Councilperson Agelasto Proposes Cigarette Tax For Schools

With the Mayor and City Council having successfully jammed through a meals tax increase this past Monday, it will be interesting to see if Councilperson Agelasto receives support from the rest of City leadership for his upcoming attempt at implementing a cigarette tax, something that has not passed before. After all, it’s also ‘for the children’ and has the support of the American Heart Association.

In the meantime, the original Put School First referendum is still in the Virginia General Assembly. Oregon Hill’s state senator, Glen Sturtevant, was able to navigate it through the senate side quite easily.

More Depressing Local Politics – Taxes & Water

An email has been circulating which reportedly calls for a boycott of restaurants that are resisting Mayor Stoney’s meals tax increase proposal. I would hope that Mayor Stoney would disavow this email and tactic, but perhaps he does not recall how bitter the last meals tax increase debate was. The Virginia Performing Arts Foundation and Center Stage backers told City Council that they would personally lobby to rescind the increase once the Carpenter Center was fully renovated. They dishonorably lied, and on top of that, the City has had to continually bail out that private project. Now, once again, citizens are being told it is ‘for the children’ and must hurry and approve a meals tax increase.

We were hearing about an impending tax increase this past October, but it is becoming more obvious that this current proposal is more about distracting from the original Put Schools First referendum, which received overwhelming support from Richmond voters. I urge folks to continue to support the referendum in the General Assembly.

Sadly, there are still dishonest people spreading disinformation about the original referendum. Two very important points for people to understand- One, If the referendum had included language about raising taxes, it would not have been allowed on the ballot. Two, the referendum language does require the City leadership to first come up with a plan to modernize ALL the schools without considering a tax increase in their budget wrangling, HOWEVER, that does not preclude the City leadership from coming up with a second plan that does include a tax increase.

What’s even sadder is that the City leadership continues to ignore other income sources. Consider the Larus Park deal. What a waste of an opportunity to fairly increase revenues. Why is Mayor Stoney going to lease park land to Chesterfield County for only $1.00 per year? Why is the Mayor not willing to increase the mark up on the water sold to the counties from 5% to 10% (from $0.035 per ccf to $0.07 per ccf). So what if Chesterfield has to raise it’s water cost to $1.88 per ccf, Richmond residents are paying $4.04 per ccf. We have covered the need for water utility reform here before, yet City leadership would rather we hurry up and support another(!) ridiculous meals tax increase.

Speaking of the Larus Park deal, its worth watching City Council Monday (if they can get their microphones to work this time) and see how they handle it. The deal is a lose, lose, lose, for City parks, water reform, and residents, but evidently it is a City leadership priority that Chesterfield County get its cheap water.

A scorecard of sorts:

There are five ordinances and one resolution (some are relatively good and some are bad) regarding the Larus Park issue that are to be considered at the special February 5th City Council meeting:

Ordinance 2017-208: this ordinance authorizes utility PILOT money for the purchase of the 18 acres

Ordinance 2017-209: this is the “stinker” ordinance that allows Larus Park to be leased to the county, along with the lease agreement that is unfavorable to the city

Ordinance 2017-221: this is the ordinance that declares a public necessity to purchase the 18 additional acres

Ordinance 2017-253: this is the “stinker” ordinance that states that “not withstanding” city code section 8-2 (c) [which specifically prohibits leasing Larus and other parks] the city is leasing Larus Park

Ordinance 2017-254: this is the “stinker” ordinance “notwithstanding” city code section 8-2 (c) AND city code section 8-57 granting easements by the county to work in Larus Park [passing this ordinance would mean that all of the city parks are just one vote away from being sold]

Resolution 2017-R097: this is the “excellent” resolution to authorize the conservation easement on Larus Park.

Support Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)

I have mentioned ranked choice voting before on this site. The Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association uses it to elect officers when there is more than 2 people running for a position. Now’s the time to further this important voting reform in Virginia.

From FairVoteVa.org:

Delegate Nick Freitas (Culpeper) has submitted HB 553, which would establish ranked choice voting in elections for Virginia’s statewide offices and General Assembly, along with Virginia’s members of the U.S. House and Senate. A similar bill was tabled in committee during the 2017 session.

Delegate Patrick Hope (Arlington) has also submitted HB 932, which would authorize Arlington County to use ranked choice voting in its local Board elections.

