Friday, May 30, 2008

Bad News For VBTA City Council Candidates: Tourism Return On Investment (ROI) Up

Just as we head towards our first-ever November City Council elections, the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) got a kick in the crotch: the Return On Investment (ROI) for Tourism was up 4 cents on the dollar in 2007.

Arriving at the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) offices yesterday morning for the TPPC meeting, Dr. Agarwal was sitting in the reception area. Now I know why. Copies of the annual Report should be made available at next Thursday's (June 5) Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) meeting. I'll be sure to get a copy and see if I can mine it for a follow-up post.

Last year the RAC was told the numbers were so good that the only way they could go was down in 2007. Total visitors did slip slightly, but increased spending by those who came brought up the ROI.

Now when VBTA Council candidates attack the Resort Area (a given), all their opponent has to do is point to the ROI.

UPDATE: the Report is available at Just go to the CVB's page and it's on the right hand side.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

TPPC May 29, 2008

The Transportation, Parking, and Pedestrian Committee (TPPC) of Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Committee (RAC) held it's monthly meeting on Thursday morning.

An update was given on the new hybrid buses being used on VBWave Routes 30, 31, and 32. They are getting rave reviews, proving a smoother and quieter ride than anything else in Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) fleet.

There was discussion of the proposed extension of hours for the horse riding on the beach franchise, which was deferred by City Council on Tuesday. A compromise may be in the works, either eliminating hours between June 15 and September 15 or moving Summer operations to another location.

Finally, the TPPC began considering the future of Transportation in the Resort Area. The TPPC expects to be sent a lengthy "to do" list once the Resort Area Strategic Action Plan is agreed to.

Running With The PAC?

On Wednesday evening Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) User Citizen Advisory Committee (UCAC) met at HRT's Monticello Avenue office in Norfolk. Or is that HRT's Passenger Advisory Committee (PAC)? One of the orders of business was a review of the committee guidelines, with a change in the committee name suggested. Critics thought it sounded like a political action committee or a gang. Any such changes require approval by the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR).

Three new members were seated (one each from Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News), with a prospective new member from Portsmouth attending. Lee Westergard of Newport News accepted the Vice Chairmanship.

A long batch of City Reports were given. That section of the meeting went on long enough that Vice Chairman Westergard has suggested submitting City Reports in writing prior, with them going into the meeting packet.

There will be some aggressive recruiting of new members. First, advertising cards will be placed inside of buses. Second, Chairman Henry Ryto stressed recruitment in his remarks to the UCAC. For the committee to function as designed, it needs as many sets of eyes and ears out there as possible.

It was the first meeting for Ryto as Chairman. HRT's Customer Service Department presented him with an umbrella. "An umbrella?!?" you ask? The night before the new Cedar Grove Transfer Center was to open, he had e-mailed with the weather report. There was a 70% chance of rain the next two days, so he suggested where HRT could buy some inexpensive umbrellas for the Staff who would be at Cedar Grove handling problems. With his seating as Chairman, they bought him a very nice umbrella.

First Spotting Of Russian Students On The Bus

It's one of those rites of Summer for those of us who use Hampton Roads Transit (HRT): the coming of the Russian students. Not only do they have a new culture to struggle with, but our lackluster mass transit in this region.

For me it happened Wednesday afternoon on Route 29, as we picked up three of them at North Lynnhaven heading towards Hilltop. I had seen some in the Oceanfront Library the previous week, but these were the first on the bus.

The bus ride is never boring with them on board.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

John Moss Officially Announces For Mayor

Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) Chairman John Moss kicked off his Mayoral Campaign on Saturday. His announcement was covered by (surprise, surprise) Virginia News Source

What struck me was the next to last line in Moss' remarks, "When the wave settles let no incumbent, except Reba McClanan, remain in office." In short, the VBTA declared war on everyone, even Bob Dyer. Are they that friggin' daft?!? The more I listen to the VBTA, the more I come to believe the primary objective of the VBTA leadership is keeping the gig going, rather than real change to city policy. If it was the latter, that statement is radically counterproductive. Such rhetoric only serves to keep the anger of the cultists boiling, while making it impossible to work constructively with City Council.

Okay, the comments section is below. Have at it! Just please refrain from use of profanity.

A More Effective And Cost-Effective Solution

On May 18 The Virginian-Pravda editorialized on mass transit in Virginia Beach, and I blogged ("V-P And Transit In Virginia Beach") in response. They wanted to start improving transit in Virginia Beach by adding additional rush hour buses on Route 20, a clunky solution and hardly our greatest need.

Monday evening at work I had a brainstorm, a more effective and cost-effective way of relieving Route 20 in the interim until light rail. My idea: a hourly express bus at rush hour between 19th Street & Pacific Avenue (Oceanfront's Transfer Center) and the Military Circle Transfer Center. Military Circle is a transfer point for Routes 15, 20, 23, 25, and 27. One half-hour it makes the run one direction; the other half-hour the return trip. It's advantages over more 20s at rush hour:

1. It would avoid the stop-and-go traffic on Virginia Beach Boulevard, in which the 20 gets hung up.

2. You could do with one bus what would take two under the additional buses on the 20 scenario, cutting the operating cost in half.

