Category Archives: Blogs and Blog Administration

Apologies (Once Again)

You may have seen some garbage posts on the blog and, if you are a subscriber, in your in-boxes. My apologies. I’ve been experimenting with ways to apply Artificial Intelligence to summarize the content of Virginia news and opinion on blogs and websites free from paywalls. Let’s just say that I could use some AI to help me implement the AI. It was a mess. I did not realize that my experiments were being published. Hopefully, I’ve cleared all the junk off the blog, but the possibility of more mis-steps cannot be discounted. Please bear with me. — JAB

What’s in a Name?

by Joe Fitzgerald

I have previously written much about the Bluestone Town Center from a logistical and political standpoint, much of which can be summed up by saying the people planning and approving the project do not understand logistics or politics. The planners and approvers show an understanding of and ability to manipulate governmental processes, which is a skill on the level of getting a stubborn toddler to give up a favorite toy if you could pick and choose your toddlers through low-turnout elections and rampant cronyism.

Today, however, I am writing about design, marketing, and labeling. First, some background.

The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA), has formed a partnership with EquityPlus (EP) to build Bluestone Town Center. That partnership is an LLC, a limited liability corporation, a legal entity designed to protect the owners of a project from responsibility. The entity is owned 51 percent by HRHA and 49 percent by EP. A wild guess about the split is that having a government entity as the (barely) majority owner adds the shield of sovereign immunity as well as the exemptions to government rules that government entities give to themselves.
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RVA 5×5: Behind in the Count

by Jon Baliles

Baseball season is in full swing and I have already been to three games to celebrate spring, sport, and sun. And because this is Richmond, I sometimes wonder how much longer I will be able to repeat this ritual in Aprils in the future. This week, the city announced it had reached final terms with developer RVA Diamond Partners to build a new stadium and the massive Diamond District project. But the news was something of a mixed bag for a variety of reasons.

Baseball is all about timing. When the pitcher starts his motion, when the batter cocks and decides whether to swing or not, and whether you can make contact. But after a few days of looking at the deal and reading about it, I realized something about the timing of it is off. This post is not a deep dive into the financials of the deal (that will come soon but not today).
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Marking Five Years: My Most Read Posts

by Steve Haner

With the end of April, five years have passed since Jim Bacon gave me a password for Bacon’s Rebellion and the semi-honorary title of contributing editor, probably no longer applicable.  Subscribers numbered one-sixth of what they are now, but it has been clear  from the beginning that some of the state’s political leadership followed the blog.

Here are ten headlines of mine (out of 650, including my posts of guest contributors) that have reached into the top 200 or so Rebellion posts of all time, in order of total page views recorded on the administration page: Continue reading

School Closures Resulted In Spike In Suicide Attempts Among Kids

by Kerry Dougherty

How is it that those of us without fancy degrees from prestigious universities or medical training intuitively KNEW that the Covid-19 lockdowns and school closures would have a profoundly negative effect upon kids?

I watched one of my nieces, who graduated from high school in 2021, spend her junior year at home, isolated from her friends and extended family. A future physician and excellent student, she sat alone, doing class work off of a computer screen. On top of that, her entire social structure was dismantled. There were no sleepovers or parties, no sports, dances or proms. When schools finally reopened she was seated more than 6 feet away from the nearest other student at lunch and if they dared speak to each other, a teacher would scream, “NO talking!”

All for a virus that barely affected kids, as we all knew from the earliest weeks of the pandemic.

I worried about her and her friends. Turns out, she’s OK. Some of her classmates? Not so much.

Last week, UVA Today published a study showing a sharp increase in the number of attempted suicides by children ages 10 to 19 from 2020 on.

The rate of suspected suicide attempts by poisoning among children and adolescents ages 10 to 19 reported to U.S. poison centers increased 30% during 2021 – the COVID-19 pandemic’s first full year – compared with 2019, a new UVA Health study found.

Attempted suicides continue to climb.
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RVA History: Merging Manchester

by Jon Baliles

I often joke with people when I am asked about Manchester that it was an independent city until 1910 when they merged with Richmond — and they have probably regretted it ever since.

Em Holter has a nice piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the merger of the city nicknamed “Dogtown” that is worth the read.

On the day of the vote in 1910, pro-merger pamphlets were distributed that promised lower taxes, better infrastructure, and free passage into Virginia’s capital city (no more toll on the bridge). Opponents cautioned that annexation would mean increased taxes and inferior services. History can certainly be ironic. Continue reading

RVA 5×5: Valet Parking

by Jon Baliles

There was a lot of talk and coverage this week about the City of Richmond’s Planning Commission unanimously approving the removal of parking minimums citywide with the full City Council expected to take the matter up at its meeting Monday night.

The ordinance as written would allow developers to decide how much parking to include in new developments anywhere in the city — or if they need to include any parking at all to serve the development. For decades, the city-required developments to also provide a certain number of off-street parking spaces based on the size of development, the number of dwelling units, type of use, or total floor area.

The end goal is to allow developers to determine how much parking to provide in their developments and if they don’t have to provide expensive parking, they will then increase the supply of needed housing units. The city recently declared a “housing crisis,” and the need for more housing across the entire region is urgent. The proposal is one of the recommendations from the Richmond 300 master plan, which is in favor of less “auto-centric” zoning and more in favor of denser and more walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.
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Bacon Meme of the Week

Massive New Bureaucracy in JMU Faculty Hiring Procedures

The Academic Affairs Guidelines for Recruiting and Hiring Instructional Faculty manual provides a glaring look into the bureaucratic and deeply troubling hiring procedures for faculty at James Madison University. Highly bureaucratic systems and policies are nothing new in American higher education, but this manual of edicts from the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs is highly prescriptive and cumbersome. Effectively, the provost has insisted on the review and approval for every hire on the JMU campus and her office has expanded to take on this new additional responsibility.

Since coming to JMU in 2017, Provost Heather Coltman has massively expanded the staffing in her office, including hiring Dr. Narketta Sparkman-Key, the Associate Provost for Inclusive Strategies and Equity Initiatives (APISEI) in 2022. According to the manual, Sparkman-Key and Coltman are basically the gatekeepers — not just for hiring any new faculty member at JMU, but even determining if a search committee may continue with a search based on the diversity within the applicant pool.

For example, even before a search committee can form, the steps shown below  must be taken. Understandably, there must be some top down controls to ensure departments are not hiring without proper approvals, but we note the first of many approvals by the Provost highlighted below.

1. The dean, the academic unit head (AUH), and faculty discuss and determine the need for a new faculty hire.

2. The AUH submits a justification for a new hire to the dean.

3. The dean reviews the justification and submits the position request form to the provost’s office by the established deadline.

4. Academic Resources prioritizes faculty hiring requests.

5. The provost confirms approvals and notifies the dean.

6. The dean notifies the AUH to proceed with the search.

7. The AUH completes and submits a “Request to Recruit” to Academic Resources.

There are protocols on who can be on the search committee, which is then approved by Sparkman-Key or another Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leader. (As an aside, according to this report, JMU boasts 65 administrators and spends more than $5.3M on DEI salaries)
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RVA 5×5: Restoring A Richmond Treasure

by Jon Baliles

One of Richmond’s favorite architectural wonders and spooky places is the Pump House along the Kanawha Canal and adjacent to the Boulevard Bridge. It has been the target and talk of renovations and adaptive reuses for almost a century since it closed in 1924 (the city wanted to tear it down in the 1950s, go figure), and now some federal funding is coming to help jump start the conversation yet again, according to Hunter Reardon at Richmond Magazine.

The nonprofit Friends of Pump House took an interest in preserving the property in 2017 and now $1 million in renovation funds will be used, half of which was secured by Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine as part of a federal spending bill signed in December.

The City of Richmond will use $500,000 to “stabilize the Byrd Park Pump House, expand its capacity beyond the current limit of 25 and to preserve it for future generations,” according to a joint statement. The money is expected to be matched by private donations from Historic Richmond.

“It’s sort of a Sisyphean task to preserve an old building like this, but you’d be surprised how good of a shape some parts of the building are in,” says Penn Markham, president of Friends of Pump House. “We’re working on a study with Quinn Evans architects to figure out what needs to be done to spend the money wisely. For example, there’s no point fixing the floor if you haven’t fixed the roof first.”

Fully restored, the site could became a super-popular destination for weddings, retreats, fundraisers, and other cool events with the canal and the James River right outside. And there have long been discussions of varying degree about restoring the canal from the Pump House to Tredegar downtown — it may come in phases, but that would be just about one of the coolest experiences anywhere.

Markham hopes this infusion of cash is the beginning of a full revitalization. “This is the most serious renovation effort in the last 100 years,” he says. “A lot of people have talked about it, but nobody’s ponied up the money until now. It just might work — there are a lot of people in the community that want it to happen.”

Jon Baliles is a former Richmond City Councilman. This is an excerpt from the original article posted on his blog, RVA 5×5. It is posted here with permission.

RVA 5×5: Calling Earl Weaver

by Jon Baliles

There are not many other cities in the country that would debate plans for multiple baseball stadiums in multiple locations over multiple decades and then, after seemingly signing off on a new stadium, roll over after being told by Major League Baseball that public monies must be spent for a batting cage in a stadium that has two years of life left in it.

But hey, this is Richmond, and that is apparently what will happen in the coming months. According to Jonathan Spiers at Richmond BizSense, “For the Richmond Flying Squirrels to be able to play this spring, Major League Baseball is requiring that the city-owned Diamond be upgraded — at a cost of $3.5 million – to meet certain standards for pro baseball facilities. In addition to repairs to the concrete structure’s roof and supports, MLB is requiring construction of a second batting and hitting tunnel as well as renovations to both team locker rooms.”

The City has clearly been sitting on this news and has already filed the permits;  the work will begin ASAP, as the season starts in just over one month. The concrete supports most definitely need looking after and refurbishment; they are old and dangerous; there was a close call when a chunk fell off of one support about 15 years ago and could have seriously injured someone. I try never to sit under one of them when I go to a game; you just never know.
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362 is more than 273

by Joe Fitzgerald

Take our word but not our numbers, Bluestone Town Center (BTC) backers seem to say

The moral of this story is: what the City Council doesn’t know won’t hurt the HRHA.

