Newsletter

What a week in Alexandria.

Public uproar over Sunday’s flooding spilled out throughout this week, which continued to be threatened by near-daily flash flood advisories from the National Weather Service.

Our top story was on Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who criticized City Manager Mark Jinks on the city’s stormwater infrastructure. Mayor Justin Wilson says that multiple projects are underway and take time, and that the city is now looking into whether spot improvements and any other projects can be accelerated.

The group DrainALX has also gained popularity, as it continues to catalog stormwater issues and complaints. One Del Ray resident even told us that she’s turned to therapy after repeatedly spending thousands on a continually ruined basement.

Our weekly poll also found 55% of respondents (193 people) have experienced flood damage to their homes, 14% (74 people) have experienced other sorts of property damage and 31% (159 votes) have never had any property damaged by a storm in the city.

This weekend’s forecast is partly cloudy with a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon, followed by a 40% chance of thunderstorms Sunday night.

School issues

The week before school starts, the School Board unanimously approved Thursday night the requirement that ACPS staffers get the coronavirus vaccine.

“We do have authority to require testing and require vaccinations,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said at the board meeting. “However, there have been no cases where someone has contested that requirement. That has not occurred as of yet, and I’m sure it’s going to begin soon…”

In the meantime, Alexandria is also prepping COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. As Alexandria looks to accelerate stormwater projects, Sheriff gives city manager a D-
  2. The Four Mile Run Bridge in Arlandria will not fully reopen until fall 2025
  3. Institute for Defense Analyses announces Potomac Yard move-in later this year
  4. Woman behind DrainALX campaign shares frustrations and hopes from locals after Sunday flood
  5. HUD Secretary Fudge visits Alexandria, says affordable housing is a Biden Administration priority
  6. New census shows Alexandria not majority-white
  7. Alexandria School Board to discuss mandatory vaccinations for staffers this week
  8. After rampant flooding over weekend, another Flash Flood Watch is in effect for Alexandria
  9. Poll: Have you gotten the infamous mite bite in Alexandria?
  10. Alexandria Fire Department struggling with staffing shortage and forced overtime
  11. Stuck in quandary, Del Ray flooding victim seeks therapy

Have a safe weekend!

0 Comments

Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne is fed up and says the city’s stormwater management is a disaster. On Sunday, Lawhorne said he was helping a neighbor in Del Ray pump water out of his basement until 4 a.m.

“It’s the same summer repeated over and over again,” Lawhorne told ALXnow. “I’ve got basement damage and my shed in the back is destroyed. Whenever we get a big storm you’ll see two-to-three feet of water rushing into the back alley and our house gets engulfed with floodwater. It’s not sanitary.”

Sunday’s storm dumped five inches of water on the city in less than an hour. The city’s stormwater system gets overrun after rainfall of about three inches.

Mayor Justin Wilson says city staff are looking into which stormwater projects can get fast-tracked, and that money is not the problem.

“We’re exploring ways to accelerate execution of the plan, but more money is not the most significant need,” Wilson told ALXnow. “I am heartbroken for the residents and businesses impacted by this flooding. No one should have to fear for their safety and financial well-being every time it rains. I wish we could implement all of these projects tomorrow, but unfortunately they take time. These are very significant projects. We are working to accelerate these efforts as quickly as possible, as well as identify other ways to reduce the impact on our residents.”

Lawhorne says that City Manager Mark Jinks is at fault for underfunding flooding projects for years, and that the city keeps reliving the same summer over and over. Last summer, for instance, there were several major storms that resulted in the doubling of the stormwater management fee for residents to tackle backups, most notably in Rosemont, Del Ray and Old Town.

“Why do we tolerate this?” Lawhorne said. “I give the City Manager a D- for his unwillingness to pay attention to this issue prior to 2020, until the stormwater system crumbled and there was the political will to do something. I’m glad they’re making improvements now, but their plan falls short of accomplishing what needs to be done sooner rather than later.”

Lawhorne continued, “We will continue to pay the price for the next 10 years, just as we saw this last weekend. It’s been a year since all that flooding last year and we haven’t moved the needle. Where’s the results? I’m not saying we have to get them overnight, but good grief.”

Council’s approval last year provided hundreds of millions of dollars toward flood mitigation. Additionally, the city plans to spend millions in American Rescue Plan Act funding on the Hoof’s Run Culvert and spot improvements.

