Monday, May 31, 2010

So Much For The "Peace Flotilla"....

Israel finds a stash of small weapons aboard. As they comb the ships during the days to come, it should be quite interesting what else turns up....

Israeli Defense Minister On Gaza Flotilla Raid

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak explains to Gaza flotilla raid in an interview on Fox News:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cliff Hayes: Ducking, Not Leading

I've liked Chesapeake City Councilman Cliff Hayes. He's shown a keen interest in issues that impact us po' folks: workforce housing, mass transit, etc. Given that mindest, he serves as one of Chesapeake's two TDCHR Commissioners. (Rick West is the other one.) He's to be commended for fighting the uphill battle in transitphobic Chesapeake.

However, at Thursday afternoon's TDCHR meeting, he had me disgusted. There was a measure from the TDCHR's Operations & Oversight Committee to schedule the Public Hearings and public meetings on a possible fare increase. Keep in mind that an actual vote to raise fares was four months off. Hayes? He brought up legislation pending in Congress to increase Federal transit funding, and wanted to delay the process at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) in hopes that the Feds would give us money that could be used in lieu of a fare hike. It brings to mind what common farm poultry leave behind.

First, leaders don't wait for Washington to do something, they do something themselves. You don't hide behind Congress' skirt hoping you won't have to make a hard decision.

Second, as Commissioner Hayes should know, Federal law caps the amount of Federal money that can be used for Operations & Maintenance. With HRT virtually against the Federal cap, the only new money that would help would be Capital funds.

Third, even if Congress passes such and relaxes the O & M cap, HRT could simply use it for a second booster round.

Fourth, TDCHR policy allows a fare review once every two years. Were HRT to now pass, per policy fares shouldn't be reconsidered until 2012. Huge cuts would have to be made in the interim.

Instead of leading, Cliff Hayes tried to run and hide.

87% Think Holley Is Gone

87% voted that Mayor Holley of Portsmouth will be recalled, with 12% thinking the effort will fall short.

The big question: who will be the new Mayoral candidate? The only rationale I can come up with for Holley's actions is that he doesn't think the opposition can field a credible candidate, and the people of Portsmouth will keep him on as the lesser of evils.

The new question: how will Newport News do under Mayor-elect McKinley Price?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

TDCHR May 27, 2010

The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), held it's May meeting this afternoon.

The large order of business was adopting the FY 2011 Budget of $81 million. Speaking of Budgets, for FY 2010 HRT is $1.167 million under Budget with two months left in the fiscal year.

Norfolk's Starter Line is 84% complete, with spending currently $17 million under where HRT expected to be at this point. Much ado has been made about a grade crossing problem discovered late Monday. However, time and materials for correcting it will run no more than $81,000.

An order was placed with Gillig for ten more 30 foot hybrid buses and four more 40 foot low-floors. The 10 hybrids will be split evenly between Virginia Beach Base and the Peninsula Base. (Yes, Shadowrider, the Peninsula will get it's first permanent hybrids about a year from now.)

On June 9 the TDCHR's Executive Committee will meet to nominate candidates to serve as TDCHR Chairman and Vice Chairman for FY 2011.

Don't worry about a fuel price spike due to events in the Gulf Of Mexico: HRT has all it's fuel needs locked in by contract for the next 13 months. Currently HRT is paying about 49 cents a gallon below market price from contracting it's diesel fuel purchases.

Finally, the TDCHR approved the schedule of fare Public Hearings at it's July meeting in Norfolk and August in Hampton. Also, there will be evening public meetings at each location for those who can't make the 1:30 P.M. Public Hearings. The Operations & Oversight Committee recommended that all three fare scenarios ($1.50, $1.75, and $2) be advertised, but a vast majority of Commissioners wanted it clear that $2 is the preferred scenario.

TPPC May 27, 2010

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

The first topic of discussion was restrooms for JT's Grommet Island Park. The new City Budget has a $250,000 Capital Improvements Project (CIP) item for "semi-temporary" bathrooms there. Rudee Inlet already sees a high number of locals, being a choice surfing area. The new park should boost that number further. Input was sought from TPPC members, and Staff will come back with more information in June based on it.

