Category Archives: Infrastructure

Virginia Community Schools Redefined – Hubs for Government and Not-for-Profit Services in Inner Cities – Part 1 – the Current Framework

by James C. Sherlock

I believe a major approach to address both education and health care in Virginia’s inner cities is available if we will define it right and use it right.

Community schools.

One issue. Virginia’s official version of community schools, the Virginia Community School Framework, (the Framework) is fatally flawed.

The approach successful elsewhere brings government professional healthcare and social services and not-for-profit healthcare assets simultaneously to the schools and to the surrounding communities at a location centered around existing schools.

That model is a government and private not-for-profit services hub centered around schools in communities that need a lot of both. Lots of other goals fall into place and efficiencies are realized for both the community and the service providers if that is the approach.

That is not what Virginia has done in its 2019 Framework.

The rest of government and the not-for-profit sector are ignored and Virginia public schools are designed there to be increasingly responsible for things that they are not competent to do.

To see why, we only need to review the lists of persons who made up both the Advisory Committee and the Additional Contributors. Full of Ed.Ds and Ph.D’s in education, there was not a single person on either list with a job or career outside the field of education. Continue reading

The Box and the Snowball

by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a box, and there’s a snowball.

The box is the support of the Bluestone Town Center. It is a well-constructed but beautifully decorated box, built on strong buzzwords. Affordable Housing, and Climate Change, and Dense Development are the shiny wrapping on this gift. The snowball of opposition rolling toward City Hall grows each time a post on social media begins, “I didn’t realize ….” Didn’t realize how big it is, how much traffic, how much impact on the schools, how far from the center of town it is.

The box is being built purposefully. Proponents on the Planning Commission and City Council who have not yet heard the presentation of pros and cons are publicly and privately adding items to the box. Their box is a container for their support of the project, and they will only add those things that bolster their case.

The snowball is built on surprise. With local journalism struggling, people find out in bits and pieces how large the thing is, how many cars and students it will add, how badly proponents have considered flooding, runoff, and blasting.

The box includes support that’s at best half-hearted from city staff. The recommendation from the Community Development staff reads less like approval and more like, “Well, we guess it’s OK.” The City Attorney outlines why the offers to mitigate school impact are illegal under current law and an administrative nightmare if the city changes the law to accommodate them.

The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and the tax specialists will open their box at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, where they will explain how this is the greatest thing since the golf course. The snowball of citizens will attempt to deliver death by a thousand cuts. They don’t have the staff, they don’t have the legal help, and they don’t have elected and appointed officials who’ve already made up their minds. They only have the spirit of those who have throughout our history stood up and told their government it’s wrong.

Opponents have already been described in whispers as NIMBYs, or “not in my back yard.” I live two miles away, so it’s hardly in my back yard. But what if it were? Rezoning requests like this one are required to inform neighbors. The whole idea of zoning is to regulate what is built next to what. Homeowners’ defense of their surroundings should not be subordinate to what a planning commission or HRHA chair thinks is best for them and their neighbors.

As this proposal goes forward, I hope elected and appointed officials will remember that they serve the entire city and not just the preferences of a vocal political minority. For the people we elect and the people they appoint, the whole city is supposed to be their back yard.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.

McKinsey & Company Has You Covered

Whatever this is supposed to mean. Courtesy, McKinsey & Company

by James C.  Sherlock

Ever feel not only disconnected from, but ignored by central planners?

Do you run a shoe store in Sterling or work for a hospital in Richmond? Use natural gas in your home or work?  Teach in a public school in Wise County? Drive a gas-or diesel-powered vehicle?

In other words, do you do what people do to make the economy run and feed their families? Live your life using carbon-based energy, as does the entire economy?

Central planners have chosen your future. Nothing big, just the entire United states economy.

They acknowledge “headwinds” in that future. Challenges they call “weather fronts.” What McKinsey, the guru of net zero, calls a “devilish duality” that it claims has put “executives” on the spot.

They offer strategies to deal with them:

As net zero has become an organizing principle for business, executives are on the spot to lay out credibly how they will deliver a transition to net zero while building and reinforcing resilience against the certain volatility of ongoing economic and political shocks.

Dominion Energy is all in.  But questions arise: Continue reading

Homelessness in Petersburg – Part 2

Travel Inn was shut down by the ACE team in June. Courtesy Joyce Chu, Progress Index.

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote yesterday about the excellent investigative reporting by the Progress-Index about the knock-on effects of the renewal of fire and building code enforcement in Petersburg.

My position is that Petersburg must enforce its codes for public safety and the livability of the city.

But I also recognize the need to provide better solutions to homelessness in that city. I am pursuing a story on that subject.

But in the meanwhile, the Progress-Index’s Joyce Chu has posted her second article in that series.  I refer to

‘A fresh can of nowhere to go’: Health and stability stumble with fewer motel rooms for those on the edge”

It consists almost exclusively of the stories of those displaced with the closure of those motels.

It is powerful stuff.

Petersburg Resumes Important Actions Against City Code Violators — Homeless Needs Increase

Travel Inn was shut down by the ACE team in June. Courtesy Joyce Chu, Progress Index.

