Arlington, VA

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Hope is an action. It is fairly useless unless you put in the work. Our democracy depends on participation.

If you believe in stability for our democracy; believe that we are in a climate crisis; that healthcare is a human right; love is love; science matters; and that we must regain global leadership… vote for Joe Biden because our hope for a better future depends on it.

Voting is just your first step of action. Here are other ways to help make a difference in this election and in our collective hope for a better future.

Phone bank and text voters in swing states

I preface this with a reminder about Senator Mark Warner’s last election in 2014 where he was up in the polls by almost 10 points and on election day only edged out his opponent Ed Gillespie by 16,000 votes — so still vote here in Virginia like your life depends on it.

That being said, Virginia is not the heated battle ground it used to be. Two easy ways to make an impact in this election from your home is to participate in phone and text banking in swing states.

Swing states this election include but are not limited to: Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and Minnesota.

Four actions that have been highlighted to me as important in this last stretch by someone that participates on national strategy calls are: 1) North Carolina phone banking; 2) North Carolina ballot curing (reach voters who had their ballots rejected to cure the issue so their vote counts); 3) Florida text banking; and 4) Pennsylvania text banking.

Join local groups that support your policy goals

National politics can be frustrating. Sometimes it feels like you are just another note in the Intranet Quorum (IQ) congressional database unless you have some sort of connection.

What is fantastic about local government is that you can make a tangible difference on almost every issue you care about at the local level. Instead of waiting sometimes decades for things to get done in Congress, get it done here locally or at a state level.

Arlington Commissions

There are over 50 commissions in Arlington. Whatever your passion is, there is bound to be a group of devoted Arlington citizens who are developing policy proposals for the county to implement. Right now there are 15 commission openings and you can apply for them easily online here.

Open Door Hours

Every Monday you can schedule a time to talk to your county board members. If you have spoken at a county board meeting you will notice there is simply not enough time for board members to respond to everyone. For an actual dialogue with your elected officials, office hours can really help you move the ball on policies that are a priority to you.

Have a conversation in-person

It’s easy to repost a meme or share an article on Facebook. Unfortunately it has become hard to have a civil conversation face to face with people that you happen to disagree with.

Locally, I have participated in two organizations that do a great job of bringing people with differing perspectives together that I would recommend.

Make America Dinner Again is hosted by a traditionally conservative Koch brothers organization. Former columnist Matt Hurtt put together one of these conversations pre-COVID that I attended and they now have online options. It was great because I very rarely am able to find a large group of conservatives, libertarians, moderates, liberals, and socialists that would actually come together for civil conversation.

Building Bridges is an organization founded by former Democratic candidate for county board, Vivek Patil. This group will go to rural areas of Virginia and have conversations with local politicians and influencers in those regions to bridge the urban-rural divide in Virginia. They are incredibly good at emphasizing empathy for both sides of the coin during these conversations.

VOTE

Make your plan to vote. Now.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Have you or your kid attended All American Sports Camp, Patriot Girls Basketball Camp, Orange Line Sports Camp, or Mojo Volleyball Camp?

Representatives from all of these organizations showed up to a recent Sports Commission meeting to voice their concerns over the new way summer camps will be administered, their ability to pay hourly employees, and new cost burdens on families.

Summary of changes

1) When you pay for a camp, that money will now go to the county instead of the camp. Arlington does not need to pay camps for their services until 45 days after camp finishes. This creates a serious cash flow problem for camps that could make them unable to feasibly operate.

As an employer, campes are required to pay hourly workers biweekly according to Virginia state law, and camps often last 5 days. This means after camp finishes, camps are legally required to pay their employees 9 days later, but the county does not need to pay the camps for another 45 days. Staff even stated that their contractor for this service is not known for speed on disbursements. This is a cash flow problem that effectively eliminates camp operators from effectively being able to run their businesses.

As conveyed by those at the Commission meeting, oftentimes these camps are run by teachers. These are not year-round businesses like normal county contractors. One camp administrator estimates their camp costs at around $100,000, which they would not have the ability to pay without having the registration revenue.

2) Increased fees given for the county will lead to increased costs to campers. Arlington now requires 30% of all revenues to be given to the county. This has increased from 20% in just three years.

