Alexandria, VA

Stark differences were on full display Saturday night, as Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg sparred in a contentious debate on local issues.

Wilson defended his record since taking the mayorship from Silberberg in 2018. Silberberg, however, said she wants to restore the public trust, and that the city is at an inflection point.

“We’ve seen in the last couple of years certain decisions and policies that have been decided that really put our city at risk in many ways,” Silberberg said. “Our visions for the city are different. And our city is at an inflection point… It saddens me to hear so many residents express a profound loss of confidence and trust in our local government. As your mayor, I would certainly be very focused on transparency, and rebuilding the public trust.”

The hour-long debate was hosted by the Alexandria Democratic Committee, and moderated by Robert McCartney, a senior regional correspondent for The Washington Post. Wilson currently leads in fundraising and endorsements, and the debate comes on the heels of Wilsons’ endorsement by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Silberberg presented herself as an environmentalist in favor of “smart growth,” while Wilson said that the city needs to match growth with transportation infrastructure.

“I’m inspired to turn what I’ve learned about our city’s resilience over the last year into a mission for our city’s future,” Wilson said. “I know that by investing in our kids, investing in our basic infrastructure, and making sure that we have an economy that can support the services that our residents expect and demand, Alexandria cannot only survive in the aftermath of this pandemic, but we can thrive.”

Silberberg’s tenure as mayor was plagued by lone 6-1 votes, and Wilson said that she voted against a number of important issues, including a controversial 5.7 cent tax hike in 2017 that resulted in significant capital improvement funding.

“I speak out for the people and I listen to our residents,” Silberberg said. “I’m certainly in favor of transit oriented development, that has been what we’ve all supported across the many years. But what I’m really for is smart growth. And what that means really, is that you don’t have unabashed out of scale overbuilding on every square inch, that you do keep some open space, which helps with the flooding.”

Silberberg criticized Wilson’s handling of COVID-19, and said that the city’s face mask ordinance needed to be passed sooner that the fall of 2020.

“It’s been a harrowing year for all of us,” she said. “I know a number of folks who have had COVID, and I’ve lost some friends. I don’t think we should have waited till October 1 with the outdoor mask order. Cities all across the country were helping restaurants, but the restaurants in the Bradley Center in the middle of the city and on the West End weren’t helped as much as other places, so we need to look at that across the board.”

Wilson said that the mask ordinance was the first adopted in Virginia, and was replicated by Northam in his statewide executive order. He also said that the city’s vaccination rate for Latinos is higher than for white residents, a result of “aggressive outreach” to the city’s nonprofits.

“I’m very proud of that ordinance,” he said. “Alexandria led the way in providing new small business flexibility using outdoor spaces, sidewalks, closing streets, parking lots and everything to help keep our businesses afloat. I worked with the mayor of Richmond to go down to the General Assembly and ultimately get the governor to include an executive order that allowed carry-out cocktails, which has helped keep our restaurants a floating all around our city. We spent millions of dollars a small business assistance again leading the way in the region, and helping our small businesses providing grants to small businesses all around our city.”

Silberberg also said that she would reverse the Seminary Road Diet, which she said is a transparency issue.

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What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.

But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.

Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.

In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
  2. Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
  3. D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
  4. Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
  5. Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
  6. Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
  7. Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
  8. Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
  11. What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?

Have a safe weekend!

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A group of city residents are asking that City Council members and candidates pledge themselves to a document they are calling the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights.

Rachel Sheedy and Stafford Ward are spokespeople for the group, For Better Alexandria Government, although they declined to answer many of ALXnow’s questions, including who drafted the document and what a rejection of the document means. Their group launched its website tracking candidates who pledge themselves to it on May 1.

The document asks that City Council members focus on ethics by disclose campaign donations, recuse themselves from legislation that have potential conflicts of interest, make public all government communication, ensure that city staff respond to constituent complaints within 48 hours and “Strictly adhere to Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of Virginia to recognize that constituents are the source of their elected power.”

“The goal of For Better Alexandria Government is simple — our group represents City of Alexandria constituents who strongly believe that ethics, transparency and accountability need to be a part of the election discussion,” Sheedy and Ward said in a joint statement. “Whether running for reelection, or running for the first time, candidates should be questioned as to how they will incorporate these values if they are elected to serve the City’s constituents.”

Ward is a member of the Citizens Association of the Southwest Quadrant group, which is against the city’s development of the Heritage affordable apartment project in Old Town. He and Sheedy would also not comment on the CASWQ or its potential connection to the document.

