Monday, November 12, 2018

Weekly Column: We Deserve Answers

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of November 12, 2018.
We Need Answers

On November 17, 2017,  coming home from work around 10:00 p.m., I saw police lights at the end of Alexandria Avenue where it intersects with Fort Hunt Road in the Mount Vernon area near my home.  I assumed there was an accident. 
The next morning, I learned that an accountant from McLean, Bijan Ghaisar, had been shot by two U.S. Park Police officers after he drove away after being rear-ended by an Uber driver on the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Slater’s Lane.  Very little about the Park Police’s official story made sense to me the next morning.   
About two weeks later, I sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asking a series of questions.  I received a cursory response.  
About two months after the incident, the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) released a dash cam video of the incident starting near Dyke Overlook on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  The video showed Ghaisar driving down the Parkway slightly over the speed limit trailed by two U.S. Park Police cruisers.  Anyone who drives the Parkway knows that without adequate shoulders there are few places to pull over. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

November 8 Vigil for Bijan Ghaisar

Last Thursday night, I helped organize a vigil for Bijan Ghaisar at the corner of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue where he was shot four times in the head, unarmed after he was the victim in a traffic accident - two blocks from my house.

I have sent two letters to the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeking answers and have merely been told "we are working on it."

The Federal Government's failure to promptly issue a report and make a decision in this case is outrageous.

Thank you to the 100 citizens including many Mount Vernon residents who came out to remember Bijan and tell the government that his family and our community deserve answers.

Here is the news coverage in case you missed it.
WJLA Channel 7 - Rep. Don Beyer says FBI investigation into Bijan Ghaisar shooting wrapped up weeks ago (Nov. 8, 2018)   

WTOP - Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police

Channel 9 Coverage - Peggy Fox

Channel 4 Coverage - Jackie Bensen 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Report on Coal Ash Hearing #2

Nate Benforado with SELC Addressing Committee
Spent the day today in Richmond for the second meeting of the Joint House/Senate Commerce and Labor Committee meeting on resolving Virginia's coal ash situation.

Dominion Briefing
Dominion was first to the podium.  They briefed the committee on a recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that reversed a Richmond federal judge who held that their Chesapeake Coal Ash landfill was violating the Clean Water Act.  The appellate court held that the trial judge was wrong and that although the landfill was leaking toxic metals, it was not leaking it in a way that violated the Act.

Next, Dominion talked about the status of their request for proposals on coal ash recycling.
  • 86 people from 51 firms attended Dominion's initial information session
  • 26 suppliers indicated interest in bidding
  • They held tours at four sites where 57 people from 23 firms attended
  • They received 115 questions and issued 12 clarifications for the bid process
  • They ultimately received 12 bids with 2,100 pages of information
  • They are currently asking questions of the bidders and then expect to have a report to the legislature by November 15, 2018
Dominion also noted that they are exploring have multiple solutions are multiple sites and not unitary solutions at each site.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hurricane Florence Approaching East Coast (UPDATES BELOW)

A powerful hurricane is on track to hit the east coast this weekend bringing heavy rain to our region.

Monitor your local news sources for the latest weather conditions, and check the  National Weather Service  for up-to-date information.
Here are couple important tips, websites and numbers to keep you safe:

Monday, September 3, 2018

Weekly Column: Labor Day 2018: Virginia Has a Long Way To Go

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of September 3, 2018.
Labor Day 2018: Virginia Has a Long Way to Go

Labor Day this past Monday was a fitting reminder for us to work harder to not only honor working people in the United States and Virginia, but to strengthen our economy and supports for employees.  Virginia has a long way to go.  
Last week Oxfam America released a study that found that Virginia ranked #51 out of 51 as the best state to be an employee – yes, dead last.  This included rankings of #48 in worker protections, #49 in the right to organize, and #51 in wage policies.   This is troubling news. 
Virginia has done nothing to raise the minimum wage since 2009, when Congress increased it to $7.25 per hour or about $15,000 per year without time off.  In Northern Virginia, anyone earning $7.25 per hour has to be either supported by someone else or on government assistance.  

Monday, July 16, 2018

Weekly Column: Setting Budget Priorities

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of July 15, 2018.
Setting Budget Priorities

Last week, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia finished the fiscal year with  $551.9 million more in revenue that we projected when writing this year’s budget. 
First, the good news is that most of this surplus is due to increased tax revenue from payroll withholding taxes, not one-time revenue sources like capital gains or tax avoidance strategies related to the recent changes in federal tax laws.  The Virginia economy has truly started to perform again. 
However, it is important to keep these numbers in context.  The state’s General Fund has been under significant stress over the decade since the Great Recession and automatic federal spending cuts caused by a process called a “sequester.”  In the nine years I have served in the General Assembly, this is the second fiscal year that the Commonwealth has experienced revenue growth equal to or greater than the historical average.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Weekly Column: Historic Budget Supports Health Care, Teachers, Police and More

