Alexandria, VA

With a bit of luck, Alexandria Health Director Stephen Haering said the city could start to get its hands on a vaccine by December.

A limited supply of vaccine and a high public demand has led to national, state, and local plans on determining who gets the vaccine, when, and how. Haering outlined some of the plans for Alexandria at a City Council meeting last night.

“We will be required to vaccinate certain persons first,” Haering said. “Our current understanding is [to prioritize] healthcare workers in long-term care facilities and hospitals… and those persons who live in long term care facilities and congregate settings.”

Haering said other recipients of the first phase will be essential workers — like first responders and “workers that keep government working and society intact” — and adults at high risk — like those over 65-years old and those with underlying medical conditions.

“We’re looking at those first phases being available as early as sometime in December,” Haering said. “We don’t know exactly if that will come through Health Department or through pharmacies. Large pharmaceutical chains have an arrangement to vaccinate long term care facilities directly. State health will be involved with coordinating that. We’ve been coordinating and planning on helping with vaccination there in case that falls through.”

Haering said that accelerated testing and vaccine production has allowed for some quick turnaround distribution.

“To tell you the process here: what they are doing, and one of the reasons they’ve been able to fast track this vaccine, is to combined some of the phases they typically do sequentially they are doing simultaneously,” Haering said. “Phase 2 trials are typically done for safety, and phase 3 is for safety and effectiveness, and they’re able to combine those. During phase 3 they actually start producing the vaccine. Typically a company would not do that because of the financial risk; you want to make sure it’s effective before you start producing it.”

Haering said the 90% effectiveness shown in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is promising. If both vaccines come to Alexandria, Haering said it will be important for those who get one vaccine to continue their booster shots with the same program. The Health Department is looking into putting together colored cards or other memory tools to help locals remember which shot they started with.

The vaccine can’t come soon enough for Alexandria, where cases are on the rise again.

“Our seven day moving average is over 46,” Haering said. “It was 47 or so at the end of April and in May. This is the highest it’s been since then. Our seven day moving average was in the teens in July through November, but it’s been going up statewide and nationally.”

Haering said hospitalizations are on the rise as well. Fatalities have not increased substantially, but Haering said the concern is that those could follow the increase in cases after two to four weeks. Of particular concern is the increase of cases in long-term care facilities, where the majority of the city’s deaths have been.

Though a vaccine could be on the horizon, in the meantime, Haering reiterated earlier pleas to city residents not to travel or host large gatherings for the holidays.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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As the city continues to adapt to primarily virtual meetings, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is spearheading an effort to open up new ways for the public to provide input on city affairs.

While the move coincides with the extended online-only year of city governance, Bennett-Parker said the issue also taps into earlier lack of online access for city residents.

“While residents can watch our meetings on channel 70, stream our meetings online, and access recordings afterwards, they did not have a way to truly participate online until we moved our meetings to Zoom in response to COVID-19,” Bennett-Parker said in a message to the City Council. “This memo seeks to build upon this experience and sustain it once we return to in-person meetings, recognizing that requiring in-person attendance creates barriers to participation.”

Bennett-Parker noted in the memo that in some ways, the city is restricted by the Code of Virginia. Section 2.2-3708.2 outlines specific requirements for virtual engagement, but Bennett-Parker noted in her memo that the code section specifically states that the section should not be construed to “prohibit use of interactive audio or video means to expand public participation.”

“Our ability to expand options for public comment via the use of video and audio means is thus a question of policy and resources.,” Bennett-Parker said. “With the agreement of my colleagues, I would like to ask staff to return to Council with information regarding what resources would be needed to expand our ability to receive public comment at Council meetings…”

Bennett-Parker requested that the staff look into accepting the following forms of public input:

  • Submission of video or audio files sent directly via email or through a link to YouTube or a cloud service such as Dropbox, to a designated email address;
  • Calling a telephone number established for this purpose and leaving a message; and
  • Providing live remote comments via Zoom, Skype, or similar platform once we return to in-person meetings and are no longer in a state of emergency.

Eventually, Bennett-Parker said other boards and commissions could adopt a similar standard.

“While this initiative, if ultimately approved, would start with Council, it would be my hope that it could be expanded to the Planning Commission and other Boards and Commissions that receive public comment,” Bennett-Parker said.

