Marijuana was legalized in 2021, but Alexandria is hoping 2023 is the year the state finally settles the weird issues around selling weed.
Currently, it’s legal to possess small amounts of pot and grow them at home, but it’s still illegal to buy it commercially without a medical card.
Among the dozens of bills related to everything from historic preservation commission membership to laws around disability language, the status of marijuana is one that city leaders said could grow as the session goes on.
At a meeting of the City Council Legislative Subcommittee last week, Alexandria leaders took a look at House Bill 1464 from Del. Keith Hodges (R-98).
According to the state’s legislative information system, the bill:
Establishes a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana market in the Commonwealth, which would be administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The bill allows the Authority to begin issuing marijuana licenses on July 1, 2024. The bill allows, beginning July 1, 2023, certain pharmaceutical and industrial hemp processors, pending establishment of the retail market, to cultivate, manufacture, and sell cannabis products to persons 21 years of age or older.
Legislative Director Sarah Taylor said the Republican majority in the House of Delegates might address the retail sale of marijuana in a large bill or could push the responsibility away from the legislative side of government.
“Do you get the sense that there is the feeling from the house majority that they need to figure out marijuana this year?” Mayor Justin Wilson asked ‘bluntly’.
“Yes, but I think what ‘figure it out’ means could be two different ways,” Taylor said. “One would be cleaning up a full bill… it could be another big bill. The other thought is it could be a skinny bill that just kicks the whole thing to the regulatory environment. Instead of legislating it, [this would be] putting it all in code. It would provide some guardrails and kick it to the regulatory environment.”
The one legislation Taylor said seemed certain to move forward is legislation connected to restricting “youth access” to marijuana.
The topic of legalizing the retail sale of marijuana also touches on a long-festering issue dividing local and state leadership: the Dillon Rule, which says localities can only exercise authorities granted to them by the state.
Taylor said some localities have tried to use zoning to prohibit marijuana from being sold in their communities, which has rubbed some state leadership the wrong way.
“The one thing we should be thoughtful about is what this means for our zoning authority,” Taylor said. “My understanding is some of the folks involved in our negotiations last year are unhappy with localities that have used their authority to essentially redline cannabis retail out of parts of their community. Those localities have made some of those folks grumpy and the rest of us may have to suffer a little bit for that.”
Taylor said the discussion is likely to “grow and evolve” as the legislative session continues.
“I do agree they need to figure this out,” Wilson said. “I like the idea of them figuring this out sooner rather than later.”
Photo via Wesley Gibbs/Unsplash
At a City Council meeting last night (Tuesday), Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson unveiled the next stage of plans to ramp up the renaming of streets that honor Confederate leaders, the Washington Post first reported.
While the city has renamed the Alexandria portion of Jefferson Davis Highway and removed the Appomattox statue, streets honoring Confederate leaders like the “Gray Ghost” John Singleton Mosby or Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest still exist around the city.
Discussions to rename more streets began last October, but there’s a much longer history of Civil War names on streets dividing Alexandria. As of 2018, about 60 streets potentially were named for Confederate leaders, but in some cases — such as Lee Street — the historical record is unclear about a street’s namesake.
The mayor said his new plans stem from the conversation that kicked off last fall.
“Last year, I talked on the dais about a process and a deliberate schedule to identify street names in our city that really were designed as a permanent protest against the civil rights movement and growing political power for African Americans in our city,” Wilson said. “Those places and those honors have no place in our city.”
Wilson said his plan is for two committees to work in tandem to find both streets to rename and suitable names to replace them.
Historic Alexandria Resources Commission would develop a list of people, events and locations that deserve honors, with a focus on women and minorities — people traditionally underrepresented in city honors. The City Council Naming Committee, meanwhile, would identify which streets should be prioritized for renaming.
Wilson said the city should aim to rename three streets each year, which would “keep us busy for quite a while” but would also give city leadership space to determine if that’s too ambitious or not ambitious enough.
The proposal found widespread support on the City Council, where others said they had first-hand experience with how difficult the legacy of Confederate honors can be to escape.
