Fairfax County’s General Assembly delegation could get a serious shake-up in upcoming elections.

Virginia’s new redistricting maps, which were unanimously approved by the state Supreme Court late last month, created four open General Assembly seats, while pairing some long-time incumbents.

The maps also altered U.S. House of Representatives electoral boundaries. They are in effect for the 2022 general election, which will have members of Congress and the state Senate on the ballot.

Intended to reflect population changes shown by 2020 Census data, the maps were drawn by two court-appointed “special masters” — one Democrat and one Republican — after a nonpartisan commission failed to complete the task. It was a contentious process in comparison to Fairfax County’s redistricting efforts last year.

Under the new maps, there are three open seats representing Fairfax County in the House of Delegates and one open seat in the state Senate, according to analysis by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project:

House of Delegates

  • District 11, which is bounded by Hunter Mill and Lawyers roads in Oakton to the north and Braddock Road past Fairfax City to the south
  • District 15, which encompasses Burke up north to Little River Turnpike and reaches the Loudoun County border to the south
  • District 19, which follows Telegraph Road starting in Hayfield and includes Lorton, Mason Neck, and parts of Prince William County

Senate

  • District 33, which covers Burke into Prince William County

The county’s Congressional districts for Reps. Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly remain intact, though with District 10 shifting further south, Wexton now represents a smaller portion of county residents than before.

However, at the state level, four House and two Senate districts now have incumbents living within the same district lines, requiring them to make a choice: run in a primary against a colleague, move to another district, or retire.

Throughout the redistricting process, the special masters said aligning with incumbents’ residences was not a priority compared to other considerations, like compactness and preserving communities of interest.

“It’s a challenge for any incumbent when paired with a colleague after redistricting, especially within the same political party, to decide whether he or she should continue on or call it a day for the public service,” said George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government professor David Ramadan, a former delegate himself. “Bottom line, this is politics, and each member is going to do what that member thinks is best for them.” Read More

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Rolling weekly average of COVID-19 vaccination and booster rates in Fairfax County (via Fairfax County)

(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) As Fairfax County prepares for a “likely” wave of omicron infections, officials are cautiously optimistic that vaccination rates and the potentially less-severe illness caused by the variant may prevent a surge like what was seen last winter.

Fairfax County Health Department Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu and epidemiologist Dr. Ben Schwartz lauded the county’s vaccination rates in a status update for the Board of Supervisors’ health and human services committee on Tuesday (Dec. 14).

At the same time, the officials urged residents to get their booster shots in anticipation of already-rising case rates getting accelerated by the omnicron variant that’s quickly spreading around the globe.

While early research suggests the variant is more transmissible and has an increased ability to infect those who are already vaccinated, officials remain hopeful that Fairfax County can avoid a winter surge as drastic as the one seen a year ago.

“We are likely to have an omicron wave here,” said Schwartz. “[But] what we are hearing so far about omicron is that there are fewer hospitalizations.”

The COVID-19 vaccines, particularly booster shots, help prevent severe illness, the experts note. Nearly 69% of all Fairfax Health District residents are considered fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the D.C. area.

But that doesn’t mean residents no longer need to be cautious or careful during the holiday season.

“Even if most infections are mild, a highly transmissible variant could result in enough cases to overwhelm the health care systems,” Schwartz said.

Booster shots are being highly recommended as well as continuing to mask indoors, even if it’s technically no longer required.

“We’ve got to stay with the mitigation efforts,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I know everyone is exhausted with them, but now is no time to let our guard down.”

Omicron aside, hospitalizations and deaths are currently down across the county, with officials crediting vaccinations.

In addition, while infections were once higher among communities of color compared to the county’s white population, those rates have since more or less evened out.

“This is…a consequence of vaccination, where Hispanics in Fairfax County have a higher vaccination coverage rate than other racial and ethnic groups,” Schwartz said.

Children between the ages of 5 and 9 currently have the highest rate of infection, likely due to that age group just being approved for vaccines a little over a month ago.

Cases within Fairfax County Public Schools, though, have remained very low, according to county health department statistics. Just 0.76% of all students have contracted COVID-19 since late September. The rate is highest among elementary school students, likely due to the delay in vaccination approval.

To this point, 40 school outbreaks have occurred, which are classified as three or more cases within a class or group, but no schools have had to close due to COVID-19.

“This should be proclaimed very widely to the community. These school numbers…are a massive success,” McKay said.

