Feb 10 • 17M

February 10, 2022: Albemarle Supervisors speed up redistricting process, skeptical of adding another elected official; Charlottesville Council approves Rivanna plan

Plus: An update from the Virginia General Assembly

1
 
1.0×
0:00
-17:24
Open in playerListen on);
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.
Episode details
Comments

2022 turns 41 days old on this Thursday, which according to a few biased sources is also Plimsoll Day, World Pulses Day, Cream Cheese Brownie Day, and All The News That’s Fit to Print Day. This being a journalistic enterprise, I can’t easily find a second source for the latter. But this is Charlottesville Community Engagement which tries to get as much information into every installment, though I’m no longer sure if this is print, digital, audio, or something else. Regardless, I’m Sean Tubbs, the producer of this program. 

On today’s program:
  • Albemarle County is seeking input on potential new maps for new magisterial boundaries, and won’t consider adding a seventh supervisor at this time

  • Charlottesville City Council adopts Rivanna River plan and is willing to lower speed limits on 5th Street Extended

  • A look at legislation that has not passed the Virginia General Assembly this year including Governor Youngkin’s nomination for Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources

  • And inflation was up again in January 

Shout out to the League of Women Voters Natural Resources Committee

In the first subscriber supported public service announcement, the Natural Resources Committee of the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area wants you to know a webinar coming up on Tuesday, February 15, at noon. They’ll talk about Renewable Sources of Electrical Power: Challenges and Promises. How can we develop renewable sources without endangering our ecological systems? The seminar will feature Dan Holmes from the Piedmont Environmental Council and Jeff Hammond with Apex Clean Energy. They’ll address some of the complexities in switching utility scale electric power from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Register for the Zoom and get ready to learn!

Pandemic update

What went up continues to come down. Today the Virginia Department of Health reports a percent positivity of 14.3 percent. Last Thursday that figure was at 23.2 percent. The seven-day average for new cases is at 4,697, down from 7,237 a week ago. The number of COVID patients in hospital today is 1,990, down from 2,578 a week ago according to the Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association.

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 321 new cases and the percent positivity is at 17.6 percent. Do note that’s higher than the statewide rate.

Inflation report

The cost of goods and services continues to rise in the United States as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Consumer Price Index increased 0.6 percent from December to January, and 7.5 percent between January 2021 and last month. That latter figure is the highest 12-month increase since February 1982. 

The cost of food, shelter, and energy all rose. In the past year, the cost of food has increased 7.5 percent. The energy index increased 27 percent since January 2021 with gas prices 40 percent higher, natural gas 23.9 percent up, and electricity 10.7 percent up. Shelter was up 4.4 percent. 

Two categories that did decrease this month were lodging, which was down 3.9 percent  and wireless telephone service, which was down 0.1 percent. 

Read the full press release for details. 

Council adds Urban Rivanna River Plan to Comp Plan

The Charlottesville City Council has officially adopted a plan to guide environmental protections along the urbanized portion of the Rivanna River. The Urban Rivanna Corridor Plan is now a referenced part of the city’s 2021 Comprehensive Plan. 

“It’s past time but I’m glad we’re getting to it now finally to begin to recognize the fact that the Rivanna River is an asset to Charlottesville and is not merely a barrier,” said Charottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors reviewed the plan earlier this month. The plan has been created by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. In addition to a series of recommendations, the plan also suggests ways the community can highlight the role the river can play with examples from Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Lynchburg. 

Could the Rivanna play a greater role in community recreation and tourism? Read the plan and see what ideas you get! (download)

Council poised to reduce speed limit Fifth Street Extended

Council also took action on a step to try to reduce fatal crashes on 5th Street Extended. A petition was submitted to the city in late 2020 asking for something to be done to slow down traffic on the roadway, which has the character of a divided highway. 

“We have been working on this and the first stage,” said traffic engineer Brennen Duncan. “Having looked at this for more than a year now, reviewing the data and looking at all the crash history and stuff we are proposing that we reduce the speed limit from 45 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour.” 

