Reston, VA

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia’s government has been termed representative since its start-up in the church in Jamestown in 1619. It took 400 years to achieve true representation as it has this year–more persons of color than ever before, a multi-fold increase in women to 41 of 140, and more ethnic diversity than ever before. While the flip from red to blue partisan control is often mentioned, the more dramatic change is the shift from male to female dominance in leadership. Making up the leadership is the first woman Speaker of the House who happens to also be the first Jewish speaker, the first woman floor leader of either party who happens also to be a woman of color, the first woman clerk of the House of Delegates, the first woman President of the Senate who happens also to be a woman of color, and the first woman chair of the Senate Finance Committee who happens to be my good friend Senator Janet Howell. What a way to start a new session and a new era! We are making herstory!

My committee assignments have changed reflecting the fact that I am once again after two decades serving in the majority party. I will continue to serve on the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee as I have for 38 years except that now I will be chairing the committee. I expect significant environmental protection legislation will be forthcoming this year. I am returning to the budget-writing Appropriations Committee on which I served for many years before being removed when partisan control of the House changed. I will continue to serve on the renamed Communications, Technology and Innovation Committee of which I was co-chair when it was first organized as the Science and Technology Committee a couple of decades ago. I will also be serving on the newly designated Public Safety Committee taking over the jurisdiction of the former Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee. I am on the Gun Safety subcommittee that I know will be passing meaningful gun safety laws including my universal background checks bill.

Social media posts indicate that there will be more people coming to Capitol grounds this year especially on January 20 to protest the bills that have been introduced to end gun violence. Under rules adopted by the new majority, guns will not be allowed in the Capitol or the Pocahontas Building where legislative offices are. More security measures have been put into place than ever before. Be aware that your visit to the Capitol may take more time with the additional security precautions that are being taken.

There are multiple ways to keep up with what is happening during the session. Daily meetings of the full legislative sessions are live-streamed at House Chamber Stream and Senate Stream. Progress of legislation can be tracked at http://lis.virginia.gov/. Clips of newspaper articles from news sources around the state can be found by signing up at the Virginia Public Access Project website, https://www.vpap.org/about-us/ subscribe/. Communicate with me at [email protected] or 804.698.1036.

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Top Stories This Week

Before we head off into the weekend (and end a holiday week), let’s take a look back at the biggest stories on Reston Now in recent days.

  1. Photos: Development with Future Wegmans, Self-Driving Cars Moves Forward
  2. Weather Alert: Fairfax County Schools to Close Two Hours Early Due to Snow
  3. Reston Eateries to Participate in Winter Restaurant Week
  4. UPDATED: ‘Small Fire’ Breaks Out at Apartment Building in Reston Town Center
  5. UPDATED: Fairfax County Schools Closed Today

If you have ideas on stories we should cover, email us at [email protected] or submit an anonymous tip.

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last Sunday I made my annual winter trek south to Richmond for the General Assembly session. My two-hour trip is not far enough to get me to sunny weather, but it is far enough for me to be in some hot debates. I stay in a hotel with such proximity to my office that my daily commute is just a walk of a couple of minutes. Going south in the winter may be a vacation for some, but for the next 60 days it is the most intense period of work that one can imagine. Fortunately, I get home most weekends for a brief reprieve.

This trip south has been one filled with great anticipation. For the first time in two decades I am not in the minority! I chair a committee now, the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee, that will be acting on many environmental bills. I can expect that bills I introduce will get a fair hearing and most of them will pass. My colleagues and I reflect the population of the Commonwealth more than any previous General Assembly session ever. Not only do we have more women in the legislature, but we have the first ever woman Speaker of the House!

Being a member of the majority party brings enormous responsibility. As the party “in power,” we must exercise our duties in ways that are judicious and fair. There is no time for political pay-back. We must shift from campaigning mode to governing mode. Although it may be tempting to do otherwise, we must conduct ourselves in ways towards the minority party members that would be the way we want to be treated in the distant future when we may find ourselves the minority again. Yes, the golden rule should apply even in the legislature.

How exciting it is to realize that in a few short months we will be able to add Virginia to the list of states that have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment even if we are the last needed for ratification. We will strengthen our existing antidiscrimination laws and add to them. We will make our communities safer from gun violence. We will add essential funding increases to our educational and human service programs. We will make critical decisions on protecting our environment and responding to climate change. And more. When all this work is done we have a governor who has pledged to sign our bills into law!

