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?

Chesterfield County’s Water

Why is the Oregon Hill community news site posting about Chesterfield County’s water?

You probably still need to read this week’s Richmond Free Press. As with last week’s article on Monroe Park, reporter Jeremy Lazarus is supplying some valuable insight to how this area (dys)functions. For some mysterious reason, the following front-page article does not appear on the newspaper’s website, but here are photos of the printed version:

Please take the the time to read the second page, which includes hard-hitting quotes from former Sierra Club leader Dr. Charles Price on this attempted usurping of a public park as well as from Laurel Street neighbor Charles Pool on the City’s regressive water utility fees.

Although the Richmond Free Press article does not mention it, some neighbors are also speculating about how Chesterfield County might resell their ‘bargain’ on City water to Niagra Bottling LLC. Is City of Richmond not only forced to provide Chesterfield Co. water at a fifth the cost that Richmond customers must pay, but also subsidizing cheap water for the Niagara Bottling LLC? Are we really going to be damaging a Richmond city park to build a water facility so that Niagara Bottling Company can have cheap water?!

While Oregon Hill is not in Chesterfield County, our neighbors continue to keep an eye on local water issues and hope more media like the Richmond Free Press does the same.

Editorial: Free Press Article On Monroe Park Both Vindicates and Condemns City Council

There was a great piece of reporting this week from the Richmond Free Press on Monroe Park financial wrangling. From reporter Jeremy Lazarus:

After telling City Council in December that the projected $6 million Monroe Park project — half to be paid by private donations — had adequate funding, the city’s chief administrative officer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, quietly shifted $833,569 to the project in recent months from reportedly unused capital funds.

The shift was made without notice to City Council and was disclosed as the result of queries from Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, and the council’s budget staff.

Mr. Agelasto also was surprised to learn that nearly half of the money shifted, $394,000, was listed as coming from two paving projects in his district that already had been completed and paid for — one involving Allen Avenue and the other involving paving at Meadow Street, Colorado Avenue and Harrison Street.

As the article mentions, this vindicates City Council’s amendment to Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s proposed budget that requires the administration to seek council approval before shifting funds between programs in major departments. Despite some previous editorials’ characterizations, City Council is not ‘overreaching’ by trying to get a handle on the City’s finances. (Special appreciation to 5th District Councilperson Agelasto for his dogged questioning.)

On the other hand, these revelations reflect City Council’s poor judgement in turning historic Monroe Park over to the Monroe Park Conservancy in the first place. Many citizens and the Sierra Club Falls of the James have previously called for a termination of the Conservancy’s lease and a return to public investment and public oversight of renovations of this public park. Many are questioning why corporations seem to have special tent rights for park use. While it’s too late to save many park trees, it’s not too late for City Council to do the right thing.

‘Comey’ Over Here And Bet Me

Another editorial venture over to national politics….hey, the Times Dispatch does it

So far I have no takers on my bet that this ‘Russiangate’ stuff will not result in impeachment of Trump. Anyone? As much as I would like to see Trump impeached, I think the ridiculous Red-baiting is a very sad attempt by Democrats to excuse their horrible Presidential campaign. I keep hoping that Trump’s other, outstanding conflicts of interest will be used to impeach him, but I don’t see corporate Democrats doing that because that tact might then be used against them in the future. All along I have been hoping that people would refocus on reforming the entire system- IRV/RCV for example, banning corporate campaign funding, or at least getting us out of these stupid foreign wars, but no, the corporate media wants us to spend time plumbing Comey’s inner soul or something.

Surely there’s someone out there-
As we have proven already today, talk is cheap. I am wagering that “Russiangate” investigation will NOT result in Trump’s impeachment. Do you want to bet? Honestly, as with the Burger Belly Bernie Crawl Challenge, I would love to be proven wrong, as I would love to see Trump impeached and I would have loved to have seen Bernie Sanders get the Democratic nomination this past election.

More Monroe Park Trees Threatened

The City’s Planning Commission yesterday ignored the recommendation of the Urban Design Committee and the staff of the planning department to consider alternatives to cutting down the magnolia and maple trees in Monroe Park for temporary tents.

On Sunday, at the Monument Avenue Easter Parade, the Sierra Club Falls of the James collected many petition signatures in favor of saving the the trees.

It will be really awful if the City continues to ignore PUBLIC concern for trees on PUBLIC property.

The photo below of the maple tree was previously published in the Times Dispatch:

Mayor Stoney and The Cloak Of Invisibility

Charismatic Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney won this past election partly with strong calls for transparency and involvement, but, only a few months into his reign, there have been rumors that he has been briefly trying on one of his predecessors’ favorite talismans, Richmond City Hall’s Cloak of Invisibility.

Supposedly a leftover from the Lord of the The Rings or the Harry Potter sagas, the Cloak has well-worn history in Richmond politics.

Certainly the Mayor cannot be accused of being absent. He often posts a public schedule and continues to make public appearances. He was at the Church Hill Irish festival last weekend, complete with green shirt. He was interviewed on WRIR not too long ago and he likes to visit schools and inspire children.

