Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Chesterfield’s Slow-Motion Suburban Suicide

by James A. Bacon

The traffic engineers, it appears, have won. Chesterfield County is doubling down on suburban sprawl with plans to build a series of “superstreets” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars over the next decade. While the massive infrastructure investment likely will reduce traffic accidents and improve traffic flow on the streets themselves, they will literally cement into place the county’s dysfunctional land use patterns.

This article in the Chesterfield Observer lays out the rationale behind the superstreet concept. “It provides for a high-capacity roadway, and also safety because you don’t have these intersections where [cars] cross paths in front of each other. It’s a way to eke out additional capacity without widening,” says Jesse Smith, the county’s transportation director. According to the Observer, work on the first project, on Iron Bridge Road (Route 10), will cost $64 million and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2022.

Greater Greater Washington critiques Chesterfield’s superstreet in a recent blog postGGW questions whether the added transportation capacity is needed, argues that the superstreet design rules walking and biking in the corridor, and contends that the money could be spent more effectively elsewhere, such as mass transit. The critique is worth a read. I agree with much of it, but differ in important respects. Continue reading

The Cumberland Landfill: Another Case of Risk Illiteracy

by James A. Bacon

Last year the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional use permit for construction of a 500-acre mega-landfill. Some county residents welcome the facility, which would generate between $1.4 million and $2.8 million a year in host fees and provide a huge revenue boost to a county budget of roughly $15 million a year. But others oppose the project.

Irène Mathieu, a Charlottesville pediatrician, raises all sorts of phantasmagorical concerns in an op-ed today appearing in The Virginia Mercury. In her clinic, she says, she encounters children suffering from asthma or complications from premature births. “The scientific evidence tells us that air and water pollution are contributing factors to these children’s problems, and that the burden from pollution is disproportionately borne by children of color and those living in poverty.”

Threats to Cumberland County families and children — nearly one-third of whom are African-American, she points out — include groundwater contamination, dust, methane, and “dramatic surges in traffic.” The landfill, she adds, would close off a road in front of a historic African-American school, rendering community access nearly impossible. Further, she writes, “I worry about the self-worth of children who grown up with no access to their local history, the graves of their ancestors now a repository for trash.”

Wow! Where does one begin to dissect this kind of logic? Continue reading

Virginia’s Rural Development Strategy — and Suggestions for Improvement

by James A. Bacon

You most likely missed it because it has gotten next to zero publicity, but the Commonwealth does have an economic development strategy for rural Virginia.

In 2017, a group of rural development stakeholders come together to form a “Rural Think Tank” to identify policies the state should pursue to position smaller metros and rural areas for economic growth. After deliberating, the twelve think tank members came up with five strategic priorities, as described in the latest edition of the Virginia Economic Review, a publication of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). This second edition of the quarterly publication is devoted to “America’s Rural Growth Challenge.”

The priorities include:

Ubiquitous broadband access. Topping the list is ubiquitous broadband access, a priority embraced by the Northam administration that receives broad bipartisan support. The ability to plug into the Internet is a necessity not only for business growth but is essential to education, healthcare, social connectivity, and the quality of life. As the Virginia Economic Review quotes Didi Caldwell, past chair of the Site Selection Guild, put it, “Broadband is to the 21st century was electrification was to the 20th. Rural communities need it to thrive and survive.” Continue reading

NoVa Rules Now

This electoral map published by the Virginian-Pilot is a bit dated, but it shows the dominance of Northern Virginia in House of Delegates districts that elected Democrats last week.

by James A. Bacon

The big shift in power in the General Assembly does more than put Democrats in control of the state legislature. It gives Northern Virginia more power than ever before. Northern Virginians taking senior leadership positions in the General Assembly in January include:

  • Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, Senate Majority Leader
  • Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax Station, Speaker of the House
  • Del. Charniele L. Herring, D-Alexandria, House Majority Leader
  • Del. Richard C. Sullivan, D-Fairfax, Democratic Caucus chairman

Just as significant, roughly half the Democratic Party caucus hails from Northern Virginia. In the Age of Trump, Northern Virginia has become a politically blue monoculture. In many NoVa districts, Republicans didn’t even run candidates.

