Arlington, VA

During the pandemic, many who formerly commuted to work are now working from home.

Some are eager to go back to the office full time when it’s safe to do so, while others may be contemplating a switch to either working from home permanently or at least a couple of days per week.

A wide range of companies are moving to or considering moving to a “hybrid workplace” model post-pandemic. Among them is Microsoft, which will let employees opt to work from home up to 50% of the time, or permanently with a manager’s approval.

It seems likely that many office-based employers in Arlington and elsewhere in the D.C. area will be implementing similar policies as the pandemic (hopefully) comes to an end this year. That has made us wonder about the impact on commuting.

More work from home days collectively would mean less commuting, which is generally a good thing for the environment and for traffic. There may be second order effects, as well, especially in cases where an employer offers flexibility in deciding when you go into the office.

Such flexibility, for instance, may have implications for bike commuting

Arlington County has long worked towards the goal of having more people bike to work, thus taking cars off the road during peak commuting times. So far it’s still a niche commuting option: only 1.5% of Arlington residents report biking as their primary means of commuting, compared to 51.1% who drive alone, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

Should you have the ability to pick and choose when you go to the office, it could allow you to go in on good weather days and skip bad weather days, a big deterrent to regular bike commuting. All of a sudden, with bad weather largely out of the equation, the idea of being able to commute for free without worrying about traffic, while getting a workout and fresh air, may become more attractive.

What do you think?

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

While Virginia prohibits municipalities from banning dogs based on breed alone, this discrimination still persists in housing.

In Arlington where 70% of homes are in multi-unit buildings, and 60% rent, this law is essentially rendered useless for a majority of our population.

Virginia Code states that “No canine or canine crossbreed shall be found to be a dangerous/vicious dog solely because it is a particular breed, nor is the ownership of a particular breed of canine or canine crossbreed prohibited.”

While it is reasonable to ban animals that have been deemed dangerous or vicious, and ban dogs or animals all together, it seems unreasonable to allow for certain breeds of animals but not others — particularly when this practice is banned at the municipal level. This has an adverse effect on certain breeds that are at high risk for euthanasia, such as cross-breeds of pitbull terriers, and the living situation of their owners.

For a real world example of how flexibility on breed discrimination in housing plays out here in Arlington, I will use an experience that I went through three years ago when I had a roommate with a pitbull terrier. My experience in search of housing with a pitbull was what initially spurred my advocacy for renters rights.

At the time we could not find a single two bedroom apartment in a building that would allow for pitbull related breeds. We had to move into a single family household that was run by someone I would classify as a slumlord. At the time, small landlords were exempt for basic services such as providing running or hot water, which were not working 30% of the time we were living in this home. Since the sweeping improvements provided by the 2019 Tenant Landlord law that is now illegal. Having a breed restricted dog is one of many factors that discrimination plays in people moving into questionable living situations.

Locally, Prince George’s County, Maryland banned pitbull related breeds in an effort to decrease serious dog bites in the county. In their own Vicious Animal Task Force it was found that this ban did not reduce biting incidents from pitbulls to any degree of significance. Despite this, in Prince George’s 900 pitbulls are impounded a year because of this law and 80% of them are euthanized.

While I am glad that Virginia is one of 22 states to have breed specific legislation (BSL) to ban breed discrimination, it is unhelpful that this does not extend to housing. I would encourage the Board to look at options of extending our state requirement of banning breed specific discrimination to housing units, if not prohibited by Dillon Rule.

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.

On December 4, ARLnow documented APS’s conclusions that:

Black and Hispanic students [in K-2] dropped off the most [with respect to foundational literacy skills] during remote learning, while students with disabilities continue to perform far below neurotypical children and the overall student population.”

Former School Board candidate Symone Walker correctly observed that “COVID-19 exacerbates a problem that has persisted for years, one she said is partially rooted in inconsistent methods of teaching literacy.”

In pre-COVID-19 columns, I highlighted why independent experts concluded that APS should:

The current upsurge in Arlington COVID-19 community spread may be great enough to require APS temporarily not to provide in-person instruction widely, but independent experts and APS’s own data establish that virtual learning causes serious harm to thousands of children, especially our community’s youngest and most vulnerable.

These are the critical steps that both APS and Arlington County government must join together to take NOW to address our community’s instructional crisis:

  • make virtual learning much better
  • adopt a plan to open schools safely ASAP in 2021 for students whose parents choose in-person learning

Make virtual learning much better, especially for the most vulnerable

APS must make virtual learning the very best it can be. But for many thousands of our community’s children, in-person learning will always be infinitely better.