The 2018 session began on Wednesday, January 10. HB 553 will start in the Campaigns subcommittee of the House Committee on Privileges and Elections (P&E). We’re especially eager to recruit FairVote supporters in P&E members’ districts. You can visit Who’s My Legislator to search for your local delegate or check this map to see if you live in one of the committee’s districts.

Thank You, Shamin Hotels

On bitterly cold mornings like this, most Americans are fortunate to have warm beds and functioning sources of heat for their homes. And while Oregon Hill homeowners have seen their property values climb to precipitous levels in the last two decades, residents here tend to be not as wealthy as those in some other places. For many of us, most of our personal financial value is tied up into our modest two story homes, with their warm beds and functioning sources of heat.

So it is very disturbing for us to read in the local newspapers and hear and watch on local radio and television about households that are lacking in functional sources of heat at this time of year. I am referring to news reports about the roughly 50 families living in Creighton Court apartments with broken heating systems. The owner of these apartments, the public Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), knew back in October of the failures (and that emergency clauses in Virginia housing code allows for quicker actions if needed). In comparison, when a boiler failed at City Hall, it did not go months with space heaters; a temporary system was installed in under a week.

Like many other locals, I contacted RRHA management and City Council members about this matter, demanding relief for these poor people. Our 5th District Councilperson Parker Agelasto quickly wrote back with a good, thoughtful response. In his conclusion he wrote,

I am sorry that this was not better anticipated and work scheduled more timely. What’s most telling about this situation is that the old infrastructure is failing and needs to be replaced soon. This is a matter of public health and safety. City Council is doing its best setting aside funding for public housing replacement. The issue with RRHA is that they fall under HUD rules and HUD has not provided sufficient maintenance funding. Currently, RRHA receives $750 per year per housing unit for maintenance. The HUD budget doesn’t look to get any better. This is why public/private partnerships appear to be the option to move forward with providing affordable housing.

Of course, I wrote back, thanking Agelasto for his response and asked what private entities are stepping forward to be possible partners. He replied with ideas about real estate developers and amending tax abatement programs in order to gain more affordable housing. Again, very good and thoughtful, but what about the immediacy of Creighton Court families going without proper heating systems at this time of year?

I am very happy to learn that a local hotel owner offered free rooms to affected families yesterday. Shamin Hotels, lead by CEO Neil Amin, generously donated rooms in their Richmond Airport Hotel. They also said they would help with meals if needed. It’s not a perfect solution and some residents may still be reluctant to temporarily leave their homes, but it is certainly a welcome offer for many cold people.

As a citizen and as a grassroots media outlet, I will continue to criticize undue corporate influence on our government and declare ‘corporate personhood’ an abomination, but that does not mean I cannot also celebrate and praise private sector members that step in when the public sector has so clearly failed. On that note, thank you Shamin Hotels. You are helping many Richmonders sleep better, and not just the ones from Creighton Court.

VCU Commonwealth Times: “We’re talking about someone’s life”: VCUarts adjuncts plan a day of action to demand equitable pay

Excerpts from VCU Commonwealth Times article:

VCUarts adjunct professors will stage a day of action Dec. 8 to demand fair pay from the School of the Arts. They plan to hold a rally at the Compass, deliver a petition with more than 900 signatures to the Board of Visitors meeting and demand to have their wages raised for the upcoming semester.

An estimated 120 adjuncts in the No. 1 public art school in the country currently make $750 to $850 dollars per credit hour taught. They are capped at teaching two classes per semester, which means they would make an estimated $9,000 to $10,200 per year, before taxes.

The federal poverty line in the United States sits at $12,082, according the Census Bureau.

For example, in the 2016-2017 academic year, the school had a total budget of $33,659,043. Of that, VCUarts allocated more than $32 million on educational and general expenses. The school distributed $890,000 of restricted university funds, which consist of gifts to the particular departments, investment earnings and more throughout the school.

The organization argues the school should use other funds in the school to properly pay their adjunct faculty rather than turning to raising student tuition.

The organization presented Brixey and other VCUarts administrators with research examining the average cost of living in Richmond and the federal poverty line in the United States — this led them to their suggestion of $2,000 per credit hour taught for adjuncts.

According to Trepanier, Brixey said the school will raise adjunct pay to $1,000 per credit hour for the upcoming semester by tapping into reserve funds, per approval from the Board of Visitors. However, it was never clarified whether the funds were primarily from VCUarts or from the university.

