Dec 31, 2021 • 16M

December 31, 2021: Third straight day of COVID records in Virginia with over 17K new cases today; Council briefed on affordable housing funds, cancels Franklin sidewalk

Plus: Attorney General Herring sues the town of Windsor for racial profiling in traffic stops

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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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This is Day 365, the final 24 hour period of 2021, and the eve of another Day 1. Today takes on many themes for many people, with some choosing reflection, some looking forward, and others simply existing. For me it’s another opportunity to write another installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a program and newsletter that seeks to bring you as much information as often as possible. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, ready to get to it.

Charlottesville Community Engagement is free to sign-up and you can decide later if you want to pay whatever you can to keep it going!

On today’s program:
  • The pandemic surge continues with three days in a row of record new cases, and Virginia’s emergency physicians want a new state of emergency

  • Attorney General Mark Herring has sued a small town outside Suffolk for a pattern of racial discrimination in traffic stops

  • Charlottesville City Council briefed on how the city’s affordable housing fund is used and agrees to cancel a sidewalk funded paid for through federal housing funds

  • More new bills are filed, including a prohibition on COVID vaccine mandates

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Pandemic update

For the third day in a row, the Virginia Department of Health has reported a record number of new COVID cases with 17,618. The percent positivity has increased to 21.5 percent. These are numbers that have not been seen at any point during the pandemic. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District there are 365 new cases reported, which is not a record but it’s close. The seven-day average for new positive tests is 15.2 percent. 

Yesterday the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians called on Governor Ralph Northam to declare a state of emergency in order to assist emergency rooms across the Commonwealth. Northam’s previous emergency expired on June 30. 

“Emergency departments are considered a safety net for those patients in need of care, regardless of insurance status, and are federally mandated and morally obligated to provide care to all those who seek it,” reads their press release. “However, Virginia’s emergency medicine system is under threat of collapse due to excessive patient volume.”

A declaration would allow access to federal funding, allow hospitals and ER’s to enact triage protocols, and more flexibility in allocating resources. The group also wants the Virginia Department of Health to provide more testing sites. 

The release notes that hospitalization numbers are below the levels of the winter peak earlier this year and that the majority of patients are unvaccinated.  You can confirm that fact on the Virginia Department of Health’s website.

The high number of cases are causing some to alter their plans. The IX Art Park has canceled their Studio 51 New Year’s Eve party due to staffing and safety concerns. 

New Year’s Eve safety tips from the Blue Ridge Health District
Outgoing Attorney General sues town of Windsor

With only two weeks remaining in his second term, outgoing Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a lawsuit against the Town of Windsor for violations of the Virginia Human Rights Act and the Virginia Public Integrity and Law Enforcement Misconduct Act. The latter passed the General Assembly in 2020 and allows the attorney general to sue when evidence is gathered that a law enforcement agency is “engaging in a pattern or practice that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities.”

The suit filed in Isle of Wight Circuit Court argues that the town’s police department disproportionately pulls over Black drivers.

“From July 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021, the Department conducted 810 traffic stops of Black drivers—representing approximately 42 percent of the stops conducted by the Department,” reads the pleading. “Consequently, the Town stopped Black drivers between 200 percent and 500 percent more often than would be expected based on the number of Black residents in the Town or Isle of Wight County.” 

The suit goes on to argue that Black drivers were searched more often than white drivers. It also cites an incident of December 2020 in which an officer claimed he was making a “felony stop” when he pulled over an off-duty police officer. 

“The Department does not have a policy on what constitutes a felony stop,” the argument continues. 

The suit also accuses the Town of inconsistent reporting and demands the Town adopt policies  to address the violations. 

Resources:
The lawsuit was filed in Isle of Wight Circuit Court 
Bills filed to limit voting, prevent COVID vaccine mandates

The General Assembly session begins in less than two weeks, and bills continue to be pre-filed. 

  • Incoming Delegate Tim Anderson (R-Virginia Beach) has filed a bill prohibiting COVID vaccines from being mandated and prohibiting people from being dismissed by employers for refusing to be vaccinated. (HB27)

  • Delegate Ronnie Campbell (R-Raphine) filed a bill to add 23.2 more miles of the Maury River to be added to the state’s list of Scenic Rivers. (HB28)

  • Another bill from Campbell would rename and reroute a position of U.S. 60 in Lexington and create a new U.S. 850 for a section of the current route. (HB31)

  • Campbell also filed legislation to allow Bath County to be added to the list of localities that can charge a fee for disposal of solid waste. (HB32)

  • Campbell filed another bill to require vehicles that claim to be for Farm Use to obtain a placard from the Department of Motor Vehicles, at no charge. (HB33)

  • Campbell would also prohibit Virginia from allowing absentee ballots to be dropped off at additional locations outside of registrars’ offices. (HB34)

  • Campbell would also end no-excuse absentee voting. (HB35)

  • Campbell would also abolish the right to be added to a permanent list for voting absentee. (HB36)

  • Campbell also wants to call for a Constitutional Convention to put limit the power of the federal government. (HJ3)

Harambe calendar

A local educator has released the latest version of a calendar to help people find out about African American cultural events in the community. Alex Zan has been producing the Harambe Family Events calendar for many years. City Councilor Sena Magill made an announcement at last week’s City Council meeting. (download the calendar)

“Harambe, Swahili for ‘all pull together,’ cultural events objectives are to inspire and unify area citizens to communicate more effectively and create and maintain a positive environment for change and civility,” Magill said. 

