Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random Thoughts March 31, 2011

1. Am I the only one who thinks the fuss about the City Manager's proposed Budget for Virginia Beach in FY 2012 is bad theater? Given that the Budget had been trimmed and savings dipped into the past two years, tax and/or fee hikes were a given this year unless the economy improved markedly. It didn't.

2. The Democrats' plan for redistricting the state Senate is farcical at points. However, when I looked at the proposed 13th District, know what I thought? After 75 year old Fred Quayle, Senator Bob Dyer?

3. In the Republican House redistricting plan, Virginia Beach's Central Business District goes from the 83rd to the 85th District. Quite fitting for Bob Tata, whose bill jump-started the Beach light rail process.

4. Advertised for today was a Sea Level Rise Listening Session from 1-4 P.M. It was moved to 9 A.M. - Noon with no word I heard. So do they really want to listen?

5. Are you all having fun watching Norfolk being dragged into glasnost by Andy Protogyrou and Tommy Smigiel?

6. Under the Republican House redistricting plan, I go from the 83rd District (Chris Stolle) to the 90th (Algie Howell). Hey, I was considering looking for a new barber.... More seriously, Algie strikes me as a nice guy.

7. Why does it scare me on one level when I agree with the TEA Party? Not enough spending cuts in what's being considered by Congress.

8. The Laskin Gateway Project may spur what's hoped for in the Resort Area Strategic Action Plan. However, the knuckle-draggers are still refighting the 31st Street referendum battle. Pathetic.

9. Please note that light rail opponents have yet to offer a comprehensive alternative plan that is both constructive and realistic. Until then, they shouldn't be taken seriously. Do they think they can complain often and loud enough that people don't grasp they have nothing to offer?

10. Hang on, UFL: you might get your dream cancelled NFL season.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Government By Referendum

Government by referendum sounds nice in theory: a method for allowing the community to participate in decision-making. The problem is that, in Virginia Beach today, referenda have become nothing more than a device by which the fringe right tries to veto any attempt by Virginia's largest city to move forward.

We have three issues in the pipes that members of the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) have called for referenda on: the Dome site entertainment complex, a convention center headquarters hotel, and light rail. Let us hope that City Council grows a pair and puts none of the three on the ballot. The entire trio is crucial to future economic development in Virginia Beach.

On light rail, their expectation that there has to be a referendum has prevented the VBTA from putting together a coherent argument against it and presenting a detailed and realistic alternative. Ever notice how the VBTA calls for referenda on everything they oppose, but nothing they support? It's the antithesis of leadership.

Friday, March 25, 2011

TDCHR March 24, 2011

The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) held a long meeting on Thursday. Normally the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) meets for about an hour, but this meeting went about 105 minutes.

The big item was an overview of the efficiencies report. First some general information was given, then numbers for each individual city. The TDCHR vote will now be in May, not the previously-slated April. Any changes would be implemented with the January, 2012 service board change.

What I found disappointing was the lack of detail. Which routes are being cut? None were specifically named. The Top 18 routes will be boosted, but the only singling out were route lines on crude maps on the PowerPoint. (I could figure out most Southside, but was guessing on the Peninsula.) Granted, HRT has only spoken to 2 of 7 cities so far (Hampton and Virginia Beach), but to get bus riders buy-in you need to get information to them ASAP.

There was a Presentation on Phase II of the Regional Transit Vision Plan, with the TDCHR unanimously voting to endorse.

The high drama of the day was over the Vehicle Advertising Services contract. Staff recommended a new contractor, even thought the existing contractor had tendered a better bid. In addition, attorney Bill Bischoff alleged procedural issues in acting on the bids. When HRT President Phillip Shucet could not get clear answers to the questions raised, the TDCHR voted to defer the awarding of the contract.

HRT is $1.858 million under Budget for FY 2011. Acting CFO David Sullivan warned the TDCHR that Budget numbers will get wacky at the end of the fiscal year, as neither light rail revenues nor expenditures will be made in May and June.

A new light rail revenue service launch date will probably be announced sometime in May.

Senior Vice President of Operations Homer Carter will retire April 4. Temporarily, Bus Operations Director Bill Law will report directly to Chief of Staff David Sullivan. (I'll miss Homer.)