Students with disabilities are being left behind by APS’s shelve-them-in-classrooms approach. These children currently go to school where only an aide monitors them logging on to an iPad. They need so much more in-classroom, in-person professional help. Why isn’t APS providing it?

APS needs to work with parents to adjust significantly the current virtual school day. Sitting online for a full school day is not developmentally appropriate for K-5. Children in this cohort need maybe 2 hours of instruction in math/reading/writing to stay on track. The rest of it should be optional. Many excellent suggestions by Sal Khan of Khan Academy are here.

Adopt a crash program to open APS schools safely ASAP in 2021

January 6, 2021 marks 300 days since the vast majority of APS students were in school.

APS and the Arlington County government must collaborate to plan NOW to open schools safely ASAP in 2021 for parents who choose in-person learning. That plan requires a specific reopening target date.

When to reopen schools is among the most important educational policy decisions currently facing the School Board. That board’s claim that this decision is purely an “operational” decision (entirely up to the Superintendent) is just plain wrong. Dr. Durán (and tacitly the School Board) continue to default always to the wrong message: schools will not reopen.

But the message that thousands of parents and residents want to hear is: we are working day and night to develop a plan to reopen schools safely. The School Board also needs to direct Dr. Durán to articulate more clearly APS’s air quality and lunch arrangement plans.

The County Board must step up

The County Board has a vital role to play in helping the School Board open schools safely. The County Board’s current claim that this decision is entirely up to APS also is a cop out. In our health emergency, the County Board must step up.

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

It would not be 2020 without at least one unexpectedly strange story from our County Board. Last week it was revealed by the Washington Post that Christian Dorsey’s bankruptcy claim was dismissed with prejudice for “an overt act of misrepresentation.”

This is the second time in recent memory that Dorsey has had a very public revelation of difficulty with being forthcoming after last year’s failure to disclose a $10,000 improper campaign contribution. And for the second time in a year, he has received a less than enthusiastic vote of confidence from fellow Arlington County Board members for his continued service. Board Chair Libby Garvey said she backed Mr. Dorsey “despite his personal financial issues.”

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board moved ahead and approved its legislative package. Included in the requests are the ability to lower speed limits below 25 mph and to install speed cameras. This is on top of last week’s revelation that the County Board would use tax increases to fund spending priorities like ranked choice voting and collective bargaining.

Also on the docket was the Board’s move forward to advertise changes to its residential parking program. If you live in a house with a driveway, your ability to park on the street will be cut in half even if parking on your street is never a problem. The program will not take into account if you have multiple generations living together who need access to cars to commute to school or work where Metro is not a viable option. And in order to pay for a program that will issue fewer permits, the proposal would more than double the parking fees. It is another anti-car, completely arbitrary change that will be forced on many unsuspecting Arlingtonians very soon. It should not be passed under the cover of a pandemic.

This is the last column of 2020. Presumably, the next one will be after Arlington County Board Members have made their vision speeches for the New Year. Almost certainly, the speeches will be filled with a look back at the challenging year behind them. And the Board will no doubt paint a picture where they will have no choice but to ask homeowners to pay considerably more to help them “dig out of a hole.”

Between now and then, they should talk to the small business owners who are barely hanging on in the face of COVID restrictions. They should talk to families who have lost jobs and taken pay cuts. And they should talk to parents who are struggling to balance work with helping their kids get through the virtual school day.

Ask them all what their priorities are from their local government. Then the board Members should consider rewriting those speeches and reordering their priorities.

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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It has been a boom year for live Christmas trees.

Various news outlets, including the New York Times, report that sales of Christmas trees — the real ones — have soared amid the pandemic, leading to shortages in some areas. Those stuck at home, it seems, have taken to holiday decorating as a way to enliven one’s living space and spend some quality indoor time.

Despite the good news for Christmas tree farmers, the overall Christmas decorating trend has been moving toward artificial trees, the sales of which seem destined to overtake their live counterparts.

Real trees may look pretty and smell nice, but the convenience factor of artificial trees — and the long-term cost savings — has led people to increasingly opt for the latter.

Which, if any, are you putting up in the living room this year?

