Fairfax County has opted not to move forward with a potential Sully District renaming.
Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith announced at yesterday’s board meeting that she believes “the best step forward at this time is to retain” the name of the magisterial district, which encompasses the southwestern corner of Fairfax County.
Based on input from virtual town halls, emails, and community conversations, she proposed instead finding new ways to educate residents and visitors about the area’s history, particularly at the plantation in Chantilly that gave the district its name and is now the Sully Historic Site.
“In working on a path forward, I am actively talking with the NAACP, the county’s equity officer and the Fairfax County Park Authority executive director about ways we can have a more honest conversation about the history of our country, county and the Sully District,” Smith said in her board matter.
Supported without further discussion by the full Board of Supervisors, the decision concludes a months-long effort to gather public feedback after the county’s 2021 Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) recommended name changes for Sully and the former Lee District earlier this year.
After completing its primary task of redrawing the county’s electoral district maps, the committee was charged in January with reviewing whether to rename any districts based on possible historical ties to the Confederacy, slavery or racism.
According to a report finalized in March, Sully District was named after the plantation built by Richard Bland Lee, the first person to represent Northern Virginia in Congress. It said four generations of humans had been enslaved and trafficked at the property, including over 100 people during Lee’s tenure as owner.
When Lee inherited the land from his father in 1787, he received 29 enslaved people, according to the park authority’s history of the site, which features Lee’s 225-year-old house as well as 120 acres of park, gardens, a smokehouse and other structures.
While the website acknowledges the presence of slavery, it refers to the property as Lee’s “country home.” Smith’s board matter suggested that the county be more active and creative in providing information and programming about that aspect of the site’s history.
Smith said people weighed in with a variety of perspectives on whether to rename Sully District, including at town halls held on June 2 and Sept. 1, but the “most important thing I heard in these conversations was the need to heal our community.”
“The best way to do this is to work on ways to tell the true story of our sometimes complicated and misunderstood history and that of the Sully District specifically,” she said. “One way to do this is to educate the public about how land was developed, who benefitted and who was marginalized in the process.”
In addition to reevaluating what stories are told at the Sully Historic Site, the county could highlight historically Black neighborhoods affected by its westward expansion, similar to efforts to preserve Gum Springs in the Mount Vernon area. Read More
(Updated at 9:30 a.m. on 9/23/2022) With a new school year underway, students will soon jockey for seats in Fairfax County’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), even as a federal court considers whether its current admission system discriminates against Asians.
For now, thanks to an earlier ruling upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the upcoming class of 2027 will be determined by the same, much-debated process that has helped diversify the magnet school’s student body over the past two years, FCPS confirmed to FFXnow.
Launching at 4 p.m. on Oct. 24, freshman student applications will consist of a student portrait sheet and a math or science-focused problem-solving essay. Other criteria include a grade point average of 3.5 or higher and consideration of a student’s English language learner, special education, or free/reduced-price lunch status — known as “experience factors.”
Those experience factors and a guarantee that all participating schools get seats equal to 1.5% of their student population are central to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of policy, which was adopted by the Fairfax County School Board in December 2020.
The revised process — which eliminated a standardized test and application fee — doesn’t explicitly consider race when evaluating students, but a lawyer for the Coalition for TJ argued to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Friday (Sept. 16) that it was designed to boost Black and Latino representation at the expense of Asian applicants.
(Correction: This article previously said oral arguments had taken place on Saturday, Sept. 17)
“That’s clear in the record from the statements that the board members and other senior staff in Fairfax County Public Schools made, that Asian American students were in the way,” Erin Wilcox said to the three-judge panel. “They needed to clear out room to increase the numbers of Black and Hispanic students.”
In February, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the Coalition for TJ, agreeing that the changes amounted to “racial balancing” in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, which prohibits laws from discriminating based on race.
FCPS promptly appealed the decision, maintaining that the policy is race-neutral, as stated in the school board’s adopted resolution, and backed by legal precedent. Donald Verrilli, the school board’s legal representative, cited a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that supported universities taking steps to diversify, ideally without directly looking at race.
