Jan 21 • 17M

January 21, 2022: Legislation to allow one-cent sales tax increase for education nearing passage in the Virginia Senate; Blue Ridge Health District sets one-day record for COVID cases

Plus: Regional Housing Partnership briefed on "missing middle" housing

Sean Tubbs
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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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2022 ends its third week today, and this edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement is intended to capture where we are as of January 21. Listeners and readers do not need to know that this is Squirrel Appreciation Day, National Cheesy Socks Day, National Hugging Day, and One-Liners Day. But, now you do, and that is information you may find useful. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, and now here’s something I hope you’ll really like.

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In the 318th edition:
  • The Blue Ridge Health District hits another one day record for COVID-19 with 800 cases

  • A quick snapshot of where the General Assembly was as of this morning 

  • And the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership takes a look at “missing middle” housing

First subscriber-supported public service announcement - #MLKCVILLE

The commemoration in Charlottesville of the life, times, and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. continues on Sunday with the 37th Community Celebration put on by the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church.

Beginning at 4 p.m., a panel discussion will be held virtually on the topic of “The Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community.” Nancy O’Brien will moderate the event which will features speakers Bitsy Waters, Sarad Davenport, and Cameron Webb. Community members will be recognized and the winners of the local MLK essay contest will be announced. Visit and bookmark the YouTube mlkcville page to review last year’s celebration while you wait for Sunday at 4 p.m. 

New one-day record of new COVID cases in the Blue Ridge Health District

The Virginia Department of Health reports another 800 new cases of COVID-19 in the Blue Ridge Health District. That’s the highest one day total so far. Those cases are among 17,027 reported across the Commonwealth today. The seven-day average for percent positivity statewide continues to decrease and is at 30.9 percent today. 

Kathryn Goodman of the Health District confirmed the numbers.

“It is important that people follow multiple mitigation strategies to help prevent spreading COVID-19, which include staying home when sick, getting COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, wearing masks in public settings,” Goodman said. 

The highest plateau of hospitalization numbers so far continues with 3,836 new cases according to the Virginia Healthcare and Hospitalization Association. There are 632 patients in intensive care units and 387 are on ventilators. 

Today the UVA Health System has the most number of COVID patients then at any time of the pandemic to date. Wendy Horton is the Chief Executive Officer for UVA Health and said there are 114 in-patients today.

“And of those 114 COVID patients, 36 are in our ICU’s and six of them are pediatric patients,” Horton said. 

Some of those COVID patients are asymptomatic and had gone to the hospital for other reasons. 

We’re now in the third year of the worldwide pandemic, and the Associated Press reports some countries across the world are opting to shift their public health strategy towards accepting COVID-19 as a continuing condition. More of an endemic rather than a pandemic. Dr. Costi Sifri is the director of hospital epidemiology at UVA Health he cautions against making that conclusion.

“Many people have predicted the ending of the pandemic at various interactions through this and we think that we’re all a little bit concerned about doing that prematurely,” Dr. Sifri said. “We don’t know what things may look like after Omicron and if there are other variants that we’ll have to deal with. We may see some of the old variants come back and cause problems.”

So far, Dr. Sifri said the omicron variant does not cause as many fatalities per infection. 

“There are reasons for that that seem to be bearing out based on studies,” Dr. Sifri said. “Things like the fact that it causes upper respiratory tract infections compared to pneumonia and lower respiratory tract infections.” 

Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order Two declared that mask usage in public schools was optional. One stated reason is that the omicron variant “results in less severe illness.” Dr. Sifri said it’s still a serious issue.

“Omicron still really can cause very, very serious illness and we’re still seeing patient deaths and we’re seeing them almost on a daily basis,” Dr. Sifri said. 

Vaccination continues to be a protection against serious disease. The seven-day average for doses administered per day is at 20,915 today and 68.6 percent of the total Virginia population is fully vaccinated and around 2.3 million have received a third dose or a booster. 

