Friday, December 26, 2008

Elks Lodge-Juvenile Courthouse update

Charlottesville, Va.—"Mike Mollica, capital projects coordinator for Charlottesville, said the building’s $20.1 million renovation is on target to be “substantially completed” by April 1. The juvenile court operation is expected to be moved from the Levy Opera House by the end of that month" (“Court renovation nearing completion” by Tasha Kates, Dec. 26, 2008, The Daily Progress). This is the only article about this story on the Progress website.

A portion of the back wall collapsed on March 30, 2006 at 12:20 p.m. The local weeklies covered the story. For excerpts, links to those stories and more photos, background, and deed numbers:

“City sues over Elks Lodge-Juvenile Courthouse renovation”, Dec. 5, 2007

Levy Opera House at end of sidewalk, Albemarle Courthouse on right, and renovated 16th District Juvenile and Domestic Courthouse to left (top photo) at High and Park Streets, Court Square.

Origins of the Elks Club:

The Elks had modest beginnings in 1868 as a social club (then called the "Jolly Corks") established as a private club to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. Early members were mostly from theatrical performing troupes in New York City.

Rebricking of Downtown Mall stirs memories

Charlottesville, Va.—A $7 million program to rebrick the Downtown Mall has begun and is projected to be completed 5 months later in May 2009. The original bricking of Main Street took 18 months and was completed June 1976 from First to Sixth Street East. It was expanded west in 1981 two more blocks (where Miller's and Mudhouse are now), and later farther west in front of the Omni Hotel to Water St. and east to the Pavilion, and now on some side streets and Court Square.

Some City Council video from the original debate is now available on YouTube. The video shows some newspaper articles where you can read the headlines. To my knowledge, the articles are not online anywhere for you to read in depth and confirm that they actually state the content paraphrased in the video uploaded by Steve Ashby.

Part 1: 8 min 52 sec
Part 2: 9 min 37 sec

Here’s my comment posted Dec. 26 to ”The Original Downtown Mall Debate”, Dec. 20, 2008

Selective history buffs won't like what I've said about the Downtown Mall. Before the Mall was even finished, the police confiscated my bike for 30 days when I was 11 years old. Now police routinely ride bikes on the Mall.

For some, the bricking of the Mall was strike 3 in Charlottesville's "Downtown Renewal." Vinegar Hill early '60s and Garrett Street south downtown clearance 1972 (other parts '76, '77), Mall vote 2-0-3 in Feb. 1974. (Charles Barbour & Mitch Van Yahres for; Francis Fife, Jill Rhinehart, George Gilliam abstain.) The vote itself indicates less than overwhelming support at the time.

In the video clips, Barbour hints at the intense opposition by saying some votes have been easy while others were controversial. Van Yahres hints at the 2 neighboring urban renewal projects by saying the Mall is in a broader context. Fife hints at the controversy of a minority vote justifying the project when he mentions the attorney general ruling.

Downtown businesses were charged a fee or special assessment of a half million dollars in addition to the $2.5 mil general funds. Barbour & Van Yahres wanted to spend $3.5 mil. I don't know the cost overruns and delays. As I recall but can't yet document, the oversized bricks were chosen to save money and were not part of the original design as peole are saying today. It's often hard to separate fact from legend.

The economic downturn of 2008 shows why the Mall was a bad idea. In the '70s the Mall had upscale restaurants and boutique stores. But there were also greasy spoons, department stores and Five & Dime stores. According to Alvin Clements, banker on the original commission to design the Mall, the goal was to tranform downtown into all boutiques stores with residences on the upper floors. When you reduce the economic diversity of an area, it's less able to weather changing economic conditions. When people stop buying luxury items, they have no option to buy more cheaply downtown. The reduced diversity of businesses is why the Mall is suffering so much in today's recession

It's interesting to go back and compare what was happening then with what people say today was happening back then. The Mall didn't save downtown. Most of the businesses and department stores left after the Mall. In the '80s Main St. was a ghost town. It found its niche in the '90s and came back but not to its former glory or importance.

