Reston, VA

(Updated 5:00 p.m.) Kevin Davis’s first challenge as Fairfax County’s new police chief is to earn the public’s trust, and if the community input session held last night (Thursday) was any indication, it will be a formidable task.

In a virtual discussion that lasted more than two hours, caller after caller expressed dismay at what they believe was insufficient transparency and community engagement from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during the hiring process, leading many to question that if the county made the right decision in appointing Davis.

“The Board’s closed-door deliberations and no community involvement in the vetting process left us in the dark. This, coupled with press revelations after the selection, rendered the process fatally flawed,” Diane Burkley Alejandro, lead advocate for the immigrant rights organization ACLU Power People Fairfax, said during the session.

Late last month, NBC4 reported that Davis had faced — and lost — civil lawsuits in the 1990s related to the use of force and unconstitutional detainment while on the job in Prince George’s County.

Callers also brought up concerns about Davis’ authorization of secret aerial surveillance while he was Baltimore’s police commissioner as well as comments he made in a 2020 Baltimore Sun op-ed about defunding the police.

The Board of Supervisors acknowledged that the community has expressed concerns about Davis’s record in a broad statement earlier this week, but county leaders have not wavered from their position that he was the best choice to lead the Fairfax County Police Department and implement the reforms that the board has been seeking.

“Your hiring of Mr. Davis in today’s environment is just plain tone deaf,” Hunter Mill District resident Diana Smith said yesterday, directing her ire to the board. “…It sends a really negative message. I think this was a really flawed decision based on a really flawed process, which led to a flawed selection of a candidate.”

A number of callers backed Fairfax County NAACP’s call last week for a new police chief search, a stance that has won support from other community groups throughout the week.

“I and other community organizations expressed not only the lack of community engagement but the type of community engagement. It’s fine to check a box and say ‘we did a survey, we had community meetings’ but was that enough and were we really heard?” Amanda Andere, a member of the Chairman’s Equity Task Force, said. “We need to start over. We need a process rooted in equity that starts and ends with community input.”

For Davis’s part, he acknowledged the criticisms in his opening remarks and said that he made mistakes over the years but plans to continue to work to gain the community’s trust.

“I have certainly changed, grown, and have learned many lessons throughout the course of my career,” Davis said in response to one caller. “Every year along my journey, I’ve learned more and have become more attuned to community expectations and sensitivities…Was it always a perfect journey? No.”

Throughout the night, Davis reiterated that he was proud of his career, the progress he’s made in terms of building trust with communities of color, and his belief that he has been “one of the most progressive reform leaders in our country.”

“I’ll follow my own mother’s advice…by being the best chief of police I can possibly be,” Davis said. Read More

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Gov. Ralph Northam, right, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), center left, at the Tysons Community Vaccination Center on April 19 (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Virginians who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are officially free to go outside and visit fully vaccinated friends without wearing a face mask.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced yesterday (Thursday) that he has amended the state’s public health rules to conform with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that loosens mask-wearing and social distancing protocols for people who are fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks have passed since they received their last required vaccine dose.

Released on April 27, the CDC’s new recommendations state that fully vaccinated people face “minimal risk” of contracting or transmitting COVID-19 when engaged in outdoor activities such as exercising or eating outside. They also likely face little risk from small, private indoor gatherings and visits to public indoor spaces with other fully vaccinated people.

The CDC emphasizes that masks should still be worn indoors when unvaccinated people are present, especially if they are at increased risk of severe illness from the novel coronavirus, and in crowded outdoor settings like concerts or sporting events where maintaining social distancing is difficult.

“The CDC’s recommendations underscore what we have said all along — vaccinations are the way we will put this pandemic behind us and get back to normal life,” Northam said. “Our increasing vaccination rate and decreasing number of new COVID-19 cases has made it possible to ease mitigation measures in a thoughtful and measured manner. I encourage all Virginians who have not yet received the vaccine to make an appointment today.”

Touted as another incentive for people to get vaccinated, the new CDC guidelines came out amid news reports that COVID-19 vaccine demand has slowed in some parts of the country to the point where state and local governments are declining shipments.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Tysons Reporter yesterday that that has not been the case in the county, which has only just gotten enough supplies to meet demand.

As of April 29, 529,402 Fairfax County residents — or 46.1% of the total population — had received at least one vaccine dose, and 334,568 residents — 29.2% of the population — had been fully vaccinated, according to Virginia Department of Health data, which does not include some doses administered by the federal government.

