cleaning — “Although it is tempting to use the increased time in our homes to start ‘spring cleaning,’ please delay these activities or hold on to these items during this challenging time. Refuse collection crews are dealing with an increased volume of waste and disposal requests, while incorporating new protocols to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19.” [Arlington County]

First Coronavirus Case at Pentagon — “A Marine assigned to the service’s headquarters office at the Pentagon has tested positive for COVID-19… becoming the first service member assigned to the Defense Department’s home base to contract coronavirus. The Marine tested positive March 24, Capt. Joseph Butterfield told Military Times, after a period of isolation spurred by symptoms in his wife.” [Military Times]

HQ2 Construction Still on Track — “Construction of the first of Amazon.com Inc.’s HQ2 towers remains on schedule, but the planning process for the green space around them may slow as the spread of the novel coronavirus forces public meeting cancellations. Clark Construction, lead contractor on Amazon’s first 2.1 million-square-foot office building, said that work at Metropolitan Park in Pentagon City is advancing with added coronavirus safety measures.” [Washington Business Journal]

Governor Orders Elective Surgeries Delayed — “Governor Ralph Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA today directed all hospitals to stop performing elective surgeries or procedures to help conserve supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). The public health emergency order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Ballston’s Punch Bowl Social in Trouble — “Cracker Barrel announced Wednesday that eatertainment brand Punch Bowl Social has closed all of its 19 locations and laid off most of its restaurant and corporate staff and that it would not prevent foreclosure on the brand.” [FSR Magazine, Marketwatch]

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered all schools in the state to remain closed through the end of the academic year and certain non-essential businesses to close.

The governor made the announcement Monday afternoon, citing the need to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“School closures are necessary to minimize the speed at which COVID-19 spreads, and to protect the capacity of our healthcare systems,” Northam said.

All schools public and private are to stay closed at least through the end of the academic year. As a result, Arlington Public Schools says it is now working on a plan for what to do going forward, while awaiting further guidance from the state Dept. of Education.

Earlier Monday, APS told parents that it would start to introduce new instructional material to middle and high school students this week.

Elementary teachers will not introduce new content within the timeframe that schools are currently set to be closed. Secondary teachers may begin introducing new content the week of March 23. We recognize that all students do not have the same ability to regularly access and attend to learning new skills or content while at home. Secondary teachers who are introducing new content are mindful of the opportunity gap that this is likely to create and will plan strategies to address it.

While virtual learning can never replace classroom instruction, teachers are providing instructional activities meant to help students maintain their skills and knowledge and prepare for what’s coming next. We understand this comes with both challenges and perks as adults and students work to establish new routines.

Given the extended school closures, state officials are going to with localities on a plan to provide childcare to essential workers, like those who work in healthcare, Northam said.

Northam also announced today that, as of just before midnight on Tuesday, he was ordering certain non-essential businesses closed. That includes recreational and entertainment businesses, like bowling alleys, as well as personal care services that can’t social distance, like barber shops and salons.

Restaurants will only be able to remain open for carryout, curbside pickup, and delivery, Northam said, finally providing the state backing to what Arlington County leaders had been calling for since last week.

The business restrictions will be in effect for at least 30 days, Northam announced.

“We do not make these decisions lightly,” the governor said. “But COVID-19 is serious and we must act.”

“We’re acting judiciously and with full regard to the consequences,” Northam added. “Our priority is to save lives. We have a health crisis, and we have an economic crisis, but the sooner we can get this health crisis under control, the sooner our economy will recover.”

Among the businesses deemed essential, which will be able to stay open, are grocery stores, pharmacies and banks. Construction activities will be allowed to continue, and “construction product retail stores” can stay open, the governor said. Virginia ABC liquor stores will also stay open.

Northam did not order churches and other houses of worship closed, but he encouraged them to practice social distancing.

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While reducing the human toll of the coronavirus outbreak is a top priority, Arlington officials are also trying to determine its impact on the upcoming county budget.

Given that the length and depth of the economic fallout from the outbreak is unknown at this point, county leaders are not sure how exactly it will affect the budget, which has to be approved before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

“Right now I don’t know,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, when asked what changes would be made to County Manager Mark Schwartz’s recommended budget. “I’d tell you something but it probably will change… I haven’t had a day go the way I thought it would go for weeks now.”

