Monday, February 10, 2014

Let Me Marry You

One of the things that I most enjoyed about serving in public office was being asked to perform weddings for various friends, constituents and visitors to Charlottesville. I've officiated at almost 20 ceremonies and it's been such a delightful experience that I've decided to start a little side business as a professional wedding officiant. If you know of anyone who is in need of a friendly, experienced officiant for their upcoming nuptials, I would greatly appreciate it if you would refer them to my new website, (Or on Facebook at


Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Clown," by Gordon McKeeman

[Note: today I learned of the death of Gordon McKeeman, a kindly, gentle soul and retired Unitarian-Universalist minister who was active in Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church here in Charlottesville for quite a number of years. Below is the text of one of my favorite of Gordon's essays, "Clown," from his wonderful little book Out of the Ordinary - Meditations by Gordon B. McKeeman (Skinner House Books, 2000). I hope you enjoy it as much as I always have. Thank you Gordon for teaching us to appreciate the little clown in each of us. R.I.P.]


My brother-in-law, in his retirement years, has become a clown. He joined a fraternal order's "clown group" and is learning the art of being a clown. The art seems to consist of exaggeration. Ordinary human traits are magnified or minimized to call attention to them. This allows us to laugh at ourselves in the guise of someone else. What a splendid contribution to human sanity: holding up the magnifying mirror to our humanness.

Most of us don't enjoy being laughed at. We take umbrage at it (even though umbrage upsets our stomachs). We take ourselves seriously, and we want others to take us (and themselves) seriously, too. It's hard, especially when thinking about a difficult problem or a crisis, to think of life as a joke. After a while we even begin to take seriously things that we believe. We are prepared to fight (even to the death, sometimes) to defend our notions. What a ministry it is, to magnify one's own notions to the point that their absurdity allows us the grace of saying, "It's possible I could be mistaken."

Our little planet orbits a rather small star, with (at last count) eight other planets, some even smaller, some much larger. Our modest solar system is one of thousands, perhaps millions, in our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy. Our solar system is about 130,000 light years from the center of the galaxy. Light travels about 186,000 miles per second. A light year is the distance light travels in a year. Our galaxy, in turn, is one of a billion or two galaxies in the universe. These galaxies appear to be receding from each other at approximately the speed of light. This does throw a rather clownlike light on some of the claims made by religions for truth. We know very little, and we are not very certain of what we think we know for sure.

Yet in the face of the awesome dimensions of the universe, we keep trying to be kind to one another, modest about our attainments, and humble before life's magnificent intricacy, on which we are so completely dependent.

Maybe there is a little clown in each of us, helping us to remember how laughable some of our notions are, how small the island of knowledge, how long the shoreline of wonder, how brief our days, how vast our dwelling place. A chuckle now and then would probably not be amiss, especially when we see a clown, or a star.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Investing in our Residents: Remarks to the CRHA Board of Commissioners, April 2013

On April 22, 2013, in response to a call to action by PHAR, a large number of citizens spoke at a Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) public hearing in opposition to some proposed changes to the Authority's Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP) that would have increased rental income for the CRHA in a pretty regressive fashion. I was one of those who addressed the CRHA Board that night, not on behalf of City Council or any other organization, just as a concerned citizen with many friends and colleagues living in public housing. I tried to squeeze a lot into my 3 allotted minutes.


Every time there is a news story about public housing in Charlottesville, the ugliness in our community comes pouring through in the form of vile and ignorant comments about public housing residents on local news sites, usually made by gutless cowards who post anonymously. Let me give you a sampling from just last month; these are actual comments posted to Channel 29's website following a story about your residents:

"unbelievable! these people are better off than I am getting their housing for free or reduced rates and complaining about it! they should be happy they got what they did." 

"Oh, BOO HOO! Why don't those whiners get off their entitlement padded butts, get as many jobs as it takes to make ends meet, and then deal with a REAL landlord instead of living large off MY money? Babymommas don't need more checks, they need coathangers." 

"Just a hint to people in public housing: Popping out babies while watching t.v. is not a job!" 

"That unworthy and undeserving set gets rewarded for laziness and immorality at the expense of the American People. A disgraceful lot, to say the least. They should be silent and grateful." 

Now, there are many in the community who suspect that the people involved in making decisions for this Housing Authority, whether they're on your Finance Committee, on this Board, in management positions, or in the HUD Field Office, have similarly derogatory views of public housing residents, especially those who dare to speak up for change. "They should be silent and grateful."