3. Since it would serve Norfolk, Norfolk would have to pay a portion. That's only fair with all those Norfolk-bound riders. (Virginia Beach would pick up the full tab for more buses between Pembroke East and 19th & Pacific.)

I'm 110% in favor of more and improved mass transit in Hampton Roads, but we may need some creative solutions to do it in a cost-effective manner.

Tweak Governor Kaine's Transportation Plan

In out latest poll, 50% said to tweak Governor Kaine's Transportation Plan. 27% oppose it, while 22% support it. Therefore, 72% want it in one form or another.

The newest poll: your preference in Virginia Beach City Council's Rose Hall District race. It's incumbent Reba McClanan versus challenger Glenn Davis. Davis' campaign kickoff is Wednesday evening, so it's timely.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Virginia Beach Federal Rental Subsidies For The Poor

If you were paying attention, there was an ad in yesterday's Beacon (Page 32, Bayside edition) to amend Virginia Beach's Agency Plan for housing subsidies for the poor. Getting a subsidy myself due to disability, I had to go to the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation (DHNP) this morning to find out what was going on.

The visit started badly: I had trouble finding DHNP's temporary office (Building 8 instead of Building 18A), then the first couple Staffers I dealt with had no knowledge of the ad. Finally I was greeted by Housing Program Coordinator Minta Walker, who took me into a conference room, talked to me, and gave me a copy of the existing plan (the new one wasn't available) to look over. If I understood correctly, it would create a second, parallel housing subsidy program. We currently have the well-known Housing Choice Voucher Program. The pending Federal grant would create a Rental Subsidy Program as a 1A. Given Federal cuts in the existing program, some current Voucher holders will be bumped to the new program at least temporarily. The same Federal standards apply to both programs.

Some statistics for Virginia Beach: we currently have 2,050 households with Vouchers. The Waiting List is almost as long: 1,920 households. On the Waiting List, 72.14% are extremely low income, with 84.74% families with children. Surprisingly, only 1.04% on the Waiting List are disabled.

With that huge of a backlog of people with obvious needs, something has to be done. If the changes are as Ms. Walker described them to me, the Virginia Beach City Council should give the requisite approval.

I Told You So

Yesterday I had lunch with a Democrat who has access to their party's demographic estimates. They put Virginia Beach at about 39% minority overall, 24% African-American.

During the 2001 Virginia Beach City Redistricting Charade, many of us pointed to the Census figures and tried to tell the City Council that it was a whole new ballgame in Virginia Beach. The 2000 Census saw Virginia Beach jump from 21.20% minority to 30.54% minority, with about 20% African-American. Demographers were estimating that Virginia Beach would be 35-40% minority by the 2010 Census.

I got a great laugh out of the DPVA estimates. City Council, I told you so!

Premium Gasoline Over $4 A Gallon

At every gas station I passed today. Yet the usual suspects continue to attack mass transit.

Face it: gasoline prices of over $3.50 per gallon are here to stay, given demand in China and India plus the U.S. refining bottleneck. Our Transportation model is fundamentally broken, but few have the courage to say it out loud. We're going to have to go to more mass transit and rail.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hampton Roads Transit's Biggest Weakness

Having worked in cooperation with Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) for 2 1/2 years now, I think I've deduced their biggest weakness. Late buses? Old buses? Overestimating light rail? A backwards fare structure?

No, it's that employees are wedded to the proper bureaucratic procedure. They're in perpetual CYA Mode, afraid to take any initiative outside the book. The rigidity discourages employees from thinking.

Case in point: earlier this week I was on a bus where the driver stopped for 90 seconds for a time point. The hitch is that he knew he had two passengers trying to make a transfer that his stop might cause them to miss. Which is more important: getting the passengers to their next bus or sitting at a time point for 90 seconds? Being HRT he knew the safe play was to sit there. Even as I wrote it down in my bus notebook, I knew the driver wouldn't be disciplined for his stupidity.

The company I work for has a policy for virtually everything imaginable. The procedures manual for our most involved station (which I normally work) fills an entire large notebook. Yet we have a full-color poster by our timeclock with a few core principles that can trump them. Some specific examples are given. With us, don't let a manager catch you not having used common sense. Brain before the book.

You can bet there isn't such a poster at HRT. Since I know this blog is read at HRT, I hope I just shook up the corporate culture. Then, someone is likely to hard copy this, staple it to the requisite memo, and send it to the appropriate supervisor.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Virginia Beach Hybrid Bus Rollout Ceremony

This afternoon the hybrids were officially introduced at a 2 P.M. ceremony, then put into revenue service an hour later. The Virginian-Pravda's story is here

Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) press release is at

Among those in attendance were HR Transit Ideas' Michael Ragsdale and I. We spent some time beforehand with HRT CEO Michael Townes, who charged us with a mission for regional mass transit. (You'll find out about it in due course.) We chatted with some HRT Staff, and I introduced Ragsdale to a few attendees I thought he needed to know.

