Arlington, VA

Good news: a holiday weekend is here.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to be able to continue working, you are likely getting an extra day off. This is especially welcome if you’ve been working while trying to wrangle kids at home.

ARLnow’s news coverage will be taking a break, barring breaking news, until Tuesday. In the meantime, here are the most-read Arlington articles of the past week.

  1. Yorktown Principal Apologizes for Banner Seen as Racist
  2. Tall Man Wearing Short Shorts Prompts Call to Police
  3. ACFD Helps Battle Fire at Edy’s Chicken & Steak on Route 7
  4. Boston Market Closes Permanently on Columbia Pike
  5. Data Shows Demographic Disparities in Arlington’s Coronavirus Cases
  6. Two Teens Arrested for Vandalism at New Middle School
  7. Arlington County Planning to Distribute Free Masks
  8. Coronavirus Hospitalizations Down, Cases Continue to Rise in Arlington (May 18)
  9. National Guard Conducts Mass Testing at Local Senior Care Facility

Feel free to discuss those or other topics in the comments. Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

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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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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority (NOVAParks) owns and operates Arlington’s primarily natural Potomac Overlook, Upton Hill and W&OD Trail regional parks.

But NOVAParks seems to have lost the trail outlined in its own Mission Statement which emphasizes (at p.7) enriching our lives “through the conservation of regional natural and cultural resources.”

Arlington’s statistically valid resident park survey (at p. 4) found that our community’s three most desired park features are multi-use trails, hiking trails, and natural areas & wildlife habitats. Yet NOVAParks is now single-mindedly pursuing funding for a project to dramatically widen the W&OD trail to create an environmentally damaging commuter thoroughfare.

NOVAParks’ W&OD trail widening project

NOVAParks proposes replacing the two-mile-long, 10-12 foot-wide segment of the trail paralleling Four Mile Run between N. Roosevelt St. and North Carlin Springs Road. In many areas the new trail will be two parallel paved trails — a 12-foot-wide bike trail, an 8-foot-wide pedestrian trail, a 2-foot median and outside buffers — for a total width of at least 26 feet, equal to some residential streets! Elsewhere, the trail will be widened to 16 feet with outside buffers for a total width of at least 20 feet.

This project should be withdrawn

This project will destroy almost two acres of green space while adding almost two acres of impermeable paved surface, including within Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Areas (RPA’s) and flood plain along Four Mile Run, threatening increased flooding in Arlington’s BonAir and Bluemont parks. NOVAParks has failed to conduct an “alternatives assessment” of less expensive and environmentally destructive solutions. Finally, NOVAParks has failed to conduct any safety assessment of whether its proposed wider trail, with potentially higher bicycle speeds and volume, will actually increase bicycle speeds, and therefore the frequency and severity of accidents.

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The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

There is a special election to fill the seat on the County Board now vacant because of the tragic death of Erik Gutshall. While the County Board is attempting to push the date for the election all the way to November, voters are likely to head to the polls July 7 or vote absentee in advance of that day.

Over the next seven weeks, voters will be able to consider the three candidates running for the position. Here are three big picture questions these candidates should be answering:

  1. Will you challenge the status quo?

Now more than ever, we should not accept the idea that we can keep doing things the way we  have done them in the past. The Board recognized this on an emergency basis as they passed a revised budget April 30th. However, they should use this time to ask themselves what they can do differently in the future. Every program, line item, rule and regulation should be evaluated to help us recover in the short term and make us stronger over time.

  1. Will you work to increase the levels of transparency and accountability provided by Arlington to its residents?

Two weeks ago, I noted a County Board pay raise mistakenly included in the pay plan approved by the Arlington County Board. When it was brought to their attention, they sprang into action to say it was not supposed to be there and would be fixed. Yet, the County Board met on Saturday and is meeting again today, and none of the agenda items listed thus far fix the pay plan to take back the raise. The Board Members who promised this would be fixed need to live up to their word and tell us how they plan to fix it before it takes effect on July 1st.

Also over the last two weeks, the County Board joined with other Northern Virginia jurisdictions to say “no” to reopening Arlington for business last Friday. The Board listed five metrics they were looking at for reopening. Last Friday during their virtual town hall meeting, they also regularly referenced the five metrics. Yet, nowhere on the County Board site can you view a dashboard which discloses how close, or far away, we are from meeting them.

While our ties to the federal government make our community more recession-resistant than most, our economy is still strained and our residents are losing jobs by the day. “Just trust us” should not be acceptable for such a huge decision, particularly in this unprecedented time of crisis.

