It’s Groundhog Day — Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow today, suggesting that we’re in for six more weeks of winter. The meteorological scolds at the Capital Weather Gang, however, think the prognosticating groundhog is wrong and that spring may arrive early. [Capital Weather Gang, Accuweather]
More Details on Nestlé Deal — Landing Nestlé is a huge win for Arlington County, for Rosslyn and for 1812 N. Moore Street owner Monday Properties, which stuck to its plan of keeping the skyscraper’s top floors empty as it awaited a big tenant. As part of the deal, Monday will put the company’s logo on two sides of the building, will nix a restaurant space to build a separate entrance for Nestlé’ employees, and will “more than double the size of the building’s wellness center to include space for spinning, yoga and pilates.” [Washington Business Journal]
Towing Bill Fails in Senate — A legislative effort to sandbag Arlington with state-mandated towing regulations that are friendlier to towing companies has failed in the state Senate. But a similar bill is still alive in the House of Delegates. [InsideNova]
Library Tells Story of Stratford Desegregation — Arlington Public Library is launching “a unique online exhibition and searchable database – built from thousands of photos, documents and recordings – surrounding the legal and moral battles that culminated with four courageous African American students taking their seats on Feb. 2, 1959 at Arlington’s Stratford Junior High School.” Dubbed “Project DAPS,” the collection will debut Feb. 25. [Arlington County, Project DAPS]
Catholic Diocese Launches New Website — The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has launched a new website. The new bishop, Bishop Michael Burbidge introduced the redesigned website in a video. [Catholic Diocese of Arlington, YouTube]
Arlington Men’s Club Turns 10 — Arlington has a “secretive and haphazardly organized” group called the Men’s Development Club. The club, formed 10 years ago, is basically an excuse for dads to get out of the house and drink beer with other dads. [Falls Church News-Press]
Photo courtesy Alexis Fedoroff
The House of Delegates bill, HB 1960, was proposed by Del. Tim Hugo, a Prince William and Fairfax County Republican. It would modify Virginia’s existing towing law with a number of provisions that would only apply to Northern Virginia jurisdictions in the state’s “Planning District 8,” which includes Arlington.
Among the proposed Northern Virginia-specific changes:
- Raise the base towing fee to $150 and the maximum towing fee to $200.
- Prohibit Arlington’s new “real time authorization” requirement, which requires businesses to authorize each individual tow.
- Require that the chair of a local towing advisory board be a licensed towing operator. Currently, the chair of Arlington’s towing advisory committee is a local citizen.
An Arlington County fact sheet about the bill states that it “would unnecessarily restrict the ability of local governments to provide protections to vehicle owners in the taking of their property without their consent.”
“I would describe it as a very consumer unfriendly bill,” County Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow.com. “It raises tow rates for the second year in a row with no fair market assessment to justify that.”
Cristol is encouraging residents to reach out to their local delegates and state senators to encourage them to work to defeat the bill.
“We think it’s a bad deal for our community and we hope people will let their state legislators know that they think so too,” she said.
On a statewide basis, the bill would require tow truck drivers to notify animal control when they tow a vehicle “that is occupied by an unattended companion animal.” It also establishes a $100 fine for towing operators that violate state towing regulations, to be paid to Virginia’s Literary Fund, and prohibits the appointment of anyone other than towing operators, law enforcement representatives and a single member of the general public to a towing advisory board.
Above the objection of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and numerous local business owners, the Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved a series of changes to its towing ordinance, including a controversial provision requiring businesses to authorize individual tows.
The so-called “real time authorization” provision was approved with a delayed implementation date: July 1, 2017. That will give the County Manager time to “identify alternative strategies to mitigate aggressive towing practices and provide an interim report,” according to a county press release.
The provision, which was not recommended by the County Manager nor the county’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, requires “real time authorization for all tows from commercial property conducted during business hours.” Currently, businesses can grant blanket pre-authorization to towing companies to tow any vehicle trespassing on their lots.
Other provisions approved unanimously by the County Board include:
- “Require tow truck drivers to photograph the vehicle at all four corners, providing vehicle owners with important safeguards should their vehicle be damaged, and providing towers with protection against false damage claims.”
