Monthly Archives: August, 2011

Refreshingly Clear Water Answers

By. Neil Williamson, President

In the wonkish water demand analysis world of “per capita consumption” and “historic rain fall data” and “demand trend curves”, it is most refreshing to have a consultant explain in clear terms the rationale behind the numbers.

While the Demand Forecast Report may be dry (pun intended) the associated memorandum is filled to the rim with examples of consumer decisions greatly impacting this community’s water demand.

Please let me explain.

As Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow reported in today’s (8/30) Daily Progress article:

A 50-year water demand forecast for Charlottesville-Albemarle has been updated in advance of a public hearing to be held in September.  AECOM Technology Corp.’s projections now show slightly less water consumption, but greater projected population growth.

Download Download AECOM’s August 2011 water demand forecast

Late last week, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority released AECOM’s final forecast updating a July draft. The state is requiring localities to submit a comprehensive water supply plan by Nov. 2.

Last week (8/24), Kim Shorter, a water supply specialist with AECOM,  wrote a memo to Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Executive Director Tom Frederick responding to the public’s questions about the Draft Water Demand Forecasts.

The memo provided direct answers to the public questions in an unusually candid manner.

Charlottesville Tomorrow covered the July public input session and highlighted a question from Rebecca Quinn, chair of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan:

“I do not believe conservation has been adequately accounted for,” said Quinn. “We have got to include the savings with faucets and showerheads. You may think it’s negligible, but it may make a difference to us.”

multiple showerheadsIn her memo, Shorter explains that despite the requirements in the National Energy Policy Act, a number of fixtures are still available that exceed the 2.5 gallon a minute standard.

She also highlighted the  trend for multiple showerheads in a single stall is becoming popular and is not illegal.

The most telling remark about the showerhead discussion was:

Without the inspection and testing of a representative and random sampling of shower fixtures in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, the impacts of non-conforming and non-compliant fixtures on current and future water demand reductions cannot be reasonably estimated. [Emphasis added-nw]

Many of the same consumer driven concerns regarding showers were true in conservation assessment of faucets as well.  hands free faucetShorter wrote:

For most faucets, it is as easy to alter the flow rate as it is to open a plastic bottle; simply turn the aerator until it is removed.  Similar to the multiple spray showerheads, the automated shut-off faucets have become very popular but result in higher water use.  Multiple studies have shown that the infrared automatic shut-off faucets use more water than the traditional fixtures.

In addition to answering questions about low water use clothes washers as well as the population numbers used, Shorter’s memo clearly addressed most, if not all, of the concerns raised in the public input session.

The public is well served by the clear answers in the report as well as in the memo.

One can anticipate many of the same voices raising these issues (and others) when this report is presented at the September 13th meeting of the four Boards (Charlottesville City Council, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and Albemarle County Service Authority) for public hearing.

It is important to note, the reason this report is required by the state is to mandate community planning for an adequate future water supply.  If, as a community, we conserve more water than we project, our community water supply will serve us longer than we project.  If the population grows more slowly than anticipated the community water supply will serve us longer than anticipated.

But we remain concerned, as Charlottesville Tomorrow reported our comments from the July meeting:

Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said he worried about water supply planning that depended too heavily on future conservation efforts.

“I hope as a community we embrace conservation, but we shouldn’t count our chickens before they are hatched,” Williamson said.

The question remains, how much of our future water supply can we comfortably “bet” on voluntary consumer conservation efforts?

And if we bet wrong, what level of mandated conservation efforts are we willing to accept?

And, at that point, will we have a choice?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Eight Candidates Seek Three Greene County Supervisor Seats

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

This November Greene County Greene County voters will face an unusual situation: eight candidates running for three positions on the Board of Supervisors.

