Spike Mendelsohn Planning New Restaurants in Crystal City — “Already in National Landing with Good Stuff Eatery and We, The Pizza, Mendelsohn has a letter of interest out for two new spaces. One will bring his Mexican taco shop already on Capitol Hill, Santa Rosa, to Virginia. Another is a new concept: fried chicken.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]
Shutdown May Fry Local Economy — “Come February — perhaps by the beginning of the month, probably the middle and definitely by the end — the financial, occupational and psychological impact of this now-record government shutdown will go from the theoretical to the very, very real.” [Washington Business Journal]
Trump Signs Shutdown Backpay Bill — President Trump has signed a bill championed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) that will provide backpay to federal employees affected by the government shutdown. Now Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner are working to provide a similar guarantee for low-wage federal contractors. [Federal News Network]
JBG’s ‘Brutally Honest’ Amazon Pitch — A quote attributed to JBG Smith Chief Development Officer Kai Reynolds, talking about his pitch to Amazon’s HQ2 team: “So we literally sat down at 8 in the morning, and I started the presentation by saying ‘I’ve lived [in this region] a number of years, I had never been [to Crystal City]. While it’s better than I thought, it’s kind of a shithole.'” [Bisnow]
Snow May Disrupt Evening Commute — “The main band of snow is likely to come through during the evening and overnight hours. As the onset of snow may coincide with the evening commute, especially in our western areas, build in extra time to get home or consider leaving a little early to beat the rush. Some slick spots could develop, especially on untreated roads.” [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]
Nearby: Attempted Kidnapping in Georgetown — “As she neared her front door about 5 p.m. Tuesday, a woman grabbed the child from behind and tried to abduct her, D.C. police said. The girl fought back and broke free. The nanny in the car screamed, and the woman ran.” [Washington Post]
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has never been much of a fan of the name “Crystal City.”
As a longtime Alexandria resident, the state’s senior senator has had to spend plenty of time in and around the Arlington neighborhood that will soon become home to Amazon’s vaunted new headquarters, all the while rolling his eyes at its moniker.
“I’m not sure ‘National Landing’ should be the name, but I’d be so glad to get rid of ‘Crystal City,'” Warner quipped Thursday (Dec. 13) at a roundtable discussion hosted at George Mason University’s Virginia Square campus.
Luckily, his colleague on stage, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), had an alternative suggestion for the Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yard corridor ready to go: “Warner Plaza,” he said, prompting a round of laughter from the crowd of Northern Virginia business leaders and politicians.
That light-hearted banter aside, both senators acknowledged that the county will soon face far more dire problems than just naming its neighborhoods. Kaine and Warner both see Amazon’s impending arrival as a huge net positive for the county, and the state as a whole, but they also expressed a desire to take some action to help address the thorny issue of affordable housing in the area.
Kaine sees room for Congress to lend a hand, perhaps by expanding the federal “Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.”
The program is designed to incentivize affordable development, and Kaine teamed up with Democrats and Republicans alike to introduce a bill last year expanding its funding by 50 percent. His office estimates it would create or preserve 1.3 million affordable homes over the next decade, about 400,000 more than would be possible under the program’s current funding levels.
“We don’t have to recreate the wheel,” Kaine said. “We can take things that work and do more of them. It’s already a good program to create workforce housing, but we can do more of it.”
Considering the county’s challenges finding cash for its own affordable housing loan fund, more help from the feds would likely come as quite welcome news indeed for Arlington leaders. But, despite its bipartisan support, Kaine’s legislation on the subject has yet to make any progress.
Warner envisions a more local approach to the matter. While the state already has its own housing development authority, which is set to pour tens of millions more into affordable housing initiatives as part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed deal with Amazon, Warner thinks the area’s localities could stand to team up as well.
“I think there needs to be work done on a regional housing authority to make sure there will be affordable housing, and make sure people don’t get pushed out of their homes,” Warner said.
Warner does expect, however, that Congress can help out by ensuring stable federal funding for Metro in 2019.
Though the rail service did manage to score its first dedicated revenue stream this year, thanks to commitments from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. lawmakers, it remains subject to the whims of Congress for another $150 million or so in cash each year. And with Amazon bringing thousands of workers to the area, many of whom will likely rely on the Blue and Yellow lines to reach the offices, Metro’s health has been a key focus as officials look to prepare for the company’s arrival.