  1. Will you commit to fiscal discipline as we recover from these challenging times?

Keeping the tax rate as low as possible is a key component for economic recovery. Beyond the costs on housing for our residents, many of whom have lost a job or could in the future, we must keep downward pressure on rents for our employers as well. It means designating 100% of any closeout funds to this purpose for the foreseeable future. It means the Board must also identify and fund only the most essential things in the budget for the next year or two to reduce the need for taxpayer revenue. And it certainly means a delay on the aforementioned pay raise for the Board.

Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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The D.C. Council is reportedly considering making some pandemic-era alcohol rules a new fixture of the local dining scene.

Barred in DC reports that the provision, in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget, would make restaurants’ newfound ability to offer beer, wine and cocktails for delivery and takeout permanent. It would be a shot in the arm for struggling restaurants that have seen business drop precipitously during the coronavirus crisis.

With dining rooms closed, table service restaurants lost their main profit driver: alcoholic drinks. Both D.C. and Virginia have responded with emergency rules allowing restaurants to let customers carry out beer, wine and cocktails in sealed containers, or to have those adult beverages delivered.

Making such rules permanent can help the industry recover, and perhaps avoid the worst of the “restaurant apocalypse” that some predict could result in 20% to 40% of U.S. restaurants closing for good.

Do you think Virginia lawmakers should make the temporary takeout and delivery drink rules permanent?

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Betsy Withycombe

Once upon a time, after trauma had stolen my health, I began to walk. But no matter how far I roamed the streets of Arlington, no matter how completely I exhausted my body, my mind continued to churn. It felt pointless. My tank of resiliency, normally full, was empty.

Among our family’s collection of books are several editions of dictionaries. I looked in each for the definition of “resilience.” Every edition included a primary definition which defined resilience as the ability to return quickly from hardship or adversity. Secondary definitions offered that resilience was a type of flexibility or elasticity. I prefer the latter definition. One’s ability to be resilient is not measured by the speed at which one addresses adversity; sometimes you have to be gentle with yourself as you adapt to the challenge in front of you and continue moving forward.

In the last ten years I have experienced a clinically significant amount of change, loss, and heartache. The details aren’t important, but I’m sure those of you who saw me in the grocery store never suspected the depth of chaos framing the rest of my life. I practiced good self-care and did all of the things that promised my resilience would return. I sought calm in books. My family and friends did everything they could to remind me that I had grit and that my hardest days were behind me. I tried very hard to listen. I was as gentle with myself as I could be. I walked.

Renewed resilience finally came in the form of a flower (which was probably a weed). As I was dragging myself down the sidewalk thinking many unhelpful thoughts, I noticed a small flower. I took out my cell phone to photograph it. I suddenly noticed many unseen flowers and plants on the very street I had been plodding down every day. I was almost home when I realized something very important: Focusing on something outside myself, I had stopped the continuous loop of despair running on repeat in my mind.

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Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) A new strategic plan. A newly-developed definition of “equity.” Years of exponential enrollment growth. Turnover of several high-level administrators and, in a few months, two board members. The hiring of the first Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. The naming of the first new superintendent in over a decade. A shutdown due to a pandemic.

It has all come to a head and has created the perfect opportunity to pause and reset.

This pandemic should serve as a wake-up call to APS and the County to identify and fix the problems with student and parent access to online information and materials.

According to APS data collected, 95% of devices accessed the system in the past few weeks. That is impressive and encouraging. It does not mean all of the remaining 5% cannot access. Some students have chosen not to engage, some may be using another device available in their home, and some may not be able to continue with school due to circumstances caused by the pandemic.

APS and the County cannot fix every issue with online learning, but they can fix the basic problems of availability of devices and internet access and need to do so before the start of the next academic year. Schools have the devices. The County needs to find a way to resolve any lack of internet access.

This distance learning experience is a wake-up call to APS to finally develop and implement a district-wide ed tech curriculum that serves as an effective supplement to classroom instruction and that can facilitate a seamless transition to an effective online program when necessary.

The 1:1 technology initiative has been in place 6 years and we continue to endure vast inconsistencies and insufficient teacher training in how to optimize the use of devices for the benefit of instruction and learning. We cannot wait any longer.

This is a wake-up call to build a broad, integrated network of resources with APS and County working as a unit to identify, facilitate, and deliver needed services.

The beginnings of such a network can already be seen through the efforts to identify locations for new school facilities and collaborating on data used for enrollment projections. Other signs of an emerging network include APS referring parents to County programs as alternatives to eliminated summer enrichment programs, and collaboration between APS and the County for food distribution programs and increasing internet access through mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

These are efforts to build upon, and this is the perfect time to assess the various needs of students and families, to identify whether APS or Arlington County is responsible for addressing those needs and determine how one can support the other to facilitate filling those needs. For example, education is the primary responsibility of school while social services are a major function of government. Schools could identify students and families in need of mental health and social services and offer space for County providers to deliver the actual services.

