Apr 29 • 16M

April 29, 2022: Group files suit against Charlottesville for alleged FOIA violations; Foxfield Races are tomorrow

Plus: Virginia Senate panel kills three-month motor fuel tax waiver

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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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Five Fridays in one month? What will they think of next? In any case, did you get enough showers this April? And, could someone remind me what May is for? I’ve lost my handbook of trivial facts that pepper up most installments of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast that strives to bring something of relevant importance each and every time. I’m the host, Sean Tubbs.

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On today’s program:

  • The Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations deals a mortal blow to Governor Youngkin’s gas tax holiday

  • A quick look at the commercial and retail market in the Charlottesville area

  • The spring running of Foxfield Races is tomorrow 

  • And a lawsuit is filed against the City of Charlottesville alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act 

First shout-out: The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign 

It’s springtime, and one Patreon supporter wants you to know the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign is a grassroots initiative of motivated citizens, volunteers, partner organizations, and local governments who want to promote the use of native plants. This spring the group is working with retailers across the region to encourage purchase of plants that belong here and are part of an ecosystem that depends on pollination. There are plenty of resources on the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page, so sign up to be notified of lectures, plant sales, and more!

FOIA suit filed against Charlottesville

A pair of activists and a journalist have filed suit against the City of Charlottesville seeking the release of documents they claim should be made available through the Freedom of Information Act. 

Attorney Jeff Fogel filed a petition Thursday in Charlottesville Circuit Court on behalf of Tanesha Hudson, Cherry Hanley of the People’s Coalition, and Dave McNair of The DTM who submitted two separate requests for information. One was on March 24, 2022. (read the petition)

“For the years 2020 and 2021, all records concerning the settlement of claims of police misconduct, or other violation of constitutional rights, by the city or any of its employees, whether or not the claim was filed in an administrative or judicial agency.” 

A second request was submitted on April 4 which among other items sought the release of “all records concerning the settlement of claims of police misconduct.” 

The petition includes two exhibits of the results, which contain many redactions. Fogel argues that not all of the information was privileged under state law and that five settlement documents should have been made available as part of the FOIA request. 

“The above violations of the FOIA Act by Defendant, City of Charlottesville, deprives not only petitioners, but every citizen of the community and other interested persons, the rights granted to them under the provisions of the FOIA Act,” reads paragraph 27 of the petition. 

Paragraph 28 argues that the city’s policy of requiring non-disparagement clauses or non-disclosure agreements as part of settlement agreements is a violation of a person’s First Amendment rights. The petition seeks an opinion on that interpretation. 

According to the petition, Hudson settled a First Amendment claim with the city in August 2020 that required her to enter into a nondisclosure agreement.

Exhibit A includes redacted correspondence between lawyers hired by both the city and former City Manager Tarron Richardson. Richardson filed suit last year in federal court alleging that the city violated the terms of a nondisparagement clause related to his departure from the city in September 2020. He withdrew from the case in a filing of voluntary dismissal on March 8. (read Exhibit A) (read Exhibit B)

“The [Virginia Risk Sharing Association], as the City’s insurer, has the authority to settle a case,” wrote city attorney Lisa Robertson in a March 9 email to former Mayor Nikuyah Walker. “The VSRA attorney appointed to represent City Council dealt with Dr. Richardson’s attorney. No city funds are being paid out.”

Walker had wanted more information on how the suit came to be dismissed. The former mayor had been named as a party in Richardson’s case, as had a former city attorney.

“Virginia Risk Sharing Association did not assign an attorney to you, John Blair, or [former City Councilor] Heather Hill because Dr. Richardson never served any of you with process,” Robertson wrote. 

This story was originally out with the incorrected person attributed in the quotation above.

A less drunken Foxfield? 

It’s time again for the annual spring running of the Foxfield Races. That means that Garth Road will be closed between Barracks Farm Road and Free Union Road between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. 

“Anyone not attending the event should avoid the area,” reads an email from the Albemarle County Police Department. “Keep in mind, heavy traffic delays should be expected until 5:30 pm, even after the roadway reopens.”

This will be the first spring races since Foxfield has updated its policies on alcohol. Vehicles that park in tailgating spaces are only permitted two fifths of hard liquor, three bottles of wine, and three six-packs of beer, seltzer, or cider. Those who drive in are permitted to leave their vehicles within 48 hours of the conclusion of the races. 

Those with tickets for what’s known as the New Orange area are not allowed to bring in any alcohol at all, but can purchase from approved vendors. 

Several years ago, there was an attempt to sell the property that resulted in a lawsuit. Parts of the property are now under a conservation easement. 

To learn more about the New Orange area, visit the Foxfield Races site

Rent continues to increase for office and retail space in Charlottesville area

A major Virginia real estate company that specializes in commercial space has published its latest report on the Charlottesville market. Cushman Wakefield | Thalhimer begins with an overall assessment of the economy. 

“After experiencing its highest unemployment rate on record of 10.2 percent in April 2020, Charlottesville employment has rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels of more than 116,000,” reads the top of the retail report.