Patriots Girls Basketball camp founder, Kip Davis, said, “In the 25 years I’ve hosted this camp I have increased my cost by just $55. I don’t make a ton of money doing this camp. I do it for the kids. We want to make sure all kids can afford to go to camp, see friends, and give parents a little break. This dramatic increase in cost plus us not being in control of funds will cause camp prices to noticeably increase, which is counter to my goal of camp affordability.”

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

At the beginning of this month, Metro took a step into the 21st Century by allowing SmarTrip to be added to Apple Wallets.

A Google spokesperson also said they plan to roll out a Google Pay version later this year. This move has significant short term benefits, some improvements that are needed to improve equity, and in the long term will provide a significant boost to the efficiency of our entire bus system.

What will be improved right now

Customers save money: Do you even know the number of times you have lost your plastic SmarTrip? I have lost hundreds of dollars from misplaced SmarTrip cards over the years. When you lose your card you lose both the money you put on the card and the cost of the new plastic card. While there is an online option to save your SmarTrip number and connect employer benefits, many do not utilize this option. Having payment functions on your phone will save Metro customers big in the long run. 

Bus efficiency: To increase funds on SmarTrip cards for bus riders, riders usually have to do so while in line to get on the bus. Every time a bus rider has to add money to their card it averages 20 seconds of time per person, slowing down the bus route significantly. As fellow columnist, Chris Slatt, has mentioned, a quarter of bus travel time is spent boarding, and if you can halve that time you have sped up bus route speed by 12%. Allowing riders to update payment on their phone will increase bus speeds on every route in the county.

How tap-and-go tech can be more equitable 

Android capabilities: The average cost of an Android is lower than an iPhone, and ensuring that an Android rollout is successful will be key to achieving equity. While Google has stated they would like to roll out by the end of the year, Metro has said “it is coming,” and that definition is sometimes loosely defined by Metro. As a community we should hold feet to the fire to get a concrete timeline on when this capability will be rolled out.

Disability, UPass, & other reduced fare cards transferable funds: Reduced fare cards are not able to be used with this function yet. Only full fare and Senior SmarTrip cards are able to be transferred at this time. The reason we give people with disabilities, students, and others reduced fares is to have a more equitable transportation system. Ensuring these cardholders can transfer their funds is an obvious oversight that I hope can be addressed in a timely fashion.

Long-term infrastructure improvements

Columbia Pike & Route 1 off-board fare collection for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): Off-board fare collection is a significant part of how to create time-saving BRT. In 2014 off-board fare collection had an anticipated 20 hours of time savings per day just along Columbia Pike from off-board fare collection.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

In many ways our workforce is changing, both due to COVID-19 and as Arlington’s economy continues to evolve.

As a community it is important that we study this impact on both our employment rate for our community’s personal economic vitality and our commercial office occupancy rate that contributes to 20% of our county tax revenue.

In the short term, on balance, Arlington’s economy is faring well compared to the D.C. region and nation at large. Arlington’s unemployment rate is the lowest of all counties in the region at 6%, compared to 11% nationally. In June, Arlington collected 95-98% of expected tax revenue successfully. It remains to be seen how we will fare this fall if we do not receive another round of stimulus.

Amazon continues to expand their office presence in Crystal City despite work from home policies, as we expect them to become the county’s largest employer and take up a significant amount of vacant office space. Hotel occupancy and revenue is significantly down from 76% occupancy at this time last year to 23% last month, which also means Arlington does not owe Amazon incentive payments that were tied to hotel taxes (a well negotiated clawback in my opinion).

In the long term, there is uncertainty on the future of our work culture. COVID-19 has forced over 95% of the American workforce to telecommuting practically overnight according to a recent Senate EPW Committee Hearing. Further, a recent Stanford-University of Chicago-Atlanta Federal Reserve survey expects work-from-home to quadruple from 5% to 20% even after COVID-19, and according to a PWC survey about 90% of employers expect about 1/3 of their employees to continue to work remotely at least one day a week.

How this might impact our office tax revenue projections still has yet to be seen. PWC’s survey is inconclusive on how employers plan to increase or decrease office space in the future, with half saying they plan to keep the same amount of office space or decrease their space and half planning to increase square footage citing remodels to create a more collaborative environment for the time that employees are actually in the office.

