Alexandria seeks input on phase II revision of noise ordinance — “On May 15, the Alexandria City Council adopted phase I technical revisions of the City’s noise ordinance. The City is now seeking public input on a phase II revision that would address policy issues associated with land use, noise levels and changes with noise sources. The objective is to finalize this revision for Council consideration by the end of 2021.” [City of Alexandria]
Alexandria author writes book on 19th century Scottish migrant — “First-time author Ellen Hamilton has spent years working on the story of William Gregory, who settled here in Alexandria in 1807. Now, her first book, ‘A Scottish Migration to Alexandria’, is going into print.” [Alexandria Living]
Alexandria Health Department to offer free flu shots — “In an effort to ensure that the community has access to the influenza vaccine, the Alexandria Health Department is hosting a free clinic on Saturday, Oct. 2 at Hammond Middle School from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.” [Zebra]
Today’s weather — “Rain showers in the morning with scattered thunderstorms arriving in the afternoon. High 79F. Winds SE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 60%… Scattered thunderstorms in the evening, then mainly cloudy overnight with thunderstorms likely. Potential for heavy rainfall. Low 68F. Winds SSE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 90%.” [Weather.com]
New job: Temporary bilingual COVID-19 vaccine promoter — “. The Vaccine Promotor(a)/CVN will engage with residents of underserved communities to provide education about COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination. The Promotor(a) will work with Neighborhood Health’s COVID-19 Outreach team to plan an overall outreach strategy and provide support to other vaccine-related activities.” [Indeed]
Who is this writer? Is Port City Publius more than one person?
Port City Publius wouldn’t answer those specific questions, but the writer opined on a number of Alexandria-centric topics in a recent interview.
ALXnow: You are very funny in your posts. Who are your favorite writers?
Port City Publius: Charlie Pierce is a good example of someone whose writing and worldview has influenced my approach; I definitely have an affinity for the ink-stained wretch set. Caitlin Flanagan writes the way I want to write, though the majority of her takes suck pretty bad. Alexandra Petri, without question. Tressie McMillan Cottom. James Baldwin. Ursula Le Guin. bell hooks. Mel Brooks. Tolkien, except for the Silmarillion which is terrible and anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves. C. Wright Mills and Arlie Russell Hochschild. All the writers in the Jezebel and Deadspin diaspora remain indispensable. Elizabeth Bruenig often makes me challenge and reassess my priors. I’ve read Jamelle Bouie and Matt Yglesias going back to when they were both at Slate. I think Jason Isbell has a lot of smart things to say.
ALXnow: What inspired you to embark as Port City Publius?
Port City Publius: You know the famous scene from Network, the one where the sweaty guy is shouting about how angry he is? Well that was me five years ago. I finally sat through one too many public meetings where the only testimony was from retirees with incredibly intense outlier opinions about how many buildings built after 1800 should exist (none) how much noise and fun is ok (also none) and how many working-class people could be permitted to try and eke out a life in this city (spoiler: it’s none again). It remains fu**ing wild to me that nearly anyone who wants to run a business in this city has to first put up with some guy named Carl who last worked for OMB in 1987 say that he’d really rather they only be open from 1-3pm on alternate Tuesdays because the shadows cast by business patrons might damage the rare book collection he keeps near the front windows of his home.
I knew from conversations with different groups of friends and sewing circles and tennis partners and drinking buddies that most people around here felt pretty differently about things, but this perspective wasn’t being heard or included in public dialogues because we have, uh, lives and sh**. So I set out to put a voice to that. To establish a counter-narrative to the intensely tedious NIMBY bull**** that had infected the waterfront plan, among other things at that time.
ALXnow: When do you decide to publish? Do you only strike when needed?
Port City Publius: First I ask myself “do I have real work to do this week” at which point the answer is usually yes and nothing gets published. Beyond that, I’m typically looking for something to catalyze my internal barometer of “well that sh** can’t stand.”
ALXnow: What are you going to write about next? Is there a list of topics, or do you shoot from the hip?
Port City Publius: As Gloria Steinem famously said, without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming after all is a form of planning. I’m sorry what was the question again?
