Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Max Baucus Drunk On The Senate Floor

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) rambles on while drunk on the Senate floor on Obamacare. Note how he keeps making the same statements over...and over...and over....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Predictions for 2010

I go out on the limb and make some predictions for 2010. (Okay, some of them were no-brainers.)

1. Bob O'Connor will oppose each and every Virginia Beach City Council initiative.

2. City Council enters a public-private partnership for an entertainment complex at the Dome site. Redevelopment of the Dome site had been the top Resort Area priority since 2005.

3. Governor Bob McDonnell's transportation plan is killed in the state Senate.

4. Robert Dean is recognized as a master ventriloquist after Bill DeSteph manages to make it through his (losing) City Council reelection campaign without anyone seeing Dean's lips moving.

5. Governor McDonnell pressures SPSA to finally sell it's operation and privatize, ending Hampton Roads' best political soap opera.

6. In The Shock Heard 'Round The World, the USA beats England in the World Cup Finals opener for both teams.

7. The Virginia Beach Transit Extension Alternatives Analysis (AA) comes out. However, people are so preoccupied with Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) management issues that it isn't half the event that people expected.

8. In the November Federal elections, Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and pickup seats in the Senate.

9. Wally Erb's light rail referendum drive finishes short of the necessary number of legal signatures to put a question on the ballot in November.

10. I Can Do Bad All By Myself wins the Oscar for Best Picture of 2009.

11. After no VBTA City Council challenger gets over 12% of the vote, John Moss resigns as VBTA Chairman. Vice Chairman Reid Greenmun moves up to Chair. In turn, Reid names his friend Harvey the new Vice Chair.

12. Al Wallace runs for the Bayside District City Council seat, making for the biggest electoral farce since...uh...well, Al ran for Mayor in 2004.

13. As City Council neither can de jure order a stop nor defund it, the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study continues despite frosty relations between the Municipal Center and Victoria Boulevard.

14. In another cost-cutting move by The Virginian-Pravda, Kerry Dougherty is given the pink slip. Kerry then becomes a blogger for Virginia News Source.

15. The VBTA churns out another investigative report/White Paper/whatever they want to call it this time claiming a City economic development initiative is a net drain for taxpayers. Rational residents roll their eyes at the piece of garbage.

I'm Here Another Year

Last week I signed the final papers to keep my apartment another year. I now have it through January 31, 2011. Thus, this blog continues as is.

I still hope to add another grassroots inclusionist or two as posters. Maybe I'll meet someone on the 2010 City Council campaign trail.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dead Heat

You split evenly on whether or not the war in Afghanistan is winnable.

In the first look at the 2010 City Council reelection contests, the one race people were commenting on was Bill DeSteph in the At-Large field. Okay, so let's poll it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Newtown SGA Meetings, Round 2

Today began Round 2 of the public meetings on developing a land use plan for the Newtown Strategic Growth Area (SGA).

12:30 P.M. Focus Group

I participated in the second of the four focus groups today. About half of us had been in the 10:30 A.M. focus group during Round 1, and the consulting firm's staff remembered us from there.

The majority of the time was taken reviewing the public input from Round 1. The Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities had been correlated. Staff had developed a set of principles from the input.

The intriguing thing is the City of Norfolk's interest in participating and cooperating. First, Norfolk wants the area southwest of the Virginia Beach Boulevard/Newtown Road intersection incorporated into the study, focusing on the trailer park. Second, Norfolk is willing to work with Virginia Beach on improving Newtown Road itself, with the lion's share of the road falling in Norfolk.

There were two big areas of feedback:

1. We should be aware that in redeveloping, we might be simply moving a problem. If you put new housing on one side of the road but leave the problem neighborhood on the other side, residents from the latter are going to continue to drift through the former.

2. My contribution was to raise the issue of whether we were planning too much Retail for our SGAs. While you want Retail in walking distance of the transit stations in doing Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), start looking at how many square feet of Retail are already in the Resort Area and Pembroke SGA plans. Be careful not to glut.

6 P.M. Public Gallery

This evening's meeting was sparsely attended, though incoming Virginia Beach Vision President Mike Barrett plus Meyera & Roger Oberndorf were there. Staff was working on draft plans, and discussing the early work with us.

While what I saw was preliminary, this is what had been churned out so far:

1. A Town Center Lite development northeast of the Newtown Road light rail station currently under construction.

2. The single family detached neighborhood southeast of the station would be preserved.

3. Multifamily housing would go where the Arrowhead Shopping Center currently is and just west of it. A light rail station would go along the tracks on the northern edge of that land. The multifamily and adjacent ECPI would provide a natural base of walkup customers for the light rail.

4. Office, plus some existing industrial, on Greenwich Road.


Tomorrow night there will be a public meeting on the first draft plans. It will be at Kempsville Baptist from 6-8 P.M.

If you want a say before things go further, speak up tomorrow night!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A First Look At The 2010 City Council Races

With yesterday's recount over and Ron Villanueva now officially a Delegate-elect (by a whopping 16 votes), I can do the promised first look at the 2010 Virginia Beach City Council races.

Bayside District
Incumbent: Louis Jones

There are a number of interests that have problems with Louis. The catch is finding a single candidate that they can all unite behind.

If Jones runs for reelection, he probably wins.

Beach District
Incumbent: John Uhrin

I've heard a couple names tossed around on the grapevine, one who probably now won't run. A quality, well-financed challenge could give Uhrin a run for his money. However, that probably won't happen.

Lynnhaven District
Incumbent: Jim Wood

If you can think of a plausible scenario under which Wood loses next November, post it under Comments. I certainly can't.


Princess Anne District
Incumbent: Barbara Henley

The weakest of the four district seat incumbents. I thought she could be beat in 2002 (I was right), and I think a strong challenge can beat her in 2010.

However, it's not Henley's direct ties here, but who in her inner circle can pull levers. She's stronger that you might think at first glance.

At-Large (2 seats)
Incumbent: Bill DeSteph

This could be where the real fun is.

Council will now have to make an appointment to serve the remainder of Villaneuva's term. Tradition has it that City Council asks the interim appointee not to seek a full term. However, they could appoint someone they want to give a leg up to for next November.

If you thought what happened to Andrea Kilmer in 2002 was ugly, you ain't seen nothing yet! A nuclear-level sliming awaits Bill DeSteph. (It's a given that we'll see that genie photo again.) I would expect to see a PAC formed that would run anti-DeSteph ads.

DeSteph? Parrots the Deaniac line, liked by some at the Republican Breakfasts, despised in top business circles, leading the charge against light rail, etc. Can you say "Don Weeks?" I thought you could.

While DeSteph gets nuked, newcomers will fight it out for the two Council seats. Pull up a chair.

The X Factor

The one looming item that could mean trouble for the incumbents is the FY 2011 Budget. What does Council do, and how do they sell it to the public?

Minority Communities

Something struck me after the fact: none of the incumbents up for reelection in 2010 were at this year's NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. The red letter event in the African-American community, but no one at all showed up. Say what?

Then, it's not like the VBTA can take advantage of it. Not only are they wrong on too many issues, but only one VBTAer has been endorsed by a major minority organization in the 21st Century. That was John Moss by the African-American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) in 2004, and that endorsement was primarily anti-Rosemary Wilson, not pro-John Moss.


