Housecleaning on State Mandates

Local governments now free to set up red light cameras without state oversight!

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday, July 1, marked the day when bills enacted into law earlier this year went  into effect. Among other changes in the way we conduct the affairs of local government, cities and counties are no longer required to obtain permission from the Virginia Department of Transportation to install red light cameras!

And that’s only one of fourteen measures  designed to reduce state burdens on local government that are found in HB 1295. Another measure eliminates the requirement for teachers to engage in civic training in order to renew their licenses. Local courts can no longer require localities to construct new courthouses. And no longer must schools provide the estimated per-pupil cost of public education to students’ parents.

In a press release announcing the measures, Governor Bob McDonnell noted that he signed several other bills relating to local government. With one exception, it doesn’t add up to much. The difficult job of running a city or county in Virginia has not become significantly easier as a result. Consider the legislation more like housecleaning — wiping the dust off the top of the refrigerator, knocking down the cobwebs in the porch. Still, the measures, which originated from the efforts of a five-member task force to identify state mandates for repeal, are part of the necessary care and tending of state and local government.

No, I’m not talking about the General Assembly here. Local governments no longer need VDOT permission to install signs like this on highways.

In a reminder of the absurdities that arise from a Dillon Rule state in which localities can exercise no power that the state does not grant them, HB914 gives counties and towns authority, “pursuant to an agreement with the Commissioner of Highways,” to install “Children at play” signs on highways within their boundaries.

We can all breathe easier now.

The one truly substantive bill in the lot made the incorporation of Urban Development Areas (UDAs) in high-growth counties optional rather than mandatory, diluting one of the signature pieces of growth-management legislation enacted when Tim Kaine was governor. The idea behind UDAs was to concentrate growth in areas that could be efficiently served with utilities, public services and roads. The legislation specifically called for “new urbanism and traditional-neighborhood design” — pedestrian-friendly road design, interconnection of streets, preservation of natural areas, mixed-use neighborhoods, reduction of front and side setbacks and minimal densities.

After Kaine left office, the home building industry pushed back on this and street-connectivity legislation. Virginia has yet to devise an effective strategy for managing the costs associated with growth. Until we figure it out, rezoning petitions for development projects will continue to be contentious and inefficient human settlement patterns will push up the cost of local government.

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  1. bosun Avatar

    For the most part, localities are underwhelmed by the mandate ‘relief’ passed by the 2012 session. One bright spot in the omnibus legislation not mentioned is the ban on judges ordering localities to build new courthouses. That ban was also in the 2011 & 2012-2014 budget bill, but it is now also enshrined in law.
    Correction – the home building industry actually embraced UDAs and was one of the few, along with the environmental community and planners, who defended them when the optional legislation was introduced in the 2011 session. It was the pressure from the Tea Party/Agenda 21 crowd that got the legislation introduced in 2011 and passed in the house on a mostly party line vote. The 2011 bill was defeated in a senate committee on a party line vote.
    In 2012, planners reluctantly decided that continued support was not worth the effort and the home builders remained neutral, so the optional bill passed easily with overwhelming Republican support because it was seen as a ‘must have’ for the Agenda 21 folks.
    At no time over the two year saga did the McDonnell Administration defend the legislation. All counties opposed the legislation, but reluctantly went along. In some of the 2011 county elections, UDAs became an issue.
    The governor’s mandate task force is now poised to look at some of the mandates costly to localities, but most localities do not hold out much hope for substantive action during the last years of the current administration. Bosun

  2. Hydra Avatar

    Until we figure it out, rezoning petitions for development projects will continue to be contentious and inefficient human settlement patterns will push up the cost of local government.

    To the end user, a cost is a cost. Having an “efficient settlement pattern” is no savings to the homeowner or renter if building restrictions and higher development costs raise housing costs.

    If someone has an example of a location where costs and taxes were actually lowered through some kind of preferred development pattern, I have yet to see it.

  3. larryg Avatar

    The UDA law was mandatory in designating UDA districts but the BOS retained the authority to turn down any/all proposals they did not like but more than that, even without the UDA law, any developer has the ability to make a def-facto UDA proposal anywhere in a county to the BOS who must schedule a hearing to consider it.

    The UDA law was not well understood by all but developers and pro-development BOS liked it because it became a mechanism / impetus for expanding water/sewer into new areas. Such expansion of water/sewer districts heretofore could be controversial in high-growth area because it was viewed as a proxy for more conventional subdivision development.