I know you better though. And I know that most of you are people of good hearts, who recoil at the ugly stereotypes because you know for a fact that most people in public housing are either elderly, disabled, working hard, and/or doing their best to raise young children on very limited incomes. Are there leeches in public housing? Yes, just as there are leeches at every socio-economic level of every human society that ever existed. You know not to judge the barrel for the few bad apples.

So my challenge to you is simple: in your decisions on the ACOP or other policy matters, play to your best instincts, not to our society's basest instincts. You want to get more rental income out of your residents? Play to your best instincts and see your public housing households as economic assets to be invested in:

*  Work to bring more fathers into their family homes so that you can increase those households' incomes - and thus increase your rental income. Don't perpetuate policies that keep families apart and disincentivize responsible fatherhood.

*  Invest in and advocate for stronger job training, job creation and family self-sufficiency programs that will uplift your families economically through their own hard work - and thus increase your rental income.

*  Support a robust eviction prevention program (which is currently a shadow of its former self) and other resident services initiatives that help your families rebound from hard times and get connected to the services and supports they need to climb the economic ladder - and thus increase your rental income.

*  Work WITH your residents, and your city-wide resident association, to make the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority a place that is known far and wide for promoting opportunity, breaking the bonds of dependence, and helping each and every resident to realize his or her highest potential - thus increasing your rental income.

Don't play to society's basest instincts by throwing in your lot with those who believe that public housing residents are lazy and entitled and need to be cracked down on - i.e., made silent and grateful. Prove the skeptics wrong about the kind of Housing Authority you want this to be. Reject proposals that will make things even more difficult for people who are already struggling. Is that really what you want your legacy to be, making life harder for poor people? I don't think so. You are better than that. Please show us in your votes and in your actions that you agree.

Thank you.


I'm pleased to say that most of the proposed changes were rejected by the Board. Citizen voices do matter.

Monday, January 28, 2013

2013 City Council Campaign

Seven years ago this month, I launched my first campaign for Charlottesville City Council. I had never run for anything in my life, not even 4th grade class treasurer, and the conventional wisdom back in January 2006 was that it was not "my time." One week before Election Day, a noted political observer went on WINA radio and predicted that I would come in third place in the race for two Council seats. Instead I won the most votes on Election Day. (I think a lot of people are still in shock about that.) Two years later, in January of 2008, I was selected by my colleagues as Mayor and went on to serve two terms in that role. Serving as Mayor of Charlottesville for four years was a tremendous honor and an experience I'll always treasure. In 2009 I was re-elected to Council and in that campaign I was proud to receive the endorsement and support of a broad coalition of Democrats, Independents and Republicans.

Here we are in January 2013 and campaign season is upon us again. We have two Council seats up for election this year, the ones currently held by myself and Kristin Szakos. I have been urged by many people to run for a third term on Council and I deeply appreciate their encouragement. But for me, eight years is enough. It's time for some new blood on City Council and I am thereby announcing today that I will not be a candidate in the upcoming Council election. I look forward to completing my term this year and then turning my attention to pursuits of a less political nature.

I am very pleased with what I've been able to accomplish during my tenure on Charlottesville City Council, working with my fellow Councilors, City staff, community leaders, businesspeople and everyday citizens. It's certainly been a bumpy ride at times and my arguments haven't always prevailed, but I'm glad I set out on this adventure seven years ago.

I've been involved in many issues and projects over my time on Council, but am particularly proud of having played a key role on five specific fronts:

1. Establishing a dedicated affordable housing fund in the City budget and creating stronger incentives for development of affordable housing, which has allowed us to build, renovate or preserve hundreds of units of housing for local working families, the elderly and disabled, the chronically homeless, etc.

2. Promoting environmental stewardship through clean energy, alternative transportation, greenspace acquisition, tree-planting, recycling, historic preservation, smart growth and various other "Green City" initiatives

3. Creating or strengthening enrichment opportunities for our youth, including a tenfold expansion of our summer jobs program for City teens and new investments in early childhood education, after-school programming and dropout prevention in our schools

4. Devoting more attention and resources to issues of poverty and race in Charlottesville, including efforts to grow and attract more living-wage jobs, promote resident empowerment and workforce development, root out systemic and institutional discrimination in our community, facilitate inter-cultural exchanges with our new Sister City in West Africa, etc.

5. Ensuring sound management of the City's fiscal resources, to where we have weathered the biggest economic downtown since the Great Depression without having to raise taxes or slash basic services, all the while maintaining our AAA bond rating, expanding tax relief for moderate-income homeowners, and making significant strategic investments in our future (including all of the above-mentioned measures as well as improvements to our Downtown Mall infrastructure, park upgrades, transit and bicycle improvements, new recreation facilities, new sidewalks and trails, sewer and stormwater improvements, etc.).

