Tysons, VA

In a work session discussion yesterday, the Falls Church City Council considered a new distribution of funds in the FY 2021 budget to help cover issues ranging from COVID response to stormwater management.

One of the most immediate concerns presented in the budget discussion was the appropriation of $547,000 from CARES Act funding allocated to the city to help address crises in the city. The lion’s share of the funding, $250,000, was set to be allocated as small business grants, followed by $150,000 in emergency assistance to residents to help cover rental, utility and food assistance.

The City Council also considered funding for six stormwater management projects planned to help prevent some of the flooding issues that have devastated homes in the area over the last few years. There was some concern on the council, however, that without proper consideration the funding could just be flushing money down the drain.

Ross Litkenhous, a Falls Church City Council member, emphasized that he was in favor of dedicating funding to fixing flooding problems, but was concerned that the proposed projects were temporary fixes that would do little to address longer-term problems.

“I refuse to go down a path where we’re only solving for half the problem,” Litkenhous said.

Others on the Council urged to move forward with planning for stormwater management, though with general fund rather than issuance of debt.

Amid the discussion of spending, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly suggested that some funding be set aside in reserve. While the city is facing a fiscal catastrophe, experts warn the region could face difficult years ahead where they might need to tap into a cash reserve.

“Next year’s budget is going to be a big challenge,” Connelly warned.

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In a meeting about how to help build affordable housing in Falls Church, one potential solution proposed was increasing the meals tax by 1%.

Meals tax increases have been a go-to solution for finding more funding for affordable housing in neighboring jurisdictions like Arlington County. Meals tax increases are frequently contentious even in the best of times, but the Falls Church City Council noted that these are far from the best of times.

Representatives from the hired consultants National Housing Trust and Federal City Council offered 11 recommendations in what they described as a tool box in a City Council work session on Monday. A meals tax was only one of those suggestions, but one most likely to turn heads, as restaurants in the area face devastating losses in revenue.

The consultants argued that increasing the meals tax by 1%, from 4% to 5%, would bring Falls Church in line with the meals tax in other parts of the region and would generate $800,000 for the affordable housing fund annually.

According to the report:

A meals tax is levied on prepared food purchased for consumption at a restaurant or taken to-go. Falls Church already has a meals tax of 4%, which generated over $3 million in revenue annually from 2017-2019 . Currently, all the funds generated by the meals tax are directed into the City’s General Fund. To provide a dedicated and consistent revenue source for the Affordable Housing Fund, Falls Church should consider increasing the Meals Tax to 5%, dedicating the additional 1% in tax revenue to the Affordable Housing Fund. This would represent a much-needed consistent revenue source for the AHF and would generate approximately $800,000 annually for the Fund.

A 5% meals tax is in line with what is levied by other jurisdictions in the area. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the median meals tax rate is 6%. While neighboring jurisdictions Arlington and Fairfax County currently levy a 4% meals tax, as of 2016, 108 localities in the Commonwealth have instituted a meals tax that is higher than 4%.

The report notes that Alexandria’s meals tax increase was aimed squarely at raising funding for affordable housing, though the report also acknowledged that recent factors could make the proposal untenable in the near term.

The consultants recognize that restaurants nationwide are struggling to survive on reduced revenue caused by COVID-19, and the subsequent limits and restrictions on service that have been imposed to stop the spread of the virus. An increase in the tax at this time could potentially discourage the purchase of food from restaurants at a time when restaurants are operating on extremely thin margins. The implementation of this recommendation should be considered in the long-term, once the restaurant and hospitality industry is under less financial pressure.

City Council member Letty Hardi struck down the idea as soon as the discussion was turned back over to the City Council.

“In regular times I’d be a fan of looking at things like the meals tax or carving funding out of the general fund,” Hardi said, “but I think neither of those would fly currently given how much suffering there is in the community.”

One proposed source of funding that sat better with the City Council was dipping into Amazon REACH Funds — a $75 million funding commitment to support affordable housing in the area and avoid the affordable housing loss associated with the tech giant elsewhere.

“The City of Falls Church should take the opportunity to engage with local housing development owners whose projects are eligible and are able to access the funds to increase housing affordability in the City,” the report said. “The final deadline for a project application is June 15, 2021.”

Maura Brophy, director of transportation and infrastructure for Federal City Council, also said that promoting accessory dwelling units can have a meaningful impact on housing affordability by increasing the supply, but without other interventions and requirements, there’s no guarantee that the accessory dwelling units would be affordable.