Last Saturday’s public hearing by the Fairfax General Assembly delegation reminded us that there is not total accord on what we will be doing. About half the audience of around 300 people in attendance seemed to be there to shout down those with whom they disagreed. Their efforts to show support for what they define as their second amendment rights was to violate the first amendment rights of others. The lack of civility in public discourse across the country has found its way to Virginia. What a shame!

I am honored to be here, and I am going to do my best to fairly represent your interests. Make a trip south to see me and the legislative process over the next couple of months. To live-stream the legislative sessions, go to House of Delegates and to Senate. To follow the progress of bills, visit lis.virginia.gov.

File photo

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With county schools closing two hours early today, the first snow of 2020 is expected to descend on the region.

Although light accumulation of between one to three inches is expected,  Reston Now would love to feature your photos of snow in Reston, Herndon and Great Falls.

Send us your photos by emailing us at [email protected]nnow.com. You can also send them to us via Twitter or Facebook.

We’ll run the best shots later today.

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Top Stories This Week

Before we head off into the weekend (and end a holiday week), let’s take a look back at the biggest stories on Reston Now in recent days.

  1. Reston Association Votes to End 55+ Committee
  2. Where to Celebrate New Year’s Eve Around Reston and Herndon
  3. Most-Read Stories of 2019 : The Final Countdown
  4. TRAFFIC ALERT: Lawyers Road Closed Due to Crash
  5. Reston Parkway Office Building Sold to Pair of Developers

If you have ideas on stories we should cover, email us at [email protected] or submit an anonymous tip.

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below.

Photo by Elisha Terada/Unsplash

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Have thoughts about Reston Now’s coverage of Reston, Herndon and Great Falls? Want to share your opinions about local issues?

Reston Now welcomes letters to the editors and op-eds of specific interest to the Reston, Herndon and Great Falls community.

The key difference is that an op-ed can be an opinion piece about a local issue, while a letter to the editor responds directly to a Reston Now story.

Please email it to [email protected] You are also welcome to contact us with your idea for feedback before submitting it.

While there is no word limit, we suggest under 1,000 words. Contributions may be edited for length, content and style/grammar.

Reston Now does not publish op-eds relating to a specific candidate running for political office — either from the candidate’s team or opponents.

Thank you to everyone who has submitted op-eds and letters to the editor already.

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This op-ed was submitted by Doug Britt, who was honored as a 2019 Volunteers of the Year for his efforts to guide Reston into becoming a member of the Biophilic Cities Network. Mr. Britt is a Virginia Master Naturalist and currently serves as an At-Large Director of Reston Association  and is a member of RA’s Environmental Advisory Committee.

For years golf courses have been stereotyped as environmentally unfriendly amenities. But times are changing the way they are being managed. Overall Virginia has 37,000 acres of open space devoted to golf courses, and many of them are providing valuable wildlife habitats in otherwise urban settings. Reston’s two courses are prime examples. Deer, fox, groundhogs, chipmunks, and grey squirrels are often observed during daylight hours. More secretive or nocturnal mammals such as voles, mice, flying squirrels, coyotes, possums, raccoons, and skunks use the wooded margins of the roughs during the late evening hours. The golf course ponds harbor various species of turtles, frogs, toads, and salamanders. Birdwatching around the golf course margins can be very productive: more than 100 bird species have been observed from the two Reston courses. A pair of red-tailed hawks have fledged several young at Hidden Creek Golf Course each of the past several years, bald eagles occasionally stop over, and the peregrine falcons that nest at Town Center are occasionally seen hunting along the fairways. Bluebird populations around the courses have been increasing and Hidden Creek Country Club is the only community nesting site in Reston for purple martins. 

More and more courses in Virginia are applying best management principles to reduce chemical applications and to minimize irrigation needs. For example, the Virginia Golf Course Supervisors Association (VGCSA) established a Golf Course Nutrient Management Plan in 2017 designed to minimize fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide use. This year approximately 99% of Virginia golf courses have adopted this Plan. Most Virginia golf course supervisors are also using a comprehensive “Environmental Best Practices for Virginia Golf Courses Manual”. Audubon International has initiated a certified Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses, and 29 Virginia courses have so far met the rigorous standards for program certification, including Reston National Golf Course, which just received its re-certification.

Some Virginia courses have established “pollinator gardens” around their tee boxes to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. More than 50 individual butterflies comprising a dozen different species were observed feeding on flowers around a single tee box at River Bend Country Club this summer. Other Fairfax County courses are participating in the “Monarchs in the Rough” Program, where the host plants for monarch larvae are planted to attract these iconic butterflies. Other County courses are cooperating with the Virginia Bluebird Society to create blue bird trails (Kingsmill Golf Course reported that it had fledged more than 200 bluebird chicks on its three courses this year).  Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria has 6 on-site beehives to help pollination; moreover, they sell the honey produced in their pro-shop.

