Newsletter

Ahead of a public meeting tonight (Wednesday), Mayor Justin Wilson outlined what’s being proposed and next steps.

“The plastic bag tax has long been floated,” Wilson said in a town hall last week, noting that a similar tax is already in place in D.C. “Senator [Adam] Ebbin, who represents the east end of Alexandria, proposed legislation that allows local governments to opt in for the plastic bag tax.”

According to the city, the tax could be used for:

  • Environmental Cleanup;
  • Providing education programs designed to reduce environmental waste;
  • Mitigating pollution and litter; or
  • Providing reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits

Wilson said the tax will only be applied to grocery stores and convenience stores, not restaurants or other businesses. The tax would also be five cents per bag, which Wilson said isn’t a lot in terms of having spending money for infrastructure projects, but the other goal is in discouraging the use of plastic bags and reducing littering.

An un-scientific poll of ALXnow readers found that 61% opposed the tax.

Following the public information session, a draft ordinance will be presented to City Council. If approved, the tax could go into effect as early as January 2022.

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Alexandria Police say they’re desperate for help from the City Council with compensation and hiring, and that out of every one new hire, three officers are leaving the department.

“That’s not sustainable,” said Lt. Marcus Downey, vice president of the International Union of Police Association’s (IUPA), Local 5. “In my 15 years with the department, I’ve never seen it this bad.”

On Tuesday, the Alexandria chapter of IUPA sent City Council a letter pleading for help with compensation and hiring. The letter strikes directly at the administration of former Police Chief Michael L. Brown, who abruptly stepped down in June to handle family matters in California.

“The taxpayers of Alexandria City deserve to know that after four years of mismanagement and ineptitude at the executive level of the police department, decades of false promises from Alexandria City Hall, the pressure of maintaining premium policing services through a global pandemic, and skyrocketing crime rates, both staffing and morale within the Police Department are plummeting,” the letter says.

The union says police can’t focus on solving open crimes and engaging with the community since having to “transfer officers from our Detective, Community Oriented Policing, and Motors Sections just so that we can properly address routine calls for service.”

The union continues, “Alongside our partners within the Alexandria Fire Department, the Police Department is experiencing an exodus of staff and an inability to add new officers at the same pace. And just like our fire department allies, it takes almost a full year to replace those who leave. Combine this with City Council’s defunding of the police department of almost $1,000,000, the elimination of half a dozen sworn positions, and the removal of several “over-hire” positions, the department struggles daily to meet the law enforcement demands of this densely populated suburb of Washington, D.C.”

The Alexandria Police and Fire Departments are among the lowest paid in the region, with full-time starting salaries at $49,294 for firefighters and $51,000 for police officers. Starting pay for police in neighboring Arlington is $56,000; in D.C. it’s $57,000; in Fairfax County it’s just over $60,000.

Mayor Justin Wilson says that compensation issues will have to be addressed in the upcoming budget, which, after approval, will go into effect in July 2022. Until then, he says, the city has resources to make sure that the police department is “appropriately” staffed throughout the year.

“(G)enerally we make compensation decisions in our annual budget process, as we cannot ask the taxpayers for more money in the middle of the year,” Wilson told ALXnow. “But to the extent we have emergent issues, we have flexibility to adjust as needed, as we have done, particularly in the past year given the hyper-competitive hiring market right now.”

In the meantime, Downey says it’s too early to tell how well acting Chief Don Hayes is performing, but that choosing Captain Dennis Andreas as the acting assistant chief was a wise decision.

As for raising taxes to increase compensation, the union says that the argument is a diversionary tactic. Additionally, even though the City passed a collective bargaining ordinance this year, the department is “at best” two years away from any contracts, the letter says.

“Local politicians use this tactic because they know taxpayers will feel hesitant,” the union wrote. “Yet somehow, $5,000,000 in brand new programs have been funded by the City just this calendar year without a tax increase.”