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman has also asked staff to look into redirecting ARPA funding, as well as shifting resources to tackle the issue now.

“It’s a shame to see this over and over again,” Chapman said. “I completely understand the frustrations of residents impacted by small, medium and large storms. We need to adjust and take care of this crisis situation.”

Alexandria announced on Aug. 13, the day before the deluge, that it will accept applications for its new Flood Mitigation Pilot Grant Program on Monday, August 30. Property owner can get a 50% reimbursement (up to $5,000) for flood mitigation projects at their homes.

One resident said on NextDoor that she spent more than $16,000 on drainage systems in her yard last year.

“I know I’m not alone in being frustrated by our flooding and infrastructure issues in Alexandria,” the resident said. “The city of Alexandria NEEDS to address and fix our flooding problems now.”

Lawhorne says he gets frustrated when he hears officials call for patience.

“They say that it’s a 100-year storm, and that it’s just Mother Nature,” he said. “The people who say that must live at the top of the hill.”

24 Comments

A vaccine mandate for Alexandria government employees will be ready for implementation by this fall, according to Mayor Justin Wilson.

“The policy is being finalized in place right now and should be in place in the September/October timeframe,” Wilson told ALXnow. “This will likely not come before Council as this is in the City Manager’s purview. Although he is of course keeping us up to date.”

The city recently notified employees that it is prepping the vaccine requirement, as VDH says unvaccinated Virginians are making up a vast majority of new cases. Alexandria City Public Schools will also determine this week if it will require vaccinations from staff.

Alexandria is experiencing “substantial” coronavirus transmission, according to the Virginia Department of Health. This month, the city has experienced a 55% jump in COVID cases over July, with 317 new cases reported. There were 204 new cases reported in July, which was a 343% increase over the 43 new cases in June.

There are now 12,450 reported cases in Alexandria since the first case was reported in March 2020. Deaths have remained at 141 since last month. On August 12, there were 33 new cases reported — the most in more than three months.

This month, Richmond became the first city in Virginia to require its employees get vaccinated.  In July, Fairfax County passed a measure requiring all county staff to get vaccinated. Next door in Washington, D.C., government employees are required to get vaccinated by August 19.

Alexandria has a goal of fully vaccinating 110,000 residents, which is 80% of the population — a goal that the city says it has already reached.

So far, 83,769 residents have been fully vaccinated, and 97,270 residents have been partially vaccinated. Just over 62% of residents over the age of 18 have been vaccinated, and so have 77% of seniors.

Find vaccine providers in Alexandria here. If you feel sick, get tested.

5 Comments

What was an intense week in Alexandria. Here is the rundown.

History was made, as the new marquees at Alexandria City High School and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary Schools were unveiled this week, and the name changes to T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School will go into effect July 1. It’s a victory for civil rights, as the namesakes of both old schools had backgrounds steeped in racism. Maury was a Confederate leader and Williams was an ACPS superintendent who worked intently against racial integration.

City Manager Mark Jinks on Tuesday also announced his intention to retire at the end of the year. Jinks, who made the announcement to City Council, hinted to ALXnow last month that he was seeking retirement. Today (Friday, June 25) is also the last day for retiring Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown, who will be moving to the West Coast to deal with family matters. Assistant Chief Don Hayes is taking over as acting chief until a national search narrows down a preferred candidate for the job.

Law enforcement events also dominated this week’s coverage. On Tuesday, first responders saved a woman experiencing a mental health crisis who was dangling perilously off the Monroe Avenue Bridge, followed by news Wednesday that a suspect was arrested for a West End murder along with 16 others in a massive racketeering conspiracy. On Thursday, a barricade situation in the West End ended peacefully.

In this week’s poll, when asked whether transit improvements would make residents more likely to take the bus, 48% said they don’t take the bus often and won’t likely change their habits; 38% said they don’t often take the bus, although transit improvements might change that; and 14% said that they already frequent the Metro and DASH bus systems.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. JUST IN: Thieves break into more than 60 vehicles in West End
  4. JUST IN: Rarity as American Viper Rattlesnake found in Old Town
  5. Massive redevelopment of West End apartment building has neighbors worried about street parking impact
  6. UPDATE: Alexandria first responders save suicidal woman on Monroe Avenue Bridge
  7. City Council emphasizes marketing funding for Alexandria’s ‘Hot Girl Summer’
  8. Mother and boyfriend allegedly beaten by knife-wielding ex in Old Town North
  9. With eviction moratorium expiring, city pushes renters and landlords toward rental assistance
  10. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

0 Comments

Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks officially announced his retirement to the City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the Alexandria community in addressing its challenges and creating a better community for all Alexandria residents and businesses,” Jinks said. “A new City Council will be seated in January that will be developing a new long-range strategic plan in 2022, so this is a good time for a transition.”