Sometimes, decades later, the high rollers intimately involved with a project will remember how it really was, instead of what they were saying at the time. The June 30, 2006 forum at City Hall on the 30th anniversary of the completion of the Mall is such an example.

"The men behind the mall: we did it to save downtown", Jul. 1, 2006. Alvin Clements articulates the economic cleansing purpose of the Mall. Van Yahres talks about his contemporaneous, attempted annexation abuses blocked by the courts. Cole Hendrix remembers, when the Mall was built, first 2 department stores left, then little by little they all left downtown.

I saw the Young Men's Shop owner in the video. They stayed after the Mall, then finally moved out to the shopping centers, and in the last few years moved back to the Mall. So things go in cycles.

Did you notice "Jeremiah Johnson" was playing at the Paramount? Jeremiah was living way up in the mountains because civilization was so uninviting and unjust. Today the movie might be a symbol of the exodus of longtime residents. Of course beneficiaries of "civilization" and newcomers have a different perspective.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WINA cancels Rob Schilling again

Rob Schilling and Jane Foy (Courtesy Bring Back Rob blog)

History repeats: (Sep. 9, 2007)

Rob was also cancelled the first time without notice to the audience. In his final broadcast, Rob talks about this week's shows--of course, before they were cancelled.

Why does WINA have such disrespect for their listeners and employees? Did WINA think Rob would vandalize or sabotage the studio if cancellation of the show had been announced? Or did they fear an outpouring of calls and support? The WINA website has no mention of Rob, as if he never existed. They treated Michael Savage better and played a notice when he was cancelled for talking about autism.

Rob's WINA webpage can be accessed directly for a little while longer... until "headquarters" discovers the oversight. Longtime Charlottesville / Albemarle residents know how easy it is to be erased. I have an entire blog about revisionist history.

I hope Rob moves on to the next level. His podcasts were already beginning to reach a national audience. More people are listening to the radio online these days. It's WINA's loss. Expect their revenues to continue to decline not only because of the economy, but also the lower quality product and reduced diversity of programming. While they blame the corporate headquarters, each WINA employee represents the company and shares responsibility for its decisions.

Blair Hawkins

The Schilling Show Cancelled!

Let's show Rob our support

From Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance

Charlottesville, Virginia - December 22, 2008

If you're getting ready to tune into The Schilling Show in a few minutes on WINA AM 1070, you won't hear Rob Schilling and his program. Rob was informed after last Friday's show his program is cancelled effective immediately. The cancellation of Rob's program is a huge loss to ATTA and the entire Albemarle / Charlottesville community. Rob was a consistent voice of fiscal conservatism and a champion of the rights of the average taxpayer and common citizen.

Rob provided a forum to ATTA for our message: that local government should make every attempt to spend our tax money effectively and efficiently. Indeed, Peter Wurzer and I were his final guests last Friday (podcast of final broadcast).

We understand the cancellation was entirely a business decision in response to the tough economic times we're all facing, and that Rob's outspoken conservative message was not a factor. Also, the decision was made at the corporate level by Saga Communications (owner of WINA); and that local WINA management supported keeping The Schilling Show on the air.

This cancellation means WINA no longer broadcasts any local programming with a mainstream conservative theme. "Big government" programs such as The Coy Barefoot Show, The Rick and Jane Morning Show, and Saga Communications' separate Lib-Talk AM radio station remain in place.

Rob worked tirelessly for all of us, and I feel we owe him a bit of our time in return. Please contact the following individuals and let them know how you feel:

Edward Christian-President/CEO of Saga Communications
Phone: 313-886-7070
Fax: 313-886-7150

Steven Goldstein-Executive VP/Group Program Director of Saga Communications
Phone: 203-221-1666
Fax: 203-222-9633

Rick Daniels-WINA Program Director
Phone: 434-220-2300
Fax: 434-220-2304

Renee Quesenberry-WINA General Manager
Phone: 434-220-2300
Fax: 434-220-2304

Thanks, and have a Merry Christmas.
-- Keith

Keith C. Drake, Ph. D.Chairman, ATTA

P.S. If you want to send Rob a note, you can contact him at:

About the Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance (ATTA)

The Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance is a Political Action Committee (PAC) registered with the Virginia State Board of Elections. Its non-partisan mission is to promote more effective and efficient Albemarle County government, focusing on the budgeting process and taxation issues.

