June continued to be a turbulent time on the Board and in our nation. I’ll briefly cover our board meeting, but talk more about COVID-19 and Systemic Racism, both of which I view as plagues on our nation and which have been consuming most of our time.
We moved into Phase 2 on June 15th and likely will move to Phase 3 in a few weeks. We set up a way for restaurants to be able to provide increased outdoor seating without a lengthy permit process. Through our “We Are Covered” program businesses, churches and apartment buildings can fill out an online form and pledge their commitment to adhering to the face coverings and social distancing requirements, and received a free “We Are Covered” sign to display. I hope everyone looks for those certificates and, if you don’t see it, ask and let the establishment know that you refuse to enter unless they have it.
Our website continues to provide up-to-date information. Our rates of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been trending down for some time. But the virus is still present throughout Arlington. We cannot, after all these difficult months, let this virus surge again. How we do as a community moving forward will depend on several things:
• Easy access to testing for everyone
• Robust contact tracing
• Widespread wearing of face coverings
• Social distancing
Personally, I am continuing to only visit with people outside, wear a mask when close to people, and to spend much more time at home than I usually do.
Testing and Tracing:
I believe Arlington has the best system of contact tracing in Virginia. Soon we hope to supply enough testing for anyone who needs it. We’ve now, with State help, done two free testing events for over 2,000 people who wanted testing. There were no requirements for getting the test, and we targeted our hardest hit area where many of our most vulnerable residents live.
During the pandemic, it has been difficult for our advisory groups and commissions to meet, which has been frustrating for everyone. Soon we will announce how commissions can meet safely and legally now that we have moved to Phase 2. Commissions have to follow all the requirements of FOIA, which makes setting them up much more complicated than arranging a Zoom meeting.
The cold blooded murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis continues to send shock waves through our society, as it should. We had dozens of people sign up to speak about police reform and racial justice during the public comment portion of our Saturday the 13th Board meeting. Since we could not listen to all of them, we set up a public Listening Session for Thursday evening at 6 pm that lasted until after 10pm.
On Juneteenth, we had an inspiring and uplifting Rally for Peace put on by our Black Employees Council. Later we learned that 3 of our Black employees had been tasked with power washing chalk art done by children in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The messages were on the sidewalk and street in front of a private home. People were outraged about the removal, and rightly so. I called the family, went with my colleagues to visit and apologized that afternoon. The supportive gathering at the home eased my heart as did seeing children already creating more art. I’m told the entire street was soon covered in chalk art calling for racial justice.
Our entire County Government has taken this incident as a wakeup call and an important, painful lesson. I believe a lot of good will come from it. Our Manager sent a letter to all employees early Saturday evening with an explanation about how it happened, with apologies to our employees and the family, and steps forward. While a number of staff were saying that this was just a mistake and a “one off” event, the Manager and Board disagreed. It was a mistake, yes, but it was a symptom of something much deeper. While good policies and procedures (ours are currently under review) help, true systemic change and racial justice will only come if we change people’s hearts and minds. I believe this incident, the soul-searching and changes it has already caused, is an important step for our whole community.
June Meeting Items:
Among the items the Board addressed in our June 13th and carryover meetings were the Manager’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) which is usually a 10-year plan, but is now a one-year plan which we will update next year. We are putting new resources only into storm water management and body worn cameras for our police, sheriffs, and fire marshals. Maintenance needed to keep existing buildings and bridges safe and from falling down, will be done. Also, the Board advertised hearings on changes to the Columbia Pike Redevelopment Plan regarding affordable housing both for commercial contributions and residential requirements. Given the difficulty of meeting and the importance of the changes for residential, the commercial issues will come to us in July, and the residential ones in October. That way there will be plenty of time for community discussion.
State of the County:
Every June, the Chair of the County Board delivers State of the County remarks to the Chamber of Commerce. This year, as with everything, it was a little different and done by Zoom. I enjoyed pulling together my thoughts about where we are as a County and where I think we are going. The short summary is: Considering everything, Arlington County is doing pretty well; however, we will continue to have difficult adjustments. You can read what I said.
JULY 7 Special Election:
Don’t forget to vote in the special election for Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. You can vote:
- In-person absentee now at Courthouse,
- In person on July 7 at your regular polling place (Please note that Wakefield HS is closed and voters should go to: Claremont Immersion School, 4700 S Chesterfield Rd.)
- My preferred is absentee by mail. It’s easy to order your ballot, fill it out and send it back. You need to request your ballot by June 30th and mail it in by 7 pm on July 7th.
As always, I welcome comments, questions and suggestions. The issues we are dealing with are so large these days that I often feel I’m not providing the information I perhaps should. But I don’t want this newsletter to be so long no one wants to read it. As you’ve likely noticed, I am sending out more than one a month when something important happens that I want you to be informed about. If you’d prefer a different approach, please let me know.
I hope everyone is staying well,