ALXnow: What is your political philosophy? Has it changed over the last few years? What prompted that change?
Port City Publius: I think we have an obligation to prevent the immiseration of each and every one of our fellow citizens, and that government intervention is a necessary and crucial part of that. I’d say I generally follow the teachings and live the values that right-wing Christians pretend to believe in: you know, loving your neighbor and taking care of the poor and seeing the worth and potential in every person and whatnot.
To the extent that you can map me onto the political spectrum, I’d fairly describe myself as progressive; but I also think the left/right dichotomy is often reductive, and both mainstream political parties can be pretty lame and show excessive deference to the status quo at the expense of pursuing transformative change.
ALXnow: You like saying ‘Yes’ to development and decry NIMBY’s. Can you spell out the future that you’d like to see realized for the city?
Port City Publius: Used in this context “development” is an essentially useless term that has been effectively weaponized by the modern inheritors of the Know-Nothings. I think we should say yes to a wide variety of things that move this city forward in a manner that benefits a broad constituency of residents and interests, even if the proposed thing looks and feels different and isn’t made of bricks and cobblestone. I would not broadly describe each of these things as “development.” If I built you a gorgeous brand-new public waterfront park, would you call that “development”? If I tear down an over-enrolled and under-maintained elementary school and replace it with a beautiful new building, is that “development”? I think it tremendously sucks that the grumps and busybodies in this city get to describe anything they benefit from as “investment” and anything they think inconveniences them as “development.”
The future I want is one in which we radically reduce the resident veto over the ability to do business here. This is not the goddamn United States Senate, old white men do not have a divine right to filibuster the necessary progress desired by the majority of the populace. I want a future where more people try out the words “sure, why not” rather than their reflexive “well, actually.”
There exists an intense bias toward the preservation of the status quo, even on the part of (especially on the part of) people who otherwise think of themselves as well-meaning. I am reminded of King’s disappointment in the white moderate, and his searing observation that “shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will” and really the point I’m trying to make here is that more of you need to read “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
The future that I want for us is one in which we do things that make us feel uncomfortable because feeling a little uncomfortable is actually ok.
ALXnow: With the most recent primary election, is the city headed in the direction you want?
Port City Publius: I think the seven candidates on the Democratic slate generally seem like well-intentioned, thoughtful people. And I think we can roughly extrapolate that they would govern in a well-intentioned and thoughtful manner. I think it’s hilarious that a dude who worked for Jesse Helms is laboring under the deluded belief that someone who accommodated and enabled a notorious segregationist can get elected here.
But I also think the notion of the city being headed in a particular direction lasts exactly as long as the interval of time between each council public hearing. The people on that dais are complicated, flawed, fallible people — just like each of us. The exercise here is not to bestow upon them some blank cheque mandate to go forth and rule over Pax Alexandria, may the sun never set on our empire. No, we should challenge them and hold them to account and measure their success by the fidelity to which they hew to the shared values they have publicly committed to. This is not baseball. You should not be a fan of one party or another–of one politician or another–and in doing so blindly overlook the ways in which they are failing to live up to the best version of themselves. They are public servants. They are an avatar of our collective will, and we should never lose sight of that.
That all being said: do I think we are headed in a better direction right now than if the candidates mostly running because they thought city council was like a Super HOA had won? Yes. Yes I do think we are headed in a better direction.
Port City Publius: That they probably shouldn’t have kicked so many people out of the group.
No, listen. I sort of mean that. Their thin-skinned pettiness is absolutely the reason they didn’t win anyone around to their point of view. They kicked out so many people! And every one of those people told ten other people (who told ten other people, and so on) what a joke that group was. If you create an environment in which you kick out anyone who doesn’t gleefully parrot the propaganda you’re pushing, what kind of group will you be left with? Please don’t say the modern Republican party. Ok fine I see how I left myself open to that joke. Very good. You’re very clever, we get it.
My point is you can’t persuade anyone if you drive off everyone that doesn’t agree with you. And also that people will see right through your bullsh** when you define “integrity” as “willingness to do the highly specific and sort of weird sh** I want” and constantly flex that definition based on the proximate needs of acting out your irrational hatred of a certain local politician.
