Updates from Letty – February 12, 2021

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

Typically, this time of year offers a little bit of a lull in city business, right before the annual budget process in March-April. Not this year. After our vote on affordable housing this week, we’ll be quickly pivoting to several big items. Items of interest for you: update on the Library construction project at our meeting next Tuesday, the Police Use of Force Review Committee final report (February 22), the site plan for the 10 acre project on the site of the old high school, new development projects on the horizon, then we take up the FY22 budget starting on March 8.

This week’s post will cover a variety of good topics: our votes on affordable housing and the noise ordinance, wayfinding (fancy word for signs), the latest budget amendment (which includes advanced funding for one stormwater project, updates on vaccines and new CDC guidance on double-masking.

Today is Lunar New Year and with COVID, our celebrations will again have to be different. Did you know that Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic in the US (and represents 10% of the city’s population)? But in contrast to the necessary BLM reawakening last summer, anti-Asian racism is rarely discussed or covered in national media, yet sadly at an all-time high. While we have new federal leadership denouncing this bigotry, it is incumbent on the rest of us to be aware, speak up, and stand in solidarity.

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

(1) Affordable Housing

In a 7-0 vote, we approved reallocating $2.4M in developer concessions from the recently approved Broad and Washington (aka Whole Foods) project to go towards funding additional affordable dwelling units (ADUs) – bringing the total number of ADUs to 34, or 10% of the total project.

Why does this matter? This is meaningful as it’s the first time we’ve been able to set aside this many units of inclusionary zoned affordable housing and they will be permanently affordable. (In comparison, most of the city’s current ADUs have expiration dates after 15-20 years.) This is also important because some units will serve incomes deeper than we have before, as low as 40% of area median income (about $40K for a household of 2) whereas in the past, we’ve primarily served 60% and up.

It’s also worth noting that Broad and Washington represents the richest set of voluntary concessions we’ve received to date – this is a helpful matrix to see how VCs have evolved and illustrates how the city has done a better job of negotiating concessions over time. Aside from the annual fiscal benefits with new development, we’ve been able to fund important capital projects, transportation improvements, and now – additional affordable housing – from mixed use development.

Thanks to everyone in the community who spoke up and supported elevating affordable housing as a priority. “If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority” rings true for me. As leaders, we have to be willing to make tradeoffs. For something that we’ve long discussed, this is finally meaningful action we’ve taken. I hope we’ll continue to raise the bar going forward.

(2) Noise Ordinance

We also passed at first reading updates to the noise ordinance that incorporates decibel-level standards and an extension of the daytime hours from 9 pm to 1030 pm for Fridays/Saturdays/holidays. Note that this is not final as there will be a second/final vote, currently planned for March 8 and we’d like to continue hearing from businesses and residents until then.

We’re trying to strike a good balance between supporting local businesses struggling to survive (and eventually recover from) the pandemic with the concerns from nearby residents. Based on the volume of comments we received, outdoor live music has clearly been disruptive for some residents. We asked the police to step up enforcement and start issuing fines and more consequences for repeated violations.

(3) Wayfinding

As part of the Economic Development Authority’s annual report to us, we received an update on the Wayfinding Project that was started in 2019. The project is funded by the EDA and will include new gateway signs at the four major entrances to the city, wayfinding signs for various landmarks and destinations, including new public parking signs, and importantly, de-cluttering and removal of existing signs. Installation coming in 2021!

(4) Budget Amendment

Budget amendments are typically are boring, but it’s worth noting a few specifics with the most recent one:

  • We’re allocating $270K in federal CARES relief money to our continuing COVID response: rent, utility, and food relief, hazard pay for front line workers, and funding the Rec Connect program which supervises distance learning for essential workers in the city. It’s a good reminder that our vulnerable residents continue to need support through this pandemic.
  • We’re moving $180K in stormwater maintenance dollars to accelerate part of the Trammel Branch project (one of six projects recommended by the Stormwater Task Force) in order to be able to coordinate with the W&OD Dual Trails project underway for efficiency. This should benefit the Columbia/Shadow Walk neighborhood near the Trammel Branch which experienced acute flooding in the past.
  • About $250K of COVID relief funds remain, and we had a lengthy discussion about supporting FCCPS’ return to school with those funds. There was general consensus among Council to do so, upon receiving more specific plans on how the funds would be used.
W&OD Trail at Trammel Branch

(5) COVID-19 & Vaccine Update

  • Double mask – the CDC has issued new guidance that double masking offers more protection
  • CVS Vaccines – As part of a federal retail pharmacy program, 36 CVS Pharmacy locations in Virginia are now receiving a total of 26K first doses beyond Virginia’s normal allocation. I share the frustration and equity concern that the CVS appointments process requires constant monitoring to see when new appointments are open and then a new sign up (as opposed to CVS offering these appointments directly to people age 65+ who were already on local health district waiting lists). Unfortunately, CVS was unable to find a way to do this within the technical limits of their appointment system and there is no automated connection between the two systems. Appointments quickly filled up this week, but do expect additional appointments will become available. The number of weekly doses and locations as part of this program are expected to increase in the coming weeks, and Virginia will continue to help CVS select locations based on equity indicators.
  • Improvements to the registration and waitlist process: I also know there is similar frustration and anxiety for people currently on the waiting list, so improvements are coming. Specifically:
    • Vaccine and Registration Data Dashboard – Current registration date now being scheduled for vaccines administered by the Health Department, number of people remaining on waitlist and total number registered, weekly vaccine doses received from the Virginia Department of Health and number vaccinated by Fairfax Department of Health, total number of doses received from the Virginia Department of Health since distribution began, total number of doses administered (first and second doses) by Fairfax Department of Health.
    • Vaccine Registration Status Checker – people can use the new search tool to find their registration record, what day they registered and to see what date the Health Department is currently scheduling appointments for. To find their record, people will need to enter their first name, last name and the email address used to register for the vaccine.
    • Weekly emails to those on the waitlist – the Health Department will soon begin to send weekly updates to everyone on the waitlist to confirm they are still in the queue and to provide links to the tools above to find additional information.

What’s Coming Up:

Current draft schedule of meetings and agenda items

City Council Meetings start at 730 pm, unless otherwise specified. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings