Alexandria, VA

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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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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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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The City of Alexandria is planning to host a series of meetings to discuss work being done to promote racial and social equity in the city. The discussions will culminate with a resolution going to City Council.

“Alexandria is committed to race and social equity through collaboration among City departments, employees, community members, nonprofit partners and other stakeholders to implement a framework that ensures City policy decisions and practices advance race and social equity,” the city said. “The City’s commitment and efforts moving forward require inclusion, input and ideas from every part of the community.”

The city hosted town halls this summer discussing changing policies and concerns about systemic racism in policing. City leadership remains divided over plans to implement a Community Police Review Board.

The focus on recognizing and addressing racial injustice issues in Alexandria over the last year has led to initiatives, including a committee researching lynchings in the city and the hiring of the city’s first Race and Social Equity Officer Jaqueline Tucker.

The engagement sessions are scheduled for:

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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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Morning Notes

Virtual Opening Thursday for New Alexandria Townhomes — “Winchester Homes will host a virtual grand opening Thursday, Nov. 5, for Bren Pointe, a new 97-unit townhome community opening in Alexandria.” [Alexandria Living]

Indoor Sports Leagues Cancelled for 2021 Winter Season — “All indoor leagues organized by the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA) are cancelled, including youth and adult basketball, adult volleyball, youth sports affiliate Alexandria Soccer Association’s indoor futsal league, and social sport gymnasium rentals. Small group sports classes, which are lower risk activities, will continue and will follow federal, state, and local guidelines for the safety of participants and staff. ” [City of Alexandria]

City Council to Hold Virtual Budget and Planning Retreat — “The Alexandria City Council will hold a virtual retreat meeting on November 7, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., to discuss the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Operating Budget process and develop the City Council Work Program for calendar year 2021.” [City of Alexandria]

Alexandrian Gets His 70-year-old Mom to Vote for the First Time –“I want [Joe] Biden because he cares about the people. Trump doesn’t care about us. He thinks this virus is just going to go away. This world is chaos. This world is nuts.” [Washington Post]

Free Flu Shots Available — “Now is the time to get a flu shot! Get info on Inova Cares Clinic for Families FREE flu shot clinics for uninsured people this month (first Alexandria clinic is Nov. 4) and low-cost shots to eligible residents at the Alexandria Health Department at alexandriava.gov/115055.” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny skies (during the day). High 67F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph. Mostly clear (in the evening). Low 46F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Member Service Representative — “The Member Service Representative position plays a key role in support of the YMCA mission by ensuring the reliable and consistent delivery of outstanding customer service to members and guests at the front desk at YMCA Alexandria, located at 420 E. Monroe Ave. Alexandria, VA. This is a great part time position with a varied work schedule.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Dominion Says Sunday Power Outage Caused by Broken Pole/Cross Arm — “Update: A broken pole/cross arm caused the failure. We have been able to isolate the problem and are hoping to everyone back on line very soon.” [Twitter]

Retro Candy Shop Opening in Fairlington — “If you’re into nostalgic candy that will take you back to your childhood days, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the opening of Rocket Fizz, Soda Pop & Candy Shop at Fairlington Centre in Alexandria, according to signs posted in the windows.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Film Festival Unveils 2020 Program — “The Alexandria Film Festival, which will debut virtually this year Nov. 12-15, announced on Tuesday its 2020 programming of 45 short and feature length fiction and nonfiction films.” [Gazette]

The Following Bills Are Due This Month — “Bills for the 2020 second half real estate tax, refuse fees and stormwater utility fees are due Nov. 16. Make payments online, by phone or mail, or in person. Those unable to pay due to COVID-19 may be eligible for payment arrangements.” [Twitter]

Check Out These Cool Pumpkin Carvings in Alexandria — “For some 20 years, Rick and Lynne White have carved the humble pumpkin into a work of art. Their festive Halloween display on Emerald Drive in Alexandria’s Waynewood neighborhood draws a crowd every year.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Abundant sunshine (during the day). High 49F. Winds WNW at 15 to 25 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph. Clear skies (in the evening). Low 38F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Move-In Coordinator at Goodwin House — “The move-in coordinator is responsible for the move-in process; provides support to marketing director and marketing associate. Establishes a professional, supportive and caring relationship with the independent living residents. Coordinates necessary paperwork and support services to ensure that the move-process is as pleasant an experience as possible for the resident. Serves as a resource person during the move-in process.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria’s Police Chief Michael L. Brown is concerned that establishing a community police review board with independent investigative authority will create considerable legal problems for his department.

