Alexandria, VA

Along with a new phase of reopening, several new laws the City Council had pushed for in November will be taking effect starting tomorrow (Wednesday).

One of the biggest new changes will be that possession of under one ounce of marijuana will be a $25 civil fine without any jail time or a criminal conviction. Simple possession records will be sealed and employers and schools cannot ask about prior simple possession convictions.

Mayor Justin Wilson said new laws going into effect on July 1 will add more equity to arrests made.

“Those are changes that relate to marijuana, those are changes as it relates to shoplifting that really add more equity and will change the way that public safety addresses these crimes,” Wilson said in a Zoom meeting on racial equity on Monday night. “I think these are long overdue changes and will help address in some ways some of the disparities that we see.”

Other items requested by the City of Alexandria in its legislative package include:

The main Confederate statue in question was removed before the new law allowing its removal took effect.

The legislative package pushed for an increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The General Assembly instead approved a $12 minimum wage with the potential to increase to $15 by 2026.

Councilman Mohamed “Mo” Seifeldein earlier described legislative proposals with a Democratic majority in the General Assembly as “playing with house money.” To that end, online sports betting was also legalized statewide.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

The Del Ray Vintage and Flea Market is Happening — “We are BEYOND excited about having our July Del Ray Vintage & Flea Market AND we are hosting the MV Big Flea! The best of both worlds … come safely shop the flea market, see our new vendors and help support Mount Vernon Community School when you purchase from the MV Big Flea booth! Saturday, July 11th from 9am-1pm.” [Facebook]

New Driving Laws Take Effect July 1 — “On Wednesday, July 1, a new law takes effect in Virginia requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians. Further, the driver may not move until the person walking in their lane has passed safely.” [Zebra]

Marijuana Decriminalized July 1 — “ON JULY 1, VIRGINIA JOINS 26 states and Washington, D.C. in ceasing to jail people for possessing small amounts of cannabis. Gov. Ralph Northam signed SB 2 into law in May. Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana will be punishable by a civil fine of up to $25 instead of a criminal charge that could mean up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. The bill prohibits employers from requiring applicants to disclose marijuana possession charges.” [Gazette]

Report: More Parents Considering Homeschooling for Their Kids — “The number of families considering homeschooling is skyrocketing according to Anne Miller, executive director of Home Educators Association of Virginia. Miller said their office has been flooded with calls from parents interested in homeschooling, and their Facebook group Homeschooling in Virginia has welcomed nearly 3,500 new members since the virus hit.” [Alexandria Living]

Sheriff’s Deputy Retires — “Our heartfelt thanks and best wishes to Master Deputy Saeed Shakoor! He is retiring after more than 26 years of dedicated service to ASO and the people of Alexandria. We’re sure going to miss you, Deputy Shakoor!” [Facebook]

Lorton Community Action Center Donates to ALIVE! — “This 788 pounds combined with other produce supports 220 food-insecure seniors in the City of Alexandria.” [Facebook]

Port City Brewing Co. Re-Releases Derecho Lager — “Derecho Lager® is named after a violent storm that barreled through the DC Metro region on June 29th, 2012, leaving the brewery without power for five days. Unable to control fermentation temperatures, a tank of freshly brewed pilsner was at risk of being lost. Realizing the beer would not meet the guidelines of a Bohemian Pilsner, we decided to experiment with the beer – keeping fermentation temperatures on the warmer side, and dry-hopping with Centennial hops. These non-traditional techniques paid off, and the result was the creation of our first American Lager!” [Facebook]

New Job: Wax Center Manager — “European Wax Center in Alexandria is currently seeking a sensational Center Manager with passion, determination and a commitment to excellence that will help take our center to new heights.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Hunger Free Alexandria Has Urgent Need for Volunteers Today — “Urgent need for Thursday, April 23, 4:30-7:00 p.m. Hunger Free Alexandria is working with World Central Kitchen to feed our neighbors in need. Bring your mask and help with bagging pre-packaged food and distributing meals. Location is on Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria.” [Facebook]

State Legislators Reconvene in Richmond — “My “desk” at one of the most unusual legislative sessions in Virginia history. We begin at noon. You can watch us on the livestream. Virginia Transparency even during COVID-19!” [Mark Levine/Twitter]

Virginia Minimum Wage Increase Delayed to May 2021 — “Democrats had used the majorities they gained in last fall’s elections to push through an increase to the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage, scheduling it to rise in stages until it reaches $12 by 2023. The initial increase was to take place in January but now will be delayed until May 1, 2021; the later increases will not be affected.” [Washington Post]

