Saturday, November 28, 2020

River Farm Update #4 - Grassroots Group Forms, Gov Northam Weighs In & AG's Investigating

Here is the latest status update on River Farm. We have continued to have meetings among our stakeholder group working out a strategy to maximize the potential that River Farm will remain in public ownership. Here is what's going on. 

Grassroots Group Organized 
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) has generously agreed to organize and lead a grassroots effort called Save River Farm to build support and raise private funds to support the purchase of River Farm by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA). 

The new website is here - Save River Farm Website 

If you care about saving River Farm, it is important that you do two things right now: 

 #1 - Sign up for email updates from the new group: 

 #2 - Donate funds to help build private support. 80% of funds will be used for land acquisition, 10% for public advocacy, and 10% for administration. Donations are 100% tax deductible. 


Monday, November 2, 2020

Weekly Column: Legislators Revised the Budget to Address Many Needs

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of November 2, 2020.

Legislators Revised the Budget to Address Many Needs

The General Assembly met over the last few months in a special session to finalize our state budget.  We had to revisit the budget because in the last week of our regular, winter session, the COVID-19 pandemic started to flare up, the shutdown began shortly after and the economic damage and uncertainty made it impossible to build a two-year budget. Governor Ralph Northam proposed amendments that the General Assembly approved in April putting all new spending on hold until we had reliable revenue estimates.  Two weeks ago, we approved a revised budget that takes a more modest approach than our original budget, but it still has some significant investments. 

First, we balanced our budget as required by the state constitution.  Second, the budget leaves over $1 billion unspent in reserves because of continued economic uncertainty.  It is a very fiscally prudent budget. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Weekly Column: Special Session Update #2 - Building Trust in our Police Officers

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of October 25, 2020.

Building Trust in our Police Officers

                This column focuses on reforms to Virginia’s policing practices, legislation I helped craft with Senator Mamie Locke.  Last week, I reported on the criminal justice reforms that the Virginia General Assembly approved in our recent special session.   Next week, I will discuss changes in Virginia’s budget.

                The video capturing the chokehold and murder of George Floyd shocked America and was a painful example of abusive policing experienced by the African American community for too long.  These images galvanized a grassroots movement that demanded changes.  The General Assembly tried to respond with needed changes in our laws. 

Diverse Input Sought

                During the drafting process, I sought diverse views in at least a dozen meetings with state and local law enforcement leaders.  We held meetings with local officers on the street, community advocates, and heard testimony from national experts and state law enforcement leaders in a public hearing.  

Monday, October 19, 2020

Weekly Column: Special Session Session Summary #1: Criminal Justice Reform Delivered

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of October 17, 2020.

Special Session Session Summary #1: Criminal Justice Reform Delivered

Last week, the General Assembly special session effectively ended.  Governor Ralph Northam called the session to adjust the budget after the economic harm caused by the COVID-19 crisis.  After George Floyd’s May 26, 2020 murder and citizens’ demands for change, we chose to broaden our work and focus on three areas: criminal justice, policing reform, and the budget.  I will address criminal justice reform this week, policing reform next week and the budget changes last.   

In early June, the Senate Democratic Caucus determined a limited focus on only policing would not address the bulk of harm inflicted by our criminal justice system.  We invited suggestions and created a committee of Senators to vet 150 ideas which we narrowed to 28 objectives and 11 bills.

First, we passed a racial profiling bill that prohibits police from stopping vehicles for violations arising out of subjective unverifiable judgments such as window tint or loud exhaust violations, and prohibited searches based on an allegation of marijuana odor in light of the decriminalization of marijuana last session.  This will reduce opportunities for racially-biased enforcement.   

Monday, October 5, 2020

Weekly Column: We Need a Better Redistricting Amendment

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of October 4, 2020.

We Need a Better Redistricting Amendment

 Along with eliminating the Electoral College and reversing corporate contributions green-lighted by the Citizen’s United case, I consider the drawing of elected officials’ district lines to be one of the most significant, fundamental problems in American Democracy today. 

Question #1 on Virginia’s November 3 ballot is a proposed amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to create a decennial commission to establish districts for elected officials of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in 2021 and into the future.  Our current system is flawed, but the proposed amendment is not the correct solution. 

