Once upon a time I ran a news site, now I just have opinions on the news. 

Good morning, RVA: The Mayor’s budget is bold, homelessness in Richmond, and the Byrd Park Reservoir

Good morning, RVA! It's 23 °F, but you can expect warmer temperatures today. The sun will stick around as highs creep up towards 50 °F.

Water cooler

Richmond Police are reporting a double murder that occurred on E. Richmond Road the evening of March 4th. Officers responded and found Kenroy A. Cummings, 37, and Marvin D. Walters, 36, shot to death.

Yesterday, the Mayor presented his budget to City Council, and whoa, whoa, whoa! First, some links to the primary source material: The Administration’s summary of the budget, Mayor Stoney’s remarks as prepared (PDF), the audio of the Mayor’s speech, and the 826-page proposed budget itself (PDF). Sarah King at Richmond Magazine has the recap. Yesterday, I predicted that the budget would flat-fund schools and put a small dent in housing needs in the form of something eviction-related. I daydreamed a bit about what it would be like if we stopped screwing around on the edges and created a bold plan, raised revenue through a real estate tax increase, and knocked out some of the decades of disinvestment we’ve see in our infrastructure, transportation, and housing (I didn’t say housing yesterday, but, always housing). I didn’t think there was a chance in the world that the Mayor would propose doing exactly that. Look who’s dumb now! Turns out, Stoney has proposed to fully fund the RPS strategic plan at $18.5 million, put $16.2 million into streets and sidewalks, upped the contribution to the affordable housing trust fund to $2.9 million, added almost a million dollars to GRTC’s operating budget, and started off the Eviction Diversion Program with $485,000. Dang! And to pay for these much needed investments? Lo! The Mayor proposes rolling real estate tax cuts back to pre-recession, 2006 levels: moving the rate from $1.20 per $100 of assessed value to $1.29. He also wants to create a $0.50 cent per pack cigarette tax. That’s $21.1 million and $3 million of desperately need new revenue, respectively. I won’t pretend that it’ll be easy to pass this bold budget, but it’s the budget we need to provide—let’s be honest—the basic, necessary services for all Richmonders. As Mayor Stoney said in his remarks: “To put it simply, we only have enough dollars to maintain the status quo...I do not believe we can continue to build our budgets on deferred maintenance or delayed investment.”

Also, please listen to the audio from the Mayor’s budget speech and make sure you listen all the way to the end for a totally inappropriate scene involving Councilmember Trammell. Aside from her terrible implication that only homeowners should be allowed to make certain civic decisions (an assertion supported by Councilmember Gray), I don’t believe that literally yelling at the Mayor and getting real close to actually threatening him is how our elected representatives should work through their policy differences. If you’re an 8th District resident, you need to see how you are being represented on City Council.

Whoa! Look at this! Richmond Magazine has a column about the proposed Coliseum redevelopment by Strong Towns’s Daniel Herriges! That’s a big deal, national publication that I read all the dang time! Read the whole thing, but the closing paragraph is good: “These [smaller] investments are modest individually, but transformative in aggregate, because they respond to immediate needs. This doesn’t mean eschewing the vision of a revitalized Navy Hill. But before city leaders commit decades of future revenue, Richmonders owe it to themselves to thoroughly evaluate the proposal. Are elements of it—such as a new hotel and affordable housing—viable if unbundled from the whole? Is a less expansive use of tax-increment financing an option, one that more clearly passes the “but for” test? How can the city reduce the risk it faces should plans go awry? Whatever choice Richmond makes should be made with the goal of growing the kind of place that’s so desirable to live, work and invest in that private developers and entrepreneurs will need no inducement to show up.”

Like I said earlier this week, some of the best parts of City Council committees are the presentations they hear from folks in the community. Today, the Education and Human Services committee will learn about homelessness in Richmond, which means we get to learn about it, too. Kelly King Horne, Executive Director of Homeward, and Terri Lawson, the Coordinated Entry System Administrator, have put together a presentation that shows all of the organizations providing homeless service in the region (PDF, p. 5) (dang, that’s a lot of orgs) as well as an update on how last year went for the Homeless Crisis Line. The HCL handled 4,500 calls per month and worked with 6,351 unique clients over the course of the year. If you are homeless or will lose housing within the next three days, you can call the Homeless Crisis Line at 804.972.0813. Probably worth your time to just go ahead and put that number in your contacts in case you or someone you know needs it in the future.

One last nerdy Council committee thing: The Urban Design Committee will look at a roof replacement for the Byrd Park Reservoir. This PDF explaining the project is fascinating (PDF). The reservoir, which is hidden behind a 20-foot earthen berm, sits at the southern end of Arthur Ashe Boulevard and provides some? all? of the City’s potable water. It was built 1876!? It holds 25 million gallons of water, and, until the 1970s, was just...open to the air? The aging roof, which is about 50 years old yet a literal century newer than the reservoir itself, needs to be replace—a project the Department of Public Utilities estimates at $40 million.

Ned Oliver at the Virginia Mercury says we basically have a full-grown medial marijuana program in the Commonwealth. I hadn’t followed all the weed-related bills wafting their way through the General Assembly this year, but it does sound like we’re making small steps towards legal, recreational use at some point.

This morning's longread

The Famous Photo of Chernobyl's Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie

I’m a sucker for Chernobyl content.

Of the five corium creations, only Chernobyl's has escaped its containment. With no water to cool the mass, the radioactive sludge moved through the unit over the course a week following the meltdown, taking on molten concrete and sand to go along with the uranium (fuel) and zirconium (cladding) molecules. This poisonous lava flowed downhill, eventually burning through the floor of the building. When nuclear inspectors finally accessed the area several months after the initial explosion, they found that 11 tons of it had settled into a three meter wide grey mass at the corner of a steam distribution corridor below. This, they dubbed the Elephant’s Foot. Over the years, the Elephant’s Foot cooled and cracked. Even today, though, it’s still estimated to be slightly above the ambient temperature as the radioactive material decomposes.

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Good morning, RVA: Sleep > daylight, more budget thoughts, and the tampon tax

Good morning, RVA: Budget season begins, Bermuda Hundred, and trains