- “Requiring that the receipt given to the vehicle owner include a disclosure that photos and/or video evidence taken before the tow are available upon request and the contact information for the County office that handles trespass towing complaints.”
- “Requiring towing and recovery operators to properly secure all loads to meet all safety standards.”
- “A new requirement for signage/markings on the interior of parking lots or facilities to provide additional, clear information to vehicle owners about the parking restrictions on the property. This requirement builds upon the existing requirement for signs at all vehicle entrances.”
- “Extend the eligible area for the location of storage facilities from three miles to three and one-quarter miles. This could allow more eligible locations for storage facilities, giving property owners more contractors to choose from without burdening vehicle owners in retrieving their vehicles.”
“These amendments provide important protections to vehicle owners whose vehicles are taken without their consent,” County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “We believe these reasonable requirements support the rights of Arlington County property owners and their tenants to enforce restrictions on their property while providing common sense standards for how vehicles are removed.”
The Board also authorized two additional towing fees: $25 for towing a vehicle in the evening (7 p.m.-8 a.m.) and $25 for towing a vehicle on a weekend or holiday. The changes were required by state code. Together, the fees could increase the initial charge for a tow (not including storage fees) to as high as $185.
Another provision prohibits towing companies from towing public safety vehicles, except at the direction of police.
Lyon Park Mansion Auction Is Tonight — The huge “Pershing Manor” mansion at 3120 N. Pershing Drive is scheduled to hit the auction block at 5 p.m. tonight. The opening bid is $750,000, though the property is assessed at $4 million. [ARLnow, ARLnow]
McHenry Talks About Towing Spat — ESPN sportscaster Britt McHenry is opening up about the time she berated an Advanced Towing employee in Arlington — and was caught on camera doing so, in a video that would go viral around the world. McHenry says she regrets what she said during the 2015 incident. The fallout has hurt her both professionally and personally, she says. [Marie Claire]
Garvey’s Swearing In Ceremony — Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey will be sworn in for her second full term today. The ceremony will take place in the County Board room (2100 Clarendon Blvd) at 5 p.m. It will feature remarks from Garvey and a poem from Arlington County Poet Laureate Katherine E. Young. [Arlington County]
Developers Want Gondola, Boathouse — At a Bisnow event in Pentagon City last week, local developers said they’re generally supportive of the proposed Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, though they’d also be interested in a Rosslyn boathouse to connect with a local water taxi system. Rosslyn, they noted, has fewer opportunities to develop its waterfront than jurisdictions like Alexandria, Prince George’s County and D.C. [Bisnow]
Volunteers Needed for Wreath Laying — The group Wreaths Across America is seeking volunteers to help lay wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. The holiday tradition will take place this coming Saturday morning. [Wreaths Across America]
Photo courtesy Peter Golkin
The Chamber is very much opposed to a proposed addition to the county’s towing ordinance that would require business owners to individually authorize each tow from their parking lots. The Arlington County Board is set to take up the issue this coming Tuesday, with the County Manager recommending against the so-called “second signature” requirement.
On Airbnb and other short term rentals, the Chamber has actively engaged its members on the county’s new proposed regulations, which are going before the Board on Saturday. With hotels in support of additional regulations, and apartment owners against (they would like the option of generating revenue through Airbnb while they lease up new buildings), the Chamber has declined to take a stance beyond encouraging its members to make their own voices heard.
In this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast, we asked Kate about those issues, about the current business climate in Arlington — including why so many restaurants and retailers have been closing lately — and about her ascension to the role of President and CEO of the Chamber at a relatively young age.