The item passed on first reading and will now be on the consent agenda for Council’s next meeting. The long-term strategy is to change the character of the roadway to make it less easy to speed. 

See also: Council briefed on Fifth Street Extended safety efforts, January 10, 2022

Albemarle adopts expedited redistricting process

Albemarle County is seeking input on how the lines for the county’s magisterial districts should be redrawn following the U.S. Census.  Jake Washburne is Albemarle’s registar. 

“The state completed the redistricting of the state and Congressional districts on [December 28],” Washburne said. 

Washburne, the Electoral Board, and the county’s GIS office have produced three potential maps and a public comment period is underway through March 4 with a questionnaire on the county’s website.

Supervisors adopted an expedited schedule on February 2.

“The sooner we could get the process going and complete, the better, because we may have a June primary election and if we do we’ll have to start voting early for that on May 6,” Washburne said. 

Voters will need to know by then where they will be voting! The Board will have a public hearing on March 2 with an adoption slated for March 23, 2022 until to meet the deadline to have the new maps established in time. 

The next time a House of Delegates race is run, Albemarle will only have two districts in its boundaries, as opposed to having four districts currently. There’s a federal lawsuit at the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals seeking to force an election this year and oral arguments will be heard on March 8. 

One quirk in Virginia’s new Congressional maps is that not all of Albemarle is within the 5th District. 

“Ninety-nine percent of Albemarle County is in the 5th U.S. Congressional District but for some reason they decided a tiny sliver up in the northwest part of the county which has a total of about 110 residents and probably between 50 and 60 voters is in the 7th Congressional District,” Washburne said. 

Washburne said there is likely no way to remedy that situation and the county will need a waiver to allow for a magisterial district to be in two Congressional precincts. 

The 7th Congressional District includes about a hundred residents of Albemarle

All three of the maps continue the practice of Albemarle having six magisterial districts. Here’s County Attorney Greg Kamptner. 

“Albemarle County operates under the county executive form of government and it is authorized to have a board between three and nine supervisors,” Kamptner said. “Increasing the size of the Board was previously raised by the League of Women Voters in 1991, and by a Supervisor who was the former president of the League of Women Voters in 2001. In neither 1991, 2001, or 2011 did the Board express a desire to increase its membership.” 

Kamptner said if the Board wanted to increase its membership they could add a seventh magisterial district or an at-large supervisors who would also be the chair. Voters would have to approve the latter change in a referendum, but the Supervisors could proceed with a seventh during redistricting. Staff recommended against that at this time due to the need to complete the process in time for the election. 

“State law allows the number of districts to be changed at any time, not only as part of the redistricting process,” Kamptner said. 

Supervisor Ned Gallaway said he is aware that many political groups are interested in the idea, but he has not heard a groundswell of support.

“But from a constituent standpoint, this is not been one that has been raised a lot in my conversations with folks,” Gallaway said. 

Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley did not appear to have much interest in a seventh seat because she agreed community members in Albemarle did not seem to be interested in the topic. 

“Frankly that’s come from mainly from developers because the rationale was its easier to get four votes out of seven than four votes out of six,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek, first elected in 2007, said she supports the continuation of six elected officials. 

“Over the years I have found the 3 to 3 to be a good thing especially when I was in a minority position because if a project was good enough to get a fourth vote, even when there was a split board, that was a good threshold to have,” Mallek said. 

To have your say, visit Albemarle County’s redistricting page.

Shout out to the Sisters Project Peru:

In today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement, this Friday an art auction will be held at the Fry’s Spring Beach Club to help raise funds for a sustainable medical clinic in rural Peru. The Sisters Project Peru was created to increase access to healthcare in order to improve quality of life and empower women in Huacahuasi, a rural village in the Sacred Valley of Peru. The art auction will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with light refreshment and live music. Covid protocol is in effect and masks are required. Learn more at SistersProjectPeru.com. Registration in advance is required.