ALXnow: Are groups like BIBA merely a new-normal part of local conversations? Or is this a direct result of politics getting turned up 11 notches and Republicans trying to influence things?
Port City Publius: I think this is a great reminder that politics is hard and best not left to sloppy amateurs in an information bubble fixated on issues that most people genuinely don’t give a sh** about.
ALXnow: Aren’t you essentially the same kind of critical voice as BIBA — a resident(s) who has had it with what they perceive to be ridiculous elements in the community? Or is your voice representative of Democratic values and theirs is representative of… something else?
Port City Publius: I don’t see an equivalence. I deploy righteous indignation and world-weary exhaustion as a rhetorical technique in service of advocating for policies and actions that largely benefit people that aren’t me. They think someone paved a road wrong for Suspicious Reasons.
I think if I woke up one morning and decided to dedicate most of my free time to complaining on the internet about all of the ways that I was personally inconvenienced by things meant to improve the lives of people that have less than me, well, I think I’d have to do quite a bit of soul searching about that.
My sincere advice for people in this city–for anyone anywhere really–is to be more selfless. Stop looking for ways that the ordinary progress of the world is secretly a targeted attack on you, personally. Stop looking for reasons to be so upset about everything. Hurl your laptop into a river and live your life, which I need you to understand is really pretty great relative to any global or historic measure. Facebook and numerous other parts of the modern media ecosystem are intentionally making you upset so they can sell you brain pills and reverse mortgages and whateverthefu** else. You don’t have to play their game. You really don’t.
ALXnow: Are you going to endorse any City Council or School Board candidates? If so, who?
Port City Publius: I think we should abolish the school board and return control of schools to the city. Does that count as an endorsement?
ALXnow: It doesn’t look like you’re anti-establishment. You are often highly critical of the City’s critics by backing Mayor Justin Wilson and city plans and departments. What elements of the current government are you critical of? How are the City manager’s office, police department and school system holding up, for instance?
Port City Publius: I think if we had actively and intentionally set out to have terrible schools leadership during this crisis it would have been utterly indistinguishable from our actual experience. We’ve gotten this far through a mixture of inertia, dumb luck, and the titanic efforts of parents and families and individual teachers and administrators; because it has been astonishingly clear that the superintendent is terrified to make any choice that could ultimately be deemed unsuccessful and have that failure accrue to him and his reputation. He’s the football coach that always punts on 4th and 1 because that’s what convention says and if you follow convention and fu** up, you don’t get blamed, the punter does. This dude is writing a book about educational leadership! A book! That is off the charts Andrew Cuomo energy! I hope the Raleigh Unified School District–or wherever the hell he finds the next rung of the ladder he thinks he’s climbing–hurries up and makes him an offer so our community can get someone with creativity and moral courage into this job. A book. Jesus.
The police seem fine.
ALXnow: You are not always praising local politicians, like former Mayor Silberberg. Are you connected to the @ALXBottle handle? It reads similarly to your style, as you both are highly critical of her.
Port City Publius: Surely you can accept that the sample size of local residents who think the former mayor was a dilettante who never bothered to learn or execute the core competencies of the role she was serving in is an N larger than 1.
Besides, my burner account is a Ron Swanson parody joint. I don’t have time to run another one.
ALXnow: How would you rate Justin Wilson’s performance as mayor?
Port City Publius: 85% Fresh.
ALXnow: Why keep your identity secret? Are you maintaining anonymity as an effort to protect your butler? What happens if you write under your real name? Could you lose your day job?
Port City Publius: I think if my identity came out, most people would think it was unbecoming of a former secretary of state and presidential candidate to write an ongoing series of essays about a city she’s never lived in. Plus I already got in enough trouble for the email server thing, I’m not just going to hand the New York Times another round of bullsh** for Peggy Noonan to freebase, you know what I mean?
ALXnow: When you write, “Port City Publius is committed to seeing Alexandria thrive for generations to come,” what does that mean? What kind of commitment are you talking about? Like, no matter what you won’t move away and will keep writing?
