RIP Parking Districts

The Council had a work session the other night on parking districts.  Parking districts are kinda like trash cans or other public policy matters that directly touch people's lives: they tend to be controversial even in small doses.

photo  Crafting public policy that touches peoples lives on a broad scope is difficult.  If you change things at all you're likely to have a room full of angry people.  The city recently purchased and distributed new trash cans to all residents.  I received phone calls and emails from people who didn't like it.  I admit that it still surprises me what people will expend their energy on but it's a free country!  However, I see overflow parking from the townhouses in the single family zones as a real problem.  This evening there were 4 different proposals in front of the Council.  On a tie vote, with the mayor voting yes, the Council approved a parking district scheme where the city does nothing but send out letters to people telling them if they wanted a parking district they could petition the city.  In other words, we voted to do nothing.  A swing and a miss.  No action.  

Now, one might fairly ask: why are my panties are in such a bunch over parking districts?  The answer comes in three parts:

First: the growth in the number of cars registered in the city far outstrips the number of housing units added.  How can that be?  The answer is, of course, simple.  We have more people living in the same number of houses.  While maybe not legally "overcrowded" the planning (parking, schools, police, etc) involved in the original development is out the window.  The legal definition that the City uses for overcrowding is pretty much useless and the vigor of enforcement of those codes has faded over the years.  Overcrowding problems seem to be back in Manassas but nobody is talking about it much.  However, the single family districts around these developments are bearing the brunt of the adverse impacts and it shows.

Second: like it or not, there is an expectation amongst folks who buy a single family house in the suburbs that they'll live on a relatively quiet, uncluttered street and enjoy the use of the parking spots in front of their home if need be.  This is not the case in Manassas near Point of Woods and the Wellington Townhouses.  We've even had fist fights over parking.  If the city isn't prepared to take action on this problem, residents will find a different place to live….and they are.  Think they have to walk several blocks to their single family house in Gainesville?  Flight is still a very real problem in Manassas.  The Council has articulated several times that it's a problem we need solutions to but the Mayor and Council clearly lack the resolve to actually do anything about this or other difficult public policy problems.

Third: at some point, the city leadership is going to have to come to grips with the fact that this isn't the Andy Griffith show anymore.  Indeed, the Council and Mayor's actions are wholly incongruent with their stated goal of being a "prosperous and family friendly city with best in class schools and a thriving business community".  There are many tough policy decisions in between our current state and that goal.  Parking might have been the easiest of those decisions.  In addition, the schools are not some third party who can deliver "best in class schools" without the city's help.  They aren't a vendor of yams with whom we're unhappy.  Their stock in trade is people.  You cannot de-couple progress in the school system from public policy.  

This missed opportunity simply results in the continuing erosion in our competitive position with the surrounding jurisdictions.  It's a long term problem.  Manassas will continue to bounce along the bottom in terms of progress.  It isn't the end of the world.  The economy is doing ok and Old Town will see good things happen but long term it's a problem.  We're boiling the frog here….

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Bike Virginia – 2014 flavor

Time for the annual Bike Virginia post.  This was the first year that I have not signed up to do the entire 5-6 days.  The Fam isn't always down with 5 days in the middle of nowhere with not much for them to do – they don't ride – so I shortened it this year to the 3 day ride.  It's a shade ironic as this was the flattest Bike Virginia I've ever ridden and, being in Chesterfield area, kind of near my Mother in Law.  So, this year everyone was happy.

I did my first Bike Virginia 4 years ago.  I really had no idea what I was getting into.  See, it's a bike tour and many people camp out the entire time.  The organizers will bring in a "shower truck" or two and there are usually facilities available where we the event is held.  I've never understood the camping out aspect of the event so I've always had a hotel room.  I ain't riding 50 miles on a bike and then sleeping on the ground.  Forget it.  So you have a bunch of folks who camp, a bunch who stay in hotels but there's also another dynamic: the weekend riders and the folks who do the whole thing.

