Friday, November 30, 2007

Ranking Loudoun's Schools

U.S. News and World Report has released a ranking of American high schools, to complement their annual ranking of colleges and universities. This has caused some reaction here in Loudoun: "US News needs to take this week's issue, put it in the trash, and start over again. - John Stevens"

School Board Member Stevens' irritation is understandable. Of the dozens of Virginia high schools honored with Gold, Silver or Bronze awards by U.S. News, none of them are in Loudoun County. While a good part of this oversight can be attributed to the methodology used by USN&WR, at least some of the blame has to go to Loudoun County's inability to manage the growth and crowding of its high school population by building and staffing new schools in a timely fashion.

The new Board of Supervisors has pledged to work together with the entire community and all interested parties to better manage our children's education. It's clear we need to get started.

[update] Our Loudoun Schools has a great discussion of the 1.3 Billion schools capital plan, if you want more information on the aggressive steps the School Board is recommending to deal with our education issues in Loudoun.

Joe May, Power Lines and The SCC

Elections have consequences.

And that is meaningful for both sides. While Loudoun will benefit greatly from the new Board of Supervisors that takes over in January, Loudoun and its neighbors will also feel the consequences of Joe May's re-election to the House of Delegates. The first impact of that election is being felt today.
In a decision announced yesterday that will likely dismay residents and users of the W&OD Trail, State Corporation Commission Hearing Examiner Howard P. Anderson reiterated his support of an overhead power line along a 12-mile route known as the Modified D route for Dominion Virginia Power's proposed high-power transmission line between Leesburg and Purcellville. - Leesburg Today
Dominion Power and the SCC represented the policy difference at issue between Joe May and Marty Martinez in November 2007. Marty Martinez had a detailed plan to reform the SCC and change it from an entity that was legislatively biased towards corporations (Note: This is not the SCC's fault, but a function of the way it constituted and authorized by the Assembly) to an agency looking out for the interest of Virginia's citizens.

Joe May, on the other hand, passed legislation through the Assembly (HB2614) that was supposed to mitigate the impact of overhead power lines in our area.
[HB2614] Requires the State Corporation Commission to consider certain external costs associated with the construction of electrical utility facilities, such as the monetary effect the facility will have on the value of land and structures along the proposed location or corridor. The Commission must also conduct an independent analysis of the facility applicant's assessment of need, load flow analysis, and method of installation. Finally, the bill will require a public utility to provide a GIS map of any proposed improvement or extension that the Commission shall make publicly available on its website. - Richmond Sunlight
Today, Joe May's signature legislation on power lines was proven toothless and ineffective. Delegate May's legislation does not require any action on behalf of the citizens, only that the SCC "consider" things. Evidently, consideration by the SCC does not extend to deciding against a utility. In reality, the bill has merely added the requirement of a GIS map to Dominion's applications, other than that it is approval-business-as-usual for Dominion and the SCC.

In 2007, Joe May ran on his ability to deal with the Dominion Power overhead lines issue. He went to Denmark on a junket to study underground power lines. In August, he expressed "guarded optimism" that the power line to Leesburg would be buried. Joe May's "guarded optimism" during the campaign has turned into a tongue-lashing of our local governments by the SCC.
At the same time, Anderson further recommended against underground construction, finding that the terrain along the Modified D route is not conducive to underground technology and stating that local governments have not offered to bear any of Dominion's incremental cost required to bury the lines. Anderson stated that to put the line partially or whole underground would come "at a very high cost" when compared with overhead construction. To construct an underground line without any cost sharing by the locality would "establish a dangerous and costly precedent for ratepayers," he wrote. - Leesburg Today
As if our local governments do not have enough to deal with as the school budget is in the billions and the tax base erodes with housing prices, now the SCC expects Loudoun County and other jurisdictions to help a monopoly utility pay for the basic infrastructure it is obligated to provide. Even as Dominion Inc. declares an 11% dividend increase and a stock split.

Apparently, our Delegate was surprised by this decision.
The announcement came as a surprise to Del. Joe T. May (R-33), who has led the fight to keep the line off the trail and put portions of it underground. He plans to meet with the policy-making and engineering groups of the power companies later this week to continue the effort to design guidelines for where lines should be located underground. Those recommendations will be contained in legislation May hopes to present to the General Assembly in January. - Leesburg Today
It should not have come as a surprise to Joe May.

As a legislator with long experience in Richmond, he should know by now that corporations in Virginia take no actions against their financial interests unless compelled by the force of law. As an experienced politician, he should know that any legislation which calls for "consideration" but does not require action is a meaningless political charade (look at all the "Sense of the Senate" resolutions in Congress which call for "consideration" of Iraq redeployment, for example.) One might suspect that Joe May did know these things, but wanted to get some kind of legislation passed in 2007 to blunt the threat to his incumbency presented by a fantastic candidate like Marty Martinez.

Today, Joy May says he stands for SCC reform. The only problem is that Joe May stands for SCC reform co-authored by the very utilities the SCC is called upon to regulate.
Any change of direction, May said, will "have to come from the legislature and power companies." It has been May's position that the SCC needs to be given new legislative guidance under which it considers power line permit applications because "it has been their steadfast position they will do what the General Assembly instructs them to do," he said of the SCC's decision-making process.

"We're making genuine progress" in designing new guidelines for where power lines should or should not be located underground, May said of his meetings with the power companies. - Leesburg Today (Emphasis Mine - P13)
I am sure that Dominion Power has some very specific ideas about where power lines should be buried (anywhere they can be buried for less than it costs to run overhead lines), but I believe that the guidelines should be based on what is best for Virginia, not what is best for Dominion Power.

This is what the 33rd district voted for in re-electing Joe May, a representative speaking for the people, but acting for Dominion Power. Elections have consequences.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Growth And November

Very briefly, go read an excellent column by Peter Galuszka on the impact of November election in light of growth issues. This kind of analysis is what makes Bacon's Rebellion a must-read.

Transportation Tradeoffs

Bacon's Rebellion has a good post up today about the cost trade-offs between density and traffic. In an effort to preserve "scattered, low-density, disconnected" developments in Prince William, the County has discovered that it faces some very difficult transportation choices: either do not build new roads that the citizens want, or accept a lower bond rating (and therefore higher borrowing costs) to finance the roads.

Many citizens may not realize that approval for bonds does not mean that the bonds can or will be issued. Voter approval is only one of many steps necessary before localities issue bonds to finance necessary improvements.
The problem is that debt capacity is linked to revenue. County officials anticipated declines in property values of two percent and four percent for this fiscal year and next. Instead, property values tumbled 4.7 percent and 14 percent, producing a $51 million deficit next year. Revenues from the recordation tax and the sales tax also have declined, Genz writes. - Bacon's Rebellion
This raises two interesting observations.

First, why did property values decline so drastically in Prince William County? Because Prince William actively persecuted the very population responsible for the growth in demand, and thus prices, of houses: recent immigrants. There is a willful ignorance of consequences on the part of the PWC Board of Supervisors when it comes to their immigration policies. The consequence of reduced revenues could have been easily foreseen with some basic research into the causes of the housing boom. Thus, PWC made a trade-off between managed revenue growth in government (which could have been used to fund new roads to mitigate traffic) and the exploitation and alienation of a source of revenue growth. In effect, Prince William County decided to take an axe to their own tax base.

