Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chesterfield: Two Boards Divided Revisited

It been one year since the fireworks and strained relations between Chesterfield County's two governing bodies in the Board of Supervisors and School Board was made public. These things had previously always remained behind close doors, but last year at this time the County was facing some very hard financial climbs and citizens were demanding leaders respond to the forces on the ground in our community.

Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors would reject the proposal to raise the real estate tax (property) by five cents in order to meet the gap that the County was facing in the School Board budget. This followed weeks of sparring between the two Boards over budget matters and fiscal responsibility.

One year later I am not so sure we have really made a progress on the relations front. There is still visible tension between the two bodies and it is not going to get any easier with looming shortfall to funding the next budget let alone the current proposals by the Schools. If you recall, Feb. 9th, 2010 School Board member Omarh Rajah(Matoaca) stated publicly during the School Board meeting that:

"As soon as we present our budget, guess what the other ones(BOS) do?Well, why do you need this and why do you need that?We do a line item with the BOS. Don't let them put the spin job on you, because that's exactly what they're doing.We do that in every one of our meetings, When we have joint meetings, we give them this, we give them line item stuff. And we present that to them. Don't let them fool you into thinking that we don't. By law we have to present everything. We don't hold anything back. We can't do it, we must balance our budget. Every year we have to do this. So if the BOS says to me or you one more time that the school system is not showing us all of our documentation, They're lying. They are lying to you...I don't believe the BOS are anti-education, I believe they are anti-youth. You look at a majority of their budget cuts, it comes on the backs of youth. From schools, and to their county programs"

While lately such local papers as the Chesterfield Observer seem bent on portraying Mr. Rajah as nothing more than an annoyance, it really begs the question why it is papers like the Observer have not taken Mr. Rajah's comments and criticisms of the process and investigated the validity of such claims. Instead, there seems to be a consistent effort to portray Rajah as an outsider. In fact, recently the Observer ran a piece entitled "Rajah distances himself from CCPS/school board"(Feb. 9, 2011) which touched on a topic Rajeh has been trying to address for three years and that is the overcapacity of schools like Cosby. Are not the facts, the facts? Are we not constantly told that we need "data driven" measures in the County? Well, the data is in and has been in for years; Rajah was right on target to seek a Cosby to accommodate 2,000+ because the school is overcapacity by 30%.

I wonder why it is the Chesterfield Observer or other papers in the area have not investigated just why it is Cosby got built in the manner in which it did. Why were the voices (not unlike today) silenced out or in the case of Rajeh portrayed as "distancing" himself from the Board when he has simply be a dissenting voice to the status quo. The Board of Supervisors does not want to face the political football that is redistricting, but anyone with any sense of integrity on the matter knows that's the coming outcome.

These leaders have stated recently that they believe that enrollment at some of the schools that are at overcapacity will decline in enrollment in the coming years. In fact, the reported number that Cosby High will only add 20 students between now and 2019 appears absurd. How does the County derive such predictions?

According to Tim Billis, Director of School Community Relations "the enrollment projections for Chesterfield are built using school and county data.An analysis is developed based on a variety of factors including live birth rates and county developments such as approved developments and approved residential lots."(Chesterfield Observer Feb. 9, 2011)

What Mr. Billis should have included in his explanation is the word "redistricting". The only way the County will keep the enrollment number from rising and hitting only 20 new students between now and 2019 would be if the took out a pencil and redrew Cosby High School's boundaries.

So once again, Omarh Rajah appears to be ahead of the curve in Chesterfield much to the chagrin of the establishment in the County. After all, if I was to decide to move my family to Magnolia Green this summer and that development was not redistricted I would be adding some three new students alone to that 20 number.

But then thats just how "data" works these days. Forget about the philosophy that if you build it they will come which gets ignored by our planners evidently because we have enough homes going up right now in Harpers Mill and Magnolia Green to totally blow away the County "data" and those are just two of the many new developments in the "current" Cosby zone that could see improving sales in the next two years.

