The first Saturday in June has arrived, just as it did 364 days ago. This particular day goes by the name June 4, 2022, but it may also answer to Day 155. This particular episode of Charlottesville Community Engagement may be referred to as number 391, a fact whose significance is suspect. If this show were a mystery, I, Sean Tubbs, would be the suspect for host.
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On today’s show:
A third Democrat is seeking the nomination for the new 55th House of Delegates
The General Assembly takes the next step towards adoption of a Virginia budget for the next two fiscal years
The spring 2022 COVID surge continues
The University of Virginia’s land use committee reviews the $2.8 billion capital plan, including a 1,000 space parking garage and 440 units of student housing at Darden
First shout-out goes to a Livable Cville event
In today’s first subscriber supported shout-out, Livable Cville wants you to know about an online presentation coming up on June 7. The Community Climate Collaborative and Livable Cville are presenting a talk on what they consider Climate-Smart Zoning. Executive Director Susan Kruse and Director of Climate Policy Caetano de Campos Lopes will be the presenters. This is happening on Tuesday, June 7, from 5:30 p.m to 6:30 p.m. Sign up for the free event on EventBrite.
Laufer seeking Democratic nomination for 55th District
A third Democrat has filed paperwork with the Virginia Department of Elections to be a candidate in the new 55th House District in the next election cycle, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
In 2017, Laufer was one of two Democrats on the ballot for Charlottesville City Council and placed a close third behind Independent Nikuyah Walker and Democrat Heather Hill.
In 2019, she resigned from the School Board when she moved to Albemarle County. Soon after, she ran in the 17th Virginia Senate District against Republican Bryce Reeves. Reeves won with 51.6 percent of the vote with Laufer receiving 48.1 percent.
Laufer joins Albemarle Supervisor Donna Price and emergency room nurse Kellen Squire in the nomination race, which could still take place this year pending a federal lawsuit. No new orders have been issued in the Goldman V. Brink case since May 5.
The incumbent, Republican Rob Bell, has not announced whether he will seek a new term in the new district, which now includes most of Albemarle County and parts of Nelson and Louisa Counties.
General Assembly moves forward with state budget
Both Houses of the General Assembly have adopted the conference reports that represent compromises in the state budget. It’s now up to Governor Glenn Youngkin to determine whether to sign the bills as presented or make further amendments. He has up until the end of the month to take action.
Delegate Barry Knight (R-81) served on the House Conference Committee for both HB29 and HB30, the bills that technically carried the budgets for the current biennium and for the next two years.
“It’s been a long haul but I believe the result is a fiscally sound, bi-partisan budget we can all be proud of,” Knight said.
Knight said a record growth in state revenue has enabled the General Assembly to invest in core government services.
“At the same time, the extraordinary revenue situation has enabled us to protect for the future by using one-time revenues to address long-lingering, one-time investment needs, prepay upcoming commitments, fund capital projects with cash and not bond, and remove the account gimmicks we used to balance our budget during the Great Recession,” Knight said.
Those investments include $400 million for public school system capital projects already constructed with each locality getting at least a million, as well as another $450 million for new school construction.
Knight said that includes a $750 million payment into the Virginia Retirement Services as well as an additional $250 million if the state hits a certain revenue target. Additional funds will go into the “rainy day fund” to have that balance hit what Knight said was a record-setting $3.4 billion. There’s another $2.5 billion from surpluses that will go to previously committed projects.
“In addition, the conference report reflects $4 billion in tax relief for Virginia’s families including an increase in the standard deduction including from $4,500 to $8,000 for individuals, double that for joint filers [and] the full elimination of the state’s sales tax on food,” Knight said.
There’s also to be a $250 tax rebate for individuals and $500 for households.
HB29 passed the House of Delegates on a 93 to 2 vote and the Senate on a 35 to 1 vote. There was no comment about HB29 in the House, but several Democrats had concerns about some of what was in HB30.
Delegate Dawn Adams (D-68) had three reasons why she voted no, but one was a lack of transparency during the conference process.
“I haven’t seen this lack of transparency in the process since I’ve been here and there’s a fair amount of policy being written through the budget that I think is really, really concerning and has not involved legislators which is so important in making good laws,” Adams said.
Delegate Danica Roem (D-13) said she was concerned that revenue cuts to transportation will take away dozens of millions that she said are required to maintain Virginia’s crumbling system.
Others were concerned about changes made to marijuana possession that were made in the budget. Others said there was not enough money being put toward affordable housing, with one Delegate citing a 2020 study by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC).
“We have got billions in surplus revenue,” said Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “Now is the time for Virginia to be forward thinking, to invest in housing. Housing trust dollars are the critical layers of debt and equity needed to develop quality affordable housing.”
The vote on HB30 was 88 to 7, with dissenters coming from both parties. Republican Delegates Nick Freitas (R-30) and Phil Scott (R-88) joined Adams and four other Democrats in voting against.
The Virginia Senate approved HB30 on a 32 to 4 vote.
After the votes, Delegate Terry Kilgore explained the next steps.
