Monday, January 31, 2011

My Card Has Arrived

In today's mail, I received something I've been waiting for: my NAACP membership card. I joined online early on New Year's morning. An automated system sent me an e-mail confirming my membership, with my formal card arriving today.

I've had a working relationship with the Virginia Beach Chapter since 2001, but never been a de jure member. I've thought about it, but always put it off. However, with the War For Inclusion in Virginia Beach escalating, it was a great time to come down formally on the right side.

No, I don't plan to become active in the Virginia Beach Chapter. (Hey, my calendar is loaded as is.) Nevertheless, it was the right thing to do.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The New Kellam High School

The design looks intriguing. However, one thing caught my eye: soccer is slated to be played on the same field as football.

As a former high school soccer player myself (Midfielder later moved to Center Forward), I know a regulation soccer field is wider than a football field. Many schools around here do play soccer on football fields, but the narrower width doesn't allow normal lateral movement.

Okay, for all the money you're spending on the new Kellam, did you design the soccer field wide enough? I'm betting you botched it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Latest "God Loves Me!" Story

This story is so good that I have to share it with you.

This morning I went to the post office. I needed two first class stamps to mail in my Knights of Columbus dues for 2011. (Being 4th Degree, I needed two: one for my Council dues and one for my Assembly dues.) Without telling the clerk the purpose, I asked for the stamps.

She sold me a pair of Mother Teresa stamps.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

TDCHR January 27, 2011

Meetings of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) normally run about one hour. Today the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) met for about 135 minutes.

Our newest Commissioner: Mayor Kenny Wright of Portsmouth. Wright is the only Mayor from the seven cities sitting on the TDCHR.

You all want the light rail news, so I'll give it to you:

1. The TDCHR moved towards two separate Lines of Credit. There's been a $20 million annual line for existing operations. There will now be a $13 million Line for bus operations, and a $6 million Line for light rail. The purpose is to ensure that the other six cities don't end up helping to cover Norfolk light rail finance charges.

2. The contractor working on the safety systems that have delayed the launch of Tide revenue service has until April 15 to complete the work, or face liquidated damages. After completion of the contract, HRT will need to run 60 days of tests prior to revenue service.

3. Great news from Tide construction: our accident rate has been 25% of the average for such projects.

4. A contract was approved for four safety drills on the Tide prior to revenue service. They will simulate emergency situations, and involve responses by the Norfolk Fire and Police Departments.

5. Equipment from the Port of Virginia that was borrowed for the offloading of Tide train sets will now be purchased from the Port. (Since Reid Greenmun already hates the Port, he'll probably now claim they're part of The TOD Conspiracy.)

On a related note, the move of the downtown transfer center from Cedar Grove to Wood Street has now been pushed out of April due to disagreements with the City of Norfolk. Norfolk wants to continue two-way vehicular traffic on Wood and use it as a transfer center at the same time. (Can you say "Nuts!"?)

Get this, Flat Earthers: HRT ended the first half of FY 2011 more than $1.6 million under Budget!

Ridership in December, 2010 was up 3.21% over December, 2009 despite the service lost to snow just after Christmas.

Speaking of that snowstorm, Superintendent Keith Johnson was awarded the HRT President's Coin for his extraordinary efforts to keep things running safely over those days. (There's also a mechanic at Victoria Boulevard named Keith Johnson, which can make for a load of confusion in Hampton.)

All 60 Traffix vans are leased out.

There was a proposed change to the TDCHR By-Laws presented. It would provide for in-house legal Counsel and an Internal Auditor. The TDCHR made two changes to the draft amendments before moving them along. First, it was made crystal clear that the Internal Auditor could come directly to the TDCHR if necessary, bypassing the President. Second, the TDCHR would have the sole authority for hiring and firing both the Counsel and Internal Auditor. That's to prevent the President from firing them before they could blow the whistle on mischief. The vote on ratifying the amendment would be at the February TDCHR meeting.

After a lengthy closed session, a new contract for Phillip Shucet from August 1, 2011 until January 31, 2012 was approved. Two Commissioners (Milteer of Suffolk and Wallace of Hampton) voted "No", while one Commissioner (alternate Jackson of Newport News) abstained.

