Jan 16 • 16M

January 16, 2022: Governor Youngkin takes action against vaccine mandate, public school mask requirements, Critical Race Theory, and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Plus: Piedmont Housing Alliance breaks ground on Friendship Court redevelopment

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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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If the year were so far an Olympics, today would be the final ceremony. But we’re just at the beginning of a new era in Virginia with a new Governor who has demonstrated a different approach than the previous one. These words are being sent out just as another winter storm rolls through. So, this rare Sunday edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement is being crafted to capture this moment when we don’t quite know what will happen, but there are signs. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.

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On today’s show: 
  • Albemarle and the region prepare for another winter storm 

  • Governor Glenn Youngkin is sworn in and signs eleven executive orders, including a withdrawal to pull out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and a revocation of statewide mask mandates

  • The Piedmont Housing Alliance breaks ground on the development of Friendship Court after many years

First subscriber-supported shout-out

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society invites you to hear from their newest board member at a meeting beginning at 7 p.m. Gayle Jessup White is the first Public Relations and Community Engagement Officer for Monticello and the first descendant of Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved community to work for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Gayle Jessup White will talk about her book Reclamation: Sally Hemmings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for her Family’s Lasting Legacy. That’s 7 p.m on Monday and you can register for the Zoom call or watch on Facebook Live. Sign up now at albemarlehistory.org. 

Albemarle County Emergency

Albemarle County has declared a local emergency in advance of today’s winter storm in order to help coordinate services in the event that it is disruptive. 

“It has the potential to cause downed trees, widespread power outages, and hazardous travel conditions,” reads the disaster declaration issued by County Executive Jeffrey Richardson.

Dan Eggleston is the chief of Albemarle Fire Rescue and he said his staff has been watching the weather forecasts. 

“We have been engaged with the state resources as well as local utilities and others to help understand the potential impact that this storm may have on county residents,” Eggleston said. 

Former Governor Ralph Northam issued a declaration of emergency on Friday. Eggleston said the forecast became more clear as of Saturday morning and that the threat of further power outages loomed. There could be a lot of wet snow and ice, prompting County Executive Jeffrey Richardson to make the declaration. 

“Basically what this does is allows us to implement our emergency operations plan and activate any contracts we might have to solicit resources including a clear channel to the state should we  need any additional resources beyond our local capacity,” Eggleston said. 

If you need resources, or want to know what they may be before a power outage affects you, visit communityemergency.org

The Virginia Department of Transportation is asking people to stay home on Sunday due to potential blizzard conditions. 

“The current forecast indicates this event will drop significant snow, followed by freezing rain and ice in many areas, targeting the central region of Virginia and areas along the Interstate 81 corridor with the most extreme conditions,” reads a press release. 

VDOT urges anyone who does travel today to carry an emergency winter weather kit including food, water, blankets, and other tools needed if you are stranded. 

Albemarle fatality

Albemarle County has also reported the death of a driver in a single-vehicle crash yesterday morning in the 4100 block of Free Union Road. This is the first traffic fatality of the year in Albemarle. 

Youngkin sworn in as Virginia’s 74th Governor signs 11 executive actions 

Soon after being sworn in, Governor Glenn Youngkin got to work with a series of executive orders to undo many key policies of the last administration and General Assembly. It was, in fact, Day One of his administration, and many of the directives are intended to comb through Virginia’s policy to remove that which the Governor finds offensive.

“Well, it’s Day One, and we’ve had a great morning and as we head into the afternoon, it’s time to get to work,” Youngkin said.  

Youngkin made a point of gathering in a working office in the Governor’s mansion that hasn’t been used in two years. To his right, Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears. To his left, Secretary of the Commonwealth Kay Coles James. No one in the picture wears a mask. 

“These executive actions combined with the 59 bills that are being carried in our legislature right now by Delegates and Senators and 25 budget amendments comprise the actions necessary to put our Day One game plan into motion,” Youngkin said. 

Governor Glenn Youngkin at the signing ceremony. Screencap from video provided by WTVR CBS. Watch the whole thing on their YouTube page.

The first bans “the use of inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory” and states that “political indoctrination has no place in our classroom.”

Specifically, the order directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to end all policies that promote “inherently divisive concepts” and remove “those that promote or endorse divisive or inherently racist concepts.” 

Youngkin didn’t elaborate much on this one but did welcome the person who will oversee some of the education changes. 

“I’m particularly excited to be joined by our Secretary of Education designee, Aimee Guidera,” Youngkin said 

This order singles out programs by name, such as the Department of Education’s Cultural Competency Training Program, EdEquityVA, and the Virginia Math Pathways Initiative. (read the full text)

A change in pandemic policy

Three of the actions relate to the pandemic. 

Executive Directive Two rescinds a mandate that state employees get vaccinated against COVID. Youngkin said it is a matter of individual rights. 

