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Headlines From Old Town --
Victor Hugo Peck, Sr.
One of Watergate's original homeowners and long-time residents, Colonel Victor Hugo Peck, Sr., USAF (Retired), died on November 17, 2016 in Alexandria. In 1969, Vic was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during his military service in the Vietnam War, where he completed two tours of duty and flew 157 combat missions. Vic will be buried at Arlington National Cemetary with full military honors. His memorial service will be held at the Old Post Chapel at Fort Meyer on April 12, 2017 at 10:45 a.m. Those planning to attend the funeral are urged to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of the service.
Richard Muir ("Chip") Wyler, son of long-time former Watergate resident and board member Richard ("Dick") Wyler, passed away after a lifetime battle with Huntington's Disease. A funeral service will be held on November 2, 2016, at 11:00 am, at Christ Church, located at 118 North Washington Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314. A reception will follow in the Meade Room.
One of Watergate's original residents, Mario DiPaolo, passed away on September 24, 2016, at the age of 91, at Brookdale Senior Community, in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Mario was born in 1925 in Torricella, Italy, one of four children in the family. He grew up in Follansbee, West Virginia, which is located an hour's drive west of Pittsburgh, a half-hour's drive north of Wheeling, and across the Ohio River from Steubenville.
He graduated from Follansbee High School and nearby Bethany College. He worked for many years until his retirement for the U.S. Department of Defense as a clothing researcher and designer. Mario was actively engaged in community service throughout his life. Among other things, he served as president of the Little Theatre of Alexandria.
Mario was laid to rest with full military honors on September 30, 2016 at Oak Grove Cemetery in Follansbee following a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Anthony Catholic Church. He was funny, gregarious, witty and kind. He was the best of Watergate in the best of times. Mario, requiesce in pace.
If you recognize our former Mayor of Watergate in the photo at right and want to know what he's been up to (hint, still looking out for crazy neighbors), click here to see a report from Oklahoma City's KFOR News Channel 4. We miss you, Gordy!
500 First Street Development
Edens, a real estate developer, is proposing to build a new mixed-use commercial-residential development directly across the street from Watergate on property now occupied by a former Giant Food grocery store and a Virginia ABC liquor store. Wateragte homeowners Patricia Lord and Patricia DiZebba have volunteered to form and co-chair an ad hoc liaison committee to coordinate and work with Edens, city officials and other stakeholders to minimize the impact of the 530 First Street project on Watergate's residents.
This website has launched a new Giant/ABC Redevelopment page to aggregate all the public information that we learn about this project. The new web page has a very interesting and informative Q&A discussion between The Two Pattys and the urban planner who supervising this project for the city. Groundbreaking is currently scheduled for February 2017.
Two web pages on this website have been expanded, updated and revamped. The Watergate Projects page discusses all the major projects taking place within our community. The Neighborhood Development page summarizes all the major projects going on around us.
Principal FHA Financing Standards for Condominiums
Although Watergate surpasses all the FHA's requirements for condominiums, the board does not believe that it is in our best interests to solicit or maintain FHA eligibility. No home at Watergate is currently approved for FHA financing. The last approval expired three years ago on September 21, 2013.
Pay Raises for Mayor and City Councilors
In the September 15, 2016 edition of the Alexandria Times, Denise Dunbar, the weekly's publisher, wrote an open letter to Mayor Alison Silberberg and the other members of the Alexandria city council, urging them to vote themselves a long-overdue and necessary salary increase.
As noted in Week 51 and Week 50 below, the ousted mayor and lame-duck city council tried unsuccessfully to accomplish this change stealthily in the middle of the night at the end of 2015. It was a shameful, dishonest and not terribly transparent attempt to do something that, quite frankly and as Ms. Dunbar effectively argues, must be done. But in proper fashion.
As the adage rightly cautions, you get what you pay for. We expect a lot from our city officials and we should compensate them appropriately. Click or tap on the editorial below left to enlarge to read, or click here to view the entire edition of the paper in which the publisher's note appears.
The following week, September 22, 2016, former city councillor David Speck wrote an op ed that was also published by the Times. He argues that the mayor and city councilors are part-time volunteer legislators, and the "stipends" that they receive are not intended to compensate them for their time, but rather to offset out-of-pocket expenses that they might incur for travel, event tickets, meals and the like. Mr. Speck opposes a raise. Click or tap on the editorial above right to enlarge to read, or click here to view the entire edition of the paper in which his letter appears.
The Guardian of Forever
Dog Days of Summer
Welcome to the dog days, which, according to Wikipedia, "refers to the hot, sultry days of summer, originally in areas around the Mediterranean Sea" coinciding with "the rising, at sunrise (i.e., the heliacal rising), of Orion's dog, the dog star Sirius." If you are interested in learning more, this article from National Geographic discusses the origins and misconceptions of dog days in greater detail. Anyway, it's official, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, July 2016 was the hottest month in recorded history.
The Games of the XXXI Olympiad -- more commonly known as the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- begin on August 5th, and local news may take a sesta or interregno while global sports dominates the summer zeitgeist, and we brush up on what little Portuguese we know from watching John Rhys-Davies as Pilot Vasco Rodrigues in James Clavell's 1980 television miniseries Shogun. Mr. Davies also plays Gimli, son of Glóin, in the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Indiana Jones' trusted friend Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark. That's the gold, silver and bronze of character roles right there.
Airports, Airplanes and Anniversaries
U.S. Congressman Don Beyer organized a meeting at Reagan National Airport on June 28th for Alexandrians and others to meet with local elected officials and represenatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Reagan National Community Noise Working Group to discuss the increased clamor from airport operations caused by more authorized flights and the airport’s recent upgrade to its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), a satellite-based flight management and air traffic control system.
At the meeting, airport administrators confirmed that planes are now flying earlier in the morning and later at night than they used to, and that both flight paths and planes have become more densely packed over the Potomac River with the advent of NextGen. This has caused a significant and noticeable escalation in unwanted noise for the airport's neighbors like us.
Possible alternatives were discussed, but honestly Watergate lies much too close to the airport for any of them to help us, other than requiring all departing flights take off to the north and northwest. So the only thing I can offer is the following two-and-a-half-minute video distraction.
This month, American aircraft manufacturer Boeing Company celebrates its 100th birthday. 2016 also marks 30 years of scheduled international flights for All Nippon Airways as well as the 30th anniversary of the film Top Gun. In 2012, ANA was the launch customer for Boeing's newest commercial widebody airplane, the 787. Next week, at the biennial Farnborough International Airshow in England, Boeing and ANA plan to unveil, formally and in exuberant fashion, the 49th and most recent Dreamliner to join the Japanese airline's fleet (see photos above and below, click or tap to enlarge).
Click or tap here to see that plane, a 787-9 Dreamliner iconically marked with decals of Mount Fuji and cherry blossoms, flown like a U.S. Navy F-14A Tomcat with moves like Maverick and swagger like Goose. This is not your typical flight to Toledo.
Kia Hamsters Rock With Soul Jam
I'm struggling with nest cam going dark for the season after local celebrity bald eaglets Freedom and Liberty fledged their nest in June. I'll make a pilgrimage to visit their poplar tree at the U.S. National Arboretum once the high temperatures and humidity of summer abate. But the loss remains. So, even though it has no local news aspect, I bring the following to you to salve the soul. Sometimes exceptions must rule.
Kia Motors has brought back its hip and iconic hamsters for a new 60-second music video called Soul Jam. It starts off as a riff on Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith's Dueling Banjos, a song popularized by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell in a version they recorded for the 1972 film Deliverance. But then the video takes a crazy turn at full throttle with the electronic stability controls disabled.
According to Kia, the ad is the South Korean auto company's "most ambitious hamster commercial production to date [and] brings together 30 different music instruments representing more than 20 cultures from around the world . . . ranging from a sitar and African and Korean Drums to a ukulele, bagpipes, violins and more. . . . [Our] hip posse of hamsters have always stood out from the crowd and brought people together through music, dance and positivity."
This was not cheap to produce. It required over 3,000 hours of computer-generated imagery for the hamsters alone.
The Kia advert reminds me of Coke's classic 1971 television commercial that gathered a multicultural group of young adults on a hilltop in Manziana, outside of Rome, Italy, lip-syncing to the song I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke/I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony). Honestly, only Madison Avenue Men could think up a concept like that.
In any event, click or tap on the photo above to view the full-length hamster video on Kia's YouTube channel. AdWeek thinks "Rodents and humans make beautiful music together." I agree and you will too.
Sighting of Orbis DC-10 at National Airport
With a visually distinct tail like this, there's no doubt the plane's a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 (click or tap to enlarge). I learned about Orbis several years ago when watching Season 1 of a no-nonsense television documentary series called Mighty Planes on the Smithsonian Channel. First aired on February 26, 2012, Episode 4 chronicled the Flying Eye Hospital's inspiring trip to Mongolia. Serendipitously, this installment is being rebroadcast on two consecutive nights later this month, July 14th and 15th, at 10:00 p.m. eastern time. It's worth watching (channels 194 and 915 on Comcast).
This is a transit advisory for all Watergate residents who commute to D.C. on Metrorail. As most of you know, the condition of Metro's infrastructure is horrible due to years of limited and deferred maintenance. Because of a growing number of well-publicized problems -- including the death of an Alexandria rider, recurrent smoke in tunnels, and partial and system-wide shut-downs -- Metro has chosen to accelerate its overhaul program and compress three years of essential repairs into a single year, which will severely impact service. The current schedule provides for the following service interruptions that directly affect Washington-bound travelers from our area:
June 3> No service after midnight every night
Due to space limitations, there are many other line closures not mentioned here (particularly in the southbound direction), and extensive use of single-tracking will cause significant delays even on lines that remain open or are repaired and re-opened. Click here to view Metro's current SafeTrack schedule. And here is a nifty tool provided by independent transit groups MetroHero and Rail Transit Ops that shows the impact of the SafeTrack work by Metro station.
Metro hopes that commuters will consider working from home, flexible work schedules, carpools and vanpools, commuter rail, buses, biking, walking, and leaving town. Here are steps the City of Alexandria is taking to help affected commuters:
Roadway and Trail Rehabilitation at National Airport
Since last fall, the Office of Federal Lands Highway, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, has been working on a project to improve the means by which drivers, bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians enter and move about the southernmost edge of Reagan National Airport, The work at the airport's South Exit is nearly complete and includes:
Please visit the Neighborhood Development page of this website for information on other current and planned projects in our area.
Gene's Memorial Gardenia in Bloom
I don't think the news can get any more local than my back patio. Early in the spring, after what I had hoped was the year's last frost, I planted a Gardenia shrub as a living memorial to my father who passed away in December. We had Gardenias in our front-side yard when I was growing up, and the plant reminds me of home and family. Gardenias are evergreens, apparently a genus of flowering plants in the coffee family. The plant produces rugged, densely-packed and glossy dark green leaves and fragrant white flowers. The scent is delicate and boisterous at the same time. Mom would pick the flowers and set them afloat in water filling a shallow bowl on the dining table.
Honestly, these shrubs are not particularly well-suited to the mid-Atlantic area, and I assumed that the plant would look terrific in its shiny green glory but would not bloom. For me, that was enough. But this week brought a dozen stunning flowers to my Gardenia. It could be the strange weather that we've had the past few months or it could be my dad. Or it could be that life happens around us, it is sometimes awesome and inspiring, and you just want to write about it.
Final Eagle Photo Monday, June 6th
This is Liberty, the younger of two wild eaglets that hatched this winter in a nest built 90-feet up in a tulip poplar tree in an azalea grove at the U.S. National Arboretum. He is called "Bert" by his many online followers. When this photo was taken on June 7th, Bert had "branched" (hopped from the nest to a nearby roost) but had not yet "fledged" (taken first flight completely away from the nest and toward independence). Bert finally fledged on the morning of June 9th. His parents, Mr. President and The First Lady, who successfully raised an unnamed eaglet a year ago, will probably attempt a three-peat in the same location starting in January 2017. Tune in next year, same eagle time, same eagle channel. Click or tap on the photo above to enlarge. See Week 24 for more eagle news.
Our country’s federal courts include 94 trial-level district courts, between one and four per state based on size and population. Virginia has two federal district courts, and ours is the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which maintains courthouses in Alexandria, Newport News, Norfolk and Richmond. Most federal court trials are overseen by a single district court judge assigned to the case.
If you lose a case in federal district court, you have the right to appeal the decision to one of 13 federal intermediate courts of appeals. In our case, that would be the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is based in Richmond and hears nearly all appeals from the nine federal district courts in the states of Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Most appeals are heard by a panel of three federal circuit court judges, but a panel might include a district court judge or a former Supreme Court justice.
If you lose an initial appeal, you have three options in escalating order. You can ask the three judges on the panel to revisit their decision (called a rehearing), and/or you can request that all the judges on that court of appeals consider the case (called a rehearing en banc), and/or you can petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up your case (called a writ of certiorari). While you can pick and choose among these options, the order of them matters. If you skip an option, you cannot go backwards through the process. None of these further reviews is mandatory, and most requests for rehearing and petitions for certiorari are denied without explanation or comment.
A final decision by an appellate panel establishes binding precedent on all matters of federal law actually decided, and the ruling must be followed where applicable by all federal and state judges within that circuit. Decisions in one circuit court of appeal also serve as persuasive, non-binding precedent for other circuits. A decision by one panel cannot be overridden by another panel of the same circuit court. It can be overturned only by the court of appeals acting en banc, or by the U.S. Supreme Court. And while they do occur, these types of judicial reversals are rare.
For example, on May 31st, the Fourth Circuit denied a request by the Gloucester County School Board for a rehearing en banc of a split decision by a three-judge panel in mid-April (see Week 17 to the right), holding that a transgender public high school student should be allowed to use school bathrooms associated with the student’s identified gender (male) rather than the student’s birth gender (female). This refusal almost certainly brings this case to a close, as it is unlikely that the Supreme Court, ideologically divided and down one justice following Antonin Scalia’s death, will agree to review this case. With this case becoming binding precedent in the Fourth Circuit, the battle will probably shift to North Carolina’s controversial new “bathroom access/birth certificate” law known as SB2.
I recently dined at restaurants in New York City and Washington, D.C. that offered customers the use of several anyone-can-use single-occupancy/family restrooms instead of segregated gender-specific multi-person restrooms. This option will not solve all our problems involving access to public facilities and personal privacy, and it is impractical in many places and many circumstances, but it is a welcome development because the courts are not going to be able to resolve this conundrum to everyone’s satisfaction any time soon.
Eagle Photos Monday, May 16th
Walking into the Crown Plaza Hotel last week for the Old Town North Small Area Plan Advisory Group meeting, I saw live video from nest cam being streamed to the lobby's widescreen television. I realized then that it's not just me. Earlier this week, Mr. President brought a rotund fur-based meal to the nest that I couldn't identify. It was a mystery I was resigned to live with, but the American Eagle Foundation staff (who operate the nest cams) consulted with the U.S. National Arboretum staff (who host the eagle nest) and the joint staff concluded that "the meal they ate was a groundhog." Also, both eaglets "branched" this week -- they hopped onto neighboring tree branches for a moment, thus leaving the confines of the nest for the first time, which is a precursor to "fledging the nest" or first flight. Click here if you want to see the groundhog meal underway, and tap on the photos above to view full-size uncropped images of our local bald eagle celebrities Freedom and Liberty.
Eagle Photo Monday, May 9th
As with most bald eagles, the first family's diet consists largely of fish. However, Mr. President recently discovered a new take-away place specializing in local Eastern Grey Squirrel, which was very popular with eaglets Freedom and Liberty. Click or tap on the photo above to download a full-size photo.
Based on data provided by the Social Security Administration on May 12, 2016.
Po and Mr. Ping from Kung Fu Panda
Kung Fu Panda © 2008 by Paramount Pictures
The State of Indiana’s presidential primary election, held on May 3rd, effectively brought this year’s two national party-nominating contests to a sudden end – Republican Donald Trump will face-off against Democrat Hillary Clinton in early November’s general election.
Rather than dwell on the political journey to now, I offer the following colloquy between Po, a panda voiced by comedian Jack Black, and his adoptive father, Mr. Ping, a goose voiced by actor James Hong, from the 2008 film Kung Fu Panda. The two characters are talking about the mysterious secret ingredient in Mr. Ping’s famous secret ingredient soup, which is total awesomeness.
"Mr. Ping: The secret ingredient is . . . nothing!
Mr. Ping: You heard me, nothing! There is no secret ingredient.
Po: Wait, wait . . . it's just plain old noodle soup? You don't add some kind of special sauce or something?
Mr. Ping: Don't have to. To make something special, you just have to believe it's special.
[Po looks at the Dragon Scroll that he is holding, which purportedly contains the secret to limitless power, and sees his reflection in it.]
Po: There is no secret ingredient."
Eagle Photo Monday, May 2nd
Waiting for the kids to fledge the nest. Click or tap on the photo above to download a full-size photo.
U.S. Census Bureau Data on Small Businesses
Eagle Photo Monday, April 25th
There have been over 35 million Internet views of the two eaglets, now named Freedom and Liberty, on nest cam. Flight feathers have started to emerge and are visible on both of them. Click or tap on the photo above to download a full-size photo.
Eagle Photo Monday, April 18th
The kids are growing up fast -- tiny pin feathers (darker brown) are starting to emerge (the first of 7,000 feathers on an adult bald eagle). Click or tap on the photo above to download a full-size photo. Click or tap here to view the eagle nest cam.
Wooden Hull Recovered From a Colonial-Era Ship
Archaeologists Examine the Artifacts
Eagle Photo Monday, April 11th
Dad drops off dinner and flys to nearby tree (yellow), one of two nest cams is visible (red), and mom works on food prep as kids anxiously await (bottom).
Eagle Photo Monday, April 4th
The family enjoys a rare repast together. Click or tap on the photo above to download a full-size photo.
MGM Resort at National Harbor
Eagle Photo Monday, March 28th
(L-R) Mr. President, The First Lady, DC2 and DC3.
Humphrey Bogart, Marcel Dalio and Claude Rains
Captain Louis Renault: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
2016 Virginia Primary Election Results
2016 Assessed Property Values
Honorable Curtis L. Wagner, Jr.
Sadly, we say goodbye and farewell to our neighbor, Curtis Wagner, who has lived humbly and greatly among us at Watergate of Alexandria for the past 20 years. Known and fondly referred to by all as the "Judge," Curtis was the longest-serving administrative law judge in the United States (since 1974 at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and its predecessor, the Federal Power Commission), an enduring member of Watergate's board of directors, and a friend to everyone he met. He passed away on December 3, 2015, and will be missed by all who were fortunate enough to make his acquaintance. Click here to see Judge Wagner's obituary.
Watergate Board Thanks Oscar Giron
Board members Jim Blum (left), Pierre-Yves Laporte (right) and Brian Lam (taking phot and camera shy) present long-time Watergate of Alexandria groundskeeper Oscar Giron (center) with a year-end performance award on December 16, 2015 in appreciation of his unfailing dedication and service to the community.
A Final Note From Zipper Harris & Jeff Redfern
Doonesbury © 2016 by G.B. Trudeau
Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is one of my favorite secular holidays of the year. It is observed throughout the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth nations and elsewhere. There are two equally likable historical explanations for the day's name. One explanation holds that this is the day when servants and tradesmen would traditionally receive gifts known as "Christmas Boxes" of presents and money from their masters, employers or customers. In times past, masters and employers celebrated on Christmas Day, and servants and employees feasted on Boxing Day. Another explanation proffers that alms boxes placed in areas of worship to collect donations for the poor during the lead-up to Christmas would be emptied and distributed on the day following Christmas, and the charitable beneficiaries would use the bestowal for their merriment. In the Western Christian tradition, the day after Christmas is also a religious holiday celebrated as St. Stephen's Day or the Feast of St. Stephen. This year, because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, the Monday after Christmas is also the official day-off-from-work observed by nearly all non-commercial employers. For me, Boxing Day means left-overs, movies and naps, otherwise known as yum, yeah and yawn.
Here for your convenience of reference is Linus Van Pelt's soliloquy on the true meaning of Christmas (an antidote to cynicism and despair), from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Linus was voiced by the late Christopher Shea (1958-2010).
On December 20, 2016, ownership of two Old Town mainstays, Morrison House and Hotel Monaco, is changing, and the new owners are switching management companies from Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants to Marriott's boutique Autograph Collection. And since Monaco is a Kimpton brand, the Hotel Monaco is being renamed The Alexandrian. It used to be a Holiday Inn.
This is the penultimate week of 2016 when many of us look back to appraise the year now ending. Here is my take in one sentence: We had the most fascinating national election ever held and have elected a paradigm-busting President who plans to take the country in a concerningly new yet hopefully more prosperous direction, the stock market has reached record highs (Dow Jones +14%, S&P +11%, NASDAQ +9%), the U.S. dollar is ascendant (DXY +2%) and the Federal Reserve is about to raise interest rates today (only the second time in the decade since the start of the Great Recession) making it stronger still, the national uneployment rate is just below 5% which mainstream economists view as full employment, Baby Boomers (ages 52-70) continue to retire in record numbers (10,000 reach age 65 every day) and have been supplanted by Millenials (ages 19-35) as America's largest living generation (75.4 million verus 74.9 million), a gallon of regular unleaded gas costs less than $3 everywhere and not much more than $2 in many places, self-driving cars have finally hit the road and package-dropping drones have taken to the sky, American aerospace companies are preparing to send humans back into earth's orbit for the first time since 2011 when Atlantis flew the Space Shuttle program's last misison, Prince Harry of Wales (fifth in line to succeed his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history) is secretly engaged to marry a multi-racial divorced American television actress who is arguably as beautiful as his late mother Princess Diana, and tomorrow we finally learn after nearly 40 years how the Rebel Alliance stole the construction plans for the Empire's ghastly Death Star. Yikes!
On December 13, 2016, the city announced that next year it was implementing Vision Zero, a multi-national road traffic safety project started in Sweden in 1997 that strives for no fatalities or serious injuries from roadway incidents. Year-to-date in Alexandria, there have been 67 pedestrian-related crashes (down from 73 last year) and 4 pedestrian deaths (up from 1 last year). Just last week, a pedestiran was struck by a car 5 blocks away from Watergate at the intersection of Pendleton and North Fairfax Streets. He suffered serious injuries and was taken to the hospital but is expected to recover.
This webpage celebrates its First Anniversary. It was a year-long experiment. An effort to capture just local news, or eclectic news that might interest locals. A bit broader in scope than Watergate alone, and much narrower in focus than what most folks read in the normal course of their days. I'm not sure if this feature will continue into 2017, and if it does there may be some major tweaks. But it has been a fun journey for me and I hope you enjoyed the ride.
On Saturday, volunteers from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and staff from the National Park Service removed 75 concrete "bumpers" from one of the the parking lots beneath the overhead spans of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge at the park service-managed Jones Point Park, swept and removed the dirt and debris that had accumilated around the bumpers, and patched holes in the pavement. Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has prohibited the park service from using the parking lots except by special permit, and WABA and the park service joined together to repurpose one of them to be used from time to time for safe bicycling education. As noted on the Neighborhood Development page of this website, earlier this summer, the park service published a draft plan to reconfigure and update Jones Point Park. Possible changes include separating or rerouting bicycle traffic away from other park users, increasing the variety of recreational facilities that are available to visitors, and making greater and more efficient use of all the available space.
The MGM National Harbor holds its public grand opening on December 8, 2016 at 11:00 p.m. Additional information on this project is available on the Neighborhood Development page of this website.
On December 6, 2016, Michael Burbidge was installed as the fourth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, which was formed in 1974 and oversees 69 Catholic parishes, 5 missions and 50 colleges and schools throughout Northern Virginia, including Alexandria. For the past 10 years, Bishop Burbidge led the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. Bishop Burbidge's Episcopal Mass of Installation was held at The Cathedral of Saint Thomas More. In attendance were Christophe Pierre, the titular Archbishop of Gunela and since April 2016 the Apostolic Nuncio (Pope Francis' personal representative or ambassador) to the United States, William Lori, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Baltimore, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, Justin Cardinal Rigali, the Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia, and Paul S. Loverde, now the Bishop Emeritus of Arlington who retired after 17 years. Bishop Loverde was widely considered one of the most conservative and controversial bishops in the Catholic Church -- he was one of only two U.S. bishops who long opposed young female laity -- alter girls -- assisting priests at Catholic Masses. Bishop Burbidge stated that his goal is to break down walls and promote unity and charity. Encouraging the use of alter girls would be a start.
All those involved with governance -- whether at the federal, state, local or community level -- will at some point face the daunting problem of deteriorating infrastructure -- whether it involves highways, airports, fire stations or roofs. This week, our city manager publicly acknowledged that Alexandria needs to reassess its infrastructure spending priorities in the face of "the greatest level of challenge in decades." These challenges include $280 million to build a new Metro station at Potomac Yards, $340 million to reduce the amount of untreated effluent that the city releases from its combined sewer and storm water system during heavy rains, and crumbling public schools. The city's current 10-year capital improvement program budget for fiscal years 2017 to 2026 is nearly $1.7 billion. That's a lot of money for a city of just 150,000 people.
The City of Alexandria is holding its annual outdoor holiday tree lighting ceremony at Market Square in front of City Hall on Black Friday, November 25, 2016, starting at 6:00 p.m. Open to the public, free admission, event will be held rain or shine.
This week, the developers of the Giant/ABC property across from Watergate announced that demolition of the existing buildings at the site could begin as early as December 2016 (they had previously announced that work would begin in February 2017). The developers are holding a city-mandated pre-construction meeting on Thursday, December 8, 2016, at 6:30 pm, at the Best Western Old Colony Inn, located a block west of Watergate at 1101 North Washington Street. The meeting is open to the general public. The Giant/ABC Redevelopment page of this website has all the information you might want to know about this project. For information on all major development projects around us, please see the Neighborhood Development page of this website.
Alive!, Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically, a community-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1969, "is the largest private safety net for the needy in the City of Alexandria, addressing short-term to long-term needs for those less fortunate in the community." It runs a child development center, a monthly food distribution program, and a shelter that provides temporary housing for women and families in emergency and transitional situations. It also offers emergency financial assistance and donated furniture and houseware.
On November 12, 2016, at 6:00 pm, Alive! is holding its Second Annual Empty Bowls Alexandria event at the Durant Arts Center in Old Town, to raise funds to operate its community food programs. According to Alive!, "Attendees will enjoy a simple, delicious meal together and receive a one-of-a-kind bowl handmade by students of Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria Fine-Arts Department." Individual tickets are $30, sponsorships start at $500. Last year, the event raised more than $37,000, and that's a lot of soup and support.
Alive! was originally conceived by the city's diverse religious congregations, and continues to be supported by more than 40 of them. However, its base has spread well beyond this core. Alive! is a terrific community organization that does incredible work through its network of volunteers. It is worthy of our financial support. [Webmaster's personal note: this is my favorite local charity, which is run by Alexandrians for Alexandrians.] In its November 3, 2016 edition, the Alexandria Times chose this event as its "Cause of the Month."
And the 45th President of the United States of America will be . . . Donald Trump.
The Commonwealth of Virginia, along with every other state in the country and the District of Columbia, will be holding a general election on November 8, 2016. Watergate residents who have not already availed themselves of early in-person or absentee voting (what is wrong with you?) will be casting ballots at the Ladrey Senior Building, located three blocks from Watergate at 300 Wythe Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314. Polls on election day will be open for voting from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Please vote. Your vote honors and respects all who serve or seek to serve our country. The 2016 Election page of this website has more information about this year's general election. And if it's not too soon -- and it's not! -- the 2017 Election page will set you straight about next year's ballot box.
The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra begins its 73rd season on November 5, 2016, at 8:00 pm, with a performance of Antonio Vivaldi's Le Quattro Stagioni at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center on the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College. Did you know that The Four Seasons was published in Amsterdam around 1725 and comprises four violin concerti each of which describes a season of the year -- la primavera, l'estate, l'autunno e l'inverno? If NOVA is too far away for you, some of the symphony's concerts are held at The George Washington Masonic National Memorial located at the western edge of Old Town.
On October 13th, the Svenska Akademien awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, who at age 75 became the first musician to win this award since it was first handed out in 1901. On November 4th, our newest neighbor across the river announced that "Legendary folk artist Bob Dylan [has been] commissioned to create a custom sculpture for MGM National Harbor." Mr. Dylan, who apparently has been sculpting iron pieces for the past 30 years, has designed a 26-foot by 15-foot iron archway called "Portal" for the west entrance of the new casino resort, which opens on December 8th. According to MGM, Mr. Dylan's "works feature found objects, vintage scrap metal and industrial artifacts collected from junkyards" which he welds "into thoughtfully juxtaposed masterpieces." Lyrics, art and prophecies all bound together.
Happy All Hallows' Eve!
Last week Friday morning, Dyn (the name rhymes with "dime"), an Internet management company based in Manchester, New Hampshire, was subjected to a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that lasted nearly 12 hours. Why is this significant? Dyn operates a critical part of the domain name system (DNS) that translates domain names like google.com that humans readily recognize into numerical internet protocol addresses that computers understand. In a DDoS blitz, hackers infect and seize control of a large number of Internet-connected devices to create a so-called botnet that is used to barrage a targeted website with bogus electronic messages in order to overrun and cripple the computers hosting the site. With messages coming from many different sources at the same time, the victim of a DDoS attack is unable to distinguish between legitimate user traffic and harmful attack traffic. In Dyn's case, millions of unprotected web devices -- including computers, web cameras and digital video recorders -- were maliciously co-opted and used to overwhelm Dyn's web servers. This blocked Dyn's ability to direct bona fide Internet traffic to major websites, including Twitter, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, The New York Times and Watergate of Alexandria. Access to Watergate's website was partially disrupted for about an hour. Computer security experts say that the number, types, duration and complexity of web attacks are all on the rise, and will only get worse as the Internet of Things expands. Maybe it's best if you re-think that smart refrigerator.
Shortly after 8:00 am on Wednesday morning, a construction crane at the site of the old Travelodge at the corner of Wythe and North Washington Streets (see the Neighborhood Development page of this website for details on the project underway there) struck an overhead electrical power line and brought it down upon a construction worker below. The worker was electrocuted and suffered serious electrical burns and other injuries. He was taken to a nearby hospital, and later listed in critical but stable condition. Due to the accident, a two-block stretch of North Washington Street between Pendleton and Madison Streets was closed for the remainder of the morning rush hour, and most of Dominion Virginia Power's customers in the core Old Town historic district, including Watergate, lost power for a couple of hours.
"He's a Russian puppet!" "No, you're the puppet!" With some editorial license, those are two of the verbal throwdowns from the third and final presidential debate held on October 19, 2016 at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas. The debate's single moderator, the best of this year's debate cycle, was Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday. After Republican nominee Donald Trump incorrectly alleged that Lester Holt, the moderator of the first debate, was a biased Democrat who was unfit to serve in that role, Mr. Wallace publicly acknowledged that he has been a registered Democrat in the District of Columbia for more than two decades. But he explains that simple pragmatism drives his choice as "there is really only one party. If you want a say in who's going to be the next mayor or councilman, you have to vote in the Democratic primary." Plus, he has worked for Republican-supportive Fox News for the past 13 years so that should clear any taint. Though Mr. Wallace worked for nearly 30 years before that first at NBC News and then at ABC News, is the son of long-time 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace, and is the step son of former CBS News president Bill Leonard, so the taint may be too deep to remove. On October 13, 2016, the bi-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates, the official sponsor of all the presidential and vice presidential debates, announced that Mr. Wallace the Younger selected the following topics for the last 90-minute debate: debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the U.S. Supreme Court, foreign hot spots, and fitness for office. For more information about this year's election, please see the 2016 Election page of this website.
Earlier this summer, the City of Alexandria formally adopted a Green Infrastructure Initiative designed to divert storm water away from the city's aging and easily overwhelmed combined sewer system, and back into the ground to recharge the area's groundwater. This effort complements a capital-intensive project that the city has undertaken to reduce the frequency and volume of untreated storm and waste water that the city releases into area waterways during major storms. This latter infrastructure project stems from more stringent requirements imposed on the city by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and is discussed in greater detail on the Neighborhood Development page of this website.
As part of this initiative, the city "is planning to construct a Green Infrastructure Demonstration Project along Second Street between North Pitt and North Royal Streets. The project will reduce the existing paved area and will create green space for trees and a series of bioretention facilities. A major environmental benefit of infiltrating stormwater is a reduction in the frequency of sewer system overflows being released into the Potomac River." On October 17, 2016, representatives of Watergate and Canal Place, the two communities directly affected by the project, met with city staff at an open public meeting to discuss the demonstration project. Please see the Neighborhood Develoment page of this website for details regarding the meeting and the proposed project.