Second, what are the true costs of disparate, low-density development? In a region where demand for housing is high, the costs of not providing housing should be knowable with a little forethought. If people need houses, and no houses are available, more people will jointly share the houses that exist. That drives housing prices up, but it also drives population density within those houses up.

It is not reasonable to expect people to not come to an area with good jobs at good pay at all parts of the economic ladder. The "illegal immigration" issue in Prince William County and beyond has less to do with immigration than it does with economics. The issue is that lower incomes force pepole to live in more dense groups ("overcrowded townhouses") and that causes other problems, such as cars on streets, trash and sanitation. This is true of any community where the gap between income and the cost of basic necessities gets too wide, regardless of the type of population involved.

Communities cannot have few low-income neighbors (immigrants), low-cost maintenance/human services (landscaping, house cleaning, daycare etc.) and low traffic (more/better roads). Only two of those things can be selected, the third must be allowed to float. (Call it the local government equivalent of the Mundell-Fleming Trilemma) For example, if a community wants few low-income neighbors, but low-cost services (which need to be provided by low-income staff), then the staff will need to commute from farther away to provide those services (since the community wants no low-income neighbors), which means that the community will have more traffic. If a community wants low traffic, and few low-income neighbors, then the costs of many services have to rise so that the people who provide those services can live in the community. And finally, if the community wants low traffic and low-cost services, then the community must tolerate more low-income neighbors (and thus neighborhoods) because the people providing the low-cost services need to live close to where they work to keep traffic to a minimum.

It is the tradeoff choices between traffic, services and population that drive local politics in northern Virginia. There are politicians who are effectively promising to deliver all three, and it is those politicians who are getting their communities in trouble. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and in places like Prince William County, the bill is now coming due.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

An Interlude: How Things Work

Professor Louis Bloomfield's "How Things Work" class is a staple of the liberal arts education at UVA. It's physics taught from everyday objects and experiences, with the end result being the capability to explain, from the ground-up, the interrelated principles that lead to the operation of so many things we experience every day.

And now there is news that Prof. Bloomfield will be in a Discovery Channel series.
Bloomfield, a popular U.Va. professor who teaches physics to non-science majors, will debut Dec. 26 as the science expert on Some Assembly Required alongside co-host Brian Unger, a former Daily Show correspondent.
Wahoowah!

Loudoun Democrats Caucus

Political parties are organized at the County/Congressional District level, and the state parties are simply comprised of all the collective County and Congressional District Committees, with some elected leadership of their own. That is why one of the metrics of the Presidential primary campaign is how well organized a campaign is in each county in Iowa. Thus, the fundamental organizing unit of our national political party system is the local committee, in the case of Virginia, the County Committee.

On December 10th, at 6pm at Harper Park Middle School, Loudoun County's Democrats will be caucusing to reorganize the Loudoun County Democratic Committee. This happens every two years (Loudoun's Republicans caucus in March) in Virginia, where the parties reorganize, at the county level, from the ground up.


View Larger Map

Here is the Caucus Announcment from LCDC chair:
To All:

On Dec 10th we will be reorganizing the LCDC by electing new members and officers.

The doors at Harper Park Middle School will open at 6:00 PM for registration for the caucus. To participate you need to be a Loudoun County registered voter and sign a loyalty pledge form. If you have your voter ID card would be great but otherwise we will check your voter ID on the web. You can send me your caucus form prior to Dec 10th so I can check your voter registration but also can sign up at the door.

We hope the Caucus will begin at 7:00 PM. The Caucus is held to elect the LCDC membership. You must send me the LCDC application form by Dec 3rd if you wish to be an LCDC member for the next two years. We hope to have a full slate of candidates to vote for so instead of voting for 124 separate candidates you can just mark LCDC Slate A and we can finish the caucus and move on to the first meeting of the new LCDC. This is what happened last time so the caucus went very quickly because there was only one slate and no challenges to the slate.

Hopefully the new LCDC will meet at 8:00 PM. At that time we will entertain any motions to expand the membership so any people not on the slate can join the LCDC. We also will elect the LCDC officers (Chair, Vice Chairs, Treasurer and Secretary) plus hold District Caucuses to elect District Chairs.

We will have to finish by 9:00 PM or extend the meeting to another night since we only have the school until 9:00 PM.

I hope you will attend the caucus and consider joining the LCDC.

Thank you

Respectfully,

Thom
It should be noted that the pledge required from the Democrats for the caucus is significantly different from the oath required from the Republicans for their primary. In one case, it is a matter of the local party organizing itself, and preferring that loyal party members be the ones involved in party reorganization. In the other case, it is a party insisting on a commitment to vote one way or another in the privacy of the voting booth in November, 2008. The State Party Plan of of the Democratic Party of Virginia does mandate that Democratic primary voters support the Democratic nominee, but there is no oath required, nor an enforcement mechanism stipulated in the Plan.

If you are a Democrat in Loudoun County, please consider attending our caucus on December 10th and get involved!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

School Board Meeting Changes?

John Stevens at Our Loudoun Schools is proposing some changes to the way School Board meetings are conducted, and they're all good ideas.
  • Hold one School Board meeting each year in each of Loudoun's High Schools
  • Limit the time for ceremonial commendations and School Board member comments.
It is important the School Board remain connected to the community, and bringing the Board to the community is more appropriate of a representative government than bringing the community to the Board. After all, we are not supplicants, we are constituents.

I hope the Board votes to approve the bylaw changes at their next meeting.

Congress vs. Congress

With a tip-o-the-hat to MyDD.

A nicely snarky video on the Democratic Congress vs. Republicans in Congress.



Chris Bowers:
I'm not really sure why Republican activists have apparently no ability to engage in self-starting activism of this nature. I've floated some theories on this in the past, but this complete lack of creativity and self-directed content production stuns even me. Republicans are clearly facing a massive creativity gap at the grassroots level, one that cannot be easily explained away. In fact, the NRSC recently asked supporters to post videos saying what they were thankful for, and only got one response.
This "creativity gap" between the left and the right is at the core of much current thinking on the differences between Democrats and Republicans in America today. It manifests in local and national levels, where Republicans are increasingly campaigning as merely "against" whatever seems appropriate, while Democrats are searching for, and delivering on, creative, practical solutions to citizens' problems.

Look at Frank Wolf, for example. What is he "for?" We can all name what he is against: Greenway tolls, fighting for children's health care, mortgage reform, but the question of what he supports (beyond the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, of course), is a mystery.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground is a wonderful metaphor for Frank Wolf, and his party. They have passion and skill at hearkening to the past and putting it on a pedestal. But we do not live in the past. We live in the present, and need to plan for the future, and that takes Democratic creativity.

Protic Stepping Down

Paul Protic is stepping down as the head of the Loudoun County Republican Committee (LCRC).
“I have learned a lot and have seen your dedication to our values, the strength of your spirit … and your ability to be resilient and learn from victories and defeats,” Protic said. “And I look forward to working for our GOP candidates in the future.” - LoudounExtra
Protic chaired a local party which saw a string of defeats in Loudoun, from Mark Herring's victory to Kelly Burk's, Republican support in Loudoun County withered under the Protic, whose LCRC insisted on ideological purity over practicality.