The calendar can be downloaded as a .PDF and can help map out 2022. 

“The calendar also strives to strengthen family relationships and nurture cultural awareness, particularly among African Americans who have experienced a lack of inclusion in many area events,” Magill said.

Magill said physical copies of the calendar will be distributed throughout the community. 

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Council briefed on affordable housing funds

A firm hired to conduct an audit of the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund presented preliminary results to City Council at their final meeting of the year in the early morning of December 21. 

HR&A had already completed an affordable housing plan as part of the Cville Plans Together initiative but Council paid an additional $165,000 to the firm for that audit, as well as creation of a program to ensure that the upcoming rewrite of the zoning code is inclusionary. The adopted plan called for the city to spend $10 million on housing for at least ten years. 

The Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund was created in 2007 as one tool for the city to increase the number of subsidized housing units. No audit has ever been conducted, and the city has struggled to hold on to housing coordinators, a position which has been vacant since the summer of 2020. 

“We went back to records going back to 2010 and we’re talking about just shy of $47 million here, the vast majority of $38 million being local and city housing trust fund money,” said Phillip Kash of HR&A. 

Kash said there are three major areas funded by the CAHF. They are development of new units and rehabilitation of existing ones, programs and operations of housing nonprofits, or city administration. 

The main beneficiary of city funding has been Piedmont Housing Alliance, followed by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

“That’s really tied to the Friendship Courts project in particular, and this really moves their position on this pretty significantly,” Kash said. 

The analysis also broke down how much return the city got on its investment. Rehabilitation and construction of single family homes are the most expensive per unit. New construction has been subsidized at a range between $20,000 and $45,000, with rehabilitation between $3,000 and $25,000 a unit. 

Kash said there are some initial lessons that can be learned. 

“Funding that was authorized by the city was not spent or followed up on,” Kash said. “While it was awarded, what it was awarded for was not necessarily ending up happening or wasn’t actually used. There are a couple of examples of projects being delayed or projects not being built yet. There were projects actually located outside the city. There’s a clear pattern of needing better reporting or monitoring.” 

A final report will be developed early next year. Recommendations will inform the next capital improvement program. 

Outgoing Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she wants funding to go be producing housing and not to support nonprofits.

“Keeping an organization afloat should not be our goal if they’re not delivering,” Walker said. “I think what ultimately once this report is finished, the community will see that we haven’t been mindful at all regarding the funds that we are allocating and we need to be more mindful.” 

A graph in the preliminary report showing what organizations have received
Council cancels CDBG-funded sidewalk on Franklin Street

In their final item of the year, Council agreed to cancel a project to build a sidewalk on Franklin Street using federal funds that come through the Community Development Block Grant process. The project had been selected by a task force but was defunded earlier this year because it could not be completed by a federal deadline. 

Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders recommended Council consider moving away from the task force model. 

“Routinely, a task force model doesn’t necessarily help to meet the regulatory conditions because typically what you’re doing is simply allowing community members to pick projects and they don’t necessarily always know the details that go into executing,” Sanders said. 

In 2017, the city selected the Belmont neighborhood to be the recipient of CDBG funds and a task force recommended $204,263 funding go toward the Franklin Street sidewalk. This spring, staff said they would seek to reallocate funds back to the project, but Sanders had concerns it would once again not be completed in time to meet a May 2022 deadline. 

“Engineering complications exist today in order for us to be able to move forward,” Sanders said. “The reality is it should not have been selected.” 

Sanders, who has only been with the city since August, said the process is flawed. In addition, Sanders said this project did little to address low-income residents. 

Council agreed to cancel the project. Sanders will return with an update to the city’s ordinance to eliminate the task force’s role in favor of a staff advisory body that would seek input from the Planning Commission and Council. 

Resources:
Year in Review relegated to Twitter

This has been a very busy year for Town Crier Productions with 163 newsletter, 51 Weeks Ahead, and a whole lot of reporting and research. I had intended to create a Year In Review, but 2022 is going to begin with a bang so my concentration is going there.

However, I am continuing to do a Year in Review on the cvilletowncrier account on Twitter. If you want to review the year, take a look there. After about 16 hours of work reviewing previous installments of this newsletter, I’ve only gotten as far as March. So, take a look there, and please retweet and like and share. 

Thanks for all of your support this year, and let’s see what 2022 brings us. Stay safe! 

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