A small designated portion of all real estate taxes collected in Alexandria (the tax on a half-cent of every $100 in assessed values) is set-aside to fund storm water management. In addition to the set-side, the city appropriates additional funds (equivalent to the taxes on 1.2 cents of every $100 in assessed values) to support storm water management. As the Second Street demonstration project meeting took place on the third floor of City Hall, Alexandria's Environmental Policy Commission held another meeting on the floor below to consider a proposal to replace the existing tax set-asides and supplemental annual appropriations with a dedicated storm water management fee. Under the draft plan, townhomes would pay around $4 to $5 per month, single family homes up to 2,800 square feet in size would pay around $10 to $12 per month, larger homes would pay around $18 to $20 per month, and commercial properties would pay a scaled fee based on size. Additional amounts would be assessed against properties that restricted rainwater from passing into the ground. One advantage of this change is that certain property owners who are now exempt from paying city property taxes (for example, federal agencies, non-profit organizations, churches and private schools), would begin supporting the city's storm water management efforts.
Alexandria's FY 2018 budget process began on October 13, 2016 when 50 of Alexandria's 150,000 residents attended a "community engagement" meeting held at Patrick Henry Elementary School, located in the west end of the city. City staffers claimed that they wanted to learn more about the public's budget priorities and share information about the city's budget constraints, as if any of this has changed since May 5, 2016, when the city council approved a $678.5 million general operating budget for FY 2017, which included a nearly 3% increase in the real estate tax rate. Blah, blah, blah. Did you know that there are 2,093 public schools in Virginia educating nearly 1.2 million students, and that 3 of them are named after Patrick Henry? Or that he was the first and sixth post-colonial governor of Virginia (see 2017 Election page of this website)? Or that the city plans to raise your taxes again next year to help service the debt on its new $73.7 million face-value 20-year general-obligation bonds that it issued in July 2016 to help pay for Alexandria's 4th Metro Station to be built at Potomac Yards in 2017 (see Neighborhood Development page of this website)?
The second presidential debate was held on October 9, 2016, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The debate took the form of a town hall meeting, with Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper serving as co-moderators. Ms. Raddatz is ABC News' Chief Global Affairs Correspondent. Mr. Cooper anchors his eponymous show, Anderson Cooper 360°, on CNN, concurrently serves as a correspondent for the CBS News program 60 Minutes, was for many years a news correspondent and part-time anchor for ABC News, and is a great-great-great-grandson of Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump recently attacked both CNN and Mr. Cooper on Fox News, saying "I’m not okay with Anderson Cooper because I think he treats me very unfairly at CNN. I think he’s very unfair. He’s very unfair on CNN. I think CNN, they call it the Clinton News Network, that’s why the ratings aren’t doing very well.” Neither CNN nor Mr. Cooper responded to Mr. Trump's comments, but the Washington Post ran a story entitled Donald Trump’s shot at Anderson Cooper is all about working the refs that fairly describes the tactical situation. In the days leading up to the first presidential debate on September 26, 2016 (see Week 40 below), Mr. Trump, again on Fox News, accused the moderator, Lester Holt, the weeknight anchor of NBC Nightly News, of being a Democrat and slyly questioned his ability to remain impartial. While Mr. Holt did not respond to these allegations, many others noted that New York State's public voter-registration records show that he has been a registered Republican for many years. For more information regarding this year's general election, please see the 2016 Election page of this website.
The lone vice presidential debate was held on October 4, 2016, at Longwood University, in Farmville, Virginia. Elaine Quijano, an American of Filipino descent, will be the sole moderator. She is an anchor for CBS News' 24-hour digital streaming network, a correspondent for CBS News, anchor of the Sunday edition of CBS Weekend News, and a former White House correspondent for CNN. The Town of Farmville is the county seat of Prince Edward County. It is located 60 miles west of Richmond and Petersburg, and has a population of between 8,000 and 9,000 people. Longwood University has about 5,000 students, most of them undergraduates. The all-in annual cost to attend Longwood (tuition, fees, room and board) is about $22,200 for Virginia residents and $36,600 for out-of-state students.
Good news for those of you who find the back-of-the-door rack rates at the new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue a bit high ($795/night for a basic room, $995 deluxe room, $1,325 junior suite, $9,200 Capitol Suite, $24,200 Postmaster Suite, $29,200 Trump Townhouse). On Monday, the MGM National Harbor announced that the grand opening of its casino and resort will take place on December 8, 2016, and the hotel will be open to overnight guests starting December 10th. Rack rates at the MGM are $399/night for regular rooms and $599 for luxury suites. Taxes (e.g., $4,234/night on the Trump Townhouse), parking, food, entertainment, gambling chips and gratuities are extra. For additional information regarding the MGM and other major projects around Watergate, please see the Neighborhood Development page of this website.
The best darn local street fair each year is Art on the Avenue, which took place, despite the rain, along Mount Vernon Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria on October 1, 2016. Live music on multiple stages, fabulous food from local eateries, rows of outdoor tables to cop-a-squat, arts and crafts for holiday gift-giving, baking contests, activities for kids, informal fire station visits, illicit nearby yard sales, voter registration, political party outreach, running into friends and neighbors, water bowls and treats for furry friends. One-of-a-kind brick-and-mortar businesses up and down the avenue -- restaurants, bistros, grills, taquerias, pizzerias, bars, pubs, taverns, coffee shops, bakeries, fromageries, markets, spas, salons, boutiques, thrift stores, candy shops and more -- offer respite and diversion from the madness outside, including too many dogs and double-wide strollers. Hands down . . . microphone drop . . . noiseless scream, this one-day event surpasses anything that button-down Old Town might roll out onto King Street.
The National Weather Service warned of flooding in the lowest-lying areas of Old Town on Friday and Saturday at high tides due to a weather system pushing water upstream in the Potomac River. Affected areas include lower King Street near Union and Strand Streets.
On September 28, 2016, former Republican U.S. Senator John Warner campaigned alongside current Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine at the Charles Houston Community Center, located a few blocks from Watergate. Mr. Warner represented Virginians in the Senate for 30 years from 1979 until 2009, is a former Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and Secretary of the Navy, and resides in Alexandria. Mr. Kaine has represented us in the Senate since 2013, is a former Virginia governor, and is the Democratic Party's nominee for vice president in 2016. Most everything you might want to know about this year's general election in Virginia is set out on the 2016 Election page of this website, and the same is true for next year's gubernatorial election on the 2017 Election page. Mr. Warner is one of many Republicans who have publicly supported the Democratic Party's national ticket in this year's election.
The first of three scheduled presidential debates took place on September 26, 2016, at Hofstra University between Republican candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The 2016 Election page of this website has more information on the presidential and vice presidential debates, all the candidates including those not invited to participate in this week's debate, and much of what you might want to know about this year's upcoming general election in Virginia.
Do you know who Nathan Johnson is? His name appears on the official 2016 General Election Ballot for the City of Alexandria. If you click on the preceding link, examine the specimen ballot, and think that Mr. Johnson is Evan McMullin's vice presidential running mate, you would be wrong. But the mistake would not be yours. To learn who Evan McMullin and Nathan Johnson are, if you don't already know, please visit the 2016 Election page of this website, which has most everything you might need to know about this year's general election voting which is now underway in Virginia.
In-person absentee voting begins on Friday, September 23, 2016 at 8:00 a.m. and ends on Saturday, November 5, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. at the Alexandria Office of Voter Registrations and Elections located at 132 North Royal Street, about 8 blocks from Watergate.
At its annual meeting this week, Visit Alexandria -- a local membership-based organization that promotes Alexandria's hospitality and tourism businesses, and seeks to lure dollar-laden visitors to the city -- announced a new advertising campaign that focuses on a fictitious couple named Alex and Andria, who current research shows are drawn to Old Town's "walkability, proximity to D.C., history, dining and shopping options and waterfront."
On behalf of its 326 members and the city, Visit Alexandria publishes an Official Visitors Guide and an Official Visitors Map, maintains a splashy website, operates a Visitors Center on lower King Street that offers concierge-style services to tourists, hosts members-only informational and networking events, conducts studies, develops marketing campaigns like its current one, Extraordinary Alexandria, deploys public relations and sales teams, fosters feature articles on Alexandria in printed and digital publications, liases with neighboring communities, and publicizes the city via online and legacy advertising. $3.2 million (nearly 90%) of Visit Alexandria's $3.6 million annual operating budget comes from the city's economic development coffers.
On September 18, 2016, the Washington Post published a news story entitled, Condominiums in crisis: Financial troubles put many communities at risk. The article describes what happens when condominium homeowners associations (HOAs) are not careful and enter a fiscal death spiral from which they struggle to emerge. The problem typically has two causes.
One source of the problem is when too many homeowners in a single community buy condos more expensive than they can comfortably afford, thereafter encounter major financial setbacks (for example, job loss, health problems, family issues, etc.), and fall behind on their mortgage payments and/or homeowners fees (if you believe that this could not happen at Watergate, you are mistaken). Once this problem reaches a critical threshhold, the result is fewer owners paying a larger percentage of the costs to maintain and operate the condominium, usually higher fees, and sometimes special assessments. Compounding the problem, mortgage lenders are no longer rushing to foreclose on and sell properties at a loss, and are more willing to hold onto these homes without paying the condo fees tied to them.
The other source of financial instability for condos is incompetent, inexperienced, unprepared, inattentive and/or specious HOA board members who are unwilling or unable to make difficult decisions, consistently make ill-informed or incorrect decisions, make popular but unwise decisions, or focus on short-term interests rather than long-term concerns. Ineffective condo boards spawn operational and financial mismanagement, including inadequate reserves, cutbacks in essential maintenance, and crumbling infrastructure. This is not unlike what is happening today at Washington Metro.
The Post story cites two facts that are quite extraordinary. First, condominiums represent 47 percent of the residences in Alexandria, Virginia, but 63 percent of all foreclosures (these numbers are comparable to other jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area). Second, the the Federal Housing Authority of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that 75 percent of all condominium developments nationwide do not meet the minimum federal standards (see chart at left) for FHA-insured mortgages.
Most homeowners don't take their condo boards seriously unless something untoward and unexpected occurs in their home, or they are asked to pay a special assessment. This Post story explains why you should care.
Nearly a year ago, on September 29, 2015, the Alexandria City Council formed an Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names to advise the council on whether the city should formally ban all Confederate flags from being flown or displayed on city property, relocate the Appomattox Confederate war memorial statue standing in the middle of the intersection of South Washington and Prince Streets in Old Town, and rename some or all of the more than 30 streets in or passing through the city that honor Confederate leaders.
Two things should be noted immediately. First, on September 8, 2015, three weeks before the formation of the advisory group, the city council prohibited the flying of the Confederate flag on city property on Lee-Jackson Day and on Confederate Memorial Day. Second, Virginia has a law that prohibits the removal of war memorials. Some believe that the law applies only to war memorials erected after 1998 when the law was enacted, and others believe that the law applies to all war memorials in Virginia. In this regard, on March 10, 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly that sought to clarify that the memorial-preservation law bans the removal or disburbance of any war memorial or monument after it is built regardless of when that took place.
The seven-member advisory group -- which held five public meetings from January through June 2016, heard from more than 60 speakers, and collected more than 150 written comments -- deliverd its final report to the city council on Augst 18, 2016. By a 5-2 split vote, the advisory group recommended that the name of Jefferson Davis Highway (U.S. Route 1) in the City of Alexandria should be changed, that the city should handle all other requests for changes to street names on a case-by-case basis under existing protocols, that the Appomattox statue should not be moved but additional contextual information be provided, and that no further action be taken with regard to Confederate flags.
For those who need a quick history refresher, Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky, represented Mississippi in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, served as U.S. Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, and was the only President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. He has no significant ties to Alexandria or Virginia. The Appomattox memorial, a 7-foot bronze statue erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1889, depicts a lone unarmed Confederate soldier, arms crossed, hat in hand, facing south and looking mournfully upon the aftermath of the Battle of Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865, following which Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.
On September 17, 2016, the Alexandria City Council -- two of the seven councilors are African-American -- accepted the advisory group's recommendation to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway in the city, an action for which no further government approval is required at either the state or federal level. In a surprising step, the city council also unanimously voted to seek consent from the Virginia General Assembly, which is unlikely to be given, to move the Appomattox statue to the Lyceum, Alexandria's history museum, which is located a few feet away.
The 14th Annual Alexandria King Street Art Festival was held on Saturday and Sunday. The weather couldn't have been more pleasant on Saturday and the hordes came out.
Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the Islamic radical terrorist attacks that targeted commercial aircraft against the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and other possible targets on September 11, 2001. At the Pentagon, a huge American flag was draped on the side of the building facing the The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, echoing a similar flag hung near the same spot in the days following the assault. The official website of the Pentagon Memorial will help you plan a visit there, which is located less than 5 miles from Watergate. It is free and open to the public all-day, year-round.
On September 9th, the New York Times published an editorial, Virginia’s Republicans Turn Back the Clock, describing state legislative efforts to keep African-Americans away from the ballot box in Virginia. The Virginia Redistricting Battle page of this website provides further information on the current state of voting rights in Virginia.
Also on Friday, Alexandria officials announced the findings of testing begun in July of all drinking water fixtures in buildings owned or leased by the city. The checks extended to 841 water fountains and dispensers, ice machines and sink faucets. Inspectors identified 25 sources at 10 facilities showing lead levels above 15 parts per billion, the level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for safe drinking water. The problems include two faucets at the American Legion Post on Cameron Street, a hallway water fountain at the Department of Community & Human Services on Mount Vernon Avenue, a kitchen water fountain at the Archives & Records Center on Payne Street, a faucet in the city council's kitchen in City Hall, six water fountains at the City Courthouse on King Street, a kitchen faucet at the William Ramsay Recreation Center on Sanger Avenue, eight faucets at the City Jail on Mill Road, two faucets at the Lyceum Museum on South Washington Street, two faucets in city housing on Notabene Drive, and a restroom faucet at the new Limerick Field above the Alexandria Renew water treatment plant. The testing was prompted by the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Fifty years ago Thursday, Gene Roddenberry created, Paramount Studios produced, and the National Broadcasting Company began transmitting a niche prime-time television series about a group of eager, mostly-human explorers galavanting about the Milky Way galaxy in the mid-23rd century. Rare for the time, the show featured a large multi-ethnic, multi-cultural cast that looked like none of us and all of us at the same time. Cancelled after three seasons and 79 episodes due to dreadful and declining ratings, Star Trek began its slow but relentless percolation up into the very core of American culture, becoming a cult classic and trans-entertainment icon.
Here are some of the simple lessons that Star Trek taught a then-ascendant generation: intellectual curiosity is never sated, the search not the answer is the true goal, the proclamation of profound truths did not die with the great philosophers, the best always lies ahead of us, money for nothing and the schtick is free, and quite sadly, red shirts die young. Each episode began with the following voice-over-titles introduction, what we would today call a statement of purpose or an elevator speech, read by actor William Shatner, who portrayed the lead character, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, in the show:
Of course, this was an age when the use of split infinitives and non-consciously-gender-biased pronouns was tolerated (in later years, the word "man" was replaced with "one"). Click here to view the opening and closing sequences of the original series on YouTube.
Despite the fact that this show debuted and ran while the Vietnam War raged, civil rights riots and protests engulfed a large number of urban communities, and a counter-cultural anti-establishment fervor bloomed and came to define the mood of the 1960s, Star Trek offered, some say preached, a purer and more idealistic way forward. One transcendent episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, the 28th episode of the series, the penultimate episode of the first season, a Hugo Award-winning episode viewed collectively by nearly 12 million viewers when first broadcast on April 6, 1967, encapsulates most of what Star Trek invites us to consider:
And Joan Collins, who played the idealistic Edith Keeler in the episode, confirms that Trek women outshine Bond women. The City on the Edge of Forever, like most of Star Trek, is a leap of faith into a future that many of us hope to inhabit. Click on the Gene Roddenberry link at the top of this entry to hear Nichelle Nichols, the actor who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the original series, sing happy birthday to Trekkers a capella.
New Alexandria Dash Bus routes and schedules go into effect on Sunday, September 4th. Click here to see all the changes.
