Updates from Letty – June 12, 2020

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,

After a week of amazing turnouts for racial justice, I am proud to see our community so loudly stand on the right side of history. Falls Church is now one of the first cities in the region to have accepted President Obama’s pledge on police reform. Chief Gavin is an exceptional, humble leader, who has already embraced many reform policies with community policing and de-escalation at the heart of the police department’s mission, and more work will come. As our citizens likely interact with other jurisdictions’ police departments, I hope our neighbors’ police and sheriff departments will join in the effort too. Read on for topics we’ll likely tackle, including body cams, a citizen review board, and more. And in the spirit of “passing the mic” – I’m linking a video of last Sunday’s rally in Cherry Hill Park so you can hear the voices of Black leaders in our community.

I hope it’s evident that the nation-wide uproar goes far beyond police brutality. For this truly to be an inflection point, we have to be willing to see and dismantle systemic racism, which has been built into the founding of this country and even this city. (Fellow parents and others: this is an excellent kid-friendly video explaining systemic racism). The first step is to learn and acknowledge our past mistakes.

Every member of City Council received a copy of the book “Falls Church: A Virginia Village Revisited“, written by local historians, when we were sworn in (this Wikipedia article draws from the same book). You may be disappointed as I was to learn that our progressive little city had ugly roots. You likely have heard the popular account that Falls Church was founded to create our own great school system in 1948. You might not have heard about the 1887 gerrymandering of the then Town of Falls Church to exclude “the colored settlement” from town limits. Or the 1915 passage of a local segregation ordinance during the era of Jim Crow laws, which spurred the creation of the first rural chapter of the NAACP (and it wasn’t until 1999 that the ordinance was repealed). And while you learned that FCCPS was the second school district in Virginia to desegregate our schools, you might not know that we paid to send our Black elementary students to the James Lee Elementary School on Annandale Road (now a community center), the part of Falls Church gerrymandered out, and high school students all the way to Manassas. Desegregation finally did occur in FCCPS in 1961 – 7 years after the landmark Brown vs Board of Education case and 2 years after Virginia finally gave up its “massive resistance” policy to desegregate. 

For every blemish in our history, I’m confident we’ve also had our heroes. But the first step is to not whitewash our history and gloss over those mistakes. If you, too, believe the old adage “those who don’t learn history are bound to repeat it” – you can join and share this active petition underway to broaden this discussion.

Activism can’t begin and end with a hashtag. It’s easy to say “Black Lives Matter” and raise a token fist. It’s a little harder to listen, protest, petition your government to fix the problem, and then hold them accountable at the polls. It’s the hardest to look critically at ourselves, including examining our privilege and how we may have contributed to, benefited from, or tolerated structural racism, intentional or not. As I wrote last week, I believe we, as your local government, have a responsibility to undo 400 years of inequity pervading our policies on education, housing, healthcare, and economic opportunity. We aspire to be a welcoming and inclusive place for all – do our policies match our intent? Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue sharing my thoughts and lay out a case for what I believe our pursuit of racial and social justice could look like Falls Church. I’ll warn you, some ideas may be unpopular and difficult. Will we have the courage to take this on together? 

Take care,

PS Today is the first day of Phase 2 Reopening in Northern Virginia. We are all still “safer at home” but read on for more info so you know what to expect out there.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Passing the mic

To amplify Black voices, I encourage you to listen to some of the speakers from last Sunday’s rally in Cherry Hill Park – including our own Edwin Henderson and Sean Perryman, president of the Fairfax NAACP chapter.

(2) Police Reform

We unanimously voted to join President Obama’s pledge to review our use of force policies and engage the community in a discussion about further reform. While I personally don’t know of a police brutality issue and have only experienced professionalism from FCCPD, it’s important we listen. We should hear citizens’ experiences and have an assessment with full transparency and accountability. And I believe many of the reform ideas are preventative so we don’t have an issue in the future. I’ve heard from citizens with many suggestions and concerns, including body worn cameras, demilitarization, military grade weapons, civil forfeiture, police funding, and a civilian review board. Body cams, in particular, appear to have mixed results in whether they are effective without good policies but they do provide important data so this will need to be discussed. Expect more community dialogue about these ideas and others – more can and will be done.

(3) More resources

The library announced this week that popular social justice books are available in e-book or audiobook format with no wait. If you prefer picking up a physical book, we have also been big fans of the curbside service that started in June – easy and contactless.

Those of you looking to vote with your wallet, besides the list I provided last week – Yelp now has a Black-owned business collection.

(4) Today – Phase 2 Reopening

While our health metrics continue to improve, we need to continue to be vigilant with social distancing, mask wearing, and heeding the guidance for Phase 2, still safer at home. With Phase 2 upon us today, here’s what you can expect, with more information here:

  • The maximum number of people allowed in social gatherings will increase from 10 to 50.
  • Restaurants: Can serve diners indoors and outdoors at 50% of their lowest allowed occupancy.
  • Exercise Facilities: Gyms, recreation centers, and sports centers may open indoor areas at 30% of their lowest allowed occupancy.
  • Pools: Indoor and outdoor pools may reopen for lap swimming, exercise, diving, and instruction.
  • Entertainment: Outdoor theaters, concert venues, outdoor and drive-in movie theaters, zoos, and botanical gardens may reopen at 50% of their lowest capacity or a maximum of 50 people.
  • Personal Care: Beauty salons, barbers, spas, massage centers, tanning salons, and tattoo shops continue to remain limited to 50% of their normal capacity as specified under Phase One. Customers must make appointments to come in, and both customers and employees are required to wear face coverings.

(5) Quick Budget Updates

As we’re closely monitoring revenues, we received a quick update this week on March and April local taxes: sales taxes actually met budget (hypothesis is that online and gorcery sales compensated for other sales decreases); meals taxes tracked closer to our projected moderate decrease scenarios with 25% decrease in March and 65% decrease in April; hotel taxes tracked closer to our worse case with 90% decrease in April.

We also reviewed an ordinance at first reading for $220K in new spending related to COVID that will be funded from our Federal CARES and FEMA grants.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, June 15: City Council Work Session
  • Monday, June 22: City Council Meeting – Final Vote on CIP

City Council Meetings start at 730 pm, unless otherwise specified. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of all of our other virtual Board & Commission meetings: http://www.fallschurchva.gov/471/Watch-City-Council-Meetings