After years of debating the issue of “panhandling” in board rooms, Fairfax County will now actually talk to the people asking for money, often from sidewalks and street medians.
“Understanding that asking for money is a protected act under the First Amendment, it is imperative that the County better understand the needs of the people who are panhandling and explore innovative approaches to responding to panhandling,” McKay wrote in his request that the item be added to the package, which allocated $203 million in leftover funds from fiscal year 2023.
Per the memo, the survey will be conducted by a contracted firm that should have experience surveying “marginalized populations” and “a proven track record of producing high-quality data.”
Collected data could include:
Demographics; reasons for panhandling; how long they have been panhandling; experiences with employment, poverty, and homelessness; panhandling income and spending patterns; possible coercion and collaboration among people panhandling; and opinions on what it would take to stop panhandling.
The memo notes that the surveys “must be conducted safely and confidentially.”
A start date hasn’t been determined yet, but the survey is expected to take six months. The results will be presented to the board at a future committee meeting.
The planned survey will be the county’s latest effort to address panhandling, following rejected attempts to prohibit the practice or install anti-panhandling signage. The county did launch a clean-up program in 2019 that gives temporary work to people experiencing homelessness.
While panhandling is protected as free speech, the county discourages community members from giving money to people on the streets who ask for it, arguing that it’s more effective to connect them with long-term assistance.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who has led the charge against panhandling, said earlier in Tuesday’s meeting that he’s reviewing “ordinances involving prohibiting the exchange of objects in the roadway that have been successful in other jurisdictions,” including Loudoun County. Read More
A proposal to add long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport has officially failed, to the relief of area representatives who feared it would undermine Dulles International Airport.
The House of Representatives rejected the proposal — which was included in a package of changes to the Federal Aviation Administration’s policies that passed overall — by a 229-205 vote on Wednesday (July 19).
Pitched by Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), the proposal, which would have increased the number of flights that travel beyond 1,250 miles from National Airport, attracted significant pushback from local and regional officials.
In late May, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said the move would increase flight delays and have a detrimental impact on the local economy, arguing that the Arlington airport lacks the capacity of Dulles Airport just over the Loudoun County border.
Rep. Don Beyer (D) called the defeat of the proposal a win for the region.
“This strong bipartisan vote of opposition should make it clear, as the Senate takes up their own FAA authorization, that proposals to weaken DCA’s slot and perimeter rules do not have majority support in the Congress,” Beyer wrote in a statement.
Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeff McKay lauded the county’s congressional delegation for defeating the proposal.
“It’s clear that this would have been an intrusive and unwelcome addition to DCA and appreciate the bipartisan approach to supporting residents of Fairfax County,” McKay said.
The Board of Supervisors had argued that the proposed changes would disrupt the balance between the region’s two major airports.
Sen. Mark Warner said he was happy to see “sanity win” in the House.
“I’ll continue fighting these changes — which would exacerbate delays and ruin folks’ travel plans — as we consider this legislation in the Senate soon, too,” Warner tweeted.
Glad to see sanity win in the House last night as they defeated chaotic changes to slot rules at DCA! I’ll continue fighting these changes – which would exacerbate delays and ruin folks’ travel plans – as we consider this legislation in the Senate soon, too.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) July 20, 2023
There has been another change in criteria for determining where the new FBI headquarters will go, prompting annoyance and even anger from several local officials.
Late last week, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced that it will now weigh cost and “advancing equity” as factors of higher importance when deciding if the new FBI headquarters will end up in Springfield or one of two sites in Prince George’s County, Maryland, per an updated site selection plan.
“The consultations with the delegations provided valuable feedback, and helped us refine our plan to maximize value for the FBI and the public,” said GSA commissioner Nina Albert in a press release. “While the core elements of the site selection plan remain the same, we have updated the plan to incorporate new government-wide directives and to increase the consideration of cost to deliver better value for taxpayers. We believe these adjustments will support a process that results in a site that best serves the FBI and the public for years to come.”
The federal agency also lowered the importance of transportation accessibility and the proximity of being near other FBI facilities (like Quantico, which is in Virginia). Proximity remains the highest determining factor, though, sitting at 25%.
This is the second time in less than a year that the GSA “updated” its criteria for selecting the location of the new headquarters. It also comes a little over a month after the FBI stressed the importance of having a headquarters close to its pre-existing facilities.
