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TikTok user Kala has been documenting the construction of a “secret tunnel” under her Herndon home since October 2022 (via @engineer.everything/TikTok)

The Town of Herndon has shut down a resident’s months-long attempt to construct an elaborate tunnel system under her house.

Nicknamed “tunnel girl” by online followers, Kala shared in a Dec. 28 video that local officials have issued a stop-work order requiring her to suspend the “secret tunnel” project that she has been documenting on TikTok and, occasionally, YouTube since October 2022.

Though Kala’s videos showcase an extensive operation involving makeshift mine carts and a slide that dumps rubble into an outdoor dumpster, Herndon wasn’t alerted to the construction work — and its potential building code violations — until early December, according to the town.

“The Town of Herndon received notice that activity in potential violation of the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) was occurring at a residential property within the town’s corporate limits,” the town said in a statement. “As is standard protocol following such notifications, representatives from the building official’s and zoning administrator’s offices conducted a site inspection on Thursday, December 7, 2023. The town is working with the property owner to correct any violations and ensure that the property is safe and in compliance with the code.”

The town was notified by a resident who submitted a complaint on Dec. 5, reporting that their neighbor has been engaged in non-stop construction for about three years.

According to the service request, the resident “always saw huge piles of dirt leaving her property to the point that she pays for a dump truck to get the dirt out,” but they didn’t realize what was going on until Kala’s TikTok account @engineer.everything appeared on their friend’s page and they recognized her as their neighbor.

“She [is] building a tunnel. Is this ok for her to do? She has a YouTube channel showing how she’s been doing the tunnel since the beginning of her move,” the complaint said. “Can someone please look at her tik tock and see if she has the permits and permission from the town of Herndon.”

When contacted by FFXnow, Kala said she’s working with local officials to obtain permits, declining to publicly comment until that process is complete.

Kala announced plans on Oct. 23, 2022 to build a storm shelter off of her basement, anticipating that the project will be complicated, expensive and require the construction of a crane system to haul rubble 14 feet up from a basement window to ground level.

Subsequent updates have touched on everything from Home Depot visits to a fire that broke out in the tunnel last July. At one point, Kala constructed a sub-pump to address flooding from groundwater.

In the process, she has attracted nearly 532,000 followers — and plenty of online speculation about her qualifications and the legality and safety of her “suburban mining operation,” as she sometimes calls the project.

According to an NBC News profile, Kala began digging the 30-foot-long, 20-foot-deep tunnel because she enjoys home improvement challenges. She previously built a four-story addition to the back of her house.

While passionate about civil and mechanical engineering, she has no formal training in those fields, studying business in school and working mostly in information technology, NBC News reported.

Image via @engineer.everything/TikTok

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Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) The Fairfax County School Board will vote next week on $847,000 in funding for security cameras at nine elementary schools.

That project is among those that could be funded as part of Fairfax County Public Schools’ midyear budget review, which Chief Financial Officer Leigh Burden presented to the board on Monday (Dec. 4).

FCPS has also proposed allocating $100,000 to cover costs associated with renaming Woodson High School after Carter G. Woodson. The change from former FCPS superintendent W.T. Woodson was approved on Nov. 9 and will take effect with the 2024-2025 school year.

“Historically, renaming costs have typically been about $300,000, but many items at Woodson just say ‘Woodson,’ so those items will not have to be replaced,” Burden said.

The board-authorized funding for security cameras would supplement money the county has received from two Virginia Department of Education grants to fund security cameras at eight elementary schools.

“Prioritization is determined by the building age, the number of existing cameras, the number of incidents at a school location as well as access to uninterrupted power,” Burden said in her presentation.

The elementary schools slated to receive funding through the mid-year budget review are Deer Park, Coates, Springfield Estates, Bull Run, Terra Centre, Greenbriar East, Freedom Hill, Bush Hill and Graham Road.

Another eight schools — Pine Spring, Great Falls, Fort Hunt, Sunrise Valley, Newington Forest, Rose Hill, Forest Edge and Glen Forest — will get cameras through the VDOE grants, which had different criteria for each application, according to an FCPS spokesperson.

When selecting the schools, FCPS considered factors such as the number of students eligible for free and reduced meals, the number of incidents at a given school, when the school was built, the availability of uninterrupted power and how many other schools in each region already had security cameras, the spokesperson told FFXnow.

Superintendent Michelle Reid told the school board in May that about half of the elementary schools in FCPS had exterior video cameras, along with all high schools. Installations at all middle schools were expected to finish this year, and she hoped to expand the program to all elementary schools in the “near future.”

