Depressing Local Politics

After listening to a talk by local mass transit experts today, I am feeling pretty down. The universities and counties are still very noncommittal when it comes to financial support of the new BRT or expanded GRTC service. The universities would rather keep running their private shuttles and students are ok with that. I expect that means City residents will bear most if not all operating costs, as with so many other supposedly ‘regional’ projects. This is in turn is going to force many poor people out of the City, never mind any mobility advantages. Perhaps this was the hidden intention all along.

Also, along those lines… I did not attend the meeting of City Democrats last night (I am a Green, not a Democrat), but my understanding is that they rejected endorsing the federal Kaine/ Warner/Evans legislation to allow historic tax credits for school buildings. They also rejected endorsing the local Put Schools First referendum because it would require the Mayor to come up with a school modernization plan that does not rely on a big tax increase and the Democrats, including Mayor Stoney, want to put a big tax increase forward next year. That’s what I am hearing….

Oh, and despite public opposition, the City’s Urban Design Committee approved the latest Monroe Park Conservancy/VCU plan to to remove MORE trees from Monroe Park, AND (conversely) if you happen to be one of those Richmonders who think the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue should be removed, the state and City governments will not allow it.

Welcome to RVA, still very much like the old Richmond, which does not tolerate any uppity grassroots politics.

Schools Before Stadiums!

From the Times Dispatch article today:

A majority of Richmond voters say they’d support a tax increase to build and repair city schools but are opposed to any public money going to support the construction of a new coliseum, according to a poll conducted by Christopher Newport University on behalf of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“I am really surprised by the level of support to increase taxes to pay for schools,” said Quentin Kidd, who oversaw the poll and directs CNU’s Wason Center for Public Policy. “Especially in the context of how little support there is for the coliseum and baseball stadium. This is Richmonders basically saying, look, these are our priorities.”

Gee, Quentin, you are surprised? Perhaps you missed the previous instances where our school kids have marched on City Hall? Or as citizens have expressed their disappointment in watching the Center Stage and Redskins boondoggles? Perhaps you heard my own personal response to your telephone polling, where I stated that Dominion’s Tom Farrell and VCU Emperor Eugene Trani should profanity fully retire already. And since the Times Dispatch neglected to mention it in their article, I will- there’s a (revenue/tax-neutral) referendum on the ballot this November about this very topic.

Questions For Utility “Cost of Service” Meetings

Tonight is the first of four meetings the City of Richmond Department of Utilities is holding. This one starts at 5:30 and is being held at the Byrd Park Roundhouse (700 S. Davis Avenue).

“Ratepayers are encouraged to attend one of the sessions to learn more . There will be opportunities to ask questions.”

Here are some sample questions:

No alternative site for Chesterfield’s 2 million gallon water tank was considered other than Richmond’s Larus Park. The Dept. of Public Utilities claimed that the site was chosen because of its high elevation, but topography maps indicate that the entire Huguenot corridor is at the same elevation or higher? Will a site outside of Larus Park be selected for Chesterfield’s water facility?

How does selling water to the County at 74 cents per ccf (748 gallons) promote conservation?

Does not selling water to the county at a fifth the rate that City residents must pay put City businesses at a competitive disadvantage? (County pays 74 cents per ccf, while City residents pay $4.04 per ccf.)

If Chesterfield’s proposed 2 million gallon water tank is located in the County instead of in the City’s Larus Park, would not the relieve the contract provision that the City must pay the County for the $10 million water facility if the County does not renew the lease?

According to the latest City filings with the Va. Dept. of Environmental Quality, it is anticipated that the demand for water in the region may outstrip supply in about five years. But the proposed contract with Chesterfield County would lock in the ridiculously low price of water at only 5% over the City’s actual costs (currently at 74 cents per ccf) until 2045. Is it not reckless to lock in such low rates when we have there is not an unlimited water supply from the James River?

Richmond customers must pay a minimum monthly water/sewer service charge of $32 even if no water is used. This is one of the highest minimum water/sewer service charges in the country that places a disproportionate burden on water customers who conserve water and use little water. When will the Dept. of Public Utilities lower the base service charge to offer a reasonable rate to those who conserve water?

The Richmond Dept. of Public Utilities charges Richmond customers a payment in lieu of federal income tax on the water bill that is put into the city’s general fund. No other locality in Va. charges a federal income tax surcharge on the water bill. Will DPU remove the federal income tax surcharge on the water bill?

Other localities encourage conservation by offering customers a discounted volume rate for those using 3 ccf or less. When will the Richmond Dept. of Public Utilities initiate rates that encourage conservation?

The public was excluded in the selection of Larus Park for Chesterfield’s water facility and the public is not involved in setting water rates. When will the Richmond Dept. of Public Utilities start involving the public in these important decisions?

The city residents own Richmond’s utility but are frustrated to see that the utility showers the counties with low rates while city residents pay high water rates. As a result, Richmond with high rates is surrounded by localities, which purchase water from Richmond, that have remarkably lower water rates. Richmond residents are tired of hearing the utility trying to explain this away by saying that Richmond has rusted water pipes. When will Richmond’s residents start seeing a benefit of owning the utility in lower rates from their utility?

Richmond has a much higher poverty rate than the surrounding counties, yet the city-owned utility sells water to the county at a fifth of what Richmond residents must pay for the necessity. When will the city initiate like Petersburg a base life-line rate so all residents who conserve water will have basic service at a low rate?

When will we see solar panels on utility facilities? What does the utility use now for backup power and disaster recovery?