As of yesterday’s (8/23) deadline for potential candidates to submit signatures to have their name on the ballot, Registrar Sandra Shifflett reported that a total of four candidates would be vying for the newly redistricted Ruckersville district. Shifflett said this is the largest number of candidates running for one district seat that she’s seen during her tenure, and interest seems to be building in serving on the board in general.

carl_schmitt

Carl Schmitt

mike_skeens

Mike Skeens

In addition to the four Ruckersville candidates, two incumbents whose terms are expiring, Carl Schmitt (at-large) and Mike Skeens (Monroe district), will face challengers.  The current Greene County Board Chairman Steve Catalano (at-large), is not seeking reelection.

The recent redistricting eliminated one of the two at-large seats and created a fourth district. At the time the Board of Supervisors  addressed this subject, there was some concern that eliminating an at-large seat and adding another district would make it difficult to find enough people in a particular district interested in serving. That concern has not materialized in this upcoming election.

Most of August’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting dealt with reviewing proposed revisions to county subdivision and zoning ordinances. Planning Director Bart Svoboda specifically addressed revisions regarding home businesses, home occupations, non-conforming uses, site development plans, height regulations and like features, and notice of violation and civil enforcement.

Under the current ordinance, a home occupation is not allowed in a senior residential district, and the planning staff recommended revising the ordinance to allow for such businesses in order to support the recently adopted Comprehensive Plan goals and increase the county tax base. “The ‘cottage industries’ that home occupations allow in the suburban and rural residential areas are a growing trend,” Svoboda said in his statement recommending the revision.

A second revision dealt with home businesses in an R-1 district, by special use permit, which would allow the county to place conditions on the use and property to address potential impacts.

Supervisors voted to adopt the proposed ordinance amendments minus the ordinances on interconnectivity of adjacent lots and the expansion or enlargement of a non-conforming use or structure, both of which they agreed require further study by the board.

The issue of interconnectivity of adjacent lots and “access management” garnered much discussion about the desire to not force traffic out of a neighborhood-type model and onto busy Route 29, but rather interconnect roads to residential areas and stores for easier shopping. Currently the county does not have an ordinance in place for the interconnectivity of adjacent lots.

Interconnectivity advocates promise businesses and residents would benefit from better mobility and access to their destinations if a system of parallel roads existed to access their development.

Opponents of mandated interconnection cite their increased cost with benefit being reaped by the adjoining parcels.  In addition, they contend such a mandate is unworkable with larger lots where the development may be a great distance from one or more of the lot lines.

Interconnectivity is mandated by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for residential subdivisions if such roads are to be accepted into the VDOT system.

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Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit : Greene County

“Livability” Grant Metrics and Methods

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last week a joint meeting between Albemarle County and City of Charlottesville Planning Commissions was held to update the “decision makers” on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s progress on the almost million dollar federal planning grant it received earlier this year.

In Charlottesville Tomorrow’s coverage of the meeting Albemarle Planning Commissioner Don Franco (Rio) was quoted:

“What I see happening is that we’re creating this performance measurement system and I’m not sure what we know what we’re measuring yet until we know what our goals and objectives are as a community,” Franco said.

In a previous post we raised concerns that the planning staffs (Charlottesville, Albemarle and TJPDC) were driving the process.  Rather than an opportunity for feedback or even reflection, the joint meeting was a presentation of the metrics staff has selected to use to determine the livability factors.  The data sets that have been chosen will clearly define the results.  While staff was seemingly open to new data sets they clearly did not appreciate being challenged by commissioners.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s article indicated:

[TJPDC Senior Planner Summer] Frederick said that work would be refined by a series of community workshops that will be held in the fall and winter.

“The overarching questions we’ll be asking at these meetings is whether the goals and objectives are still relevant,” Frederick said

In the public comment, The Free Enterprise Forum, the only public to speak at the meeting raised concerns that this seemingly was a meeting to discuss planning another meeting.  We also raised concerns regarding the staff selected metrics.

On a more troubling note, it seems that the staff is brining forward the ideas to the Planning Commissions as a courtesy, not really looking for input.  When hard questions were asked they were dismissed.  This meeting and the one that proceeded it clearly felt like the Delphi Method was being used. The Informed Residents of Reading (MA) blog had a good synopsis on the Delphi Method:

The Rand Corporation in the early 1960s developed the Delphi technique for the purpose of maneuvering segments of the public into accepting predetermined government policies. In the 1970s and ’80s, it was ideally used to convince land owners of the merits of accepting joining and general plan maps.  One variation on the Delphi technique is to use a series of meetings.

