City Council Recap - February 10, 2020

This meeting begins with a packed room chamber room, with individuals holding signs showing their support or opposition to a set of ordinances and resolutions that pertain to the Navy Hill Project. There were also overflow rooms, in which other citizens were held, watching the meeting through the live broadcast.

Before these ordinances could be discussed, the agenda went through normal procedures. For awards and recognitions, the council recognized the Thomas Jefferson football team, the Vikings. Councilman Addison thanked the team, as well as Coach Adam. However, he also remarked on how there are still no lights in some parts of Thomas Jefferson high school, and because of the lack of resources, the team needed to go to 8 away games because their school did not have the right equipment. As such, he recognized that much more work needs to be done to support their high school.

The first of the citizen comments was from Naomi Issac of the 5th District. She states that legacy is placed over the exploitation of black people. The city has the 2nd highest eviction rate and there are 3437 children homeless. Because of this, she is against the Navy Hill Project. She regarded Thomas Farrell, the president of Dominion Energy as one of the “rich white guys,” and believed the Mayor to be “bought and paid for.” Council president Newbile interjects, refraining her from attacking individuals. Issac continues with saying that rents get higher as wages are the same. “Coliseums don't put roofs or grocery stores.” She feels that the city should focus less on corporate entities, “corporate bullies.”

Pat Levy-Lavelle from the 1st District also spoke and emphasized “Schools First.” He remarked that schools are crumbling and starving financially. He asks for more equitable economic development, given that education helps get people out of poverty.

L. Shirley Harvey of the 6th District proclaimed that China holds 14 nuclear bombs. The U.S. can contain 10, but 4 will get away and hit 4 different cities, one of which being Richmond. She also finds Richmond as the “most discriminatory place” that “confiscates black peoples land.”

Susan Reuben is frustrated that there is still no shelter for handicapped people. She has been waiting since January 7th to get into a shelter bed. She has since been sleeping outside.

Stephanie Starling comments on the lack of reliable school WiFi. In Thomas Jefferson high school where Online assignments are given, only certain areas of the school get reception. She hopes in the future this can be changed.

After these listed citizen comments, the council then opens a Public Hearing of Items 19-27 (ORDS. 2019-211 - 2019-219), and Item 29 (Res. 2019-R044). These are the items regarding the Navy Hill Project, and if a majority of council members do not support them, the Project will officially be killed.

Given that no procedure is put into place for such a public hearing, a question arises amongst the Councilmembers on whether speakers should state whether they are a resident of the city. Ultimately, most councilmembers support it.

For the opposition of the Navy Hill Project, a large crowd of people begin to line up by the podium. Due to the sheer number of people speaking, the general sentiments and comments will be discussed below in more general terms.

One deep frustration is the secrecy of the deal itself. Citizens were completely unaware of the plan being circulated for over a year, and as such they feel it to be a plan for the corporate entities, not for the citizens themselves. While companies are important, they should serve the people. The city should not be serving companies, that is simply not how democracy works.

Many others also feel like private development should not be focused on when schools and other infrastructures are currently still suffering. After all, public money should go to public projects. Why bring in these new people into the city through the project, when the citizens who are already here are not being taken care of?

After the opposition spoke, those in favor of the Navy Hill Project lined up to speak as well.

One strong focus of that of economic development. Private enterprise should not be demonized or feared just because it is something different. If people desire to see a change in the city, that change must come from somewhere. The Project will offer new jobs that can empower poor communities and have them able to afford homes and better living.

In addition, people commend the inclusion that the Project has written within it, such as the affordable housing being offered and how the project has minority participation listed higher than the average for workforce development.

With both sides speaking, the councilmembers allow themselves to voice their own thoughts. Councilman Jones asks the council to move the decision to the 24th. He wants to allow the process and allow the people to speak. He cares most especially about the jobs, and how the majority of the tax dollars will not go to the private development. He comments that we can’t fund schools because of the lack of money, and so we as a city can’t have it both ways. He also comments on how a great deal of the city money currently goes to affluent Richmond, so the Navy Hill Project would be an improvement to this.

Councilmembers Newbile and Robertson agree, emphasizing that ⅔ of the cost is private, and that the taxes of the development will also help in paying for it. The Project has had a large and effective team work on it, and the vetting process has been going smoothly.

Councilmember Addison stated that they have spent over 6 months on this Project, exploring what they can do better. He had brought it to his district 7 different times and Navy hill commission report had addressed the issues presented by residents. He believes that what grows a city is private investment and that currently the city is not growing in the way it needs to.

On the other hand, Councilmember Gray comments on how she has yet to see any amendments to the nearly 1000 pages of ordinances. The Mayor has the responsibility to give something for the people, but he has yet to see or hear from him.

Councilmember Larson reiterates that the council is meant to represent the people. She also finds it frustrating that other important legislation, like the one on short-term rentals, has been postponed due to this discussion.

Councilmember Hilbery also reflected on how many of his issues with the Navy Hill Project don’t seem curable.

With everyone’s final comments, the final vote was made on whether to move the ordinances to be discussed on the 24th. Councilmembers Jones, Robertson, Addison, and Newbile voted for, while Councilmembers Larson, Lynch, Gray, Trammel, and Hilbert voted against. As such, the Navy Hill Project was officially killed.

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