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Two days before Thanksgiving, the 29 Diner was decimated by a fire. The next day, owner John K. Wood got back to work.

“It was a total loss,” Wood told FFXnow of the damage to the iconic, 74-year-old Fairfax City eatery. “But there’s nothing to be sorry about. It’s time to celebrate what this diner means to the community. I’m going to be here every day that I can — rain, sleet, snow — to watch the rebirth of the 29 Diner.”

Firefighters got a call around 6 p.m. on Nov. 23 about an explosion in the back of the building, WJLA reported. When crews arrived, a fire had spread from a storage room where chemicals were being stored to the kitchen across the way.

“It was a chemical fire that reached about 700 degrees,” said Wood, a Robinson High School graduate who has owned the diner since 2014.

Thankfully, no one was in the building at the time, but the fire rendered the kitchen completely unusable. Wood estimates it could take six months for the kitchen to be restored so the diner can reopen.

He’s already getting significant help from the community to do just that. A GoFundMe campaign set up to help Wood rebuild and support the employees that have lost their jobs has amassed over $54,000 in just a week’s time.

“I’m on the wings of the community and I feel the love,” Wood said.

A cozy spot to get a short stack and two eggs over easy, 29 Diner is also a historic landmark. In 1992, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for being a “uniquely American form of roadside architecture.”

The pre-assembled metal, glass, and double-wide diner was considered the “Cadillac of diners,” Wood says, when it emerged in 1947. The building was manufactured in New Jersey and purchased by original owner D.T. “Bill” Glascock, who placed it along Fairfax Boulevard, which was called Lee Highway then, like Route 29 still is (for now) in Fairfax County.

Wood reveals a little-known secret about the restaurant: a 1,500 square-foot basement, the dimensions of a good-sized townhouse, runs the entire length of the diner.

29 Diner grew with the region, becoming a hub of community in Fairfax. It did go through several owners, including Fredy and Virginia Guevara, who was a server there in the 1960s. When the couple retired, Wood took over.

“You step into that diner, and it just takes you back to when you were 9 years old and you got your first milkshake,” Wood told The Washington Post when he became the owner in 2014.

Wood has been a proud steward ever since. Open 24 hours, six days a week, the diner has become a headquarters of sorts for a number of charitable endeavors, raising money for causes from feeding those in need to supporting families with cancer and veteran suicide prevention.

Not even a destructive fire can dim Wood’s perpetual optimism and commitment to giving back.

“This is going to give us a chance to remodel, in the way the Lord wanted us to have,” he said.”We are going to set up a more inclusive kitchen, [better] wheelchair access, and help disabled veterans.”

Wood is planning a number of events in the coming weeks to help raise money, including runs and a motorcycle rally.

He says a big chunk of donations will also go toward providing for his employees and their families while they wait for the diner to reopen.

Rich Berkwitz, who set up the GoFundMe campaign, appreciates everything Wood has done for the diner and community. A teacher at Mark Twain Middle School in Alexandria and an assistant wrestling coach at John Lewis High School, he says he eats at 29 Diner “pretty much every week” because “it feels like home.”

“I’m so happy that the community is backing him as much as he’s back to the community,” he said. “He’s just so giving.”

It’s unlikely that 29 Diner will reopen prior to June 2022, but Wood has faith in the future.

“It’s going to come back better than it was,” he said. “That wasn’t a fire. That was the Lord paying a visit to the 29 Diner.”

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons)

Fairfax County will phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in county operations.

Gas-powered leaf blowers are too noisy, dirty, and do not adhere to the newly-adopted Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, according to several county supervisors. Instead, officials are recommending the use of electric equipment, along with leaf and grasscycling.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw presented a joint board matter directing county staff to develop a plan for ending gas-powered leaf blower purchases at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The board approved the matter by a vote of 9-1 with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity dissenting.

“The use of gas-powered leaf blowers presents a number of problems,” said Walkinshaw at the meeting. “Most prominently, their extreme and pentertraing noise levels and the highly toxic emissions from the out of date two stroke engines.”

Walkinshaw noted that the blowers operate at a noise level that could potentially cause hearing damage. He also mentioned that they are inefficient in terms of its output and emit 23 times the amount of carbon dioxide as a Ford pickup truck.

The board matter additionally calls for contractors that work for the county to begin transitioning away from this type of equipment, encouraged by incentives from the county.