Of planned future office space, real estate services company JLL shows that in our submarket, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Tysons currently both have the same amount of office space, but in the pipeline, Tysons has 13.5 million sq. ft. planned versus only 3 million sq. ft. for the R-B corridor. This is a shift in Arlington from commercial office space to commercial residential (apartments) that shows a far higher occupancy demand.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Get ready for a data dump. Arlington’s 2020 Profile was recently released and it is full of eye opening statistics. 

Overall Arlington is a young, multi-family building community, with prices that continue to soar, as we continue to lose racial diversity. We are also very eco-friendly in our transportation and an incredibly healthy county that is supported by vast community resources.

This might not sound surprising but the data points paint a stark picture. For your own visualization, reference the 2020 Arlington Profile, and for comparative purposes that you will see throughout this article, the 2010 Arlington Profile.

Population Demographics

Our population has the highest percentage of prime working age adults in the United States. 54% of our population is between the ages of 25-54. It is no wonder that employers are flocking to Arlington since of those prime working age adults, 75% have a bachelor’s degree or above.

Our workforce is also getting paid for their skills. Arlington’s median household income is $117,374, compared to $102,180 in the DC Metro Region.

The jurisdiction that Arlingtonians are most likely to work is Washington DC, while people that work in Arlington are likely to live in Fairfax County. We have increased our employment by 27,000 employees in the past ten years and continue to have a significantly smaller unemployment rate than the surrounding DC Metro Area.

Our growth and success in many ways has been to the detriment of racial diversity in the county. Our population is 4% more white, 3% less hispanic, and 1% less black than in 2010.

Housing

In the 2020 Arlington Profile, 71% of our homes were in either an apartment or condo. 60% of our housing stock is rented. When accounting for the dollar’s purchasing power, average rent increased by 12% since 2010, while condominium unit assessments increased by just 1.6%Half of Arlington’s residents live in Metro corridors or Columbia Pike, and take up just 22% of the county’s residential land area.

Single family homes and townhouses make up less than 30% of the housing stock in Arlington. Of those housing types, 83.3% are owned and populate 78% of our residential land area. Single family home assessments have increased by 25% while condo style townhomes have increased by 14%, attached townhouses have increased by 9%, and co-ops have decreased by 12.5%.

Over the last ten years we have added 16,317 multi-family homes, while losing 3,895 townhomes and 449 single family homes. On a Condo Owner and Renters Coalition call, Housing Staff indicated 90% of net new homes built in the past 10 years have been apartments and 10% condos.

When looking at these striking numbers I dug into representation. How Arlington typically sorts our communities is into civic association neighborhoods when determining how much of a say they have in many issues.

As an example, the Crystal City Civic Association represents just under 8,000 households. Its largest building, Crystal House, has 1,647 homes. If you add up the homes represented by the civic associations of Riverwood (57), Rivercrest (125), Gulf Branch (176), Arlingwood (106), Chain Bridge Forest (107), Forest Glen (88), and Glebewood (222), these seven single family household civic associations represent the same amount of people as about half of the people in one building in one civic association of a multi-family building heavy area.

As we continue to grow in our corridors, it is important that we make an effort to ensure multi-family buildings are fairly represented in our decision making process.

Transportation

Arlingtonians are much more likely than average to take an environmentally friendly commute to work. In Arlington, only 39% of residents drive alone to work, compared to 76% nationally. 40% take public transit, 8% bike/walk, and 4% taxi/rideshare or carpool.

Metro ridership also continues to go down at a startling rate. Even prior to COVID-19, Metro use is down 14% in the past ten years in Arlington. Meanwhile, ART bus ridership has doubled. Of our public transportation uses, bus ridership still only represents ¼ of users while metro represents ¾.

Conclusion

Data informed discussions are necessary in our policy decisions. Take a few minutes to study this document and understand the ten-thousand foot view of who we are. It is easy to be stuck in our own bubble, but when coming to a community conversation I hope everyone is able to understand the bigger picture of how they fit into the discussion by using this data.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

We have an obvious north-south divide in Arlington County. One state highway uniquely crosses the entire county from north to south — Glebe Road, Route 120.