Virginia Beach City Council and HRT Commissioner John Uhrin, Townes, and Mayor Meyera Oberndorf gave speeches. There was a ribbon cutting on the lead bus, then a ceremonial first ride.

On the first ride were Townes, Oberndorf & her husband, Uhrin. Ragsdale & I, CCO President Sam Reid, CCO 1st Vice President Dan Baxter, some HRT Staff, and even a few tourists from a neighboring hotel. Ragsdale educated the Mayor with his vast knowledge of HRT.

Humorous moment: walking from the speeches to the bus, Virginia Beach Museums Director Lynn Clements came over to lobby me. (Scusa, but I'm busy.) She then asked if Ragsdale was my son. (I'm old enough to be his dad, but may this devout Catholic never father an Episcopalian.)

Interesting moment: in her remarks Mayor Oberndorf turned to CEO Townes and told him if he could get us the Norfolk Southern Right-of-Way at a reasonable price, we could start to talk light rail.

(I refer to Michael Ragsdale as "Ragsdale" in this story as, a few times talking about HRT, when I've used the name "Michael" people have assumed I was talking about CEO Townes.)

Andrew Jackson's Website Is Up

Andrew Jackson is running for City Council in Kempsville District, challenging Harry Diezel. Andrew's website is now up:

Jenkins, VBHMA Win

The Virginian-Pravda brings us the story of how the Virginia Beach Development Authority (VBDA) has chosen a developer to build at the Dome site For those of you without an ear on the Resort Area gravevine, here's the inside story.

First, innkeepers have been pushing for entertainment venues. Not only to lure Summer visitors, but - more importantly - to draw bus tours during the off-season. Therefore, the VBDA decision is being toasted on Atlantic Avenue.

Second, Dome site redevelopment has been the top issue for the Resort Area for over 2 1/2 years now. Therefore, it's a question of "how", not "if", it gets done.

The amusing part is that the time frame makes it unlikely that the matter will come to City Council until after the November Council election. Can you imagine a lame duck Council approving Dome site redevelopment and a light rail DEIS in December? Merry Christmas, VBTA!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Save Waterside!

I like the place: it's a nice location for a lunch more informally than most of the Granby Street restaurants. However, Norfolk is considering razing it; most of the restaurant leases are up in 2010.

I put my money where my mouth and heart is: I went to Waterside for lunch today. Yes, it needs sprucing up (particularly those terrible tables!), but it's salvageable. From the size of the crowd, many others want to save Waterside, too.

Swing Vote

Today I saw What Happens In Vegas on my day off (not bad). However, what struck me was a trailer I saw, Swing Vote.

Kevin Costner stars as an unemployed man who doesn't care about politics. His young daughter registered him to vote by mail, then pushes him to go to the polls. The machine malfunctions, but he's told he'll be allowed to later cast his vote.

What happens is that everything else ties for President, and it comes down to his lone vote to decide the Presidential election. Both campaigns pull out all the stops to get his vote.

The website is at We political junkies should love it!

Onnellista Syntymapaivaa Aiti

If you can't read Finnish, that's "Happy Birthday Mother." May 20th is my Mother's 63rd birthday. She's not only Finnish-born, but repatriated to Finland after living in the U.S. for 21 years. (Yes, she left 2 of her 3 sons behind.)

However, given the nature of the Internet, this blog can be as easily read in Suomi as it can by one of my neighbors. Just want it known that I haven't forgotten her even though she's seven time zones away. Have a great day, mom.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

V-P And Transit In Virginia Beach

The Virginian-Pravda's editorial board largely got it right this morning. Being The V-P they did get a few things wrong, which I'll cover.

For starters, the first step for improving mass transit service should be adding evening and Sunday service to the outlying year-round bus routes. Other than Route 20 (Virginia Beach Blvd.), the year-round bus routes in Virginia Beach only operate 13 hours per day (6 A.M.- 7 P.M.), six days per week (no Sunday service). It would only cost about $750,000, a small sum in a nearly $1.8 billion City Budget. It's a monument to the Virginia Beach City Council's misplaced priorities that it hasn't already been done.

That brings me back to Virginia Beach Boulevard and the Route 20:

1. Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) 2030 Plan does call for every 15 minute service all day on Route 20.

2. Personally, I believe Virginia Beach should wait and see what Route 960 (the new MAX route) does before seriously considering every 15 minute service.

