Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Newspaper updates 38-year-old Levy Avenue urban renewal

The Housing Authority bulldozed these Levy Ave houses 1972 and has been trying to sell the stolen land ever since.

Charlottesville, Va.—The latest episode in a 4-decade drama unfolded Monday, according to Daily Progress reporter Rachana Dixit. Here are the updates:

(1) The Levy site now faces Garrett Street.

(2) The city now wants 36 units on the Levy site.

(3) The only concern voiced was 36 units seems like “over-concentration.” Belmont resident Cass Kawecki expressed the concern. All the other quotes and data came from the city’s urban renewal agency.

(4) Current participants named in this abuse of eminent domain:
(A) Consultants Wallace, Roberts, & Todd.
(B) Amy Kilroy, Housing Authority Redevelopment Director.
(C) Alex Morris, Project Manager.
(D) Jason Halbert, member of the oversight commission for the Redevelopment and Housing Authority (urban renewal agency).

(5) The authority only claims 376 units public housing across 11 sites.

(6) The agency wants to expand to between 558 and 720 units, at a cost between $115.8 and $150.8 million, “transforming into a mix of public housing, affordable [public] housing, and market-rate [public] housing.”

(7) The master plan for redevelopment is a “living document.”

(8) The expansion could result in 376 official public housing units, “192 affordable [public housing] rentals, 139 market-rate [public housing] rentals, and 12 affordable [public housing]homes for ownership.”

(9) The only historical perspective is Wallace, Roberts, & Todd saying they’ve been working more than a year to come up with the “living” master plan of re-redevelopment.

(“Belmont residents voice concerns: Public housing overhaul provokes questions” by Rachana Dixit, July 27, 2010, The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia.)

If you Google Levy Avenue Charlottesville, Blair’s Blog appears on the second page. But it’s an old story from 2006. So let me tell you what’s too true for the Progress to report.

Rents for $1 a year (Photo Aug. 16, 2002).

(“Levy Avenue update: All 5 owners identified” by Blair Hawkins, Nov. 17, 2007)

“Eight of the 10 parcels that make up the Housing Authority’s Levy Avenue site were acquired in three condemnation lawsuits in 1972. Lots 7 and 11 were purchased by the Authority under threat of condemnation in 1971. The 1891 plat of Belmont shows the original development as Lots 2-11 Block 4, south side of Levy. The site now rents to the city as an employee parking lot for $1 a year.

On this block, the last of the three holdouts were Dennis F. and Mildred B. Hensley. They had bought lots 2,3,4, now vacant and overlooking Friendship Court, in 1964 from Mary E. and Haynes C. Settle. The Housing Authority paid the most for this property, $50,000, and took title June 26, 1972, Deed Book 337 Page 528. Real estate tax of 1971 and half of 1972 were deducted. Nine thousand went to the bank. The balance was deposited with the Clerk of the Court.

The second most expensive property was $28,500 for lots 5,6,8,9. Better Living Inc. purchased the lots 1963-65 to secure bonds for the company. Charlottesville Lumber Company Inc. was renamed Better Living Inc. in 1968 (Charter Book 15 Page 86, July 20, 1968).

Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, petitioner, v. Better Living Inc, defendant

“This cause came on this day to be heard upon the papers formerly read and more particularly upon the report of the commissioners dated and filed April 18, 1972, and was argued by counsel…CRHA has paid to Carl E. Hennrich, Clerk of the Corporation Court of Charlottesville, Virginia, the sum of $28,500 as ascertained by the commissioners in said report to be the value of the land taken in this cause…The property hereinafter described is necessary for the development of an urban renewal project.” (Deed Book 335 Page 251, April 18, 1972)

Lot 10 was owned by Irene Payne Draper and six siblings. $8,500 were deposited in the Clerk of the Court’s Office to be split among 7 children of Emma E. Payne, who died intestate 1956 (Deed Book 337 Page 446, June 1, 1972). Emma Payne had acquired the property June 15, 1945 (Deed Book 120 Page 350).


When I requested from the Housing Authority the deed numbers for Levy Avenue, Randy Bickers gave me the deeds for the 1971 acquisitions. These appear as normal sales where the property is for sale and a buyer pays the selling price. When I requested the remaining deeds, Bickers referred the request to the city’s legal department.

Thursday afternoon, after I published my previous update, Barbara Ronan of the legal department called me and gave me the other three deed numbers from a Nov. 5, 2005 title search. Friday afternoon I spent an hour researching the deeds. These deeds were written by the court as a result of condemnation.

Also Thursday afternoon, the Carter G. Woodson Institute returned my morning call. They referred me to Scot French, now the director of Digital Knowledge at Alderman Library. French said he has only digital files and assumes the original archives are back at the Historical Society, or wherever they came from.