Traditionally, Arlington has planned along horizontal corridors including Route 50, Columbia Pike, Lee Highway, and Washington/Wilson Boulevard. This is likely because these major road arteries were designed to transport people from the suburbs of Virginia to Washington D.C. These arteries also happen to be in central Arlington and literally divide Arlington between north and south.

Driving along Glebe Road you might notice narrow sidewalks with cars zooming by, and occasional townhomes or duplexes on both the north and south side of the highway. These characteristics are very similar to Lee Highway, which we have already begun a planning process for.

It is a known statistic that north Arlington is more wealthy than south Arlington. American Community Survey data shows that our three lowest per capita income census tracts (excluding Fort Meyer) are between $25,000-40,000, all below Route 50; our three highest per capita income census tracts are $104,000-115,500, all above Route 50.

Planning is a scary topic to broach. This is because it might “change the nature of the neighborhood”. I would note a few things.

Paul Holland and Sandra Chesrown have done a great job leading the Plan Lee Highway process by actively involving neighborhoods in their plan with a block by block approach. This type of engagement in the planning process has largely put at ease early fears by those living along the planning corridor because neighborhoods with varied ideas of what their neighborhood should look like are listened to.

“Planning” also does not necessarily mean massive apartment buildings are coming to your neighborhood. Even in our Metro corridors, we retain single-family households in Ashton Heights and Lyon Park just blocks from Metro stations and Dominion Hills and Boulevard Manner neighborhoods that back right up to Meridian Pint and Patrick Henry Apartments along Wilson Boulevard. Planning in non-Metro corridors often means permitting light density such as townhouses or duplexes on the arterial road and not often does it permeate further into single-family household neighborhoods.

Heavier housing density makes more sense in areas of S. Glebe Road with proximity to I-395, and sections of N. Glebe Road that are close to I-66. Light housing density already exists on N. Glebe north of Lee Highway by way of townhomes such as The Birches, Cathedral View Townhomes, Carriage Hill, and others that most would agree these existing varied household types do not change the “nature” of the neighborhood.

According to the just-released 2020 Arlington Profile, single-family houses on average are assessed at $949,500, single-family townhomes at $805,000, condominium townhouses at $683,900, and condominiums at $421,400. It is also worth noting that Housing Arlington data shows that Arlington’s teardown-rebuild single-family households had an average sale price of $1.7 million. The difference between someone that has the financial means to purchase a $1.7 million home and a $683,900 townhome is vast.

To state the obvious and reiterate what I have already stated, there is high demand for single-family households in both north and south Arlington. Planning Glebe Road would not change that. It would provide, directly along the arterial road, a chance for families in the middle class to access to the north Arlington school system via additional housing diversity, while improving walkability along north and south Glebe Road, and might finally start to create equity between north and south Arlington.

If we want to address issues of geographic equity such as diversity in our schools, I would encourage us to consider planning our north-south arterial corridors and not just those running from east to west. The most obvious first step to do so would be studying Glebe Road.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Right now Arlington has an opportunity to rethink and expand our public feedback process. Since the pandemic began, in-person meetings have been canceled and our county and school system’s public engagement processes have been required to adapt.

More than half of the school advisory committees were canceled for just a month and began meeting again in May via Microsoft Teams.

All county commission, committee, and advisory group meetings have been canceled for the past three months, and some have a tentative meeting date for July, as long as the agenda topics are related to items on this flow chart. A significant number of commission leaders signed a letter to the Board with concerns that commissions have been unable to meet about a host of important topics such as the Affordable Housing Master Plan, Capital Improvement Plan, Tenant-Landlord related issues, public space use for recreation during COVID-19, and more.

Some of these items are related to COVID-19, some are not, but most continue to be topics that are immediately important for public feedback.

It is understandable that overhauling the meeting structure of more than 60 citizen advisory groups takes a bit of time. Preparing the technology required to meet virtually and ensuring that all state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements are met is no small task, particularly as staff themselves continue to adapt to this new environment.

What this does provide is an opportunity for expanded engagement moving forward. Virtual meetings should not just be used during the pandemic, but for years to come. It is a forum that provides better transparency, equity, and community input. Parents with kids don’t have to miss dinner, people who hear of meetings last minute can jump on rather than make a plan to attend in person.