In conclusion, I want to thank the people of Charlottesville for the trust they've shown in me and the gracious support they've given me over the years, even though they may not have agreed with every vote I made or position I took. Over the remaining months of my term in office, I will continue to be a voice for constructive change on Council, mindful of our obligation to our taxpayers while we seek to realize our high ambitions as a City and safeguard the liberties of our residents. I do not expect to play an active role in the upcoming Council election and am rather looking forward to stepping back from partisan activities and affiliations. In our country today we suffer from a surplus of partisanship and a deficit of solutions; that needs to change. I encourage the voters to research the positions of all the candidates in this year's Council election and choose the two, regardless of party affiliation, that you feel will best advocate for solutions that will help Charlottesville fulfill its vision as a "great place to live for all of our citizens" - "a leader in innovation, environmental sustainability, social and economic justice and healthy race relations" - "the cultural and creative capital of Central Virginia." These are lofty goals and I am convinced we have the capacity to achieve them, but only if we are willing to work across lines of party, ideology, race, class, faith, etc. to do so.

I will close with one of my favorite quotes from one of my political heroes, the late Senator Paul Wellstone: "Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people's lives. It's about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people."

Well-said Senator, and I agree.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A New Journey

Today is a big day for me: I am taking one of the first steps on my next journey in life, by going public with a new venture, The Charlottesville Institute. The Charlottesville Institute is a new non-profit organization whose mission is to harness the intellectual resources of the University of Virginia for the betterment of the Charlottesville community. Rather than going into great depth here about what The Charlottesville Institute is and does, it's probably best if I just point you to our blog -- which, like the organization itself, is a work in progress: We'll also have a presence on Facebook at

In a way, this new initiative is the culmination of my 16+ years of involvement in Charlottesville's non-profit/civic sphere and my 6+ years of service in local elected office, bringing me back full circle to my glorious old stomping grounds at Madison House at UVa (where I worked as Associate Director from 1997-2001 and where The Charlottesville Institute now occupies rented office space). All of my time and experience in Charlottesville has led me to two inescapable conclusions: first, the University of Virginia has a wealth of untapped resources; and second, the Charlottesville community has a wealth of unmet needs. The Charlottesville Institute aims to help marry those resources with those needs and thereby make Charlottesville a better place for all. Through the Institute, I'll also have the opportunity to teach (or co-teach) occasional courses on public policy as an adjunct professor at the University, with my first course kicking off tonight (yikes!).

This will be an exciting adventure for me personally, and I hope a truly fruitful endeavor for the University community and Charlottesville community alike. Both communities have so much to gain from deeper engagement with each other, which is precisely what The Charlottesville Institute hopes to foster. Wish us well!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End of an Era

As of next Tuesday evening, Charlottesville will have a new Mayor. After serving two terms in that role, it's time for me to hand over the gavel (which, come to think of it, I don't recall banging once in the last four years. Hmm.). I still have two years left on City Council itself, but as of January 3 the job of running our Council meetings, representing the City at countless functions and events, serving as chief spokesperson for the City, etc., will belong to someone else. The Mayorship is a demanding, time-consuming and frequently thankless position but I have enjoyed it greatly and I appreciate all the kind words and support I have received from many of you since taking it on. I wish my successor well.