On August 27, 2016 in Richmond, the Virginia Republican Party decided to hold a primary instead of a convention next year to choose its nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, state attorney general and a replacement for U.S. Senator Tim Kaine if he is elected vice president in November. The 2017 Election page of this website has more details on this controversial and unexpected decision and everything else you might need to know about next year's statewide elections.
The U.S. National Park Service recently published a 36-page draft plan (PDF) to reconfigure and update Jones Point Park, which is located beneath and to both sides of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at the southern edge of Old Town. On Saturday, August 20, 2016, the NPS held an open house at the park for members of the public to discuss the plan with park service representatives. Major changes being considered include separating or rerouting bicycle traffic away from other park users, increasing the variety of recreational facilities, and making greater and more efficient use of all the available space. The original plan for the park was released on September 10, 2001, the day before the 9/11 attacks. Those attacks and a revised park plan released in 2007 resulted in the adoption of significant access and use restrictions intended to protect the bridge from terrorist attacks and other security threats. The public comment period is open through September 9th, and comments on the plan can be submitted by mail or online. Please see the Neighborhood Development page of this website for additional information.
More than 50 local restaurants are participating in Alexandria Restaurant Week, August 19-28, 2016, offering $35 3-course dinners or $35 dinners for two. Half of these restaurants are also offering lunch deals. Click on the link above for a list of participating businesses.
This week, Bon Appétit named Washington, D.C. its 2016 Restaurant City of the Year, and hailed Bad Saint, a dinner-only no-reservations closed-on-Tuesdays line-down-the-street 24-seat Filipino hole-in-the-wall in Columbia Heights, as the 2nd Best New Restaurant in America. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema ranked the restaurant 4th on his spring 2016 list of the 10 Best New Restaurants in the D.C. metro area. Hank's Pasta Bar, located around the corner from Watergate, is 10th on that list.
Speaking of the Washington Post, add owner Jeff Bezos to the list of local bald eagle fans. Only a premier news hunter-gatherer like the Post (47 Pulitzer Prizes, Woodward and Bernstein, Edward Snowden document release, etc.) could publish this story, which spotlights Virginia native Craig Koppie, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who helped save the American bald eagle from extinction over the past three decades. Says Koppie, "I’ve had a front-row seat to the recovery of a species." And with the U.S. National Arboretum's nest cam this year, installed with Koppie's help, so did the rest of us..
This week, MetroStage, our block-away neighbor since 2001, announced that it is producing four plays for its upcoming 2016-17 season (tickets are $60 weekends, $55 weekdays, $50 x 4 for the season):
• Blackberry Daze (September 1 - October 9, 2016) is a world premier romantic mystery thriller musical (I don't make this stuff up, I just report the facts) cast with six African-American actors. First rehearsal took place on Tuesday.
• Fully Committed (December 8, 2016 - January 8, 2017) is a one-actor, one-act comedy with one guy playing 40 different characters. Here's how the New York Times described the play, which just finished a run on Broadway this spring: "[A] struggling actor . . . earns a living taking reservations for one of Manhattan’s high-end food temples — once known as restaurants."
• The Gin Game (February 2 - March 12, 2017) is a two-actor, two-act romantic comedy that opened in Los Angeles in 1976 and has had three separate runs on Broadway in 1977-78, 1997 and 2015-16. It won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Here's how The Hollywood Reporter described the play: "[A] pair of retirement home residents . . . banter and bitch away the hours at a card table. . . . The play uses the analogy of cards to muse on how much the outcome of a life is determined by luck and how much by judgment, as well as how much give and take is required to avoid being stuck playing solitaire."
• Master Class (May 4 - June 11, 2017) is about opera diva Maria Callas who holds a voice master class at the Julliard School toward the end of her career when self-reflection overwhelms all else. The play had Broadway runs in 1995-97 and 2011, won the 1996 Tony Award for Best Play, and was nominated for the 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play (it lost to Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman). In a backhanded swipe, the New York Times said that the play "is not, by even a generous reckoning, a very good play, though it can be an entertaining one . . . [and offers one of the] most haunting portraits . . . of life after stardom." Ouch.
Tex-Mex eatery Austin Grill, which for years anchored the retail corner at King and North Columbus Streets in Old Town, permanently closed on May 30th. On Wednesday, its owner, Reston, Virginia-based Thompson Hospitality, opened HenQuarter, a downhome/upscale Southern comfort food restaurant, in its place. Austin Grill was launched 20 years ago, and the Alexandria outpost was one of four in the metro area. HenQuarter is Thompson's newest concept, and the Old Town storefront is the first to break an egg. The Neighborhood Development page of this website offers information on other major projects taking place around us.
If you ask someone how they fared in the recent lottery, odds are the person either didn’t buy a ticket or bought a ticket and didn’t win. As with all gambling, the chances of winning a lottery are poor. For example, the likelihood of any single 5+1 number combination winning the popular multistate Powerball lottery is 1 in 292 million (winners must match 5 of 69 white balls and 1 of 26 red balls). Still, many participate because a few do win. But lotteries haven’t always been viewed as a pathway to success.
The recent public dust-up between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Pakistani-born Charlottesville, Virginia residents Khizr and Ghazala Khan – the surviving Gold Star parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient who was killed by a suicide bomber in the line of duty in Iraq in 2004 while saving the lives of his fellow soldiers – reminds us of a time when lottery results were feared and not cheered.
On December 1, 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Selective Service System held a live-broadcasted national lottery to determine the order in which the estimated 850,000 draft-eligible men aged 19 to 26 (born between 1944 and 1950) would be inducted into the military by local draft boards and sent into battle. That night, sandwiched between an invocation at the start and a benediction to close, 366 blue plastic capsules containing the birthdays of all the potential conscripts were removed one-by-one from a very large glass cylinder. The first birth date drawn was September 14, the top of the list, and the last date chosen was June 8, the bottom. And foreshadowing the 26 red powerballs, after the 366 birthdays were selected in turn, the 26 letters of the alphabet were also drawn to determine the order of induction by last, first and middle names for those having the same birthday. J was the first letter drawn, and V was the last.
The highest number drafted was 195, born September 24. Based on my birthday, my draft number would have been 126. Those with this draft number were in the Southeast Asia theatre of operations by early 1971. This gives more poignant meaning to the question implicitly posed by Mr. Khan, a Harvard Law School graduate, at last month’s Democratic National Convention and by others since: What have you sacrificed for America? It’s not a comfortable question for any of us to consider.
By the way, is Khizr Khan the 2016 Democratic antipode of Joe the Plumber, the outspoken Ohioan who famously challenged then-candidate Barack Obama's small business tax policy in the 2008 presidential campaign as being socialist, wealth re-distributing and essentially un-American?
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. is famously quoted as saying,"All politics is local." This week's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and last week's Republican National Convention in Cleveland currently dominate the news, both local and otherwise. Which is appropriate since what they are doing will dominate our lives, both local and otherwise, for the next four years.
This week the Democratic Party held its national convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Democrats last conducted their quadrennial convention in Philadelphia in 1948 (the nominee that year was Harry S. Truman), but the city last hosted a political convention for the Republican Party in 2000 (the nominee that year was George W. Bush). This year, the 4,765 Democratic delegates elected former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the party's presidential nominee, and former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senator from Virginia Tim Kaine as the party's vice presidential nominee.
Did you know? Philadelphia, founded in 1682, is the 5th largest U.S. city, with a population of more than 1.5 million. The only more densely populated American city is New York. However, by the mid-point of the 18th century, Philadelphia was the biggest city and most important commercial hub in the colonies and the second busiest port in the British Empire after London. The city hosted the First and Second Continental Congresses and the Constitutional Convention. It also served as our country's capital for critical periods both during and after the Revolutionary War. I hate to say this, but Philly outscores Alexandria on the historically-significant hosted-events scale.
The 2016 Election page of this website has more information on this year's general election, and the 2017 Election page of this website has more information regarding the current and former governors of Virginia.
As noted in Week 24 below, the Alexandria Aces started their two-month summer collegiate baseball season with back-to-back wins, an auspicious start. The club finished its 40-game regular season in the same manner with two consecutive victories and an overall 23-17 win-loss record. Sadly, the Aces suffered a defeat against the Herndon Braves (score, 5-6 runs) in a play-in game to start the Cal Ripkin League's post-season (the Aces had topped the Braves 4 out of 5 games during the regular season). Total game attendance for the 20 home games at Alexandria's Frank Mann Field was over 2,400 fans. Not quite the estimated 9.5 million daily active users of Pokémon Go this summer, but commendable nonetheless.
And looking back at Week 22 below, I'm wondering how many of you followed the Huffington Post's advice and took up Tai Chi this summer to put your cares behind you. No, not you? Going with the "movie for mature audiences" option, like me? Well, I haven't gone Beyond the chance to "make some noise" with Rihanna, or Skydance with a Bad Robot, but "I remember everything" and am willing to be Bourne again.
This week the Republican Party held its national convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, which drew an estimated 50,000 visitors, including 2,472 delegates, 2,302 alternate delegates, party officials and staff, organizers, fundraisers, donors, 15,000 credentialed media, and hundreds of law enforcement personnel from 73 government agencies. The projected number excludes demonstrators, protesters, counter-protesters, hangers-on, fun-seekers, agitators and other folks just swept up in the crowds and hoopla. The GOP convention delegates elected businessman Donald J. Trump and Indiana Governor Mike Pence as the party's presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Here are some of the many things not allowed in the exclusion zone surrounding the convention site: sling shots, switchblade knives, nunchucks, cestuses and other ancient battle gloves, swords, paintball guns, hatchets and axes, pellet and BB guns, sledgehammers and crowbars, grappling hooks and ladders, rockets and fireworks, drones and other unmanned aircraft, heavy lumber, tape and wire longer than six feet, pipes and axe handles, brass knuckles and billy clubs, loud speakers and megaphones, lasers and light sabers, containers with bodily fluids, large backpacks and bags, big blaster waterguns, mace and pepper spray, gas masks, aerosol cans, light bulbs and Christmas ornaments, chains and pad locks, ice chests and coolers, hammocks and cots, tents and mattresses, sleeping pads and bags, bottles and canned goods, establishment Republicans including the Governor of host-state Ohio, Republicans in tight re-election campaigns like U.S. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, and tennis balls. Loaded guns, bullet-proof vests and hockey masks are okay.
The Republican Party last held its national convention in Cleveland in 1936 (the nominee that year was Kansas Governor Alfred M. Landon). The Democratic Party has never held its convention in Cleveland. Ohio is a battlegound state with 18 out of 538 total electoral votes (with 270 needed to win). No Republican has won the presidency without taking Ohio. By contrast, Virginia, another contested state, has 13 electoral votes. The Democratic Party holds its national convention next week in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, yet another swing state, offers 20 electoral votes). However, Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, is arguably the only state that truly matters.
On Monday, a federal district court judge in Richmond ruled in favor of a Virginia delegate to next week's Republican National Convention in Cleveland who challenged a state law that threatens criminal prosecution against any Virginia delegate who votes for a candidate other than Donald Trump at the convention, even though Mr. Trump won only 35 percent of the votes cast in the Virginia Republican primary election held on March 1st (see Week 26 below). The judge held that the contested Virginia law is unconsitutional because it infringes on convention delegates' First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of political association, and because states have no role in dictating how political parties and convention delegates go about selecting their Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees. You could argue that this decision represents a loss for Mr. Trump, but it does not alter the fact that he will leave the GOP convention atop his party's national ticket and everything else is just background noise. The 2016 Election page of this website has more information about this "Free the Delegates" case.
July 11th was Free Slurpee Day at all 58,000+ 7-Eleven stores. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the slurpee. Did you know that the company's stores got their current name in 1946 to reflect their then new operating hours of 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days per week? I did not. Of course, many 7-Eleven stores are now open 24 hours a day. However, the offer of a free small slurpee on 7/11 is good only from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Happy Independence Day! If you didn't enjoy the cloud-obscured fireworks on the Fourth of July or were put off by PBS's Mili Vanili-esque faked fireworks coverage on television, don't forget that the City of Alexandria shoots pyrotechnics aloft at its own 267th birthday fête on Saturday, July 9th, starting just after dusk around 9:30 p.m. and continuing for about a half-hour. Unobstructed riverside views of the fireworks are available at Oronoco Bay Park, Rivergate City Park and Tide Lock Park, all located a few blocks from Watergate (see the Neighborhood Parks page of this website for a map and location details). They suspend flight ops at Reagan National Airport for your enjoyment!
Each summer, Allstate Insurance Company ranks the 200 largest American cities according to how safe their drivers are, with the best at the top of the list. Baltimore ranks 3rd from the bottom, Washington, D.C. ranks 4th from the bottom, and Alexandria ranks 12th from the bottom. For us, that's a slight improvement over last year when we ranked 11th from the bottom. Well, according to Tom Cochrane it's a Mad Mad World, and for all you rascals running flat out, Life is a Highway.
Stifling road congestion might be one of the factors contributing to unsafe driving in our area. In its recent 5th annual study of urban traffic in 295 cities across 38 countries, navigation and mapping company TomTom listed the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area as the 7th worse in the U.S. (after Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Seattle, San Jose, Honolulu and Miami) and 79th worse in the world (Mexico City, Bangkok, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro and Moscow topped the international list). In another widely-cited report, INRIX, a road traffic analytics and data services company, has the D.C. area ranked 2nd worse in the country after Los Angeles and before San Francisco, Houston, New York, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Honolulu). The surveys were both based on 2015 data and used independent metrics.
So it's no surprise that regional transportation planners are scrambling to find ways to unsnarl area traffic. The latest idea -- not new but never before pushed so hard -- is to use the Potomac River as a transit corridor. One proposal would launch a commuter ferry stopping at the Old Town pier as well as several upriver locations on the D.C. side. The Alexandria city council opposes this plan because of the additonal pressures that ferry commuters would put on infrastructure near the pier. Council members believe that the concept would make Old Town a de facto parking garage for the ferry with few benefits for local businesses and residents. They have suggested alternative stop locations including Reagan National Airport, the Pentagon and Jones Point Park, all of which have river access and two of which already serve as multi-modal transit hubs. In some ways, this is a high-stakes game of developmental NIMBY on someone else's playing field with the city council showing once more that it likes to throw but not catch.
Speaking of crossing the river, the Neighborhood Development page of this website has an update and deeper dive on the MGM National Harbor Casino and Resort project. The opening date has just been moved back from this month to year-end.
The Virginia results from a new battleground presidential poll by Ballotpedia/Evolving Strategies have been posted to the 2016 Election page of this website.
It's not common to see McDonnell Douglas's iconic three-engined DC-10 airplane at U.S. airports anymore. The trijet -- with its large center engine cowling sitting atop the rear fuselage and below the base of the vertical stabilizer -- was the largest plane ever built by McDonnell Douglas, and it enabled airlines to provide widebody transcontinental and intercontinental passenger service to a wide range of airfields, including those with shorter runways that could not accommodate Boeing's hulking 747 jumbo jet.
The DC-10's launch customers were American Airlines and United Airlines. The two of them took delivery of their initial planes on the same day, and both flew their first passenger flights in early August 1971 -- American first on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago and back, followed by United on a round-trip flight between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Eighteen years later in 1989, McDonnell Douglas delivered the 446th and last production DC-10 to Nigeria Airways (now defunct). In its heyday, the DC-10 was one of the most popular airplanes flown in commercial aviation. It was quiet and comfortable, and it had seemingly-magical electrically-operated passenger doors that first tilted inward and then glided smoothly upward, vanishing completely into the ceiling for storage. Unlike today's strict form-follows-function same-same airframes, the DC-10 looked like no other jet made, then or since.
In January 2007, Northwest Airlines (now Delta Airlines) flew the last DC-10 passenger flight by a mainstream carrier in the Western Hemisphere on a trip from Honolulu to Minneapolis. On February 20, 2014, the DC-10 flew its last commercial passenger flight ever for Biman Bangladesh Airlines from Dhaka, Bangladesh to Birmingham, England with a stop-over in Kuwait. It was a specially-scheduled fanboy flight for aviation enthusiasts.