General Assembly snapshot: Lots of failed bills, including Wheeler nomination 

With so many bills, it’s hard to keep a handle on all of the General Assembly, but it’s worth a shot. 

As of this morning, there were 2,486 total bills introduced and 301 have definitely failed. 

Here are some pieces that did not make it out of the House of Delegates. 

  • A bill that would have classified farmer’s markets and roadside farm markets as agribusiness was tabled yesterday in the House Agricultural, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources. (HB262)

  • A bill that would have required an inventory of all stormwater systems in Virginia was stricken from the docket yesterday in that same committee. (HB577)

  • A bill to create a Commission on Social Media to evaluate the impacts arms was tabled in the House Rules committee on February 3 on 13 to 5 vote. (HB1195)

  • A bill to require all School Boards in Virginia to be elected was stricken from the House Education Committee docket on February 7. (HB1284)

  • A bill to exempt food charities from any liability related to distributing items beyond their best-by date was stricken from the House Agriculture committee yesterday. (HB1293)

Here are some pieces that didn’t make it out of the Senate: 

  • A bill to remove a requirement that all School Boards adopt policies for the treatment of transgendered students in public school failed to make it out of the Senate Education and Health Committee on an 8 to 5 vote. (SB20)

  • A bill to develop a statewide housing choice voucher program was stricken in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee. (SB312)

  • A bill to allow localities to adopt energy-efficiency standards for new buildings failed to make it out of the Senate Local Government on a 8 to 6 vote. (SB452)

  • A bill to prohibit public schools from teaching “inherently divisive concepts” failed to clear the Senate Education and Health on February 3 on a 9 to 4 vote. (SB570)

,

The Senate adopted Governor Glenn Youngkin’s list of Cabinet appointments yesterday, but one name was held off of the list. 

On Tuesday, the full Senate agreed to an amendment from the Privileges and Elections campaign that stripped Wheeler from the official resolution confirming the cabinet.

“Senate Joint Resolution 84 - confirming appointments by the Governor of certain persons,” the Senate Clerk read. 

“The question is, shall the committee amendment be adopted?” said Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears, the President of the Senate.

Several Republican members objected and urged defeat of the amendment such as Senator Richard Stuart (R-28) who spoke of Wheeler’s interview before the Senate Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. 

“And I’ve never seen a grilling with more difficult questions for any candidate for any position in this General Assembly,” Stuart said. “And after I spoke with folks who were on that committee and listened to that interview and asked those questions, every member that I spoke said with he absolutely knocked the ball out of the park.”

Stuart defended Wheeler’s time as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

“I understand that some of these environmental groups don’t like him because who he works for and that’s just a shame,” Stuart said. 

But Senator Chap Petersen (D-24) presided over Wheeler’s interview and said he was impressed with the nominee’s credentials but he read from Article 11 of the Virginia Constitution

“it shall be the policy of the Commonwealth to conserve, develop, and utilize its natural resources, its public lands, and its historical sites and buildings,” Petersen said. “That is the role of the Secretary of Natural Resources. It’s not Commerce. It’s not thinking of ways to get around environmental rules. It’s actually protecting our lands and waters.”

Petersen said a majority on the Privileges and Committees felt Petersen would not fit the bill. 

Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) cited a letter from previous administrators who expressed concern about Wheeler’s tenure at the EPA. 

“If we’re to confirm Mr. Wheeler, I’m confident he will use the intelligence and subject matter expertise to do exactly what he did at the federal level,” Ebbin said. “Systematically deconstruct regulations that protect our environment.”

The amendment was agreed to on a 21 to 19 vote and the SJ84 passed the Senate yesterday on a 38 to 0 vote. According to the Virginia Mercury , Wheeler can serve in the position on an interim basis until the end of the General Assembly session. 

More General Assembly tomorrow.