Port City Publius: It means that all of us need to be better about making choices that don’t directly or immediately benefit ourselves; but are instead done in the interest of improving the lives of people we will never know or never meet. We live in a society, man.
ALXnow: Alexandria City Public Schools have been criticized for their handling of the pandemic. While a broad question, how do you think the school system is doing and how would you characterize the effectiveness of their leadership at the upper-staff and elected levels?
Port City Publius: I think I answered this a few questions ago when I called the superintendent a mendacious hack.
ALXnow: What issues are you looking at in your crystal ball affecting the city? Increased taxes? Employee compensation? Affordable housing? Flooding? Development? These seem like perpetual problems that have plagued the city for generations.
Port City Publius: I haven’t seen anyone talking about renaming streets in Old Town so I think I’ll probably tackle that? In all seriousness – everything you list here is really important and are each deserving of substantive dialogue and consideration. And there has been a great deal of that already, on a wide range of forums. One of the reasons that I feel so very lucky to live in this city is to be around so many people who both care about making things better and apply their considerable skills and talents to that task. I’d embrace the chance to add clarity and purpose to the discussion of any of these issues, should my thoughts come together in a way worth sharing. As long as, you know, the Emmys aren’t on or something.
This weekend, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a new five-cent tax on plastic bags — though with some grumbling that Arlington had beat them to the punch by a few hours.
The tax will only be applied to grocery stores and convenience stores, not restaurants or other businesses, and is similar to taxes implemented in D.C. and other localities across the country. Groups collecting trash around the area reported a three-quarter decrease in the amount of plastic bags being picked up and overall decreased plastic bag use — though some of those results have been brought into question.
There were two public speakers at the meeting, both of whom endorsed the tax.
“The bag tax is an effective and inexpensive way of reducing plastic pollution,” said Michael Olex, vice-chair of the Environmental Policy Commission. “It’s effective, as demonstrated in other communities such as D.C. It’s inexpensive because consumers, once they acquire bags, aren’t spending any money. Stores purchase less bags, so their costs can go down. Cities and other entities are spending less money cleaning up pollution. I urge the council to adopt this measure both for citizens of Alexandria and the environment.”
Public speaker Al Clark said the bag tax proposal should be an easy choice, particularly in the face of other harder environmental choices the city will face down the line.
“Obviously this has been a long-time coming, something we’ve been talking about for a while,” Wilson said. “Going back… Tim Lovain was advocating for this for years, long before it was really popular, and [we] looked at him kind of funny when he did but he was certainly right on this. Unfortunately we are the third to adopt it in the region by a matter of hours (beat by Arlington and Fairfax).”
Arlington adopted a similar tax a few hours earlier, and Fairfax bagged the approval a week earlier.
Community town hall on City Manager position on Wednesday — “Alexandria City Council will hold a hybrid town hall meeting to receive input from the community about the qualities and values that should be considered in the hiring of the next City Manager. The town hall meeting will be held at City Hall in Council Chamber (301 King St.), from 7 to 9 p.m. and community members will be able to participate either in-person or online.” [City of Alexandria]
Fall fest honors heroes at Greenstreet Gardens — “Greenstreet Gardens kicks off its annual Fall Fest this weekend with a special bonus: All heroes get in free.” [Zebra]
Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies (during the day). High near 80F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph… Mainly cloudy (in the evening). Low 63F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]
New job: Garden center associate — “Looking for team members to help water plants, load mulch, unload trucks, assist customers and general garden center duties, Must be a team player with a great attitude. We will train you!” [Indeed]
Friday Night Lights debut at Alexandria High School stadium — “A ribbon cutting for the newly renovated Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 ahead of the Titans’ first home game at 7 p.m. Speakers will include Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Jr., School Board Chair Meagan Alderton, Mayor Justin Wilson, and more. Gates will not open to the public until 6 p.m.” [Patch]
City Council extends State of Emergency to January 2022 — The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency to January 31, 2022. [ALXnow]
Affordable housing could replace Alexandria Land Rover dealership — “The Beyer Auto group is vacating its Land Rover dealership at the intersection of Duke Street and Telegraph Road in favor of new, larger digs on Van Dorn Street just over the Fairfax County line. And now, there’s information about what could become of the original Land Rover Alexandria dealership: An organization is interested in building affordable housing there, according to Washington Business Journal, which first reported on the development.” [Alexandria Living]
Wegmans announces May 2022 opening in Eisenhower East — “Wegmans is building an 81,000 square-foot store in Alexandria just west of Hoffman Town Center off of Eisenhower Avenue. The grocery store at Carlyle Crossing is part of a mixed-use project on a 5-acre site.” [Alexandria Living]
Today’s weather — “Rain showers in the morning with scattered thunderstorms arriving in the afternoon. High 81F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%… A few clouds from time to time (in the evening). Low 68F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]
New job: Crew at Trader Joe’s — “Our Crew Members create a warm and friendly shopping experience in our stores. We answer questions, offer suggestions and ensure our customers know they are welcomed and cared for. We entertain customers and make grocery shopping an exciting adventure.” [Indeed]
The Landmark area is getting one step closer to the city’s goal of being a mixed-use community at tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting.
