Arlington, VA

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

Last month I received the following advice from a fellow Republican, “our candidates should stop talking about taxes because it is not a winning issue in Arlington.”

Understandably frustrated, this well-meaning advisor is not totally off base. Many Republicans in Arlington accept high property tax burden as one of the costs of living here and want to talk more about how it is spent. Others certainly view the issue as something that turns away the crossover Independents and Democrats needed to build a winning coalition.

Keeping this in mind, it would be easy to stop pushing back on the County Board every six months or so when the spring budget development and the fall closeout spending spree roll around. However, while in a near permanent minority political status, there is something to be said for acting as the loyal opposition. Republicans believe in letting the people keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible as well as in holding elected officials accountable for how they spend what we give them.

Each year, the County Board is required by law to hold two public hearings. One is to gather input on their spending plan and the other the tax rate. Historically in Arlington, the how should we spend the money hearing is overwhelmed with speakers. Usually many people are there to talk about proposed budget cuts that the Board likely has no intention of ever making. These are the “closing the Washington Monument” cuts that are trotted out as the justification to keep the property taxes as high as possible. Rarely does anyone speak against a spending program. This year’s spending hearing is tonight if you wish to shake things up and speak up for fiscal restraint.

Decidedly less popular is the tax rate hearing which will occur on Thursday. Often there are not enough speakers to fill the statutorily mandated hour. This may be because people are satisfied with paying $7500 or more for the services the county provides, or because people who are not satisfied believe any complaints would fall on deaf ears. As in previous years, take this as encouragement to log on virtually and let your voice be heard. It has never been easier.

Knowing what their constituency thinks about how much money they are taking from us and how they are spending it is a good thing for the County Board, regardless of whether they choose to internalize it or ignore it. This loyal opposition offers a consistent reminder to Arlingtonians that we are the party asking for fiscal responsibility from our elected leaders.

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

0 Comments

(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Though coronavirus cases in Arlington are up over the past couple of weeks, there’s hope that progress is being made against the virus as vaccinations quicken.

Nationally, cases are up in some places and down in others — a stalemate as vaccinations are countered by increasing prevalence of more infectious variants. Still, some experts believe continued vaccinations will ultimately prevail, muting the impacts of new variants and leading to a relatively quiet summer in terms of infections.

Despite the optimism, there’s also new cause for concern about the longer-term health impacts of COVID-19.

It’s becoming more apparent that so-called “long Covid” — physical and neurological symptoms that linger even after the infection is over — is a significant public health problem. By one estimate, about 10% of COVID-19 cases result in long-term symptoms. In the UK, more than 100,000 of the country’s National Health Service personnel have varying degrees of debilitating, long-term symptoms, causing staffing problems.

Long Covid sufferers, also known as long-haulers, have been undergoing both physical rehabilitation, in an effort to increase endurance, and brain rehabilitation, to combat persistent “brain fog” and other cognitive problems. There’s also new evidence that vaccinations may help clear up lingering symptoms.

Still, the research into Long Covid is in the early stages, and the extent of it remains not fully known.

This morning, we’re hoping to take a local sample with a poll: have you had Covid, and if so, did your symptoms linger?

0 Comments

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

By Kathie Panfil, with the Abuelitas

“I feel like you really are my Grandma.”

The child who shared that thought with a retired Arlington teacher is an English Learner (EL). Her tutor is an “Abuelita” (grandmother) with both wisdom and special skills.

When schools went online, former Arlington teachers of English as a Second Language knew how hard distance learning would be. Acquiring skills and vocabulary from English-speaking peers couldn’t happen. Relationships would have to be developed remotely. Parents would have to figure out the technology, and support their children’s learning, while fearing job loss and illness.

While we knew our community would face overwhelming challenges during the pandemic, we did know one we could tackle in Spring 2020 — we knew how to teach. Identifying the children who would most benefit from our one-on-one tutoring was done through our networks. Old friends still teaching in our schools told parents about the Abuelitas, and soon we had waiting lists. The Abuelitas also needed a communication platform, so we learned to use WhatsApp, which most parents preferred, letting the children both see and hear us on their parents’/caretakers’ phones. Abuelitas had translators within our ranks when needed.