Speaking of our favorite bunch of racist kooks, I expect them to challenge for every seat they can throw a warm body at. However, what issues will they run on? My guess is taxes and light rail, but:

1. Taxes - with assessments set to go down for the second consecutive year, how do you get traction on it? If they couldn't win on it when assessments were increasing double digits annually, they won't now.

2. Light Rail - the SDEIS isn't scheduled to be completed until December, 2010 - after the election. The irony is that all the incumbents have to do is mouth the "wait and see" position the VBTA is pretending to take.

Bottom line: there's nothing there that the VBTA can even start to win Council seats on.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

62% Favor The Pungo Village Plan

The previous poll was about development south of Virginia Beach's Green Line. 62% backed the Pungo Village Plan, 25% want to keep the status quo, while 11% want to push against the Green Line.

The new poll question is on foreign policy: Is the war in Afghanistan winnable? President Obama wants to commit more troops. However, are we in a quagmire there like the Soviets?

Laskin Road Gateway Fallacies

Today the RAC meeting was at the convention center at 3 P.M., with the Laskin Citizen Advisory Committee meeting scheduled there at 5:30. After the RAC meeting, I went over to the Oceanfront Library to blog RAC, then walked back over to the convention center for the Laskin CAC meeting.

It was an overflow crowd, with Staff having to go out and bring more chairs in. Before it was over, I had heard more paranoia and b.s. from the public than I had ever heard in such a meeting before. Therefore, I devote this post to taking on what was said that was wrong:

1. There was no notice given to the public of the pending project.

Actually, what has become the Laskin Gateway Project came out of the public input in the charettes for the Resort Area Strategic Action Plan (RASAP). People looked at the North Beach area and asked "Why can't we have 32nd Street mirroring 30th Street?" So, it was from the public in public meetings, hardly a backroom conspiracy.

2. Doing the Project will increase traffic on Pinewood and Holly Roads.

Why would it do that? Given that there are no plans to change land uses up those roads, where would all those additional cars be going?

3. You shouldn't narrow Laskin Road.

The urban redevelopment envisioned in the RASAP wouldn't occur in the street's current configuration.

4. You should do 32nd Street before you narrow Laskin Road.

The timetable for Laskin is driven by the construction of Beach Centre. To demolish the current buildings and redo the utilities, you have to close Laskin Road.

5. You shouldn't demolish the Surf Rider Restaurant.

Two things would be required to keep the Surf Rider in it's present location. First, the curve on 32nd going to Laskin would have to be a maximum 20 mph for trucks. Second, you would have to cut the Surf Rider's road access from Laskin and 32nd, leaving it's only access from Pinewood Road. Yeah, the same Pinewood the residents in the area don't want more traffic on. Obviously such a situation is in no one's interest.

6. You're putting too much density on Laskin.

The land in that area, like most of the Resort Area, was zoned for such density in the 1960s.

7. There won't be enough road capacity in the Summer...but leave Arctic and Pinewood alone.

You had to love it: some of the same people who thought there wasn't enough road capacity didn't want the City changing some streets. Go figure.

The road network in the Laskin Road Gateway was primarily designed for moving traffic from The North End west out Laskin (and vice versa), yet the very residents who would benefit were loudly complaining. It's on nights like that that I understand why some public officials hate public hearings.

RAC December 10, 2009

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

The RAC elected new Officers for 2010. Preston Midgett will become Chairman, with Ken Taylor now term limited out. Preston has served as Chairman of the RAC's Transportation, Parking, and Pedestrian Committee (TPPC) for a few years now. Gerrie West will continue as Vice Chair.

Due to questions raised around the Laskin Gateway Project, there will be a procedural change on communicating positions. Only positions endorsed by the full RAC will be forwarded, with those bearing the RAC Chairman's signature.

Michael Jenkins moves forward with assembling Dome site redevelopment financing. He expects to have everything in line by Spring, with the Dome site entertainment complex due online in the Spring, 2012.

Fun fact: as part of the convention center's green status, all wasted food is bundled and sent to hog farmers to feed their animals. Thus, zero waste footprint.

Finally, there are preliminary discussions with a company hoping to obtain a City franchise to provide WiFi in the Resort Area. The scope is still under discussion, but I thought those of you with laptops would want to know it may be in the pipes.

Transit Station Planning Workshop

Last night there was a station planning workshop for the Virginia Beach Transit Extension at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. I'm told "about 50" people were at last week's session at the Westin. Last night there were about half that number at the opening, with more drifting in later.

The need for such meetings is that 2 of the 3 build scenarios being looked at in the Alternatives Analysis (AA) are BRT or LRT down the Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way. Both will require similar stations along the ROW.

The meeting opened with remarks by Jim Wood, City Councilman and TDCHR Chairman. That was followed by three Staffers from HDR, the consultant doing the study. Afterwards, citizens broke out to three separate tables based on segments of the line: Newtown Road - Town Center, Town Center - Lynnhaven, and Lynnhaven - Oceanfront.

With it being my home area, I went to the Newtown Road - Town Center table. There were a couple things of interest:

1. A member of the City's Historic Preservation Committee wants to keep the former Kempsville Building Materials building and use it as the Witchduck Road station. A couple of us thought the idea was nuts.

2. A gentleman was there who claimed he's been part of talks on a Witchduck Road - Great Bridge extension. The discussions reportedly involved the City of Chesapeake and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The rail line would shoot down the Witchduck Road/Kempsville Road Corridor to Greenbrier, then on to Great Bridge. We'll see if such a routing is included in the study that the Chesapeake City Council has requested.

The PowerPoint Presentation given is supposed to be on HRT's website by Friday. There will be another stations meeting in the Spring. WVEC had a camera crew there, so you might find video on their website.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Finnish Independence Day 2009

Finland declared independence from Russia on December 6, 1917. Finland had been a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire since 1809. With the provisional government in Petrograd overthrown by Lenin and his Bolsheviks in October, the Finns weren't going to stick around any longer.

The video below has the playing of Maamme (Our Land), Finland's national anthem. You see in the picture the Finnish flag plus two candles in the window. The significance is that during the final years of Russian rule, many young Finnish men were going to other countries for military service, wanting the training to one day drive the Russians out of Suomi (Finnish for "Finland"). Finns willing to open their homes to any such men in transit would place two candles in the window to signal that they were welcome there.

Friday, December 4, 2009

2010 World Cup Draw

Earlier today the draw for the 2010 World Cup Finals was held. Matches begin June 11 in South Africa, with soccer's World Cup being the most watched sporting event in the world. 32 teams were in the field: 31 had qualified through regional matches, plus the host team (South Africa) always gets a berth. For the first round, the 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four teams each. The basic rules of the draw:

1. The 32 teams were divided into 4 pots, based on seed, host status, and geography.

2. One team was drawn from each pot for each group.

3. In turn, a number was drawn for which numerical slot in the group the team was to get.

4. To prevent "continental clashes" in the first round, two teams from the same continent couldn't be put in the same group through the first three pots. (The fourth pot was made up of unseeded European teams.) For practical purposes, that meant in drawing from the third pot, Group A (which had host South Africa) had to get one of the three unseeded South American teams (Uruguay) rather than one of the five African teams.

The draw itself didn't produce the anticipated "Group Of Death":

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, and France.

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, and Greece.

Group C: England, USA, Algeria, and Slovenia.

Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, and Ghana.

Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, and Cameroon.

Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, and Slovakia.

Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, and Portugal.

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, and Chile.

I watched the draw on ESPN2. Some observations:

1. Pandemonium broke out in the television studio when the USA was drawn to be the second team into seeded England's Group C. Like the cheer after a made penalty kick, things erupted again when the USA drew "C2". That means we play the bloody limeys in our opener (June 12 in Rustenburg).

Anticipation then turned to who would join us in Group C. The next draw was Algeria, a side that barely qualified. Finally there was Slovenia. While Slovenia is the smallest country population-wise in the World Cup Finals, the Slovenians did eliminate the Russians.

Overall, a pretty good group for the USA.

2. Consensus was that the toughest group is Group G. Both Brazil and Portugal are soccer superpowers, while the Ivory Coast was one of two African countries (along with Nigeria) to go undefeated in qualifying.

North Korea need not unpack their bags, as they won't be in South Africa long.

3. Going in, most believed the draw rules benefited host South Africa. Alas, they drew both Mexico and 2006 World Cup semifinalist France into their Group A.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

TPPC December 3, 2009

The Transportation, Parking, and Pedestrian Committee (TPPC) of Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met this morning. It was the delayed November meeting, as the normal November date would have fallen on Thanksgiving morning.

Barry Frankenfield gave an update on the Laskin Gateway Project. The sticking point is the configuration of 32nd Street. One of the consultants (Kimley-Horn) is working on a hybrid of the first two options. That hybrid is slated to be presented to the Laskin Citizens Advisory Committee at it's December 10 meeting. On the one hand, land takings are trying to be avoided; on the other hand, such would require some serious engineering of the curve swinging 32nd Street over to Laskin Road.

Speaking of Traffic Engineering, the TPPC was briefed on the Pedestrian Signs installed on Pacific Avenue. (Similar signs are on Shore Drive.) Through a Federal grant, signage was purchased for 7 intersections along Pacific to alert drivers of crossing pedestrians. The signs are topped with solar-powered lights that can be turned on at given times to enhance the effect. Data from automobile/pedestrian accidents on Pacific was used to determine which intersections, though other locations were disqualified because encroaching buildings wouldn't have permitted enough sunlight to reach the solar units.

Concern was expressed by some over the appearance of the units, whose poles and light units don't meet the design recommendations for Resort Area signage. Traffic Engineering retorted that you wouldn't want them to blend in too well, as that would defeat the purpose. In the end, it looks like the wooden poles and light units might be painted gray.

Intriguing fact: for all the media about people being hit by cars on Shore Drive, there are actually more such accidents on Pacific Avenue.

Finally, while everyone seems to agree that the long term goal should be to replace the existing light units on the Boardwalk with LED units, Budget constraints will probably prevent any such work in FY 2011.

Wally Erb, Light Rail, and Race

Nothing like a trip back through the microfiche. Wally Erb is heading up the VBTA front group trying to petition a light rail referendum question onto the ballot. I have a good memory for detail, and recalled an article from the 1999 light rail campaign, Sure enough, I found this doozy of a quote from Erb in the October 22, 1999 edition of The Virginian-Pravda:

"There's going to be all sorts of people. There's going to be people who are coughing and not everybody is earning $45,000, $50,000 in a business suit and has a laptop computer. You're going to have some people who are bag ladies. That goes along with it. I'm not saying that it's wrong, but people who ride it have to be aware that they're going to meet a lot of people that they didn't meet before and that they're going to have to tolerate a lot of things that they wouldn't normally have to tolerate or even thought of."

In short, Erb fears light rail means having to tolerate people other than middle class Whites. While Erb goes on to deny any racial implications, no rational person can read them out of that. After all, the ridership of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) is about 80% minority. When you realize that, reread Erb's quote and see how racially loaded it is.

Still, you have the right to sign one of Erb's ballot petitions. The volunteers will stand out: they'll be the ones wearing the white sheets and hoods.

In addition, at the September, 2005 monthly breakfast of the Tidewater Libertarian Party (TLP), Wally Erb and Robert Dean identified themselves as members of the radical John Burch Society.

You may want to stay clear of those guys.

"The Miss Of The Century"

It's only 2009, but this blown play by English soccer player Rocky Baptiste has already been dubbed "The Miss Of The Century". Baptiste takes a pass, gets past the goalie...only to have the ball squirm loose on him and hit the outer side of the goal.

I played a couple years of soccer myself in high school: Midfielder later converted to Center Forward. As a Center Forward, you dreamed of having scoring opportunities like this. That Baptiste blew this one is inexcusable!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You Like Rosemary By A 2:1 Margin

By a 2:1 margin you like Rosemary Wilson's chances against Jeff McWaters in Saturday's "firehouse primary" for the Republican nomination in the 8th Senate District special election.

Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn't vote for Rosemary if she was running unopposed. However, I think McWaters may have sunk his own chances when he came out for universal health care. (Then, I live in the 7th, so I can deal with Frank Wagner.)

The new poll question comes out of tonight's Public Hearing on the draft Comprehensive Plan: what should Virginia Beach do - if anything - south of the Green Line? Many grassroots activists want to maintain the status quo. The City had the Urban Land Institute do the Pungo Village Plan as a means to cluster suburban services at a single point in the south - at Pungo. In addition, Councilman Bill DeSteph has argued that the Green Line is a barrier to the natural progression of the City.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Turkeys!

On Tuesday the Chesapeake City Council passed 8-0 a Resolution asking for a light rail extension study for their study. The Virginian-Pravda has the story here: http://hamptonroads.com/2009/11/chesapeake-seeks-study-joining-lightrail-line

There's the obvious story here: yet another city in the region jumps on board the train. 5 of the 7 cities are in some state of light rail planning or (in Norfolk) construction.

However, let me point out the more obscure story here. Many VBTAers (lef by Reid Greenmun) want Virginia Beach and Chesapeake to form their own separate Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The idea is to spilt the two cities off from Hampton Roads to form a separate region. (Virginia Beach alone doesn't meet the population threshold.) There they would build their "suburban utopia". Therefore, a light rail extension in Chesapeake is as much a threat to the VBTA's crack pipe dream as the Virginia Beach extension itself.

On a few different levels, way to go Chesapeake!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Phone Fun

One of my Facebook Friends posted this one, and it's quite amusing.

Dial the Nestle Crunch Hotline at (800) 295-0051. When it asks you to choose English or Spanish, doing nothing...and hear what happens after about 10 seconds. Press "4" from there and enjoy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

December Newtown SGA Meeting Schedule

The schedule has been set for the next round of public meetings on the Newtown Strategic Growth Area (SGA). The initial meetings were in October. This time, the consultant will be back with some concepts (based on the October input) to get public comment on.

1. Wednesday, December 16
LandMark Design Group
One Columbus, 11th Floor.

2. Thursday, December 17
Kempsville Baptist
5204 Princess Anne Road

Both meetings will run from 6 P.M. until 8 P.M.


As a rule I don't post trailers from currently running movies, as I don't want to be accused of acting in self-interest. However, this afternoon I watched a movie that most of you probably had no intention of seeing, Kurbaan. It's an Indian-made film which has at it's center an Islamic terrorist cell.

A young female Indian psychology professor who teaches in New York goes home for a semester to be with her father, who is recovering from a stroke. At the school where she's temporarily teaching in India, she meets a new young male faculty member. He aggressively pursues her, and she falls in love with him. Her father first hesitates at them marrying: they're a Hindu family, while he's Muslim. They get married, and he returns to New York with her.