There will be some employee shuffling for TDCHR meetings. First, longtime TDCHR Secretary Luis Ramos will move to Quality Assurance in the Customer Service Department. Second, Sienna Cowell will serve as interim TDCHR Secretary. (The in-house Counsel would get the position in the long term.) Third, Selina Taylor will be going on maternity leave. (I don't know Selina's formal title, but she's the administrative employee who is keeper of the meeting packets.)

The next TDCHR meeting will be February 24 in Hampton.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Huck 2012!

This story from Newsmax.

On February 27, Mike Huckabee begins a book tour for his new release A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion That We Don't!). The first stop: Davenport, Iowa. The first half-dozen stops are in Iowa. There are later five stops in South Carolina, which holds the third Republican Presidential Primary. That's 11 of the 40 total.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

HB 2504

Today's Virginian-Pravda brings us the story of HB 2504, a bill introduced by Delegate John Cosgrove of Chesapeake. It would change the composition of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) from two Commissioners per city appointed by their City Council, to one Commissioner (who couldn't be an elected official) from each city appointed by the Governor and one ex officio member appointed by each City Council. There are a couple very serious problems with the bill.

First, what happens if the Governor's appointee is absent from a meeting? Does that city then have no vote? Under the current system, each city has two Commissioners and can also name two alternates. Unless all four are absent, someone is there to represent their city's interest.

Second, what of the TDCHR's committee system? Currently only Commissioners may serve on a full committee. (There are two civilian-filled subcommittees.) If you make Cosgrove's change to the Commission composition without changing the criteria for committee membership, you cut the pool of eligibles in half. Can one of those ex officio members serve on a committee? If so, they could vote in committee by not on the Commission. Does that make sense?

As well-intentioned as Delegate Cosgrove's bill may be, you can't simply copy SPSA reform over and use the exact same blueprint at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT).

Monday, January 24, 2011

George Allen Makes It Official

He's running for his old seat in the United States Senate.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bears Fans Don't Read My Blog

In our latest poll, I asked which of the four remaining teams will win the Super Bowl. 53% believe the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26% the New York Jets, 21% the Green Bay Packers, and 0% the Chicago Bears. I agree that the Cheeseheads should make short work of Da Bears today.

The new question: what kind of pension system should we have for city employees? Traditionally, we've had a Defined Benefit system. However, the cost of that has led some to call for a Defined Contribution system. In addition, there are four bills in the General Assembly this session that would give localities the option to go to a form of 401(k) system.

2011 Retreat Tidbits

Some points from the discussions at this weekend's Retreat of the Virginia Beach City Council:

1. A settlement on the radar issue at the Oceanfront is expected "in about 30 days."

2. Glenn Davis reported on the UFL's Virginia Destroyers. First, they will have a timetable for the city "in 4 days" (said on Saturday). Second, they are asking for an 80% rebate on the Amusement Taxes collected, with the money to be put towards Sportsplex upgrades. The City has made it perfectly clear that zero City funds will be put upfront towards the team.

3. The AA/SDEIS from the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study is said to now be coming out in August.

4. Master Plans for the Rosemont and Lynnhaven Strategic Growth Areas will be done in 2011.

5. Harry Diezel wondered if public safety employees partially disabled in the line of duty could be transferred to "soft duty", which the law now doesn't allow. (They're required to be put on disability retirement if they can't perform the job they were hired for.) Louis Jones wanted to explore it, as it may mean cost savings for the City. However, Jim Wood cautioned that it may negatively impact the pensions of those employees to do so.

6. Will Sessoms wants to explore opening an overseas office for business recruitment to Virginia Beach.

Expect the usual suspects to whine about the proposal. (Hey, their puppet Bill DeSteph did right away.)

7. SPSA's tipping fee is highest in the country. (Were you surprised?)

8. Speaking of SPSA, our soap opera of the absurd is scheduled to close it's doors in 2017. That's why Solid Waste Management is a priority for Council. (What do we do next?)