So one year later, School Board member Omarh Rajah is still out there making the case for reasonable solutions and one year later Rajeh is still being ignored by the majority of the leaders in the County. I wonder what else will have to happen for papers like the Chesterfield Observer to begin to have some balance to its pieces, but this is of course is an election year and there appears a vested interest in focusing on what Rajeh is saying rather than what our Boards are actually doing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Chesterfield: The Road Ahead

While many of the people I admire here in the area for their advocacy of local issues here in Chesterfield have been oout of town at CPAC, this certainly has been a jam packed week following the Reagan Dinner held in Richmond.

Our School Board has determined that a proposed budget increase of 6 million over last year is warranted for consideration to include a 2% "salary enhancement" for employees of CCPS. This fall just months after the Board of Supervisors bonus consideration of all government employees (non-school) whom have been in service at least one full year.Am I missing something? Have we really seen any real signs (of significance) of a recovery? I mean we are still facing a huge housing crisis here in Chesterfield with rising defaults and foreclosures whihc will result in less revenue generation by the County via "paid" property taxes. Has our "government class" simply endeavored to operate outside the bubble of the real mainstream families here in the County? Do they really feel as though they are an "entitled class" even in the midst of under funded pensions and things like the VRS.

How can our government continue to operate as though they live in a box?I speak with business owners all the time who would love to provide their employees with higher wages, a bonus, or better benefits, but in the end all of their efforts are tied to income generated by operations. These are still very tense times for our local business owners and job creators and while they buckle down and make hard choices to stay in business, our government remains defiant at making any hard choices with regard to its own budgets. Both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board jave failed equally in delivering fiscally responsible budgets to meet these times.

Only in Chesterfield have we come to expect (and accept) to have a government who can rationalize proposing a budget greater than the preceeding year and then forecast a potential 20 million shortfall for 2013. If you ask those business leaders what would be their reaction to such news regarding their industry or business, what do you think the reaction would be? Well, it would be to cut spending in those areas in which they could that would not hamper business integrity. Our government however, sees things quite differently. Because government is "service" driven they use this as cover for attempting to increase budgets in order as leaders say to provide the services that citizens desire. Really?

It is not those services per say that is the question, but rather the excessive expense generated by the government in order to deliver said service when compared to other areas of the country. Why has our County seen so fit to create budgets that far outpace both population growth and inflation? How is it that a budget a mere 5-6 years ago was almost 40% less than it is today. How can people like Daniel Gecker and Marlene Durfee stand up at District Meetings with the Renaissance Group consultant tell us that by passing Comprehensive Planning we will see LESS population (they say 100K less) in the next 30 years if the Plan is adopted but then keep endorsing larger and larger budgets and Capital Improvement Plans. How?

The fact remains our County spending is out of control and these leaders lack the political will to be honest not only with citizens but apparently themselves. A 523.8 million School Budget when compared to other localities with more students/schools appears wildly optimistic or should I say dangerously opportunistic when they have admitted that the budget will surely face shortfall in the next year. Both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors must be held to task for providing in this current economic environment bonus payments to employees that outpace inflation with the average raises pegged just below 2% while inflation has been 1.2% and yet we have an admission that productivity has not been enhanced.

Our schools face very hard descisions to be sure. There is no question we must see to it that we are compensating our teachers effectively and retaining our quality teachers through performance based measures that unfortunately politically driven entities will not accept. If we endeavored to cut in those non-essential areas, we could certainly have come up with a better, focused plan to raise the teacher funding, but simply providing across the Board "salary enhancements" does nothing to increase performance.The class size and overcapacity as been exasperated by an over zealous Board of Supervisors with regard to planning by not effectively managing the impacts that such zonings would have on our schools and communities. In part, the animosity between the two Boards expressed in 2010 was not productive either. Not having engagement by the School System in zoning/planning has/is a recipe for disaster and we see it in the form of Cosby, Watkins, and Robious Middle along with others concerning capacity. Most classes are over the 25:1, 27:1, 26:1 targets (elem, middle, high) of student /teacher ratios though they manipulate classes like physical education to skew the numbers. By this I mean, it is not uncommon for an academic class to have 33-35 students, but sense there can be multiple gym class with 42-45 the numbers as a ratio on average get played with through the system. The ones that suffer from such convenient tinkering are our children!