At the meeting tonight, the Council is scheduled to review several amendments to the city’s Landmark-area ordinances ahead of the area’s planned mixed-use redevelopment. Among these is the creation of a new Community Development Authority (Item 36), a new five-member board that will be in charge of overseeing several aspects of shaping Landmark Mall. In particular, the CDA will manage the financing, designing, and construction of the area’s public infrastructure and services, financed through a combination of bonds, private contributions, and other sources.
According to the new ordinance:
The CDA is created for the purpose of exercising the powers set forth in the Act, including acquiring, financing, funding, designing, constructing, equipping and providing for the construction, installation, operation, maintenance (unless dedicated to and accepted by the appropriate governmental entity other than the CDA), enhancement, replacement, relocation and alteration of all or portions of the public infrastructure, facilities and services more particularly described in the Petition (the “Infrastructure”) (or otherwise facilitating such undertakings by, and in cooperation with, the City), which description is incorporated herein by reference.
The five-member board will be appointed by the City Council.
The CDA is not quite a Business Improvement District, with the scope of the CDA focused more around the nitty-gritty of infrastructure rather than promoting the area and creating community events, but there is some overlap in that the CDA can handle things like decorative lighting and management of the new public spaces planned through the Landmark area. The petition from local landowners forming the CDA outlined some of the specific areas that will be covered by the CDA, including:
- Sanitary sewer mains and lines
- Water mains and lines, pump stations and water storage facilities
- storm sewer mains and lines
- landscaping and related site improvements
- parking facilities
- sidewalks and walkway paths
- storm water management and retention systems (including best management practices, water quality devices and erosion and sediment control)
- lighting (including street and decorative lights in public rights of way)
- street and directional signage
- wetlands mitigation
- roads, curbs and gutters (inclusive of rights of way and easements related thereto)
- public park, plaza and recreational facilities
- new or enhanced public access and open space areas
- any and all facilities and services appurtenant to the above including the acquisition of land (collectively, all such existing and new public roads, utilities, facilities and services hereinafter, the “Infrastructure”).
The Alexandria City Council, on Tuesday, will likely extend its local emergency declaration until January 31, 2022.
The declaration, which was first approved by Council in March 2020, has been continually updated every six months, and finds that “the emergency continues to exist and will exist into the future.”
There are now 13,209 reported cases and 142 deaths due to COVID-19, which is an increase of 215 cases since this time last Tuesday. There were 43 new cases were reported on Thursday, September 10, making for the largest single-day jump since April 12, when 48 new cases were reported.
Alexandria’s seven-day average of positive COVID-19 tests is at 3.4%, and the city is experiencing a high level of transmission for the fourth straight week, according to the Virginia Department of Health. In fact, the only localities in Virginia not seeing high transmission are Manassas Park and Fairfax City, which are both seeing moderate transmission.
There have also been 70 cases reported in Alexandria City Public Schools since last month.
VDH says that unvaccinated Virginians make up a majority of new cases. So far, 87,839 residents have been fully vaccinated and 100,982 residents have been partially vaccinated. More than 64% of residents over the age of 18 have been vaccinated, and so have nearly 78% of seniors.
