Monday, January 28, 2008

2007: Levy Ave one of Many Stories

600 block Levy Avenue circa 1971.

View today, same retaining wall and telephone pole at center of photo.

Charlottesville, Virginia--On November 11, the latest plans to redevelop the 600 block of Levy Avenue made the front page of the Sunday Daily Progress ("City reworking mixed-income project" by Seth Rosen).

Of the 10 parcels that make up the site, the Housing Authority purchased 2 in 1971 and seized the other 8 in 1972. The original purpose of the acquisition was redevelopment, "necessary for the development of an urban renewal project" as court documents record. Established by referendum 1954, the Authority rents the cleared and consolidated parcel to the city as an employee parking lot for $1 a year.

The Progress story traces the history of this particular project only 4 years, 3 requests for proposals and 4 public meetings. They have an update on the latest developer to think twice after due diligent research.

"The authority signed a letter of intent in September 2006 to partner with the Blue Moon Fund on redeveloping the parking lot. Though the plans were in their earliest stages, housing authority officials hoped to build several townhouses, some cottages and two condo buildings with office space. Some of the units would then be sold at market-rate, while others would be sold at subsidized rates to low-income and public housing residents.

But the housing board came to the conclusion that it did not make sense to move forward with the project while the authority is exploring ways to redevelop some of its 376 [public housing] units [...]

Blue Moon officials did not return calls last week seeking comment."

The newspaper reported on the Levy redevelopment in 2003 but didn’t say when the property was acquired (“City has plan for Levy site: Mixed income idea novel for housing” by Elizabeth Nelson, June 19, 2003). In 2006 the paper reported the Housing Authority has owned the property for decades “colloquially known as the Levy Avenue lot” (“Belmont-area development considered: Affordable housing planned” by John Yellig, Dec. 15, 2006). Levy is the site’s legal name recorded in numerous deeds between 1891 and 1972, maps and publications. The reporter had not done any research that requires reading, not even the archives of his own paper.

In 2003 Mayor Maurice Cox held a public meeting where folks envisioned Granny-flat studio apartments above store fronts and a backyard mini-park ("Levy Avenue Design Workshop," Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association Newsletter, Summer 2003). In January ’06 they wanted 30 units, single-family houses and townhouses. In December ’06 it was 7 houses and a dozen condos.

Why did this story move to the front page? If you know the back-story, front page is appropriate. But the newspaper didn’t share any of that background.

How come? The Daily Progress appears to have two distinct policies.

1. Vinegar Hill is the only urban renewal in Charlottesville.
2. No urban renewal is occurring today, at least, not in Charlottesville.

The 35-year project, all by itself, debunks both of those myths. Redevelopment is not complete until the seized property is sold. The urban area is not renewed until new development is built.

Levy does not stand alone. It’s part of a much larger urban renewal project. The social fabric on this block was representative of much of Charlottesville. The modern rhetoric and zoning seek to bring back what was lost: mixed income, mixed use, affordable housing, environment, history, sense of security, and so on. How did these myths take hold?

Newspapers turn oral history into history. Reporters quote officials. As Sally Hemings’ descendants have learned, oral history is not history because it’s not written down. But if the officials are not telling the whole story, the article becomes revisionist history. Reporters later refer back to a documented myth. By not doing his homework and reading other sources, the reporter succumbs to Bush syndrome: didn’t lie but didn’t tell the truth either. It’s not his fault he trusted the official. Now that he knows the truth, that’s no reason to write a correction or update. In a couple years he’ll be at another newspaper based on his headlines and layout since no one will read the article anyway.

If you ask our local leaders about urban renewal, they’ll tell you about the early 1960s Vinegar Hill clearance a few years before they took office. That’s like asking a World War Two veteran about the war. And he talks about World War One. Why don’t they talk about the issues their experience indicates they should know something about?

Difficult underlying Truth. You are a civil rights opponent if you support eminent domain for what only due process allows: seize and sell real estate. Public housing is more tricky where a private residence is construed to be a public use. Civil rights are listed in the Bill of Rights, a list of limitations on the government. If the government goes beyond those limits, that is against the supreme law of the land. Government does not have rights. There’s no function of government that can’t be limited or prohibited by the people.