Virtual meetings put a dent in leveling the playing field for the diversity of opinion. Think of it this way: if there is a building being built next to you and you support it, it is highly unlikely that you will take time out of your day to wait in a room for hours to say that you want the project to happen, whereas if you oppose it, you might be more willing to make that sacrifice. If you are able to join by phone or computer, you might be more willing to quickly make a supporting comment.

County Board meetings also seem to be getting higher viewership with these expanded forms of communication. On Facebook Live, virtual town halls have received between 2,000 to 12,500 viewers, whereas in-person County Board meetings rarely break 300 viewers in person or on Arlington TV. Virtual options have also incorporated options to text in questions while discussion is happening rather than signing up in advance.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

(Updated at 10:25 a.m.) This year has certainly not been normal. Between the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on black and brown communities in our country, we continue to need to dig deep and to understand the why, to reflect, and to do better.

I watched the split screen of President Trump advocating the usage of our military against protesters across the country in his Rose Garden address, with another screen showing Arlington County Police on the front lines advancing against peaceful protesters prior to curfew in D.C. I was dismayed and broken-hearted. This was so inconsistent with the images I had been seeing of ACPD helping to block traffic and handing out water to peaceful protesters.

Thankfully, Arlington’s leadership quickly responded and acknowledged the problem. They took decisive and immediate action, and have vowed to re-evaluate the agreement that led to this situation to ensure our policing efforts better reflect the values of our community.

Changing course in inherently flawed systems isn’t easy, but it is necessary. This step was necessary and in a time that many leaders are unable to see a problem in their system, own it, and fix it we are lucky to have leadership with the willingness to do so. This applause though is not for a mission accomplished. This is just the beginning of a larger conversation.

First, we should continue our community conversation about policing. We need to support the national NAACP in their push for:

  1. A ban on the use of knee holds and chokeholds as an acceptable practice for police officers.
  2. Clear rules on the escalation for the Use of Force Continuum.
  3. A ban on shielding from the public officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories in each state’s Open Records Act and denial of recertification credentials for police officers if it is determined that their use of deadly force was unwarranted by federal guidelines.
  4. Implementation of Citizen’s Review Boards in municipalities to hold police departments accountable and build public confidence. Arlington NAACP also supports this and states that over 70 communities across the country, including Fairfax, already have one.

Additionally, we should continue our conversation about economic inequalities and building black wealth. When looking for a black-owned business for dinner this weekend I ran into a wall. After crowdsourcing on Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19, I found four Arlington black-owned restaurants where I could order dinner, six if I included one coffee shop and an ice cream store.

We must also continue our conversation about diversity within our state representation. Currently, of our seven state delegation members, all are white with the exception of one person of color. Our Human Rights Commission is currently the only commission or working group with a black person or person of color as chair (starting next month that will change with new leadership that includes people that are both black and other people of color).

Furthermore, we should continue our conversation about racial health inequalities now during COVID-19, as well as during less tumultuous times. How do we make sure black and brown people are not dying at disproportionate rates in our community?

Finally, we must continue this conversation about race and white privilege, on every front in our community: from policy to policing, to zoning, healthcare, to school boundaries, small businesses. So many of us are asking what we can do. We can listen, we can ask why, we can do better — we can actively work for change.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Centers for Disease Control updated guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 by suggesting multi-unit buildings such as apartments and condominium buildings:

“Clean and disinfect shared areas (laundry facilities, elevators, shared kitchens, exercise rooms, dining rooms) and frequently touched surfaces (e.g. tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, phones, tablets, touch screens, remote controls, keyboards, handles, desks, toilets, sinks) using EPA-registered disinfectants more than once a day if possible.” April 25, 2020.

Two-thirds of Arlington households are in multi-unit buildings. From anecdotal feedback, buildings ranging from luxury to affordable have done almost nothing to change their normal cleaning habits unless a COVID-19 case has been identified.

“Every day when I go down the elevator to walk my dog, I am in a gigantic petri dish,” one person told me. “I am in an enclosed space, touching hundreds of people’s germs on buttons and door handles. We are in a viral pandemic and our building has still not changed our once a week cleaning schedule”.

As Northern Virginia plans to reopen in the next few weeks, we will collectively increase our chances of germ spreading. Part of Arlington and Northern Virginia’s path for reopening should include CDC recommendations for multi-unit building cleaning and disinfecting as a part of their plan.