Over the years, the DC-10 has also been put to a variety of non-passenger uses. In the 1980s, the U.S. Air Force purchased 60 KC-10s, the military aerial refueling tanker version of the plane. They are still in active service, awaiting replacement by the KC-46A Pegasus, the aerial refueling variant of the Boeing 767. In the early 1990s, two civilian DC-10s were converted to in-air refueling tankers for The Royal Netherlands Air Force. Another DC-10 was repurposed by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia as a Widebody Airborne Sensor Platform, or WASP. In 2006, four DC-10s were transformed into 12,000-gallon liquid-retardant airborne tankers used to fight wildfires, and three of them are still in service with 10 Tanker Air Carrier. FedEx currently uses 50 of the freighter version of the DC-10 in its global delivery business -- some of which are equipped with Northrop Grumman's Guardian laser-based anti-missile defense system, because “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight" you can't afford to be blasted out of the sky.
Orbis is a non-profit organization founded in 1982 that is committed to saving eyesight throughout the world. It is best known for its Flying Eye Hospital, which is outfitted with ophthalmic examination, operating and recovery rooms, and a 46-seat classroom where local medical trainees can observe live surgical procedures and interact with surgeons during surgery via specialized audiovisual equipment.
The photos above and to the left show Orbis's newest third generation plane, an MD-10, which is a DC-10 with a modern cockpit upgrade. It was donated by FedEx and customized for Orbis. Wherever it travels, the plane is flown and staffed by volunteers. The airplane was unveiled to the public earlier this month on June 2, 2016, and is currently on a goodwill tour to visit New York, Washington, D.C., Memphis, Dallas and Sacramento, before heading out on its inaugural mission in September to Shenyang, the largest city in Northeast China.
As noted in Week 21 when the Höküle'a, a Hawaiian double-hulled voyaging canoe, dropped anchor in Old Town for a day-long visit, it's amazing what you might see when you go for a walk around the neighborhood (the Neighborhood Parks page of this webiste lists others).
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the felony convictions of former Republican Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell for accepting $175,000 in gifts and loans from a constituent purportedly in exchange for the Governor's official help in advancing the constituent's business interests in the state (for background information, please see Week 18 below). Until this year (in response to this case), there were few if any limits under Virginia law on the type or size of gifts that state officials could lawfully accept.
Federal law prohibits gifts to government officials if they commit or agree to commit an "official act" in exchange for the gifts. To resolve this case, the court had to decide what types of action taken by a public official are "official acts" and what types of action are routine, everyday acts. The court ruled that official acts involve formal exercises of governmental power -- decisions or actions on specific and focused questions, matters, causes, suits, proceedings or controversies that are pending or may be brought before an official. These decisions or actions occur at the level of lawsuits before courts, determinations before agencies, or hearings before legislative committees.
In contrast, some of the things that Mr. McDonnell did, like taking phone calls, listening to requests, setting up meetings, referring matters to staff, speaking with other officials, hosting events and extending invitations, without more, would not constitute official acts. What might be something more? Exerting pressure on another official, or giving advice to another official knowing or intending that the advice will form the basis for an official act by the other official. Those will get one into trouble.
This case called into question the ability of elected officials everywhere in Amercia to receive campaign contributions, meet donors for lunch, attend fundraisers, accept invitations to community functions . . . and then deliver robust constituent services of the type described above. This political quid pro quo is routine, widespread, expected and necessary for responsive government. So important is this concern that Chief Justice John Roberts went out of his way (what lawyers call "obiter dictum") to address it in his opinion:
And then, acknowledging the deplorable personal conduct underlying the case, Chief Justice Roberts continues:
Out of jail, out of office, out of the fire, still out of bounds.
On Friday, Carroll Boston “Beau” Correll, Jr. – a personal injury and criminal defense lawyer from Winchester, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley (population 26,000), a twice-elected chairman of the Winchester City Republican Committee, a former member of the Virginia Republican Party's Finance Committee, and a pledged delegate from Virginia’s 10th Congressional District to next month’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio – filed a 14-page federal class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond on behalf of himself and other similarly situated delegates, both Republican and Democratic, against the Virginia Attorney General and five other statewide law enforcement and elections officials, all in their official governmental capacities, challenging the constitutionality of Title 24.2, Section 545(D) of the Virginia Code.
That law provides that, when a political party in Virginia chooses to select its nominee for President of the United States in a primary election, as the state GOP did on March 1, 2016, the state party's designated "delegates and alternates shall be bound to vote on the first ballot at the national convention for the candidate receiving the most votes in the primary unless that candidate releases those delegates and alternates from such vote." In other words, such delegates must initially vote for the primary election winner, in a winner-take-all contest, and are not immediately free to "vote their consciences." Violations of this requirement are considered Class 1 misdemeanors punishable by "confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both."
As previously reported in greater detail on the 2016 Election page of this website and Week 10 below, Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump won the Virginia GOP primary on Super Tuesday. Thus, on the lead-off nominating ballot at the Republican National Convention, Virginia district-level delegates like Mr. Correll are required to vote for Mr. Trump, who has amassed a majority of the delegates through the party's primary elections, caucuses and state-level conventions and is presently considered the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee.
According to his legal complaint, Mr. Correll "believes that Donald Trump is unfit to serve as President of the United States and that voting for Donald Trump would therefore violate [his] conscience." Mr. Correll, like so many others, wants to vote for someone other than Mr. Trump, and he claims that Virginia's law requiring him to do so at the GOP convention, or face criminal prosecution, violates his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of political association. One could argue that whatever Mr. Correll and his cohorts say or do at the convention would be ideologically criminal, but that's probably why the Bushes, Romneys, McCains and many other Republican stalwarts are staying away from Cleveland this summer. That and the anticipated riots.
If you are interested in an update to this story or a local perspective on this fall's general election, please visit the new 2016 Election page of this website, which also provides recent Virginia polling data that will be updated through election day, November 8, 2016. The new 2017 Election page will keep you abreast of developments regarding next year's gubernatorial election. As Fleetwood Mac sings, "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow."
In other news, the city council is blazing ahead with plans to build a new $268 million Metrorail station at Potomac Yards. The groundwork has been laid by Alexandria and responsible federal agencies for Metro to solicit design/build proposals for the work later this summer. Once the station opens in 2020, Alexandria's share of Metro’s $1.75 billion annual operating budget is estimated to increase from $13.6 million to $16.4 million, not including other routine increases along the way. Additional information on this project is provided on the Neighborhood Development page of this website. Click here to see Metro's nearly 300-page, $2.8 billion FY17 budget (operating, capital and reimbursable), which is effective July 1, 2016.
Charles Schwab recently commissioned a wide-ranging public survey conducted by Koski Research of 1,000 Washington, D.C. metropolitan area residents about our regional economy and their personal financial situations. Survey respondents were aged 21-75, had a median household income of $76,000, and median assets of $90,000. The results are fascinating and beautifully presented in a series of color charts. Two findings caught my attention:
• One in five respondents, the largest group, said they would want to live in Old Town Alexandria if money were no object (Bethesda, Maryland came in second at 11 percent, and all other responses were in single digits). Cost was cited by 65 percent of those surveyed as the primary reason they did not live in their preferred neighborhood.
• Respondents, on average, felt that one needs a net worth of at least $720,000 to live comfortably in the D.C. metro area, and $2.7 million to be considered wealthy.
Each year, Money.com rates the country's 50 Best Places to Live. Alexandria didn't make the 2015 list, largely due to the high cost of living here, but I thought you might like to know how our town compares to the national average on several basic data points:
Online sources generally report that Old Town North is the most expensive neighborhood for rental housing in the City of Alexandria, with average monthly rents around $2,600. Real property sales and rental prices are both rising in Alexandria.
Oddly, while Alexandria does not rank high on this list of best places to live, our city tops the list of best places for baby boomers to retire as discussed in Week 15 below, and tops the list of most romantic cities as discussed in Week 11 below.
It looks like the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear oral arguments early next fall in a case claiming that Virginia's redrawn state legislative districts resulted from unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. Please see the Virginia Redistricting Battle page of this website for more information on this case and another case that successfully challenged federal congressional districts created by the same redistricting plan.
The older of two local celebrity eaglets, Freedom, fledged on Sunday afternoon -- she (gender by general consensus) took flight for the first time and left the nest. The eaglets' near-crazed fans, eager to see live streaming video and chat online with nest cam operators and discussion-forum moderators, crashed the American Eagle Foundation's web servers for most of Monday. On Wednesday morning with the nest cams back online, the remaining eaglet, Liberty or "Bert" to his (again, by consensus) many fans, and Mr. President shared a soon-to-end father-son breakfast, chowing down on one of my favorite meals, wild-caught duck. Bert ate two of them. Two ducks! Late that afternoon, Freedom, who went unobserved for several days, returned to the nest for the first time since her Sunday fledge. She was very hungry and that evening she and The First Lady shared a mother-daughter dinner. It was hard to tell given the late-day light, but it looked like they tore into a very large, tough-skinned fish. On Thursday morning, energized by digested foie gras and duck fat, Bert fledged the nest. Here is a video of Freedom's fledge posted to YouTube by a member of the DC eaglerazzi, and here is a video of Bert's fledge posted to YouTube by the American Eagle Foundation. See Week 16 for previous eagle news.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Alexandria Aces started their ninth summer season with the 10-team Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The club plays its 20 home games at Frank Mann Field, which is part of Four Mile Run Park, located at 3700 Commonwealth Avenue between Cora Kelly School and Jack Taylor's Alexandria Toyota on U.S. Route 1. The Aces, which fell short of the playoffs last year, start the season undefeated with a 2-0 record.
On May 31st, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond ruled that cell phone users have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding cell phone location data routinely captured by cell phone towers and recorded by cell phone service providers when cell phones are connected to their networks. The court determined that such information is not protected by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and that the government does not need a search warrant to obtain the data from cell phone companies for use in criminal trials.
Last summer, two men were prosecuted for a series of armed robberies in Baltimore. Their convictions were based, in part, on data showing the location and movement of their cell phones when connected to the Sprint/Nextel wireless network. Prosecutors used this data at trial to place the defendants in the vicinity of the robberies at the time they occurred. The defendants appealed their convictions, arguing among other things that the government procured their cell phone location data without a search warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit agreed with the defendants and held that cell phone location data is admissible at trial only if it is obtained through a search warrant.
Last fall, the Fourth Circuit granted the government’s request that the entire 15-judge court rehear the case, possibly because the panel’s decision was at odds with prior U.S. Supreme Court precedent and decisions by other federal courts of appeal, and possibly because the judges on the panel issued three separate opinions in the case. On Monday, the full court, by a 12-3 decision, reversed the ruling of the three-judge panel and held that Fourth Amendment protections do not apply to information (such as cell phone location data) that is voluntarily exposed or revealed to a third party (such as a cell phone service provider) in the ordinary course of business and then disclosed by the third party to the government without a search warrant but pursuant to other appropriate means.
Moving forward, this decision will probably be restricted to the metadata associated with access to wireless services (e.g., time and date of cell activity, transmission location, call duration, text length, phone number, IP address, routing information, etc.), and will not be applied to the actual content of a call, a message, an Internet search, or streamed data, all of which should continue to be afforded Fourth Amendment protection.
If you think that this news story does not affect you because you do not engage in armed robbery or other nefarious activities, you may be wrong. Wireless providers sell non-GPS locator information gathered from their cell towers to third parties, which means that apps may know your general location even if you have denied them access to your mobile device's location services via your privacy settings. While not as precise as GPS, cell-tower positioning is often good enough for targeted advertising or services. This federal case reinforces the legal foundation that your cell phone service company owns your cell-tower-derived location data and can do with it whatever it pleases. Yikes!
Additional information on the federal court system is provided to the left, along with an update on the public bathroom access case involving a transgender Virginia high school student summarized in Week 17 below.
On Monday, to get our week started, the Huffington Post ran an article entitled 4 Very Baby Boomer Things to Do This Summer "to put our cares behind us." Here is the list:
1. Plan a trip to Alexandria, Virginia.
Well, that gives us two things to do, because none of us are going to see EW&F perform live. Okay, here is the schedule for EW&F's (mostly European and west coast) concert tour this summer. Okay, okay, here is a link to a late-1970s music video posted on Vevo's YouTube channel for EW&F's most popular song, September (the age-appropriate lyrics begin, "Do you remember . . ."). Okay, okay, okay, no one is going to take up Tai Chi, either, although I really want to. For my part, I'm going to see the new Star Trek film this summer. I'm Beyond sure it's for mature audiences with Fast and Furious dialogue like this:
Mr. Spock: "Fear of death is illogical."
Also on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal filed by 10 current and former Virginia Republican Members of Congress challenging a congressional redistricting plan drawn up by a lower federal court in Richmond to address unconstitutional racial gerrymandering found in a congressional redistricting plan crafted by the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly. A more detailed discussion of this topic is available on the Virginia Redistricting Battle page of this website (also see Week 13 below).
Due to my respect for politics, the following news summary is snark-free. Watergate of Alexandria is part of Virginia's 8th Congressional District. Donald Sternoff Beyer, Jr. began representing us and our neighbors in the U.S. House of Representatives last year. Congressman Beyer is a successful local businessman, a former two-term Lieutenant Governor of Virginia under Democratic Governor Doug Wilder and Republican Governor George Allen, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. When he ran for election to Congress in 2014, Mr. Beyer was considered the establishment Democratic candidate to succeed long-serving Congressman Jim Moran. This year, according to the Virginia Department of Elections, Congressman Beyer is not facing an opponent in the state Democratic Primary to be held on June 14, 2016. At the Republican District 8 Convention held on May 7, 2016, environmental consultant Charles Hernick, a first-time candidate for public office, defeated Mike Webb for the Republican nomination, prompting Mr. Webb to run as an independent candidate in the general election to be held on November 8, 2016. On May 16th, Mr. Webb, a self-described conservative Republican who claims the bible is his favorite book, posted a series of screenshots to his Facebook page displaying his search for a temporary job in Alexandria. At least one of the screenshots showed two open tabs on the page, which, according to published news reports, both linked to pornographic websites. Mr. Webb later said that he knew the tabs were open when he posted the screenshots and has "nothing to hide." Apparently, he also quoted scripture and concluded, "what does not kill you does make you stonger." Over the course of a day, Mr. Webb's Facebook followers jumped in number from several hundred to several hundred thousand. Ballotpedia rates this election cycle's Virginia 8th Congressional District race "as safely Democratic." Nevertheless, if you care about such things, you should vote. See the 2016 Election page of this site for more information about this year's general election to be held on November 8, 2016, and the 2017 Election page to learn more about former Virginia governors..
Hand-crafted double-hulled voyaging canoes, propelled by sails and paddles, and guided by master navigators using ancient celestial blue-water wayfaring techniques, are how the principal Hawaiian Islands, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and occupying one of the most remote areas on our planet, were originally discovered and settled by Polynesian mariners around 400-500 A.D. The Höküle'a is a full-scale historically faithful replica of those ancient seagoing vessels. Launched in 1975, its first long-distance voyage was from Hawaii to Tahiti and back in 1976. In the 40 years since, the boat, crewed by members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, has traveled the world, completing trips to Micronesia, Polynesia, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South America and the Carribean, among other places. This week, the Höküle'a sails up the U.S. East Coast, with stop-overs and onboard tours in Old Town, Washington, D.C. and New York City. It's amazing what you might see when you put down the newspaper and go for a walk. See the Neighborhood Parks page of this website for more information about pleasant walks you can take near Watergate.
The Old Town North Small Area Plan Advisory Group held a neighborhood meeting on May 12th to update the community on the work that it has accomplished to date, collect public comments, and answer questions. Nearly 100 people attended the meeting, including most of the 21 members of the advisory group, city staff, and a fairly large contingent of Watergate residents. This topic is sufficiently complicated that I've created a separate Local Planning page on this website to explain the topic and track developments.
After more than a year of governmental review (see Week 19 below), the city council unanimously approved redevelopment of the Best Western Old Colony Inn, largely as proposed by the owner and developer of the property and over the strong objections of the hotel's neighbors. See the Neighborhood Development page of this website and Week 19 below for additional news on this project.
Most weeks, it's a death struggle to find joyful local news to report. But last week saw the "soft launch" of the North Old Town Farmer's Market, to be held every Thursday from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. across the street from Watergate at Montgomery Park. The formal grand opening is scheduled for May 19th. Park to table.