This development sets up a battle for control of the LCRC in the next two-year cycle (local parties are reorganized from the ground up every two years).

The LCRC will hold a mass meeting, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, March 15, where members will elect a new chairman, a new executive committee and new delegates for the 10th district convention and the state convention. In his statement, Protic said that the committee would vote on a call for people to attend the meeting early in 2008. - Leesburg Today

The 2007 Republican Convention in Loudoun was a internecine battle in which only Lori Waters emerged as a moderate with a Republican endorsement. (And even Lori Waters is "moderate" only on development questions.) The convention itself was a boondoggle of rules violations and do-overs, beginning with an illegitimate convention call.

Many moderate Republicans actively opposed LCRC candidates this year in the form of the Loudoun Coalition. A group of moderate Republican leaders even formed an alternative organization, The Loudoun County Independent Committee, as if they were an LCRC shadow leadership, in anticipation of the coming reorganization.

March 2008 will be an interesting month for Loudoun politics, as the LCRC reorganization will have a direct role to play in the 2008 Senate and Presidential elections. With Loudoun trending blue, the fate of Virginia for the Republicans may be in the hands of a few hundred local partisans meeting in March.

[update]The tale gets even more interesting in light of new information this morning. The GOP in Virginia is asking primary voters to sign a loyalty oath, committing the primary voters to support the eventual Republican nominee.
There is no practical way to enforce the GOP covenant in the constitutionally guaranteed secrecy of the voting booth. Yet the oath is a concept Virginia's GOP has considered for years.

Voters in Virginia do not register by party. Since the mid-90s, the state's Republicans have fretted that Democrats might meddle in their primaries, which are open to all registered voters.

Virginia Democrats require no oath for their presidential primary, which will be held the same day. - Examiner.com
This is a clear sign that the Republicans are afraid of losing Virginia in 2008, and are seeking to coerce loyalty with oaths and pledges instead of running quality candidates with majoritarian policies.

It appears that the state Republican party is taking the wrong lessons from the exclusionary and alienating actions of Loudoun's Republicans over the past few years.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Development Rights and the Watershed

A discussion in Letters to the Editor is taking place over development rights and farmland. Leesburg Town Council member Ken Reid started the conversation with a letter in LoudounExtra criticizing spending tax dollars on purchasing farmers' development rights.
As a Republican, I had high hopes for the GOP board that took office in January 2004. I wanted to see an emphasis on building roads, reversing the forcible down-zoning of farmers and ending the use of tax dollars to purchase the development rights of the rich. I also wanted to see lower taxes and less spending. - Kenneth Reid (emphasis mine, - P13)
That letter prompted this response.
Mr. Reid decries forcible down-zoning of farmers. But policies in Loudoun favor the subdivision and sale for development of large tracts, with all the immense fiscal and quality-of-life issues such growth brings.

If the county truly cares about farmers, it should give them the option of saving their prime agricultural land by buying their development potential. This is a true market-based approach that enables farmers to maintain their lifestyles, invest in their farms and futures, and pass a real legacy to their children. If one took the time to do the research, one would see that Loudoun’s short-lived purchase of development rights program did not subsidize “rich” landowners, as Mr. Reid asserts.
...
Most important, land that would one day have become yet another suburb will not be adding schoolchildren, cars and a myriad of additional costly service demands. Pollution levels are lessened, and we all move closer to the stated regional goal of protecting the massive Chesapeake Bay watershed. - Martin Bromser-Kloeden (emphasis mine -P13)
It is the question of watershed that is quite interesting. The value of preserving farmland and purchasing developoment rights is more than just reducing the increases in demands for roads, schools and other facilities, it is also measured in the retention of our water quality and our contribution to the sustainability of our entire region.

Bacon's Rebellion has reported on the fact that Virginia is 116,511 acres behind in its watershed protection responsibilities. One method for actively adding protected space may be to subsidize (with state-issued bonds, perhaps?) the purchase of development rights in areas that directly impact the Chesapeake. This, in combination with efforts at the Federal level, could make a sizable impact on the water quality in the Potomac and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Mr. Bromser-Kloeden's letter notes the fact that the purchase of development rights is not (or should not be) a political issue. Twenty-two Virginia counties operate programs that purchase development rights, including the counties such as Fauquier, Clarke and Frederick, where Republicans are the majority on the Board of Supervisors. The state even provides a model development rights purchasing program, developed in 2005. The 2005 plan has this goal: "By 2007, the Commonwealth shall make at least $1M available annually to each locality with a PDR program consistent with the State guidelines to be used as matching funds for easement purchases." It is unclear whether this has actually happened, but it should be a priority in the next Assembly.

PDR (Purchase Development Rights) programs are another example of the virtuous cycle of well-designed government programs, in which a relatively modest investment today nets large gains later. In this case, preserving open space and farmland means reduced demands on local infrastructure and improvement of water quality flowing into our most important resources - the Potomac and Chesapeake. A small investment today can help us avoid paying for a clean-up and rehabilitation tomorrow.

[update] Another option the Board of Supervisors should consider for managing the impact of growth on our water? Require that developers use permeable concrete and asphalt in all future parking lots and any parking lot re-paving projects in the coming years. This would allow rainwater to filter into the soil underneath parking lots, recharging the water table and reducing the impact of droughts. Chicago is already doing this, if a city like Chicago can do it, why not Loudoun?

Kaine Closes the Budget Gap

Did you know that the Governor and his Administration successfully managed Virginia's budget gap? Bacon's Rebellion has the tale.
Meanwhile, Kaine has ordered more than $300 million in administrative cuts this year, and House appropriators have identified roughly $375 million more in savings and cuts. Potentially, the General Fund could end the fiscal year with as much as $219 million to spare, Shipley writes.

In Fiscal 2009, this year's budget reductions and modest revenue growth should bring the General Fund to within $50 million to $150 million of balancing -- even when a $1.1 billion Standards of Quality re-benchmarking is thrown into the mix. By fiscal 2010, the state should return to its normal pattern of budget surpluses. - Bacon's Rebellion, with a tip-o-the-hat to The Richmond Democrat
Once again, Governor Kaine has demonstrated that a focus on working together to solve problems yields great outcomes for Virginia.

The reduction of the budget gap means that early childhood education should be back on the table in the next legislative session. I admire the way that swift action on the budget deficit by the Kaine administration may take away the "too costly" line of attack on Kaine's proposal. Furthermore, the reduction in the deficit brings the value of the Democratic takeover of the state senate in 2008 into sharp relief. Kaine and the senate can (and will) put a solid plan on the table to provide pre-k education to every Virginia child, an investment which yields 700% returns. If the Republicans who control the House of Delegates wish to oppose such a measure, Virginia will be able to observe that the Republican party does not actually stand for our kids, as they will have opposed SCHIP and early childhood education both in the course of twelve months.

