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This weekend, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a new five-cent tax on plastic bags — though with some grumbling that Arlington had beat them to the punch by a few hours.

The tax will only be applied to grocery stores and convenience stores, not restaurants or other businesses, and is similar to taxes implemented in D.C. and other localities across the country. Groups collecting trash around the area reported a three-quarter decrease in the amount of plastic bags being picked up and overall decreased plastic bag use — though some of those results have been brought into question.

There were two public speakers at the meeting, both of whom endorsed the tax.

“The bag tax is an effective and inexpensive way of reducing plastic pollution,” said Michael Olex, vice-chair of the Environmental Policy Commission. “It’s effective, as demonstrated in other communities such as D.C. It’s inexpensive because consumers, once they acquire bags, aren’t spending any money. Stores purchase less bags, so their costs can go down. Cities and other entities are spending less money cleaning up pollution. I urge the council to adopt this measure both for citizens of Alexandria and the environment.”

Public speaker Al Clark said the bag tax proposal should be an easy choice, particularly in the face of other harder environmental choices the city will face down the line.

“Obviously this has been a long-time coming, something we’ve been talking about for a while,” Wilson said. “Going back… Tim Lovain was advocating for this for years, long before it was really popular, and [we] looked at him kind of funny when he did but he was certainly right on this. Unfortunately we are the third to adopt it in the region by a matter of hours (beat by Arlington and Fairfax).”

Arlington adopted a similar tax a few hours earlier, and Fairfax bagged the approval a week earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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Cat and plastic bags, photo via Daniel Romero/Unsplash

(Updated 11 a.m.) The city of Alexandria is considering implementing a new 5 cent bag tax at local stores; aimed at curbing plastic bag use and providing funding for enviromental clean-up and other projects.

A similar 5 cent bag tax was implemented in D.C. in 2010, and groups collecting trash around the area reported a three-quarter decrease in the amount of plastic bags being picked up and overall decreased plastic bag use — though some of those results have been brought into question.

The city said funding collected from the plastic bag tax could be put to use with:

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

Photo via Daniel Romero/Unsplash

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After getting approval from the General Assembly last year, next month Alexandria will consider adopting a 5 cent plastic bag tax at drug stores, grocery stores and convenience stores.

The proposal, which has been in the works since 2017, will be discussed in a virtual information session on September 8 at 7 p.m.

The Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation last year allowing localities to impose a bag tax. Alexandria has supported legislation that limits use of plastic bags for the last three years.

“Lightweight plastic bags are commonly found in waterways as litter and remain as a pollutant,” the City reported. “Wildlife commonly mistake plastic bags for food and also cause microscopic particles of broken down plastics to enter into the food chain.”

Staff are planning to present a draft ordinance to City Council with an effective date of January 1, 2022.

According to the city, the collected taxes will be used for:

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

 

Volunteers needed for ACPS food distribution — “Kids should ask ‘What’s for lunch?’ not ‘Is there lunch?’ Help distribute two days worth of meals for @ACPSk12 students on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. Volunteers are needed for both mobile pop-ups and curbside locations.” [Twitter]

First half of real estate taxes due today — Real estate taxes can be received at City Hall until noon. [City of Alexandria]

Passionately Pets expands to treats and apparel — “Passionately Pets has been offering quality dog walking and petsitting services since Jenna Gotch founded the business 14 years ago. But it wasn’t until recently that Gotch added a line of branded pet products and tasty treats for cats and dogs.” [Alexandria Living]

Craft beer festival at Mount Vernon estate on July 19 and 20 — “Experience Mount Vernon after-hours and taste beers from across the region. Sample craft beer from local breweries, hear live music, and explore the historic area after hours. The Mansion will be closed during this event.” [Visit Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny skies (during the day). High 81F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… A few clouds from time to time (in the evening). Low 61F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Dog store manager — “We are a holistic doggie daycare, boarding, grooming and retail spot looking for a store supervisor. You will need to love dogs, and adhere to our holistic and natural approach to dog care. We offer only healthy food, supplements, as well as unique toys, gifts and other dog products.” [Indeed]

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It’s been nearly ten years since Republicans had a spot on the City Council, but Republican City Council candidate Darryl Nirenberg is hoping several divisive issues that have cropped up over the last couple years can help break the blue stranglehold on the city this November.