“This is an urgent crisis. The Dean is moving into a new house, but there are a lot of adjuncts that have been homeless within the last year,” the adjunct said. “When we’re talking about equity issues, we’re not just talking about what’s fair and unfair, we’re talking about someone’s life and where they’re going to sleep at night.”

The adjunct also raised the concern of not being able to dedicate enough time to students because of the various jobs art adjuncts often work to pay bills.

“In terms of budgeting time, when a lot of us are working three jobs or have to drive to Virginia Tech the next day to teach, a lot of that does take a toll on the classroom,” they said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the career development of the students.”

Trepanier spoke out because she does not plan to return to VCU after her contract ends in December. She also has other forms of income she relies on, but said that’s not that case for all of her colleagues.

“People are terrified to speak up because they don’t want to lose that little bit of income that they do have,” Trepanier said. “If you eventually want a full-time job, and you go on record and they see that out on media, then schools won’t hire you because you’re a troublemaker.”

From FaceBook event page:

What: VCU Adjunct Fair Pay Rally and petition drop

When: 9am December 8th, 2017

Where: In front of the VCU Cabell Library (bring signs, wear t-shirts) From the front of Cabell Library we will walk as a group and deliver the petition to the VCU Board of Visitors.

If you haven’t signed the petition yet please do so at https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/vcuarts-adjuncts-deserve-fair-pay

Neighbor Brings Important Correction On Larus Park Water Deal To Fore

Pay attention, Laurel Street neighbor Charles Pool holding school.

Dear Honorable Members of Richmond City Council,
There is an important correction printed on page A4 of today’s Richmond Times Dispatch:
“CORRECTION: The city of Richmond could generate $4.1 million in gross revenue under a revised water agreement with Chesterfield County that, if approved, would permit the county to construct a water tank and pumping station in Larus Park. The figure was misstated in a story Nov. 22 on Page B2.” [The misstated figure was given as NET revenue rather than GROSS revenue in the Nov. 22 article.]
The O&R Request accompanying Ordinance 2017-209, which would allow the county to build a 2 million gallon water tank in Larus Park, deceptively states:
“REVENUE TO CITY: $4,103,000 five year total starting in 2021.” (Please see attachment.)
Now the city administration has acknowledged to the Times Dispatch that this projected revenue to the city from the Larus Park project is GROSS not NET revenue.
The $4.1 million in projected GROSS revenue from Ordinance 2017-209 includes all of the city’s high costs for providing up to five million gallons of additional water per day (or 9.1 BILLION additional gallons of treated water over five years) to Chesterfield County. The city’s costs for providing an additional 9.1 billion gallons of treated water to the county include salaries of employees, costs for running the electrical pumps, chemicals for purifying the water, etc.
Because the city would be contractually responsible for the 4,000 feet of supply water line to the proposed facility at a cost to the city of $1.7 million, the city would actually run a NET LOSS in the five years starting in 2021.
Ordinance 2017-209 would continue for another generation the agreement where the city makes only 5% over actual costs on water volume sold to the county, which comes to only 3.5 cents per ccf (hundred cubic feet) or about $85,000 per year. Capital cost reimbursement from the project is contractually limited to reimbursement for the ACTUAL COSTS the city incurs.
Selling water volume to the county at 5% over actual costs while selling water to Richmonder’s at 500% over actual costs puts city businesses at a serious competitive disadvantage. This cheap water provided by the city is fueling the county’s potential new MEGA SITE and new Niagara water bottling plant.
Even worse: if the county unilaterally decides not to renew the lease, Ordinance 2017-209 would contractually obligate the city to pay the county for the entire $7.5 million water tank and pumping station in Larus Park, less depreciation, even if the city does not need or want the water facility.
Why should Richmond sacrifice sacred city parkland in Larus Park in order to run a NET LOSS over the next five years with the county on this water deal that puts Richmond businesses at a serious competitive disadvantage?
Honorable Members of Council, please look closely at the terms of the proposed Ordinance 2017-209 in light of the revelation in today’s Times Dispatch that the administration is deceptively projecting GROSS rather than NET revenue from the project.
Thank you very much for closely examining this issue.
Sincerely,
Charles Pool

Bollards

From email:

Dear Councilpersons Gray and Agelasto

A recent post from the Monroe Park Conservancy Instagram account shows what appears to be a large number of bollards manufactured by Robinson Iron (the same company that restored the fountain) awaiting installation in the park. While these are very beautiful cast iron bollards, they are very expensive and also very brittle due to the casting process. In about 2004, Monroe Park was having serious problems with cars entering through the corners and cutting through the park at rapid speeds. The Monroe Park Advisory Council tasked Larry Miller and myself to choose and install bollards at the park corners with city funds. We chose these beautiful bollards by Robinson Iron as we were working with them on refurbishing the fountain at the time. Of the 30 or so bollards that were purchased from Robinson, probably 90% failed and broke within 4 years
(see photos below). This presents a considerable future liability to the City should the City be responsible for replacing these bollards and I wanted to bring this to your attention. Welding up cast iron to repair them is tricky and very expensive and usually doesn’t last.

