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.
Style magazine has a nice interview with Beth Marschak, one of the founders of the Richmond Earth Day celebration (and a former Oregon Hill resident).
Here’s an excerpt:
Beth Marschak, now an HIV prevention specialist, was 20 when she helped organize the city’s inaugural Earth Day at Monroe Park in 1971.
In a nod to Saturday’s yearly acknowledgement of the planet, Style spoke with Marschak about some of the progress made — and to worry about the future.
Style: Why did you want to bring Earth Day to Richmond?
Marschak: I was in a student group at Westhampton-University of Richmond called S.H.A.M.E – Studying and Halting the Assault on Man and Environment. That was back when people liked names like that.
Most of the people in our group were science majors. I was a chemistry major at that time. People had a fairly sophisticated view of the problems affecting the environment and ecology from a scientific standpoint.
And, of course, if you looked at the James River back then, it was terrible. Sewage was going directly into the river. You would not want to get into it. Now people tube down it and swim in it and fish. You could not do that then. You wouldn’t put a toe in it.
So it was really one of those things where, right here in this area, you could see some major impacts from not having policies protecting clean water, clean air.
She also recently wrote a letter to the Planning Commission, asking that they spare remaining mature trees in Monroe Park. However the Planning Commission voted in favor of removing the trees.
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.
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:
A few hours ago, a large bee hive in a tree on the 400 block of S. Laurel Street was reported on SeeClick Fix, the City government’s issues site. Hopefully it can be relocated if needed and not destroyed.
Today the neighborhood was full of contracted work crews who were busy trimming tree branches, presumably to keep them away from power lines.
This past week, the Sierra Club Falls of the James, the area’s oldest environmental organization, sent an open letter to City government concerning the deliberate cutting of trees in Monroe Park and the appearance of impropriety. In the letter, the Sierra Club suggested, among other actions, that the City’s lease with the Monroe Park Conservancy be terminated. The Shockoe Examiner posted the entire letter, minus some of the maps and photos. It is noteworthy that so far there has not been more media coverage of this detailed call for accountability and transparency from the new Mayoral administration.
Furthermore, today the Sierra Club Falls of the James announced that Oregon Hill neighbor Todd Woodson would be one of the recipients of the prestigious Green Giant awards. The award is being given in recognition of Woodson’s previous and current advocacy for Monroe Park and urban trees (including his previous service on City Council’s Monroe Parks Advisory Commission), as well as his promotion of animal welfare with the Richmond Animal Advocacy Alliance.
In the announcement, the SCOFOJ stated that City Parks worker Wyndham Price would also be receiving a Green Giant award posthumously. Price was an ardent environmentalist who helped with a variety of projects within and outside the park system. He was a familiar face around Oregon Hill and he will be missed.
The next SCFOJ monthly membership meeting, to be held Tuesday, February 14th (yes, Valentine’s Day) at 7 pm at the Science Museum of Virginia, will include a brief award ceremony for our Green Giants. The meeting is free and open to the public.
The Sierra Club Falls of the James has joined some Oregon Hill and Fan neighbors in calling for a community review and ‘recount’ of the trees that have been removed recently from Monroe Park.
As one neighbor, Turk Sties, put it,
The conservancy should be following the approved master plan. The master plan was clear on what trees would not be removed. I don't know if the removed trees were to stay per the master plan. But the plan should be followed.
Funding was obtained to effect the master plan. How can it be spent for anything else, especially for removing trees the master plan deemed integral to the rejuvenated park?
The tree work should be investigated by the city auditor to determine whether or not the conservancy has removed any trees that were to remain. If the conservancy has caused the removal of "spared" trees, the conservancy board members should be removed for cause and replaced with other people who can follow instructions. If that is not possible, it is time to require the addition of three "at-large" board members who can represent the citizens' interest.
On the national front, the courageous Jill Stein continues to push forward for recounts of Presidential ballots in key swing states, despite setbacks. Using fundraised money, the state recount efforts have not found evidence of foreign actors, but have found many systematic problems. Perhaps the most troubling of these is a preponderance of undercounting in predominantly black Michigan districts.
At the same time, Clinton emerged to condemn ‘fake news sites’, while some established newspapers have published unverified, anonymous CIA leaks that claim Russian intervention in the election. Regardless of veracity, foreign agents installing a right-wing leader? You can almost hear other countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Iran singing in their best Bob Dylan (and for the record, I am not a big fan) voice, “How does it feeeeeel?” As Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept put it, it’s also “a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.”
How will this all be sorted out going forward? Not sure, but in my book, trees and votes do matter and deserve more attention.
Photo courtesy of Pine Street neighbor Michael Gahan