IDA Hosting Stanford Virtual Career Fair Today — “The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) is a not-for-profit organization that operates three federally-funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) supporting federal decision making: two serving the Department of Defense and one serving the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President.” [Indeed]

Washington Post Features Warwick Village — “Comprising 600 red-brick townhouses, the neighborhood offers families and first-time home buyers the convenience of living close to the amenities of Alexandria and the District in a friendly setting. Different paint colors, landscaping and indoor renovations make each house unique.” [Washington Post]

Alexandria Economic Development Partnership Launches New Website — ” With a clean format and simple navigation, our new website is replacing both of our old ones to make accessing information easier for our community. It also showcases our new brand: Alexandria- the Business of Bold.” [Facebook]

St. Stephens & St. Agnes Alum Now A Nurse in New Orleans — “Dr. Elizabeth Bellino ’94 works in the ER in New Orleans and her husband is an Anesthesiologist. She shared: “In these times, it amazes me how many friends from SSSAS have reached out to support us, whether it is a text, an email, or an offer to send masks. Feeling the support of community and family allows us to keep working during these times. Keep up the good work of keeping us all engaged and feeling like a community once again!” [Facebook]

West End Business Association Hosting Stress Management Webinar at 11 a.m. — “Mara Benner, President/Founder of Four Directions Wellness, LLC, will talk us through the stress we are all under and offer suggestions for reducing and managing that stress so that we can be productive in our lives, with our families and four our businesses.” [WEBA]

Hops N Shine Hosting Virtual Beer Tasting at 8:30 p.m. — “From Väsen Brewing Company we’ll be trying their May Rakau DIPA and The Everything Floats on Pineapple. From our friends at Vanish we’ll be tasting their Ghost Fleet and Wraith.” [Facebook]

Junction Bakery & Bistro is Now Delivering — “Neighbors! The new Junction Delivery van is gassed up & ready to rollllll … We bring it to you: groceries, breads & pastries, family meals, beer & wine — and yes, even our new craft cocktails! Cheaper than Uber Eats!” [Facebook]

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Once again, the Confederacy has been handed a defeat in Richmond that sends ripples up to Alexandria.

Alexandria has debated and put plans in place for the Appomattox statue at the intersection of Prince and S. Washington Streets for years, but state law stood in the way of actually making any progress toward removing it.

On Saturday, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill that authorizing localities to remove or alter Confederate monuments, overturning the earlier state prohibition.

The Appomattox statue is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and commemorates the Alexandrians who left the Union-occupied city from that spot to join the Confederacy. This May 24 marks the 131st anniversary of the statue in Alexandria.

In 2016, the City Council unanimously approved not only recommending that the statue be moved the nearby grassy lot outside the Lyceum, but began advocating the state authorization to do so. Those petitions fell on deaf ears until last November when Democrats took control of the Virginia legislature and breathed new life into the city’s ambitions to eliminate Confederate memorials and iconography.

A driver nearly accomplished the city’s goals in December: crashing into the statue and fracturing its base, but the statue was subsequently repaired.

“It has been the policy of the city for several years now to pursue movement of the statue out of the middle of Washington Street,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “We have had dialogue with the Daughters of the Confederacy over the past few months and with the enactment of this legislation, we would now work to realize city policy.”

Former Alexandria Mayor William “Bill” Euille got his start protesting against the statue while he was a student at T.C. Williams High School and applauded Northam’s decision.

“I applaud the governor’s action to allow local governments to make the proper decisions on the relocation and removal or placement of Confederate monuments, which is long overdue, but provides an opportunity to correct racial injustice while allowing for inclusiveness in telling a more complete story,” Euille said. “Alexandria has already studied this matter and a citizens panel has made recommendations to the City Council on how to move forward in fairness while protecting our history.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A Republican official from Hopewell, Virginia drove to Alexandria this weekend for a small, armed protest outside Delegate Mark Levine’s home in Old Town.

Brandon Howard, chair of the Hopewell Republican Party and head of the gun group Right to Bear Arms Virginia, walked along the street outside of Levine’s house on Saturday, Richmond public broadcaster VPM first reported. He held a Virginia flag, a large gun, and a sign that said “withdraw HB 961,” referencing a bill Levine sponsored and the House of Delegates passed that would ban assault weapons in the state.