It is planned to have a Retreat recommendation for the TDCHR at their next meeting, April 21 In Hampton.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Portsmouth Question

(I don't like doing back-to-back transit posts, as I don't want this to exclusively be a transit blog. However, I'm probably going to have three consecutive here. Sorry.)

The question remains: exactly how do we connect Portsmouth into a regional light rail network? For the most fiscally stressed city in the Commonwealth of Virginia, it could reap a load of benefits by being connected into such a system in the midterm. Complete the Virginia Beach Oceanfront to Naval Station Norfolk via downtown Norfolk line, then start trying to get light rail across the river to P-town.

You start to grasp the scale of the problem when you read Phase II of the Regional Transit Vision Plan. It puts a streetcar in Portsmouth, to maybe later be extended to the Harbor Park multimodal station. There's a proposed corridor from Harbor Park to Harbour View via downtown Portsmouth "BRT, maybe LRT". However, even those partial measures rest on one huge if: a multimodal expansion of the Downtown Tunnel, with dedicated mass transit lanes.

That's not a report, but rather a death sentence for Portsmouth. I raised the issue during a Public Comment session at the TPO, and have talked about it with regional leaders. Failure to secure Portsmouth into our regional light rail network in the midterm risks having it become a sinkhole in 30-40 years that could take down the rest of South Hampton Roads with it. Portsmouth needs to be online, where it can reap the benefits of such a system.

69% Favor A Midtown Tunnel Routing

69% prefer taking light rail to Portsmouth via the Midtown Tunnel, with 31% favoring the Downtown Tunnel. Here's the problem: Phase II of the Regional Transit Vision Plan eliminates the Midtown routing, leaving a possible Downtown Tunnel routing.

The new question: how do you rate Mayor Will Sessoms' performance in office? He's been there now over 26 months.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rosemont SGA, Second Meeting

How many housing units can you stuff into a SGA? Take a look at the draft plan for the Rosemont Strategic Growth Area (SGA) and you might get an idea.

On Thursday evening there was a meeting at Windsor Woods Elementary School on the draft plan for the Rosemont SGA. Attendance was very good, considering it was Saint Patrick's Day and opening day of the NCAA basketball tournament. The meeting began with brief remarks by Planning Director Jack Whitney and Councilman Glenn Davis. That was followed by a PowerPoint presentation on the Rosemont SGA and the team's draft plans.

RCLCO was asked to suggest for each SGA in Virginia Beach a potential identity that could color it's redevelopment. Rosemont is the Transit-Oriented Residential Village. Given such, the predominate feature is housing units. RCLCO saw a potential market for 1,750 townhouses, 800 condominiums, and 2,450 apartments across an area about 250 acres. The draft plan puts about half that many in 130.5 acres.

The draft has mostly multifamily housing, with some single family as buffers against healthy existing residential neighborhoods. There is some office and mixed use, with one planned new retail center. For the "They don't listen!" crowd: at the initial meeting we residents told the team that the Collins Square and Loehmann's Plaza Shopping Centers were strengths, and the team redacted them from the study area. (Initial Rosemont SGA Meeting, 2/11/11) They'll go untouched.

There were some road improvements suggested. First, a flyover west of Rosemont Road to Sentara Road, bypassing Rosemont's intersection with I-264. Second, the team is evaluating ramps off I-264 north at South Plaza Trail so Little Neck traffic doesn't have to shuffle to the I-264/Rosemont intersection. (There would be no ramps south on South Plaza Trail.) Third, swinging Bonney Road out to Virginia Beach Boulevard short of Rosemont Road.

After the presentation, the public broke out to tables with facilitators and team members to comment and make suggestions on the draft plan.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

TPO March 17, 2011

The Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) held a quite substantial meeting today.

Thelma Drake, Director of Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), was present and gave an "informative" (Yvonne Miller) briefing on High Speed Rail. The TPO voted to work with DRPT, and try to scope out the next phase of their own work.

The TPO voted final approval of the project prioritization list, with an in-depth discussion of the projects slated for April. The impetus of today's vote was to allow the Virginia Department Of Transportation (VDOT) to being air conformity work on the list.

There was a presentation on Phase II of the Regional Transit Vision Plan, with the TPO voting afterwards to endorse.

There was a proposed list approved for allocating CMAQ and RSTP funds through FY 2017, including $5.5 million ($3.5 million RSTP, $2.0 million CMAQ) for Norfolk light rail. (Take that, tea baggers!)