Mayor Justin Wilson said he will not sign it.

“I don’t sign pledges,” Wilson told ALXnow. “I take an oath to uphold the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions.”

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre also did not sign the pledge, and neither did candidates Bill Campbell, Alyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike, Patrick Moran, Meronne Teklu, Kevin Harris and Sarah Bagley.

Moran told Ward that he appreciated his “initiative and leadership” in crafting the document, but asked that it include language to make City Council full time.

“We have full-time expectations of our leaders and this Bill reflects this,” Moran wrote on the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page. “If we can flush this out to bring professional expectations with professional pay, remove mailing notices and add conditions around the 48 hr response time that accounts for weekends, vacancies, etc, I’d support it.”

Jackson said that she declined because she signed the City’s Ethics Pledge with the mayor and her Council colleagues after being elected.

Those who signed it are Democratic mayoral candidate former Mayor Allison Silberberg, Republican mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings, Democratic Council candidates Bill Rossello, Mark Shiffer, James Lewis and Independent candidate Florence King.

“I believe in full disclosure and transparency,” King wrote on the Facebook page. “Our citizens have every right to know before the fact not afterwards.”

The entire document is presented below the jump.

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The City of Alexandria is hosting a virtual meeting this weekend to gather public input on where federal funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) should go.

The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday) from 10-11 a.m.

“The City of Alexandria is seeking community input as we prepare for the upcoming receipt of federal funding as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP),” the city said on its website. “This meeting will provide an opportunity for staff to answer questions and to hear from the community about proposed spending opportunities to help with COVID-19 recovery efforts.”

Alexandria is slated to receive $59.4 million from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, with the first installment this month and the next coming in May 2022.

According to the city manager’s office, the overall focus of the investments will be:

  • Continued financial relief to households, small businesses and nonprofits
  • Or financially assisting the city’s tourism, travel, and hospitality industries
  • To fund city services
  • investments in broadband, sewer and water infrastructure

Attendees can register online. The webinar ID is 971 7157 6389 and the passcode is 025975.

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Morning Notes

Elo’s Italian pop-up opens in Live Oak space — “The owners of Live Oak in Del Ray have opened a pop-up Italian restaurant in the Live Oak space in Del Ray. Chef Justus Frank is offering family Italian fare Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Brunch is ‘coming soon’ according to the owners. The menu includes a variety of appetizers, flatbreads, paninis, seasonal pasta dishes, fish, chicken and more. A kid’s menu is available.” [Alexandria Living]

Police asking for help finding robbery suspects — “APD is following active leads and working with neighboring jurisdictions on the investigation into 2 armed robberies that occurred on May 5. One happened at 12:15pm on E. Oxford Ave. The second happened at 12:40pm in the 3900 blk of Courtland Cir… Witnesses and anyone with security video should contact Det. Stephen Riley at [email protected] or 703.746.6225. Even the smallest details can be significant.” [Twitter]

Chamber ALX releases City Council candidate survey results — “The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce recently asked all announced candidates to complete a survey of critical business issues facing our city. In order to ensure our members are informed prior to entering the voting booth, the Chamber is providing the candidate’s responses.” [Chamber ALX]

Alexandria resident Brian Hooks named to Time100 Next list — “Brian Hooks wants to change the country – but not by himself. An Alexandria resident, Hooks was named one of Time Magazine’s next 100 most influential people in the world in February for his work as the chief executive officer of nonprofit Stand Together.” [Alex Times]

City seeks input on American Rescue Plan Act funding — ” The City will host virtual meetings on Saturday, May 8 at 10 a.m. and Monday, May 10 at 7 p.m. to review the funding guidelines and discuss project proposals. The input will be used to inform a spending plan, and the deadline to provide feedback is Thursday, May 13.” [City of Alexandria]

Resurfacing work temporarily closes portion of Mount Vernon Trail — “In a step to prepare for an upcoming $6.5 million Mount Vernon Memorial Highway Trail Project on the south end of the Mount Vernon bike trail, a portion has been blocked off to bicyclists while crews resurface a portion of the trail between the Mount Vernon Plantation and Richmond Highway.” [Gazette]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies during the morning hours will give way to cloudy skies and rain in the afternoon. High 66F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch… Rain showers early with clearing later at night. Low 44F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 80%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Temporary COVID POD vaccinator assistant — “Are you a hardworking individual who is eager to join our efforts to augment and expedite vaccinations in the community? Does your passion drive you to commit to a cause that could have a positive impact on many? If this is you, we invite you to apply to one of our temporary City of Alexandria Vaccination site opportunities. One of which is the Vaccinator Assistant who assists the Vaccinator in efficiently dispensing COVID-19 vaccine according to existing protocols at PODs (Points of Distribution).” [Indeed]

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In a crowded City Council election, the Alexandria Democratic Committee split the candidates into two groups for moderated debates, which posted Tuesday night.