As Democrats prepare to assume control of the House of Representatives, Warner fully expects the “odds and leverage [for more Metro funding] will go up” next year. But that doesn’t mean he’s counting on adding more federal funds for the service, either, considering that Republicans still control most levers of power in D.C.
“I would love to say we could plus up that number, but I don’t think that’s in the cards with this Senate and this president,” Warner said. “But if we can get $150 million again, let’s take the money and run.”
Beyond the housing and transportation challenges Amazon may well exacerbate in the area, Warner echoed the views of his colleagues around the state that the new headquarters will be a “game changer” for the region.
With such high office vacancy rates even in a prosperous part of the state like Arlington, Warner says the region had a “level of vulnerability that I’m not sure the whole business community appreciated” before Amazon tabbed Arlington. Of course, he hopes that that tech company doesn’t simply bring prosperity for Northern Virginia when it gets here.
“I know it’s a little bit of heresy to say with an Arlington crowd, but I hope to find some Amazon contractors and partners to put jobs downstate too,” Warner said. “As the commonwealth makes a substantial investment, an investment that is about one quarter per job what New York overpaid for, by the way, we need to show that it will benefit the whole commonwealth.”
Arlington Democrats are promising a “blue wave” in a new round of yard signs distributed over the last few weeks.
The signs promote the full slate of Democratic candidates on the ticket in the county this fall — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District), County Board nominee Matt de Ferranti and School Board member Barbara Kanninen — alongside images of a blue tidal wave Democrats are hoping sweep them back into power nationally.
County Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo told ARLnow that the party’s joint campaign committee designed the new signs, and Democrats have been distributing them for roughly a month now. She expects that they’ve given out a “few hundred” so far, and fully plans to distribute more as Nov. 6 nears.
While signs boosting the whole ticket might be a fixture of yards and medians every election season, Caiazzo hopes this specific design taps into the “broader movement” organizing around frustration with President Trump nationwide.
“We hope they convey a need for sweeping change in our politics, and that’s coming in November,” Caiazzo said.
Despite pushback and talk of a “red wave” by President Trump, a succession of polls has supported the notion that Democrats have a distinct enthusiasm advantage headed into the midterms, which figures to help out local candidates down the ballot as well. If a blue wave is on the way for Democrats looking to take back Congress, even local candidates like de Ferranti and Kanninen stand to benefit.
Kaine’s contest with Corey Stewart, the Republican chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, isn’t projected to be a close race, yet it may drive Democrats to the polls all the same. Stewart’s embrace of Confederate monuments and past associations with white supremacist figures has made him especially controversial, even if polls regularly show him facing a double-digit deficit. Caiazzo expects Kaine to be “highly present” in Arlington leading up to the election, as driving up margins in the county is “important to their statewide strategy.”
Kanninen looks to be well positioned against independent Audrey Clement, a perennial candidate for county offices, but the “wave” Caiazzo hopes for might be especially meaningful for de Ferranti. He’s facing off against independent John Vihstadt, a well-funded incumbent who managed to win a pair of elections to the Board back in 2014 by wide margins and has earned endorsements from a variety of Democratic officeholders.
“We’ll take help from all corners and we’re certainly hopeful that the situation from national candidates will help us overall in Arlington,” Caiazzo said. “But we know it’s also important to campaign on local issues and we embrace that challenge.”
(Updated Aug. 1, 9:15 a.m.) For Rosslyn, and perhaps Arlington itself, Nestle’s arrival could represent a bit of a breakthrough.
As the federal government’s cut back on office space and more companies shift to telework, the neighborhood has seen its office vacancy rate skyrocket over the past few years, straining the county’s finances in the process. But the packaged food giant’s decision to relocate its corporate headquarters from California to Arlington, bringing 750 jobs to a high-rise at 1812 N. Moore Street, could very well signal the reversal of that trend.
Or, at least, that’s what local leaders are counting on.
“We were in a long kind of slump,” County Board member Libby Garvey told ARLnow, reflecting on Nestle’s impact as the company officially opened its Rosslyn offices today (Tuesday). “But this is really a turning point, and I think it’s really positive.”
