Post #876: Town of Vienna, please see the forest through the trees.

This will be of no interest to anyone outside of the Town of Vienna.  Unless you are a student of how “silo thinking” can lead to truly inefficient decisions.

Let me cut to the chase.  The Town of Vienna is using a $16M piece of land to produce (arguably) $20,000 in annual cost savings to the Town.  Probably, less than that.  And using that in such a way that, in practice, prevents any better use of that valuable property for benefit of Town residents in general. Continue reading Post #876: Town of Vienna, please see the forest through the trees.

Post #832: Trick-or-Treat 2020, the Simplified Rules

Source: The Patch.

Homeowners / Candy Givers

  • DO place individual bags of candy in a location clearly visible to passers-by.
  • DO wave at trick-or-treaters from behind a window or glass storm door.
  • DON’T attempt to give out candy face-to-face.

Trick-or-Treaters and their families

  • DO go trick-or-treating with your family (only).
  • DO yell “trick-or-treat” as you take a bag of candy.
  • DO wave back at the homeowners / candy givers.
  • DO wave and say hello from a safe distance as you pass friends and neighbors.
  • DON’T approach a house unless bags of candy are clearly visible.
  • DON’T ring the doorbell or knock on the door.
  • DON’T accept candy face-to-face.

This is my proposal for a simple set of rules that allows for safe trick-or-treating during the pandemic.  Obviously, this is for families and homeowners / candy givers who choose to participate this year. Continue reading Post #832: Trick-or-Treat 2020, the Simplified Rules

Post #831: Madam Mayor, please step up to save Trick-or-Treating in Vienna this year.

Source: The Patch.

We have a Town government that makes a big deal out of our “small town” nature.  I’m not quite so sure they follow through on that in every instance. But they do enough to give that statement some credibility.

This year, in this pandemic, Town government needs to do something that can only be done by a government, in a small town:  Step up and save trick-or-treating this year, in the Town of Vienna.

So I guess this is a plea to our “One Vienna” Mayor Colbert.  We need a Town of Vienna guideline for what we should be doing.  (Why the italics on should?  That’s the whole point of this posting.)

This year, we need a new tradition that works in the changed world we are in.   We need one recommended, agreed-upon, safe approach that that lets kids go Trick-or-Treating, and that doesn’t end up causing yet more division and strife among the citizenry.  We need one official guide on how to Trick-or-Treat in the Town of Vienna this year.

Why?  Let me cut to the chase:  Are you a bad parent if you take your kids Trick-or-Treating?  Or are you a bad parent if you forbid your kids to go Trick-or-Treating?  How are your kids going to feel if you make them stay home, but other kids on the block went trick-or-treating and brought home gobs of candy?  And what are the respective parents, of those two sets of children, going to say to each other afterwards?

We need some simple, common-sense leadership here, so that we’re all on the same page.  We need an endorsed protocol, for the COVID-19 world.  Without that, as I discuss below, we’re already beginning to squabble over Trick-or-Treating.  And that’s just about the last thing we need.

Detail follows. Continue reading Post #831: Madam Mayor, please step up to save Trick-or-Treating in Vienna this year.

Post #828: Meanwhile, back in Vienna VA, I voted against the library bond referendum

I’ll just briefly explain why.  These are all issues that I documented more than a year ago.

The Fairfax County library bond referendum, on the ballot for the upcoming election, includes $23M for replacing the Patrick Henry Library, among other things.  The Town wants to put the new library under a parking garage, although in the final iteration they settled for just two floors of parking, not three as shown above.  I’m hoping they’ll rethink that decision. Continue reading Post #828: Meanwhile, back in Vienna VA, I voted against the library bond referendum

Post #821: Political signs and the Town of Vienna. Digging down to find the facts.

Edit:  Nope, I still didn’t have it right.  Vienna is writing its own unique ordinance that does not match the one being promulgated as a Virginia standard.  I have rewritten this accordingly.