Post-Election Harassment in Arlington — Among the incidents of “harassment and intimidation” reported across the country following the election was one in Arlington. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a woman was crossing the street when two men in a car yelled, “you better be ready because with Trump, we can grab you by the p***y even if you don’t want it.” [Independent UK, Southern Poverty Law Center]
GOP Wants Va. Electoral College Change — Following another year of Virginia being a blue state in the presidential election, state Republicans are pushing to change Virginia from a “winner take all” state to one that allocates Electoral College electors by congressional district. [InsideNova]
Heavy Traffic This Morning — With rain and fog slowing things down, heavy traffic has been reported on local highways throughout the morning rush hour. [Twitter]
Chamber Threatens to Go to Richmond on Towing — If Arlington County follows through on a proposal that would make it harder for property owners to have trespassing cars towed off their lot, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce says it may go to Richmond to lobby for a law superseding Arlington’s regulation. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Drew H.
The Board voted to advertise a series of changes — final approval is set for next month — but not before making some alterations to the County Manager’s recommendations.
The alterations were essentially intended to prevent towing malfeasance. Among them:
- The Board inserted a provision that requires towing companies to receive authorization from the property owner to tow a vehicle, which would apply only to non-residential properties during business hours.
- The Board kept the current requirement that tow truck drivers photograph the condition of a vehicle before towing it, and added a requirement that tow companies notify those who have been towed that they may view the photos upon request.
- While the County Manager recommended language stipulating that tow companies must notify police of a tow within 10 minutes, rather than “immediately,” as currently worded, the Board gave itself the option of requiring police notification prior to a tow.
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce objected to the authorization requirement — also referred to as a “second signature” — on the grounds that it could cost businesses more time and money to remove trespassers who park on their lots.
The Chamber sent a letter to the Board expressing its “vehement opposition” to the requirement. Chamber President and CEO Kate Bates also spoke at the meeting.
“Nobody likes it when their car is towed but that is not justification for putting significant burden on property owners,” said Bates.
County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette proposed the addition of the second signature requirement. It passed, but with at least two County Board members saying they were unlikely to support it when a final vote is taken next month.
Fisette said that the low number of formal complaints against towing companies — there were 87 towing complaints and seven violations recorded by the county in 2015 — does not reflect the reality of widespread disdain for so-called “predatory towing” practices in Arlington.
As evidence, Fisette cited an ARLnow.com poll from last year in which 84 percent of respondents — nearly 2,300 people — said towing companies in Arlington were more predatory in their conduct than “just doing their job” for local businesses.
“It’s actually refreshing to have the Vice Chair cite an ARLnow poll,” said Board member John Vihstadt, to laughter in the County Board room.
Fisette also cited an ARLnow.com opinion column that recounted someone being towed from the former Taco Bell lot on Wilson Blvd in 2000 while eating at the restaurant — because a spotter saw him walk next door to get cash from an ATM.
A resident who spoke at the Board meeting agreed with Fisette’s assessment of towing practices.
“Many mom and pop restaurants are being harmed by aggressive and predatory towing… it’s driving business away,” said Sarah McKinley, a towing critic and the vice president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association. “A second signature creates a balance and gives retail owners some control over this situation so they aren’t so damaged.”
The Chamber, however, said towing companies provide a valuable service to local businesses. The Chamber supported the County Manager’s original proposal, which it described as a “compromise.”
“We… emphasize our vehement opposition to the addition of a second signature requirement for the removal of illegally parked vehicles or the prohibition of parking ‘spotters’ to monitor parking areas,” the Chamber wrote in its letter to the Board.
“The addition of either would present significant administrative and cost burdens to implement and would deteriorate the level of service provided by towing contractors to local businesses who must keep parking areas clear and available to their employees, visitors and customers to remain financially viable,” the letter said. “We appreciate the steps the County has been working towards to make Arlington a more business friendly community, and urge extreme caution to the Board in exploring proposals that would shift things in the opposite direction.”
Someone apparently brought their baby blue Bentley to Saturday’s Halloween bar crawl in Clarendon — but didn’t pay enough attention to the temporary no parking signs on Wilson Blvd.
The $200,000+ coupe, with New York tags, was towed by Redman Fleet Services, the towing provider to the Arlington County Police Department.
No additional information was immediately available.
Photo courtesy Clarendon Nights
A set of proposed changes to Arlington’s trespass towing ordinance would remove the requirement that tow truck drivers photograph the condition of a vehicle before towing it.
The Arlington County Board is set to consider an advertisement of the changes at its meeting this coming Saturday.