In 2007, ATTA educated citizens about a state law requiring a proportional drop in the tax rate when assessments rise more than 1%, and also the Albemarle Supervisors' proposed 30% tax increase. ATTA's efforts resulted in a public outcry against the tax increase and a nearly $10 million savings to taxpayers.

Albemarle Truth In Taxation Alliance
Keith C. Drake, Ph.D. Chairman (434) 974-1617

Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance
Peter WurzerDirector of Research (434) 973-8945

This email was sent to by

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Urban Renewal Director, Same Old Lies

Randy Bickers (courtesy WVIR-TV NBC-29)

Charlottesville, Va.—On January 7, 2009, Redevelopment and Housing Authority employee and civil rights opponent Randy Bickers will be promoted to Executive Director, according to WVIR-TV NBC-29’s Henry Graff ( “New Housing Director in Charlottesville”, Dec. 22, 2008).

When did Bickers say he opposes civil rights? Never. His actions speak louder than his words. The Authority seizes and sells real estate in the name of eminent domain, which prohibits seizing property for private use and private ownership. In the WVIR story, Bickers credits the 1960 Vinegar Hill clearance as the main reason public housing residents distrust government.

Vinegar Hill must have been an incredibly traumatic event to be the sole cause of distrust almost 50 years later. Is it possible that larger, more recent projects might contribute to that distrust? Is it possible that Bickers’ dishonesty (lying by omission) might contribute to the public’s skepticism?

Not only is Bickers dishonest, he also opposes the preservation of black history. The history of the Housing Authority is intertwined with local black history (and white history). In 2007, in response to a request for proof the Authority owns the parking lot on Levy Avenue, Bickers gave the deed references for only 2 of the 10 parcels that comprise the lot.

In a follow-up request for proof of ownership for the remaining 80% of the property, Bickers referred Blair Hawkins to the city’s legal department. Barbara Ronan released the deed references for the other 8 parcels, which were seized in 1972. The Authority is still trying to sell the stolen property.

Below is a spreadsheet inventory of what the Housing Authority claims to be its 11 public housing sites and the vacant Levy Avenue property. The spreadsheet includes “Tax Map & Parcel ID” but omits any reference that could show actual ownership (Deed Book and Page numbers). The deed numbers are excluded because of the opposition to historic preservation. The deed numbers allow you to go straight to the city courthouse and trace the history of a property.

The agency claims it now owns 45 acres. Undisclosed is how much property the Authority has owned since its creation in 1954. The website omits the simple date of origin, further illustrating its antipathy to history.

Also below are aerial photos of 7 of the Authority’s 11 public housing sites. I’ve included them here in the likely event the Authority edits its website in the future to revise or erase more of our history.

Background Links

“Mayor repeats Vinegar Hill myth, Water Board chairman re-appointed”, Dec. 16, 2008.

Noah Schwartz

“Another Urban Renewal Director Resigns”, Oct. 5, 2008.

“2007:Levy Ave one of Many Stories”, Jan. 28, 2008.

“Levy Avenue update: All 5 owners identified”, Nov. 17, 2007. Includes deed references to the actual owners.

“Land for Vinegar Hill condo tower once owned by John West and Madam Marguiretta”, Sep. 13, 2007. Example of how informative tracing a deed can be.

“Asst city manager Small-Toney resigns, blocked access to public records”, May 23, 2007. I still don’t have access to the archives. UVa historian Scot French, now Historical Society board member, was the last person who claimed to have put the archives online. But I haven’t been able to find them anywhere.