(The bill was shelved in the state Senate on Monday, in a move that made national headlines.)

In a ten minute video posted to the Right to Bear Arms Facebook page, Howard repeatedly stated that his intention was to protest peacefully, though the video also contained promises of retribution should the bill pass and guns start being confiscated.

“Mark Levine is a traitor to this nation,” Howard said in the video. “Mark Levine is a tyrant. And we know what’s on our flag. It translates very simply: Thus all tyrants, with lady liberty crushing the tyrant. We all know what that means. Mark Levine, you know what that means. All those Democrats in the House and Senate, you know what that means.”

Levine said when he found out about the protest, he called the police.

“It’s never happened [to me] before,” Levine said. “Having a man outside my house with a gun? No, that hasn’t happened.”

Levine noted that Howard had previously carried weapons through the Alexandria Farmer’s Market.

“His goal is to terrorize our community,” Levine said. “His goal is to terrorize me… I have long argued that guns have three legitimate uses: self-defense, hunting and target shooting. This guy was not hunting, except maybe me, it was not in self-defense… and he wasn’t target shooting. It’s clear that his intent is to coerce, threaten or intimidate.”

Howard said that if all else failed at the soapbox and ballot box, he and others would reach for the “cartridge box.”

“The last thing we want is to shed blood on our own soil,” Howard said. “That’s not to say that will never happen… but unfortunately the way Democrats are doing things today it’s becoming a very real reality that we may see bloodshed on our own soil because of these tyrants sitting in Richmond.”

“Mr. Mark Levine, don’t send the innocent to come do your dirty work, I want you personally to come try and take my gun,” he added. “If you are the one, or whoever you send are the one, beware. I hope you kiss your wife, I hope you kiss your husband, I hope you kiss your children goodbye before you come and try to take mine. Because that’s the last time you will ever have kissed them in your life. You’re only getting my gun one way, and that’s with the business end.”

There was no violence at the protest, but Levine said he hopes Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter will press charges.

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With both the Virginia House and Senate approving legislation to allow localities to remove Confederate statues, it would seem the Appomattox statue’s days are numbered.

The statue sits in the center of the intersection of S. Washington Street and Prince Street, where it’s been occasionally struck by cars.

The city has been working to remove the statue for years — former Mayor Bill Euille got his start in Alexandria politics in the 1960s protesting the statue — but a Virginia law says memorials to war veterans could not be removed.

Legislation approved yesterday (Tuesday) in the Virginia Senate, with Democrats now firmly in control in Richmond, authorized localities to “remove, relocate, contextualize, cover or alter” monuments in public spaces.

If the legislation becomes law, Mayor Justin Wilson says the statue will be removed.

“In 2016, Council voted unanimously to remove the monument out of the middle of Washington Street,” said Wilson. “That’s the existing city policy. If the legislation passes and it’s signed by the governor, then we would work to execute that council policy.”

Wilson also said that the council will have to work with the Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns the monument, on a new location, like a city museum.

Some Alexandrians had alternative destinations in mind.

The statue has a complicated history. It was built in 1889 to honor “the Seventeenth Virginia regiment who yielded their lives during the four years’ of civil war” according to the Alexandria Gazette’s reporting at the dedication. The location in the center of Prince Street marks the spot where several Alexandrians met to leave the Union-occupied city and join the Confederate army.

Rev. G. H. Norton, a chaplain who served in the Confederate camp, said at the time of the dedication that he hoped the statue would mark the end of the strife wrought by the war.

James Cullum contributed to this story. Staff photo by Jay Westcott.

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It’s widely accepted that localities throughout Virginia face an affordable housing crisis, but is the new Democratic majority in Richmond missing the mark on addressing the issue?

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said that a swath of bills addressing the issue hurts rather than helps. Wilson, in a recent op-ed in the Alexandria Gazette Packet, instead recommended an increase in state funding for affordable housing instead of bills forcing localities to meet development and zoning benchmarks.

“Such an approach would enhance the partnership between the Commonwealth and local jurisdictions and ensure more committed affordable housing in the areas that can benefit from that investment,” Wilson opined in the Gazette Packet. “This well-meaning legislation demonstrates a recognition of the problem, but sadly lacks the nuance and precision only possible in the local land use process.”

Wilson told ALXnow that he was specifically referencing affordable housing bills proposed by Del. Ibrahim Samirah (D-86), whose district includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.