The Town’s unique new sign ordinance (.pdf), which is not the same as the Virginia model ordinance (despite what the public hearing notice said), would do the following, with regard to yard signs:

Limit any yard sign to no more than 12 square feet.

Place no limit in the number of yard signs you could have.

Place a 90 day limit on how long you may leave a yard sign up.

And, hilariously enough, although the genesis of this was that you had to treat all signs the same, regardless of content, the first thing they do is treat signs differently, based on content.  Political yard signs have to come down after 90 days.  Real estate signs can stay up indefinitely.

And so, literally the only thing of note, in recent Town-wide history, that the new ordinance would prevent would be a repeat of my “small town Vienna” sign campaign.  As well as the use of any campaign sign that exceeded 12 square feet, such as one erected by mayoral candidate Majdi.  (If erected in a residential area.)

It also appears to transfer some power to the Director of Planning and Zoning. Which, if you’ve been following the action in Town, is no surprise.

In any case, although the public hearing indicated that we were adopting the Virginia model ordinance, to make sure that the regulation is content neutral, neither of those statements is true.  This is not the language of the model ordinance, and the proposed ordinance differentiates treatment of signs based on content.  And, importantly, political signage is subject to more restrictive treatment than commercial (real estate) signage.

Finally, this does still reach inside your own house, and bars you from having any sign in your window for more than 90 days.  I can’t believe there’s any reasonable justification for that, other than maybe some Town Council member doesn’t like some particular sign.  And that, surely, is no justification for this part of the law.

The rest of this posting is obsolete.  Although informative.

The bottom line is that more-or-less the only thing that the new law prohibits is something like my small town Vienna signs.    Something intended for a long-term protest of Town Council actions.  And any large sign, such as the one used by mayoral candidate Majdi.  And any sign you would care to display in your window, if you want to keep it up more than 90 days.

Obsolete material follows.


I’m now going to the Town’s archives for various meetings and trying to figure out what they are actually saying about limiting yard signs.  In particular, limiting political yard signs.

To cut to the chase, if they follow through with what they propose, then:

A)  You will be limited to no more than four standard political campaign signs in your yard.

B) You will have to take them down (or, plausibly, replace them) after 90 days.

So, first, I can’t believe that would survive a legal challenge.  And second, the people drafting this were thinking only of aesthetics and safety.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t give freedom-of-speech issues any serious thought when they drafted this section of the proposed ordinance.

Details follow. Continue reading Post #821: Political signs and the Town of Vienna. Digging down to find the facts.

Post #819: Town of Vienna to limit use of yard signs

Source: Caroline Kitchener/The Washington Post, as posted in The Lily.

Well, reluctantly, I have been hectored into posting about the Town of Vienna again.  If you’re not a TOV resident, move on.

Caveat: I haven’t done my proper due diligence on this.  Haven’t so much as bothered to look up the facts.  Because I’m just so sick of Town of Vienna bureaucracy.

So let me do the weasel-word thing and say, suppose.

Suppose I said that you, as an American, have the right to post a sign in your yard expressing any political opinion you choose.  Like the farmer pictured above.  Which, although I don’t like the message, I have to applaud the ingenuity.

You’d say, “duh”.  Because this isn’t Communist China.  This isn’t the (former) USSR.  This is America, right? Damned right, I can say what I want, on my own property.

Right up to what’s allowed, in general.  Famously, the First Amendment does not give you the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater.  For example, advocating the violent overthrow of government, or threatening elected officials (used to be?) is illegal.   And, likely, endorsing criminal acts — such as advocating violence against an individual — likely that would be illegal.

But beyond that, presumably, if you want to put a sign, on your own private property, expressing an opinion.  Even an ugly opinion.   You can.

Now suppose I said, well …. maybe.  Depends on how long you intend to express that opinion.  Suppose I said, after N days, you have to stop expressing that opinion.  Even if it’s free speech, as protected in the Constitution.  Because The Town Council in tiny little Vienna VA knows better.  With a proposed piece of legislation.