“Prospects for a Republican are better now than they have been for years,” Nirenberg said. “The issues facing our city, such as divisive plans to house adults on school grounds; road diets; promoting more density in the midst of a pandemic; neglect of our storm drains and infrastructure; and destroying green space — are not partisan.”

Nirenberg also has a personal tie to the legacy of racism within the Republican party. From 1992-1995, he was chief of staff to Senator Jesse Helms, who is largely known for his fierce opposition to desegregation and his derision of Martin Luther King Jr.

According to a biography at his employer’s website, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Nirenberg listed his work with Helms as dealing with banking, financial, and judicial issues. Before that, from 1987 to 1992 he was a counsel and deputy chief of staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and from 1983 to 1987 he was a staffer on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Nirenberg, a graduate of The George Washington University Law School, said he has experienced prejudice himself firsthand and, despite working for a segregationist, that he has always supported civil rights:

Having known and experienced prejudice myself growing up Jewish in rural New York, I have always supported civil rights, and I believe everyone has the right to marry whomever they wish regardless of gender. I have worked for Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-NY) and Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-CA), served on the staff of two Senate Committees, and practiced policy advocacy for Tom Boggs. Instead of talking about these jobs and a long deceased Senator for whom I worked over a quarter century ago, I’d much prefer to focus on what’s at stake in this election and how we can work together to improve the quality of life for all who live in our city.

Even within the Democratic primary, housing co-location at schools, the Seminary Road diet, and stormwater infrastructure have been contentious issues between candidates. Nirenberg said he hopes the frustration with incumbents can lead to local citizens throwing more support behind Republican candidates in November.

“There is a growing recognition that the process is broken; that 100% one party rule over time does not produce the best results, and that there is a need for checks and balances,” Nirenberg said. “We all know the best decisions are reached when there are people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse perspectives sitting around the table.”

Along with Nirenberg’s City Council bid, Annetta Catchings is running as the Republican candidate for mayor. The last Republican City Council members were Alicia Hughes and Frank Fannon, who were ousted in 2012. The last Republican Mayor was elected in 1872 — years before the party’s staunch opposition to the Civil Rights movement starting in the early 20th century led to party realignment.

“We need to plan for our future, not muddle into it,” Nirenberg said. “These policies aren’t divisive or partisan. They are just common-sense.”

So far, Nirenberg has raised $42,807.

His top issues are:

  • “The learning gap and reopening schools — not housing adults there.
  • “Restore Seminary Road and end road diets.”
  • “Save Chinquapin Park and preserve our green space.”
  • “Fix our storm drains now.”
  • “Stop spending tax dollars to promote more density until our schools and infrastructure catch up and there is a plan to accommodate more density.”

Photo via DarrylNirenberg.com

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The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted its $770.7 million fiscal year 2022 budget on Wednesday night, and it includes the first tax real estate tax reduction in 15 years.

Retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper made the motion to pass the budget, her last after 35 years on Council.

“This budget is filled with some good things that will be helpful to our citizens, and for me that is what counts,” Pepper said. “It is an opportunity to really move the city forward, and that’s really what’s important. I’m very pleased with the things that are in this budget, and I know that the staff has worked very hard.”

The motion was seconded by Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

It has been a tough past fiscal year for all of us across the city and for businesses,” Chapman said. “I look forward to the future, to the growth that we can start to achieve.”

The upcoming fiscal year (an election year) will see real estate tax bills decrease from $1.13 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. At the same time, there is a $24.22 increase in the residential refuse collection fee, from $460 to $484.22.

All city and state employees will also get a 1% raise, and City Manager Mark Jinks said that $12 million, or a 2.3% reduction from last year’s budget, was made without impacting programs or services.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that city staff prepared a high quality budget during a period of incredible uncertainty. That uncertainty is eased, however, since the city will be getting approximately $59.4 million American Rescue Plan funds.

