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Chanting and holding signs, a local environmental group protested Chase Bank and Wells Fargo with ‘die-ins’ at their Old Town branches.

On Monday afternoon (April 4), more than a dozen protestors from the group TH!RD ACT-VA walked into both banks and chanted “What do we want? Climate change! What do we need? System change!” and delivered letters to local branch managers to forward to Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Wells Fargo CEO Charles W. Scharf. The letters demand that the banks “divest from fossil fuels this year.”

JP Morgan Chase & Co. is the top arranger of bonds for fossil fuel companies in the world, followed by Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Last year, each of those banks joined the United Nations’ Net Zero Banking Alliance, pledging to have their investment portfolios represent only companies with no emissions by 2050.

But the banks have a long way to go, said TH!RD ACT-VA organizer Deborah Kushner.

“Chase’s business plan is planetary death and destruction,” Kushner said. “It’s up to us to wake Chase. If Chase Bank does not stop all fossil fuel funding by the end of this year, we pledged to close all their accounts with Chase.”

TH!RD ACT-VA is made up of senior citizens from across the state, and has conducted similar protests in Richmond and Charlottesville. Their main online presence is on Facebook, and they ask that supporters sign an online pledge against banking with the lenders.

Organizer Bill Muth, of Richmond, brought his young grandchildren to the event, and said they participated in the die-in because the issue of climate change concerns future generations.

“I cannot stand by and watch an institution fund industries that are destroying the air supply of my grandchild,” Muth said, and then played dead with them and other protestors on the red brick sidewalk.

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There was no proclamation at the March 8 City Council meeting honoring abortion providers, but that one had even been planned in the first place was enough to fill several rows of City Hall with anti-abortion advocates rallying against the canceled proclamation

While the casual viewer of the March 8 agenda might be baffled at the presence of anti-abortion advocates at the meeting, the docket had originally included a proclamation of March 10 as “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.” Local religious groups were stirred by clergy like Arlington’s Bishop Michael Burbidge, despite the proclamation being pulled from the agenda at the request of Mayor Justin Wilson.

“Somebody saw that it was on the agenda and put the word out,” said Larry Cirignano, who said he heard about the event from the Queen of Apostles Catholic Church. “To think that we should honor people for killing babies…”

Cirignano said local advocates said the closure of some clinics offering abortions in Virginia has been encouraging, particularly the Planned Parenthood in Falls Church, and Cirignano said his hope is the West End facility can be similarly blocked through bureaucratic means.

“The one at Landmark is going to have to move, so wherever they move to, that could be blocked,” said Cirignano. “The City of Fairfax decided they needed one more parking spot they didn’t have.”

Elsewhere, onerous health inspections have been used as a cudgel to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics. The likelihood the that the all-Democrat City Council in Alexandria would go along with that seems slim, but Cirignano argued anti-abortion sentiment could transcend party lines. A Gallup poll indicated that around 8% of Democrats think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, while 50% think abortion should be legal in all circumstances.

Our goal is not only to make it illegal… Our goal is to make it unthinkable.”

Wilson said while he and his colleagues on the City Council still support the message, he pulled it with their consent after deciding it was too controversial a topic for the typically inoffensive “proclamations” section of a public hearing. Other proclamations at that meeting, for example, expressed support for Meals on Wheels and recognizing Brain Injury Awareness Month.

“This was one of the [abortion] providers in the city had approached us because this is a national observance,” Wilson said. “One of my colleagues had requested we put it on the docket and I had agreed to do so. Upon reflection, these proclamations are usually non-controversial, but this one is more controversial. After talking with my colleagues and reflecting a bit, it makes sense to remove it from a docket.”

Wilson expressed some regret for including it, but not for the intent behind it.

“Upon reflecting I shouldn’t have put it as a proclamation,” Wilson said. “It’s the kind of thing we could handle as a resolution or presented at an event. That was the judgment and everyone unanimously agreed. The sentiment is to show our support for these healthcare workers who perform a legal and necessary service to our community in our community. We have two providers in our city who do that work under adverse conditions, and we wanted to show support for the work they do.”