GSA anticipates making a decision on where the new FBI headquarters will go “in the coming months,” the press release notes. Some had anticipated a decision was going to be announced in March, but that didn’t happen.
The late-stage shift has prompted a number of Virginia lawmakers to speak out, arguing that this change is a result of political inference and constant lobbying from Maryland officials seeking to gain an edge for the Prince George’s sites.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, whose 11th District includes the Springfield site, was particularly incensed. In a statement posted on social media, Connolly accused Maryland of trying to “cook the books” and the GSA of caving to political pressure.
Only Virginia has consistently opposed and condemned political meddling in what should be a purely independent, agency-run effort. We will continue to make the case for the only location that truly makes sense for the FBI HQ – Springfield, Virginia. pic.twitter.com/WqdGZNM6H7
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) July 14, 2023
Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner put out a combined statement reiterating their confidence that the FBI will still end up moving to Fairfax County, coupled with worries that the change will further delay a decision that’s been in the works for years.
The GSA didn’t pluck its initial criteria out of thin air — it spent years talking to experts and carefully deliberating on what is best for the mission of the FBI. While we are concerned that these changes to the criteria will further delay what has already been a drawn-out, decade-long process to select a new site to replace the dilapidated headquarters downtown, we remain confident that Virginia continues to be a home run in every category, and encourage the GSA to draw this process to a close sooner rather than later.
In a statement to FFXnow, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay also expressed his displeasure, particularly with the likelihood of another delay of a final decision. Read More
Metro’s bus facility in Franconia is a step closer to going electric, thanks to a big infusion of funding from the federal government.
The Federal Transit Administration has awarded Metro a $104 million grant to convert its Cinder Bed Road Bus Division garage at 7901 Cinder Bed Road into a fully electric facility, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced Monday (June 26).
In addition to supporting new charging infrastructure, the funds will enable Metro to buy about 100 battery-powered buses and develop a training program for drivers, mechanics and first responders, according to Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who lauded the grant in a joint statement.
“We appreciate the Federal Transit Administration’s leadership in the transition to zero-emission bus technology that will help reduce air pollution and improve quality of life across the region,” WMATA Board Chair Paul Smedberg said, thanking the senators and other federal, state and local elected officials for helping secure the money.
Metro’s board of directors adopted a plan in 2021 directing the transit agency to purchase only buses that don’t produce carbon emissions by 2030 and fully transition to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2045.
Metro’s first electric bus arrived this month as part of an initial 12-vehicle batch that will operate out of the Shepherd Parkway garage in D.C., according to WMATA. The vehicles were expected earlier, but the delivery got delayed after a fire in Connecticut last summer forced the manufacturer New Flyer to recall hundreds of buses.
Located northeast of the I-95 and Fairfax County Parkway interchange, the Cinder Bed Road garage houses 121 40-foot buses that serve 11 routes, as of December 2021. It has parking for 160 vehicles and 13 maintenance bays.
According to Metro’s transition plan, the facility could host 112 battery-powered electric buses. It has “safe and efficient site circulation,” but a stacked bus parking layout and existing underground infrastructure for utilities and stormwater pose hurdles.
To fully cover the cost of converting the Cinder Bed garage, the federal grant will be matched by “a combination of local funding,” a Metro spokesperson said.
Fairfax County plans to use the facility for its future Richmond Highway bus rapid transit service. Branded as The One, the system will operate all-electric buses from Fort Belvoir to the Huntington Metro station, potentially beginning in 2030.
“Thanks to our partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and federal support, we will soon deliver a fully converted battery-electric bus facility in Fairfax County,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “This project aligns with the county’s important goal of carbon neutral government operations by 2040 and is an investment in the region’s transit system and clean energy that will bring significant environmental and community benefits.”
The conversion design process is slated to begin later this year, with a projected opening coming in 2027-2028, according to WMATA’s transition plan. Read More
Fairfax County wants to bridge the gap between employers and qualified talent through a work-based learning opportunity initiative.
Talent Up will match local employers facing hiring challenges with qualified talent through paid temporary-to-permanent work-based learning internships, staff explained to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at an economic initiatives committee meeting last week.