So, here’s a question: To what degree will Northern Virginians elected officials vote their liberal/progressive philosophical inclinations and to what degree will they vote their geographic interests? Continue reading

RRHA Freezes Enforcement of Rent Collection


by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) has announced an agency-wide freeze on the enforcing rent payments through the end of the year. No public housing family will be removed from their home for debt owed to RRHA during that period.

“During this time,” the authority said, “RRHA will undertake an agency-wide evaluation of our public housing families’ rental accounts and give tenants that are in arrears the opportunity to come current. By utilizing a combination of repayment agreements, debt forgiveness, philanthropic contributions, and other eviction diversion methods, RHHA will endeavor to bring every RRHA family with a delinquent rental account as close to good standing as possible.”

The action comes in response to pressure from “tenant advocates,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, praised the move. “We’re very encouraged and we see it as a few steps in the right direction,” he said.

Now, nobody wants to see poor people needlessly evicted from their homes… Continue reading

This Little Piggy Went to General Assembly…

by James A. Bacon

With all the hungry piggies pushing for mo’ state money, the feeding trough is getting crowded. Besides the K-12 piggy (squealing for an extra $950 million), the Virginia Retirement System piggy (an extra $215.6 million), and the monstrous Medicaid piggy (the sky’s the limit — how much money do you have?), we can add the higher-ed piggy. A State Council for Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) report concludes that the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities need an additional $212 million in the next biennial budget for operations and financial aid, and $826 million for capital outlays.

Here’s a breakdown of the operational funding needs: Continue reading

Richmond’s Food Desert a Tough Nut to Crack

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

It is part of the liberal/progressive catechism that inner city neighborhoods across the United States, including Virginia, are afflicted by “food deserts” — large swaths of territory lacking access to stores selling fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods. This deprivation is typically seen as a failure of the free-market system that requires remedy.

Seeking to do some good, Richmond philanthropist Steve Markel financed construction of a grocery store in the heart of the city’s East End — The Market @ 25th — and launched it to great fanfare a half year ago. The store served multiple laudable ends. It anchored a mixed-use development including 42 apartments, retail space, and office space in a depressed part of the city. It opened with 98 jobs, creating employment opportunities for the East End’s poor. And, most notably, it provided a source of fruit, vegetables, and healthy food.

Now we hear from the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the noble endeavor is encountering difficulties. The independent grocer has suffered millions of dollars in operational losses. Through layoffs and attrition, the staff has shrunk by a quarter since opening. Perhaps most discouraging of all, many of the store’s hoped-for poor African-American customers say the prices are too high and see the story as the spear-head of gentrification. Continue reading

Aird Is a Woman to Watch

by James A. Bacon

Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, as one would expect, is playing on her identity as a young, African-American woman in her bid to become the next Speaker of the House. But there’s more to her appeal to fellow Democrats than identity politics. She has a plan — a plan for the Democrats to get off to a fast start in the 2020 General Assembly session.

Aird lays it all out in her “60 Day Plan for a Stronger Commonwealth,” which she has posted online and disseminated widely. (I presume she distributed it widely if I got a copy.) Therein she lays out her ideas for the internal caucus structure of the House of Delegates (seen in the diagram above). I have never covered the General Assembly as a beat, so  I don’t know how novel this structure is. (Perhaps Steve Haner could fill in details). Whatever the case, Aird clearly has spent a lot of time thinking about it. This chart suggests to me that the young woman, 33 years old, has considerable organizational acumen. Continue reading

Out of Obscurity: Lashrecse Aird

Lashrecse Aird

As Democratic legislators organize in advance of assuming control of the General Assembly, the media spotlight shifts to the maneuvering to fill the senior leadership positions. The elevation of Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, to Senate Majority Leader is a foregone conclusion. But who will become the next Speaker of the House?