Bennett-Parker’s memo is scheduled for review by the City Council at the meeting tonight.

Staff photo (pre-pandemic) by James Cullum

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Just as the scooter program was starting to take off in Alexandria and the electric vehicles became ubiquitous on Old Town streets, new data shows the pandemic tanked scooter usage in the city throughout 2020.

A report going to the City Council tomorrow (Tuesday) showed that while scooter usage exceeded 2019 levels in January and February of 2020, by March the pandemic had started to hit scooter usage. In April and May — during the stay-at-home order, ridership tanked to near non-existence in the months that had been the peak of ridership in 2019.

Ridership slowly started increasing again through June and July, peaking for the year in August.

The Alexandria Ad Hoc Scooter Task Force met for the first time in September to consider whether to move into the next phase of the program — which it was determined would be no different given time constraints — or let the pilot program expire later this year.

In light of the unusual circumstances of 2020, the Alexandria Ad Hoc Scooter Task Force is requesting that the pilot being extend to December 31, 2021, by the City Council. The extension would grant staff more time to develop strategy and gather feedback for the third phase of the program.

Graph via City of Alexandria

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For over four years, Alexandria Police have failed to get body worn cameras off the ground. A new report going to City Council this Tuesday outlines the costs and staffing issues that have played a part in that extended delay.

“Oftentimes, jurisdictions do not realize the true extent of costs to implement a program that is based on deploying technology devices,” City staff said in a report. “The belief that the costs are solely the devices and associated licensing fees leads to disastrous results when the ripple effects of that technology are felt. The proliferation of cloud-based technology solutions actually adds to the impression that the cost of the desired ‘e-widget’ is all that is needed for consideration. In few areas could the purchase of technology in one agency have a huge impact across many others the way that BWC programs do.”

The new report coming to the City Council follows a push earlier this year Alexandria Police to adopt a body worn camera program.

The report acknowledges, however, that Alexandria is one of the few jurisdictions in the area that doesn’t have a body worn camera program either implemented or in the works. Fairfax County Police Department implemented body worn cameras earlier this year — and within the year an officer was charged with assault and battery after being caught on camera assaulting a black man — and the Arlington County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office are both scheduled to start a body worn camera program in 2021.

Of the 17 regional law enforcement offices surveyed, only the Falls Church Police Department and Charles County Sheriff’s Office did not have body worn camera programs.

“The City is one of the few remaining law enforcement agencies in the [region] who do not employ BWC,” the report said, “though many agencies are phasing in and not yet fully deploying BWC to their staff due to unrealized costs and the need for additional staffing that were not funded.”

The report said Alexandria plans to eventually implement body worn cameras. The Alexandria Police Department would require a total of 325 body worn cameras, while the Sheriff’s Office would require 175 and the Alexandria Fire Department would need seven. As noted earlier in the report, the cameras also come with an increased cost for data storage and staffing. The report outlines a program that would phase-in body worn cameras to offset the upfront cost.

Another part of that report put the estimated total cost at between $1.4 to $2 million at first-year costs alone.

The report is scheduled to be received by the City Council at the meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Photo via Tony Webster/Flickr

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Big changes are coming to the Eisenhower corridor, with two new developments approved at the City Council meeting last Saturday that put some of the final puzzle pieces together.

One of the more visible changes will be the approved development of Block P in Carlyle — referred to by staff as the last block in Carlyle. The project was originally approved in 2007 as a pair of office towers, but the project was recently redesigned with the northern tower becoming a hotel while the southern tower would be residential.

Changes included a slight increase in height to the project and an increase to the total square footage permitted for Block P.

The proposal was unanimously approved and praised as locationally appropriate for the growing Carlyle neighborhood.

“This is a really tall building, which is what we always envisioned for Eisenhower Avenue,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. “We do not want buildings of this size in historic Alexandria or some other places, but here in Eisenhower Valley it’s most important. I always like to think about people who are driving east or west on the highway there that they are looking over that will see that Alexandria is on the move… that we’re happening.”

The City Council also approved a new addition to the Victory Center lot — the first of several changes ahead for the large lot. The new building will be a one-story retail development in the southwest corner of the lot. The location would include outdoor seating and a drive-thru window.

The proposal was unanimously approved with little discussion.