Statewide, more than 3.7 million Virginians — 57% of the adult population — have now gotten at least one dose, and 2.5 million Virginians are fully vaccinated, or 39% of the adult population, according to Northam.

Fairfax County officials say they will support the new guidelines in Northam’s amended executive order.

“We will continue to follow the guidance put out by the state and follow the data, just as we always have,” McKay said in a statement. “I know everyone is looking forward to seeing their loved ones again without fear of spreading COVID. Getting vaccinated will be necessary to do so however, so I recommend that everyone make an appointment as soon as possible.”

With high school football games nearing an end and spring sports like baseball starting up, Northam also announced yesterday that he has accelerated plans to ease capacity limits on outdoor recreational sports, which are now permitted up to 1,000 spectators, effective immediately.

That change was previously scheduled to take effect on May 15, when restrictions on social gatherings, entertainment venues, and alcohol sales at restaurants will be loosened.

Northam says he anticipates removing all capacity limits in mid-June “as long as the Commonwealth’s health metrics remain stable and vaccination progress continues.”

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The Fairfax County chapter of the NAACP is not impressed by the search process and resulting hire of Kevin Davis as the county’s new police chief, effective May 3, and is calling for a do-over.

“The Fairfax County NAACP does not have confidence in the process by which the new Police Chief was hired — or its results — and requests that the County, in collaboration with the community, conduct a transparent search for a new Police Chief together,” President Karen Campblin wrote in a statement released yesterday (April 29).

Campblin called the process “deeply troubling” and expressed disappointment in “the lack of transparency and accountability to the public.”

She notes that the hiring process stands in stark contrast to the county’s last police chief search in 2013, when residents were directly involved in candidate evaluations and interviews.

In 2013, a panel of 20 community members, including police union representatives and faith leaders, considered 40 to 50 candidates and recommended three finalists to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, according to The Washington Post.

Ultimately, Edwin C. Roessler Jr. was selected for the job. His retirement in February prompted the county’s search for a new Fairfax County Police Department leader.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says that the county conducted “an extensive interview and outreach process” when looking for Roessler’s successor that involved over 275 community meetings and calls, over 450 emails to stakeholders, and a community survey that received over 3,000 responses.

“The entire Board was unanimous in their confidence in Kevin Davis’s ability to lead our Department and to further our already ongoing Board of Supervisor’s directed policing reforms,” McKay said in a statement.

However, the results of the survey have not been made public, and Campblin says the county board has provided little justification to the public regarding what distinguished Davis from other candidates.

“At a minimum, the results of a county-wide survey that was supposed to be used to help guide the search and interviews, should have been presented to the Board of Supervisors at a regularly scheduled meeting and made readily available for public review,” she wrote. “The Board also should have provided a better understanding of the reasons it believes Mr. Davis is the best candidate to run the FCPD.”

The civil rights organization also says it is concerned about the NBC4 Washington report on two lawsuits from earlier in Davis’s time as a police officer in Prince George’s County. One of the cases involved an inappropriate use of force and accusations of racist mistreatment, while the other was related to false imprisonment.

The victims won both civil lawsuits.

“These reports raised concerns for the life and safety of our youth, members with disabilities, LGBTQ, and BIPOC communities,” Campblin said.

In his statement, McKay reiterated his support for the new police chief and his belief that Davis will help the county implement “critical reforms” to address systemic inequities in policing, sentiments that he expressed to Reston Now earlier this week.

“Through our interview process, Mr. Davis demonstrated a complete understanding and commitment to improving policing, promoting transparency, and building relationships in the community,” McKay said. “In addition, following conversations with leaders across the region as well as people who have directly worked with him, it is clear that they also have tremendous confidence in his abilities.”

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the board’s public safety committee, reaffirmed the county’s decision while expressing some skepticism of the validity of NBC4’s report.

“Based on my conversations with Mr. Davis during the interview process, and since his selection, I am confident that he is the best choice to lead the Fairfax County Police Department,” Lusk said. “I am concerned that recent media reports regarding Mr. Davis’s record may not accurately reflect the events in question.”

Lusk says that he and McKay will host a public forum “in the coming days” where he hopes Davis will address the reported incidents.

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Fairfax County now has enough supply to vaccinate whoever wants to be vaccinated, the county health department announced yesterday (April 28).

This comes only a week after the county said there wasn’t enough vaccine to meet the new demand from eligibility expanding into with the move to Phase 2. Several days after that, vaccine appointments on Vaccine Finder still remained hard to come by due to the short supply.