As I mentioned, this was the first year that I didn't do the whole thing and I must say the experience was mostly negative.  Bike Virginia as an organization doesn't really seem all that interested in the weekend riders.  Nothing is simple anymore as everything suddenly becomes a la carte.  I signed up early so I could get the event jersey and upon registering onsite I was told, no, I don't get the jersey, I get the T-shirt.  What cyclist wants the shirt and not the jersey?  I pulled the email from Bike Va and showed it to the nice lady – it clearly indicated I would receive a jersey.  She said it was a mistake.  Sorry.  I asked if I could buy a jersey.  She said "dunno, come back tomorrow".  ok…I put on my purple wrist-band and shuffled off.  The next day I was told my wrist band wasn't sufficient to get lunch, I had to have a ticket as well.  What?  How much crap do I have to carry around to work with these people?  I'm on a damn bike, not driving a shopping cart.

The route this year was also among the most uninteresting I've ridden.  The "Premium Rest Stop" with the culinary treat was a tomato sandwich.  It was a good sandwich but….Overall, there just wasn't much happiness in this years tour.  It's a different experience when you're only there for the weekend.  On the plus side, I did ride the "metric-century" distance of 65 miles for the first time.  Took me about 4 hours so I was rolling along pretty well.  It helps, of course, that tidewater Virginia is pancake flat.  It's a rural area so normally everything is pretty chill but the drivers were pretty unaccommodating.  Not anyone's fault in particular but Chesterfield doesn't seem particularly bike friendly.

I suppose that the take-away for me is that if you're going to do Bike Va either do the whole thing so that there aren't any chances for misunderstandings or treat the weekend ride more like a charity ride.  Take advantage of the marked route, SAG and pit stops but do your own thing for everything else.  Honestly, it just isn't worth the hassle.  Next year's destination is Abingdon.  Mountain climbing time.  I'm tempted to skip it but we'll see.

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Electronic Education is en route

Well, the schools are at it again!  D-Mag and her storm troopers of edgimucation descended on the City Council chambers last night to show off some fancy new e-learning program that they're running with.  It isn't the "ipad for every kid" variety but it is a similar device.  Yes, iPads are all the rage but there are other device formats that better lend themselves to this particular application.  This device is a convertible of sorts – an Asus T100.  I think it's a great pick to get started with.  It's also cheaper than an iPad.

The presentation was a bit hard to follow and more than a little jargon-filled but….it kicks ass that the schools are moving in this direction but it won't be easy.  The program requires continuing education on the part of our administrators (D-mag, do you have an iPad that you know how to use?) and educators over the course of several years.  The end result is maybe not a re-making of their approach to education but it's a significant change and I'm glad to see we have a plan for helping our teachers leverage these new tools.  Without that, it's wasted money so I'm glad to see a professional approach!  The kids will pick it up in any event…as they always do.  The program itself starts with some of the "softer" subjects – history, for example, and is phased in over several years to eventually include the entire curriculum in an electronic format.  Seems like a sensible approach.photo

I'm also glad to see that we're being aggressive but not out on the front with this program.  We're using a system that has been deployed in other places and is building a record of success.  My short experience in municipal government makes me believe that "leading the way" isn't a great place for a small locality.  (Witness the BPOL system that we killed off a couple years ago).  The program that we saw last night looks to have been developed in part by McGraw Hill (if you look up "text book" in the dictionary it's under McGraw Hill) and they certainly have the resources to make it happen.  We aren't dealing with a start up and that's good for us.

I did ask a couple of questions and mainly because those are the questions that citizens will ask me: what does it cost?  Is there any research that supports it?  Certainly those are pretty pedestrian inquiries and shouldn't be any trouble for the school folk.

I have had some ask me in the past if I supported these sorts of initiatives?  After all, text books and black boards were good enough for hundreds of years?  My answer is always the same: yes!  A thousand times yes.  Should we be off on fishing expeditions with taxpayer money? no.  This ain't that.  Why wouldn't we want to take advantage of technology?  Would you ask yourself that question in any other part of your life?  Perhaps we should set up some picnic tables over on the museum lawn, get a pile of rags and start doing surgery there because "that was good enough for hundreds of years"?  Step right up sir, I'll take out your appendix – here's a shot of whiskey to take the edge off.  Bite down on this stick and let's get this naughty appendix out of there!  Only a 50% chance of death due to infection!!  But no worries!! Ha Ha!!  I've heard gangrene isn't so bad…….Of course you wouldn't.  We should leverage every sensible tool in pursuit of the single most important undertaking of our local government – the education of our children.