And your Town Council is focused on neatness.  As in, neat-freak-level neatness.  And, hey, that’s just so sloppy, having signs around for more than a little bit.  So let’s shut that down.

Now, I may be misunderstanding this.  But as this has been relayed to me, in the Town of Vienna, you have 90 days to express that opinion.  As proposed.  Or maybe just 60 days.  Black Lives Matter.  Make America Great Again.  Eat at Joes.  It doesn’t matter.

Under proposed legislation, after 90 days (or maybe just 60 days), your sign has to come down.  By law.  Because the omnipotent and omniscient Vienna Town Council orders it so.

Now, let’s get real.  The only widespread set of signs, in individual yards, that remained in place for more than 90 days, within living memory, were my signs.  These signs.  Shown at left.

Damned awkward, that was.  The principal charge from the citizens involved in MAC development was to maintain Vienna’s small-town ethos.  And here was somebody publicly reminding the town of that.

And, as low-tech as they were, they got people aware of what the Town Council was up to.

And I recycled them responsibly, to boot.  Again, at left.

Eventually, the Town Council repealed that MAC law.  So these humble, locally-printed long-lived lawn signs ended up being an effective example of real grass-roots democracy.

Kind of.

I take no credit for that.  Had it been a good law, I’d have been wasting my time.  As it was, I take credit only for pointing out the facts.   And having good sense prevail.

Above:   Merrifield Mosaic District, overlain on the Town of Vienna MAC zoning district.

And now, as the Town bureaucracy goes about re-writing all the zoning in Vienna.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that it is awkward, at best, for people to participate in that.  Somehow, right now, that’s the perfect time for the Town to prevent any recurrence of a long-lived lawn-sign-based protest.

Right now, apparently, is the ideal time to prevent any repeat of what occurred with MAC.  Ahem.  In terms of citizen opposition.

Yeah.  Sure.  As a patriotic American, that makes great sense to me.  Let’s make sure that the last effective means of citizen protest, for our last attempt at rewriting the zoning, can’t be used this time.  As the Town bureaucracy plows ahead with rezoning, despite taking advantage of the pandemic and all the restrictions that imposes on citizen participation.

But wait, there’s more.  Did I mention that if you have a sign in your own home, that can be seen from outside, the Town is going to regulate that as well?  Yep. That’s the plan.  So, forget yard signs.  If you dare to post anything in your window, that somebody objects to, the Town’s going to assert the right to come after you.

If you have an objection to this — or if you actively favor it — I suggest that you send an email to your Town Council members.  Let them know how you feel about it.

But under no circumstances should you post a sign in your yard /s.  Or, at least, don’t post one for more than 90 (or maybe 60) days.  That’s no longer going to be legal, in the Town of Vienna.

If I have been mislead about this, I apologize in advance.  But I don’t think I have.

I literally don’t have the stomach for sitting through the tapes of Town Council and Planning Commission meetings, to try to pin down the facts on this one.  If necessary, I will provide citations as to source.  In fact, it might be a healthy thing, to quote all the relevant Town officials who have heartily endorsed this.

It’s just so over-the-top, that … well, of all the things I need to worry about right now, finding any one of a dozen ways to dodge this ham-handed law is way down on my list.

Now I have to waste my time taking a detailed look at this, and whatever else the Town is up to.

Post #G26: Back in the Town of Vienna, our water/sewer rate versus Fairfax County

This post only really matters if you use a lot of water outdoors during the summer.  Hence, it falls under gardening on this website.

People are often surprised to find out just how much water it takes to water a garden, or that running a lawn sprinkler for an hour typically consumes 1000 gallons.