Garvey points out that the building Nestle is moving into was built “on spec,” without any tenants locked in before its construction, and sat vacant for years after its completion in late 2013.
But since Nestle announced last year that it’d be moving to Arlington, she’s seen a domino effect in the neighborhood. The company’s not only brought one of its subsidiaries to Rosslyn, announcing Gerber’s relocation to the area this spring, but Nestle’s arrival also helped convince the Grocery Manufacturers Association to move to get closer to the company, Garvey says.
“It just put us on the map,” Garvey said. “You just start to attract birds of a feather.”
While those businesses may very well help fill the county’s coffers, they didn’t come without a cost. The Board handed out about $4 million in performance grants and committed to $2 million in infrastructure improvements to woo Nestle to Rosslyn in the first place, earning criticism from people all along the political spectrum in the process.
Yet Garvey points out that the county’s denied relocation incentives for some smaller companies looking to come to the area in the wake of Nestle’s move, only to win their business anyway. She has full confidence in county staff to make sure that Nestle is living up to the economic benchmarks laid out in the grant requirements, noting “if there’s a problem, I assume they’ll tell us.”
“But I don’t think there’s going to be a problem,” she said.
Incentives for corporations are a touchy subject around the county these days, with much of the debate around Arlington’s bid to win Amazon’s second headquarters centered on what exactly the county’s offered the tech company to move here.
Officials have largely been silent on the subject, citing the fierce national competition to win HQ2 and its promised 50,000 jobs. But with other states publicly offering billions in incentives and transportation improvements, Virginia leaders have noted that the county’s surest path to luring the tech giant may be highlighting its highly educated workforce and top-ranked schools.
Steve Presley, Nestle USA’s chairman and CEO, repeatedly highlighted the quality of the school system in laying out why his company picked Arlington, and that’s the sort of feature the county’s boosters believe could prove similarly persuasive to Amazon.
“They’ll be thinking not only, ‘Can we find the qualified workers we need?’ but, ‘How do our workers feel about coming to Virginia?'” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) “Workforce and the education system go hand in hand. That’s what we always need to focus on to attract businesses and we need to sell the fact that we have a really good education system compared to other states. That’s a real strength.”
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has certainly been involved in making that pitch to Amazon, reasoning “the more talent we bring in here, the more folks that follow.”
But he says there’s no telling when Arlington might know if Nestle is the biggest fish the county will land, or if there are more ribbon cuttings in its future.
“I think they’re keeping their cards pretty close,” Northam said. “I don’t know anything you don’t.”
Ahead of his own tough re-election bid, independent County Board member John Vihstadt says he plans to support Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) this fall, spurning Republican nominee Corey Stewart.
Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, has long defied easy political characterizations. He won office in 2014 with the backing of both the county’s GOP and Green Party, earned the endorsement of several elected Democrats and has donated to Republicans and Democrats alike over the years.
Now, he’s opting to endorse one Democrat even as another, Matt de Ferranti, challenges him for re-election this fall.
By contrast, Corey Stewart sows fear, resentment and division among Virginians everywhere he goes. While I don't always agree with Senator Tim Kaine, he has my vote on November 6. (3/3)
— John Vihstadt (@voteforvihstadt) July 18, 2018
Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the former head of President Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign, has frequently managed to stoke controversy throughout his lengthy political career. He earned national attention for pushing policies targeting undocumented immigrants around Prince William, embraced the Confederate flag during his unsuccessful run for governor last year and courted the support of white nationalists, though he has frequently disavowed any charges of racism leveled against him.
Since earning his party’s Senate nomination in June, Stewart has even attracted condemnations from some fellow Republicans. Accordingly, when he was informed of Vihstadt’s decision by ARLnow, Kaine was not overly surprised to hear the news.
“I have an opponent who, he’ll pick as many fights with Republicans as he’ll pick with Democrats,” Kaine said during a campaign stop in Ballston. “There may be a lot of Republicans who feel like he’s pushing them away, and I’m going to be proud to have anyone’s support.”
Stewart, however, says he’s never even heard of Vihstadt, and quickly dismissed his criticisms.