Jinks said that he will continue until the end of the year, during which time the city will undergo a national search for his replacement.

“I intend to use what I have learned in my 45-year state and local government career to teach, write, consult and mentor the next generation of public administrators,” Jinks said. “In addition, I will now have time to address personal and travel interests that have been on the back burner for too long.”

Jinks also hinted to ALXnow last month that he was seeking retirement.

After six years as Alexandria’s City Manager and more than 20 years since he started work as the city’s budget director in 1999, Jinks and his wife are thinking about taking some time off in the near future to see their daughter who lives in Spain.

Mayor Justin Wilson has praised Jinks’ performance throughout the pandemic.

“[T]he Manager’s leadership has been absolutely critical over the past year as we have worked to address the human, financial and economic impacts of the pandemic,” Wilson previously told ALXnow. “Alexandrians are well-served by his leadership during this time.”

Jinks is the highest ranking employee in the city government, and his announcement is the second retirement to come from the top in recent weeks. Police Chief Michael Brown, who Jinks appointed, is retiring on June 25.

29 Comments

Assistant Chief Don Hayes has been named the temporary successor to retiring Police Chief Michael Brown, the City announced after business hours Thursday night.

Hayes, a 40-year veteran of the department, will take over as Acting Chief on June 25, according to City Manager Mark Jinks.

“Chief Hayes’ 40 years of experience leading various aspects of the Alexandria Police Department and long-standing connection to the community make him the right choice for this Acting Police Chief role,” Jinks said in a statement.

Brown recently made the surprise announcement that he is retiring, and put in three weeks notice. The City will undergo a national search for his permanent replacement.

Hayes was promoted as Assistant Chief of Police for Operations in 2019. He was made sergeant in 1996, and after becoming a lieutenant in 2000 commanded the Special Operations Division, the Information Services Section and Public Services Section. He also served as assistant commander of the Patrol Operations Bureau. Hayes was promoted to Captain in 2013, and then took over the Traffic, Parking & Special Events Division and a portion of the Patrol Operations Bureau.

Hayes, who has lived in Alexandria for more than 25 years, has a Master’s degree in organizational leadership from Johns Hopkins University, a Master’s in divinity from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bowie State University.

Mayor Justin Wilson and City Councilwoman Amy Jackson congratulated Hayes on social media.

2 Comments

Morning Notes

ACPS wants input on how to spend COVID relief funds — “Feedback on use of the American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief can be provided through June 18, while the Equity for All Climate Survey is open through June 20.” [Patch]

Memorial bike ride Sunday at for bicyclist killed — “Join FABB’s memorial ride in honor of Fatima Del Carmen Alvarez Romero this Sunday, June 13, at 10:00 am at Huntington Metro kiss and ride lot. Ride to crash site for a moment of remembrance and to call for much-needed safety measures. Please wear white and bring signs.” [Twitter]

Karma Modern Indian Eyes Expansion into Old Town — “Karma Modern Indian, a Michelin-recognized destination for fine Indian cuisine in downtown Washington, D.C., is opening a sister restaurant in Alexandria. Dubbed Kismet Modern Indian, the restaurant will be at 111 N. Pitt St. and is set for a fall opening. The location was formerly home, for a short time, to BurgerFi and before that, Ireland’s Own. The late Pat Troy presided over the legendary spot for more than three decades.” [Alexandria Living]

Mayor Wilson named president of Virginia Transit Association — “VTA is a nonprofit corporation of transit professionals from public and private organizations; it includes transit systems from across the state, businesses that serve transit systems and local government officials and organizations concerned about transportation, mobility, affordable access to employment and quality of life issues.” [Zebra]

Alexandria to start nominating committee for collective bargaining labor relations administrator — “The City has been notified that each of the following groups are interested in having a representative on the nominating committee: American Federation of State; County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF); International Union of Police Associations (IUPA); and the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (PBA). To participate on the nominating committee, any employee organization interested in representing a bargaining unit must notify the City Manager by email at [email protected] by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 16.” [City of Alexandria]