Horton said it is a misnomer to state that omicron is not a threat. 

“It does cause quite a bit of disease especially in immunocompromised individuals so far our health systems a lot of strain on the intensive care units and caring for those individuals,” Horton said. 

Later in the week, Youngkin issued another executive order to declare a limited state of emergency to provide hospitals and health care with “flexibility” in the work against COVID-19. (Executive Order 11)

“For a health system it really is an acknowledgment of where we’re at and really garners additional resources,” Horton said. “I was really so pleased to see an emphasis on making sure that people have access to vaccination. So that is really very, very important.” 

Horton said this allows hospitals the ability to increase bed capacity and increase staffing. 

“We are very fortunate here at UVA that we haven’t had to activate those special accommodations, but it is really great that we know that we have them if we ever need to activate or use any special resources available,” Horton said. 

Regional group briefed on “missing middle” housing

Changes to land use rules are being made across the region to allow for additional density to create what planners and developers refer to as “missing middle” housing. The term was coined by Dan Parolek in 2010. 

“His focus is on small units and making them feasible to build in neighborhoods where only large single-family houses currently exist,” said Emily Hamilton is a senior research fellow and director of the Urbanity Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

An image from Parolek’s website, missingmiddle.org

Hamilton was one of the speakers at the latest discussion run by the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership on Thursday. She said additional flexibility to allow more housing can lead to units becoming more affordable. (watch the video)

“In some of the cases where we see lots of small in-fill construction happening there is that increased flexibility where for example large duplex units or townhouses can be built in places where exclusively detached single family houses would have been permitted previously,” Hamilton said.

The recent adoption of the Crozet Master Plan as well as the Future Land Use Map in the Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan are both intended to encourage the production of these units and developers have responded. Many community members have pushed back, as seen this week in Scottsville when community opposition may have led to a deferral of two special use permits.

However, Hamilton said this is how houses in communities used to be built.

“Historically in an era before zoning we saw that what we would now call missing middle was often times the bread and butter housing of working and middle income Americans because it has lower per-foot construction costs compared to a large multi-family building,” Hamilton said. 

The topic comes up a lot in the community. Here are two examples I’ve not yet had the chance to review completely:

  • The Places29-North Community Advisory Committee was introduced to the new Middle Density Residential category at its meeting on January 13. (watch the video)

  • The Crozet Community Advisory Committee discussed a planned residential community within that designated growth area on January 12. (watch the video)

Second subscriber-supporter public service announcement goes to Shift/Enter

Do you or someone you know want to find a job in the tech community? On this upcoming Saturday, there will be another Shift/Enter workshop in which participants can go through directed sessions with knowledgeable volunteers on resume feedback, interview advice, and perspectives on the tech landscape. For an $8 ticket, you'll have three different interview sessions with people to have a career conversation, to review your resume, or to have a mock interview. To learn more and to sign up, visit shiftenter.org

General Assembly update: Charlottesville sales tax referendum moves close to passage in the Senate

Today is Day Nine of the Virginia General Assembly, and we’re at the point where the first pieces of legislation have made their way out of Committee and await a vote in either the House of Delegates or the Senate. There’s a lot of these, but here are some of note. 

For starters, a bill from Senator Creigh Deeds that would allow Charlottesville to levy a one-cent sales tax increase for capital education costs has been reported out of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on a 14-2 vote. Senators Steve Newman and Emmet Hanger voted against the measure. (SB298) Today, the bill was read for the second time by the full Senate.

Delegate Sally Hudson has similar legislation in the House of Delegates. It is currently within a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee (HB545)

If signed into law, voters would have to approve the measure in a referendum. The funding would be earmarked for the school reconfiguration project.

Here’s the status on more legislation. 

  • A bill (HB28) from Delegate Ronnie Campbell (R-2) to increase the length of the Maury River’s Scenic River status by 23.2 miles was approved by the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee on a 19-2 vote. One of the two to vote against it was Delegate Chris Runion (R-25). The full House had first reading today.