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Alexandria residents and workers are planning to rally at a City Council meeting tonight (Tuesday) to try and push the city to demand developers of the former GenOn power plant to go beyond current affordability plans.

In a release, local union and tenant organizations said the city should require commitments to higher-wage jobs and more housing.

“Dozens of hotel workers with UNITE HERE and Southern Towers immigrant tenants with African Communities Together will rally in front of Alexandria City Hall,” the release said. “As the Council is scheduled for an update on the Potomac River Generating Station redevelopment, Alexandria residents are saying whatever development replaces the coal plant needs to create good, sustainable jobs.”

Hilco, the developer overseeing the transformation of the derelict power plant into a mixed-use community, has included plans affordable housing to be incorporated on-site. Along with public art uses, these are requirements for any development going above the allowed density requirements.

UNITE HERE Local 25 said in the release that local workers are struggling with rising rents in Alexandria that leave the city unaffordable. The release said the union hopes the city can push for more units than what are currently required under city law.

“Affordable housing has been a priority for this site for years,” the release said. “Hilco, however, appears to only be proposing on-site affordable housing in exchange for the City’s bonus height and density variances, not in excess of that. Additionally, Hilco is asking for special variances to build higher than what is currently allowed in the Master Plan. Alexandria residents are asking Council to determine what is the maximum amount of on-site affordable housing the City can require in exchange for a master plan amendment.”

In particular, UNITE HERE cited a proposed 225,000 square foot hotel as a potential concern for local wages, and recalled some of the recent debate around wages at a hotel financed by the city.

“Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ first CDD Conceptual Plan submission in August 2021 outlined a 300-room, 225,000 square foot hotel,” the release said. “A 300 room hotel could create 180 low-wage jobs, which would increase pressure on Alexandria’s existing affordable housing crisis.”

New plans are scheduled to be presented at tonight’s City Council meeting, with an approval process scheduled to run over the next few months and demolition potentially starting in 2023.

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Morning Notes

Torpedo Factory artist starts petition to save art spaces — “Some of these plans include reduce the number of individual artist studios in the building by up to 40%, as well as sweeping aside ALL artist studios on the first floor and replacing it with cheap money-making venues such as restaurants.” [Change.org]

Parental group protests outside National School Board association headquarters — “In Alexandria, Virginia Wednesday Moms For America protested the request by the NSBA to have the FBI investigate parents at some school districts in front of the NSBA headquarters.” [WJLA]

Matt Gillette’s Memorial Fund raises twice its goal — “In your generosity, please consider helping Abby and Baby E navigate this tremendously difficult time by contributing to this fund.  Every little bit helps.” [GoFundMe]

Mount Vernon church closes with a massive donation — “The closing of a church can be devastating to its members. But Messiah Lutheran Church in Alexandria decided to leave a remarkable legacy to its broader community when it recently shuttered.” [WJLA]

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Weeks of tension and frustration over violence in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) boiled over last night with a small crowd of parents shouting at City Council members to restore the school resource officer (SRO) program.

In May, the City Council voted 4-3 in favor of reallocating funding away from SROs, a program started in 1997 that installed police officers in Alexandria’s high school and two middle schools. While the schools have additional security staff, SROs were authorized make arrests and carry weapons — a fact that made headlines in 2018 when an SRO accidentally fired his gun inside George Washington Middle School.

As ACPS returned to full in-person school days, several incidents of violence have renewed calls from some parents and community members to restore the program.

“My daughter with special needs is at ACPS,” said Jennifer Rohrbach, who drops her child off at school every day. “I witnessed two fights while dropping off my daughter. The lack of support for these kids, it’s distressing and upsetting. For me, as a lifelong Alexandrian… to hear those screams of distress, it’s unnecessary. There have been fights before, but not to this level.”

