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The Alexandria City Council will likely extend the city’s state of emergency from the end of January to June 30, 2022. Tuesday night’s (Jan. 11) vote will be the fifth extension of the declaration since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The declaration, which was first approved by Council in March 2020, has been continually updated, and finds that “the emergency continues to exist and will exist into the future.”

If approved, the city will end up being under a state of emergency for 27 months.

There have been 162 deaths and 23,737 reported cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The full emergency declaration is below.

WHEREAS, the Director of Emergency Management of the City of Alexandria, Virginia finds that the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a Communicable Disease of Public Health Threat for Virginia and is of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant a coordinated response by City departments, agencies, and voluntary organization.

WHEREAS, on March 14, 2020, City Council adopted Resolution No. 2928 confirming the Director of Emergency Management’s Declaration of Local Emergency which extended through June 10, 2020. On June 9, 2020, City Council amended such resolution extending the Declaration of Local Emergency through September 30, 2020. On September 22, 2020, City Council amended such resolution extending the Declaration of Local Emergency through March 31, 2021. On March 23, 2021, City Council amended such resolution extending the Declaration of Local Emergency through September 30, 2021. On September 14, 2021, the City Council amended such resolution extending the Declaration of Local Emergency through January 31, 2022.

WHEREAS, the Director of Emergency Management finds that the emergency continues to exist and will exist into the future.

THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY DECLARED, that a local emergency exists throughout the City of Alexandria; and IT IS FURTHER DECLARED AND ORDERED, that during the existence of said emergency, the powers, functions and duties of the Director of Emergency Management shall be those prescribed by state law and the ordinances, resolutions and operations plans of the City of Alexandria, and that any actions taken under this declaration shall be directed at the prevention or response for, damages, loss, hardship or suffering threatened by, or resulting from, the emergency. The declaration for COVID-19 effective as of March 9, 2020, at 8:00 am and shall remain in full force and effect until June 30, 2022, at midnight unless sooner amended or rescinded by resolution of the City Council.

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Fresh from a bout with Covid that left Mayor Justin Wilson isolating in Spain, Wilson’s first virtual town hall of 2022 launched with a discussion of the current situation with COVID-19.

Alexandria has seen record-high levels of confirmed Covid cases thanks to the highly infections omicron variant. Wilson implored locals to swap out the simple cloth masks for more effective N95 or KN 95 masks.

“We need to up our masking game,” Wilson said. “The simple cloth masks are not going to be sufficient in the face of this highly transmittable variant. We’re encouraging people to get K-95 to prevent spread.”

Wilson said mask-wearing indoors was ubiquitous in Europe, which has helped keep the virus under control. But when asked about a mask mandate, Wilson deferred to the governor’s office, noting that the Dillon Rule makes Alexandria’s authority to enforce that mandate unclear.

“The authority on masking requirements has always been a little murky from the beginning,” Wilson said. “The city was one of the first jurisdictions to adopt a masking ordinance back in 2020. That ordinance was later replicated by the state and applied state-wide. We did not include enforcement in our ordinance, largely as a nod to some of the authority concerns in a Dillon Rule state.”

Wilson said a mask mandate would have to come from state authorities.

“In my view, and I’m not an attorney, but the governor has much clearer authority which is why we preferred those orders to come out of Richmond, and at this point that’s where they need to come,” Wilson said.

Today (Monday), Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia as a result of the spike in COVID-19 cases, which gives hospitals authority to expand bed capacity, but stopped short of issuing a mask mandate or other Covid mitigation measures.

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The big story this week was snow.

A snowstorm on Monday had the city working at clearing roads and putting weather-affected services back into play. There was a smaller dusting of snow last night, though it didn’t have nearly the same level of impact.

Alexandria City Public Schools went virtual for the first three days of the week as well. Thursday was closed for students as a teacher workday, and both teachers and staff had today off.

Of course, Alexandria wasn’t alone in dealing with the snowstorm: similar operations were underway this week in Arlington and Fairfax.

Top Stories:

  1. Comcast working on fixing widespread internet service outages caused by fire and snowstorm
  2. JUST IN: Officials investigate fire at Jordan Street 7-Eleven
  3. PHOTOS: Scenes from today’s snowstorm in Alexandria
  4. Winter Weather Advisory issued ahead of Thursday night snow
  5. Power outage hits North Ridge neighborhood as weather topples trees and power lines
  6. DEVELOPING: Winter weather conditions shut down city services and some streets
  7. ACPS cancels school in Alexandria for students, but staff will have a virtual workday
  8. School closed tomorrow as students and staff both get proper snow day
  9. ACPS goes to virtual schooling Monday ahead of expected snow
  10. Alexandria Restaurant Week returns this month with new dining options
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After six months of waiting for the city’s Permit Center to approve an expansion of her nail salon, Kathleen Le was ready to throw her hands up in resignation.

