City Council Recap - September 12, 2016
Monday night’s city council meeting, which followed the Fifteenth Anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, focused heavily on Section III Housing Policy and ORD: 2016-208 of the Consent Agenda. This ordinance pertains to the construction and opening of a new grocery store in the East End of Richmond at the intersection of North 25th Street and Nine Mile Road. Several citizens came forward, expressing their various reasons for being in favor of or in opposition to this ordinance.
City Council President Mosby took time to recognize the month of September as Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month by recognizing a young high school student named Jazmine who has suffered with Sickle Cell Anemia all of her life. Sickle Cell affects many people in our community and is a painful illness that a lot of people don’t know about. “It is a terrible illness that I would not wish on my worst enemy,” stated President Mosby. “When you see an adult with the disease, it’s one thing…but to see a child suffering with it, like pretty little Jazmine here…it’s a very different thing entirely…” Jazmine and her mother work to bring awareness and enlightenment about Sickle Cell through their Cells of Life Project.
Melissa Page and Loretta Wallace from the 6th District’s Southern Tip of Highland Park came forward to present Councilwoman Robertson with a gift for her support in the National Night Out. After her home was burglarized, Page looked at the community and the neighbors and began to get civically engaged. Page and Wallace are working together with the people in their community to clean up the neighborhood and make a change. “There are great people in the neighborhood,” Page said. “But you have to reach out to get a hand up.” Wallace added that, “We cannot rely on you [City Council] to do it all; we have to help you fight to get the job done.” Councilwoman Robertson expressed her gratitude. “Thank you for the gift and thank you for the leadership and dedication to the community.”
Willy Earl Bradley took to the stand on the issue of the Section III Procurement Policy in Richmond. He expressed his frustration with the Richmond Housing Authority not following the policy. He addressed both the law and the policy, and mentioned how the community development block grant is not being used to help the people in the way it was intended.
Nathan Biah from the Church Hill area also spoke on the Section III Policy, stating that it has not been implemented at all, and he stated very firmly that “This Council as a body needs to work on making this city better for all citizens.” There are hundreds of poor residents in the city living in horrible conditions, and the organizations that are supposed to help these residents are not doing so. According to Mr. Biah, his area has the highest population of public housing and that the people have been fighting for over 40 years for better conditions. He expressed his disgust with the community partners that supposedly are helping them, and he asked the Council directly, “What have you done?”
A citizen came forward addressing the Shockoe Bottom Memorial, emphasizing the potential for tourism that the site could have it was taken care of. “Why do we squander the beauty of that site?” he questioned, bringing up the fact that taking care of the site would be an economic opportunity that would help to fight the poverty problem here in the City (which he linked to the Section III policy). He entreated the City Council to oversee the project, encouraging them to use “bottom-up politics” to get the job done.
Lonetta Thompson, President of Richmond’s NAACP, surrounded by a large group of people holding “Save Shockoe Bottom!” signs spoke to the Council about “telling the full story of Shockoe Bottom.” Shockoe Bottom is an “epicenter of history”, as Richmond was the center of the slave trade. Thompson stated that, “It is past time to recognize those individuals with a proper memorial.” She said that the process of protecting this sacred ground requires more than just signs saying “#Save Shockoe” and she stated that Mayor Jones was not helping this cause. She brought up the concepts of economic justice and truth and reconciliation. She also brought up, like those speakers before her, Section III and how an effort needs to be made to educate, train, and provide skills to those who need them and to support all citizens, “not just those with money in their wallets.”
Public Hearing on the Consent Agenda
A Mr. Charles Poole spoke in opposition to ORD: 2016-171, which authorized 205 multifamily dwelling units to be built upon the property of 1650 Overbrook Road. He spoke of a lack of consistency from the Mayor and that the Mayor was only supporting his “cronies.” According to Poole, “Mayor Jones has done everything to part the Red Sea for this developer.” Poole brought up that 40% of the building had no plan, that half of the units already constructed had no exterior windows, and that the developer in question had been to jail for fraud. “It’s time for City Council to come to the plate,” Mr. Poole said.
A second citizen expressed that he was not against the supermarket, but was disappointed that no one was able to really talk about it. “Richmond is a very divided city based on where black folk and white folk are,” in terms of public housing.
A third citizen stated that the Housing Authority’s exclusion of the general public is offensive. “We are being left out of the process and are purposely excluded from helping others.” He asked the City Council to “Give us what you give them [white citizens] so we can do what we need to do for ourselves.”
Earle Bradley entreated the Council to “approve the ordinance tonight!” He explained that 47% of Richmond, Virginia don’t have transportation and that all of the money that should go towards fighting poverty goes to white people. “I urge you to pass this bill tonight!” he repeated.