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

On Feb. 24, 2007, at the First Baptist Church on West Main, also site of the first Jefferson School in 1865, Luanne Williams said the archives in their study comprised

1,189 visual media files
6,845 physical documents
189 maps and blueprints
6,199 files related to GIS mapping

for a total of 14,422.

The blog you are now reading contains more about Charlottesville’s urban renewal than any other online source. A Google search does not find these archives. How long does it take to falsify documents and delete any reference to urban renewal which is not Vinegar Hill?

Dr. Scot French and his book The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory.

Scot French’s personal homepage at the University of Virginia.

Virginia Center for Digital History at UVA was said to possess the archives in Feb. 2007. A search for “urban renewal” returns no entries.

In January 2009 I will contact these people again and ask them to explain what happened to this project and these archives. The last time I contacted Scot French was Nov. 2007. He’s had over a year to publish this project. Did he really think I would give up and go away, and not record his role in this history?

Inventory of 11 Public Housing sites and vacant Levy Ave property according to CRHA (Page 1 of 2)

Inventory of 11 Public Housing sites and vacant Levy Ave property according to CRHA (Page 2 of 2)

Map showing the 11 sites as of October 2006

Does not include sold properties such as Vinegar Hill, Omni Hotel, Friendship Court (150 units), Garrett Street, ACAC, Norcross Condos, Gleason Luxury Condos, Ridge Lane and many others.

Aerial map of Westhaven constructed March 1965, 126 units at 801-836 Hardy Drive [Corrected for copying down wrong date] (Construction dates according to CRHA)

Crescent Halls constructed September 1976, 105 units at 500 South 1st Street

South 1st Street constructed September 1981, 58 units at 900-1000 S. 1st St.

Riverside constructed September 1980, 16 units at 309-323 Riverside Avenue

Michie Drive constructed September 1980, 23 units at 2021-2025 Michie Drive

Madison Ave constructed September 1980, 18 units at 1609-1625 Mdison Avenue

905 Monticello Ave constructed June 1992 (one unit)

Not pictured here:

Sixth St. constructed March 1981, 25 units at 707-713 Sixth St. SE (Old Scottsville Road)
Hinton Ave, one unit constructed June 1992
Elsom St., one unit constructed June 1992
Ridge St., 2 units constructed September 1995

Current 7-Member Board of Commissioners who oversee the Housing Authority The meetings are held the fourth Monday of the month in City Hall Council Chambers at 7 p.m. and are now televised and available as a podcast.

1. Mr. Jason Halbert - Chair/Commissioner
Term Expires: 6/30/11

2. Mr. Hosea Mitchell - Vice Chair/Commissioner
Term Expires: 6/30/11

3. Ms. Sherri Clarke - Resident Commissioner
Term Expires: 6/30/11

4. Mr. Richard H. Jones - Commissioner
Term Expires: 6/30/10

5. Ms. Joy Johnson– Resident Commissioner
Term Expires: 6/30/10

6. Mr. Dave Norris - City Council/Commissioner
Term Expires: 6/30/10

7. Mr. Bob Stevens- Treasurer/Commissioner
Term Expires: 6/30/10

Housing Authority Staff Members

City Hall
Phone#: (434) 970-3253 Fax #: (434) 971-4797

  1. Noah Schwartz- Executive Director
  2. Amy Kilroy - Redevelopment Director
  3. Donna Evans- Accounting Manager
  4. LeAnn Hinton -Accountant
  5. Jewel Mason - Prevention Specialist
  6. Deetra West- Administrative Assistant

1000 South First Street
Phone #: (434) 971-4656 Fax #: (434) 293-3460

  1. Heather Jeffries- Asset Manager
  2. Jacquline Sedwick- Property Manager
  3. Patricia Lockley- Property Manager
  4. Darkita Brown - Administrative Assistant
  5. Larry Andes - Maintenance Tech II
  6. Lonnie Dwyer - Maintenance Tech II
  7. Cobi Copper- Maintenance Tech I
  8. Curtis Glover - Maintenance Tech I
  9. Travis Houchens - Maintenance Tech I (Part-Time)
  10. Scott Shifflett - Maintenance Tech I
  11. Jennifer Warren - Maintenance Tech I
  12. Brandon Bartee - Resident Apprentice Program
  13. Jamar Luck - Resident Apprentice Program

