Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Say "No" To Non-Resident Library Fees

One of the accounting tricks in the proposed amendments to the FY 2010 Virginia Beach Budget is to impose an annual $45 fee for non-residents using our libraries. It's a case where what is good politics is bad public policy.

I live in Virginia Beach and have a Beach library card. I also have cards from Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth. Each system has it's strengths:

Chesapeake - probably the best all-around: large book collections, plenty of good computers, nice buildings, and more operating hours than anyone else in the region. If they only had much better meeting rooms....

Newport News - the Pearl Bailey Library may be small, but has the feel of a community center.

Norfolk - my favorite computer room is in the new main library in the Seaboard Building. In addition, the Pretlow is a gem.

Portsmouth - patrons are friendly, plus a neat queueing system for the public computers.

Virginia Beach should not launch a regional fee war. First, as dependent as we are on visitors, we should be mindful of our image. Second, as Virginia Beach often gets portrayed as the bad guy in regional efforts, no need to feed into it.

Virginia law provides that the resident of any jurisdiction may get a reciprocal library card in any other locality in the Commonwealth. It's an easy argument that a non-residents fee violates the spirit - if not the letter - of the law.

Here's an idea for further regional cooperation: how about an agreement among localities not to impose non-resident library fees on residents from elsewhere in Hampton Roads?

Monday, March 30, 2009

No Ads Here

Blogger has now made it very easy to put ads on your blog and take in some cash.

I'm not going to. As those of you who read my Christmas' posts know, I'm not in this for money. Since Blogger is freeware, I have no costs in maintaining this blog. Therefore, I won't subject you to ads.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bob McDonnell Kicks Off Campaign

Yesterday Bob McDonnell kicked off his campaign for Governor. Also speaking at the Rally at Princess Anne High School were Randy Forbes and Bill Bolling. Bearing Drift has excellent coverage; however, as a Blogger for McDonnell, I'd be remiss not to put up a post on it.

I ran into a few people I hadn't seen in awhile. Also, quite a few members of the Virginia Beach City Council were there: Glenn Davis, Rosemary Wilson, Louis Jones, Ron Villanueva, and John Uhrin.

The most intriguing sight of the day: someone wearing a "Huckabee/Palin 2012" t-shirt. (Where do I get one?)

Both Bolling and McDonnell gave great speeches. The focus of McDonnell's campaign is going to be jobs. That wins on two levels: it's especially hot button in this economy, and the Demonrats can never beat Republicans on jobs creation.

This campaign is Bob McDonnell's to lose. Fun fact: since 1977, the party holding the White House has lost the Virginia Governor's race.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

82% Want Ken To Run For Sheriff

82% of poll voters want Senator Ken Stolle to run for Sheriff of Virginia Beach, while 17% were opposed.

The new poll: should pedicabs be allowed to operate along the bike path paralell to Virginia Beach's Boardwalk?

Norfolk's Light Rail Starter Line Is A Bargain

Compare Norfolk's cost per mile with other light rail systems recently built around the country and you'll see our Starter Line is very cost-effective:

Norfolk - $38,918,918

Charlotte (Lynx Blue Line) - $48,197,916

Portland (Interstate Avenue - MAX Yellow Line) - $55,172,413

Denver (West Corridor Line) - $58,429,752

Phoenix (Central/East Valley) - $68,965,517

Portland (South Corridor Line) - $69,361,445

Los Angeles (Expo Line Phase 1) - $100,930,232

Now that you know the facts, don't fall for naysayers generalizations about light rail construction costs. Not only is Norfolk's Starter Line the cheapest out there, but the Virginia Beach extension should cost even less per mile given the straightaway railroad Right-Of-Way that's being purchased.

Stimulus Checks in May

For those receiving Social Security benefits, Vice President Joe Biden announced one-time stimulus payments of $250 will be distributed in May. http://www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/pr/recovery-payments-pr.htm

TDCHR March 26, 2009

The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), met this afternoon.