Finally, a Resolution was presented from the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC). It endorsed the prioritization process, with the caveat that new funds be found for "additional lane-miles across the Hampton Roads Harbor."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

City Council Was Correct On Harmony

While they may be taking heat from the Point O'View Civic League over it, the Virginia Beach City Council was right to approve a proposal by Harmony Investments to build apartments just off of Greenwich Road.

The key factor here: the Newtown Strategic Growth Area (SGA) is one of the few SGA unencumbered by AICUZ regulations, making it prime for residential redevelopment. (Newtown SGA Plan Rollout Meeting, 3/27/10). Multifamily residential dovetails nicely with exactly what's envisioned for the area.

94% Grasp The Mistake

94% of you grasped that the Council of Civic Organizations (CCO) inviting John Moss, Chairman of the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA), was a blunder. There are so many reasons it shouldn't have been done.

First, it hurts the CCO's credibility. There's an old diplomatic axiom that "You can tell a revolution by its friends." The CCO holding hands with the VBTA doesn't paint a pretty picture of the new CCO leadership.

Second, wait for the political blowback. The CCO now has a number of powerful organizations and individuals unhappy with it. There will be ramifications.

Third, from my own prior tenure with the CCO, I know you schedule programs based on two drivers:

1. It will get good information to the community.

2. It will bring out attendance.

The VBTA only gives lies and conspiracy theories. The only attendance will be the Kool-Aid chuggers coming to worship their cult leaders.

Fourth, the CCO used to have annual Budget meetings. Management Services from the City of Virginia Beach would give a presentation. They were discontinued due to poor attendance.

Fifth, some will probably claim the CCO was just trying to offer a different perspective. If so, why doesn't it invite the KKK, the Nation of Islam, and the National Socialist Movement? If not, why are they inviting the VBTA, another group clearly out of the mainstream?

Sixth, did the CCO forget it has a seat on the Resort Advisory Commission (RAC)? How does the CCO expect it's RAC representative to be effective when it's playing footsie with the VBTA, which believes the Resort Area is public enemy number one? (If I held the CCO RAC seat, I'd resign, my job impossible to accomplish.)

Seventh, the CCO often works through partnerships. It does projects jointly with the City, including the Community Legislative Package. It funds it's annual Party In the Park, and offsets the annual Banquet, through donations from the business community. Neither will be pleased with this snafu.

The bottom line: the CCO will spend at least six months repairing the damage from this.

The new poll question: which routing should light rail take into Portsmouth - Downtown Tunnel or Midtown Tunnel?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sea Level Rise Listening Sessions

There will be Sea Level Rise Listening Sessions at the end of this month in Virginia Beach. They will be held:

March 30

1 - 4 P.M. - Virginia Aquarium

5:30 - 8:30 P.M. - Red Mill Elementary School

March 31

1 - 4 P.M. - Meyera Oberndorf Central Library

5:30 - 8:30 P.M. - Bayside Recreation Center

As has been discussed at meetings of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC), Hampton Roads' infrastructure is second most vulnerable in the country to sea level rise. The only region worse than us is (gulp!) New Orleans. Cliff Hayes stated that if we don't get to work on this issue, future generations will condemn us for our inaction.

Involved in the sessions are the University of Virginia Institute for Environmental Negotiation, Old Dominion University, the HRPDC, Wetlands Watch, and the City of Virginia Beach.

Friday, March 11, 2011

WAVY - TV On Cedar Grove And Late Buses

The video embedded below is a story run by WAVY-TV yesterday. While some of the statements in it are hyperbole, there's much truth in it.

First of all, don't send a reporter to do a story on Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) who doesn't know the difference between a Handi-Ride vehicle and a former Handi-Ride vehicle. Behind her was a former Handi-Ride vehicle now being used as an Operator's shuttle from the Ford plant. Actual Handi-Ride vehicles are painted with green and blue trim and have the Handi-Ride logo on them. (Moron!)

The one woman's comment that a late bus can cost you 3-4 hours is ridiculous. Actually, 29-59 minutes maximum.

However, I do love the emphasis on late buses. I've said before that late buses are the most frustrating thing about riding HRT. Part of the problem is that HRT's Dashboard measures late at 5 minutes, when a typical transfer center lineup is 3 minutes. That gives a better than actual picture of the problem. A bus 4 - 4 1/2 minutes late probably costs you a transfer, but the Dashboard counts it as on-time.