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes absolutely necessary actions have more than one outcome.

Such is the case in Petersburg.

Joyce Chu of Petersburg’s indispensable Progress- Index last evening initiated a multi-part series on the impacts of the city’s closure due to safety violations of two motels used by otherwise homeless people.

Her first article makes a case for more government and charitable services for the people affected by the closures. Good for her. No one wants people living on the streets and everyone wants the kids in school.

She explains that the California Inn, OYO and Travel Inn motels, among a group of low cost motels right off of I-95, were

also hotbeds of crime, drug overdoses and prostitution mixed in with families with children, according to former residents and homeless advocates.

She points out that Petersburg has resumed (after a lengthy period when it did not) enforcing its zoning codes. A team called the ACE team — Abatement, Compliance, and Enforcement — is on task, run by the Fire Chief.

Code enforcement is an absolutely necessary step to revitalize the city.

So is helping those adversely affected.  -Hotel owners should be forced within the limits of the law to assist. Continue reading

Sinking the Newest Sea Level Rise Exaggerations

NOAA chart of relative sea level rise at Sewell’s Point in Norfolk, showing a rate of 1.56 feet in rise per century, far lower than alarmist modelers project.

by Steve Haner

So, let me get this straight.  If we willingly keep paying the carbon tax on our electric bills, then thousands of parcels of prime Virginia waterfront won’t slip beneath the waves? Was that the point of these parallel prophecies of doom in the September 12 Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginia Mercury? Continue reading

“Richmond Real” and the City’s Limited Pool Hours for Kids

Moses Foster of West Cary Group speaks in front of Mayor Stoney at public rollout of the Richmond Real marketing campaign

by James C. Sherlock

On June 9, the Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) offered a story on Mayor Stoney’s new slogan for the City of Richmond: “Richmond Real.”

The RTD piece offered a positive account of the new marketing slogan devised under what Richmond Free Press (RFP) has called a “secretive” project led by the West Cary Group, a Richmond advertising and marketing company run by CEO Moses Foster.

It is indeed secretive to the extent that the city’s open data portal of existing contracts shows “no results found” for a contract the supplier of which is “West Cary Group,” so it is impossible to find more details there.

The RTD offered comments of city officials that the campaign had been developed with “inclusivity.”

With Richmond Real, we are listening, activating and we are continuing our commitment to serving every member of our community.

The RFP, the city’s excellent Black newspaper, had a different opinion, and summarized it as an “expensive dud.”

Some Richmond activists were less charitable. Continue reading

$93 Million for Virginia Trails

A newly opened hiking/mountain biking trail outside of Missoula, Montana, in land protected by conservation easements.

The Bacon Family has just returned from a nine-day hiking trip to Montana. We were not surprised that the trails at Glacier National Park, with its rivers and lakes and snow-capped peaks, were world-class spectacular. But we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the trails around Missoula, where we enjoyed two days of walking around the city’s highly walkable downtown and hiking the hills all around. Virginia has nothing resembling the Glacier National Park, a natural wonder that simply cannot be replicated (unless you have a few hundred-million years to work on it), but we do have college towns set in the mountains like Missoula (home to University of Montana). Blacksburg, Lexington and Harrisonburg come to mind.

What Missoula has done — setting aside land with conservation easements, and investing in hiking trails — can be replicated. Indeed, Virginia’s new budget contains $93 million for multi-use trails, eight times the previous year’s General Fund commitment of $10 million, according to the Virginia Bicycling Federation. Continue reading

America’s Petroleum Refining Capacity in the News – What is Going On?

By James C. Sherlock

This is a note about perhaps the highest profile national inflation issue, the price of gasoline and diesel.

The President is demanding more supply from U.S. refineries.  Headlines like this one blare at us today:

Biden threatens oil companies with ’emergency powers’ if they don’t boost supply amid inflation spike.

The letter behind such headlines, which is exactly what it seems to be, was sent to the largest refiners in the country.  Among other things, the President wrote:

My administration is prepared to use all reasonable and appropriate Federal Government tools and emergency authorities to increase refinery capacity and output in the near term, and to ensure that every region of this country is appropriately supplied.

I looked up the data on oil refining that Mr. Biden’s Energy Information Administration has published.

From the numbers on American refinery input and capacity, Mr. Biden will need more than “emergency powers” to increase refining output.

He will need a a genie.

Continue reading

Commonwealth Set for Major Broadband Expansion

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the issues underlined by the pandemic was the need for all areas of the state to have access to broadband internet. Without access to broadband, kids (and adults) in rural areas cannot take advantage of courses offered online. To the extent that more people will be working remotely, rural areas need access to broadband in order for those people to move there. Broadband accessibility is necessary for almost all businesses and industries and rural areas will need to have such accessibility if they hope to convince private companies to bring new jobs to their areas.