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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

By Rosaelena A. O’Neil

My daughter finally convinced me to upgrade my cell phone. I had been operating with a device that was about seven generations behind the times. She said, “Mom, it’s an investment worth making. What are you waiting for?”

When I fired up the new phone I couldn’t believe what I had been missing. I have a new appreciation for a “cell phone” – turns out it is a super computer!

In a similar vein, when we talk about higher education – and community colleges in particular – some people maintain an outdated, limited world view. Some believe community colleges like NOVA are “grade 13” or the higher education alternative for those less fortunate.

While the mission has always been to promote economic and social mobility, NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College) has seen an enormous “upgrade” in recent years. NOVA embodies equity and excellence in higher education.

Joel Vargas, a 2011 Wakefield alumnus, went to NOVA and earned his Associates degree in engineering. “My NOVA education gave me skills and perspective that positioned me to be successful leading diverse teams,” says Vargas. Today he is an established business owner and project manager and notes, “In my business we like to groom and grow talent. I see a bright future and long-term career in construction management.”

In education, NOVA has enabled equity through cost (less than half of the tuition and fees of other institutions); access (easy enrollment, flexible schedules, targeted advising and nearby campuses on public transit); responsiveness and agility (wrap-around services that meet students where they are and a key partner to the business community). A few examples:

  • NOVA is urgently deploying the Reemploy Virginia Initiative launched by Gov. Ralph Northam in October. NOVA already distributed nearly $1.8MM for tuition and fees to re-skill northern Virginians jobs in high-demand fields who are unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic.
  • NOVA was awarded the Greater Washington Innovation Award for Jump Start, a tuition-free summer online course program for graduating high school seniors to earn college credit – a pandemic rapid-response program.
  • NOVA and Arlington Public Schools are partners. Arlington graduates pursue technical and baccalaureate pathways or launch into ADVANCE – a co-enrollment pathway with George Mason University concluding in a four-year degree at a fraction of the cost. Our high school students benefit from increasingly diverse dual enrollment opportunities – college credit-bearing freshman and sophomore courses in English, social sciences, math and specialized science labs.

Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, notes, “Businesses in Arlington need a well-educated and skilled talent pipeline. NOVA is essential to achieving the goal of an educated regional workforce.” Looking at its range of students, NOVA is a living example of equity, serving high school graduates, adult learners, career switchers, veterans, and individuals wanting to upskill to maintain a competitive edge.

Arlingtonian Kallan Moore, who says she “wandered” after finishing a liberal arts degree, notes, “I’m more confident today in my ability to gain new skills. I credit NOVA for helping me see that I was capable of working in a field that I had perceived as inaccessible and intimidating.” Moore says that “NOVA took the mystery and jargon out of tech. I can see building a career that connects tech with my current work in the law.”

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ARLnow Weekend Discussion

The weekend is here but the week’s biggest local excitement is yet to happen.

The implosion of the former Rosslyn Holiday Inn is set for 8 a.m. on Sunday. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to take a look at the planned road closures.

The public is being discouraged from watching in person, but ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott will be on the scene. You’ll be able to see his photos afterward and, if all goes well, we will be livestreaming the implosion on our Facebook page.

Here are the most-read Arlington articles of the past five days:

  1. Implosion to Fell Rosslyn Hotel Tower This Weekend
  2. Va. to Enact New Midnight Curfew, Stricter Limits on Gatherings
  3. I-66, Numerous Roads Around Rosslyn to Close for Hotel Implosion
  4. Pentagon Row Rebrands as ‘Westpost,’ Adds New Beer-Centric Pizza Restaurant
  5. Prelude to Demolition for Circa 1907 Dominion Hills Mansion?
  6. Coronavirus Cases Hit New Peak in Arlington
  7. New Pierogi Stand Opening in Ballston Quarter Food Hall
  8. ACPD: Gunshot Fired During Robbery in Fairlington
  9. Health Matters: Should I Get the COVID Vaccine if I Have Allergies?
  10. Man in ‘Jabbawockeez’-Style Mask Robs Couple at Gunpoint

Feel free to discuss those stories or anything else of local interest in the comments. Have a nice weekend!

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

The political divide in the United States in the wake of the 2020 presidential election is palpable. In a recent Pew Research poll, 90% of Biden supporters and 89% of Trump supporters said that the election of the other candidate would lead to lasting harm to the country.

For the next generation of leaders to find common ground and advance solutions to pressing national issues, we must teach students how to engage in civil dialogue.