Overall I'm excited.  The schools continue to be on the move and it's only good news for our City.

Posted in Schools | 6 Comments

The Democrats are coming! The Democrats are coming!!

Well, the electoral table is set for local elections.  The Republican hegemony in Manassas is at an end.revere  The filing deadline for the November Council election was today at 5:00 and nobody else has filed to run.  So, we've Mr. Aveni & Mrs. Bass for the Republicans and Mr.Elston and Mrs. Richie-Folks for the Democrats.  Peeps, for the first time since the Democrats found the nerve to meet in the city, Manassas will have a Democrat in elected office.

Not that anyone asked, but here's what I think: First of all, I find it distressing that nobody anywhere is talking about this.  It's a huge change to have an actual elected Democrat in office.  Certainly my friends on the right have been convinced for years that there are already 2 or 3 Democrats on the Council but we at least have the imprimatur (R) of the Republican party (They insist it stands for RINO but whatever).  No, these will be actual Democrats with an actual (D) after their name.  When the paper comes to interview them (when and if that ever happens again) they'll actually have that (D).  Clearly the Democrats in town feel as though the GOP aren't providing the leadership to get it done.

Is that the end of the world?  No and, furthermore, it was entirely predictable.  Manassas has been carried by the Democrats for the past 5? statewide and Federal elections?  Face it, the demographics of Manassas have changed radically.  Our new residents of whatever origin were not going to remain uninvolved forever.  The local GOP, mirroring the state and national party have done little to engage the new demographic or get them involved in the leadership process.  Unfortunately, neither have the Democrats.  I've said elsewhere before and still believe the City will struggle to thrive with 1/3 of our residents marginalized.  It isn't sufficient to say "well unless they get involved it's their problem".  It's a leadership challenge with serious consequences.  The outcome of this race could depend on how effective the parties are at penetrating that demographic.  

Indeed, it's possible that 2 Democrats could be elected to office this time around!  However, before my friends on the left drop the disco ball and start twirling to "Celebration" by Kool & the gang, they need to remember that this is still going to be a fight.  it is easy to overstate the results of the last couple of elections.  In the Presidential elections, the Democrats had gobs of paid and volunteer staff working the streets.  The first time Obama ran, his campaign office was right across the street from my office.  The parking lot had mostly out of state plates on the cars but it was ultimately successful.  Twice.  However, the Republicans had a mixed bag of candidates.  Remember, this was the age when the GOP saw Sarah Palin as a serious candidate in their fevered little brains.  On the statewide elections it wasn't a huge shock that The Cooch didn't carry the City.  It was close but no cigar – Manassas has always been a center-right town.  That's changed somewhat as more social conservatives now call Manassas home but the majority are still closer to the middle on both sides.  Indeed, for the last several cycles the GOP office in the area has been out to the west of town.  I don't know but it's interesting to me that the Democrats might consider Manassas as part of their base in a get out the vote effort….and the Republicans don't….

Anyway, good luck to everyone.  Certainly having Federal and state candidates involved in the mix will change things for all that are running but I continue to believe that in a local election you can win with a little bit of money and a lot of hard work.  It really is the last bastion of any real sort of Democracy anywhere.

 

 

 

Posted in Politics | 5 Comments

Steve

This isn't my final post on the subject and I really meant for this post to be a lot longer but I've just been jammed up…however, I did want to get this out there:  Steve Randolph announced last Monday that he would not seek reelection this year.  Steve has prevailed on me to announce this here so that people will know.  He's quite concerned that someone might miss this bit of news and opt out of the race….

I'll post another longer piece soon but I agree with steve and wanted to get this out there.  I've only heard of 3 people that want to run for Council.  

Posted in Politics | 4 Comments