Last month, City Council sent back the city manager’s initial proposal for the board. Council requested that there be an option to include an auditor/independent investigator with subpoena power. Council unanimously directed staff to draw up the proposal during a period of social unrest in the wake of the George Floyd murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police, and Brown and his officers participated in protests around the city.

Brown previously said in June that such a review board has a negative connotation, and last month a police union called the board “superfluous“.

“I’m not afraid of oversight,” Brown said in an Agenda Alexandria discussion on Monday, October 26. “The concern I had at that point in time, we were in the middle of a national narrative against police. And when you look at policing as a whole, there are problematic police officers, there are problematic agencies. I do not believe the Alexandria police department is one of those.”

Brown added:

It’s not because we’re afraid of an independent investigator. It’s a legal issue, because if you get into situations, for example, that you violate Garrity Rules or other kinds of rules related to collective bargaining where you can’t get the facts of the case because of people doing it the wrong way, you may not be able to do criminal prosecution and the like. As a police agency, we need to get the facts of how things went, and the facts will tell us what we need to procedurally and otherwise. There’s a very fine line about what we can do as an employer. We can compel testimony. If you issue a subpoena to somebody they can invoke their Fifth Amendment right, and when you do that you sometimes run into all sorts of legal and constitutional issues. Now, if the folks that set up an independent review are able to understand that and not step on those who may not jeopardize situations where we have discipline and may not jeopardize potential criminal prosecution.

Sarah Graham Taylor, the city’s legislative director, is drafting the proposal for council to consider. She said that there are some rules regarding investigative authority in police review boards around the country.

“Most oversight bodies that have subpoena power, including places like Berkeley and San Francisco, are actually prohibited from undertaking any investigation until the any pending criminal charges against an officer have been adjudicated or unless they received permission from their district attorney or in our case, our Commonwealth’s Attorney to proceed with the investigation,” Taylor said.

Ingris Moran of Tenants & Workers United said that the community wants answers regarding police conduct, since 41% of all arrests last year in the city were of Black men.

“I think at this point our community members want truth,” Moran said. “They want answers. And so I think this overall is going to be a good opportunity at least have that first step to see how we can have our community in control have more community control and see what’s really going on in the city of Alexandria.”

City Council will discuss the updated proposal on November 10.

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The Torpedo Factory Art Center is one of Alexandria’s cultural landmarks of the waterfront. But as the city moves forward with other modernizing changes to the waterfront, it is also turning an eye towards overhauling the Torpedo Factory to be more of a “hands-on” public attraction.

A series of recommendations in a recently released action plan include plans the city hopes will turn parts of the Torpedo Factory into a more engaging artistic space.

The first part of the plan is to “re-establish the Art Center’s identity for a 21st century audience.” In practice, this would mean greater utilization of the facility as a space for gatherings and festivities. The first action under that subheading is “celebrate food as art” with food and drink-centered events and festivals in partnership with restaurants and breweries.

Other proposals to re-establish the facility’s identity include implementing a focus on new technological development utilized in artwork and recurring family-friendly and educational experiences.

Lastly, this portion of the plan included a recommendation that artists are encouraged to participate in “on the road” pop-ups along the waterfront to bring the program more into the public eye.

Part of the plan involved reshaping the ground floor experience of the Torpedo Factory. The action plan called for better utilization and upgrades to first floor studios with more hands-on opportunities and “spectacles” likes printmaking and glass making. This would involve a reshuffling of existing studios to put “public-facing” features on the first floor.

In general, the plan highlighted more engagement with visitors over the traditional viewing experience of the Torpedo Factory. The reimagined Torpedo Factory would have “make-it space” type activities on the first floor. The Art League Store could also potentially be moved to the first floor in the redesign. Read More

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Dominion Energy representatives say that the massive power outages that affected thousands of homes in Alexandria and Arlington last Friday (October 23) were “unique,” and caused by a piece of equipment that failed at its Glebe Road substation.

“This was a unique. Typically, you might experience an outage on one single circuit,” Tim Sargeant, Dominion Energy’s external affairs manager in Northern Virginia, told City Council on Tuesday night. “Needless to say the outage occurred on multiple circuits.”

Sargeant reported that at around 7 p.m., a piece of equipment at the station failed, which caused an outage to 16,504 customers.

“Electric service was restored to 11,247 customers within one minute with the remaining customers restored in increments ranging from 53 minutes to 80 minutes,” Sargeant said. “After the first restoration, approximately 8,000 customers experienced multiple moments of brief service interruptions during the next two hours.”

Then at around 9:15 p.m., another outage affected 8,017 customers after Dominion rerouted electric service to other circuits.

“The additional load on the circuit triggered protective devices that interrupted service as a precaution, as service was restored one of those customers in increments of 18 minutes, 14 minutes, and seven minutes,” Sargeant said, adding that Dominion will send the city a report on recent outages.