“There are no quotas, no targets, no racial preferences of any kind, no racial classifications of any kind, and it is 100% race-blind in its administration,” he said. “No application contains any racially identifying information, so all applicants are judged on a race-blind basis.” Read More
Against the backdrop of post-9/11 community policing, the Fairfax County Police Department has selected its first-ever liaison for the local Muslim community.
Lt. Wahid Alam, who has served in the department for more than 18 years, hopes to build upon the relationship that already exists between the local Muslim community and the police department.
“I want to be the conduit to all the resources the police department has to offer and encourage Muslims to consider a career in policing,” he told FFXnow in a statement.
Alam, who was born and raised as Muslim, says his faith and background in policing makes him a good fit for this role. He also hopes to meet with Muslim faith and business leaders to “networking within this unique community and build even more inroads with the department.”
When asked if the Muslim community faces any unique challenges, Alam noted that many Muslim seems to face many of the same struggles as the community at-large.
“We are all concerned about keeping kids safe from cyber threats, traffic safety, staying safe in our neighborhoods and keeping from becoming a victim of crime. Identity theft, larceny from motor vehicles and street robberies are common concerns throughout Fairfax County,” he said.
Mistrust of police and concerns about community surveillance has been flagged by some Muslim organizations as issues, particularly in the years since 9/11.
Alam says the local Muslim community has strong support for law enforcement — which sometimes isn’t the case in other communities.
“The Muslim community needs to know how the Fairfax County Police Department conducts policing and surveillance in response to crime and dangerous threats,” he said. “FCPD does not conduct targeted surveillance to Muslims or any specific community. Building relationships and being transparent in our policing strategies and practices will build trust with the Muslim community.”
Sufficient health care, college degrees, and homeownership are becoming increasingly unattainable for Fairfax County residents with low to moderate incomes, a new report finds.
Late last month, Fairfax County released its “Needs Assessment” study, which comes out every three years with data on the current economic conditions in the county and the impact those conditions have on residents.
The report paints a pretty harrowing picture in light of the pandemic and recent inflation, particularly for lower-income residents. Low to moderate incomes are generally defined as those earning 60% or below the area median income. In 2021, that number was $77,400 for a family of four.
Just in the last year, those living on a limited income are having more trouble affording basic needs, as rising cost-of-living expenses mean lower-income households are spending more than they did in the past.
“Fairfax County residents with moderate to low income may have little to no money remaining after covering essential expenses, such as food and housing,” the report says. “This limits a household’s ability to build savings and restricts economic competitiveness.”
According to the report, household incomes have not kept pace with rising costs of essential expenses over the past decade.
In Fairfax County, the median household income has gone up about 21% since 2012. However, food, housing, and transportation all have risen more in that timeframe. Most notably, health care costs have risen by a whopping 41% in the last decade.
“Longer-term, health care costs have increased the most over 10 years, which may present challenges for residents who do not have health insurance coverage,” the report says.
As a result, the lowest-income households in the county are spending much more on health care, percentage-wise, than other income brackets.
The lowest 20% of households by income are spending nearly 29% of their expenses on health care, while those in the middle are spending between 15% to 17%.
Consumer prices have also gone up more in this past year than at any other point in the previous four decades. Tuition and child care now cost nearly 4% more than last year, housing more than 5%, health care 7%, and food 8%, according to the report. Read More
A change in Virginia law will allow police to once again pull over vehicles with excessively loud exhaust systems, starting tomorrow (Friday).
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (June 28), officials said the change was much needed, citing noisy cars as one of the top complaints they receive from constituents.
“This is a very annoying issue to a high percentage of my district’s residents,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “I probably hear about this more than anything else.”
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation authorizing police to pull over vehicles and issue violations for loud exhaust systems.
Virginia eased rules on exhaust noise levels after the General Assembly passed legislation sponsored by local lawmaker Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) in 2020. Hope and other advocates argued at the time that police were disproportionately pulling over drivers of color for minor infractions, like broken tail lights, tinted windows, and loud exhaust systems.
That law went into effect in March 2021.
However, the change seemed to lead to a rise in noise complaints related to loud exhaust systems in Fairfax County and neighboring jurisdictions.