Images via City of Alexandria

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In a joint work session on Tuesday with the Alexandria City Council, Alexandria City Public Schools laid out its side of upcoming cuts and compromises in light of what promises to be a strained upcoming fiscal year.

One of the large items was that the planned modernization for George Mason Elementary School and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology will be delayed by one year.

Design work for George Mason, originally scheduled for 2023, will now start in 2024, with construction and renovation taking place in 2025. Modernization of Cora Kelly, originally scheduled to start design work in 2026, will now start in 2027 with construction starting in 2028.

The City Council and ACPS also discussed the more immediate overhaul of T.C. Williams High School following last year’s vote to keep Alexandria to one high school. Staff said the schools are planning to bring an architect onto the project in the next few weeks.

After years of clashes between the bodies over colocating facilities — construction of a school or other project that also includes space for other city needs — the tone was notably more cordial as ACPS started the conversation with the possibility colocating uses like affordable housing at the new campus. Staff said they were looking to the city for guidance on what facilities the city was hoping to see included with the new T.C. Williams campus.

“The first priority is school education requirements,” said City Manager Mark Jinks, “then we to look at remaining space and see what works best and what doesn’t.”

“A few years ago we started talking about colocation to get to this point, now talking about colocating on city sites,” said City Councilman John Chapman. “Getting to a place where we have this full blown conversation about what we can do at sites is important.

While ACPS was planning deferring some projects to help save money, Jinks noted that 2020 would be a good time to start looking at land to purchase for a new school.

“Princes are down now,” Jinks said, “but they’re going to go up again after [the pandemic].”

School Board Chair Cindy Anderson agreed, noting that Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School had been purchased at a good price due to an economic downturn.

One site will likely be an ACPS facility at Potomac Yard, but Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said the schools are still working through the logistics of the site. The new Potomac Yard school is not in the school’s 10-year CIP because there aren’t plans yet for the facility, Hutchings said.

Elsewhere in the school district, the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School rebuild had been facing a $5-7 million shortfall, which has now narrowed to $2-4 million. Staff said that ACPS will not be requesting additional funding from the city but will instead work to refine contingencies, space needs, and update the site layout while continuing to search for other options for financing.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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(Updated 11/18) The Alexandria City Council met with state legislators this weekend to hammer out priorities for the upcoming year, complete with a few sparks as legislators and City Council representatives clashed.

A few times every year, Alexandria’s city leadership meets with state representatives to iron out what local government sees as priorities for the session. The meetings have grown substantially more hopeful in the year since the Democrats took control of the legislature.

Del. Charniele Herring (D-46), the House majority leader, said much of the upcoming session in the House of Delegates will be focused on the nuts and bolts of infrastructure. In particular, Herring said the increased reliance on the internet for many schools to operate will require the Virginia legislature to explore greater broadband access across the commonwealth.

Funding, as state Senator Dick Saslaw (D-35) noted, will also be a large part of the upcoming session. Mayor Justin Wilson said the city’s priority for funding was ensuring that state funding for schools are impacted by decreases in enrollment.

“Our enrollment numbers are down,” Wilson said. “Not as much as some — we’re down about 3% — and I know there is going to be a more concentrated effort to get a hold-harmless effort on school funding.”

State Sen. George Barker (D-39) said this shouldn’t be an issue, with the state having a hire than expected sales tax revenue.

“Sales tax revenue is up this year so far,” Barker said. “We’ve committed to make sure that any drop in sales tax revenue does not impact schools across the commonwealth.”

Wilson also asked that legislators consider pushing for additional CARES Act support, which has been vital for the city’s testing program.

“Testing three times a week is being funded in partnership with state CARES act dollars,” Wilson said. “A lot of support goes away in January. Anything you guys can do to free that up will be helpful”

Herring and City Councilman Mo Seifeldein briefly clashed as the latter pressed Herring to commit to supporting legislation banning private prisons, urging her to use her capacity as House majority leader to ensure progress is made on the issue, but Herring pushed back that she wouldn’t commit to supporting legislation she hadn’t seen yet.

“You’re asking me to commit to legislation we haven’t seen,” Herring said. “I did say I do not support private prisons. I take this issue very seriously. Don’t assume I don’t support a position of the concept, but I won’t support a bill until I see the legislation, but I do support the concept.”