Barbara Henley floated the idea of a new landfill in the ITA. After all, the Navy has no problem with a landfill there.

9. On November 22, the City had a meeting with our General Assembly delegation. Late that night, Councilmen got phone calls from legislators wondering why they didn't show up.

Simple: they were never told that there was a meeting. It was the Mayor and Staff meeting with the delegation.

Best joke of Saturday: Jim Spore was asked to give status of the Dome site to Council, and he said groundbreaking before the end of the year. Mayor Sessoms quipped, "I'll bet your career on that."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2011 City Council Policy Agenda

From Day 2 of the annual Virginia Beach City Council Retreat:


1. Landfill/SPSA/Plan For Solid Waste

4. City - Schools Financial

5. Responsible Budget

7. Light Rail Decision

11. Governor's Transportation Plan - Support

15. Dome site


2. Alternative Energy

3. VRS/Defined Contribution Pension

6. Salary/Benefit/Market Survey

8. ITA Plan

10. Local Road Funding

13. Dredging for Stormwater

14. Virginia Beach Tomorrow

19. Convention Center headquarters hotel


9. Economic Incentive Funding

12. Dredging for Navigable Waterways

16. Resort Area Parking Plan

17. Aquarium Area Plan

18. Beach Sand Replenishment

LRT Boosts Other Council Aims

Light rail isn't simply about transportation and land redevelopment. It would also help other objectives expressed at this week's Virginia Beach City Council Retreat:

1. During Friday morning discussions with the School Board, Mayor Sessoms suggested partnerships with our area universities, for things like boosting research & development. How would those students participate? It would help if they could get here by train:

A. Norfolk State University and Eastern Virginia Medical School are on Norfolk's Starter Line.

B. Old Dominion University would be on the Navy base extension.

C. Virginia Wesleyan College is on Route 27, a feeder bus route that will serve the Newtown Road Station.

2. On Saturday morning, Glenn Davis noted that Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake all have borders in the Centerville area. He wondered if the three cities could consolidate services, with offices in that area.

During a later break, I explained to him how that area was served by Route 15. It would be a 10-15 minute bus ride from the Military Highway Station.

2011 City Council Management Agenda

From today's Day 2 of the annual Virginia Beach City Council Retreat:


2. Long Term Financial Sustainability

7. Lesner Bridge

8. Lynnhaven River Cleanup

9. Pleasure House Point


1. Employee Health Care Plan

3. Burton Station

4. Energy Business Strategy

5. Economic Development Action Plan

6. Lynnhaven Parkway XI

Get Ready For The Kicking And Screaming

Fun on the saga of the money the school system moved to fund balances at the end of FY 2010, in order that it wouldn't revert to the General Fund as such.

First, the legalities. One, the reserves the School Board may keep are set by ordinance - and the reversions give the School Board reserves in excess of the legal limit. Two, the School Board may not legally spend a cent of it without City Council appropriating the money.

Second, the numbers. One, the City faces a $21 million shortfall looking at the FY 2012 Budget. Two, the 11th hour squirreling ($14.5 million) and the Vice Mayor's proposed revision of the funding formula ($9 million) would produce an additional $23.5 million.

You don't have to be a political wonk or mathematician to know what's going to happen....

Friday, January 21, 2011

2011 Council Retreat, Day 1

The Virginia Beach City Council began it's 2011 Retreat this afternoon, in the conference room of the Department of Economic Development (DED).

The session started with Facilitator Lyle Sumek covering trends in areas of impact: retail, housing, Federal government (including military), and citizen behavior towards public officials.

After that, Sumek had two exercises for Council. First, to list their successes of the past year. Second, each Councilmen's three top priorities from the following areas: what they'd like to see in the next 5 years, major challenges, and items for this year. Lyle will do formal write-ups this evening and have copies in the morning. As I should be able to get copies, I'll post Council's replies from the official documents. (I have some incomplete notes from the second exercise.)

From the Council telephone interviews there are 60 issue items. Also, the City Manager and the chiefs were asked for items they felt were important for the coming year.