“By taking an incentive-based approach to our procurement policies, we can jumpstart the transition from dirty and noisy gas-powered blowers,” wrote Walkinshaw in a statement. “This initiative sends a strong signal to landscaping contractors that now is the time to invest in cleaner equipment.”

However, specific incentives were not discussed and will be established “when staff reports back,” a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office wrote to FFXnow in an email.

As of yet, there’s no deadline established for the phase out.

During the meeting, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that the county currently owns 133 gas-powered leaf blowers.

However, that number doesn’t include ones used by contractors who work for the county, a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office confirmed.

Alcron said he still hoped that this idea of banning gas blowers would be also adopted by the Virginia General Assembly, but stated that the county’s adoption was “clearly a step in the right direction.”

McKay acknowledged converting to an entirely electric fleet of blowers could be very expensive for some contractors, but hopes that the county phasing out this type of equipment is “leading by example.”

A cost estimate for phasing out this equipment isn’t available yet, but it’s expected to be minimal, according to Walkinshaw’s office.

Photo via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons

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Today is a big election day for Virginia and Fairfax County, with the eyes of the nation on the Commonwealth as voters select a new governor and other state leaders.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. this morning and will close at 7 p.m. at 247 precincts across the county.

What’s on the Ballot

Voters will determine the state’s next governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general as well as all 100 delegates in the General Assembly. Fairfax County also has a school bond referendum.

Governor

  • Terry McAuliffe (D)
  • Glenn Youngkin (R)

Polls suggest a tight contest between McAuliffe and Youngkin, with a final survey by the marketing research firm Trafalger Group giving the Republican a very slight lead.

Lieutenant Governor

  • Hala Ayala (D)
  • Winsome Sears (R)

No matter who is elected, the winner will make history as the first woman of color to hold the second-highest office in the Commonwealth.

Attorney General

  • Mark Herring (D)
  • Jason Miyares (R)

Herring is vying for a third term, while Miyares could become the first Latino to hold the post in Virginia.

General Assembly

All 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates are up for election, giving Republicans a chance to wrest control of the legislative chamber back from the Democrats.

In races covered by FFXnow sister sites Reston Now and Tysons Reporter, long-time incumbent Ken Plum (D) is being challenged by Matt Lang (R) to represent Reston in the 36th District. At one point this summer, Lang was outraising Plum, but that seems to no longer be the case.

In the 86th District, which runs from Chantilly through Herndon to Route 7, Irene Shin (D) is taking on Julie Perry (R) after ousting incumbent Ibraheem Samirah by just 230 votes in June. Perry is a high school history teacher who was accused of making anti-transgender remarks earlier this fall.

Incumbent Kathleen Murphy (D), first elected in 2015, is again being challenged by Gary Pan (R) in the 34th District, which contains Wolf Trap, Great Falls, McLean, and part of Loudoun County. This is a rematch from 2019, when Murphy won with about 58% of the vote.

While the 48th District is primarily in Arlington, it also includes southern McLean. There, incumbent Rip Sullivan (D) is being challenged for the first time since he was elected in 2014 by Republican nominee Edward Monroe (R).

Del. Mark Keam (D) is facing his first challenge in several years for the 35th District, including Vienna and part of Tysons. Republican nominee Kevin McGrath used to work for the CIA.

For City of Falls Church voters, the choice for the 53rd District’s next delegate comes between incumbent Marcus Simon (D) and restaurant manager Sarah White (R).

Other Fairfax County delegate races include:

  • District 37: David Bulova (D), Kenny Meteiver (R)
  • District 38: Kaye Kory (D), Tom Pafford (R)
  • District 39: Vivian Watts (D), Maureen Brody (R)
  • District 40: Dan Helmer (D), Harold Pyon (R)
  • District 41: Eileen Filler-Corn (D), John Wolfe (R)
  • District 42: Kathy Tran (D), Edward McGovern (R)
  • District 43: Mark Sickles (D), Brenton Hammond (R)
  • District 44: Paul Krizek (D), Richard Hayden (R)
  • District 45: Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D), Justin Maddox (R)
  • District 49: Alfonso Lopez (D), Timothy Kilcullen (R), Terry Modglin (I)
  • District 67: Karrie Delaney (D), Bob Frizzelle (R)

A $360 million school bond is also on the ballot in Fairfax County. If voters approve it, the money will go towards the renovations of more than a dozen schools.

How to Vote

Go to the Virginia Department of Elections website to look up your polling place and a sample ballot. Voters must present an accepted form of identification, though photo proof is no longer required.