Rohrbach shared stories circulating among parents about extreme accounts of bullying and concerns about a “devious licks challenge” on TikTok. Rohrbach said the removal of SROs, intended to help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, has made the schools unsafe for all students. Though she wore a shirt supporting Republican Mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings, Rohrbach said she’s traditionally liberal and that the protest was non-partisan.

“A lot of defunding the program was about the African American population, but this is about all kids,” Rohrbach said. “Now no one is being served. I’m looking for safe schools for all students.”

Catchings was one of those protesting in support of restoring the SRO program.

“I’m out here in solidarity with parents,” Catchings said. “On the drive over, I thought back to the start of my campaign holding an ‘Open ACPS‘ sign… we have to make school a safe environment that isn’t toxic.”

One of the protestors, Roxana Guerra, is the parent of a 7th grader at George Washington Middle School. Guerra said she’s been in a state of constant anxiety after her son was assaulted in school.

“Two weeks ago, my son was bullied,” Guerra said. “His mask was pulled and he was slapped in the face. I didn’t find out until another parent told me, then the dean confirmed it… that he was hurt. I have anxiety every day and hope that he comes home safe. Finding this out by a third party was concerning, and anything could happen if these kids are coming in with weapons. I want our kids to be safe.”

Others at the protest noted that parents are so on edge a firecracker set off an evacuation from Alexandria City High School’s stadium during a football game.

“I’m a native Alexandrian, a product of ACPS,” said Liz Fuller. “The violence in schools is shocking. Children are not safe in school… Administrators are being pushed down in fights, security is being pushed, children are suffering brain injuries. The City Council has to listen to parents. They need to be held accountable. They defunded SROs with no plan.”

Protestors cornered City Council members who voted to defund the program as they entered City Hall, demanding that they change their position. Two, John Chapman and Canek Aguirre, briefly spoke with the crowd. Amy Jackson, who had voted against defunding the program, received more of a hero’s welcome from the crowd as she entered the building. Read More

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COVID US Honor Quilt project sponsored by Del Ray Artisans, courtesy Office of Historic Alexandria, donated by Amy Gareis

The Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) is working through a new project that will help educate on a period of the city’s history rife with confusion and upheaval: last year.

In an office where items considered artifacts are usually arrowheads or ship timbers, City Historian Daniel Lee said his office has started a different kind of collection.

“We’ve started a collection of artifacts from the pandemic, like masks and signs,” Lee said. “It’s to chronicle, to a large extent, messages about how quickly things changed; whether that’s wearing masks or social distancing and washing hands. It’s at times difficult to remember where we’ve come from and how the pandemic has changed how we do our daily lives.”

The scope of that preservation work extends beyond the pandemic. Lee said the OHA has also been collecting items and stories from the Black Lives Matter protests.

“Obviously, pandemic isn’t the only thing that’s happened in the last year-and-a-half,” he said. “The fight for racial justice, especially since the murder of George Floyd, that initially caused us to collect artifacts related to the protests of George Floyd, but it’s become a larger project called the Black Lives Remembered project with a focus on racial justice in the larger context.”

Lee said the work on preservation has a two-fold goal: for those who lived through 2020 to look back on the last year, and to help future generations understand what life was like.

“The experiences we’re going through are historic,” Lee said. “That’s worthy of collecting and worthy of remembering, and hopefully that things change.”

Recognition of historic times as they’re being lived through can be sort of a mixed bag, Lee said. There are plenty of relics from the founding of the Lyceum in 1838 or the launch of Alexandria’s library network. Lee said those were thought of, even at the time, as history-making.

“As time has gone on; we have a tendency to not think in terms of how future generations will remember us, that’s not our chief concern,” Lee said. “We have an oral history project, which has existed since the 1980s. A lot of times what surprises me is that people who have done a lot in the city don’t think their experience as history. Schools desegregated during their lifetimes, isn’t that a big deal? It’s hard when you’re living through it to think about the future.”