3. Route 20 does already run every 15 minutes at rush hour, though only between Newtown Road and Pembroke East.

4. Light rail is the obvious solution to Route 20's woes, as the line would roughly parallel the 20.

A couple things about the 20 from experience as a rider:

1. It gets crowded after 3 P.M. through rush hour.

2. Taking it home from RAC meetings, the 20 can't make the Oceanfront to Pembroke East segment in the scheduled 37 minutes at rush hour. (That's part of why light rail, not more buses on the 20, is the long-term solution.) The 20 that leaves 19th & Pacific at 5:07 even has trouble making it to Pembroke East by 6 P.M.

As for City Council waffling on the bus shelter issue at their Retreat on Monday, I sent them a follow-up e-mail. HRT has a criteria for what stops get shelters, but there's a way of prioritizing those.

I've heard talk among civic league representatives with the CCO about connecting middle-class subdivisions into mass transit. However, we can improve bus service on existing routes while figuring out exactly how we'd do that. (Yes, I have some ideas.)

The lack of bus service in Virginia Beach has made for some interesting conspiracy theories. First, City Council doesn't provide it (and other services) to try to keep the poor from moving to Virginia Beach. Second, it's a ploy to keep minority youth out of Virginia Beach after dark. (Heard that one repeated by an African-American male on a bus coming home from Norfolk on April 25.)

As it's Sunday, HR Transit Idea's Michael Ragsdale can't get a bus out of his neighborhood. Check out his blog later for him weighing in on this issue.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Final Resort Area Master Plan Charete

The particulars on the final charete for the Resort Area Master Plan have been released.

The meeting will be on Monday, June 2 from 2-5 P.M. at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. It will begin with Sasaki (the consultants) unveiling their final draft plan. Citizens will then break up into groups to discuss implementation strategies.

The previous charetes were two-day affairs, and I wish this one was, too. I'd like to see and tweak the plan on Day 1, then unveil and discuss implementation on Day 2.

The Virginian-Pravda and Hampton Roads Transit

It's one of those amusing relationships. The Virginian-Pravda's editorial board semi-regularly chimes in about the need for regional mass transit, but the news pages behave as if light rail was the only component to mass transit. In recent months:

1. They didn't cover the March fare Public Hearing.

2. They didn't cover the April MAX Public Hearing

3. Two stories in Friday's paper on HRT, but neither mentioned Thursday's change in UCAC leadership.

No, The Virginian-Pravda only sends Debbie Messina to a meeting if there's a light rail story in the making.

Even if we build a regional light rail network, buses will still carry the majority of transit passengers in Hampton Roads. They might not be as sexy as trains, but they're critical to mass transit.

Byler Canvassing Senate Nomination Contest

When I got home from work last night, my Caller ID With Name had Gary Byler's office on it and my message light was blinking. Byler is the recently elected (May 3) Republican 2nd District Chairman. The phone message asked two questions:

1. Are you attending the Republican convention in Richmond?

2. What is your preference in the U.S. Senate nomination fight: Jim Gilmore or Bob Marshall?

Since the Gilmore people have tried to portray the contest as a lock, why is the race being canvassed? Do they realize it's actually closer than many think?

Interesting in that the same message never mentioned the contest for Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Henry Ryto Named New UCAC Chairman

"The last shall be first". The last item of business at today's meeting of the TDCHR, the Commission that governs Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), was to name Henry Ryto new Chairman of HRT's User Citizen Advisory Committee (UCAC) and Lee Westergard Vice Chairman. Julian Scott, who had been UCAC Chairman for over six years, had been under fire for his behavior in office. HRT Staff had the change made. With Virginia Beach at a threshold on mass transit policy, it gains the UCAC Chairmanship.

The story that will probably lead in The Virginian-Pravda tomorrow is that a $42 million contract was granted for constructing light rail's track from Harbor Park to Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). It's not without controversy: the low bid was disqualified, and the contract awarded to the same company that's doing Harbor Park to Newtown Road. The low bidder has filed suit in Circuit Court in Norfolk.

With gas prices escalating, bus ridership was only up 3.3% in April. However, HRT's worktrip buses have seen ridership jump 20% in 2008.

For those critics who think HRT can't manage money, Operations for the fiscal year are $3.1 million under budget.

Statistic of the Day: Hampton Roads cities spend $8 per capita on mass transit, while those in Northern Virginia spend over $100 per capita. While no sane person here is asking for $100, the disparity is canyon-sized.

CCO And Virginia Beach's Strategic Growth Areas

Wednesday evening saw a Presentation on Virginia Beach's 12 Strategic Growth Areas (SGAs) to the Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), Virginia Beach's civic league federation.

First, some basic facts. Virginia Beach has less than 5,000 acres of greenfields left for development north of the Green Line. Roughly 60% of Virginia Beach's housing units (over 170k) are single-family detached, clearly a suburban development pattern. The Green Line has existed since 1986, dividing the suburban north from the rural south.

Going into the 2003 Comprehensive Plan process, residents asked for three things: growth management, transportation, and open space.