After awhile there, she learns he's part of an Islamic terrorist cell. (Most members live in the same cul-de-sac.) He had known she was going back to New York and had a U.S. passport, making it easier for him to enter the country. She becomes their prisoner as they go to carry out their strikes. First they bomb a plane taking an UN delegation to Iraq. In the movie's climatic scene, they try to carry out virtually simultaneous bombings throughout Manhattan's subway system.

The film is multilingual (including English), and subtitled in English. Given some of the cheesy American-made stuff in the wake of 9/11, I had to love this Indian film.

An Idea Walking To The Bus Stop

Okay, it's a well-worn talking point to go on about how the policies advocated by the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) would backfire royally on the very taxpayers the VBTA pretends to represent.

However, an idea hit me walking to the bus stop today: could some area college student model the impact of their policies to meet one of their school requirements? Look at Virginia Beach, make monstrous cuts to the City Budget, withdraw the Beach from all regional agencies and organizations, stop using public funds to stimulate economic activity, etc. What would the result actually look like?

The gist of my idea is to try to provide the impact in a format that policy novices can grasp.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Start Planning Now

65% agreed that Hampton Roads should begin designing a series of dikes and levees with the sea's level expected to rise., with 35% opposed.

The new poll question: who will win the Republican nomination for the 8th Senate District special election?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TRAC November 18, 2009

The Transit Riders Advisory Committee (TRAC) of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) met Wednesday evening at HRT Headquarters in Hampton.

At their previous meeting, TRAC had approved their new committee guidelines, which include holding TRAC members to HRT's Sexual Harassment Policy. Copies of the policy were distributed to TRAC members. Offense Number One are "Unwelcome sexual advances". That led TRAC Chairman Henry Ryto to turn to Staff Liaison Tamara Poulson and ask, "How do you know it's an unwelcome sexual advance until she says 'No?"

Carlos Gonzalez of the TPO came to speak to TRAC. Gonzalez is handling community input for the TPO, and addressed members on what the TPO does. There was some support for TRAC trying to acquire a seat on the TPO's coming citizen advisory committee, but that wouldn't be until at least 2011 at this point.

Procedural changes were discussed with members. TRAC review will now be included in map, schedule, and board changes. In addition, incident reports will be differently coded. Finally, the reports members file prior to meetings were renamed.

TRAC hammered out the verbiage for insider cards to go on HRT buses. The insider cards will advertise TRAC, seeking to recruit more members.

Finally, HRT's response to the weather caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida was discussed. HRT had already launched a procedural review in the wake of the storm, with TRAC members having some ideas.

My Good Samaritan

With yesterday's TPO meeting adjourning about 12:06 yesterday, I knew I had closely missed the previous Outbound Greenbrier 15, with the next Outbound 15 through the area being the one from Robert Hall at 12:18. I hurried towards a courtesy stop on Military Highway.

As I made the final yards at a quick pace, a car exiting the adjacent strip mall beeped it's horn at me. I thought it had to be someone who had just left the TPO meeting, recognized me, and was coming out from one of the drive-thrus of the two fast food restaurants there. I went to see who it was.

The lady was a complete stranger. She had seen me hurrying along, and offered me a ride to my next destination. I told her all she needed to do was get me to the next marked bus stop, but she insisted on taking me all the way. I was going to Norfolk's Janaf branch library, wanting to get in an Internet session before heading on to Hampton. (The Regional Building, Janaf, and the MAX bus to Hampton are all on Route 15.)

She took me there. Arriving, I thanked her and pulled out my wallet to give her some gas money. She told me, "That's not necessary, it's the holidays." I picked up my bag, got out, and walked into the library.

As depraved as today's society is, it's always wonderful to run into people like that.

TPO November 18, 2009

Hampton Roads' Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) met on Wednesday for it's November meeting. There was one speaker under Public Comment: a bicyclist pushing bike paths. The consent agenda was unanimously passed.

Aubrey Layne, the recently-appointed member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), addressed the TPO. He expressed his thoughts on transportation and offered to work with the TPO where possible.

Mayor Joe Frank of Newport News has been Chairman of the TPO Committee, the body responsible for drawing up reforms of the TPO. All of it's work is done but for one point: fixing the public input process. Staff is sorting through a huge amount of citizen submissions on the subject. With that, Frank moved that the TPO Committee be dissolved, with Staff finishing work on public input. It passed unanimously.

The matter of setting up a citizens transportation advisory committee was covered. The committee is authorized to have a maximum membership of 30, and required to be geographically diverse. An initial group of 20 is scheduled to be voted on next month. Once any complaints about the composition of the committee are received, the final 10 members will be named to try to balance. Senator Yvonne Miller spoke up about the need for women and minorities to be represented.

The ongoing effort to prioritize the region's projects continues. The TPO voted to continue the work based on the interim criteria. What you didn't learn from Debbie Messina's utterly misleading story in today's paper was that the run of projects was only a test bed of less than 25% of the region's proposed projects, the criteria may be tweaked as the additional projects are loaded in, and the TPO was very specific that they were not endorsing the initial set of rankings.

Finally, the TPO voted to issue a RFP to hire a consultant on High Speed Rail. The naming of a High Speed Rail Task Force will now be delayed until the consultant is hired, allowing the consultant to input on the process.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


On my day off yesterday, I went to MacArthur Center to see 2012. It was pretty good.

However, what really got my attention was one of the trailers shown before the main feature: Invictus. Starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and having Clint Eastwood as Director, Invictus is based on the true story of how President Mandela wanted to unify South Africa by winning the rugby World Cup. Conventional wisdom was that it was impossible.

Well, Morgan Freeman has played the President of the United States (Deep Impact), not to mention God Himself (Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty), so Nelson Mandela isn't a stretch.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Spinning Their Wheels

The rain of the past few days has flooded the street that provides the lone entrance into our apartment complex (and the complex behind us). The water is up over the curb and covers the sidewalks.

Accordingly, a 4x4 trying to come in here this evening attempted to come over the curb and cut across the grounds, only to get stuck on the curb.

A second 4x4 tried coming across the grounds from the other direction to push him off, only to have it's wheels sink in the mud.

I'm now going outside to watch more of this.

Update: I went outside to view and see if I could help. Sure enough, I was asked if I had a shovel. (Yes, I do.)

The first vehicle was a blue Ford Bronco. It had come over the curb, only to get stuck in the mud just over the sidewalk. That area had been underwater most of the day. It was in deep.

The second vehicle was a white Chevrolet TrailBlazer. It had come over to push the Bronco out, but only had conventional two wheel rear drive. I advised them to push the TrailBlazer out backwards, but the driver wanted to go forward and make a sharp 90 degree left turn at the same time. (No way he was going to get sufficient traction that way.)

Finally, a late model Ford F250 pickup arrived to get the first vehicle out:

Attempt 1 - Chained the Bronco at the front and tried to pull it out. Not only went nowhere, but nearly got the F250 stuck.

Attempt 2 - With the TrailerBlazer driver still wanting to go forward with the turn, the F250 tried to push him forward. Didn't work.

Attempt 3 - The F250 managed to pull the Bronco with the chain backwards into the street. Hurrah!

Some self-important driver nearly plowed into both vehicles, then sped off beeping at them.