Another example is preschool and extended day programs. There is a need and desire for more preschool opportunities and APS’ extended day programs have waitlists. The County also runs preschool programs and may be able to expand its offerings more easily than APS. The County can also work to encourage and support the establishment of more private preschools, daycares, and extended day programs to extend APS’ offerings.

Finally, this is a wake-up call and a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate APS’ definition of equity and how it impacts APS policy decisions.

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The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington’s Committee of 100 hosted a panel discussion last night about the local “criminal justice reform movement” — part of a bipartisan, nationwide public policy conversation that’s playing out at all levels of government in nearly every state.

Panelists included Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Public Defender Brad Heywood, and Sheriff Beth Arthur.

Both Dehghani-Tafti and Haywood touched on cannabis policy in their opening remarks and answered follow-up questions on the topic. Dehghani-Tafti ran on a platform that included cannabis legalization and vowed to reduce prosecutions for cannabis-related crimes.

And though Dehghani-Tafti said she hopes full cannabis legalization makes it across the finish line in the 2021 legislative session, she stopped short of support for outright expungement of records related to cannabis convictions, suggesting law enforcement should have access to those records even if other sectors — say, would-be employers of a potential applicant with a cannabis conviction — did not.

On a related note, ARLnow took a step in the right direction in early March by removing old crime reports from search engine indexing, arguing the move would “give dozens of nonviolent offenders a better chance at moving on with their lives after paying their debt to society.” This may not seem like much, but in an age where our online presence follows us in perpetuity and potentially affects future employment and other opportunities, it’s an admirable move by ARLnow.

Conspicuously absent from the Committee of 100’s event was a representative from the Arlington County Police Department, which assumes the bulk of law enforcement duties in Arlington, something Sheriff Arthur articulated in her opening remarks. It was awkward not having that perspective of the criminal justice system present in the discussion, especially since one might assume the most contentious relationship would be between more liberal criminal justice “reformers” and institutional law enforcement.

Dehghani-Tafti even acknowledged the tension that existed as she prepared to take office after her election last year, stating, “Clearly, I needed to work on building bridges with police. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody.” Voters deserve to know more about Dehghani-Tafti’s bridge-building efforts, as well as ACPD’s response to the changes her election brought to the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Has it become easier or harder for ACPD to do its job?

Criminal justice reform has also made headlines at the state-level this week. Legislative Republicans are scrapping with Governor Northam and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran over the release of a number of inmates who pose varying levels of risk to public safety.

There are two separate issues at hand here: facing a potentially-rapid spread of COVID-19 across Virginia’s prison system, the legislature approved a budget amendment allowing the Department of Corrections to release some offenders with a year or less to serve whose continued incarceration posed personal health risks. As someone engaged in criminal justice reform efforts, this seems like a reasonable public policy to me.

Brad Haywood and Sheriff Arthur spoke about the efforts to release non-violent offenders who may be affected by the spread COVID-19 in the county detention facility, with Haywood stating the local effort was taking cues from Governor Northam and the state Supreme Court’s guidance. Haywood also spoke about his effort to seek clemency for a class of about 60 offenders locally, admitting the decision to grant clemency is ultimately up to the governor.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author

As part of our response to COVID-19, travel has ground to a halt. Automotive vehicles miles traveled is down around 90% in Arlington County according to Streetlight Data, while transit service has been cut drastically across the board. As Virginia starts to slowly move into its phased reopening plan, Arlington needs to prepare for the return of travel.

COVID-19 is likely to impact our transportation choices for months, if not years to come.  What do we want our transportation system to look like post-COVID?

Transit’s core efficiency of moving lots of people efficiently is predicated on those people being pretty close together, a situation that many people will be loathe to enter in the foreseeable future. Even if they wanted to, Metro’s current reopening plan doesn’t see full service resume until the Spring of 2021.

With around one-fourth of Arlington residents relying on transit for their commute and about one-fourth of those who work in Arlington but live elsewhere doing the same, where are those people going to turn when they return to work?

If we maintain the status quo, the most likely answer is their own private automobile. If you thought D.C.-area traffic was bad before, you won’t want to see how that future looks. If you dislike trying to walk or bike safely while maintaining proper social-distancing now, imagine what it will be like when traffic levels surpass previous norms.

Purchasing a car, or a second car, generally ends up being the equivalent of pre-paying for a bunch of single-occupancy vehicle commutes. Once people have that car, they tend to discount that sunk cost when making a decision about the most cost-efficient means to future travel. Helping people continue to not own a car is much easier than getting someone to give up a car in the first place.

What if, instead, we used this time of low-traffic and social-distancing to reclaim our streets for people instead of cars? For healthy-living instead of spewing CO2? People are looking for more space to walk and bike NOW. In the coming months they will be looking for a new way to get to work.