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Alexandria was spared from significant flooding this week after remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through the East Coast. The only flooding found was on lower King Street in Old Town, where businesses laid sandbags at windows and doorways.

“We’re open inside, but if you want to eat you’re probably going to have to come barefoot,” a hostess at Mai Thai told ALXnow on Wednesday.

Our top story this week was, for the second week in a row, on the recent brawl inside Alexandria City High School.

It’s a three-day weekend, and on Sunday the annual Old Town Festival of Speed & Style will bring crowds to marvel at classic and beautiful rides along King Street. Monday is Labor Day, and the city will operate on a holiday schedule.

In this week’s poll we asked how satisfied readers are with Alexandria City Public Schools since reopening on August 24. A majority (31%) reported being extremely unsatisfied with the school system, while 29% said ACPS has done a good job, 25% are extremely satisfied and 14% are unhappy overall.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  2. 13-year-old hit by car while walking home from school in Del Ray
  3. Fox put George Washington Middle School into a lock-in today
  4. Man arrested for spending spree after finding wallet in Bradlee Shopping Center parking lot
  5. No injuries or arrests after shots fired on Duke Street
  6. ACPS Superintendent Hutchings asks community to hit the brakes on email campaigns
  7. Alexandria man arrested for beating up ex-girlfriend in Old Town North
  8. Alexandria sees cases rise in August and warns of COVID-19 in schools
  9. Alexandria man convicted for possessing child porn and violating parole
  10. Historic Black cemetery under threat of being washed away in Old Town
  11. Man swallows two bags of drugs and runs from police in Old Town

Have a safe weekend!

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Amazon’s Sword of Damocles is hanging over Arlandria, and city staff have been working with local residents and community leaders to put together a plan to help preserve the local community against gentrification.

Arlandria, also known as Chirilagua, is a primarily Latino community in northern Alexandria with refugees from El Salvador and other parts of Central America.

The community is one of the city’s few bastions of market rate affordable housing — housing affordable to those making less than the area median income that isn’t part of a committed affordable housing program. But it’s a community that is also less than a mile from the rapidly-transforming Potomac Yard and just down the road from Amazon’s “HQ2” in Crystal City.

City staff are scheduled to discuss a first draft of the Arlandria-Chirilagua Plan at the Thursday, Sept. 9, Planning Commission meeting. In a memo, Director of Planning and Zoning Karl Moritz outlined what the plan’s goals are:

  1. Preserve Arlandria-Chirilagua as a culturally diverse neighborhood; protect residents’ ability to remain in the community amidst anticipated market pressures by preserving and expanding housing affordability and opportunity;
  2. Support the existing commercial corridor and local businesses;
  3. Build on neighborhood walkability, safety, and transportation options;
  4. Connect and expand the open space network with more play areas and outdoor living rooms; and
  5. Empower residents to advocate for their needs and participate in decisions affecting their neighborhood.

Moritz said the plan is to address preservation of Arlington-Chirilagua on several topics, from housing affordability to community safety and mobility. The plan is scheduled for release later this month for review throughout September and October. The final draft plan will be released in mid-October with public hearings throughout November.

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Morning Notes

Proposed plastic bag tax meetings scheduled in Alexandria — “The first meeting is a virtual public information session on Wednesday, Sept. 8 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.” [Patch]

New restaurants on the horizon — “Three new restaurants are moving forward with plans to open — they all have applications for various permits on the Thursday, Sept. 9 Planning & Zoning commission docket.” [Alexandria Living]

Old Town Festival of Speed and Style is this Sunday — “Featuring over 100 rare and exotic supercars and motorcycles from around the world – combined with dazzling and glamorous fashion elements and events – the festival celebrates the heart and spirit of the community and highlights the elegance and style of Old Town. It is free to spectators and open to all.” [Visit Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny skies. High 78F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds (in the evening). Low near 60F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Assistant chocolatier — “As a production assistant you will mainly work alongside the owner and other chocolatiers to make and package truffles, chocolate bars, and other confections for retail sale and shipment. Occasionally you will need to assist with the retail side of business and help customers in-person and over the phone with chocolate selections.” [Indeed]

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A video has surfaced of a brawl Thursday (August 26) in the cafeteria of Alexandria City High School (ACHS). While the police weren’t called, it was one of two fights broken up that day, according to sources.

