Tuesday, September 23, 2008

City to revisit election precincts

Charlottesville, Va.—“Virginia law requires that a precinct be realigned if more than 4,000 voters cast ballots on Election Day. Currently, three of Charlottesville’s eight precincts—Venable, Recreation, and Jefferson Park—have surpassed 4,000 registered voters, something unprecedented in the city’s history.

“’We’re expecting about an 80 percent turnout,’ said Sheri Iachetta, Charlottesville’s voter registrar”(“City might have to redo precincts: High registration makes post-Nov. 4 adjustments increasingly probable” by Rachana Dixit, Sep. 22, 2008, The Daily Progress).

According to the article, a simple statute may do what two commissions and the voter registrar’s office have been unable to do in recent years: redraw precinct boundaries to balance resources and population shifts within the city. The total population has remained unchanged for four decades.

In 1963, each of the four wards was divided into a large precinct and a small precinct. The small precincts were mostly annexed in the 20th century. The three most populous precincts can outvote the other five.

Any changes must be made between Nov. 4 and Jan. 31. Because of the next census, no changes can be made between Feb. 1, 2009 and May 15, 2011.

Given the recent activity on this issue, the Office of the Voter Registrar likely has several proposals ready to go. This time around, 45 years later, we seem as prepared as we can be.


1762—Town of Charlottesville established.

1888—Charlottesville incorporates as city.

1920—Referendum to switch from bicameral 12-member system modeled after the federal legislature to current city-manager system modeled after corporate governing boards. At-large elections begin several years later.

1963—Four wards are divided into eight precincts with annexation of Barracks Road Shopping Center.

May 2000—Democratic councilors Maurice Cox, Meredith Richards, Kevin Lynch elected, support elected mayor.

Mar. 23, 2004--"Public talks about ward system but not sure it's the fix" at Tonsler Park.

April 5, 2004—Ward/Mayor study commissioned by Council in 3-1-1 vote: Rob Schilling, Meredith Richards, Maurice Cox in favor, Blake Caravati against, Kevin Lynch abstain. Only Lynch survives the May 2004 election

Aug. 30, 2004, “Interest in mayor system ignored”, Letter in The Daily Progress.

Jan. 3, 2005—Sean O'BRIEN, Council Elections Task Force chairman delivers report to Council and takes questions from Councilors.

Nov. 8, 2005—Elected School Board referendum.

Feb. 21, 2006—8-member commission to study school board elections.

May, 19, 2006, “Task forces studies how to elect school board”.

Jun. 1, 2006, “Should school board be at-large? Daily Progress says yes”. Includes “Interest in mayor system ignored,” August 30 2004, Letter in The Daily Progress, criticizing editorial ”City system not broken,” Aug 19 2004.

“School board study: Only wards can guarantee diversity”, Aug. 8, 2006.

“School board to remain at-large”, Oct. 3, 2006. The final Council vote.

“Council may create new commission to update precinct boundaries after ignoring 2 commissions in 2 years”, Jan. 17, 2007. 4th time in just over 2 years the Council has been asked to modernize its antiquated precincts.

“City might have to redo precincts: High registration makes post-Nov. 4 adjustments increasingly probable” by Rachana Dixit, Sep. 22, 2008, The Daily Progress.

4 Precinct Proposal

7 Precinct Model

Current Ward-Precinct Layout

Larger Precinct Map showing most councilors from populous precincts on north side of town

Monday, September 15, 2008

Adopt-A-Housing-Project Litter Program

Charlottesville, Va.—In newspaper-style writing, the most important detail is the first paragraph. If you could only say one thing, make that the first thing.

In today’s Daily Progress’ top story about subsidized housing, the biggest problem is mold on bricks, broken fences and “garbage surrounds trash bins” (“Improving subsidized city housing a challenge” by Rachana Dixit, Sep. 15, 2008).

The new reporter doesn’t say if the trash bins are full. If so, empty them. But if they’re empty and people are deliberately missing the can, then some sort of protest is underway.

The first sentence of the article is not true. Westhaven, with 126 units, is not the “largest of Charlottesville’s public housing sites.” That title belongs to Garrett Square at 150 units. Not only is it the largest, it’s so controversial it couldn’t be mentioned. This section of the neighborhood was seized circa 1971 and razed 1977, after the Housing Authority rented out the non-blighted houses for a few years. Garrett Square opened 1979.

The housing complex has been sold to the private sector and is entirely Section 8 Housing Vouchers. Piedmont Housing Alliance bought the property in 2002 and renamed it Friendship Court. The Progress article seems to be more propaganda from the Redevelopment and Housing Authority created 1954 (not on their website so not in the article).

Westhaven is the largest public housing site. But Friendship Court is the largest “subsidized” housing complex, which was the title of the article. Even with 50% of the city’s Section 8 housing in one spot, it couldn’t be mentioned.

The second sentence paraphrases two people who know for a fact that the first sentence is inaccurate. But somehow the connection was never made. Councilor Satyendra Huja was the city’s chief urban planner 1973-2004. He knows many of the details of the city’s “largest subsidized housing project.” Councilor Julian Taliaferro worked since the ‘60s at the firehouse on Ridge Street whose front door faces the housing project on the next hill over.

Yet somehow this project is invisible to these men. After all these years, they still can’t talk about it.

The reporter lists nine sources. They all support eminent domain to seize and sell property (oppose due process). It’s hardly balance if all the sources agree. Not one civil property rights advocate was quoted.

In an Orwellian perversion, Amy Kilroy said that in October the committee will adopt the Residents’ Bill of Rights created by the Public Housing Association of Residents. As if you have the right to evict other people so you can live there.

The article doesn’t mention Levy Avenue, which was touted only last year as the new face of redevelopment by the Housing Authority’s director Noah Schwartz. Eight of the ten parcels that make up the modern-day parking lot were bitterly contested in 1972, according to numerous court records. A November front-page article didn’t know how or how long the agency had owned the property. Since 2003 a renewed effort to sell this land, first developed in 1891, has seen several campaigns including former Mayor Maurice Cox and the Belmont Neighborhood Association. The only interested developer backed out.

And today, Amy Kilroy dares to claim that “about 100 companies are considering submitting proposals.” Is anyone comparing what they saying now with what they said and did last year?

Do these people believe in Karma? Does Rachana Dixit not think this article could follow her around for the rest of her career and beyond the grave? Do people who live in public housing really expect continued injustice to bear sweet fruit eventually? Does the Progress see a connection between its reporting and its demise? Keep hope alive.

A word to Julian and Satyendra: Is history trying to tell you something? Or is history trying to tell us something about you?

On a personal note: After working out of town for several weeks, history handed me this article on my first weekday back. I still have a purpose here in Cville. Welcome back.

“False press report on homicide at Friendship Court: Eminent domain of location cover-up”, Dec. 31, 2006. Progress reporter Matt Deegan caught making up history of Friendship Court.

“Levy Avenue for sale: Eminent domain in your face” Dec. 15, 2006. Progress reporter John Yellig is caught not doing his research.

Rents for $1 a year

“Levy Avenue update: Proof of ownership incomplete”, Nov. 15, 2007

CRHA director Noah Schwartz standing before crowd, to his right seated at table is Randy Bickers (Nov. 14, 2007 at Westhaven community center).

“Levy Avenue update: All 5 owners identified” Nov. 17, 2007. Source references to court records.

"2007: Levy Ave one of Many Stories", Jan. 28, 2008. Scale of eminent domain abuse in context of future shock following numerous projects in '60s and '70s.

Browse this blog for more local history that’s too true for other media outlets.