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.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This In 2009?!?

In Louisiana a Justice of the Peace is refusing to issue marriage licenses for interracial couples. His excuse is that he claims interracial marriages don't last long.

As the ACLU lawyer in the story notes, the Supreme Court struck down prohibitions on marriage based on race 46 years ago. That a local official in Louisiana thinks he can do it on his own is astounding!

Comp Plan Photo Police

Yesterday I was skimming Virginia Beach's new draft Comprehensive Plan. There were a couple bus photos in the Policy Document that caught my eye:

Page 18

There's a photo of the bus on Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) Route 72...sitting at the Suffolk Bus Plaza. That's right: the 72 runs from the Suffolk Bus Plaza to Paul D. Camp Community College and back. (What's a Suffolk bus photo doing in our Comp Plan?!?)

Page 116

There's a photo of Bus 2016 on Route 33 Outbound. Okay, they did get a Virginia Beach route this time.

What's unusual is a low-floor Gillig on the 33. Not in the past 15 months, since the 33's operations were transferred from Southside Base (in Norfolk) to Virginia Beach Base. Even before then, it would have been rare.

Here's the kicker

I was already planning a blog post on those photos. I called Michael Ragsdale of HR Transit Ideas so he could join in the laughs. Instead, I learned the photos were from his Flickr account:

1. The license on the photos prohibits them from being used without proper credit.

2. The City probably also violated Flickr policy, too.


From Michael's blog:

This entry is cross-posted at Ideas for Hampton Roads Transit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

VBTA Vice Chairman Calls For Cutting City Budget By $530 Million

It's pretty much an axiom in Virginia Beach politics that if you want to hear a position that's so extreme that it's beyond the pale, wait for Reid Greenmun to speak up. On Wednesday the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) Vice Chairman/Transportation Chairman was commenting on a story online, and called for cutting the City Budget by $530 million. From his comment marked posted at 6:25 P.M., "The City budget has skyrocketed and now that the housing bubble has burst, the City Council needs to direct the City Manager to restore our city to the 2001 budget. We managed just fine in 2001".

With the fiscal year beginning July 1, the FY 2002 Budget would have been in effect the second half of that year. (In addition, that's as far back as they go on the City's website.) The difference between it and the current Budget is $530 million. Therefore, his position would require cutting more than half a billion dollars from the Budget.

Of course, at a April 20, 2004 Public Hearing, Reid told City Council that he could cut $55 million from the proposed FY 2005 Budget. After being given unprecedented access to City resources, Greenmun never delivered the report that he had promised to Council. (Since the Hearing was in the Council Chambers, VBTV may still have the tape of it.) Given that track record, I'd love to see him now identify $530 million.

With "leadership" like that, no wonder the VBTA is barreling into irrelevancy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Draft Comp Plan Now Online

The new draft Comprehensive Plan for the City of Virginia Beach has now been posted online.

This Is So Rich!

The VBTA was passing out a flier at tables prior to the Community Summit getting underway on Monday evening. (They were violating at least two city Ordinances in the process, but that's another story....) The opening sentence makes for a great laugh:

"The Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance's vision is to be the most objective local source of knowledge...."

Insert your own joke in the comments section.

Redevelopment Wins Over Traffic Flow

I never saw one on this scale coming. 72% voted to design 32nd Street with three lanes for traffic, then wider sidewalks to aid urban redevelopment. 27% supported four lanes of traffic for better vehicle flow.

The new question is one what to do with Virginia Beach's Property Tax rate. City Assessor Jerry Banagan's preliminary report is that assessments will go down 5% in 2010. Should City Council raise the rate to stay revenue neutral, hold at 89 cents, cut below 89 cents, or raise above 91 cents?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2009-2010 City Council Priorities

Early this afternoon the Virginia Beach City Council voted out their priorities for the coming year.


Top Priority

1. Landfill/SPSA

2. Tax Rate: Direction and Debt Limit

9. Roads Funding

10. Transportation and Light Rail : Strategy and Public Engagement

12. Lynnhaven Parkway Project (Phase XI)

High Priority

5. Northampton Corridor (Burton Station)

8. Land Uses for Business Development Review: Light Rail Corridor

13. Lesner Bridge: Design and Funding

16. Western Bayside Recreation Center

20. Dome site direction

Moderate Priority

4. Alternative Energy Report

11. Shore Drive Improvement Project

24. Major Community Projects: evaluation and direction (That's the 10 project list)


Top Priority

1. Total Compensation Policy - Direction

3. Federal Stimulus Dollars: Strategy and Projects

4. Military Initiatives

5. Energy Related Business Attraction Strategy

7. FAA Radar Issue Resolution

12. Economic Development: alternative funding model, matrix, and funding level.

High Priority

2. Green Initiatives: Actions

6. Alternative Field/OLF and Night Training (Oceana NAS)

8. Pattern Book for Neighborhood Preservation: Development, Funding

9. Dredging for Navigable Waterways (Western Branch of the Lynnhaven River)

10. Sand/Beach Replenishment

11. Form Based (Zoning) Code: Development, Policy Direction

2009 Council Retreat - Day 3

It's been quite awhile since the Virginia Beach City Council met for strategic planning in August. With the Community Summit concluded, Council met again Tuesday morning.

