Maybe you know this already, but the city has a 7.5 million gallon underground holding tunnel for “combined sewer overflow” or, in layman’s terms, poop water. It’s next to the James, is wide and tall enough to drive a tractor trailer through, and runs 1.3 miles from the Powhite bridge east under Maymont to Hampton Street.
It’s an impressive feat of engineering, and in most cases allows the city to avoid dumping untreated sewage into the river when storm water overwhelms the city’s old-timey plumbing. But it also went online in 2003 and, after 10 years of service, it’s starting to get jammed up with leaves.
This week the city put a call out to try to find someone to get in there and clean it out. The city is estimating that about 600 cubic yards of debris have built up -- the equivalent of roughly 230,000 two-liter bottles of soda. All that junk is blocking pumps and affecting capacity, according to an invitation to bid put out by the city’s Department of Procurement Services.
Excitingly, the city is requiring whichever contractor wins the job to provide video proof that it’s been cleaned, which, presumably means that said video will become public record.
If you’re curious, the city’s website has a ton of information about how the combined sewer overflow system works, including a very helpful animation showing the aforementioned holding tunnel in action.
God’s speed brave tunnel cleaners.
The security guard who was severely beaten while patrolling the GRTC Bus Depot on Cary Street was blindsided by his attacker, police say.
“I think it’s one of those deals -- he got caught off guard,” says Detective Joseph Fultz Jr. “A vehicle stopped on Grayland (Avenue), a guy got out. … He stalked the man is what it looked like to me.”
The attack left the guard, Jack Newsom, hospitalized and caused memory loss, making it difficult to piece together the events that night, Fultz says. “It is difficult to try to get things together when the man was injured the way he was,” the detective says.
Police don’t have a description of the perpetrator, but say they’ll attempt to enhance surveillance footage. In the interim, they’re asking anyone who may have seen anything to contact the department.
The attack took place on Nov. 23 at approximately 11 p.m. Fultz believes it was a robbery and not likely connected to vandalism reported earlier in the day.
The bus depot is the site of the GRTC Street Art Festival, which in September brought artists from around the world to cover the facility in murals.
After the festival, the GRTC allowed public access to the grounds during daylight hours. After the attack, the GRTC once again closed the grounds.
One of the event’s organizers, City Councilman Jon Baliles, says he’s “very hopeful” he’ll be able to work with the bus company to restore access. He says he plans to meet with administrators before the end of the year.
The organizers are attempting to raise $10,000 to cover the guard’s medical costs. Baliles says they hope to be able to deliver the money before Christmas. Just under $7,000 had been raised as of Thursday afternoon.
Leah Taylor has worked at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Belt Boulevard for six years. She says her $8.90 hourly wage means she can’t afford to eat the food she helps prepare all day.
“We do too much work for the amount of pay we receive,” Taylor said as a group of fast-food workers made signs in the Hull Street Library.
A national strike advocating a $15 an hour salary for fast food workers gave Taylor and about 75 others a chance to air their concerns. Marching from the library in the rain, the group stopped at the McDonald’s at the intersection of Hull Street and Commerce Road.
The hope was that the employees would join in a one-day strike. As the assembled group chanted and gave media interviews, the McDonald’s employees stayed put. Inside, a few employees glared at the protesters from the window as others ignored them and continued their work.
“We don’t want to lose our jobs,” one employee behind the counter told Style.
Organizers said one McDonald’s employee was on strike that day, but didn’t get picked up in time for the protest.
Crystal Travis, who works at a Burger King in Mechanicsville, said she chose not to go to work today. She had worked at the Hull Street McDonald’s, but her old bosses turned her and the group away.
“They want to keep their workers ignorant to the fact that (striking) is your legal right,” she says.
The strike, largely organized by the Service Employees International Union, was expected to take place in 100 cities across the country. A public relations representative inside the Hull Street McDonald’s declined comment and forwarded a statement from McDonald’s spokesperson Lisa McComb, who said the chain’s pay is competitive and that the day’s protest was being mischaracterized as a strike.
“Our restaurants remain open today - and every day - thanks to our dedicated employees serving our customers,” McComb said in the statement.
Travis and Taylor said they had no fear of retribution from their employers.
“I’m too tired to be scared,” Taylor said, adding that tomorrow, “I’ll go back to work. Hopefully it will wake them up. We need to be heard.”
Travis says until more workers can strike without fear of losing their jobs, it will be difficult to get fast-food restaurants to listen.
“If everybody who was scheduled to work today walked out, it would make a bigger difference,” Travis said.
The flower pot was decorated with ladybugs. It was a gift from Kimberly Chen to the now-deceased wife of Bob Buffington. And today, Manchester District Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland ruled that Chen heaved it roughly 30 feet at Buffington, making her guilty of misdemeanor assault. He ordered her to pay a $50 fine.
It’s the latest chapter in the neighborhood dispute over Buffington’s Church Hill coffee shop, Captain Buzzy’s Beanery, and his attempt to secure a city permit that would have allowed him to serve beer and wine and stay open an extra hour until 10 p.m.