The Route 15 to Robert Hall is brought up. Yes, any HRT regular knows the 15 is chronically late at rush hour. However, the Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA) proposed changes to the 15 to help...and not all the impacted cities signed off on them. (It's not HRT's fault.)

In the written story that accompanies the video on WAVY's website, Norfolk Vice Mayor Anthony Burfoot calls for the transfer center to be moved to Downtown Plaza, and to "include restrooms, a cafe, a newsstand and TV monitors." While Burfoot's heart is in the right place, that's overkill. Get us downtown, provide restrooms, and allow a variety of vendor carts and/or kiosks. It would be temporary until we get to the Harbor Park multimodal station.

One tip for them from an experienced rider (me): if it's important (such as work), go a bus early. You're covered in case of a missed transfer, bus breakdown, need to use the restroom, etc.

HRT riders frustrated with tardiness:

Garbage Fee: A Ruse?

I'm going to toss an idea out for thought: was Virginia Beach City Hall genuine in floating the idea of a garbage fee?

I'm skeptical. It's been on the table a couple times before, only to be rejected. First, homeowners can deduct collections embedded in the Property Tax on their income taxes. Second, some may decide not to pay the fee, then simply dump their garbage in environmentally sensitive areas.

Therefore, I believe it was a ruse by staff towards getting City Council to swallow other fee increases.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

You All Agreed

It was unanimous that insurance companies don't care about your health.

The impetus was that I have a condition that medical science recommends surgery for. However, Medicare (I get it due to disability) won't cover it as I don't have one of their prerequisites. (Granted, Medicare is a government program.)

The new question: does John Moss hurt the Council of Civic Organization's (CCO) credibility? The Chairman of the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) has been invited to be the speaker at the March general meeting of Virginia Beach's civic league federation (i.e. the CCO).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Tax Refom Idea

With the General Assembly having just passed a Budget, and the City Budget season soon upon us, I thought I'd float on here an idea for tax reform that I've expressed elsewhere before. I'd abolish both the BPOL and Car Tax, in turn giving localities the authority to levy a local piggyback income tax.

The BPOL was first imposed to pay for Virginia's share of The War of 1812. That war was over long ago, but we're still paying the tax for it. Also, compliance with it is very labor-intensive for businesses.

Yes, Virginia, the Car Tax has not been totally eliminated from the books. In fact, our cash-strapped Commonwealth is sending millions in reimbursements to the localities. Eliminate it, and the financial shell game that's going on.

Putting more financial control at home would help stop localities from finger-pointing at Richmond, as they'd be responsible for their own revenue to a larger extent. As a check, you could require localities to seek state approval to change the piggyback rate. (That's the case in my native Maryland.)

I toss it out there for discussion. It may not be perfect, but it starts to unravel some of the craziness in the Virginia tax code.

"Put It To A Referendum": The Song

There are two fundamental things Virginia Beach's reactionaries are lacking. First, a clue. I can only help so much there; maybe if they regularly read this blog.... Second, an anthem - until now. I wrote them the following, which is sung to the tune of Jackie DeShannon's "Put A Little Love In Your Heart":

Keep things always the same,
any change is a shame.
Put it to a referendum
So Princess Anne County
things shall forever be.
Put it to a referendum

We hate the 21st Century;
We hate the 21st Century.
The Beach should be
for just White gentry.

Social progress threatens
our archaic lives.
Put it to a referendum
Our city's master plan shall
make proud the Ku Klux Klan.
Put it to a referendum

We hate the (we hate the) 21st Century;
We hate the (we hate the) 21st Century.
The Beach (The Beach)
should be (should be)
for just (for just)
White gentry, just White gentry.

The end game of our shtick:
a hermit republic.
Put it to a referendum
The Beach for alone us,
others under the bus.
Put it to a referendum

We hate the (we hate the) 21st Century;
We hate the (we hate the) 21st Century.
The Beach (The Beach)
should be (should be)
for just (for just)
White gentry.

People, now put it to a referendum.
If it means a change,
Put it to a referendum.
There's no other way,
Put it to a referendum.
The only way,
Put it to a referendum
It must be


Put it to a referendum