I was waiting for a slow news week to return to the topic of food trucks. As you may know, for several years now the Alexandria nomenklatura have had a hate-hate relationship with food trucks in the city. As mentioned before (see Week 2, Week 14 and Week 49 below), it's a mystery why they bother wasting their time and ours on a proposition that they obviously loathe, but our city government thrives on political theatre (or keeping with Russian tropes, the politicians love a good maskirovka). Of the five food truck sites considered, the city council chose three -- one located a block from the Braddock Road Metro station, another a block from the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station, and the last a block from the King Street Metro station. While the pattern here is as plain as those found in the newly-popular coloring books for adults, it's unclear why the Van Dorn Metro station was excluded. The two food truck sites proposed for North Old Town -- one on North Fairfax Street on the other side of Montgomery Park from Watergate, and the other on Madison Street near Alexandria House -- were rejected due to concerns about limited on-street parking and congestion. Interestingly, the results from the city's recent online poll show that 56 percent of the 738 respondents (there were actually 2,375 attempted responses, but 1,135 failed to complete the elaborate multi-step survey process, and 500 were deemed "uncivil") supported food trucks next to Montgomery Park, 17 percent opposed food trucks there, and 22 percent were indifferent. With the new neighborhood farmer's market to sustain you during your long coloring stretches, who really cares about food trucks anyway? And there's always McPick 2 for $5.
Last week Friday, May 6th, the Social Security Administration released its annual list of the 1000 most popular baby names in the U.S. based on applications for social security numbers for children born in 2015. Topping the nationwide list were Emma for girls and Noah for boys. The agency has been collecting this data since 1880, but cautions that "many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card." If you are a stats geek or expectant parent, you should click here. The SSA has broken down the historical data by year, decade, last century, state, territory, gender and name. For example, my name has been on the list continuously since 1925 when it first appeared. Over the past 90 years its ranked popularity has progressed in a fairly smooth bell curve from a low of 995 in 1926 to a sustained high of 8 or 9 throughout the 1970s, slowly declining in desirability to 189 last year, for an average of 128 during its time on the charts. That's 1,159,930 registered namesakes. In my birth year, the most popular baby names were Michael and Mary, and my name was 20th on the list for boys. See the chart to the left for the top 10 baby names in the U.S. and Virginia in 2015.
Two special days occur this week, Cinco de Mayo and Mother's Day. ¡Hola mamá!
NIMBY goes wookie and the empire fights back. On May 3rd, the Alexandria Planning Commission held a rowdy public meeting at city hall to consider a controversial plan by the Best Western Old Colony Inn (the "Best") to raise the height of its building from two to four stories above the planet surface, which would allow the hotel to double the number of guest rooms and add a cantina and other gathering spaces. Late last year, the Old and Historic Alexandria District Board of Architectural Review (with a name as imperial as its mandate) approved the expansion proposal over strident community opposition (see Week 50 below and the Neighborhood Development page of this website). Cloning other recent commercial proposals in this sector, the hotel has asked the city to waive its property-line set-back and off-street parking requirements. Neighbors argue that the hotel's added height and darth-like bulk would overshadow their properties, and that the lack of additional transport docking bays would worsen the shortage of on-street parking in the surrounding area. According to news reports, half the sand people attending the commission meeting opposed the project. And apparently, some of them were luked and alleged that members of the commission's staff were corrupt or vulnerable to Jedi-developer mind-tricks. Sabres lightly rattled and hackles raised, the all-powerful commissioners voted unanimously 7-0 to approve construction of the Best scar. "You have your moments. Not many of them, but you do have them," yelled a pince-nezed lady from Oregon afterwards. On May 14th, the epic battle shifts to the figurative Endor Moon when the city council, fresh from its victory in the far-flung budget wars, takes up the plan, solo. Some in the resistance have new hope that the pragmatic councilors may yet choose a back-up option, even if it's a bit hairy on the surface. Said an older gentleman named Ben K, with a slight brogue, "May the farce be with you." (Editor's note: May 4th is Star Wars Day.)
If you do not follow politics, you may not be aware that we live in an era of unrelenting divided government. This circumstance, which Amercian voters collectively believe is a good thing based on the choices they make year-upon-year, affects all three branches of the federal government, many state and local governments, the way that electoral maps are drawn up, the manner in which campaigns and elections are conducted, the laws that are enacted, and how those laws are enforced. Indeed, many believe that we live in a time of hyper-partisan conflict and governmental paralysis. Or perhaps not.
Last summer, 8-term Democratic Congressman William Lacy Clay, Jr., who, like his father before him, represents St. Louis, Missouri and most of its northern suburbs, introduced a tidy 700-word bill, H.R. 2908, into the U.S. House of Representatives that proposed to "adopt the bison as the national mammal of the United States." With stunning and uncommon speed, the offered legislation was referred to and favorably reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform, considered and agreed to by the entire Republican-dominated House on a suspension of the rules and voice vote, passed by the GOP-controlled Senate without amendment and by unanimous consent, and sent last week Friday, April 29th, to President Barack Obama for his approval and signature, which most everyone believes is forthcoming. It helped that the Congressional Budget Office determined that the law would impose no cost on any government, business or person.
If enacted into law after 44 weeks of consideration, the National Bison Legacy Act would raise the American buffalo to the same exalted level of official regard as the American bald eagle. While this federal law-in-making is not strictly local news, it is a rare and uplifting political-legislative success story, and I wanted to give ungulates equal access to this eagle-indulgent space. Alas, there is no bison prairie cam. However, you can watch Buffalo Thunderbeast, an hour-long wildlife documentary on YouTube, or Is There Room for the American Bison in America Anymore?, a 2-hour documentary produced by PBS's award-winning Independent Lens unit four years ago (I curate documentaries so that you don't have to). Both films can be watched in their entirety at the provided website links or via the associated apps. (Editor's post-script: The President signed the bill into law on May 9th.)
This week, across the country, is Small Business Week. This year's theme is "Dream Big, Start Small." According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 28 million small, independent businesses (0-500 employees) in America that account for 54 percent of all sales, 55 percent of all jobs, 2 out of 3 new jobs each year, and 30-50 percent of all occupied commercial spaced in the U.S. In Alexandria, 90 percent of all businesses in the city, including 78 percent of all retailers along King Street, are small businesses, according to the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization set up to help small businesses in the city and funded by the SBA, the City of Alexandria, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, and several local banks. The chart to the left summarizes the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau regading small businesses in Virginia and the entire country (note that the data methodology differs from that used by the SBA). Click or tap here to see the SBA's fact sheet on small businesses.
The city council held an FY17 budget mark-up session on April 26th. With little doubt, the councilors are headed toward approving a 3-cent property tax rate increase at their budget approval meeting scheduled for May 5th. Apparently, there are too many irresistible items to choose from in the city-funded cookie jar (see Week 9, Week 11, Week 12, Week 17 and Week 49 below), including $3.4 million for pre-school construction, $2.3 million for courthouse renovations, $1.4 million for new DASH buses, $1.3 million to improve multi-modal use of and repave existing streets, $1 million for repairs to Gadsby's Tavern and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, $400,000 for city broadband, $100,000 to maintain more frequent fire hydrant maintenance, $80,000 for sunday hours at three library branches, and $50,000 to refresh the city tourism authority's website. I'm guessing the whole "needs versus wants" conversation never took place.
On September 4, 2014, after five weeks of trial and three days of deliberation, a federal jury found former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of multiple counts of public corruption -- that they sold access to the commonwealth's highest elected office and state government to businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for a more lavish lifestyle than they could otherwise afford. Mr. McDonnell was a shooting star in the Republican party and considered a potential vice presidential running mate to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in 2012. Mr. Williams was a purveyor of dubious dietary supplements, and, as reported by the Washington Post at the time, had a history of "making risky investments in unproven sciences and getting others to do the same."
At trial, prosecutors showed that the McDonnell family had accepted $177,000 in gifts and favors from Mr. Williams (which was legal in Virginia until this year), that Mr. McDonnell had arranged a meeting between Mr. Williams and government employees to discuss a possible state-funded clinical study of Mr. Williams' product, and that Mr. McDonnell spoke with staff about Mr. Williams' business. Mr. McDonnell claimed that Mr. Williams was a "close family friend," and that he was merely promoting and facilitating business in the state, something that any governor would do, indeed be expected to do, as part of his duties.
The case turns on whether Mr. McDonnell performed or promised to perform an "official act" for Mr. Williams or his company in exchange for something of value. The case is precedent-setting because of how broadly the term official act might be defined and then applied to other government officials. Do official acts include facilitating meetings or having discussions? Or must there be more, such as pressuring colleagues, holding public hearings, writing letters of support, or making recommendations to decision-makers? And does it matter that Mr. McDonnell ran for governor on a well-known platform of pursuing economic development and promoting local businesses in the state? Or that at no time did the state conduct a study of or endorse Mr. Williams' product, add Mr. Williams' supplement to Virginia's health plan, or finance or provide any other support to Mr. Williams' company?
This case is bothersome for many because the McDonnells shamelessly took advantage of Mr. Williams' largesse, and in turn Mr. Williams sought to take advantage of the first couple's status and influence. But the limited measures undertaken by Mr. McDonnell on Mr. Williams' behalf are arguably actions that routinely and unremarkably occur at every level of government most every day. It's called constituent services. And while there may be ample evidence of guilty hearts, there may also be scant evidence of guilty hands.
Mr. McDonnell was senteced to two years in prison, and his wife was sentenced to one year and one day. They are both currently free on bond pending the outcome of their appeals. Mr. McDonnell's conviction was upheld on July 10, 2015 by a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit based in Richmond, Virignia. This week, on April 27, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case, its last of the year. It will be interesting to see how the 4-4 divided high court deals with this case and its implications for the nation's governing class. A decision is expected in late June.
On April 26th, the National Arboretum and the American Eagle Foundation announced that the names of the two eaglets hatched on March 18th and 20th to sophmore parents, Mr. President and The First Lady (see Week 12, Week 13 and Week 15 below and photos to the left), are Freedom and Liberty. The official naming followed a social media campaign and public vote by more than 36,000 people. Click here to join the 35 million views of the two baby bald eagles on nest cam.
In this week's Alexandria Times, first-term Mayor Allison Silberberg held forth on the city council's upcoming vote on Alexandria's FY17 budget (I read political op-eds so that you don't have to). All leaders tasked with crafting realistic and acceptable revenue and spending plans -- whether for governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, families or homeowners associations -- must first identify and differentiate among "needs" and "wants," and then prioritize and balance them. Mayor Silberberg's list of budgetary needs includes neglected school infrastructure, crumbling roads, darkened libraries and underpaid firefighters. Regarding schools and roadways, she says the city needs to address problems ignored and made worse by years of deferred maintenance, and needs to increase the number of classrooms to accommodate bounding growth in the city's school-age population. In her view, the city also needs to restore Sunday operating hours at the city's three library branches, and raise the pay of city firefighters (police officers received a salary bump last year). The mayor believes that a 2-cent increase in the city 's real estate tax rate, together with higher assessed property values, is sufficient to pay for these needs, the city's continuing operations, and some but not all funding wants. This is 1-cent higher than what the city manager proposed, and 1-cent lower than what some on the city council have sought (see Week 9, Week 11, Week 12 and Week 49 below). For her, the best way to underwrite more city-financed like-to-haves is to broaden Alexandria's commercial tax base. Until then, she argues that we must "live within our means" and not seek to "fix everything" "in one fell swoop or in one year."
Another one bites the dust. After four years of trying to make a go of it, Old Town's branch of Teaism will permanently close its doors on April 24th. According to its owners, sales were flat with no growth in sight despite the fact that the store on North St. Asaph Street directly faces a flourishing Trader Joe's, is across the street from popular new upscale grocer Harris Teeter, and sits at ground zero of a recent explosion of hundreds of new luxury condominiums and apartments. The closure may surprise some since the eatery's three DC locations (Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter and Lafayette Park) all seem to be doing well. But then again, this is the third failed business in this particular retail space since the mixed-use development opened. And, personally speaking, the chain's hype is better than the grub served (I taste the food so that you don't have to). The store's owners seem a bit bitter about the closing, probably because they spent three-quarters of a million dollars on the restaurant's build-out, an investment that may never be recouped, and maybe because the city did little to help them succeed even though the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, with $5.3 million in city funds to spend on local business advancement this year, has offices in the same complex. Ouch, someone needs to post new definitions of "irony" and "failure to launch" to Wikipedia.
The city's Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names held its fourth public meeting on April 11th as it grapples with the legacy of the Confederacy in Alexandria 150 years after the end of America's internecine war. The group was formed (see Week 7 below) to provide the city council with political cover while taking the community's temperature on several contentious proposals, including banning Confederate flags on city property, removing or relocating the Appomattox statue at the intersection of South Washington and Prince Streets, and renaming some or all of the more than 60 city streets that honor Confederate leaders. Here's what the group has learned so far: emotions on these issues still run hot, the city council is pulling a Marie Antoinette (claiming to consider these issues while really palming them off onto others), the only roadway that folks might be persuaded to rename is Jefferson Davis Highway (there's little glory in Route 1 anyway), gentrification is pushing black heritage out of Alexandria (and since we may be renaming streets wouldn't it be nice to recognize a prominent African-American), and the monetary cost of satiating political correctness will be quite high (have we talked about tax hikes recently?). The group also discussed a Virginia state law that prohibits the removal of war memorials. Some believe that the law applies only to memorials erected after 1998 when the law was enacted. On March 10th, however, Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill passed by the General Assembly that sought to clarify that the law bans the removal or disburbance of any war memorial or monument after it is built regardless of when it was constructed (I track legislation so that you don't have to). T-Mac blocked the bill because it represented a "sweeping override of local authority." History is as history does.
In recent weeks, our country’s culture wars have moved to a new battleground – the right of transgender people to use public facilities (rest, locker, changing and shower rooms) that correspond to their identified gender instead of their birth gender. On April 19th, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit based in Richmond, Virginia, by a 2-to-1 decision, effectively ruled that a 16-year-old public high school junior in Gloucester County, Virginia, who was born as a female but identifies as a male, should be allowed to use boys’ restrooms at school. The local school board, responding to parental complaints and emphasizing privacy rights, adopted a policy requiring students to use either multi-occupant restrooms assigned to their biological gender or single-occupant unisex restrooms. The student -- who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, receives hormone therapy, lives life as a boy, and has yet to undergo gender reassignment surgery -- challenged the school policy as being discriminatory and stigmatizing.
At trial and on appeal, the U.S. Department of Education argued on the student’s behalf that the school policy violated Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Education Amendments of 1972 (“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”), and the department’s interpretation thereof (“When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex . . . [it] generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”). In ruling for the student, the appellate panel held that courts must ordinarily defer to an agency’s views of a law that it is tasked to enforce, absent a constitutional challenge to those views not present here.
The impact of the court’s decision extends well beyond Gloucester County and its 5,600 students. Absent an appeal, the ruling becomes binding precedent throughout Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia – the five states within the court’s reach. And since the Fourth Circuit is the highest judicial body to date to consider whether transgender bathroom restrictions constitute unlawful sex discrimination, its decision will likely influence a large number of cases making their way through the nation’s legal system. More immediately, the decision undermines North Carolina’s new law that requires everyone to use public facilities matching the gender on their birth certificate, bars local governments from overriding this mandate, and affirms that compliance will not constitute unlawful discrimination.
It’s likely that this week’s court decision will survive. The two judges who voted to overturn the school policy were appointed by President Barack Obama, and the judge who voted to uphold the policy was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. If the school board asks the entire Fourth Circuit to review the case (called a rehearing en banc), a majority of the court’s fifteen active judges and one senior judge eligible to hear the case, having been appointed by Democratic presidents, would probably affirm the panel’s decision. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (called a petition for writ of certiorari) would also probably fail given the current 4-4 ideological divide on the court and the U.S. Senate’s refusal to consider anyone nominated by President Obama to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia (see Week 13 below).
April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week in the U.S. In his official proclamation recognizing the week for the first time, President Richard Nixon called "upon all communities throughout the United States to recognize volunteers . . . who have given countless hours for the betterment of our communities and the American way of life." There is something odd in Nixon's 325-word call-to-service (I read presidential proclamations in their original language so that you don't have to). He noted that "American volunteers are improving the quality of life in remote villages and in urban slums in the United States." I realize that this statement was issued over 40 years ago, and four years before President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act into law, which led to an unprecedented expansion of affordable air travel throughout the country. But I didn't think that there were any "remote villages" in America back in 1974. Maybe in Alaska, north and west of Fairbanks. Anyway, here are a few cultural anchors for that era -- the highest-rated TV show at the time was CBS's All in the Family, the reigning Billboard chart-topper the week of Nixon's announcement was Elton John's Bennie and the Jets (play song below), and the year's best film and winner of six Oscars was The Godfather, Part II).