The morning started with distribution of resident feedback from the Summit and a reading of their comment cards. The comment cards were a mixed bag: some were nasty, while others were trying to kiss up. However, the vast majority were pretty well thought out.

Council covered all five goal areas from August, making any adjustments desired.

There were a few issues of note this morning:

1. Light rail - a small implementation discussion. However, much on the VBTA's whining about not getting a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) seat plus the effort of a VBTA front group to petition a referendum question onto the ballot for November, 2010. First, the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement isn't scheduled to be completed until December, 2010 - after the VBTA's wished-for referendum. (Even Bill DeSteph agreed any referendum should wait until after the SDEIS is finished.) Second, the front group's proposed ballot question is misleading in a few ways.

2. Economic development - Glen Davis wants the Department of Economic Development's (DED) budget off-the-table when cutting for FY 2011, with Bill DeSteph disagreeing.

3. Public safety - not only was there talk of minimizing cuts or not cutting at all, but at one point Councilman Bill DeSteph claimed Mayor Will Sessoms was planning a public safety tax increase.

Council had lunch, then voted on Policy Agenda and Management Agenda priorities for the next year before adjourning.

Community Summit 2009 Feedback

On Tuesday morning sheets with the written-up and tallied resident feedback from Monday night's Community Summit were presented. The following were the top vote getters among the suggestions.


1. Town Center

2. Oceana NAS and BRAC

3. Convention Center

4. Oceanfront Upgrades

5. Quality of Life (Cultural Arts)

6. Schools: Buildings & Accreditation

7. Recreation Centers

8. 31st Street Corridor

9. Light Rail

10. Virginia Aquarium Expansion


1. City Revenues and Services

2. Transportation: Public, Mass, Light Rail, Multimodal

3. Road Maintenance

4. Preservation of Aging Neighborhoods

SERVICE EVALUATION (Reduction, Elimination, or Privatization)

1. Solid Waste Management

2. Landscaping Service

3. Recreation Centers

4. Education - Schools Funding Formula & Schools Consolidation

5. Animal Shelter

6. Treasurer/Commissioner of Revenue


1. Hotel & Meal Tax

2. User Fees

3. Real Estate Tax Increase

4. Highway Tolls

5. Solid Waste Fee

6. Charge for Beach Entertainment/Events/Festivals

7. Sale of City Properties and Buildings (Parks, Recreation Centers)

Yes, VBTAers, 6 of 13 tables voted out a real estate tax increase as a priority. Yet more evidence of how out-of-touch you are....

Community Summit 2009

On Monday evening Virginia Beach held a Community Summit. Residents were asked questions derived from City Council's two days of strategic planning in August. 80 residents came to the convention center to participate.

It was an enjoyable evening that brought forth some intriguing ideas. A couple of the revenue ideas were ordered to be studied by City Staff when Council reconvened on Tuesday morning.

However, the evening saw more antics by the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA). First, Maximum Leader Robert Dean brought a large sign attacking the City. (On Tuesday morning it was noted that such behavior is part of what costs the VBTA seats on city committees.) Second, at Table 13 the VBTAers (Dean and Al Saferstein) tried to prevent the recording of any ideas they disagreed with. Under the rules, all suggestions were to be written down. Third, Table 13 provided one of the most extreme ideas of the night: selling off Virginia Beach's public libraries. That's right: VBTAers would close our libraries! With policy planks that utterly beyond the pale, no wonder they can't even come close to winning a City Council seat.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Is Jewish

Astonishing. Experts have examined a closeup of a photo of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad taken at the March, 2008 Iranian election. He's holding up his identity papers. The papers reveal that he was originally named Sabourijan, which means "weaver of the Sabour". In Persia, the talit (the Jewish prayer shawl) is known as a sabour.

Analysts believe his Holocaust denial and strident anti-Israeli statements are probably an attempt to overcompensate for his Jewish roots.

H/T to The Virginian.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Newtown SGA Meetings - Round 1

On Thursday Virginia Beach held the first round of public meetings on a plan for redevelopment of the Newtown Strategic Growth Area (SGA). There were focus groups earlier in the day, followed by a meeting open to the general public in the evening. Both types of sessions asked the same three questions and had the same map exercise as their climax.

10:30 A.M. Focus Group

Arriving early in the area by bus, I had to walk over and take a look at the eastern terminus of the Norfolk light rail line. In turn I looked down the Virginia Beach portion of the vacant Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way. (Do I have to spell out what I was thinking?) I walked to the Virginia Beach office of Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), where all Newtown SGA meetings are slated to be held. I found the distance surprisingly walkable.

Kudos to DEQ for the nicest men's room I've ever seen in a government office building. Not only a great bathroom, but clear signage to it that meant you didn't have to ask directions.

Our 10:30 focus group was made up mostly of business people and residents from within or nearby the Newtown SGA. Therefore, they had great knowledge of the area.