French said the files should be online and searchable within two months. He took my number. I said I would follow up in January 2008. [French did not keep his word.]

1891 Plat of Belmont showing Lots 2-11 (red) Block 4. Lots 7 and 11 (green).

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

It now appears the Housing Authority has been unable to sell the Levy Avenue parking lot because of deed problems.

In response to a Nov. 12 request for the deed numbers for this property, Randy Bickers of the Housing Authority found three deed references for Levy. One deed is the original 1891 plat of the Belmont neighborhood. The other two deeds identify 612 Levy acquired Aug. 23, 1971 from Carrie L. Tooley, and 620 Levy acquired May 26, 1971, from the estate of E.M.Charlie.

Eight of the ten lots that make up the site are unaccounted for.

Last night (Nov. 14) at the Westhaven community center, executive director of the Redevelopment and Housing Authority since Jul. 25, 2005, Noah Schwartz mentioned “Levy Avenue” at least ten times as a high profile example of redevelopment to come. He also said the Housing Authority owns Levy free and clear. But he never said when the Authority acquired the Levy site.

The city’s Housing Authority is actually a real estate company. They buy and sell property. Some of the property they keep to rent out to low-income residents. They don’t call it the Housing Company because the company has the authority to buy property that’s not for sale. This unusual power is the main source of the agency’s controversy and motivation against preserving history.

Also last night, when Joy Johnson was saying Westhaven’s history should be preserved since it was “birthed” from Vinegar Hill, Schwartz said the history of all the properties should be preserved. How do you find out a property’s history? You trace the deed back. But you need to know the deed to start. As a real estate company, which has recently done a full inventory of assets, the Housing Authority should have a master list of all its properties and their deed numbers.

The main theme of the community meeting was trust. Again and again, people asked, how can we trust the Housing Authority given the agency’s past and current history?

Chairman of the Board of Directors who direct the Housing Authority, Kendra Hamilton said City Council appoints all seven members of the board, but the Authority and the City are “completely separate.” Hamilton undermined the trustworthiness she was projecting by falsely asserting that CRHA is somehow not a city agency.

Hamilton nodded in agreement when Johnson said we should preserve the history. Hamilton is unfriendly to preserving local black history and refused, along with the rest of Council on Nov. 20, 2006, to allow public access to Housing Authority Archives. She pretended not to know about the research effort despite a Jan. 2005 email and numerous newsblog postings that document the unwillingness to cooperate with historic preservation.

(“2007: Levy Ave one of Many Stories” by Blair Hawkins, Jan. 28, 2008.)

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 [disgraced] 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.

Small sampling of the coverage for Levy Avenue:

"City has plan for Levy site: Mixed-income idea novel for housing," Jun 19 2003, The Daily Progress. Elizabeth Nelson covers up for urban renewal and placed a blackout on urban renewal when it came up at forums she was covering.

"Levy Avenue Design Workshop," Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association Newsletter, Summer 2003.--"This spring, neighborhood residents and city leaders, including Mayor Maurice Cox, gathered for a design workshop sponsored by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to explore options for development of the Housing Authority property at 405 Levy Avenue, next to Walker's Auto Repair... On the ground level at the Avon Street and 6th Street corners of the property, participants recommended higher density buildings, housing apartments above, and uses like cafe, video store, laundromat for the spaces at sidewalk level. At the center of the block, participants recommended construction of rowhouses, like those in Richmond's Fan District, with a shared private park/garden behind, and garages with 'Granny-flat'studio apartments." [Mayor Cox loves urban renewal if you look at his record instead of quoting his oral history.]

“City Planning Commission weighs in on public housing redevelopment plans” by Sean Tubbs, May 27, 2010, Charlottesville Tomorrow.

That’s like saying “City Planning Commission weighs in on urban renewal urban renewal plans.” I’m sorry to add Mr. Tubbs to the public list of those who support urban renewal and who are knowingly reporting less than the whole truth. I’ve already documented Tubbs’ bias and discrimination against Republicans.

Sean, why are you doing this? You now join the list of other reporters who lack integrity. Please don't play dumb. Your decision to cover up for civil rights abuses could follow you for the rest of your career and always be a mere Google search away.

Of The Daily Progress:

Rachana Dixit’s legacy is unfolding. She can talk about 1974 in a Sunday story but no dates in any urban renewal story.

Seth Rosen covered up Jefferson School’s history and Dixit plagiarized from his 2007 article.

John Yellig reported that “Levy Ave” is the colloquial name for the site. No, that’s its legal name on the city land records and deeds in the courthouse at 315 East High Street.

