Arlington, VA

Many locals haven’t been getting their mail in a timely fashion recently and Virginia’s U.S. Senators are deeply concerned.

Yesterday (Feb. 1), Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy asking why there has been such considerable delays on folks getting their mail.

“We have heard from hundreds of our constituents that recount unacceptable delays in the delivery of everything from Christmas and birthday cards to mail-order medications and credit card bills,” wrote the Senators. “Furthermore, we seek answers about operational decisions and other circumstances that have contributed to such delays and what is being done to prevent future failures.”

Additionally, they asked for the publishing of data about the number of postal workers that have contracted COVID-19 and expediting the delivery of mail-order medications.

The lawmakers note that they believe policy changes implemented this past summer by DeJoy could be contributing.

There was local pushback about these policies, including a rally outside of the Westover post office on Washington Blvd.

When initially calling out these changes — also in a letter — the Senators were then promised that these cost-cutting measures would not be implemented until after the November presidential election.

However, even after the election, these implemented changes have caused a significant delay in mail getting to recipients, particularly to those in the Capitol region, according to court filings.

From Dec. 19 to 31, according to statistics in the filings that the Senators cited in their letter, Northern Virginia residents received less than half of their first class mail on-time. While the holiday crush is surely to be a contributing factor, rates started dropping in mid-September.

This is a dramatic drop-off from even the week of Sept. 5 when residents were getting 88.5% of their first class mail. Even earlier in the pandemic — mid-March through July — about 91% of first class mail was getting to locals in a timely fashion.

The Senators wrote that they have heard from constituents that mail is continually getting stuck at the USPS Processing and Distribution Center in Richmond, sometimes for weeks at a time.

A recent audit by the USPS Inspector General revealed that the Richmond distribution center had the fourth-highest late trip rate of any in the country from July 1 to Sept. 30.

Additionally, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 19, the center underestimated incoming mail volume by two-thirds.

Warner and Kaine blame insufficient staffing and capacity at the distribution center.

“We understand this is likely due to staffing shortages but implore you to create additional contingency plans to ensure a particular delivery route does not miss its mail for days at a time simply because its letter carrier is out sick,” they wrote.

Concluding the letter, Warner and Kaine urge DeJoy to “reverse all operational and organizational changes that have contributed to substantial mail delays.”

This isn’t the only bit of Arlington mail news in recent months. In October, a postal inspector was seen checking drop-off mailboxes at the N. George Mason Drive post office amidst complaints of missing and stolen mail.

The entire letter sent by Sens. Warner and Kaine is below.

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Arlington County is slated to receive nearly $2.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, Virginia’s U.S. Senators announced on Tuesday.

The money will go toward storage supplies, transportation support, staffing, personal protective equipment, and other equipment to ensure facilities align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said a joint press release from Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

“We’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping Arlington County effectively administer the COVID-19 vaccine,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We will keep working to ensure the Commonwealth has the resources it needs to best respond to this pandemic.”

News of the funding comes on the heels of announcements that local hospitals like Inova and Virginia Hospital Center will no longer be distribution sites, at least for now. Since then, county staff have worked to get 3,750 appointments from VHC transferred to the County’s vaccine management system, said Aaron Miller, the county’s emergency management director.

Despite this, Miller said Arlington County is prepared to vaccinate about 2,000 people daily. Unfortunately, he said, the county can only make 540 appointments a day because it is receiving 2,750 vaccines per week from the state.

“This funding demonstrates exactly how ready Arlington is,” Miller told ARLnow. “That the federal government would grant this type of advanced reimbursement based on our plans and capabilities — as quickly as supply can meet — demonstrates that we have the capability.”

The only thing standing in the county’s way, at this point, is the vaccine supply itself, he said.

“I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said.

Under Gov. Ralph Northam’s Major Disaster Declaration to help Virginia respond to COVID-19, localities can apply to FEMA for funding to support vaccine distribution, the release said. Arlington County is the first of the Commonwealth’s localities to apply for and receive the funding.

With the money, the County will purchase more cold storage for the vaccine doses, Miller said. Right now it has some smaller travel-sized unit, and additional upright, ultra-cold storage is supposed to be arriving in a week or so, Miller said. He said his department needs more cold storage to have the flexibility to set up additional vaccine clinics.

Miller’s department will also expand vaccine outreach and engagement efforts. He said more people are needed to handle calls from residents to schedule appointments and provide information about the vaccine distribution.

The latest COVID-19 relief package in Congress, supported by senators Warner and Kaine, included more than $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic.

Last March, Kaine urged former President Donald Trump to consider any disaster declaration requests so states could use FEMA’s Public Assistance program to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Public Assistance is funded through the Disaster Relief Fund, to which Congress provided an additional $45 billion in the CARES Act.

