Feb 14 • 20M

February 14, 2022: A General Assembly update on the last day before Crossover; Council uses CDBG funds for fire-prevention measures

Plus: Governor Youngkin urges people to get vaccinated, but will not mandate them

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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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There is no holiday today, at least not officially. For the most part, there’s nothing special about today at all, unless you have a lot of love… for local and regional government! If so, this and every other installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement will take aim at your heart, mind, or wherever in your metaphorical sense of self where new information is supposed to go. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, trying to look whatever the opposite of cherubic is. 

On today’s program:
  • Governor Glenn Youngkin issues a PSA asking people to get vaccinated but stops well short of a mandate

  • Charlottesville City Council transfers some federal money for a sidewalk to fire prevention measures

  • A General Assembly wrap-up before Crossover Day

  • A survey is now available seeking input on two options for a pedestrian bridge across the Rivanna River

  • A very brief update on Charlottesville’s zoning update

Shout-out to Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards 

In today’s subscriber-supported Public Service Announcement, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards continues to offer classes winter and spring to increase your awareness of our wooden neighbors and to prepare for the future. The next event is February 22 at 7 p.m. when tree steward Emily Ferguson will help you look beyond the monotonous winter forest by focusing on the finer details that will help you differentiate between species of trees. Learn more at charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org. (register for the February 22 session

Governor Youngkin asks Virginians to get vaccinated

This morning, the Virginia Department of Health reports an average of 3,783 new COVID cases and the seven-day percent positivity has dropped to 11.1 percent. That’s down from 19.7 percent a week ago. In the Blue Ridge Health District today there were 46 new cases and the percent positivity is at 14.6 percent. The Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association reports 1,676 patients in hospital with a positive COVID test.  That’s down from 3,845 a month ago. 

As of today, 70.9 percent of Virginia’s total population is considered fully vaccinated, but a smaller portion of that number has received a booster or third dose. That figure is 2,754,159. Today Governor Glenn Youngkin launched a public service announcement encouraging people to get a vaccine, but that he will do nothing to require that anyone get one. 

“In Virginia, there’s a better day right around the corner,” Youngkin said. “I won’t mandate it but the vaccine is the best way to protect our loved ones, our lives, and our livelihoods.” 

Youngkin said he and his family decided to get the vaccine.

“While the vaccine won’t completely prevent you from contracting COVID-19, it makes it far less likely that you will be hospitalized or die from the virus,” Youngkin said. 

Last week, the CDC released a study indicating that those who have only have had two doses likely have their immunity fade after four months, but more study is needed to determine the efficacy of the booster or third dose. 

This morning the University of Virginia Health System announced that additional visitation will be once again allowed at various facilities. A press releases this is due to decreasing COVID cases. Visitors must wear a mask at all times and and cannot have any symptoms or contagious diseases. Public spaces including cafeterias and lobbies remain closed. Visit the UVA Health website for more details.

Route 151 / U.S. 250 roundabout construction

Construction of a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 151 in Albemarle County is moving ahead. This week, a section of  Route 151 in northwest Nelson County will be closed overnight to allow installation of pipes for three waterways to be temporarily diverted during the project’s construction. According to a release, traffic will be detoured using Goodloe Lane and Old Turnpike Road from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night.

The project is one of several funded in the second round of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process. Smart Scale is a system that funds projects based on a series of criteria including decreasing congestion and improving public safety. The application lists the reasoning for the project. 

“US 250 is not able to handle overflow when incidents occur on I-64 resulting in significant delays,” reads the application

Other Smart Scale projects funded that year include changes to I-64’s exit 118, conversion of exit 124 to a diverging diamond, and a roundabout at the intersection of Proffit Road and Route 20. 

Applications for Round 5 are currently being prepared. For more information on what the candidate projects are, visit the Smart Scale site on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

Rivanna pedestrian bridge survey open

One of those 5th round candidates is a pedestrian bridge across the Rivanna River to connect Woolen Mills and Pantops. Two choices are being reviewed by a stakeholder committee who will make a recommendation to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization. A survey is now open through March 4 to gauge public feedback. 