Matt Deegan made up the history of Friendship Court so he wouldn’t have to report that this is the city’s largest and most controversial public housing project acquired by eminent domain, now on separate books.

"Truthiness: Sounds true but isn't."

Don’t leave out C-ville Weekly and The Hook. They don’t research their urban renewal stories either. They just print whatever government officials tell them. Yes, it’s a strange universe where you take pride in stealing houses from little old ladies and children. Does anyone really think you can commit Constitutional felonies and not have any bad karma because a judge somewhere ruled stealing to be legal depending on who you are and who you're stealing from? Remember it’s not slander if it’s true, no matter how shocking that truth might be. Besides there are zillions of legal documents in my corner.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The State of Race in Charlottesville

More on the black lady Charlottesville is named for.

Charlottesville, Va.—This essay attempts to describe the local race problems as I see them. The issues are relevant to the current discussions on race at the national and local level, which seem ongoing if you look back at the ten years I have been following local politics.

Let’s start with the most immediate story first: Racial violence in the public schools.

It wasn’t until 2006, after a spike in violence at Buford Middle School, the omission from media of any description of the violence, and a teenage thug walking down my street with a baseball bat tapping his hand as he looked at me in Black Panther style, that I decided to become less subtle about the race discussion. All those emotions from decades earlier came flooding back.

Here’s the letter The Daily Progress declined to print because I couldn’t prove what’s common knowledge. That’s right—everybody knows about it. I also take Kendra Hamilton and Charles Barbour to task for their racist remarks (“Race Violence in our Schools?”, Apr. 10, 2006). A couple weeks later I exposed School Board members Ned Michie, Lea Puryear, and Juandiego Wade for sympathizing with the violent thugs. At the candidates forum, Karen Waters let slip that she’s known the violence has been going on a long time. The outrage at the lack of school safety was just the latest “obsession with violence”. The two most informed candidates, Charlie Kollmansperger and Vance High, were not elected (“Democrats regain monopoly in Charlottesville: School Board weak on safety”, May 4, 2006).

History of Restraint

However, I didn’t bring up race on April 13, 2000 at the Education Summit at Charlottesville High School when I was running for City Council. The first words out of my mouth were “This is a violent school,” as my voice trembled. I was the only candidate of the nine that year who had attended city schools. The solutions I proposed that night apply to any student or teacher regardless of skin color. None of those proposals has been adopted.

I didn’t bring up race on June 5, 2000 at the City Council public hearing to name the 9th-10th Street Connector after Sally Hemings. That night I delivered two speeches on urban renewal, widely perceived as an anti-black government program. I explained the Constitutional guarantee against this program for redevelopment and public housing. I received thunderous applause from a mostly black audience.

But not so for the second speech. My opening and closing lines were:

The connector should be named for two people, Sally Hemings and Laura Dowell, a black woman in a white country and a white woman in a black neighborhood, a slave who was property and a free woman who slaved to own property [taken by urban renewal]. Call it Property Street…

I was trying to bring the two races together by showing one thing they have in common—blatant due process violations. But only a handful of people applauded at the rear of the auditorium. The applause from this tiny minority was a gauge as to how unpopular my calls for civil rights would be.

No newspaper recorded the history of some dude asking Mayor Virginia Daugherty to investigate urban renewal followed by thunderous applause. So the papers haven’t reported on City Council ignoring racial issues. No reporter spoke to me although I handed them copies of the speeches. So the public didn’t know an anti-urban renewal campaign had just begun. But everyone I talked to knew. (Does anyone have video of City Council June 5, 2000? What a blast from the past that would be!)

I didn’t bring up race in 2002 when I exposed a Daily Progress letter-to-the-editor trick when five pro-Bern Ewert letters appeared the three days prior to the Democratic convention. Each letter cited housing rehabilitation as a reason to vote for Ewert. But I knew it was code for urban renewal, which occurred on a larger scale than Vinegar Hill and from 1971-1976 while Ewert was assistant city manager.

If not for me, Ewert may have been elected. But he indirectly addressed my charges in his convention speech, came across as angry, and the rhetoric didn’t make sense to a younger generation. At that convention, the word “property” was not spoken in 2 hours of 18 speeches. I was there.

I didn’t bring up race the same year when I broke the story that our record drought is 1977—not 2002 or 1930 as Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority was claiming. It turns out that urban renewal officials in 1977—Rich Collins and city manger Cole Hendrix—were in charge of our water as chairman and executive director. Why didn’t they tell anybody about this drought? It’s still too controversial for people even to refer to 1977. Now they’ll say 1930 and 2002 and 1970s. (Anyone remember the “Cole Hendrix Reservoir of Shame” cartoon?)