Thanks to federal funding, the Commonwealth is well on its way to achieving universal availability. The source of most of that funding is the American Rescue Plan (ARP), enacted in early 2021 as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to offset the economic effects of the COVID pandemic. In July of last year, the Northam administration and the General Assembly announced an agreement to allocate $700 million of the state’s ARP funding to broadband expansion. Several months later, that amount grew by  $220 million as a result of an allocation from another section of the ARP. Finally, it is expected that Virginia will get $65 million for broadband expansion from the federal infrastructure bill passed last fall. Continue reading

The Defense Production Act as a Political Tool to Boost Solar Farms

Courtesy Dominion Energy

by James C. Sherlock

We have had multiple discussions, good ones, on the issues surrounding solar farms in Virginia.

Jim Bacon wrote an excellent column about it in February of 2021 titled “The Political Economy of Solar Farms.” It was good then and prescient as of yesterday.

He wrote another one two days earlier.  From that piece:

With the enactment of the (Virginia Clean Economy Act) VCEA, Freitas wrote in the press release, Virginia is experiencing extensive land leasing and acquisition by solar developers. More than 180 solar projects accounting for 140 million solar panels are in various stages of approval or construction. Full implementation of the ACT would consume 490 square miles of Virginia’s forests and farmland, an area twenty times the size of Manhattan.

Thanks to President Biden’s new political/industrial policy, those solar farms just got cheaper. And Chinese solar stocks just got more expensive.

Both of which were made to happen because the President removed the tariffs on Chinese solar panels. Readers rationally can be for that action or against it. But the left has settled on the Defense Production Act as a favored service animal.

So, the President, in addition to removing the tariffs, invoked that act as a national emergency response to mandate additional domestic production of solar panels.

Let’s try to pin down the nature of the emergency and the unintended consequences. Continue reading

Home Price Volatility and Virginia Property Taxes

Case-Schiller Home Price Index – National

by James C. Sherlock

Housing prices have more than doubled since 2012, reflecting shortages of supply and the resulting speculation. The increasing slope of those curves above is not comforting.

Prices have soared over 20% in a year. Mortgage rates are up. What could possibly happen next? Most can figure that out.

But this article is about the effects on local government property taxes of what most predict will be extreme volatility in the housing market going forward.

How are Virginia real property taxes adjusted to mitigate the effects on both property owner tax bills and government receipts in this boom and very likely bust cycle?

We’ll look at the law. Continue reading

Storm-Related Flood Mitigation – A Louisiana Example for Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

I have worked for at least ten years — many of those with now-Attorney General Miyares when he was my delegate — to get Virginia to step up to the Louisiana model for flood control.

Louisiana. The Louisiana model is a state-federal partnership in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal executive agent in the Civil Works program and the state is the non-federal sponsor, a role with planning, funding and operational management responsibilities.

Today Louisiana celebrated the completion of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) that will defend the Greater New Orleans area against severe storms, including those with a one-percent chance of occurring in any given year.

HSDRRS is of similar complexity to a system to defend Hampton Roads. Continue reading

Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths

Route of proposed Coalfields Expressway

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

While perusing today’s edition of the Roanoke Times, I ran across an article that astounded me.  It concerned a meeting recently in Southwest Virginia about the Coalfields Expressway.  I remembered hearing about this proposed highway many, many years ago and thought that it had been dismissed as a pipe dream.  It turns out that the idea (and hope) is still alive.

The Coalfields Expressway would be a 115-mile federal four-lane, divided highway running from the intersection of I-64 and I-77 near Beckley, West Virginia to U.S. Rt. 23 in Pound, in Wise County.  West Virginia has opened 15 miles of its 66-mile portion of the proposed highway and another 21 miles are in various stages of construction or planning.  Virginia has begun constructing 7 miles of its 50-mile portion.  That stretch overlaps with Rt. 460, linking Grundy to Kentucky.  The cost of the Virginia portion is estimated at over $3 billion. Continue reading

Planning for Telecommuting’s Effects on Virginia

By James C. Sherlock

I think that we don’t yet realize the full impact of the revolution being wrought by the telecommuting that accelerated during COVID.

Virginia Railway Express Route Map

I am sure I don’t.  But Virginians, and our state and local governments, must try to figure it out.

We are moving towards a world in which white collar workers will be increasingly exempt from commutes.

We have already seen during COVID the leading edge of the migration of workers and their families away from many of America’s cities, especially those with increasing crime, closed businesses and otherwise lowered quality of life.

Look at New York City.  I visited it a couple of months ago.  Many places I used to enjoy have become an urban wasteland.  D.C. is not far behind.

Virginia urban areas and some of our suburbs have experienced COVID-related business failures and are threatened with more that result from the lifestyle changes that COVID brought.

The attractions in these places are not directly related to employment, but rather to population density. Restaurants, night life and the arts were exposed by COVID as vulnerable.  Some people got out of the habit of centering their social lives on them.

The costs of cities and suburbs, especially housing, are less and less affordable.  Prices have continued to increase in the face of fast-rising mortgage rates (Note 1).  This cannot continue, so it will not.

Other Virginia locations that offer attractive lifestyles, lower costs of living and the communications infrastructure to support telecommuting with bandwidth and speed at scale can expect to see in-migration and its economic benefits if they both prepare for and solicit them.

The knock-on effects may prove far-reaching.  I will offer a few of them for consideration.  Virginia state and local governments will either plan to accommodate them or be run over by effects which, planned for or not, they cannot control.

Continue reading