28 February 2007

Council Criteria

We've gotten a bit of a news dump regarding Charlottesville City Council lately. First, Kendra Hamilton announced she will not seek a second term (Daily Progress, 2/23/07). This was followed by Democratic Central discussing who will run. And Waldo picked up that blog post and ran with it on CvilleNews.

In all this talk about how many seats might come open and who might be on the November slate, I'm not hearing jack about what makes a good Councilor--just who everyone likes or doesn't like. Maybe I need to turn my hearing aid up a bit. If I had one, I would.

There have been a handful of elected officials I have genuinely liked, and many more than that for whom I have voted. IMO, "like" shouldn't come into the equation nearly as much as "respect" should.

There are some things I believe are self-evident regarding people who run for public office. One of those things is that everyone who runs for public office has an agenda. They have issues they feel strongly about, changes they want to make. That's the freakin' common denominator among anyone who bothers to vote, let alone campaign.

Once the ballots are counted, that person takes on a job, and every job has a job description--duties that must be fulfilled. If you do not think a candidate has the ability to perform the duties, does it matter whether you agree on the issues or whether you like him/her?

IMO, not so much. There are some basic personality characteristics I look for: Integrity ranks high, as does responsibility. I want a candidate who balances principled conviction balanced with flexibility of mind, so that conviction doesn't become an excuse for arrogance or laziness. Beyond that, it comes down to what each candidate brings into the office.

So, here are my criteria for the job of City Councilor:
Understanding of and dedication to the actual job of being a public servant;

Willingness to do the background research into the issues brought before the dais, so that each vote made is informed as much by hard knowledge as it is by personal belief in "the right thing to do";

Desire to go beyond the parameters set by staff, which necessarily entails doing more analysis than just reading staff reports, although those are an important tool in decision-making;

Active solicitation of opposing points of view on any potentially controversial issue, and not just from friends, or at public hearings, or through the charlottesville.org e-mail inbox;

Ability to identify and prioritize the greater good;

Knowledge of structural/organizational systems, and how to work within one to change it; and

Time management, time management, time management.

That's my wish list, and I'm hoping our November slate has people who, individually or combined and working together, possess all of them.

22 February 2007

What Price Clean Water?

Today's Daily Progress reports on a wastewater treatment upgrade proposed by RWSA which could end up costing Charlottesville-Albemarle residents another $77 per year. If the State won't foot the bill, that is. Considering that the State has recently decided to downsize its Water Control board, and has consistently cut funds from wastewater treatment for the last couple of years in order to fund other pet projects, I'm not hopeful that RWSA will get all of the funds its seeks from the State.

So that leaves it, once again, to the localities, to pay for what we want through our utilities and property taxes. Tell me--what do my State taxes get me nowadays? (Other than non-responsive government.)

The price tag on the upgrade might cause some residents sticker shock, coming on the heels of the proposed and approved new water supply plan. The Moore's Creek treatment plant which is getting the upgrade serves the urban area.

The public water system includes separate stormwater and wastewater drainage. Stormwater drains directly into the Rivanna and her tributaries; wastewater from sinks, toilets and baths is directed to the treatment plants. The stormwater system hasn't been upgraded since the late 1970s, and the wastewater system was taken over by RWSA in the 1980s. Many of the pipes are older than that. DEQ water quality standards have risen in that time, as has the public demand for cleaner water.

So, before the residents rail against the possible price hikes, it might want to consider just where on its priority list clean water comes, and what price it deems reasonable to pay for it. As densely populated as our area is, $77/year doesn't seem like a high price to pay for this staple of life.

19 February 2007

Grass-Fed Beef -- Alert!

I've noticed that few things make such a huge difference in taste as grass-fed cattle. Whether it's cream in my coffee or milk on my cereal, ground beef in my chili, or a roast or a steak, I notice a 300% increase in taste when I use happy, healthy, grass-fed cow products. My favorite local provider is City Market regular, Wolf Creek Farm.