“The Speaker [of the House Todd Gilbert] and the Lieutenant Governor [Winsome Earle-Sears] have three days to sign and enroll the bill or get it to the Governor,” Kilgore said. “The Governor then has seven days to act on any amendments and then we would need to come back prior to July 1 to act on those amendments so what we can make sure we have a budget for Virginians.”
Spring 2022 COVID surge continues
On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 4,057 new cases as detected through PCR tests, the highest one day total in several weeks but consistent with a growing trend. The seven day average is 2,841, though the actual number of cases is likely much higher due to the number of home tests.
The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reports 87 patients in intensive care units with 30 COVID patients on ventilators.
The proliferation of the second Omicron strain has led to many people contracting COVID for a second time.
“We are seeing second infections occurring particularly in people that had infections in December and January and in early February and now we’re three months out from that and because of the strain differences and that time lag and difference, we are seeing breakthrough infections,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology for the University of Virginia Health System.
Dr. Sifri said at least some patients do have lingering symptoms associated with long COVID such as fatigue and brain fog. This is still an active area of investigation.
“There is still much to be understood about long COVID, what its pathophysiology is, what are the biologic mechanisms that lead to it,” Dr. Sifri said. “That’s still being an active area of investigation trying to understand that and perhaps at some point better be able to predict who may be more susceptible to it.”
Dr. Sifri said it can be expected that additional variants will emerge, but that the outlook is not bleak.
“What we’re also seeing is that as this occurs, the relative proportion of people that are needing medical care, that are coming into the hospital because of severe COVID, coming into our intensive care units, and importantly, the proportion of people that are dying of COVID, those are going down,” Dr. Sifri said.
However, Dr. Sifri said the public should be mindful of the potential for a more deadly strain to emerge.
On Thursday, the White House announced that authorization for vaccines for children under the age of five may come sometime this month. The Blue Ridge Health District said in their weekly newsletter they would be ready to distribute and administer the vaccines when the time comes.
Today’s second shout-also goes to WTJU
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: This year, WTJU 91.1 FM turns 65 and to mark the occasion, there’s a new micro-museum exhibition this summer!
Radio Relics traces WTJU’s storied history of broadcasting for our community. As part of our 65th anniversary celebrations, WTJU has curated photos, artifacts, and t-shirts – so many t-shirts! – spanning more than six decades.
The exhibition is free and will be open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from June 3 through July 29. The museum space is a renovated, vintage camper parked behind WTJU’s studios at 2244 Ivy Road in Charlottesville. WTJU’s Radio Relics exhibition shows off some of the artifacts collected over the years, many contributed by former WTJU General Manager Chuck Taylor. In fact, there’s even a new initiative to raise money through the Chuck Taylor Fund for WTJU History. Contact General Manager Nathan Moore to learn more. Or donate today!
UVA committee briefed on new capital projects
The Buildings and Grounds Committee of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors met on Thursday and got an update on capital projects and the next master plan. Colette Sheehy is the executive vice president and chief operating officer at UVA.
“So this is the time of year when we ask for approval of the newly revised Major Capital Plan,” Sheehy said. “You’ll recall that we reviewed it with you in March.”
The last Major Capital Plan adopted last year was for $3.1 billion worth of projects and several of those have been completed since then such as the University Hospital Expansion, the orthopedic center on Ivy Road, and the student health and wellness center on Brandon Avenue.
“We have a lot going on,” Sheehy said. “Thirty-one percent of the value of the entire capital program represents projects under construction and we are going to have a very busy 24 months coming up as many of these projects reach conclusion.”
The landscaping and the infrastructure for the Emmet-Ivy Corridor should be completed by next spring. Renovations of Alderman Library and construction of the Contemplative Commons should be completed in the fall of 2023.
“The School of Data Science will follow on the heels in December of 2023 and then the following spring, late spring, early summer, the Brandon Avenue undergraduate residence hall,” Sheehy said.
Sheehy said the next plan will include several design studies as well as eight new projects, four of which were not on the list in March. One of them would be for student housing at the Darden School of Business.
“They are proposing to build about 440 beds that would house two-thirds of their residential MBA students,” Sheehy said. “It is something that competitor business schools do.”
There is no cost estimate for that project, which would offer a range of options for students and their families. (read a fact sheet)
Sheehy said another project is to construct a 1,000 space parking garage, but she did not elaborate on its location. A fact sheet states the cost estimate is $54 million and would replace parking in the existing Emmet Ivy Parking Garage that will be dedicated to uses such as the future hotel, the Karsh Institute of Democracy, and the School of Data Science.
“The current parking inventory displaced by the Ivy Corridor redevelopment must be met in a location that serves multiple constituencies and links effectively to transit,” reads the fact sheet.
Other new projects are renovations to the physics building as well as Pinn Hall.
After that presentation, UVA Architect Alice Raucher updated the committee on the creation of the 2030 Grounds Framework Plan, which updates a master plan adopted in 2008. The pandemic delayed the work slightly and the end of this installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement will delay my reporting on it. I’ll cover that in a future edition. Sound permitting.
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