“As someone who bought a home in Alexandria just a few years ago on the West End, it was very startling how many houses we looked at were on streets with names I would have a hard time living on,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “We thought we dodged that, but as it turns out our current street is named after a Confederate naval vessel.”
The memo is set for review as part of the city’s budget process. City Manager James Parajon is scheduled to present a draft of the budget to the City Council on Feb. 28, followed by a period of meetings and discussions that culminate with a vote on the budget in May.
At tonight’s Alexandria City Council meeting, @justindotnet proposed a plan to speed up the renaming of the 41+ streets in town named after Confederate leaders.
It would direct a cmte. to rename 3 of those a year, drawing from a list of new honorees emphasizing women & POC pic.twitter.com/nLZ1w6p7qI
— Teo Armus (@teoarmus) January 11, 2023
Earlier this year, Alexandria got into a scrap with Virginia American Water Company (VAWC) over a rate increase. Now, Mayor Justin Wilson says the city, utility company and other parties are getting closer to a compromise.
Alexandria is one of a handful of Virginia with a private water utility provided by VAWC, a subsidiary of a large national company regulated by the State Corporation Commission (SCC). In November 2021, it applied to the SCC for a nearly 28% increase in rates, along with other charges and rate supplements.
At the time, the company claimed the increase, to the tune of $14.3 million, would fund infrastructure investments in Alexandria and three other localities. But local leaders said the rate increase was significantly beyond what had been expected. Had it gone through, Wilson says residents would have seen their bills increase by about 36%.
“After analysis, our staff determined that this rate increase was excessive and Council voted to again intervene with the State Corporation Commission to oppose this proposed rate increase,” Wilson wrote in his Council Connection newsletter, released on Sunday.
In a report filed in early December, a hearing examiner from the SCC agreed with a proposed $3.5 million reduction to the overall increase. The total proposed increase of $10.75 million is called “the stipulation.”
“The SCC appointed a hearing examiner to review the case and provide recommendations to the Commission,” Wilson wrote in the newsletter. “Last month, the hearing examiner provided his report, which largely endorsed a proposed settlement between the City, VAWC, and the SCC. This settlement will lower the increase and provide for refunds to Alexandria ratepayers. Last week, the City provided input supporting most of the hearing examiner’s findings.”
Two weeks ago, the city filed comments mostly agreeing with the findings from the report — though there remains some disagreement about additional refunds.
Wilson noted that the SCC will still need to act on these recommendations later this year and he hopes the city and VAWC can move past the disagreement — water under the bridge, so to speak.
“I’m hopeful we can continue our efforts working with VAWC to improve our aging water infrastructure but respect our ratepayers and good processes at the same time,” Wilson wrote.
The tension between Alexandria’s leaders and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is not exactly a secret, but there have been a few surprising examples of overlapping policy goals.
Most recently, Mayor Justin Wilson shared vocal support for Youngkin’s new Make Virginia Home plan.
The plan includes a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing, with a focus on:
- Increasing the supply of land for housing: the plan promotes discretionary state grant funding for localities to use for affordable housing. The plan establishes “guard rails” for zoning and land use review processes for localities seeking state assistance, along with requiring transparency in reporting on affordable housing and a comprehensive review of the state’s land use and zoning laws.
- Remove regulatory barriers to housing development: the plan makes it easier for affordable housing to meet certain environmental regulations and streamline the permitting process, along with translating the building regulations into Spanish.
- Align housing development with economic growth: the plan includes housing in economic development planning and site development processes. It also includes goals for establishing public/private partnerships that include workforce housing in site development.
The plan has gotten some support, including praise online across the aisle from Wilson. In particular, Wilson said city staff and affordable housing leadership attended a conference last month where Youngkin outlined potential coordination on affordable housing goals.
“As you noted in your speech, this is a multi-faceted challenge that requires policy coordination across local, state and Federal governments,” Wilson wrote in a letter to Youngkin. “We believe there is considerable opportunity for bipartisan agreement to advance good policy and we want to be partners with your Administration to make this happen.”