But that has now changed, thanks to an increase in supplies at the state and federal levels, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Reston Now.

Plus, he says, there are now more providers giving vaccines including grocery stores and pharmacies as well as private practices.

A look at Vaccine Finder reveals that grocery stores and pharmacies across the region have more open appointments than they did last week. The Target on Sunset Hills Road in Reston and CVS on Lee Highway in Fairfax, for example, have openings as soon as tomorrow (April 30).

Last week, Fairfax County retail pharmacies received 42,070 vaccine doses as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership. The county was allocated 30,552 doses from the partnership this week, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

“However, since pharmacies shift inventory among themselves, the actual number could be different,” the VDH spokesperson told Reston Now.

There’s also a state-run mass vaccination clinic in the county, which opened last week at the former Lord & Taylor in Tysons Corner Center and is now offering walk-in appointments.

“The Tysons Community Vaccination Center has a very large capacity — 3,000 people per day,” McKay said. “Paired with other sites throughout the county, it has certainly increased the capacity to vaccinate more people.”

As of yesterday afternoon (Wednesday), the clinic had administered 11,761 vaccinations since it opened eight days ago. That number was expected to top 12,000 by the end of the day, McKay said.

When visiting the facility around 4 p.m. yesterday, First Lady Pamela Northam noted that about half of Virginians have now received at least one vaccine dose. More than 6 million doses have now been delivered in the state, and close to 30% of residents are fully vaccinated.

The Fairfax County Health Department also continues to operate vaccine clinics at the Fairfax County Government Center and George Mason University. Appointments for those sites can be booked through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).

With supply and appointments becoming more available, including a potential resumption of the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the pause was lifted last Friday, it’s possible that the county could meet the May 31 deadline set last month by both state and federal officials of delivering at least one dose of the vaccine to everyone who wants one.

However, McKay again didn’t fully commit to that target date.

“It is certainly our goal to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” he told Reston Now.

In some places across the country, vaccine supply is so far exceeding demand that mass vaccination sites are closing and localities are actually declining more vaccines.

According to McKay, that is not the case in Fairfax County, but supply has at last met demand.

“For many months, our demand was greater than supply,” he said. “Supply is now available at the level required to vaccinate anyone 16+ in Fairfax. That said, now is the time to get vaccinated.”

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Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay remains confident in the board’s choice of former Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis as the county’s next police chief, despite reports that he previously faced lawsuits over use-of-force incidents.

With Davis set to assume his new position on Monday (May 3), McKay told Reston Now in a statement that he continues to support the new police chief.

“The history of policing has not centered around the safety of all members of the community. That is a systemic problem we are always working on in Fairfax County,” McKay wrote. “After an extensive interview and outreach process, the entire Board felt confident in Chief Davis’s ability to lead and further reforms to policing. We look forward to everyone in the community engaging with the new Police Chief and engaging in their own conversations with him.”

The board of supervisors unanimously voted on Friday (April 23) to appoint the former Baltimore police commissioner and Prince George’s County assistant police chief to lead the Fairfax County Police Department.

At the time, Fairfax County Board Supervisor Jeff McKay hailed Davis and said in a statement that he would “continue Fairfax’s work on police reform, build on the deep community involvement and relationships with stakeholders, and improve morale within the police department.”

However, NBC4 Washington reported earlier this week that Davis had lost at least two civil lawsuits related to inappropriate use-of-force and false imprisonment while he was on the job in Prince George’s County.

One of the lawsuits was related to a 1993 incident where Davis reportedly stopped law student Mark Spann in front of his family’s Maryland home.

“At that point, Davis says, ‘Give me your hands’ and lodges me to the ground, throws me to the ground, and proceeds to mash my face into the pavement,” Spann told NBC 4.  He also said that Davis continued to intimidate him with a baton on the drive to the hospital and subjected him to further insults.

“I have to this date never experienced such racial slants, slurs and epitaphs and the denigration,” Spann said.

Spann has dried blood on his face in footage from an interview that NBC4 conducted with him in 1993.

According to NBC4, Spann was charged with battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, but it remains unclear on why Davis pulled him over in the first place.

Another lawsuit filed six years later accused Davis of false imprisonment when he was sergeant in the Prince George’s County Police Department. The victim also won that case.

Davis, for his part, told NBC 4 in a statement that he was “proud of my long career,” which he says includes a history of reform, a commitment to diversity, body camera implementation, police displicne transparency, and use of force de-escalation.