Garvey said three things about the budget thus far are true:

  1. “We need a budget by July 1.”
  2. “We don’t know what our revenues will be.”
  3. “We don’t know what our expenses will be.”

“Somehow we need a budget by then,” she said. “Clearly the process of getting there will change… it’s very difficult to create a budget when you don’t know what your revenues will be and what your expenses will be.”

Changes to the process include changes to work sessions and public hearings — one work session was cancelled earlier this week — and perhaps a later adoption date while details are worked out.

On the revenue side, the coronavirus outbreak will likely reduce what the county receives from meals, business and sales taxes, while hardship from the outbreak could prompt County Board members to lower the property tax rate. (Under its advertised tax rate, the rate cannot be raised.)

The county is, however, hoping for additional state and federal aid.

On the expense side, the budget will likely prompt more social safety net spending, among other urgent needs.

Ironically, this year’s budget was originally touted as a “good news budget,” with strong expected tax revenue allowing the county to painlessly tackle a number of priorities, from increases in employee compensation to elimination of library fines.

Now, such decisions will get more difficult.

Garvey said Schwartz has tasked departments with finding areas where current full time positions could be re-tasked and shifted to more urgent needs in the post-outbreak world. Another possibility: delayed openings for the under-construction Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center, to save on the expanse of staffing and programming both facilities.

“The world has changed, and it’s about to be very clear how it changed,” Garvey said.

In a phone interview with ARLnow Thursday morning, Garvey urged residents to continue practicing social distancing.

“Stay home as much as you can,” wash your hands frequently, and “if you go out, don’t go near people,” she said. She noted, however, that “having people go out for a walk, a bike ride, is great… being outside and getting exercise is good for you.”

Garvey was critical of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam only setting a 10-person capacity at public gatherings and establishments like restaurants and gyms, rather than — as the county would prefer — closing them to completely to everything but food takeout and delivery. Not only does it not go far enough, she said, but it’s difficult to enforce.

According to Garvey, it takes local governments three consecutive visits of both a police officer and a public health official to be able to shut a non-compliant restaurant down — and police officers and public health personnel are currently needed for higher priorities.

Also, Garvey said, it’s impossible for Arlington County Board meetings to be held in compliance with all laws. There are 10 people, including Board members, county employees and security, needed at County Board meetings, thus reaching the limit for public gatherings. But public access laws require Board meeting to also be open to the public.

“We need good leadership from Richmond and we need it now,” Garvey said. “Can we please, please use common sense. We need the rule of law, yes, but we also need common sense.”

The Board Chair thanked local businesses that have followed the County Board’s lead and closed up shop or gone takeout- and delivery-only.

“I do want to give a heartfelt expression of gratitude to those who have done the responsible thing,” she said. “It’s not easy for them and we very much appreciate it.”

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Morning Notes

Coronavirus Case in Falls Church — “On Mar. 9, a U.S. Navy civilian employee at the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) in Falls Church, Virginia, tested ‘presumptive positive’ for the coronavirus (COVID-19)… The individual is currently at a hospital in Northern Virginia.” [U.S. Navy]

Northam Signs Arlington Tourism Tax Bill — “The governor’s signature on March 2 made it official – Arlington will now be able to impose a surtax on hotel stays, with the proceeds going to tourism promotion, in perpetuity. Gov. Northam signed legislation patroned by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax-Arlington) removing the ‘sunset clause’ from existing legislation allowing Arlington to tack on an additional 0.25 percent to the 5-percent transient-occupancy tax imposed by the county government on those staying in hotels and motels.” [InsideNova]

Lawmakers Support Long Bridge Project — Virginia’s delegation to Congress “sent a letter to Secretary Chao in support of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s (DRPT) application for an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant for the Long Bridge Project.” [Press Release]

No Arlington Rep on Metro Board — “For the first time in recent memory, Arlington will have no representation on the board of directors of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which operates the Metro system… The shifts came about due to the resignation from the WMATA board of Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey, due to issues over reporting of campaign contributions during his 2019 re-election bid.” [InsideNova]

Beyer Gains a GOP Challenger — “On Friday, Mark Ellmore officially filed to seek the Republican nomination for Congress from Virginia’s Eighth District in 2020…. It is currently represented in Congress by Democratic Rep. Don Beyer.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he had signed HB 1071 into law, repealing a law on the books since 1792 that prohibits profane swearing in public.