Attempt 4 - The F250 driver saw the same thing I had earlier: the TrailBlazer needed to go out backwards. With the chain, he got him out.

The funniest part: some guy with a compact car tried to drive across the lawn and slip out right through where the Bronco had got stuck! We yelled at him to stay out. Sure enough, he got stuck trying to get back to the parking lot.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pushing Through To 15th Street And Back

In looking forward to today's scheduled TDCHR meeting, the big concern was that there was also a Virginia Municipal League meeting slated. How many Commissioners would be gone? With an eminent domain hearing for Norfolk light rail, quorum was needed. What no one could have known then was that we'd be hit with the remnants of Hurricane Ida. With the New Starts Committee meeting scheduled for Noon, followed by TDCHR at 1:30, I called HRT to be sure things were still on before venturing out into this weather. What a fixture I've become: Staff recognized my voice on the phone. Yes, things were still rolling.

I went to the bus stop to catch Route 20 in. The good news is that we have a shelter for the Inbound 20; the bad news is that it's on low-lying ground. While it gave me protection from the storm, I was standing in about a half-inch of water. At least it was a very good bus: Bus 1806, out of the former Navy tour fleet. It has high-backed cushioned seats, overhead racks, etc. With the horrible weather, few passengers on this trip: only 5 of us going into Military Circle, then 6 leaving. Before departing the Military Circle Transfer Center, the Operator announced our weather detour: break route by going north on Ballentine, then west on Princess Anne Road, finally taking Church Street north to the temporary transfer center at 18th Street and Church Street. (The approach roads to the Cedar Grove Transfer Center were flooded, forcing it's closure.) Anyone who wanted to divert due to the detour was given a chance to disembark at Military Circle.

Arriving at 18th & Church, there was a long queue of buses lined up on 18th. The problem was that most had their destination signs off, and the Operators were huddling under the overhang of the union hall roof. Thus, neither did passengers know if their buses were there nor could they board to get out of the weather. Finally, the western portion of the walk to 15th Street meant going through water that at places was 5-6 inches deep.

Arriving at HRT's Southside administrative offices at 1500 Monticello Avenue, a couple employees recognized me. As I started to take my rain gear off, a Jason's Deli delivery driver entered with the food for the New Starts meeting. Since I was early (gave myself a cushion with the weather) and knew where the conference room was, I offered to escort him upstairs. Getting there, we learned the New Starts meeting had been cancelled. (That's plenty of food for nothing....) Present were Senior Vice President for Development Jayne Whitney and TDCHR Secretary Luis Ramos. I reported to Whitney on the trip in, while Ramos told me the only reason the TDCHR meeting was still on was the advertised eminent domain hearing. I engaged in chat with Staff while trying to dry out. At 11:40 the TDCHR meeting was finally cancelled. Ramos started calling Commissioners while Whitney told me to grab some food before taking the bus home. Before leaving, I asked if they had the packets for the since-cancelled TDCHR meeting. I know they're fact-filled, and figured I could work a blog post out of the information. Alas, the packets were at HRT Headquarters in Hampton and now not being transported over.

It was back through the water to 18th & Church. This time it didn't seem as bad, having done it before. Turning onto 18th Street, I could see the bus destinations signs were now on. Up close, I found that the Operators were onboard to allow passengers out of the weather. (Did Jayne speak to someone in Operations?) In addition, a HRT employee was now directing traffic to help handle that many buses on the narrow street.

As I walked up 18th, someone recognized me and asked, "Is the 20 down there?" No, it wasn't. We went to huddle under the union hall roof, with the 20 arriving within two minutes. The detour was now off, and we went south on Church, then east on Virginia Beach Boulevard to resume the normal route. At Tidewater Drive the Operator had to slip the bus between two stalled cars. Surprisingly, the amount of water at the bottom of the railroad underpass was negligible. (Nice going, Norfolk Public Works!) Finally, the lady sitting across from me was going to work. When I later heard that bus service would end today after 5, I immediately wondered how she was going to get home tonight.

For those of you wondering, the November TDCHR meeting is now cancelled and will not be rescheduled. The next meeting will be December 10 in Norfolk. Originally slated for Hampton, it will now be in Norfolk due to the light rail eminent domain hearing being pushed back to that date.

Overall, better than I had expected from HRT Operations in this weather. Note that the earlier problems at 18th & Church were being taken care of as I made my trip home.

Why this post? First, I'm sure there will be plenty of weather stories, so I shared mine. Second, it's probably the first online account of how the weather affected HRT. Third, last Christmas I noted how I won't let things get to me to make public duties. Wanted you to know I'm keeping my vow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

88% Will Ride Higher Speed Rail

88% of those who voted said they'd ride Higher Speed Rail from Norfolk if built, while 12% wouldn't.

The new poll question: should Hampton Roads begin planning a system of dikes and levees? In his most recent State of the Region Report, Dr. Koch stated that Hampton Roads should begin planning a system of dikes and levees to deal with an anticipated rise in water levels from the Atlantic Ocean. Do you agree?

Citizens Rapid Transit

Citizens Rapid Transit (CRT) was the predecessor of Pentran, which merged with Tidewater Regional Transit (TRT) to become Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) on October 1, 1999.

Well, someone has put up a website devoted to a historical look at CRT. The site includes some photos and a few stories. It's at: http://www.nnhs65.00freehost.com/crt.html

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yes, I Was Quieter Than Expected This Week

Yes, I was busy as usual. However, the big post I had been planning after November 3 was a first look at the 2010 Virginia Beach City Council races.

The catch is that one of the seats up is Ron Villanueva's At-Large seat. Until we know whether he's a Delegate-elect or still a City Councilman, it obviously can't be written.

Once the close call for the 21st District House of Delegates seat is settled, watch for it.

City Budget Public Meeting

On Thursday evening there was the second of four public meetings on the City Budget. 58 residents attended the session at Princess Anne High School.

Upon arrival participants were given documents with the evening's agenda, germane facts and figures, plus a survey. The meeting was called to order by City Manager Jim Spore, followed by presentations by Catheryn Whitesell (Director of Management Services), Councilman Jim Wood, and Vice Mayor Louis Jones. Afterwards, residents broke up into groups to discuss three questions.

The group questions were as follows:

1. In this recession, what should the City by doing and not doing?

2. What, if any, revenue sources should be considered to close the funding gap?

3. What other budget ideas should be considered?

There was a City employee recording all input.

Personally, I found the questions on the written survey even more interesting. Would you accept a Property Tax rate hike that was revenue neutral? What areas should be off-the-table for cuts? Other comments? However, the big question was where we were given 15 specific spending areas and asked if we were willing to pay more, the same, or less for them? The 15 areas: Fire, Police, EMS, Schools, Recreation Centers, Parks and Open Space, Museums/Cultural Activities, Public Health, Roadway Construction, Libraries, Economic Development Initiatives, Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Garbage Collection, Social Services - help to low income families, and Mass Transit (bus service).

For those on the fringe right who love calling me names ("liberal", "tax-and-spend", "socialist", etc), I cut in 8 of the 15 areas, holding in 4 others. (In contrast, a Department of Human Services employee sitting across from me cut nowhere while increasing spending in several categories.)

After the groups sessions were over, participants were asked to turn in their surveys and dismissed.