Since being elected to City Council in 2006 and being selected as Mayor in 2008, I have worked closely with my fellow Councilors, City staff, community leaders and everyday citizens to help forge a good deal of positive change here in Charlottesville. Despite experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we in Charlottesville (unlike many other localities across the country) have managed our City finances to where we've avoided having to raise taxes or slash basic services and have ended each year with a budget surplus and a stable AAA bond rating. Meanwhile, we've made significant -- if not record-level -- investments in affordable housing, youth services, parkland acquisition, new aquatic facilities, clean energy and green building initiatives, a renovated Downtown Mall, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, expanded transit service, park improvements, upgraded sewer/stormwater lines, our first new fire station in over five decades, etc. Fulfilling the top plank on my 2006 campaign platform, we created a dedicated fund for affordable housing and adopted an ambitious strategic plan for housing that has already led to the construction, preservation or renovation of hundreds of affordable housing units. We have deployed innovative economic development measures that are attracting hundreds of new jobs to our commercial corridors and we are targeting more dollars at businesses who hire locally. We have launched an ambitious campaign to transform our public housing neighborhoods from isolated pockets of poverty into mixed-income communities featuring better quality housing and improved opportunities for our residents, with a Residents Bill of Rights guiding the way. We have embraced a true Living Wage for our entry-level employees and called upon other area employers to do the same. Through our close partnership with the City schools, we have cut the high school dropout rate by over half and significantly expanded our early childhood education program. We have stepped up our workforce development efforts for adults and teens alike, including a major expansion of our summer jobs program for youth. We have hired a talented and even-handed new City Manager to take the reins at City Hall. We have initiated a Dialogue on Race, declared ourselves a City of Second Chances for re-entering ex-felons, spoken out for women's rights and LGBT equality, and implemented other measures to improve social relations in our community. We have changed our zoning rules to preserve Charlottesville's thriving live music scene. We have invested in permanent, proven solutions to homelessness. We have established a new Sister City in Ghana and have already facilitated visits by dozens of individuals between Charlottesville and Winneba. We have called for a speedier resolution to the war in Iraq while honoring those who have served our country in uniform. We have taken steps to improve animal welfare and to humanely reduce pet overpopulation. We have started a program to strengthen low-income families by encouraging men to become "real dads" and take responsibility for the children they've sired. We have empaneled a task force to identify a permanent home for our cherished City Market and are now exploring the idea of a downtown market district. We have promoted local foods, local artists, locally-owned businesses and local history. We have instituted a recycling and solid-waste program that is one of the greenest in the country. We have created a Citizens Advisory Panel for our police department and devoted unprecedented resources to preventing crimes against children. We have kicked off a year-long 250th birthday party for the city in 2012. We have made a whole lot of lists of best city for this and best city for that. I could go on. It's been a busy few years.

As Mayor, I have put a priority on openness and accessibility. While I have not always been as responsive as I would have liked, I have replied to tens of thousands of e-mail messages and countless phone calls, participated in hundreds of community events, made hundreds of media appearances, spoken to dozens of school groups, given numerous presentations at local, statewide and national conferences, and maintained an active Facebook page, a weekly radio show, a public access TV show (2007-2009) and a blog (2006-2011). I like to think that people feel I am pretty approachable, even though my kids, when they're with me, often wish that I were less so. When I've disagreed with people on issues, I've tried to do so agreeably, but admit to cringing on occasion when recalling things I'd said in the heat of a moment. I try to find common ground among competing interests and I count as valued advisors people who are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Greens, Socialists, Tea Partiers and Raging Moderates. I note with no small interest and pride that I, a progressive Democrat, have advocated for larger reductions in government spending than any other local elected official of either party in Charlottesville or Albemarle County in recent years, by arguing (with mixed success) that there often are better, cheaper, smarter and greener solutions to local problems (like the water supply) than the conventional wisdom and traditional right-left choices provide for. I have used the bully pulpit of the Mayorship to speak out for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for non-partisan redistricting, for federal- and state-level affordable housing trust funds, for an end to military adventurism abroad, for gay marriage, for reproductive choice, for legalization of industrial hemp. I have greeted many visiting dignitaries to Charlottesville, from Michelle Obama to Governors Tim Kaine & Bob McDonnell to Snoop Dogg and beyond. I got to meet Barack Obama in the White House. I was named an honorary warrior chief ("Osahene") for the Effutu people of Ghana's central region. I've been called every name in the book by people who disagreed with this or that decision I made, but I've resisted the temptation to enlist my Effutu warriors against those people. Because that's how even-tempered warrior chiefs rule.

Needless to say, while we've made good progress in recent years and while serving as Mayor of Charlottesville has been an incredible honor and privilege, much work remains to be done. We may have one of the lower unemployment rates of any metropolitan area in the country, but too many of our residents are still without work and too many others are stuck in low-wage, dead-end jobs. Our young people still face too many barriers to realizing their highest potential. Our black middle class has continued to erode and racial disparities remain a pressing concern. We aspire to be a "Green City" but too often we make choices which don't reflect our greenest potential. We still don't make it quite easy or quite safe enough for more of our residents to choose alternatives to single-occupancy-vehicle travel. Too many of our citizens are forced to make difficult choices by the ongoing shortage of affordable housing in our community -- working multiple jobs, moving miles away to find homes they can afford, doubling up with family or friends, cutting back on other basic expenses so they can make their rent or mortgage payments, going homeless. Our region is plagued by too much suburban sprawl and yes, the bumper sticker is painfully true: sprawl does cost us all -- a lot. We insist on maintaining anachronistic institutions in Virginia (like the Dillon Rule and our unique system of Independent Cities) which perpetuate disfunction in public administration and make City governance more difficult and costly than it needs to be. Again, I could go on. Overcoming all of these challenges seems like a daunting task. And it surely is. But I'm convinced that if one place in America can make meaningful progress on all of these fronts, it's Charlottesville, VA. Ours is an uncommonly resourceful and engaged community. Both in the remainder of my civic life and in the new professional adventure I'm about to undertake (stay tuned for more on that soon), I look forward to doing what I can to help harness those resources and capitalize on that spirit of engagement to make this wonderful city an even better place to live for all of our residents. I truly believe that our best years lie ahead of us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I'm still here. Just

