Monroe Park Conservancy Shortfall And Tree Removal

Neighbors are still very disheartened by the Monroe Park Conservancy. They keep contacting City Council members about their actions.

From Cherry Street neighbor and Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association president Todd Woodson:

Dear Councilman Agelasto,

As you know, I recently sent a list of concerns/questions to Councilperson Gray and MPC president Alice Massie regarding the renovation of Monroe Park which is scheduled to be completed in Spring of this year. Although the request for information has not been responded to, the MPC website has just been updated not only to include a new board chair for Dominion Energy, but also the revelation that the Conservancy is now short $1.5 million to complete the renovation “with all amenities”. You may have noticed that work in the park has slowed to a crawl.

The City of Richmond has already made up well over $800,000.00 in shortfalls for the park redo in addition to over $3 million in infrastructure and “soft” costs.

The Falls of the James chapter of the Sierra Club has already called for the termination of the lease to the MPC and I add my voice to that end. Monroe Park is Richmond’s oldest and most historic city park and although the MPC doesn’t get control through the lease until after the renovation, they have meddled constantly with changes to the master plan to include a most unfortunate destruction of much of the old growth tree canopy as well as other historically inappropriate park “features”.

Details of the shortfall may be found here:
https://www.monroepark.com/about/monroe-park-conservancy/

Other concerns include inconsistencies of the design changes with approved master plan and work documents.

The current situation is extremely troubling as is the persistent lack of transparency and community involvement with the project. Please take action on behalf of your constituents.

Thank you,

Charles T. Woodson.

He followed up with this:

In addition to the MPC previously having posted their completion of fund raising on their website, they, along with Dwight Jones, made this press release in 2016 on the completion of the fundraising for the park renovation.

https://www.monroepark.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/PressRelease-9-21-16.pdf

The “amenities” they refer to in the update on the shortfall are garbage like the gazebo and the “rill” that the citizens have spoken up against time and time again. I’ve heard you use the meaningful phrase “get back to basics” in reference to city government policy. I truly believe we need to get back to basics and restore the park as the community vetted master plan envisioned, not with architectural detritus and treeless corporate campgrounds. Ms Massie has not approached the public for financial support because she doesn’t care what the community says and prefers her corporate funds. Instead, she has fomented non transparency and divisiveness and she has indulged in back room shady corporate deals and unnecessary features/alterations of the master plan. I know you see this. Hopefully, now that there is another substantial shortfall the rest of council will see the wisdom of getting back to basics and honoring a historically sensitive renovation of the park. Please terminate the lease, especially now that there is a real parks director.

Thanks again.

And if that was not enough…on February 18, Todd added this:

Although the planning commission requested that the Monroe Park “Conservancy” consider alternatives to the destruction of a beautiful healthy and mature Magnolia as well as a nearby Maple, this is what is left of the Maggie. It was destroyed over the last two days…

The lack of coverage in the local media is troubling.

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.

Getting School Legislation Ready…

Below is the first draft of the legislation to be introduced by Senator Sturtevant and Delegate Bourne.

SENATE BILL NO. __________ HOUSE BILL NO. __________
A BILL to amend Chapter 116 of the Acts of Assembly of 1948, which provided a charter for the City of Richmond, by adding a section numbered 6.15:3, relating to equal educational opportunities; school infrastructure.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That Chapter 116 of the Acts of Assembly of 1948 is amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 6.15:3. School buildings and infrastructure modernization.
(a) Not later than January 1, 2019, the mayor shall formally present to the city council a fully
funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards or inform city council such a plan is not feasible. In fulfilling the duties herein, the mayor shall consult with
the school board and city council, consider cost savings available in state or federal law, and further
provide an opportunity for public participation.
(b) Such fully funded plan required in subsection (a) shall not be based on the passage of new or
increased taxes for that purpose.
(c) Nothing herein shall alter powers previously given to the school board.
(d) Once the mayor has complied with subsection (a), the city council shall have 90 days to take such action as it deems appropriate.

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)

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.

Reminder To Vote Tomorrow

This is yet another reminder for Oregon Hill residents to vote tomorrow.

Poll Location:

CLARK SPRINGS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
1101 DANCE STREET
RICHMOND, VA 23220-6112

(Ed. note: just a short walk to the other side of Hollywood Cemetery from Oregon Hill)

Polling Hours:
6:00 AM – 7:00 PM

The City of Richmond has new optical scan voting equipment. To use this equipment, you will vote on a paper ballot and insert the completed paper ballot in the scanning machine. (Note: Please be sure to flip over the page and vote on ‘Proposition A’ in addition to candidates).

For more information, contact the City of Richmond Registrar. The League of Women Voters also has a voter education site called Vote411.org

A Letter of Support For Magruder For Delegate

From email:

Dear voters,

Just under a week till Election Day! In this moment of historic crisis and unprecedented resistance, I urge you to join me in supporting a powerhouse candidate in Virginia: Montigue Magruder for Virginia House of Delegates. Montigue’s campaign can make a major breakthrough for revolutionary Green politics.

As U.S. empire teeters at the brink and the neoliberal order unravels, people are rising up to demand an America and a world that works for all of us – defying disaster capitalism in climate-change ravaged Puerto Rico and beyond, giving sanctuary to our undocumented neighbors, standing against police brutality and white supremacy, demanding a war-time mobilization for renewable energy and regenerative agriculture, calling for health care, education and jobs as human rights, opposing catastrophic wars from Yemen to Korea, and so much more.

As Republicans continue their unabashed assault, the Democratic establishment is fighting its own progressives as much as it’s fighting Trump – blocking single payer healthcare in California, supporting a Congressional military budget even larger than Trump’s, refusing to ban corporate money from the DNC and just last week purging Sanders supporters from party leadership.

A new poll shows a record 61% of Americans want a new major party to represent them. Inspirational Green candidates have stepped forward to meet the urgent need. Among them, Montigue Magruderis a strong contender for whom your support could make the critical difference.

Montigue Magruder is running for Virginia House of Delegates District 69. A working-class Virginia native who has lived in Richmond since he was 10, Montigue has experienced poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and domestic violence through his life. He was inspired to political activism in 2010 when he joined a movement opposing fare increases on Richmond’s public transit system. His struggles and his work with people-powered organizations cultivated his philosophy of providing everyone a life of dignity and love from birth until death.

In an area long dominated by the Democratic Party, Montigue is gaining ground with his commitment to clean-money grassroots politics and his bold progressive agenda including living wages, ending felon disenfranchisement, stopping pipeline construction, making Virginia a sanctuary state for immigrants and much more. He has ignited a broad coalition of progressives, earning endorsements from Clean Money Squad, Democratic Socialists of America Richmond, Virginia River Healers and Activate Virginia. He is exactly the kind of person we need in state government to stand up for radical progressive change whose time has come.

As the neoliberal establishment continues to serve the 1%, who keep getting richer while half of Americans struggle in or near poverty – it’s more critical than ever to help revolutionary Green candidates power up to victory.

Please join me in supporting Montigue Magruder’s extraordinary campaign as he fights for the greater good like our lives depend on it – because they do! Together, we can create an America and a world that works for all of us.

With your help, it’s in our hands!
Jill Stein

PS. To learn about other awesome people-powered candidates, take a look at Virginia’s 2017 Green campaigns and support a candidate near you!