The SGAs were produced. They look to become pockets of urban redevelopment, absorbing most of Virginia Beach's future growth. The SGAs were intentionally kept out of existing residential neighborhoods, so as not to destabilize good ones. Average density in Virginia Beach is 3.5-4 units per scare, while the SGAs are zoned 7-11 units per acre. There are six basic principles: defined growth areas, mix of residential and non-residential, well-planned arrangement of uses, parking structures, alternative transportation systems, and urban open spaces. In the new Comprehensive Plan, the "arrangement of uses" will be better defined.

Serious public comment followed two lines:

1. While the Resort Area isn't a SGA, it's the "honorary 13th". Residents wondered why it wasn't the 13th. The primary point is that it contains existing neighborhoods that the City wishes to preserve.

2. I asked, that with Virginia Beach neither having a Redevelopment Authority nor having a realistic shot at getting one, how crucial is light rail to the SGAs along the Norfolk Southern Corridor? Tom Pauls replied (please note, VBTA) "very important."

I said "serious" comment as 2004 Mayoral candidate flop and political buffoon Al Wallace showed up, his first CCO meeting in 9 months. First, he tried to hog the question time for himself. Second, Al asked about the Oceana AICUZ lines being impacted by the F-22. Tom Pauls pointed out that the F-22 is an Air Force plane that isn't flown by the Navy. (Al is a former Naval officer?!?)

Within a week or two the City of Virginia Beach should have a website up to solicit public comment for the new Comprehensive Plan.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

J-1 International Student Workers

Tuesday morning there was a forum at the convention center on J-1 International Student Workers. The forum was cosponsored by the Virginia Beach Hotel/Motel Association, the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, and the Resort Retailers Association. In attendance were Resort business people, RAC Commissioners, and some concerned citizens. The overflowing crowd delayed the start, as a partition needed to be removed to enlarge the room with the big number present.

The vast majority of student workers in Virginia Beach come on the J-1 program. J-1 is a student exchange program that allows students to work in the U.S. during the Summer break for their colleges and vocational schools in their home countries. Students may work a maximum four months, then are allowed 30 days to tour the U.S. afterwards. Since it's an educational exchange, students can't work until after classes are out in their home country or after they've gone back into session. English proficiency is required to qualify for a J-1 visa.

In 2007 3,706 students worked in Virginia Beach on J-1 visas, coming from 35 countries. The five largest were Russia (1,448), Turkey (556), Ukraine (222), Bulgaria (202), and Thailand (128).

In order to come here on a J-1 visa, the student must have a Sponsor. The State Department has certified 56 organizations as sponsors. The Sponsor is required to have a 24 hour hotline the students can call for help. Sponsors have field representatives throughout the country who can travel here to deal with an emergency. In addition, any employer having problems with a student should talk with the Sponsor first, only contacting the State Department as a last resort.

Any employer wishing to hire a student should make a copy of their DS-2019 form. It's required to work here, and - most importantly - contains the student's Sponsor information. Check the information against the list on the State Department website to verify that it's legitimate. Call the Sponsor before hiring the student! As there is a contract between the Sponsor and student, you could potentially be breaching the contract.

Like any other worker, the student will need a Social Security card, which should be applied for 10-14 days after arrival in the country. The delay is because the student will need to report arrival to the Sponsor, who then sends electronic files to the Feds. After 10 days, Social Security would have access so they can electronically verify the student upon application and issue a letter for work on the same visit. The student needs three documents to apply for a Social Secuirty card: their DS-2019, their Passport, and their visa. (A birth certificate will help, but is not mandatory.) Given the temporary nature of student housing, the issued Social Security card will be sent to the Virginia Beach Social Security office, where the student will need to pick it up.

A minimum 50% of any Sponsor's J-1s are required to be preplaced in work before arrival in the U.S. However, the more different the culture the student is coming from, the more likely the Sponsor is to require a preplacement.

Former J-1s are sought after as workers in their home countries after graduation from college. Poland was a heavy J-1 participant in the 1990s, with companies in post-communist Poland wanting college graduates with American work experience.

An International Student Outreach Program (ISOP) is in the works for Virginia Beach. VBHMA Executive Director Nancy Perry summed it up with the pledge that the students stay in Virginia Beach should be "as smooth, as comfortable, as happy as possible."

Anyone wanting more J-1 information should go to the State Department's website at

Huckabee At Top Of McCain Vice President List

A blog at U.S. News & World Report has posted that Mike Huckabee is John McCain's top choice for Vice President.

Given that this blog endorsed Huckabee for President just before the Virginia primary, I couldn't be much happier. The top problem facing this country is America's moral decline, which threatens to destroy the very fabric of society. de Tocqueville said "America is great because America is good." Well, America isn't so good anymore. Who better than an ordained minister to take it on?

Needless to say, I hope Mike does get the nomination.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Kaine Transportation Town Hall Meeting In Virginia Beach

Governor Kaine is holding a series of Town Hall meetings throughout Virginia on Transportation, pushing his plan and listening to citizens. A Virginia Beach meeting has been scheduled.