The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, part of the University of Virginia, promotes “effective leadership, working together, building trust, ethics, and a mastery of public policy issues” to “strengthen the quality of governance and community service at all levels and help restore public confidence in our political system.”

One of Sorensen’s programs is the High School Leaders Program, which teaches about 32 students each year how to engage “positively and effectively” in public policy debates so that they can make a positive difference in their communities. According to Sorensen Director Larry Roberts, students from across the Commonwealth with different cultural backgrounds and political beliefs learn to listen to each other, challenge stereotypes about political parties, focus on policy, and work together to find solutions.

Another Virginia program to promote civil dialogue and an understanding of the legislative process is the Virginia YMCA’s Model General Assembly (MGA). After preparing legislation, about 500 students travel to Richmond each year for three days where they meet in the General Assembly to debate their bills.

Erik Van de Poll, Arlington YMCA District Executive Director, says that “MGA has taught Arlington students how to better understand the perspectives of students from different parts of Virginia. This understanding has helped them to build consensus for their own legislation, and ultimately to be more effective advocates.”

Both Sorensen and MGA charge fees and enroll a small number of students, limiting the reach of these effective programs.

Public schools have an important role to play here. The Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) in History and Social Science include understanding “the rights, duties, and responsibilities of citizens” and “respecting differing opinions.” However, the SOLs do not do not emphasize the skills that students need to engage in civil dialogue about policy.

Work on the revised 2022 SOLs is underway and is expected to include a more skills-based approach, according to APS Social Studies Supervisor Kerri Hirsch. In the meantime, Hirsch provides APS teachers with resources so that students can better understand diverse perspectives, discuss these respectfully, and develop arguments to support their views based on facts. This includes the use of Checkology, a resource to help students use critical thinking skills to separate fact from fiction.

What do teachers do when a student’s comments reflect prejudice toward others? Author Robert Jones, Jr. writes: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” Some teachers do not engage students in discussions of politically charged issues because they do not feel equipped to handle these kinds of situations.

Teachers should have more opportunity for professional development to give them the tools they need to facilitate student conversations about policy. Available resources address setting classroom ground rules, examining one’s own perspectives and bias, and engaging students in projects to help them listen to each other to build understanding of different views.

Empathy is a common theme in the work done by Sorensen, MGA, and APS. Civil dialogue depends on participants listening respectfully to those with opposing views and working to understand their perspectives. Empathy allows us to see beyond labels and stereotypes.

Understanding others’ views does not mean agreeing with them. But it can lead to finding some common ground. This seems a better path to finding solutions to national issues than vitriol and ad hominem attacks.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

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

One of the hottest topics surrounding the COVID vaccine the past few days is allergic reactions, sparked by reports of two anaphylactic reactions after administration of Pfizer’s vaccine in the UK.

This has prompted many to ask the question: should I get the COVID vaccine if I have allergies? My goal is to clarify some of the warnings so people can make an informed decision. The main takeaways focus on differentiating between allergic vs. anaphylactic reactions:

  • If you have food allergies or allergies to one medicine, you do not need to avoid the Pfizer vaccine
  • If you have had anaphylactic-level reactions and normally carry an auto-injectable device with epinephrine (e.g. EpiPen), you can either wait for more data or get vaccinated in a more controlled setting like a hospital or outpatient clinic.
  • There is no virus in the vaccine, so you can not contract COVID from the vaccine

So what happened in the UK? Last week, Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was the first in the world to approve the vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and Pfizer. Just this past Tuesday, Britain rolled out the Pfizer vaccine starting with the elderly and frontline workers. Two National Health Service workers developed anaphylactic reactions that were described as non life-threatening. Both recipients had a history of severe allergies and carried epinephrine pens routinely. Fortunately, both patients are recovering.

Initially, the MHRA put out a precautionary guidance stating people with a history of significant allergic reaction should not take the vaccine, which was quickly clarified to anybody with anaphylaxis to a vaccine, medicine or food. Many in the science community are concerned that this advice is too broad, particularly since there is no trace of nuts, eggs, or any food in the vaccine.

What is actually in this vaccine, and what could explain the allergic reaction? The Pfizer vaccine is based on new technology, designed to get the body to build up defenses against COVID on its own. The key ingredient in the Pfizer vaccine is messenger RNA (mRNA), which teaches the body how to fight against the proteins that help COVID-19 invade our cells. The mRNA is packaged up with salt, fats and sugar in a whitish, preservative-free solution to help make it deliverable into our muscle.

