Monday, September 29, 2008

Sanity Check, Norfolk

Cedar Grove was thrown up quickly and without much consideration to bus passengers. However, Norfolk looking to spend $700,000 to move the temporary transfer center onto Salter Street is certifiably insane!

Cedar Grove would suffice as a temporary transfer center for downtown Norfolk if only the lighting was improved and portajohns were installed. Needless to say, that could be done for a lot less than $700,000. If you watch the video, bus riders comment about security; however, there was no security at the previous transfer center on Charlotte Street. I feel safer at night at Cedar Grove than I did on Charlotte Street.

Take a small fraction of that $700,000 to improve Cedar Grove, then get to work on identifying a permanent multimodal terminal site (hint: Harbor Park) for downtown Norfolk.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

82% Support The Little Dig

82% want to sink Independence Boulevard from just north of Bonney Road to just north of Pembroke Mall.

The new poll question: should Bon Secours be allowed to operate a hospital on South Plaza Trail? Currently they have an ambulatory surgery facility there which they'd like to expand to a full hospital.

This Was Coming

Someone has launched an online petition opposing bailing out Wall Street.

Personally, my big concern is when are the big banks going to be held accountable? They give bad loans to Third World countries and the IMF bails them out; now they give subprime mortgages to would-be homeowners and Secretary Paulson wants to bail them out.

Show me a plan that should actually work, and I might be willing to support it. Until then, I remain a skeptic.

Friday, September 26, 2008

TDCHR September 25, 2008

On Thursday the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) held it's monthly meeting. The TDCHR is the governing body of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).


The TDCHR unanimously voted to condemn a 333 square foot land area for a drainage easement on the Norfolk light rail Starter Line project. The land is part of a rented house. The land is appraised at $4,600, but the owner is demanding (get this!) $51,000. Why $51,000? The house is assessed at $136,000, while the owner's best offer to sell has been $85,000. Therefore, the owner is trying to claim he's suffered $51,000 in damages from light rail and wants HRT to pay.

About two-thirds of the land is beyond the house's fence, a wooded area between the fence and the railroad right-of-way. One Commissioner joked, "I have a 330 foot easement to sell you for $49,000."


The TDCHR agreed to move the proposed Brambleton Avenue Station on Norfolk's Starter Line at a cost of $1.45 million. Norfolk State University (NSU) had expressed paranoia-er, concerns about the station's placement. It will now be over Brambleton, with an elevator and stairs down on the west side of the street. That immediately raised concerns about NSU students trying to cross six lanes of traffic on Brambleton to get to the station.

Randy Wright pointed out that Brambleton contract (Contract 20) had originally been over $2 million under budget, so with the Change Order it was still more than $500,000 under budget.


Portsmouth has wanted light rail through the planned second tube of the Midtown Tunnel. HB 6028 brought Virginia Beach in. Our latest entrant: Chesapeake has begun preliminary talks with HRT about light rail.

The big Virginia Beach news of the day was that Norfolk now has publicly agreed to a EVMS to Navy base EIS in conjunction with Virginia Beach's Newtown Road to the Dome site. First, it accepts Virginia Beach's position that it doesn't want to proceed without such an extension. Second, by bringing the Navy base and Old Dominion University (ODU) online, you enhance the projected numbers for the Virginia Beach extension. Congratulations to both cities for the cooperation in getting it all done.

Virginia Beach Vision has formed a task force to work on the light rail issue. Councilman Jim Wood (one of Virginia Beach's HRT Commissioners) was scheduled to meet with them later Thursday afternoon.

Paul Riddick expressed concern that Virginia Beach might punt light rail to referendum again.

TPPC September 25, 2008

On Thursday morning the Transportation, Parking, and Pedestrian Committee (TPPC) of Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met.

An overview of parking tickets issued in the Resort Area was given. The 2008 total will be the lowest since 1995. In fact, Norfolk issues three times as many tickets on Granby Street than Virginia Beach issues in the Resort Area.