Alexandria journalist Michael Lee Pope moderated the discussion, which touched on critical talking issues in city races over the last few years, from parking to broadband to — of course — Seminary Road. Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic was not a main topic of discussion.

ALXnow featured the first debate on Wednesday.

This debate featured candidates John Taylor Chapman, Sarah Bagley, Amy Jackson, Kevin Harris, Patrick Moran, Bill Campbell and Kirk McPike. Answers are summarized.

The Democratic primary is June 8.

Seminary Road

A number of candidates support reversing the  Seminary Road diet, which has been a controversial issue for years.

Chapman voted against the proposal in 2019, and said he would vote to reverse it.

Moran — “I think a lot of the framework in which these conversations are made are so permanent,” Moran said. “I would spend the money to undo it.”

Campbell — “I absolutely would not spend any additional money to change that unless there was some new information that came up with regards to safety,” Campbell said. “And then you have to be responsible to take a look at that.”

Jackson would also vote to undo it, although she said that future road diets would have to be considered on a case by case basis.

“This became a ‘he said, she said’ in a lot of ways that I don’t think anyone on council was prepared for when city staff brought it to us,” Jackson said. “That just means that we have to do our own sleuthing and know the questions to ask after we’ve done our homework.”

McPike said he would not undo the road diet.

“I would not initially in this next council session, vote to revert the road back to what it was,” McPike said. “The intersection at Howard and Seminary is going to change in the near future when Inova Hospital relocates to Landmark Mall, and we don’t know what the needs are going to be along that stretch of road once that has occurred.”

Harris — “It’s one of those things that we ought to wait and see how it plays out before we try to change anything,” Harris said. “Because we’ve already wasted too much money creating the road diet. I think that we could use this money in other places.”

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The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted its $770.7 million fiscal year 2022 budget on Wednesday night, and it includes the first tax real estate tax reduction in 15 years.

Retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper made the motion to pass the budget, her last after 35 years on Council.

“This budget is filled with some good things that will be helpful to our citizens, and for me that is what counts,” Pepper said. “It is an opportunity to really move the city forward, and that’s really what’s important. I’m very pleased with the things that are in this budget, and I know that the staff has worked very hard.”

The motion was seconded by Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

It has been a tough past fiscal year for all of us across the city and for businesses,” Chapman said. “I look forward to the future, to the growth that we can start to achieve.”

The upcoming fiscal year (an election year) will see real estate tax bills decrease from $1.13 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. At the same time, there is a $24.22 increase in the residential refuse collection fee, from $460 to $484.22.

All city and state employees will also get a 1% raise, and City Manager Mark Jinks said that $12 million, or a 2.3% reduction from last year’s budget, was made without impacting programs or services.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that city staff prepared a high quality budget during a period of incredible uncertainty. That uncertainty is eased, however, since the city will be getting approximately $59.4 million American Rescue Plan funds.

“We have only been successful this last year in getting through this moment because of our incredibly dedicated staff, in many cases doing jobs at physical risk to themselves and physical risk to their families,” Wilson said. “While we can never completely repay folks for that commitment and dedication, I think we were doing what we can in this in this environment.”

Councilwoman Amy Jackson thanked Jinks and staff for including the tax reduction into the budget.

“This is the year that is most needed,” Jackson said.When our residents are looking at other avenues of how they are going to save money, how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to feed their families and continue their jobs.”

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $293 million in investments for schools, transportation, sewers, stormwater management, public buildings and facilities, and information technology.

“We are making some very significant investments in our infrastructure,” Wilson said. “I’m pleased to see that in this in this budget.”

Additionally, nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools was “temporarily reallocated” to contingent reserves until the school system presents a proposal this summer on using the funds to provide mental health resources for school-age children, the Teen Wellness Center, and the hiring of an additional Behavioral Health Specialist for the Alexandria Crisis Intervention and Co-responding Program (ACORP). The proposal will have to be presented to City Council before their summer recess.

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With noise complaints on the rise from residents throughout the city, the Alexandria City Council will consider an updated noise ordinance next month.

