76 episodes

A five minute daily look into what's going on in the area around Charlottesville

communityengagement.substack.com

Charlottesville Community Engagement Sean Tubbs

    • News

A five minute daily look into what's going on in the area around Charlottesville

communityengagement.substack.com

    October 23, 2020: UVA to return in February; Charlottesville schools might return in January; Senator Kaine on housing

    October 23, 2020: UVA to return in February; Charlottesville schools might return in January; Senator Kaine on housing

    Today’s show is supported through every contribution made by readers and listeners so far, either through a Patreon contribution or a subscription through Substack. Someone even paid me $2 through Venmo for a long story I did this week on West Main Street! This newsletter and newscast will remain free as long as it’s been produced, and your donation helps others learn information about the community as well. Thanks to those who have given initial support! 

    *

    The Virginia Department of Health is reporting another 1,180 cases of COVID-19 today and the state remains at a percent positivity at five percent. In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 28 cases reported. Another death has been reported from Louisa for a total of 77 in the district. The percent positivity in the district is at 2.4 percent today.

    *

    The University of Virginia has announced they will begin their spring semester on February 1 with classes ending on May 6. There would be no spring break. According to a message from Provost and Chief Operating Officer Liz Magill, the plans reflect a cautious approach. 

    “They also reflect our confidence in the capacity of this University and its people to continue to limit the spread and keep each other safe,” Magill said. “As we finish this semester strong and look to the future, we are ready to put those lessons to work to advance the mission of this University as safely and effectively as we can.”

    This year’s semester will end on November 24 with online exams in December. The January term will be all online. No decision had been made yet on how graduation ceremonies will be conducted for both the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020. Read more on UVA Today.

    *

    The Charlottesville School Board met last night and heard details of a proposal to gradually return younger students to in-person instruction in early 2021 on a hybrid model. They did not take a vote. Under the proposal,  pre-K, kindergarten,1st and 5th grade students would return to school two days a week beginning on January 11. Second, third, fourth and sixth grade would return on January 19. Ernest Chambers teaches health and physical education at Burnley-Moran Elementary and is a member of the committee that made the recommendation. (presentation)

    “We believe that a four-day model is optimal,” Chambers said. “We are concerned about the division’s ability to staff this model. A two-day hybrid model would reduce face to face contact with teachers,  but we recommend this over remaining virtual for the rest of the year.” 

    The presentation lays out a list of requirements for reopening, such as a duty-free lunch for teachers and a plan for how sick days and quarantine days would be handled. Another is to create a plan for transitioning back to all virtual learning if schools have to close again.

    “This must be fleshed out,” Chambers said. “Do we need to close the school? The classroom? We need to work that out.” 

    Families would have the option to remain virtual-only. A survey will be sent to parents. The full video will be available on the city school’s YouTube Channel. 

    Earlier this month, the Albemarle School Board voted 4-3 to return to in-person education for Kindergarten through 3rd grade under a hybrid model beginning on November 9. This is known as Stage 3 under their rubric. Yesterday, Katherine Knott with the Daily Progress wrote a story about how more than half of eligible families want their children to go back to school at this time. 

    *

    Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said he is hopeful for a Congressional agreement on a new round of stimulus funding, but there are other issues happening that are distracting the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

    “We’re in the Senate this week in my view rushing a Supreme Court nomination that we should wait on until after the election, and continui

    • 11 min
    Thursday, October 22, 2020: Albemarle's top official says "It is not back to business as usual"

    Thursday, October 22, 2020: Albemarle's top official says "It is not back to business as usual"

    To start today’s show, a shout-out to a Go Fund Me campaign for my friend Charlene Munford . She is seeking funds to bring her cleaning business to the next level. I hired Charlene for a big job earlier this year, and I’m very satisfied with the work. Take a look at the Go Fund Me page today to learn more.