He will be tasked with the full implementation of Fairfax County’s body camera program throughout 2021. So far, cameras have been deployed at five of the police department’s eight district stations, including in the Reston District.

Davis succeeds Deputy County Executive for Public Safety Dave Rohrer, who was serving as interim chief since February when Chief Edwin C. Roessler retired. Read More

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It’s closing on a week since Fairfax County shifted the scheduling and managing of vaccine appointments to Vaccine Finder.

Officials said that the change would give residents more flexibility and choice, but vaccine appointments remain hard to come by in the county, despite the CDC-managed site saying that the vaccine is “in stock” at a number of retail pharmacies in the county.

The county health department published a blog post earlier today (Thursday) that aims to answer a number of questions it has received about obtaining appointments through Vaccine Finder.

According to the post, when vaccines are listed as “in stock,” it means the provider reported vaccines were available at that location within the last 72 hours. However, it does not necessarily mean that there are available appointments.

When following the prompts on Vaccine Finder to check appointment availability, the site takes you to the individual retail pharmacy’s scheduler.

As of 3 p.m. today, CVS, Safeway, and Costco had no available appointments within a 25-mile radius of Fairfax County. Harris Teeter and Giant similarly came up empty, though their systems check only within a 20 and 10-mile radius, respectively.

The county’s blog post says this lack of available appointments is because the “vaccine supply did not increase to meet the demand that the expanded eligibility created.”

In an email to Reston Now, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay notes that there are “over 900,000 people over the age of 18 in the Fairfax Health District and as of Sunday, for those who weren’t already, [they] are all now eligible to be vaccinated.”

Retail pharmacies are primarily receiving their supply from the federal government through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership, but both Virginia and county officials told Reston Now that they’re assisting with allocating doses to pharmacies to “maximize footprint, capacity, and accessibility.”

State health officials said that 42,070 vaccine doses were allocated to Fairfax County retail pharmacies this week as part of the federal partnership.

Virginia’s retail pharmacies received 210,180 doses overall, meaning that Fairfax County’s allocation makes up 20% of that total. About 13.5% of Virginia’s population lives in Fairfax County.

The Commonwealth did not yet have allocation information for next week.

Beyond retail pharmacies, the county also notes that they’re providing vaccines to about 50 healthcare providers to “enable residents to get vaccinated through their primary care doctor or somewhere closer to home.”

In addition, there’s the state-run Community Vaccination Center at Tysons, which just opened yesterday (April 20) and is now listed on Vaccine Finder, as well as a clinic at the Fairfax County Government Center that is listed in the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System.

A new call center system at 703-324-7404 was implemented last week to assist residents with scheduling appointments, but wait times for callers could be long.

McKay declined again to commit Fairfax County to meeting President Joe Biden and Gov. Ralph Northam’s deadline of delivering at least one dose of vaccine to everyone who wants one by May 31.

“While we understand that is the Governor’s deadline and we will work hard to meet that, it will always be dependent on the amount of vaccine delivered to Fairfax,” McKay wrote. “We have high demand and the ability to vaccinate thousands a day and I look forward to continuing to get shots in arms quickly and efficiently.”

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Fairfax County residents will soon book COVID-19 vaccine appointments through Vaccine Finder instead of the county health department, a change that officials say will “allow greater flexibility and choice of where residents receive their vaccine.”

The health department announced last night (April 14) that it will no longer manage or accept appointments through their registration system after Fairfax County moves to Phase 2 on Sunday (April 18).

The county says the new system will lead to greater access, choice, and awareness of vaccine availability as it moves to vaccinating all residents over the age of 16.

“The Open Scheduling process allows easier access to vaccine sites closer to home,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay told Reston Now in an email.

Developed by Boston Children’s Hospital, Vaccine Finder shows available doses from approved vaccine providers across the county, including the health department clinics, pharmacies, hospitals, and some private practices, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s blog.

Information about the switch will be disseminated in a variety of ways, says county officials, including their blog posts, social media, English and Spanish text alerts, countywide mailers, flyers, news media, and working with the county’s outreach team.

While the Vaccine Finder is not available in other languages, McKay says the county will film videos in “at least 7 different languages” explaining how to use the system. They are also encouraging folks to change their web browser settings to their desired language.

Residents will also be able to contact the county and Virginia Department of Health call centers to get assistance when registering for a vaccination.

Earlier this week, the county implemented a new call center system (703-324-7404) that will assist residents in registering in the new appointment system. However, the county warns that wait times for callers could be long.