Norfolk's light rail Starter Line is about 30% complete, and track and ties should begin to be laid on the eastern portion later next week. Promotion standees reading "The Tide Is Rising" and holding brochures will begin appearing in Norfolk locations.

The awarding of the contract for the Virginia Beach light rail DEIS has been delayed until April. HRT expects to have a pricing proposal from the most qualified bidder late next week.

HRT is running more than $2.2 million under it's Operating Budget for FY 2009.

The draft Operating Budget for FY 2010 has been trimmed to the point where it is less than an .1% increase over FY 2009. First, a one year amendment has allowed state capital funds (which will be supplanted by Federal stimulus money) to be moved to operations. Second, $1 million in Federal funds have been received from the MPO. Third, the termination of Hampton neighborhood service will allow that money to be shifted. Fourth, 7 positions (3 vacant) have been eliminated.

There was a Presentation on the regional Mass Transit Vision Plan, which is scheduled to be released next week. There may be a second round to the process to deal with the Plan's shortcomings.

Some online have wondered where HRT got $5 million from to help with the purchase of the Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way in Virginia Beach at the same time the system is facing possible service cuts. The money is Federal Section 5307 funds, which couldn't be used for bus operations.

Finally, the next meeting of the TDCHR will be April 23 in Hampton at HRT headquarters at 1:30 P.M.

Virginia Beach City Council To Speak At The CCO

Virginia Beach City Council members have been invited to the April 8 meeting of the Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), Virginia Beach's civic league federation. Councilmen will give short remarks to civic league representatives, then take questions from the audience.

The meeting will be at 7 P.M. in the Auditorium of Meyera Oberndorf Central Library. The public is welcome.

TPPC March 26, 2009

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

The opening order of business was a discussion of charter buses loading and unloading on Atlantic Avenue. With a consensus building, CCO RAC representative Henry Ryto moved to send the measure for needed study. His motion was to remand the preferred options to Traffic Engineering and the Virginia Beach Police Department for study and comment, and to send to Traffic Engineering the preferred long-term solution for study. The motion passed unanimously.

Resort Administrator Mike Eason briefed the TPPC on changes that City Council had made to Resort parking on Tuesday. First, parking meters were hiked from 75 cents per hour to $1 hour. The new electronic meters at the Oceanfront can be reprogrammed with the change; the previous meters would have had to have been replaced to do it. Second, both Eason and Council Liaison John Uhrin emphasized $1 parking for residents after 5 P.M. remains, even as free parking on Wednesdays was eliminated. Third, parking fees will remain in place in October given the proliferation of events during that month.

Finally, the TPPC approved a proposal to conduct a pilot program for pedicabs travelling along the Boardwalk's bike path.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

City Staff Proposes To Hold On Virginia Beach Bus Service

The draft Budget presented to the Virginia Beach City Council last night proposes the "same old same old" on bus service: no service cuts (which other cities may be facing), but no new service.

Where the latter comes into play is with light rail. Under Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regulations, Virginia Beach must boost it's current year-round bus service by at least 20% in order to get in the queue for Federal light rail funding. If they don't go in FY 2010, then they absolutely, positively must boost bus service in FY 2011 by at least 20%!

Talk about "dollar wise and penny foolish": Virginia Beach will spend $40 million on the Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way for light rail, only to face seeing the investment bottlenecked by the failure to provide adequate bus service. Does City Hall get it?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Budget Presentation Tonight

The FY 2010 Budget will be presented to the Virginia Beach City Council this evening. Given the fiscal stresses and policy challenges the City faces, this one should be particularly interesting.

Expect the customary bad drama from the usual suspects.

Friday, March 20, 2009

They're Laughing At Us In Seattle

Yesterday the Seattle Transit Blog ran a story Taking the Sounder To The Sounders FC. The Sounder is their commuter rail service; Sounders FC is their new Major League Soccer team. (If only we had major league sports in Hampton Roads....) The story is at http://seattletransitblog.com/2009/03/19/taking-sounder-to-the-sounders-fc/

Scroll down to the comment by Jessica at 21:03:45. Yes, she attacks bus Route 36 here in Virginia Beach. Furthermore, she's right. Virginia Beach is Virginia's largest city, and our bus service is joked about even in the Pacific Northwest.