“I tell my staff that if they hear me talk about opening another location or expanding to please kill me instead,” Le told ALXnow. “Don’t let me do it.”

Just last month, with the grand opening days away for an expanded Salon Meraki, Le failed an inspection. A sprinkler head in her new salon had paint on it, and after replacing it, she says she was told that all of her paperwork was going to have to go through the city from the beginning.

“I called City Hall to reschedule the final inspection the very following day, because I had the grand opening party, but they said I couldn’t do that,” Le said. “They told me I was going to have to bring in my permit drawing and they would have to review all of my paperwork all over again from square one.”

Le turned to Danielle Romanetti, the owner of fibre space and last year’s winner of the Chamber ALX small business of the year award. The move worked, since Romanetti is well connected.

The multi-department Permit Center is intended to streamline the approval process for residents and business owners. Like many city services, the Permit Center closed at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, although the city says that its online APEX permitting system was still up and running. In November 2021, after 19 months of the pandemic, the city says it fully reopened to in-person business. During the interim period, though, Le said her messages and calls were seldom returned, prolonging what should have been a simple exercise.

“The first phase started with in-person services by ‘appointment only’ in the summer of 2020,” said Kelly Gilfillen, the city’s acting director of the Office of Communications and Public Information. “The second phase began in April 2021 with permit technicians located on the first floor of City Hall. On November 15, the fourth floor Permit Center reopened to in-person customers. Online services continue to be available.”

Gilfillen said that some processes will remain electronic for larger projects submitted by major developers and contractors, although small businesses and residents (to include their contractors) will continue to be provided same day services.

Soon after contacting Romanetti, Le’s permits all got approved and she got the green light to open.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had a one-stop-shop expediting service for small businesses that allowed us to schedule a time to run a project through all departments at once,” Romanetti said. “That is gone. It existed for a reason. We can’t wait 30 days to get permits for a sign on a new business.”

Le said she appreciated the approval, but that the process was unfair.

“It’s not fair for other business owners who have to go through the same thing that I went through,” she said. “What if they don’t have the connections I have? It’s not fair, because the city is supposed to work for the public.”

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A day after 10 inches of snow was dumped on the region, 95% of Alexandria’s primary roadways are now “passable”, according to the City’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.

The Department also tweeted that 65% of the city’s secondary streets are passable, and that crews are working toward intermediate streets. There are also still three open requests to clear away snow from the city’s Arlandria neighborhood, according to the city.

The storm led to a two-day closure of the city government and virtual learning for Alexandria City Public Schools.

Still, the Alexandria Fire Department says the were no “unusual” storm-related calls for service.

“Like our neighboring mutual aid partners, AFD was very busy on Jan. 3 during the heavy snow,” AFD Senior Public Information Officer Raytevia Evans told ALXnow. “With our Logistics Section running the snow plow and our maintenance shop available to work through any mechanical issues that came up, we were able to work through delays due to the weather.”

Evans continued, “There were no particularly unusual calls related to weather, but the department remained busy throughout the day.”

Photo via John Antonielli

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One day after a severe snowstorm hit Alexandria, some things are returning to normal while other services remain closed.

Alexandria bus service DASH suspended service yesterday, but has since returned with snow routes — adjusted routes following more thoroughly cleared sections of roadway.

City facilities had a delayed reopening at 10 a.m. today with local courts remaining closed. Alexandria libraries scheduled to open at 10 a.m. will instead be opening at noon to give staff time to clear off the sidewalks. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is open by-appointment starting at noon.

Alexandria City Public Schools has moved to virtual schooling for the second day in a row.

Those who set their trash, recycling, yard waste or leaf collection out today may have already discovered this, but the Monday collection has slid to Wednesday, Jan. 5., with every day offset by two after that.

Meanwhile, the city said in a press release that road and sidewalk clearing is still underway and property owners should be clearing sidewalks.

“Roads are plowed by priority,” the city said. “Snow emergency routes are plowed first, followed by secondary routes, intermediate routes, and then residential streets… Clearing sidewalks, driveways, and entrances is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, occupant, community association, or business. The recent storm event has been declared Level 2. As a result, responsible parties have 48 hours from the end of snowfall at 2 p.m. on Monday, January 3 to clear paths. The deadline for clearing paths and walkways is Wednesday, January 5, at 2 p.m.”