Buffington lodged a $3.35 million lawsuit yesterday against Chen and three other opponents of his efforts to obtain the permit, charging they conspired to take over the Church Hill Association and relied on “defamation, misrepresentation [and] unethical conduct” to thwart his application.
Regarding Chen, the suit charges that she held a grudge against Buffington because “among other things, she does not believe Buffington grieved enough when his wife died of cancer in December 2011.” Both parties testified in court today that Chen and Buffington’s wife were close friends.
The flower-pot throwing incident took place Sept. 14, in the midst of the rancorous debate that led up to City Council’s vote in late October to deny Buffington’s permit request. Opponents argued that it would change the character of the neighborhood.
Most of the facts in the case were undisputed: The flower pot was decorated with ladybugs. Chen gave it to Buffington’s deceased wife. On the afternoon in question Buffington walked across 27th Street from his shop to Chen’s house to return the pot. Chen was outside her house doing yard work. Chen told Buffington she didn’t want it. Buffington set the pot on a curb and told her to throw it away. Chen instead threw the pot roughly 30 feet into the middle of the street where it broke.
That’s where the accounts diverge. Chen testified she asked Buffington not to leave the pot on the curb. When she threw the pot, she said Buffington was on the other side of the street and 30 feet away from where it hit.
“There was no intent to hit Mr. Buffington,” argued Chen’s lawyer, Amy Austin. “She simply broke the flower pot in the middle of the street.”
Buffington testified that the pot “grazed his ear” as he was crossing the street with his back turned to Chen.
A witness, Paul Iwashchenko, told the judge he saw the pot land about three feet away from Buffington. He said he was at Buzzy’s and started paying attention to the two when he heard “loud expletives and an array of comments.”
“This isn’t an accident -- she aimed the pot,” a lawyer with the commonwealth’s attorney’s office told the judge. “She aimed this projectile at him and threw it.”
Before issuing his ruling, Thorne-Begland disclosed that he’s a “patron of this coffee shop from time to time,” but Chen’s attorney agreed that didn’t merit recusal. The judge said he found Chen guilty of the assault because there was sufficient evidence that Chen’s actions had “placed Mr. Buffington in reasonable fear.”
Before ordering Chen to pay a $50 fine, Thorne-Begland said that if the law permitted it, he would have taken the case under advisement rather than issuing a guilty verdict.
After the trial, Buffington declined to comment, while Austin said she would appeal Chen’s case to circuit court. She said Chen wouldn’t comment on the case or the lawsuit filed Monday.
The witness, Iwashchenko, shook his head as he walked out of the courthouse. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “A childhood argument.”
Move one more to the no column, or in this case, the hell-no column. Mayor Dwight Jones needs the support of seven out of the nine members of City Council to make his ballpark plan a reality, and last week, 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell said she intends to vote against the plan.
She joins 5th District Councilman Parker Agelasto, who previously had been the only likely vote against. Trammell had been a toss-up, but she said she made up her mind after a meeting with her constituents, whom she polled.
“Ninety seven said ‘hell no’,” she reports. “Only 15 supported it. I’ve got to go with my people on this. … There's nothing in the deal for us. It’s for the developers who are going to get richer.”
Based on public statements, past votes and unsubstantiated hunches, that leaves Jones with five likely yes votes: Ellen Robertson, Michelle Mosby, Kathy Graziano, Jon Baliles and Cynthia Newbille. Please note this is just a prediction and it could change -- none of these council members have unequivocally said they are going to support the plan.
The critical toss-ups, then, are Council President Charles Samuels and Chris Hilbert. Neither will be easy to persuade, but if the mayor wants his stadium, he’ll have figure out a way to bring them over to his side.
City Council's legislative agenda for the coming General Assembly session includes requests to:
• Implement the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid coverage to anyone earning less than 133 percent of poverty line — $14,400 for an individual and $29,300 for a family of four.
• Give localities the authority to make it unlawful to kill dogs on sight when they are attacking chickens. The request follows the city's decision to allow backyard chickens.
• Give localities the authority to extend employee health insurance and related benefits coverage to include other qualified adults. The request would allow the city to extend benefits to the spouses of employees in legal, out-of-state same-sex marriages.
• Have the state Crime Commission study the use of criminal history information in employee hiring and its impact on offender re-entry. The request follows the city's decision to stop asking certain job applicants whether they've been convicted of felonies.
A security guard is hospitalized and the site of the RVA Street Art Festival is once again closed to the public following an after-hours assault Saturday.
The festival transformed the old GRTC bus depot on Cary Street into a mural-covered wonderland in September. When the three day event ended, the GRTC agreed to allow pedestrian access during daylight hours to the space, which had formerly been closed to the public.
That access was revoked Sunday night, according to an announcement on the festival’s Facebook page.