The Redistricting Proposal

                Here is how the commission would work.  The U. S. Constitution and Constitution of Virginia requires the state legislature to redraw congressional districts and state legislative districts after each census.  The amendment would create the Virginia Redistricting Commission (VRC).  The VRC would have 16 members - eight state legislators and eight citizens.  The legislators would be equally split between the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates and further equally split between the majority and minority parties so that no party would have a majority.  The citizen members would be chosen by a panel of five retired Circuit Court judges from lists submitted by the majority and minority caucuses in each chamber of the legislature. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Virginia Lawyers Weekly Criminal Justice Reform Update

 Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down Peter Veith of Virginia Lawyers Weekly to discuss the status of the General Assembly Special Session and the status of Criminal Justice Reform in the session! 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

River Farm Update

Last week, I met with Supervisor Dan Storck, Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegate Paul Krizek, representatives from the offices of Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Congressman Don Beyer, and the Fairfax County, the National Park Service (NPS), and Northern Virginia Regional Park Authorities (NVRPA), and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (MVLA). The purpose was to discuss a strategy to preserve River Farm.

The NPS owns a conservation easement on the front two acres of the property closest to East Boulevard Drive.  The American Horticultural Society (AHS) donated a conservation easement of seven acres along the river to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.  The remainder of the property appears to be unencumbered.  We have not been able to determine whether Ms. Haupt's gift to AHS contained a condition to keep the property open to the public, but if she did, such a restriction was not recorded in land records.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Weekly Column: Creating More Equitable Admissions Policies for Magnet Schools

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, The Prince William Times, The Fort Hunt Herald, and Potomac Local in the week of July 27, 2020.
Creating More Equitable Admissions Policies for Magnet Schools

               We need more equitable admissions practices in what are called “Governor’s Schools.”  Earlier this month, Governor Ralph Northam appointed me to a task force with about 20 other individuals including Secretary of Education Atif Qarni to examine equity within our Governor’s Schools System.  Governor’s Schools were created in 1973 to provide an intense, summer academic experience to high-achieving students and were later expanded to full-year programs, including Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in Fairfax County which also serves Prince William and Arlington Counties.

              I have often expressed concerns about TJHSST’s admissions practices.  Very few children from eastern Fairfax or Prince William Counties are admitted.  When I reviewed data few years ago, fewer than five children had been admitted out of 125 applicants from Walt Whitman Intermediate School.  In the most recent freshman class, there were none or there were so few African American students admitted that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) was prohibited from releasing the actual number.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

COVID-19 Update Thread

As you probably know, our region has confirmed multiple cases of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. The Virginia Department of Health has created a webpage dedicated solely to virus updates where you will find content that is updated daily. The CDC also has a dedicated website. 

If you are a healthcare professional evaluating a patient for suspected COVID-19, please contact your local health department immediately.

Here is a link to all of the Governor's Executive Orders:

As always, please reach out to my office at 571-249-4484 or if you have questions or ideas about things we can do to serve the community better. I will continue to add updates below.

***UPDATE MONDAY, 6/29/20 2:30 P.M.***

New Housing Assistance Program
The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will administer the $50 million program through a variety of partners, including nonprofit organizations and local governments, which will receive upfront funds that they will distribute on behalf of eligible households. Individuals and families receiving funding will also be connected to housing counseling and receive other technical assistance.
Eligible households must demonstrate an inability to make rent or mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monthly rent or mortgage must be at or below 150 percent Fair Market Rent (FMR), and eligible households must have a gross household income at or below 80 percent of area median income (AMI).

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Fairfax County BRT/U.S. 1 Widening Update

Today, Fairfax County's Department of Transportation provided an update on the status of the U.S. 1 Bus Rapid Transit Project and U.S. 1 Widening.