Why would you expect public housing to be safe? It’s a perpetual crime scene. The landlord violated someone else’s civil rights to acquire the property you now rent. So you’ve become an unwitting accomplice. Safety is often the tradeoff when you benefit directly from the poison fruit of injustice. So the announcement today that police would step up patrols of public housing sites was ironic. If you don’t give up your land voluntarily, who actually evicts you? And there’s talk of creating a citizens review board to oversee the police following complaints. Yet somehow this ball of contradictions keeps on rolling.

Tale of three newspapers. C-ville Weekly maintains the Vinegar Hill myth, except they allow letters to the contrary. C-ville had a makeover beginning this year where they refer back to articles where they wrote down some official’s selective oral history.

The Hook is unique in that they can mention taboo history in passing. The editor Hawes Spencer has grown a lot since the days of 2000 as editor of C-ville Weekly. The old Hawes lives on in the modern C-ville Weekly. I like the new Hawes better. When there’s a photo retrospective of Garrett Street then and now, that will be a major breakthrough in local journalism.

(This is the fourth and final retrospective from 2007.)

"West Main: Then and Now" by Dave McNair. Jan. 17, 2008. The Hook. First newspaper since 2000 (since I've been paying attention) to acknowledge Jefferson School's roots on West Main.

"Where's the Pork? The Rise and Fall of the Hogwaller name" by Adam Sorensen. Nov. 29, 2007. The Hook. Progress and C-ville would have left out mention of Garrett Street.

"The livestock market got its start on Garrett Street in the 1800s before moving just southeast of Douglas Avenue, along the bustling C&O rail yard the City converted to an office park in the late 1980s. It moved to its current site at 801 Franklin Street in 1946."

"Pimping Preston: Is a roundabouted boulevard the answer?" by Dave McNair. Jul 26, 2007, The Hook. 4-Lane highway for 5 blocks.

"Indeed, for [UVA architecture professor Elizabeth] Meyer, Preston's current layout is the result of something far more troubling and complicated than bad design.

"It's the result of an urban renewal program that demolished numerous homes owned by African Americans in the area," she says. "Through its width and topographic changes, Preston disconnected the Rose Hill and Tenth and Page neighborhoods. The problem there is social and aesthetic . Like so many 1960s-70s 'urban renewal' conditions in Charlottesville, topographic changes made for roads and buildings created or reinforced racial differences."

Levy Avenue update: All 5 owners identified, Nov. 17, 2007

Levy Avenue for sale: Eminent domain in you face, Dec. 15, 2006

Search Charlottesville online real estate records.

1935 Charlottesville, Vinegar Hill, Preston, West Main, Garrett, Mall

1907 Charlottesville, Ridge, Parrott, Diggs,S. First, W. Garrett, South St., Midway School.

The Ware Lot sold for development 1915, on east side of S. First.

The Ware house, in the notch at end of Ware St, extended for 1929 Ix textile factory, Elliott Ave extension post 1935.

The 1915 plat for Ware subdivision.

Deed of Sale. Deed Book 27 Page 371, June 12, 1915.

Deed of Sale. Deed Book 27 Page 372, June 12, 1915.

Rare photo of Marguerite's Bordello at 303 Fifth Street SE 1922-1951. House built 19th century, razed 1972

"Urban Renewal South: The Best-known Secret in Charlottesville's History", March 5, 2002.

Excerpts from "Marguiretta's: Charlottesville's Legendary House of Ill Repute" by Kathleen Phalen, 1997.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

2007: Virginia Reforms Eminent Domain

Charlottesville, Virginia—On April 4, Governor Timothy Kaine signed into law eminent domain reforms addressing decades-old grievances. Chief among them, housing authorities can no longer condemn non-blighted houses and businesses even if they lie within a redevelopment zone. While the reforms prohibit certain abuses, they do not outline penalties.

In 2006 the General Assembly combined numerous proposals into two competing bills—one would make it easier, the other more difficult, for the government to seize your property. There was no consensus on a particular bill. So the legislators decided to wait another year.

The reform movement was triggered by the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision of June 23, 2005, that said (public use)=(private use)+(public purpose). But the reforms address known abuses in Virginia.