  • A bill (HB828) from Delegate Tony Wilt (R-26) to expand eligibility in the Dairy Producer Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program was reported out of the same committee on a unanimous vote. Learn more about the program here. The full House had first reading today.

  • Delegate John McGuire (R-56) has a bill (HB358) would direct the Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs and the Secretary of Commerce and Trade to examine the feasibility of waiving fees for small businesses owned by veterans. The House Commerce and Energy Committee unanimously recommended adoption. 

  • A bill (HB8) from Delegate Tim Anderson (R-83) would allow veterans hired by school boards to be school security officers to perform any other duty they are requested to do so. The House Education committee reported that out unanimously. The full House had first reading today.

  • Another bill (HB9) carried by Delegate Lee Ware (R-65) would allow school boards to extend probationary period for teachers and would appear to make it easier for school boards to dismiss teachers by reducing the period of notice of a dismissal hearing from ten days to five days. That was also reported out of the House Education Committee unanimously. The full House had first reading today.

  • A tax credit program for “major business facilities” is currently slated to sunset this July 1, but a bill from Delegate Kathy Byron (R-22) would extend that to July 1, 2025 (HB269). The House Finance Committee reported that out on a 20-1 vote. Delegate Nick Frietas was the lone vote against this action.  The full House had first reading today.

  • The Attorney General would be required to report every year the number of fraudulent Medicaid claims on a public website if HB232 from Delegate Bobby Orrock (R-54) becomes law. The House Health, Welfare, and Institutions unanimously reported this out unanimously. The full House had first reading today.

Over in the Senate, a bill (SB8) from Senator Chap Petersen (D-34) to permit hunting on Sunday reported out of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources on a 9 to 4 vote, with two abstentions. Second

Here are some other bills of note:

  • A bill from Senator Barbara Favola (D-31) that would allow roof replacement projects at for public buildings to enter into a energy performance-based contract (SB13). The Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources committee reported this out and it has been rereferred to the General Laws and Technology Committee. 

  • Another bill from Senator John Edwards (D-21) would remove the ability of the Department of Wildlife Resources to charge a fee for boat ramps that the agency manages but doesn’t own. (SB141) The same committee reported this out, and rereferred it to the Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

  • Currently localities with combined stormwater and sewer systems have until 2036 to have replacement systems in place. Under a bill from Richard Stuart (R-28), that would be moved up to 2030. This reported out of the same committee by an 11 to 4 vote, and the bill will go to the Finance and Appropriations Committee. (SB534)

  • A bill has passed the full Senate that would add the City of Chesapeake to a list of localities that require an analysis of drinking water. Albemarle County already has this ability. (SB53)

  • Localities would be allowed to require broadband be installed as part of a residential development if a bill from Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-33) is approved. The Senate Commerce and Labor reported that out and it now goes before the Local Government committee. (SB446)

  • Boysko has another bill to be known as Adam’s Law to require private and public higher education facilities to develop anti-hazing policies (SB439). This was reported unanimously from the Education and Health Committee but with one abstention. 

  • Legislation is also pending to require the Department of Education to develop guidelines on policies to inform student athletes and their coaches about the dangers of heat-related illness. SB161 was reported out of the Senate Education Committee and is now before the Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

  • The Virginia Arts Foundation would be eliminated and its powers transferred to the Virginia Commission of the Arts under one bill (SB597) from Senator Todd Pillion (R-40). The Education and Health Committee unanimously reported this out. 

  • A bill from Siobhan Dunnavant (R-12) would allow certain pharmacists to dispense cannabis products until such time as retail sale licenses are available. (SB621) The Education and Health Committee reported this bill out, and it’s now been assigned to the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee. 

  • A bill from Senator Richard Stuart would require cyclists riding two abreast to not impede vehicular traffic passed out of the Transportation Committee on an 11-4 vote. (SB362)

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