Heavily treed golf courses such as Hidden Creek also provide substantial environmental and human health benefits. The trees contribute significantly to carbon capture and storage, air pollution removal, oxygen production, stormwater retention and erosion control. They also are effective in lowering energy costs by cooling surrounding buildings in the summer and reducing wind chill in the winter. Research on the human physiological, psychological, and spiritual benefits of contact with nature (and urban forests in particular) are showing diverse positive effects, including reduced blood pressure and stress hormone levels, lowered obesity, and increased cognitive performance. 

Proper turf management on golf courses also builds healthy soil microbial communities and encourages large earthworm populations that create biopores that oxygenate the soil and facilitate stormwater retention and groundwater recharge.

In 2018 Reston was designated a member of the prestigious Biophilic Cities Network – a network of progressive cities around the world that purposefully connect their residents with nature in significant and extraordinary ways. Reston was clearly designed to do just that by its founder’s (Robert E. Simon’s) guiding principles, its 55 miles of walking, hiking, and biking paths, and its 1300 acres of open space and natural areas. Reston’s golf courses have the potential, if managed wisely, to be very valuable environmental assets.  They should be another extension of the way Reston connects its people with nature where they live, work, and play.   

Photo by Reston Association

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

With the outcomes of the elections in 2019 Virginia may be considered by some to be in an altered state. While the flipping of the legislature from red to blue will have consequences, actual proposed changes will not be known until campaign rhetoric is translated into legislative languages, a multitude of interest groups and individuals have weighed in, and the level of political will for significant change can be measured by votes in legislative committees and on the floors of the House and Senate. Readers of this column will be getting steady reports over the next weeks and months following the beginning of the next 400 years of the Commonwealth.

In the meantime, it is helpful to step back as much as that is possible and to closely examine where we are today as a baseline in moving forward. The Commonwealth is a wealthy state–twelfth wealthiest among the states. That is not common wealth however. Three regions of Virginia that make up the Golden Crescent from Northern Virginia through Tidewater exceed U.S. per capita income. Northern Virginia jurisdictions have a per capita income level greater than Connecticut which is the highest in the nation. At the same time, three regions of Virginia in Southwest and Southside have per capita income less than Mississippi, the poorest state in the country. Parts of Virginia are the wealthiest while other parts are the poorest in the United States. Even with its great diversity in income Virginia continues to have the lowest state minimum wage in the country at $7.25 which had it simply kept up with inflation would be $10.54.

Virginia is certainly not unique among the states in having broad differences in growth rates and wealth within its boundaries. There are many factors that create differences. From a public policy perspective, it is important that Virginia be viewed in its uncommon aspects as well as generalized as a state on the whole. One size seldom fits all, and certainly the diversity of Virginia requires that its unique regions be considered in any statewide policies and programs.

Unfortunately, the regional differences seen in per capita income are reflected in the growth rate, educational level, life span and many other measures of the health of the state. Northern Virginia grew by about 12 percent in population between 2010 and 2017, central Virginia by about 7 percent while Southside declined by 2.5 percent and Southwest by 4 percent.

A recent national America’s Health Ranking report shows Virginia moving up from 20th to 15th among the states in health rankings. A big drop in persons smoking–29 percent to about 15 percent of adults–helped. At the same time there has been a significant increase in drug-related deaths over the past three years, from 10.1 deaths per 100,000 people to 15.4.

The diversity of the state will impact the business of the legislature. I will discuss these and further aspects of the Commonwealth at a State of the Commonwealth Breakfast this Friday, the 3rd of January, at the Hidden Creek Country Club in Reston at 8 am. RSVP to secure.actblue.com.

 

File photo

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We continue to count down the top 20 most-read articles of 2019 this week. Here’s the final breakdown for the top four stories of the year.

4. Michael Berger, a Reston resident, talks about his plans to replace The Pizza Hut at 1821 Wiehle Revenue to a Neapolitan pizza restaurant.

3. A tornado touched down in mid-April, leaving tree damage in the area.

2. Multiple roads in Reston flooded in July, including the parking lot at the Wiehe-Reston East Metro Station.

1. Our exclusive on a lawsuit involving Vapiano in Reston Town Center and an international money laundering scheme had the most clicks this year (56,821 and counting). Still no word yet on when (and if) the restaurant will reopen.

We look forward to bringing you more stories next year.