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman said that power outages in Alexandria have been too frequent.

Mayor Justin Wilson, for instance, listed outages on social media on May 10June 17, July 7, July 22, August 2, August 8, October 12 and October 17.

“That does seem like a lot of outages for a pretty short amount of time,” Chapman said. “We definitely want our residents to believe that they have reliable power.”

Wilson said that he getting carryout at a restaurant on Mount Vernon Avenue when the lights went out.

“I did watch two restaurants right in front of me close down, because they just gave up because of power going on and off and customer after customer walking up and being told to go away,” Wilson said. “To have a Friday night off, it’s heartbreaking for them. That’s a lot of lost revenue.”

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Morning Notes

Beyer says New White House Science Report is Misinformation — “This kind of ridiculous misinformation is something you would expect to see from the government of North Korea.” [Twitter]

Senator Amy Klobuchar Attends GOTV Event in Alexandria — “Glad to join @AlexVADems, @C_Herring, @AmyJacksonVA and Councilwoman Del Pepper at an early voting event in Alexandria, Virginia for Sen. Mark Warner and VA candidates up and down the ballot. Everyone, please make a plan and go vote!” [Twitter]

New Luxury Condos Near Amazon HQ2 and Virginia Tech in Alexandria — “Just minutes from Amazon’s new HQ2 complex in Northern Virginia, The FORTIS Companies of Washington, DC has broken ground on a 138-unit luxury condominium community called Dylan. Its planned 2022 delivery coincides with the highly anticipated opening of the new Potomac Yard Metro Station, a five-minute walk from Dylan’s front door. Dylan’s spacious one- to three-bedroom condos will average 1,200 square feet and will be priced from the $600,000’s to over $1 million.” [Zebra]

Upland Park Development Gets BDAC Approval — “On Monday evening, the Beauregard Design Advisory Committee (BDAC) hosted its the final meeting to discuss Phase 1 of the Upland Park development project, giving approval to the plans to build a new townhome community.” [Alexandria Living]

Fire Department Recommends Battery-Operated Candles this Halloween — “If you have fall/Halloween decorations, use battery-operated candles in jack-o-lanterns & keep all decorations away from open flames to prevent home fires. Read more about celebrating safely & preventing the spread of COVID-19 during your festivities.” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Cloudy (during the day). High 73F. Winds light and variable. Rain showers in the evening will evolve into a more steady rain overnight. Low 59F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Document Control Specialist — “Use knowledge of the legal process and legal terms to analyze the content of legal documents and determine the status of investigative or court proceedings; recognize documents that are missing; and work with attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants to obtain and organize documents for filing.” [Indeed]

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This was a big week for Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the Alexandria School Board’s decision to reopen schools for students with disabilities, while the future reopening of school for elementary, middle and high schoolers remains in doubt.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the only feasible option for reopening schools — based on distancing and staffing constraints — would be for students to rotate to in-person schooling only one day per week. Hutchings also appeared on CNN and said that ACPS is not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.

We also reported that the Alexandria City Council approved plans for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the North Potomac Yard development plan, virtually paving the way for the college to open its doors to hundreds of students by 2024.

“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

On the coronavirus front, there are now 75 deaths in Alexandria and there are now or have been more than 4,100 cases since the pandemic began in March. Latino residents continue to lead the case count.

Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were in the city on Monday to unveil a team of new zero emission DASH electric buses.

We also reported that the City Council unanimously approved naming the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town “Earl F. Lloyd Way” in honor of the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball Association.

Restaurant-wise, we spoke with one of the owners of a pizza and burger joint that is taking over the former location of Pizzeria Paradiso on lower King Street. The Chewish Deli is also now open in Old Town, and the owner of Del Ray Boccato says that his gelato shop will soon open.

Additionally, more than 175 people participated in our weekly poll. With the November 3 election around the corner, this week we asked about voting plans, and 65% of respondents voted by mail/absentee, 31% plan to vote on election day, and 4% are not voting.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. School Board Shelves Plan to Reopen Schools in 2021, Students with Disabilities Transitioning Back Next Month
  2. City Releasing Torpedo Factory Draft Action Plan Today
  3. City Council Approves Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and North Potomac Yard Development Plan
  4. Alexandria Student Called N-Word in Online Forum, and Not By Another Student
  5. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  6. The Chewish Deli Opens New Location in Old Town
  7. One Arrested After Attempted Armed Robbery in Alexandria’s West End
  8. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  9. Female Suspect Flees, Nothing Taken in Attempted Old Town Bank Robbery
  10. Alexandria and Arlington Want a New Future for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center
  11. Alexandria Courthouse Deep Cleaned After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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