Proposals were sent over from the Oceanfront Enhancement Committee (OEC) concerning behavior spillover into adjacent neighborhoods. The OEC had recommended cul-de-sacing 16th Street in the 300th block, but the impacted civic league leaders now want 15th Street done, too. It was decided to send the matter to the City's highway engineers for a preliminary analysis.

VBWave ridership was higher in July and August, with 2008 ridership numbers now on par with 2006. While below 2007 figures, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) now thinks last year was an anomaly.

Good Job, George

Yesterday I took the 5:08 P.M. Route 25 out of Military Circle, going down Princess Anne Road. Driving was George, a legendary character with Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).

For those who either don't ride the bus or aren't familiar, George isn't playing with a full deck. I've heard other passengers call him "The Psycho Driver". He's drives the year-round routes served by Virginia Beach's trolley base. Given his state, he regularly engages in antics that one mainline driver from 18th Street (Southside mainline base) said would have got him fired there long ago.

Well, I'm happy to report that George got everything right on my trip yesterday. Even when we got caught up in traffic at the intersection with Witchduck and Kempsville Roads (aka John Moss' Folly), George checked with passengers for needed transfers at TCC and called the Dispatcher to get the exact buses held. Nice going!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Most Intriguing Question Of The Council Campaign So Far

Why has Glenn Davis raised only $22,600? Given the interests that would love to knock Reba McClanan's regular "No" vote off the Virginia Beach City Council, Davis should have taken in six times that. (Has Will Sessoms sucked all the money out of the system?)

Anyone know who Glenn's Finance Chairman is? Is he competent?

Why Light Rail Is Needed Across The Water

Coming home from Newport News this afternoon, I was on Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) Route 961. We got to Interstate 64 in Hampton and sat...and sat...and sat. (Memo to self: next time you come home from Newport News at rush hour, take the 967 to the 962 instead of the 961 over the friggin' Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel!) The HRBT was clogged- again. While I've been on buses that have creeped across the HRBT before, this time we were at a standstill.

Folks, this happens virtually daily at the HRBT. We're not going to be able to asphalt enough lanes to tackle the problem by cars alone. Norfolk is building it's light rail Starter Line. Newport News is planning a Minimal Operating Segment (MOS) for what is hoped to eventually be a Williamsburg to Hampton line. If we can connect across the water, those budding systems can get people around the region without clogging the bridge-tunnels.

Those driving on Interstate 64 were burning $4 per gallon gasoline, and needed to be ready to move at any minute. Me? I was on a premium express bus, relaxing in my high-backed, reclining seat. No road rage on my part.

Newport News' Library Internet Computers

Today found me over in Newport News. Having just received a Newport News library card last week, I wanted to use it for the first time. I went to the Pearl Bailey Branch Library, where I read a few periodicals and used a computer for the Internet.

Let me start by pointing out to anyone who doesn't know, under Virginia law a resident of one locality is entitled to a reciprocal library card in any other locality. I carry four: Chesapeake, Norfolk, (now) Newport News, and (of course) Virginia Beach.

Back to Pearl Bailey, computer signup was the worst in any of those four localities. There were signup sheets in two separate locations. (Which gets priority?) They call you when a unit is available, but you virtually have to be on top of the computer room to hear them.

If that wasn't bad enough, try logging on for the first time. Your PIN number is your password, but it's formatted differently online than on your library card application. I had to try three different variants before I could surf.

Once online, it was fun. Newport News has the second-best equipped computers of the four (Norfolk is best), and a generous use policy.

Since it's a library, let me close on the book collection. Being a small branch, not much for books and periodicals. However, a great children's collection.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Glimpse At What's Wrong With Our Schools

Today one of our young employees, a Bayside High School student, brought her History class homework to work with her. (Yes, that's a company regulations violation.) During a slow period, she took it out to work on it. Bored and having been my grade school class' consensus best History student, I went over trying to be friendly and hoping I might be able to help.