“We have only been successful this last year in getting through this moment because of our incredibly dedicated staff, in many cases doing jobs at physical risk to themselves and physical risk to their families,” Wilson said. “While we can never completely repay folks for that commitment and dedication, I think we were doing what we can in this in this environment.”

Councilwoman Amy Jackson thanked Jinks and staff for including the tax reduction into the budget.

“This is the year that is most needed,” Jackson said.When our residents are looking at other avenues of how they are going to save money, how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to feed their families and continue their jobs.”

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $293 million in investments for schools, transportation, sewers, stormwater management, public buildings and facilities, and information technology.

“We are making some very significant investments in our infrastructure,” Wilson said. “I’m pleased to see that in this in this budget.”

Additionally, nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools was “temporarily reallocated” to contingent reserves until the school system presents a proposal this summer on using the funds to provide mental health resources for school-age children, the Teen Wellness Center, and the hiring of an additional Behavioral Health Specialist for the Alexandria Crisis Intervention and Co-responding Program (ACORP). The proposal will have to be presented to City Council before their summer recess.

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It was another week full of news in Alexandria. Here are the top headlines of the week.

Our top story was on the 34-year-old Arlington man charged with distributing methamphetamine after reporting to police that he was the victim of an armed robbery in his fifth floor room at the Embassy Suites in Old Town. The investigating officer asked if there was anything illegal in the man’s room, and he reportedly said, “There is some meth in the room, but it’s for personal use.”

In local restaurant news, two pizza businesses filed special use permits to operate in the city. Stracci Pizza wants to operate at former Nectar Coffee & Wine Bistro in Del Ray and &pizza wants to open near the Hoffman Town Center in Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood.

This week, we asked residents about a proposal for a new Waterfront Museum. Out of 207 votes, 37% think it would be great; 35% don’t think the city should go through with it; and 28% like the idea of the museum but that now is the wrong time to do it.

Important stories

Election stories

Top stories

  1. Alexandria Police find meth, thousands in cash in hotel robbery investigation
  2. Alexandria City Council unanimously adopts collective bargaining ordinance
  3. Mayor Justin Wilson says 2021 Democratic primary is about the future, not a rerun of 2018
  4. D.C. man arrested for pharmacy burglaries in Del Ray and West End
  5. Southern Towers residents nervous as landlord steps up eviction proceedings
  6. Stracci Pizza files special use permit to operate at former Nectar Coffee & Wine Bistro in Del Ray
  7. JUST IN: Alexandria Police investigate suspicious package in Carlyle
  8. Alexandria City Council approves creation of Community Policing Review Board
  9. Recently reduced properties in Alexandria
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. ‘Dogs Of Del Ray’ mural to be finished next month

Have a safe weekend!

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To go along with a recent increase in the stormwater utility fee, Alexandria’s City Council is broadening the scope of what that can be covered by that fee.

At a City Council meeting on Saturday, the Council voted unanimously in favor of expanding the uses of the fee to help combat some of the rampant flooding that’s plagued the city over the last few years.

The ordinance added “to mitigate surface and subsurface flooding from precipitation events” to the description of the fee. The new ordinance also adds specific examples to the types of stormwater infrastructure the project can fund, “including the enlargement or improvement of dams, levees, floodwalls, and pump stations.”

The fee is scheduled to increase from $140 this year to $210 starting in June, up to $280 by November.

The new language will also allow the city to use the funds for stormwater management contracts with private businesses.

“[Funding may be used for] contracts related to stormwater management, including contracts for the financing, construction, operation, or maintenance of stormwater management facilities,” the ordinance says, “regardless of whether such facilities are located on public or private property and, in the case of private property locations, whether the contract is entered into pursuant to a stormwater management private property program under Section 15.2-2114(J) of the Virginia Code or otherwise.”

The expansion comes along with plans to double the stormwater utility fee. That increased fee faced some pushback, including from Councilwoman Amy Jackson and retiring Sheriff Dana Lawhorne.

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