    *

    This morning, the Virginia Department of Health reported another 1,332 cases of COVID 19 in the state, and the seven-day average for positive tests rose to 5 percent, up from 4.9 percent on Wednesday. The seven-day daily average for new cases is now at 1,023. 

    For the second day in a row, the Blue Ridge Health District reports 39 new cases, bringing the seven-day average for new cases to 28. Albemarle added 18 cases, Charlottesville reports seven new cases, and Greene County has eight new cases. The positivity percentage in the district is 2.3 percent. 

    The University of Virginia added 15 new cases to its COVID-19 tracker yesterday, all students. The number of active cases is listed at 74, with 54 of them students. Six percent of quarantine rooms are now in use, as are five percent of isolation rooms.

    *

    The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has signaled they will defer a planned increase of the county’s property tax rate that had been anticipated for next fiscal year. Supervisors met with the Albemarle School Board in a joint virtual meeting to get an initial look at the budgetary picture. 

    When the two bodies last met in November 2019, the world was a different place. Jeffrey Richardson is the Albemarle County Executive.

    “Today is the 225th day of our global pandemic and the associated national, state, and local level of emergencies. and national,” Richardson said. 

    To give a sense of how fast the situation changed, the original title of the budget for the current fiscal year was Expanding Opportunity. The document had to be revised quickly to anticipate the economic shutdown that happened. That included a new name - Respond, Recover, Recalibrate. How well has the county done? 

    “Looking at it today through a leadership lens of what we have learned, and what I would tell these two board today is that it is not back to business as usual,” Richardson said. “We have not recovered. We have not been able to recalibrate and part of that is due to the structural damage to our economy.”

    The discussion marked the first public presentation by Nelsie Birch, Albemarle’s new chief financial officer. She said Albemarle did not adopt a five-year capital improvement program this year because of the financial uncertainty. 

    “There was a recommended budget that had to be dramatically shifted and changed and much of that was holding back on the operations side, and also pausing capital projects,” Birch said, adding that both boards have the opportunity to move some of those projects this year. These included the new $21.2 million high school center and a $20.4 million expansion of Crozet Elementary. 

    Another decision in the near future will be how much of a increase of a salary increase teachers and school staff may receive next year. A planned increase did not move forward due to the pandemic-related budget changes. The School Board does not have taxing authority, so the Board of Supervisors has to consider that in its budget deliberations. The usual market studies used to help determine compensation are not ready yet. 

    Birch said the pandemic gives Supervisor and the school board a chance to do things differently.

    “The bit of good news we have is that we don’t have to present a budget today, so as we continue to move forward and information comes available to us that helps to inform the decisions we need to make in 2022, that will help guide us to the new reality,” Birch said, adding both boards have time to make careful decisions. 

    For more on this subject, read Katherine Knott and Alli

    • 9 min
    October 21, 2020: Increasing broadband in Albemarle; reducing GHGs through teleworking; tents allowed on the Downtown Mall

    October 21, 2020: Increasing broadband in Albemarle; reducing GHGs through teleworking; tents allowed on the Downtown Mall

    Today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out comes from The Local Energy Alliance Program. LEAP wants you to consider a Home Energy Check-Up as the first step toward lowering your energy bills. For a $45 consultation, Albemarle and Charlottesville residents can have their homes audited to see what can be done to reduce energy consumption. Sign up today!”

    *

    The Virginia Department of Health has reported another 1,018 cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the seven-day average for new daily cases to 1,023. The seven-day average for positive tests is at 4.9 percent today, up from 4.6 percent last Wednesday. There were another 30 deaths reported, for a total of 3,515 since the first death was recorded on March 16. 

    In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 39 cases reported, bringing the seven-day average to 26 a day. Of today’s cases, there are 21 cases from Charlottesville, six from Albemarle, two from Greene, two from Louisa, two from Fluvanna and six from Nelson. That’s one of the biggest one-day increases for Nelson. The percent positivity for PCR tests for the entire district is at 2.4 percent today. 