Anyone knowledgeable enough, or brave enough, to speak out in opposition will not be welcomed. Often they are told from the podium, “We don’t have time to discuss that now,” or “We discussed that on another date,” or “We can discuss that after the meeting.” They will attempt to quiet, isolate, and discredit dissenters. After attending the Delphi meeting, participants may feel uneasy that they are in disagreement with the apparent majority. [Emphasis added-nw]

Another blog, the Virginia Land Rights Coalition puts it even more bluntly:

So, now, those who organized the meeting in the first place are able to tell the participants and the rest of the community that the conclusions, reached at the meeting, are the result of public participation.

Actually, the desired conclusions had been established, in the back room, long before the meeting ever took place. There are variations in the technique to fit special situations but, in general, the procedure outlined above takes place.

The natural question to ask here is: If the outcome was preordained before the meeting took place, why have the meeting? Herein lies the genius of this Delphi Technique.

It is imperative that the general public believe that this program is theirs! They thought it up! They took part in its development! Their input was recognized!

If people believe that the program is theirs, they will support it.

If they get the slightest hint that the program is being imposed upon them, they will resist.

The most telling quote in the entire Charlottesville Tomorrow story came from Charlottesville City Planning Manager Missy Creasy:

“We’re trying to create as many different avenues as possible for citizens to feel they can be a part of this process,” Creasy said. [Emphasis added-nw]

Considering all of the above, how do you “feel” about this process.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene Planning Commission Considers Proffer Policy

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission held a working session on Wednesday evening to, among other things, review a possible proffer policy guide submitted by Planning Department staff. If enacted, this would be the first time the county would offer such a guide to citizens and developers seeking rezoning. The Board of Supervisors had directed the planning staff to review “possible proffer policy guidelines to assist citizens in voluntary proffer submittals” that would be designed to work in concert with the capital improvement plan (CIP).

In presenting the proposed guide to commissioners, Planning Director Bart Svoboda suggested the need for “cohesiveness” in the rezoning process and that the use of “boiler plate” guidelines would simplify the process and standardize improvements. Using a fill-in-the-blank-type model, the guide addresses common proffered conditions such as use and density limitations, landscaping, physical improvements, access, funding for improvements to public facilities such as schools, and traffic control/improvements. Only owners of the property subject to rezoning may proffer conditions.

“We’re trying to streamline the process for rezoning and take some of the guess work out of it,” Svoboda said. “We tend to have the same issues come up in rezoning, such as traffic and schools. This guide will let applicants be aware of the issues beforehand so they can be prepared to deal with them as opposed to the applicant being blindsided at a public hearing.”

If an applicant is unprepared or unaware of issues that the requested rezoning may affect, they may request another hearing, which would further delay the process, Svoboda explained. “As a locality, our strength is the speed of our process,” Svoboda said, and these guidelines would assist in moving that process forward more easily and smoothly.

In providing the outline, staff followed the state code requirements regarding proffers and also researched other models online to avoid “reinventing the wheel,” settling on the “Massachusetts model.” The proposed guide states that proffered conditions are not appropriate or necessary for all rezoning, must be voluntary on the part of the applicant, must be consistent with the comprehensive plan, and must be reasonably related to the rezoning.

Acknowledging this is the first time the county would have such a guide, Commissioner Anthony Herring suggested that proffer policies should be reviewed every two to three years.

Svoboda will submit the policy guidelines to various county agencies for their comments and consideration of items that may been missed. It will then be submitted to the supervisors.

The commissioners also began the process of comparing county zoning ordinances with the new comprehensive plan to ensure no conflicts exist. This has been one of the Planning Commission’s top five priorities, and commissioners were particularly interested in the topic of land use. Considering the extensive time involved in reviewing specific ordinances, the commission decided to form a committee specifically to review them.