In addition to the FEMA funding, Northern Virginia’s congressional representatives are pushing for a local mass vaccination site.

Today (Tuesday), Reps. Don Beyer, Gerald Connolly and Jennifer Wexton wrote to FEMA requesting that one of President Biden’s proposed 100 community mass vaccination sites be located in Northern Virginia, using Arlington County to make their case.

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(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) After two years of construction, the Arlington Memorial Bridge is completely open for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

The 90-year-old bridge, which connects Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, was renovated to save it from potentially closing for good in 2021. The $227 million rehabilitation project, one of the largest infrastructure projects in National Park Service history, will give the bridge another 75 years of service, officials said on Friday.

According to NPS, although the bridge is officially open, workers will continue putting final touches on the bridge and the Memorial Circle, replanting staging areas, completing small projects on the deck and installing bird netting.

In addition to the heavy infrastructure work on the bridge, a key Potomac River crossing, NPS repaved, improved crossings, added new signs and made the area easier and safer for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate, officials said.

The overhaul closed lanes and created traffic headaches for the 68,000 daily commuters that use it — by pre-pandemic counts, at least.

Local members of Congress — including Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Reps. Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton — pushed for funding the project, after the discovery of corrosion led officials to close outer lanes and impose a weight limit.

In a joint statement issued Friday, the lawmakers said they worked to save the bridge because a closure would hurt their constituents.

“Memorial Bridge is now fully operational, and stands not only as a historic and functional monument, but also as a symbol of the kind of progress that is possible on rebuilding key transportation infrastructure through smart government investment,” they said in a statement.

Warner added that the project’s funding only came together as a result of a long-running, concerted effort among lawmakers and local officials.

“In 2015, we were warned that Memorial Bridge — a critical artery between Virginia and the nation’s capital — was literally falling apart,” said Sen. Warner. “Today’s reopening is a testament to years of work by the region’s congressional delegation, our local partners, and the National Park Service. Commuters can now rest easy knowing that this nearly 90-year-old landmark will carry them safely over the Potomac for years to come.”

The completed project preserves a national memorial to the sacrifices of veterans, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said.

“The completion of this project marks one of the largest infrastructure projects in National Park Service history, which was done on time and on budget,” Bernhardt said. “I hope that all Americans are brought together to remember and honor our veterans every time they cross this bridge into the capital of our nation.”

Flickr pool photo (top) by Kevin Wolf, photo (bottom) courtesy of Office of Sen. Mark Warner

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(Updated at 7:30 a.m.) To no one’s surprise, the Arlington electorate has turned out in a big way for the Democratic ticket.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris have 80.7% of the vote to 17.1% for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in Arlington, with more than 120,000 votes counted and all precincts reporting.

By contrast, 75.8% of Arlington voters picked Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, to 16.6% for Trump.

The Associated Press called Virginia for Biden just over half an hour after polls closed at 7 p.m.

As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, overall turnout in Arlington County was over 75%. The voter turnout in 2016 was 82%, shy of the Arlington record of 85% in the 2012 presidential race between President Barack Obama and current Senator Mitt Romney.

Among local races, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey (D) is cruising to an easy victory, with 71.6% of the vote, compared to 26.6% of the vote for independent challenger Audrey Clement.

In the Arlington School Board race — for two open seats — Democratic endorsees Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy currently have 43.1% and 35.8% of the vote, respectively, leading independent candidate Symone Walker, who has 19.2% of the vote.

All five county bond issues will pass, with between 75-80% of the vote. That’s despite some organized opposition to the school bond.

Arlington voted against Constitutional Amendment #1, to establish a bipartisan redistricting commission in Virginia — 45% for, 55% against — though it has garnered the support of nearly two-thirds of voters statewide. Constitutional Amendment #2, providing vehicle tax relief to disabled veterans, easily passed statewide and received 81.5% of the vote in Arlington.

In the statewide race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Sen. Mark Warner (D) was declared the projected winner by the Associated Press early on.

In Virginia’s 8th Congressional district, which includes Arlington and Alexandria, incumbent Rep. Don Beyer (D) is winning handily, with 75.6% of the vote to 24.2% for Republican Jeff Jordan. The AP called the race at 8:10 p.m.

The initial returns that included early and mail-in votes were overwhelming Democratic, but with Election Day results rolling in the non-Democratic candidates have added to their totals and cut into the Democrats’ margin of victory.

Around Arlington, the pandemic has most people watching election coverage from their homes, rather than from bars. In Clarendon and Shirlington tonight, only a relative few could be seen in front of TVs inside the neighborhood’s usual watering holes.

As the election returns continue to come in, Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol said tonight that the county is “committed to ensuring every vote is counted.”

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Four new early voting locations will open in Arlington this weekend.