Samirah introduced a number of housing-related bills this session that would wrest some control from localities, including one that seeks to legalize duplexes and townhouses on all residential property and another giving more authority to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Samirah told CityLab that a number of solutions for rising housing prices, particularly in urban areas, should be on the table. Increasing the state’s affordable housing stock by 100,000 units “would be a really good starting point to control the problem of the lack of affordable housing out there in Virginia,” he said.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has set a goal for the region to produce 320,000 affordable housing units by the end of the decade. City officials say that Alexandria is well positioned to meet its goal of producing or developing 2,000 units by 2025 and an additional 1,950 units by 2030. Still, the city is looking all over its 15.75 square miles to find locations to increase its affordable housing stock, like co-locating affordable housing on the grounds of schools set for renovation.

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Morning Notes

New Office to Residential Conversion — “A Mark Center office building in Alexandria is now set to be converted into apartments. D.C. real estate investment firm PRP LLC plans to convert 4900 Seminary Road, a 12-story, 209,000 square foot building, into residential… PRP wants to put 213 market-rate units into the building, which also has room for about 4,100 square feet of ground-floor retail.” [Washington Business Journal]

Mayor Reacts to Retrocession Suggestion — “With Democrats now in control of the Virginia Statehouse, Republican Delegate Dave LaRock says he is concerned that liberal values are taking over so he’s calling for Arlington and Alexandria to be split off and given to D.C… Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson calls LaRock’s statements a ‘comical clown move.'” [Fox 5, Twitter]

Send-off For Historic Fire Apparatus — “The Friendship Fire Company purchased an ornate hose reel carriage in 1858. Now, thanks to the support of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, community donors, and its win as the No. 1 Virginia Endangered Artifact of 2019, Historic Alexandria is sending the hose carriage off for much-needed conservation.” [Zebra]

Lawmakers Considering Shopping Cart Bill — “Senate Bill 631 would make it so that the cost of removal, including disposal, of an abandoned shopping cart will be charged to the cart’s owner. The ordinance originally applied just to Fairfax County, but Surovell said Arlington and Alexandria asked to be included in the new legislation.” [ARLnow]

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Passing the Equal Rights Amendment, decriminalizing marijuana and giving localities the power to move Confederate monuments — those are just a few of the pieces of legislation that local Democrats will unveil over the next two months in the Virginia General Assembly.

As Democrats prepare to arrive in Richmond with complete control of all branches of Virginia’s government, there are a slew of bills that will result in serious changes to the way the Commonwealth does business.

Del. Charniele Herring (D-46th) is the incoming House Majority Leader — the first African American woman to hold the post. Herring will also chair the Courts of Justice Committee, and said she is confident that ERA will pass, in addition to pot decriminalization and gun reform.

The latter, however, has some local Democratic members questioning what gun legislation will, in fact, pass. Herring suggested that it can, but as long as Democrats don’t overreach.

“I think our challenge is to be disciplined with ourselves, and it’s our time to govern and we’re up to the challenge,” Herring said on Sunday at her annual fundraiser at Tempo Restaurant.

Herring’s story is unique. A U.S. Army brat, she and her mother moved into a homeless shelter in Alexandria. Mayor Justin Wilson congratulated Herring said that “great things” are expected in this year’s session.

“There is no better person to be going down to Richmond and leading our new majority caucus,” Wilson said. “This is an exciting time for Virginia, with Democratic control of the House of Delegates and the state senate.”

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th) chairs the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, and said he will support Gov. Ralph Northam’s package of gun-related bills that would reduce magazine sizes, keep firearms from public property, register firearms and ban assault weapons. He also supports universal background checks, red flag laws and child access prevention.

“One of the bills that will be challenging at least is banning assault weapons,” Ebbin said at a fundraiser in Alexandria on Friday, Jan. 3. “What we’re going to do is rather than say we’re going to take away the guns you already own, my proposal is going to be that if you already own a weapon that you can keep it but you have to register it.”

Del. Mark Levine (D-45th) will introduce at least 45 bills, many of which failed in previous sessions. Among the legislation he’s proposing are bills to reverse an antiquated law prohibiting sex outside of marriage, a bill that would expunge a single non-violent drug offense from criminal records, and, should marijuana be decriminalized, Levine is proposing a bill that would expunge any marijuana-related offenses from someone’s record.

Levine is also proposing a raise in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 and a bill that would require landlords evicting tenants to notify tenants in English and Spanish. He also supports a bill that would allow localities to determine the replacement of Confederate statues throughout the state.

