STORM AND FLOOD MANAGEMENT

STORM DRAINS

Our storm drain system has not been upgraded to keep pace with the growth of our city, and the increased runoff from more concrete on the ground has become too much for it to handle.  In addition, most of our storm drains are not regularly cleaned and maintained by the city. This makes the storm drains even less capable of preventing flooding, and increases the amount of bacteria and pollution that runoff sends into our rivers and streams.  

The city should:

– Begin regularly cleaning and maintaining all storm drain systems in the city.

– Upgrade the storm drainage system, and explore alternatives for using city land to improve drainage.

AGRICULTURAL ZONING

Land that is zoned for agricultural use provides a critical buffer for our city against flooding.  As more land is rezoned to residential and covered with concrete, less exposed land is available to absorb water.  This is the mechanism that has led to severe flooding in Houston; the city is gradually turned into a concrete bowl that gathers water.  What’s more, this land is often located in flood plain areas, so the homes that are constructed are likely to flood and lose value, causing home buyers to get burned.  

The city should:

– Significantly reduce or eliminate the rezoning of agricultural land.

– Maintain the commitment to not develop south of the Green Line.

BUILDING CODES

The use of slab-foundation construction has led to disastrous results in neighborhoods like Windsor Woods.  When flooding strikes, a foot or so of crawl space makes the difference between a headache and a heartbreak. Furthermore, crawl space foundations allow more water to soak into the soil, helping to prevent flooding.  Slab construction in flood plain areas is irresponsible, and the city owes homebuyers more than to simply say “buyer beware.” 

The city should:

– Significantly restrict the use of residential slab construction throughout the city.

– Not allow any variances to this rule in flood plain areas.

 ELECTION REFORM

City Council’s unresponsiveness to local needs is the natural result of the unusual way Virginia Beach elects its Council members. Although City Council comprises seven district representatives in addition to three at-large members and the mayor, all members of City Council are elected at-large. Because of this, your district representative can be elected without any votes from your district! Perhaps that is how we end up with an incumbent for the Lynnhaven district who says the homes in Windsor Woods aren’t valuable enough to protect from flooding…

The at-large election system is designed to dilute your vote for your district representative in the largest city population in the Commonwealth. Instead of being one of tens of thousands of voters for your district representative, you’re one of hundreds of thousands of voters. If your neighborhood, community, or ethnic group makes up 10% of your district, your votes should be enough to change the outcome of an election, and your district representative should not be able to ignore you; however, under our current system, that 10% of the district is closer to 1% of the city-wide voter pool, and your community’s needs end up being of little significance to any representative on City Council. By moving to district election of district representatives, you would stop voting for the other six district representatives, but your vote would be about ten times more influential over your district representative. Since the three at-large representatives and the mayor would still be voted on at-large, it’s the equivalent of exchanging eleven $1 bills for a $10 and four $1’s… Your overall influence on City Council would increase by around 30%!

In addition to disenfranchising every resident through vote-dilution, the at-large election system serves to amplify the already powerful force of money in elections. The need to campaign to not only the largest city population, but also the largest land area in the Commonwealth, makes it very difficult to bring a candidate or issue to the attention of enough voters without large campaign contributions. Frequently, the only interests that can afford City Council’s attention are the banking, development, and tourism industries.

The at-large system, along with a lack of term limits, leads to a situation where only the biggest players in the most powerful industries have the ear of City Council. The same members remain on Council for decades, funded by the same wealthy interests who then develop a sense of entitlement to rule the city according to their plan.

On City Council I will fight for:

Ending the at-large system that disenfranchises voters, and moving to district election of district City Council representatives.

A two consecutive term limit for City Council members, to prevent long-term entrenchment of power.

PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS

Partnerships between the city and private developers can be useful to bring new features to the city that we don’t currently have; but when city money is used to subsidize endeavors that compete with existing local businesses, the government begins unfairly picking winners and losers in commerce.  When the city gives one hotelier $18 million to build/renovate their hotel(s), but leaves other local hotels to finance themselves, that puts the first hotelier $18 million ahead of the competition using everyone’s tax dollars, including the competition’s! Furthermore, the city should not be taking unnecessary risks with taxpayer money. The city invested $275,000 into the Green Flash Brewery, only to see it go bankrupt in less than three years. That money would have been nearly enough to fully fund an after-hours response unit for Child Protective Services, but instead it’s gone into thin air.  Projects need to be vetted through an open and publicly visible bidding process, so that the city invests only in the strongest projects with the greatest and most predictable benefit to the city.

I believe that any city investment in a private project should satisfy at least two criteria:

– It should not create new competition for existing local businesses

– It should lead to a predictable, measurable and reliable return on the city’s investment

PUBLIC SAFETY

Pay compression for public safety employees is a major problem for Virginia Beach.  Merit pay increases have been suspended during past economic downturns, leading to a situation called “vertical compression,” where higher ranked officers end up earning less than their lower ranked subordinates.  This is a demoralizing situation, which leads to the city losing its significant investment in experienced officers when said officers take higher paying jobs in neighboring cities.  

This is a demoralizing situation, which leads to the city losing its significant investment in experienced officers when said officers take higher paying jobs in neighboring cities.  Public safety professionals are part of our critical city infrastructure, and we need to prioritize merit pay increases for employees over subsidies for optional development projects.

 

HUMAN SERVICES

The Department of Human Services is a critical part of our city’s infrastructure, and like the rest of our infrastructure, City Council has neglected to upgrade its capabilities to keep pace with our city’s growth.  Insufficient staffing levels have led to delays in completing home studies for prospective foster and adoptive parents. Our Child Protective Services division lacks an after-hours response unit. The city operates no facilities for at-risk youth, and the private organization that handles that demographic, Seton House, is frequently overwhelmed. As the largest city in the Commonwealth, it is unacceptable to lack critical capabilities in Human Services.  Fortunately, our city is home to some very active charitable and faith-based organizations that the city can partner with to support the community.

The city should:

– Appropriate funding for an after-hours CPS unit, as requested but denied in the current budget proposal.

– Hire additional social workers to handle the workload that a city of half a million people creates.

– Engage in a new type of Public/Private Partnership, with charitable and faith-based organizations such as the DREAM Center and Habitat for Humanity, to provide facilities and capabilities that the city lacks for the homeless, at-risk youth, the unemployed and the underemployed.

DEBT

In keeping with my rule that city investments should provide a predictable, measurable and reliable return on the money invested, the city should begin looking at acceleration of debt payments as an investment with a guaranteed return.  Each year, the city allocates a huge amount of its budget to debt service – every dollar we invest in paying this debt off faster provides instant guaranteed returns by allowing us to reduce the future debt service budget line item

This is common sense in personal finance, yet every year our City Council votes to take on more debt to finance projects that are not guaranteed to have a return on investment (see, for example, the Green Flash Brewery fiasco).

The city should:

– Adopt a policy that future budgets should not cause the city’s overall debt to increase.

– Begin treating early debt payment as an investment that effectively provides revenue in future yearly budgets by reducing the expected amount of debt service required to be paid.