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COVID-19 vaccinations, the state budget, and the question of how to get students and teachers back in schools are among the many items on the agenda for Virginia lawmakers this year, as the General Assembly prepares to convene for a truncated 46-day session.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd) and State Senate Majority Leader Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th) cited those issues among their top priorities for the upcoming legislative session during a virtual town hall hosted by the City of Falls Church on Wednesday (Jan. 6).

“We have to have a balanced budget. We have to prioritize K-12 education,” Simon said.

He added transportation infrastructure, criminal justice reform, voting accessibility, and the need to put Virginia on a path to “going carbon-free as soon as we can” to his laundry list of goals for the session, which starts on Wednesday (Jan. 13) and ends on Feb. 27.

Currently, Virginia is vaccinating healthcare providers and those in nursing care facilities, who comprise Phase 1A of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s priority groups.

He and Saslaw said they hope Virginia can start vaccinating those in Phase 1B — such as firefighters, teachers, agriculture workers, and those 75 and older — by February.

Saslaw emphasized the importance of funding for K-12 and college education and tackling school reopening plans.

“A lot of kids are being hurt by virtual learning,” he said. “It just doesn’t work well.”

He also noted that increased expenditures for COVID-19 relief and transportation infrastructure, combined with decreased revenue from meals, sales, and gas taxes, have contributed to a potential budget deficit of $300 million to $400 million.

“The budget is the overriding thing,” Saslaw said.

As chair of the House Committee of Privileges and Elections, Simon said that he is looking to make permanent several voting laws that the General Assembly implemented last year on a temporary basis.

With COVID-19 keeping people confined to their homes and turning potentially crowded polling places into a public health risk, state legislators voted to permit ballot drop boxes, prepaid postage for mail absentee ballots, and other allowances, but those measures were only in place for 2020.

The General Assembly will need to adopt new legislation this year to continue those policies for future elections.

“Virginia has a history, unfortunately, of voter suppression, and I’m working very hard to change that,” Simon said.

Simon and Saslaw also indicated support for a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would eliminate voting restrictions for people who have been convicted of a felony.

Finally, Simon assured listeners that the redistricting process will be open to the public. During last year’s Nov. 3 general election, Virginians approved a referendum that shifted responsibility for drawing congressional and state legislative district lines from the General Assembly to a commission of legislators and citizens.

“The good news about it all is the transparency piece,” Simon said. “Every conversation about this — if you can bear it — you can tune in and follow it.”

Photo via Virginia General Assembly/Flickr

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Vienna Police Respond to Republican Senator’s Report of Vandalism and Threats by Protestors — “Officers were called to [Missouri Sen. Josh] Hawley’s home in Vienna, a Washington suburb, around 7:45 p.m. after someone reported that there were “people protesting in front of the house.” Officers who responded to the scene found that the “people were peaceful,” said Master Police Officer Juan Vazquez, a spokesman for the Town of Vienna Police Department.” [Associated Press/WTOP]

VDOT Schedules Meeting on American Legion Bridge Transit Recommendations — “After draft transit recommendations for the Interstate 495 American Legion Bridge Transit and Transportation Demand Management study were shared, a virtual public meeting will be held on Jan. 12.” [Patch]

Fauci to Hold Virginia Town Hall on COVID-19 Vaccine — “Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will speak about the COVID-19 vaccine during a virtual Friday afternoon event co-sponsored by Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, the state health department and faith leaders from around the state.” [Inside NoVA]

Local Students Named to Statewide Honor Choir — “Twenty-four Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students from 13 high schools have been named to the 2020 Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) Senior Honors Choir. This group will present a virtual concert in March at a time and date to be announced.” [FCPS]

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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The City of Falls Church will hold a virtual town hall meeting at noon this coming Friday (Jan. 8) to discuss proposed changes to the West Falls Church Economic Development Project, an extensive mixed-use development that has already been in the works for two years.

This will be the second town hall on the project since developer Falls Church Gateway Partners told the Falls Church City Council in December that it needs to revise its agreement with the city in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first town hall took place on Dec. 17.

“The pandemic has caused a constriction in commercial real estate markets for new investments in hotel, office, and retail,” City Manager Wyatt Shields said at a Dec. 14 city council meeting. “The developer…requests changes to terms of the Comprehensive Agreement in order to be able [to] proceed with obtaining financing for the project.”

