City Council Recap-February 27, 2017
The City Council Meeting on last Monday night commenced after a late start. The Council was honored to have Mayor Levar Stoney in attendance at the meeting to deliver the mandatory Annual Poverty Report. Mayor Stoney’s Annual Report on Poverty.
Twenty-six percent (26%) of Richmond’s residents live under the poverty line, many of which are children. The Mayor aspires to change the trajectory of the city by building community wealth. The goal of the Office of Community Wealth Building in the City of Richmond is to ensure that one thousand (1000) residents are raised out of poverty each year. The vision of the Office of Community Wealth Building, which was born out of the previous Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission, is that “Every Richmond resident will have access to quality schools, quality employment opportunities and the training needed to be successful in such opportunities, safe and vibrant neighborhood settings, mobility via an effective transportation system, and a thriving civil society that supports strong families.” (Source: http://www.richmondgov.com/CommunityWealthBuilding/About.aspx) Mayor Stoney recognized Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, Dr. Thaddeus Williamson, and several other crucial individuals for their work in forming the Office of Community Wealth Building. Councilwoman Robertson gave a shout out to the Office of Community Wealth Building’s staff and members of the Office’s advisory board, who she said were a “great team.”
Reggie Gordon, Director of the Office of Community Wealth Building, joined Mayor Stoney at the Podium to deliver this annual report. Mr. Gordon stated that poverty is a challenging topic and that it is essential that everyone works together towards a solution. Councilwoman Robertson emphasized this by stating that community effort plays a major role in building community wealth. “The true experts [on poverty] are those who have to navigate the system in order to survive,” Mr. Gordon said. It is crucial that Richmond City’s leadership and members of the community align on a shared vision in order to accomplish these goals.
With over 40,000 citizens struggling economically in the city, Mr. Gordon said that it is important to work on the root causes of poverty in Richmond. A comprehensive resolution process is necessary to working on the systemic and structural boundaries. Both policy changes and structural changes are needed. Mr. Gordon said that Richmond is at “a moment of important inflection” in which people need to take action. The goal is for Richmond to be a city that puts time and resources into promoting upward mobility.
The Mayor wants the City of Richmond to “move from a charity framework to a self-sufficient framework” and to “move from a crisis stage to a thriving stage.” He said of transportation that “transportation should not be seen as a barrier to employment, but as an innovative means of mobility and access.” He also said that there should be access to quality education and opportunities in the city. One of the ways that citizens can obtain employment assistance is via the Center for Workforce Innovation.
Mayor Stoney said that the Center for Workforce Innovation (CWI) is about changing lives and saving lives. A former member of the Workforce Center, a Mr. James Davis, was introduced by Mayor Stoney to the Council and invited to the podium to speak. Mr. Davis said that CWI saved his life. “I’m supposed to be a statistic,” he said. “But I’m not!” Mr. Davis said that it important to get back into communities and help the people.” He said that the Workforce Center and the Office of Community Wealth do passionate work that is a tremendous help. He also reiterated the words of the Mayor and Mr. Gordon in stating that leadership and community members need to stand together and work together to do better for the city as a whole. “People in the projects aspire for greatness,” he said. “And people in the projects need to help those in the city.” He closed his speech by announcing his plans to run for mayor in the next mayoral election.
The Mayor made four commitments. The first (1) was an education compact, which entails that the Mayor, the City Council, and the School Board work together to invest in all children in the system. Mayor Stoney said that children deserve an improved quality of life both inside and outside of the classroom. The second (2) was that the Office of Community Wealth Building raise a thousand (1000) people out of poverty each year. The third (3) was to strengthen the staff of the Center for Workforce Innovation and to ensure that the Workforce Center continues to provide more pathways to opportunities and employment for members of the community to utilize. The fourth (4) and final commitment was that Richmond Public Schools, Richmond Public Administration, the Center for Workforce Innovation, and other agencies and businesses work together for job access and community wealth building.
A further proposal, from the Office of Community Wealth Building, was to be able to move families in the City of Richmond “from poverty to posterity.”
“We need to keep working,” Mayor Stoney said in closing. “I know that we can make it happen.”
City Council President Hilbert thanked Councilwoman Robertson for her leadership role in the formation of the Office of the Community Wealth Building. Council Vice-President Newbille thanked Mr. Mayor, Dr. Williamson, the Office of Community Wealth Building, and other staff members for their extraordinary work.
There was a short recess during the Council Meeting, as Councilwoman Gray was feeling faint and needed to step out of the meeting to recover. She returned to the Council Chamber once she felt better.
Awards and Recognitions
African American History Month
Councilwoman Robertson and the City Council took time to celebrate the history and contributions of the African American community in the City of Richmond. February was declared as Richmond’s African American History Month. “This is a very significant proclamation given the significant contribution if the African American community to the City of Richmond and who we are as a community, a city, and a country,” Councilwoman Robertson said as she presented the award to the Delores L. McQuinn, Chairman of Richmond’s Slave Trail Commission. Councilwoman Robertson apologized, however, that the recognition came at the end of the month instead of at the beginning of the month.