The Richmond Democrat gets the last word.
Seldom have two political parties offered the citizens of a state such a stark choice between management styles. On the one hand you have Democrats with their open style of government that rapidly changes course as the situation requires and on the other you have the Republican policy of steering straight for the icebergs and refusing to change course because to do otherwise would be "ideologically impure." - The Richmond Democrat

Office Space in Lansdowne

Dave Nemetz's latest column in LoudounExtra details the debate over the development of office space in Lansdowne.
The developer had proposed changing the size of allowable office space in Lansdowne and is now faced with a small wave of opposition.

Bernstein Management Corporation, owner of the tract, applied to the county for an increase of the property's maximum ratio of floor space to land area. Currently, the 9.2 acre land parcel at Lansdowne Blvd. and Riverside Parkway is zoned for a floor-area ratio of .25 acre, or 96,508 square feet. Bernstein is looking to increase that ratio to .40 acre, or approximately 157,000 square feet, and held a meeting earlier this month in Lansdowne to discuss the issue and answer resident questions. - Living in LoCo
At issue is how much floor space (i.e., building footprint) should be allowed per acre for commercial office space in Lansdowne. The area is managed by the county (it is not subject to the annexation proposed by Leesburg earlier this month), and thus the Board of Supervisors and its Planning Commissioners will make the decision on whether to allow the increase in floor space ratio.

In a clear case of selective evidence, the developer presented two development proposals, a well-landscaped plan at .40/acre, and an ugly plan at .25/acre. For justification, the developer said:
"...the more elaborate plan would cost them more, but would command a higher lease rate. The lower one would draw a lower lease rate, and the landscaping plan would not be feasible." - Living in LoCo
Of course, the evidence as to why the density was directly related to the lease rate was unspecified. It is taken as an assumption that higher density means higher rents, although this assumption is actually quite debatable. In fact, the relationship between office density and productivity - an important driver of rents and usage - is one that is under scrutiny in the industry. Of course, Bernstein has an incentive to landscape the facility regardless of size: good landscaping means higher rents.

It may be the case that, right now, higher density also means higher rents, but that is only one factor in the overall decision making process when it comes to development. Other factors, including traffic, landscaping, community impact/benefits, and the existence of alternative space, are just as important as the rents available to the developer.

The most interesting fact in the debate, however, comes in a minor comment in the column.
Bernstein Management admitted it does not currently have a tenant, but the company wants the flexibility to build a larger facility should their tenant so desire. - Living in LoCo
Without a known tenant, Bernstein wants to build more dense office space, and as a carrot, they're offering to landscape it, which is likely what they would have done in the first place, given the higher rents commanded by well-landscaped buildings. Thus, Bernstein is not really offering Lansdowne and Loudoun anything in particular for increasing the density.

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(Graphic from LoudounExtra, courtesy of data from CoStar Group Inc.)


As reported by LoudounExtra, vacant office space in Loudoun is on the rise, with over 7.7 million unoccupied square feet of office space within 8 miles of Dulles airport in 2007. Given the increase in empty space, Bernstein appears to be asking Lansdowne to accept the risk of a larger empty buildings in exchange for the developer being given the opportunity to make even more money when the buildings are eventually rented.

There is a reasonable, compromise solution to this dilemma, of course.

Loudoun should be willing to consider, and the Planning Commission recommend, a higher density (i.e., 0.40/acre) in exchange for Bernstein's commitment to find and move-in a quality tenant for the building(s) within a reasonable time after completion of the project (perhaps 6-12 months?). If Bernstein fails to acquire a tenant within the prescribed time, the developer will be responsible for some kind of penalty, perhaps paying for road maintenance in part of Lansdowne until the building is rented.

This would be a manifestation of smart growth, which is what November 6th was all about.
It is important to note that the Democrats running for Board of Supervisors are not against any development, they are against rushed development, bad development, and developers who seek to make deals and solicit promises in the back rooms of Loudoun. There is no question that we are a growing county, with growing needs, and that means investment in our physical infrastructure: buildings, roads, facilities, schools and the like. Those investments are going to be built by private companies - developers - and done correctly, will benefit Loudoun residents for generations to come.

The issue is doing development well. The Democratic party is the party of responsible, accountable government, and our candidates for Board of Supervisors stand for responsible, accountable development. - Leesburg Tomorrow, October 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Interlude: Rollable Power

Runo pointed me to this: Rollable Solar Power Cells

Personally, I think one of these should be stuck on the roof of every car, linked to an outlet in the car for powering whatever electronics we use there. Some communities are even subsidizing solar power for houses in the interest of local solutions to global problems.

Leesburg's Power Sources

Waldo Jaquith, whose contributions to the Virginia blogosphere are myriad - from his deeply relevant and interesting postings, to his incredible work on Richmond Sunlight - pointed to an online tool from the EPA which identifies where localities get their power, by production source: Power Profiler.

Here is the power profile for :

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For Leesburg, 51% of our power comes from coal generation and 40% from nuclear generation. Presumably, the Nuclear component of our power comes from the Louisa county North Anna plants. As for the coal, it is the most common fuel for electrical generation used by Dominion Power.

This knowledge is a mixed-bag for Leesburg. On the one hand, we can be glad that 40% of our power comes from facilities that do not create greenhouse gases, although that generation does create longer-term waste issues. For example,
State and Federal regulations allow radioactive materials licensees to discharge radioactive materials to sanitary sewer and to the atmosphere by incineration for certain radioisotopes in specific quantities, and concentrations. - Virginia Department of Health
Still, nuclear power is here, and given the fact that the power is available, better to use it and not create greenhouse gases by replacing it with fossil fuel electricity.

As for coal, it is the most dirty of fuels, though "Clean Coal" initiatives give us hope for the future of this fuel as a solution. Methods are being studied to convert coal into natural gas (much cleaner burning) and sequester the worst pollutants in the process. Then again, Dominion's idea of "Clean Coal" leaves much to be desired. Especially considering the fact that Dominion's Clean Coal research and development is located in Massachusetts, not Virginia.

Revolutions begin at home, and the first step towards changing how we generate and use our energy is understanding where it comes from.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Primary in the 10th

On June 10th, Virginia's 10th District Democrats will hold a Congressional Primary to determine who will face off against Frank Wolf to represent us in the House of Representatives in the 111th Congress. This, of course, assumes that Virginia's Democrats decide to hold a primary, as the Parties in Virginia have the right to decide to hold conventions instead of primaries, which the Virginia's Republicans have decided to do.

As currently organized, the 10th District primary would feature Loudoun's own Mike Turner facing off against the 2006 nominee, Judy Feder. Mike is a retired Air Force Colonel who has vocally opposed the war in Iraq and spent the past two years running Precinct Operations for the Loudoun County Democratic Committee. Judy is a health care policy expert who ran for Congress in 2006 on strong opposition to the war in Iraq and a applied, analytical understanding of policy.

The fact that the 10th District has two such qualified and experienced candidates running to defeat the dean of Virginia's Congressional delegation demonstrates the importance of the Congressional elections next year. In order to make progress, Republican obstructionism must be curtailed. That means fighting for each precinct, each year. That means electing a Democrat from the 10th District in 2008.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Can't Be Done

There's sardonic. There's sarcastic. There's snarky. And then there's The Onion.
Proposed Bill Would Bring 4,000 Troops Back to Life
...
"The tide in Iraq is turning," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) said. "American men and women dying in droves has worked thus far—it is not time to abandon this strategy."