The composition of the project will largely remain the same, with no alterations to the proposed ratios of hotel, office and civic space, senior housing, and condo and apartment residential units.

However, Gateway Partners says the project delivery date will be delayed by six months. The developer also wants to reduce its capitalized lease payments from $34.5 million to $25.5 million, increase ground rent payments, and revise provisions for profit sharing with the city.

If approved, the amendments would come on the condition that Gateway Partners completes the demolition and rough grading of the George Mason High School property by the end of May 2021.

The developer has also committed to finishing the negotiation of agreements with a prospective grocer, office developer, and senior housing developer by Mar. 1.

Imagined as a future gateway to Falls Church City, the West End development is expected to have approximately 123,000 square feet of retail anchored by a grocery store, along with 17,000 square feet of civic space that will include a conference center and an outdoor Commons area for music and entertainment.

According to the project website, the residential components include between 150 and 250 senior housing units, up to 302 condo units, and approximately 400 multi-family apartment units. 6% of the total units will qualify as affordable dwelling units.

The plans also feature approximately 325,000 square feet of commercial office space and a limited or full-service hotel with about 146 rooms.

The Falls Church City Council will hold a public hearing and take a vote on the proposed project agreement amendments on Jan. 11.

Image via City of Falls Church

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FCPS Town Hall Tonight — “Join FCPS Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand for another opportunity to ask questions and provide your thoughts on Wednesday, September 2, from 6 to 7 p.m. The focus for this Town Hall will be resources for parents, including technology and other supports.” [FCPS]

Fired Capitals Head Coach Selling Local Mansion — “It’s barely been a week since the Capitals fired head coach Todd Reirden, but his Falls Church mansion is already on the market. The six-bedroom, eight-bathroom house sits on 2.3 acres, and was listed Monday for $2,250,000 by Keller Williams agent Jordan Stuart.” [Washingtonian]

Tysons Galleria Debt — “The owner of the high-end Tysons Galleria mall said it plans to avoid defaulting on $282 million in debt slated to mature Tuesday as the owners of retail centers across the nation continue to struggle amid the coronavirus pandemic.” [Washington Business Journal]

Push for Vienna Police Reform — “In June, Sam Ressin read the news reports of protests against racism and police brutality in Minneapolis. Then he looked at his own community of Vienna, in Fairfax County.” [DCist]

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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With the start of the new school year quickly approaching, the latest Fairfax County Public Schools town hall will focus how staff will support students with disabilities in a virtual learning environment.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand will talk to some of the school system’s special education staff.

“Staff members will explain what they do to support students with disabilities in Fairfax County and will talk about student engagement in the virtual environment, family partnerships, student support, and specialized instruction,” according to FCPS.

The town hall is set to run from 6-7 p.m. and will be livestreamed. People can  submit questions in advance by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-800-231-6359 during the town hall.

Recently, Brabrand has held town halls on Wednesdays to talk about the plans for the virtual return to school and answer community members’ questions.

FCPS has a town hall about the return to school in Spanish scheduled for next  Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., followed by a town hall on Wednesday, Sept. 2, on resources for parents.

Image via Fairfax County Public Schools

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Fairfax County Public Schools invites the local community to a virtual town hall on Wednesday. 

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand will discuss the virtual return to school on Sep. 8 and address any questions. The event plans to run from 6-7 p.m. 

People interested in viewing can watch via the livestream or on Channel 99. Questions regarding the virtual start to the school year can be sent to [email protected] or to 1-800-231-6359. 

According to a recent message from Brabrand, weekly town halls will resume starting with tomorrow’s town hall.

Image via Fairfax County Public Schools

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Fairfax County NAACP announced a new virtual town hall to discuss system racism in public schools with Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

Brabrand was originally going to co-host a town hall on the topic with Fairfax NAACP on July 21. He dropped out of the event, which took place the same night the county’s school board reconsidered reopening plans for schools.

Fairfax NAACP pivoted and used the town hall on July 21 to unveil the organization’s priorities for combatting racism in schools. Fairfax NAACP President Sean Perryman said during the event that the organization would work to reschedule the discussion with Brabrand.

Now, Brabrand and Fairfax NAACP are scheduled to host a town hall from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 5. People can watch the event on Facebook Live.

“One topic that will be discussed is the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Fairfax NAACP posted on Facebook, sharing a YouTube video by The Root, a Black-oriented online magazine, that explains how the School-to-Prison Pipeline works.