Wilson outlined some of the progress Alexandria has made in affordable housing, particularly in the use of private development to fuel public affordable housing.
“Given that success, we strongly support your proposals to strengthen the linkage between housing and economic development,” Wilson said. “As you have noted, employers will not locate jobs in the Commonwealth without the ability to house the workforce required, including new jobs at a range of income levels.”
Wilson also praised the proposals to direct future state funding to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and encouraged investment in the State Housing Opportunity Tax Credit Program and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund.
There was one area of concern about potential punishments for local jurisdictions that fail to meet certain state requirements. According to Wilson:
While we strongly support the provisions of your Plan that will incentivize new housing creation, link economic attraction to housing production, and use state funding as a “carrot” for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies, we are concerned by proposals that purport to punish local jurisdictions for the diligent exercise of ministerial acts, or proposals that remove local control as a method to accelerate housing creation.
Wilson said piecemeal acts by Richmond to erode local control over land-use processes have had a negative impact on housing creation, and that aspect of the Make Virginia Home plan would only reinforce that problem.
“We would instead suggest more comprehensive reform to expand local capabilities to manage the externalities of development, while providing robust incentives for the adoption of pro-growth land-use policies,” Wilson wrote. “This will not only accelerate housing creation, including enhanced housing affordability and accessibility, but also maintain the critical public support required to sustain these policies over time.”
The @GovernorVA has presented a housing plan that has some good ideas.
If the Commonwealth can work WITH local governments to create the housing supply necessary to support a growing Virginia, there is a real opportunity for bipartisan progress. pic.twitter.com/mS8rRISlrx
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) December 16, 2022
Despite the political divide between the Republican Youngkin and the largely-Democratic Alexandria, there have been areas of overlap between local goals and state leadership. Early in Youngkin’s campaign, Wilson expressed enthusiasm for Youngkin’s goals of holding Dominion Energy more accountable and state officials appointed by Youngkin have worked with Alexandria’s local and federal representatives on infrastructure funding.
Inova Alexandria Hospital celebrated its 150th anniversary on Monday with local elected officials.
The hospital was founded in 1872, in the wake of a typhoid outbreak. It is Virginia’s oldest continuously operating community hospital.
“The city of Alexandria faced a significant health threat,” said Inova Alexandria President Dr. Rina Bansal. “A ship docking in Alexandria’s port had an outbreak of typhoid and everyone in the city fear a wider epidemic was on the way.”
The hospital was founded as the Alexandria Infirmary Association in 1872 by Julia Johns, the daughter of the Episcopal Bishop of Alexandria. Johns called on her charitable friends and formed a board of Lady Managers, who operated the hospital for decades. The first surgery at the hospital was reportedly a leg amputation in 1882, at the first location at the intersection of Duke and Fairfax Streets in Old Town.
The infirmary was also the first nursing school in Virginia. Alexandria Hospital was officially renamed in 1904, and the current 318-bed facility at 4320 Seminary Road has been in use since the 1960s.
“Alexandria residents don’t have to choose between getting world class and health care and getting convenient health care close to home,” said Dr. J. Stephen Jones, president and CEO of the Inova Health System.
The hospital merged with the Inova health system in 1996, and will eventually move to the Landmark area. By 2028, the proposed 675,000 square foot Inova at Landmark project will include a 130,000-square-foot cancer center and 110,000 square-foot specialty outpatient care center.
“You all are not only contributing to the health of our community for the future, but you’re also contributing to the economic health of our community and very much becoming a catalyst for redevelopment at Landmark law and we’re very excited to see that come to fruition,” Mayor Justin Wilson told hospital staff.
It was an unseasonably warm 60 degrees on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 3) in Old Town for the Campagna Center’s 51st Scottish Christmas Walk Parade.
The parade is one of the most popular events in the city, bringing thousands of participants, including Irish dancers, historic reenactors and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. It is considered the highlight of a weekend full of events.
This year’s grand marshal was former City Council Member Del Pepper.