Until the end of 2006, most legislators continued to downplay the eminent domain problem because small newspapers were not reporting on the abuses. On Dec. 14 Delegate David Toscano (57th) and Senator Creigh Deeds (25th) said on WINA that eminent domain was not a problem in Virginia ("Deeds and Toscano: Eminent Domain not a problem in Va.", Dec. 15, 2006). But a few months later, they both voted for the substantial reforms.

What changed their minds? We may never know.

Delegate Rob Bell (58th) sponsored the main bill. In 2003 Bell sent Blair Hawkins an email asking what Hawkins would focus on in his campaign against Mitch Van Yahres (57th). Hawkins responded that it would have to be eminent domain. Bell never spoke to Hawkins again. Hawkins failed to receive the Republican nomination. Van Yahres was unopposed and announced his retirement two years later on Hawkins birthday March 5 in Hawkins' neighborhood demolished while Van Yahres was on City Council.

On Jan. 13 Nancy McCord of Virginia Property Rights Coalition asked me if I knew Rob Bell. I told her the 2003 story. But I explained that some people have grown on this issue during my 7-year campaign. I’ve always known someone else would have to come along and say what I’ve been saying for the change to happen.

The 2007 reforms consist of three bills.

House Bill 2954 sponsored by Rob Bell.
Senate Bill 781 sponsored by Ken Cuccinelli (37th).
Senate Bill 1296 sponsored by Tommy Norment (3rd).

Here's how Virginia Property Rights Coalition has described the reforms.

1. Prohibits taking private property if primary purpose is private benefit, increase in tax base or revenue or employment.

2. Limits use of eminent domain to traditional public uses such as schools, roads, parks, utilities.

3. Restricts the amount of land taken to no more than is necessary for the public use.

4. Allows owners to defend themsleves in cases where the stated public use is a contrived justification for an improper/illegitimate purpose.

5. Provides that when property is taken the public interest must "dominate" private gain.

6. Tightens the definition of blight.

7. Prohibits taking non-blighted property just because the property is located in a blighted area.

8. Reaffirms the right to property is a fundamental right.

Some people don't think the reforms go far enough. They want a state Constitutional amendment to prevent the 2007 statutes from being watered down in future sessions.

A search of Richmond Sunlight for eminent domain in 2008 returns 19 bills. Every year there is tweaking of the eminent domain laws. Because they’re seldom enforced, these laws are more like guidelines anyway.

John and Nancy McCord speak in Charlottesville Jan. 13, 2007. Virginia Property Rights Coalition

Letter to Mayor Daugherty to investigate urban renewal, June 5, 2000.

PROPERT STREET for Sally Hemings and Laura Dowell, June 5, 2000.

Hawkins Campaign for House of Delegates 2003. Timeline and documents.

UVa alumnus talks about eminent domain, Feb. 15, 2005, a week before oral arguments before Supreme Court in Kelo case. (Republished in “Arin Sime for Va. Senate”, Oct. 23, 2007)

The only opposition to Charlottesville’s eminent domain amendment, Jan. 8, 2006.

Senate removes eminent domain from amendment, Jan. 18, 2006.

Eminent domain reform marches on: 36 reforms in 6 years, 15 pending, Jan. 30, 2006.

Response to David Toscano and Tammy Londoree on my endorsment of Rob Schilling published on George Loper's blog, Apr. 30, 2006. Toscano says he introduced city charter amendment, it passed, he amended it, and it passed again. The Daily Progress reports a Senate committee made the changes, not the House of Delegates.

Eminent domain stars reveal legislative agenda, June 29, 2006.

Deeds and Toscano: Eminent domain not a problem in Va., Dec. 14, 2006.

2006 Review: Another year of inconvenient truths ahead, Jan. 8, 2007.

Eminent domain topic at Republican Breakfast, Jan. 15, 2007.

Apology for slavery insincere, Jan. 20, 2007. Analogy why city has not apologized for urban renewal.

Momentum building for eminent domain reform in Va., Feb. 5, 2007.

Taking of prosperity: economics of eminent domain, Feb. 5, 2007.

Virginia 36th state to reform eminent domain, Apr. 8, 2007.

