Friday, April 28, 2006

Eminent domain dominates Charlottesville Council race:Schilling & Weber on May 2

(First published on Richmond Indy Media April 25, 2006)

2 Democrats and 1 Republican for 2 seats in 5 member Council. The Dems turn negative 1 week before election May 2. What does this add up to? Democrats are rightfully scared but as yet unable to admit they have a problem.

Dave Norris, Rob Schilling, Julian Taliaferro April 24

There’s an old saying: If you ignore a big truth long enough, it becomes your master.

The campaign turned muddy Monday morning when Democrats Julian Taliaferro and Dave Norris began running negative ads on WINA AM-1070 radio against opponent and incumbent Republican Rob Schilling. The 3 men are seeking 2 seats in the 5 at-large member Council.

At 5pm on WINA’s Charlottesville Right Now, Schilling explained the votes that were cited in the attack ads. Curiously, at the 6pm candidates’ forum sponsored by the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association and hosted at the Cherry Avenue Christian Church, the negative campaigning did not come up.

Until now, Dave Norris had promised not to turn negative. In the 5:30 segment, Tom Vandever, former Democratic party chair, called in to the show to say he had written the political ads and relied on the Minutes of the Council meetings to back up his assertions.

How is eminent domain dominating Charlottesville politics?

Dave Norris is a former chairman of the city’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority. He has been calling for the city to sell some of its "surplus vacant lots" for affordable housing. At one time, most of these empty lots were homes and businesses. Norris also says he has never supported eminent domain ("Second discussion on persistence of poverty", Jan 26 2006 ).

Selling property acquired through eminent domain-- isn’t that support of eminent domain? Many of the surplus lots have been on the market for decades. The acquisition of the lots back in the ‘70s faced intense opposition. Selling the properties, instead of returning the land to its rightful owners, exposes Norris as a supporter of eminent domain, and not the good kind.

Julian Taliaferro has been a fire fighter and fire chief here for 34 years. The city’s fire station is across the street from some of those controversial properties, the Alexander Garrett Warehouse district, south downtown razed in the ‘70s. At the April 12 League of Women Voters forum in response to my question on legitimate public projects, Taliaferro remembered when the old fire station moved from Water Street to Ridge Street right where a black middle class family was already living.

At the forum, both Democrats denied the city’s longstanding policy and practice of targeting minority communities with eminent domain of some sort. Republican Schilling had to leave the forum early and before I asked this question. But he has a record to stand on. (see letter below)

Given the decades-long outcry by the minority community denouncing the clearance of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood in the early ‘60, what message does it send for an urban renewal director to run for Council? Is the city addicted to eminent domain abuse? Is it a cry for intervention? How bold can you get? Where is the Commonwealth’s Attorney?

Last November, the City Council passed a charter amendment for sweeping new eminent domain powers. Fortunately, the Republican-controlled State Senate intervened and stripped these new powers out of the amendment.

Actually, over the last few years, high profile local officials who support eminent domain for private use have been coming out of the woodwork. Perhaps they’re hoping someone will expose their records so justice can finally be done.

Bern Ewert, Democratic hopeful against Virgil Goode, was exposed when he ran for City Council in 2002. He was not happy about it. He denied supporting eminent domain for clearing an entire neighborhood by saying it happened before and after he was deputy city manager 1971-1976.

Rich Collins offered himself as a candidate for Democratic nomination for House of Delegates 57th district last year. Collins was chairman of the Housing Authority from the ‘70s to the ‘80s. Since then, he has come out in support of the Kelo v. New London decision by the Supreme Court.

And of course, Mitch Van Yahres, City Councilor 1968-1976 and Delegate 1981-2005. Blair Hawkins campaigned in 2003 against Van Yahres’ record of eminent domain abuse during the ’70s. Van Yahres announced his retirement on Hawkins’ birthday, March 5 last year in the very neighborhood whose destruction Van Yahres had supported decades previously.

A defining principle of the Charlottesville Democratic leadership is that the government should be able to seize and sell real estate owned by minorities and the poor. While the Democratic stated intentions are noble and colorblind, the practice is Unconstitutional and discriminatory regardless of the lofty goal.

Don’t forget to vote on May 2 for Cville’s first ever elected school board.

Letters, The Daily Progress, P.O. Box 9030, Charlottesville, VA 22906

April 19, 2006

Dear Editor:

I would like to endorse Republican Rob Schilling for a second term on Charlottesville’s City Council on May 2, the city’s final spring election.

During his first term, Schilling has been the proverbial grain of sand that irritates the oyster to produce a pearl. So far, we now have an elected school board. The real estate tax rate has dropped twelve cents to 99 cents per $100 assessed value. Even so, it’s still another tax increase. But it could be worse.

Schilling is the only candidate who has pledged to support legislation to limit eminent domain. So it made sense when he voted against the city’s charter amendment to expand eminent domain. Although he didn’t say why he voted no, seven of the eleven provisions dealt with acquisition and disposition of land and buildings for affordable housing. Schilling stood alone and kept his word.

The Virginia Senate amended the charter amendment to remove the broad eminent domain language. The much-scaled down version of Section 50.7 is now referred to variously as the grant/loan/tax deferral/rebate program for low to moderate income constituents. The full Senate voted for the final version 37-2. Again, two Senators stood on principle against the overwhelming majority.

The final version of the amendment did not come back to Council for a vote. But at the League of Women Voters forum April 12, Schilling stood on principle again. He described the program as redistribution of wealth. Some property owners pay more so others can pay less. In effect, the program is a progressive property tax that shifts a greater burden to those who already pay a greater burden. It takes courage to stand alone against popular opinion.

Some have said Schilling votes no on everything. How come the Democrats never vote no on Schilling’s proposals? All they have to do is not second his motion. That’s why we need a second Republican on Council to force reforms to a vote. I plan to write in Charles Weber, who’s been speaking out on property taxes and will likely become the next chairman of the party.

Schilling and Weber on May 2.

Blair Hawkins

(I mailed the letter Thursday. Deadline was Friday. They received it Monday. So it will not be printed in the paper.) (Dave Norris) (Julian Taliaferro) (Rob Schilling)

Campaign against Van Yahres eminent domain position:

The letter that stopped Charlottesville’s eminent domain amendment:
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