Thomas Cosgrove, against this ordinance, had major concerns about the parking and traffic in that area. He explained that people can’t see and that a motorcycle almost hit a tractor trailer in that area.
Jim Theobon, and attorney, stated he was in favor the grocery store because of its location in a food desert. However, he stated that Title III does not apply to this project. He stated that they [the developers] plan to support those minority groups. He expressed that the developers are making a “sincere effort to meet the intent of that plan.”
A final citizen stepped forward to express his two-fold opinion. “We want to a part of the process,” he said. “We want to support the advisory taskforce and look at the development. If done properly, others [projects] will follow through.” However, he then expressed his concerns about the inspector general.
On the subject of ORD: 2016-208, there were several speakers. There was an overall call for consistency and transparency in the procurement policy of the new supermarket store, as well as for the inclusion of citizens in the process. Where people converged, however, was on the relationship between the community and the partners overseeing the development of the store. The demand was for the City Council to take power and oversee this plan.
Earle Bradley spoke to the competitive negotiation that takes place between these partners overseeing the project, which is why there are still many problems centered around this grocery store.
Another gentleman, from Councilwoman Newbille’s District, concurring with Mr. Bradley, stated the issue of employment. “People who needed employment [marginalized people] couldn’t get them,” he said. “This community, full of marginalized people, needs opportunities.” He stated how it was a shame that there were no jobs for people in the community.
A third citizen stepped forward to state that he was in favor of this ordinance but that he felt that everyone needed to take a step back and make sure the law is followed, as he would “hate to see a black eye on the project.”
Mary White Thomas came to the podium and said that “I don’t know all of the logistics but I know about what’s going on in the community.” She expressed the need for a full-sized grocery store and that the City Council needs to do what they have to do to fulfill the dreams of the community and make it a reality. “It’s a shame that I have to ride two buses and transfer just to go get an onion.” To her statement, Councilwoman Newbille assured her that, “You’re going to get your store.”
A representative for the American Heart Association brought to the podium the startling statistic that over 20,000 people in low-income areas have no access to a grocery store. She stated that the AHA is in favor of the grocery store because of diet related diseases.
Willy Andrews spoke to the fact that the city has been working on this project for six years and that “we can almost see light at the end of the tunnel.” He stated that everyone was excited and that we’re just a few more hurdles to overcome. He also emphasized that there should be “no delaying this project any longer.”
Earle Bradley returned to the podium to emphasize that City Council should oversee the planning stage of the project. He said that the Council should “make sure we [the citizens] are included.” He also brought up that “just because we need it [grocery store] does not mean we can be disrespected as well.”
Back to Council on the Consent Agenda
President Mosby responded to the concerns of the citizens. “I ask a lot of questions so I know more than you may think. I asked administrators about ORD: 2016-208. I’ve talked to the law. I asked ‘Do we need Section III?’ and the answer was ‘no.’” She continued, “I understand the fight, but we need to know when the fight is the fight, and this is not the fight.”
Councilman Agelasto followed, explaining the challenges that come along with the grocery store. “The documents don’t have significant details,” he said. However, he expressed his satisfaction with efforts that RHA has done in terms of employment and workforce training and job fairs. “My only concern,” Mr. Agelasto said, “is the deadline—the time of completion.” He mentioned that September is Hunger Awareness Month and reminded everyone that the East End of Richmond is a food desert.
Councilwoman Robertson backed Mr. Agelasto’s statement, asking everyone to “respect the fact that is it challenging.” She also said that “If we knew how to take the short trip, we would.” Councilwoman Robertson explained that it is a very comprehensive strategy and that the people need to look at it from a procurement perspective. She also explained how the project is fairly new and in its implementation stages. She said that expectations need to be monitored, that there needs to be a focus on the achievement of objectives, and that everyone needs to be given a voice. Finally, she said there is a need for a larger community conversation to address poverty and workforce initiative.
On the subject of the windowless buildings, Councilwoman Robertson said that we “need to bring the light in” and that she would be supporting the papers and hoping to move forward. Councilwoman Newbille appealed more to the community vision. She spoke of an operating grocery store with appropriate products, HUD (Housing and Urban Development) guidelines that worked with individuals and families, sustainability, efficiency, opportunities for employment, minority businesses, food access, employment, and fighting poverty. She also talked about Richmond developers committed to goals and diligence. She thanked all the speakers who came forward.
Councilwoman Graziano and Vice-President Hilbert concurred with Councilwoman Newbille. However, both felt that getting the grocery store into this food desert was being unnecessarily made controversial.
The Council voted on the consent agenda and the papers were adopted. There was no regular agenda voted on during the night.