The proposal would not change the requirement that tow truck drivers obtain photographic or video evidence “clearly showing the location of the vehicle, substantiating the reason for its removal.” Instead, it removes a provision calling for any existing damage to the vehicle be documented.
Brian Stout, the county’s legislative liaison, says the change won’t have much practical impact, as photographing the condition of the vehicle was more of a best practice guideline than an enforceable law.
“Originally envisioned as a way to protect vehicle owners in the event of damage to their vehicle resulting from the tow, the County’s ordinance was amended in 2012 to require the tower to document the condition of the vehicle,” Stout told ARLnow.com. “Recognizing that the County has no role in damage claims, language was included stating that failure to meet this requirement does not result in a violation of the ordinance. This requirement has led to confusion among all parties regarding what is required to satisfy this provision and has led many vehicle owners to believe that the County has a role to play in such damage claims, which we do not.”
“While the County maintains that it is good practice for the towing and recovery operator to document the condition of the vehicle prior to its removal,” Stout added, “we believe removal of this provision will provide clarity to all parties while also not decreasing protections to vehicle owners.”
Other proposed towing changes include:
- Requiring additional signs on the interior of a parking facility to supplement signs at the entrances and “identify additional parking restrictions should they exist.”
- Adding an additional $25 fee for tows on weekends, holidays and between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays, as required by a new state law.
- Allowing the towing storage facility to be 3.25 miles away from the county line rather than the existing 3 mile requirement, thus allowing additional towing companies to compete for business in Arlington.
- Clarifying that nothing in the ordinance “shall release tow truck drivers from liability for failure to use reasonable care while towing a vehicle.”
- Clarifying existing language that prohibits the towing of federal, state or local public safety vehicles.
The changes were all discussed by the county’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, the voting members of which are three towing company operators, three representatives from the Arlington County Police Department and one local resident, Nancy Iacomini, who chairs the board.
Iacomini tried to introduce amendments that would keep the requirement to photograph the condition of towed vehicles, but the amendments failed.
Separately, the county is hoping to obtain permission to allow it to add more local residents to the towing board.
The county’s draft set of legislative priorities for 2017, which is to be voted upon by the County Board next month, includes an item seeking a law that would “permit localities to add an equal number of voting members of the general public to their towing advisory board as there are representatives of local law-enforcement agencies and representatives of licensed towing and recovery operators.”
“The composition of voting members of local trespass towing advisory boards is a matter that is controlled by Virginia State Code Section 46.2-1233.2,” Stout said. “The County’s request would allow for localities that have a local ordinance and advisory board to allow for equal voting representation from the general public if they chose to do so. As these issues affect the general public in a substantial way, we believe that localities should have the ability to allow for equal representation.”
Ultimate Frisbee at APS — The Arlington School Board is expected to vote to make Ultimate Frisbee an official co-curricular sport in middle schools and high schools. Arlington is already a hotbed of Ultimate play at the high school club level. It’s likely to be years before the sport is recognized by the Virginia High School League, the statewide intramural sports governing body. [InsideNova*]
Development Before and After — A series of before and after photos, via Google Street View, show some of the more dramatic changes from the last decade of development in Arlington. [Rent Cafe]
Local White Supremacist Quoted — The Associated Press yesterday quoted Richard Spencer, a 38-year-old white supremacist who reportedly lives in Arlington and believes that African-Americans, Hispanics and Jews should be removed from the United States. Spencer, an alt-right figure, attended the Republican National Convention in support of Donald Trump. [Associated Press]
Few Proven Towing Violations — Out of 18,642 trespass tows in Arlington last year, only 7 — or 0.04 percent — were found by authorities to have violated local towing ordinances. [InsideNova*]
Watts Finishes Another Race — Jamie Watts, a fixture in the local running scene, has finished another race. Watts, who has cerebral palsy, completed Saturday night’s Crystal City Twilighter 5K despite sweltering conditions. [WUSA 9*]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley.
*Denotes website that employs pop-up ads, autoplay video or other disruptions to the user experience.