West End Business Association hosting COVID meeting for restaurants — The Alexandria Health Department will update restaurant owners on how to open post-COVID. Homegrown Restaurant Group’s “Mango” Mike Anderson will also speak at the event, which will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 23, at Glory Days Grill. [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Rain (during the day). High near 70F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch. Locally heavy rainfall possible… Rain early (in the evening)… then remaining cloudy with showers late. Low around 65F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 70%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Dog daycare playroom attendant — “If you are a hard and reliable worker looking for a fun and rewarding job, we encourage you to apply. We are also offering a limited-time signing bonus to those who can reliably commit to the job for at least 4 months.” [Indeed]

5 Comments

With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.

Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.

This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.

Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.

Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.

After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.

Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.

“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”

Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.

“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”

Transparency

Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.

“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.

Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.

“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”

Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.

Colocation of affordable housing

Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.

I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”

Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.

“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.

Stream restoration

Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.

Transit lanes on Duke Street

Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.

I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”

The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.

On $60 million in federal COVID funding

Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”

Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.

“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”

Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom

19 Comments

Alexandria was approved for $59.6 million in American Rescue Plan funding, City Manager Mark Jinks announced to the City Council on Tuesday night.

Jinks said the city’s Congressional delegation was successful in convincing U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to include Alexandria as not only a city, but as a county as well, resulting in the City taking home double what it would have otherwise received.

“We made the argument and got a coalition of other city, elected officials and appointed officials in Virginia to basically put pressure on our Congressional delegation to tell the Treasury Secretary, who was writing the rules… that cities in Virginia perform county functions, as well as city functions, and it’s equitable,” Jinks said. “It’s not double dipping, it’s double duty. And so, we should be on both lists. The Treasury Secretary agreed, and the allocations came out yesterday. And so we have about $30 million from each of those lists.”

There are 37 independent cities in the U.S., and 34 of them are in Virginia. The extra designation for cities to receive dual funding resulted in $460 million additional funds distributed around the country.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city benefited from a unique situation.

“There is a significant opportunity now for the city to invest these funds in a way to get our community back on its feet,” he said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity for us.”

Residents have until May 13 to submit proposals on how the ARP funds should be spent. The city is limited in how it will spend the money to the following:

  • Responding to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts to residents and businesses;
  • Compensating for revenue reductions due to COVID; or
  • Supporting infrastructure projects related to water, sewer, or broadband

“Because the Alexandria City Public Schools will receive a separate allocation of federal funding, school projects will not considered under this City process,” the City noted.

Jinks said that there are more than 900 submitted recommendations, and that staff will present Council with a boiled down list in June, followed by a finalized list of how the funds will be spent in July.

0 Comments

Mark Jinks isn’t getting any younger, and the Alexandria city manager says he is closing in on the end of his career.

“I turn 70 in 2022,” Jinks told ALXnow. “I am closer to the end than the beginning, that’s for sure.”

Jinks said that things are slowly getting back to normal, as the city’s annual birthday celebration — held virtually last year — will be a limited attendance in-person event on the waterfront this time around. Additionally, starting Monday he said that City Hall’s treasury and tax collection windows will be open five days a week, and every office in the city will have at least two staffers working in person.

While Jinks has not made it official, rumors are swirling about his impending retirement. After six years as Alexandria’s City Manager and more than 20 years since he started work as the city’s budget director in 1999, Jinks and his wife are thinking about taking some time off in the near future to see their daughter who lives in Spain.

“Whenever I decide to make a decision and give Council notice, it would be with plenty of notice,” Jinks said. “Hiring a city manager is not putting an ad in the newspaper. The process can take six to nine months.”

Mayor Justin Wilson would not comment on personnel decisions or timing, but had kind words about Jinks’ performance throughout the pandemic.

“I don’t comment on personnel decisions and timing,” Wilson said. “That being said, the Manager’s leadership has been absolutely critical over the past year as we have worked to address the human, financial and economic impacts of the pandemic. Alexandrians are well-served by his leadership during this time.”

Jinks said it will take years for the city to get back to its pre-pandemic economy.

“I think tourism and business travel were the two pieces that got hit the most, as far as tax revenues are concerned,” he said. “International tourism is practically zero nowadays. Who knows when that will come back. I’d say it’ll be several years until we’re back to where we were.”

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list