Now is the time to pause some of our expensive transit investments, like Metro station second entrances, and divert some of those resources into a quick-build, all-ages, low-stress bike network that can help with socially-distant exercise as well as give people another mobility option when more frequent travel returns.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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At its meeting this weekend, the Arlington County Board is set to formally approve an ordinance granting the county emergency powers to hold public meetings online instead of in person.

That codified what has been the county’s improvised practice during the pandemic, including during the recent county budget process. County Board meetings are being held online, as are public information sessions about things like plans for the revamped Metropolitan Park in Pentagon City and proposed changes to a crash-prone section of Route 50.

At a time when in-person meetings are not possible due to health concerns, online meetings have been deemed a good enough alternative to simply shutting down public processes or delaying local government decision-making on important issues.

The downside of these meetings is that there are still those — the elderly, the impoverished — without readily-available internet access. In the U.S., some 23% of the population still did not have a smartphone as of 2018.

But the upside is that for the majority of the population that does have internet access, it’s a lot easier to attend a virtual meeting at home, or watch it later online, than it is to show up at a physical location and spend an hour or more of a weekday evening or weekend morning at an in-person gathering. That’s doubly true for parents of young children and those with non-standard work schedules.

Indeed, a criticism leveled against the “Arlington Way” — the uniquely Arlington system of citizen engagement in county decision-making that has been in place for decades — is that such meetings are difficult for all but the most motivated residents to attend, and decision-making processes can drag on for months or even years.

An online poll conducted by ARLnow in late 2018 found that nearly 55% of respondents would prefer a streamlined community input process. More virtual meetings and online input, even beyond the pandemic, could be a step in that direction.

The ordinance being considered by the Board keeps the current state of affairs “in effect for six months from the end of the COVID-19 disaster, unless sooner repealed by the County Board.”

Should the county consider making virtual meetings a more regular feature of citizen participation beyond that? Not totally replacing in-person meetings and input, but maybe becoming the predominant way to engage residents. And perhaps the current slate of virtual meetings can be expanded beyond Board meetings, town halls and project information sessions to incorporate the “cancelled until further notice” commission meetings.

What do you think?

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Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The organization Women in Government Relations held an excellent webinar last week on fine-tuning one’s executive presence in this new normal.

The panelists who represented national corporations and associations focused on the changing culture due to COVID-19. Specifically, they conveyed how we can look at past outcomes and determine how to achieve similar results now by changing our tactics through intentionality and over-communication.

For example, we previously could easily run into someone in the hall at work, or even go to a meeting for one purpose but also connect with others to communicate. Those interactions may now be harder to achieve in our new age of physical distancing.

While it is not new, this past week we were reminded of the consistent disparities and inequities which exist locally.  Even if there are disputes about how the data is analyzed, recent health data show that the Columbia Pike corridor is overrepresented in COVID-19 cases.

Arlington prides itself on the Arlington Way, a process that aims to ensure opportunity for civic engagement, participation and transparency to address our community challenges. Many look to the government when searching for solutions, but it is critical that we also focus on civil society. The formal and informal organizations in Arlington are an essential part of our culture. We should all question how we can do more as a community to confront and prevent challenges.

As we adjust to the new normal in Arlington, this is the perfect opportunity to rethink our organizations’ role in the Arlington Way. A few recommendations include:

Countywide all sector State of Arlington summit — An annual “State of Arlington” Summit which brings together several sectors of our community could foster and result in regular communication and collaboration. This would build on the great work of several organizations that have conducted similar events including the Arlington Community Foundation’s Shared Prosperity Initiative, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s State of the County and many other events throughout different sectors.

Regular communication among organizations — One of the basic lessons of crisis communications is regular updates and more opportunities for communication and feedback. We should continue this COVID-19 practice by intentionally sharing knowledge and raising awareness among organizations, to our members and the broader community on new issues on the horizon through regular online meetings, newsletters, and social media.

Standard (optional) organizational analysis — Groups and organizations should be encouraged to complete a customized Arlington organizational analysis which focuses on the attributes that Arlington values including equity, participation, digital and technological capacity and collaboration. The internal analysis could assist organizations in directing their efforts towards both their objectives and broader Arlington goals, and allow them to measure their progress towards increased engagement in Arlington and their organization.

Formal organizational capacity building and sharing — Organizations are at different levels in terms of experience and resources. Yet the ability of organizations to promote engagement and interaction with different sectors is a critical part of the Arlington Way and Arlington values. Access to online training, webinars and classes specific to achieving organizational objectives, and sharing and mentoring among organizations in Arlington could help strengthen our civil society.

Arlington’s new normal elucidates challenges that have always been present. We should rethink how we view the organizational component of the Arlington Way as a preliminary step in continuing to address the concerns which plague our community. We must be intentional and communicative in order to continue to move Arlington forward and leave a legacy of which we are all proud.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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