Caution: The following video contains disturbing behavior.

“It was a big fight,” said a witness. “It started with two people, and then more than 10 people jumped in.”

In the video, security guards and staff are shoved around in the cafeteria of Virginia’s largest high school, and one security guard falls to the ground as she races to break up the melee.

“The school administration is aware of this and has handled the incident, following standard protocols,” ACPS School and Community Relations Chief Julia Burgos said in a statement to ALXnow.

The police have not been called regarding any fights since school started on Tuesday, Alexandria Police senior public information officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow.

“We have not been called for any fights,” Paga said. “The school is patrolled regularly as part a Patrol officer’s assigned beat.  APD will respond to all calls for service when 911 is called.”

Some parents attribute the violence to the absence of school resource officers.

“This was going to happen,” an ACHS parent told ALXnow. “Take away the police from inside schools and you’re going to see people get hurt.”

The Alexandria City Council voted 4-3 in May to redirect nearly $800,000 in SRO funding toward student mental health resources, a vote that has since been decried by the School Board. The reallocation took away a police presence inside Alexandria City High School, Francis C. Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School.

None of the Council members who voted to defund the SRO program commented on the fights at ACHS.

Mayor Justin Wilson said he is happy to discuss the issue with school officials and the police. Wilson voted against eliminating SROs, and previously said he was “dismayed” by the deteriorated relationship between Council and the Board because of the decision.

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French flag in Alexandria, photo via Alexandria-Caen Sister City Committee/Facebook

The Alexandria-Caen Sister City Committee is hoping to emerge from the other side of the pandemic reinvigorated and, in some ways, transformed.

The committee was established in 1991 and celebrates both the city’s ties with Caen, France, and French culture in general. It’s one of the more obscure ones, known primarily for the annual D-Day commemorative event, but committee member Elodie Guillon says there’s hope for that to change.

Guillon also runs an Alexandria-based French language class and tour program called French With Elodie.

“Last year we did some events online,” Guillon said. “We definitely got more people who maybe would not have come to an event in person. We had a chef demonstrate [how to make] some French pastries — crepes and truffles — and we had about 80 people participating in that, which for us was nice. It was our biggest event so far.”

The committee is hosting another online event on Thursday, Sept. 16. The meet-up will be to discuss Le Chant du loup, a French action film available on Netflix. Guillon said the cocktail discussion will likely center around depictions of the French and a general discussion of the state of the French film industry.

But Guillon said the committee members are also excited to get back to in-person activities, and are hoping to gradually work public engagement to the levels of some of the online events during the pandemic.

“Now we’re trying to get back into doing more face-to-face events,” Guillon said. “We have one event lined up for Tuesday, Sept. 18. It’s a ‘soup and sketch’ event. It’s going to be in-person but small, only about 20 people max. A drawing instructor from the Smithsonian will be there to teach people to draw.”

Guillon said the committee is hoping to broaden the circle of people who participate in its events.

“I have a lot of my students in Alexandria and they are all big Francophiles and never heard of the committee,” Guillon said. “It’s an opportunity to build awareness around the community. People know it form D-Day celebration, but there are other things to promote French culture in Alexandria. It’s always the same type of people coming, and it would be nice to increase participation, especially with a younger audience.”

Meanwhile, for her own program, Guillon is working on putting together a trip to France in October.