Mrs. McQuinn thanked Mrs. Robertson and the Council for the recognition, reiterating the major contributions of African Americans and the greatness of African American history to Richmond. “Every day should be a celebration of African American history,” she stated. “Our story has not been told, it’s been hidden. [There are] so many contributions we’ve made. This city and this country was built on our shoulders.” Mrs. McQuinn, who has a long history of public service in both the local and state levels of government, shared that two House Bills in the Virginia General Assembly pertaining to African American history were passed. The first bill addressed the creation of a database of information on African American history for educational and cultural purposed. The second addressed the maintenance of African American cemetaries.
Council Vice-President Newbille emphasized the words of Councilwoman Robertson and Mrs. McQuinn, stressing the importance of telling and unearthing the history of African Americans and celebrating the contributions and culture of African Americans. She said that both educating and enlightening are so important, and thanked Mrs. McQuinn for her work.
In addition to the presentation of the award, the following two announcements were made.
On March 7th, there will a Lumpkin’s Jail Kickoff event from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM in recognition of the development of the historic site on the Richmond Slave Trail.
On March 11th, there will be a major cleanup at the historic African American cemeteries of Evergreen and East End. The goal is for five hundred (500) living and capable people to come out and help with this cause.
Women's History Month
Councilwoman Robertson also took time to recognize women by proclaiming that March as Richmond’s Women’s History Month. She invited all of the women in attendance in the chamber to stand for this recognition. She acknowledged the outstanding contribution of women to history, to families, and to the fight for equality and justice. She encouraged all women to stay in the fight, and to seek mentorship, accountability, and resources in order to take care of the “whole” women. Councilwoman Robertson also shared that on March 6th, there would be a free kickoff event at 6:00 PM at the Byrd Theatre were a panel of women would be speaking. The formal award was presented to a Ms. Susan Nolan and a Ms. Shirley Crawford.
Richmond's Department of Fire and Emergency Services
The Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services, specifically Engine Company 11 B Shift and Engine Station 10 A Shift, were recognized and awarded for their outstanding work in saving members of the community from harm by Council Vice-President Newbille. Engine Company 11 B rescued a baby from a burning building and Engine Station 10 A Shift were saved a two-year-old toddler whose arm was entangled in a meat grinder. “You all rushed in and saved lives,” she said. Due to their quick responses, these firefighters and rescue personnel ensured that the injury to these babies were minimized and that the citizens of the city were safe. Dr. Newbille commended the fire department for being so good at what they do that they are able to so with minimal to no injury to themselves.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services were very appreciative of the acknowledgement. “Many are called but few are chosen,” a spokesman for the department said. “It’s not only our job; it’s our calling.”
Black Restaurant Week
Mayor Stoney returned briefly to the podium to announce that the week of March 6 to March 13 is RVA’s Black Restaurant Week and to entreat everyone to go out to these eateries during the week for a good meal.
Braving the Dark & Dangerous Alleyway
Lucas Fritz, owner and operator of the Broadberry, brought to the attention of the Council the horribly dilapidated alleyway behind the 2700 block of Broad Street. He said that this is a dangerous roadway to traverse and described it as “bumpy” and “zig-zaggy.” Located in the Arts District and playing a role in the “Virginia is for Music Lovers” campaign, Mr. Fritz is concerned that artists and others who come the city will be turned away by the state of this alleyway, which has undergone zero maintenance. “Do we want this to be their first impression [of our city]?” he asked. He explained that his business alone has been growing rapidly and that his tax payments to the city have been generous. He asked that the Council fund a project to fix the potholes in this alleyway using taxpayer dollars. Councilwoman Gray took a walk through this alleyway and, according to Mr. Fritz, made it through unharmed. Ms. Gray agreed with Mr. Fritz that the state of this alleyway does hurt businesses and asked that money be put in the budget for these repairs. “It’s extremely important to appropriate funding [for this project],” she said.
Robert Gordon, an attorney and chairman of the Church Hill Association, came forward to tell the Council that Church Hill opposes the Glenwood Ridge Apartments project on the grounds that there are systemic issues in the land use for this project and that it is a bad policy. He stated that once a low-income housing project is built it “becomes a precedent” for a concentration of poverty in the area. Vice-President Newbille invited Mr. Gordon to join in a discussion about the project on March 30th.
An Uncaring Care Van
Roderick Bullock expressed to the Council the problems he continues to have with the GRTC Care Van service. When he and his mother, who is dying of cancer, were attempting to get to her appointment, it took over four (4) hours for the van to come and pick up his mother, and when he called about the service, the persons on the phone were joking and laughing. In total, it took over six (6) hours for he and his mother to get to the destination to get her medication. He had to call Dr. Newbille in order for something to be done. “If Dr. Newbille had not intervened, I would never have got there,” he said. “Sick and disabled people should not be going through this.” One of the drivers allegedly told Mr. Bullock to “Carry is a** back into the building.”