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker also pressed for the legislature to reform laws that limit online access to meetings, which currently requires physical presence in a room for elected positions with very few exceptions.

“The current law only allows members to participate twice per year electronically,” Parker said. “This body meets 50 times a year. People have had to resign for medical issues or because they had to travel. I have read every single other state’s open meeting law at this point and Virginia is in the minority in how we deal with this issue.”

Del. Mark Levine (D-45) said a bill with more flexibility in online meetings had been passed in the House of Delegates and a similar version was likely to pass the State Senate this year.

The draft legislative package will be considered by the City Council for adoption on Dec. 8.

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What a week full of news in Alexandria.

With city offices closed due to Veterans Day on Wednesday, there were still a number of big stories.

For the second week in a row, our top story was on a fraudulent mailer that was sent out to a number of residents before election day. In the story, households with Joe Biden signs posted in front yards were sent letters with a Northern Virginia postage mark stating that Biden is a pedophile.

On Monday, we reported the third murder in the city this year. Yousef Tarek Omar, a 23-year-old Texas man, was shot to death in the West End on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 7. Police have released few details of the incident, except the victim’s name, the general time of the incident and that it occurred in the 4800 block of W. Braddock Road.

City Councilwoman Del Pepper announced on Tuesday that she will not seek reelection. Pepper has been on the Alexandria City Council since 1985.

“There’s really not much to say,” Pepper told ALXnow. “There’s a time for everything, and I just felt this was my time. I have enjoyed every minute that I’ve served on the City Council.”

We also covered the city’s recovery plan for parts of the city devastated by the pandemic, and it lists a number of programs and strategies for impacted residents and businesses.

On the coronavirus front, Alexandria surpassed 4,500 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March. The number of fatalities is still 76, and Latino residents have the highest number of infections.

Additionally, our weekly poll got a lot of attention this week. This week we asked about Thanksgiving plans, and 60% of respondents said they were eating at home with their household, 30% are planning a small gathering with at least one guest, and 10% are planning a large gathering of family/friends.

  1. Alexandrians with Joe Biden Yard Signs Get Anonymous Letters Saying Biden is a Pedophile
  2. BREAKING: 23-Year-Old Shot to Death in City’s Third Murder of the Year
  3. ‘Clyde’s at Mark Center’ and Other Businesses for Sale in Alexandria
  4. Del Ray Staple Al’s Steak House for Sale After Owner’s Death
  5. The Waypoint at Fairlington to Break Ground Next Month
  6. Councilwoman Del Pepper Announces She’s Not Running for Reelection
  7. City Council to Consider Publishing Names of Delinquent Real Estate Taxpayers
  8. Upcoming Signage Plan Could Subtly Shape New Potomac Yard Skyline
  9. One Person Injured in West End Carjacking
  10. Alexandria Parents Start #OpenACPS Sign Campaign as School System Begins Partial Reopening
  11. Alexandria Surpasses 4,500 Cases of COVID-19, Counts Now Rising at Summer Pace

Have a safe weekend!

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As you park at home and head inside after getting back from a flea market or cat cafe, maybe check one more time to make sure you’ve locked your car.

At a City Council meeting earlier this week, Mayor Justin Wilson said a spate of recent car thefts have mostly targeted unlocked cars.

“One of the things: and it showed up in the data we received, one of the thing it shows is thefts from vehicles and theft of vehicles, a stunning percentage are unlocked vehicles,” Wilson said.

While the police department is continuing to conduct investigations into the thefts, Wilson said the police are also going to move forward with an educational campaign to remind locals to lock their cars.

“A big part of the conversation is one of education,” Wilson said. “It’s a crime of opportunity. The criminal element is going door to door on cars at night and they find a stunning amount of vehicles unlocked. It’s a testament to a safe community that we forget to lock our car doors.”

Crime, in general, has been up this year compared to last year, particularly for vehicle thefts. A man was arrested earlier this month for car theft. While many of the car-related crimes have been non-violent, there have also been several carjackings, some of which have left victims injured.

“I think we can go a long way to reducing those numbers if we can get people to lock their doors,” Wilson said, “but there’s a fair amount of investigative work going into the ones we can’t prevent.”