At this point, according to the Virginia Mercury, there are four declared candidates: past House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax; Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg; Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince Williams, and Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax.

Of these, the most interesting to me is the little-known Aird. First of all, it’s a remarkable sign of the times that a 33-year-old African-American woman and  lawmaker with a mere four years of experience could seriously aspire to the most important state legislative position in the state. So, congratulations to Aird on that score. If she wins, I’m sure the first-in-Virginia-history angle will totally dominate the news coverage.

But there’s another aspect to Aird of interest to anyone plumbing Virginia’s deeper power structure: She is employed as chief of staff at Richard Bland College, a two-year college in Prince George County. As Speaker of the House she would be a powerful ally of public higher education in Virginia. Continue reading

How to Help Economically Disadvantaged Students

Click image to enlarge.

by James A. Bacon

Over the past several days I have been highlighting how public schools in Southwest Virginia have bucked the statewide trend of declining standardized test scores. While the Northam administration has implemented a top-down “social justice” approach, a consortium of rural Southwest Virginia schools has embraced a totally different  strategy: (1) identifying the most successful teachers across the region; (2) sharing their instructional materials and other best practices; (3)  measuring results and incorporating feedback, and (4) raising expectations.

John Butcher, the author of Cranky’s Blog, has done some follow-up numbers crunching to show just how effective Southwest Virginia’s Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP) has been at lifting the Standards of Learning pass rates of economically disadvantaged students — the very same demographic the social-justice crowd wants, but has failed, to help.

The first two graphs (above) show how the reading and math SOL scores, which were at rough parity with statewide averages in 2014, have zoomed ahead of the pack. Continue reading

Republicans Must Find a New Way Forward

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is a blue state now. Not only do Democrats occupy all statewide elected positions — two U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general — with yesterday’s election, they control both houses of the General Assembly.

Republicans got their booties  kicked. And the butt-stomping is not likely to subside. The Dems will control the next redistricting, which will cement their dominance of the legislature. Auguring well for the blue team in the future, the fastest-growing region of the state, Northern Virginia, now is pure blue with bits  of purple on the exurban fringe. By contrast, Republican strongholds in rural Virginia have shrinking or stagnant populations. Also favoring Democrats in the long run is the increasing percentage of racial/ethnic minorities in the state and the declining percentage of whites.

Republicans need to re-define who they are and what they stand for, or they will become a permanent minority. News reports say that dislike of Donald Trump drove Democratic voter turnout, but the Blue Tide is much broader and deeper than voter animus of one man. Take Trump out of the equation after the 2020 election, and Virginia Republicans still have a huge problem.

Can the Republicans re-calibrate? I certainly hope so, because I’m terrified of the Democratic Party agenda of $15 minimum wage, spiking the right-to-work law, a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead rush to a 100% renewable electric grid, spending and taxing, taxing and spending, and injecting its grievance-and-victimhood agenda into the consideration of every issue. But Republican priorities on culture war issues — guns, abortion, transgenders — are not winning issues statewide. As long as Republicans remain captive to its rural/small-town base, I don’t see how it can reinvent itself.

What does a rejuvenated Republican Party look like? (Or, if the GOP is incapable of reinventing itself, what does a successor party look like?) Continue reading

CIP: the Secret to SW Virginia Schools’ Success

School divisions participating in the Comprehensive Instructional Program

by James A. Bacon

The school districts of Southwest Virginia are among the poorest in the Commonwealth, but that hasn’t stopped them from out-performing more affluent districts across the state. Public schools in Region VII, stretching from the City of Radford to Virginia’s far-western tip in Lee County, have the lowest per-pupil funding in the state, yet they have the highest average pass rates for Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores. I highlighted those findings in a recent post. What I couldn’t say then was how Region VII managed to score the best results of the state’s eight education regions.