The repeal will take effect July 1, after which it will no longer be a misdemeanor to curse up a storm while out and about in the Commonwealth. Well, except in Arlington.

Arlington County still has its own ordinance on the books, prohibiting public intoxication and profanity.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to be intoxicated or to profanely curse or swear in any public place in the County,” the ordinance says. “Any person convicted of such public intoxication or profanity shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

The good news is that even if you are somehow arrested for profanity, you probably won’t be prosecuted.

“I don’t see prosecuting the use of profanity on its own as a reasonable or efficient use of resources, so no,” said new Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, when asked by ARLnow whether she would prosecute someone just for cursing.

Nonetheless, the ordinance remains. Prior to the governor signing HB 1071, we asked whether Arlington officials had any plans to repeal the county’s cussing prohibition.

“The County routinely reviews its ordinances whenever a new state law may impact them,” said county spokeswoman Mary Curtius.

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(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced a major expansion of passenger rail service at an event in Crystal City Thursday afternoon.

Northam announced a $3.7 billion deal between the state and CSX that would:

  • Build a state-owned, passenger-only rail bridge over the Potomac, next to the existing, aging CSX-owned Long Bridge near Crystal City
  • Expand Virginia Railway Express (VRE) service by 75%, including by adding additional hours, more frequent trains, and weekend service
  • Expand Amtrak service from D.C. to points south
  • Build 37 miles of new track
  • Remove 5 million cars and 1 million trucks from Virginia highways each year, via increased passenger and freight rail service

Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol called the announcement “an exciting new chapter for passenger rail in Virginia” that will “improve the quality of life and economic opportunity” for thousands of Northern Virginia residents.

Cristol cited the example of rail commuters who will now be able to attend workforce training at night and take the train home, and families that will be able to take the train to the Air and Space Museum while avoiding traffic on I-95.

The deal “will contribute an additional $2 billion annually to Virginia due to expanded commuter activity made possible by a new Long Bridge,” estimated the the Stephen F. Fuller Institute at George Mason University.

The Greater Washington Partnership, a regional business organization, lauded the announcement as “game changing” for the region and “one of the biggest achievements for passenger rail service in the United States” in nearly half a century.

Today’s announcement made by Governor Northam to acquire rail right-of-way from Washington to Richmond and through to North Carolina and fund the expansion of Long Bridge, is game changing for the Capital Region’s transportation system, and represents a key achievement in implementing the Partnership’s Blueprint for Regional Mobility. This deal will establish near hourly rail service between Washington and Richmond, expand peak VRE service, initiate VRE weekend operations, and unlock run-through service for MARC trains into Northern Virginia. This is one of the biggest achievements for passenger rail in the United States since Amtrak was created almost 50 years ago. We commend Governor Northam and his team for their vision, leadership and execution of this historic effort. By working in partnership with Mayor Bowser, Governor Hogan and Amtrak President Richard Anderson, we can leverage this investment to radically improve the reliability and performance of our transportation network for all our residents and ensure the Capital Region from Baltimore to Richmond continues to be globally competitive.

Amazon’s locally-based Vice President of Public Policy also hailed the agreement.

The full press release from the governor’s office about the deal is below, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

Metro Tests New Tech in Pentagon City — The Transportation Security Administration and Metro rolled out new security technology at the Pentagon City Metro station on Tuesday. The system “can detect an individual concealing an improvised explosive device, such as a suicide vest or another weapon.” [Fox 5, Twitter]

HQ2 Leads to Development Boom — “Arlington officials, developers, market researchers — everyone, really — predicted that Amazon.com Inc.’s arrival in the county would generate a development boom in the company’s neighborhood. So far, they’ve been right.” [Washington Business Journal]

Tafti Sworn in as Prosecutor — Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was sworn in Monday as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church. On Tuesday she warned a crowd at a progressive think tank there has been a “growing narrative in pretty extreme circles that trying to reimagine the criminal-legal system is somehow going to make us less safe…somehow disrespects victims.” [Twitter, Blue Virginia]

Airport Authority Voting on $15 Wage — After years of protests, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is set to vote today on a new policy that would increase the hourly wages of contracted workers — baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, lobby agents, skycaps, cabin cleaners, airport concessions and airline catering workers — from $12.75 to $15 by 2023. [Press Release]