Her homework was to answer a series of questions on the Revolutionary War, or - as her textbook called it - The War of Independence. (Young folks supposed to stop thinking about staging revolutions?) In answering the questions, what she was doing was nothing more than plopping down verbatim quotes from her textbook onto paper. If the textbook had been online, she could have simply cut and paste.

I tried asking her a few questions myself. She could do nothing more than quote the textbook.

I hope I don't have to elaborate on what's so wrong with the above.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Will Sessoms Is Right On Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning

There. I said it. Someone needed to. Here's today's Virginian-Pravda monster editorial, and they picked up on the same statement by Sessoms. Note that they picked up on some of the same things in the Mayoral forum that I did in yesterday afternoon's post.

A Study by Virginia Tech found that Virginia Beach has a shortage of over 14,000 affordable housing units. Last year City Council enacted a Workforce Housing Program which so far has resulted units being built. Yes, City Council passing a Resolution formally committing us to light rail would help, in that the program is specific to Strategic Growth Areas.

However, City Staff at the time made it clear that the program alone will only make a dent in the shortage. If proposals for units in the SGAs don't materialize in the next 9 months, City Council should take up a mandatory Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance in June, 2009. That would be after the Budget is completed, uncluttering Council's agenda.

VBTV Candidate Forums Schedule

The candidate forums in the City Council Chambers are being taped for later broadcast on VBTV. They will be shown on Sunday at 6 P.M., Wednesday at 2 P.M., and Saturday at 6 P.M.

Week of September 28 - City Council District Candidates Forum

Week of October 5 - City Council At-Large Candidates Forum

Week of October 12 - Mayoral Candidate Forum

Week of October 19 - School Board District Candidate Forum

Week of October 26 - School Board At-Large Candidate Forum

They will appear on Cox Channel 47, Verizon Channel 47, and Cavalier Channel 118.

I'm a Cavalier customer and this is the first that I knew that we finally got VBTV. I had heard from the City that it was in the works, but never got notice of the addition from Cavalier.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Virginia Beach Mayoral Candidates Forum

Last night there was a Mayoral Candidates Forum in the Virginia Beach City Council Chambers. It was cosponsored by the Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), the Chamber of Commerce, and the Hampton Roads Realtors Association. It was taped for later broadcast on VBTV.

IMO Will Sessoms won the forum, giving some great answers. The catch is that many of the positions he states now are at odds with what he did when previously serving as Vice Mayor.

The intriguing statement of the night was when Sessoms said we'll probably need to go to mandatory Inclusionary Zoning to get Affordable Housing built. The developers' darling advocating mandatory IZ?!?

Meyera Oberndorf was low-key and quietly pushed status quo positions. When Sessoms attacked her on the Stihl machinery and tools tax fiasco (again), Meyera's defense was feeble.

John Moss did well according to some. However, a few of his answers were better left for Marian Manor breakfasts than wholesale politics.

Moss wants to cut the current Budget by 5%, using half for local roads and half for tax relief. Uh...John...where would you cut? (Ah, you thought you could get away with that....)

Both the friend who drove me home and I agreed Scott Taylor had the worst performance in the group. He mixed some fairly status quo positions with a couple populist appeals.

Since a couple people online have accused Taylor of being a Sessoms plant, you'd be surprised that Taylor attacked Sessoms twice last night. First, he castigated him for ignoring the 31st Street referendum, and those in the Chamber could see Sessoms wince. Second, in his Closing Remarks Taylor called on Sessoms to resign his position with TowneBank if elected. Sessoms was so unnerved that he jettisoned his planned Closing Remarks to use his time to defend himself against Taylor's attack.

On Light Rail Will Sessoms repeated his longtime support. That was in stark contrast to John Moss trotting out 1999 numbers to dismiss light rail. (Please, someone get Moss a copy of the Norfolk Starter Line figures.)