    UVA now reports 59 active cases, 40 of whom are students. Five percent of quarantine rooms are occupied, as are four percent of isolation rooms. 

    UVA Today has an interview posted with Dr. William Petri about the global surge in COVID cases and what can be done. Dr. Petri is the vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine. 

    “I am leading the UVA part of a multi-center phase 3 study of a cocktail of anti-spike glycoprotein monoclonal antibodies for the prevention of household transmission of COVID-19,” he told writer Fariss Samarrai. “If this is shown to be successful, and if the cocktail can be mass-produced in adequate amounts, it would offer an additional approach to prevention before a vaccine becomes available.”

    *

    The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review has passed a resolution that makes it easier for businesses in design control districts to expand operations outside. The motion states “the BAR unanimously expresses that outdoor tents and any supporting equipment or conditions including sides of tents, locating that does not conform to the current permits, access to electrical facilities, and other measures to support outdoor economic activity in the City, be permitted for as long as the Governor’s state of emergency is in effect.” The resolution came a day after Council temporarily reduced the cafe rental fees for outdoor eating spaces. 

    Susan Payne with the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville welcomed the change. 

    “As the weather turns colder the new change in the city ordinance to allow tents on the Downtown Mall will allow restaurants to extend the time that they can remain open for outdoor dining,” Payne said. “By remaining open, restaurants will continue to add tax revenue to the City and keep staff employed. 

    *

    The Albemarle Economic Development Authority got an update yesterday on the status of efforts to increase internet access in the rural area, an issue that has gained sudden prominence in a time of virtual education. Mike Culp is the information technology director for Albemarle County. 

    “The Albemarle Broadband Authority (ABBA) was formed in 2017 by the Board of Supervisors under the state’s wireless services authority act,” Culp said. “Under that act, that legislation does not allow the broadband authority to process payments or tax incentives.”

    However, the broadband authority can enter into partnerships, and they’re doing so with the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative.

    “They’re building fiber to their membership and we were fortunate to participate in a tax grant incentive agreement with them,” Culp said. 

    Gary Wood is the president of CVEC which serves 3,600 accounts in Albemarle. 

    “When we started t

    • 9 min
    October 20, 2020: Public housing projects move forward after Council talks on CRHA financial sustainability, CCDC property tax liability

    October 20, 2020: Public housing projects move forward after Council talks on CRHA financial sustainability, CCDC property tax liability

    Today’s show is supported through every contribution through readers and listeners, either through a Patreon contribution or a subscription through Substack. This newsletter and newscast will remain free as long as it’s been produced, and your donation helps others learn information about the community as well. Thanks to those who have given initial support! 

    This installment is a little unusual. I felt the main story is one that needed to be documented with more than soundbites. I’ll be back to the usual format tomorrow.

    *

    There are another 926 cases of COVID-19 in Virginia as reported by the state Department of Health this morning. The seven-day average for positive tests has dropped to 4.8 percent today, down from 5 percent yesterday. 

    For the third day in a row, the Blue Ridge Health District has reported 16 new cases across its five counties and the city of Charlottesville. The percent positivity for PCR tests is at 2.6 percent today, down from 3.3 percent yesterday. The University of Virginia is reporting 56 active cases at the moment with 36 of them students. Five percent of isolation rooms are in use, as are six percent of quarantine rooms. 

    *

    Charlottesville City Council had a full meeting last night that may take a few newsletters to get everything to you. This newsletter is a little different, because some of these subjects don’t lend themselves to quick soundbites. 

    Council first approved a plan to waive fees for outdoor cafes for March and April, and cut those in half through next March. As part of that plan, they’ve also agreed to charge half of the usual parking rental fee for any restaurant that wants to use an adjacent parking space for service. 

    “This has been done by at least one restaurant and considered by one or two others and in the interest of trying to encourage outdoor dining while the season permits, we felt it was useful to reduce the fee for that rental space,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director. 