The first speaker was Florence Fee, who complained about alleged predatory towing practices. She described an occasion in which she was going to the doctor for a prescription and blood test and, due to a lack of available parking at the hospital, she parked at a parking lot for a small shopping center nearby.
“I was gone about 15-20 minutes, came back out to the parking lot, walked outside and had a very surreal moment because my car was completely gone and I had to stop for a minute and recall if I actually did drive into the parking lot,” she said. “There was a sign but it was maybe 1×2 feet, not a large sign. I walked into one of the small shops and the clerks there said to me they saw exactly what had happened. The towers were hiding behind bushes, they saw me coming in, watched where I walked to and when I walked to the Kaiser medical facility instead of the shops, they immediately towed my car. I want to stress I was gone 15-20 minutes and I was at a medical facility.”
Also making an appearance was a man named Matt, who has published a website devoted to making a case against Advanced Towing, which he says damaged his Jeep during a tow. Matt said argued that the only complaints taken into account by the advisory board were the official ones sent into Arlington County, compared to the dozens of complaints on websites like Yelp, where Advanced Towing currently has a 1-star rating from 114 reviews.
The advisory board is currently seeking public comment on the county’s towing ordinance, through Aug. 15. Comments received will be considered at the board’s Sept. 15 meeting.
Voting members of the advisory board include an Arlington resident and several members of the police department and owners of towing companies.
Washington Blvd Trail Design Approved — The Penrose Neighborhood Association voted to endorse a new design for Phase II of the county’s Washington Blvd Trail project. The trail was originally supposed to be built a few years ago, but residents objected to the loss of trees the trail’s path would have necessitated. [Greater Greater Washington]
Anti-Gun Store Car Towed — Opponents of the planned Lyon Park gun store say the store’s landlord ordered a car towed from the parking lot because it was covered in anti-gun store literature. Despite being covered in the articles, which were held in place by colorful magnets, the car actually belonged to one of the building’s tenants and wasn’t parked illegally, says the group Act4LyonPark. [Facebook]
Female Firefighters in Arlington — In 1974, Judith Livers became the first paid, full-time municipal firefighter in the United States when she took a job with the Arlington County Fire Department. On Friday, a graduation ceremony was held for the county’s latest firefighting recruit class. Continuing Livers’ legacy, four of the 14-member class are female. Nationally, only about 4 percent of firefighters are women, while 9 percent of Arlington’s firefighters are female. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Philip Pierce, a 35-year-old Arlington resident, was pulled over by police around 5 a.m. Sunday, on the 4000 block of Wilson Blvd in Ballston, after he was observed conducting an illegal tow by an officer, police said. Around the same time, the owner of the tow company informed police of suspicions that Pierce was stealing items from vehicles.
Police say they found “numerous stolen items” inside Pierce’s vehicle. It’s unclear whether any of the items came from cars that were being towed. Police located one of the the owners of the stolen items, whose car was broken into but not towed, said Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage.
Police also performed a field sobriety test on Pierce and found marijuana in the vehicle, said Savage.
Pierce faces numerous charges, including three counts of grand larceny, one count of grand theft auto and one count of driving while intoxicated, along with possession of burglary tools, possession of a controlled substance and a civil violation for failing to inform police before performing a tow.
John O’Neill, owner of Ballston-based Advanced Towing, confirmed to ARLnow.com Monday afternoon that Pierce had been working for his company.
“I was alerted to suspicious activity and immediately contacted the police who were able to investigate and make an arrest within just a few minutes of my call,” O’Neill said. “For accuracy it is important to point out it is not accurate to say the suspect was performing an ‘illegal tow’ as noted in your article but was apprehended in the process of apparently stealing a car by using a tow truck. The vehicle being stolen and tampered with by the suspect… was not a vehicle subject to being towed pursuant to enforcement of parking restrictions hence it was not a legal or illegal tow.”
“The vehicle was apparently a randomly chosen by the suspect for a vehicle theft,” O’Neill added. Pierce no longer works for Advanced, he said.