Congress is also expected to begin drafting legislation that would completely heal all 28,385 wounded U.S. soldiers. If passed into law, any troops who have lost limbs to amputation, infection, or car-bomb explosions can expect their arms and legs to grow back within six months. In addition, the bill would guarantee that those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will not have post-traumatic stress disorder anymore.

Even if the measure passes both the House and Senate, however, President Bush has promised to veto the bill.

Ending the Cycle of Incarceration

The New York Times has a great story about efforts in Texas to end the incarceration/recidivism cycle so prevalent in some communities.
Last year, 32,585 prisoners were released on state parole in Texas, and many of them returned to neighborhoods where they live among thousands of other parolees and probationers. - The New York Times
The article goes on to discuss the fact that may of the people who have long and recurring appointments with the prison system come from relatively small, urban neighborhoods. From there, it goes on to discuss how Houston, and Texas in general, is looking to solve this cycle at the level of those neighborhoods.
The parolees are almost always coming back to areas where support systems, like schools and public assistance programs, receive less money and attention than incarceration does, the studies show. In an effort to break the cycle, Texas this fall began its expansion of services for former inmates, including job training classes, drug treatment programs and psychological counseling.

The approach, based in part on legislative presentations by the Justice Mapping Center, is a sharp departure from the state’s longtime criminal justice focus on retribution.

The shift is intended to save the state money by slowing the revolving door between state prisons and neighborhoods like Sunnyside. The parolees released last year cost the state $100 million over the course of their prison terms; the 85 who returned to Sunnyside, population 21,000, accounted for almost $8 million of that, according to data by the mapping group. - The New York Times
There are parallels between this program and Gov. Kaine's early education proposals. Both focus spending money on programs that will reduce the needs for more money in the future. In the case of the Texas program, the state is looking to reduce the costs of incarceration by spending money to reduce recidivisim in the neighborhoods most influenced by convict populations. In the case of Virginia's program, a reduction in grade repeating, which can be expected from quality preschool, will mean that the state will spend less on educating students twice when they should be educated once.

These kinds of solutions, which spend money to save money, are a hallmark of good, efficient, practical government. We can only hope that the states' experiments in these areas lead to more Federal focus on results and efficiency in national programs.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

1000 Foreclosures

Things to be Thankful For: Having a Home.
Loudoun had the sharpest increase among the three counties, with 1,073 foreclosure filings in July, August and September, compared with 125 filings during the same period in 2006, a jump of 758 percent, according to RealtyTrac. The California-based company said those numbers represent filings in all phases of the foreclosure process, from the initial default notice sent to a borrower to the repossession by a bank.- LoudounExtra
That is over 355 forelosures a month this summer. That is thousands of neighbors losing their homes in the face of the collapse of a mortgage industry overextended and facing the repercussions of excess.
Foreclosures are especially evident in communities with lower-price houses, such as Sterling Park and Sugarland Run in eastern Loudoun, Newton said.
1000 homes being lost by our neighbors, and people wonder why we need organizations like the Good Shepherd Alliance. 1000 homes being foreclosed on, but developers want to build thousands more.

I give thanks for my home. I give thanks for .

The Problem with Tasers [updated]

I have always been uncomfortable about the use of Tasers as a method of ensuring "compliance." This only enhances my discomfort.

Man Tased for Asking Officer Why He Was Stopped

My concern with Tasers is that they are not a substitute for "deadly force," instead they are a substitute for "respect for citizens." In every Taser incident I've yet seen, the Taser was used not to control someone who posed a threat to the peace officers (typically larger and more well armored that the person being tased), but was used as a disciplinary tool on citizens who dared question those peace officers.

Questioning authority - any authority - is at the heart of an informed citizenry and representative government. The Taser is emerging as a tool to limit questions and speech deemed discomfiting to people in power. And that is an arrow to the heart of liberty.

Digby gets the last word.
Police in the country are now allowed to torture speeders by the side of the highway in order to get them to comply. The only difference between this officer slugging the speeder in the stomach and putting 50,0000 volts of electricity in him is that the latter doesn't leave any marks. The intent, the pain and the goose-stepping authoritarian message are exactly the same.

Word to the wise. Do not ever question the police, no matter whether they are violating your rights, ignoring the constitution or breaking the law. It is perfectly legal for them to torture you on the spot if you do.

I'm feeling so free I can hardly breathe.
[update]
Among the blogs I read, there’s no equivalent of the authoritarian impulses, intellectual dishonesty and rote chanting of the GOP party line that characterizes Limbaugh and his imitators on the right. Partly, that’s because most are written by educated individuals who take pride in winning arguments without cheating, and to whom party orthodoxy is anathema. In a saner climate, many wouldn’t be called left-wing at all. - Gene Lyons
Yes. No, Hell Yes.

With another tip-o-the-hat to Digby.

[update 2]
The questions about tasers continue to grow. The UN now says that Tasers are a form of torture.
The UN committee made its comments in recommendations to Portugal, which has bought the newest Taser X26 stun gun for use by police.

Portugal "should consider giving up the use of the Taser X26,'' as its use can have a grave physical and mental impact on those targeted, which violates the UN's Convention against Torture, the experts said. - The Daily Telegraph
Of course, like a teenager, The Executive will consider the fact that the UN says not to do something the reason itself to do that thing.

With a tip-o-the-hat to Slashdot.

Thankful For You

This Thanksgiving, I am very thankul for everyone who has read Leesburg Tomorrow, and all the people who have worked to elect candidates focused on the best interests of Virginia. It is a great year, and we have a lot to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New Hampshire in January

I grew up in New Hampshire. New Hampshire in January is two things.

1. It is beautiful.

2. It is freaking cold.

And not cold in the way that Minnesota is cold, which is to say an entirely new species of Human has evolved to live there with interests and skills such as ice fishing. But cold in the "damnit, why do I live in New Hampshire if it's this cold; I'm moving to Virginia" kind of way.

Perhaps this is among the reasons that New Hampshire is given the priviledge of holding the first primary in the nation. If candidates are willing to fight for your vote in the cold and frost of New Hampshire in the winter, they have proven their desire, if not their sanity.
New Hampshire set its earliest-ever presidential primary on Wednesday, deciding on Jan. 8 and claiming its traditional spot as the nation's first in a nomination season pushed almost to New Year's Day of the election year.
...
New Hampshire primaries often have shaped presidential contests — sometimes dramatically — for nearly a century. Next year's early date, less than seven weeks from now, resulted from states around the country scheduling their own early primaries and caucuses to attract candidates before the major party nominees are chosen. As a result, both the Democratic and Republican nominees are likely to be effectively known by Feb. 5, when 22 states vote, if not earlier. - MSNBC

Virginia's Budget Gap

Lowell at RaisingKaine has a great analysis of Virginia's budget gap and two options for managing it up this morning.
Unfortunately, while the recent General Assembly elections were helpful, they did not result in replacement of Club for Growth GOP control over the House of Delegates. Which means, unfortunately, that we are likely headed for stalemate in 2008. The question is, who will blink first, and who will be hurt the most. Great way to close a budget gap, huh? - Lowell
Lowell's analysis explores the Maryland model for closing a budget gap (implemented, successfully, by Governor O'Malley after only 11 months in office), and the carbon tax option, which would close the budget gap quickly and easily while creating incentives to better manage our effect on the environment.

