Facing Defiance and Hostility, Arlington County Cancels Social Distancing Ordinance

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Amid enforcement problems, Arlington County’s Board of Supervisors voted four-to-one to cancel an emergency ordinance outlawing grouping on sidewalks in specific areas of Arlington. The cancellation is effective at the end of September, ending a $100 fine for people failing to socially distance in specific Arlington restaurant districts.

“Efforts to spread out long lines of patrons by officers and restaurant security have been met with defiance, confrontation, and hostility,” states a slideshow presented by county staff. The slideshow shows pictures of long lines outside restaurants.

Groups including the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce, the Arlington Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and the Arlington County Transportation Commission (ACTC) submitted letters to the board, asking for the ordinance to be stricken.

“The ordinance is overly broad, would subject ordinary behavior to a fine-worthy offense, and the majority of any unintended consequences would be borne by pedestrians and anyone a capricious member of law enforcement might want to subject to a nuisance fine,” ACTC Chairman Christopher Slatt wrote.

County Manager Mark Schwartz recommended that the board make the emergency ordinance permanent, which would have required a public hearing process.

Chair Libby Garvey was the only board member to vote in favor of the ordinance. “The board passed the Emergency Ordinance because we felt we needed more ways to encourage people to practice safe distancing and to protect public safety,” Garvey said. “I believe the ordinance had an effect and has encouraged compliance in areas of the county where crowds gather in and around bars and restaurants. I hope what compliance it brought continues even after the ordinance lapses.”

“Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators a night,” Board Member Christian Dorsey said, according to the press release. “They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don’t see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn’t work.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Social Distancing Measures” by GoToVan. CC BY 2.0.

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