When I first heard about the scope of the BTC, I did some quick arithmetic and came up with an astronomical estimate of how many new K-12 students it would generate. I was wrong; the total was merely stratospheric.

Perhaps unwilling to accept the blog post of an ex-mayor, HCPS created its own model and discovered my revised numbers were pretty close. (For the record, proving me right is not why they created it.) They came up with a model that said 322 new students.

Worth noting, HCPS provided two sets of numbers. One was if they applied their model to 900 new housing units in Harrisonburg, and the second if they applied it to 900 in the southwest corner of town. The difference wasn’t significant. What was significant was the effort to share all relevant information.

In October, HRHA pointed out to HCPS that 60 of its units were for seniors, so HCPS reconfigured the estimate. (Because there’s a hell of a lot of H’s in this history, let me help: HRHA is Harrisonburg Redevelopment Housing Authority, and HCPS is still Harrisonburg City Public Schools. HRHA is partnered with EquityPlus, or EP, to apply for a rezoning to build BTC.)

The new estimate from HCPS was down to 273. A little more than half an elementary school.
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A Sharper Image

by Jim McCarthy

Bacon’s Rebellion has crested to the fully emancipated age of 21 (birthed in 2002). It seems appropriate now that the platform assume some contemporary dress to revitalize its imprint and impact upon state, regional, and local public policy as a “non-aligned portal” in Virginia’s (indeed the world’s) eyes.

For some years, conservatives have enjoyed utilizing a kind of Morse code (perhaps Esperanto is more apt) to depict foes on the left with pejoratives – libwits, snowflakes, among a few – which sadly lost their cachet in a short time. A search on the Bacon Rebellion’s site reveals that the term “woke’ has not been prominently featured since an article on December 19, 2022, suggesting perhaps a high-water mark for the term.

At the same time, the Republican National Committee, following its recent meeting in California, announced an effort to rejuvenate “election integrity’ as a campaign theme for 2024, likely to complement emerging proposals from its U.S. House majority to force spending reductions. While strict adherence to traditional values is highly treasured, free market competition demands change. The following is offered as an updated masthead for BR:

The raffish, roguish gent hints at an early 20th century iconography, sufficiently ethno-American to satisfy enduring conservative tastes. The addition of a “Sister Sheila” companion for universal audience acceptance might also be in order.

Jim McCarthy, a former New York attorney, resides in Northern Virginia.

RVA 5×5: State of The City – What The People Think

by Jon Baliles

There is a little-known part of Richmond’s City Code that requires the City Auditor to produce a “Services, Efforts, and Accomplishments” (SEA) Report by conducting a thorough poll/survey of Richmond residents to see what they think about the level of service and performance and deliverability of City government. In other words, it’s the poll that every politician fears more than anything because they can’t B.S. their way past the peoples’ opinions of what they see and experience every day.

Doug Wilder used to say (and still does), “The people are always ahead of the politicians,” and that is never more accurate than with the SEA report presented by the Auditor in February 2022. It received virtually zero attention, but that’s usually what happens with bad news. You try and bury it, label it fake news, or quickly move on to something else.

SEA reports include questions like: Are you satisfied with the overall direction of the City? What is your opinion of the value of services for the taxes paid to Richmond? Does the City do a good job informing residents about issues facing the community? Is the City open and transparent with the public?

The reason this 2022 report is relevant 11 months after it was issued is that tonight, Mayor Levar Stoney will deliver his penultimate State of the City speech that will undoubtedly be an upbeat recitation of his accomplishments and how great the City is doing — in his eyes. His office put out this four-minute video a few weeks ago to tee-up the talking points and set the stage for his speech (and perhaps his next campaign). Continue reading

RVA 5×5: Annual Crime Briefing Numbers

by Jon Baliles

The Richmond Police Department held its annual crime review briefing this week and the numbers were positive on the surface, a little mixed in total, and almost miraculous considering the force has more than 150 vacancies.

Mark Bowes writes in the Times-Dispatch that “The good news for the city of Richmond from a crime perspective last year was a 37% drop in homicides (from 90 to 57) and a 17% reduction in robberies of persons.” The numbers of reported rapes, aggravated assaults and commercial robberies rose in 2022 over the preceding year, but overall violent crime was flat, [Acting Police Chief Rick Edwards] said, dropping about 1% from 1,099 reported offenses to 1,087.

However, a more disturbing trend was the 33 incidents of shootings with more than one victim (80 people total in 33 shootings – recall the one shooting last summer on Broad Street with six shooting victims). That was up from 31 multiple shootings in 2021 with 68 victims. Also, the number of non-fatal shootings increased from 244 in 2021 to 256 last year.

“The numbers would have been even higher,” Edwards said, if not for police initiatives during the final quarter of the year that reduced by 12% the number of shootings during that three month period. They dropped from 69 to 61. “We were on track to have a much higher increase in non-fatal shootings,’ the chief said.”
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