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Connection, and Potomac Local in the week of June 3, 2018.
Historic Budget Supports Health Care, Teachers, Police and More

                Last week, the Virginia legislature, with my support, took several major steps forward. First, we agreed to expand Medicaid, health insurance for disabled and low-income Americans, so that now, over 36,000 people in the 36th Senate District receive their health care from Medicaid.  This includes over 24,000 children, children whose parents now have no health care.  Starting January 1, 2019, that will change.                  
                Medicaid expansion will provide health care to between 300,000 and 400,000 Virginians and create 30,000 new jobs, many of which will be right here in eastern Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford Counties.  It will also save taxpayers $180,000,000 every two years by shifting charity care at state teaching hospitals and prison health care to Medicaid.  All of us pay for uninsured people who must resort to costly hospital emergency rooms for their care.  Providing Medicaid coverage can help people avoid hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency care and will help limit insurance premium increases.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Dumfries U.S. 1 on the Verge - Comment by Saturday!

If you ever get down to Dumfries to talk to its residents, one of the first things you learn is like Eastern Fairfax County, the state of U.S. 1 is one issue that binds all of its residents together.  In the next three days, they have an opportunity to do something about it.

Only Three Ways Out of Dumfries
(Click to Enlarge)
Dumfries and its communities to the east along the Potomac River have basically only three ways to get out of town - U.S. 1 North, U.S. 1 South, and two-lane Van Buren Road.  In-fact, U.S. 1 cuts across the creeks for each peninsula into the Potomac River, within a quarter mile of where each creek becomes tidal.  This basically turns each peninsula into a massive cul de sac.

When coupled with the endemic congestion on Interstate 95, the consequences for the Town are tragic.  Each time I-95 becomes gridlocked, interstate traffic bails out onto U.S. 1 causing U.S. 1 to freeze and leaving thousands of residents with no way out.  The gridlock has also stymied the town's ability to attract high quality development to its business areas.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Demanding Investments From NVTA For Our Community

Last night, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority hosted a public hearing to receive public comment before deciding how they will allocate over $1.248 billion over the next six years. I joined Dumfries Mayor-Elect Derrick Wood and Town Councilwoman-Elect Monae Nickerson to advocate for funding four projects on U.S. 1. 

Here are the four projects:
We were joined by the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation who spoke in support of the projects.  Unfortunately, the Northern Virginia "Transportation" Alliance - a coalition of Tysons and Dulles-Area businesses and developers spoke specifically in opposition to the Route 1 projects even though U.S. 1 BRT ranked #8 for congestion relief on the formula that they drafted and pushed us to enact!  

Eastern Fairfax and Prince William County have waited too long for transportation investments into U.S. 1. Now is the time to fund these crucial projects and I will have little patience if the institutional forces of Northern Virginia continue to demand priority over areas that have lacked infrastructure investment for three decades.

Weekly Column: Comment on U.S. 1’s Future ASAP

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and Springfield Connection in the week of May 15, 2018.
Comment on U.S. 1’s Future ASAP 
If you care about our community’s future, it is critical that you take a few minutes before May 20 to share our support for upgrading the U.S. 1 corridor, a major, but long-overlooked, commercial, residential and recreational thoroughfare in eastern Fairfax County. 
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is now deciding which projects to fund with $1.2 billion as part of its six-year plan.   
Fairfax County submitted several projects including widening U.S. 1 north from Fort Belvoir to Costco ($127 million) and establishing bus rapid transit from Huntington Metro to Fort Belvoir ($250 million) and made these top county-wide priorities.  NVTA ranked these two projects #23 and #24 out of 60 using the new “Smart Scale” criteria and numbers #2 and #8 out of 60 using the HB599 congestion mitigation criteria established by state law.  

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kingstonian Column: Affordable Housing Must Be Part of U.S. 1’s Remake

The following will appear in the May, 2018 Kingstonian Magazine and Beulah Corridor monthly magazine.

Affordable Housing Must Be Part of U.S. 1’s Remake 

This past month, as part of the “Embark Richmond Highway” process the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors made significant progress building on the U.S. 1 Multimodal Study authorized by Senator Puller and myself in 2011 which envisioned a six-lane U.S. 1 bordered by sidewalks, multiuse paths, a median-dedicated bus rapid transit and two-stop Yellow Line extension.  The zoning changes envisioned by Embark will be truly transformational.  However, U.S. 1’s revitalization is generating legitimate questions about the future of affordable housing for current and future members of our community.  

From the beginning, I have been concerned the impact of revitalization on affordable housing.  The South County Task Force led by Mary Paden recently convened a panel discussion on affordable housing after it was largely omitted from the Embark recommendations.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Route 1 Corridor Improvements Need NVTA Support

During the recent General Assembly session, both the House of Delegates and the Senate agreed to proposals that would fully fund Metro. Unfortunately, the House refused to include revenue increases so their version of the funding agreement takes money out of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). This could have dire consequences for the 36th District. Route 1 corridor improvement and transit expansion projects are counting on funding from NVTA.