There have been Adopt-A-Spot applications from businesses in the Resort Area. The TPPC took two actions:

1. Recommended prohibiting signage for such from the west side of Pacific Avenue eastward.

2. Asked that the Resort Administrator be given the authority to review all applications in the Resort Area.

Given that City policy already allows company logos on Adopt-A-Spot signs, and the Resort Area already receives special services (including cleaning), such signs there would be nothing more than thinly-disguised ads for said businesses.

Speaking of Resort Area signage, the TPPC approved an inventory of such. The intent is to clean it up, removing any redundant or archaic signage.

Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) Staff gave a brief Report on early VBWave operations.

Finally, there was much discussion about a Resort Area Master Transportation Plan, which is an action step in the Resort Area Strategic Action Plan. Two things were agreed to in the end. First, we already have most of the components, with the rest - to some degree - in the pipes. Second, the Strategic Growth Area (SGA) Office will begin giving regular status reports to the TPPC on Resort transportation projects, starting in September.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Preparing For The 2010 World Cup Finals

This evening I've been watching the USA men's soccer team play a friendly against the Czech Republic, which we lost 4-2 in Hartford. The match was a warmup for next month's World Cup Finals in South Africa.

With the final roster cuts to be made tomorrow, it was the last chance for bubble players to make their case for a roster spot. Coach Bob Bradley said 4-6 slots on the 23 man roster were still in flux.

The USA will next play a friendly against Turkey on Saturday in Philadelphia (1:30 P.M. on ESPN2). The last game before the Finals will be an exhibition against Australia (G'day, mates!) in South Africa on June 5.

Tonight our players wore the new kit for the 2010 Finals for the first time. It's essentially a modernization of our 1950 kit. For you non-fans, in 1950 was the biggest win in American soccer history, a 1-0 victory over England in the World Cup Finals in Brazil. Our first opponent in this year's Finals: England. (We're going to curse them with those kits!)

The opening match for the 2010 World Cup Finals will be June 11, with host South Africa taking on Mexico.

For those planning on watching games here in the U.S., the good news is that kickoffs for first matches will be at 8:30 A.M. EDT. That beats the heck out of the times we saw in South Korea.

The official USA soccer website is at Also, all World Cup Finals matches will be available online at

Virginia Beach Slowly Exits The Stone Age

The rumors have been floating. There's a vague reference in the City's Budget explanation. One insignificant blog even tried to run with the story - and got it mostly wrong. Virginia Beach is about to ramp up bus service, albeit in a slow and awkward manner. However, embrace the gift.

1. Starting July 12, weekday evening service comes to Route 36.

Monday through Friday there will be three additional evening trips between the Pembroke East Transfer Center and Tidewater Community College's (TCC) Virginia Beach campus. The intent is to provide bus service for those needing it to go to evening classes at TCC and the Advanced Technology Center (ATC).

Being that it's a lifeline route for students, and will have no other buses to meet (at first), the initial schedule will mean layovers at Pembroke East to try to make the departures from TCC fit class dismissals. However, that may be changed in the Spring....

2. In May, service gets ramped up to the Newtown Road LRT Station.

Some additional weeknight frequencies will be added to Route 25 as Tide feeder service.

The real fun: as has been planned all along, Route 27 would then shoot straight down Newtown Road to the Station instead of turning west to the Military Circle Transfer Center. The kicker: the 27 will add evening and Sunday service. (Who would have bet the 27 would be the first evening and Sunday bus to the transfer center at Shore Drive & Pleasure House Road?)

3. Should a major fare increase come out of HRT's current fare review, the additional revenue could be put towards more service.

The TDCHR has yet to even formally advertise Public Hearings and public meetings, so we're still fairly early in the process. Any increase would require TDCHR approval, and they will only do so after listening to the public. Currently the plan is for Public Hearings at the July and August TDCHR meetings, with two public meetings in the evening for those who can't attend the 1:30 P.M. TDCHR meetings.

However, additional revenue would probably go towards capital needs (including bus replacements and shelters) and some service. It is hoped to have a clearer picture of the possibilities prior to the Public Hearings, so they public can understand the options.

In addition, such an increase would make Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) eligible for additional Federal and state aid in FY 2013, allowing further boosters then.


I can hear some now: you don't want to layover at Pembroke East, the 27 would be doing the Pleasure Ho alone, etc.

However, the glass ceiling is broken and the City of Virginia Beach is beginning to add evening and Sunday service off of Virginia Beach Boulevard. With the matrix changed, we can always come back for more later.