The Town Hall meeting will be on Tuesday, June 3 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. It will run from 6:30-8 P.M. Mark your calendar!

This is your chance to tell the Governor what you think on the issue.

Governor Kaine Floats Transportation Plan

Governor Kaine unveiled a Transportation Plan for Virginia today. Documents on it were issued at the Virginia Beach City Council's Strategic Planning Meeting, from which I have copies. The following figures are from them.

Statewide Maintenance would be augmented by an 1% Motor Vehicle Sales and Use Tax and an a 10% increase in the annual Registration Fee. That would raise $445.3 million in FY 2009, $512.6 million in FY 2014.

Hampton Roads would be hit with an 1% Retail Sales and Use Tax to pay for the MPO's six projects plus adding capacity at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. That would generate $167.9 million in FY 2009, $227.1 million in FY 2014.

The Governor proposes a Transportation Change Fund, with 65% for Transit Capital and Operating costs, 10% for Rail Capital and Operating costs, 7.5% for Ports, 4% for Airports, and 13.5% for the Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund. It would be paid for by a Grantor's Tax hike, bringing in $142 million in FY 2009, $155 million in FY 2014.

Overall, Kaine's Plan (including the Northern Virginia package) would increase Transportation funding by $859 million in FY 2009, $1,081.5 billion in FY 2014.

May 12 Virginia Beach City Council Strategic Planning Meeting

Monday the Virginia Beach City Council held it's one day Spring Strategic Planning Meeting, which lasted about 6 1/2 hours.

The most time was spent on fiscal policy: this year's Budget process was reviewed, Council discussed City employee compensation, and health care costs.

Jim Spore uttered what would be heresy to fiscal conservatives: "You can spend too much time on the Budget", the City Manager said, "The Budget isn't the most important thing you do." Spore claimed the Comprehensive Plan was most important.

Speaking of the Comprehensive Plan, the first draft of the new plan is scheduled for March, 2009, with Council getting the final Plan in July, 2009.

Transportation was a big topic, as it has been in recent years. Local roads were talked about, and documents on the Transportation Plan released by Governor Kaine distributed. Mass transit was also covered, with Jim Wood declaring the Norfolk Southern Right-of-Way "the absolute highest priority" for Virginia Beach transit.

Ron Villanueva pushed two initiatives. One, he fought for bus shelters again. Two, he wants the bike path paralleling the Boardwalk widened eastward to the Boardwalk, wiping out the grass median in between.

Finally, Bob Dyer stated that implementing the Budget's Blue Ribbon Task Force recommendations would be a two year process. He wanted to draft the proposed Strategic Plan for Virginia Beach with "significant community involvement."

Brotherhood Of The Bus

This morning I rode the bus to the Virginia Beach City Council's Strategic Planning Meeting. When I went to get off, the driver started to overrun my stop. I called forward. When other passengers realized what was going on, they spoke up. The driver immediately stopped and let me off with an apology.

My point: there is no place I know of with a greater sense of community than on the bus. You watch out for the other riders and they'll watch out for you.

No Horses On The Beach During The Summer

That's what 80% of you voted for, not wanting to expand the horseback riding on the beach franchise into the Summer months.

The new poll: what do you think of Governor Kaine's proposed Transportation Plan?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The CCO Looks At Land Planning

The Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), Virginia Beach's civic league federation, will dedicate it's next two general meetings to land planning issues. The focus is based on this being the year that Virginia Beach will renew it's Comprehensive Plan.

The program this Wednesday (May 14) will cover the city's Strategic Growth Areas (SGAs). They are designed to become pockets of urban redevelopment, absorbing most of Virginia Beach's future growth.

On June 11 the Comprehensive Plan itself will be covered. As in May, Tom Pauls (the City's chief land planner) will be the speaker.

The CCO (normally) meets on the 2nd Wednesday of the month in the Central Library's Auditorium at 7 P.M. The public is invited.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Town Center Pedestrian Bridge

The saga continues, with The Virginian-Pravda editorial board sounding off this morning.

First of all, this should have been a straight-forward Budget item: simply pay for it out of the Town Center TIF. First the City proposed paying for it out of the General Fund. Now they come up with an equally nutty idea: a TIF on the north side of Virginia Beach Blvd. to pay for it. Who in the heck has ever drawn up a TIF simply to pay for a friggin' pedestrian bridge?!? I have three arguments I haven't heard anywhere yet, so I wish to post them.

First, am I the only person who sees something terribly wrong with the government dictating to a private company what their capital budget should be? If I was running a business, I wouldn't want to be told I had to make a "substantial" reinvestment in it.

Second, working for a business in Pembroke Mall, I know the place is in flux: the Mall Manager and Marketing Director left, long-time tenants are being forced out, other tenants are being put on very short term leases, small shops are being shuffled like cards, etc. Part of the City's due diligence should be to get a firm grasp on where Pembroke Mall is going. I have a front row seat and am perplexed by some of the moves Mall management is making.