The most humorous point of the night was when Sessoms said he had to agree with Moss on the lack of a justification for establishing a Budget Commission. Both believe the buck stops with City Council, and that it needs to take responsibility for the Budget.

Michael Jenkins Meets With The RAC

This morning there was a meeting at Virginia Beach's convention center between Michael Jenkins (Dome site redeveloper) and members of the Resort Advisory Commission (RAC), the RAC's Plan/Design Review Committee (PDRC), and a few other interested persons.

The one hour meeting featured a Presentation by Michael (don't call him "Mr. Jenkins"), followed by questions. The Presentation was so thorough that there were few questions afterwards. The Concept Plan should be ready for public and City scrutiny in March. Some core elements have been decided for the entertainment venue, but others (including parking) remain under study.

The meeting was part of a series of meetings yesterday and today with stakeholders. The Virginian-Pravda's Deirdre Fernandes has been attending the meetings, so watch the fishwrapper for coverage.

John Moss Was Right On Mass Transit - Sort Of

Last night was a Mayoral Candidates Forum in the City Council Chambers. (More on that in a later post.) When asked about bus service for Virginia Beach, John Moss replied to expand it "not using the HRT model" but by having private operators go into the neighborhoods under franchise agreements. He stated such is used in the Washington, DC area.

Yes and no, John. Yes, private operators do supplement service up there. However, Metro operates the trunk routes and rail service. You can run all the buses into neighborhoods you want, but where are they to go once you get them to the main road?

I do see a place for private operators in Virginia Beach's mass transit future. If light rail is built, private operators could run service from the train stations into the neighborhoods. The 1999 proposal had vans operating door-to-station service, a proposition that most everyone thought was nutty. Common sense kicked in and vans aren't in Norfolk's Starter Line plan. We could have private companies do what the vans were planned to do then.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Publish The Poll Numbers, Please

Today's Virginian-Pravda runs a story on Tuesday night's Virginia Beach Mass Transit Open House

What caught me was this statement:

"Uhrin said polls by council candidates during the current election cycle have found overwhelming support for the project."

If that's the case, publish the light rail poll numbers. Each campaign that has polled that question could release their numbers to a central source (The Virginian-Pravda and/or the City's webmaster) where they would be compiled in a table that everyone could see.

That would expose the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) campaign against light rail for what it is. The VBTA would be left without a flamingo's leg to stand on.

Knowing the public backs light rail, I hope we can now proceed quickly ignoring VBTA antics.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Muddle On SPSA

41% favor staying in SPSA only if it is reformed. 33% favor withdraw, while 25% want to stay.

The new poll question is on what has become known as "The Little Dig". The Pembroke area transportation plan proposes sinking Independence Boulevard from just north of Bonney Road to just north of Pembroke Mall. That would relieve the notorious Virginia Beach Boulevard/Independence Boulevard intersection, provide green space in the Central Business District, and allow light rail to run at-grade over the tunneled Independence Boulevard.

Virginia Beach Mass Transit Open House

This evening at the convention center Virginia Beach held it's long-awaited Mass Transit Open House.

The bad news was the meeting itself. While it made a nice primer for the average citizen, it was mostly "off the shelf" stuff that anyone involved in transit already knew. Attendance was poor. Since it wasn't taped for VBTV, most will never see it.

The one new nugget: the state is programming the money for the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for Virginia Beach light rail, and we should have news on it in November. The DEIS would take about two years to complete.

Those who attended were largely pro-transit, and the issue is on the front burner in Virginia Beach politics.

VNS On "Price Gouging"

If you want a good chuckle, follow Virginia News Source's coverage of alleged price gouging on Gasoline.

Get the joke? Our so-called "Libertarians" are clamoring for the government to intervene to suppress Gasoline prices. Uh...aren't Libertarians supposed to believe in the free market? Now their local Maximum Leader wants government to dictate Gasoline prices? It's even more pathetic than funny.

Then, the Tidewater Libertarian Party aren't real Libertarians....