The Aurora Hills, Langston-Brown, Madison and Walter Reed community centers will all be open for early voting, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. The voting hours at the community centers are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Early voting at the four new locations is in addition to the already-open Courthouse Plaza location, in the former Wells Fargo bank branch at 2200 Clarendon Blvd.

Arlington has seen record levels of mail-in and in-person early ballots. More than 30% of active voters have already cast ballots, Arlington election officials said today, up from 24% last week.

“We’ve never seen volumes this high,” Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s Director of Elections, told ARLnow last week.

Tomorrow’s kick-off of expanded early voting will draw a number of lawmakers to the area for “get out the early vote” campaign stops.

Sen. Mark Warner, along with fellow Virginia Democrats Rep. Don Beyer and Rep. Jennifer Wexton, will be making stops at community and government centers in Arlington and Fairfax County. Here in Arlington, they trio plan to visit the Aurora Hills Community Center (735 18th Street S.) at 11:30 a.m. and the Langston-Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street) at 12:15 p.m.

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Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) held a meeting Wednesday with local and national election-focused organizations at Arlington’s Office of Elections in Courthouse.

Warner discussed the threats he feels loom largest over November’s election, specifically stressing his concerns about recent changes made to the U.S. Postal Service.

He also heard from Arlington’s and Alexandria’s respective election directors as well as representatives of The Center for Election Innovation & Research, New Virginia Majority, the Brennan Center for Justice, Fair Vote and Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program.

For Warner, foreign interference, the election system’s integrity and the risk COVID-19 poses to voter safety are the primary dangers facing the November 3 election, in which he is running for reelection.

Attendees raised worries about a national lack of funds for recruiting and training additional poll workers for this election’s unique circumstances. Inadequate public knowledge about the possibility that results may come in well after election, as well as  timelines for requesting mail-in ballots, were also cited as a problem.

The Postal Service recommends voters request ballots no later than 15 days before an election, and then send in a completed ballot no later than 7 days before an election.

“We’ve got to make sure we educate our voters about all the different small nuances that are coming out of the state,” David Hollberg, the marketing manager of the U.S. Postal Service’s NOVA district, said.

According to Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington County’s Director of Elections, the county has already received 20,000 requests for mail ballots, a record-setting increase from past years.

Warner recently sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former logistics executive, asking him to reverse changes he has made to the U.S. Postal Service that critics say have unnecessarily slowed operations and could impact how many mail ballots are counted in the election.

DeJoy, who was appointed by President Trump after being a major campaign donor, reassigned around 24 top Postal Service officials this past Friday, further provoking allegations of purposeful inefficiency.

“It’s more than a little fishy when you do a late Friday night reorganization of the management of the post office 85 days before election,” Warner told ARLnow. “Mr. Trump continues to try to undermine people’s confidence in absentee voting.”

Throughout the meeting, an overarching priority was ensuring that American voters will feel the November election was done fairly and without exterior influences.

“The voters have always had confidence … that their voices were going to be reflected in those votes,” Warner said. “Nothing would do Russia’s job better than for that confidence to be undermined.” 

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The Supreme Court issued a pair of momentous rulings this week, and Arlington’s Congressional delegation is celebrating both.

On Monday, the high court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ individuals from workplace discrimination. Earlier today, it blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Arlington’s Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said the DACA ruling is “a great moment” for the nation, but cautioned that more work is to be done to reform the immigration system.

Dreamers are Americans, they belong here. This ruling is a great moment for the United States. It is important to remember, though, that even with this decision from the Supreme Court very important work remains. The ball once again is in Congress’ court to pass meaningful, humane, and comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken immigration system in ways which reflect our values as a nation of immigrants. The Senate could take a big step forward in that regard at any time by passing the Dream and Promise Act.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) likewise cheered the decision.

President Trump’s decision to end DACA plunged hundreds of thousands of innocent young people into legal limbo and wreaked havoc upon nearly every area of American life. I’m so thankful the Court has put an end to this Administration’s ill-conceived broken promise. Congress should now pass the HEROES Act to prevent the deportation of undocumented essential workers during the pandemic and the American Dream and Promise Act to permanently protect these kids and young adults.

Earlier this week, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said via social media that the Supreme Court “did the right thing” in giving LGBTQ Americans protection against employment discrimination under law.