Richmond Highway Widening Update

  • They have been developing responses to public comments
  • Incorporated minor design adjustments
  • Meeting with property owners
  • Working on right of way plans
  • Conducting title research
  • Design changes

    • Two way cycle tracks
    • Bridge features modified
    • Change from bridge to a pre-cast arch
    • Section adjustments to accomodate larger trees
    • Plaza designs at intersections
    • Raised driveways along U.S. 1
    • Reviewing viability of stormwater management facility enhancements

  • Schedule Revisions

    • Project has been delayed one year
    • Design approval in 2019 did not happen
    • FONSI planned in Fall, 2019 - didn't happen
    • ROW acquisition was supposed to start in Winter, 2019 and did not
    • ROW/Utility Relocation seems to be taking longer-6 years instead of 3.5 years

  • Design approval was expected but did not

    • Fairfax County has not approved design
    • Ongoing design features need to be resolved (stuff above) along with construction of BRT project with this
    • Approval was submitted in 11/19 but delayed due to a Title VI complaint that was initiated
    • VDOT did receive conditional design approval except for the Little Hunting Creek Underpass

    Monday, May 18, 2020

    Weekly Column: Where Should the NVTA Spend $500 Million of Your Money?

    Where Should the NVTA Spend $500 Million of Your Money?

                  Now is the time to help direct transportation funds to our community.

     For 27 years, between 1986 and 2013, Virginia did not raise its transportation taxes.  While labor, steel, asphalt and concrete got more expensive and cars became more fuel efficient, gas tax revenues declined.  During those years, Virginia stopped repaving roads and other maintenance to fund road construction.  In 2013, the General Assembly passed new taxes to restore highway maintenance funding and we passed new regional taxes to fund regional transportation construction through the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). 

                    The 36th Senate District has benefitted from these taxes in projects like US 1/Richmond Highway widening (design and land acquisition), U.S. 1/Dumfries widening (design and land acquisition), U.S. 1 bus rapid transit (design), U.S. 1 at Featherstone widening, $80 million in Virginia Rail Express improvements, a new CSX bridge crossing of US. 1 at I-95 and Old Bridge Road/Occoquan Road intersection reconstruction.

    Saturday, May 16, 2020

    Comment on Regional Transportation Funding Today

                The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has published its rankings for its next Six-Year Plan Update to fund $522 million of projects over the next six years.

                The NVTA plans its projects in a six-year plan every two years.  Local governments and other entities nominate projects for funding.  It uses objective criteria to rate projects based on congestion relief, economic development, pollution reduction and safety with congestion relief getting the highest weight.  This ranking is named after the bill that authorized it – HB599.  

                 After projects are scored, the score is divided by the funding request so that we can see which projects give our region the biggest bang for the buck.  As you can see in the table below, this means that while some projects scored very well – such as the U.S. 1 widening – after you consider the cost, their relative ranking dropped substantially.  

                 There are $404 million in seven projects at risk in the 36th Senate District at-risk:

    36th District Submitted Project List
    Comment Deadline May 24, 2020 
    Overall Rank
    HB599 Rank
    Annapolis Drive U.S. 1/VA-123 Connection
    Connect Annapolis Drive between U.S. 1 and VA-123
    Widen U.S. 1 Thru Town of Dumfries
    Widen and realign U.S. 1 through Town of Dumfries to construct new boulevard, construct sidewalks and paths.
    Summit School Rd. Extension & Telegraph Rd. Widening
    Connect Telegraph Road to Minnieville Rd via Summit School Drive to bypass Potomac Mills Mall.
    U.S. 1/Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit
    Construct bus rapid transit from Huntington Metro to Fort Belvoir
    VRE Woodbridge Station Improvements
    Construct new passenger platform for new third rail. 
    Extend Van Buren Road from VA-234 to Cardinal Drive
    Planning funds for new road between VA-234 and Cardinal Drive.
    U.S. 1/Richmond Highway Widening Hybla Valley to Fort Belvoir
    Widen U.S. 1 to six lanes, new sidewalks, multiuse paths, and reserve space for BRT from Fort Belvoir to Hybla Valley.
    PWC Parkway & Old Bridge Intersection Rebuild
    Realign intersection to create more seamless PWC Parkway.

    Please provide me your comments using the two forms below.  I have include links to information about the projects and the project rankings at the top of the form if you want to investigate further.

    I will be submitting all comments to the NVTA before May 24, 2020.