So I talked to Matt Hurt, curriculum director for the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP), a bottom-up initiative starting in Southwest Virginia, to find out more. It is a remarkable story and an encouraging one. With the right approach, Virginia schools can lift themselves up by their boot straps. Lesson for the General Assembly: The answer isn’t Mo’ Money.

Southwest Virginia students have not always been top SOL performers. Their rise to the top has occurred in just the past few years, says Hurt. The secret: Local school districts pooled resources to do three main things: (1) identify the most successful teachers across the region; (2) share their instructional materials and other best practices; (3) set high expectations, and (4) measure what works. Five years have made a significant difference. Continue reading

The Winners-Take-All Politics of Virginia Schools

by James A. Bacon

Two stories today highlight how public schools have become a political and culture-wars battleground in which winners take all and losers are vanquished.

First, the culture-wars story courtesy of the Daily Signal, a conservative news source associated with the Heritage Foundation:

Parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, are outraged after discovering that thousands of books were placed in classrooms across the school district this year as part of a new “Diverse Classroom Library Initiative.”

While most of these books focus on introducing kids to different cultures and ethnicities, parents began to discover that an alarming number of the books focused on “sexual diversity,” contain sexually explicit language, including “frequent descriptions of underage drinking, fondling, masturbation, orgasms, oral sex, sexual intercourse, sexual abuse, statutory rape, incest, and rape.”

Even books at the kindergarten level promote LGBT ideology through books such as “My Princess Boy,” designed to introduce 5- and 6-year-olds to the harmful idea that they can change their gender.

Second, an article in the Washington Post about privacy-invading technology, also in Loudoun County, as it turns out: Continue reading

We Can’t Explain Virginia’s Declining Test Scores — Just Trust Us and Give Us Mo’ Money

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Times-Dispatch took a good hard look today at the alarming decline in reading scores by Virginia students in standardized tests, including both the state Standards of Learning (SOL) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). But reporter Justin Mattingly came up dry in explaining what might have caused the lower scores, which represent a stark reversal from improving or steady scores over the previous decade. “Why scores are on the decline,” he writes, “is the million dollar question.”

Mattingly makes a remarkable statement in the article that deserves highlighting: “State education leaders — who aren’t sure why the scores have dropped so much —  are calling for $36 million to go toward new reading specialists.”

That’s not all they’re asking for. The State Board of Education is recommending the state increase support for K-12 education by $950 million next year. Virginia’s educrats can’t explain the decline in reading and math scores, but they still have the audacity to say, “Trust us to spend more of your money.”

The usual suspects, like the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, are backing them up. Providing no evidence to demonstrate an empirical link between the funding decline and student achievement, CI has been pounding the drums to remind legislators that state support, adjusted for inflation and increasing enrollment, is 8% less than before the Great Recession. Continue reading

The Apigolypse

Forget about global warming for just a minute. Set aside your fears of national bankruptcy and economic collapse. If you’re looking for calamities, this is really serious: One quarter of the world’s hog population could die from a devastating strain of African swine fever, reports USA Today.

How apocalyptic is the situation? Just ask Mark Schipp, president of the World Organization for Animal Health: “I don’t think the species will be lost, but it’s the biggest threat to the commercial raising of pigs we’ve ever seen. It’s the biggest threat to any commercial livestock of our generation.”

He doesn’t think the species will be lost? That’s reassuring.

The paucity of news coverage suggests to me that people aren’t taking this nearly seriously enough. Let me tell you, if world health officials said that one quarter of all dogs on the planet were destined for the big kennel in the sky, the story would be massive. If one quarter of felines on the planet were headed for kitty kingdom come, the story might be played even bigger (although there might be some celebration mixed in with the caterwauling).

All I can say is that it’s a darn good thing that there are plenty of feral pigs out there — no thanks to the Washington Post!! Commercial hog raising may go under, but as long as pigs roam free, we won’t have to worry about the species becoming extinct!

Lucky thing the United States is sitting on a 40 million-pound surplus of uneaten bacon, a 48-year high. As it turns out, it may not be nearly enough.

— JAB