The worst part: the 36 is one of our better routes. Ouch!

UCAC March 18, 2009

Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) User Citizen Advisory Committee (UCAC) met on Wednesday evening at HRT's Norfolk office.

UCAC Chairman Henry Ryto addressed that morning's MPO actions on mass transit. He specified items of particular interest to the UCAC and it's members: 14 new hybrid buses, bus shelters, and remodeling of the Newport News Transportation Center (NNTC) and Hampton Transportation Center (HTC).

UCAC Staff Liaison Tamara Poulson covered the major issues raised in the City Reports submitted by committee members. In addition, for newcomers she made clear what should (policy issues and questions) and shouldn't (operations specifics) go into a City Report.

Poulson gave an update on pending changes to the UCAC Guidelines. With the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) By-Laws about to be revised, the UCAC Guidelines will be put on hold until the TDCHR By-Laws' revisions are ratified to prevent conflicts between the two.

HRT Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications James Toscano is scheduled to meet with and address the UCAC at it's May meeting.

General comments were then received from committee members prior to adjournment.

The next UCAC meeting will be May 20 in Hampton at HRT Headquarters at 6 P.M. (May 20 is also the birthday of Chairman Ryto's mother. )

Virginia Beach NAACP 2009 Priorities

The New Journal and Guide, the Southside African-American weekly newspaper, did an article on priorities of the Virginia Beach Chapter of the NAACP http://www.njournalg.com/VA.BeachNAACPWorkingFor...(New).htm

Priority number 1 is representation in the City government, Priority 2 Education, and Priority 3 is Economic Inclusion. Georgia Allen has been President of the Virginia Beach Chapter since 2000.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Should Ken Stolle Run For Sheriff?

52% of you back government funding of the Arts. Personally, I believe most Art is frivolous.

The new question: should Ken Stolle run for Sheriff?

MPO March 18, 2009

This morning was the March meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Hampton Roads' Federally-mandated Transportation planning board.

The matter taking the most time was the need to endorse lists of projects for Federal stimulus money. $41 million in regional projects were selected, then a list for the region's share of statewide stimulus money. The hangup was what to do with Phase II of The Third Crossing: while it looks good as a competitive project, technically it's ineligible for the state list in that it's not in the region's Long Range Plan.

Great news for those of us in Virginia Beach:

1. 14 new hybrid buses to complete trolley replacement are on the statewide list.

2. $6 million to fund the AA/DEIS for the light rail extension package of Newtown Road - Dome site and EVMS - Norfolk NOB was given initial approval without objection.

Groundbreaking was that $18.1 million of the statewide list is for mass transit needs. Traditionally such Federal apportionments go exclusively for roads. It signals a sea change in thinking at the MPO, as the region's leadership realizes better mass transit is essential.

VDOT gave a briefing on it's restructuring forced by fiscal stress.

Finally, kudos to the Staff at The Regional Building. After assuming everyone wants to drink coffee at the previous MPO meetings I went to, they did offer tea this morning. (Ever had French Vanilla tea?)

Selective Indignation By The VBTA

It's always fun to call the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) to task. I think all the readers of this blog are familiar with their tantrums over Mayor Will Sessoms' position on a light rail referendum. "You promised a referendum...he's a liar...."

Notice the deafening silence from the VBTA over another Sessoms campaign promise that the Mayor has yet to act on: mandatory Inclusionary Zoning. During his Mayoral campaign, a number of times Sessoms stated we needed to mandate an affordable dwelling component in every new development. If the VBTA wants to attack the Mayor's honesty, why aren't they out pushing for a mandatory IZ program? Hehe...the VBTA (along with now-defunct CACI) was one of only two groups in Virginia Beach to oppose enacting the City's Workforce Housing Program...which has yet to see an unit built.