I didn’t bring up race in 2003 when I campaigned for the Republican nomination to oppose Mitch Van Yahres. The chairman of the Republicans Bob Hodous had been on the Housing Authority board of directors in 1977 when the Housing Authority bulldozed for the location of Garrett Square / Friendship Court public housing. But Hodous seemed unfamiliar with events he played a role in. I bear some blame because I expected strong resistance and may have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Can you imagine seeing a debate between a man who voted for urban renewal and a man whose family was displaced and disempowered by those votes? That’s how I planned to hype the campaign. Two years later Van Yahres announced his retirement March 5 on my birthday and in the neighborhood that disappeared from history with Van Yahres’ support and decades of silence.

But I did bring up race briefly in 2005 when I applied for the last appointed School Board before it became elected. One reason I gave for seeking the position was I would address race issues directly. What would you do if you were on City Council and covering up black-on-white violence in the schools? Well, you wouldn’t appoint someone who might speak the truth and let the chips fall.

The final interview of applicants was open to the public thanks to Councilor Rob Schilling. Previously and subsequently—when an interim appointment was made before the elected school board took effect—the interview was held behind closed doors. On that day June 23, 2005 the US Supreme Court handed down its ruling that eminent domain for economic development is somehow Constitutional.

And the next day Charlottesville celebrated in the ACAC urban renewal area at Fridays After Five with band American Dumpster. So many ironies were in effect that it seemed surreal. Mayor David Brown and Blake Caravati were quoted in the newpaper that they couldn’t imagine this city ever using eminent domain. Caravati was a Councilor when I delivered my first speeches on eminent domain. Assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney called me and presented 8 photos of 6 house at site of Friendship Court. Small-Toney later claimed I had been given access to the full archives—over 1,000 photos and over 6,000 documents. Councilor Holly Edwards, “historian” Scot French and Housing Authority director Randy Bickers since Jan. 7, 2009 are the ones currently pretending to care about our history.

So I knew what I was up against. I’m not sure anything has changed. But I was inspired by Glenn Beck this afternoon when he talked about the 8 Steps in the Movement Action Plan. I found my 10-year campaign at Step 7—where the majority agrees with my position. Step 6 was the Kelo case and what seemed to be the movement’s failure. But you can’t give up now. The next step is success where the Supreme Court is overturned or overruled, and locally Charlottesville stops abusing eminent domain and adding to the injustice.

The Next Step for Race

(1) Resolve the urban renewal issue.

(a) Stop abusing eminent domain
(b) Tally the number of cases
(c) Compensate the victims
(d) Promise not to do it again
(e) Change the city charter

(2) Stop expressing racist sentiments.

This would include the local NAACP. The president is M. Rick Turner, best known for his support of ousted School Superintendent Scottie Griffin (who has not been erased from this blog) and for smoking crack with a female police informant and for resigning from UVA over the scandal.

Turner was also racist when he favored Holly Edwards at a candidates’ forum and called for racial quotas on city council. But the grand-daddy of them all was when on the Rob Schilling show Turner described his politics as progressive.

The NAACP came into existence in 1909 to oppose the Progressive Movement, which called for lynching of blacks, jews, and catholics. What internal torment that must present. Turner also encourages learning black history but he seems not to mention our local history. I hope it’s not because a white person has been digging up that history.

This would include the Charlottesville Tribune, established 1954 and now owned by Agnes Cross-White, the lady who campaigned against naming a street for Sally Hemings because it would glorify a slave concubine and slavery is no accomplishment.

In August 2009 in an editorial, Cross-White explained in some detail how she teaches her daughter to be racist. The police might harass you if you’re black. Bad things might happen to you if you’re black. So white people are never harassed by police? Bad things only happen to black people?

The advice was good except it was poisoned with racism. When Cross-White was young, people with white skin mistreated blacks. When her daughter goes out into the world, she may never encounter the Jim Crow people who grow old. But she will encounter the children of white people. And they probably taught their children to be racist in the same way—a never-ending cycle.

I have not picked up the Tribune since and have no plans to do so. Is it racist for me to segregate myself from racist material? I should have kept a copy but I threw it with other papers that got thrown out.

(3) Don’t jump to conclusions.

I only have one real-life anecdote and then I’m signing off from this essay. The blog names names along with other stories too true for local media.

…Black guy says it’s unfair that white guy has car…

There are 2 mechanics, one white and one black. A customer offers to both mechanics to sell his car broken down at home for $500. A few days later the white dude goes to look at the car and offers $200. The sale is made.

In this case it’s fair because the black dude had the same opportunity to go look at the car and negotiate a deal. If the black mechanic had seized the opportunity, he would have the car and the white mechanic would be crying “Not fair! Not fair!”

Inequality is totally fair if the opportunity is equal.