Overall, FCPS has just over $6.1 million in additional funding to allocate in its mid-year budget review, most of which comes from higher-than-anticipated sales tax revenue identified after the end of fiscal year 2023, according to Burden. About $1 million comes from federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants, which support the school operating fund, she said.

The mid-year budget review also includes $88,000 to support restorative justice interventions and $80,000 for improvements to power sources used for Advanced Placement digital testing at select high schools. About $3.1 million would be held for fiscal year 2025, which starts on July 1, 2024.

“We generally like to try to keep the beginning balance around the same level as it is in the previous year because otherwise, if it’s less than that, then that just increases the local request to the county,” Burden said.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin asked about funding for school maintenance and repairs. She suggested Reid confer with Janice Szymanski, chief of facilities services and capital programs, and her team about addressing some “backlog maintenance issues” ahead of the board’s vote on Dec. 14.

“We just keep telling our communities, in particular our athletic boosters that work hard, tirelessly, year after year to bring money to the table, and then to get told, ‘We’re sorry we promised you that repair project, but there’s no money dedicated to it,’” McLaughlin said. “​​I think we’re losing faith and support and confidence from our families when we make promises and then we don’t deliver.”

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Fairfax County police vehicle (file photo)

Shoplifting and assaults have gone up in Fairfax County so far this year, the county police department’s mid-year crime data shows.

The department released the report in coordination with the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), which ranks the nation’s 70 largest police departments by four crime categories: homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The report covered data from January to June.

Of all the reported offenses, shoplifting saw the largest uptick in the county, with numbers up by 50% to 3,736 incidents. There were 2,489 shoplifting incidents reported in the same time frame last year. Residential burglaries also increased by 20 incidents.

The county reported 15 carjackings — a small increase from 13 last year. There have been 45 more auto thefts, but thefts from vehicles and of vehicle parts have both declined. The Fairfax County Police Dpartment targeted those crimes last month as part of a summer-long crime prevention initiative.

“Our unwavering commitment to public safety drives our efforts to implement targeted patrols and deploy advanced crime prevention strategies, ” a news release read.

The number of assault offenses increased more than 13%, jumping from 4,348 to 4,931. In addition, about 15% more people have been charged this year with assaulting family members, a category that increased from 702 by the end of June in 2022 to 816 in 2023.

However, murders and forcible sex offenses decreased from 12 to 10 and 194 to 192, respectively.

Despite upticks in some categories, the police departments said the county is still the safest of its size.

“When all MCCA police departments are ranked by violent crime rating, we are proud to say Fairfax County remains the safest jurisdiction of its size,” the FCPD said.

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Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

Fairfax County Public Schools is in the process of instituting new safety and security measures, including vape detection in bathrooms, expanded background checks, and a drone pilot program for the incident response team.

At last week’s school board meeting, FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid delivered a comprehensive update on several security and safety measures in advance of a “community conversation” on May 8 at South Lakes High School in Reston.

In addition to touching on previously reported steps, like employee background checks and a joint effort with the county to install speed cameras near schools, Reid shared that FCPS is in the midst of a pilot program placing vape detection tools in bathrooms at several schools.

“This will immediately detect use at our schools and we are monitoring its effectiveness right now,” she said. “We think it’s prudent to pilot it to see whether it delivers on its promise before we actually install it in all schools.”

However, Reid later said the installed vape sensors have provided “mixed results so far and I’m not sure that’s the answer.”

The idea for installing sensors of this nature was first broached in 2019, but the program was only first implemented recently.

Vaping is a major concern among parents and schools, not only due to tobacco and marijuana use but because of the potential for overdosing. There have been reported cases where the substances used in vaping cartridges are laced with fentanyl.

The vape detection sensors are currently being used in two high schools and one middle school, an FCPS spokesperson told FFXnow. They declined to specify the exact schools, citing a need to balance information sharing with concerns about compromising security.

Also in the pilot phase is a weapons screening system utilizing “software that would detect weapons coming onto campus” and front office panic alarms, Reid said.

FCPS didn’t share which or how many schools are included in the weapons screening and panic alarm systems pilots.

“It is too early to provide feedback on systems that are already being piloted or explored, such as vape detection…or weapons detection and panic alarm systems,” the spokesperson said.

Reid also mentioned briefly a drone pilot program for the school system’s incident response team.

“[The drones are] able to go to sites that may not be able to be secured right away so that we can get information back and forth to division security staff,” Reid said.