On Saturday night, several suspects trespassed on the property and engaged in the destruction of GRTC property and criminally assaulted the security guard which has left him hospitalized. The case has been assigned to the Richmond Police Major Crimes Division.
We are outraged that such cowardly actions have led to the closing of the site and understand GRTC's decision. It was our goal to revitalize the area and GRTC property using creativity and art with the hope of changing the expectation of its use as a future neighborhood asset. We did not intend for the actions of a few criminals resorting to such horrible violent behavior to negate the hard work and many hours that GRTC, ourselves, the great artists, and countless others put in to rejuvenating this historically vital spot.
We do not believe that the nature of the art used for this revitalization is by any means indicative of violent criminal behavior. The subject of highest importance now is the well being of the gentleman assaulted and hopes for his speedy recovery; our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will work with GRTC to reevaluate the use of the property in the future but for the time being the site will remain closed.
The Richmond Police Department was not immediately available for comment. Neither was GRTC. I’ll update this post when I learn more.
Update: RPD spokeswoman Dionne Waugh says that the department's major crimes division is investigating the incident as an aggravated assault. She says the guard's injuries are serious, but not life threatening.
No one has been arrested or charged in connection to the assault and it's still unclear what prompted the altercation. Here's the full statement:
At approximately 11 p.m. on Saturday, officers were called to the 2400 block of West Cary Street for a report of an assault. Officers found a male who reported he was assaulted by an unknown person(s). His injuries are not life threatening and the investigation is ongoing. We don’t have any information we can release at this time about what started the incident.
Inspired by the city's decision to lease the old West Hampton school to help pay for the Washington NFL team's training camp, an ordinance that aims to make sure future sales of surplused school properties benefits the schools is slated to go before City Council on Monday evening.
Fifth District City Councilman Parker Agelasto introduced the ordinance, which would create a dedicated annual funding stream for schools. He explains it like this in an email:
Essentially, the proposal would capture the new real estate property taxes generated from surplus school property and provide it to RPS for their annual operating budget. Currently, selling surplus school property only benefits the capital reserve account for RPS for new construction and maintenance.
The City of Richmond is sitting on surplus school property assessed at $48 Million. If all of these buildings were sold and maintained their existing assessments, that would net $576,000 in annual tax revenue at the current rate of $1.20 per $100 of property assessment. While this is not much money, it ties the sale of school property to a recurring, long-term benefit, beyond the capital reserve fund.
The measure faces an uncertain fate. Agelasto says he expects support from some council members, but the measure moved out of the body's finance committee yesterday with no recommendation. The chair of that committee, Kathy Graziano, made it clear she was not in favor of the measure.
Already sick of the debate over Mayor Dwight Jones’ proposal to put a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom?
Too bad, because it’s going to drag on for months before any decisions are made. The plans cannot move forward without City Council approval and the body’s president says a final vote on the matter could come as late as March.
Likewise, don’t expect any immediate relief if you’re just getting geared up and itching to voice your opinion at City Hall: The agenda for Monday evening’s regular City Council meeting doesn’t include the proposal and it won’t be the subject of any public comment period.
So when can the city expect action? “I don’t foresee us taking a vote on any baseball papers at any committee meetings in December,” says council president Charles Samuels, who represents the 2nd District.
Councilwoman Kathy Graziano, who represents the 4th district, concurs.
“This is the beginning of a discussion,” she says. “I would say, realistically, if we voted on it by the beginning of February, that would be quick.”
The council members say they need to talk to voters in their districts before making any decisions. To that end, the mayor’s staff is making itself available for meetings with individual council members and their constituents in all of the city’s nine districts.
The mayor’s chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, says a vote by late February or early March wouldn’t hold up Jones’ goal of having the stadium ready for the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ 2016 season. But Marshall says the city might not be able to meet that deadline if discussions drag too long into March.
Graziano says she wouldn’t be surprised if the administration has built extra time into its estimates to account for an extended debate. In either case, she’s not sympathetic to Jones’ deadline.
“When you’re dealing with an issue this complex and that requires so much citizen involvement, sometimes it needs to be extended,” she says.
The South of the James Market will be able to stay in Forest Hill Park through the winter, following approval from the city and a nod from the neighborhood association.
Market organizers GrowRVA campaigned to allow the market to stay beyond its original Dec. 7 end date because it was having difficult finding a new location.Marketing director Stephanie Ganz says the market will remain there in a reduced capacity until spring.
“We're just going to try it out and see how it works for everybody,” Ganz says.
The Forest Hill Neighborhood Association’s president, Shannon Taylor, said some neighbors had raised concerns about parking and noise. GrowRVA agreed to limit the number of vendors to 40 and the hours from 9 a.m. to noon.
“Generally folks are pleased with the market presence at the park and nobody has voiced a desire to stop the market,” Taylor said in an email.
GrowRVA will also attend association meetings to “make sure we’re being good neighbors,” Ganz says.
The market will resume its full-scale, 100-vendor presence at the park in May.