The fact that carbon taxes and "new revenues" are even part of the edge conversation about Virginia's budget gap is a testament to how far Virginia has come since Mark Warner was elected Governor in 2001. Virginia's "solutionism" - focusing on results over ideology - creates a public space for discussion of ideas considered anathema in the past. We should all look forward to the public debate in the coming year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Interlude: Jim Webb Presides

For a procedure junkie like me, I love this. Jim Webb presided over the Senate for 22 seconds today to prevent the President from issuing any recess appoinments.

Perhaps some day Jim Webb will have a constitutional duty to Preside over the Senate.

Leesburg To Annex Crosstrail Land

In the continuing saga of development south of Town, the Board of Supervisors has approved Leesburg's proposed annexation of 2500 acres of property into the Town limits. This approval from the Board of Supervisors is necessary because the land is currently governed by the County, and the County must consent for it to be annexed into the Town.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Nov. 20 in favor of annexing 2,500 acres of land into Leesburg's town limits.

Adding this land, which sits south of Leesburg roughly between Route 7 and the Dulles Greenway, would give Leesburg greater control over its destiny by controlling the land around the town, said Councilman Kevin Wright.

“I'm hopeful [the council] will support it,” said Wright.

The land is largely undeveloped, he said, and has a low population. - Loudoun Times- Mirror
The saga of annexation of this property has been spun into oblivion by political winds for years. In all cases, the question has been whether this property should be developed, not whether this property should be annexed. Annexation is a development management tool, not an ends in and of itself, and the parties to the political debate understood this, whether they admitted it or not.

When the town was managed by officials interested in seeing this property developed, and the County had a Board of Supervisors who generally opposed development (before 2004), then there was a push for annexation by then-Mayor Jim Clem and his colleagues. After the 2003 elections, a pro-development board took over Loudoun, and Town annexation was deprecated by the developer in favor of working with the Board of Supervisors to build Crosstrail.

Meanwhile, in 2006, the Town elections turned on issues related to development, and the Town Council adopted a consistent position against developing the property near the airport that would be Crosstrail. The Town Council began considering annexation as a tool to inhibit the development of this area in the face of a Board of Supervisors intent on developing it. The basic positions of the Town Council and Board of Supervisors had switched due to the changes in political fortunes and voter preferences at the Town and County levels.

Thus, when the question of Annexation comes up in next year's Town Elections, it behooves voters to understand that at issue is not an administrative tool used to increase the size of the town, but the purpose the tool is being used for. The question is whether the Town or the County is better able to manage the development of areas nearby. This question is prescient for the County at large, since it is at the heart of urban growth areas, and the conflicts over school sites.

When officials control one level of government, they use the tools of that level of government to achieve their ends. It is the officials, not the tools, that make the difference in the long-run.

OffTheBus: A Survey of Being Polled

There is an interesting Huffington Post project discussed on the Pollster.com blog. They are trying to create a forum to collect the experiences of people who are being polled to better understand the extent and nature of polling in America. The Pollster.com commentary is worth reading.
As someone who earned his living for more than 20 years as a survey researcher, I believe the respondent is often forgotten by too many in our industry. After all, virtually every number on this site depended on respondents who donated their time to answer the pollsters questions. So having a forum for respondents to report their experiences, both good and bad, should provide a way for pollsters themselves to get a sense for what they are doing well and what not so well. I am convinced that the Huffington Post is committed to creating a resource that is both non-partisan and itself transparent. - Pollster.com
The project is part of the Huffington Post's "OffTheBus" (no spaces) coverage and provides a tool for people who have been polled to report on their experience. So, if you get polled this election season, report it at OffTheBus, and let the community see what we can discover.

Gov. Kaine's Priorities

Governor Kaine sent a letter to his supporters today. In it, he discussed his priorities for the remainder of his term.
The upcoming legislative session will present challenges. State revenues have slowed as the national economy cools off, but we must still innovate to move ahead. I am particularly interested in further expansions of early childhood education and reforms to our mental health system. Do you know that 50,000 children have to repeat a grade in Virginia every year at a combined cost of over $400 million? For a fraction of that cost, we could make sure that all at-risk kids get a year of high quality pre-kindergarten so that they will be prepared to succeed in school and in life. In the area of mental health, the tragic events at Virginia Tech in April showed us that we must have more effective community mental health services. I look forward to working with the General Assembly on these and other important priorities. - Gov. Tim Kaine
It was during the aftermath of Virginia Tech that I truly came to respect and admire the Governor. The contrast between our Governor's response to that tragedy and President Bush's response to tragedies on his watch was remarkable. Since then, his actions have only burnished his reputaion.

The effort for early childhood education is typical of Democratic ideas for the good of our community. The plan sees an increasing cost and seeks a way to mitigate the future cost increases, thus paying for itself over time. In this case, Virginia currently spends $400 million re-educating students in grades they did not pass. If we spend $40 million today, and ten percent of the students go on to not repeat grades they would have otherwise repeated, the program has paid for itself.

This kind of virtuous cycle of effect is the characteristic of programs we should be pursuing for our state. Governor Kaine clearly understands this in his own efforts at early childhood education.

The Democratic Party is the party focused on solutions and getting things done. At the end of the day, America trusts Democrats to clean up the messes Republicans leave behind.

More Mortgage Help On The Way?

Congress is considering giving judges the right to modify the terms of mortgages to help mitigate the worst effects of foreclosures.
Congress is considering legislation that would allow bankruptcy court judges to rewrite loan terms for people at risk of losing their homes, a change that supporters say could save half a million borrowers from foreclosure through early 2009.

Under this plan, judges could lower the interest rate of a mortgage on a primary home, extend the life of the loan or forgive part of the debt -- as they currently can for vacation homes, farms and investment properties. Doing so could reduce by a quarter the 2 million foreclosures expected in the next 18 months, according to Moody's Economy.com. - The Washington Post
The fact that judges have the right to adjust the terms of mortgages for investment properties and vacation homes, but not for primary residences, just goes to show how skewed in favor of the wealthiest our system has become. If the courts have the authority to enforce consent decrees on major corporations and regulate the online activities of college students, then certainly they should have the authority to address injustices in the mortgage business.

Private contracts cannot be made that explicitly harm the public interest. In effect, predatory mortgages are a significant detriment to the public interest in that they make people destitute, create properties which are likely to be abandoned or unmaintained, and thus significantly reduce the quality of life and economic activity in our polity.

Of course, there are people for whom no help is possible. One of the most difficult situations to manage is people whose expectations of what they should be able to get, and the reality of what they are able to get are completely out of whack. Some people entered into terrible mortgages willfully ignorant of the fact that they could not afford the homes they were purchasing. This is the fault of both the lender and the borrower (and probably the best case for the Own-to-Rent idea).

And often, that is not even enough.
Lopez, 74, bought a one-bedroom condo in Falls Church in 2004 with no money down. She was a prospering loan officer at the time and could afford her $1,700 monthly payment. But that payment increased by $200 when her loan adjusted in mid-2006, and the loan has kept adjusting every six months thereafter.