Adjournment for the day was at about 3:45 P.M. Council reconvenes Saturday at 8:30 A.M.

Joint Council/School Board Talks

This morning the Virginia Beach City Council and Virginia Beach School Board held a much-anticipated joint meeting at the Sandler Center. With the media attention this week on the troubled relationship between the two bodies, there was an overflow crowd in Classroom 2. All 22 electeds were there, but Superintendent Merrill was in New York on previously-scheduled business.

The assessment of the relationship was that individual Councilmen and School Board members have good personal relationships, but relations between the two bodies is strained. Just in case, Facilitator Lyle Sumek had brought Phred. Phred is a doll dressed in a referee's uniform. If a member misbehaves, Sumek tosses Phred to them to hold.

The format was agreed to on Thursday morning by Mayor Will Sessoms, School Board Chairman Dan Edwards, and Sumek. However, Bill DeSteph attempted to have the format changed. Like his Council motions, it died for lack of a second.

Twice the 22 broke out into three groups, each group meeting in a separate room to discuss the same questions. They recorded their answers on chart paper, and brought them back to cover as a whole.

While a number of suggestions were made, two major ones seem to be heading for enactment. First, Council and the School Board will regularly hold periodic meetings to discuss overlapping issues. Second, a committee will be formed in June (after the FY 2012 Budget process) to take on the fiscal issues.

Council Retreats always have humorous moments, and we had a couple:

1. Bad humor - Bill DeSteph at one point stated, "Back to those urinary Olympics: you don't want to be caught in a crossfire." That may draw laughs among sailors or in a bar. However, in a tense public meeting like this one, it was nearly as inappropriate as wearing a suggestive genie costume to a children's charitable fundraiser.

2. Good humor - Facilitator Lyle Sumek said he'd expect death if he ran a marathon...and would for Louis Jones, too. Bob Dyer cracked that the mortician Vice Mayor would get a better deal on the burial. Lyle gave Bob the only Phred toss for Friday.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

If You Haven't Seen This Yet

This video already has over 1.5 million views on YouTube. A middle aged woman in a Pennsylvania Mall falls into a fountain while texting. The video has Mall Security watching the security camera footage and commenting on it.

Only in America: the woman has already filed a lawsuit over the incident. She attacks Mall Security for laughing at the incident rather than helping her. However, note from the audio that Security is watching this well after the fact. In the video, you'll see the housekeeper who was there approach her to try to help.

TPO January 20, 2011

Today the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), Hampton Roads' Federally-mandated transportation planning entity, gave preliminary endorsement to a few initiatives.

First, the TPO moved to amend the 2030 Long Range Plan and Transportation Improvement Plan to include the Patriots' Crossing and Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel expansion.

Second, the Congestion Mitigation Process was endorsed.

Third, Regional Performance Measures were approved. A state law change from 2009 requires each region to enact such measures.

In addition, the TPO took up Phase 1B of the High Speed Rail Vision Plan.

Fact of the Day: Virginia is 42nd in the nation in per capita Gas Tax collection and roads spending.

Finally, the TPO Retreat will be February 17.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fringe Is Fringe

94% of you support the Virginia Beach City Council doing strategic planning. 6% are paranoid wingnuts.

The new question: who do you think will win the Super Bowl? This coming weekend are the conference championship games.

That will take us up through this weekend's Council Retreat. I hope to have a new poll question idea or two out of it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Morning Change

While I've seen nothing publicly on it yet, I have this from two sources. There has been a change in the Friday morning schedule for next week's Council Retreat. Friday morning will feature a joint meeting between the Virginia Beach City Council and the Virginia Beach School Board at the Sandler Center. The Retreat will continue afterwards for Council - as slated - in the Department of Economic Development (DED) Conference Room. The reason for the Sandler Center is that the DED Conference Room is too small for the joint meeting.

Both sources confirmed the Friday joint session, with the first source giving me the location. I'll update this post when (if?) I learn more.

Update 1: I have it from a third source that the Friday morning session is joint Council - School Board. However, the source - like the second - didn't know the location.

Update 2: I now have it from a second source: it's the Sandler Center on Friday morning.