    Council then began a long discussion of how to move forward with subsidized housing projects including the renovation of Crescent Halls and new units at South First Street. Those are public housing units operated by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which is a separate governmental entity from the city. 

    CRHA currently is authorized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to operate 376 public housing units, and many units were built in the 80’s and have not been well maintained. Brenda Kelley is the director of redevelopment for the city, and she presented Council with an ordinance to grant the CRHA $3 million in city funds to help finance the work.

    (read the staff report including the draft ordinance)

    “CRHA and its partners have been engaged in robust resident-led redevelopment planning efforts,” Kelley said. 

    One of those partners is something called the Charlottesville Community Development Corporation, which is actually the CRHA Board of Commissioners, a body appointed by Council. The CCDC is a nonprofit entity that is eligible to receive and distribute Low Income Housing Tax Credits which help to subsidize the projects through private investment. 

    “The funding will be disbursed as a grant to CRHA, CRHA will provide the funds to the CCDC, whereby the CCDC will lend the funds to the project as an interest-free 30-year loan,” Kelley said. “One hundred percent of the units constructed will be provided for rental by low and moderate income persons having household incomes at or below AMI. No fewer than thirteen units will be public housing units at South First Street phase one, and no fewer than 53 units will be public housing units at Crescent Halls.” 

    Above: Project cost breakdown for South First Street Phase One

    CRHA would not own the properties, but will continue to own the land

    • 13 min
    October 19, 2020: Climate action, climate kits, environmental justice at DEQ and Janisse Ray on pandemic-related change

    October 19, 2020: Climate action, climate kits, environmental justice at DEQ and Janisse Ray on pandemic-related change

    Today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out comes from The Local Energy Alliance Program. LEAP wants you to consider a Home Energy Check-Up as the first step toward lowering your energy bills. For a $45 consultation, Albemarle and Charlottesville residents can have their homes audited to see what can be done to reduce energy consumption. Sign up today!”

    *The Virginia Department of Health has reported 2,014 new cases of COVID-19 since our last report on Friday, with 1,114 Saturday, 900 Sunday and 690 today. Add in the previous four days and that’s a seven-day average of 1,037. The seven-day average for positive tests is at 5 percent today, up from 4.8 percent reported Friday morning. 

    The Blue Ridge Health District has reported 60 cases since Friday, with 28 on Saturday, 16 on Sunday and 16 again this morning. The seven-day average of new daily cases is 23 for the district. For Albemarle, the seven-day average is 4 new cases a day and in Charlottesville that figure is 6 today. The percent positive rate in the district for PCR tests is 3.3 percent today and 3.5 percent for all types of tests.  

    The University of Virginia will update its COVID-19 tracker later on this afternoon. 



    Very late tonight, the Charlottesville City Council will get an update on the city’s climate action plan. Earlier this month, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors adopted a series of goals and strategies to meet the county’s gas greenhouse reduction goals. Now the University of Virginia has unveiled a new ten-year framework to guide the school’s efforts. The 2020-2030 Sustainability Plan has ten goals including reducing waste, nitrogen and water consumption each by thirty percent. The plan also seeks to increase sustainable food by thirty percent and to become carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil-fuel free. (read the plan) 

    In a letter included in the plan, President Jim Ryan said a key UVA goal is to be a good neighbor, both to the local community and the world at large.

    “We should always consider our collective impact on our community and the world,” Ryan wrote. 

    “But we need to do more than express our commitment to sustainability; we need to follow through on that commitment.” 

    UVA officials will hold a joint work session with City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors next Wednesday at 2 p.m. 

    *

    Today the Community Climate Collaborative (C3) and the Virginia Discovery Museum will deliver “climate action kits” to families whose young children are participating in City of Promise programs. According to a release from C3:

    “The kit includes activities to help kids connect everyday actions to climate solutions: a fun scavenger hunt to learn about household energy use at home; a leaf-scratching art project to get outside and learn about the benefits of trees; art materials to decorate a reusable grocery bag; and a recycled egg-carton veggie market with fresh fall veggie cut-outs for imaginative kids to display and “sell“.

