Richmonders are breathing easier outdoors than in … 

Street Talk

Air Quality Poorer InsideMusicians Feud Over Dirt Ball NameCity Hall Made Easy OnlineNew Signs Mark Old NeighborhoodsRichmond Meets Savannah in Gay Pride Festival

Air Quality Poorer Inside

The air you breathe outdoors may be safer than the air you breathe at home.

That's the surprising news some Richmond neighborhoods are getting about a comprehensive test conducted by the Environmental Justice Partnership between William Byrd Community House in Oregon Hill and Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Public Policy.

The air quality study surveyed nearly 4,000 households in Oregon Hill, Carver, Randolph, Maymont, and along the Main Street corridor.

"What we found is that the air [outdoors] is no worse in the city than in Hanover County," says Cliff Fox, senior research associate for the Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory with the center.

More rainfall and cloud cover made this year better than last in terms of ozone levels, so the survey shifted its focus to analyze nitrogen dioxide, a dangerous pollutant found both indoors and out, to determine where it is most prevalent.

The study of the urban neighborhoods found one in three households has at least one person who suffers from respiratory problems such as asthma. The researchers attribute this high number to increased indoor exposure to pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide. They say the amounts produced indoors, where people smoke or cook with gas or have gas heat, are higher than outdoors, despite the city's high volume of cars. "This is something we were amazed to find," says Fox.

Fox hopes the new findings will help launch a partnership with Fan Free Clinic that will provide follow-up care for people who suffer from or show the beginnings of respiratory problems.

On Aug. 17 at 7 p.m., Fox and members of the Environmental Justice Partnership will discuss the study's results in a public meeting at the Better Housing Coalition. This, he hopes, will prompt lobbying efforts for more educational programs and services.

"I don't care how much research we do," says Fox. "They live here. That's why we're taking their input to begin a plan of action."

Brandon Walters

Musicians Feud Over Dirt Ball Name

Don't be surprised if you hear members of local alternative-country band Dirt Ball use that name to describe each other. That's because Dirt Ball broke up in June and former members are now squabbling over use of the band's name.

The band's June 24 show at the Canal Club "pretty much sealed the demise" of Dirt Ball, says former guitarist Jeff Liverman.

"I've never seen a breakup so bad," says Steve Douglas, label manager for Planetary Records, which released Dirt Ball's last album, "Turn Up The Barn," this year.

Incidentally, Douglas now is playing guitar with Wes and Jyl Freed's new incarnation of the band. Douglas says the husband and wife will continue to perform in support of the album with a new band calling itself Dirt Ball Jr. Wes is the band's lead singer; Jyl is a backup singer. "There's a bunch of shows lined up, and they're going to get played one way or the other," Douglas says.

The Freeds could not be reached for comment.

Douglas maintains that the name Dirt Ball belongs to Freed and him, who started the band in the mid-1980s. Douglas says he is speaking for himself, not for the label. Label owner Jim Bland was in Portland, Ore., and could not be reached for comment.

Liverman, who wrote or co-wrote half the songs on "Turn Up The Barn" doesn't want Freed's new band to continue under that name. "As far as the name Dirt Ball [being] used," Liverman says, "that's going to depend on negotiations with the record company."

This comes after perhaps the band's biggest boost in notoriety, a review of its CD in the national alternative-country magazine No Depression. The group was recently featured in a Style Weekly cover story on Wes Freed.

Until Liverman, Freed and Planetary reach a compromise, Freed's out-of-town shows will continue to be billed as Dirt Ball Jr., Douglas says. If Freed loses the name? He's considering Mr. Scarecrow and Willard's Garage, Douglas says.

— Wayne Melton

City Hall Made Easy Online

For the past few months, members of the E-Citizen initiative team have been working to bring City Hall up to speed with the rest of the universe.

Just last week, the E-Citizen team took its first baby step in what will be a massive effort to make every imaginable interaction between citizens and City Hall possible online. Now, just by visiting the city's Web site at, you can access 29 forms that previously had to be picked up in person.

"Everything from requesting a Supercan or business license," says Bill Farrar, the E-Citizen project manager, to city job applications is available in a downloadable format. Acrobat Reader is needed to view the forms and to fill them out on your computer, but the city provides links on its directory page to download it free.

"Is it where we want to be ultimately?" asks Farrar. "No. But it's a step in the right direction." The evolving City of Richmond Web site is modeled after more progressive sites used in Seattle, Boston and Denver.

The city's online task force formed earlier this year at the request of City Manager Calvin Jamison and comprises more than a dozen representatives from various city departments. A budget of $450,000 is being used to create an efficient hardware and software infrastructure; redesign the existing City of Richmond Web site; and provide online service to citizens.

It's a complicated task, says Farrar. "We have to make sure that when someone punches the keyboard, nothing disappears into the ether."

After just one week, it's too early to tell how many people are using the online forms. "What we really need is for people to come online, whether it's for a form or feedback and tell us what they want," says Farrar. He says, too, that even though the E-Citizen initiative was slow out of the gate, it can catch up and maybe take the lead that other cities will follow. "I believe this is the future of government," says Farrar. "We have enough energy and creativity to leap out in front."


New Signs Mark Old Neighborhoods

North Side neighborhood pride is behind some new signs bearing old and all-but-forgotten names.

The signs, which started being posted this month, distinguish several of the area's predominantly black neighborhoods the way subdivision signs in mostly white areas of the West End do.

The signs include the new city logo, the neighborhood's name and its date of founding. On Brook Road, for example, signs for "Hammond Place/Oak Ridge" note the area was developed "circa 1914."

Norvell K. Robinson, assistant to 3rd District Councilman Bill Johnson Jr., says Johnson responded to a request for funds from North Side residents in the Edgehill Civic Association who had seen such signs elsewhere and "decided they wanted some signs of their own." Robinson says the neighborhoods are important in the history of many black Richmonders.

Joyce Dennis, head of the Edgehill Civic Association, declined to comment. Chris Mize of Vital Signs says the company produced the signs and "designed them specifically with what the civic committee members wanted." Plans are for signs to be made for "most all the neighborhoods down there."

About eight to 10 signs are planned, he and Robinson say. Robert Evans, assistant to the city manager, says the first three signs cost Johnson's discretionary budget $2,100.

Rob Morano

Richmond Meets Savannah in Gay Pride Festival

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" scene-stealer The Lady Chablis will headline here next month at the city's annual gay pride festival.

Richmond Pride 2000 Chairman Kenny Gibson says the drag queen, who played herself in the movie based on the best-selling book, will perform Sept. 16 at the Grace Street festival with other gay music, comedy and female-impersonator acts from around the country.

"It's a fun, informative festival that also affirms for folks, 'You're not alone,'" he says.

Pride 2000 will feature stages at each end of Grace Street between Foushee and Fourth. Neighborhood restaurants and vendors will offer food and nonprofit organizations, including representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties, will set up information booths.

Gibson describes the event as an "all-day parade, block party, festival - all of the above" and expects up to 2,500 people to attend.

"I believe that this will be the largest, most visible gay festival that Richmond has ever had," he says. "We're as much a part of the city as any minority group," he says. "Hopefully this will put us front and center."

Gibson also emphasizes that Pride 2000 isn't for the gay community only, and he encourages other Richmonders to attend. "You'll have fun. You'll understand a little bit more about your fellow man … and see there's not much difference."



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