Wolf Creek Farm will be making its last winter delivery to Charlottesville this Saturday, Feb. 24, from 9:00AM to 10:30AM in the Water Street parking lot, where the Charlottesville City Market meets. They will bring pre-ordered items as well as a few extra cuts for spur of the moment buyers, but, to be sure they have what you want, it's best to place your orders beforehand so they can bring your preferred cuts to market.

They've got retail price lists by cut, and by quantity on their website. How cool is that?

They are currently out of stock on all the round cuts, beef chuck and blade chuck roasts, stew meat, flank steak, tongue, and oxtail. If you aren't sure whether they'll have what you need, or want to order, you can shoot them an e-mail inquiry at info@wolfcreek-farm.com.

Charlottesville City Market opens in April, so this will be the last delivery for a couple of months. Might want to stock up.

14 February 2007

HB3113: Reprised or Reprieved?

According to my LIS tracker, HB3113--the House of Delegates version of the environmental board consolidation bill--made it through the Senate subcommittee and pass with no "nays" on the floor vote yesterday.

The House bill is the one which had the review ("re-enactment") clause which gave a year's time before the citizen review board merger and resultant changes in DEQ procedure would take effect. The Senate version of the bill, SB1403, didn't roll out of the House subcommittee, so I am hoping that these facts indicate that it is the House version which will be going to Tim Kaine for official signage.

Caveat: I haven't read the full text of what the Senate passed yesterday, so I can't say for certain the "re-enactment" clause wasn't stripped out. I'm just really, really hopeful that I'm right.

13 February 2007

Changing the Dream

The anticipated winter storm has been drizzling on us since I woke up this morning. The forecasters say the system will stick around for over 24 hours. Last I heard (11 pm news) they think we might get 2-4 inches of something—a rain, ice and snow mix. Virginia has pretty mild winters, which makes such storm systems Events. In Michigan, where a single winter storm can dump a foot of snow on us overnight, we would call this negligible. Still, while I'm Michigan born, I'm mostly Virginia bred; so I have already laid in the water supplies in case the pipes freeze tonight, and have charged up the small camping generator in case the power goes out.

There are worse places to be in a winter storm. Out on the street is one of them.

Those who know me may have noticed that I don't talk about my family or my past much. I talk a lot about my busywork. I don't say why I fill my hours with meetings. I talk about my issues. I don't say why I am so passionately connected to them. But lately, it seems to me that we all need to talk about the whys. You can't forge a relationship with a statistic. A statistic has no feeling, a statistic has no story. We need to take the statistics, and the soundbytes that go with them, out of civic interaction and bring back the humanity.

Of all my sprawling, extended family--my mother was the eldest of 8, my father the youngest of 9--the only two who still live in Virginia are my mother and me. We moved here in 1972--my mother, my father, my half-sister, and me. One of my maternal uncles joined us for a couple of years in the mid-70s and then, again, six years ago. Of our teensified, 5-member, family twig, two of us have become homeless in this state, my half-sister and my uncle. And one of us (me) has felt helpless both times to be of any use in the face of their need. With my sister, I was admittedly too young to do anything but bear witness until she died before age 21 (I was 14 at the time). With my uncle, I was an adult, and still limited--by my lack of resources, by my temperament, by my inability to provide a stabilizing foundation for him.

There is a lot more to each of their stories--maybe I'll share them some day, maybe not--but my experiences with them informed my desire to be involved in some institution, some edifice, some place, that could have helped them in ways that I personally could not and still can not. The inability to help someone we love sharply defines our powerlessness in this world. We try sympathy, we try tough love, we do what we can, we pray to God. Sometimes it isn't enough. One person can not be an entire support network.

They are why I write about affordable housing and homelessness so often. They are why I'm involved with Compass.

Once, the extended family was the basis for our societal structure. Cousins to the third degree all lived within the same geographical area, everyone knew everybody else's business, and the family had the combined resources to take care of its own. Now, isolation rules. Broken families living hundreds of miles apart can not and will not provide the support an individual may need when their life comes crashing down around them. They may not even know when support is needed or what kind of support to give. People who have a large, connected, concerned family are blessed--and increasingly rare.

