Tysons, VA

Amid a year where national policing reforms were brought into the spotlight, Fairfax County is reviewing a suite of changes at a local level to improve police accountability.

At a Public Safety Committee Meeting, Chairman Rodney Lusk presented an overview of proposed changes in what was described as possible changes rather than new policies set into stone.

Near term considerations included improved data collection to improve accuracy, with ethnicity and a breakdown of arrest data included in documentation. Data would be released quarterly.

One of the other practices that’s come under fire nationally is the firing and immediate re-hiring of police officers across jurisdictions. One proposed change would crack down on that as part of a statewide push to make decertification easier.

“Consider and discuss implementation of state legislation related to the decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated or resigned for misconduct and the request and disclosure of information for prospective law-enforcement hires,” the input matrix said.

While many of the items items being considered focused on more transparency and restrictions on police, another item being considered was a review of how to boost morale in the police department, which Lusk said was at an all time low.

The committee also considered some mid-term options, like reviewing regulations around school resource officers and a review of Fairfax County Police Department use of force policies. with more data about the racial distribution of arrests, another mid-term goal was reviewing racial disparities in use of force and arrests.

“These are public suggestions… not approved by the board,” said Fairfax County Board chair Jeff McKay. “This is a parking lot of ideas that have come through your office and now must be adjudicated by this board based on data and conversations… Some of these will go off to other committees.”

Image via Fairfax County

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Fairfax County should attempt to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and eliminate all waste from county government and school operations by 2030, the Fairfax County Joint Environmental Task Force (JET) recommends in a new report.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 20 and the Fairfax County School Board on Oct. 22, the report urges both boards, along with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Regional Housing Authority, to commit to producing net-zero carbon emissions from their energy usage by 2040.

To achieve this goal, the task force suggests that Fairfax County aim to cut its carbon emissions in half from 2019 levels by 2030, while transitioning to renewable sources to generate 25% of its energy by 2030 and 50% by 2040.

The task force also recommends reducing the total amount of energy used by all county facilities by 25% by 2030 and 50% by 2040, and requiring all new county buildings and major renovation projects meet net-zero energy standards starting in 2021.

Other recommendations proposed by the JET include:

  • Fairfax government and schools should aim to produce zero solid waste by 2030
  • The Fairfax Connector bus fleet should transition to electricity or other non-carbon-emitting fuel sources by 2030, with the Fairfax County Public Schools fleet and non-bus vehicles following suit by 2035
  • The county government and schools should develop resources to educate students and adults about job options in “green” industries, including renewable energy, green building, resource and wildlife management, and stormwater management

“The JET’s ambitious goals and recommendations send a powerful message that our county and school system are committed to doing what it takes to protect our environment and address the threat of climate change,” Providence District School Board member Karl Frisch said.

Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions executive director Meg Mall, one of nine community members on the JET, says her environmental advocacy group is “pleased that strong goals have been incorporated” into the task force’s report and hopes to see continued collaboration not just between different county agencies, but also between Fairfax County and the general public.

“FACS has been a strong advocate for the adoption of aggressive goals in the county’s climate mitigation and adaptation work,” Mall said. “…The county must lead by example within its own operations while concurrently working toward community-wide goals.”

The Board of Supervisors and school board formed the JET in April 2019 to coordinate county government and schools efforts to address climate change, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability issues.

While the threat of climate change has loomed for decades, its urgency became newly apparent when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in 2018 that found the world must achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and potentially avoid the most drastic impacts of climate change.

In addition to creating the JET, Fairfax County signaled that it intends to prioritize climate issues by establishing the new Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination in July 2019 and awarding contracts to solar providers in December to install solar panels at more than 100 publicly owned facilities.

Mothers Out Front Fairfax County, which launched a campaign advocating for electric school buses in August 2019, praised the JET’s zero waste and carbon neutrality recommendations but urged Fairfax County to convert its school bus fleet to electricity by 2030.

“Mothers Out Front’s priority is the health and future of our children, and we have been pushing to convert school bus fleets across the state to electric by 2030,” Mothers Out Front Fairfax County co-founder Julie Kimmel said. “While we fully support the recommendation that the Fairfax Connector bus fleet be transitioned to electric by 2030, we think all Fairfax County school buses should also be converted to electric in the same time frame.”

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the JET recommendations and get updates on the solar power purchase agreement initiative, the development of a Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), and the county’s yard waste collection bag policy during its environmental committee meeting today at 11 a.m.

Staff photo by Catherine Douglas Moran

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This week, Fairfax County businesses received clearance to continue to outdoor dining, fitness, and exercise activities under social distancing rules with heated, enclosed tents this winter.