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Another single-day record for new COVID cases was set in Alexandria today, and the understaffed Alexandria Fire Department has made “vital changes” to contend with rising infections among staffers, including the temporary suspension of annual leave.

There were 460 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Alexandria on Today (Dec. 30), a 22% jump over the previous record of 376 cases set on Christmas day.

“During this time, we will temporarily suspend the authorization of annual leave,” AFD leadership wrote in a Monday email to City Manager Mark Jinks. “The Alexandria Fire Department is implementing vital strategic changes in response to the highly transmissible Omicron variation of the COVID-19 virus and the current staffing challenges. AFD is experiencing an increase in daily positive cases.”

The department currently has 22 members who are non-operational due to COVID, and 29 confirmed infections in the last month. While the number of infections is relatively low, AFD is currently understaffed by 23%, with 281 first responders working in a department that needs 347 to be fully staffed.

Consequently, long-standing staffing issues at the department have resulted in first responders working exorbitant overtime hours.

“Over the last three months, I’ve worked 1,004.25 hours,” AFD Captain Sean Europe told City Council in the public comment portion of a recent meeting. “That means I’ve worked, on average, close to 80 hours per week. Eighty hours a week as a firefighter. I don’t even know if that’s legal. I’m working twice as much, while getting paid less, than the people doing the exact same job just up the road.”

Department-wide over the last three months, AFD staff have worked more than 6,200 forced overtime hours and 10,500 of voluntary overtime.

Europe says he has 42 days of paid annual leave that he can’t use because of staffing.

I want to take a vacation, to spend time with my family and friends – but we’re so short staffed I can’t,” he said.

The International Association of Firefighters’ Local 2141 union stated that suspending annual leave is a move that should be made in the collective bargaining process, on which it says the city is dragging its feet. The union also says that the city’s proposal for compensation and staffing increases isn’t enough.

“We hired a labor relations agency, and they put forward that nothing that is up for negotiation through collective bargaining be changed,” Jeremy McClayton, an organizer for the union, told ALXnow.

Other moves by APD include:

  • Taking fire Engine 205 (serving Old Town, Del Ray and Potomac Yard) out of service.
  • The Advanced Life Support (ALS) provider from Engine 205 will relocate to Truck 205, converting Truck 205 to an ALS suppression unit.
  • Ambulance 204 will be placed in service on a 24-hour three shift schedule, and holdovers will be used to maintain staffing

Fire Chief Corey Smedley said over the summer that he was concerned with the number of hours his staff have worked.

“Some of them were working up to 72 hours straight, and that was not safe,” Smedley said. “I cannot continue and I did not continue to allow them to put themselves and for us to allow them to put themselves into harm’s way.”

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New Year’s Day is right around the corner, and a number of Alexandria government offices are closing early on Friday (Dec. 31).

The city’s New Year’s Eve celebration has been canceled due to rising COVID numbers, but if you’re looking to get out on Friday, the Torpedo Factory Art Center will be open from  10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Charles Houston and Patrick Henry Recreation Centers will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., as will the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center & Aquatics facility.

The city has listed the following closures and other changes planned for this week:

Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA): On Friday, December 31, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (4101 Eisenhower Ave.) will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., by appointment only, for both virtual and in-shelter animal visiting opportunities. To make an appointment, visit AlexandriaAnimals.org/Adopt-by-Appointment. The shelter will be closed Saturday, December 25 and Saturday, January 1. For animal emergencies or wildlife concerns, call 703.746.4444.

Courts: The Alexandria Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Circuit Court, General District Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court will be closed Thursday, December 30; and Friday, December 31. The Court Service Unit will be closed Friday, December 31.

Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV): All DMV customer service centers in Northern Virginia (including 2681 Mill Rd.) will be closed Friday, December 31 and Saturday, January 1, 2022.

Health Facilities: The Alexandria Health Department (4480 King St.), Flora Krause Casey Health Center (1200 N. Howard St.) and Teen Wellness Center at Alexandria City High School (3330 King St.) will be closed Friday, December 31.

Historic Alexandria: All City of Alexandria museums, with the exception of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, will be closed on Friday, December 24; Saturday, December 25; Friday, December 31; and Saturday, January 1. The Alexandria Archaeology Museum (105 N. Union St.) will be open Friday, December 24 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday, December 31 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 703.746.4554 or visit alexandriava.gov/Historic and follow Historic Alexandria on social media.

Hotlines: All emergency hotlines operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including the child protective services hotline at 703.746.5800; the domestic violence hotline at 703.746.4911; the emergency mental health services or substance abuse crisis hotline at 703.746.3401; the adult protective services hotline at 1.888.832.3858; and the sexual assault hotline at 703.683.7273.