I’m sorry for not being able to include a link to the Monroe Park Conservancy Instagram account showing these bollards but as you may know, Ms. Massie has barred me from accessing the MPC Instagram account. You may also access the picture at the MPC website.

Sincerely,

Charles T. Woodson

A Reiteration Of Opposition To The Monroe Park Conservancy

From email:

Dear Councilperson Gray and other friends

Please find enclosed a petition of over 350 signatures of people opposed to the damage that has been done to the tree canopy of Monroe Park, Richmond’s oldest and most historic municipal park.
During the park’s period of historic significance, there were 362 trees of 26 varieties in the park. When the approved Monroe Park master plan was conceived, the park was down to 155 trees due to natural causes and lack of consistent maintenance and planting. Currently, there are less than a hundred trees in the park, many destroyed through actions violating established city policy. Even after trees that are planned to be planted are put in, there will be approximately one third as many trees as during the period of historic significance. This damage has been caused by a departure from the approved master plan and work documents through piecemeal alterations advocated in the last year by the City of Richmond on behalf of the Monroe Park Conservancy. The resulting damage cannot be corrected for at least a generation even if a comprehensive tree restoration plan were to be immediately enacted.
The approved Monroe Park master plan (2008) was celebrated for its community inclusivity and exhaustive research into the historic value of the park and was assembled by city council appointed community representatives with the assistance of the firm Rhodeside and Harwell at a cost of over 700,000 dollars to the taxpayers of the city of Richmond. It is tragic that it has been recently superseded by such a radical departure.
The approval of a 30 year lease to the the private Monroe Park Conservancy has turned out to be a tragic mistake and has served the city of Richmond poorly.
In closing, may I remind you all that the taxpayers of Richmond have invested well over 4.53 million dollars on this “renovation” and yet are denied legitimate representation on the MPC executive board, even though VCU has three seats and a seat was recently added for Dominion Energy. This lack of community representation violates the spirit of council approved resolution 2014-R64-64. It is notable, councilperson Gray, that both you and the Mayor’s chief of staff are sitting board members of the Monroe Park Conservancy.
It is in the best interest of the city of Richmond to consider dissolving the lease agreement and for city council to appoint a community based board to advise the city on Monroe Park matters.

Sincerely,

Charles Todd Woodson

(Editor’s note- The Sierra Club Falls of the James previously called for termination of the lease)

“Congratulations, you’re the park!”

An online quiz includes Monroe Park as one of the answers.

QUIZ: Which Ongoing VCU Construction Project Are You?

“Congratulations, you’re the park! You’ve got a cute charm about you and big ideas that you’re ready to share with the world. The problem is that your anxiety has driven you to make changes for yourself that didn’t need to be made. Not to mention you’re not doing much about any of your previous flaws. And this whole debacle has cost over $6 million dollars.”

Eighty Five Percent

Voters in Richmond have approved a referendum that would change the city charter to require the Mayor to craft a plan to modernize Richmond Public Schools facilities without raising taxes (This does NOT preclude the Mayor or City Council from coming up with another school modernization plan that does raise taxes.)

Richmonders voted Tuesday on the 350-word referendum, which now must pass through the Virginia General Assembly. According to unofficial results, the referendum passed with 85 percent of the vote. Eighty five percent.

Now that the Put Schools First/Richmond School Modernization referendum has passed, will local environmental and faith-based groups join the Sierra Club Falls of the James in calling for energy conservation, green building, and solar roofs to be part of Richmond school modernization?

We know that Dominion and the Richmond Children’s Museum are partnering to put small, ‘experimental’ solar on a few school roofs, but citizens should be demanding that Richmond install large, ‘working’ solar arrays on public schools (and elsewhere). Other Virginia localities are in the process of doing so now, often at their students’ urging.