Yet City Hall watchdogs point to recent financially oriented incidents like when the proposed budget disappeared for a time, or when a dispute with auditors suddenly ended shortly after it surfaced. Activists wonder about his responses to Monroe Park and Shockoe Bottom concerns.

Of course with Altria, VCU, and Dominion involved, there may be politicks. Citizens should polish their crystal balls and hope Stoney can resist the Cloak’s allure. Remember the powerful and cleansing properties of pure, clear water.

Solving The Middle East This Saturday

Well, that may be overselling it, but the Richmond Forum is hosting a program entitled “PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST: PROSPECTS AND ROADBLOCKS” this Saturday at the Altria Theater. It’s probably already sold out.

Ehud Barak has served as the Prime Minister of Israel and, more recently, as Defense Minister. Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and was a leading figure in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. For the first time anywhere, these two respected voices will sit down together for a discussion of their differing views on Middle East peace prospects in a conversation moderated by longtime journalist, author, and foreign policy analyst Robin Wright.

Continue reading

The Status of The Fountain Fence

As the Monroe Park Conservancy continues to tighten its corporate control of Monroe Park, Oregon Hill residents are becoming increasingly discouraged and alarmed by how it is gradually stripping away its authentic, historic features. In addition to questionably removing healthy, old-growth trees, the fountain fence is no longer there. Supposedly, the 1920’s fencing is being stored offsite during park renovations and will be returned.

Laurel Street neighbor Charles Pool has used the Freedom of Information Act to gather more information. According to the Monroe Park drawings that he received, the fencing is being replaced and only the posts restored. This seems to conflict with specs provided where the decorative metal railings were to be repaired. It is doubtful that the City’s Urban Design Committee gave permission to replace this historic fencing. At 125 feet long, the fencing is substantial and curved to match the perimeter of the fountain.

Undoubtedly, low-grade hollow-core, easily damaged, pickets probably will replace the existing solid substantial fencing that could last hundreds of years if properly repaired and kept painted. The fencing is an important part of the historic fabric of Monroe Park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Monroe Park fountain fencing pickets were dumped in outside storage at DPW storage at 810 Forest Lawn Drive. Photos from Charles Pool show that the pickets are all in excellent condition with practically no evidence of rust. (Many neighbors remember what happened to the stone balustrade that was removed at the Oregon Hill overlook- we were told that it was in “storage” but the stone later found a decade later in a heap behind the Carillon.)



It is important for the public to know that the authentic fencing is slated to be replaced without approval from the UDC.
It is the opinion of this community news site that the authentic, solid Monroe Park fencing should be fully restored, not replaced.

Dominion’s Coal-Ash Ponds Leaking Into River; Go Solar!

There are reports that the coal ash ponds are causing more pollution in the James River. From Times Dispatch article:

“We can see things bubbling up, essentially, and our position is this is leaking from the coal ash. We’ve tested the water and sediment here. We found arsenic at incredibly high levels, 282 parts per million right here, which is higher than many Superfund sites that have really bad pollution problems,” he said.

Several rounds of tests in the past year seem to show leaking from Dominion ash ponds, including prior work by the James River Association and separate sampling by a Duke University-led team. The Duke team found unpermitted leaking from coal ash facilities in five states, including at Dominion’s Chesterfield and Bremo Bluff power stations.

Chesterfield officials don’t seem to care and continue to allow Dominion to burn coal.

With Dominion’s poison in mind, it’s more important than ever that area residents push for more renewable energy.

Tomorrow night, VaSun.org is hosting a Greater Richmond Solar Co-op Information Session at the Glen Allen Library.

From their webpage:

Community members across Richmond have formed a solar co-op! From Ruther Glen in the north to Petersburg in the south, Powhatan in the west to New Kent in the east, the Greater Richmond Solar Co-op welcomes homeowners from across the region. Greater Richmond Solar Co-op members can save up to 20% off the cost of going solar and have the support of fellow co-op members and VA SUN throughout the process.

Oversubscribed

The unseasonably warm weather this past weekend made it seem more like May than February. Visitors flocked to river (and hopefully gained some appreciation for the need to protect it). While it was wonderful to see people getting outdoors and enjoying the riverfront, the crowds also illustrated overcrowding at the Belle Island parking lot. Streets in Oregon Hill were also overflowing with visitors’ vehicles.

This is a worsening problem that needs attention. Some have suggested building more parking lots, but more parking lots will not come close to addressing the existing pent-up demand for easier access to the riverfront. Besides, Dominion Energy and other entities already have parking lots that could possibly be made accessible to the public during weekend hours. The Virginia War Memorial is supposed to be building a large underground parking deck. Even including these, they are not enough for all the park visitors and they come with their sets of problems, such as more stormwater runoff and eradication of more natural habitat and features.

The Sierra Club Falls of the James group and the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association have repeatedly suggested that mass transit be connected more to the river park system. In the City’s Riverfront Plan, plans for a newly renovated Shiplock Park and’Sugar Pad’ landing in the East End will benefit from a planned, nearby Bus Rapid Transit stop, but still nothing for Tredegar Street and Belle Island. Perhaps a seasonal van shuttle can be created as a public amenity. As GRTC meets and plans for its new route structure, there needs to be more consideration of this issue.