So, a new bill was created, passed, and signed into law by the governor this year that specifically made exhaust systems “not in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual levels of noise” a primary offense, meaning police can now pull over drivers specifically for that.
Braddock District Supervisor Walkinshaw and Springfield District Supervisor Herrity said they often hear from residents about loud vehicle exhausts. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said expensive, new exhaust systems with the express purpose of making noise are popular among some in his district.
Even Hope, the sponsor of the original bill, admitted to FFXnow that the 2020 bill had “unintendend consequences,” though he did vote against this session’s legislation.
“This [legislation] was in response to the unintended consequence in the 2021 law of some motorists taking advantage of the law change and installing obnoxiously loud exhaust systems on their vehicles, disturbing families and neighbors,” he wrote. “I heard many complaints from constituents that supported the intent of the law but the unintended consequence was a disturbance of the peace.” Read More
Fairfax County is exploring how private partnerships could bring more sports facilities to the area, but the five-year journey has now been slightly prolonged by an additional step.
The Board of Supervisors passed a measure on Tuesday (May 24) directing Fairfax County Park Authority and Neighborhood and Community Services staff to address racial and social equity issues when evaluating potential projects with input from Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce and her team.
The additional review follows a consultant report released in August 2020 that identified possible Park Authority sites where private businesses could create sports facilities, such as a complex for 16 “rectangular fields” illustrated as soccer fields, another area for 10 baseball fields, an indoor track facility, a natatorium, and more.
The consultants’ report came through the Sports Tourism Task Force that the county created in 2017. One of the group’s several subcommittees involved Alpine-X representatives seeking to build the Fairfax Peak indoor winter slope facility at a landfill in Lorton.
On Tuesday, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who chaired the task force, asked the board to direct the county executive to call for developers to submit public-private partnership proposals as identified in the report.
“Sports tourism facilities are rapidly developing around the East Coast and throughout Virginia,” he said during the meeting. “Vying to meet the demand of this incredibly recession-proof industry, we need to take advantage of our desirable location and extensive sports community by developing the identified sports tourism facilities.”
However, Chairman Jeff McKay modified that motion, clashing with Herrity on how to move forward. McKay said that some areas of the county largely lack these sports sites.
“We have teams, youth leagues throughout this county, that can’t find space today,” McKay said. “Before we…move forward with advancing larger complexes that might be out of reach for some of them, let’s make sure we understand where…inadequacies exist.”
McKay requested that the county create an equity impact assessment on the sports tourism report by the end of 2022.
The board approved consideration of that alternative 9-1, with Herrity dissenting. With Herrity’s original motion dislodged, the board approved the amended board matter 9-0 for a final vote in which Herrity abstained.
Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority
Rents in Fairfax County have gone up during the pandemic, reflecting a trend seen regionally and nationwide.
Multifamily rents increased 8.7% in the county between the first quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2022, making the average rent $1,974, according to a Washington Post analysis.
“Rents have continued to increase across the region and in Fairfax County, making it harder for low- and moderate-income households to be able to afford to rent here,” Tom Fleetwood, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, said in a statement.
He said the Board of Supervisors’ $44.7 million allocation in the upcoming budget is a critical investment that will directly help develop additional affordable homes.
Fairfax County’s typical increase in rent outpaces neighboring Arlington County, which has seen a 3.9% uptick since 2019 for an average rent of $2,258. Alexandria City and Loudoun and Prince William counties all saw larger increases than Fairfax County, though their average rents remain lower.
Nationally, median monthly rent has increased nearly 17% from March 2021 to March 2022, according to real estate firm Redfin, though existing renters may be experiencing a smaller, 2.7% increase during that time frame.
Fairfax County Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce said at an Urban Institute event in August 2021 that the pandemic has exposed inequities.
“The inequity was present before the pandemic,” she said at the virtual event. “What the pandemic did is show anybody that might have doubted that how present inequity is in our communities.”
Bruce emphasized the importance of knowing who was most disproportionately affected in the pandemic and targeting strategies around those individuals.