For others who want to sound off, there are future opportunities:

1. There are two remaining such meetings this Fall: November 18 at Green Run High School, and December 3 at Kellam High School. Residents should preregister through the Department of Management Services.

2. The FY 2011 Budget Hearings will be on April 22 and 27, with the locations to be determined.

3. Council is slated to adopt a Budget for FY 2011 on May 11.

The Presentation of the FY 2011 Budget to City Council will be on March 23. However, the public may not address the Budget on Presentation Night.

There were several notable personalities present. In addition to Councilmen Wood and Jones, Councilmen Davis, DeSteph, and Dyer also came. Beth Allen of the VBTA, author of their hatchet pieces on Town Center and the light rail Community Advisory Committee, walked over and introduced herself. Yes, Bob (Anti-Everything) O'Connor came. 3 members of the 2009 CCO Board of Directors participated, as well as 2 nominees for the 2010 Board. Finally, I spotted a Republican former Legislative Aide and a ranking VBPD Officer.

Once the public meetings are over, all input will be compiled and posted on the City's website.

RAC November 5, 2009

On Thursday afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) held it's November meeting.

Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Jim Ricketts gave a preliminary summary of the 2009 season. For the year to date, occupancy is down 1.03%, led by a huge drop in the Northampton Boulevard Corridor. September occupancy was up 4.7% over a year ago, so we may be turning the corner. The per capita income of our visitors continues to increase.

Captain Tony Zucaro, commander of VBPD's 2nd Precinct, covered Resort Area policing. Arrests were down in 2009. The only major problem 2nd Precinct had to deal with was the Peppermint Beach Club, which recently surrendered it's ABC license. There are over 130 establishments with ABC licenses at the Oceanfront, and VBPD is working with them to improve dealing with habitual problem children.

Probably the biggest news of the day was that a Resolution reported out of the GREEN Committee was passed unanimously by the full RAC. The Resolution advocates that Virginia Beach study offshore wind as an alternative energy source, including it's potential impact on government facilities. (Yes, the word "radar" came up.)

The amusing item of the day was The Hippo, a proposed inflatable large water slide that would be placed on the beach. There are a number of issues. First, while only 4-5 feet high most of it's length, the tower would be 36 feet high. That makes placement a problem. Both Staff sketches involve putting it in front of a public park, either at 17th Street or 24th Street. That would prevent it from blocking the views from hotel rooms or condos. Second, is the possible proliferation of such ventures. As a rule, the City of Virginia Beach does not allow businesses other than beach umbrella and chair rentals onto the beach itself. Would it be opening a Pandora's Box? Third, given the capital outlay for purchasing the slide ($80,000), the usual matrix wouldn't be observed. Rather than having an one year pilot program before granting a franchise, a five year franchise would be granted off the bat. The RAC's Resort Investment Committee (RIC) endorsed on Wednesday, with the full RAC endorsing to study it at Thursday's meeting, with Commissioners Henry Ryto and Art Webb abstaining.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

You've Read The Comp Plan

60% of voters have read Virginia Beach's draft Comprehensive Plan, 35% hadn't, while 3% planned to.

The new question is on the big story of the week: Higher Speed Rail. If built, would you ride it?

"Trailblazers, Triumphs, and Tributes"

That was the theme for the annual Freedom Fund Banquet of the Virginia Beach Chapter of the NAACP, held Friday evening at the Westin at Town Center. Over 200 people were in attendance for an enjoyable evening with a good meal.

The Banquet opened with the signing of Lift Every Voice And Sing, which has been called "The Black National Anthem". The Mistress of Ceremonies was Benita Adams of WVEC-TV. Mayor Will Sessoms and his wife attended, with the Mayor reading the Proclamation making October 30, 2009 "NAACP Freedom Fund Day".

The Awards were given out by Georgia Allen, who has been President of the Virginia Beach Chapter since 2000. The 2009 recipients:

1. Community Services Award - Delceno Miles, CEO of the Miles Agency.

2. Community Services Award - Delegate Bob Tata

3. Trailblazer Award - Senator Yvonne Miller. Senator Miller was not only the first African-American woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, but the first into the Virginia Senate, too.

4. President's Awards - posthumously to Pastor W. Samuel Walton and Reverend C.K. Jones.

The Keynote Address was by Monique Morris, Vice President for Research and Advocacy of the national NAACP. Morris noted that Virginia Beach hasn't had an African-American City Council member in over a decade, despite a population that's about 20% African-American. Virginia Beach has the biggest racial disparity in the nation on drug arrests. In South Hampton Roads as a whole, African-Americans are twice as likely to be rejected for mortgages as Whites with equal footing, and six times as likely to be offered subprime loans when trying to refinance their homes.

I have a good sense of humor, and last night had it's moments:

1. Delceno Miles stated that Georgia Allen and Carl Wright were the only two people who could get that many politicians into a room and never allow them to speak.

2. Yvonne Miller gave advice to the men, "You don't have to understand your woman, just love her."

3. As Georgia Allen noted she may be missing some officials in the room, at our back row table we began waving arms, napkins, and pointing to get her attention. She finally realized she had missed Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant.

Yes, Georgia missed some (she never got City Councilman Glen Davis), and I will, too. However, I post this partial list to show anyone who has never attended the Freedom Fund Banquet just how major an event it is:

1. Congress - 2nd District Representative Glen Nye

2. General Assembly - Senator Yvonne Miller, and Delegates Bob Tata, Joe Bouchard, & Bobby Mathieson.

3. City Council - Mayor Will Sessoms, and Councilmen Bob Dyer & Glen Davis.

4. Virginia Beach City Staff - City Manager Jim Spore, Deputy City Manager Susie Walston, CVB Director Jim Ricketts, and a large contingent of senior VBPD Officers. All three African-American department Directors were in attendance: Fagan Stackhouse (Human Resources), Warren Harris (Economic Development), and Jason Cosby (Public Works).

5. Republicans - Governor-in-waiting Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen, 2nd District Chairman Gary Byler, and Congressional candidates Scott Taylor & Chuck Smith.

6. NAACP - the branch Presidents from the other four cities of South Hampton Roads.

The Banquet ended with an exercise where we turned to the person next to us and said "Neighbor, change begins with you." It will.

TPO Higher Speed Rail Special Meeting

Yesterday there was a special meeting of the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), Hampton Roads' Federally-mandated Transportation planning board. The meeting was called to try to settle on an alignment for future Higher Speed Rail service to our region.

I arrived early for the meeting and the three draft Resolutions were already out on the Staff table. After having been told by two sources last month that it would be Peninsula first, I was stunned to see that all three Resolutions were Norfolk first. It was the proverbial snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.

There were three Presentation given to the TPO: by their own Staff, by Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transport (DRPT), and by Amtrak. After considerable discussion, the TPO Staff Resolution was passed with about a half-dozen floor amendments. The Resolution:

1. Designates the 460 Corridor to Norfolk route for Higher Speed Rail service.

2. Designates the Peninsula's CSX Corridor for enhanced rail service.

3. Establishes a High Speed Rail Task Force.

The Resolution passed unanimously after a few feeble trial balloons by Peninsula representatives to postpone a decision until the TPO's regular November meeting. With applications for rail funding by Federal stimulus money due in March, 2010, the TPO needed to act now or risk missing the train.

