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

Good morning, RVA: School construction costs, cool pavement map(!), and a hands-free driving bill update

Good morning, RVA! It's 32 °F, and our brief flirtation with fancy, late-springlike temperatures is over—check back on Wednesday. Today highs will just creep into the 50s, so bring a jacket.

Water cooler

We’ve got a lot to get through this morning, so lets get started! Today, City Council will continue working through their scheduled budget work sessions. They’ll tackle “Safe Neighborhoods,” which includes presentations from the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Emergency Communications, and the Sheriff’s office. After that they’ll presumably discuss amendments. You can listen to these (fascinating) meetings by subscribing to the Boring Show podcast.

I’d hoped Superintendent Kamras would address the new, more expensive school construction cost estimates in his weekly email, and I am not disappointed! Let me just quote this bit, a thing I didn’t explicitly say but maybe does need saying outloud: “First, this is not a case of cost-overruns. The initial estimates were just flat-out wrong. The current numbers reflect the true, current market cost of building three schools in Richmond in 2019.” The $30 million increase is a case of bad forecasting, not of poor project management or waste or grift or whatever. Moving forward, Kamras will recommend that a 3rd party compile up-to-date and accurate construction costs for the rest of the new schools we need to build. There’s a lot more to like in this email, but I love his closing sentence: “If we can collectively avoid the inclination to weaponize every issue for the political fight of the day, and instead roll up our sleeves and the do the hard work of fixing our problems, there's nothing we can't achieve for our children.”

This piece in the Richmond Free Press from Dr. Ravi Perry, Chair of the Department of Political Science at VCU, is excellent. He perfectly summarizes the long-prevailing narrative around City government and schools, saying “Richmond is in fact a caricature of a national urban phenomenon: Concentrate all the most challenging problems in cities, deprive it of resources and then blame the local government and its elected officials (who are likely to be people of color) for failing to provide services that are on par with suburban county governments.” This piece is today’s reading homework! If you read one thing today, make it this one. P.S. The Free Press website is a little weird, so make sure you click “read more” and read all three pages.

Just when you think I couldn’t get any more boring, I present to you a map of pavement conditions in the City of Richmond. After looking at this map, and using our City streets for all of ten seconds, I am confident when I say that the current status of our roads is...not great. The Mayor’s proposal to roll back the Recession-era tax cuts provides $16 million for streets and sidewalks. Looking at this map, that seems like an important first step, but, dang, we’ve got a lot of paving to do and $16 million does not seem like nearly enough cash to get it all done.

Or maybe this is even more boring: Today, the Planning Commission will hear a presentation on short-term rentals (PDF) aka Airbnbs. Did you know Airbnbs are not currently permitted in the City unless you get a Special Use Permit approved? Did you also know that the City received a total of four (4) complaints related to short-term rentals in all of 2018? Anyway, back in 2017, the State passed a bill allowing localities to regulate short-term rentals, and now the City’s Department of Planning and Development Review will do a bit of outreach and come up with some regulatory recommendations. Those recommendations, at the moment at least, will include a $300 fee every two years and for certain, larger properties a 8% transient occupancy tax. The outreach around these regulations has already started, and I feel bad for not letting you now about it until now! You can, as always, fill out this survey to let the PDR know what you think.

The hands-free driving bill, once alive, then dead, then revived, is now, it appears, fatally injuried once more. The short of it: The Governor amended a bill banning mobile device usage in work zones to apply everywhere, and now it looks like Republic Speaker of the House Kirk Cox will declare the amendment not germane, killing it (again). Remember that a functionally equivalent bill has already passed both the House and Senate, and it is only Republican-led procedural tricks that continue to prevent safer streets across Virginia.

I keep meaning to let you know about this exhibit at the University of Richmond titled Growing Up in Civil Rights Richmond: A Community Remembers, and have failed to do so until now. Featuring work from journalist Brian Palmer, who I’ve talked about in this space before, the exhibit is made up of a combination of portraits and interviews with folks “whose lives were altered by their experiences as children and youth during the civil rights movement.” The exhibit runs through May 10th.

The topic of this Real Local RVA meeting today ticks a lot of my boxes: “Local foods, climate change, and the Green New Deal.” Sounds interesting, right? Make your way out to St. Stephen’s (6000 Grove Avenue), today from 10:30 AM–12:00 PM—the event is free, but they’d like you to register over on the Eventbrite.

This morning's longread

The keeper of the secret

Excellent and disturbing reporting from the WaPo’s Stephanie McCrummen as she follows a man determined to document a 1926 lynching in Wytheville, Virginia.

For 30 years, he had been collecting every detail he could about the August 1926 lynching of a black man named Raymond Byrd by a white mob in Wytheville. The lynching was one of more than 4,000 documented in Southern states between 1877 and 1950, killings intended to terrorize black populations and reinforce white supremacy and whose perpetrators — while known to locals — were almost never convicted or even named, a tradition of secrecy that carried on in Wytheville.

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Good morning, RVA: Take action!, refugee services, and then-and-now photos

Good morning, RVA: 17th Street seating, a new audit, and digital privacy