In today’s Substack-fueled shout-out, Code for Charlottesville is seeking volunteers with tech, data, design, and research skills to work on community service projects. Founded in September 2019, Code for Charlottesville has worked on projects with the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Charlottesville Fire Department, and the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. Visit the Code for Charlottesville website to learn more, including details on projects that are underway.
On today’s show:
A demographer at the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia is concerned about the accuracy of the 2020 Census
Updates from the Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee
Dr. Danny Avula gives a press briefing on planning for booster shots this fall
Charlottesville Police Chief blasts police group’s concerns about her leadership
In July, the Virginia Department of Health stopped releasing COVID data on the weekends, so today we’ll begin with the seven-day average yesterday of 2,322 and the percent positivity increased to 9.1 percent. There have been 156 deaths from COVID in Virginia since July 21. As of yesterday, two-thirds of adult Virginians are fully vaccinated and the seven-day average of shots per day is 14,581. That’s around the same number as last week.
The VDH usually updates its dashboard measuring the percentage of new COVID cases by vaccination status on Fridays, but that did not occur yesterday. On August 19, there were over 141,000 new cases nationwide, around the same rate as in mid November. The winter surge peaked at around 250,000 cases a day the week of early January.
There is growing concern about the ability of the delta variant to infect the vaccinated, but also concern that vaccinated individuals who got either the Pfizer or the Moderna mRNA shot may need a booster. Dr. Danny Avula is overseeing the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine programs. (read transcript of 8/19 briefing) (listen to full briefing)
“Overtime, vaccine efficacy starts to decrease, [but] vaccine efficacy is still very strong against hospitalizations and deaths, and we are starting to see decreased effectiveness against the Delta variant,” Dr. Avula said.
This week, the first third shots have been given to immunocompromised individuals. September 20 is the target date set by federal officials for the roll-out of booster shots for the general population. That depends on approval from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the overall Centers for Disease Control. But, the general parameters of how it would work are becoming known.
“You will be eligible for a booster shot eight months after your second dose of your mRNA vaccine,” Dr. Avula said.
The details for those who got the Johnson and Johnson are not yet known because research is still inconclusive, but Dr. Avula said the CDC hopes a solution will be worked out by September 20. Dr. Avula also said he’s been told by federal officials that there will be enough supply.
“There is enough vaccine for a third dose for every American and we just need to remember that this means this will be a very different scenario from what we working with from December to March,” Dr. Avula said.
Meanwhile, Ting Pavilion has joined a growing list of venues that will now require proof of vaccination for admittance. Many restaurants and businesses have begun to require them as well.
The summer pandemic surge has put a pause on the preparations for the possibility of in-person public meetings in Albemarle. Emily Kilroy is the county’s director of communications and public engagement.
“We’ve done all in-person for many years,” Kilroy said. “We pivoted very quickly to all virtual, but what does it look as we return to normal? There has been a lot of work leading up to that next phase of public meetings, and that work has put on hold just given the CDC’s substantial transmission rate that they have labeled Albemarle County as having.”
Kilroy said there are many in the community who would not feel safe sitting in a closed room with other people. She made her comments at the virtual meeting of the Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee, which we’ll hear more about in the future.
A dispute in Charlottesville’s Police Department became more public Friday afternoon when the city of Charlottesville released a statement responding to a letter from the Central Virginia chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association.
The August 10 letter from chapter president Michael Wells stated that Charlottesville police officers have lost confidence in Police Chief RaShall Brackney due to recent rule changes and policy changes regarding internal investigations and states that have not been fully explained. The letter states a PBA survey of officers captures this spirit and asks for a meeting with Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker and others to remedy the situation.
The city’s response is in an unsigned 14-paragraph statement, the first paragraph of which announces that members of the city's SWAT team have been terminated for alleged behaviors that are described in detail in the 9th and 10th paragraphs. The statement describes steps Brackney has taken since becoming chief in June 2018.
“Chief Brackney was tasked with updating and reforming how police services are provided within the City of Charlottesville, as well as working to bridge a divide between the city’s citizens, especially African American residents, and law enforcement,” the statement continues.
The statement describes how Brackney is seeking to change a “warrior mentality” in the police department. The statement cites a video sent to Brackney by a member of the public which allegedly shows a police corporal making comments captured by a city-owned phone.
"The video contained profanity and language indicative of the very subculture of aggression that Chief Brackney is committed to eradicating from Charlottesville policing," the statement continued.
The statement goes on to give Chief Brackney's account of the disciplinary action that followed, and concludes with accusations against the PBA for interfering in the process. For more on the story:
The county’s seven community advisory committees are intended to be monthly forums to help Albemarle staff and elected officials implement the seven areas designated for growth. They’re also places where one can learn information about developments that are underway. County planner Michaela Accardi provided an update at this past week’s meeting. (download the presentation)
“The first project I’ll talk about is the Hydraulic and Georgetown office building,” Accardi said.
