Apr 20, 2022 • 16M

April 20, 2022: City Council briefed on planning for climate action; House Finance Committee moves forward with gas tax holiday

Plus: Andy Parker concedes Fifth District race to Josh Throneburg

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Sean Tubbs
Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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April 20 is Chinese Language Day but perhaps more importantly, 4/20 is also Lima Bean Respect Day, National Banana Day, and National Cheddar Fries Day. Is there anything else that signifies this day? While you ponder that question, I’ll tell you that this is Charlottesville Community Engagement, a program back from a brief break and ready to get going with another year of information as it flows.

On today’s program:

  • Charlottesville City Council gets an update on what environmental staff are doing to plan for climate action

  • Fatalities on Virginia roads reached a 14-year high in 2021

  • Andy Parker concedes in the 5th District race to be the Democratic nominee

  • Paul Goldman explains in writing to a federal judge why he thinks a House of Delegates race must be run this year 

  • And the Virginia House of Finance advances a bill to provide a three month period where fuel haulers would not have to pay a tax to the state of Virginia 

First shout-out goes to the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority for e-waste collection day

In today’s first subscriber supported public service announcement, the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority wants you to know about Electronic Waste Collection Day coming up on April 23, 2022. Residents of both Albemarle County and Charlottesville have the opportunity to drop off old electronics from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Ivy Material Utilization Center. Permissible items include computers, printers, VCRs, stereos and televisions and people can dispose of up to ten items. Only two tube-style monitors or televisions per person! You must register in advance online where you will be give a time slot. Registration is limited to 110 people per hour. Visit rivanna.org for more information.

Crashes reached 14-year high in Virginia in 2021

Nine hundred and sixty-eight people died on Virginia roads last year. That’s the highest number in 14 years, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Fatalities were up in several categories including speed-related crashes, pedestrians, motorcyclists, young drivers, and bicyclists. 

The acting commissioner of the DMV is urging people to slow down, wear seat belts, and avoid distractions. 

“Vehicles and roadways are safer than they ever have been, yet we continue to lose lives to senseless crashes,” said Linda Ford, who is also Governor Glenn Youngkin’s highway safety representative. “Do your part to help.”

Last year’s numbers in Virginia are part of a national trend toward higher fatalities in 2021 when over 31,000 people died across the United States in the first nine months. The full data for the whole country will be available later this year. 

2022 might be worse than 2021. So far this year, 245 people have been killed on Virginia roadways, which is a 12 percent increase over last year.

Source: Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

Parker concedes Democratic nomination to Throneburg

A candidate who failed to get a thousand signatures to be on the Democratic ballot in the June 21 primary has conceded to the only one who met that threshold. Andy Parker made his announcement via Twitter on Monday.

“I was looking forward to a spirited primary and campaign against [incumbent Bob] Good but did not meet the technical requirements to be on the primary ballot,” Parker wrote in the tweet. 

Parker’s daughter was murdered on live television while doing a report from Smith Mountain Lake in 2015, along with her colleague. The default nominee, Josh Throneburg, noted this in his statement on Parker’s concession. 

"Andy is a person who rose from the ashes of his tragic personal loss and dedicated himself to a life of public service,” Throneburg wrote in a statement. “He was a tireless advocate who wanted to shield other families from the terrible grief he experienced, and I know his mission doesn’t end with this race.” 

First-term incumbent Bob Good faces Dan Moy in the Republican convention to be held on May 21 at Hampden Sydney College in Prince Edward County. That’s right in the middle of the new Fifth District as drawn by two Special Masters appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court last year to complete the redistricting process. 

Goldman files new motion arguing for oral arguments in suit to force 2022 Delegate election

When the statewide primary is held on June 21, will there be candidates for the House of Delegates on the ballot? Richmond attorney Paul Goldman hopes so and filed a new document on Monday arguing why Judge David Novak should not dismiss the case. 

To recap, Goldman filed suit against the Virginia Board of Elections last year asserting that their certification of the 2021 election was unlawful because the districts were based on the 2010 Census. Goldman argues that action violates the principle of “one person, one vote” because some legislative districts are much larger than others. 

“The old House District 87 ranked as the most populated with 130,192 inhabitants,” Goldman writes on page seven. “Old House District 75 ranked as the least populated with 67,404 inhabitants.” 

The response goes into detail in its claim that this deviation is unconstitutional and deserves a remedy in the form of an election this year based on the new districts. At heart, Goldman argues that none of the current members of the House of Delegates are in legally valid districts, citing the Cosner v. Dalton case that forced a House of Delegates race in 1982. (learn more on Wikipedia)

Virginia’s Solicitor General has until April 25 to respond to Goldman’s response. 

Goldman also argues that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a sufficient enough reason to hold the elections in 2023 (Read the response)

Second shout-out goes to a Charlottesville Jazz Society event this weekend

In today’s second subscriber-supported shout-out, the Charlottesville Jazz Society is partnering with the Front Porch and the Tom Tom Festival to host musician Joel Harrison and Free Country this upcoming Saturday. The free show will feature the guitarist, composer, and vocalist with the touring band of Adam Larrabee on guitar, Stephan Crump on bass, and Jordan Perlson on drums. The timeless, haunting melodies of this music anchor the flights of improvisation that the band creates anew every night. The tour is funded in part by South Arts through the auspices of the Doris Duke Fund and the Jazz Road initiative. For more information, visit frontporchcville.org

Charlottesville City Council briefed on climate action

Earlier this year, the nonprofit group Community Climate Collaborative waged a campaign to get Charlottesville City Council to push staff toward meeting the city’s greenhouse gas emission goals. On July 1, 2019, Council adopted a goal of reducing community-wide gas emissions by 45 percent of 2011 levels by 2030, and to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

Council had an hour-long work session on the issue on Monday. Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental sustainability and facilities development manager, led off the discussion.