Thank yous are due to the Virginia Beach City Council and Staff.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Doesn't Quite Add Up

I spotted a car early this evening. On the one hand, it had a Fair Tax bumper sticker. On the other hand, it had an University of California at Berkley license plate frame. Figure that one out.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TPO May 19, 2010

The Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), the region's Federally-mandated transportation planning board, met today.

There was fun over the Consent Agenda. Three of the items involved shuffling funds that the state is now trying to audit as part of the "Look under the sofa cushions" campaign. VDOT obviously objected. Eventually a compromise was reached where the transfers were approved, but the money not authorized to be moved until June 30.

A Briefing was held on transportation focus groups that had been held. Chris Bonney had been Facilitator of the groups, with Dr. Quentin Kidd of Christopher Newport University (CNU) giving the Presentation to the TPO. First, citizens feel government officials aren't acting on the problem. Second, they want something done, with interim steps that are tangible. Third, (I can't resist this!) one of the Perceived Solutions was "There must be a well-coordinated, regional light rail system supported by an extensive and regular network of buses, shuttles and other feeders and distributors." There will be a second Presentation at a subsequent meeting details proposed solutions.

There was a Presentation on High Speed Rail. The proposed four step approach would haul 1.24 passengers annually at Step 1 (79 mph trains), climbing to 4.8 million passengers annually at Step 4 (150 mph trains on the Southside, 110 mph on the Peninsula). In ongoing talks over upgrading U.S. 460, it is being sought to reserve a dedicated rail right-of-way for eventual 150 mph trains.

Finally, the Staff's weighting recommendations for ranking transportation projects on the economic vitality portion were tabled for one month. The final prioritization matrix is slated to be enacted at the July TPO meeting.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not Around Here!

Over the weekend the blog Jihad Watch launched an attack on the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. While I have found many of their posts quite interesting, as a devout Catholic I removed the link from my blog to theirs this morning.

While it may be within their right to free speech to make such ludicrous charges, it's certainly with my right to association not to promote such garbage.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Protogyrou Wins Big Again

By a 73%-26% margin, you believe that Andy Protogyrou will have a bigger impact on the Norfolk City Council than Tommy Smigiel.

The new question: will Mayor Holley be recalled in Portsmouth?

Don't say I'm not thinking regionally: first the Norfolk question, now a Portsmouth question....

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Antique Sale

On Friday morning I was at the Silverleaf Park and Ride. Needing to buy a new bus pass, I realized Silverleaf's customer service representative would be selling them. (I would be passing a couple Farm Fresh locations later in the day that sold them.)

I was stunned when she got out her faremedia box and I saw that it had a stack of the old 30 Day Seniors & Disabled (30 Day ED) farecards. They are in light blue and white. In October, 2008 Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) went to the Go Cards, which are green and white. Given the changeover, HRT hasn't ordered the old ones in about two years. Therefore, I was shocked to see a HRT office still selling them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Further Proof That The Rigell Campaign is Anti-Grassroots

Congressional candidate Scott Rigell has scheduled a Virtual Town Hall on his website this evening at 7 P.M.

Just one serious problem: the Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), Virginia Beach's civic league federation, meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 7 P.M. Yeah, the Rigell Campaign scheduled at a time where active civic league representatives won't be online. It's telling that no one at the Rigell Campaign grasped what they were doing.

There's an old diplomatic adage that, "You can tell a revolution by it's friends." In this case, the Rigell Campaign has been far too top-heavy with status quo elitists.

In Defense of LED Signs

Virginia Beach has a tempest in a teapot issue with LED signs. It went to the front burner with a religious group seeking permission for one in Great Neck.

Let me say it; the issue has been entirely overblown so far. Virginia Beach currently doesn't have a LED sign problem. If a sign or two went unsightly, many residents would stop patronizing the business. As such, market forces would begin to correct the problem before government intervention is needed.

Some critics are quite open about their intent being to effectively strangle the signage class, as the City has previously tried doing with billboards. If we let government prohibit everything it simply doesn't like, we're going to get into much trouble very quickly.

I happened to attend a markup meeting of the post-BRAC development regulations for the Resort Area. Businessmen noted that Virginia Beach already has some of the most cumbersome regulations around, so we were potentially choking off new, sought-after private investment. That's symptomatic of a City government that wants to slap anything and everything with a myriad of regulations.

