City Council-elects begin sharpening priorities
Nov. 5 saw a continuation of Virginia’s “blue wave” that began with the flipping of 15 House of Delegates seats in the General Assembly. While Democrats managed to gain control of the House and Senate this time around, more locally, Charlottesville’s City Council-elects fended off three independent challengers. Ahead of January, the coordinated team of Democrats Sena Magill, Lloyd Snook and Michael Payne is thinking about what they can contribute to the City Council and how they can pick up where others left off.
Outgoing Councilor Wes Bellamy said he is proud of his contributions to the city. Addressing equity and homelessness have been some of his biggest causes to champion during his tenure — and he also helped spark conversations in regard to what should happen with local Confederate monuments.
“The biggest policy measure for me is The Crossings II,” Bellamy said. “This has been a pet project of mine. It’s been my baby, been working on it maybe 2½ years. We have the opportunity to end chronic homelessness in the city and the county. It won’t get finished while I’m on council, but sometimes you have to start the race and let other people finish it.”
Bellamy said he also is excited about the continued rollout through the internet partnership with Ting and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to provide high-speed internet in public housing, along with seeing the Police Civilian Review Board come to fruition. Bellamy wrote the original resolution in late 2017 that sparked the work on establishing it. He said he is excited to see the new councilors help “see it through.”
“That’s really what it’s all about. I never got into this because I wanted to be like Superman or anything, but we’ve started some real tangible change and now people are going to get to continue that work.”
On the topic of community policing, which has included a yearlong process process to establish a Police Civilian Review Board, Magill said she is in support of a methodical process involving recommendations from the initial board to ensure its efficacy once it is fully operational.
“I’m in support of a strong CRB. If we don’t do this right, we may as well not be doing it. The group who spent over a year working on this, that’s why they were appointed. As long as [City Attorney] John Blair OKs it from the lawyer perspective and city attorney perspective, I think we should be doing what the recommendations are.”
As equitable policies have played out during his time on the council, Bellamy said he is looking forward to the continued work of Mayor Nikuyah Walker, Councilor Heather Hill and the new councilors.
“The commitment we are making to equity, the commitment we are making to talk about difficult things that we weren’t talking about when we were getting yelled at and cursed out — people were saying I was killing the city a couple of years ago because we were being very forceful in delivering these conversations — to look at where we are now, it’s amazing,” Bellamy said.
Once the City Council meets in January, they will decide amongst themselves who the next mayor and vice mayor will be.
According to current Vice Mayor, Heather Hill, the decision will happen at the start of the new year when the elects are sworn in. She said it will happen no later than the first 2020 city council meeting, but that there could be a separate organizational meeting beforehand with a “TBD” date.
After coming in the top during the June democratic primaries, the three councilor-elects have held weekly dinners to bond and strategize policy plans that they most agree on. The dinners helped them unify as a single ticket and gain clarity as they moved forward in their campaign — and soon, their time on the council.
Ivy Hinton, co-chair of the Charlottesville Democratic Party is excited that the united ticket pulled through in the race. Community members have suggested that the council expand its outreach beyond City Hall through various town halls around the community. On election night, Hinton said it’s something she aims to help the council do.
Hinton said that community-wide town halls can foster “solid conversations with council members.”
Magill, who earned the most votes in the City Council election, said she is open to continuing council dinners and including Walker, an independent, and fellow Democrat Hill. Magill said she also is in support of council town halls or forums for community engagement and feedback.
“I am in support of community forums and hope they can start ASAP,” she said.
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Hinton noted the significance of the “10- to 20-year decisions” that the new councilor-elects will be a part of. Payne said one of those decisions can have an impact on climate resiliency in the long run, such as the city’s emission reduction goals. He said the work doesn’t stop there and indicated that he wants to work on specific plans for the emissions sector of how to meet the goal.
As addressing affordable housing and improving public housing were pillars of his campaign, Payne said he is eager to continue work on seeds the current council has planted.
“Continuing the process of redeveloping public housing and really being committed to a financial commitment [is important], but maybe just as important as that is making a commitment in terms of staff and council resources to shepherding that process, championing it and to make sure that it actually happens,” he said.
The current council still is in the process of finalizing the city’s Comprehensive Plan and recently hired Rhodeside & Harwell, an Alexandria-based firm, to consult on affordable housing strategies and zoning code updates within the plan. The 25-month process will examine existing data and hold community engagement to draft tangible changes.
“Comprehensive Plans usually are just an accumulation of the last 5 years of reports, rather than a time to break new ground,” said Snook, a former planning commissioner. “I will say I applaud anything that seems likely to break up the logjam of planning efforts where there has been no motion in a year or so.”
“I definitely want to be looking at what their recommendations are, and I hope that we are looking at zoning for increased density and infill — understanding that our population will be moving to a less car-centric approach and if we can start looking to that and making sure that we are putting the infrastructure in place to support bicycle and pedestrian use,” Magill said.
In the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors race, three seats also were up for election with Republican challengers to the Democrat-controlled board. Incumbent Ann H. Mallek held on to her seat with 56% of the vote, and will continue to represent the White Hall District. Bea LaPisto Kirtley won against her write-in challenger in the Rivanna District with 66% to 33%, and Donna Price defeated her opponent in the Scottsville District for 55% to 45%.
“The first thing I’m going to do is reach out to the Republicans and say ‘let’s sit down and talk and build consensus. Let’s work together to move forward for the betterment of everyone,” Price said.
On the high voter turnout despite 2019 being an off-off election year, meaning that there were neither national nor statewide candidates at the top of ballots, Price noted the hundreds of people just helping with her campaign and how engaged communities are.
“One of the first things I noticed when I moved to this area was how many people are active and involved and really care about making this a better place,” Price said. “I feel very blessed that people decided to support me. Now I’ve got to prepare to actually serve as supervisor.”
Despite all 140 seats in the General Assembly being up for election this week, there had been concern about low turnout for state and local elections. According to the office of the city’s registrar, Charlottesville voter registrar, turnout was at 43% of registered voters, double what it was in the last off-off election year, 2015. 2017’s gubernatorial election year drew 51% of voters. The county saw increases as well.
With a Democratic majority in the capital come January, the incoming Charlottesville City Council is eager to see what local policies Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, and Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, can represent.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get people an actual living wage. I know she’s going to jump in addressing the living wage in general,” Magill said. “I would love to see Virginia be a more pro-union state. I would love to see Virginia supporting more progressive taxation issues, instead of just flat-tax ideas to give localities a little more control over what they can do. … I want to be supporting the Green New Deal and everything we can do to put some pressure on Dominion [Energy] from the state level. Now that we’ve got a state-level change, we can actually put some pressure on Dominion about what do we want to put in that’s actually environmentally friendly.”