Democrats nominate Huja, Edwards, Brown: Challengers Seaman, McKeever to remain active, June 3, 2007. McKeever, a real estate attorney, was the only candidate to oppose neighborhood clearance and received the least votes. The others oppose only the clearance of Vinegar Hill.

Columbia U. psychiatrist talks urban renewal at UVA, Oct. 3, 2007.

Move to weaken eminent domain reforms, October 29, 2007.

Voters approve Council, School Board junket to Italy, Nov. 7, 2007. Election results. All 5 city councilors support unlimited eminent domain—limited only by what officials can dream up.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

2007: The Jefferson School Rule

Charlottesville, Virginia—On July 12, The Daily Progress policy to allow only opinion-based letters was discovered when I wrote a letter to correct a July 6 article giving 1894 as the original date of Jefferson School, instead of 1865. Over the phone, Editorial Page Editor Anita Shelburne said she had not decided whether to print the letter because it’s “fact-based.”

On hearing that, I asked if I was speaking to Anita Shelburne. I thought I might have been speaking to an intern. Shelburne has declined to print several other letters I’ve submitted but has printed more than refused. I said I would read the letter at the next City Council meeting since Jefferson School was on the agenda.

Four days later, I delivered that speech. The newspaper has not yet corrected the July 6 story.

In the preamble to the speech, when I told the part about excluding fact-based letters, Councilor Kendra Hamilton raised an eyebrow in disbelief. She was quoted in the original article along with former assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney, who passed along the 1894 date while knowing the correct date of 1865.

C-ville Weekly and The Hook have also printed this false information and not made a correction. History is watching to see how long it takes and how much pressure to have the full heritage of the school recorded. The reporters may choose to believe government officials over a simple blogger.

But what about the Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society? Do they say 1894? No. An article in the 2006 Historical magazine details the all-black school’s opening in 1865 and the tumultuous years that followed. A 1976 book commissioned by the Society also details the 1865 origins as part of a larger history.

Jefferson School was a private school. Before 1870 there were no public schools in Virginia. The astounding success of Jefferson in the first few years made national news as school principal Anna Gardner sent reports and student writing samples to the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society, which funded the school.

The fact is Virginia’s white public schools were modeled after Jefferson School.

Why can’t The Daily Progress allow this fact to be printed? Do they believe reporters have the facts and readers have only opinions—or what they want us to believe? When a given reason doesn’t make sense, we look for other explanations.

If someone else had written the exact same letter, say President of the Historical Society, would they have printed it?

The fact is The Daily Progress has known the correct date for at least 8 years. When I ran for City Council in 2000, my education essay in The Observer suggested the early days of Jefferson School as a model to reform public schools, a return to our roots. The printed essay was the most requested pamphlet of the campaign, a rare document telling a piece of history known only to a few people.

The Jefferson School Rule is but one of many examples of how our newspapers are not recording and sharing our history. It’s not that they don’t know. The omissions are intentional. The motives can only be speculated.

From time to time you read or hear people say how racist Charlottesville happens to be. This is the latest example of how deep the hatred runs. We’d rather our schools not have history than to know they were modeled on a black school.

So in 2002 when the school closed, the fear that City Council intended to demolish Jefferson School was real and palpable, with many precedents. In 2007, Council donated the school building to a non-profit for preservation and redevelopment—two opposing goals. Renovations could begin in 2009 for the schoolhouse built 1926 and expanded 1958 on 4th Street NW just west of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood cleared 1964.

(This article is the second in a series of retrospectives from 2007. 2006 in Review: Another Year of Inconvenient truths ahead", Jan. 8, 2007.)

Jefferson School 1865-2002, this incarnation 1926

Jefferson School historical marker

Site of first Jefferson School, now First Baptist Church at 632 West Main. Barracks for union troops between church and Union Depot train station site of 2nd (1866) and 3rd (1869) Jefferson School.

Brief History of Jefferson School, Apr. 26, 2000, The Observer,

Plea to save Jefferson School on WINA Jan. 25, 2002

The city wants to get rid of Jefferson because the school symbolizes that black people are not stupid and they do not need permission to be successful. Ever since the Supreme Court ordered desegregation in the '50s, the city has conducted a systematic program to encourage black people to move away by taking their property and, then, to erase the black history by destroying that property...