Councilwoman Trammell stated that she had also been receiving numerous complaints and calls about people being left or not picked up. “We have to do something,” she said. “Because one day it may be one of us [relying on this service].” Councilwoman Trammell added that an ordinance for a private taxi service for individuals may be helpful in preventing such issues the future.
Councilwoman Robertson said that the Council would be having a meeting with the administration and GRTC on March 21st at 3:00 PM. As chair of the Land Use and Transportation Standing Committee, she said that a public investigation of GRTC can and will be opened if necessary. She said that the Council will make sure that Mr. Bullock can be present to share at this meeting, as he and other members of the community should not be “having to endure this lack of services.”
Councilwoman Gray volunteered to come and pick up Mr. Bullock’s mother if the need ever arises.
Benjamin Lewis from the Third (3rd) District shared his concerns about the frequency of property crimes in his area and the escalation of the brazenness of the culprits. He stated that his home had been broken into, two of his cars had been stolen, and his car windows had been busted. These bold attempts take place in broad daylight and the perpetrators are frequently juveniles. He complained that there is no real deterrent for these acts, as the juveniles are “given a citation and sent home to their parents.” He said that a more meaningful deterrent is needed. “It costs $300 to repair a car window, $500 for an insurance deductible, and $400 or more out of the public’s pockets,” he said. “These costly nuisances must stop.”
Mr. Lewis said that he’s been organizing neighbors around the issue. President Hilbert said that citizens need to go the Courts and pledged that he and the Council would do more. Councilwoman Trammell, chair of the Public Safety Standing Committee, said that she could hear his frustration and that it was not fair for him to be dealing with this. She felt that police officers should do more to prevent incidents like this from occurring.
Yikes! to the Bikes
Mr. Lester Johnson Jr. questioned the impact of the new bike lane plan on businesses in Jackson Ward. He claimed that there had been no information given about this plan and that, given that there are already parking and traffic issues in Jackson Ward, it could negatively affect businesses on 1st and 2nd Street. He stated that changing from two lanes to one lane was troubling, and that although he was not against the bike lane itself, more public input was needed.
Councilman Agelasto said that he thought that the Council had learned a lesson about public awareness from last time. He said that the Council needs to do better to educate individuals.
Councilman Jones added that the Council needs to do better to provide quality services. Consent Agenda
In regards to ORD: 2017-009, which deals with the bike lane project, Vice-President Newbille states that she has “full expectations that further options will be vetted” and that there will be more community engagement. Councilwoman Robertson agreed, stating that the Council should “be mindful that residents and businesses are taken into consideration.” Councilwoman Gray shared these sentiments as well, stating that the Council needs to work on how they get word out. She suggested outreach volunteers, who would help with getting information to the community.
Vice-President Newbille also stated that she was in support of the Creighton Court housing project outlined in ORD: 2017-014.
There was no public hearing on the Consent Agenda.
Councilwoman Trammell announced that she will be withdrawing from the agenda ORD: 2015-033, which was aimed at renaming City Hall as L. Douglas Wilder City Hall in honor of Richmond’s first African American mayor and Virginia’s first African American governor. Ms. Trammell said that that Mayor-Governor Wilder does not want the building named after him as it would be a waste of taxpayer money. She thought it would be an honor to have City Hall renamed in this way, but he does not want it. On his wishes, she is withdrawing the paper.
President Hilbert thanked her for taking Mayor-Governor Wilder’s wishes into consideration. However, Councilman Jones felt that the Council should do something to recognize his contribution to the City of Richmond and the State of Virginia, as he is living history. He stated that he supports honoring Mayor-Governor Wilder’s wishes, he wants to do something. “I will find some way to celebrate this man while he is still alive,” Mr. Jones said. “L. Douglas Wilder represents African American history.” Mr. Jones offered to work with Ms. Trammell, as Mayor Governor Wilder “made history in this country by doing what he did when he did.” Mr. Jones said that L. Douglas Wilder’s accomplishments were “monumental” and that he wanted to respectfully honor this man.
Ms. Trammell added that Mayor-Governor Wilder “looked at us all as people, not as colors.” L. Douglas Wilder treated all people with respect and did not, and does not, look down at people.
Amy Edmonds from the Administration spoke on ORD: 2017-022, which will authorize the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to receive $3.8 million ($3,800,000.00) to begin implementation on the new transit plan.
Public Hearing on the Regular Agenda
Stuart Schwartz spoke in favor of this plan during the public hearing on the regular agenda, stating that he was “excited” and that the plan would “significantly update the transit system.”