Working two full-time jobs, raising a passel of kids, trying occasionally to have a social life, and grabbing rare bits of sleep here and there -- all told, I just haven't had a whole lot of time to keep up with this here blog of late. Not sure if anyone ever checks it any more anyway. Anyhow, I'm not a Twitterer but I do stay current on Facebook so feel free to friend me there if you'd like to stay in touch. I'm at And maybe someday I'll get back to blogging regularly again. Someday.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Donate Today and a Ghanaian Beaded Bracelet is Yours!

Between monetary and in-kind donations, the Charlottesville-Winneba Sister Cities Committee has raised about $26,500 toward the cost of our upcoming visit to Ghana (May 1-10) to help in planning for the Winneba Public Library Project. (Note: no taxpayer funds are being used for this trip.) We only have about $1,500 left to raise to cover our expenses. We're so close!

For the next week, we are offering a very special incentive for donors who are willing to help us with the last few dollars we need. For every donation of $50 contributed between April 10-17, the donor will receive a beautiful, hand-made Ghanaian beaded bracelet -- one similar to those in the photo below -- which the delegation will acquire for you in Ghana. $50 gets you one bracelet. $100 gets you two. And so on. Wear one yourself, or these bracelets also make for fabulous gifts!

You can make a contribution by mail, with a check to Virginia Organizing (memo line: "Winneba Project"), 703 Concord Ave., Charlottesville, VA 22903; or you can donate on-line by clicking here (site hosted by Virginia Organizing -- designate "Winneba Project" where prompted).

The official Charlottesville delegation is to include a mix of library & literacy professionals, construction experts and community leaders, including:

Dave Norris, Charlottesville Mayor
Krista Farrell, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library
Jane Penner, UVa Library
Nancy Damon, Virginia Festival of the Book
Kelly Eplee, Building Goodness Foundation
Stan Binsted, R.E. Lee Construction/Building Goodness Foundation
Karen Waters, Quality Community Council
Nana Ghartey, Ghana Association of Charlottesville
Roger Voisinet, Cville Properties
Baccho Umbertis, Graduate Student
Charlotte Cherry, Light House Studio
Morgan Rowe, Charlottesville-Winneba Sister Cities Committee
...and another very special guest to be named soon.

Please consider making a donation today!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Upcoming Fundraisers for Winneba Library Project

Morgan Rowe, the fabulous Fundraising Chair for the Charlottesville-Winneba Sister City Committee, has organized a series of benefit events to enable a delegation of Charlottesville residents to visit Winneba in May 2011 to assist in the planning of Winneba's first public library. Please join us for any or all of the below events -- it's a great opportunity to have fun, meet some cool new people and support a worthy cause in the process.

Monday, February 21: Corner Bar Crawl

$5 bracelets, available for sale at Three (1517 University Ave.) from 5:00pm onward on the night of the Crawl, make you eligible for the following specials:

Backyard: $2 rails, $3 pints
Littlejohn's: free 24-ounce soda with $5 purchase
Boylan Heights & Mellow Mushroom: $2 drafts, $5 double rails
Three: $2 rails, $2 Bud Lights
Virginian: $2 rails
Biltmore: TBD
Trinity: $8 pitchers of Bud Light/$10 imports; $4 Soco Lime shots

Monday, February 28: Orzo Benefit Dinner

$30 pre-set menu, $6 glasses of wine; 50% of proceeds, and $1 for each drink, benefit the Winneba Public Library Project
Reservations are limited; call 434-975-6796 (be sure to say "Cville-Winneba Group")

Thursday, March 3: Siips Celebrity Bartender Night

Siips Wine & Champagne Bar -- 5:30-7:30pm Happy Hour



Saturday, March 12: "Wine for Winneba" at the Main Street Arena

$50 tickets -- food, wine & beer, live music
Catered by Harvest Moon
100% of proceeds benefit Winneba Public Library Project

Sponsors include:
Main Street Arena
Virginia Eagle Distributing Co.
Student Services Moving & Storage Co.