And so, there’s sometimes some hubbub when the summer-quarter water bills come out, here in the Town of Vienna.  Particularly now, as Vienna is half-way through a planned five-year, 50% increase in the water/sewer rates.  People see an unusually high bill and attribute that to the rate increase.  When that may not be the whole story. Continue reading Post #G26: Back in the Town of Vienna, our water/sewer rate versus Fairfax County

Post #G25: Meanwhile, in the Town of Vienna, the latest water/sewer rates are being felt

This is another of my contractual obligation postings, relating to government of the Town of Vienna.

Recall back in Post #448, where I described the Town’s five-year plan to raise the water and sewer rates by about 50%.  The Town didn’t really go out of its way to advertise that, or to advertise that it planned to raise those rates every year for five years running. Continue reading Post #G25: Meanwhile, in the Town of Vienna, the latest water/sewer rates are being felt

Post #810: An air-curtain approach to indoor restaurant safety in the coronavirus pandemic

Edit:  See Post #854.  The simple method that I describe below was recommended by experts for use in the Vice Presidential debate.  Engineers refer to this as a “Corsi box”, after the air quality expert who first advocated for its use.

Original post follows.

The CDC has finally started doing some epidemiology that will help ordinary citizens to judge the risks of certain activities.  And the very first thing their research highlighted was the risk from dining in restaurants.  In their small-scale study of a sample of individuals with COVID-like symptoms,  persons who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have gone to restaurants in the past two weeks, compared to those who tested negative.

I started to write up my own analysis of this issue of risk.  But I got sidetracked by an email discussion about the coming crisis that restaurants in the Town of Vienna are likely to face, if COVID-19 gets any worse, or if the economy gets any worse.  We don’t need any more analysis.  We need a solution that would plausibly increase the safety of indoor dining.

So, instead of just analyzing the situation, I’m going to offer you my cheap solution for safer indoor dining.  In a nutshell, use ceiling-mounted box fans, with high-end air filters, to bathe each table in its own individual stream or “curtain” of clean air.  And to sweep any virus-laden air down to floor level, for further filtering and recirculation.

Detail follows.

Continue reading Post #810: An air-curtain approach to indoor restaurant safety in the coronavirus pandemic

Post #751: Shooting range?

I’ve been staying away from posting about the Town of Vienna.  But I just had a conversation with my next-door neighbor about the new Town of Vienna Police Station.  It left me shaking my head, saying, oh, that can’t be right.

Or can it?

I already knew that the new police station was going to be the biggest building they could squeeze onto the lot.  That’s the hallmark of the prior administration.  I knew the Mayor-elect would vehemently defend the proposed police station, because that’s what she was elected to do — defend the decisions of the Powers that Be in Vienna.

But I did not realize that part of the new police station — built like a fortress, as post-911 standards require — and three times the size of the current police station  — has a shooting range.  (Three times the size of what it replaces, with no more residents or police here than when the old police station was built.)

As if, what, they can’t use the Fairfax County range?  As if Town of Vienna police are that likely to have to draw a weapon in Town?  As if their duplicative “meeting space” area didn’t waste enough space?  (This building sits maybe 200 yards from the Community Center, yet has its own meeting rooms presumably for holding meetings with citizens.  That, somehow, the oversized Community Center cannot accommodate?)

I get the fact that if you want to build the biggest possible fill-in-the-blank, you have to use up the space.  I just didn’t realize that one of the reasons was having a handy area for honing gun skills.

To be clear, I’m not against having the cops being trained in the use of firearms.  That’s part of the real world.  I’m not that keen on un-trained people carrying weapons.  I’m a gun owner.  And a health economist.  I’m not strictly anti-gun, though my wife is.  I think that, as a public health measure, easy access to guns is a bad idea.  But that has nothing to do with police training.

It’s just odd to see a major piece of capital infrastructure dedicated to that task.  In a building that is vastly larger and far more imposing that what it replaces.  Given that the sum total of my interaction with Town police has been being pulled over for having a marker light out on my car.

There has been a petition circulated to defer the spending on this obese police station.  I didn’t think it would get any traction with Town government, because … well, that’s the way Vienna works.  A thousand people signed up against the 440 Maple West development, and the in-crowd just shrugged that off.  But maybe I need to rethink that, given this new rumor of Vienna’s own shooting range.