According to the presentation, Talent Up will offer a variety of solutions to employers facing hiring challenges:
- Targets hard-to-fill, entry-level professional gateway jobs
- Repositions work-based learning as low-risk temporary to permanent hiring on-ramp
- Incentivizes employer participation by underwriting work-based learning wages
- Advises employers on revising job descriptions to focus on skills-based hiring, increasing the pool of qualified applicants by up to 50%
- Easy access to hundreds of candidates via talent development partners
“There’s a lot of movement going on in the workforce space right now — movement towards skills-based hiring, and we believe that this can dramatically accelerate that movement,” Bill Browning, workforce innovation manager at the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, said of the initiative.
The focus will be on gateway jobs such as information technology specialists, accounting clerks, sales representatives, and office administrative support.
“These are entry-level professional jobs, where there’s reams of data showing that they’re great springboards for future advancement and career advancement for candidates,” Browning added.
According to his presentation, Fairfax County had more than 67,000 job openings in May of this year, and 71% of employers in Northern Virginia reported it being more difficult to fill jobs now than last year, or even just a few months ago.
The initiative will also address what Browning called the “missing middle.”
“We’re looking at middle-skilled jobs that require some skills beyond high school, but perhaps not a college degree,” he said. “And we’re also looking at some of those midsize employers that don’t have some of the advantages large employers have.”
How it works:
- Business outreach: Initial focus on small to medium-sized employers
- Advise: Address hard to fill occupations and sponsor new temporary-to-permanent internships
- Match: Talent partners’ referrals to generate qualified candidates to interview
- Choose: Employers select interns
- Support: Coaching and training support during internship to increase success rates
- Success: Convert internships into full-time offers or place interns into new jobs
Theresa Benincasa, manager of economic mobility with the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, said the plan is to get started right away with the board’s approval.
“We’re going to just go ahead and do a launch event in the fall with board approval. We’ll start doing events with workers to communicate, we’ll do some one-to-one engagement,” she continued.
To be eligible for Talent Up, employers must have a physical presence in Fairfax County and be ready to establish a work-based learning internship.
Job seekers must be county residents, meet the skills requirements of an open internship and be impacted by pandemic-related unemployment, underemployed or seeking greater economic mobility.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay voiced support for the initiative, saying it builds resilience.
“If you can help some folks move into these jobs, not only do we help our employers, we help those individuals. But it’s a resilience thing where their lives can change dramatically for the better,” he said.
The program will seek the board’s approval at the July 11 meeting.
Photo via Eric Prouzet/Unsplash
Some Restonians are calling on Fairfax County to invest more funds into transportation safety upgrades in local schools, particularly within the South Lakes pyramid.
In a March 30 memo to the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, Hunter Mill District School Board Representative Melanie Meren flagged specific, problematic areas that may need more crossing guards, signage or physical upgrades and a comprehensive evaluation of crossings and bus stops.
“The safety of our students and community members is paramount and as you know all-too-well throughout Fairfax, residents have experienced transit-related deaths, incidents and close-calls,” reads the memo, which was first reported by WTOP.
Their hope is that concerns and considerations will be incorporated or inform the ongoing update to Reston’s comprehensive plan. A document resulting from over-two-year-long effort is expected to go before the Board of Supervisors later this year.
Tentatively, a staff report on the draft comprehensive plan created by a task force assembled by Hunter Mill District Walter Alcorn is expected sometime this month.
In a statement to FFXnow, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay emphasized that bicyclist and pedestrian safety is a top priority of the county.
The Board of Supervisors takes the issue of traffic safety seriously, especially pedestrian and bicycle safety. Which is why we have committed $100 million for infrastructure improvements, $25 million of which has already been allocated. We have launched a speed camera pilot program that in 30 days issued over 1400 warnings to drivers and is expected to issue many more once all potential violations are processed. We are exploring our options with red light cameras and other types of photo enforcement as well.
Reston Association’s Multimodal Transportation Advisory Committee (MTAC) has scheduled a virtual town hall for 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss pedestrian safety near Reston schools.
“As Reston’s citizen advisory committee on various forms of transportation modes throughout the community, MTAC would like to hear from members on their experiences, concerns and suggestions about transportation in Reston,” RA said in a newsletter last Friday (May 5).
A breakdown of the concerns raised by Meren is below: Read More
Thanks to higher-than-anticipated revenue, Fairfax County gave a financial boost last week to its affordable housing goals, public library collections and park facilities, among other initiatives.