So the VBTA wants to hold Sessoms on his light rail referendum pledge, but is happy to let him slide on mandatory IZ? Yeah, the VBTA has a much bigger credibility problem than the Mayor.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chris Stolle To Hold Reception

Dr. Chris Stolle, who narrowly lost the 83rd House District race to Joe Bouchard in 2007, is holding a reception at the Town Center City Club on Thursday, March 26 from 6 to 7:30 P.M.

An e-mail put out this afternoon makes clear that while Dr. Stolle has not formally announced his candidacy in the 83rd, he is considering so. He then criticises Joe Bouchard for saying one thing at home then voting another way in Richmond.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cuccinelli Runs And Hides

Senator Ken Cuccinelli, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Virginia Attorney General, sent out an e-mail blast this morning. In it he refused to take a position on the controversy surrounding Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Chairman Jeff Frederick. Republican State Central Committee members have brought 10 charges for impeachment against Frederick, and a special SCC meeting has been called for April 4 to address the allegations.

If Cuccinelli was actually a leader, he'd be getting out front on this issue tearing at the RPV. So far, presumed nominee for Governor Bob McDonnell and all Virginia Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives (among others) have called for Frederick's resignation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mayor Sessoms Announces Deal On Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way

This morning Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms announced an agreement has been signed for the City to purchase the Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way. That 66 foot wide corridor would provide the path for light rail to be extended from Norfolk to the Oceanfront.

Needless to say, $40 million isn't being spent to have it as a bike path.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

72% Want A TIF Or SSD

In our latest poll, 72% of voters prefer to pay for the construction of Virginia Beach light rail through a TIF or SSD. 18% want a new tax or fee, while 9% want to pull the money from the General Fund.

From a couple discussions I've had on the issue, that seems to be the center position on it. Why ask neighborhoods far off the rail line to pay when you can simply capture the increased revenue from those who benefit the most?

Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) Transportation Chairman Reid Greenmun was on here claiming the question was "premature". Uh...let me point out the VBTA's own four page February 9 "Statement" (read: rant) on light rail addresses the possibility of a TIF or SSD. So Reid is so far to the looney right that he's taken a personal position on light rail that makes the VBTA look liberal.

The new question: should government subsidize the arts? This comes in the wake of the Virginia Symphony asking the Virginia Beach City Council for money for the second time in under a year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You'll Laugh At This!

Cox Communications has a kiosk at the Food Court in Pembroke Mall. The kiosk has two courtesy computers that the public can use, but there's a filter on them that can be annoying. However, I had to laugh this morning when I found out the latest site that's blocked on them: Virginia News Source (VNS).

I tried three times to be sure what the computer was doing. Try navigating to VNS and it will take you to Cox's homepage instead.

Psst...Cox...you haven't blocked the VBTA's website yet (which hasn't been updated in 14 months)....

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Kelly's Backstage Tavern

Arriving in downtown Norfolk in late morning to see the movie Madea Goes To Jail (very good), I stopped in Kelly's Backstage Tavern for an early lunch. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't.

When I entered, two employees were there but neither greeted me. After having to find my own way to a table, it was nearly 15 minutes before I got a waiter. (I considered walking out.) He had an "I don't really care" attitude. It then took nearly 30 minutes before my lunch arrived.

My French Dip had tough meat. The cheese was melted largely to one side of the sandwich. The french fries were undercooked and some stuck together.

While I've had mostly good experiences with Kelly's Tavern at Pembroke Mall, avoid their Granby Street location.

The Boondocks

Yesterday I was invited to a neighbor's apartment for a get-together. One of the things that was going on was that he had episodes of The Boondocks for us to watch. The show's website is at http://www.boondockstv.com

I had never seen The Boondocks before, but loved it. The combination of pointed social commentary coupled with some great humor will keep you glued to the screen. If you haven't seen it, I'd suggest watching.

Below is a clip from the show that was on YouTube.

Friday, March 6, 2009

RAC March 5, 2009

Yesterday afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) held it's March meeting.