“A lot of the establishment crowd have more in common with Tim Kaine than they do with me,” Stewart said. “They don’t have anything in common with me, because they don’t want much to change in Washington. It’s all very chummy… I’d rather lose all those establishment types and pick up the working class voters. That’s a good trade, to me.”
Yet Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the county’s Democratic Committee, pointed out Vihstadt declined to back Kaine in 2016 when he was on the ticket as Hillary Clinton’s running mate — Vihstadt put out a statement after the election saying that “all four party nominees on the Virginia ballot for president fell short of what our nation deserved — and needed in 2016.” She sees Vihstadt’s decision as “further evidence that voters who previously considered third party candidates are voting Democratic in the Trump era.”
“These voters will send a strong message in 2018 that the extreme Trump-GOP agenda is bad for Virginia and bad for Arlington,” Caiazzo wrote in an email. “We expect that a majority of Arlington voters will vote for Democrats up and down the ballot this November, including Democrat Matt de Ferranti for County Board.”
Political scientists have indeed speculated in recent weeks that Stewart could hurt the party’s other nominees down the ballot, should Republican voters stay home. Several Republican members of Congress have already declined to campaign with Stewart, and while Vihstadt might not be wholly dependent on GOP voters, he too could fall victim to a wave election for Democrats made all the larger by Stewart’s shortcomings.
Stewart doesn’t think much of that idea — “It’s bull,” he says.
“I’m going to be a lot more competitive and a lot stronger this fall than people think,” Stewart said. “Tim Kaine is the sort of old, elite Democrat that people are tired of. There’s a change going on in Washington, and it’s being led by President Trump.”
For his part, de Ferranti doesn’t believe Vihstadt’s public support for Kaine will make a difference by the time November arrives. He sees backing Kaine over Stewart as a “low bar” for anyone to clear, given his dim view of Stewart’s politics.
“Everybody should vote for Tim Kaine, who is a phenomenal leader, and against someone who is clearly racist,” de Ferranti said.
Metro Workers’ Strike Threat Fizzles — After two straight days of talks, tensions between Metro and its largest workers’ union seem to be subsiding. The two sides are planning a “cooling off period” through Monday, and the union is starting to circulate a list of demands to elected officials. [Washington Post]
New Metro Railcars are on Hold — Don’t expect to see more 7000-series railcars on the tracks anytime soon. Metro says wiring problems with the cars have forced the rail service to commission a new round of inspections before putting them in service. [Greater Greater Washington]
County Board Wants to Name Bridge for Veterans — Arlington officials are asking the state to christen the Washington Blvd bridge over Jefferson Davis Highway, just near the Pentagon, as “Arlington Veterans Bridge” by the time its fully rebuilt later this year. [InsideNova]
Kaine Pouring Lemonade in Arlington Tonight — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) plans to stump in Arlington and lend a hand as a “guest pourer” at a lemonade stand managed by Bridges to Independence, his campaign says. The event, designed to benefit the homelessness-focused nonprofit, starts at 6 p.m. at the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union (4121 Wilson Blvd).
Flickr pool photo via Erinn Shirley
Arlington Named Top Digital County Again — “Arlington County is the No. 1 digital county in the nation for a third straight year. The Center for Digital Government and National Association of Counties 2018 award recognizes Arlington for its best technology practices in areas of open government, transparency, public engagement, planning, cyber security and operations.” [Arlington County]
Robbery in Courthouse — Two men reportedly robbed the Dunkin’ Donuts on Wilson Blvd in Courthouse yesterday evening. The men demanded money and fled the scene with cash but did not display any weapons during the robbery, according to initial reports. [Twitter]
Kaine to Campaign in Arlington Today — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tonight “will host a ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ community conversation in Arlington to engage Northern Virginia voters on the critical issues facing our country and take their questions.” The event is taking place at the Barcroft Park Picnic Shelter (4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive) at 6:30 p.m.