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After 35 years, Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper has announced that this will be her last year on the City Council.

Pepper said in an email to friends and supporters that she would not run for reelection, Alexandria Living Magazine first reported.

“There’s really not much to say,” Pepper told ALXnow. “There’s a time for everything, and I just felt this was my time. I have enjoyed every minute that I’ve served on the City Council.”

Pepper has represented the West End of Alexandria since 1985 and has over the last decade been a leading force behind the effort to redevelop Landmark Mall.

The City Council election is scheduled for Nov. 2, 2021, after a citywide primary on June 8.

“It’s been quite a run,” Pepper said. “I love it and I’m going to work hard for the rest of the year.”

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As cases start to rise again nationwide and in Alexandria, the City Government Community Recovery Plan Team has put out a proposed coronavirus recovery plan that’s headed to the City Council tomorrow (Tuesday).

The recovery is put together into a series of 10 recommendations covering different parts of the community that were devastated by coronavirus.

The first recommendations mainly involved building digital access within the city. Recommendation one involved improving the quality and affordability of Internet access, primarily through a variety of partnerships. The city is working on a digital divide survey and outreach program to determine the scale of the problem. Recommendation two would expand the electronic documentation options.

The plan also recommends creating an inventory of minority and immigrant owned businesses in the city. While the city did put forward a business grant program in response to the pandemic, most of the applicants were from Old Town.

“(Alexandria) currently does not have an inventory of the minority and immigrant owned businesses in the City, making it difficult to ensure program implementation, such as the Back to Business Grants, reach these owners,” the recovery team said. “Project would develop a mechanism for collecting and mapping minority and immigrant owned businesses in order to provide greater assistance and track metrics.”

Other similar recommendations included expanding English as a second language services and more inter-departmental coordination on programs reaching out to underrepresented population groups.

Increasing access to affordable housing, one of the flashpoints for conflict during the pandemic, is also featured prominently in the plan.

“The demand for eviction prevention and housing stability assistance is expected to continue to grow with the gap in extended unemployment benefits, particularly after the CDC moratorium on evictions ends after 2020,” the recovery team said. “The City will potentially need to provide financial assistance through supplemental resources once CARES ACT and CDBG COVID grant funds are depleted.”

Among potential methods of assisting those facing eviction were:

  • Extensions of property tax due dates and other relief
  • Enhanced access to counseling and assistance to secure loan modifications
  • Local funding to emergency rental assistance programs
  • Enhanced landlord-tenant counseling and mediation
  • Continued support of DCHS’s Eviction Prevention and Housing Stability Assistance program

“Without continued assistance, the City’s most vulnerable populations face dire instability and potential loss of shelter,” the recovery team said.

Other recommendations in the plan included:

  • Financing food security programs
  • Increased bus frequency in high-demand areas
  • Establish “community wellness” hubs
  • Maintain advance supply of PPE for local health workers.

The recommendations of the plan are scheduled to be presented to the City Council meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7 p.m.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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If you’re behind more than $1,000 in real estate taxes in Alexandria, everybody is likely to know about it soon.

The Alexandria City Council will decide on Tuesday whether to publicly post the names of delinquent real estate taxpayers owing more than $1,000.

The list of the top 20 delinquent taxpayers totals compiled for Council by city staff totals $835,148 in missing funds. It includes a homeowner with three parcels who owes the city more than $130,000 and a longtime Alexandria social club that owes more than $30,000.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that jurisdictions around the country publish such a list.

“My understanding from our Finance Department is that the prospect of publication of delinquency does frequently encourage taxpayers to address their past due balances,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Our ability to fund the services that the residents of our community expect and demand requires that all residents pay their fair share of taxes. We have a variety of relief programs available for those who have difficulty doing so, and we spend millions to fund those programs each year. In fact, this year, we have expanded those programs due to COVID impacts to support taxpayers experiences unemployment and underemployment.”

But City Councilman Mo Seifeldein would prefer that the names not be made public.

“As a general practice, I’d rather have these matters resolved internally without public input, but there’s a public interest in knowing who’s paying their fair share,” Seifeldein said. “I’ll have to read the code to see whether it’s permissible or required. If it’s permissible, then I think we should exercise discretion as to when we publish this and it should be a last resort, not the first.”

City Council will discuss the issue at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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