Before taking a preliminary vote on the next budget, which will be adopted tomorrow (Tuesday), the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved nearly $10.7 million in changes to the current fiscal year 2023 budget — known as the third-quarter review — when it met on May 2.
For the biggest adjustment, the board increased funding for affordable housing by $8 million on top of $10 million already recommended by County Executive Bryan Hill.
The county has now committed over $118 million to affordable housing over the past two years, including $45 million in federal Covid relief funds, as it aims to produce 10,000 new units by 2034, per county documents.
“I think most people in our county, including very profoundly, the business community, understand that affordable housing is an essential ingredient for economic success,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said. “It’s not just a nice thing to do. It’s a requirement.”
Also included in the package was $300,000 for Fairfax County Public Library materials. FCPL Deputy Director Kevin Osborne says the library was “so pleased” that the board approved the funding, which will go toward research database subscriptions and ebooks.
“Due to the nature of eBook licensing to libraries, adding to the digital collection is more costly than adding to the physical collection so we are also hoping to purchase additional eBook licenses for some titles that have some excessively long hold queues,” he said in an emailed statement.
During a budget policy committee meeting on April 26, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity put forward an “alternative” third-quarter proposal that gave $2 million to FCPL to expand its collection and hours, which were reduced last summer due to staffing challenges.
At the time, a library spokesperson said the vacancy rate was about 18 to 20%. While current numbers weren’t available by press time, filling the system’s 390 positions evidently remains an obstacle.
“Like many other employers, public libraries continue to face recruitment challenges,” Osborne said. “We have no update as to when normal hours will resume.”
Herrity’s proposal also suggested allocating $5 million to county park maintenance — with the combined $7 million coming out of the affordable housing funds. A version of the proposal without the library money died at last week’s meeting after no one else on the board “seconded” the motion for a discussion.
The approved third-quarter review did include $2.1 million for Fairfax County Park Authority projects:
- $1.7 million to improve six fields at Wakefield Park so they can accommodate softball
- $300,000 to replace and upgrade Lake Accotink Park’s playground, which has been closed since an inspector determined the equipment was unsafe in November
- $100,000 for a safety assessment of other playgrounds with equipment from the now-defunct vendor used at Accotink
The playground at Lake Accotink was removed the morning of May 2, according to the office of Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, whose district includes the park.
“FCPA is currently in the design process and expects to have information on the concept in the next few weeks,” a spokesperson for his office told FFXnow.
With its adjustments to the third-quarter review, the board also approved $217,308 to hire a contractor to remove signs illegally located in the public right-of-way and a $60,000 contribution to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, an Annandale-based nonprofit that preserves land and water from development.
Spurred by the pandemic, outdoor dining in Fairfax County is likely here to stay.
The county is considering a proposal to formalize standards and regulations for outdoor dining in parking areas that were first introduced during the pandemic.
The existing ordinance — which ends in March 2024 after the county concluded its state of emergency on March 1 — allows any existing restaurant, food court, brewery, winery, distillery or tasting room to provide outdoor dining without individual approval.
The county is moving to permit outdoor dining as an accessory use, but may not include permanent structures, according to a presentation by Lily Yegazu of the county’s Zoning Administration Division. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors discussed the draft proposal at a land use policy committee meeting on Tuesday (April 25).
Dining would be limited to 50% of the indoor dining area, with hours of operations matching the business’ hours. It would largely be restricted before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m. if the establishment is next to a single-family development.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted that few concerns about outdoor dining — including noise impacts — have surfaced since the pandemic.
“Very few [issues]…I can’t think of any, honestly, since this has been put into place,” McKay said, adding that outdoor dining is “more popular now than it ever was before the pandemic.”
Applicants would pay a one-time application fee of $205 to allow outdoor dining in parking areas.
Providence District Supervisor Dahlia Palchik suggested the county should clearly distinguish between what permanent and temporary structures are allowed.
Staff emphasized that businesses can still apply to create permanent outdoor areas like patios or permanent pergolas through the county’s permitting process. The current proposal simply creates a catch-all policy for outdoor dining.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn encouraged the county to find ways for outdoor seating that faces the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.
“I think there certainly is customer interest,” Alcorn said.
Staff said the proposal is slated for public outreach meetings through the summer, tentatively followed by the board’s approval in the fall.