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Morning Notes

Amazon Not Giving Up on HQ2 Helipad — “The list of nongovernmental aircraft the Transportation Security Administration permits to fly inside the [Flight Restricted Zone], besides commercial fights to and from Reagan National, is basically nonexistent… In a statement, Amazon suggested it hasn’t given up. ‘We recognize there are several layers of approval for such a feature, and will continue to work with Arlington County and other relevant stakeholders as we determine its feasibility for our Arlington HQ,” the statement read.” [Washington Business Journal]

Pentagon Helipad to Get New Tower — “The Department of Defense has designs on building a permanent air traffic control tower to help guide aircraft landing at the Pentagon and is seeking a contractor to carry them out.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Concerned About Peak Trail Usage — “We’ve noticed the trails are pretty crowded between 3pm-6pm. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, we suggest finding a less busy time to walk, bike, or run on the trails or to find an alternate route.” [Twitter]

Mexicali Blues Closed, For Now — Clarendon mainstay Mexicali Blues has shut down its carryout business and is closing temporarily. [Twitter]

Candidate Blasts County’s Coronavirus Response — “Audrey Clement, who has been running campaigns for elected office for more than a decade, said last week that the County Board failed to use its powers to force restaurants to close in the earliest days of the crisis.” [InsideNova]

Va. Senators Seek Local News Funding — “U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined their Senate colleagues in a letter calling for funding to support local journalism and media to be included in any future COVID-19 relief package.” [Press Release]

Video: YHS Orchestra Plays Remotely — “Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings in D Major, RV 121 (1st movement) by the members of the Yorktown High School Chamber Orchestra during the COVID-19 pandemic.” [YouTube]

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Amid trade-related tweets from President Donald Trump that roiled the stock market, Virginia’s U.S. senators are speaking out against escalations in the trade war with China.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, said in a joint statement that the Virginia and the U.S. economies are at risk as Trump raises tariffs and tweets invective.

The senators’ offices released the following press release Friday afternoon.

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after China announced that it will instate additional retaliatory tariffs starting September 1 in response to President Trump’s plans to impose additional levies on Chinese goods:

“Time and time again, we have warned President Trump against escalating a trade war with China. Trade wars yield no winners and hurt consumers and producers all over the Commonwealth, especially the farmers and small business owners who count on Chinese demand for products grown in Virginia. We’re even seeing devastating second-order effects of this trade war, with the possibility that fires in the Amazon are being deliberately set to clear land for soybean exports to China. While the U.S. must absolutely crack down on China for its illegal trade practices, we can’t afford to do so in an incoherent and erratic way. Today’s announcement shows once again that the Trump Administration’s bizarre trade policies destabilize the economy, put the livelihoods of many Americans at risk, undermine global stability, and fundamentally fail to hold China accountable for its unfair practices.” 

According to an announcement by the Chinese finance ministry, China’s tariffs will range from five to ten percent on items such as agricultural products, apparel, chemicals, and textiles, in addition to a 25 percent tariff on automobiles and a five percent tariff on automobile parts. These levies are scheduled to take effect on September 1 and December 15, matching the dates of the President’s most recent tariffs.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have continuously warned the Trump Administration about how its haphazard approach on trade hurts Virginia’s families, businesses, and economy. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), China is the Commonwealth’s number-one agricultural export market for soybeans. In 2018, Virginia exported more than $58 million soybean products to China – an 83 percent decrease from 2017.

Update at 5:15 p.m. — New tweets from the president further escalate the trade war with higher tariffs.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Gets Best View of Fireworks — On a hazy night, Arlington — particularly Rosslyn — had the best view of the expanded D.C. fireworks. Smoke obscured the viewing for many parts of the District. [Twitter, Twitter, Raw Story]

JBG Trying to Lure Big Tech to Arlington — “JBG Smith Properties CEO Matt Kelly recently met with “a handful” of big West Coast tech firms in a bid to entice them to come to National Landing now that Amazon.com Inc. has chosen the area for its second headquarters.” [Washington Business Journal]

Police Chase Ends in Arlington — A high-speed police chase along I-66 ended in Arlington, near the N. Glebe Road exit. Virginia State Police say a woman fled from police at speeds of up to 120 mph while her three children were in the car. [WJLA, Twitter]

A Modest Proposal for Arlington — In a letter to the editor published by the Arlington Sun Gazette, a man apparently upset by the renaming of Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty suggests also renaming Arlington “Amazon’s bitch.” [InsideNova]

Ebbin Cast as NRA’s ‘Boogeyman’ — “[State Sen. Adam] Ebbin, when told of [state Sen. Bryce] Reeves’s remarks at the town hall, said he never made any of the comments attributed to him. ‘Apparently I’m a radical homosexual who’s misquoted,’ Ebbin said sarcastically.” [Washington Post]

Checking Car Seats in Arlington — Writing about the new Virginia law requiring rear-facing car seats for children under two and below a certain weight, the Arlington County Fire Department noted on social media: “ACFD no longer does child seat safety inspections. Arlington County Police Department offers regular inspections to ensure the child seat is safely installed and secured in your vehicle.” [Twitter]

Warner Highlights Sept. 11th Memorial Trail — “U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are working together to further honor the heroes of September 11th, 2001. In a bipartisan resolution, Senators Toomey and Warner highlight the significance of the September 11th National Memorial Trail,” which runs through Arlington. [Press Release]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick/Twitter

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