Beyer Pushing for Quieter Airplanes — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who has long advocated against excessive noise from aircraft landing at and taking off from Reagan National Airport, is calling on NASA to study ways to make commercial jetliners quieter and cleaner in a new bill. [Press Release]

Northam Proposes Nixing Vehicle Inspections — “Gov. Ralph Northam wants to end state-mandated vehicle safety inspections and cut vehicle registration fees in half, proposals his administration says would eventually save Virginians more than $280 million per year. But motorists would have to pay a few dollars more each time they fill up on gas under a proposal to increase the state’s motor vehicle fuels tax from about 22 cents per gallon to 34 cents per gallon over three years.” [Virginia Mercury]

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Morning Notes

Advocates Pushing for Less Parking at HQ2 — “Amazon wants employees at its new Northern Virginia headquarters to commute car-free to work… So why does the development’s current design include an underground parking garage with nearly 2,000 spaces — guaranteeing that a significant chunk of Amazon’s workforce will drive to work?” [Greater Greater Washington]

Express Lanes Causing 14th Street Bridge Slowdown? — Some commuters have been taking to social media to gripe about what they say is heavier traffic caused by the I-395 Express Lanes: “This morning the express lanes made 395N regular lanes undriveable. The problem is they closed off the 14th street bridge hov to regular traffic, which is creating a tremendous clog point. Its now taking 30 mins just to cross the 14th street bridge.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Northam in Arlington Today — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is scheduled to attend the Governor’s Transportation Conference this morning at a hotel in Crystal City. [Cvent]

‘Feuerwehrmann’ Joins ACFD for Three Weeks — “Two Arlington County Fire Department crews had a unique opportunity recently when they welcomed a fellow firefighter from the Aachen Fire Department in Germany.  Lieutenant Sebastian Ganser, a firefighter, paramedic, and fire instructor in Arlington’s sister city of Aachen, Germany, spent three weeks with Station 5C in Crystal City and Station 2B in Ballston — living and working alongside Arlington’s firefighters and paramedics.” [Arlington County]

Long-Distance Runners Arriving in Arlington Soon — “Josh and Brian will be running roughly 500 miles from Massachusetts National Cemetery to Arlington National Cemetery in VA for your donations. This journey will take between 10-14 days averaging 40-50 miles per day. They will start on November 11th, 2019 (Veterans Day) and will only stop to eat and sleep until they make it to Arlington, VA.” [Mission 22]

Road Closures for Annual 5K — “The 5th annual Jennifer Bush-Lawson Memorial 5K Race will take place on Saturday, November 23, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement several road closures from approximately 8:00 AM until 11:00 AM to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County]

Planetarium Boosters to Stay Active During Closure — “The Arlington school system’s lone planetarium will be closed for about a year and a half starting later this month, as construction takes place turning the nearby Arlington Education Center building into classroom space. But leaders with the Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium say they will fill the gap with programming elsewhere during the closure.” [InsideNova]

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The expansion of George Mason University’s campus in Virginia Square is envisioned as a gleaming glass-and-steel tower with the school’s distinctive “M” emblazoned on top.

That’s according to a new concept design for GMU’s planned Institute for Digital Innovation, released as the university announced $235 million in new funding from the state to expand the campus and develop more tech talent. The new building will be built atop the long-shuttered Kann’s Department Store, on the west side of the Fairfax Drive campus.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the funding for GMU and ten other Virginia universities on Thursday, citing Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington as a key reason why the Commonwealth needs more tech workers.

“Virginia will invest in the Commonwealth’s tech talent pipeline to create 31,000 new computer science graduates over 20 years, under agreements he signed with 11 universities,” the governor’s office said in a press release. “The Tech Talent Investment Program will benefit students and tech employers in every corner of the Commonwealth. It grew out of Virginia’s proposal to Amazon, which will locate its second headquarters in Northern Virginia.”

In its own press release, below, GMU said the state funding — along with an expanded Arlington campus — will help it produce 16,000 more undergrad and master’s graduates in tech fields over the next 20 years.

The press release says additional information about the new Institute for Digital Innovation facility will be revealed at an event on Wednesday, Nov. 20, which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Arlington campus, which currently includes includes the Antonin Scalia Law School, the Schar School of Policy and Government and other departments, mostly focusing on graduate and professional programs.