Here’s the event description:

From academic achievement, enrollment at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, to the School Resource Officer program and the school-to-prison pipeline, systemic racism effects our children’s lives every day. This will be a civil discourse where we can openly talk about our and our kids’ experiences, ask questions, and talk about what change looks like.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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Citizens Group Raises Concerns About Tysons Project — “A proposed Tysons development might be the right thing for a spot now occupied by low-rise commercial buildings, but the applicant should resubmit the proposal after making several improvements, McLean Citizens Association board members said July 1.” [Inside NoVa]

FCPS Town Hall Tonight — “Join FCPS Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Sloan Presidio, and director of the office of special education procedural support Jane Strong for an FCPS virtual Town Hall on Monday, July 6, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Tysons Company Donates Thousands of Masks — “Fairfax County received a donation of 15,000 FDA-approved KN95 masks from Portals Global, a Tysons-based consulting firm. Portals Global’s CEO Omo Igiehon said he chose Fairfax County as the donation recipient in order to give back to the community that he has lived in for 21 years.” [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

New Mayor, Town Council Members — “New Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and the new Town Council will be sworn into office at a public ceremony on July 6. The ceremony will be held outside the Vienna Community Center at 6 p.m.” [Patch]

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Last night’s town hall with Fairfax County’s police chief covered a variety of issues related to police reform, from progress on the demands made by Fairfax County NAACP to body-worn cameras.  

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn hosted the meeting last night to give locals a chance to provide input and ask questions. The conflict-free town hall mainly focused on Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. answering questions from audience members and explaining FCPD’s policies in detail. 

Roessler highlighted the reforms made by FCPD since the shooting of John Geer, an unarmed Springfield man, in 2013. They have shifted towards a “co-production” method of policing, which emphasizes the importance of community engagement by bringing in advocates to review issues and discuss police report narratives. 

A big goal of the police department is to increase diversion of tasks, including sending mental health or substance abuse cases away from the police. Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who is the chair of the county’s Public Safety Committee, also emphasized that the current range of issues diverted to the police is “too much to ask of them” and is in support of the Diversion First model. 

The chief addressed terminology that the public wanted to be defined, including the FCPD’s definition of the use of force as “anything beyond a guide or escort, or above putting handcuffs on.” Roessler said that anything beyond that is subject to investigation. Additionally, he clarified that chokeholds are prohibited in Fairfax County. 

Roessler also touched on the development of body-worn cameras. He said that the idea has been in the works since June 2015, and he wants to adopt the co-production model of community engagement in this development.

He says they are making “great progress” on this project and that the policies regarding the cameras are addressed online in an American University pilot program testing the same model of body camera policies. They plan to evaluate the body cameras again in-person in September to ensure the policies are exceeding community expectations.

Roessler discussed the evaluation and promotion process of officers, saying that evaluation begins upon application. He described a thorough path of training that officers go through before assignments. Additionally, they value community engagement when evaluating candidates for senior staff positions to ensure officers “embody the spirit of what the community needs for the future.” 

“We want our officers to engage with the community members in a positive fashion, not just calls for service,” Roessler said in describing what they look for upon officer evaluation. 

Other issues covered included the presence of the MS-13 gang, to which Roessler said they “will be relentless on gang activity in Fairfax County.”

When asked how the police department addresses domestic and sexual violence, Roessler said they use the Lethality Assessment Program — Maryland Model to assess the situation and connect victims with immediate help, such as counselors, attorneys or volunteers from the community.

Photo via Youtube Live

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Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is inviting locals to join his upcoming virtual event with Fairfax County’s police chief.

Alcorn plans to host the virtual town hall with Chief of Police Edwin Roessler Jr. from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1.

Hunter Mill District residents can join in the discussion on the police department and the community by asking questions or providing input on policing topics, according to an email from Alcorn’s office. People who cannot attend the event live can email questions to the Hunter Mill District Office.

Participants will have a number of ways of joining the town hall, which will be hosted on Webex.

People can either register to attend via Webex, watch on YouTube Live or listen in by calling 1-408-418-9388 and using the access code 129 359 7948.

Once the event ends, the YouTube video will be available on the Hunter Mill District website sometime on Thursday evening, according to the email.

Alcorn photo via Supervisor Walter Alcorn/Facebook, Roessler photo via Fairfax County

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