Additionally, the Alexandria Health Department has developed a Fall/Winter 2021 Vaccine Strategic Framework to administer third doses and booster shots.
The Alexandria City Council will likely hire the next city manager before the end of the year, and next week the city will hold a hybrid town hall on the “qualities and values” the next manager should possess.
After six years as the highest-ranking government employee in Alexandria, City Manager Mark Jinks hinted to ALXnow in May that he was going to retire, and then made it official a month later. The city is currently undergoing a national search for his replacement.
The town hall will be held in-person at City Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 22. Residents can also fill out an online survey.
The city’s DASH bus network recently went fare-free, and the city is looking for more funding from the state to help it stay that way.
An item at the upcoming Tuesday, Sept. 14, City Council meeting includes an application to the Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) to help finance the city’s free bus ridership program.
The application has already been supported by the DASH Board of Directors. According to the docket item, the city is planning to submit an application of funds up to $8 million over the next four years. In the report, city staff said they expect to be awarded a maximum of $7.2 million through TRIP with the city committing $9.83 million in local funding between FY 2023 and FY 2025 to operate DASH fare-free, in addition to $1.47 committed in FY 2022.
The city isn’t alone in this. The application notes that $12.5 million in TRIP funding goes to subsidized fare or zero fare programs.
Photo via DASH/Facebook
Alexandria Police say they’re desperate for help from the City Council with compensation and hiring, and that out of every one new hire, three officers are leaving the department.
“That’s not sustainable,” said Lt. Marcus Downey, vice president of the International Union of Police Association’s (IUPA), Local 5. “In my 15 years with the department, I’ve never seen it this bad.”
On Tuesday, the Alexandria chapter of IUPA sent City Council a letter pleading for help with compensation and hiring. The letter strikes directly at the administration of former Police Chief Michael L. Brown, who abruptly stepped down in June to handle family matters in California.
“The taxpayers of Alexandria City deserve to know that after four years of mismanagement and ineptitude at the executive level of the police department, decades of false promises from Alexandria City Hall, the pressure of maintaining premium policing services through a global pandemic, and skyrocketing crime rates, both staffing and morale within the Police Department are plummeting,” the letter says.
The union says police can’t focus on solving open crimes and engaging with the community since having to “transfer officers from our Detective, Community Oriented Policing, and Motors Sections just so that we can properly address routine calls for service.”
The union continues, “Alongside our partners within the Alexandria Fire Department, the Police Department is experiencing an exodus of staff and an inability to add new officers at the same pace. And just like our fire department allies, it takes almost a full year to replace those who leave. Combine this with City Council’s defunding of the police department of almost $1,000,000, the elimination of half a dozen sworn positions, and the removal of several “over-hire” positions, the department struggles daily to meet the law enforcement demands of this densely populated suburb of Washington, D.C.”
The Alexandria Police and Fire Departments are among the lowest paid in the region, with full-time starting salaries at $49,294 for firefighters and $51,000 for police officers. Starting pay for police in neighboring Arlington is $56,000; in D.C. it’s $57,000; in Fairfax County it’s just over $60,000.
Mayor Justin Wilson says that compensation issues will have to be addressed in the upcoming budget, which, after approval, will go into effect in July 2022. Until then, he says, the city has resources to make sure that the police department is “appropriately” staffed throughout the year.
“(G)enerally we make compensation decisions in our annual budget process, as we cannot ask the taxpayers for more money in the middle of the year,” Wilson told ALXnow. “But to the extent we have emergent issues, we have flexibility to adjust as needed, as we have done, particularly in the past year given the hyper-competitive hiring market right now.”
In the meantime, Downey says it’s too early to tell how well acting Chief Don Hayes is performing, but that choosing Captain Dennis Andreas as the acting assistant chief was a wise decision.
As for raising taxes to increase compensation, the union says that the argument is a diversionary tactic. Additionally, even though the City passed a collective bargaining ordinance this year, the department is “at best” two years away from any contracts, the letter says.
“Local politicians use this tactic because they know taxpayers will feel hesitant,” the union wrote. “Yet somehow, $5,000,000 in brand new programs have been funded by the City just this calendar year without a tax increase.”