Citing 2020 Census data, Fairfax County’s most recent demographics report noted that white residents no longer make up the majority of the population. As of 2021, the county had over 425,000 housing units: 46% single-family detached housing, 24% single-family attached, and 29.7% multifamily units.
The report does not break down who rents and who owns by race.
Across the country, 74% of solely white households own homes, far outpacing other racial demographics. The homeownership rate for solely Black households is at under 45%, a persistent trend that contributes to a racial wealth gap.
While Fairfax County has upped its goal to provide 10,000 affordable units by 2034, housing advocates have noted shortcomings.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 2019 proposed a target of at least 320,000 housing units to be added to the region between 2020 and 2030, and at least 75% should be affordable to low- and middle-income households.
That housing target is being tracked, and Fairfax County government hasn’t adopted COG’s targets, according to a policy and statistical tool from the nonprofit Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND).
While D.C. and Alexandria have adopted those targets, most jurisdictions in the region haven’t, though several have set their own goals.
Fairfax County’s efforts to address affordable housing challenges have involved creating a housing trust fund and other initiatives.
Peter Tatian, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and research director for Urban-Greater D.C., noted that housing production plays a key role in affordability. Urban was involved in developing the HAND tool to track governments’ efforts.
“There’s a lot of things…in the pipeline,” he said. “In terms of actual production at this point…we’re not seeing them yet.”
Tatian said governments need to address issues in multifaceted ways, but if he had to single out a top priority, he would say the public sector needs to make a local commitment to positive action.
“There may be some people who think that this is just the housing market, that’s just how it is,” he said. “But there’s a lot of things that governments do or don’t do that influences the market and influences what housing opportunities there are.”
Fairfax County Park Authority officials and others are calling for changes in funding to ensure people are able to access recreational amenities and address repairs.
Staff and community groups like the Fairfax County NAACP say the upcoming budget being considered by the county Board of Supervisors is inadequate for addressing the park system’s needs. It could even take longer to take care of those needs with a proposal to lengthen the amount of time between bond votes.
“The fee-based model that we’ve got today doesn’t really create an equitable and accessible parks system,” FCPA Board Chair Bill Bouie said at a Federation of Friends meeting on March 1, citing the county’s One Fairfax policy of equity.
The park authority runs 420 parks, nine rec centers, eight golf courses, two waterparks, playgrounds, 334 miles of trails, and athletic fields, including those at Fairfax County Public Schools. The authority charges visitors for certain amenities, such as golf.
Over the decades, Fairfax County has shifted how it supports the park authority’s operations. One park authority report noted that, in the 1980s, the county’s general fund covered 63% of costs, but that dropped to 46% in 2000 and 34% in 2018.
Meanwhile, the FCPA’s revenue fund, supported by fees and charges to customers, has increased its share of operations costs, going from 37% to 54% and 66% over the same time period.
“Unless something changes, the way we do business is only going to become harder,” Kiel Stone, who represents Braddock District on the park authority board, said at the meeting, which brought county officials together with the nonprofit Friends groups that help support parks and other facilities.
Citing equity concerns, staff and community advocates are seeking more funding to improve access to recreational amenities. Currently, the park authority spends over $1 million on scholarships to park programs annually, and it has requested $5 million to expand efforts to reduce costs for customers in need.
The county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts on July 1, sets aside $500,000 for the equity effort.
“A lot of our vulnerable communities…are shut out of a whole part of our park system,” said Lydia Lawrence, chair of Fairfax County NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee.
The proposed budget also switches the parks bond schedule from a four-year cycle to six-year one. Park authority officials fear that funding will remain the same, hampering its ability to pursue capital projects.
Linwood Gorham, the park authority board’s Mount Vernon District representative, said he thinks the bond cycle should decrease to two years to help with financial planning and oversight, even if that means asking for less money with each round.
While the proposed FY 2023 budget provides nearly $5.9 million for resource management, it only gives the park authority $50,000 out of the nearly $752,000 it requested for natural resources sustainability.
The sustainability funding would support the park authority’s efforts to actively manage over 4,000 acres with activities like controlled burns.