Abuelitas know oral language is critical for English learners, and that it develops both on the playground and in the classroom. So the Abuelitas ask questions, such as “Is there anything you want to talk about?” Some days the children tell about the lessons they are learning online from their “real” teachers, practicing new vocabulary. Sometimes, the Abuelita and the child talk about feelings. One child beginning hybrid classes said, “What if my friends don’t remember who I am?” His Abuelita reassured him, and phoned later to hear about his wonderful day. The personal connection is a gift to both the student and the Abuelita.

How do we know what to teach? “The scope of what the children must learn is huge,” one Abuelita explains. Sometimes we hear from the child’s teachers, but mostly, we use hands-on activities, and we follow the interests of the child. Sometimes we work on reading and writing, but often we read to the children, fiction and non-fiction, because they need listening skills. “Don’t stop,” the children say. Some of us have developed and published materials: on gratitude, on the coronavirus and more.

We’ve taken advantage of free resources in Arlington: we thank Arlington Library for its Take and Make Crafts which we sometimes send to our children. We got Mars Base Camp kits from Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, and some gooey slime kits from Arlington Parks and Recreation. The whole family often gets involved in craft projects.

We became strong advocates for internet access, because despite efforts within the schools and the community, some families lack sufficient connectivity. We joined broadband advocacy efforts. We know connectivity is as essential as water and electric services. We like ArlFiber.org.

In fall 2020, when schools continued virtually, we heard about pods forming in some Arlington homes. Our students lacked the space, strong internet and English-speaking supervision needed for a pod. We continued one-on-one tutoring but we also wanted to form pods for students who lived in Gilliam Place, affordable housing apartments.

We looked for a location nearby and Arlington Presbyterian Church became a caring sponsor. A skilled parent volunteered to run our first pod in fall 2020, and a second pod was added in January 2021. Two nonprofits, Edu-Futuro and Our Stompin Ground, became strong collaborators. These pods worked well, with Covid safety protocols, Arlington Schools online, and everyone working together.

Throughout, we have been deeply impressed by the dedication of our former colleagues: teachers, other school staff and those providing technology. Abuelitas have touched the lives of about 40 learners, although there are many more children who need support. Each of us knows the strong contributions our former EL students made to American society, so as these children grow, we are eager to see what lies ahead.

Kathie Panfil is a former principal at Key and Randolph elementary schools. She is now a retiree active in Arlington community affairs.

0 Comments

President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan has added a glimmer of hope to those who would like to see an expanded Metrorail system.

The initial planning for the system in the 1960s envisioned a line down the Columbia Pike, ultimately terminating in Annandale, but the proposed line was nixed in order to save on costs. A physical remnant of the planning is a pair of stub tunnels near the Pentagon Metro station, built to accommodate a potential future Columbia Pike expansion.

Decades later, in 2019, Metro published the results of a study that suggested a number of ways to expand the capacity of the Metrorail network, including a second Rosslyn Metro station and tunnel, and a Silver Line expansion down the Pike and up Route 7.

Proposed new Silver Line Connection through Columbia Pike (via 2019 Metro study)

The possibility was especially enticing considering the disappointment of transit advocates following the 2014 cancellation of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar line.

While Metro faces plenty of maintenance, service, budget and ridership challenges — the latter three exacerbated by the pandemic — that hasn’t stopped some from dreaming of a world in which more local residents are within easy walking distance of a light rail commute.

Among those discussing such a possibility, given the massive infrastructure spending that would result should Biden’s plan pass, are some of Arlington’s state lawmakers.

Even should the stars align and federal funding become available, digging up Columbia Pike and building a new Metrorail tunnel and stations would be fantastically expensive and would likely require a decade or more of planning and construction.