Fairfax County residents can also now call the state call center (1-877-829-4682) for help in multiple languages. McKay says this gives residents “an additional resource,” since the state previously routed calls about Fairfax County back to the county’s call center, which is still available to provide help in multiple languages.

The county health department says that it will still schedule appointments for everyone who is registered in their system and on the waitlist (i.e. individuals who were eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1) prior to the system closing at 11:59 p.m. on April 17.

They should expect to be contacted within approximately a week about scheduling their appointments.

As of 3:30 p.m. today, there are 24,059 people on the waitlist. Read More

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Morning Notes

Virginia to Further Ease COVID-19 Restrictions in April — “As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to rise in Virginia, certain sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate with additional capacity and indoor and outdoor gathering limits will increase starting Thursday, April 1…More than two million Virginians, or approximately one in four people, have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Fairfax County Board Adopts Resolution Condemning Anti-Asian Racism — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a resolution condemning “all bigotry, harassment, and hate violence directed at Asian Americans in our community.”  [Chairman Jeff McKay]

Access to DC Cherry Blossoms Limited — The National Park Service will limit pedestrian and vehicle access to the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and West Potomac Park during the peak of the bloom period. [Patch]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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The number of COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County has remained relatively stable, mimicking case rates first reported in May of last year.

The stabilization of cases comes as Fairfax County picks up the pace of vaccinations. As of today, the county reported 119 new cases — a number that has remained relatively constant over the last week. Last May, daily case rates hovered in the 100s, similar to case rates that have occurred this month.

The county has said it can meet a deadline of May 1 for expanding eligibility for vaccine appointments to all adults, but officials remains noncommittal on whether or not every Fairfax County resident will receive a vaccine by May 31.

But the push for more vaccines continues. In a March 19 letter to Gov. Ralph Northam, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission urged the state health department to provide more vaccines.

With additional doses allocated to our health districts immediately, we can put that capacity to work to quickly assist the Commonwealth in achieving its vaccination and equity goals, the commission wrote.

So far, the county is making appointments for people who registered on Feb. 18. Still, 28 percent of the total people registered in the county still remain on a waiting list. That’s nearly 98,000 people of the 354,889 people registered.

In the county, 132,307 people are fully vaccinated and 248,323 people have received one dose. The county recently began administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose.

The county has also begun community vaccine clinics — which are not widely publicized — in order to target vulnerable populations.

Statewide, the number of vaccinations has picked up. More than two million Virginians have received their first dose and 1.1 million people are fully vaccinated.

The county also recently expanded eligibility criteria for vaccinations to include workers in manufacturing, grocery stores, and the food and agriculture industry.

As the pace of vaccinations picks up, the Centers for Disease Control has updated its policies on social distancing. Although the CDC still recommends universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least three feet instead of six feet in classroom settings.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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(Update 3/19/21, 9:20 a.m.) Every Fairfax County resident should be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, a county official says, reiterating Biden’s call last week.

“We fully expect to meet the President’s deadline to open eligibility to every Fairfax County resident by May 1,” County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay wrote in a statement to Reston Now. “Since the beginning, we have had the capacity to vaccinate tens of thousands of people a day, however our vaccine supply didn’t match that. Now that supply is ramping up, we will double down on our priority of getting shots in arms as quickly as possible.”

This also comes on the heels of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam writing on Facebook that May is “an ambitious target,” but an achievable one.

As noted in yesterday’s (March 17) announcement from the county opening eligibility for additional groups, the plan is to move into Phase 1c by mid-April before moving to Phase 2 (general population) on May 1.

Phase 1c includes other essential workers like those in energy, water and waste removal, housing and construction, and food service.

Virginia’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula provided an even more optimistic timeline in an interview a week ago, saying that everyone who wants the vaccine should be able to get their first dose by May 31.

“We really think we will easily meet that May 1 marker and potentially even outpace it by a couple of weeks,” he said. “We’ll move into that open eligibility before the end of April and everybody who wants a vaccine should be able to be vaccinated by the end of May, at least with the first dose.”

The county is, at this point, non-committal about that that projected timeline and if it’s achievable that everyone in the county who wants a vaccine, can get at least a first dose by May 31.

“We have no way to project that far out,” Fairfax County Board Supervisor Jeff McKay wrote in a statement to Reston Now. “But we’re certainly pushing for more doses, making tremendous progress, and working to meet to President’s charge to make everyone eligible by May 1.”

This week, the county is planning on getting 43,000 vaccine doses from the state which is a jump from last week’s 31,500 doses.