“If we can access all $3 million, that will allow us to buy down 60 units for about ten years, and that’s way more than we can produce in a year as-is,” Hardi said. “That feels like we should put pedal to the meddle and go after that free money.”

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Editor’s Note — Tysons Reporter is running Q&As with the candidates running for the open Falls Church City Council seat. The stories have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Debora Schantz-Hiscott is one of three candidates — along with Joshua Shokoor and Simone Pass Tucker — running for the open Falls Church City Council seat on the Nov. 3 election. 

Tysons Reporter: Why did you decide to run?

Schantz-Hiscott: I have lived in Falls Church City for 24 years. I have raised three children here. I’ve been extensively involved in the community with the women’s commission, with the schools, with athletics, with all kinds of organizations, and I have been thinking about running for city council for many years.

However, I decided I would do it once my youngest child graduated from high school, which is next June. I was thinking about running for [the] November 2021 city council to kind of build upon the 24 years of volunteerism and working, and raising a family and building a community here. With the very unfortunate passing of Councilman Dan Sze, this special election is being held. I decided I would shorten that timeline and run for this year’s special election on November 3.

Tysons Reporter: How are you connected to the Falls Church community?

Schantz-Hiscott: For the past eight years, I’ve served with the Falls Church Education Foundation’s executive director. I’ve been for almost all of that time a sole employee and have taken a standalone 501(c)(3) foundation at the Falls Church City Public Schools into a thriving organization with a volunteer board of 16 people that has raised almost $2 million for supporting programs and grants and scholarships within Falls Church City Public Schools. 

I’ve worked extensively for the past eight years with businesses to collaborate with them to see how supporting the foundation benefits their businesses…which work extensively with the school, the superintendent, and the school administration to see what current needs are in our city. 

I’ve worked with city staff across a dozen different departments to put together events…and then with school staff to create these events, to create fundraisers and to create support for the school. Support for the schools includes creating a grant program. Last year, we gave about $260,000 out for innovation grants, and those can be anything from additional programs at the preschool all the way through. 

We have also supported teacher training. So, above and beyond what our school board can and city can afford to do within professional development, we’ve supported staff on everything from…leadership courses to reading, math, science — you name it — for the teachers and the community. 

And then lastly, and probably most importantly, supporting equity of access for our community: equity to educational resources, equity to food security, technology, clothing, emergency services, etc. I work really closely with the social workers. There’s one assigned to each school to identify what needs we have, and in the past year, since the pandemic, we — just in the spring alone — gave about $120,000 out in food support, in addition to clothing and everything. You can kind of see that my job and my life are kind of intertwined.  Read More

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Editor’s Note — Tysons Reporter is running Q&As with the candidates running for the open Falls Church City Council seat. The stories have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Simone Pass Tucker is one of three candidates — along with Joshua Shokoor and Debora Schantz-Hiscott — running for the Falls Church City Council’s open seat in the upcoming Nov. 3 election. A 2016 graduate of George Mason High School, Tucker runs the candle shop Lavender Mensch Candles out of their home. If elected, they would become the first openly non-binary person to take office in Virginia history.

Tysons Reporter: Why did you decide to run for the Falls Church City Council?

Tucker: I have lived in Falls Church my whole life. I grew up being pretty involved in the local community and in politics. In 2008 and 2012, my parents took me door-to-door campaigning for Barack Obama, and I’ve dedicated my adult life to leadership, volunteering, and civic engagement. At North Carolina State University, and then William & Mary once I transferred, I became involved in progressive activism focused on things like reproductive justice, racial equity, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and climate change.

So, I have a history in activism and advocacy work. I came back to Falls Church City with a mission after college to make a Falls Church that is more eco-friendly, more compassionate, more equitable, more just, and more livable for everyone who lives here. I am a non-binary Jewish person, and so, I know what it is like to feel unrepresented by government, and I don’t want anyone else to have to feel that way, so I’m running to be a voice for our marginalized communities, to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, and really, to bring a fresh perspective to our city council.

Tysons Reporter: For progressive issues like racial justice and environmental justice, why do you think those issues are important for the city to think about?

Tucker: In terms of racial equity, stated support of groups like Black Lives Matter is a great start. You know, Falls Church has a pretty racist past as a city, so we need to pledge to do better through concrete action and policy. In 1887, most of the black neighborhoods in Falls Church City were gerrymandered out, and we passed a local segregation ordinance in 1915 that wasn’t repealed until 1999, and we’re still largely divided actually along that same red line on Route 29.