For ticket info., please visit

For more information on any of these events, please contact

Charlottesville and Winneba to Launch Public Library Project

Several Charlottesville residents will be traveling to Winneba, Ghana in May 2011 to help our newest Sister City make plans for their first public library. Land has already been donated for this purpose and a team of experts from Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, UVa Library, Virginia Festival of the Book, Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville-Albemarle, the Building Goodness Foundation and the Quality Community Council will be meeting with our partners in Winneba to lay the groundwork for this exciting project. Stay tuned for more info.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Myth vs. Science

Among all of the misinformed assertions made during the course of the water supply debate, one of my favorites was that clear-cutting a mature forest and planting "replacement" saplings elsewhere is actually GOOD for the environment because new, growing trees absorb more carbon from the air than existing trees. An intriguing theory, but science tells us otherwise. To wit:

Old Growth Forests Are Valuable Carbon Sinks -- Environmental Network News

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Buy Local

If you support the whole "Buy Local" movement, or if you yourself run a locally-owned business, you should check out this workshop next week -- "Strengthening a Buy Local Movement," sponsored by Locallectual and the American Independent Business Alliance.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Sign of Things to Come?

Stay tuned...

Winneba, Ghana, May 2009

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Greeting from Poggio a Caiano (Charlottesville's Italian Sister City)

"Dear Dave, May the Christmas night be full of happiness and peace for you, your family, and the community of Charlottesville." -- Mayor Marco Martini, Poggio a Caiano

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Major Breakthrough in the Water Supply Debate

Today the City of Charlottesville released a follow-up report from engineering firm Black & Veatch on the feasibility and cost of renovating and expanding the existing Ragged Mountain Dam -- a key component of a more ecologically- and economically-sensible water supply solution for our region. It's a very technical report, but the gist of it is that concerns raised by a recent peer review did not turn out to be "deal-breakers" and addressing those concerns will not add but $1 million or so to the dam renovation project. We can now say with authority that phasing in the new water supply system is a financially and technologically viable approach. This is a major breakthrough in the water supply debate. In response to public and media inquiries about the report issued today, I have prepared the following statement. It is issued in my name only, not on behalf of City Council, the City of Charlottesville, or the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Board (on which I sit).


Personal Statement on Black & Veatch Report – 12/15/10

by Dave Norris

On September 20, 2010, Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously in favor of a water supply plan that called for the phased construction of a higher dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, with an initial increase of 13 feet. Through phasing in the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, the City and County would avoid burdening today’s ratepayers with millions of dollars of unnecessary debt and avoid causing unnecessary ecological destruction at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), a 13-foot rise in the dam combined with dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir would guarantee enough water for our growing region for at least 40 years to come.

Council’s September 20 resolution left unanswered whether the higher Ragged Mountain dam should come in the form of a new earthen dam or a renovation/ expansion of the existing concrete dam. Since that vote, we have learned that it’s impractical, from a cost and engineering perspective, to construct a new earthen dam in phases. Today we learned with authority from Black & Veatch, one of the world’s leading engineering firms, that expanding the existing concrete dam remains not only a viable approach, but also quite a cost-effective one. Keep in mind that 20% of the world’s population that’s on public water relies on a water supply system either designed, constructed or supported by Black & Veatch. This firm has extensive experience and expertise in the field of dam design and construction.

In 2006, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council both voted unanimously in favor of a permit application to DEQ that explicitly allowed the option of phasing in construction of the Ragged Mountain Dam. That permit application was subsequently approved by DEQ. As stated on pages 58 and 59 of the permit support document,

Phasing is the ability of an alternative to be implemented in logical and cost-effective increments, rather than all at once, in order to improve efficiency, conserve resources, and minimize costs and mitigate the impact on customer rate increases….

[T]he early phases of the project must accomplish two goals:

1. Eliminate the dam safety issue at the existing Ragged Mountain dams; and

2. Provide adequate safe yield at a manageable cost for a reasonable initial period.

If the RMR [Ragged Mountain Reservoir] Alternative is implemented, the first element of the project could be to construct a replacement dam to an initial height that would significantly increase existing yield, but that would be short of the ultimate 45-foot increase. This would accomplish both stated objectives.

Construction of the dam's first phase would produce adequate yield to cover an interim period while avoiding the greater capital cost associated with future needs. The dam would be raised to its full height in the future when more users create additional demand and those additional ratepayers can share the cost….