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Pauline Hovey is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

The ARB vs. The Neighborhood Model

By. Neil Williamson, President

Trader Joe's bagYesterday’s (8/15) Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) meeting featured a work session on the Shops at Stonefield including the proposed, and highly anticipated, Trader Joe’s market.   It is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other, development proposal but finds the process worthy of attention.

Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow captured the tenor of the meeting in the lead to his Daily Progress front page story:

The developers of Stonefield didn’t get much time to relish last month’s approval of the design for a new Regal Cinema. The proposed Trader Joe’s grocery store, and every other building under review by the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board, hit a buzz saw of criticism Monday.

news-stonefield-TraderJoes

photo credit: ARB Presentation

The charge of the ARB is to regulate the aesthetics of the Entrance Corridors.   According to Albemarle County:

[The ARB is] charged with the responsibility of regulating the design of development within the County’s Entrance Corridors. Entrance Corridors are streets that provide routes of tourist access to the County and to historic landmarks, structures, and districts. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that new development in these corridors reflects the traditional architecture of the area and that development within the corridors is orderly and attractive.

Albemarle County’s Neighborhood Model calls for:

The Neighborhood Model proposes reassessing parking standards and finding ways to make parking areas
less dominant from the street. Such steps should improve the visual character of the community and
make possible a more functional and appealing pedestrian
environment.

So following Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model, the applicant, Edens & Avant,  placed the parking behind the building thus protecting the public from looking at a sea of parking.  This location meant that other critical operational elements, loading docks, electrical equipment etc. needed to e placed somewhere other than the rear of the building – which was now the front.

Couldn’t this conflict have been predicted?  Yes.

Way back in 2003, the Free Enterprise Forum wrote to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors:

As written, it is anticipated that a significant number of businesses would establish the front of their shop as the “rear” and close all public access from the street side of the building. As architecture critic Craig Whitaker notes in his book Architecture and the American Dream, if cars are moved to the back, “the front doors would start following the cars.”

Randal O’Toole, in his book The Vanishing Automobile and other urban myths, cites

“Small shops may have only enough personnel to monitor one entrance to the store, and that will usually be the entrance to the parking lot”. In 1996, Portland writer Bob Elliot noted a store in Southeast Portland (a pioneer in new urbanism) where the door fronting the street “is barricaded with merchandise on the inside” and “a sign directs you to the back entrance off the parking lot.”

We need only look to the proposed Crozet Library to see this phenomena in action.

Photo Credit: Albemarle County

While the building has doors on the street level, the library has no intention of ever using them.  Why?  The Library Board explained to the Board of Supervisors that they could not afford to have staff at both entrances and without such staffing the doors would present a security risk to patrons and employees.  Just as O’Toole wrote in 2001 about private businesses.

The only street access to the library is an awning covered walkway that leads to the “back” now “front” door.

 

 

Ryan - Rendering

Photo Credit Edens & Avant Website

During the course of the ARB meeting, Board member Paul Wright made a point utilizing  images of other Edens & Avant projects including the Shoppes at Ryan Park in Ashburn (on left).

A closer examination of this picture reveals that there is parking in front of the center, in direct opposition to Albemarle’s Neighborhood model concept.

All of this is going on in the new “business friendly” Albemarle County.

It certainly feels more like the atmosphere in 2003 when then Planning Commissioner Bill Edgerton said,

“If a particular franchisee does not want to build it the way we say, then Albemarle County is better off without them”.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has no opinion on this specific application, the ARB process and the complications of conflicting comprehensive plan goals is worthy of attention.

The implications for the economic vitality of the development areas and the regulatory burdens placed on such development are significant.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Charlottesville PC Welcomes New Member, Elects New Leadership, Reviews Entrance Corridor Applications

By. Amelie Bailey, 2011 Field Officer Intern

Charlottesville Planning Commission met on Tuesday (8/9) to discuss entrance corridor applications and rezoning on Elliot Avenue. At this meeting, the Commission welcomed its newest member, Natasha Sienitsky, who fills the position that opened when former chairman, Jason Pearson, stepped down earlier this summer.  The Planning Commission also elected Genevieve Keller as Chair and Dan Rosenweig as Vice Chair.