The pace of vaccinations is quickening in the county with private providers and retail pharmacies recently being added to the list of those doing vaccinations. Also, a mass vaccination clinic is expected to open by the end of the month.

Additionally, doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should arrive to the county by the end of the month, furthering increasing supply.

In total, the county has received 290,853 doses from the Commonwealth and has administered the first  dose to 270,213 people. That’s approximately 23.5% of the county’s population.

This story was updated to clarify those eligible in Phase 1c as well as a statement from Fairfax County Board Supervisor Jeff McKay. 

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to defer a vote on adopting a new county zoning ordinance after hearing roughly five hours of testimony at a public hearing on Tuesday (March 9).

The fate of the 614-page document will now be decided at 4:30 p.m. on March 23.

“We’ve been at this for a long time,” Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said toward the end of the public hearing, which featured 71 speakers. “…By deferring for two weeks, that gives the board more time to consider what we’ve heard before we move on this on March 23.”

The additional time will let the board review input from the community and the Fairfax County Planning Commission, which put forward amendments last week related to flags and flag poles, home-based businesses, and accessory living units (independent housing on the same property as a main residence).

“I think we might have a fairly long mark-up on this, because my guess is there are going to be a number of issues, as a board, we might need to talk through,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said.

Launched in 2017, the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Modernization project (zMOD) aims to update the county’s 40-year-old zoning code by making it easier to comprehend and incorporating new activities, such as electric vehicles and community gardens.

Proposed regulations on ALUs, home-based businesses, and flags have emerged as the most hotly contested changes, though speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing raised concerns about everything from food trucks to vehicle storage.

Fairfax County staff agreed with the planning commission that the draft should have a requirement that home-based businesses be approved by the county health department if the property has a well or septic system and a standard limiting the amount of hazardous materials they can have on site.

They also revised their recommendation for flags to allow maximum sizes of 50 square feet on lots with single-family dwellings and manufactured homes or 150 square feet for all other uses. Staff previously recommended limiting flag sizes to 24 square feet on single-family home lots and 96 square feet for other uses.

Community members took stands on both sides of the debate around ALUs. Some voiced support for looser regulations to enable them as an affordable housing option, while others worried about the potential impacts on traffic, parking, and public facilities.

“There is no guarantee that ALUs will equal affordable housing, but eliminating the current requirements will tax our already burdened public facilities,” McLean Citizens Association President Rob Jackson said. “…Adding more people without additional public facilities will degrade the quality of life.”

Many speakers urged the Board of Supervisors to follow the planning commission’s recommendation of retaining a special permitting process for interior ALUs, saying that allowing administrative permits would shut out citizens and neighbors.

“We really need more genuine outreach to engage the public in making land use decisions that directly affect communities, and not less,” Falls Church resident Kathryn Cooper said. “Residents do not want their involvement in land use decisions to be excised, as will occur under zMOD.”

Also a Falls Church resident, Coalition for Smarter Growth Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager Sonya Breehey argued that the county should go further in encouraging ALUs and that continuing to require a special permit for interior units, as recommended by the planning commission, would delay efforts to address housing affordability challenges.

“Accessory living units can offer less expensive housing options than renting or buying a single-family home because of their smaller size, and they provide housing opportunities in communities that might otherwise be too expensive,” Breehey said. “…As a homeowner in a single-family residential neighborhood, I want you all to know that I see ALUs as an opportunity to provide greater inclusivity in my neighborhood that I love.”

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Fairfax County’s COVID-19 inoculation efforts are about to get a major boost in the form of a new mass vaccination site that’s expected to open by the end of March.

The county is collaborating with the City of Alexandria and Inova Health Systems to convert Alexandria’s Victory Center(5001 Eisenhower Avenue) into a mass vaccination center that could accommodate thousands of people looking to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

At a press conference yesterday (Tuesday), Inova President and CEO Dr. Stephen Jones said that, depending on the availability of supplies, the planned facility could enable the healthcare system to dispense 6,000 vaccine doses per day, doubling its current rate of roughly 3,000 doses a day.

“I feel a responsibility to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Jones said.

Once it opens, the vaccination center will serve residents of Alexandria and Fairfax County. Eligible individuals must pre-register to get in line for an appointment either through the Fairfax County Health Department or, for non-county residents, the state registration system.

According to its website, Inova is currently assisting Fairfax County with eligible adults between the ages of 65 and 74, but it has also served essential workers, including Fairfax County Public Schools teachers.