In summary, RMR can be divided into two phased capital projects spanning the planning horizon and can be built when needed to match demands over time.

[emphasis added]

This is precisely the approach endorsed by all five City Councilors on September 20. It’s important to note that to this day, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has never disallowed this option.

Given that the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council have both already voted in favor of a permit application that includes the option of phasing in construction of a higher Ragged Mountain dam; given our mutual desire to provide long-term water security for our region in the most fiscally- and environmentally-responsible manner; and given what we now know about the feasibility, and the fiscal and environmental advantages, of renovating and expanding the existing Ragged Mountain dam, it seems that a positive and mutually-beneficial resolution of the water supply issue may finally be at hand.

I hope we can all agree to move forward in due haste to implement the approach set forth by Black & Veatch. We have an excellent opportunity now to address the dam safety issues at Ragged Mountain and start expanding our long-term water supply. The bidding environment is very favorable and there are state deadlines to meet. Let’s get to work.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Black & Veatch

The City of Charlottesville has been engaged with an engineering firm named Black & Veatch to explore a more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution for our water supply. Amazingly, 20% of the world's population that's on public water is served by a water supply system designed, constructed or supported by Black & Veatch. These people know what they're doing. Click on the link below for more info.
Black & Veatch - Water

Friday, December 3, 2010

Buy Art Give Art

Today I had the great pleasure of joining with Kate Barton of Skylight Studios and Maggie Guggenheimer of Piedmont Council of the Arts to unveil a new City-sponsored marketing campaign called "Buy Art Give Art" -- an extension of our "Shop Charlottesville" initiative. The goal of the campaign is to encourage area residents to support local artists, during the holiday season and throughout the year.
For more info.:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Complete Streets (aka the Car is No Longer King)

At our last City Council meeting on November 15, 2010, Charlottesville adopted a "Complete Streets Resolution," officially marking a paradigm shift in the way we design City streets so as to better and more safely accommodate all modes of transportation -- cars, buses, bicyclists, pedestrians, etc. As a result of the passage of this resolution, it is now City policy that all street construction, maintenance, and design/redesign adhere to sustainable "Complete Streets" guidelines and thereby improve access for all users. The full text of the resolution is as follows:

"WHEREAS, “Complete Streets” are defined as roadways that enable safe and convenient access for all users, including bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, motorists, movers of commercial goods, pedestrians, users of public transportation and seniors; and

WHEREAS, “Sustainable Complete Streets” are defined as Complete Streets with elements of design, construction and operation that also serve environmental sustainability; and

WHEREAS, streets that support and invite multiple uses, including safe, active and ample space for pedestrians, bicycles, and public transportation, are more conducive to the public life and efficient movement of people than streets designed primarily to move automobiles and trucks; and

WHEREAS, promoting pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation travel as an alternative to the automobile reduces negative environmental impacts, promotes healthy living, and is less costly to the commuter; and

WHEREAS, the full integration of all modes of travel in the design of streets and highways will increase the capacity and efficiency of the road network, reduce traffic congestion by improving mobility options, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the general quality of life; and

WHEREAS, many studies show that when roads are better designed for bicycling, walking and transit use, more people do so; and

WHEREAS, the design and construction of new roads and facilities should anticipate future demand for biking, walking, and other alternative transportation facilities and not preclude the provision of future improvements; and

WHEREAS, Complete Streets are supported by the Institute of Traffic Engineers, and American Planning Association, and many other transportation planning and public health professionals;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City Council of the City of Charlottesville hereby establishes and adopts a sustainable CompleteStreets Policy whereby all street projects, including design, planning, reconstruction, rehabilitation, maintenance, or operations by the City of Charlottesville shall be designed and executed in a balanced, responsible and equitable way to accommodate and encourage travel by bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and their passengers, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City shall provide for the needs of drivers, public transportation vehicles and patrons, bicyclists, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities in all planning, programming, design, construction, reconstruction, retrofit, operations, and maintenance activities and products; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City shall view all transportation improvements as opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers in the City and recognizes bicycle, pedestrian and transit modes as integral elements of the transportation system."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Helping Hand for Officer Bettinger

A member of our Charlottesville police force has been fighting cancer and is now in danger of losing his home to foreclosure. Please read the article below and if you feel compelled to help keep him and his family in their home, you can send a check to "Fraternal Order of Police- Wayne Bettinger Fund," c/o Thompson-Hall Lodge #5, Post Office Box 241, Charlottesville, VA 22902. Thank you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Local Biologist Argues for an Ecologically Responsible Water Supply Plan

Dan Bieker is a local biologist who teaches field ornithology at Piedmont Virginia Community College and is the former president of the Ivy Creek Foundation. He recently penned some comments about the need to strike a better ecological balance in our planning for a long-term community water supply and I am reprinting his words here with permission.