Homelessness, I sometimes think, is the natural result of the way we've chosen to focus the American Dream upon a small nuclear family living in a large, single-family home. That dream leaves no bulwark in the face of a rising divorce rate. That dream keeps us from really knowing our neighbors and our extended relatives because the literal space between us has created a much larger, metaphorical space. That dream keeps us isolated at times when isolation can only hurt us more.

Isn't it time we changed the dream?

09 February 2007

Hamstringing the Locals

Once again, the State Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, is setting about hamstringing local government. Goddess forbid that the people be allowed to decide anything for themselves, except who to elect as their masters.

Sponsored by John Cosgrove (R-78 (Chesapeake)), the bill
[r]equires each locality to lower its real estate tax rate for the forthcoming tax year, to produce no more than 101 percent of the previous year's real property tax levies when any annual assessment, biennial assessment or general reassessment of real property by the locality would result in an increase of 1 percent or more in the total real property tax levied.

Great. First, the State won't fund any of the mandates it hands down. Then, it refuses to let the Municipalities figure out how to fund those mandates in lieu. Wait.... I think I've made that very same bitch before on this blog. Seems to be a recurring theme.

Is it too much to ask that the friggin' taxophobic eejits in the House keep their psychosis in Richmond and out of municipal government? I'm not saying I favor taxes. I'm saying let us decide whether they are needed and what kind would serve us best. That's all I'm saying. This may be another one for the Randy Pat School of Politics.

Drafting Al

The Draft Al Gore site has remade their soundbyte to match the currents of today's political waters:
He's eloquent, passionate, relentless, undaunted. The first political figure to oppose the Iraq war, Al Gore is also the lead champion in the fight against global warming, a passionate defender of our Constitution, and an unyielding voice against the Bush Administration's abuse of power.

A far cry from "wooden" and "uncharismatic," which were the two predominant adjectives to describe Gore's 2004 run. The petition already has 27,228 signatures.

What are the chances?

Moments of Nirvana

June 2005, the family cottage at Clear Lake, MI

Stress is there as a test to see if you can distinguish the good in life. These lilies are good. A moment out of time to appreciate the beautiful, not just the absurd. Jon Stewart doesn't aim high enough.

07 February 2007

Three Meetings and a Funeral

Sunday, Earth Week had its third meeting of the year, and as excited as I am about our line-up of activities, I surely wish ya'll would plan some activities for mid-week. We don't so much have an Earth Week as we have 2 overbooked Earth Weekends with time off for napping in between.

Monday, sometime after everyone said his piece on traffic issues, City Council approved the special use permit so that Compass, the homeless day center, can move into its new home. Congratulations, Compass!

Tuesday, the Rivanna Conservation Society had its board meeting, during which I drank a pot of coffee while we discussed improvements to Schier Natural Area, finding sponsors for the 2007 Rivanna River Days Calendar Brochure (click if you would like to list a river event or become a partner), the best procedure for sharing information from our own proprietorial research with the new Chville Commission on Environmental Sustainability (being both Advocacy chair for RCS and a Commission member, I shook hands with my inner schizophrenic for 20 minutes of discourse), and our Third Thursdays Brown Bag Lunch series on watershed issues (and about 2 dozen other topics).

Then I came home and looked up the results of today's roll call vote in both chambers on HB3113 and SB1403. Both passed. I'm appalled at the short-sightedness of the decision to merge all 3 citizen review boards into 1 entity. It is impossible to find 11 people to sit on the new "Environmental Quality Board" who are expert in all three media: Waste Management, Water Control, and Air Pollution. The new board will not be able to provide the same level of specialized knowledge, attention to detail, and competency that the individual boards had. Furthermore, by taking the permitting authority out of the board and handing it to DEQ, the General Assembly has completely cut the public out of the process. Is anyone else out there feeling that closed government love yet? Doesn't seem like anyone outside the enviro community cares, even though this bill--soon to be law--will effect municipal-level voices in land use, industry, and economic development as well as natural resources.