Visit the TJPDC’s website for more information

See also: 

Charlottesville zoning update

Charlottesville has begun the process of updating the city’s zoning code to reflect both an affordable housing plan and a Comprehensive Plan that seeks to increase the number of places to live within city limits. An internal review by city staff took place on Thursday, according to Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Freas. 

‘We’re slowly building up,” Freas said. “The first product is a diagnostic and approach report. Things will really ramp up once that’s released. We are targeting a mid-April date for the release of that report.” 

Mark your calendar. Meanwhile, Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan review kicks off this week with three pop-up events and a virtual meeting on Thursday. Read the Week Ahead newsletter for more information

See also:

A portion of Franklin Street sidewalk funding going to pay for fire prevention kits

Later this week, a task force appointed by City Council to make recommendations for how federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are spent will meet. Earlier this month, Council agreed to reallocate money a previous task force had opted to spend on a sidewalk on Franklin Street in Belmont, but less than staff had suggested. (staff report)

Erin Atak is the city’s grants coordinator. 

“On January 14, 2021, Charlottesville was found to be noncompliant for the second consecutive year with CDBG requirements,” Atak said. “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] noted that Charlottesville’s lack of spending performance was an issue.” 

Atak said the city receives about $400,000 a year in CDBG funding from HUD and they want it to be be spent within a certain time. Based on the recommendation of a task force, Council selected the sidewalk project and its scope was much bigger than originally anticipated.  The goal right now is to address the timeliness issue.

“By May, the city is required to spend approximately $227,973,” Atak said. 

Atak said the money can be used to address the COVID-19 pandemic. When she sent around an internal request to city departments to see if they had any projects that would fit the bill, the Charlottesville Fire Department had a project to spend $217,200. 

“The Fire Department listed several housing maintenance activities which included smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, stove top fire-stop installation and CPR-assist devices, all of which are HUD-eligible, could meet City Council priorities to provide homeowner rehab, and entitlement funding in the Ridge Street and Belmont priority neighborhoods,” Atak said. 

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook asked if the balance could be given to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville for their projects on Nassau Street. Atak said that projects that receive federal funding are subject to much more scrutiny, and the money would not be spent in time. 

Snook pushed. 

“I mean, is that something where it’s ‘come on, if someone just pushed the pedal to the metal we can make this happen’, or is it  ‘come on, this is the federal government you’re talking about.’ In other words, how serious is the risk this doesn’t get done if we suggest the money should go to that cause?”

Two members of city staff responded in unison. 

“It’s very serious,” Atak sad 

“It’s very serious,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’ interim director of the Office of Community Solutions.” 

Councilor Sena Magill said she supported this use of funding, especially for carbon monoxide detectors which she said the Fire Department often can’t provide.

“It’s one of those things that keeps getting kicked off down the road and whenever the Fire Department has a little extra somewhere, they try to put it into this,” Magill said. “And keeping houses from burning down is a way to keep them affordable, too.” 

Councilor Michael Payne expressed concern about how this information was presented to the elected body. 

“I don’t think the process was adequate enough to feel like I was presented with options to choose from,” Payne said. “I feel a little boxed in in terms of being presented only one option and given this point in this process. That boxing in to make one decision. I do feel like this was a wasted opportunity to at least evaluate and look as a policy option for Council at possible expenditures on vitally needed affordable housing needs.”

To that end, Council opted to spend less money than staff had suggested with $140,585.49 to the Fire Department rather than a higher amount recommended. Councilor Payne still voted no. 

Shout out to the League of Women Voters Natural Resources Committee

In today’s second 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!

General Assembly update

We are one day from Crossover Day in the General Assembly, so let’s check the statistics before the action begins today! This was up to date as of 7 a.m. this morning.  

A total of 2,501 bills and resolutions have been introduced, and 351 of them have been killed through various actions. Another 143 will come back in 2023. The Senate’s passed 592 pieces of legislation and the House of Delegates has passed 572. 