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tossing A Theory Out For Discussion

Today's Virginian-Pravda ran a story on the revoked machinery and tools tax hike being an issue in the Mayoral campaign. Yes, the Moss supporters are having a field day in the comments section.

What struck me about the story was the increase itself. The Mayor blames it on City Staff. Okay, let's take that at face value. That leaves the obvious question: Why would City Staff want to increase the machinery and tools tax 90%? The simple answer may be that they wanted more money to spend and didn't give a toss about the economics of such a move.

However, an intriguing theory struck me this morning. Was the intent to tax the small businesses off of Cleveland Street? You have many small companies there with a plethora of machinery and tools, while the City wants to redevelop it as part of the Central Business District. Without a Redevelopment Authority, a punitive machinery and tools tax hike might flush them out. If it was enough to get Stihl to threaten to move, imagine the impact on Cleveland Street.

Granted, I don't have a smoking gun. However, what other City policy aim would have been served by the 90% tax increase?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Must-See Video

If you haven't seen this video, it's hilarious. Having spent much of my childhood either reading history books or watching war movies on television at some odd hours, I get the myriad of jokes in this one.

H/T The Virginian, where I first saw this.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Goodbye Mike Perry

Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) Vice President of Operations Mike Perry will be leaving HRT on September 18 to take a position with Sound Transit in Seattle. Mike has family out there that this will allow him to spend time with.

I've always found Mike to be an approachable, thoughtful person. HRT will have a large void to fill.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Nice Going HRT!

The biggest problem with riding the buses of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) is late buses. For those who don't ride, think about what a late airline flight does to you.

Give credit where credit is due: today at the Military Circle Direct Transfer Center 5 of the 6 buses were early for the 11:15 A.M. lineup.

Now if HRT could only fix Route 23, which has been a bit of a mess since it started entering the Cedar Grove Transfer Center....

CVP Shifting Gears?

The Community Voters Project (CVP) has been targeting minority voters for registration, ignoring Whites in their efforts previously.

Now twice in three days I've had CVP workers come up and try to register me. What's going on? Short of quota? A policy shift?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Terrie Suit To Leave General Assembly

Delegate Terrie Suit has announced her intention to resign from the Virginia House of Delegates. In turn, she will become a lobbyist. The Virginian-Pravda's coverage

Kicking her on the way out the door is Virginia News Source VNS repeats their 2003 firing range story. Having had a chance to talk to Terrie the final weekend of the 2003 campaign, I can tell you there was no firing range.

At least that beats the hypocritical opportunism of Reid Greenmun. On two sites (Bearing Drift and he's left departing comments on Terrie Suit. Of course, Greenmun was part of a 2007 write-in slate that ran a candidate (Jack King) against Suit.

Finally, over at VB Dems they smell the shot at picking up a House seat. The 81st? Only if the Republicans implode.

Okay, what is the fallout and implications of Suit leaving the House?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Middle Masses at St. Gregory's

I don't know how many of my fellow parishioners at St. Gregory's Catholic Church read my blog. Regardless, a pet peeve of mine came into play this morning, so I'm going to post on it.

At the 9 A.M. and 11 A.M. Sunday Masses, any parish regular knows the church fills. No seats left; standees in the rear at 11 A.M. I was at 11 A.M. Mass this morning, and we had large families coming forward expecting to find seats in the front 10:57 A.M. - 11:05 A.M. Memo to clueless: if you're bringing a large family to St. Gregory's for 9 or 11, be sure to be there at least 10 minutes early. Coming forward at the last minute you look arrogant and/or stupid.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mayoral Phone Poll

Just got a call from a group named "Issues and Answers" that is doing a phone poll on Virginia Beach's Mayoral race.

I was asked what I thought of each Mayoral candidate, what I thought the top issue was (from a group that included economic development, traffic, and Property Taxes), my preference in the Presidential race, how would a candidate's age affect my vote, etc.