Click ► above to hear Bennie and the Jets
You may be interested in learning that 111 days separated Nixon's declaration of volunteerism on April 20, 1974 and his voluntary resignation from office on August 9, 1974. Evidently, community and public service arise in different ways for different folks. Then as now. And one more thing. We may still have "urban slums," but it is no longer abiding to use that term even if it may have been appropriate back in the day. Click here to read Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's 2016 state proclamation of National Volunteer Week. That's how political speech is done in America today!
This week places us squarely in the middle of earnings season, one of the four times each year when most public companies announce their quarterly earnings and other business results. At this time of year, many public companies also report on their performance during the prior fiscal year, distribute proxy statements, and hold annual shareholders meetings. Watergate’s power provider, Dominion Resources, is one of these companies, and I thought that you might be interested in learning more about it (I read corporate annual reports so that you don’t have to).
Dominion Resources is a holding company headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. Operating through its many subsidiaries, Dominion is one of the largest producers, transporters and sellers of electricity and natural gas in the country. Dominion has 14,700 full-time employees, and owns and operates 24,300 megawatts of electric-generating capacity, 6,500 miles of high-voltage electric transmission lines, 57,300 miles of electric distribution lines, 12,200 miles of natural gas collection and transmission lines, and 22,000 miles of gas distribution lines. Dominion serves more than 5 million customers in 14 states, including municipalities and rural electric cooperatives (bulk sales), other electric power distributors and resellers (wholesale), the federal government (excess capacity), and retail customers like us.
Our electricity actually comes from Dominion Power, which was founded in 1909. The utility serves 2.5 million residential, commercial, industrial and governmental customers in eastern Virginia and the northeastern-most part of North Carolina. The electricity sold is generated by a variety of means, both traditional and new, including coal, nuclear, natural gas, solar and fuel cells. But not oil, hydro, bio, thermal or wind, at least not yet. Dominion is considering an off-shore wind-power demonstration project to be located 24 miles off the Virginia coast, which may be operational by the end of 2018.
The electric rates that retail customers pay are regulated by the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Years ago, serious efforts were made to separate power generation from power transmission to encourage meaningful competition in electric power production and theoretically lower consumer prices. This world-ordering fantasy never came about, and by 2007 Virginia had reverted to a conventional cost-of-service rate model in which the Commission sets base electric rates that allow Dominion Power to recover its reasonable costs of providing electric services and earn a fair return. Reasonable costs include expenses directly related to producing and distributing power, building and maintaining power generating and transmitting facilities, complying with federal and local environmental and safety regulations, and advancing conservation and renewable energy programs.
In 2015, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law that kept Dominion Power’s base rates capped and unchanged through at least the end of 2022. However, the base rates are subject to periodic adjustments known as riders, the most recent of which went into effect on April 1st. According to Dominion, the "typical residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month [will see] an increase of $1.25, or about 1.1 percent. With the changes, the typical residential customer’s monthly bill will be $113.71, still well below national and regional averages."
Blah, blah, blah. What many of you care about most after rates is how well Dominion responds to service interruptions. Regrettably, Dominion’s system average interruption duration index, or SAIDI, was 120 minutes at the end of 2015, up from its prior three-year average of 113 minutes. And this excludes major events such as winter storms and outages arising from factors beyond Dominion’s control (like the Northeast and Midwest regional electric distribution grid blackout that started in Ohio in 2003). Click here to report a power outage to Dominion.
Anyway, bottom line, Dominion made a lot of money last year and so did its shareholders. And industry analysts and Dominion's peers ranked the company the Most Admired electric and gas utility on Fortune's list of the world's most admired companies for 2015 and second place for 2016.
Earlier this year, naval archaeologists placed the remains of a colonial-era ship that were recovered from the Hotel Indigo construction site along the waterfront (see Week 14 and Week 2 below) in a water/gel bath for temporary off-site preservation (wood does not decay if it is buried or placed in water and oxygen cannot reach it). To raise funds to help pay for the ship's conservation, the city invited the public to view the recovered wooden hull for a few days this week before it is moved to long-term storage (see photos to the left). Since the fragile remnants had to be taken out of the water for display, researchers used the public viewing as an opportunity to begin a detailed study of the artifacts (I visit archaelogical work sites so you don't have to). For now, the experts believe that the hull, including the fasteners, was constructed entirely of white oak, a durable hardwood found throughout eastern and cental North America. They haven't yet determined whether the ship was a cargo vessel or warship. Meanwhile, the wooden frame of the old John Carlyle Warehouse that was also found buried at the hotel site has been transferred to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory in St. Leonard, Maryland, along the eastern shore of the Patuxent River. The MAC Lab, as it is called, is open for free public tours, as is the City of Alexandria's Archaeology Museum, located on the top floor of the Torpedo Factory at 105 North Union Street in Old Town.
Virginia tops a new list (ranked 1st overall) of the best places for baby boomers to retire. Money Magazine and its e-sibling Money.com reported this week on a research study conducted last summer by LPL Financial, one of country's largest indepedent broker-dealers, that evaluates the 50 states and District of Columbia on their attactiveness to pre-retirees, ages 45 to 64, as they contemplate where to settle down in retirement. The study considered six (weighted) factors -- overall financial health of the state and its residents (35%), availablity and cost of retiree healthcare (20%), access to affordable retirement housing including assisted living and nursing care (15%), community quality of life including social engagement and weather (10%), employment and educational opportunities (10%), and wellness of the population (10%). Virginia stood out in two categories -- quality of life (ranked 1st) and financial (ranked 5th) -- due to its high median income, relatively low cost of living, and below-average tax burden. The Commonwealth also did quite well in the area of employment and education (ranked 10th), and had middle-of-the-road scores in all the remaining categories -- ranking 27th in healthcare, housing and wellness. While no locality excelled in every category, 12 received good marks across-the-board. Sadly, the two states on my retirement "wish list" are ranked near the bottom on account of the high cost of living and price of housing in both places. By the way, for all you snow-birders-in-waiting, Florida ranks 37th overall on the list.
American bald eagles, even little grubby ones, eat a lot of fish! Interesting factoid -- eagles have an internal pouch, called a crop, off their gullet or esophagus. The crop holds food when the stomach is full, separates indigestible substances (such as feathers, fur, bones and scales) from meat, and mixes the indigestibles with mucus to form a pellet that is later spit out. Eagles metabolize the water they need from the food that they eat, and properly fed eaglets easily gain a half-pound of weight per week. National Geographic recently interviewed the lead video operator of the National Arboretum's nest cam (see Week 12 and Week 13 below), and it's an engaging read. At least for the two new-born eaglets' half-million regular viewers (see updated photo to the left). Come on, it's like The Truman Show but with post-modern raptors.
For the second consecutive year, President Barack Obama and the First Family attended Easter morning services at Alexandria's Alfred Street Baptist Church. Founded in 1818, the church has served residents of Old Town for nearly 200 years. It is located in the Bottoms, the city's oldest African-American neighborhood.
The $1.3 billion MGM Resort currently under construction at National Harbor is racing toward its planned grand opening in the fall (see Week 1 and Week 49 below). The rendering to the left shows how ginormous the proposed complex (casino, hotel, spa, restaurants, entertainment areas and retail stores) is. Alexandria's leaders are considering ways to capitalize on the dynamic growth taking place across the Potomac River in Maryland. For example, the city council debated last week whether to spend upwards of $130,000 to keep the Christmas lights up and lit along King Street all year-round because they are festive and welcoming to visitors, and $290,000 to improve directional signage, provide retail training, encourage trade shows, spiff-up the marina, maintain the flower beds, and upgrade the city's cultural programming. The council also discussed the need to regulate street performers who (according to at least one councilor) create an untidy "free-for-all" atmosphere near the waterfront. "Aim small, miss small," actor Mel Gibson's unscripted ad lib from The Patriot, seems to summarize these local efforts. With all this money to be spent, have I mentioned recently that the city council is considering a huge 3-cent increase in the property tax rate for FY17 and beyond (see Week 12 below)?
The city has temporarily moved the remains of an 18th-century naval ship that was discovered during the excavation of the Hotel Indigo site at 220 South Union Street (see Week 2 below) to an old DASH bus barn at 116 South Quaker Lane. The ship will be available for public viewing for a few days before being transfered to a long-term facility for conservation. Tickets for the 30-minute tours between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm on April 14-16 may be obtained here (there is a maximum of 30 guests for each 30-minute time slot and space is limited). While the tour tickets are technically free, the city is asking tour-goers to make a minimum $10 donation to its ship conservation fund.
Back to the topic of food trucks (last addressed in Week 2 and Week 49 below). City staffers have now "identified three potential on-street food truck locations, using criteria that provide a way to meet the demand for food trucks, while minimizing impact to city streets." This is a welcome improvement over the prior two-year goal of selecting spots that seemed to support a robust food truck program while actually protecting established brick-and-mortar eateries whose owners pay local taxes and offer political support. Proponents want more food choices and the hip vibe that food trucks often bring to sassy urban neighborhoods. Opponents are concerned that food trucks will take away already-scarce on-street parking spaces, generate unwanted trash and noise, encourage undesireable loitering, and, let's be honest, bring a hip vibe to otherwise bland, we-like-it-that-way neighborhoods. One of the three street locations under consideration by the city is at the intersection of First and North Fairfax Streets adjacent to the northeast corner of Montgomery Park, across the street from The Perfect Pita, and a block away from Watergate. As you may know, Alexandria's evolving small area plan for North Old Town seeks to refashion Montgomery Park into a community hub (the city-planning equivalent of the everything bagel). The bureaucrati are soliciting public input on the proposed food truck locations via an online survey that closes on April 3rd. Arguably, your time is better spent watching nest cam (see Week 12 and Week 13 below).
I'm using this week's news summary to update earlier stories.
The National Arboretum's second baby bald eagle hatched on Sunday after its older sibling debuted two days earlier (see Week 12 below). For now, the two eaglets are named DC2 and DC3. I'm guessing that DC1 refers to the eaglet born of Mr. President and The First Lady last year in the same nesting location. Based on my observations (I watch nest cam so you don't have to), the family's favorite meal appears to be sashimi sourced from the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers (there are more than 50 varieties of fish available). And for those of you who think nest cams sprout organically on trees, they were installed by the American Eagle Foundation, a non-profit that operates an eagle center at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I feel compelled to deliver some substantive news content with each item, so you should know that this is the first known successful eagle breeding pair to reside at the 400-acre botanical garden since 1947. Just another sign of gentrification beyond the NoMa neighborhood. If they survive, the eaglets will fledge sometime in June and leave the nest for good by the end of summer.
You might want to read the discussion of the Virginia Redistricting Battle that is posted on this website before continuing with this update. If not, here is a Reduced Shakespeare Company-type recap: a few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that allowed the U.S. Justice Department to review in advance changes to certain local laws and procedures that might adversely affect minority voting rights; afterwards, the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly drew-up a decennial congressional redistricting plan that Democrats claim goes way beyond acceptable political gerrymandering into the realm of unlawful racial gerrymandering; a panel of three federal judges agreed with the challengers and ordered the Commonwealth to rework its electoral map before the next election; the Democratic governor called a special session of the legislature to do this; incensed Republican legislative leaders promptly adjourned without taking any action; the federal judges drafted a new redistricting plan with the help of a political science professor from California; the new plan will likely forge a second minority-dominated congressional district in the state; several current and former Virginia Republican officeholders appealed the lower court's actions to the Supreme Court, which refused a request by the Republicans to allow Virginia to use the invalidated redistricting plan while the high court pondered what to do.
Meanwhile, the 2015 state and local elections came and went, the 2016 federal and state elections are underway (see below in Week 10), several local candidates are scrambling to run in legislative districts that are better suited to them based on the new judicially-crafted redistricting plan, Justice Antonin Scalia (who was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who voted with the majority in the Voting Rights Act case that gave rise to all of this, and who many assumed would vote to uphold Virginia's original redistricting plan) passed away last month leaving the Supreme Court evenly split 4-4 between conservative and progressive justices, and Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate refuse to consider President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Justice Scalia on the court. On Monday, the day after the year's vernal equinox when the celestial forces of light and dark are in equipose, a day when the visible sun outlasts the preceding night by a smidge, but no more, the Supreme Court heard 70 minutes of oral argument in this case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, No. 14-1504. I continue to argue that all news, indeed all politics, is local (see below in Week 12).
Week 12 (March 14 to 20, 2016)
This is a really busy news week.
The city council met on the Ides of March to discuss the city manager's proposed municipal budget for FY17. Instead of killing Julius Caesar, the council slaughtered any hopes of fiscal prudence prevailing (see the discussion of IDIOT in Week 49 below). Apparently, parents want more money allocated to school capital-improvement projects, and the council unanimously voted to move toward a tax rate increase of 3 cents per $100 of assessed value for FY17 (compared to the 1-cent increase in the proposed budget, see discussion in Week 9 and Week 11 below). Even with no increase in the tax rate, the average tax bill for city homeowners is expected to go up by $121. With every 1-cent increase in the tax rate, the average residential property tax bill is likely to increase by another $50. That's a $271 increase with a 3-cent rate bump. Here's the truly unsettling part -- the contemplated rate increase is intended to fund not only school construction but also address other unspecified infrastructure needs throughout the city. Is that a blank check I sense?
Giving credence to the saying that all news is local (and with a dutiful nod to the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. who coined the base phrase that all politics is local), a 26-year old Palestinian-American jihadist from Alexandria, Virginia (who reportedly had been fighting for the Islamic State in Mosul in northern Iraq and later changed his mind) surrendered on Monday to peshmerga fighters (the military forces of the autonomous Kurds in Iraq) near the town of Sinjar not far from Iraq's borders with Syria and Turkey. According to news reports, the man's family was "shocked" to learn what he has been up to of late, as they thought he had been on holiday. Kinda like Vichy Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca, as Emil the croupier hands him a nice wad of cash and says to him, "Your winnings, sir."
If you thought that "March Madness" refers to this spring's presidential primary campaigns and not the NCAA's annual men's and women's basketball tournaments, you might be spot-on. I really wish the GOP was holding its national party convention somewhere in the local area this summer so that I can talk about politics instead of budgets for the rest of the year. Sigh . . . I'm working on both my political and hoops final fours this week. I may have a better shot on the basketball side of things.
The eaglet has landed! No, not on the moon, but at the National Arboretum off New York Avenue. Second-year resident bald eagles "Mr. President" and "The First Lady" (their approximately 5' x 6' nest is perched 90 feet up a tulip poplar tree surrounded by azaleas) welcomed the first of possibly two hatchlings this week. The hoopla can be viewed by ground-bounders via round-the-clock solar-powered live-stream high-definition nest cam (stunning color video during the day, and infrared-illuminated monochrome night vision after zero dark thirty). Nothing like watching mom and dad scarf-up and yack fresh rodent tartare for junior. And a sibling (referred to by anxious staff aborists as "Egg #2") may soon arrive. Seriously, it's so much better than watching somnolent furballs on the giant panda cam at the National Zoo. "Party on Wayne, party on Garth!"
On March 12th, the city council unshockingly approved the redevelopment of the Giant/ABC Store site, as described in Week 10 below and on the Neighborhood Development page of this website, with one critical change. Earlier in the process, the developer agreed to a formal condition that the building's residents could not get District 9 on-street parking permits. The city planning commission removed this condition when it approved the project on March 1st, but the city council reinstated it as part of its sign-off. While the change benefits Watergate in the short-term by requiring apartment dwellers to park in the underground garage, the fight goes on as the city council wrestles with the issue of parking city-wide.
The city council has begun to review Alexandria's FY17 budget. Most important take-away? Tax revenue growth continues to lag the relentless rise in the cost of city services. The largest drivers of city expenses are employee compensation, school enrollment, and capital infrastructure. Options are limited: expand the city's tax base, increase the tax rate (see below from Week 9 and Week 49), or constrain spending. The city council plans to hold a public budget forum on March 15th.
Our city tops Amazon's recently released annual list of the Top 20 Most Romantic Cities in the U.S. based on sales of romance novels, relationship books, and romantic movies and music on a per capita basis by residents of cities with more than 100,000 residents. See chart at left for the full list.