Pierce has had other recent run-ins with the law in Arlington. In 2008 he was charged with possession of marijuana and an unlawful vehicle window tint. Last year he was also charged with DWI, although in January he was found guilty on an amended misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. In February he was charged with a traffic infraction for improper towing.
Police are not releasing the name of the tow company Pierce worked for, citing a policy against identifying the employers of those who are are arrested.
The State and Local Predatory Towing Enforcement Act introduced by congressmen Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was added to an existing transportation bill as an amendment on Wednesday morning.
As it stands, federal law limits the ability of state and local governments to regulate the towing industry. The bill-turned-amendment would give them the ability to do so in an attempt to prevent predatory towing.
“State and local governments provide the best authority to regulate the towing industry and protect Virginians from unfair, predatory practices,” Rep. Beyer said in a press release. “We need more common-sense, consumer friendly solutions like this amendment to protect our constituents’ wallets.”
The predatory towing debate isn’t new to Arlington. The issue received national attention this past spring when ESPN sportscaster and WJLA alumna Britt McHenry was caught on camera losing her temper at an employee at Ballston-based Advanced Towing.
Shortly after the video of the incident was published online, Beyer’s bill was first introduced to the House.
In May, County Board Member Jay Fisette told ARLnow that under the legislation, he would support giving a towing veto to local businesses, requiring the owner’s approval before a vehicle is removed from their property.
The legislation Beyer’s bill would be amending, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act or STRR Act, is expected to pass in the House of Representatives by the end of the week, according to the Congressman’s office.
The bill is nearly 600 pages long and would authorize more than $300 billion for transportation across the country. Specific plans for the funds include improving infrastructure, highway safety programs and public transportation.
According to The Hill, Beyer’s and Hollen’s amendment is one of nearly 300 up for debate by the House before voting on the STRR Act.
Mayra Perez said she got the news that her 9-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Charlotte, had been killed while she was in Chicago making preparations for her wedding next month. She took the next flight home.
“Instead of picking out her flower girl dress I’m picking out an urn for her,” Perez said in a phone interview, her voice trembling. “This is the worst possible thing that could happen… we are beyond heartbroken.”
The incident happened around 5:00 p.m. on Friday, on the 1200 block of N. Herndon Street in Clarendon.
According to police, a dog walker who has numerous clients in The Clarendon Apartments had parked illegally in front of the building. Building management called Advanced Towing to tow the car, not realizing that it belonged to a popular dog walker who often parked there while walking dogs in the building.
“As the tow truck was towing the vehicle away, the dog walker approached the driver while walking three dogs,” according to Arlington County Police spokesman Lt. Kip Malcolm. “A conversation or argument occurs and the dog walker asks the driver to pull around so that he can discuss it with management. As the tow truck driver is pulling away, one of the dogs was struck by the back, driver’s side tire and subsequently died.”
John O’Neill, owner of Advanced Towing, said the dog walker was walking away when the tow truck began to move. Unknown to the driver, the dog was on an extended leash and ran under the wheel as the driver began to move, O’Neill said.
“The tow driver is a dog owner and was devastated when he realized the dog had been struck,” O’Neill said. The driver was distraught and was given the rest of the day off, he said.
Perez, however, said that she heard a different version of events from the dog walker and a witness. She blames Advanced Towing for her dog’s death.
“Our girl was not on an extended leash,” she said. “I have the leash and my girls DO NOT use extended leashes.”
“You see this tow company in our neighborhood constantly flying down the street,” she said of Advanced. “It’s lie after lie. I just don’t find it fair. We lost our family member.”
Police investigated the incident but no one was charged. Perez said she and her fiancee, Aakash Desia, are planning on speaking to an attorney.
“It’s been tough… it’s a life changing event,” said Desia. “This is the worst kind of negligence.”
Desia questioned why tow trucks don’t have camera on the sides in order to avoid accidents like this. Perez, meanwhile, is mourning Charlotte and lamenting that she didn’t bring her to Chicago with her, as she usually does. Matilda, Charlotte’s younger Yorkie sister, is also mourning her death.
“Charlotte was loved and spoiled beyond measure,” Perez said. “She will be greatly missed by the both of us and her sister.”