Pups in plaid, colorful Scottish clans and more at the Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade! #ALXScottishWalk #visitALX pic.twitter.com/gt13woVYF8
— Visit Alexandria VA (@AlexandriaVA) December 3, 2022
It’s the most wonderful day of the year! The Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/G9uT8chYPo
— Alyia Gaskins (@Alyia4ALX) December 4, 2022
The rain stopped JUST in time and we had an amazing parade! pic.twitter.com/FTbJOFebh0
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) December 3, 2022
The 51st Annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade is on the move! pic.twitter.com/0YUiqzP3NE
— Visit Alexandria VA (@AlexandriaVA) December 3, 2022
Alexandria’s revenue tax is growing, but too sluggishly to keep pace with the expenditures — leading to a $17 million shortfall as the city heads into budget season.
That estimate, from Mayor Justin Wilson’s monthly newsletter, is slightly lower than the estimate from a City Council meeting in November, but still presents a substantial challenge for city leadership attempting hold off on a tax rate increase.
Wilson said Alexandria’s budget is built around real estate taxes, which are growing but with some worrying signs.
“In Virginia, the structure of municipal finance is heavily reliant on real estate taxes,” Wilson wrote. “Consequentially, in Alexandria the real estate market, both residential and commercial, dictates our budgetary fate. Last year, we saw the healthiest growth in our real estate tax base in over 15 years. Yet, in the past year, mortgage rates have more than doubled. It’s hard to imagine that such an increase will not eventually impact our real estate market.”
Real estate tax revenue is projected to increase by 1.2% — which Wilson called a “return to the anemic growth that characterized much of the last decade and a half.”
Wilson said residential taxpayers are already paying more due to appreciation in the residential tax base, and adding a tax rate increase on top of that would add an even greater burden to local residents.
“I believe we should again work to avoid a rate increase while protecting the core services our residents depend on,” Wilson wrote. “Last year was the 6th budget in a row without a tax rate increase and I am hopeful we can continue that pattern.”
And yet, the city will have to find a way to close the $16.1 million shortfall. That shortfall is mostly attributed to an increase in city operations, the annual transfer to Alexandria City Public Schools and city debt service.
“With these revenue estimates and expenditure estimates, this brings us to a projected revenue shortfall of $16.1 million,” Wilson wrote. “Given that our local budget must be balanced, that shortfall must be resolved with either spending reductions, tax increases or some combination of the two.”
City Manager Jim Parajon, who warned City Council last month that “the budget is going to be tight,” is scheduled to present a budget to Council on Feb. 28.
Alexandria City Public Schools is in the initial stages of organizing a collective bargaining effort for thousands of its employees.
The school system has more than 2,400 employees and pays $11.6 million in salaries, with funds approved by the City Council. That means that any agreement reached between ACPS staffers and the school system will have to be approved by Council.
“In this case, you’re going to be negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for about 80% of your costs,” Mayor Justin Wilson said at a joint City Council/School Board Subcommittee meeting on Monday (Nov. 28).
Wilson continued, “Without some special structure put together, you’re going to be doing so without coordination with the entity that is going to pay those bills. So, I think we need to figure out how we hold hands and put together a process where we can all do this together somehow.”
The news comes shortly after the city and police department came to a collective bargaining agreement. As part of that agreement, which was nearly a year in the making, police officers will get significant salary raises, as well as bonuses for longevity and specialized skills.
Education Association of Alexandria President Dawn Lucas says that her organization is ready to get to work.
“We are ready and willing to work closely during this process,” Lucas told the School Board on Nov. 10. “We believe that having strong collective bargaining will make us more competitive than other school divisions when it comes to retaining and recruiting the very best educators and staff.”
In the meantime, the school system is proposing a 2.64% step increase and 2.5% market rate adjustment for all staff in the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget. Healthcare costs are also projected to increase 8% and dental care costs will increase 2%.
Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt told Wilson that she will work closely with City Manager Jim Parajon’s office in creating a collective bargaining structure. No timeline has yet been presented.