ExpressVote, a touchscreen system that the county has used for early voting since 2014, is available for those with disabilities but not for the general public today, Fairfax County Office of Elections spokesperson Brian Worthy says.

Masks are still required for voters and staff at polling places. However, those who are not wearing masks will still be able to vote, Worthy confirms.

The polls could seem less crowded today than previous years due to the increase in early voting, which kicked off on Sept. 17 and concluded on Saturday (Oct 30).

About 165,000 votes were cast early by mail or in-person, according to Worthy. That’s approximately 22.5% of the 730,000 active voters in Fairfax County.

It’s a high rate of early voting, Worthy says, though the county is still expecting turnout overall to be about 50% as initially predicted in September. The county elections office is preparing, however, for a potential turnout of 75%.

In 2017, Virginia’s last gubernatorial election, voter turnout was approximately 56%.

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Maybe a haunted hallway? (via Gregg Scott/Flickr)

Janie Daum sometimes wishes she never got involved investigating the paranormal and speaking with spirits.

“Most people that want to do it, they get obsessed with it,” she told FFX Now. “They want more. They want to be touched. They want to hear them. They want to see them. And that’s not always going to happen.”

Daum has been running Northern Virginia Paranormal out of her home in Vienna for about 12 years. She works with a medium to investigate all sorts of disturbances: ghostly run-ins at homes, moving furniture at department stores, odd happenings at old museums.

She specializes in electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), the recording of sounds that could be the voices of spirits.

“I’m still the kind of person that’s on the fence about a lot of things. There’s no just black and white,” Daum said. “There is just a lot of gray area and you just have to listen to what you’re hearing from the spirits, what you’re recording and playing back.”

Daum’s interest in the paranormal was sparked partly by her 18-year-old daughter. They watched the TV show “Paranormal State” together and decided to go on a trip to investigate a purportedly haunted bar in Long Island.

“I got an EVP from a man who said his name was Tommy,” she said. “And that kind of got me hooked.”

That wasn’t the first time, though, that Daum experienced something unexplainable. After her grandfather’s funeral, she spotted him walking down the hall of their home.

“There are little things in my life that kind of drew me to this direction,” she said.

Though she had some hesitations, Daum says her investigations stem from a desire to help folks in need, both those on this mortal coil and those that have left it.

“I always try and find out [the spirit’s] names, who they’re attached to, and if there’s any message that they need to get to a living being that is still walking the Earth, and if there’s a way we can help them,” she said.

Most spirits don’t mean any harm, she says. They are simply lost, stuck, or otherwise can’t go through to the light. However, spirits have the same character traits they did when they were alive.

“If they were an S.O.B. in life, they’re still an S.O.B. on the other side,” said Daum.

She prioritizes investigations for families with children. For instance, when a child repeatedly talks about a man who comes out of their closet and claims to be a doctor, that family needs her expertise.

“If it’s a repeating thing that is continuously happening, it’s not just a child’s imagination,” she said.

While Daum doesn’t like to reveal specifics out of respect for her clients’ privacy, she does more investigations in Loudoun County and rural Maryland than Fairfax County.

Fairfax County is more affluent with newer buildings, she explains. Plus, some are embarrassed about calling paranormal investigators.

“Even if they have issues, things happening that they can’t explain, they don’t want anybody to know about it,” Daum said.

That being said, she’s willing to share some stories about businesses that have since closed — like the Amphora Restaurant near her home in Vienna. Read More

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Fairfax County officially has its first countywide strategic plan.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) to adopt the document, which presents an all-encompassing, coordinated vision for the county’s operations, priorities, and services over the next two decades.

In the works since 2019, the strategic plan focuses on 10 “community outcome areas” that “represent the issues of greatest importance” to the community:

 

“The Countywide Strategic Plan will help guide our future together so the Board, residents and staff are working toward the same goals and outcomes,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a press release. “This plan will be a centralized, coordinated way for us to be even more efficient as a government so we’re more responsive to our community’s needs.”

The strategic plan was initially developed prior to the pandemic, but the county paused the process due to the public health emergency and reworked the plan to encompass new prioritizations from the last 18 months.

The main change was the separation of health and environment into two separate categories.

It’s intended to be a living document that integrates other broad planning efforts like the Fairfax County Public Schools’ strategic plan and the One Fairfax policy. It will also help the board focus its legislative efforts over the next several years.