Having sat through the Presentation yesterday, let me take on the disinformation on this issue that has been spewed by VBTA Vice Chairman/Transportation Chairman Reid Greenmun:

1. Higher Speed Rail is not an end in itself, by an interim measure. A Service Development Plan for the region will now be drawn up in a collaborative effort by Amtrak, DRPT, the TPO, Norfolk Southern, and CSX. The Service Development Plan will lay out steps to eventually get us to High Speed Rail.

2. High Speed Rail (i.e. trains over 150 mph) requires a separate track with buffering from much slower freight trains. Therefore, such systems take years to bring to fruition.

3. Rarely is there even an application to jump directly from no service (as in Norfolk today) to High Speed Rail.

4. The only place in the U.S. with trains running over 150 mph today is in some stretches of Rhode Island with Amtrak Acela service.

Rail service is like airline service: you start with turboprops or regional jets, then build your way up to Boeings.

Higher Speed Rail would be a huge Transportation boost for Hampton Roads. Currently Amtrak carries as many passengers from New York City to Boston and Washington as the airlines. Amtrak's average speed Washington to New York City is 83 mph.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Virginia Beach Vision Transportation Forum

Yesterday evening Virginia Beach Vision hosted a Transportation Forum at Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library. A number of community leaders were invited to attend, and the room was packed. The Forum featured a panel discussion by Dwight Farmer (Executive Director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization), Aubrey Layne (Commonwealth Transportation Board, Hampton Roads District member), and Mike Barrett (VB Vision Vice President).

Some alarming facts were given. First, except for interstate highways, Virginia is effectively out of the road building business. Second, Virginia may soon have to look at abandoning some public roads. Both are due to lack of funding.

Interesting statistic of the night: the average Virginia driver pays $96.25 per year in Gas Tax, a figure lower than you would have guessed.

Dwight Farmer presented some numbers pertaining specifically to Hampton Roads. First, travel demand has grown at 2-5 times the rate that we're adding road capacity. Second, the average interstate speed at rush hour is under 25 mph. Third, the HRBT regularly has backups of 5-7 miles, the Downtown Tunnel 2 miles, the Midtown Tunnel 1-2 miles, Interstate 64 1-3 miles, and the High Rise Bridge 1-2 miles.

However, their own presentations punched a couple holes in the standard mantra:

1. SOVs - Dwight Farmer stated that the average vehicle occupancy rate at rush hour in Hampton Roads was 1.25 people 30 years ago, and is 1.09 now. (He jokes with staff that it will soon drop below 1.) If everyone who commuted by Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) now carpooled once every two weeks, current congestion would be eliminated. If everyone who commuted by SOV carpooled once weekly, we'd have enough road capacity for the next 24 years.

By his own figures, Farmer tipped the hand that SOVs are at least as big a problem as new construction in Hampton Roads.

2. The Coming End Run - Aubrey Layne stated that Virginia may soon have to go to economic impact statements on grading out roads projects. If so, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia - with much larger populations - would get roads money now going to other parts of the state.

That sets up an end run around Virginia's current roads funding formula, which has a rural bias. When we start pulling away roads money from rural areas, how long do you think it would be before rural legislators want to raise taxes and fees for more roads money? (Probably a shorter time than it takes for a gallon of milk to go sour.)


Dwight Farmer announced that TPO meetings will now be taped with the sessions later posted on YouTube for public viewing. That starts with Friday's special meeting on Higher Speed Rail.


The panelists offered to take their "dog and pony show" to any group wanting such a presentation. CCO President Sam Reid slipped into the room quietly late. (I didn't know he was there until afterwards.) The CCO may invite the panelists to a future general meeting as the meeting program.

If you haven't seen them yet, watch the CCO's website to see if and when they are coming.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I Wish I Didn't Have This Post To Make

The local media has noted the rise in homelessness due to the recession. Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms has stated he doesn't believe we can close the Winter Shelter program next Spring. Taking the bus to and from this evening's Comprehensive Plan meeting, I got to see the problem firsthand.

Four stops down the line from where I boarded, a homeless man got on the bus. He started asking the Operator about one program. It turned out much of the information he had been given before boarding was wrong, so I tried to help him. He sat in a seat near mine so we could talk easily. As we approached the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center (JCOC), I pointed out his stop to him and gave him a final briefing. It turned out that another man within earshot was homeless, had slept in the Winter Shelter program last night, and was heading back. The first man followed him off the bus. My reward for the day was the look he gave me as he disembarked.

It got worse. I caught the bus home at the Oceanfront Library stop. There were three women there who had been turned away by Winter Shelter because all the slots for tonight were full. At the JCOC stop, another woman boarded who appeared to be homeless. Later a couple Hardee's employees joined us who were heading home from work for the night, bringing chicken with them. They gave the one woman sitting adjacent to them a couple pieces of chicken. One of the original trio got off the bus in the Oceana area. The other three were still onboard when we reached my home stop; I have no idea where they were going for the night.

For those unfamiliar, Virginia Beach has two homeless shelter programs. The JCOC is a year-round program with it's own buildings in the Seatack neighborhood. Winter Shelter is administered by the Volunteers of America, but doesn't operate during the Summer months. Winter Shelter is hosted by a different church each week, with the homeless provided a mat to sleep on in the church. They are fed before being sent out for the day; in my previous parish, the Knights of Columbus cooked them breakfast. Evening pickup is at the JCOC after the free dinner there, with transportation provided to the church for the night.

A writer in Port Folio (back when they had the print edition) once commented that the cities in our region are in a competition to cut services for the needy, to try to drive their poor into the neighboring cities. The regional nature of the homeless issue wasn't lost on me tonight: the bus those three women were on was going to cross the line into Norfolk in a few minutes. Hampton Roads, we have a problem.

Comprehensive Plan Public Meeting

This evening there was a public meeting at the convention center on Virginia Beach's draft Comprehensive Plan. I counted 17 in attendance. (City Staff told me there were 26 last Thursday evening at the Bayside Recreation Center.)

The meeting started with a Presentation by Tom Pauls, who is the City's chief land planner. There were stations around the room where the public could ask questions and make comments. Most everyone had made their points within an hour.

As for myself, I first went to the housing station to advocate for low-income housing. While the draft has language about "diverse" housing, it never tackles our low-income housing shortage head on. Afterwards, I walked over to Transportation to see what was going on.

The City is asking residents for suggestions for naming Strategic Growth Area 2, the land southwest of Regent University and next to Interstate 64. One group wanted "Just Say 'No' To Pat". Since it's in Centerville District, I threw in "Dyerville" and "South Newark". (Councilman Bob Dyer is originally from Newark, NJ.)

There are still four additional chances scheduled for the public to comment on the new Comprehensive Plan:

1. Thursday, October 29
Creeds Elementary School, 7 P.M.

2. Wednesday, November 12
Planning Commission, Noon

3. Tuesday, December 1
City Council public comment, 6 P.M.

4. Tuesday, December 8
tentative City Council approval, 6 P.M.

As a Catholic, I had to grin at that last date: December 8 is the Feast Of The Immaculate Conception. The Comp Plan being adopted on Immaculate Conception? There have to be some good lines there.

There's a school of thought that argues that the Comprehensive Plan is the most important document adopted by local government. While I believe it's second (after the Budget), the point I want to make with residents is that you need to read the Plan and voice your opinion prior to the City Council vote. The Comp Plan is that important!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Drama Queens Cometh?