So where are our Schools and likely of Board of Supervisors looking to explain such unwarranted budget proposals; while the State and the Federal Government of course. The Schools will receive Federal stimulus monies from two fronts; the stimulus and a Federal Jobs Bili which are to be "one-time" infusions and given whats happening in Washington these days it may just be one-time, eventhough I have been told "we always get money from the State and the Feds so not to worry". The County appears to always use the "matching" approach with regard to funds from outside sources by using the same amount of local funds for a desired purpose (thus increasing the budget) instead of just using the outside source funds for purposes of the budget.

Well, in fact we should all be worried. A County unable to operate at sustained levels regarding budgets and railing from shortfall to surplus and back to shortfall spells disaster for County stability and ulitmately will contribute to Chesterfield to be a declining locality and not a thriving one.

Those families living here in Chesterfield deserve better. Much better.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

UDA's: Urban Development Areas; the Backstory

So what is it exactly that is giving cover the local officials in Chesterfield County regarding this new Comprehensive Plan?

Urban Development Areas. Daniel Nairn gives us a (glowing) look into their creation and evolution: (taken FromonHigh blog)

"Over the last couple of years the state government of Virginia has been rolling out a land use planning category for localities known as Urban Development Areas (UDAs), where higher density development can be concentrated. The concept started off slowly in 2007 with HB 3202 as an advisory element to be placed in the Comprehensive Plans of "high growth" localities, but UDAs have gradually been weaved into everything from stormwater regulations to street design requirements over the last year.The Development and Land Use Tools Subcommittee, known as the Athey-Vogel group, last week released a proposal for stronger UDAs and a loan fund to sweeten the pot. Considering the media has pretty much ignored this process (I can't find any story, actually), it seems like a worthwhile endeavor to pay attention to where this initiative may be going.The purpose of UDAs is not only to allow the concentration of growth in certain areas (thus relieving the pressure on others) but also to guide the design of such areas to ensure they are livable and attractive environments. The legislation explicitly calls for "new urbanism and traditional-neighborhood design," and the essential criteria are spelled out clearly: pedestrian-friendly road design, interconnection of streets, preservation of natural areas, mixed-use neighborhoods, reduction of front and side setbacks, among other things. Minimum densities are set by floor-to-area ratio for commercial and dwelling-units-per-acre for residential development.Last week's proposed changes double the density requirements for all localities"

HB 1721(Virginia General Assembly)

The following is information that Donna Holt of Campaign for Liberty provided about HB1721.

BACKGROUNDThe General Assembly convened on January 12th and we are following many pieces of legislation. HB 1721 is one that has dire consequences for us. Currently, 67 localities in Virginia are mandated to build Urban Development Areas.HB1721, introduced by Delegate Bob Marshall, would make Urban Development Areas optional rather than mandatory.The bill was recommended to report (passed by a majority of yea votes) by the House Counties, Cities and Towns Sub-committee #2 by a vote of 7-4 on January 20th, but was stalled on January 21st by the full committee at the request of Speaker Howell. It must pass this full committee and then go to the House Floor for a full vote. If it passes there, it then goes to the Senate on February 8th, Cross-Over Day, to begin the process there. This is going to be a long battle.

WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST This bill is being attacked by heavyweights like the Home Builders Association, Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters.Members of the Home Builders Association stand to gain a great benefit from the construction of UDAs. Not only can they build up to twelve homes on a single acre of land that they can purchase very inexpensively, but they get tax breaks for the new urbanism, green building, and green energy efficiency practices used in the construction of these high-density communities.Organizations like the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Sierra Club are heavily funded by other international organizations like ICLEI and benefit greatly by defeating the bill.The reality, folks, is if we don’t get this bill passed, 67 local governments in Virginia will have no choice but to approve the comprehensive plans in EVERY locality in Virginia because UDAs are MANDATED.WHAT YOU CAN DO:WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK NOW if we are to be successful! We must show them who the real heavy weights are.We strongly urge you to:* Contact every member of the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee to urge them to vote in support of the bill.