Many factors are interwoven in water supply issues, and environmental concerns are certainly important ones. To many, it’s been alarming that so little attention has been given to ecological consequences of a full height dam at Ragged Mountain Natural Area (RMNA). Besides the loss of trees (150 - 180 acres removed), also noted are: loss of wetlands, negative effects of forest fragmentation, widening of roads, spread of invasive plants, and other factors.

While these factors are difficult to quantify, and well-meaning input has come from various sources, it’s not misleading to note that impacts to the area will be more than the loss of trees.

Habitat Loss:

The contiguous nature and maturity of the forest composing RMNA and surrounding lands affords protection for many uncommon (and declining) plant and animal species. No one has contended that the area is 100% canopy enclosed - indeed several roads, driveways and other openings exist, although extensive forest interior remains. The most blatant fragmentation is Interstate 64; while its existence for the public good might be justified, it obviously represents a degradation of the native habitat. Throughout the environment, negative effects of habitat disturbance and fragmentation are an ever increasing problem. In 2004, an Albemarle County Work Group composed of area biologists, UVA research professors, and VA Dept. of Forestry personnel issued a biological assessment of the County - in it the threats to Albemarle’s forests are well documented. Large tracts of mature forest are a noted habitat type of special concern - indeed, the Ragged Mountain forest is included in a list of special places recommended as most deserving of preservation. Questions concerning the degree of impact from proposed construction are justified - however, inferences that the impact will be minimal or that not enough forest interior exists to be affected, are not.

Expanded Reservoir Pool:

While the existing reservoir itself is a fragmentation, the forest directly abutting the water does not impose the same effect that a terrestrial opening does. Initial filling of the expanded bowl is proposed via the Sugar Hollow pipeline (which will impose additional demands on the Moormans River during this time) and could take several years - leaving a large swath of opening around the lake, much decreasing the interior nature of the surrounding woodland. It’s true that over time the disruption will heal, but it will take decades. The direct loss of habitat and diminishment of forest interior will be permanent. Most of the same species that are there now will continue to be there - more of the common species, but fewer of the more rare and decreasing ones.


It’s been noted that all new roads will be designed to be submerged by the final pool height (45 feet above current level). However, many questions remain concerning the degree of disturbance to existing roads that will be necessary to accommodate heavy machinery. Sections of an old service road near Ednam Forest will need to be accessed for interstate upgrades, and some modifications will need to be made to Reservoir Road (although that road will be affected no matter which water plan is adopted).

Stream Flows/Health:

Stream flows are a critical component of water supply, and rightly so. Since stream flows in the Moormans River are affected by how the pipeline from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir (SHR) is managed, increased storage capacity in downstream reservoirs through dredging and/or increased dam height at Ragged Mountain will allow for greater flexibility in managing flows, until or if a different pipeline is deemed necessary. Minimum flows vs. natural flows are an important distinction - imposed definitions for minimum are by necessity subjective; natural is what it is. Critical to determining natural flows are accurate stream flow monitors both above and directly below the SHR, which do not as of yet exist. Assessing stream flow data for infrastructure planning purposes would be better assisted by that data, rather than a complicated set of parameters from gauges on other rivers. Central to river health, as well, is how much water is consumed. Whether taken directly from the river or moved to storage, the natural cycle is disrupted. In that regard, pro-active, technology based conservation could be a huge factor, both in degree of infrastructure that's necessary, and river health. In 40 - 50 years, using the (arguably inflated) demand projections, a 25% conservation factor would mean approximately 4 million gallons a day less water drawn from the river system, and re-released as treated effluent. Pros and cons exist to all aspects of water supply options, though certainly phased, as-needed infrastructure development would better allow for conservation benefits and incentive, and potentially far less impact to RMNA.

As the 2004 Biodiversity study points out: as the landscape becomes more developed - more roads, housing, infrastructure - our remaining forests and other undisturbed areas become even more critical as repositories of biodiversity and the ecological services they provide. Of course we necessarily make demands on the environment for our survival, but we have long passed the point where we can do so without just and demonstrable cause, especially on a project of the scale being considered. Whether the environmental damage at RMNA is deemed justifiable or not, we’d do well as responsible stewards to accurately assess ecological impacts, and not undervalue the few wild places that remain.