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We continue to count down the top 20 most-read articles of 2019 this week. Here’s the breakdown for list #6-10.

10. Two brothers from Reston faced multiple felony charges after police found weapons and drugs in their home in April.

9. McTacoHut will lose its name after The Pizza Hut flips into a new pizzeria next year. The McDonalds on the fast-food block is also undergoing renovations.

8. A sponsored post about Google — which moved into its Reston Station offices — expanding its operations in Northern Virginia as part of a 13 billion round of investment also gained traction.

7. A drama teacher at Herndon High School was arrested in April– which was later followed up with more charges over the summer. The teacher was placed on leave and then dismissed after police uncovered additional evidence of unlawful filming at the high school.

6. Our first dive into why closed signs first popped up at the Vapiano in Reston Town Center raised eyebrows. Company spokespersons gave Reston Now conflicting answers about the reasons for the closure.

Look out for the final #1-5 list on the countdown tomorrow.

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Top Stories This Week

Before we head off into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the biggest stories on Reston Now in recent days.

  1. Police Arrest Reston Man After Suspicious Package Incident at Spectrum
  2. Thai Eatery in Reston to Expand to Great Falls
  3. Updated: Vietnamese Cuisine, F45 Gym Coming to Faraday Park in Reston
  4. New CIP Addresses New High School, Silver Line Elementary School
  5. Reston House Fire Causes $180K Worth of Damage

If you have ideas on stories we should cover, email us at [email protected] or submit an anonymous tip.

Feel free to discuss these topics, your weekend plans or anything else that’s happening locally in the comments below.

Photo via Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department

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We’re counting down the top 20 most-read articles of 2019 this week and next week. Here’s the breakdown for list #11-15.

15. The abrupt closure of Reston Town Center’s Vapiano — which was caught in the middle of a suit alleging an international money laundering scheme in the business — perplexed readers and restaurant-goers. The location is still temporarily closed.

14. Amazon closed in on the area by acquiring a Herndon property. The 57-acre site has an assessed value of $80.7 million.

13. A South Lakes High School student was killed in a car crash in Oakton. Police said that speed may have been a factor in the incident.

12. Panera Bread also shuttered in Reston Town Center this month, leaving another vacancy in the town center. No word yet on what will replace the business.

11. A drama teacher at Herndon High School was arrested in connection with multiple child pornography and unlawful filming charges. Detectives found thousands of videos on devices owned by the teacher.

Look out for the #6-10 on the countdown next week.

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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Since 2013, Reston Now has been reporting news about the Reston and Herndon areas. Recently, we started providing additional coverage of Great Falls.

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Since many of her friends had told her there was no Santa, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon had no idea when she wrote to the editor of the New York Sun asking if there was a Santa Claus that his editorial response to her would become the most quoted newspaper editorial ever. The editor’s response to her question was “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

For residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia the question has arisen with the announcement of every biennial budget, Is there a Santa Claus who can provide the resources for making progress in the state? The answer last week was clearly, “Yes!” and his name is Governor Ralph Northam. The Governor presented a budget for the next two years that will warm many hearts and respond to many unmet needs.

Among the many improvements in programs and services, Governor Northam observed “But perhaps the smartest investment we can make is in our children and their education.” His budget proposals include an additional $1.2 billion for public education, one of the largest investments the Commonwealth has ever made in education from early childhood through high school. Beyond that investment the Governor has proposed free community college for those with a financial need who are enrolled in programs leading to jobs. More school counselors and teacher raises are also included in his proposed budget.

The affordable housing program will receive an additional $63 million in funding under the Governor’s budget. Community Services Boards will receive much needed additional funding to respond to the people who are having mental health crises. The Governor has also proposed a state-based marketplace for the nearly 400,000 Virginians who buy health insurance on their own rather than through an employer. A state system can help keep premiums down.

The Governor is proposing to raise the cigarette tax which I have also proposed several times over the years. Even with an increase Virginia will have the lowest tax on cigarettes except for North Carolina. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in Virginia, and it directly causes more than $3 billion in yearly health care costs.

On transportation the Governor proposes an increase in the gas tax to raise money for improvements. To offset the increases, the Governor has proposed to save drivers $150 million per year by eliminating annual vehicle inspections that have not been shown to increase public safety. One of the greatest advancements in transportation improvements for Northern Virginia was announced days after his speech on the budget. Expansion of the Long Bridge across the Potomac River between Arlington and D.C. will take place over the next several years greatly expanding rail transit in the region.

With whatever holidays you celebrate, may they be filled with happiness, good health and joy! I look forward to serving you in the new year.

File photo

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