The full GMU press release is below, after the jump.

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Officials say a new statewide renewable energy commitment could help Arlington achieve its own green goals.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced today (Friday) that Virginia has struck an agreement with Dominion Energy to purchase 30% of the all energy used by the state government’s buildings from renewable sources. Local officials says the agreement to sustainability agreement also helps their own goals.

“It means that we’re kind of being aggressive but the state is pulling in this direction so it does make it easier for us,” said Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, who is running for re-election and who said the governor’s morning press conference at George Mason University’s Arlington campus meant the county was no longer “swimming upstream” when it came to leading in sustainability.

“When you consider the state government, when you consider Amazon’s commitment to even exceed their originally ambitious goals — this is all good stuff for us,” Dorsey said, referring to Amazon going from Gold to Platinum LEED certification goals for its new headquarters. “This means we have a better likelihood of achieving all of our the goals in the timeframe set forth.”

“Arlington recently committed to its own, ambitious energy targets and we hope to see more cities follow its lead,” the governor said during the press conference.

Northam’s announcement comes two months after Arlington committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 for all buildings — public or private. The goal was part of the county’s updated Energy Plan, a planning document which envisions a future for Arlington where “all electricity will come from renewable sources, where more residents will drive electric vehicles and more will use transit, and where homes and buildings will be more energy-efficient.”

Since passing the plan in August, Dorsey said Arlington has been contacted by “three or four” other Northern Virginia jurisdictions for advice on enacting similar carbon-cutting goals themselves.

“Sometimes all jurisdictions need to see is one shining example,” said state Sen. Barbara Favola, who is also running for re-election. “Somebody gets out there and takes the lead and something good happens and they go, ‘I can do that, too’.”

She told ARLnow that when the state government takes a stance on sustainability, it also paves the way for local jurisdictions to do the same.

“Richmond is not known all the time for being a trailblazer but in this area but seem to be trailblazing so I’m delighted,” Favola said.

Renewable energy for state government buildings and universities will be sourced from Dominion Energy’s Belcher Solar project in Louisa County and its offshore wind farm near Virginia Beach, among others.

“Under the partnership, Dominion Energy will supply the Commonwealth with 420 megawatts of renewable energy,” the utility company wrote in a statement. “When combined with previously announced solar projects, the power produced is enough to meet the equivalent of 45% of the state government’s annual energy use.”

“That’s the equivalent of powering more than 100,000 homes,” noted Northam.

Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of the governor’s earlier promise to power the state using 100% carbon free resources by 2050 — a mission aided by agreements with Dominion Energy and planned initiatives like replacing traditional diesel school buses with electric buses and investing in electric cars.

The governor said collaboration is key to tackle climate change and “move this state in the right direction.

“We can leave our children and our grandchildren a world that’s cleaner and more sustainable,” Northam said.

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A tech company specializing in the creation of blockchain software has selected Arlington County for its U.S. headquarters, beating out a competing bid from D.C.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the economic development win today, saying that the company — Block.one — plans to create 170 new high-skill jobs in Arlington over the course of three years.

“The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Arlington County to secure the project for Virginia,” noted a press release from the governor’s office. “Governor Northam approved a $600,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist Arlington County with the project. The company is also eligible to receive a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for new, full-time jobs created.”

A press release from the company quotes the CEO as saying the region’s tech talent helped attract it to Arlington.

“We are excited to be setting up Arlington, Virginia as our U.S. headquarters,” said Block.one CEO Brendan Blumer. “The region boasts a rich combination of security, engineering, and IT skills that we seek, and its proximity to the nation’s capital positions us close to the policy innovation around digital assets and distributed ledger technology in the U.S.”

Though the prospect of even more high-paying jobs in Arlington, on top of the thousands on the way at Amazon’s new HQ2, may seem like a big win, it should be taken with a tiny grain of salt: the best-laid tech plans do not always pan out. The 1776 incubator that came to Crystal City in 2015 amid much fanfare is closing, for instance, and then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s announcement of 184 new jobs being added by tech firm Trustify has not borne fruit — the company is in bankruptcy and facing numerous lawsuits.

The full press release from the governor’s office is below, after the jump.

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