The new connectivity would also result in new development, sharply higher property prices, and other big changes, which could be viewed in a positive or a negative light, depending on your perspective.

What do you think about the idea of a Metro line on Columbia Pike?

0 Comments

Warming temperatures should make for a sunny and pleasant holiday weekend, weather-wise.

Happy Easter and end of Passover to our readers who observe either faith. Due to the holidays, we’re getting started on today’s weekend discussion a bit early.

Below are the most-read Arlington articles of the past week.

  1. This Toothless 19-Year-Old Dachshund Has Captured Arlington’s Heart
  2. Arlington Opening Joint Vaccine Site With Amazon Today
  3. Arlington School Board Asks Superintendent for More ‘Aggressive’ Return Plan
  4. Residents Ask ACPD to Spare Them from Bowling Alley Commotion
  5. Virginia to Expand Vaccine Eligibility to All People 16+ by April 18
  6. New Alcohol-Free Restaurant to Open in Former Purple Lounge Space
  7. Morning Poll: Legal Weed in Virginia This Summer?
  8. Annual Tap Water Change is One Week Away
  9. With Dominion Hills Mansion Demolition Underway, Locals Ask: What’s Next?
  10. Construction Begins on New Towers in Crystal City
  11. Shirlington Salon Shutting Down, Citing Pandemic Impact
  12. Arlington County to Use Drones to Count Deer

As for today’s breaking news out of the District, some local reaction is below.

Feel free to discuss the above stories or anything else of local interest in the comments. We’ll be back Monday with more local coverage.

0 Comments

It’s April Fool’s Day, which in the Before Times might mean elaborate workplace pranks.

Alas, there’s still a pandemic going on, and those working from home while their kids go to remote school might not have the same pranking energy as in the days of yore.

Nonetheless, we imagine there are some who are going to take full advantage of April Fool’s Day regardless of the circumstances. We can all use a bit more levity these days, after all.

Here at ARLnow, we were planning to sell our Gondola Now logo as an NFT, but — well — couldn’t figure out how to do it on short notice. So aerial lift transport enthusiasts will still have to settle for sweatshirts, t-shirts and — for the upcoming beach season — tank tops.

What are your April 1 plans?

File photo

0 Comments

Gov. Ralph Northam announced this morning a proposal to move up the legalization of marijuana in Virginia to this summer.

A legalization bill championed by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who represents part of Arlington, passed the General Assembly earlier this year. But it called for legalization of recreational marijuana possession and cultivation on Jan. 1, 2024.

Northam is sending the bill back to the state legislature to consider a July 1, 2021 implementation.

“Governor Ralph Northam today proposed moving up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana to July 1, 2021, nearly three years sooner than previously planned,” said a press release. “The Governor also announced he is proposing changes that advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records [of past marijuana convictions] immediately.”

Ebbin told news outlets he thinks the sped-up timeline will be approved.

“My colleagues and I worked closely with Governor Northam to ensure this bill prioritizes public health and social equity,” Ebbin said in a press release from the governor’s office. “I look forward to adopting these amendments and passing this important legislation into law.”

While small-scale marijuana possession was decriminalized in Virginia last year, Northam said those facing fines under the new statute are disproportionately Black.

“Virginia’s communities of color deserve equity — and that means taking action now to end the disproportionate fines, arrests, and convictions of marijuana offenses,” Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax said in the press release.

The bill allows people 21 and over to “legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis, without intent to distribute,” and will also “allow households to grow up to four plants… out of sight from public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21.”

Smoking marijuana while driving and possession of it on school grounds will remain illegal.

Previous ARLnow polls revealed strong local support for marijuana decriminalization. When Ebbin proposed it in 2016, nearly 80% of poll respondents said they supported decriminalization. In 2019, when then-candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti pledged not to prosecute simple marijuana possession charges as Commonwealth’s Attorney, more than 75% of poll respondents said they supported that.

Legalization obviously goes beyond decriminalization, however, and there are some who believe the risks associated with marijuana use call for something less than full legalization. There are also some who think Virginia should take more time to legalize weed, in order to allow a more orderly establishment of a statewide marijuana industry.

