May 20 • 17M

May 20, 2022: Charlottesville City Council presented with information on who is renting from the city and how much they are paying

Historical Marker unveiled for the first Black person to be admitted to UVA

 
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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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There are 32 days left until the summer solstice which will mark the longest time this year that the rays of our star will soak our area of the planet with light and other forms of radiation. However, this is the first day of the year when temperature gauges on the Fahrenheit scale will come very close to triple digits. What will Charlottesville Community Engagement say about the matter in this May 20, 2022 edition of the program? Very little, but the host, Sean Tubbs, is sincere in wishing everyone well in the heat to come.

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On today’s program:

  • A historical marker is unveiled at the Central Library in downtown Charlottesville to honor the legal battle to admit a Black man to the University of Virginia Law School 

  • Charlottesville City Council is briefed on efforts to get a handle on what property the city leases out and whether all of the tenants are paying their fair share

  • Fifth District Republicans will meet tomorrow to select a nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives 

  • And work on a Regional Transit Vision will culminate next week in a long presentation to regional officials about what could happen if the area found a new mechanism for more funding for expanded transit 

Shout-out for an ACHS program on the Fields of Honor 

This year, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has been working with a group called the Fields of Honor to identify soldiers who were killed in action in the Second World War. Since February, ACHS researchers have helped locate several photographs of the fallen, including that of Private Clarence Edward McCauley who was tracked down through high school records. There are 18 remaining photographs to be found, and on Thursday, May 26 at 7 p.m. the ACHS will host Debbie Holloman and Sebastian Vonk of the Fields of Honor Foundation to talk about how you can take part in their volunteer efforts honoring the service and sacrifice of US WWII service members buried or memorialized at US war cemeteries in Europe. That’s Thursday, May 26, at 7 p.m. via Zoom or Facebook Live.


Historical Marker unveiled at Central Library for crucial desegregation case

A crowd assembled yesterday afternoon at the intersection of East Market Street and 3rd Street NW in downtown Charlottesville to watch the unveiling of a historic marker to commemorate an important moment in the desegregation of education in Virginia. In 1950, Gregory Swanson applied to attend the University of Virginia School of Law, but he was denied a space because he was Black. He sued in federal court citing 14th Amendment rights to equal protection, and a three-panel judge heard arguments on September 5 that year. 

David Plunkett is the director of the Jefferson Madison Regional Library, and he noted the historic nature of the building that is the library system’s headquarters.

“This building is formerly a federal building and home to the courtroom where Gregory Swanson won his legal petition for entry into the University of Virginia law school,” Plunkett said.     

Plunkett said Swanson’s case was part of the NAACP’s legal strategy to challenge the system of desegregation. 

“While the law school had admitted Mr. Swanson on his merit, with the support of staff including Mortimer Caplin, the Board of University Board of Visitors subsequently denied his admittance based on his skin color,” Plunkett said. “The case tried here overturned that ruling and helped lead to the desegregation of higher education in the South.”

One of the speakers at the event was M. Rick Turner of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP

Risa Goluboff is the current Dean of the UVA Law School, and she said the marker celebrates Swanson’s bravery and persistence. 

“He did all this for a belief, for a legal and constitutional principle, for his own growth as a lawyer and a person, for his race, and for the nation as a whole,” Goluboff said. 

Swanson was represented by the law firm of Hill, Martin, & Robinson, with future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall serving as his legal counsel. 

Goluboff said the denial back in 1950 must be remembered, as well as the University’s condoning of slavery and the continuance of Jim Crow era laws. She said Swanson’s case should be celebrated.

“And when he succeeded, he became the first Black student not only at the University of Virginia Law School, not only at the University of Virginia writ large, but at any state in the former Confederacy,” Goluboff said. “Telling his story both forces and enables us to remember those aspects of our history of exclusion and segregation that we must know in order to repudiate them.” 

Also on hand at the ceremony was M. Rick Turner, a former president of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP. He said Black students at UVA have always challenged the status quo of an institution founded to perpetuate racial and class inequalities. 

“It is worth remembering that the [admittance] of Black students at UVA years ago was not a benevolent gesture on the part of the UVA administrators and state officials, but rather the presence of Gregory Swanson paved the way,” Turner said. 

To hear the event in full, visit the Charlottesville Podcasting Network where the full audio is posted and is available.

Gregory Swanson’s daughter Camille Swanson unveils the historic marker on May 19, 2022 (Credit: Sean Tubbs)

Fifth District Republican convention tomorrow

Republicans across Virginia’s new Fifth Congressional District will gather tomorrow at Hampden-Sydney College in Prince Edward County to select a candidate for the November 8 election. Over 2,000 attendees are pre-filed for the event, according to the draft program

Incumbent Bob Good of Campbell County faces challenger Dan Moy in the race, and the program states that each will give a speech before the votes are taken. There will also be remarks from outgoing Chair William Pace and incoming Chair Rick Buchannan. 

The program contains multiple endorsements for Good from Republican leaders across the United States, as well as several Delegates and Senators of the General Assembly. Moy’s sole endorsement is from the group Chasing Freedom Virginia.

There are a total of 24 Republican committees in the fifth District. The convention will be called to order at 10 a.m. and will use a weighted voting system. The winner will face Democrat Joshua Throneburg in the November election. 

Regional Transit Vision update

Consultants hired by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to craft a vision for how public transportation might work better in the Charlottesville area will present more details next Thursday.