I asked, but the caller didn't know who she was calling for. It sounded like a Sessoms poll, asking for him first, where I had heard about him from, etc.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Keep the BPOL

57% of you want to continue to levy the BPOL in Virginia Beach. 28% favor eliminating it, but not with the current Budget pressures. Only 14% support Councilman Bill DeSteph's proposal to phase it out over 5-10 years.

I'm one of the 28%. It's a ludicrous tax, but we're already facing a large Budget shortfall. A couple days after posting on it, I started thinking it might become the local version of the Car Tax phaseout.

The new poll question is on SPSA. What should Virginia Beach do next? Voting ends on September 16. I hope to come home from that evening's mass transit open house with material for the following poll question.

You Will Be Assimilated

Riding the bus home from the RAC meeting, there were 3 Russian exchange students sitting across from me. One Russian girl had...a can of Red Bull.

Go figure.

RAC September 4, 2008

This afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met for over two hours. RAC meetings normally are under 90 minutes.

90 minutes alone were spent on Offshore Drilling. Presentations were made on the issue by Eileen Levandoski of the Sierra Club (opposed) and state Senator Frank Wagner (in favor). While the RAC didn't take a position on the issue today, questions by observers were largely in opposition. Most likely the industry representatives on the RAC will discuss the issue in their trade associations before the RAC takes a position.

The surprise of the afternoon was the RAC advising City Council not to exercise the remaining one year option on Live Nation's contract for Resort Area entertainment, asking Council to issue a RFP. While much discussion has taken place since Bobby Melatti's firing by Live Nation, no action was expected on the matter until after the season was over. The contract expires January 31, 2009, so there was more time available for debate.

The Oceanfront Enhancement Committee (OEC) reported it's recommendations for dealing with behavior issues spilling over into adjacent neighborhoods. The measures were committed to the committees that have oversight in the areas in question.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An American Carol

This evening I went to see Death Race, an average action movie.

However, I saw the trailer for An American Carol. It's a comedy that attacks "Michael Malone", the most hated filmmaker in America. The Michael Moore lookalike gets taught valuable lessons.

Scott Taylor Addresses Mass Transit Issues

The following video was taped on Route 15 on Labor Day. Virginia Beach Mayoral candidate Scott Taylor speaks on the transit issues he had learned about during the day.

Riding the HRT Buses

Scott Taylor Lands $50,000 Check

In the comments section of another post, I mentioned I was trying to get the details of a story. On the bus this afternoon, I did.

Scott Taylor received a $50,000 campaign contribution from Andrew Jones, a retired businessman and former insurance executive. That puts Taylor over the $70,000 mark overall.

In the least: Taylor will now easily consign John Moss to 4th Place.

At most: if Scott can raise over $120,000, get the AAPAC endorsement, and hit enough civic leagues (tonight: Northridge), he might pull this out on a plurality in a close one.

Doing The Rush Hour Triangle With Scott Taylor

This afternoon I had the opportunity and pleasure to take Virginia Beach Mayoral candidate Scott Taylor out on the buses. We did a triangle of Routes 36, 25, and 20.

Scott talked to the passengers, learning their issues, both transit and non-transit. He had gone with HR Transit Ideas' Michael Ragsdale yesterday, and today's feedback only reinforced what he heard on Labor Day. There is a need for evening service, Sunday service, and more frequencies on Virginia Beach's outlying bus routes.

It was interesting to learn that Scott can hablos Espanol, as he translated bus information for a passenger. With Virginia Beach now over 6% Hispanic, that's a good advantage.

One passenger on Route 36 said, "You'd never catch Meyera on a bus." Taylor got her vote.

Of concern is that one Mayoral candidate's spouse has been going around town questioning Scott Taylor's SEAL credentials. Memo to culprit: if you want to play nasty, Scott can produce a group of Admirals at a news conference. (You don't want to go there, do you?)

In addition, Taylor got a number of commitments to volunteer to work on his campaign.