In the press release, County Executive Bryan Hill called Fairfax County’s first-ever “unified” strategic plan “a key milestone” in the government’s efforts to shape the county’s future.

“I’m grateful to the tens of thousands of residents and hundreds of staff who have developed this plan,” Hill said. “I look forward to the next steps, including reporting results to the community, aligning existing plans within this framework and further advancing our One Fairfax equity lens across all outcome areas.”

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity was the only board member to vote against adopting the plan, citing insufficient community feedback.

He also argued that the plan should do more to address traffic congestion and that it will continue to allow taxes to be too high.

The other supervisors approved the strategic plan, despite several noting that they were not 100% pleased with the process and expressing concern that the document is too vague.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust criticized the lack of prioritization, information about implementation, or how the county is progressing based on over 150 metrics identified by the plan.

“I don’t think we are done, to say the least,” Foust said. “This is not, in my opinion, a roadmap for the county executive to prioritize and budget…We need to keep working, and the board has to stay involved to complete the process.”

Several supervisors observed that there was a lack of participation from a diverse set of voices.

As of September, the county had received nearly 22,000 survey responses in eight different languages. A fourth survey closed on Sept. 24, so that number will be updated later this month.

A feedback session held in July found that the attendees’ preferred focus areas were cultural and recreational opportunities, economic stability and mobility, financial sustainability and access to services.

Now that the plan has been adopted, the county will start implementing its guidelines, a process that will include further community engagement, prioritization, and identifying “headline metrics” in each of the 10 areas that will be used to develop the fiscal year 2024 budget.

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

(Updated at 2:10 p.m. on 10/1/2021) All Fairfax County employees will be required to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests by Monday, Oct. 11, FFXnow has learned.

County government employees who do not get vaccinated or are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 11 will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing to remain employed, including if they receive a medical or religious exemption.

While the county has started providing booster shots to eligible individuals, people are still considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after they receive the second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

Fairfax County announced that it will implement a vaccine requirement back in August, but no specific date was given for when the mandate would take effect beyond “this fall.”

The county announced its requirement the same day that Fairfax County Public Schools shared its own vaccine mandate for employees, which it said will take effect “late October.”

An FCPS spokesperson confirmed that the end of October remains the school system’s goal for when all employees are expected to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

Back in July, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to direct County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate the possibility of a vaccine requirement for county employees.

“We know vaccinations save lives and that these vaccines are safe and effective,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay wrote in a statement back in August. “Throughout the pandemic we have focused on measures to keep our employees and our community safe, and this is another key piece of that effort. As one of the largest employers in Virginia, and one that has successfully and consistently stressed to our residents the importance of being vaccinated, we must practice what we preach.”

FFXnow has reached out to the SEIU Virginia 512, one of the unions that represent Fairfax County employees, but did not receive any comment as of publication.

The Fairfax Workers Coalition, which describes itself as “a viable alternative for workers seeking representation and a voice in Fairfax County Government,” told FFXnow that it is very supportive of the mandate.

However, the coalition is concerned about the lack of communication and education about the requirement to its workforce. “The county communicates via email and links, but our members are out in the streets working 5 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” says David Lyons of the Fairfax Workers Coalition. “They may not get the information.”

The county’s vaccine requirement falls in line with policies announced by other jurisdictions in the D.C. area, including Arlington County, which has had a mandate in place since the end of August, and Loudoun County, which has not set a timeline yet.

Alexandria City Mayor Justin Wilson said in August that the city anticipated implementing a vaccination requirement in the “September/October timeframe.”

D.C. announced on Sept. 20 that school and child-care workers in the city must get vaccinated with no option to produce a negative test instead. FCPS told FFXnow that it is not changing its plans to have a testing option for employees who don’t get vaccinated.

Virginia’s requirement for state government employees took effect on Sept. 1, and President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Sept. 9 requiring all federal government workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Photo via Machvee/Flickr

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McNair Elementary School students pick up lunch on their first day of school for the 2021-2022 academic year (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools is revising a number of procedures around COVID-19 contact tracing, quarantining, and pausing, even as it maintains that case numbers remain proportionally very low in schools.

School officials are actively exploring their options for expanding student vaccination requirements, including a possible mandate once the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorize it for kids 5 and older, which could happen as early as the end of October.

However, FCPS would have to wait for the Virginia General Assembly to act before it can require COVID-19 vaccinations for all students under state law, which gives authority for determining mandatory school immunizations to the legislature and a state health regulatory board.