“$1 million Jefferson School makeover: Council hears 3 B.A.R. appeals” Jun. 19, 2006

“Council refuses to release urban renewal archives: Jefferson School conflict of interest: Blighted House has until Feb 15”, Nov. 21, 2006

“Origins of Jefferson School and Public Education in Virginia”, Dec. 4, 2006

“Urban renewal archives now open to public by appointment: Letter from assistant city manager”, Dec. 11, 2006

“2006 Review: Another year of inconvenient truths ahead”, Jan. 8, 2007

“First Baptist Church site of first Jefferson School”, Feb. 25, 2007

“Asst city manager Small-Toney resigns, blocked access to public records”, May 23, 2007

“Jefferson School: The Original Model for Public Education in Virginia”, July 16, 2007. Letter to Daily Progress and Speech before City Council

The legacy of Jefferson School is every public school in Virginia today.

Your article (“City mindful of preserving legacy” by Seth Rosen. The Daily Progress. Jul. 6, 2007) traces the history to 1894 and says the Jefferson Alumni Association wants to preserve the legacy of the all-black school as a social hub of Vinegar Hill in the 1950s.

The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has published a fuller history at least twice in thirty years. (Albemarle: Jefferson’s County, 1727-1976 by John Hammond Moore. 1976, pages 230-234 in the hardcover edition. And “Learning in the Charlottesville Freedmen’s School: the First Jefferson School” by Gayle M. Schulman. The Magazine of Albemarle County History, Vol. 64, 2006, pages 76-107.)

Both accounts agree on the main facts. Jefferson School opened in the fall of 1865 and was indeed the model for white public schools when the General Assembly approved public education in 1869. Charlottesville’s first public school opened in 1870 on Garrett Street....

Thursday, January 03, 2008

2007: Year of the Non-Drought

Charlottesville, Virginia—For the third time since the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority was created in 1972, Charlottesville and Albemarle enacted mandatory water restrictions in August 2007. Just yesterday (Jan. 2, 2008) RWSA executive director since 2004 Tom Frederick downgraded the agency’s Drought Warning to a Drought Watch, clearing the way for the city and county to lift restrictions.

In 1977 the severity of the water shortage was measured in days of supply remaining. In 2002 the water shortage was measured in percent of total capacity. Because the 2007 drought was still milder, the new metric is level of reservoirs below full. But the height of the dam and area of the reservoir are never given, making it a meaningless metric. Today The Daily Progress, WCHV and WINA filled up space and air time with the meaningless measurements.

The numbers keep changing in order to avoid historical comparisons. In 2000 the trigger for mandatory restrictions was 60% of capacity, in 2001 65%, in 2002 70%. In Nov.-Dec. 2001, reserves fell to 68% before reservoirs filled without any rain. In 2007 the water shortage was 93% of full. In 2006 the metric was in-stream flow, removing the water supply itself as a factor in determining whether water restrictions are warranted.

On Sep. 13, 2007, Frederick held a forum at Lane Auditorium in the Albemarle County Office Building at the foot of Vinegar Hill. He kicked off the forum on how to finance the $142 million Ragged Mountain reservoir expansion by saying he wanted to focus on the future. The city and county approved the plan in 2006. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has approved the plan. The State Water Control Board is expected to approve the plan in March (“Localities set to lift limits on water use” by Jeremy Borden, Jan. 3, 2008, The Daily Progress).

But members of the public complained that RWSA was editing its website to keep the public uninformed, to remove historical information so that documents posted only a year previously had already been removed. The website did not contain basic information such as when the dams were built, how much water they hold, or how tall the dams are (reference for water measurements below top of dam).

Ragged Mountain’s upper reservoir was built 1885 and expanded 1908. Combined Ragged Mountain contains 460 million gallons when full, or 43 days of supply at average daily demand of 10.6 million gallons per day.

Sugar Hollow was built 1924 and holds 360 million gallons or 33 days. A pipeline connects Sugar Hollow to Ragged Mountain. When expanded, a pipeline would bring water from South Rivanna to Ragged Mountain. Water from Sugar Hollow would return normal flow to the Moorman’s river.

The South Rivanna reservoir began operation in 1966, and now contains 750 million gallons or 70 days of water, a third less than 1966 because of sedimentation.