Another example is the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which Lee said had an impact in Alexandria, but there wasn’t much local recorded or saved from when it happened. Read More

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Protest outside Brookdale at Mark Center, via Tenants and Workers United/Facebook

Over a dozen local residents and supporters rallied yesterday (Tuesday) to protest what they described as unsanitary conditions Morgan Properties locations in Alexandria’s West End.

Residents, ranging from children to seniors, held up photos they said were taken in the homes — including nests of rats, filthy water flowing into a bathtub, mold and holes in the wall.

Carlos, a resident at one of the local Morgan Properties locations, is living there through Section 8 housing and said exponentially increasing utility costs have put that in jeopardy, and that Morgan Properties staff have been inaccessible to ask about unexplained increases in utility costs.

“This is my first time living in a place and I don’t want to leave,” Carlos said. “They haven’t done anything about the mice, and I’ve only been here six months. Others have been dealing with this for years.”

Jessica has been living in Morgan Properties for three years and said residents have become used to being belittled by management.

“We had a water pipe burst on the third floor,” said Jessica. “All the bed, the furniture, the clothing, shoes, they all got wet. We went to management and they said they couldn’t help and then they were laughing.”

Another resident, Ashley, was with a group of supporters from a group called FTP DC. Ashley had also been a tenant at one of the Morgan Properties residences for two years.

“I was at Brookdale for over a year and I had a hole in the ceiling that they didn’t fix until I was moving out,” Ashley said. “People have to go to court over things, like they’d double charge rent.”

Ashley said her apartment was rife with rats, a recurring concern from many local residents.

Ingris Moran, lead organizer with regional organization Tenants and Workers United, said that the protestors are demanding a change in administration overseeing the properties. ALXnow reached out to a public relations firm listed as the media contact on the Morgan Properties website, but received no answer at time of writing.

In emails between Tenants and Workers United and Morgan Properties, property management said they were willing to meet with Tenants and Workers United and the City of Alexandria, but Moran said that her organization would not agree to discussions with Morgan Properties that didn’t include representatives from local residents.

Photo via Tenants and Workers United/Facebook

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Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown says that he’s on the level about his surprise retirement announcement, and that he and his wife will soon pulling up stakes for the West Coast in the near future to take care of urgent family business.

“This was a personal decision that my wife and I came to manifest in me having to retire,” Brown told ALXnow.

Brown has given a recommendation on who should be the acting chief until a permanent replacement is chosen at the conclusion of a national search. His last day is June 25. Right now he’s worried about summer crime, although says that crime levels are now returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The department is currently dealing with critical staffing issues, namely temporarily filling available street assignments for patrol officers by reassigning other officers.

“We’re meeting our staffing needs on the street,” Brown said. “We’re very concerned about what may happen this summer.”

APD is funded for 311 positions, and effective July 1 the department will have 305 officers on duty. Of those, six are on administrative duties pending the outcome of an investigation after a chase suspect died in D.C., and there are a number of officers on family medical leave and other various reasons, Brown said.

“In order to supplement provide some stability for those temporary shortages, we pulled other officers in to kind of fill the gaps for patrol,” he said. “And that’s normally customary in this business when you have these kinds of situations taking place.”

Brown added, “We’re seeing crime revert back to what was normal, with some minor suggestions to prior to the pandemic. We’re not seeing the same thing in terms of, for example, auto thefts, that we once saw. The shootings are also lower in number than we had last year, especially towards the summer.”

On the bright side, he said, three APD officers who were previously on administrative duties after a shootout in Old Town North have been cleared for duty by Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. Additionally, APD will be reassigning six officers previously assigned to the School Resource Officer program, which Council eliminated last month.

As for the SROs, Brown said that he supported the program, but would not offer an opinion on Council’s decision.

“I thought there was value in the SRO program,” he said. “But then again, I don’t have the authority to make that decision. My job is to carry out the decision that was made by our elected officials.”

Brown also left six months before being vested in the city’s retirement system, although Brown says it doesn’t bother him and that the decision wasn’t about money. After a 46-year career in law enforcement, this isn’t his first retirement.