“Businesses have been able to install open-sided tents outside their storefronts since May, which allowed them to operate while maintaining proper social distancing and thus reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Fairfax County said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Oct. 20 to approve an ordinance amendment that will allow this trend to continue this winter with tents that have sides and heaters both inside and outside of the tents.

Previous permit requirements for heaters from fire officials have been relaxed to make the process much easier.

Under Fairfax County’s ongoing emergency ordinance, permits are not required for tents unless they are 900 square feet or larger in size.

“If an individual tent or a collection of tents is more than 900 square-feet, it needs to go to the fire marshal for a permit,” Fairfax County director of planning and development Barbara Byron said. “There is no fee for that permit.”

Tents must be fire-resistant, and heaters need to be rated, but there are otherwise no requirements, Byron told the county board.

Fairfax County says it made the decision to relax the permitting process “to reduce the stress on businesses working to revitalize the county’s economy while allowing county staff to devote their limited resources to maintaining continuity in government instead of processing an excessive number of applications.”

According to the county, this ordinance will last up to six months after the Board terminates the local declaration of emergency, which was issued on Mar. 17 by the Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County director of emergency management.

The county board adopted an emergency ordinance on May 28 that temporarily allows businesses to conduct outdoor dining and outdoor fitness or exercise activities without having to go through the lengthy application process that is normally required.

The original ordinance only permitted tents with all sides open. It was extended on July 14.

Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce board chairman Andrew Clark applauded Fairfax County for recognizing the challenges that restaurants and other businesses could face as the weather gets colder and taking action before winter arrives.

“We appreciate the county for realizing the need at the moment and acting accordingly,” Clark said.

Clark says that, thanks to the increased flexibility for outdoor dining and other efforts to accommodate public health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants in the Tysons area have started to see improved business, particularly with the first-ever Tysons Restaurant Week.

“That’s happening because the way restaurants are approaching the situation. They haven’t dropped the ball. They’re adhering to all the guidelines,” Clark said. “So, I think from what the restaurants are doing to the guidance the government has given, it’s given a framework for people to safely engage.”

Photo via Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce/Facebook

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Fairfax County is putting together a survey to direct funding for the Consolidated Community Funding Pool — which goes to help local nonprofits and organizations. The County is looking for public input on where the biggest needs are.

The goal of the fund is supplement the county’s ability to fill human services needs.

“To determine how these funds should be allocated, Fairfax County, with significant community input, establishes categories that are reflective of the needs residents feel are most important in their communities,” the County said in a press release. “In preparation for the next funding cycle, the county seeking your insight on our current category areas”

The categories are:

  • Financial Stability
  • Food and Nutrition
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Literacy/Educational Development/Attainment
  • Positive Behaviors and Healthy Relationships
  • Support/Community/Social Networks

A survey for prioritizing needs is available online, and responses are welcome until Friday, Oct. 30. All responses will be kept anonymous.

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When the novel coronavirus pandemic upended Americans’ daily lives in March, Great Falls resident James Ye turned to a 110-year-old organization for guidance: the Boy Scouts.

Now a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Ye joined Boy Scouts of America Troop 55 when he was in fifth grade and has since accumulated about 1,000 hours of community service.

Ye says the values espoused by the Scout Oath and Law, which include volunteering, were on his mind when he saw a Facebook advertisement seeking volunteers for the Volunteer Fairfax Donations Collection Warehouse.

“During national historic crises, Scouting organizations have always jumped into action, sort of helped out in emergency response,” Ye said. “…I think the coronavirus is another example of a historic national disaster, and being a Scout, just doing your duty to your country, I wanted to be a part of that.”

Led by the nonprofit Volunteer Fairfax, the warehouse is Fairfax County’s hub for organizing masks, food, and other resources for community organizations as part of its COVID-19 emergency response.

At first, Ye mostly helped Volunteer Fairfax emergency response manager Tejas Patel maintain an inventory of the donations passing through the warehouse, but his duties later expanded to include greeting and contacting donors, doing research, and sharing content on social media.

Ye, who amassed 190 service hours at the warehouse, is one of thousands of local community members who have contributed to Fairfax County’s pandemic emergency response as volunteers.

Fairfax County reported on Oct. 6 that close to 3,000 volunteers have collectively spent 96,006 hours since Mar. 17 helping various county services, including the police and fire departments, public libraries, and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

In addition, more than 1,000 individuals have signed up for the Fairfax Medical Reserve Corps, which assists the Fairfax County Health Department in emergencies. With 521 volunteers now onboarded, 233 people have contributed 4,392 volunteer hours since Mar. 1, doing everything from managing medical supply donations to assisting at community testing sites and back-to-school immunization clinics. Read More

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Former Dranesville District Supervisor Ernest Joseph Berger has died at age 88 in Johns Island, South Carolina.