500 South First Street
Phone #: (434) 296-1863 Fax #: (434) 971-4795

  1. Rebecca Weybright -Housing Manager
  2. Kelly Marquez - Public Housing Certification Specialist I-
  3. Maxicelia Strother- Public Housing Eligibility Specialist I -
  4. Lynn Jackson- Housing Choice Voucher Certification Specialist I-
  5. Cynthia Williams - Housing Choice Voucher Specialist
  6. Vanessa Johnson- Administrative Assistant
  7. Jesse Butler - Inspector/Special Programs Administrator

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mayor repeats Vinegar Hill myth, Water Board chairman re-appointed

Charlottesville, Va.—At City Council’s Dec. 15 meeting, former Housing Authority chairman and current Mayor Dave Norris perpetuated the myth that Vinegar Hill is the only urban renewal project to occur in Charlottesville. The statement came about 42 minutes into the meeting.

Norris was addressing the residents’ Bill of Rights drafted by the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR). He said he had spoken with an anonymous architect of Vinegar Hill who said this project would never have happened or happened differently if there had been an association of public housing residents back then.

But public housing did not exist here in 1960 when the Vinegar Hill project was approved by referendum. The Westhaven public housing project was built ostensibly to house the displaced residents and opened 1964.

Norris must have meant to say that subsequent urban renewal projects, such as the much larger Garrett Street project a decade later, would not have happened or happened differently if there had been an association of residents. I don’t know the year PHAR was organized. But at the time, neighborhood associations were unable to stop the later projects.

The Redevelopment and Housing Authority is the city’s urban renewal agency. It’s a real estate company created 1954 with the power of eminent domain to seize and sell real estate. The agency seizes land, clears it, then sells or gives away some of the land to rich patrons while renting out some of the land to low-income families, typically who had owned the houses before the project was implemented. Levy Avenue is an example of land seized 1972 that the Authority is still trying sell in 2008.

Activist Raymond Mason brought to the attention of Council that the Housing Authority has not corrected unsafe and unsanitary conditions he, Councilors Satyendra Huja (city planner 1973-2004) and Julian Taliaferro (city fireman since the ‘60s and former fire chief) had brought to the Authority’s attention months ago. Mason pointed out the high school class attending the meeting for extra credit as an example of modern-day segregation. Black students were seated on one side of the auditorium while the white students were sitting on the other side.

President of the local NAACP, M. Rick Turner, also spoke during public comment. He reminded us that next year is the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. While much has changed, we still have much work to do.

Chairman of Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority re-appointed

Council re-appointed Michael Gaffney, who in 2004 replaced previous chairman Rich Collins. In 2008 RWSA has been intensely criticized by a small group of disgruntled and discredited ex-officials. In response to a drought mishandled by Collins in 2002, the Council and County Board of Supervisors approved in 2006 the expansion of the city's first reservoir built 1885.

This past summer, all permits for the Ragged Mountain expansion were obtained. The 1983 Buck Mountain Reservoir to address the 1977 drought was never approved by regulators because the endangered James River Spiny Mussel was found.

One reason given for the re-appointment was Gaffney’s successful negotiation with the city on the issue of solid waste. The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority is also the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. The city had unilaterally stopped paying its portion of the costs. Going into the 2002 drought, the agency’s main issue was remediation of the Ivy Landfill. All waste from the city and county is now transferred outside of this area.

Upper Ragged Mountan Reservoir and old pump house went into operation 1885. I'm standing on the earthen dam. (Photos taken 9-28-2008)

Lower Ragged Mountain Dam built 1908. Upper reservoir is just around the bend.