Stop the Deforestation of Richmond’s Historic Monroe Park

Letter from neighbor:

Dear Richmond Urban Design Committee and Planning Commission

Monroe Park was once a beautiful public park with its most delightful feature being its vibrant urban tree canopy. Now, under the guidance of a few individuals, it has lost much of its beautiful urban forest which previously served as an aesthetic wonder, habitat for animals and the proverbial “lungs” of our city. The city under the direction of the Monroe Park Conservancy is now requesting to forego planting 8 more trees that were included in the approved master plan and replacing them with planters in order to increase the surveillance scope from cameras attached to the Checkers House soffit. This is unacceptable and I respectfully ask that this request for approval of the tree deletion be denied.

Thank you,

Charles T Woodson
Richmond Va 23220

The tree removal request will be heard THIS THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5th at 10am at the Urban Design Committee meeting. Please sign and share!
New petition on Change.org

Car Thieves!

A neighbor reported this morning:

Two guys, faces covered by hoods, heading down Laurel looking into car windows.

Another neighbor reported:

My partner forgot to lock the car. One got in but I scared him off. He’s in the gray hoodie. They been on Spring and Cherry . Police are looking for them.

Editorial comment: I guess now that students are back, criminals think we are easy pickings. Its up to neighbors to prove them wrong.

How’s Your Utility Bill?

There’s been a lot of discussion over email, FaceBook, and the NextDoor social media about City utility bills, including water.

A lot of citizens, including Oregon Hill residents, seem surprised by the amounts on their bills, as well as late fees.

Some have already called in to the City’s Utility Department. From one neighbor:

So I called the utility department and they removed my late fee.
They might remove yours too.
Their number is 646-4646.

It’s hard to pin the problems down, and there is a lot of speculation about what is causing the high bills. Some have anecdotal reports about checking for leaks and looking for high usage. It’s also hard to say how much can be related to previous reform efforts. But there’s something to be said for keeping abreast of the situation, especially as the City government attempts to address Utility concerns. Also , don’t forget the Larus Park/Chesterfield selling issues.

Congratulations To Open High! Another Excellence Award

Open High School has been awarded a 2017 Board of Education Excellence Award.

This is the second tier in the Virginia Index Of Performance Awards. The VIP incentive program recognizes schools and divisions that exceed state and federal accountability standards and achieve excellence goals established by the governor and the board. This means Open High also met all state and federal accountability benchmarks and made significant progress toward goals for increased student achievement and expanded educational opportunities set by the board.

Oregon Hill is lucky to have such a great neighbor, which can trace its history (and protection) back to Grace Arents’ legacy.

Hopefully, this will add pressure to put ALL schools first. It would also be great to see Open High’s aging building get more fully renovated in a historically sensitive manner.

Need More Personal Responsibility For Alley Trash

This photo looks down the alley between the 600 block of S. Laurel and S.Cherry.
Trash and recycling trucks already went through on Wednesday. This photo was from after that.

Dear landlords and tenants,

The citizens of Richmond need you to take more responsibility for your refuse. I know some of you think that taxes are only good for two things, fire protection and refuse collection, but the truth is that OUR taxes also pay for things like police, schools, parks, etc. When the City spends all of its money picking up at the end of your leases, it can take away from other priorities.

While I appreciate efforts to improve the City’s services, you have a personal responsibility to make a point of either taking your excess to the dump, or, at the very least, scheduling a ‘bulk refuse’ pickup with the City. Just leaving it out in the alley, no matter how neatly, is not the neighborly thing to do. Let’s do better.

http://www.richmondgov.com/PublicWorks/RefuseCollection.aspx

More High Speed Dreams And #Rally4Trains

It seems like I wrote this decades ago, but it was years- The Dream of High Speed Rail.

Still, recent headlines promise and disappoint in a bewildering order.

High-speed rail meetings chugging along in Hanover

84 Amtrak passengers stranded five hours after train gets stuck on tracks in Charles City

As often as my hopes are dashed, I hope they can stay alive. To that end, join Mayor Stoney and others at the RVA #Rally4Trains this evening:

President Trump’s FY 2018 budget eliminates 48% of Virginia’s passenger rail service and we are rallying in support of improving our passenger rail network, not cutting it!

Join Virginians for High Speed Rail, Southern Environmental Law Center, and National Association of Railroad Passengers for RVA’s Rally for Trains at Main Street Station on June 28th at 5:15pm with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

(You can then join Mayor Stoney at his 5th District Community Community Meeting at the Randolph Community center at 1415 Grayland Avenue at 6:30 pm (and ask him what really comes first, schools, or stadiums?).

Put Schools First, Breaking Records and the Status Quo

While some Richmonders discuss how to deal wth the past, others are acting on its future.

The Richmond Crusade for Voters (a historic black civil rights group) gathered over 6,000 signatures on primary election day, which may be a new record for petitioning on one day! The signatures are for www.PutSchoolsFirst.org, a petition for a future voter referendum to make school modernization first priority in the City budget planning. It’s important to note that this is revenue-neutral and allows for proper adjustment with City Council’s input. For the petition language, please visit the website.

In addition, The Sierra Club Falls of the James, an (almost all white) environmental group, is supporting the www.putschoolsfirst.org petition/referendum campaign, adding that school modernization should include green building and solar energy (other Virginia localities like Charlottesville and Arlington are doing it, why not Richmond?).

Despite some of the projections in the local corporate media, this school modernization effort is not ‘against’ anyone, not Mayor Stoney, not his ‘Education Compact’. It is neutral other than stating that the status quo is unacceptable.
It’s worth noting the grassroots aspect of this and it comes after many previous grassroots movements, including from Oregon Hill’s Open High School.

Right now, the Richmond Crusade for Voters is reaching out to black churches across the City, and the Sierra Club is reaching out to like minded environmental organizations. Hopefully more progressive groups will reach across racial lines and join this very important school modernization effort. To paraphrase Dr. King again, If not now, when?