Information about costs or when this drone program could be used was not mentioned at the meeting or in FCPS’ response to FFXnow. Read More

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The Hook Road recreational area in Reston (via Google Maps)

A proposal for improvements to the Hook Road Recreation Area in Reston is currently under review by the county.

The plan would include new pedestrian walkways, traffic safety measures, improvements to existing pedestrian walkways, a restroom pavilion and the repositioning of a baseball field on the site.

At a Reston Association Board of Directors’ meeting on March 23, capital projects director Chris Schumaker said a site plan has been resubmitted to the county after an initial round of comments. RA is also working on drafting an application that will go before the Design Review Board.

A timeline for both initiatives was not known, but members noted that the county must respond to RA’s submittal within 45 days of receipt.

Board member John Farrell pushed staff to stay on top of the expeditious review of the proposal. He said he was gravely concerned about the need for traffic safety improvement measures.

Years ago, when he coached at the park, Farrell spent most of his time trying to keep kids or their siblings out of the street, he said.

“We can’t move those backstops and get those kids out of those streets without this site plan approved. I’ve been banging on this before I even got on the board and I don’t want to have a seven year old get killed on that street,” Farrell said.

RA CEO Mac Cummins said staff is working on the issue and would receive Fairfax County’s approval soon. Permit fees are currently being processed for payment, Schumaker added.

The project is in the early phases of design, architecture and engineering. Procurement will follow after the current phase is completed.

The recreation area was developed in 1965 with the addition of tennis and basketball amenities in 1973.

Image via Google Maps

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National Park Service staff, elected officials, and community volunteers celebrate the reopening of Mount Vernon Trail’s Bridge 12 (via National Park Service)

The National Park Service has completed the first of four planned projects to reconstruct bridges along Mount Vernon Trail.

Park service staff, elected officials and community members celebrated the reopening of Bridge 12 near Fort Hunt Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday (Sept. 24). The occasion coincided with National Public Lands Day, which encourages volunteers to help restore and improve national parks and other public lands.

“The Mount Vernon Trail is a very popular recreational resource and these bridge improvements will greatly increase safety for thousands of trail users,” said Charles Cuvelier, superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which runs parallel to the 18-mile trail.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and state Sen. Scott Surovell were among the officials who attended the ribbon-cutting.

The reconstruction began on Feb. 14 and involved relocating Bridge 12, expanding it to 14 feet in width, installing upgraded railings, and resurfacing the trail to the bridge from Waynewood Blvd to Fort Hunt Road, according to the NPS.

The straighter alignment and reduced slope of the trail leading to and from the bridge enabled by its new location will improve safety, the park service said in its news release.

According to On the MoVe, the previous bridge was “known for frequent bike mishaps” and had been under consideration for an overhaul for decades before getting the needed funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2018. The Federal Highway Administration also assisted.

First opened on April 15, 1972, the Mount Vernon Trail spans over 18 miles from George Washington’s Mount Vernon to Theodore Roosevelt Island near Arlington. Maintained with help from the volunteer nonprofit Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail, the facility reached its 50th anniversary earlier this year.

NPS’ next reconstructions for the southern end of the trail will focus on Bridges 23 and 24 between Belle Haven Road and Tulane Drive, On the MoVe reported. The park service plans to replace four bridges in all over the next five years.

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A deer in a wooded neighborhood park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A September hunt intended to control the local deer population in Tysons Forest has been canceled.

Voicing safety concerns, residents and other community members near the 33-acre Tysons Forest — also known as Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley Park — successfully campaigned to get it removed from a list of areas marked for deer hunting.

South of Route 7, Tysons Forest was one of 112 parks selected for the 2022-2023 archery season under the Fairfax County Deer Management Program. Overseen by the Fairfax County Police Department, the program is a partnership between the Fairfax County Park Authority, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and local landowners.

According to resident Jack Russell, the community became concerned about the hunt due to the park’s proximity to a daycare center.

The county allows archery as the primary tool to thin out high-density deer herds. According to the program’s website, bows and arrows have proven to be safe, with no bystanders injured by an archer hunting deer in the Commonwealth since Virginia began tracking those injuries in 1959.

However, in an Aug. 27, 2014 letter, then-Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Joseph Ward told a Fairfax resident that there have been five hunting incidents involving archery since 1960, most recently in 1996. According to the letter, none of them involved deer hunting.

Still, the narrowness of Tysons Forest and the nearby daycare center was enough for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to cancel the planned hunt.