While the pace of vaccinations continues to be limited by supply availability, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says the addition of the Victory Center as a vaccination site will ensure the county and Inova can keep up as more vaccines start to come in.

According to the county’s vaccine data dashboard, Fairfax County’s latest shipment from the Virginia Department of Health included 19,220 doses for the week of March 1-7, a step up from the 13,000 doses that the county was typically getting just a few weeks ago.

As of 5:30 p.m. yesterday, there were more than 106,000 people on the FCHD waitlist. 298,332 people have registered to get a COVID-19 vaccine through the county health department, which has allocated 217,476 doses either by administering them itself or distributing them to partners like Inova.

“We were told by the [state] to expect a major increase in doses in the coming weeks,” McKay said. “We want to have the infrastructure to take care of those doses. We can’t control the dosage, but what is in our control is capacity.”

Inova chose the Victory Center in Alexandria for its mass vaccine clinic because of the building’s size and proximity to local transit facilities, including the Van Dorn Street Metro station.

The accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine has been a top concern for Fairfax County in recent weeks, as health officials say the populations most affected by the pandemic have faced more challenges in getting vaccinated, often due to vaccine hesitancy or limited access to transportation, internet, and other services.

The county has been working to expand its partnerships with other localities, healthcare providers, and community organizations to reach different communities, though the process has not been entirely conflict-free.

McKay encourages everyone who is eligible to get the vaccine to take advantage of any chance to do so.

“This is an act of necessary charity,” McKay said. “It’s not about us, but about every person we interact with, like grocery store workers, transit workers, your children and their teachers…This gives us a convenient opportunity to do the right thing.”

Vernon Miles contributed to this report.

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Great Falls Fire Captain Honored — The Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce honored Capt. Mike Allen as the first responder of the year. He works in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s Station 12 in Great Falls. [Inside NOVA]

South Lakes Students Make School More Inviting — Students at South Lakes High School beautified bathroom stalls with paintings in order to make the return to school more inviting. The effort was coordinated by the school’s campus environment commission committee. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

County Board Advertises Flat Tax Rate — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to set an advertised real estate tax rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed value for fiscal year 2022. County Executive Bryan Hill had proposed decreasing the rate by one cent. [@JeffreyCMcKay/Twitter]

Severe Tornado Drill Set for March 16 — “Virginia Severe Weather Awareness Week, which is the first time Virginia is promoting this combined awareness effort, will be held March 15-19…As part of the awareness week activities, Virginia’s annual tornado drill will be conducted on Tuesday, March 16, at 9:45 a.m.” [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Trash collectors in Fairfax County will not pick up leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste stored in plastic bags when the collection season begins on Monday (Mar. 1).

After holding a public hearing, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 on Tuesday (Feb. 23) to officially prohibit the use of plastic bags for yard waste by amending its Solid Waste Management Ordinance, a move that supporters say is necessary to reduce pollution and make the county more environmentally friendly.

“To reverse climate catastrophe, each of us must make many small and large steps,” Faith Alliance for Climate SolutionsBoard Chair Eric Goplerud said when testifying at the public hearing. “Banning plastic bags to contain yard waste is a step that the Board of Supervisors can take to lead our community to care for our common home, the Earth.”

Fairfax County began transitioning away from using plastic bags for yard waste last year, encouraging residents to use compostable paper bags or reusable containers instead.

In an update to the board’s environmental committee on Oct. 27, county staff reported that about 51% of homes surveyed during the 2020 yard waste season were still utilizing plastic bags, but Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environmental Compliance Eric Forbes says he is “hopeful and confident” that the bags can be eliminated after the past year of education and outreach.

Now that the ban has been approved, the county’s solid waste management program is encouraging private trash and recycling collection companies to notify their customers that waste in plastic bags will no longer be collected.

“We do not anticipate a hundred percent success rate in the beginning, but we will continue our outreach and collaboration with industry to help our community to reach compliance with the new requirements,” Forbes said.

Forbes acknowledged that compostable paper bags are slightly more expensive to buy than plastic bags. County staff found that paper bags designed to carry yard waste cost about 50 cents per bag, whereas plastic bags cost around 30 cents.

Yet, the overall cost of utilizing plastic may be greater, since the material is difficult to extract and can damage equipment during the composting process, pushing up costs for collectors and, by extension, customers, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says.

While paper bags are preferable to plastic, Forbes noted that residents can avoid the costs of yard waste removal altogether by managing it on-site with backyard composting or allowing grass clippings to decompose on their lawn, a practice known as grasscycling.