“Gaffney undrained: Confident water boss seeks fourth term”, Dec. 8, 2008, The Hook

[Comment posted to The Hook 12-13-2008—Relating relevant history. Think of it like this: What if you grew up around people who talked about the Great War of 1914 but never mentioned World War II? Then you do research and discover that the same people are WWII veterans. Would such research justify at least a tiny bit of cynicism and distrust?]


What's so significant about a water shortage in 1977?

1. Worst drought on record. First mandatory water resrtictions. Why is historical perspective important? Why is a historical precedent relevant to the same thing happening at a later time? Why did RWSA and the Progress report in 2002 that 2002 was the worst drought and 2002 was the first mandatory water restrictions? Does history have no lessons to help us avoid repeating past mistakes?

Now you may forgive a journalist for not researching a front page story with several years lead time (1999 and 2001 were also dry). You may forgive RWSA director Larry Tropea for repeatedly saying 2002 was the worst drought on record because he had just moved here.

Here's the question: Why would an RWSA chairman with experience and first-hand knowledge of the history not tell newcomers and the new generation what that history is? No one can remember every little detail of every piece of history. But what about the big stories? Why would a self-described expert not be expected to relate his experience to his employers (the public)?

2. What urban renewal projects were going on in 1977?

Garret Square, South First Street and others. I understand it's hard to believe you can be an expert and not know the highlights of your expertise. I can only speculate why Collins didn't call the Progress and correct their front page story. What do you think was his reason? Because we had more water on hand in 2002 than in 1977 and he didn't want to explain that? Maybe. Or perhaps he smply forgot and nobody brought the memory lapse to his attention. But a citizen who had delivered the Progress in 1977 when he was 13 years old did bring it to their attention.

"The emperor has no water" Hoax, March 16, 2008, includes scanned articles from 1977 and 1972 as proof contradicting the experts.

"2007: Year of the Non-Drought", Jan. 3, 2008, includes links to my coverage of this issue beginning in 2000 when I became politically active.

I have focused on water issues because I have a B.S. in Meteorology, which is journalism-- reporting on weather and researching weather-related history. I also focused on urban renewal because I am an eyewitness and so many experts (like Collins, Huja, etc.) have perpetrated the myth that Vinegar Hill is the only urban renewal ever to occur in Cville despite massive historical documentation to the contrary.

"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.

I was a 13-year-old student at Walker Middle School, lived across from Skate Town on Market St., delivered newspapers, and was interested in weather (B.S. Meteorology 1993). Unless noted, the referenced articles appeared in 1977 from September 1 to November 11 in The Daily Progress.
Urban renewal was in full swing. There was a move to split the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and bring Housing under direct control of City Council (“Housing Board Change Argued: Council Split,” Oct. 14). If successful, the separation of the independent agency’s two functions, property purchase (Housing) and resale (Redevelopment), might have minimized the impact of renewal.

City Council delayed discussion of the proposal and approval by the General Assembly was needed (“City Council Will Weigh Housing Authority Control,” Sep. 3; “Authority Hearing Postponed,” Sep. 30; “City Puts Off Housing Authority Shift,” Oct. 18). Today, the Housing Authority remains intact.

The mayor [Nancy O'Brien] wanted a second Elderly high-rise at the top of Vinegar Hill at then City Market, site of the old Midway School. The Authority wanted it in the “Garrett Street urban renewal area.” Housing Authority Board Chairman Richard C. Collins said “‘the benefits of home ownership’ were being exaggerated” and “‘it’s a sham’ for people to think everyone can afford to own their home” (“Price of Highrise Site Set by Council: Midway Location Chosen,” Sep. 13).

The Housing Authority came within two days of losing a $6.2 million grant “to construct a 58-unit housing project on First Street and four other smaller complexes scattered around the city” (“City Housing Grant Okayed,” Sep. 30).


Just because it's easy to believe the false reality, without any fact checking, that the experts and politicians are relating doesn't mean I have to. I chose to do the research for free not because it was easy, but rather because it's the right thing to do.

It used to be called leadership when when one person speaks the truth even when everyone else is making it up as they go along. The incredible contrast between the truth and what the experts are saying is the energy still fueling my activism on these issues.