“It’s a group of 12 people,” Guillon said. “I’m very excited, but it’s a lot of pre-work because we have to deal with the health pass in France and I have to translate all the vaccination passes to go to restaurants. It’s a lot of work to do ahead of time, but everybody is excited. I’m hoping we’ll be able to go. Right now we’re supposed to go unless France closes their borders.”

Photo via Alexandria-Caen Sister City Committee/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Former City Councilman Connie Ring dies — “Carlyle Conwell “Connie” Ring, Jr., 90, passed away peacefully on August 19, 2021, at his home at Goodwin House, Alexandria, Virginia… He was an appointed member of the Alexandria School Board from 1969 to 1978, and chairman from 1976 to 1978. During this time, he was involved in the integration of public schools in Alexandria. Connie later held a seat on Alexandria’s City Council from 1979 to 1988.” [Legacy.com]

Alexandria starts pilot program to rename Confederate-named streets — “Alexandria is launching a pilot program and new process for residents to request changes to street names in the City of Alexandria.” [Alexandria Living]

The Birchmere is requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID test — “Effective Wednesday, Aug. 25, all attendees, artists and staff will need to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before attending an event. The venue will accept three types of documentation: a physical vaccination card, digital copy of a vaccination card that matches a person’s photo ID, or negative test within the past 72 hours that matches a person’s photo ID. A physical or digital test will be accepted.” [Patch]

Brewski’s Barkhaus is celebrating National Dog Day in style — “Barkhaus opens early at 11 AM on August 26 with free puppuccinos, ‘dog beer,’ and food specialsLater, get dressed up for The Pet Gala, a ticketed event supporting the National Humane Society from 7:30 to 10PM. Black tie attire is required for all pups and humans, and tickets ($75) are on sale now.” [Washingtonian]

Alexandria firefighters to get collective bargaining training — “We’ll be running through our game plan on how we can lower holdovers, improve pay, improve working conditions, and ensure that WE the WORKERS have a seat at the table when decisions are made!” [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Sunshine and clouds mixed (during the day). Hot and humid. High 94F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy skies (in the evening). A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. Low near 75F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Cannabis reviewer — “We are a DC-based start-up and cannabis review site that is rapidly growing. We are looking for cannabis connoisseurs who think they have what it takes to join our ranks as a reviewer of Virginia medical marijuana dispensary products and homegrows. This role is mostly remote but does require the ability to travel throughout one or more Virginia counties to pick-up or receive deliveries. For consideration candidates must be local to Northern Virginia and have a valid Virginia medical marijuana license.” [Indeed]

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You might have already noticed if it’s on a street near you, but this week the City of Alexandria has resumed its seasonal resurfacing work throughout Old Town.

Repaving work started on Monday this week as part of a seasonal program. This week and next, repairs and curb improvements are underway on Union Street from Pendleton to Franklin streets and Duke Street from South Union to South Patrick streets.

The schedule online indicates that work will continue until Friday, Sept. 3, with resurfacing work paused on weekends. Paving takes place between 7 a.m.-5 p.m., but the city said sometimes some work is done overnight to accommodate heavily traveled roads.

“Alexandria has more than 561 lane miles of road and each year, the City resurfaces approximately 50 of those lane miles,” the city said. “The City uses a paving management system called Pavement Condition Index, or PCI, to determine the condition of City roads. PCI, along with other factors, such as volume and type of traffic, planned utility work, and cost, are used to prioritize streets for repaving.”

The city said local residents will be advised of resurfacing work at least one week in advance.

“Temporary ‘No Parking’ signs will be also posted before work begins,” the city said. “Please be sure to observe these signs to avoid tickets and potential towing of vehicle.”

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“Make it happen faster.”

It’s been the rallying cry for countless local residents who have suffered from multiple floods in the last few years. City leaders have promised to expedite stormwater projects, but now admit that many improvements could be years away at best.

After floods last Sunday, Major Justin Wilson pledged to accelerate the timetable for major stormwater capacity projects, but said the projects will still take time to complete. Wilson repeated the pledge in an interview with WAMU on Friday.