Third, how does this all fit in with the Pembroke Area transportation plan, a work in progress? A couple of the options change the configuration of Virginia Beach Boulevard between Town Center and Pembroke Mall, so that would affect the need.

Finally, the City owes the public an explanation about why they refuse to pay for it out of the Town Center TIF. If it's like a couple other things surrounding Town Center, it's could be a mess.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Virginia Beach City Council Strategic Planning Meeting

The annual Spring City Council one day Strategic Planning Meeting will be held on Monday, May 12 from 8:30-5:30. It will be at the Department of Economic Development (DED), 10th Floor at Town Center. The normal protocol for such meetings is to review progress on the priorities from the previous year's meeting.

Council holds an annual two day Retreat, normally in August. (Last year it got pushed back to November.) They then have the one day progress session.

I'm going to try to be there and report out. Despite having e-mailed the City twice for details, I didn't find out until last night. The timing is bizarre, a day before the City Council Budget vote.

Transit Notes May 8, 2008

Took the bus into Norfolk this morning to buy a new 30 Day ED (Senior & Disabled) Pass at the Monticello Avenue office.

1. There was a VBWave trolley (681?) heading westward on Virginia Beach Blvd. at Ballentine about 9:35 A.M. What was it doing in Norfolk?

2. Major work being done on the pavement at Cedar Grove. Buses are chewing up the 2nd TC area, and a work crew was trying to put reinforced pavement on the original area.

3. Free plug: the best fast food breakfast is Burger King's Enormous Omelet Sandwich. I stopped at the BK at Virginia Beach Boulevard and Tidewater Drive, the meal and 10-39 site on Route 20 between Military Circle and Cedar Grove.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Virginia Beach Transportation Town Hall Meeting

This evening there was a Transportation Town Hall meeting in the City Council Chambers, cosponsored by Delegate Terrie Suit and the City of Virginia Beach. In addition to Suit, Delegates Purkey, Tata, Bouchard, Mathieson, Howell, Iaquinto, as well as Senator Harry Blevins were there to hear from citizens. Joel Rubin was Moderator.

The format was similar to a City Council meeting, with speakers going to the podium to address the electeds for a maximum three minutes. About 25 people spoke, with most everyone staying positive and constructive. The General Assembly members sat on the dais listening. The one complaint I heard afterwards was that there were too many special interest speakers as a proportion.

My obvious personal highlight of the night: Delegate Mathieson declared me a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on mass transit. Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) Transportation Chairman Reid Greenmun and I joked about that.

Speaking of Reid, he provided the humor for the evening. To the podium he brought forward a large sign "FIRST ABOLISH THE HRTA"...which he held up upside down. You'll have to watch the video!

Speaking of video, not only will the program be rebroadcast on VBTV, but it will be available as streaming video on the City's website. It ran about 100 minutes.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Gridlock 64

I've posted a couple times on Knuckleheads Roadhouse, the bar adjacent to my apartment complex. I got a great laugh from them today.

Coming home from work, they had posted the name of the band playing Friday night: Gridlock 64. Someone get stuck at Willoughby Spit for too long?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mildred Loving Passes Away

Mildred Loving passed away on Friday, according to a statement by her daughter

Mildred and Richard Loving were just a young couple in love, but managed to make history - not to mention society better. The interracial couple was criminally charged in Virginia for their union. They plead guilty, but later legally challenged the ruling. In one of the most ironically named legal cases ever, Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn't restrict marriage based on race, opening the door nationwide for interracial marriage.

Mildred, may St. Peter have opened the gate wide for you.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

2000 Series Parade

At both the 4:45 and 5:45 lineups this afternoon at Military Circle, all the buses were 2000 series Gillig low floors.

Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) using a Sunday to bring the Phantoms in for maintenance?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Insurgents Win At 2nd District Convention

The Republican 2nd Congressional District Convention was held today at Landstown Middle School, with the Gary Byler-led "Team GOP" romping.

The 3 1/2 hour meeting started with Byler's triumph over three year incumbent Bruce Meyer for 2nd District Chairman with 66% of the vote. Meyer had been endorsed for reelection by the vast majority of Republican elected officials in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

Team GOP took Presidential Elector (David Nygaard) and got both it's candidates (Chuck Smith and Roger Miles) elected to the Republican State Central Committee.

Delegates to the Republican National Convention (3 Delegates and 3 Alternates) were a mixed bag. The adopted rules of the convention provided that Delegates be elected by elimination, until 6 had a majority. In the name of brevity, a motion to suspend the rules and elect the top 6 on a single ballot was introduced and passed. While saving the convention subsequent ballots, it watered down Team GOP's advantage. In the end, Team GOP got 2 Delegates and 2 Alternates.

Friday, May 2, 2008

You Want A Tax Hike?