“I want to thank Supervisor Alcorn and Dr. Katherine Edwards for their understanding,” Russell told FFXnow. “Fairfax County and the Board of Supervisors really listened to the concerns of the residents and were helpful in preventing a potential problem in Tysons Forest.”

While Tysons Forest will be researched to determine its viability for future deer hunts, the overall archery program will kick off on Saturday, Sept. 10, with eight parks added to the list of approved sites. The 2021-2022 program had 103 parks, totaling 21,236 acres.

According to Dr. Katherine Edwards, FCPD’s wildlife management specialist, new parks are suggested and evaluated for inclusion in the hunt each year where deer densities are above carrying capacity and pose conflicts.

Edwards says smaller parks close to residential areas have been added in recent years, since they have become movement corridors and refuges for deer.

According to Edwards, the hunts were established to address deer-related conflicts by controlling populations throughout the county. Conflicts include vehicle collisions, environmental damage to parkland and forested areas due to over-browsing by deer, residential complaints about property damage, and public health concerns about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Another emerging disease of concern for wildlife professionals is Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal, neurological disease that affects deer populations in Virginia.

The county’s archery season ends on Feb. 18, 2023.

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Morning Notes

Lewinsville Park basketball courts in McLean (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

McLean Police Shooting Not Justified, Family Says — The parents of Jasper Aaron Lynch, who was fatally shot four times by a Fairfax County police officer during a mental health crisis call on July 7, said in a statement that the police “could have, and should have, handled this far differently.” Their comments came after the county police department released footage of the encounter. [WTOP]

Bailey’s Crossroads Car Dealership to Expand — “The Radley Acura dealership on Columbia Pike near Route 7 in Bailey’s Crossroads will undergo a major expansion. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning application Aug. 2 by Radley Management LLC to build a three-level parking garage with 307 spaces and an enclosed customer service drop-off addition.” [Annandale Today]

New Metro Safety Issues Raised — “Metro needs to inspect, clean, and protect Metrorail station rooms that house equipment that detects when trains are on tracks and helps the system avoid crashes, the agency’s safety oversight body said in a report released Thursday. The report further said that Metro had failed to follow through on inspections after the issue was raised in March.” [DCist]

County Pension Fund Doubles Down on Crypto — “Fairfax County, Va.’s $6.8 billion pension fund, the Fairfax County Retirement Systems, has received approval to invest $70 million across two crypto yield farming funds…The $1.8 billion Fairfax County Police Officers Retirement System has made a series of crypto investments in the past alongside the Fairfax County Retirement Systems” [CoinDesk]

Funds for Water to Historic Hall Approved — “The Fairfax County Park Authority Board approved a Mastenbrook Grant request from the Great Falls Grange Foundation (GFGF) in the amount of $20,000 to help install a municipal-connected water line to service the Great Falls Grange…The overall vision for this site is to serve the community as a self-supporting gathering place, a location for classes and a place to hold special events.” [FCPA]

Decision on Maryland’s Beltway Toll Lanes Coming — “With the U.S. Department of Transportation poised to issue its decision on an ambitious Capital Beltway and I-270 toll lanes plan, Montgomery County’s top planner accused state highway officials of running roughshod over Maryland law,” echoing similar complaints leveled by McLean residents over Virginia’s 495 NEXT project. [Maryland Matters]

Poll: What Does “Alexandria” Mean to You? — “One of the very first stories on ALXnow discussed…the distinction between the City of Alexandria and the areas of Fairfax south of Cameron Run sometimes referred to as Alexandria. This past week, two businesses opening this month — a cannabis dispensary and a metal supermarket — identified themselves as ‘Alexandria’ branches of their respective chains despite the fact that both are opening in Fairfax.” [ALXnow]

It’s Friday — Rain in the evening and overnight. High of 91 and low of 76. Sunrise at 6:15 am and sunset at 8:17 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A crash at Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road in Oakton injured five people, including two teens who died (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The community has had growing concerns about traffic safety in Oakton’s Blake Lane corridor, where two Oakton High School students were killed last week after police say a speeding car struck them on a sidewalk.

Following community meetings about the roadway last year, the state proposed several safety improvements on Blake Lane from Route 123 to Route 29, including vegetation trimming, pedestrian safety, and sign and marking improvements, as well as a speed study and a restricted crossing U-turn.

However, since then, the Virginia Department of Transportation has determined a proposed signal at the intersection with Hibbard Street was not warranted, and that the 35 mph speed limit was appropriate. The speed study indicated that about 85% of all vehicles in free-flowing traffic traveled at or below 43.5 mph, according to the state.

