Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Council prepares fake apology for urban renewal

Luanne Williams in Feb. 2007 gives size of housing/redevelopment archive: 6,845 documents and 1,189 photographs.

Charlottesville, Va. – The current City Council pretended to apologize for one urban renewal project Monday while making no reforms to the city’s urban renewal agency. All five councilors feel sorry for the Vinegar Hill project but otherwise support urban renewal. Council is expected to pass the fake apology at the next regular meeting Monday Nov. 7.

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (urban renewal agency) was created 1954 in the first of many controversial and illegal referendums. The 1960 referendum approved the Vinegar Hill clearance. A later referendum approved seizing the site for the Westhaven public housing apartment complex with 126 units. Westhaven was named for John West, a black developer who built Vinegar Hill after the Civil War, when blacks outnumbered whites and everyone remembered the 1850s atrocities.

The 1967 triple referendum set in motion a much larger urban renewal project continuing to this day, which Council is not apologizing for. The Garrett Street urban renewal is so controversial that recently The Daily Progress could not say in a front-page article who UVa’s Garrett Hall is named for. Five publicly funded apartment complexes were built in what’s now called the Warehouse District or Downtown Extended. The 150-unit Garrett Square, now called Friendship Court, sits where the last wholesale destruction of non-blighted houses occurred in 1977.

If you want more information on how the history of Thomas Jefferson’s financial advisor, UVa’s first bursar, Albemarle sheriff, court clerk, real estate developer and friend Alexander Garrett was lost, simply ask current City Councilor Satyendra Huja. Huja was city planner from 1973 to 2004 with a master’s degree in urban renewal, the settlement of seized lands and resettlement of displaced people. He was an eyewitness to the urban renewal that dare not speak its name and should know many details. Unfortunately Huja claims no knowledge of urban renewal other than Vinegar Hill, which occurred before he came to Charlottesville.

Not only does Councilor Holly Edwards work as a nurse in a public housing complex (conflict of interest with urban renewal), she’s playing games with our local history. In Feb. 2009 Blair Hawkins asked Edwards on WINA’s Schilling Show if she would help to get the public housing / urban renewal archives published. Instead of arranging an appointment to scan the archives, she kept trying to arrange a meeting between Hawkins and the two people blocking this history; namely Randy Bickers, director of the urban renewal agency, and so-called historian Scot French at the University of Virginia. A Feb. 2007 report to the Historical Society indicated 6,845 documents and 1,189 photographs. Subsequently only Vinegar Hill photos and documents have been published, and only a portion of those.

Mayor Dave Norris is a former chairman of the 7-member board that oversees the Housing Authority, so of course he supports eminent domain to seize and sell real estate for private uses such as private residences and private enterprise. Norris supported the Nov. 2005 city charter amendment to expand eminent domain powers with only then-Councilor Rob Schilling voting no. In Nov. 2006 when the entire City Council publicly refused to release the historical archives, Norris did not offer to use his connections as a former urban renewal chairman to get the process rolling.

Councilor David Brown expressed his support for urban renewal during his first term. At the Democratic nomination Brown said he had established a local funding stream to the Redevelopment and Housing Authority, in addition to federal funds. Previously the City provided the land while U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development supplied most of the money. In 2006 as mayor and again just this past summer, Brown threatened to use police power to steal blighted houses, acquire property without a guilty ruling from a court.

Councilor Kristin Szakos is fairly new on the scene. But it didn’t help recently when she referred ex-convicts to the best-known, local criminal agency – Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. That advice came at a meeting where Council voted to use eminent domain to seize land the owner willingly gave, in order to avoid compensating Kmart for 110 parking spaces taken for Hillsdale Drive Extended at Whole Foods.

To those following the civil rights issue related to urban renewal, it is an incredible story. It’s incredible how many eyewitnesses are pretending Vinegar Hill is the only urban renewal. As Charlottesville’s 250th anniversary approaches, we already see an Orwellian display of appreciation for history. Remember the novel 1984 was about a guy whose job was to erase history, to falsify the archives to agree with whatever current politicians are saying. It’s much easier to block access. It’s much easier to destroy the documents. But why bother if your society repeats without question whatever the officials say.

17-item, 112-page Council Agenda with background material.

Video of Oct. 17, 2011 City Council meeting.

Previous Reports:

Reprieve for blighted Belmont house, Sep. 6, 2011.

Council invokes eminent domain for Hillsdale dedication, May 2, 2011.

Sustainability Fair at old Lane High School, Apr. 27, 2011. Photo of urban renewal official (not Vinegar Hill). HUD has extra money to give away while sustainability people pass along false urban renewal history.

Latest Archive Request on WINA, Feb. 12, 2009. Includes detailed timeline with links. Carter Woodson Institute were in possession of the archives, there was an office shakeup, and the archives moved on. Now the Institute has no information on this topic.

Asst city manager Small-Toney blocked access to public records, May 23, 2007. Small-Toney accepted a job in Savannah, Ga. And sparked controversy when she couldn’t get bonded as condition to be hired as City Manager.

First Baptist Church site of first Jefferson School, Feb. 25, 2007. Luanne Williams makes public the size of the urban renewal archive: 6,845 documents, 1,189 photographs, 189 maps and blueprints, 6,199 files related to GIS mapping for a total of 14,422 items.

Update on urban renewal archive: 287 more photos, Feb. 12, 2007.

Council refuses to release urban renewal archives: Jefferson School conflict of interest: Blighted House has until Feb 15, Nov. 21, 2006. All five Councilors pretend to be unaware of the urban renewal issue. Kendra Hamilton advises Hawkins contact the latest urban renewal director, pretends not to know that assistant city manager had the archives.

“An Inconvenient Truth:” Report from Housing Authority: Update on archives, HUD request, July 17, 2006. Periodically HUD destroys whichever archives are the oldest, most historic.

Newspaper updates 38-year-old Levy Avenue urban renewal, July 27, 2010. Newspaper article placed in historical context.

More Urban Renewal Archives online, Jan. 18, 2010. All 287 photos Small-Toney allowed to be photographed after claiming Hawkins had been granted full access, but only a dozen unidentified houses and only 6 houses on Ware Street, site of Friendship Court.

Perriello protest in Garrett zone, July 2, 2009. Modern view. Photos prior to urban renewal being suppressed by institutions.

Democrats nominate Huja, Edwards, Brown: challengers Seaman, McKeever to remain active, June 3, 2007. Only Blair's Blog reported on urban renewal debate at the convention. Other local media simply omitted enough to give the appearance urban renewal was never mentioned while it came up throughout the convention.

Aplogy for slavery insincere, Jan. 20, 2007. Analogy with urban renewal.

Opposes Charlottesville’s affordable housing amendment: Letter to Va. General Assembly, Jan 8, 2006. Includes text of amendment to expand urban renewal powers.