Retired CIA staffer Lisa Downing is challenging Jeff McKay for Fairfax County’s top governmental seat.
Last week, Dunn Loring resident Downing announced her candidacy to chair the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Running as a Democrat, she will face off in the June primary against current Chairman Jeff McKay, who was elected in 2019 after representing Franconia District (then called Lee District) on the board for over a decade.
A three-decade county resident, Downing worked for the Central Intelligence Agency prior to retiring in 2019. She was also the first woman of color to attend and graduate from New York Maritime College, where she studied the business of shipping and how to operate tankers.
She told FFXnow her bid for the county’s top seat is to provide residents another option.
“When I found out that there was only one person — the incumbent — running on the Democratic ticket for the primary, I thought that the residents of Fairfax weren’t being given a choice,” Downing said. “And, in America, we all need choices, even within the same party.”
The top issue she’s campaigning on is increasing funding for Fairfax County Public Schools, specifically teacher pay. Downing noted that pay for FCPS teachers and staff has fallen behind other neighboring jurisdictions like Arlington and Loudoun.
“We’re losing teachers. We’re not competitive. We haven’t put in the resources that our students and teachers need to thrive. So, schools are the number one concern for me,” she said. “If we don’t provide our residents with good schools, they will find other places to give their children education.”
Increasing the county’s housing inventory to boost affordable housing “for working class people” is another priority for Downing. She said it’s disheartening that so many people who serve the county — from firefighters to teachers to small business owners — can’t afford to live here.
“When you have townhomes and condos reasonably priced and a lot of them, it takes the pressure off the housing market. People are then able to afford the moderate priced homes,” she said. “We have concentrated so much on sweetheart deals for developers that only the big houses get built. That’s where the money is for the developers, but that’s not where the money is for Fairfax County.”
Downing confirmed she’s referring to a change in approach similar to the “Missing Middle” policies passed in Arlington last month, allowing multifamily structures to be built on single-family home lots.
To pay for these priorities, Downing says the tax base needs to increase. That doesn’t necessary mean raising taxes so much as increasing the number of residents who are paying taxes.
“We have a lot of taxes. Fairfax gets money through its taxes. The more people who live in the county, the larger our tax base,” she said.
Downing sharply criticized McKay and other county supervisors for increasing the board’s salaries, starting in January 2024. The supervisors who voted for the raises argued they were in line with how other county employees are compensated and will allow others to serve regardless of personal financial circumstances. During the public hearing, though, many residents spoke out against the increase. Read More
A $28 million baseball and softball complex in Fairfax officially opened this past weekend, marking the county’s first foray into sports tourism.
The ribbon-cutting for Patriot Park North was held Saturday morning (April 15) with local officials, a Washington Nationals representative, and Little Leaguers all in attendance.
The new facility features four turf, 90-foot, full-size baseball diamonds, two 60-foot smaller diamonds, an elevated press and scouting box, concession stands, warm-up areas, streaming capabilities, and a baseball-themed playground.
The facility was designed, constructed, and is now run by the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).
“This is a state-of-the-art facility for youth and adult sports,” Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeff McKay said in a county-produced video. “It is really rare, one-of-a-kind, to have a turf baseball field and to have this many baseball and softball fields in one location. It will not only help this community but it helps with tournaments and other big events.”
A collaboration with the Southwestern Youth Association, Patriot Park North is the first project to come out of a push by the Sports Tourism Task Force and a number of county agencies to build sports facilities that not only benefit residents, but also bring in tourism revenue by hosting tournaments and events.
Patriot Park North has 26 committed events between April and November, per the office of Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who chairs the Sports Tourism Task Force.
Each event is “anticipated to net between $162,000 to more than $1 million” with a projected economic impact of more than $11 million, according to a press release from Herrity’s office.
“The opening of this facility is a milestone not just for the Springfield District, but for the county,” Herrity said. “It is one example of the many ways we can partner with great community organizations like SYA, in order to provide top-of-the-line sports facilities for residents and at the same time diversify our revenue and reduce the burden on taxpayers with sports tourism revenues. This is the first of what I hope will be many state-of-the-art athletic facilities we will be opening for our residents.”
It also may be the only completed sports facility of this nature for a while. Back in October, the county delayed plans to seek proposals for new facilities after the Board of Supervisors raised concerns that the task force’s site recommendations didn’t take equity into consideration. Read More