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

Good morning, RVA: Assessments, preemptively banning guns, and a casino opens

Good morning, RVA! It's 66 °F, and it’s hot again. Today, highs will creep into the 90s, and we should avoid any rain until tomorrow. After that, though, there’s a chance of precipitation as far as the weekly forecast can see.

Water cooler

Assessments! A couple days ago I asked folks to send me their assessments and their thoughts/feelings on any changes over last year’s numbers. I got a couple dozen emails and tweets from various homeowners living in various parts of the City, and every single one of them saw their assessments increase—some by less than 5%, some by more than 20%. The thing that I thought was neat was that nearly every single person either thought it was a fair increase to bring their assessment in line with their actual home value and/or that the increase in tax revenue would be vital for the future of the City.

I know that homeownership is a complicated thing and that rising assessments can mean less affordability for folks (something a bunch of readers expressed concerns about, too). I also know that we don’t have as many programs to keep (or make) homes affordable for all Richmonders—and we can blame the State for a lot of that. But I think it’s important to point out that the angry voices on Facebook or Next Door yelling about a $200 tax bill on their West End rental property are not the only voices in Richmond. There are lots of folks who are ready and willing to pay more for better schools, humane public housing, useful public transit, and just a radder City in general. They’re not always the loudest voices, and they’re certainly not representative of the entire City, but they do exist! Here are just a few thoughts, quotes, and paraphrases from some of them:

  • If I’m honest, our property has been undervalued ever since we moved to the neighborhood.
  • I’m glad that the tax assessment is finally catching up with the real value of the home, but I’m pretty bummed at having these significant increases in such a short amount of time.
  • Definitely a larger hike than recent years but also doesn’t feel that surprising.
  • I’m not mad about it, plus I feel more hopeful about the progress in our city than I ever have.
  • I know that increasing home value is a great thing for resale and the overall economy, but it sucks that it’ll end up making the neighborhood less diverse and hard for existing residents to maintain ownership.
  • My belief is that if we’re well funded to run a great city then home values will rise. I never care to pay more if we get more.

During yesterday’s special session, City Council voted unanimously with two abstentions to pass the Mayor’s ordinance to preemptively ban guns in city-owned buildings and parks (ORD. 2019-165). You can read the Mayor’s statement here. Councilmembers Larson and Trammell were the two abstentions, and, while she ultimately voted for the ordinance, Councilmember Gray spoke against it as well. Once the audio of the session gets uploaded to the City website, I really recommend you listen to it—I’ll try and get it posted as an episode of The Boring Show. There are a heckin’ lot of Democrats in the City and those Democratic voters should hear what their elected representatives have to say when presented with an easy opportunity to let our State officials know that Richmond is serious about reducing gun violence.

The Rosie’s casino is now open in Richmond’s 9th District, and whoa are people excited—it’s almost like someone opened a new grocery store or something. Over in the paper, Graham Moomaw has the opening-day reactions and Daniel Sangjib has some photos of the set up. I continue to feel a mix of gross and conflicted, especially about sentences like this: “It wasn’t clear how many in the crowd were cashing out with more money than they came in with. But city and state officials trumpeted the occasion as a clear economic win.” Very, very few people cashed out with more money than they came in with! Gambling is not designed for most people to make money, it is designed to take money from most people. Anyway, I’m sure we will hear just how much of an economic win this casino is in the coming months.

Richmond’s favorite climate scientist Jeremy Hoffman has a piece up on Greater Greater Washington about how urban density can help keep cities cool—like, in a temperature way, but also in a Megan Rapinoe way, too, I guess. Hoffman and his team did some science and found that the “dense, building height-varying urban cores have relatively lower air temperatures than the sprawling, wide-streeted but single-height residential areas that lack extensive tree canopy.“ Tall buildings + green infrastructure = shade & cooler temperatures!

Danny Plaugher, who just had a column in the RTD about beefing up our passenger trains, has a new column in the Virginia Mercury about transportation and climate change. To quote a bit, “Transportation is a much more significant factor here in Virginia. The commonwealth’s portion of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation has risen from 43% in 1990 to 45.6% in 2016. This follows a parallel trend in Federal Highway Administration data which reports that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on Virginia’s roadways increased 40.4% between 1990 and 2016.”

Whoa, I didn’t expect this: Del. Chris Peace is “abandoning his bid to hold the 97th District seat in the House of Delegates” says the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Andrew Cain. Seems like a trade down to swap one of the more moderate Republicans—Peace did vote for Medicaid expansion after all—for a guy who just voted to remove from the Hanover School Board a woman who supported renaming schools named after Confederate generals. I’ll be interested to see what Del. Peace gets into next.

This morning's longread

Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes

ProPublica published this yesterday, as if to remind us that just because we raised a little bit of money for a good cause, there are still terrible things happening along our southern border. After you finish reading this longread, scroll through the last 24 hours of AOC’s timeline to get a feel for what she saw while visiting some of America’s concentration camps.

Warning: Today’s longread contains some offensive and disturbing screenshots taken from the Border Patrol Facebook group.

The Border Patrol Facebook group is the most recent example of some law enforcement personnel behaving badly in public and private digital spaces. An investigation by Reveal uncovered hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers who moved in extremist Facebook circles, including white supremacist and anti-government groups. A team of researchers calling themselves the Plain View Project recently released a hefty database of offensive Facebook posts made by current and ex-law enforcement officers. And in early 2018, federal investigators found a raft of disturbing and racist text messages sent by Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona after searching the phone of Matthew Bowen, an agent charged with running down a Guatemalan migrant with a Ford F-150 pickup truck.

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Good morning, RVA: Violence, Shockoe, and the Flying Disc Championships

Good morning, RVA: Banning guns, help out at schools, and a RAICES update