Still, Northam’s changes to the legalization bill reportedly have support on both sides of the aisle and are expected to pass

What do you think?

Photo by Roberto Valdivia/Unsplash

0 Comments

ARLnow Weekend Discussion

The weekend is here, along with what should be a very nice Saturday, weather-wise.

Whether you’re heading out to check out Arlington’s cherry blossoms, to go for a long-overdue bike ride around the Arlington loop, or to spend time with friends or family you haven’t seen in awhile, we hope you enjoy some quality outdoor time.

Now, here are the most-read articles of the past week.

  1. Whitlow’s Says It Will Close in June, But May Reopen Elsewhere
  2. Street Closed in Ballston While Bomb Squad Investigates ‘Concerning Materials’
  3. Pipe Bombs Found in Ballston Home, Police Say
  4. Mario’s Pizza House Continues to Serve Up Slices and Memories
  5. County Board Approves Agreement with Alexandria To Dredge Four Mile Run
  6. ACPD: Knife-Wielding Man Lands in Jail After Bar Fight in Clarendon
  7. Rouse Estate Is Currently Being Torn Down
  8. Arlington County Police Encrypt More Radio Channels
  9. County Board Approves Revised Plans for Crystal City Water Park

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

0 Comments

Lyon’s Legacy is a limited-run opinion column on the history of housing in Arlington. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington County was once home to a community of former slaves so prosperous that tours were given to foreign dignitaries as evidence of America’s racial progress.

Today, just about the only physical trace of Freedman’s Village is a plaque on a highway overpass. Some of the descendants of that community remain in Arlington today, but for others, exile has been made permanent.

This is the second part of Lyon’s Legacy, a biweekly series on ARLnow (you can read the whole thing, with citations, here). It will tell an eight-part history of how Black people, and other groups that experience racial or economic discrimination, have been excluded from living in Arlington County. Last week, the story started with Freedman’s Village. But with the destruction of that community comes the arrival of Frank Lyon and others who willfully embedded white supremacy into our county’s laws and urban planning.

What those men did is still with us, a century later.

By the 1880s, the county’s white leaders began to agitate against Freedman’s Village. One of Virginia’s U.S. senators called it “improper that government property should be continually occupied by squatters who have no interest in it such as to stimulate improvements.” These ‘squatters’ were residents who had worked to build on the land for a quarter-century, paid rent, and paid municipal, state, and federal taxes of all kinds. But they were Black, and their law-abiding industry didn’t turn a profit for white real-estate developers in the county. The government issued eviction orders at the beginning of winter, 1887. Mt. Zion Baptist Church, like all the other people, businesses, and institutions in Freedman’s Village, had to go.

The diaspora of Freedman’s Village took root across the county and beyond. The forbearing evictees settled in middle-class Black communities like Johnson’s Hill, Butler-Holmes, and Green Valley, as well as poorer areas like the farms of Hall’s Hill and the bustling Queen City. Queen City was so egalitarian that some residents later recalled that “a man sometimes didn’t know he was poor until he was 27 years old.” But Queen City isn’t on any Arlington map today. Only fifty years later, the government demolished their homes a second time — not to build the Pentagon, but to build the Pentagon’s freeway exit.

In the late 19th century, the county’s Black community had political power. No fewer than five Black men served on the County Board between 1871 and 1888: William A. Rowe, John B. Syphax, Travis B. Pinn, John W. Pendleton, and Tibbett Allen. Tibbett Allen lost his seat under suspicious circumstances and was replaced by a white Confederate veteran. There were no more Board members of color for a full century afterwards.

After the dispersal of Freedman’s Village, before the turn of the century, there were Black neighborhoods, there were white neighborhoods, and there was Rosslyn. Rosslyn was a residential district inhabited by working-class Black people. They were attracted by the chance to live so close to the Federal jobs across the river, where racial discrimination in employment wasn’t quite as intense.