As the payments climbed, Lopez's income vanished when the real estate market slowed and commissions dried up, leaving her with just $927 in Social Security payments each month.

Lopez, who was upside down on her loan, could not refinance. So she borrowed from her credit cards to pay her mortgage. Overwhelmed by debt, she filed for bankruptcy in June 2007, liquidated her assets and gave up her home. Lopez now lives with a friend. - The Washington Post
It is the case that some people cannot afford to own their own homes in the places they would prefer to live. It's not nice, but it is true. That is among the reasons that the panhandle of West Virginia is growing so rapidly.

In the late 1980s, the Congress bailed out the Savings and Loan industry. Today, we face a similar crisis, in which a combination of poor oversight and willful misinformation on the part of a strong minority of industry participants, with the tacit cooperation of major industry powerhouses, leading to Congressional efforts to address the problem.

Just another under-appreciated effort by our Democratic Congress to actually help America deal with the mess The Executive will leave behind to his successor.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gilmore Running For Senate

Gov. Jim Glmore has made it official, he is running for U.S. Senate.
Former governor James S. Gilmore announced this morning he will be a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate next year.

In a e-mailed announcement, Gilmore declares "the race is on." - The Washington Post
Gilmore is billing the race as a "Clash of The Titans." It will be interesting to see how Virginia responds when given the choice between a Governor who delivered, and one who didn't.

Jim Gilmore ran for Governor on the platform of "no car tax." But that is not what Loudoun has experienced. On the contrary, our car tax bills have gone up.
Yesterday [March 7, 2006], supervisors in Loudoun became among the first to make it official, voting to bill car owners this year for 41 percent of their bill, up from 30 percent now. For the owner of a car valued at $20,000, that means a bill of $344.40 -- compared to $252 last year for a car of that value. - The Washington Post
We should welcome the opportunity 2008 will give us to compare and contrast the records of the most recently completed Republican and Democratic administrations in Virginia.

Seven Score and Four Years Ago

November 19th, 1863.

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

An Interlude: Beer

In honor of my family, I just had to share this one.

An Interlude: Tin Man

My wife and I are really looking forward to the new SciFi miniseries starting on December 2nd. Tin Man

Great cast, great concept.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kelly Burk: The Long Fight

Our very own Kelly Burk is getting credit for her extended fight for the good of Loudoun's citizens. Not Larry Sabato has written a long post on the past eight years of politics in Loudoun County, and Kelly's role as an advocate against all odds.
Democrats should pay careful attention to Kelly on the incoming Board of Supervisors. This woman has been right so often she looks more like a prophet than a politician. After her years of hard work for the students of Loudoun as a teacher, as a Councilwoman in the town of Leesburg and in the Democratic Party- taking on tough races where she put the doing the right thing over her own electoral success- Kelly has earned the respect of many political observers, and when tough decisions will be made over the next four years, the first question many Democrats should ask is "What does Kelly think we should do?". Finally then we might start to see the Loudoun County government show the potential everyone knows it has for the benefit of its own citizens. - Not Larry Sabato
The entire post is well worth a read as a background to the history of Democrats vs. Republicans here in Loudoun over the past decade.
The Loudoun County Democrats were in shambles and the county had grown so much that this district was twice the size of a normal House of Delegates district before redistricting. Who would step forward to carry the Democrats banner in this very important election, but with every demographic cutting against them?

A local teacher decided to step forward and become the Democratic candidate. Kelly Burk did not have a lot of political background besides her time as head of the Loudoun Education Association (LEA). She didn't have a lot of financial backing, and she didn't have a real political organization. But she knew the danger of this new Delegate and the type of politics he wanted to bring to Loudoun. - NLS
Kelly herself would probably shy away from the level of plaudits NLS awards her, but the basic message of tenacity and acheivement over long odds is accurate and well deserved. is vey lucky to have her representing us on the Board of Supervisors in the coming term. And her story of persistence should give hope to areas struggling with similar overbearing Republican machines today.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What Is Equality Worth?

The fundamental difference between the Democrats and Republicans comes down to money. The difference between the parties has been simplified as, "Republicans want to give money to rich people, Democrats want to give money to poor people." But there is a fundamental question behind that. How much is economic equity worth to us? How much are we willing to spend to live in a society where the relative incomes of rich and poor are narrower than they might otherwise be?

Economics has examined that question.
Applying their model to pre-existing survey data, the authors found that, on average, people are willing to sacrifice about 20 percent of their disposable income to live in an equitable society - but they also found that the value a person places on equity is substantially affected by their race and educational background.

Whites place a higher value on equity than non-whites, and equity is valued more by those with high levels of education than those with less education. - ScienceDaily
This finding might help to explain why many Bush voters vote the way they do, against their economic interests. Specifically, voters with lower incomes and less education may place less value on income equality. (I will leave the specific differentiations the study found to much more qualified commentators than I.)

The bottom line, however, is that people are generally willing to spend 20% of their income to acheive equity of distribution in their societies. This is important to know, as the authors point out.
"In many countries, a large share of the government's budget is devoted to redistributing income, supposedly for equity reasons. Since governmental redistribution is costly for society, some knowledge of society's willingness to pay for distributive justice is required in order to evaluate whether that public good is efficiently provided," the authors write. - CMU
The study demonstrates that people want their tax dollars spent on acheiving equity within their societies. Of course, this is no suprise to the progressive movement.
Media perceptions and past Republican electoral successes notwithstanding, Americans are progressive across a wide range of controversial issues, and they're growing more progressive all the time. - Media Matters for America
A number of recent studies have shown that public opinion is in favor of the positions and principles advocated by the progressive movement in America. Now, the public opinion studies are being validated by some real academic rigor in the form of econometric analysis. We Democrats should stand by our principles and fight for a cooperative Virginia, moving forward together.

Winners and Losers

I'm not sure how I've gone this long without finding this site, but many thanks to Raising Kaine for pointing it out:

The Washington Post's "Winners and Losers" blog on Virginia Politics.

A choice entry from the most recent story:
This Weeks Winners:
...
Albert Pollard - Less than a week after he lost a bid for the state Senate, the Democrat from the Northern Neck suddenly has a way to return to Richmond if he so chooses to. Over the weekend, the 1st District Republican committee nominates Del. Robert J. Wittman (R-Westmoreland) as its candidate to replace the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) in Congress. Wittman holds Pollard's old state House seat. If Wittman wins the Dec. 11 special election, there will have to be another special election to fill his House seat. Many Republicans say Pollard, who carried Westmoreland county in his Senate bid, would be a heavy favorite to win back his House seat if he wants to run for it.
And another one:
Bush Coming to Virginia to Give "Thanks":
...
Bush will then travel to Charles City, where White House officials say he plans to give a "Thanksgiving themed" address at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River.