So, I'm hoping that enough people out there read this and call their state representatives to demand that the House bill's "re-enactment clause" stay in the final, reconciled version of the bill. If the Senate's version ends up on Gov. Kaine's desk, I'll be planning a funeral (or at least a memorium) for the last bastion of public voice in the regulatory process. Let me know if you'd like to come. Rum and tequila will be required; black armbands will be optional.

06 February 2007

Warner Filibusters, Jams Own Bill

Last Friday, the Senate GOP threatened to filibuster the resolution to oppose Bush's additional troops to Iraq. Ironically, the bill was introduced by our own Republican Senator, John Warner, who ended his conflict of interest in favor of being a stand-up party guy. Warner voted with 48 other Republican Senators to block the bill from being debated and voted upon until 3 alternate versions of the bill--one of which actually supports Bush's surge--could be included in the free-for-all.

Uh... Come again? What measure are we voting on?

01 February 2007

Landes, Striking a Pose, Strikes the Public

As reported by Waldo yesterday, Del. Steve Landes (R-25) introduced HR45, a bill doomed to failure because it threatened to address accusations of closed government, back-room dealing on the part of the House Republicans, who apparently object to the public's right to know what happens on the House floor and in its subcommittees.

We thought Landes struck a blow, exposing a rift between sensible, responsible Republicans who view themselves as representatives of their constituents, and the manipulative, controlling arse-wipe Republicans who believe the people who elected them should be treated like preschoolers and fed an unbalanced diet of all the state government news that they think is fit.

Instead of a blow, Landes struck a pose. Enter House Bill 3113, on which Landes is also listed as Chief Patron. HB 3113 consolidates the State Air Pollution Control Board, the State Water Control Board, and the Waste Management Board--all of which are appointed, expert, citizen oversight boards--into one eleven-member board called the "Virginia Board of Environmental Quality," which will have absolutely no power to issue permits and licenses, nor to hold public hearings on any issues with which it deals. Those duties will be streamlined and given to the DEQ, which has no valid citizen input mechanism and which is not beholden to an electorate for its position and authority.

In other words, Landes, yesterday's darling for defying his fellow House Republicans by asserting John Q. Public's Right to Know about his state government, has done a complete about-face and is now asserting that John Q. Public should have no authority nor voice in the very critical matters of air and water quality and waste control; in fact, no authority in anything having to do with state natural resource distribution, conservation, and protection, including, apparently, land use and industrial placement and discharge.

The only way that I can interpret this 180 is that Landes was lying about wanting to institute a House deliberations broadcast and, instead, was proposing HR45 to save face for himself and/or his party.

Landes is the delegate for the 25th District, which includes western Albemarle, Augusta, Waynesboro, and Rockingham. He comes up for reelection in 2008. May I suggest to concerned Albemarle citizens that you replace him? I don't care if you elect a Republican or a Democrat, or a Libertarian. Just, please, elect someone who thinks that constituents should have a say in government.

Will the State Scrap Its Citizen Advisory Boards?

Consolidating the state water control, air quality, and waste management boards and handing their decision-making powers over to DEQ may make getting permits easier, but it sure won't help the environment. (Times-Dispatch)

Advisory boards are a primary way for citizens to participate in the regulatory process on natural resource issues. DEQ, as a number-crunching organization, may be able to tell you whether a particular construction will have some detrimental effect on the surrounding environment, but DEQ does not always know what's best for a community as a whole. Moreover, and DEQ staffers are not elected to their positions--which means they have no reason to care what a particular community wants and or needs. All they will need to know is whether a plant or farm or special use variation meets their guidelines. In such a system, there would be no balance between what a developer/industry deems possible to do and what the region receiving that development/industry wants done.

This seems to me an excellent plan for short-circuiting any public input in and control over basic natural resource distribution and quality, if that's your goal. It seems that that is Landes's goal.