“The city of Charlottesville has had an active climate program since 2007 when it committed to reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by joining the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement,” Riddervold said. 

(watch the update)

Riddervold said the City reaffirmed that commitment by also joining the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which offers resources for both reduction of gasses and adaptation to changing weather patterns. 

“We use the terms climate action to be the umbrella for both of these areas of focus,” Riddervold said. 

The presentation covered what work has been underway since the July 2019 goal was endorsed by Council. Riddervold said there have been stumbling blocks to preparing a specific climate action plan, and that includes the adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan. She also said going through several city managers during that time has been an issue, as has been the loss of top management in city government.

“I for example have been serving not only as the environmental sustainability manager, but also since mid-2018, the facilities development manager, and have been pulled into a variety of roles and responsibilities,” Riddervold said. 

The city is currently taking applications for a climate program specialist to assist with planning and action. The job closes April 29, if you know of anyone. 

“What we are looking at now is a reboot of focused effort to bring this process back on the rails and to get back on the same page,” Riddervold said. 

One of the slides from the presentation 

Riddervold acknowledged the frustration on the part of climate groups and she asked for their support going forward.

Susan Elliott, the city’s climate protection manager, said a climate hazard assessment is complete, a climate vulnerability assessment is underway, and the adaptation plan will be ready for review next year.

“In parallel with these planning activities on these two tracks, we are also still delivering a program aimed at supporting and achieving greenhouse gas emissions across our community,” Elliot said. “What we have seen when we look at our emissions community-wide is that approximately 95 percent of emissions are coming from the community outside of our local government control and about five percent are from our municipal operations.” 

About 30 percent comes from residential, 30 percent comes from transportation, and 30 percent comes from commercial uses. That will inform where government resources will go. 

“This includes supporting and funding energy efficiency improvements including hundreds of home energy assessments annually, helping to find gap fill measures so that our low-income houses are as eligible for as many utility-funded programs as possible, providing EnergySmart home rebates, [and] the Commercial and Clean Energy Loan Fund,” Elliott said.

Other recent initiatives:

  • This month, the city hired CMTA Energy Solutions to review public buildings to see how energy and water usage could be reduced (press release)

  • Charlottesville Area Transit is conducting a study of how vehicles might transition to alternative fuels 

  • Charlottesville participated in an urban heat island study last summer (press release)

  • Lower occupancy in city buildings due to the pandemic lead to less water and energy use (press release)

This morning, the city also released two public surveys to help inform future planning efforts. One is a climate action survey and the other is a climate vulnerability survey. Both will close on May 20. 

Another slide from the presentation. (watch the update)

Youngkin’s bill to temporarily eliminate gas tax advances 

The Virginia General Assembly is in special session but have not had much action. Yesterday, the House of Delegates Finance Committee heard testimony of a bill sent down from Governor Glenn Youngkin that would waive the state motor fuel tax from May 1 to July 31. 

“The purpose for this bill is to help cut the cost for Virginia families and fight the price of gasoline that has increased 48 percent in the last 12 months,” said Delegate Tara Durant (R-28). “This uses unanticipated transportation revenues to provide Virginians much needed tax relief.”

Under the bill, the tax would be restored to half-strength in August and September before going back to normal in October. 

Speaking to the bill, Transportation Secretary Shep Miller talked about its fiscal impact. 

“The revenue impact for the FY22-24 budget that I am responsible for is about $470 million,” Miller said. “That’s about a 12 percent reduction in the motor fuels over the 26 month period in question. The total [Commonwealth Transportation Fund] collections during that same period is about $14 billion. So this represents about a three percent reduction in the CTF collections during that period.”

Democrats are skeptical that any of the reduction in the tax will translate to lower prices at the pump because consumers don’t actually pay the tax. Here’s Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39).

“I wanted to make sure that the patron was aware that the gas tax is collected when the tanker truck fills up,” Watts said. “There’s no guarantee at all that when I fill up my tank that if there’s no gas tax charged that I’m going to benefit from this.” 

Delegate Vivian Watts holds up a sign to convince the committee to support a direct payment of $50 for each registered motor vehicle

Delegate Sally Hudson (D-57) said many in the state want to invest more in transportation. 

“When I hear from Virginians, I hear them tell me that they think our transportation infrastructure or even behind, that the roads are too crowded, their commutes are too long, the buses are infrequent and unreliable,” Hudson said. “We have nothing approaching modern commuter trains.” 

Durant said no existing projects would be cut, but this would just lower the amount of funds available in exchange for tax relief. 

Testimony against the bill came from Virginians for Better Transportation, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance, the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Virginians for High Speed Rail, the Old Dominion Highway Contractors Association, the New Virginia Majority, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Commonwealth Institute, and the Virginia Association for Commercial Real Estate

“This coalition includes some pretty strange bedfellows,” said Trip Pollard of the Southern Environmental Law Center. 

Testimony in favor of the bill came from a series of individuals representing small businesses or speaking to their own pain.

“I’d rather spend the money than have the government spend the money,” said Colonel Courtney Whitney, who served in the Youngkin campaign. 

Democrats on the committee sought to introduce a substitute that would issue a direct tax relief to Virginians for each registered motor vehicle, but the effort failed. On voice vote, the motion to advance the bill passed and it will now move to the House Appropriations Committee. No meetings are currently scheduled. 

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