“If I had [the power to do this], I’d recommend right now to this board mandatory vaccinations for our students upon full authorization from the FDA,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said at a school board work session yesterday (Tuesday). “If we have the burden of educating kids, it should be determined by officials closest to schools who should be vaccinated and not vaccinated and not wait for the state to give us permission to do so.”

At the moment, officials said they are in talks with legal counsel about expanding the existing vaccine mandate for high school student athletes to other secondary school extracurricular activities, such as theater programs.

According to Brabrand’s presentation to the school board, 0.33% of staff, students, and visitors — 677 individuals in total — reported testing positive for COVID-19 from Aug. 13 to Sept. 15. Only 24 cases involved transmission within one of the 198 schools and offices in the county, Brabrand said.

Since Aug. 1, 936 cases have been reported to FCPS, according to the school system’s case dashboard. Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu told the Board of Supervisors at a health and human services committee meeting yesterday that the county is seeing 30 to 40 cases among students per day on average, with some days going as high as 50 cases.

While Addo-Ayensu also said the majority of transmission has occurred in the general community, not in schools, each case has a ripple effect as additional staff and students who might have been exposed to the virus have been subjected to isolation, quarantine, or in-person learning pauses.

Between Aug. 13 and Sept. 15, 2,905 students — or 1.6% of the student body — have been paused, meaning they were COVID positive or a potential close contact and had to remain out of school during contact-tracing investigations. Nearly half were elementary school students.

1.8% of staff, or 502 individuals, have been paused as well during that time period. Read More

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A solar energy-powered lamp post (via Sandra Parra/Unsplash)

Fairfax County has committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, and now, it has a plan to achieve that goal.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors accepted the county’s first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) when it met on Tuesday (Sept. 14).

First proposed by the board’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council in 2018, the plan features an inventory of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions and recommendations for how to curb them so the community can realize its aspirations of carbon neutrality.

“Together, the strategies and actions are intended to power individuals and organizations within the community, to engage in, lead, and champion the emissions reduction needed to achieve county-wide carbon neutrality,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said, reading from the board matter he issued. “Climate change is a major existential crisis already causing major impacts in Fairfax County.”

The final report calls on both the county and its citizens to take far-reaching, significant actions.

Proposals include cutting the use of fossil fuel-burning cars, installing solar panels at home, creating more through recycling and composting programs, adopting more stringent green-building policies, and being a “conscious consumer.”

Storck’s motion passed 9-0, with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity not present during the vote.

A few moments before the vote, Herrity said he was going to abstain due to concerns over timing, lack of proper community engagement, and cost, particularly in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The economic outlook over the next few years is uncertain,” Herrity said. “Our decisions don’t operate in a vacuum. This plan will have planned and unintended impacts on the economy and taxpayers. Beyond what I’m imagining will be a very steep cost to implement this plan, it will also have a very serious impact on the affordability of homes, increasing the actual cost as well as permitting and regulatory costs.”

The rest of the board countered that the county can’t afford to wait any longer to address the already-existing threat of climate change.

“The cost of doing nothing is significant, if not life-threatening,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “And I think most responsible people who are paying attention to the subject and the science…most certainly get that.”

Storck, who helped spearhead the CECAP as chair of the board’s environmental committee, reiterated that county operations and schools only account for about 5% of Fairfax County’s carbon emissions. The remaining 95% of emissions come from the private sector and the general community.

As noted in a presentation that Storck delivered, transportation and commercial and residential energy consumption are the two largest sources of greenhouse emissions. Combined, those areas produce more than 90% of all emissions in the county.

As a result, while the county will have a leadership role, this new plan is about asking the community to take the necessary steps to curb emissions, Storck said.

“There will be no area, sector, or part of our society that won’t be impacted [by the reduction goals in this plan],” he said. “How much? That’s largely a function of how aggressively we move forward.”

As the county worked to finalize the CECAP over the summer, the United Nations released a sobering report last month that said, even if future emissions are lowered, global temperatures will continue to rise until at least the middle of the 21st century, leading to more extreme weather and other worsening climate issues.

County staff told the board’s environmental committee in July that the CECAP’s implementation was already underway, a process that includes community outreach, public education, and an exhaustive review of existing county policies to see how they line up with the now-accepted plan.

Additional plans related to the initiative’s implementation, such as how the county can build on existing programs, will be presented to the board at an environmental committee meeting in early 2022.

Photo via Sandra Parra/Unsplash

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