Last year, Fairfax County also implemented an additional $200 fine for speed limit violations on Blake Lane between Jermantown Road and Sutton Road, as part of the Residential Traffic Administration Program.

Citing Blake Lane safety as a priority, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said in a newsletter on Friday (June 10) that she’s working with the Board of Supervisors’ chairman, state representatives and the Fairfax County School Board to schedule a community meeting around other short and long-term safety improvements.

“I was devastated when I heard the news of the terrible crash that happened on Tuesday, June 7th at the intersection of Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road, not far from Oakton High School,” she said. “As a new mother and your neighbor, I am heartbroken for the families affected by this tragedy.”

Following the crash, she said the Fairfax County Police Department increased police presence along the corridor and deployed a radar speed sign at the site.

Since 2017, there have been 11 crashes — not including the fatal crash last week — at the intersection of Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road, according to Fairfax County Police Department. Four of the crashes resulted in injuries.

A graphic shows the number of crashes at the intersection of Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road (courtesy Fairfax County Police Department)

When looking at a longer stretch of Blake Lane from Jermantown Road to Route 29, crashes climb to a total of 113, 31 of them resulting in injury.

In addition, 31 crashes along Blake Lane involved what the Department of Motor Vehicles deem a young driver — between the ages of 15 and 20. Five of those crashes resulted in injury, and 26 involved property damage. Read More

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Morning Notes

Jean R. Packard Center at Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

FCPS Condemns Recent Mass Shootings — “Fairfax County Public Schools remains steadfast in our commitment to speak up and speak out against such acts of hatred and domestic terrorism. This past weekend, the Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Woods, California communities experienced unthinkable acts of violence. We grieve with the families who lost loved ones and are suffering.” [FCPS]

Metro Veers Into Another Safety Issue — “Metrorail repeatedly powered the electric third rail while workers were still on the roadway in recent weeks, bypassing safety procedures and putting people at risk of injury and death, according to a new report issued by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.” [DCist]

County Bus Workers Win Statewide Competition — “Fairfax Connector Operators and Maintenance Professionals excelled at the Virginia State Bus Roadeo last month…The Fairfax Connector/ Transdev Maintenance Team placed first in the maintenance team category and will represent the Commonwealth of Virginia in the International Bus Roadeo next year.” [Fairfax Connector]

Local Vietnamese Community Recognized — A Virginia Historical Marker recognizing the significance of Vietnamese immigrants in Northern Virginia will be dedicated at Eden Center in Falls Church on next Tuesday (May 24). The community was nominated by Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School students last year as part of a statewide Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month contest. [City of Falls Church]

Descano Left Out of Virginia Violent Crime Task Force — “Commonwealth’s attorneys Buta Biberaj, of Loudoun County; Amy Ashworth, of Prince William County; and Steve Descano, of Fairfax County, told WTOP they were unaware a task force was being assembled until Youngkin’s news release Monday. All three prosecutors are progressive Democrats.” [WTOP]

Food Trucks Pop Up at Courthouse — “NEW! Starting TOMORROW, 5/18 food trucks will be visiting the Courthouse Grounds THIS week, from 11:30am-2:30pm to offer lunch options.” [Fairfax County Circuit Court/Twitter]

Lake Anne Parking Lot to Close Next Week — “The Lake Anne Park parking lot will be closed off next week due to required warranty work, starting on May 23 through the 25th (weather dependent). A contractor will be seal coating and restriping the entire lot. Any vehicles left overnight will be towed.” [Reston Association/Twitter]

Sale of Tysons Broadcasting Company Approved — Tegna stockholders voted yesterday to approve a sale of the Tysons-headquartered company to investment firm Standard General. Expected to close in the second half of this year, the $5.4 billion deal will turn the broadcaster, which owns 64 TV stations in 51 markets across the country, into a private company. [Deadline]

“Wheel of Fortune” Coming to Tysons — “‘Wheel of Fortune Live!,’ a new live stage show, is kicking off a tour in September that includes a stop at Capital One Hall…Guests can audition to go on stage and will have the chance to spin a replica of the iconic wheel and solve puzzles to win prizes, including $10,000 and trips to Paris and Hawaii. Audience members will also have the chance to be randomly selected to win cash and prizes.” [Inside NoVA]

It’s Wednesday — Rain overnight. High of 72 and low of 52. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:19 pm. [Weather.gov]

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