    The cost for the kits have been covered by C3 and the Earth Day Network.  They are aimed at children aged three to eight.

    *

    The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has completed an Environmental Justice Study co-conducted by a Charlottesville group. The work by Skeo Solutions and the Metropolitan Group is intended to provide direction to the agency as it makes a cultural shift.

    “Virginia DEQ finds itself at a pivotal moment in history,” reads a portion of the 47-page report. A consulting firm run by former Charlottesville city planner Ebony Walden was commissioned for the study. 

    “The time is ripe for acknowledgement of environmental justice issues within the Commonwealth of Virginia and adopting a new mindset supporting the advancement of environmental justice through DEQ programs,” the report continues. 

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environ

    • 8 min
    October 16, 2020: An update on public housing redevelopment in Charlottesville

    October 16, 2020: An update on public housing redevelopment in Charlottesville

    Today’s Patreon-powered shout-out:

    The Local Energy Alliance Program wants you to consider a Home Energy Check-Up as the first step toward lowering your energy bills. For a $45 consultation, Albemarle and Charlottesville residents can have their homes audited to see what can be done to reduce energy consumption. Sign up today!”

    *

    There are another 1,183 new cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth today as reported by the Virginia Department of Health. The seven-day average for positive tests has increased to 4.8 percent, up from 4.7 percent on Thursday. 

    The Blue Ridge Health District added another 40 cases with 14 new cases in Albemarle and 18 in Charlottesville. Another death was reported from Charlottesville bringing the total to date to 32 in the city and 75 in the entire Blue Ridge Health District. The seven-day average for positive PCR tests remains at 3.2 percent today. However, that increases to 3.5 percent when you factor in all the kinds of tests. 

    The University of Virginia reports 105 active cases as of Thursday, with 78 of those students. There have been 1,019 cases among UVA personnel since August 17. Ten percent of quarantine rooms are in use as are six percent of isolation rooms. 

    The Blue Ridge Health District is within the Virginia Department of Health’s Northwest Region. According to the agency’s pandemic metrics page, the region has seen an increase in the number of cases over the past 16 days though percent positivity has been decreasing for 37 days, as are the number of outbreaks and the number of affected health care workers. The VDH deems the region as being “at moderate community transmission.” 

    Virginia’s Central Region is at “substantial community transmission” according to the metrics page. 

    *

    The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Directors was briefed last night on the status of long-planned public housing redevelopment projects. 

    “We want to add to our community’s inventory of affordable housing,” said Dave Norris, the CRHA’s redevelopment director. “We haven’t finalized what that number is going to be yet but we are confident in saying over the course of this redevelopment effort we’re going to add hundreds and hundred of new units of affordable housing to the city’s stock.” 

    Norris said the CRHA gets one annual subsidy from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but he said it does not cover the annual cost. 

    “It’s never sufficient and it hasn’t provided and it doesn’t provide the funding we need to maintain our housing stock and operate the agency it really should be operated,” Norris said. “Through redevelopment we are incorporating new streams of financing that will put us in more of a sustainable position.” 

    Norris said ground is soon to break on the $19 million renovation of Crescent Halls, which will see 105 rebuilt units. The work will see two floors under construction at any given time. 

    “The skeleton of the building is in decent shape so we’re not having to knock down the building,” Norris said. 

    The other imminent project is a two-phase redevelopment of South First Street with the first step being 62 new units and a community center constructed on a current ball field. When that is completed in 2022, existing residents of South First Street can be relocated into the new building, and 113 units will be built where the existing structure. A third phase at South First Street might also happen, as well as a renaming. 

    “I think that’s going to be part of the upcoming resident planner conversations as we flesh out the plans for phase 2,” Norris said. 

    Financing for the projects comes through the federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, $5 million from the Dave Matthews Band, $10 million from Red Light Management, and $15 million in capital im

    • 7 min

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