“We’re making history for the first time in 26 years,” Levine said at his own fundraiser on Sunday, adding that his bills range in complexity. “Some are really big progressive ideas, you’ve been waiting a long time for some small fixes in the wall, and everything in between, and I think you’ll see it’s quite a range.”

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It’s been six years since William “Bill” Euille was allegedly considered for a state-level position, but the former Mayor is finally headed to Richmond to serve on the board of Virginia ABC.

The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) grants licenses to individuals, groups or businesses to sell alcohol. Governor Ralph Northam announced Euille’s selection among other appointments in a press release on Dec. 20.

Euille was elected as Alexandria’s first African-American mayor in 2003 but was ousted in a primary race by then-Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg in 2015. After a failed write-in campaign, Euille stepped away from the public spotlight, though he still made frequent appearances at public events, like the Potomac Yard Metro groundbreaking earlier this month.

Euille said he was appointed to fill out a term set to end next month, but he will then be reappointed for a five-year term.

While the board meets monthly in Richmond, Euille said he will continue to live in Alexandria and make the trip down for meetings and other required activities. In the meantime, Euille says he’ll also stay busy with work in organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and the A. Roy Heron Foundation for Community Wellness.

Photo via William D. “Bill” Euille/Facebook

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Nearly one year after the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid benefits took effect, nearly 70 percent of eligible Alexandrians have signed up.

“This has been really, really busy, but it’s going well,” said Patrick Okoronkwo, benefit programs manager for the City of Alexandria. “It’s something everybody should have.”

Before Medicaid expansion, Okoronkwo said there were about 6,000 people in the City of Alexandria estimated to be eligible and in need of Medicaid benefits. Out of that number, Okoronkwo said 4,153 have been enrolled as of Nov. 22. For the last year, Okoronkwo said his office’s job has been to go around and do everything they can to reach out to eligible locals.

“We have gone to different locations to talk about it,” Okoronkwo said, “and the state did a lot of outreach and postings.”

To be eligible to receive benefits under the Medicaid expansion, Okoronkwo said people need to be at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s $17,236 for a single person and $29,435 for an adult in a household of three people.

Okoronkwo said people eligible for benefits can apply online or by calling 1-855-242-8282.

While Medicaid can be applied for year-round, Okoronkwo said the deadline for federal aid through the Affordable Care Act is Wednesday at 3 a.m. — a few hours from now. Anyone who misses that deadline will have to wait until next fall to enroll.

Okoronkwo said another part of the Medicaid expansion has been combating misleading information. Some eligible applicants have withdrawn their applications to receive benefits over fear that it could make citizenship more difficult to acquire.

“The Federal government announced that if you are collecting benefits and have a Green Card, you may not get citizenship,” Okoronkwo said. “But Medicaid is not included in that. SNAP, TANF and housing are, not Medicaid.”

Even then, Okoronkwo noted that there is still a legal challenge pending for the “public charge” rule. Getting medical care to those who need it, Okoronkwo suggested, helps society as a whole.

“For me, I am elated when I see people who have been postponing going to the hospital [use it],” he said. “Nobody will hire someone who is sick and it helps people who have had to file for bankruptcy because of medical bills.”

Photo via David Kessler/Flickr

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Three elected officials visited businesses across Alexandria as part of an effort to drum up support for a paid family and medical leave bill.

Rep. Don Beyer, Del. Carroll Foy and State Sen. Jennifer Boysko — all Democrats — visited three businesses on Friday (Dec. 13) and spoke with business owners who were supportive of the bill. The trio visited Lori’s Table (1028 King Street), Bishop’s Boutique (815 King Street) and Let’s Meat on the Avenue (2403 Mount Vernon Avenue).

“It went well,” said Donna Welch, owner of Let’s Meat on the Avenue. “It’s a small issue, but one that impacts a lot of people, particularly how it impacts lower-income people. We need to do better.”

The event was organized by Virginia Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy (CFFE) — an organization that pushes for better economic conditions for working families — and Main Street Alliance, a network of small business coalitions.

According to the press release from CFFE:

Paid family and medical leave would ensure that hardworking Virginians are able to take paid time away from work when they welcome a new child or they or a loved one faces a serious illness. Polling indicates that paid family and medical leave is incredibly popular in Virginia. Rep. Beyer, Del. Foy and Sen. Boysko, as well as the business owners they will meet with, are calling on members of the Virginia General Assembly to listen to their constituents and business owners across the state and pass paid family and medical leave this year.

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