* Contact Speaker Bill Howell (R) Phone: (804) 698-1028 Email: and ask him to support this bill.* Contact YOUR representatives to let them know you support this bill.* We urge citizens from EVERY locality of the Commonwealth to be representatives of their community at the next committee meeting on HB1721. We are in the fight of our lives to defend private property rights. It is up to each and every one of us to do all we can to get HB1721 passed out of this committee and on to the floor for a vote.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Observations on Chesterfield Comprehensive Plan: A Concerned Citizen

Today, Donna Holt from Midlothian, Virginia and from the Campaign for Liberty posted this on Facebook:


1. The language in the plan is very vague and subject to the interpretation of the reader.
2. The plan turns the entire county into a planned community with governing boards to establish the rules with no oversight much like “Home Owners Associations” do in planned communities.
3. The plans state there are lifestyle choices but is not specific about what the choices are and implies a vast amount of restrictions we will be forced to live by.
4. The plan restricts the majority of future growth to within the new urban boundaries.
5. The plan puts a lot of emphasis on aesthetics and implies that some properties that do not conform with the “aesthetics” of the community may be required to reconstruct the front of buildings to fit in with the design plan for the community as determined by unidentified decision makers.
6. The plans are designed to lower density further in the less populated areas while increasing the density in more populated areas which seems to have the goal of population control.
7. The plan calls for very expensive revitalization and development that is unaffordable in this economic downturn.
8. The Comprehensive Plan Reference Handbook with supplemental material is said not to be adopted but does not state the significance of the material to the plan. It implies that it is to be used as the handbook for implementing the goals set forth in the plan with no further action by the BOS.
9. The plan calls for public/private partnerships to redistribute the wealth as seen in socialist societies for economic development and affordable housing.
10. The plan includes strategies, plans, policies, and processes to control every aspect of life.

1. Proponents of "sustainable development" like the Renaissance Planning Group are taking advantage of the UDA mandate to facilitate the implementation of very strict land use regulations to achieve a political agenda that goes far beyond what the legislature intended.
2. In 1993, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order #12852 which created the President's Council for Sustainable Development. Their purpose was to translate the recommendations set forth in the 1992 United Nations' Agenda 21 into public policy administered by the federal government. Among the objectives of the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) were:
To implement new policies for America as described in "Sustainable America -A New Consensus".
To use land use planning to control populations.
To establish "sustainable communities", also called smart growth, calling for high-density mixed use feudalistic transit villages to handle future growth in localities across the nation.
To forever preserve rural areas and establish "wildlands" for more than 50% of the nations landscape with roadless areas that would be off limits to humans.
To create buffer zones for another 35% or more of the land between areas of high density and the wildlands.
To establish government funding to seek and acquire private land. They have stated in their documents that public ownership of land should be used to exercise urban and rural land reform.
To use incentives and disincentives to achieve the goals as set forth in Agenda 21. It was determined by members of the council that 67% of the recommendations could be implemented administratively using rule making authority at the local level.
3. The process used to develop the plans to meet the UDA mandate is of great concern. The decisions for the community were made by unelected facilitators of the "steering committee". The Renaissance Planning Group was paid nearly $900,000 for the visioning and planning project at taxpayer expense. The plans they present are merely a template for social engineering that is presented as the goal just as it is done in every locality across the Commonwealth, the nation, and around the world.

The Renaissance Planning Group, the facilitators of the "steering committee", in fact, did the steering. The plans are never voted on by the members resulting in an outcome that was obviously pre-determined. Though their meetings were open to the public, they were void of any public input thus the questions and concerns of the true stakeholders in the community were never even heard during the planning process. Any questions or expressed concerns by other members of the committee
were marginalized and left unanswered.

