Thursday, April 28, 2011

TDCHR April 28, 2011

I try to give you a digest of meetings of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). Debbie Messina goes for a single sexy story for the newspaper, and I don't see one out of today's meeting.

Let's start with the financials. HRT is nearly $2 million under Budget after three quarters of the fiscal year. They received the 5/12ths apportionment they applied for from the Federal government, and used some of that money to payoff their Line of Credit.

You all want the light rail news. The safety system testing should be completed by the end of May. President Phillip Shucet hopes to be able to give the TDCHR a firmer hold on a revenue service launch date at the May TDCHR meeting.

The new Southside maintenance facility will be completed on time and on budget. Operations should be back there from the Ford plant in later May, with a formal opening ceremony in June.

Operating Budget Officer Brandon Singleton presented the proposed FY 2012 Budget. Ongoing negotiations with the contractor may bring paratransit costs down. The big issue is fuel costs. With the current price spike driven by speculators, it's hoped to be able to lock in at a lower price once they go to cash in their profits. HRT's current fuel contracts will take the agency through the end of the Summer.

The TDCHR approved seven contracts today: one for an overhaul on a paddlewheel ferry, two for construction management services, two for software and support, one for the Ballentine Boulevard park and ride, and one for the Newtown Station employees restroom.

New Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Henry Li was introduced to the TDCHR. He arrived just two weeks ago from his previous job in Georgia. What struck some of us before the meeting is that Li had been studying the photos of Commissioners on HRT's website, so that he could try to recognize them when meeting them for the first time. (That's the kind of detail junkie you want watching the money!)

Phillip Shucet presented two awards to employees:

1. Brian Smith got the President's Coin for being the driving force behind getting Project 31/90 done. Project 31/90 was the effort to implement reforms at HRT after the Inspector General's report.

2. David Sullivan was given a plaque for his service as interim CFO.

The next TDCHR meeting will be May 26 at 1:30 P.M. in Norfolk.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

By A 2:1 Margin...

You believe Blockbuster is in worse financial condition than Sears Kmart.

I went to Kmart this morning to buy a box of Pepto Bismol chewable tablets. (Hey, Kmart is across the street from work.) The same box that would cost me $3 at Walmart was $4.49 at Kmart. No wonder they're in the proverbial "deep doo-doo"!

The new poll question: which light rail extension are you leaning towards in Virginia Beach? Yes, the study just went to a timeout and we don't have enough information to endorse an option yet, so that's why I used the modifier "leaning towards". However, I thought this would be a fun exercise that would allow us to compare and contrast options.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2011 Virginia Destroyers Open Tryouts

Next Saturday, April 30, there will be open tryouts for our UFL Virginia Destroyers. They will be from 9 A.M. - 1 P.M. at Norfolk State University's Dick Price Stadium. (That's where they should actually be playing their homes games, but that's another story....) Spectators may come and watch, and both the team and their fan club (i.e. The Fleet) are promoting attendance.

Statements have been made that side events will be going on to enhance the fan experience, but no specific announcements have been made yet. (It wouldn't just be four hours of watching drills.)

I plan to be there, and hope many of you will, too.

Looking Towards Electoral System Change

It's redistricting year, so that also means redrawing the residency districts for the Virginia Beach City Council. A push will certainly be there to scrap Virginia Beach's obscene at-large voting system.

At-large voting seeks to marginalize the franchise, placing a much greater emphasis on campaign donors than residents. Lineup the checkbooks in the backroom and you can determine who can be a "serious" candidate for City Council. The City has stumbled into past mistakes due to a lack of diversity of opinions and backgrounds at the table. To support at-large voting, you have to believe Virginia Beach is stronger for marginalizing 98% of the population.

What would the new system look like? That would depend on how many district and (if any) at-large seats you go with on Council. In addition, you could turn to some alternate form of voting. Cumulative voting would still mean voting for everyone throughout the City, none of the common publicly spoken arguments against a ward system apply to it, while it would produce a neo-proportional system.

The 2010 Census gave us more of the same from the 2000 Census, but at a slower pace than some expected. However, two central facts remain. First, what population growth Virginia Beach is experiencing is entirely minority. Second, there were fewer Whites in Virginia Beach in 2010 than in 1990. "White flight" has been on here for a generation now.