However, they'll continue to try. Think we can get them to start with the large LED sign at the Virginia Beach Convention Center? (Oops!)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

JT's Grommet Island Park Dedication Ceremony

I now have the official word: the Dedication Ceremony will be on Saturday, May 22 at 1:30 P.M. The Park is at 1st Street on the beach.

Food and drink vendors will be there. Also, there will be children's activities.

Republican 2nd District Convention

Today the Republican Convention of Virginia's 2nd Congressional District was held. It was at a bingo hall on Cleveland Street in Virginia Beach, with the location making for some humor. Gary Byler easily won a second term as 2nd District Chairman. Besides being a fundraiser and campaign advisor, in recent history the post of District Chairman has also been big for candidate recruitment. That last purpose has led it to be fought over tenaciously at times.

The intriguing news today was "the meeting before the meeting". With the filing deadline for Virginia Beach's November elections under a month away, ballot petitions were being circulated:

1. Attorney and former Republican Party of Virginia Beach (RPVB) Secretary Tanya Bullock is running for the Princess Anne District seat on the Virginia Beach City Council, now held by Barbara Henley.

2. Council of Civic Organizations (CCO) President Sam Reid is stepping down from his current post to run for the Beach District seat on the Virginia Beach School Board, now held by Pat Edmonson.

3. Recent School Board appointee Ashley McLeod is seeking to stay on.

4. Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) Chairman John Moss had two clipboards with ballot petitions, which he was playing close to vest. Memo to John: if your candidates' ballot petitions can't stand up to the light of day, their campaigns will quickly wilt in the sunlight.

(In related news, the May CCO newsletter has now announced that Director Ed Fissinger is resigning to run for School Board again.)

The most sought-after document was an Americans For Prosperity (AFP) review of the Virginia state budget. Expect to now hear it cited regularly. The bizarre thing is that AFP's local coordinator is...Rosemary Wilson? (Say what?)

There was good news when Delegate Ron "Landslide" Villanueva let the assembled know that Governor Bob McDonnell will be making multiple announcements in the coming days about new jobs associated with the Port of Virginia.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Dynamite Synergy?

On Wednesday morning I went to my first meeting of the TPO's Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (TTAC). As I expected, it was very dry. If you want to hear something more boring than politicians talking about transportation projects for two hours, it's a bunch of engineers talking about transportation projects for two hours.

One of the things covered was the ongoing Phase II of the Regional Transit Vision Plan. The light rail portion had the Norfolk Starter Line, the Virginia Beach extension, and the extension north in Norfolk to the Navy base via Old Dominion University (ODU). Prior to Cinco de Mayo, I had thought of ODU and Norfolk State University (NSU) being upline largely in terms of students making day trips to our Oceanfront. However, something struck me....

Virginia Beach's Resort Area Strategic Action Plan (RASAP) puts a heavy emphasis on mixed-use urban redevelopment. We'd have 3-4 story buildings with retail or offices on the first floor, with apartments "above the store". It has been questioned whether or not we could fill the huge capacity in the RASAP. The target demographic has been empty nesters, but we could also look at....

My brainstorm was that those same apartments would make for a great college living experience. Think about it: a student could live at the Oceanfront, taking the train to and from classes. Wouldn't that sound very cool for a young person? A good drawing card? Given the nature of mass transit, studying could be done, and laptop computers used, on the train en route.

I've read that ODU already has a problem with a lack of dormitory space. I'm not intimately familiar with the NSU situation. (However, I'd love to get intimately familiar with a NSU coed....) Virginia Beach doesn't have it's own public four year university, but we could become the de facto satellite dorm site of a couple.

In the long term, it could become a retainment tool for keeping young people here after college. After four years of the beach and loving it, why would you want to move to Roanoke?

There are obviously a few loose ends. However, I thought I'd toss my idea out there for debate and consideration.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

RAC May 6, 2010

This afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) held it's May meeting, which lasted about 105 minutes.

Bobby Melatti gave a Presentation on changes that had been made to Resort Area entertainment recently, and how they were being tweaked in turn.