The Planning Commission, acting as the Entrance Corridor Review Board (ERB), approved a renewed entrance corridor certificate of appropriateness for the Fontaine Fire Station. The ERB previously approved the project in 2009 but that Certificate of Appropriateness has since expired. The Commission evaluated some modifications to the design including changes in fenestration, signage, building height, and some materials changes. The Review Board expressed some concerns with the design incorporating two different types of glass; one for windows, and a different glass used for a balcony railing. The project architect assured the Board that the balcony glass would essentially be unnoticed, and that using the two different glass materials would not be obvious or unsightly.

The ERB also considered an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness to renovate the Martha Jefferson Hospital Building for use as CFA Institute headquarters. The applicant, Octagon Partners, intends to demolish the current emergency room entrance and some of the mechanical buildings. They also plan to renovate the South wing to include more windows, and to create a new business entrance on the west side of this wing. The project will leave the Cardwell, Rucker, and historic Patterson wings untouched. Staff recommended that the concept and changes to the buildings be approved but also recommended that the Review Board see a detailed landscape plan (which was not available on Tuesday) at its next meeting.

The Review Board approved of the plan in concept and granted a certificate of appropriateness for the general location and basic massing of the new construction of the business entrance, as well as the demolition of the HVAC equipment area, and demolition of the emergency room entrance area. However, commissioners expressed interest in having more detailed documentation on the specific changes to the building, especially in regards to the landscaping plan including streetscape, fenestration in context of the existing buildings, and proposed lighting. The ERB decided to require that these elements be resubmitted for review to receive a separate certificate of appropriateness.

The Planning Commission initiated preliminary discussion for rezoning of 5.49 acres in the Elliot Avenue area as requested by Southern Development. This area will need to be rezoned to PUD in order to allow development of 45 dwelling units, 7 of which are to be affordable units. The Planning Commission expressed approval of the common woods area in the design, and voiced appreciation for the inclusion of neighboring property owners in the design process. The Commission also received clarification on the connectivity of roads through the development. The project will move forward to a public hearing in September.

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Amelie Bailey is the 2011 Field Officer Intern for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

The “Dam” Water Discussion Continues

By. Neil Williamson, President

While this community’s “discussion” about the Community Water Supply Plan (CWSP)  has gone on (and on and on)  for well over ten years, Benjamin Franklin actually identified the core issue of the debate in 1746 in Poor Richard’s Almanac:

benfranklinWhen the well is dry, we know the worth of water.

 

 

In short, our community, in times of dire drought, needs greater storage capacity than we have. 

In addition to planning for water supply during drought, the community’s current Ragged Mountain Dam is, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia lethally unsafe, and there is a:

“true probable loss of life that will occur if the dam fails due to inaction in addressing the dam safety concerns”

Estimates to repair the dam exceed $6 million dollars without adding any new water supply. 

So we have not one but two significant (and potentially expensive) problems – a lack of water supply in times of drought AND an unsafe dam condition (first identified in 1979)

The solution, build a new Ragged Mountain Dam, 30 feet higher that the existing dam and inundate the existing dam.  This solution was first identified in 2006 and further refined with the decision to move to an earthen dam (rather than rolled compacted concrete) and to a height the Charlottesville City Council approved (3-2) of 30 feet.

Still today some in the community are pressing to “Dredge first, Dam later”.  This is shortsighted and fails to recognize our generational requirement to provide for those who will follow.

The new Ragged Mountain Dam creates nearly eight times more water storage than dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir back to its 1966 capacity (1,100 million gallons vs. 151 million gallons).  The drinking water storage capacity created by restorative dredging would have lasted 15 days during the drought of 2002.

In addition to being more effective, the new dam is more cost effective than such restorative dredging ($23 million vs. $30 million).