When reservoirs are full, we have 146 days or 20 weeks of supply at normal demand. In 2007 supply fell to 135 days (93%). Until a member of the public demanded this information on Sep. 13, no one was able to quantify the non-severity of the current “drought.”

The city of Charlottesville acquired land for South Rivanna in 1962. The reservoir flooded Hydraulic Mills, the commercial center of the African American community of Union Ridge dating to the early 1800s. John Perry built the mill 1818 which supplied much of the lumber used to build the University of Virginia.

The mill complex included “a grist and merchant mill, a miller’s house, a cooper’s house, a storehouse, a blacksmith’s shop, a country store, and, briefly, a silkworm industry.” Hydraulic Mills became the head of navigation for bateaux commerce on the Rivanna until an 1870 flood “ended river navigation in Albemarle County forever.” (“The Life & Legacy of Hugh Carr: River View Farm” brochure at Ivy Creek Natural Area. Ivy Creek Foundation )

Following the drought of 1977, RWSA acquired 1,300 acres in 1983 near Free Union for Buck Mountain Creek reservoir on a tributary of South Rivanna. But the dam was never built because the endangered James River Spiny Mussel was found. RWSA never returned the land to its owners. In Feb. 2004, RWSA chairman Mike Gaffney said at a City Council meeting that the reservoir might not be built for a hundred years, but the agency is keeping the land as an “insurance policy” against future water demands.

In late 2006, the agency unveiled a plan to use Buck Mountain land in the mitigation plan to replace inundated wetlands and to quadruple the size of the Ragged Mountain reservoir from 460 million gallons to 1,590 million gallons. The pool elevation would be 45 feet higher than today and extend under Interstate 64. Because of the small drainage basin, a pipeline from South Rivanna will fill the mega Ragged Mountain reservoir.

In 2007 RWSA floated the idea to abandon the South Rivanna and allow the reservoir to completely siltate rather than dredge. Today Rivanna holds about half the water supply. When Ragged Mountain is expanded, Rivanna will hold a quarter of the supply and shrinking over time due to siltation.

The expanded Ragged Mountain will flood hiking trails surrounding the existing lakes. Councilor Kevin Lynch and others have asked that this “park land” be replaced with park land elsewhere. But RWSA explained the trails will be relocated to higher ground and expanded, and the financing of that relocation is a point of discussion. Director Frederick said the trails are on reservoir land acquired in the 1880s for the purpose of future expansion. In December Mayor David Brown made the same argument, explaining we must sometimes invest in the future as past generations have done.

“50-year Water Plan for 76% more population: Ragged at same phase as Buck Mountain”, Sep. 18, 2007.

"Council approves Ragged Mountain option: Water for another 50 years", June 6, 2006. Includes RWSA report to Council on Feb 9, 2005. Timeline of South Rivanna reservoir.

"Rivanna uncomfortable using Buck Mountain land for Ragged Mountain plan", November 2, 2006. The agency's signature eminent domain scandal.

Tom Frederick at Lane Auditorium Sep. 13, 2007

Ragged Mountain southwest, Rivanna northeast
Blue= I-64, yellow= 250 bypass, green= 29North
Red= western bypass VDOT right-of-way
B= Birdwood, W= Walmart, U= University Hall
2 possible routes for pipeline shown

Proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir, outline of RWSA-owned land, and Ragged Mountain wetland mitigation

Proposed third dam at Ragged Mountain

“The Last Drought: Has Time Stood Still for 25 Years?” Sep. 3, 2002

Charlottesville and Albemarle County imposed mandatory water conservation August 22 for the first time in “possibly a half century.” The two ordinances were identical and took effect the next calendar day for the 80,000 customers. The maximum penalty for wasting water is $500 and water shut-off (“Water Limits Enacted,” Aug. 23, 2002, Daily Progress).

Actually, the last mandatory water conservation was 1977. The ordinances were similar and took effect immediately with the same penalties applied to the 60,000 customers (“Mandatory Water Ordinances Enacted,” Oct. 8, 1977, Daily Progress). The restrictions remained in Albemarle for 34 days and a day longer in Charlottesville.

“Drought Perspective”, Sep. 18, 2002

Comparison of 1930, 1977, 2002 Droughts