Following its adoption, the ordinance will then go out for public review throughout the summer.

“Excessive noise is one of the most prevalent causes of civic disputes,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in his May newsletter.

Council will make additional changes and vote on the matter in next year’s budget.

The creation of a new noise ordinance started in the fall of 2019, but was shelved by the pandemic. Last year, Police reported a total of 2,451 noise complaints, and the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services reported a 55% increase in 2020, with 366 complaints.

“Following that adoption there will be new community engagement to prepare additional adjustments to the ordinance, as we attempt to balance the vibrancy of our business districts with protecting quality of life for our residents,” Wilson said.

Council will look at options on limiting noise in public places to 60 decibels (about the volume of a normal conversation) within 10 feet of a structure, and nothing louder than 65 decibels (about the volume of an average dishwasher) in a public place within 50 feet of a structure.

Additionally, the city is considering increasing fines to $50 to $100 for a first violation, $100 to $250 for a second violation, and $500 for all subsequent violations. Other proposed limitations include prohibiting “plainly audible” noise from residential areas from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and increasing the allowable decibels in commercial areas from 60 dB to 65 dB.

The city will also consider hiring a “multi-tasked noise inspector” who would solely focus on noise complaints.

Chart via City of Alexandria

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The Alexandria City Council will finalize their additions and deletions to the fiscal year 2022 budget tonight (May 3), and the future of school resource officers at Alexandria City Public Schools remains in question.

Last week, a majority of City Council was in favor of discontinuing the SRO program and diverting nearly $800,000 to “add mental health resources for school aged children, support staff to the Teen Wellness Center, an additional Behavioral Health Specialist to the ACORP (Alexandria Crisis Intervention Co-Responding Program) Pilot, and other similar needs identified by staff.”

If passed, the proposal would require an implementation plan from police and ACPS, and be presented to Council by July. It currently has the support of Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Mo Seifeldein, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre.

ACPS, however, is asking that Council respect its November 2020 memorandum of understanding with police.

The school system released the following statement to ALXnow:

In November 2020, the Alexandria City School Board approved a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Alexandria Police Department (APD) which clarified and refined the scope of the relationship between ACPS and the APD. In developing the new MOU, ACPS conducted an extensive review that incorporated concerns about the presence of armed school resource officers in some of our school buildings. The new MOU aims to increase accountability and equity while safeguarding the safety and security of our students and staff. The School Board is committed to following through on the adjustments in this agreement that require the collection of data and stronger monitoring and reporting on incidents of administrative discipline and law enforcement action in our schools.

In March, School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision on SROS after its bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the police department.

“My request and hope would be that out of respect for the discussions that we have had as a School Board, and for the process that we went through, even as a matter of trust to give us time to do what we said we would like to do, that you would not take away that resource at this time,” said School Board Chair Meagan Alderton. “I don’t think it would be a productive way to address the issue that I think we all want to address.”

The final add/delete session for the fiscal year 2022 budget is at 7 p.m.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Morning Notes

(Update at 10:30 a.m. Blue and White Carryout is still open. The tweet from a local news outlet was incorrect.)

City Council Rescinds Vote on Braddock West Development — “The matter will be taken up again for public hearing and vote on May 15, but a pending lawsuit by an Alexandria resident may delay a final decision.” [Alexandria Living]

West End Harris Teeter opening early this summer — “The new store, 62,000 square feet in size, will be located at West Alex, the new development that also includes Array, an apartment building and the Silver Diner restaurant that opened on the corner of King and N. Beauregard streets.” [Alexandria Living]

Southbound King Street exit on Interstate 395 closed for 2 weeks — “Drivers along King Street (Route 7) in Alexandria can expect a new temporary traffic pattern at I-395 beginning Monday morning, May 3, weather permitting, for work as part of the rehabilitation of the King Street Bridge over I-395, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Showers early then scattered thunderstorms developing later in the day. High 73F. Winds S at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 60%… Scattered thunderstorms in the evening. Partly cloudy skies overnight. Low around 65F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 60%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Bilingual medical assistant — “Functions as a member of a program team by performing and documenting results of selected tests and measurements, maintaining adequately supplied workstations, maintaining a clean work environment, and promoting timely and efficient patient flow through the clinic. Has primary responsibility for the collection, processing, and recording of laboratory testing. Gives immunizations and other injectable medications under the supervision of the physician, nurse practitioner or registered nurse. Assists with patient treatments during clinical sessions.” [Indeed]

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