Update 3: the City put out an official release Tuesday afternoon: Friday morning is at the Sandler Center, with the remainder at DED. You heard it here first.

Jobs, Transportation, and Housing Symposium

On Thursday morning there was a Jobs, Transportation, and Housing Symposium. About 100 people came to the Regional Building in Chesapeake, with the group roughly evenly split between housing and transportation advocates.

Being from Virginia Beach, I'm well-aware that we often get portrayed as the brake on regional efforts. Therefore, I was happy to see Virginia Beach dominate a regional forum in Chesapeake.

Mary Kay Horoszewski, Executive Director of the Virginia Beach Community Development Corporation (VBCDC), gave the opening remarks and served as Moderator. Dwight Farmer, Executive Director of the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) and Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC), made brief remarks. Following that, Andy Friedman, Director of Virginia Beach's Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation (DHNP) spoke. He noted that traditionally housing was assumed to take care of itself, while transportation was looked at almost solely based on the automobile. Both attitudes are outdated, and we need to note the interrelation between the three.

The first speaker was Trip Pollard of the Southern Environmental Law Center, who made a Presentation on his White Paper Jobs, Transportation, and Housing: Connecting Home And Work. He gave us a few nuggets. First, the vast majority of Hampton Roads' households spend over 45% of household income on housing and transportation combined, a percentage with serious long-term negative ramifications. Second, Virginia leads the nation in largest percentage of people commuting to jobs outside their county of residence. (That helps explain our transportation problems....) Third, when doing a long-term roads plan, the Charlottesville region looked at an alternative featuring a robust mass transit system. The alternative would cut the need for building new roads in half. Fourth, often we have mass transit in the wrong place for it to get people to quality jobs. Pollard used a map that placed the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) route system against where the jobs were. The mismatch was stark. (Having studied GRTC's route system somewhat, I knew it was worse than the graphic portrayed it.)

Next was Dr. Camelia Ravanbakht, Deputy Executive Director of the TPO. She covered existing transportation in Hampton Roads. First, our Vehicle Miles Travelled has grown at nearly twice the rate of population growth and new roads construction. Second, our number of registered vehicles has grown at more than three times the rate of population growth. Third, Senior Citizens will nearly double as a population percentage regionally by 2030, with 25% of them currently non-drivers. Fourth, the nuke fell under the 2034 Long Range Transportation Plan for the region, which planning is just starting on: the number of candidate transportation projects in Hampton Roads is about 15 times the ability to pay for them with current funds! (Hampton Roads, we have one hell of a problem!)

Andrew Heatwole then spoke. First, he noted parking was going to be a huge problem in doing redevelopment. There may be a need for a Parking Authority. Second, single car households can afford a mortgage $100-120k larger, as the reduced transportation costs can be placed towards housing in the family budget. Third, car trips per day by those living in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) areas is 3.55, versus 10 in suburbia. Fourth, he gave figures from a study on transit usage for commuting. 35% will use transit if there is a stop at the office, 23% if a stop within a quarter mile, and 10% with a half mile walk. Fifth, Form-Based Zoning would help redevelopment in Virginia Beach.

We then heard from Barry Frankenfield, Manager of Virginia Beach's Strategic Growth Area (SGA) Office. (For all I've dealt with Barry, I didn't previously know he was a landscape architect by training.) Frankenfield spoke of Form-Based Zoning in the works for the Resort Area, while overlay districts are being looked at elsewhere. There are two key things Virginia Beach is looking for in SGA redevelopment proposals: good design, and it makes economic sense.

Next speaker was Frank Spadea, CEO of Franciscus Company, which specializes in building affordable housing. He addressed obstacles Franciscus has faced in constructing such units.

Finally, there was Cynthia Whitbred-Spanoulis from Virginia Beach's Department of Economic Development (DED), pinch-hitting for DED Director Warren Harris. The breakdown for jobs creation in Virginia Beach is existing companies expanding (80%), new startups (18%), and relocations here (2%). The number one thing companies are looking for is workforce development: not only existing workforce here, but the ability to attract applicants to move here to work.