On March 1st, the Alexandria planning commission recommended that the city council approve Edens' proposal to redevelop the Giant/ABC Store site located across the street from Watergate (see Week 8 below). The current plan contemplates 51,000 square feet of commercial space at street level, 232 rental apartments on upper levels up to five stories high, 481 underground parking spaces accessible from First Street, and a below-ground loading dock with an entrance on First Street and an exit on North Pitt Street. A number of issues have dogged the project, including the height and mass of the buildings, the modern architectural design, the impact on neighborhood traffic and parking, the developer's request for a significant variance from city's minimum parking space requirements, the right of renters to obtain District 9 on-street parking permits, and the absence of meaningful public engagement. Most extraordinarily, city staffers claim that the project's impact on nearby traffic and parking would be negligible. This view has been contested by many in the community, including two residents of Watergate -- Tom Soapes, who is President of the North Old Town Independent Citizens Associaiton (NOTICe), and Darrel Drury, who leads the newly formed Volunteers in Service to the Improvement of Old Town North (VISION). The city council takes up the proposal on March 12th. See the Neighborhood Development page of this website for more information on this project.
On Super Tuesday, the two major political parties in America held primary elections and caucuses in a number of states and territories, including the Commonwealth of Virginia, to select pledged delegates to represent voters at the parties' respective national conventions to be held on July 18-21 in Cleveland, Ohio for the Republicans and on July 25-28 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the Democrats. At each of these conventions, delegates will select their party's nominee to run in the 58th quadrennial U.S. presidential election to be held on November 8, 2016.
In Virginia's Republican primary, businessman and political newcomer Donald Trump received the most votes cast for a single candidate statewide (nearly 35%), and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio received the largest number of votes cast in Alexandria (nearly 47%). On the Democratic side, former U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton received the most votes cast both statewide (more than 64%) and in Alexandria (nearly 70%). The chart to the left provides more detailed election results as of March 2nd (please note that several candidates whose names appear on the chart suspended their campaigns before the primary election was held but after ballots had been prepared and distributed). The 2016 Election page of this website provides additional information regarding this year's general election.
Earlier this month, the city mailed to all Alexandria real property owners its annual appraisals of the fair market values of their respective properties as of the start of the year. The city's total assessed real property tax base increased 2.81% from 2015 to 2016. This is the sixth year in a row that the value of the city's property tax base has increased, which the city attributes to several factors, including new development, low unemployment, low interest rates, demand exceeding supply, the number of high-paying jobs in the area, the city's proximity to Washington, D.C., and the city's four Metro stations. The chart to the left details this year's increases in the average assessed values of residential property in Alexandria.
The citiy council will determine this year's tax rate on May 5th, and tax bills will be mailed out immediately thereafter. The tax payment for the first half of the year is due by June 15th, and the tax payment for the second half of the year is due by November 15th. The city manager has proposed a one-cent increase in this year's tax rate over last year's tax rate (with an option to raise the tax rate by 2 cents), resulting in a tax rate of $1.053 per $100 of assessed value ($1.063 with the higher option). The city claims that the average homeowner would see a $171 increase in real property taxes for 2016.
On February 1st, Edens, the commercial real estate company advancing the redevelopment of the Giant/ABC property at 500 First Street, held the latest in a series of public meetings to update the local community on the status of the project, which is set to break ground as early as this year if all necessary government approvals can be obtained. As noted in greater detail on the Neighborhood Development page of this website, Edens hopes to build 50,000 square feet of stree-level commercial space and more than 200 residential rental units on upper levels. One has to question the need for so much new retail frontage, when the bleak news being reported out of Old Town since late December involves the ongoing closure of many locally-owned businesses (nearly 20 by a recent count).
Observed one writer to the Alexandria Gazette this week, "These were tax-paying businesses with customers, employees, landlords and important parts of the fabric of our city. . . . While there are many reasons for this spate of business closings, one cannot deny the changing nature of retail. With 17 blocks of retail space from the [Potomac River] waterfront to the [King Street Station] Metro, we are challenged by many factors including online sales." An article in this week's Alexandria Times argues that the city's anti-business regulatory practices, high taxes, and shortage of parking puts tremendous pressure on businesses.
For those of us who live in Old Town, it may be easy to ignore what happens to our commercial neighbors. But much of what makes our community special is the balance and communion between commercial and residential. This relationship will be challenged a small bit with the 500 First Street project, and challenged a whole lot more with the eventual redevelopment of the Potomac River Power Plant a couple city blocks to our north. The Local Planning page of this website provides additional information regarding these upcoming challenges.
Alexandria has formed an "Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names" to collect comments and make recommenations to the city council regarding the possible renaming or removal of some or all of the city's 220 public markers of the Confederacy, including street signs and the Appomattox Statue placed in the intersection of South Washington Street and Prince Street. If the group's second and most recent public meeting on February 8th is an accurate indication, difficult and contentious conversations involving race, slavery, history, honor, valor and symbolism will dominate this divisive issue. Hopefully, respectful dialog will also be central to the process. The group's next meeting has been tentatively scheduled for March 28th.
In last year's city council elections, Mayor Allison Silberberg spent $160,516 on her campaign, which, as a blunt measure of electoral efficiency, equates to $9.66 for each of the 16,610 votes that she received. Her opponent, outgoing mayor Bill Euille, spent $258,194 on his campaign, or nearly $28.16 for each of the 9,170 write-in votes cast for him. The other 11 candidates for the city council spent between $2,000 (won a seat) and $125,000 (did not win a seat) on their respective campaigns, ranging between $0.14 and $10.86 per vote obtained. Taken together, the 13 candidates spent $842,438 on their campaigns, or about $5.25 (that's a Lincoln and a Washington) per vote cast. See chart at left for more details. The 2015 Election page of this website provides additional information regarding the 2015 general election, including voting results.
The US Coast Guard, DC Department of Energy and the Environment, and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality are jointly investigating an oil sheen on the Potomac River stemming from the vicinity of Roaches Run in Arlington and stretching eight miles down-river. Investigators believe that the likely source of the sheen is fuel oil dumped into the region's wastewater system. Alexandria officials and the US Fish and Wildlife Services also responded to the situation because of the threat to Old Town's waterfront and the impact on waterfowl.
The Iowa Caucuses take place on Monday, February 1st. Why is this a local news story? Because it is unlikely that clear front-runners in either major political party will emerge from this first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest, or in subsequent primaries to be held in New Hampshire on February 9th or in South Carolina on February 20th. That takes us to Super Tuesday on March 1st, when voters in 11 states (12 for the GOP), including Virginia for the first time, cast their votes for party nominees (well technically delegates who pledge to support a designated candidate during the first round of voting at the party conventions to be held in July, but more on that in a much later posting). Dear neighbors, seriously, you live in a purple swing state and your vote really will count this year. As I write this, we are less than 30 days away from making a bit of history! The 2016 Election page of this website provides additional information regarding this year's presidential election.
On January 30th, members of the Virginia Republican Party's State Central Committee finally realized (what everyone else knew) that they are idiots, and voted unanimously to rescind their plan to require a loyalty pledge from voters seeking to participate in the party's primary election to be held on March 1st (see Week 3 and Week 4 below). State Republicans insisted that they were simply enforcing their constitutional free association rights under the First Amendment, but the blunt measure was widely understood as a means to keep mischief-causing Democrats from interfering in the Republicans' dignified efforts to select a presidential nominee. Party front-runner Donald Trump called the effort a "suicidal mistake" that would discourage the very voters whose support the party will need in the fall to win the general election. Virginia is one of 14 states that hold "open primaries" and do not require residents to specify a party affiliation when registering to vote. State GOP leaders strangely blamed Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe and Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring for their belated about-face (because brutal public criticism and self-inflicted harm had nothing to do with it). Local elections officials are now scrambling to implement the change as absentee voting is already well underway.
Sadly, due to out-of-town travel, I missed both Snowmageddon in 2010 and Snowmageddon II last weekend. According to the Natonal Weather Service and local officials, 22 inches of snow fell on Old Town in less than 36 hours. While no city power outages were reported to Dominion during the storm, a number of Watergate residents experienced power problems due to the failure of several fuses in the electric services room in the North Royal Street Garage.
Snowmageddon II is on its way. Enjoy the two feet of snow that has been forecasted to fall on the city. Alexandria's Restaurant Week is scheduled for January 29th through February 7th. Enjoy your $35 dinners a la niege!
Virginia residents have until February 8th to register to vote in the state's March 1 primary. "Absentee in person" voting is already underway at all local State Board of Election offices, including the one located down the road from Watergate at 132 North Royal Street. Those wishing to vote in the Republican Party primary (see below from Week 3) must sign the following statement: "My signature below indicates that I am a Republican." Not to worry. It's like when Jim Webb ran for the US Senate as a Democrat. Wink, wink.
Week 3 (January 11 to 17, 2016)
A growing number of small businesses have been closing in Old Town, calling into question the overall business climate in Alexandria. Owners blame parking, showrooming (browsing in stores and buying online), expiring leases, rising rent costs, neighborhood redevelopment, competition from "big box" stores, higher taxes, lack of government support, and the prolonged economic ennui. Local leaders claim that the closures do not portend a darkened future, and any broad concerns are premature. I'm sorry, but the end of the world started when the Crown Books store at King and North Pitt Streets went out of business many years ago.
A federal district court judge in Richmond upheld Virginia Republicans' unprecedented plan, announced in September, to require voters to sign a written "loyalty pledge" before participating in the party's March 1, 2016 presidential primary, which is largely financed by the state. The Commonwealth has long maintained an "open primary" system, and does not require residents to specify party affiliation when registering to vote. The state GOP claimed a First Amendment right to free association, and the challengers (several African American pastors who support candidate Donald Trump) argued that the pledge will discourage minority, poor, illiterate and prospective Republican voters from participating in the primary. Later this week, the state is sending out absentee ballots containing the devotional language. Parson v. Alcorn, No. 3:16-cv-00013 (E.D.Va. Jan. 13, 2016). Clearly, those who control the local Republican Party did not foresee a dozen active candidates, many of them non-establishment and new to national politics, still vying for the nomination by Super Tuesday, else they likely would have defaulted to their "go-to" choice of holding a statewide convention.
Excavation of the Potomac River waterfront site at Union and Duke Streets in Old Town where Carr Hospitality is building its 5-story, 120-room Indigo boutique hotel and restaurant has uncovered several historical surprises – the foundation (laid down in 1755) of a warehouse thought to be Alexandria’s first public building, a 50-foot-long portion of the scuttled hull (keel, frame, stern and flooring) of a Revolutionary War-era heavy cargo or war ship, and three large outhouses that were used for all manner of colonial waste disposal (items found include ceramics, glass, bones and shoes). Surprisingly, the archaeologists are as interested in the privies as the naval vessel. Development of the Indigo (and another small hotel planned for the Robinson Terminal North site located next to Founders Park) has been controversial, but absent the construction these revealing discoveries would not have been made.
Alexandria officials love to knife to death local initiatives that threaten established financial and political interests, and then prolong them on life support to prove how responsive they are to public opinion. Want proof? The city council just unanimously voted to extend indefinitely the 2-year food truck pilot program (see below from Week 49), relax some stifling program rules, and lower extortionist fees. But the trucks are still banned from the best and hungriest parts of the city. Quipped one councilor, “Why even have a program? Why waste all this time?” Seriously, why pretend? Hypocrisy and cynicism make a bitter brew.
Not surprising in light of the holidays, it was a slow local news week. It rained a lot, temperatures were way up, and gas prices were way down. All was quiet at Watergate as most residents left town for the holidays.
According to longtime Watergate resident and current NOTICe President Tom Soapes, Edens plans to hold a public meeting on January 6, 2016, at 7:00 pm, at the Best Western Old Colony Inn to discuss the latest revisions to their plans for the Giant/ABC block. More information regarding the 500 First Street Project is available on the Neighborhood Development page of this website.
MGM Resorts enthused this week that its National Harbor Meccasino (see below from Week 49), now under development and set to open in late 2016, will host a trio of celebrity chef restaurants: "Chef [José] Andrés will introduce his first seafood-focused concept, featuring locally sourced ingredients. Making his Capital Region debut, Chef [Marcus] Samuelsson's menu will honor his diverse cultural roots, with Ethiopian and Swedish influences, while showcasing the distinct coastal flavors of the local landscape. The Voltaggio brothers [Bryan and Michael] will join culinary forces for the first time and create a contemporary steak house, drawing inspiration from their home state of Maryland." Warning, this is not your parents' buffet line!
The new city council will be sworn into office in a public ceremony scheduled for Monday, January 4, 2016, at 7:00 pm, in the auditorium at T.C. Williams High School, located at 3330 King Street. The day before, Mayor-elect Allison Silberberg will host a reception, both free and open to the public, to be held from 3:00-5:00 pm at The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, located at 101 Callahan Drive.
Bill Euille prepares to leave office after 12 years as Alexandria's first African-American mayor and 30 years of public service. He gamely championed affordable housing in a city known for run-away property values.
The outgoing city council ends its vilified attempt to give its members a pay raise next year (see below from last week). City firefighters piled on last week and said they also deserve a pay increase (separately, they distributed over 3,000 Christmas gifts to local children in need). One resident said she could stomach a pay raise for city councilors if it resulted in better than "third string" candidates running for office.
City council allows several redevelopment projects at the Robinson Terminal South site to proceed over determined resident objections that the proposed "glass monstrosities" are inconsistent with Old Town's heritage and would crowd the waterfront. Glassmaking in the New World began as early as 1608 in Jamestown, Virginia, but it took a century or two to really ramp up. For most of our early history, glass symbolized vast wealth, and colonists would have used a lot more of it in building construction back then if it didn't have to be imported from England and cost so much. To quote a neighbor speaking at a recent North Old Town Independent Citizens' Association meeting (I attend community meetings so that you don't have to), "How much red brick do we really need around us?" Ground-breaking on the new projects begins in the spring.
Not only is the city council going to raise our taxes (see below from last week), but they want to give themselves a 64% pay raise, the first since 2002. The proposal, being considered by the outgoing lame-duck council, would increase the new mayor's salary from $30,500 to $50,000 annually, and councilors' salaries from $27,500 to $45,000 per year. Noted one observer, "It's really hard work raising taxes." Apparently, the pay hike is needed so that next year the new council can increase the compensation of their personal part-time assistants, who receive an average of $21,411 per year and no employee benefits. Argued one councilman, "My aide is invaluable to me. In the mornings, at lunchtime and after office hours, we talk a minimum of three times a day." I get it, its the same with me and my dog.
The Old and Historic Alexandria District Board of Architectural Review -- over strident, vocal and sustained community opposition -- approved a proposal by the Old Colony Inn to double the height of the hotel from 2 to 4 stories. Residents claim that the more massive building will overwhelm nearby homes. The board disregarded resident concerns because it claimed the public was unwilling to compromise (between two horrible alternatives). Huhhh? The residents refuse to compromise, so the hotel gets everything it wants? The Neighborhood Development page of this website provides additional information on this project.
The city is sending a community survey to a "random representative sample" of city residents over the next few months to determine how satisfied they are with local government services and priorities. Selected participants are urged to tell the truth on behalf of the unchosen -- that we are unhappy with stealth-of-night pay raises and higher taxes. And hopefully the survey response rate will be better than 2015 voter participation rates of 28% of registered voters and 21% of eligible adults.
The Alexandria city council dupes memory-challenged voters every three years – taxes are never raised during an election year and always go up the following year. Expect higher property valuations and tax rates in FY17. The mnemonic for this is IDIOT – Ignore Darn Increases On Taxes.
The 2-year city food truck pilot program ends badly but predictably – only 8 participants in 2014 and 7 in 2015 because food trucks were charged high fees, burdened with onerous rules, and kept well away from places where hungry people gather. Said one city councilor, “I don’t know why we bothered.” That’s what most voters think on election days.
“It’s a resort, not just a casino,” brags MGM of the humungoid gambling den it is building at National Harbor that will be larger than any in Las Vegas, host high-end retail stores, and employ 3,600 locals. “I’m only here for the buffet,” confessed an overly eager gambler visiting the work site for an early look-around.
The city planning commission is soliciting resident views on its Old Town North Small Area Plan – most say they want an “urban village” and a “livable community” but 11 percent oppose “walkability." It’s like wanting “motherhood and apple pie” without the effort observed one commissioner from his limousine. The commission wants more community input, but says there are no convenient meeting places in North Old Town within an easy stroll of where folks live. Just a thought here, but have you tried the Charles Houston Recreation Center? The Local Planning page of this website provides additional information regarding the Old Town North Small Area Plan.
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