There are maybe a couple of things to say about a petition to divert the spending on this building to other community-oriented purposes.

First, you can’t legally divert money from the capital budget to the operating budget in a Virginia town.  So, the fact that the prior administration “maxed out their credit card” on this police station is just, well, tough shit, from the standpoint of funding operating costs of the Town going forward.  The capital account (borrowed money) can’t be used for that.  Because, among other things, you can’t deficit-spend as a Virginia Town.

So even if you think that putting a dedicated gun range ahead of other needs is misguided, if that money is re purposed, it can only be spent on capital projects. You can’t legally use it to fund (e.g.) social services.

You might say that either our economic priorities are amiss, or our social priorities are amiss, or both.  Or maybe the Powers that Be are planning for the complete breakdown of social order.  Here in Vienna.  In which case, I’d wish they’d let me in on that, so I could get prepared.

As with so much of Town of Vienna government decisions, I can’t make head or tails out of it.  But, ditto, whatever They have Decided, It Cannot Be Questioned.  Which is how I take our new Mayor’s response to having been questioned about this expense.

Second, the ship sailed years ago on this police station project.  Two years ago, and then some.  And, believe it or not, the proposed building is only modestly above industry norms of space per occupant and cost per square foot.  You can read my analysis of that in this post, dated 9/4/2018, dating back to the time when this project was still being billed as a police station renovation.

All-in-all, Vienna has modestly more officers per capita, square foot per officer, and cost per square foot than what I estimated to be the average within the industry.  Particularly the square foot per officer part.  This building looks big, and objectively, it is big.  And when you multiply those three together, you get what you get.

If you want to have a clue to the high cost, just look at the specs.  From that posting:

And if you read further, you will see that the architects are not exactly planning for a friendly small-town police department.  The specs include blast film for the windows, concrete bollards to prevent ramming the building, steeply sloped window sills to prevent bomb placement, and special construction to withstand earthquakes.  This isn’t Andy of Mayberry.

The bottom line is that this building is in large part a reflection of the post-911 paranoid world.  It’s built to withstand terrorist attack.  It’s occupants receive regular training in the use of deadly force.  It truth, it would not surprise me if they had plans in place in case of a breakdown in social order  (e.g., riots), even here in bouzhie Vienna.  Because that’s modern thinking.  Earthquakes included.

And all of that predates the pandemic, and predates Black Lives Matter.  Community policing went out the window on 9/11/2001.  Pretty much, if you want Federal funds, you have to build a fortress designed to protect its occupants from you.  And those occupants have to be trained to deal with terrorism.  Because, as always, we’re fighting the last war.  You can put a nice face on it, and pretend otherwise, and include a “community meeting room” and such.  But a fortress is a fortress.

It’s not what you’d have in an ideal world.  But it’s what we’re stuck with.  For the next 50 years, here in the Town of Vienna.

With any luck, future generations will look back on this as being the high-water mark of the us-versus-the-rioters police architecture mentality.  The embodiment of the 9-1-1 non-war that we’ve been fighting for the past 20 years.  This building is of-a-piece with routinely being subjected to whole-body X-rays if you want to fly anywhere.  Of-a-piece with a government that can legally “disappear” you at will, as part of the PATRIOT act.  (Read it if you don’t believe me).  It is of an era where nobody would even question that every sleepy little high-income suburban town would of course have its own police gun range.

So I applaud the people questioning this building.  And, ultimately, questioning what I see as the post 9-1-1 mentality.  I don’t think they’ll make a dent in Town of Vienna government.  But I applaud them nevertheless.

And if we’re not lucky, and the Town actually needs its own little fortress?  If, down the road, people actually applaud the decision to build a police station that could withstand an assault?  Well, I just don’t want to go there.  I have more important things to worry about, in the here and now, to worry about what this building bodes for the future.