The firm AECOM is the lead consultant with Jarrett Walker and Associates serving as a subcontractor. The study may recommend the eventualtransition to a unified regional transit authority. (meeting info)

“There will be a 90 minute presentation from the consultants to go over what we’ve done so far, survey the results of the first round of public engagement, and then also what they found for the vision for the community,” said Lucinda Shannon, a transportation planner for the TJPDC. 

Shannon told a technical committee of the Metropolitan Planning Organization that a three-day workshop was held with the transit providers to imagine new bus routes under a new scenario where there is $26 million in annual funding from a new transportation authority. The consultants modeled that scenario after a new authority in the Richmond area that was created in 2020. 

“We looked at the Central Virginia [Transportation] Authority’s model of how they collect revenue to kind of calculate how much we could collect if we formed an authority to pay for the vision,” Shannon said.

Shannon said that for now, the JWA’s work is more about what the vision will be.  A second round of public engagement will take place soon after next week’s partnership meeting. 

Shannon said the firm AECOM may also be hired to conduct a governance study to recommend how to actually come up with that hypothetical $26 million. That work is contingent on approval by the Commonwealth Transportation Board at their meeting in June. Shannon said this study will be more about the funding than changing the structure of area transit. 

“So it’s not going to be looking at how [Charlottesville Area Transit] or any of the service providers are governed or run or anything like that,” Shannon said. “It’s just bringing in money and putting it out for transit.” 

Funding for these studies come from Albemarle County, Charlottesville, and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The budget for the vision plan is $350,000 and the budget for the governance plan is $150,000.

See also: 

The project website for the Regional Transit Vision currently has a StoryMap on the project to date. Have you seen it? What do you think? Leave a comment below. (view the StoryMap)

Shout-out to Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards 

In today’s subscriber-supported Public Service Announcement, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards continues to offer classes this spring and summer to increase your awareness of our wooden neighbors and to prepare for the future. Coming up on June 7 is a tree identification course taught on Zoom by tree steward Elizabeth Ferguson followed by a separate hike on June 11 at the Department of Forestry’s headquarters near the Fontaine Research Park. That’s followed by a tree identification walk at the University of Virginia on June 12 for the public. On June 14, Rachel Keen will give a lecture on Zoom on the Social Life of Trees. Do trees really communicate with one another? What is a 'mother tree'? Can a tree do anything to repel a pest? Learn more at charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org.

City seeking to know more about what property it rents 

The City of Charlottesville could be pulling in more revenue from tenants who may be leasing city property at rates well below the market rate. That’s one of the takeaways from a report given to Council at their meeting on May 16. 

As the City of Charlottesville government seeks to rebuild after a recent era of frequent leadership transitions, the current management is looking at aspects of the city administration that have gone unnoticed or unchecked. 

Until now, there has not been one central source in city government that controls all of the various leases the city has for its properties as well as service agreements. That makes it hard to track who is responsible or where the public can get information.

“So what we’re trying to do at this moment is compile that but one of the first things we had to do was identify an individual who would have that as their job,” said Sam Sanders, the Deputy City Manager for operations. 

That person will be Brenda Kelley, who has been the redevelopment manager for the city for the past several years. Her position has been elevated to the Office of Community Solutions, and she’ll be presenting a full report to Council this summer. In the meantime, she prepared a briefing for Council for their May 16 meeting which began with a basic definition of what she’ll cover. 

“Leases or agreement-type leases where either the city is a party,” Kelley said. “This is where the city owns the property or the city is a tenant of a property owned by someone else.” 

Kelley’s presentation summarizes how much property the City leases to other entities (view the presentation) 

The city has about 155,000 square feet of building spaces that bring in about $580,000 a year in revenue for the city. That doesn’t include about 50 acres under ground lease. The oldest lease dates back to 1922 and allows the city’s utilities office to use space at a pump station at the University of Virginia. One of the biggest amounts of space the city leases is at the Water Street Parking Garage. 

“The city doesn’t own the Water Street Parking Garage but we lease parking spaces,” Kelley said. 

The city does own the Market Street Parking Garage, as well as the buildings on East Market Street that are currently occupied by the Lucky 7 and a Guadalajara restaurant. The City Council of January 2017 paid $2.85 million for an eventual parking garage at the location, but the City Council of March 2021 opted to go in a different direction. For now, the city gets rent from those businesses. 

“The Lucky 7 and the Guadalajara and all of the Market Street Parking Garage retail spaces, those rent funds go into the Parking Enterprise Fund,” Kelley said. 

The budget for the Parking Enterprise Fund in the adopted FY23 budget (page 201). 

Revenues from the Charlottesville Pavilion and the building where S&P Global operates go into the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority fund. 

Kelley said further research needs to be done into intergovernmental leases with the courts, libraries, and other entities. She said that systems need to be in place to track the leases and make sure that any rent increases due to the city are at least known about for Council’s consideration. 

Councilor Sena Magill said she appreciated being able to see a more complete picture of the city’s property portfolio, and the potential to get more out of its investment. 

“When we look at a lot of these rents on a lot of these buildings, they are at about half of market rate,” Magill said. 

Magill said if the city is charging below market, it should be as a way of helping small businesses who are just getting started. She wanted to see a presentation from the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority on the leases they currently manage. 

Mayor Lloyd Snook said he wanted any lessees to know that the preliminary report is not intended to raise rates, but just to provide information. 

“Until this report and this information is gathered, we on Council had no idea who we were subsidizing and we have no idea why we’re subsidizing them in some cases and we may want to make some conscious decisions to continue to subsidize in the form of the rent or we may not but at least we will be doing so from the basis of actual knowledge,” Snook said. 

More to come as the summer heats up. 

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