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:

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:

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.