But how much those projects can be accelerated is still unclear for city staff.

“All of the big capacity projects are equivalent to a school in terms of design,” said Yon Lambert, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “You’re dealing with conflicts on multiple levels. We’re fast-tracking that as much as we can… It’s about figuring out how to compress the design process and once ground is broken, there are new problems.”

In the meantime, Lambert said the city is working on moving forward with spot projects to make smaller fixes — though he said the scale of that could be dependent on the results of the federal infrastructure bill.

Lambert outlined the timeline for several projects at a recent meeting of the Ad Hoc Stormwater Utility and Flood Mitigation Advisory Group.

“[These] could be one or two years in design,” Lambert said. “Then a year in procurement for a construction contractor. Then, depending on complexity of the project, could be 10-24 months to deliver. Overall, it does take three-to-five years to plan, design, and implement these projects.”

Lambert said the smaller projects take less time, with in-house design in one-to-six months and three-to-eight months for construction.

While the city — via AlexRenew — has been handling the combined sewer system problem in Old Town, reports have previously indicated flooding is a city-wide problem. The City of Alexandria Storm Sewer Capacity Analysis in 2016 identified several areas that were particularly vulnerable, leading to some public frustration that it took repeated, disastrous floods for the city to fast-track major stormwater improvement projects.

“I can’t imagine the anxiety and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) of people watching the weather,” said City Council member Amy Jackson. “We put a lot of money into infrastructure… but it’s been kicked down the road so much. I wish we started this a long time ago, but it will take a few years [to implement]. It will get done, and it will be done correctly, but not as quickly as a lot of people hope.”

Jackson said the issues with flooding have become so prevalent in the city it’s become an almost ubiquitous discussion.

“This is an indicator, of sorts: everyone is dealing with it or knows someone dealing with it,” Jackson said. “At your local watering hole, everyone is talking about it.”

City Council member Canek Aguirre said he similarly sympathizes with frustrated locals.

“It’s extremely frustrating that our residents have to go through such devastating effects on their lives,” Aguirre said. “It will still take an extended period of time to address. We’ll be able to get some spot projects in the next year or so, but some of the larger capacity [projects] will take longer.”

The issue has also become a point of contention in the local election, with both Republican City Council candidate Darryl Nirenberg and Republican Mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings saying the city should be doing more to address flooding issues.

According to Nirenberg’s website:

This is a complicated problem caused by aging infrastructure, overdevelopment and climate change.  But, enough is enough. No one living in our city should have to deal with this over and over with no end in sight.

City Hall needs to take immediate, actionable steps to improve flood control by:

  1. Appointing a Water Infrastructure Czar with direct accountability to the Mayor and the Council to take charge of this issue;
  2. Working with our representatives in Congress to seek emergency and long-term Federal funding to assist the City in addressing flooding; and,
  3. Instructing City staff to develop a comprehensive citywide response plan, with defined deliverables and timelines, by January 1, 2022.

It is the basic responsibility of city government to provide residents with sound infrastructure.  Instead of wasting time and resources on divisive policies like removing school resource officers; pursuing dedicated bus lanes on Duke Street; replacing travel lanes with rarely used bike lanes; and, putting adult housing on school grounds, City Council needs to focus on quality of life issues — including making it a priority to fix our storm drains now.

Catchings said stormwater infrastructure would be her top priority if elected.

“Over the weekend many of us enjoyed our bike adventures, our tennis groups and backyard gatherings; however, too many of our friends and neighbors were knee deep in sewage, drying out their homes and basements,” Catchings wrote on Facebook. “Yes we need to finally #FixThePipes But our neighbors need immediate relief until then. Programs like BFP that reimburse residents should they install a Backflow Preventer should not then turn around and penalize the owner should it fail when we know the problem is bigger than that. If I’m elected Mayor fixing our pipes will be my personal pet project and my number 1 focus.”

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