The year the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built (1966) US Senator Edmund Muskie, then  an up and coming EdmundMuskiestar in the Democratic Party gave a speech about the importance of water supply:

High quality water is more than the dream of the conservationists, more than a political slogan; high quality water, in the right quantity at the right place at the right time, is essential to health, recreation, and economic growth. – [emphasis added-nw]

Today, the Free Enterprise Forum and The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce reaffirmed our steadfast support for the permitted Community Water Supply Plan.  In the media release we stated:

The simple question, since 2002, has been what is the least environmentally damaging, most practicable alternative to provide this community needed water in time of extreme drought.  A diverse group of environmental and business concerns came together on the Community Water Supply Plan in 2006.  Since then, while a few individuals raised questions and concerns, the Free Enterprise Forum believes these concerns have been addressed. 

The approved community water supply plan is the only option that will provide us both the water we need and the state mandated river flows.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Supervisors to Sue Over School Bonds

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative

On August 3rd, Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to retain outside counsel to assist with: “any and all causes of action arising out of the issuance of debt instruments relating to the construction of the new high school.” First reported by FlucoBlog late last night, the decision came at the end of a closed session held after a marathon seven-hour meeting.

The action had been anticipated for quite some time. Supervisors have been frustrated almost since the beginning by the high interest rates charged for the school bonds, and the associated placement fees. Moreover, the county attorney’s fees have risen significantly in recent months, reflecting the ongoing preparations for the lawsuit.

According to FlucoBlog, Douglas M. Palais , of Eckert Seamens Cherin & Mellot will serve with county attorney Fred Payne in representing Fluvanna.

At the time of the original borrowing in 2008, former supervisor Gene Ott complained that he could have refinanced his home for a cheaper interest rate and wondered why tax-free municipal bonds had to pay nearly seven percent.

Filings are expected in the next few weeks.

Supervisors also took action on a number of other measures. They:

· Approved two water tower lease agreements in the Fork Union district for two cellular providers – US Cellular and Verizon;

· Agreed to switch to the self-insured health insurance program that was adopted earlier this year by the school board for its employees;

· Deferred action on a new services contract with the county’s SPCA in an effort to restart negotiations. Currently, there is a wide gap over proposed funding – the county had proposed no increase and the SPCA is looking for $25,000 for infrastructure improvements; and,

· Approved several budget carryover requests, most notably for an expansion of the Department of Social Services office space.

While the next regularly scheduled public meeting will be on September 7th, supervisors will hold a special work session on the budget on August 17th.

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William Des Rochers serves as Free Enterprise Forum’s Fluvanna County Field Officer.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization covering Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson county as well as the City of Charlottesville.  If you find this update helpful, please consider financially supporting these efforts.

City Council Discuss Power and Priorities

By Amelie Bailey, 2011 Field Officer Intern

Charlottesville City Council met on Monday night (8/1) to receive reports on council priorities, nonprofit funding, and the Charlottesville area power grid.

dominion-virginia-power-logoCouncil hosted Dominion Power for a systems update upon request of Mayor Dave Norris, who expressed interest in hearing the state of the Charlottesville power grid given the frequent outages in recent years.

Dominion Power representatives explained both methods of meeting increasing demand, as well as reliability efforts in the Charlottesville area. Representatives explained that a 40% increase in demand over the last ten years can be explained by the increase in the number of electronics in homes and businesses alike. One of the methods for meeting the increase in demand is conservation efficiency measures. Locally, LED streetlamps have been installed on McIntire road, and “smart meters” are being installed in homes throughout Charlottesville. “Smart meters” reduce the need for service trucks, deliver more consistent levels of voltage to homes, and allow for “smart pricing plans” which assign prices based on the time of day.

Dominion Representatives stated that increase in storms, especially since 2009, is the cause of the frequent outages, not any specific system failure. According to Dominion’s presentation, in 2010 38% of outages were tree related. Dominion has aimed to lower this number by removing “danger trees”; trees deemed to be distressed by drought, disease, or for other reasons have a possibility of falling in proximity to a power line. Other reliability measures include increasing storm resiliency of distribution circuits (circuit reconditioning projects). Dominion also announced that construction of a new Brandywine Transmission substation is scheduled for 2013.