On Tuesday's agenda for the Virginia Beach City Council's formal session is the granting of a new two-year contract to City Manager Jim Spore. I'm certainly no Jim Spore fan, but only a fool would bet against Council approving the contract.

That raises a big question in my mind: who shows up Tuesday evening in the Council Chambers to comment on the issue? You'll have the VBTV cameras to play to, probably a Virginian-Pravda reporter, maybe even other media if it's a slow news day. (I'll never forget two television stations showing up for a Cigarette Tax increase.) Anyone want to see how much hyperbole you can unload in three minutes?

I have another meeting across town on Tuesday evening, so I can't make it. However, I plan watch the streaming video on the City's website later.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

TDCHR October 22, 2009

The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) held it's October meeting this afternoon in Hampton.

A Presentation was given by Rear Admiral Mark Boensel, Commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. He covered the Navy's economic impact on the region ($14.69 billion directly in FY 2008), but - appropriately enough - Transportation. Boensel stated that the Navy advocates enhanced mass transit as a means of getting sailors and civilian personnel to and from their bases. Most importantly, Boensel made it clear that the United States Navy supports light rail in Hampton Roads! (Take that, VBTA: being anti-LRT is being anti-Navy!) In addition, the Navy likes The Third Crossing "in concept".

In September HRT ridership was up 6.59% over September, 2008.

HRT is $741,049 under Budget for FY 2010.

Sign that we're coming out of the recession? HRT is short 8 full-time Operators: 7 in Norfolk, 1 at Virginia Beach Base. HRT is chronically short Operators, but in recent months slots have been kept full by the poor job market.

Finally, a contract was awarded for station finishes on Norfolk's light rail line, which came in over $136,000 under budget.

The Public Is Much Smarter Than Reid Greenmun

As part of the process for developing the region's 2034 Long-Range Transportation Plan, an Internet survey of residents was conducted. When asked the question "What do you think is the most effective way to reduce transportation congestion in our region?", here's what they chose:

1. Expanding the mass transit system - 228

2. Providing passenger rail service between metro areas - 217

3. Adequate, dedicated transportation funding - 187

4. Improving coordination of land use and transportation planning - 128

5. Expanding the highway system - 99

6. Improving the operation of existing highway facilities - 96

7. Maintaining existing transportation system - 82

8. Improving the operation of existing transit service - 58

9. Providing more biking and walking facilities - 58

10. Adding freight capacity - 44

11. Other - 22

Note that the Top 4 responses all spell "Smart Growth".

TPO October 21, 2009

Wednesday morning the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) held it's October meeting. The TPO is Hampton Roads' Federally-mandated Transportation planning commission.

First of all, there were no speakers for the Public Comment session, then the consent agenda was passed unanimously without comment.

The big thing was that the TPO agreed on how to weight various criteria as they move to prioritize the region's planned transportation projects. There was both a study by Staff on what other regions do, and there was a public survey on the Internet that drew over 900 responses. In addition, there will be second public survey later in the prioritization process.

The TPO named the first group of members to serve on it's advisory committee for freight shipping issues.

Finally, there was a briefing on Phase II of the regional transit vision plan. Public meetings on draft Phase II will be held in the Spring.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sacre Bleu!

Coming out of the City Council strategic planning meeting, I crafted a poll question on the Property Tax rate. I never would have guessed what the results would be: 47% want to raise the rate to above 91 cents, 34% want to raise the rate to remain revenue neutral (with assessments projected to go down 5%), 10% want to hold at the current 89 cent rate, while 6% want to drop the rate below 89 cents. 81% of voters backed some form of rate hike.

The new poll question is on the new draft Comprehensive Plan for Virginia Beach: have you read it? If not, do you plan to? There are three public meetings scheduled for resident questions and comments on the Comprehensive Plan:

1. Thursday, October 22 - Bayside Recreation Center

2. Monday, October 26 - Virginia Beach Convention Center

3. Thursday, October 29 - Creeds Elementary School

All meetings will run 7-9 P.M. In addition, later both the Planning Commission and City Council will hold Public Hearings on the Comprehensive Plan before it is adopted by Council.

I Finally Figured It Out

It's always cheap fun to kick around our favorite bunch of kooks, the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA). Transportation is one of the major issues in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads as a whole. A number have verbally jousted with the VBTA and their Transportation Chairman, Reid Greenmun, on the subject. Under Reid's "leadership", the VBTA has opposed each and every plan to build roads while advocating that we dismantle mass transit. If you're actually trying to improve Transportation, such a line is utterly insane.

However, the "logic" of it finally came to me. To understand VBTA policy, obviously you must first suspend rational thought. It all goes back to their desire to reduce Virginia Beach to a retirement park for senior citizens. To achieve such a goal, it would be necessary to choke off the Transportation network, so tourists, commerce, etc. can't make it to Virginia Beach. Therefore, you attack the Transportation connections to other cities in the region and access in and out of the region. The previous Vice Chairman of the VBTA once told City Council, "Commerce is killing us." The statement is absolutely bizarre for anyone in the mainstream, but not through the VBTA's prism.

Remember that when John Moss ran for Mayor last year, his position was to cut the City Budget by $100 million, with half going to tax relief, and half going to local roads within Virginia Beach. While mobility within our City is appreciated by the VBTA, they don't see beyond the city line.

There, I said it publicly. Next time you're confounded by the VBTA opposing every initiative to improve Transportation, remember what I told you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Transit Notes October 16, 2009

Today's full itinerary (a medical appointment, lunch & matinee, and a couple errands) made for an 11 bus day. Some notes from it all:

1. It was the first time I had rode the first Outbound Route 20 of the morning, which goes through Pembroke East at 5:45 A.M. We fluctuated around a dozen passengers. It was a tight group, as the regulars and the Operator knew each other and chatted as friends.

2. Taking Route 29, I stumbled onto an alarming occurrence: the bus stop at Lynnhaven Mall has temporarily been moved to the rear, with Mall access via the backdoors to the Food Court. (I hadn't seen a HRT Passenger Alert on it.) The huge problem: Route 29 already runs regularly late, so the additional few minutes to loop behind the Mall is a disaster. Even in the quiet of the morning, we were late arriving at the TCC - Virginia Beach Transfer Center.

Route 26 and 29 passengers should cushion their riding itineraries to handle possible late buses. (Routes 26 and 29 are presently serviced with the same three buses, with them flipping routes at TCC.)

3. I took the MAX into downtown Norfolk. With it's schedule being reduced in the off-season, it was the last day of midday Route 960 service until May. If only this had happened earlier: 11 passengers were on our trip. (Decent midday loads could have saved the 960.)

4. Preparing to leave downtown Norfolk, I had to grin when I saw the bus approaching on Route 310. It was Bus 511, the same vehicle I rode on that early Outbound 20 trip.

Today's movie was Capitalism: A Love Story. I liked it better than either of the two previous Michael Moore films I had seen: it has neither the flimsy and transparent propaganda of Fahrenheit 9/11 nor was over-the-top like Sicko. Even where I disagreed with Moore on government policy, I enjoyed the humor he aimed at his targets. In this movie, Moore is fairly open about his political goal: cooperative socialism. (For those on the fringe right who love to throw around the word "socialism" to attack any spending you oppose, there's a clear difference between cooperative socialism, state socialism, and traditional American liberalism.) Regardless of your politics, if you opposed the recent Federal bailouts, you'll like Moore's skewering of them.