    But when you expand water/sewer for a mixed-use UDA area, there are no prohibitions to also using that same expansion for traditional subdivisions in a ring around the UDA and in fact, that’s exactly what some localities did as an explicit strategy.

    Other localities complied with the law by simply designating their already-designated growth areas – as UDAs.

    But it was comical listening to the planners and the BOS try to work their way through what the law actually required or not. Developers had no qualms, they saw the benefit to them.

    The skunk to the picnic though came in a duo.

    First, VDOT would require a TIA that would reveal how much road infrastructure would be needed to properly support a UDA type development and developers and pro-development BOS did not like that idea at all because it plops a dead mackerel on the “who will pay for the infrastructure” table.

    The 2nd skunk is the Agenda 21 folks who are opposed to central/regional planning and the authority of a locality to control land-use and if it is in any way, shape or form perceived on their part to be related to any United Nations ideas then they mobilize.

    At our local hearing, dozens showed up to assert that any land owner should be able to develop to any use and to access roads and water and sewer without the govt having the ability to stop them.

    This has not and is not going to go away. Indeed our own Planning Commissioners as their very first action in performing the required update to the Comp Plan – totally gutted it and directed county staff to bring back a new Comp Plan that had nothing in it but those specific things required by state legislation.

    so, we’re starting over. In some ways, this is healthy IMHO because land use planning has become a down in the weeds process often seemingly without any discernible rhyme or reason other than the planners believe it’s the way that planning should work.

    It’s also potentially hugely disruptive if we end up throwing away some basic zoning tenets that separate land-uses for good reason.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    What we need is to house clean on Richmond’s influence over anything and everything. A thunder storm has left hundreds of thousands of Virginians without power for a fourth day. Richmond-based Dominion Resources is telling people that they may not have electrical power back until next weekend. In Maryland, Gov O’Malley is directly engaged with Pepco and BGE. In Virginia, Gov McDonnell is still counting Dominion’s campaign contributions. Meanwhile, Senators Warner and Webb served their masters at Richmond-based Massey Energy (now part of Alpha Natural Resources) by joining the GOP and trying to vote down a Clean Air bill. Finally, Richmond-based Phillip Morris (having been kicked out of New York City) continues to cost millions of people around the world their health and lives each year.

    Yeah, I’d say it’s time for Richmond to go away and leave the rest of us alone.

  5. larryg Avatar

    re: blaming Richmond for the power outages…

    geeze DJ….

    for myself, I’m GLAD the govt was not in charge of restoring power!


    the damage to an urbanized area like NoVa is nothing short of astounding.

    what we all ought to be reflecting on is that this is the most damaging non-hurricane storm in the history of the country and it follows several days of the highest temperatures on record.

    Is there a connection between these ultra-high temperatures and the derechos which are said to be rare normally.

    is this the beginning of more and more derechos associated with ultra high temperatures?

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I am at my house in Maryland. The power never went off. The governor of Maryland is out in the affected areas overseeing the restoration efforts. He has already been clear that there will be consequences for Pepco and BGE for their ill-preparedness. His quote was something to the effect of putting his shoe up those companies’ asses.

      Where is Virginia’s governor? Where is the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond? Where is the condemnation for Dominion’s poor response?

      Face it – Richmond is as crooked as a country road. Everything in Richmond is for sale to the highest bidder.

      46 states put limits on campaign contributions. Virginia is one of four that does not. Don’t let Jim Bacon’s Richmond apologist schtick fool you, LarryG. The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond doesn’t care if Dominion ever gets the power back on so long as Dominion stuffs bushels of money into the Clown Show’s coffers.

      Richmond’s ruling elite are the puppet masters of a voracious Clown Show that milks the rest of the state so that Richmond’s ruling elite can profit.

  6. larryg Avatar

    well… I for one am glad that DJ had a spare house to go to cuz if he had not we’d probably hear 3x the imperial clown show vitriol.

    I seriously don’t know what any gov can do to get power on quicker other than to gum up the works. PEPCO, Dominion, etc, work 24/7 every day to keep us in power and I think hey do a pretty decent job of it.

    If you look around at the damage – it’s unprecedented. I’m worried that we may seem more storms like this because of the uber heat….

    as far as campaign contributions – a question – does Md have it’s own version of VPAP so you’d know PEPCO’s contributions?

    Does DJ think PEPCO does not also contribute to the their Gov in Md?


    re: accessory housing – it’s a local option right? not a state dictate….

    the question is what’s the ratio of lane miles of roads to population in NoVa compared to other urbanized places… ???

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