Council recently reviewed a set of priorities established in 2008. These priorities included alternatives to cars, infrastructure repair, race relations, economic development, workforce development, affordable housing and a greener Charlottesville. City Manager Maurice Jones delivered a report on ways in which the city has accomplished these goals including increased funding to affordable housing and workforce development, job fairs, launching of the Dialogue on Race, and efforts to make the city more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. Council added “Children” as a broad Council priority at their June 9th retreat. This will include efforts to reduce the infant mortality rate, emphasize prenatal care, increase community activities, and close the achievement gap. Jones said that Council intends to partner with residents and nonprofits to achieve these goals.

Discussion continued on efforts to review the process by which human service non-profit funding will be allocated. A steering committee conducted research over a nine month period and produced seven goals for a healthy community to aim for when allocating funding. On July 5th, staff presented proposals to City Council and offered their own recommendations. On Monday (8/1), staff responded to comments given in the July 5th meeting. Staff reinstated “recommendation 1” by the steering committee which calls for a needs assessment for the area. Staff plans to submit a method and cost estimate of this needs assessment by October 1st.

Staff responded to Council interest in soliciting feedback from stakeholders by building feedback into the needs assessment, and by asking nonprofits how they will gather feedback as part of the funding application. Mayor Norris requested that stakeholders also be involved in feedback regarding the funding allocation.

Council debate centered on whether arts and cultural nonprofits should be included in the human needs category or if they should have their own review process. The steering committee as well as councilors Edwards and Huja voiced interest in having a separate process, believing that this would benefit the arts and cultural community.

However, staff recommended that these nonprofits be kept in the same review process upon requests by arts and cultural nonprofits and festivals. Council agreed to keep arts and cultural nonprofits in the same review process for a year trial period.

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Amelie Bailey is the 2011 Field Officer Intern for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Incumbent Endorsements: Yes or No?

By. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s (8/2) Daily Progress reported concerns by oneBallot Box Charlottesville City Council Candidate’s supporters with incumbent office holders endorsing primary candidates.  Reporter Graham Moomaw has the story:

“There’s three people running for City Council that are running as a politburo,” [Former Mayor Blake] Caravati said. “… It’s a politburo of, ‘we’re going to get it. We’re going to run the city this way because we truly believe, we are true believers. We don’t believe in constructing consensus; we believe in doing it in what we think is the best way.’”

[Charlottesville Mayor Dave] Norris, a dam opponent, has endorsed [Dede] Smith, [Colette] Blount and [Brevy] Cannon, and he’s also working as Cannon’s campaign treasurer. Some have questioned whether Norris should be actively involved in council campaigns, and Caravati was critical of the mayor’s actions.

“It’s not appropriate. He’s the first that’s ever done it,” Caravati said.

Norris said Caravati’s politburo characterization was a “ridiculous metaphor” that shows a lack of familiarity with the three candidates in question, who Norris said are “intelligent, independent individuals.”

“The party establishment, the people who are going to fight to defend the status quo until their dying breath, are feeling threatened, because you have candidates who are not wedded to the status quo, who want to see some real change happen here in the city,” Norris said.

Norris also rejected the idea that sitting mayors should abstain from being active in other campaigns.

“There are three sitting councilors who have endorsed candidates in this race and I think it’s entirely appropriate for us as citizens to support other candidates for office,” Norris said. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

The Free Enterprise Forum finds the question most interesting and asked each of our field officers to take a different position on the question of whether local government elected officials should endorse candidates.  Please note these were assigned opinions and may not represent the actual opinions of our field representatives.

If after reading the opinions, you have an opinion to share, please continue the dialog on the blog.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not have a stated position and your knowledgeable input could help inform that decision.