Here is a list of the components:

  • A nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA) encoding the viral spike glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 (this is what makes the shot work, and is NOT the virus)
  • Lipids (i.e. fatty substances) including:
    • (4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate),
    • 2-[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N, N-ditetradecylacetamide,
    • 1,2-distearoyl-snglycero-3-phosphocholine,
    • cholesterol
  • Potassium chloride
  • Monobasic potassium phosphate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate
  • Sucrose

While none of these ingredients are known to be highly allergenic, one possibility is a component found in one of the ingredients called polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG helps stabilize the vaccine and is not in other types of vaccines.

Patients with severe allergic reaction history were excluded from the clinical trials, which is common, and helps explain why we are seeing these events show up in real-time. The good news for those predisposed to allergic reactions is that other vaccine options will become available that may avoid the allergic trigger found in the Pfizer vaccine.

Transparency during vaccine rollout is paramount to gain public trust. Events such as these two allergic reactions will help better equip patients and healthcare workers as we prepare for the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EAU) of the vaccine in the U.S. The COVID vaccine has a particularly big magnifying glass on it, and I think we have to resist the urge to panic or “headline react.”

There is enough mistrust in the vaccine that adding a headline to avoid the vaccine if you have a history of allergies may dissuade millions of people from getting vaccinated. Allergic reactions, and certainly anaphylactic reactions, are not something to take lightly. Fortunately, these reactions are rare and treatable in the right setting, and the benefit of protecting against COVID-19 likely outweighs the risk.

Dr. George C. Hwang, known to his patients as Dr. Chaucer, is a practicing anesthesiologist who also helps to run Mind Peace Clinics in Arlington. He has written for multiple journals, textbooks and medical news outlets, and has been living in Arlington for the past 15 years.

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

The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on accepting a grant to implement a performance parking pilot in Arlington’s Metrorail corridors.

Performance Parking is a proven approaching to managing parking supply to make parking more convenient. It uses technology to measure parking demand, and over time matches the price of that parking to demand, ensuring that parking is generally available where people want it, when people want it.

How Does it Work?

When trying to understand how performance parking works, it’s helpful to look at an existing example while keeping in mind that there are many ways to customize a performance parking implementation plan to fit each community. One of the most well-known and well-documented examples is SFPark in San Francisco.

The SFPark pilot installed in-pavement parking occupancy sensors across 7 parking management areas which included about 25% of the city’s on-street spaces.  Approximately every 8 weeks, the city adjusted parking rates for each block based on average parking occupancy of that block, according to the following formula:  blocks that saw 80-100% occupancy the rate was increased by $0.25, blocks where the occupancy was 60-80% the rate was left alone, blocks where occupancy was 30-60% the hourly rate was decreased by $0.25, blocks where the occupancy rate was below 30% the hourly rate was decreased by $0.50.

These pricing adjustments were made approximately every 8 weeks.  Unlike something like Uber’s Surge pricing, these are not sudden, real-time changes – they are slow, deliberate changes made over a period of months with clear, predictable signage.  Over time they find the true intersection of the parking supply and demand curves and ensure that parking is available on each block when people need it.

What does it Accomplish?

SFPark made parking easier to find.  The amount of time that blocks achieved the target parking occupancy (60 to 80%) increased by 31% in pilot areas, compared to a 6% increase in control areas. The amount of time that blocks were too full to find parking decreased 16% in pilot areas while increasing 51% in control areas.

SFPark saved people time.  In SFpark pilot areas, the amount of time most people reported that it took to find a space decreased by 43%, from about 11 ½ minutes to about 6 ½ minutes.

SFPark reduced greenhouse gas emissions.  Due to reduced time spent circling for a parking space, drivers went from generating about 7 metric tons of ghg emissions per day looking for parking prior to the pilot to about 4.9 metric tons of emissions per day after the pilot.

SFPark reduced double parking.  Double parking increases dramatically as convenient parking gets harder to find.  In SFPark pilot areas, double parking decreased by 22% compared to a 5% decrease in the control areas.

SFPark reduced congestion and improved transit speeds.  Due to a reduction in drivers circling for spaces and the reduction in double parking, peak period congestion decreased and transit speed increased in the pilot areas.

SFPark lowered average hourly parking meter rates.   Over the course of the SFPark pilot, the average hourly rates at meters dropped from $2.69 to $2.58.

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