Britney Spears Touches Down in Arlington — Britney Spears arrived at Reagan National Airport ahead of the kick off of her summer tour. Photos and video show her walking through the terminal with a small entourage. [Daily Mail]
Arlington to Pay to Help Retain Federal Tenant — “Arlington taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $8 million over 10 years to subsidize a lease that will retain the Office of Naval Research in the county. County Board members on July 14 are expected to approve an incentive package that will keep the federal agency in its current 314,000 square feet of office space in Ballston.” [InsideNova]
Suspect Hailed Cab After Pike Burglary — “A burglar made his getaway from a scene in Arlington by hailing a taxi, according to officials. The Arlington County Police Department said the burglar targeted a business in the 3100 block of Columbia Pike near the Westmont neighborhood at about 10:25 a.m. on Sunday.” [Fox 5 DC]
George Mason Drive Detour — A “small detour” will be in place this weekend on N. George Mason Drive “as crews above remove the old half still remaining from the soon-to-be-replaced Carlin Springs Road Bridge.” [Twitter]
White Ford Bronco Profiled — Prolific local 90s cover band White Ford Bronco is the subject of a newspaper profile that dubs it the “undisputed king of D.C. cover bands.” The profile recounts that “at a recent concert at the Clarendon Ballroom, guys in button-down shirts and Birkenstocks pumped their fists to the chorus of ‘Mr. Jones.'” [Washington Post]
Metrobus Delays This Morning — Metrobus passengers reported delays and missed routes this morning, which WMATA says was the result of “bus operators reporting late to work as part of a collective labor action by their union.” [Twitter, WTOP]
President Trump may have agreed to stop separating families at the Mexican border, but Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (D-Va.) fear the administration could soon concoct a plan to jail immigrant families indefinitely instead.
At a gathering of local faith leaders and immigrant advocates today (Thursday) at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd), both senators expressed relief that Trump backed down from his policy of breaking up migrant families that attempt to cross the border illegally.
Yet Warner lamented that Trump’s executive order “raises as many questions as it answers,” and the senators are deeply concerned that the White House will now try to convince Congress to pass some sort of compromise legislation on the issue.
Trump’s order yesterday (Wednesday) required families to be detained together until their criminal and immigration proceedings are completed — but a federal court order requires children to be released after 20 days, and Kaine and Warner both worry that Trump could try to push through legislation to supersede that order and remove any limit on detaining families.
“We could see version two, or version three, of this, that will get presented as something that’s not as bad as what came before,” Kaine said. “But I’m not going to agree to something bad just because he’s being cruel.”
Priscilla Martinez, a fourth-generation Mexican American with Loudoun’s All Dulles Area Muslim Society, worried that such an approach by Trump might prove effective.
While she noted that the public may be outraged about the family separation policy now, she’s concerned that people could become “anesthetized” to less extreme versions of it. She drew a parallel to the public reaction to Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries — while the initial executive order prompted mass protests, the administration subsequently proposed less draconian versions of the same policy that gradually drew less attention.
“They could easily put something forward that’s still bad, but people accept it because it’s less awful that what came before,” Martinez said. “I’m concerned it’s so bad right now, people might run out of steam.”
That’s why Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, the legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s immigrant advocacy program, urged the senators to not accept that this debate is over simply because Trump has changed the family separation policy. He suggested that they press the administration to allow children to be released to other family members instead of being held in a jail cell, a process he says Trump has worked to make increasingly difficult.
“Kids don’t belong in cages, and that’s the bottom line,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said. “Whether it’s the same cage as their mother and father or two separate cages… Any solution that results in kids being kept in cages is no solution at all.”
Kaine and Warner agreed to that request, and they’re pledging to visit Virginia’s detention facilities for immigrant children in Bristow and Staunton to inspect their conditions. They do take some hope from reports today that the Border Patrol plans to stop referring migrant parents who cross the border illegally with children for criminal charges, but they say they can’t be sure what the White House will do next.
“This administration has no plan,” Warner said. “As we’ve seen continuously, he zigs and zags on an hourly basis.”
The issue of children being separated from parents seeking asylum at the U.S. border has prompted both words and actions from Arlington’s members of Congress.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) yesterday signed on as a cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act — Democratic-backed legislation that would end the family separation policy that has sparked nationwide and even international outrage.
“Donald Trump’s family separation policy is immoral and Congress must put a stop to it,” said Beyer, in a statement. “Treating legal asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing violence which endangers their lives, in such a cruel manner is a violation of our country’s values and internationally-accepted agreements on human rights.”