Rosslyn was also “Dead Man’s Hollow,” a thicket of saloons, gamblers, and sex workers. It attracted white Washingtonian drinkers, too, on the merit of its location: The county was outside the jurisdiction of Washington’s cops, but close enough that a drunk who’d blown his streetcar fare on cards could teeter home across a bridge. And the county maintained a police force totalling two — not enough for a crackdown.

But what made Rosslyn special wasn’t the Black people or the saloons — it was their combination. These saloons weren’t segregated. At least one was Black-owned. These were tables where spades and diamonds meant more than black and white.

Read More

0 Comments

There’s word this morning that the idea of a Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola might not be as dead as we first thought.

Just over four years since the Arlington County Board said it was “not in favor” of the $80-90 million project, which always seemed to be more attractive to Georgetown business interests than to those on the other side of the river, a D.C. Council member is raising the hopes of the gondola’s cult-like following with a new funding request.

Per the Washington Business Journal’s Alex Koma:

https://twitter.com/AlexKomaWBJ/status/1375439112237424643

While the idea of aerial lift transportation from Manhattan on the Potomac directly to the Exorcist steps — not to mention the sweeping views in between — may make gondola advocates giddy, the initial estimate of $3.25 million in annual operating costs puts a damper on the chances of it actually happening.

Nonetheless, should Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s proposal go through, purchasing the former Exxon station and completing an Environmental Impact Study would eliminate major hurdles to the gondola project moving forward. Next stop: getting Arlington County elected officials to climb on board.

What do you think of this latest gondola news?

(If you can’t see the emojis, here is the key: 1 = happy, 2 = unhappy, 3 = shrug.)

0 Comments

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

A majority of Arlington’s affordable apartments are not built into typical new apartment or condo buildings, but rather separated into their own building complexes.

Over the course of decades this has created segregated housing in Arlington. Although the dynamic is improving, the equation and incentive structure at the heart of this issue must change.

In 2006 a group of Arlington developers lobbied and successfully codified in the Virginia General Assembly an equation that disincentivizes developers from building affordable units in their market rate buildings. This equation alternatively incentivizes developers to pay a cash contribution to a housing trust fund — in Arlington this is called the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHIF) — instead of building affordable units in normal market rate apartment or condo buildings.

Arlington ordinance provisions (image via Arlington Community Foundation). Source: Arlington Community Foundation: Status Report on Affordable Housing Ordinance Review, November 2020.

According to multiple developers in an Arlington Community Foundation review it is significantly cheaper to simply contribute cash to AHIF than build affordable units in their new buildings.

With the understanding that it is cheaper for developers to contribute to AHIF using this equation than building on site affordable units in mind, the following regional comparison makes the state policy decision to zero-out and force Arlington to use this equation even more starkly disturbing.

Developers are currently paying a cash payment equal to less than 5% of on site units instead of the 6.25%-12.5% of on-site affordable housing units that are typical in our surrounding jurisdictions. This is compounded with the policy conundrum that our affordable units are not in the more “desirable” parcels that developers are building market rate units, like is done in other jurisdictions, and thus creating a segregated housing situation. A double whammy.

I implore our state legislators to reevaluate the unfair discrimination against Arlington in Virginia’s affordable housing ordinance laws. Our County Board is just as capable as any other jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia to make ordinances that make sense for our community and should not be unfairly zeroed out to abide by this obscure rule.

Nicole Merlene grew up in Arlington County and has been a civic leader in both policy and political arenas. She has been an Economic Development and Tenant-Landlord Commissioner; Community Development Citizens Advisory Committee, Pentagon City Planning Study, Rosslyn Transportation Study, and Vision Zero member; Arlington County Civic Federation and Rosslyn Civic Association Board Member. In 2019 she sought the Democratic nomination for the 31st District of the Virginia State Senate. Professionally Nicole is an Economic Development Specialist where she works to attract businesses to the region. She lives in an apartment with her dog Riley and enjoys running and painting.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list