Bob Matthias came to present information on offshore drilling. He was using a PowerPoint of state Senator Frank Wagner from October, 2009. Recent events in the Gulf of Mexico made a few statements in it comical. There were some things to be noted. First, he covered possible seismic testing offshore. Some experts have compared Virginia's coast to Brazil's, but we wouldn't know without testing. The last testing was in the 1970s, not going beyond 1,000 feet of water. Oil companies now routinely drill in 5,000 feet. Second, wind energy brought as many comments and questions as offshore drilling. The Navy & Air Force have laid down parameters for the Virginia Capes, but the Coast Guard has yet to chime in. The Navy & Air Force concerns would kill the two existing unsolicited bids for offshore windmills. Third, we still have the radar situation to deal with. Matthias stated that the City of Virginia Beach's top concern is Resort Area redevelopment, with offshore windmills second. Finally, we may have the potential to become the Silicon Valley for offshore wind on the East Coast. Not only does our location and port give us the ability to ship elements elsewhere, but the former Ford plant in Norfolk has deep water access. Offshore wind equipment could be manufactured there, then sent by ship elsewhere.

Billy Almond stated that the Dedication Ceremony for JT's Grommet Island Park will be May 22. (Once I have the details, they'll be posted on this blog.)

Finally, the Oceanfront Enhancement Committee (OEC) started to rollout a plan for combating disorderly behavior by homeless persons in the Resort Area. The plan was tabled pending investigation of legal and logistical issues involved.

2010 Greek Festival

The annual Greek Festival at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Norfolk will be held May 13-16. The church is on Granby Street just south of Wards Corner. They have an excellent website at

I've known people who have changed their vacation plans so they can be here for the annual Festival. I myself have volunteered a few times in the past. If you're looking for a chance to help in the community for a good cause, I can tell you from experience that they never have enough volunteers for the a la carte line. Previous practice has been to give volunteers a free Greek meal during the break on their shift.

A few things for any newbies going. First, if you've never been on the church tour, be sure to do so. Second, you haven't eaten pastry until you've had baklava. Third, if unsure of what to get to eat, my favorite Greek dish is pastitsio. Ya'sou!

A Utility Not To Be Utilized?

The previous question was about whether or not you would utilize the new Dashboard on the website of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT)? 42% never would, 27% will regularly, 18% rarely, and 12% sometimes. The obvious question: how many of those 42% are the same people who can't open their mouths without complaining about HRT?

The new question is which Norfolk City Council newcomer will have a bigger impact, Andy Protogyrou or Tommy Smigiel?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Virginia Beach Hits Fiscal Trifecta

The City of Virginia Beach put out a Press Release this afternoon touting that it now has a AAA bond rating from all three major rating agencies: Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch.
Standard and Poor's had given the rating in 2007, with the other two agencies joining them on Monday. From a political standpoint, the ramifications are very interesting.

First, with a couple major capital projects in the pipes, the financial giants have said Virginia Beach is in a very good position to issue bonds to borrow.

Second, it blows out of the water a strategy that the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) has been trying to push for over a year now: trying to make an issue of the City debt. With the filing deadline for Council seats about a month away, the incumbents would love for VBTA challengers to bring up the debt issue. All the incumbents will have to do is point to the bond ratings.

Finally, I have to point out that Fitch specifically cited Virginia Beach's pursuit of light rail as a reason to upgrade our rating. So the VBTA has been desperately trying to portray light rail as a financial sinkhole, but the fiscal experts think it's a plus? Maybe it will help some realize the VBTA is dead wrong about light rail....

Paul Riddick To TDCHR Chairman?

With the election results largely in for the Norfolk City Council, Randy Wright has conceded while Paul Riddick has apparently won reelection. Those two have been Norfolk's Commissioners on the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). That in combination produces a very interesting situation.

The Chairmanship of the TDCHR rotates by city. For FY 2010 it should have been Norfolk, but Randy Wright passed, wanting the gavel when Norfolk's Starter Line came online. Wright has served as Vice Chairman to Virginia Beach's Jim Wood. The Chairmanship is now slated to go to Norfolk in FY 2011. However, Wright now won't be a City Councilman come July 1.

That leaves us with a situation where either Norfolk keeps Wright on as a Commissioner after he leaves Council (Virginia Beach did with Will Sessoms at first), Riddick becomes Chairman, a Norfolk newcomer takes the gavel, or Norfolk passes again. This should be fun!