To address these issues, as a member of city council, I’ll fight to establish dedicated city housing for people who work in Falls Church; purchase, preserve, and prolong the affordable housing units set to expire; fund housing vouchers; end restrictive, racist single-family homes zoning laws; establish public housing; [and] require the usage of body cameras for all police officers. As of right now, actually, we don’t even require our dash cameras to be operated at all times. I’ll bring unrepresented voices to the table by asking them directly what they need from local government. We don’t have a ton of citizen outreach like that at the moment, but it is extremely important to make sure everyone’s involved.

In terms of environmentalism, climate change is going to be costing billions of dollars and even more lives, so it’s really important nationally and internationally, but also at the local level, that we take action now before it’s too late. So, I am lucky enough to be endorsed by a few Virginia Sunrise Movement hubs — Sunrise McLean and Sunrise Williamsburg — and I am a passionate believer in the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal does have a national scope, but there are tons of ways to focus on enacting it at a local level. We focus on our carbon footprint, and we need to implement green energy in all of our government buildings and work towards requiring this in all incoming developments.

I also believe that…adding more green space, more permeable land is really important for Falls Church specifically, because we have a rapidly expanding floodplain, and our stormwater runoff issues are just steadily growing worse. I also think it’s important that we have proportional stormwater management fees and need to rethink how we’re approaching stormwater management. We don’t want to be having pipes that are just redirecting that stormwater. We want to make sure that we’re absorbing it so that it isn’t just causing a problem somewhere else. We don’t want to reroute the problem, we want to solve it. Read More

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Editor’s Note — Tysons Reporter is running Q&As with the candidates running for the open Falls Church City Council seat. The stories have been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Joshua Shokoor is one of three candidates — along with Debora Shantz-Hiscott and Simone Victoria Pass-Tucker — running for the open Falls Church City Council seat in the upcoming election on Nov. 3.

Tysons Reporter: Why did you decide to run? 

Shokoor: I decided to run because I believe the greatest policy issue facing our community is a lack of affordable housing and the pending loss of hundreds of affordable units, which will leave people of color, city staff, teachers and employees of small businesses with nowhere else to go in the Falls Church. I have worked in affordable housing for years, both professionally and as a veteran of the city’s housing commission and an author of the “Affordable Living Policy.” I have the public policy and private knowledge to mitigate these losses. But my fear is, without my voice on the City Council, not much attention will be paid to this issue.

TR: What’s your connection to the Falls Church community? 

Shokoor: I am a lifelong resident of the city and of course went through the K-12 school system. I am also a veteran on the housing commission and an author of the Affordable Living Policy. I was fortunate enough to intern with the city’s Department of Housing and Human Services while obtaining my master’s in public policy.

TR: What are your top three agenda items? 

a) Preserve the affordable housing in the City

b)  Increase access to the City through the creation of more affordable housing

c) Create a Racial Equity Commission to develop policies through the lens of making Falls Church more inclusive and welcoming for all families

TR: How do you plan to work cohesively with the other council members? 

Shokoor: I already know many on the City Council and we get along fairly well. Everyone on the council is volunteering many hours of their time a week because they are dedicated to making Falls Church a better place to live. Like any team, some people disagree with each other, but at the end of the day, you have to realize that the City Council shares a united goal and vision for this community, and it is no different than the one I have for Falls Church.

TR: Do you approve of how the city has handled COVID-19 so far? What would you change?

Shokoor: The City has done a lot to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether that is through strict social distancing, mask wearing, and initiatives to focus resident’s consumer purchase to businesses in the city which are still not back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of patrons and revenue. But I think Falls Church’s best response has come from the Department of Housing Human Services. Through their efforts they have provided rental assistance to 45 families since the pandemic began, many of which have been helped numerous. They have paid for utility expenses for over 50 families, provided masks to communities most at-risk, and supplied food to residents through donations to their programs. In a wealthy community like Falls Church, it is easy for some to overlook the struggles of many residents and families.