Arlington County has already done an impressive job collecting information about building managers for their effort to inform landlords about courts being closed for evictions and renters’ rights during COVID-19. This contact information data can and should be used in a proactive effort to remind buildings about CDC recommendations to clean multi-unit building high-touch spaces multiple times a day. This seems like a little, easy, accomplishment that we should be able to get done and might be able to save lives upon our reopening.

Contrary to public belief, people of all ages live in multi-unit buildings. With the knowledge that a significant amount of virus carriers are asymptomatic, we should not be waiting for residents to proactively tell management that they are sick to trigger regular cleaning of common spaces. Extraordinary measures that the CDC has laid out in their guidance should be taken when you have over 1,000 people living in one building sharing the same front door.

Between dog care, groceries, and taking a mental health break, it is inevitable that people will need to go outside. It is in the interest of public health for the majority of Arlingtonians that live in multi-unit buildings to have a safe home to walk in and out of. I hope the Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development can work with the communications and public engagement team to get the word out to apartment and condominium management about updated CDC guidelines for disinfecting as part of our reopening plan.

Resources if you are in need of assistance:

Do not feel ashamed to ask for help.

If you are in need of assistance for rent, food security, help filing for Medicaid or unemployment benefits go to this website: Department of Human Services Assistance, call 703-228-1350, or if necessary visit 2100 Washington Blvd in Arlington. Someone will work with you to get the help you need.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Congratulations to Takis Karantonis for his victory in the Arlington County Democrat’s special election nomination process. Takis is a longtime leader in our community having served as the executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, the president of his civic association, and is genuinely a person of good character. I will be proud to support him in the upcoming July 7th special election.

Fill out your absentee voting application here. Due to COVID-19 you may cite “my disability or illness” as your reason for voting by mail.

Governor’s Decision to Re-Open

COVID-19 cases in Arlington hit a peak just four days ago. There is no significant downward trend in Arlington or other northern Virginia jurisdictions such as Fairfax. While the number of statewide cases has begun to decrease in just the past week, we are not part of that collective improvement.

All of this as Virginia ranks #48th in the country for testing rates.

Governor Northam’s decision to reopen the state seems premature and potentially dangerous to us here in Arlington. On Wednesday, Northam seemed to backtrack by saying “If local governments, based on the situation in their own localities, feel that they need to maintain additional restrictions on gatherings or business operations we will allow that and work with the localities.”

If history is any indicator, Arlington had a very difficult time acting on its own accord to implement restrictions prior to the Governor’s order for closure. This is largely due to Virginia being a Dillon Rule state.

I hope the Governor’s office has learned from that disconnect and will be responsive to local government’s requests for authority. If localities such as Arlington decide to implement their own restrictions, I hope the Governor is vocal in relaying that information in his public statements to make it clear what the rules are for various jurisdictions are to the public.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

It has been a strange few weeks. While life seems to stand still, so much is happening in our community.

Close Street Lanes

Maintaining your mental health during these odd times cannot be understated. Getting in regular exercise to kickstart your endorphins is important and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whether you are running, pushing a stroller, or walking with a loved one, sometimes our sidewalks are just not wide enough to keep a distance of 6 feet. A majority of people are trying to make enough space but it is oftentimes near impossible.

I would propose closing one lane of traffic in each direction where there are two lanes available in major corridors.

These connective roads could include: Wilson Boulevard, Walter Reed Drive, Glebe Road, George Mason Drive, Lee Highway, and more.

Traffic has decreased significantly and this would not be an undue burden on travelers.

Provide Unemployment Filing Hotline Help

It would be helpful if the Arlington Employment Center or another relevant entity could help residents with phone assistance while the state phone lines are being overwhelmed. While this is not normally a service that Arlington would provide, it would be of great public benefit.

The online filing form for unemployment in Virginia and Washington, D.C. is not set up for shift or gig workers. I add D.C. to this because many Arlington residents’ last job was in D.C. and would thus file for unemployment there. There are case-specific questions that don’t make sense and if answered incorrectly can delay vitally important payments.

About 150,000 filed for uninsurance in Virginia last week, and Governor Northam has stated that the helplines are overwhelmed. If localities can provide their own hotline help this might alleviate some stress on the system and get more people properly filed. Read More

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