This is the third SGA plan that I've participated in, and the questions on this one will probably make it harder than either of the other two (Resort Area and Pembroke) to reach a consensus:

1. Should the building mix be commercial and light industrial (current), or commercial and residential?

About 80% of the land in the SGA is now being utilized for commercial or light industrial.

A few things. First, Newtown is one of the 4 current SGAs that is suitable for large-scale residential redevelopment, being outside the Oceana AICUZ zones. Second, light industry is what the City wants in the periphery of Oceana, as it's compatible under the AICUZ regulations. Third, light industry may not have the density to support light rail.

2. What role should mass transit play in the future?

How long before Virginia Beach light rail comes online? Also, how many people will choose transit over their cars?

A few matters of note. First, it was pointed out that the first thing visitors entering Virginia Beach via I-264 see is the Newtown SGA. Therefore, it should be a pleasant-looking gateway. Second, Virginia Beach really isn't in a position to deal with the problems of Newtown Road itself with the east curb line being the Norfolk city line. Third, the walkability issue hit home when I tried crossing Princess Anne Road to catch the bus out. I found it more difficult than Virginia Beach Boulevard in my home neighborhood.

The climax of the focus group was placing dots on the SGA map: red for weaknesses, green for strengths, and blue for potential for improvement. Our group carpet bombed the Arrowhead Shopping Center with red dots.

6 P.M. General Public meeting

With the RAC meeting having run long, I was down to my third bus option - and the first of the two buses was running 9 minutes late. Still, I managed to make it there at 6:04. With a large crowd, the meeting was late starting, so I missed nothing. It occurred to me that had Virginia Beach light rail been in place, I could have taken the train from the convention center station to the Newtown Road station in minutes.

There was a Presentation made to the public (even some info not covered in the focus group), followed by the dots onto the map exercise at each table. A spokesperson from each table afterwards presented their table's input.

There were some snobbish comments. One table attacked poor neighborhoods as generators of crime. The same table wanted "no Section 8 housing" in the SGA. (NEWS FLASH: you can't legally bar Section 8 from an area.) Another table's spokesperson stated "renters have no responsibility."

There were some stupid comments. One table wanted "another Sportsplex" in the SGA. (Yeah, like the first one has been a huge success....) Another wanted "75-80 foot landscape buffers" between properties. (That's thinner than the Beach's current suburban!)

Round 2 of the process has the consultant slated to come back in December, holding a week-long studio at DEQ with possibilities. After getting feedback on them, they'll then try to draw up a final draft plan for public comment.

There were some moments of humor on Thursday evening:

1. After a couple at my table had been spewing VBTA b.s. all night, I put a red dot on their business.

2. A hotel General Manager in the SGA claimed prostitution was rampant in the Newtown Road/Greenwich Road area, provoking laughter and jokes.

Happy Anniversary HRT

Yesterday (October 1, 2009) was the 10th Anniversary of the merger of Tidewater Regional Transit (TRT) and Pentran to form Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). No, I know of no official commemoration of the event.

While I had heard talk in the weeks leading up to it, I had forgotten about it until Jim Davis' report at the RAC meeting mistakenly referred to HRT as "TRT". I started thinking "There hasn't been a TRT since....oh".

Have fun!

RAC October 1, 2009

On Thursday afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) held it's October meeting. Originally slated to be a short meeting, it ended up running about 85 minutes.

Two reports are in the queue for the RAC. Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Jim Ricketts will give a preliminary report on the 2009 season at the November RAC meeting. In December City Finance Director Patti Phillips will give the Tourism Growth Investment Fund (TGIF) report that was originally on the docket for November.

The meeting was lengthened by two long reports:

1. Oceanfront Enhancement Committee (OEC) Chairman Jim Davis' interim report on the behavior of homeless persons in the Resort Area was distributed to Commissioners prior to the meeting. Still he read from and spoke on it, running over 20 minutes.

2. In a move that wasn't on the agenda, Nancy Creech delivered a report on the Neptune Festival that went about 15 minutes.

The Plan/Design Review Committee (PDRC) addressed the issue of adopting a form-based code for the Resort Area. The consultant is Urban Design Associates (UDA) of Pittsburgh. (UDA is the same firm that did the Burton Station SGA plan, and is now doing the Newtown SGA.) Also, proposals for work on two existing hotels were looked at.

RAC Liaison John Uhrin gave updates on projects associated with the Resort Area.

Off-topic fact of the day: with the Little Creek Amphibious Base assuming control over Fort Story, the combined Little Creek/Fort Story employs more Virginia Beach residents than Oceana NAS.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Passes For "Justice" In San Francisco....

We're used to zany rulings by the Federal judges out there. However, two new lawsuits have been filed that could only have a snowball's chance in San Francisco. A man has filed separate suits over neither Froot Loops nor Cap'n Crunch Crunch Berries containing real fruit, claiming their advertising was deceitful. He goes on to allege he ate them believing they contained real fruit, and now wants unspecified damages.