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

Good morning, RVA: Education funding, commission members, and bus-stop seating

Good morning, RVA! It's 71 °F, and temperatures should spend most of the day in the low 80s. Sounds great—but keep an eye on this weekend when things are expected to heat up again.

Water cooler

The Richmond Police Department is reporting that Jamal W. Ellis, 31, was shot to death on the 700 block of Spaine Street on the City’s Southside. According to the RPD’s major crimes website, his was the 42nd murder of 2019.

The Commonwealth Institute has put together their Statewide K–12 Funding Trends PDFs and the results are both not good and predictable. From the press release (PDF): “Statewide, students will see 8% less funding from the state than they did in 2008-2009, adjusting for inflation. Schools are increasingly reliant on local governments for funding with localities spending $4.2 billion more than the state required to meet the state’s staffing standards.” TCI has summary sheets for each school district, so check out Richmond’s (PDF) which will show you that, compared to 2008, State funding per student is down 16% and that the City invested 76.4% above what is required by the State’s funding formula. This should be a major hint that the formula probably needs to change, right? Also, I, of course, enjoy this sentence/reminder from the PDF: “Did you know that a one-cent increase in Richmond City’s property tax rate can raise about $2,159,600?”

Mark Robinson at the Richmond Times-Dispatch has an update on the final member of the Navy Hill Advisory Commission. Despite some disagreement on Council about his ability to remain objective, Hakim J. Lucas, president of VUU and public supporter of the North of Broad Development, rounds out the nine-member commission. I still don’t know exactly what the Commission will do as they evaluate the project, although you can read their charge in the establishing ordinance (PDF), but this seems suboptimal: Lucas’s “appointment came at the expense of Richard E. Crom, an IRS analyst and the only certified public accountant originally nominated.” Now, with all nine members selected, the Commission can start doing the work to advise Council. They’ve got 90 days to do that, which puts us at December 22nd, which, probably means January/February will be big, big months for City Council. I’ll tell you what, I am not looking forward to a contentious NoBro process overlapping with next year’s budget season. That’s too much public process! Even for this guy!

Bus-related: Art on Wheels scored a $10,000 grant from CultureWorks to make more of their Community Cubes which function as guerrilla bus-stop seating. I love this kind of thing and think more folks should make more seating for more bus stops. I also hate that this kind of thing needs to exist, because waiting for the bus anywhere in the city should already be a humane experience with shelter and seating. Art on Wheels, because they are a real and professional nonprofit, will try to get permission before they drop the Cubes at bus stops in the East End and on the Southside. Good luck with that, I guess. That’s a cynical take, but I feel it’s warranted. I see so many things that could be incrementally improved in Richmond shot down because they aren’t the exact perfect solution. Meanwhile, the City does not—or often cannot due to lack of funds—do anything to implement that exact perfect solution. So we end up with nothing at all, bus riders standing in the rain or in the blazing hot sun, and a bunch of shrug emojis all around. It’s frustrating.

Well this thread on /r/rva filled my heart with joy and gladness. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many positive, first-hand stories about the Pulse and Richmond’s bus system in the same place at the same time. What a great way for a transportation nerd to start a Tuesday.

Here’s national politics thing to keep an eye on (although who even knows what anything means on the national level): Seven freshman, Democratic Congressmembers with ties to the military or national security community have co-authored an column in the Washington Post saying, “To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election. If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense.”

Something for your calendars! This Thursday, September 26th, at 5:00 PM you can catch an extremely legit panel on eviction in Richmond. I mean, dang, look at this list of panelists: Jackie Washington (Six Points Innovation Center), Phil Story (Campaign to Reduce Evictions), Sen. Jennifer McClellan, and Megan Pauly (VPM) will serve as the moderator. The event is free, open to the public, but only has space for 400 so get there early!

This morning's longread

Is a Better Community Meeting Possible?

My takeaway from this article—and from going to a ton of public meetings—is that proper, useful community engagement costs a nontrivial amount of time and money.

Though many cities can’t just move away from a meeting-based system due to legal requirements, ultimately, the best way to create an equitable, inclusive community engagement process is to think beyond the scope of the traditional in-person community meeting. In most cases, the resources spent on such meetings would be more productively used on proactive, comprehensive outreach in the form of survey data, polling, or input solicited by canvassers. A consistent process of gathering neighbors’ preferences, to be weighed by planners alongside sustainability and inclusion concerns, then incorporated into zoning, transportation, or school enrollment policies, would be more expensive and would require planning staff conversant with survey data. But that process would vastly improve the input that cities and agencies receive—and, hopefully, make the policy outcomes more equitable as well.

If you’d like your longread to show up here, go chip in a couple bucks on the ol’ Patreon.

Good morning, RVA: FIVE NoBro updates, electric school buses, and impeachment

Good morning, RVA: PARK(ing) Day was awesome, City Council is busy, and restaurant people are fascinating