Things wrapped up with a Question and Answer Session.

I spotted the camera out that HRPDC staff normally uses for taping HRPDC and TPO meetings for YouTube, so the program might be online later.

The forum was sponsored by Housing Virginia, Hampton Roads Housing Consortium, Hampton Roads ULI, Tidewater Builders Association, Virginia Beach Community Development Corporation, The Housing Roundtable, and Light Rail Now. In addition, the forum was supported by BB&T.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Transportation Tidbits From 1/5/11

I attended two transportation meetings yesterday, and picked up some things from them:

1. You've probably read about the "Patriots' Crossing" a pared-down portion of The Third Crossing. One thing that should sound alarms with mass transit advocates: the multimodal portion of The Third Crossing isn't in the Patriots' Crossing. We need a rail tunnel under the harbor for light rail, in order to relieve tunnel congestion. While you might be able to go back and build it later, the Patriots' Crossing could either preclude it or make it much more expensive.

2. The market is there for the Port of Virginia to increase it's business 200%-300% by 2025. Yet the usual suspects continue to whine about transportation improvements that could benefit the port.

3. Only 5% of containers moving inland from the port go by barge, with Federal law effectively blocking any significant increase in that percentage. We're going to need more road and railroad capacity for moving the containers.

4. The proposed move of Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) downtown Norfolk transfer center from Cedar Grove to Wood Street has been pushed back one week, to April 24. That's to coincide with the beginning of a new pay period for bus Operators, as there will be cost differences involved.

5. Any bus riders interested, seats are available on HRT's Transit Riders Advisory Committee (TRAC). See the TRAC page on HRT's website for more information on the committee.

You Are No Match For My Jedi Mind Tricks

In the previous poll, I asked whether or not you believed Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) should have a weather contingency plan. 51% voted Yes, 48% "Who Cares?", and no one voted No.

Those from the Flat Earth Side fell for my Jedi mind trick. The same 48% who voted "Who Cares?" are the very same people who masquerade as better keepers of the public's money. You know how much money is wasted when HRT is forced to muddle through severe weather? So 48% would tell you, "I'm 100% against government waste...unless maybe HRT is wasting it in the snow."

On a related note, HRT staff will be meeting tomorrow (Friday) afternoon to discuss measures for getting information to bus riders in case of such weather events.

The new question: should the Virginia Beach City Council do strategic planning? The extremist VBTA opposes it on the grounds that it's a mechanism for gaining preapproval for initiatives that otherwise wouldn't pass Council. Their line goes that, in prioritizing a matter, that Retreat vote becomes an effective stamp of approval on a matter that the details aren't in on yet. With Council scheduled to go on Retreat January 21 and 22, I thought it would be timely.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Does Kerry Dougherty Have Any Shame?

I've been attending meetings of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), for over four years now. The past few years I've normally been there as a rule. I've never seen Kerry Dougherty at a meeting.

Yet in today's paper she throws a pathetic gutterball. Among her New Year's Resolutions she lectures "members of the Hampton Roads Transit Board" on meeting attendance and behavior in such meetings. From her comments, the average reader probably believes she actually knows what goes on in TDCHR meetings. Impossible when she's never there.

Let someone who is actually there tell you. Most Commissioners do attend most meetings. They ask very pointed questions at times. Many more questions in their committee meetings. What happened with Norfolk light rail didn't happen because they were inattentive, but rather because staff was feeding them reports on the project that were flagrant lies. Being at the meetings, I received copies of the meeting packets. Everything looked pretty nice on paper. For all Kerry and other Flat Earthers are demanding, more only could have been done had Commissioners hacked the computers of senior HRT staff.

Then, Kerry and her ideological twins at the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) don't give a damn about the truth. They'll throw every bit of mud they can dream up at light rail and mass transit in general. If they haven't noticed, the Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way was purchased on terms that make light rail in Virginia Beach inevitable. It's not a question of if we build such a line, but when and how do we do it? They can continue to live in denial and (urinate) into the wind, or they can play a constructive part in moving our city and region forward. Given their track record, only a fool would bet on the latter.