“No executive branch employees shall be required to be vaccinated or required to disclose their vaccination status as a condition of their employment,” Youngkin said. “Let me be clear. I continue to be an absolutely staunch advocate for the vaccine. I’ve gotten the vaccine. I’ve gotten the booster. Suzanne has gotten the vaccine and gotten the booster. I believe it is the best way to keep your family safe. But we also believe individual liberty counts and matters and therefore rather than mandate we’re going to work to educate.” 

Executive Order Two ends Virginia’s requirement that children in public school be masked. This one points out what it calls outdated information in the August 12, 2021 order and states that the Omicron variant causes less severe than the Delta variant. (read the full text)

Executive Order Six orders the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board to conduct an emergency meeting to decide if a Virginia Department of Labor and Industry COVID standard should be eliminated.(take a look at the standard)

“Most succinctly I can say this executive order keeps Virginia open for business,” Youngkin said. “We’ll remove burdensome COVID-19 regulations.”

Executive Order Nine seeks the re-evaluation of Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and to begin undoing the regulations embedded in executive branch agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality. 

“The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as I’ve said before is nothing more than a carbon tax, a carbon tax that raises the utility bills of all Virginians,” Youngkin said. 

Youngkin thanked Andrew Wheeler for being willing to serve as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, a position where he will oversee the dismantling of RGGI. 

There are also several bills filed to accomplish many of the changes to state law. The order also states that RGGI be notified of the administration’s intent to withdraw. (read the full text)

The others:
  • Executive Order Three fires the parole board

  • Executive Order Four orders the Attorney General of Virginia to investigate the Loudoun County School Board related to a sexual assault in the spring of 2021 (full text)

  • Executive Order Five creates a position that will review Virginia agencies beginning with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Employment Commission. Eric Moeller will be the Chief Transformation Officer in Virginia. (full text)

  • Executive Order Seven establishes the Commission on Human Trafficking Prevention and Survivor Support. (full text)

  • Executive Order Eight establishes the Commission to Combat Antisemitism (full text)

  • Executive Directive One orders a 25 percent cut of regulations, citing a report from 2018 mandated by the General Assembly but not implemented. (full text) (HB883)

No action today in the General Assembly. Many meetings scheduled for tomorrow have been canceled. It’s also the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. 

Support the show by giving a shout-out!

In today’s shout-out, a shout-out to the shouters-of out! I want to thank all of the individuals and entities that have supported this newsletter and podcast through a $25 a month Patreon contribution or through some other combination of support. Thanks to the Charlottesville Jazz Society, Code for Charlottesville, LEAP, the Rivanna Conservation Alliance, Lonnie Murray and his penchant for native plants, WTJU, the Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society, Jefferson Madison Regional Library, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards, Cville 350, Piedmont Master Gardeners, and of course, the Valley Research Center. More in 2022. 

Click through to Information Charlottesville to learn more about how you can support this channel.

Friendship Court groundbreaking

After years of planning, the Piedmont Housing Alliance has broken ground on the multi-phase redevelopment of Friendship Court. Phase One will be built on the open space portion of the existing 150-unit residential complex. Sunshine Mathon is the executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance. 

“For over 40 years, Friendship Court, also known to many as Garret Square has been home to over hundreds of families,” Mathon said. “For some, it was a short time. For others, it is all they have known. For some, it has been a place of solace and respite during difficult times. For others it has reflected the pain of broader racial and social injustices, and families caught in the unrelenting gears of generational poverty.” 

Before Friendship Court, the land had been a predominantly Black neighborhood and was razed during what’s known as the Garret Street urban renewal. Planning for what would replace Friendship Court has been underway for many years. Piedmont Housing Alliance has been involved since before Mathon joined the agency four and a half years ago. 

“When I arrived in Charlottesville I knew little of this history and as an outsider and as a white man, I have had to listen and I have had to come to learn that we cannot turn our gaze to the future to explore what’s possible whether here at Friendship Court or in the region more broadly without truly knowing the weight of the past,” Mathon said. 

A site plan for the four phases at Friendship Court has been developed by the Timmons Group, and this calls for a range between 350 to 500 units on the 11.758 acres with up to 60,000 square feet for commercial, business, or assembly space. This site plan also shows a road network that eventually will become public streets. 

The site plan for all four phases of the Friendship Court redevelopment plan.

Mathon said that work has been overseen by a committee of current residents. 

“They have participated in deep community outreach,” Mathon said. “They have chosen architects and contractors, they have taken field trips to other cities to explore what has been done elsewhere and they have worked and reworked and reworked and reworked a plan for redevelopment aimed directly at redressing root causes such as systemic inequity.” 

Charlottesville City Council has approved millions of funds in contributions to the project’s financing including a $5.5 million forgivable loan approved by Council in October 2020. (read a story from then)

“So much of what is pushed in front of our faces on City Council is five-star hotels, the University, fancy restaurants, business development, and that’s all fine enough but it’s this what makes Charlottesville a great community,” said City Councilor Michael Payne. “To have residents who are taking self-control of their future in building with our community their future.” 

You can watch the ground-breaking in a link in the newsletter. Visit piedmonthousingalliance.org for more information

Stay safe today.