The FCPA’s personnel costs will increase under the advertised budget as part of a countywide effort to improve compensation for workers. The county government’s general fund contribution is slated to increase from $28.3 million to $30 million.
At the Federation of Friends meeting, park authority board members and staff encouraged community members to participate in the Board of Supervisors’ public hearings on the budget, which will take place April 12-14.
Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority
The Fairfax County Police Department should implement new training and data collection practices to improve its culture around the use of force, a committee of appointed volunteers says.
The Use of Force Advisory Committee presented recommendations to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ safety and security committee on Tuesday (March 1) based on a study conducted by the University of Texas at San Antonio.
While many of the study’s recommendations were accepted, the committee modified some of them to encourage cultural changes that it believes will be good for the department and the community.
“Without cultural change, internally and externally, policy change will not make meaningful and impactful improvements for a safer community and a safer Fairfax,” committee co-chair Yolonda Earl-Thompson said, emphasizing the importance of both FCPD leaders and officers embracing reform.
In addition to documenting uses of physical force by officers and resistance by citizens, the committee says police should gather data on the use of de-escalation techniques and their effectiveness, officers’ attempts to halt or prevent a use of force by colleagues, and other relevant variables.
It also recommends tracking instances where use of deadly force is authorized to reduce the risk of selection bias.
Released in June, the UTSA study examined 1,360 use-of-force cases from January 2016 to December 2018. It found that 42% of cases involved Black individuals, compared to 38% for white people, and Black people were 1.8 times more likely to have a weapon pointed at them by police.
The committee disagreed with the study’s recommendation that officers regularly rotate out of “high crime” patrol areas and district stations to avoid burnout, arguing that officers should be familiar with the specific community they serve to help build trust.
After the presentation, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis announced that the FCPD has adopted the ICAT training guide recommended by the UTSA study and will begin to train officers beginning in April 2022.
Chief Davis also announced that the department would begin training with non-lethal tools, such as BolaWraps, which can restrain suspects with minimum force.
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw suggested the department implement a program to teach officers about Fairfax County’s history, especially when it comes to generational trauma.
Police should use a “trauma-informed perspective” that understands the experiences of people of color, immigrants and undocumented residents, individuals with behavioral health or substance-use challenges, and other communities most affected by police violence, Earl-Thompson said.
“So many of the facts of that — from slavery through Jim Crow, Reconstruction, redlining, etcetera, etcetera — have been erased from so many of our history books,” Walkinshaw said. “If our officers got that, they would really be ahead of the game in terms of understanding the community.”
Davis implemented a similar program while serving as police commissioner in Baltimore. He agreed that it could be invaluable to graduates coming out of the academy.
Photo via FCPD/Facebook
A pilot program that will give monthly cash assistance to select low-income residents is in development in Fairfax County.
While eligibility criteria, payment amounts, and other details are still being determined, the county has allocated $1.5 million to the effort from its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, as noted in a stimulus update to the Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee yesterday (Tuesday).
First proposed at a health and human services committee meeting on June 29, the pilot will help people improve their financial situation by providing an additional, flexible source of income, county staff say.
“At its core, it’s an economic mobility initiative, but it’s also an anti-poverty initiative, and it’s certainly innovative,” Deputy County Executive Chris Leonard told the board last summer.
If it implements the pilot, Fairfax County will join a nationwide experiment with basic income programs that has also drawn in Arlington County and Alexandria. Research from around the world suggests the initiatives boost people’s happiness, health, and economic stability without limiting employment.
Fairfax County plans to model its pilot on the nonprofit UpTogether, which gives underserved individuals and families access to cash investments through an online platform that doubles as a social network.
UpTogether’s emphasis on trusting recipients to make their own decisions and building community deviates from traditional social services, which deliver vital resources like food or housing but often come with conditions, such as work requirements.
It’s the difference between helping people survive poverty and giving them the tools to escape it, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay explained, suggesting families, particularly those with young children, as a possible target population for the pilot.
“Part of what I think our obligation to do is to stop this generational poverty that seems to happen everywhere in the country,” McKay said. “If you’re going to break the trends of generational poverty, you somehow have to get to the youth.” Read More