“The fact of the matter is, I’ve had several retirements,” he said. “I took this job because I cared about this police department.”

Brown started as a police officer in Los Angeles in 1977, and was the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol from 2004-2008. He was later California’s deputy secretary for public safety from 2008 to 2009, and then for six years was the director of the Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before being hired as Alexandria’s police chief in 2017.

Brown led the police department through a restructuring, as well as social unrest after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an uptick in shooting events and other crime throughout the city. He restructured the department from four to three divisions, and took away deputy chief of police positions and added an assistant chief. He also says that under his leadership the department made strides with its 21st Century Policing effort.

“Some would argue differently, but we became very transparent ,” Brown said. “We put all of our policies, we put all of our reports on use of force on our website so that people could see that information and be critical of it.”

Brown continued, “Policing is never stable. Policing will always change, and it will change based upon events; it will change upon public discourse; it will change because the community, or… the nation at large has other questions, or other expectations… The real challenge for the law enforcement community is to be able to listen and to be able to adapt in order to survive, because if we don’t survive the public will get rid of you.”

Brown’s tenure was punctuated by dramatic events, starting with the Simpson Field Shooting, and culminating with the pandemic and social unrest after the murder of George Floyd. He would later pen an op-ed saying that the video of Floyd’s death appalled him, and he spoke with city leaders to the public and later joined protestors at a demonstration outside police headquarters.

Brown said his laundry list of people to thank is long.

“I admire this department for what it does,” he said. “It’s a good department, filled with great people, and they are out there every day taking care of the citizens, the residents of this city. It was a blessing to have the opportunity to work with them.”

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The Alexandria Black History Museum has spent the last year gathering documentation from the unrest throughout the city following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

The virtual exhibition “Preserving Their Names” opens May 25 and includes pictures and objects from the demonstrations, including banners, face masks and poems.

Violent incidents against Black Americans throughout the country came to a head last summer, and in Alexandria there were a number of demonstrations, including on King Street, outside police headquarters and Charles Houston Recreation Center.

The museum is continuing to collect materials on the events, especially signs and posters.

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It was a busy week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

Governor Ralph Northam and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Alexandria this week. Northam stopped by Pacers Running in Old Town, and afterward met with Cardona, Mayor Justin Wilson, National Education Association of the United States President Becky Pringle and Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane at Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School. Cardona was at the school as part of his “Help is Here” school reopening tour.

On Monday, demolition started at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, and Alexandria City Public Schools says that the completion date is still on schedule for the new school to reopen the school in Jan. 2023. In the meantime, MacArthur students will continue to use the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.

There was big news for Alexandria nonprofits this week, as the Spring2ACTion fundraiser raised $2.5 million and broke last year’s online giving record.

There were also 682 votes in this week’s poll on outdoor dining and takeout. We asked whether the city should keep its expanded restaurant offerings after in a post-COVID environment. An overwhelming majority of 84% of votes cast (576 votes) want businesses to enjoy the same level of latitude; 13% (89 votes) said some modifications should be made and just 2% (17 votes) want businesses to go back to pre-pandemic operations.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Update: Four arrested, suspect’s mother among wounded in West End shootout
  2. NOW: Alexandria preparing new face mask ordinance as CDC says fully vaccinated folks don’t need them
  3. Alexandria celebrates Earth Day virtually
  4. COVID-19 Update: City says anyone who registered by April 10 for COVID-19 vaccine should have an appointment
  5. Police: Falling death of man in Landmark does not appear to be suspicious
  6. Del Ray restaurant The Garden to bloom into new outdoor area
  7. Parents and students protest for expanded in-person instruction outside ACPS Central Office
  8. JUST IN: ‘Open ACPS!’ group to rally in front of Central Office on Monday
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. EXCLUSIVE: Here’s what the inside of the Halal slaughterhouse looks like on Colvin Street
  11. School Resource Officers at ACPS on chopping block as Police chief proposes alternative program

Have a safe weekend!

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