The end result was the "vision" for the community in a "new comprehensive plan" that was presented to the county BOS as the "consensus of the community".

4. Low-income areas are targeted for the establishment of the UDAs. High density development increases housing costs, thus taxes, which will displace many of the elderly and low-income families. Though subsidies are offered for low income housing in the UDAs, the cost to make homes more affordable for some are transferred to the cost of homes for others.
5. All the funding, subsidies, and tax incentives for the implementation of the plans adds to the national debt at the expense of taxpayers.
6. There is a correlation between restrictive land use regulations and foreclosure rates. According to the leading housing data firm, Realty Trac, Virginia ranked 16th worst among all states in terms of its foreclosure rate in 2009.

Ronald Utt, Senior Research Fellow for The Heritage Foundation, recently did a study of foreclosure patterns and concluded that "the state's foreclosure problems stem from the state's exceptionally high home prices in comparison to the incomes of its residents, and these high home prices are due to land shortages caused by abusive zoning. "Housing is considered "affordable" if median home prices in an
area are no more than three times the median household income in that area. This ratio is called the "median multiple"." What is considered affordable is a median multiple of 3.

California was one of the first states to adopt "sustainable community" polices more than two decades ago, commonly referred to as smart growth, imposing strict land use regulations to discourage building and growth. As a consequence, in 2006 and 2007, the median multiple in California soared to more than 10.

Such regulations spread rapidly to many other states and communities during the 1990s and 2000s. Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Richmond warmly embraced them with similar consequences. In Northern Virginia the median multiple hit 5.6, Hampton Roads went to 4.7, and Richmond hit 4.1. As we
continue to implement "smart growth" policies, this number is expected to rise.

7. Many high density urban development areas already established across the state have been empty for a year or more.
8. Land use decisions should be largely driven by a free market. If UDAs have to be mandated, one can only conclude that:
There is no market for UDAs.
The community doesn't want it and doesn't feel it's appropriate for their locality.
9. In 2009, Realty Trac reported there were 16,687 homes in foreclosure in Virginia. In 2010, 1 in every 948 homes received a foreclosure filing with a sharp increase in December of 2010 when every 1 in 501 homes received foreclosure filing. At this rate of foreclosure and with so many homes already on the market, mandating UDAs will only add to the inventory of unoccupied homes at a great risk to the economy. While it may be putting builders to work, we must also consider the burden to the taxpayer for the money that is funding this development through grants, subsidies, and tax incentives. Then there's the loans to finance construction to build more homes that there is no market for. Who will pay the construction loans if the homes don't sell and what will that mean to the economy in the long
10.The plan fits perfectly with the goals in the biodiversity plan called for in the United Nations plan, Agenda 21, called for in the Biodiversity Treaty that was rejected by the Senate in 1994. The plan calls for strategies, policies, and processes to control every aspect of life. The developers of the UN plan stated:
"Land...cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also the principle instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth, and therefore, contributes to social injustice..."
11.The new comprehensive plan provides for the type of social engineering that is the perfect definition of a soviet.
12.Most would agree that we need to be good stewards of the environment and most people are. Sensible planning is generally accepted by the community but the abusive land use planning in the new comprehensive plans determines every aspect of how and where we live and is seen to be a violation of private property rights.
The official District meetings concluded last night at Cosby High School. The debate however is far from over and there will be many opportunities for the public to come together in local town halls that will be organized in the coming weeks, not by politicians or the County but by CITIZENS. Its time we heard the other side of the story. In order to form a better judgement on the direction of the County those that oppose both this Plan and "Sustainable" Communities must be able to be heard.
Citizens must be informed as to both the pros and cons of embarking on such a massive undertaking. As of yet, the County has not be able to provide citizens with an adequate cost/benefit analysis except to say the Plan has the "potential" to save the County millions.
The meaning of "potential" is politico-speak for we haven't really a clue but we hope it will!
if you would like to be informed of upcoming gatherings in the community regarding these matters please feel free to provide your email address or join the Alter of Freedom Group page on Facebook the next time you are own that site.