The Senate has passed four bills from the House of Delegates that have already crossed over, but the House of Delegates has yet to do the same. Those bills include a non-controversial bill that would require the State Registrar of Vital Records to update the Board of Elections once a week of people who have died so they can be removed from the voter rolls. (HB55)

Other bills that have passed the Senate and require House passage include:

  • A bill to require absentee ballots to be sorted in the precinct where the voter lives as opposed to a central district passed the Senate unanimously, (SB3)

  • Localities would be required to provide data to the state once a year on emergency sheltering capabilities if SB60 passes. The Senate passed it unanimously. 

  • Martinsville voters will decide whether to revert to town status in a bill that passed the Senate 32 to 8. (SB85) A similar bill (HB173) passed the House on a 82 to 18 vote and is before the Senate Local Government Committee. 

  • The Town of St. Charles in Lee County would be terminated under SB589 which passed unanimously. (SB589)

  • Sports betting establishments and casinos won’t be able to use the phrase “Virginia is for Bettors” under SB96, which passed the Senate unanimously. 

  • A bill to create the Virginia Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Historic Preservation fund passed the Senate on a 30 to 10 vote. (SB158)

  • A bill to require those who display a Farm Use tag on their vehicle to get it from the Department of Motor Vehicles passed the Senate unanimously. (SB186) Similar legislation has passed the House of Delegates. (HB179)

  • Currently several localities in the James River watershed have combined sewer and stormwater systems which results in effluent to be released into waterways. The Senate passed a bill on a 36 to 4 to speed up the deadline to change that from 2035 to 2030. (SB354)

  • In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring the creation of a Marcus Alert system that would alert public safety responders of a person’s mental state so that a non-violent response could be made by trained mental health specialists. The Senate passed a blll unanimously to clarify that participation by localities would be optional. (SB361)

  • Hazing that leads to someone’s death would be a class 5 felony under SB440, which passed the Senate on a 30 to 10 vote. 

  • The Department of Corrections would need to convene a work group to review fees charges to inmates for various services such as telephone use, meals, and medical records if this bill also passes the House. The Senate approved it on a 31 to 9 vote. (SB441)

  • Under SB491, the Virginia African Diaspora Advisory Board would be established to advise the Governor on ways to increase trade and cultural exchange between Virginia and African nations. The passed the Senate unanimously. 

  • A bill to allow for recall elections for certain officers passed the Senate on a 21 to 18 vote. (SB495)

  • A bill to create a grant program to help localities develop wildlife corridor plans and implement them passed on a 29 to 10 vote. (SB707)

Now let’s go to the House of Delegates.

  • Virginia law currently states that elementary and secondary students cannot be considered to be engaged in disorderly conduct if they’re on school property. HB89 would change that to refer to kindergarten through 8th grade, paving the way for high school students to be potentially be arrested for “public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof.” That passed the House of Delegates on a 52 to 48 vote. 

  • Virginia has a shortage of mental health beds. HB105 would study the transformation of Catawba Hospital into a facility for substance abuse treatment and recovery services. This passed the House on a 99 to 0 vote. 

  • Currently, invasive plant species can be sold in Virginia. Under HB314, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would need to develop signage to be given to retailers to point out the benefits of native plants and the hazrds of invasive ones. This passed the House 99 to 0. 

  • A bill to allow parks authorities the ability to install electric vehicle chargers passed the House on a 94 to 6 vote. (HB443)

  • A bill to allow home-schooled children the ability to play in public school sports passed the House 50 to 49. (HB551)

  • Stealing catalytic converters would be a Class 6 felony under HB740 which passed the House on a 69 to 30 vote.

  • A bill to require voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot passed 52 to 48. (HB1090)

  • A bill to require School Boards to hold a public hearing before adopting cultural competency requirements passed 51 to 48. (HB1093)

  • Seventh and eighth graders in public school would have to undergo at least one hour of personal safety training in physical education class if HB1215 makes it through. The House adopted it 99 to 0. 

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