During his time in McLean, Berger did not shy away from controversy. The former Dranesville District Supervisor and Army veteran came into office in 1994 with an array of conservative positions that put Berger at odds with many of his colleagues.

Friends and family of Berger praised his fiscal conervatism.

“Mr. Berger was an example of a true leader,” said Ann Green Baise. “He had a great business background, and he put that background to work for the citizens of Dranesville in a first rate way. An example of his foresight for the community was his appointment of Stu Mendelsohn to the School Board. He was a fiscal conservative and applied common sense to questions that arose in the community.”

A Washington Post article from 1994 said Berger worked to make financial reforms to Fairfax and run the county like a business, pushing for measures like converting the school bus system to a private company and easing restrictions on developers. Berger described himself as a bulldog when it came to watching the budget.

Despite the emphasis on fiscal policy, Berger also harbored a share of socially conservative positions that put him in hot water. According to the Washington Post article, Berger aggressively pushed for a Christian activist to be appointed to the Library Board in an effort to ban a gay newspaper from Fairfax County libraries.

The Sun Gazette noted that Berger died just three days after Lilla Richards, whom Berger defeated in his 1994 election.

“Ernie Berger was known to all as a strong Republican and a great man,” Fairfax GOP Chairman Steve Knotts said on the Fairfax GOP website. “We are thankful for Ernie’s service to Fairfax County; and we extend our sincere condolences to his many friends and loved ones.”

Photo via Fairfax County Government/Facebook

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Technical issues with Fairfax County’s car tax payment portal drew ire from residents this week, forcing some to make payments in-person and adding to already long lines for early voting.

In response to website issues, the county has waived penalties and interest on personal property payments made by 11:59 p.m. today (Tuesday).

According to Tony Castrilli, the county’s communications director, the county is working with its vendor to resolve the issue. “To make adjustments that will ensure as many payments as possible can be processed,” he said.

Some residents said the issue compounded already long lines at the Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway).

Payments can be made online, by mail, by phone, and in person. Payments postmarked on or before today (Tuesday) are considered on time.

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” Castrilli added.

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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A new task force dedicated to holding onto Fairfax’s limited affordable housing is scheduled to start meeting later today.

Tysons is trying to become a city, but one of the largest hurdles remains trying to create and preserve a range of affordable housing options. The new Affordable Housing Preservation Task Force is focused on drafting policies to keep the county’s limited affordable housing stock around as areas like Tysons start to develop.

According to the task force website:

Key issues to be addressed will include:

  • Definitions for the types of preservation that can occur in communities
  • Typology of properties at risk and characteristics to guide prioritizing properties or neighborhoods in need of action sooner
  • A comprehensive set of preservation strategies the includes recommended policies and tools to achieve the goal of no net loss of affordability

The first meeting today is scheduled to focus on foundational work like setting the mission in stone and establishing a timeline for new policies and initiatives.

Most of the discussion around affordable housing in Tysons comes with new units added as part of development deals with the County, though some of those plans have stumbled and other redevelopment has pushed out previously affordable housing stock.

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(Updated 9/18) After hours of passionate public input at their meeting Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a ban on carrying guns on county property.

The Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance 9-1, immediately taking effect and applying to County buildings, parks, recreation and community centers.

The state law that let Fairfax County ban guns on public property, is something that Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the county has been asking for decades. Similar bans were implemented in Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church.

“There is also a lot of fear in this community about guns,” McKay said. “So while gun rights advocates are concerned for their own safety, you have to understand there [are] a ton of people in this county worried about guns — period.”

In April, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new gun control law enabling local governments to ban guns on public property and spaces. The bill followed a charged legislative session in Richmond, where armed pro-gun protesters showed up to the state capital as the legislature was considering proposed gun control measures.

One of the drivers of the ban on guns on public property was a 2019 shooting in Virginia Beach, where a gunman killed 12 people at a municipal building. Read More

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To attract talent to the Northern Virginia area, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority is hosting a workshop for regional companies.

The online Talent Attraction Workshop: Marketing Northern Virginia will take place Tuesday (Sept. 15) from 11 a.m.- 12 p.m. and help employers understand what draws people to the area and how to recruit talented individuals, according to a press release.

There are roughly 80,000 currently untilled positions in the region, the website said.

“The workshop will also reveal top findings from talent perception research commissioned by the FCEDA, as well as findings from a national survey of 1,600+ people recently conducted by Development Counsellors International (DCI) — the leader in marketing places,” the press release said.

For those who are interested, the event will also include an introduction to an online hub for talent to learn about career opportunities and relocation information.

“The hub includes a job board with 90,000+ active listings in Northern Virginia, upskilling and training resources, a cost of living calculator, a community finder quiz and more.”

Potential attendees can register for the Zoom session online.

Photo by Bruce Mars/Unsplash

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