Photo courtesy Joshua Shokoor

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Friday Morning Notes

Fairfax County to Receive an Additional $4.85 Million in CARES Act Funding— “Through this final allocation, Fairfax County will receive an additional $4.85 Million in federal funding to assist residents facing higher risk of eviction and help combat the economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.” [Fairfax County]

3 F.C. Council Candidates Appear at First Joint Campaign Event — “A new breed of candidates for public office has surfaced in the race to temporarily fill a vacancy on the Falls Church City Council.” [Falls Church News-Press]

D.C. Restaurants Turn to Pop-up Concepts to Stay Afloat — “Bethesda’s URBNmarket is bringing a socially distant Oktoberfest event to Tysons on Oct. 9 and 10 with seasonal beverages in the pop-up biergarten.” [Washington Business Journal]

McLean Mom Plans Meal Packing Efforts During Pandemic — “Through her LiftLikeAMother​ Amplify program, McLean’s Alicia McKenzie coordinates meal packing efforts to help those in need.” [Patch]

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Why More and More Families in Tysons are Calling High-Rises Home — “High-rise housing is often portrayed as places for the young and childless. Housing for transient young adults before they move out to the suburbs to start families. But Tysons shows that this stereotype leaves out a large number of families who live in high-rises.” [Greater Greater Washington]

No Car Decals in This Fall’s Tax Bills — “Falls Church Treasurer Jody Acosta reported to the F.C. City Council Tuesday that the personal property tax bills being issued this fall will not, as in the past, include decals to be placed on car windshields.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Creative Cauldron Director Wins Another Helen Hayes Award — “Matt Conner, the prolific composer, writer, director and performer for Falls Church’s own Creative Cauldron theater company won a highly prestigious D.C. Metro [region-wide] Helen Hayes Award for Best Director of a Musical for his work on the Cauldron’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” earlier this year.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Vienna Kids’ Friendship Bracelet Sales Feed Families In Need –“The sisters’ efforts making bracelets over the summer helps an initiative of restaurants feeding families during the pandemic.” [Patch]

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Monday Morning Notes

F.C. Council Vote on Whole Foods Project to Be Delayed — “The News-Press has learned at plans at present are to delay a vote by the Falls Church City Council at its business meeting this Monday on the proposed Broad at Washington mixed use development process because there is insufficient support on the Council at present to move it forward for evaluation by City boards and commissions.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Improper Disposal Of Smoking Materials Cause Merrifield Condo Fire –“Units arrived on the scene of a four-story, condominium building with fire showing from a third-floor deck.” [Twitter]

Computer Hackers Attack Fairfax County School System –“Hackers attacked the Fairfax County Public Schools computer system and placed ransomware on some of its systems, a school district spokesperson said Friday.” [Washington Post]

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Friday Morning Notes

Two Candidate Forums Set for Special F.C. Council Election — “The Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and the Falls Church League of Women Voters have each announced forums to hear from the three candidates running to fill the F.C. City Council seat vacated by the July passing of Daniel X. Sze.” [Falls Church News-Press]

FCPS Extends Breakfast and Lunch To Go–“Fairfax County Public Schools announced they will continue free breakfast and lunch to go starting Tuesday through December 31.” [Local DVM]

McLean Firm Wins $7.3M DARPA 5G Security Contract — “McLean-based computer and network security company Kryptowire LLC won a four-year, $7.3 million contract to help the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conduct research and development services for 5G mobile network security, according to a Department of Defense statement released Tuesday.” [Virginia Business]

Kids of All Ages on What They Miss Most About Dining in Restaurants — “The flaming onion volcano wouldn’t make it through the car ride. Marcus, who is 8 and lives in Tysons Corner, misses dinner and a show at his favorite restaurant, Sakura.” [Washington City Paper]

Capital One May Find Its Way Into the McLean Metro Station’s Name — “Fairfax County is weighing a proposal to rename the McLean Metro station as “McLean-Capital One Hall,” which, if approved, would become the first station to include a company’s name in its title.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Unemployment Claims Dip — “New claims for unemployment benefits filed by Northern Virginia residents fell last week to their lowest level since pandemic-related business shutdowns began, even as thousands of area residents continue collecting unemployment, the Virginia Employment Commission reported Thursday.” [Inside NoVa]

Capital One Fined for Data Breach — “Capital One Financial Corp (NYSE: COF) will pay an $80 million fine and enter into a consent order with its regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, over issues related to a data breach in 2019 that exposed more than 106 million records of customers and credit card applicants.” [Washington Business Journal]

Two Activists Running for Falls Church Council Seat — “Two longtime City of Falls Church activists, Debbie Hiscott and Josh Shokoor, have been the only ones to announce so far they’ll be running for the now-open seat on the Falls Church City Council.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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