It began with a Presentation by Mac Rawls from the Historical Preservation Committee. He covered preservation efforts in Virginia Beach, claiming the largest concentration of historic buildings is in the Resort Area. Rawls cited the efforts to save the Roland Courts Theater on 17th Street (ongoing) and the 24th Street Post Office (probably lost). Being just one generation removed from Finland, I couldn't help but think Europeans would laugh at some of what Virginia Beach is trying to designate as "historic buildings".

John Uhrin, Councilman and RAC Liaison, announced that we'll probably have three privately-operated bus tours from the Resort Area this Summer. Details should be firm by the April RAC meeting.

The sustainable Green initiative for the Resort Area has been dubbed the Green Resort Ecofriendly Efficient Neighbors (GREEN) Committee. It will meet at Croc's at 10:30 A.M. That started jokes about whether Bloody Mary's would be served.

The Communications Committee reported on the Gift of Tourism Campaign.

Staff is wrapping up the details with IMG on the Resort Area entertainment contract and event schedule.

Three Resort Area Ordinances are scheduled for City Council action on March 24. First, to amend the sidewalk cafe guidelines. Second, to remove the sunset clause from the Newsracks Ordinance. Third, to extend the horse riding on the beach franchise to Memorial Day.

Finally, it is hoped to arrange a RAC field trip to the Military Aviation Museum "down in the county". The April RAC meeting might be held there.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why KMart Is A Mess

This afternoon I stopped at KMart to buy beer. Not your typical place to buy it, but very convenient for me. I was carded on the beer purchase. At age 44.

It's The Pension

Today's Virginian-Pravda reports that state Senator Ken Stolle is considering running for Sheriff. http://hamptonroads.com/2009/03/state-sen-stolle-ponders-run-virginia-beach-sheriff Some may be wondering "Why give up the Senate for jailkeeper?"

I've had it explained to me before that it's usually about the pension. Virginia would pension him based on total years service (Senate + Sheriff) with the amount based on the last three years salary (Sheriff's pay). When you consider the difference between a state Senator's salary and that of the Sheriff, Stolle would have much to gain in outlying years by becoming Sheriff. That's why regularly former legislators become Constitutional Officers (such as Norfolk's Tom Moss), Cabinet Secretaries, and state agency directors.

Does Stolle do it? If Ken really wants it, I don't expect current Sheriff Paul Lanteigne to stand in the way.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

75% Want Both

The previous poll question asked about Corridor 11 in the draft Regional Transit Vision Plan. In the long term it proposes both commuter rail and light rail in the CSX Corridor Lightfoot - Newport News. 75% agreed with that recommendation, 18% wanted light rail only, while 6% wanted commuter rail only. If both ran in tandem, commuter rail would be the rush hour express versus light rail offering local service throughout the day.

For lack of a better idea, I'm going to ask another Transportation question. How should Virginia Beach cover the local share of light rail construction? Should it come out of the General Fund, a TIF or SSD enacted to pull the revenue from properties adjacent to the rail line, or a new tax or fee?

Friday's Meltdown

On Friday, Bishop Willis' funeral procession caused major disruptions in bus service in South Hampton Roads, especially Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) failure to do adequate preplanning and enact countermeasures meant buses were off - if running at all - most of Friday afternoon. Michael Ragsdale covers the story on HR Transit Ideas http://blog.raggiesoft.com/?p=110

Michael and I came up with the route modifications in about ten minutes on the phone. If we could do it that quick, why didn't the professionals at HRT act? Kudos to trolley base for detouring their two impacted routes (Routes 25 and 27). However, Central Dispatch fiddled in their Hampton office while Southside operations went to meltdown. Excuse me, but an occasional announcement over the ACS doesn't make up for not getting people where they needed to be.

At my home stop I dealt with a young lady who had been waiting over a half hour before I arrived and told her what was going on. At Pembroke East I saw Operators improvising to try to get back on schedule. It was a mess, and HRT needs to do a full assessment to learn lessons for future occurrences.