That's what a slim majority of you voted for: 51% wish to raise Virginia Beach's Property Tax Rate. 40% want to freeze at 89 cents, while only 9% back a rate cut. I'm as surprised as anyone at the result.

Our next poll: should horse rides be allowed on the beach during the Summer? The RAC endorsed the concept yesterday, but it still requires an Ordinance change by City Council.

Sessoms Has Raised Nearly $400,000

Today's Virginian-Pravda reports that Will Sessoms has raised nearly $400,000, more than all other Mayoral candidates combined.

Okay, but The Yes Campaign and Page Lea had a pile of money, too. It's what you do with it, and what you offer voters. On the one hand, given Sessoms' record on Council previously, he'd be a disaster as Mayor. On the other hand, his pro-light rail stance promises to build Virginia Beach the transit system it needs. Should he win, I stand ready to help him (and others) on that. Before someone accuses me of selling out, let me make it clear: Will Sessoms will not get the Avenging Archangel endorsement, based on his record on City Council previously. (Then, neither will Don Weeks or John Moss.)

Meyera has raised only a little money, but has mucho name recognition. In this field, she could possibly win on a "lesser of evils" vote.

I want to hear much more out of Scott Taylor. If he can articulate more for blue collar Virginia Beach beyond workforce housing (on his website), I might support him.

Why is Don Weeks closing his two PACs? That only makes sense if you're going to withdraw, but Weeks says he's in.

Finally, I got to read a couple of the illegally-posted John Moss bumper stickers coming home from work today:

1. The slogan is "Lower The Food Tax". Granted, Virginia Beach has one of the highest in the country. However, you can't run a race with that as your central issue. Brian Kirwin refers to "kitchen table issues"; how many families fret at the kitchen table about the tax on a Whopper?

2. It gave his website address Still under construction. However, he polls on roads three ways, but never mentions mass transit. Does he think we can asphalt our way out of our Transportation problems?

Finally, please don't tell me RK is running again.

Bottom line: it's Meyera's race to lose.

Transit Notes From Double Payday Morning

Friday was a double payday for me, with both a paycheck and disability check direct deposited. That meant an early morning grocery run to Walmart. Here are a few notes from the buses:

1. As of this morning, Route 6 was extended from Cedar Grove to Military Circle. The first 6 appeared at 7 A.M.

Actually, it was Bus 1252 doing the 15 Cutback with the "6 20th & Seaboard" destination sign jammed on. The driver got out and yelled "15 to Wards Corner!"

2. Both 23s I saw were running roughly on time. Has the 23 been adjusted, or was it just doing well that early in the morning?

3. Both 20s I was on had the Salter Street protocol posted on them. (There's a photo of it on HR Transit Ideas.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

RAC May 1, 2008

Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met this afternoon. The meeting lasted about 105 minutes.

The big agenda item was a request to expand the horse riding on the beach franchise to year-round operations. It passed 14-1, with CCO representative Henry Ryto the lone "No" vote.
It will now require an Ordinance change by City Council.

Commissioners were given a look at a Locals Campaign to sell residents on the value of Tourism. The campaign would be paid for out of the Tourism Growth Investment Fund (TGIF). The RAC unanimously approved the concept; it will now require City Council approval.

The next round for the Resort Area Master Plan Charetes is tentatively scheduled for June 2 & 3.

The rollout for the new hybrid buses that will begin replacing the trolleys will be on May 21. The ceremony will be at 2 P.M. at 31st Street.

Commissioners accepted an offer for a Presentation on the TGIF at the June RAC meeting.

Sign of Summer: on the bus (Route 20) coming home, leaving Hilltop we had the Route 32 (Shopper's Express) in front of us. With it being May 1, today was the first day of the seasonal VBWave trolley service.

Bob O'Connor Attacks The Poor And Disabled

Do the followers of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) have any shame? In an editorial on Virginia News Source this morning, Bob O'Connor finds a new scapegoat for City spending: the poor and the disabled.

In "Proposed Virginia Beach Expenditures for 2008/2009" (that's FY 2009, Bob), O'Connor writes, "The budget for the Human Services department is $110 million...for our Police Department $89 million."

In his next paragraph he goes on to compare the two, "It is interesting to note that the Human Services budget is greater than the budget for our Police Department. Also interesting is the number of people employed in those two departments. Human Services employs 1,078 people and the PD has 1,005."

First, the vast majority of money spent by Human Services are state and Federal funds. The local tax burden to pay for Human Services is much smaller than VBPD.

Second, the figure is unusually high in that Virginia Beach consolidated Social Services and the Community Services Board into the Department of Human Services. In most cities you'd have two separate operating department budgets.

Third, poor neighborhoods are often the first victims of crime. Does anyone outside the VBTA think the poor want fewer cops? Living in (and posting this from) a poor neighborhood, I can tell you my neighbors and I would like more.

Most sinister is the underlying message in O'Connor's comparison: the poor are a threat to our well-being. With a political message like that, no wonder O'Connor and his pals can't win a City Council seat!