The vacancy rate for office space is at 9 percent, but some of that is related to the placement of 359,000 square feet of space in the former State Farm Headquarters. 

Recently constructed space is beginning to fill in. 

“Apex Plaza delivered in the first quarter with a total of 187,000 square feet,” reads the office report. “Home to Apex Clean Energy and The Southern Environmental Law Center among other tenants.”

The report also notes the CODE building is coming online with coworking space and traditional offices. The price to rent these spaces is also increasing. 

“Overall market rents reached north of $26 per square foot (psf), a historic high, and downtown Class A office rents are averaging north of $35 psf,” the report continues. 

The retail report notes that more than 155,000 square of retail space have been built since 2020, and more is on the way. 

“Projects like Albemarle Business Campus and Brookhill Town Center will bring continued growth to the market, delivering office and residential opportunities as well as restaurant and retail spaces, which are now pre-leasing,” reads the retail report.

The average asking rent for retail is $19.04 per square foot. 

As for residential properties, I’ll be posting an anecdotal review of transactions early next week. Paid subscribers will get the first look before that content will go over to Information Charlottesville

Shout-outs for Raised/Razed screening, ebike demonstrations

In today’s second and this subscriber-supported shout-outs, Preservation Piedmont wants you to know about this Saturday’s premiere of Raised/Razed, a film by filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson and Jordy Yager about the life and destruction of Vinegar Hill, one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in Charlottesville. The Maupintown Media production charts the lives of residents over nearly a century as they built prosperity in the face of racially discriminatory policies at every level. The film will be willl be shown outdoors at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center at 8 p.m. Tickets are available on the center’s website with donations to be divided between seven Black-led organizations.

On Sunday, May 1, from 2:00-4:00. A pair of interested ebike owners in town will be bringing their bikes to Meade Park, and anybody who's interested can stop by, ask questions, and take test rides. They will have some ebikes with seats for children. If you’re going, drop them a line in this form. 

Virginia Senate panel kills Youngkin bill for three-month waiver of fuel tax 

When Virginia legislators went to Richmond Wednesday to respond to Governor Youngkin’s 26 vetos and dozens of proposed amendments related to the official 2022 session, a Virginia Senate committee met to consider one of the only policy bills in the special session that’s currently underway.

The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted 12 to 3 on a motion to waive a bill to halt the motor fuel tax for a three month period. Chair Janet Howell said what Youngkin calls surplus funds are intended to pay for new infrastructure.

“In 2020, the General Assembly made significant efforts to provide long-term, bipartisan transportation funding solutions and this included a two-year phased increase in gas taxes,” Howell said. 

Howell said the bill (HB 6001) would reduce available funding for new transportation projects and maintenance by around $437 million. 

“I also wanted to emphasize that other approaches supported by the Senate such as a tax rebate check or a refundable earned-income tax credit would likely be more effective options in providing relief to our citizens,” Howell said. 

Ser Stephen Newman (R-23) said the bill is intended as an emergency measure given the growth in inflation. 

“Over the last 12 months, the [Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers] has increased by 8.5 percent, the largest 12 month increase since 1981,” Newman said. “In 2020 when the omnibus bill that [Howell] spoke about was passed, the CPI-U was 1 percent.” 

Newman said the average price of gas was $2.42 a gallon when the bill was passed, an amount that has increase to over $4 a gallon. He disputed the claim that maintenance programs will be affected by the three month waiver. 

‘In comparison to past [Six Year Improvement Programs], VDOT’s construction program remains overfunded by over $600 million,” Newman said. 

Senator Richard Saslaw (D-35) said he didn’t think any money available for transportation should be taken away. 

“The condition of the roads in Northern Virginia, and I can’t say for the rest of the state, are the worst [I]have seen in the 42 years I’ve been in office,” Saslaw said. 

Saslaw described Braddock Road as a secondary road that carries 80,000 vehicles a day. 

“It looks like they have driven tanks up that road,” Saslaw said, “I have never seen roads torn up to the degree that they were and when we left the session in March, on my way home I hit a pothole.” 

Saslaw said it cost him $300 to get that fixed. 

The 12 votes to defeat the bill included Republican Senator Emmett W. Hanger (R-24). 

Moomaw article on 2022 House race is a must-read

For the past few months, I’ve been trying to keep track of a federal lawsuit seeking a House of Delegates election in 2022, a year off of the regular schedule. If that happens, things would have to move very quickly. 

If you’ve not followed this case, I highly recommend reading Graham Moomaw’s article posted today on Virginia Mercury that goes in-depth into what could be a historic election. 

Local vehicular fatalities in Albemarle 

To close up the show today, following up with something from a previous story this month. Earlier this month, the Department of Motor Vehicles reported that Virginia hit a 14-year high in traffic fatalities in 2021, and that the state is on track to surpass that amount this year. 

Looking locally, there were 16 total fatalities on roads in Albemarle County in 2021, including on Interstate 64. Those were among 968 people killed on roadways in Virginia last year. 

There have been two deaths in Albemarle so far this year. 

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