There are three possible areas for drawing minority-majority Council districts or influence districts:

1. Densest minority concentration - the Baker Corridor, stretching in a crescent from Burton Station to the northwest corner of the Virginia Beach Boulevard/Witchduck Road intersection, via Lake Edward.

2. Largest minority concentration - stretching diagonally from Green Run to Seatack, through Oceana NAS.

3. Centerville District is already over 40% minority in the current system.

Status quoers try to run from even discussing an electoral system change. However, the longer they wait to do the inevitable, the less palatable the new electoral system would be for them. If the 2020 Census numbers look like the last two sets, there will be no need to beg next redistricting. In 2021, grassroots inclusionists will have the numbers to simply kick in the door of City Hall. Therefore, 2011 is the last chance for our status quoers to get a reform deal that is good for them.

The fringe right gives lip service towards wanting a ward system, but never lifts a finger towards advocating for one. If they actually want to defend the suburbia they claim to champion, here's their chance. In implementing a ward system, you could draw districts that take in those suburban subdivisions while trying to avoid the Norfolk Southern Corridor. As our Strategic Growth Areas move towards building out, we could eventually have separate Council districts for suburban dwellers and urban dwellers.

Electoral system change is a necessity that will make Virginia Beach stronger by allowing us to work more of our talent into building our city. We're eventually going to have to do it, so why not in 2011? The sooner we get it done, the sooner Virginia Beach can move forward at battle speed.

Disclosure Statement

No post on this blog has ever been ghost written by John Moss.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Form-Based Zoning

There will be a form-based zoning open house and workshop. Form-based zoning is in the pipes for the Resort Area as a means to implement the Resort Area Strategic Action Plan. The meeting is on Monday, April 25 at 6 P.M. It will be at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, Rooms 2-BCD.

Morality Wins!

61% want traditional marriage only, with 39% supporting gay marriage. 0% wanted civil unions.

Of course, it's a moot point in Virginia. Our state Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman, prohibiting any alternatives. I worked the polls to do my small part in getting the amendment passed.

The new question: which company goes bankrupt first, Blockbuster or Sears Kmart? It's from a water cooler discussion I had at work.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Virginia Beach City Hall: Bigotry And More Bigotry

It's a dark week for those of us striving to build an inclusive Virginia Beach.

The first Public Hearing on the FY 2012 Budget is scheduled for Holy Thursday evening. That's a night that any Catholic worth their salt is in church, not at a Budget Hearing. Yes, there are two other Public Hearings. However, the second one traditionally focuses on the Property Tax rate. The final one is the night of Budget adoption. Given that City Council is highly unlikely to amend the Budget on the floor that night, its only real use is to stake political ground towards the next Budget.

At Tuesday's Council Workshop, first item on the Agenda is City Redistricting. The City has rehired Kimball Brace as consultant, who had the same contract a decade ago. In 2001, he told City Council that it would take many more districts to draw a minority-majority Council district in Virginia Beach...then proceeded to help draw one for a draft eight district plan. His rehiring in itself is a rejection of inclusion, and shows the City Council Redistricting process will be another sham.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Learn To Drive, NPD!

Payday is Walmart Day, so Friday morning I was on my way there to go grocery shopping. At Military Circle's 6 A.M. cutback lineup, it was Cutback Inbound 20 to Cutback Outbound 15.

As the 15 started to head up Military Highway, a Norfolk Police Department (NPD) K9 unit came out of the Kangaroo Express at Janaf. The K9 unit made a slow looping turn...right into the path of the bus. Thankfully the bus wasn't going full speed, so we were able to brake to avoid a collision. The bus Operator exclaimed to the passengers afterwards, "They're suppose to be the police!"

Tired cop after being on duty all night? Regardless, had that been a 40' bus at full speed, the NPD K9 unit would have been flipped over. (We had a 30 footer on the cutback run.) Since this was a K9 unit, remember that the police dog would have been in the rear...right where the bus would have struck.

I've e-mailed Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), advising that a copy of the bus' security tapes be sent to NPD.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bring Our M-1s Home!