Beyer yesterday also visited two fathers who were separated from their children at the border and being held at a detention center in Maryland. TV cameras were there as Beyer and his wife Megan described a “very emotional, very difficult” discussion with the men.
Today I visited an ICE detention facility outside Baltimore with @Call_Me_Dutch.
There we spoke for an hour with two fathers, Carlos and Mario, who had been separated from their children, a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, for months.
What they told us was so disturbing: pic.twitter.com/MZTifSlKzc
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) June 19, 2018
Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, have written a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, requesting an “immediate response” to a number of questions about the family separations, including:
- Whether any facilities in Virginia are being used to house children separated from their families
- The rationale for the “zero tolerance” policy that prompts separations
- The plan for detention infrastructure to hold asylum seekers
- Resources for separated children, including medical and mental health services
- Specific information on the conditions for girls and toddlers
- Plans for facilitating family reunification
Also yesterday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recalled four members of the Virginia National Guard from their service on the U.S. border.
Today I'm recalling four Virginia National Guard soldiers and one helicopter from Arizona. Virginia will not devote any resource to border enforcement actions that support the inhumane policy of separating children from their parents. https://t.co/AmdbE0XoFi
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) June 19, 2018
There’s more local fallout from the family separation issue. The Methodist church is considering expelling Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a member over his enforcement of the policy and justification of it by citing a Bible verse.
News outlets reported that Sessions is a member of the Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, in addition to a Methodist church in his home state of Alabama.
Photo via @RepDonBeyer
Happy Trails to Barry Trotz — Arlington 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
The lone Social Security Administration field office in Arlington is officially set to close its doors two weeks from now, as county leaders continue to press for answers on why the location is shutting down.
The SSA announced in a news release Wednesday (June 6) that the office, located at 1401 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, will close on June 22. That will force the roughly 25,000 Arlington residents who visit the office each year to leave the county to receive an in-person consultation on their benefits.
In its release, the SSA suggested that Arlingtonians will be able to visit the administration’s offices in Alexandria, Fairfax or D.C. instead, or even use the SSA’s online services. Yet, ever since news of the office’s closure became public last month, advocates for seniors and local elected officials have argued that Social Security recipients often lack the transportation options and technical savvy to make those alternatives viable.
“This field office is conveniently located for our older and disabled Arlington constituents who trust and rely on the direct assistance provided at this location and may lack close access to transportation, or wish to discuss their affairs in-person rather than over the internet,” U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote in a May 21 letter to the SSA’s acting inspector general. “At a time when our nation’s population of seniors is growing, it would be imprudent to reduce access to services seniors need and demand.”
The SSA claims, however, that its “expiring lease” at the Rosslyn building is forcing it to close the office. That argument doesn’t hold much water with Arlington leaders, who have long lamented that Rosslyn boasts an office vacancy rate of more than 20 percent.
“Given the vacancy rate within Arlington County and the likely continued availability of existing space, office space availability is not an issue,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) wrote in a May 1 letter to the administration’s inspector general.
Beyer also noted in his letter that the county has “made an overture to assist with finding a suitable space” for a new office in Arlington — a county spokeswoman confirmed that County Manager Mark Schwartz made such an offer. An SSA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on what discussions the agency has had, if any, with Arlington officials about staying in the area.
Kaine and Warner added in their note that county leaders have even floated the possibility that “it may be possible to extend the field office’s current lease because redevelopment of the Wilson Boulevard location is unlikely to occur for several years.” The County Board approved a full redevelopment of the block — also the location of the famed “Deep Throat” parking garage where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward met with a source to help break open the Watergate scandal — back in 2014, but demolition work still has yet to start in the area.
Accordingly, Beyer, Kaine and Warner all demanded an investigation into how the SSA ultimately decided to close the office, and the administration’s inspector general agreed to order a review of the matter on May 21.
“The Social Security Administration should postpone the closure of its Arlington office while this review goes forward,” Beyer wrote in a statement. “It would be inappropriate for the office to be closed before the effects on the community are assessed. I thank the Acting Inspector General for undertaking this review, and look forward to its conclusions.”
The SSA office closure in Arlington is hardly an isolated decision, however. The administration has closed 125 of its roughly 1,250 offices since 2000, according to the advocacy group Social Security Works.