“We will keep you informed as we are educating our staff on what it’s going to look at , as well as a timeline,” Kay-Wyatt said.
City Council adopted its collective bargaining ordinance last year.
Got your kilt ready? Alexandria’s Scottish Christmas Walk weekend is back.
Former City Councilwoman Del Pepper will take center stage as the grand Marshal of the 51st Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. Record crowds are expected for the parade, which is free to the public and features dozens of Scottish clans, dancers, bagpipers and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums.
While the parade is the main attraction, the weekend of events is capped off Friday night (Dec. 2) with the Campagna Center’s Taste of Scotland at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. It cost $200 for a single ticket and $375 for two tickets for the party, which includes “whiskey-tasting stations, hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine bars and a custom art exhibit,” according to the Campagna Center.
The Scottish Christmas Walk Parade
The one-mile-long parade starts at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Wolfe and St. Asaph Streets, and travels north to Queen Street, then turns right (east toward the Potomac River) on Queen for three blocks, turns right on Fairfax Street, right on King Street and then concludes at the reviewing stand in front of City Hall (301 King Street).
“Bagpipers include the Kiltie Band of York and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums plus a bagpiping Santa closing the parade,” Visit Alexandria said. “A pipe band and color guard will be presented by St. Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C., which is a charitable and social fraternity of Scottish descendants established in Alexandria in 1760, and a founding parade partner along with Campagna Center and the Old Presbyterian Meeting House.”
Not to be missed — at the conclusion of the parade, a number of pipe bands play in unison in front of the reviewing stand.
Santa at The Torpedo Factory
After the parade, the Torpedo Factory Art Center will host a holiday festival.
The event starts at 2 p.m., and art enthusiasts will have an hour-and-a-half before the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will be sailed by a fire boat to the city’s pier — just outside the Torpedo Factory — at 3:30 p.m.
Holiday Boat Parade
Keep pocket warmers handy, because the festivities end with the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on Saturday night.
More than 50 boats will sail in this year’s parade, which is sponsored by Amazon.
“Enjoy dockside festivities in Waterfront Park including a pop-up beer garden from Port City Brewing Company, food, activities and more,” Visit Alexandria said. “Plus, check out a new family friendly event on the North Waterfront at Canal Center and Oronoco Bay Park featuring artist vendors, music, kids activities and more.”
The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a collective bargaining agreement with the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, ushering in a new era of collaboration with city employees.
If likely approved in the fiscal year 2024 budget this May, the agreement means substantial pay increases for new officers, sergeants and lieutenants. The current base salary of $54,698 for an officer would be increased by 11% to $61,503 at the beginning of the next fiscal year, July 1, 2023. After next year, salaries for officers would increase 2% annually.
Mayor Justin Wilson said that the collective bargaining agreement is historic, since it’s the first of its kind to be approved in Virginia.
“This is a really important step.,” Wilson said. “We came to a place that that was mutually agreeable one that I think moves the needle forward and recognizes our hard working police officers for the work that they do every day for our residents at work that is greatly valued by the community, but does so in a constructive way in partnership with the city, recognizing that we’re all in this together.”
Damon Minnix, president of Alexandria chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, said that the agreement creates a new pay scale based on years of service.
“We’ve spent countless hours working towards this agreement,” Minnix said. “Most importantly, this process and agreement opens the lines of communication between the interests of our officers and city management.”
Compensation issues have plagued the Alexandria Police Department for years.
The collective bargaining agreement includes:
- A one-time payment to employees who will not get at least a 10% pay increase in the agreement
- A $1,000 longevity bonus for well-seasoned officers in July 2024 and July 2025
- A 5% pay boost for officers in specialized units, including academy instructors, motorcycle officers, field training officers and K9 handlers
- Formation of union committee
The agreement also asks the city to conduct a “cost-neutral, 20-year retirement option with an immediate payout and no minimum age requirement” for officers.
City Manager Jim Parajon said that coming to an agreement was an exhausting process.
“This agreement is not without disagreements, and is a I think an excellent start,” he said. “It really does value our police officers at a very significant level.”