Incumbent Endorsements Cloud Candidate Independence

By. Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer and John Haksch, Louisa County Field Officer

Serving or incumbent members of an elected board or council should not endorse candidates for the board or council on which they sit at any point in tthumbs downhe electoral process.

Doing so lends the weight of their position in government – whether intentional or not – in support of the beneficiary of such an endorsement, as there is no way to perceptually separate the man (or woman) from the office for the purpose of validating the endorsed candidate’s qualifications, suitability of character or political compatibility.

When an incumbent endorses a candidate or candidates for the board or council on which he or she serves, the main concern is, what is the motivation or reasoning behind such an endorsement? Is the incumbent simply attempting to get “the best person for the job” elected?

Or is the incumbent’s purpose to put in place on the board/council others who would support his/her position on any given issue, or, even more disconcerting, does the incumbent have a specific issue in mind, the outcome of which he/she would like to sway in his/her favor? One’s motivation may be muddied here, depending on the issue at hand.

Although one could argue that at the county level elected members put in long hours for little pay and therefore must have the greater good in mind for their community, one can’t necessarily rely on that statement to be true 100% of the time. We all know of individuals who have come to the table with their own agenda, firm in their belief that it is for the best of all concerned, and as a result are unable to receive new information, hear plausible arguments, or engage in realistic compromise. In other words, they are not what you would call “open.”

Should such individuals be allowed to endorse candidates that they know will fully support their agenda, then we have lost one of the shining advantages of living in a democracy: the ability to receive and listen to opposing views and learn from those whose opinions cause the strongest reaction within us.

Each candidate should be assessed in the court of public opinion on their own merits untainted by a factional or partisan finger on the scales.

Winning an Election Does Not Mean Losing Right To Free Speech

By: Amelie Bailey, 2011 Field Officer Intern and William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

While many citizens find incumbents endorsing candidates unsettling or unfair, an incumbent does not trade his/her first amendment rights for their seat on a governing board. Any attempt to suppress speech by politicia93px-Symbol_thumbs_up_svgns – although whimsically attractive – would be laughed out of court.

Politicians do not exist in a vacuum, People who seek public office generally do so because they think the can make a difference, and they usually try to make a difference through their unique perspectives. And it is in the nature of things that like-minded individuals would seek to support each other.

There is inherent value in knowing an incumbent’s preference of candidates at both primary and general election levels. Incumbents have a unique understanding of the requirements of the job, and knowing who they believe is most suited for the position can be a helpful insight for voters.

Just because Charlottesville mayor Davie Norris happens to like one or more candidates running for city council, why should he not inform the public of his predilections? Informed citizens presumably would find that information useful, one way or another.

Candidates endorsed by a sitting member of the board for which they are running have the advantage of free publicity and name recognition that other candidates do not have. However, endorsements made by an incumbent also provide information to citizens in the form of associations. Those who dislike the incumbent will likely draw a parallel between them and the candidates they endorse and thus be less likely to vote for such a candidate. Since there is no universally popular incumbent, associations with an incumbent will not help candidates across the board.

Any “voluntary” pledge to curb endorsements or any other form of speech would undermine the political process. Thoughtful voters rightfully should demand more information from candidates and incumbents, not less. The notion that somehow endorsements make candidates beholden to the endorser presupposes that endorsements require a form of quid pro quo.

And such an assumption would be very hard to validate. It is unreasonable to expect a politician to endorse candidates who are not of similar persuasion. While a Dave Norris endorsement of Rob Schilling might be possible, it is unlikely that we will witness such an astonishing event.

Incumbent endorsements of candidates are not at the expense of the democratic process of election. Although an incumbent provides publicity for their chosen candidate(s), any candidate can seek endorsements elsewhere, such as from politically active groups, media, etc. If a candidate is unable to do this, one would question their appeal to the general electorate and/or their commitment to getting elected.

We ask much of our politicians when they govern us, or try to. It is too much to ask them to put their minds in a blind trust when they assume that responsibility.  It is also an insult to citizens to require that they be shielded from any influence outside of their own reasoning. One should trust that voters can filter information and make informed choices about candidates.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org