McKay says he got 75 emails on the proposed ban, with an even split between supporters and opponents, but he believes it is time for Fairfax County to join the rest of the D.C. region, where some jurisdictions have required paper bags or reusable containers for more than a decade.

“We ultimately just have to decide whether we think this is a good idea or not,” McKay said. “…I think clearly, based on the testimony that we’ve heard today, based on where everyone around the region is, and frankly, based on where the science is, this is something that we must do now to help with our environmental challenges.”

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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Fairfax County is considering lowering its real estate tax rate by one cent for the next fiscal year in an attempt to give relief to homeowners during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

County Executive Bryan Hill presented the proposal to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday) as part of an advertised Fiscal Year 2022 budget that illustrated how the pandemic has curtailed the county’s ability to fund top priorities, from education and employee pay to affordable housing and environmental initiatives.

According to Hill, the county’s residential real estate market has been “very strong” over the past year with 88% of residential properties seeing an increase in assessed value, but that also places a greater burden on homeowners at a time when unemployment is up and many people are struggling to pay their bills.

Noting that upticks have been highest for properties that typically house lower-income residents, like townhomes and condos, Hill says that, with no change to the rate, the average tax bill would increase by almost $285 for the coming year. Lowering the rate by a cent to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value would bring the average increase closer to $224.

“Homeowners have struggled due to a loss of income during the pandemic,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I appreciate that the County Executive has created a budget that reflects these uncertain financial times. Next year’s proposed budget does not meet every community need, but shows our commitment to preserving County programs and working to protect our residents in these uncertain times.”

The proposed tax rate decrease was coupled with an overall conservative approach to the advertised budget, which freezes pay increases for county employees for the second consecutive year and funds only a fraction of Fairfax County Public Schools’ request.

The Fairfax County School Board sought an additional $104.4 million from the county, primarily to cover a proposed 3% pay raise for all FCPS employees, but Hill’s advertised budget increases the county’s transfer by only $14.1 million.

During a press conference following the budget presentation, education advocates in the Invest in Fairfax Coalition — a grassroots organization comprised of county employee groups, residents, and other community members — urged the Board of Supervisors to give the school system more funds to pay workers and provide mental health services for students, among other needs.

“We’re very disappointed with the county executive’s proposed budget and its failure to prioritize schools,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams said. “To help students and staff recover from this pandemic, we urge this county to adopt a budget that keeps our community whole and opens our schools safely.”

Hill’s advertised budget makes similarly modest investments in the county government, providing a net revenue increase of just $11.7 million.

According to Hill, funding the county’s employee compensation program would cost more than $55 million, including almost $30 million for a calculated 2% market rate adjustment.

“We simply do not have the resources available at this time,” Hill said.

Outside of FCPS, the most substantial investments in the advertised budget are related to public safety, including the rollout of the police body camera program, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and staff for the new South County Police Station and Scotts Run Fire Station.

The proposal also includes funding for new health department staff, Coordinated Services Planning, collective bargaining work, and two new positions in the Office of Elections. In addition, Hill recommends that the board set aside $20 million to support economic recovery efforts.

“As I look ahead into fiscal [year] 2023, I have hope for a more positive budget year, but it will still be a challenge,” Hill said. “Employee compensation and other board priorities, such as affordable housing and school revenues, which have not been adequately addressed as part of this budget, will be at the forefront of our conversations.”

Invest in Fairfax Coalition Chair David Edelman says he was “a little surprised” to see the tax rate decrease in the proposed budget, since the group had anticipated the rate would remain the same. While the coalition consists of people with different backgrounds and focuses, their overall goal is to encourage Fairfax County to invest in public services and employees.

“Now more than ever, it’s critical that our budget reflects the values, priorities, and urgent need of our diverse community,” Edelman said.

The Board of Supervisors will officially approve an advertised tax rate on Mar. 9, and public hearings on the FY 2022 budget will take place on Apr. 13-15.

Each supervisor will host a budget town hall for their magisterial district. The schedule for districts in the Tysons area are as follows:

  • Dranesville: Mar. 1 at 7:30 p.m. through the McLean Citizens Association
  • Hunter Mill: Mar. 29 from 7-9 p.m. through WebEx and Supervisor Walter Alcorn’s YouTube Live channel
  • Providence: Mar. 8 from 7-9:30 p.m. It will be streamed on TV, Fairfax County’s website, and Facebook Live.

The board will adopt a final FY 2022 budget on May 4.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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