The M-1 Garand rifle was used by American infantry in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. After the Korean War, the United States left nearly one million M-1s in South Korea for that country's defense. In 2011, South Korea would like to be able to sell the authentic M-1s to collectors in the United States.

One serious problem: the Obama Administration has moved to block them. Never mind that the rifles were manufactured here in the first place, and newer versions can be legally bought here.

Speak up to your Congressmen about allowing them to be imported back into the United States.

H/T Townhall

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Letter To The FTA

Above is the actual April 1 letter from Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) to the Federal Administration (FTA) seeking answers to questions raised by the FTA. Most of you have heard the story by now: a stop work order has been placed on the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study pending the FTA's reply.

I post the actual letter in order that you can see through the disinformation spread by the opponents. There are two main points:

1. Can the Virginia Beach extension be phased?

2. If actual Norfolk ridership numbers are desired by the FTA, how long of a halt?

That's it. Nothing more. This is not a serious blow to the project.

Should there be a lengthy halt, it would give Virginia Beach time to finish Strategic Growth Area (SGA) plans along the Norfolk Southern Corridor. Rosemont is in progress, Lynnhaven will be later in 2011, and Hilltop in early 2012.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Riding With Phillip (And James)

This morning we finally executed an event long in planning: I took Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) President Phillip Shucet bus riding. We left from Cedar Grove on a seven bus journey across South Hampton Roads. HRT Chief Communications Officer James Toscano joined us.

I was asked to plan an itinerary no more than five hours. For my fellow bus riders keeping score at home, we went Cutback Outbound 1 - Cutback Inbound 15 - Outbound 27 - Inbound 1 - Inbound 8 - Cutback Outbound 6 - Cutback Inbound 6. The initial cutbacks were to give us a cushion at rush hour in case we missed a transfer...which we nearly did at Wards Corner. The timing then put us onto the cutbacks for 20th & Seaboard. The double 6s were because we finally did miss a transfer: the Cutback Inbound 13 pulled out yards ahead of us at 20th & Seaboard. Instead, we took the same 6 back to Cedar Grove.

Phillip got to speak to some bus riders individually. Observing both a high floor and a low floor bus doing wheelchair lifts at Cedar Grove, I may have sold him on the idea that HRT should never order another high floor bus. At Cedar Grove he noted the lack of a pedestrian gate onto Princess Anne Road, and the fuel burn by buses idling on Salter Street. (FYI, he prefers to be addressed by his full legal first name, rather than as "Phil" or "Mr. Shucet".)

Being Chief Communications Officer, James spent time checking out the Insider Cards. He was also the note taker for the trip, and snapped some photos, too.

Best of all, we agreed to make this a regular periodic event. If you see us out on some future excursion, please be more talkative than this morning's group.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Howell Or Rorschach?

Yesterday the Republican Party of Virginia sent this out as a Facebook status update. (Yes, I saw it on Facebook Mobile while on the Suffolk trip.) Virginia now has a great new game to play, Howell Or Rorschach? Can you tell the difference between a state Senate district gerrymandered by Senator Janet Howell and an ink blot?

Have a try at

Visiting Suffolk, Flag Flying

I've been to Suffolk about seven times before to check out the Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) service in southern Suffolk. Four mainline routes (Routes 71 - 74) are in the historical town of Suffolk and the immediate surrounding area. (Route 47 serves part of northern Suffolk.) I've always rode low key, not publicizing who I was.

Monday was different. I was there to recruit on behalf of HRT's Transit Riders Advisory Committee (TRAC). Neither Chesapeake, Portsmouth, nor Suffolk currently has a TRAC representative, with Suffolk's drought now for nearly a decade. Therefore, myself and a compatriot were recruiting on the buses, speaking to riders and handing them fliers.

The big issue in Suffolk was the proposed service reductions in HRT's efficiencies report. On the one hand, nearly everyone in Suffolk knew cuts were on the table; on the other hand, no one I met could name which two routes were tagged for elimination. ('s Routes 72 and 73.) The City of Suffolk is holding a public hearing on the issue Wednesday night, which may shape their position. The misinformation in Suffolk is so bad that one woman believed Route 72 was getting every 15 minute service. (I don't think so.)