Impound Facility: The City’s Impound Facility (5249 Eisenhower Ave.) will be closed on Thursday, December 23; Friday, December 24; and Friday, January 1. Fees will accrue while the facility is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but will not accrue on holidays.

Libraries: All Alexandria Library branches and the Alexandria Law Library (520 King St.) will be closed Thursday, December 23 through Saturday, December 25, December 31 and January 1. Visit alexlibraryva.org for more information.

Old Town Farmers’ Market: The Old Town Farmers’ Market will be open Christmas Eve, Friday, December 24, from 7 a.m. to noon with free parking at Market Square Parking Garage (108 N. Fairfax St.), under Market Square Plaza, from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Farmers’ Market will be and will be closed Saturday, December 25, and will open as usual on New Year’s Day, Saturday, January 1, 2022, from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Parking: The Alexandria Police Department will suspend enforcement of parking restrictions at metered spaces, residential permit parking districts and other areas with signed parking time limits Thursday, December 23 through Saturday, December 25; and Saturday, January 1. This suspension of enforcement applies only to the restrictions at legal parking spaces, and does not permit parking in any location normally prohibited (for example, no-parking zones, loading zones or spaces for persons with disabilities). Temporary no-parking signs will be posted and enforced on the holidays.

Recreation, Nature and Art Centers: On Thursday, December 23, Chinquapin Park Recreation Center & Aquatics Facility (3210 King St.), Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe St.) and Patrick Henry Recreation Center (4653 Taney Ave.) will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 N. Union St.) will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and all other facilities will be closed.

On Saturday, January 1, all recreation, nature and art centers will be closed. View the City’s recreation center operating schedule for more information.

Resource Recovery:

Christmas Tree Collection: Christmas tree collection will begin Monday, January 3 and will be collected through the whole month for residents who receive City trash collection services. The last day of tree collection will be Monday, January 31. Visit alexandriava.gov/YardWaste for preparation information.

Leaf Collection: Leaves will be collected on Thursday, December 23 and Friday, December 24. There will be no leaf collection on December 31 in observance of New Year’s Day. Visit alexandriava.gov/LeafCollection for more information.

Trash and Recycling: Residential refuse, yard waste and recycling will be collected on the regularly scheduled day during the weeks of December 20 and December 27; there will be no “holiday slide.” The Household Hazardous Waste Electronic Collection Drop-off Center (3224 Colvin St.) will be closed Saturday, December 25 and Saturday, January 1. Visit alexandriava.gov/ResourceRecovery for more information.

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Current poet laureate KaNikki Jakarta, photo via City of Alexandria

Know anyone that’s a poet at heart? The City of Alexandria is opening applications to be the new poet laureate.

The poet laureate’s job, according to the press release, is to promote appreciation of poetry as an art form, encourage creative writing and reading, and promote literacy through poetry. The position has a three-year term starting on April 1, 2022, succeeding current poet laureate KaNikki Jakarta. The ceremonial role will also involve presentations of poetry to various audiences.

“Individuals can nominate themselves or be nominated by someone else,” the city said. “To qualify, nominees must distinguish themselves in the field of poetry through their body of work; be a resident of the City for a minimum of one year and maintain residency through the three-year term of service; and be 18 years of age or older.”

Entries are juried by a task force that will provide a recommendation to the City Council. The nomination forms are available online.

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Days after both school resource officers at Alexandria City High School were put on administrative leave, the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria City Public Schools system are still unclear as to if or when those officers will be replaced.

The officers were placed on leave last Thursday after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS, according to the Washington Post.

SROs have been controversial over the last year, as they were defunded by City Council earlier this year, and then brought back in October after outcry from the school system after a number of incidents with weapons in schools.

SROs are police officers with sidearms who receive 40 hours of specialized training with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Service’s Center for School Safety. They work alongside unarmed security personnel, and are trained in deescalation, seizure and arrests on school grounds, operating during active shooting incidents and working alongside kids with emotional and behavioral issues.

Police say that the memorandum of understanding between the police and schools remains in place, but would not say if or when the officers at the high school will be replaced.

“This question could be misleading,” APD public information officer Marcel Bassett told ALXnow. “We do have other officers in the Department, but again wouldn’t get into further speculation of ‘what if’ or even mentioning replacement until we understand the resolution of the investigation.”

The school system, which would not comment on the matter, is now on winter break until Jan. 3.

“We are looking at and evaluating every possibility to keep our students safe,” Bassett said. “This does depend on the results of the investigation. In the meantime we are working closely with ACPS to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff of all ACPS.”

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