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors granted a rezoning for the project back in 2008 to clear the way for offices. The project was dormant for many years, but a site plan was approved last October and construction on the one-acre site is underway.
“The applicant is in the process of undergoing utility improvements on the site so you might see some work over there,” Accardi said.
A new 60,000 square foot Boys and Girls Club on school property at the Lambs Lane campus is in the planning phases and requires a special use permit to allow for a Community Center. Accardi said a vote on that permit is currently in deferral, even though the final site plan is under review.
“This is a little bit of an untraditional, nontraditional approach where the site plan is under review because this building can exist on this site as a school use,” Accardi said.
Groundbreaking is slated for August 28, according to Jack Jouett District Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
Another project that has been deferred is a residential one called Arbor Oaks Townes in which an applicant is seeking a rezoning for one acre of land on Hydraulic Road from R-4 to R-15. A community meeting was held in October, but the 14-unit project is on hold indefinitely.
One project that is moving forward is the Premier Circle project which will see up to 140 units dedicated to households and individuals with very low and extremely low incomes. Piedmont Housing Alliance, Virginia Supportive Housing, and the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless are the entities behind the project.
“The rezoning was approved by the Board of Supervisors and we haven’t had any further plans submitted at this time,” Accardi said.
There was also an update from Samantha Strong, the manager of Stonefield. The former Pier One Space is being subdivided into three spaces, one of which will be the first Virginia location of the Torchy’s Tacos chains.
“The middle space is under negotiations and I’m actually expecting that before the month is out we’ll have that lease signed,” Strong said. “The third space is also in the early stages of negotiation.”
Elsewhere in Stonefield, there’s a lease signed for another chain eatery called Organic Krush.
“We’re really excited because it’s going to bring cold-pressed juices, whole fruit smoothies, it’s very all-natural, very healthy, bold, different things like that,” Strong said.
Strong said the pandemic has not affected vacancy rates on the retail side of Stonefield.
“We are very close to being at 100 percent occupancy which has not happened at Stonefield before,” Strong said.
Strong said the space formerly occupied by an Italian restaurant may become an event space, citing a need for such places in the community.
You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement and it’s time now for another reader-supported announcement.
The nonprofit group Resilient Virginia works to inform decision makers and officials about how to prepare for a changing world. They’re holding their annual event virtually this year, and registration prices go up at the end of this week. The Resilient Recovery Conference will take place the mornings of August 25, August 26, and August 27. Take a look at the details of the event as well as pricing at resilientvirginia.org.
Earlier this month, t he U.S. Census Data released more of the results of the 2020 count, with numbers on population, housing units, and demographics. The official Charlottesville population is 46,553, or a 7.1 percent increase over the 2010 count. Albemarle’s official population increased 13.6 percent to 112,395. The count began on April 1, 2020, after most higher education facilities shut down at the beginning of the pandemic.
Each year, the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia produces population estimates for use by the state government to help allocate funds for various programs and government services. Their 2020 estimate for Charlottesville was 49,447, nearly three thousand more than the official count. (2020 Weldon Cooper estimates)
Hamilton Lombard is a research specialist who combs through building permits and other sources to come up with the estimates. I spoke with him this week to ask about the discrepancy between the official count and the higher numbers from Weldon Cooper.
“When you look at the Charlottesville region as a whole, we’ve had remarkably steady growth decade after decade,” Lombard said. “This decade wasn’t really very different. Where the growth happened shifted a little bit. First half of the decade we had fairly strong growth in the city. It seemed to slow down maybe even slightly reverse in the second half of the decade just because there was a lot of less development going on in the city.”
Lombard said he thinks the county in Charlottesville is inaccurate based on a review of individual tracts.
“I think most college students on campuses were counted correctly, but ones off campus were not typically,” Lombard said. “If you look at the Census block over near the Corner that has the GrandMarc apartment complex, in 2010 the Census count is 796 residents. In 2020, the count is 348. There are probably multiple cases like that.”
In 2006, Charlottesville successfully challenged the Census Bureau’s 2005 estimates, which slowed a decline of around 4,000. I’ve got questions out to the city to see if they plan a dispute this time around. (Listen to a 2006 radio story I produced on this topic)
For the rest of this interview, you’ll have to listen to the podcast for the details.
Thanks for reading! Did you know that if you sign up for a paid subscription, Ting will match the amount! So, for $5 a month, $50 a year, or $200 a year, Ting will make a contribution to support this independent production and keep me in the business of tracking as many pieces of the puzzle as I can. And, please share with people you think would like to know more about what’s happening in the community.