However, I was very pleased with the level of service offered by the HRT Operators in Suffolk. The irony wasn't lost on me that we were considering eliminating half their service with Suffolk now having the team in place to execute quality bus service.

One major new issue was pointed out to me on Monday. Route 73 goes through an industrial park at 2:57 P.M., while the QVC and Sara Lee plants there discharge shifts at 3 P.M. (Memo to the Planning Department....)

For my fellow bus riders in the other six cities, if you've never rode Suffolk, do so if you have a weekday free. It's quite different from HRT service elsewhere.

You're Happy With the Mayor's Performance

45% of you rated Mayor Will Sessoms' job performance excellent, with 23% voting Good. 3% think he's done a Fair job. 29% rate it Poor. The striking thing about the Poor vote is that it corresponds with what we saw in Bayside and Lynnhaven Districts last November, where 30% would vote against any incumbent no matter what.

Personally, I'm not enamored with Mayor Sessoms performance. (I was a Good voter.) I may have some pointed things to say about him (and other members of Council) after this year's City redistricting process. However, Virginia Beach is moving forward after four years of sitzkrieg under Meyera Oberndorf. If Meyera was still there, City Hall would be giving lip service to a number of key initiatives, but doing nothing about them.

The new poll question is inspired by a Facebook exchange I was involved in yesterday. Which do you prefer: traditional marriage alone, allow gay marriage, or allow civil unions?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

2011 Virginia Destroyers Cheerleader Tryout Finals

Okay, I normally blog on substantive public policy issues. However, with the day free on Saturday, I went to MacArthur Center to see the Destroyers Cheerleading Tryout Finals. By the team's estimate, "about 400 people" were there, which sounds about right. The event had been promoted on Facebook by both the team and its fan club, The Fleet.

About 50 candidates were brought forward in groups of four. Each quartet did dance routines to the same two songs: Aerosmith's Walk This Way and a dance remix of Kelly Clarkson's Since You've Been Gone. (The remix was a bit bizarre in that it began with a rift that sounded like it was from 96 Tears.) There were six judges: the cheerleading director, four with cheerleading or dance backgrounds, and a representative from The Fleet.

After all the finalists had performed, we were told the judges would tally the scores and be back "in 15 minutes". It took about three times that long. The wait inspired me to download the Jeopardy theme song to my Nokia E71x.

Yes, the Finals had their lighter moments. One girl lost her balance, only to catch herself. Another was big enough to play linebacker herself. There was one with long, thin hair that kept flying in her face. However, what was striking was how many now want to be a professional sports cheerleader. There were two candidates from South Carolina, and one each from Hawaii and Michigan.

Those attending were given pitches for Destroyers tickets, Fleet memberships, and Destroyers gear. I bought myself a Destroyers t-shirt beforehand.

When they came back, about half the Finalists had been cut. Jubilation, some needing consoling, while those chosen posed for photos of the group.

Anyone wishing to discuss the Virginia Destroyers, or the UFL in general, have at it in the Comments section.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Things You Find On YouTube

Surfing YouTube yesterday, I found a video of Top 10 blown scoring chances in soccer. My fellow soccer fans should enjoy. As a former Center Forward, I winced at some of them. The #1 goof was a well-deserved award. I post it for your weekend fun.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The VBTA Calls For A Referendum On Sanity

April 1 saw the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) call for a referendum on sanity, wanting it excluded from public policy.

"To espouse sanity is to attack Beach families", said VBTA Maximum Leader Robert Dean. He went on, "Only I know what's in the best interest of Virginia Beach, and everyone knows I've gone off the deep end."

"Every Statement and position of the VBTA is utterly insane", stated VBTA Chairman John Moss. "We believe you can make massive cuts in the City Budget with no negative consequences, the city can simply stop growing, 100% of surface transportation could and should be by automobile, the state should spend $3 billion on roads without building a single new road, etc."

"Sanity is a conspiracy by the Chamber of Commerce, for Virginia Beach Vision, with the consent of Light Rail Now", claimed VBTA Vice Chairman/Chairman of No Transportation Reid Greenmun. Wiping his running hair dye away, he continued, "The taxpayers want insanity! Sanity is corruption imposed on us by a few influential business lobbies."

The VBTA hopes for a November, 2011 referendum to eradicate sanity.