The Berkeley, one of Virginia's earliest Georgian-style plantation homes, is the ancestral home of Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three-time governor of Virginia, and his son, for president William Henry Harrison.
My wife and I were married at Berkeley. The plantation also claims to be the site of the first bourbon distillery in America. (And yes, that was a big reason I was glad to get married there.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

$1.3 Billion For Schools

After the noise about immigration, development, mudslinging, and law enforcement during the campaign season, the biggest issue the new Board of Supervisors will actually face during its tenure? Schools.
Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick last night proposed a six-year construction program that includes 20 new schools, an advanced technology academy and a series of renovations and land purchases with a total price tag of $1.3 billion.

The proposed Capital Improvement Plan is based on projections of continued significant and steady enrollment growth-42 percent during the period from FY 2009 to FY 2014. Even as the number of new residential building permits has declined in the recent years, the county's birth rate continues to grow and enrollment continued to increase at a 6 percent annual rate over the past two years. By 2013, Loudoun's public school enrollment is projected to be 76,794-a doubling of the student body since 2002. - Leesburg Today
With the Fields Farm lawsuit being heard by the Virginia Supreme Court, Loudoun will finally have some - though probably not total - clarity on the division of authority between the School Board, the Board of Supervisors and the Towns. That kind of clarity is critical, because our school needs are enormous and the funding challenges are escalating. In order to get our children the education they deserve, we need to work together, and set aside parochial concerns for the good of all our citizens. And we can start here:
The school board will hold a public hearing on the proposed CIP at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27 at the school administration building in Broadlands. Work sessions will begin the next night at 6:30 p.m. - Leesburg Today

White Supremacists Get Federal Charity

I sincerely hope that the research proves to be incorrect, but it appears that this letter permits government employees to donate their Combined Federal Campaign donations to an organization whose leadership is dedicated to the advancement of white supremacy in America.

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Here is the tale.

In 2002, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) were taken over by a "radical" faction dedicated to secession and white supremacy.
In what may be the clearest sign yet of this extremist drift, an analysis by the Intelligence Report finds that a significant number of SCV officials — including at least 10 men who hold key national leadership positions — are also active or recent members of hate groups, principally two neo-Confederate groups, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and the League of the South. - Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
Since then, that faction has purged the leadership and ranks of the SCV of "moderate" members who opposed the supremacist agenda of the new leaders. By 2006, the SCV was completely controlled by the supremacist faction, to the point where a spinter group of the former moderates was formed to try to save the original SCV from itself.
The struggle for the SCV is important. The SCV has some 30,000 members, about $5 million in reserves and a number of very prominent members. It has real political pull in some places, a fact that makes it a tempting prize for racists. - SPLC
Among the problems the leaders of this takeover has faced has been the exodus of thousands of members, and their membership dues.
The battle within the SCV has already cost the organization — which recently had some 36,000 members — "several thousand members," according to Faggert's affidavit. - SPLC
Which brings us to charity.

If the SCV leadership is going to acheive its goal of forging an army to reassert the Southern Nation, it needs money and supporters. The Combined Federal Campaign provides a huge, nationwide pool of money (over $240 million) from the over 2.7 million Federal employees. By making the Sons of Confederate Veterans an eligible charity, the CFC has actually provided a funding source to an organization whose leadership is dedicated to the long-term elimination of government authority in the South.

Oh, and that comment above from the Southern Poverty Law Center, about how the SCV has "real poltical pull in some places."

Loudoun is one of them.

(With a tip-o-the-hat and full credit to Natasha Chart.)

An Interlude: The Universe Is Explained?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It is possible that this is the shape of the very stuff of the universe. The Telegraph (UK) has the story, "Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything." With a tip-o-the-hat to Slashdot.

Traffic, Town Council and Politics

There is a fascinating tempest in a teapot happening in right now, as Councilmembers, candidates and citizens vie for open seats on various boards, commissions and the Town Council itself in advance of next years' councilmanic elections. (And yes, that was an excuse to use the term councilmanic.)

First, there were the politics and machinations of appointing someone to the Residential Traffic Committee. (Incidentally, the Residential Traffic Committee has a good, brief presentation on traffic calming options available online.) Specifically, there was an opening for someone to represent the Town's northeast quadrant. Councilmember Ken Reid had nominated Town Council candidate Frank Holtz to the committee, but Councilmember and Supervisor-elect Burk raised an objection, as she had been made aware of two other interested candidates.
"It concerns me that someone who is running for town council wants to be on another committee," Burk said. "Maybe he just wanted to get more on his resume. If he really wanted to be involved, he could just go to the SRTC meetings and participate." - Leesburg Today
Holtz's nomination was tabled, and eventually Don Eaves was appointed to the committee. It is possible that the absence of two Councilmembers at this week's meeting made the difference in the appointment.
The vote was deferred until last night's meeting, when Burk made a motion to nominate Eaves. Reid made a motion to delay the nomination, noting that he wanted Vice Mayor Susan Horne and Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler -- both absent from last night's meeting -- to participate in the selection. Reid's motion to defer failed on a 2-3 vote, with Councilman Kevin Wright in favor of deferring and Mayor Kristen Umstattd, Councilman Fernando "Marty" Martinez and Burk voting against the delay. Burk's motion to nominate Eaves was subsequently passed with only Reid opposed. - Leesburg Today
Among the reasons cited for opposition to Holtz was the fact that not only was he running for Town Council, but that he already served on a number of committees and commissions. The inside discussion rages around the appointment process in the comments on the Leesburg Today stories. See, for the example, the comments attached to this story. It should be noted that Councilmember Reid has had the decency to join in the conversation in the comments to discuss his actions and opinions.

Of course, all of this activity must be taken in the context of the Town Elections next year (May 6, 2008), and the open seat on the Council created by Kelly Burk's election as Supervisor. Whomever is appointed to that seat would have a natural leg-up in the elections, presumably, if only in name recognition. Frank Holtz has essentially removed his name from consideration for the seat for that very reason.
"I think [council members] should choose someone who is not planning to run in May," Holtz said. "It would give an unfair advantage to those who are going to run. It would make it difficult for all sides." - Leesburg Today
Whether the advantage of short-term incumbency is actually "unfair" is subject to some discussion. After all, Loudoun showed a predeliction for unseating incumbents this year.

As it stands, a number of people are interested in the open seat, including David Miles, Todd Severance and David Butler. Of these three, Butler and Miles are considering running for the Council in May, a decision predicated in part on whether they are appointed to fill out the remainder of Councilmember Burk's term. Todd Severance will not run in May, as military duty will inhibit his availability to serve on the Council next summer.
Along with whoever fills Burk's seat, the seats of Mayor Kristen Umstattd, Vice Mayor Susan Horne and Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler will be on the ballot in May.

Although Burk will be able to participate in any discussions per her replacement, she will not be able to vote. Burk says she plans to participate in the final three council meetings of the year, though she must formally resign her town council post by Dec. 31. - Leesburg Today
The May elections are shaping up to be a referendum on how Leesburg has been run for the past few years, and whether the current leadership has done a good job in managing Leesburg's needs in the context of wider growth and controversy in Loudoun County. The next Council will need to manage the negotiations with the County over Ida Lee, the renegotiation of cable TV franchise agreements, annexation of land near the airport, and the ever-important question of taxes and budgeting. The current debates over personnel are a proxy for debates over the issues to be faced by our next Town Council. Hopefully, the next six months will see a debate on these issues as well.