Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sat 5/3 Emergency Drill

From the City Website, distribution of hurricane supplies this Saturday:

April 29, 2008
Contact: Eddie Allen, Fire Chief/Emergency Services Coordinator, 540-372-1059
The City of Fredericksburg is participating in a Point of Distribution exercise in cooperation
with the Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Saturday, May 3.
Beginning at 9 a.m. at the Walker Grant Upper Elementary School parking lot at 1 Learning
Lane, area citizens are invited to participate by driving their cars through the designated lane to pick up supplies that would be especially useful in the event of a hurricane: plastic tarps, bottled water and Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs).
Under the Commonwealth’s Point of Distribution guidelines, localities are expected to set up
Points of Distribution locations in order to assist citizens during times of state emergency or disasters.
“Exercises like this allow both the City and its residents to practice what would actually take place in the event of a natural disaster or emergency,” Fire Chief Eddie Allen said.
Citizens from the Fredericksburg area are encouraged to participate. Several companies have
donated supplies for this event, including Wal-Mart, the Nestle Corporation, Hertz Rental Equipment and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The exercise begins at 9 a.m. and ends either at 11 a.m., or when supplies are exhausted.

The Great Train Race & Caboose Run

Just saw this in the FLS today. The Great Train Race is an 18 and under 1 mile race through downtown Fredericksburg on Sunday May 4th. The Caboose Run is a shorter non-competitive run for 5 and under.

Note: at the time of this posting the course map link wasn't working. I found this map at the USATF site:

Illegal Immigration Costs - The Other Side

I'm not one to shy away from a good debate, and I don't always take the popular sides of a story. That's sort of the point of having a blog - but I'm going to attempt to back up my article here with some factual data, and draw some information together in a way that I believe makes sense.

Today over at Bacon's Rebellion, Jim Bacon wrote a bit discussing his take on an article in the Washington Post by Amy Gardner. He took issue with the way information was presented, but I believe he twisted a key fact in the article. He translated "foreign-born families" to "Illegal immigrants". This is a common problem I'm seeing more often in the debate on illegal immigration. The post article is about the migration of 759 students out of the Prince William County ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes to other Northern VA communities. PWC is claiming this saved them $6M in education costs.

The article specifically states that these are just foreign-born families, not illegal immigrants. It goes on to state later in the article that several families may have one member that is illegal, but nowhere does it state that the students, nor the immediate parents are illegal. Which brings me back to my dislike of a number of posts and media statements by officials. At some point, emphasising illegal immigration offends the legal population to a point that disenfranchises a group of the population. Obviously PWC has created an unfriendly environment for a group of residents, who thankfully are doing something about it, they are pulling their children from the schools and probably taking their business elsewhere. As that population migrates to other localities, they take with them their legally earned incomes, will frequent businesses in those locals, and work to reinforce development outside of PWC. Just looking at the finances of PWC, this article talked about $6M in education expenses, while on April 6th, PWC staff stated that the enforcement costs were already $6.9M. A net loss of 900k, without even looking at the retail or income tax revenue. One division is being shortsighted by considering offset costs as savings, and the county is using spin to only point to savings while ignoring expenses.

On April 7th, the Daily Press reported that long time crab picking operations in VA, MD and NC are suffering from not being able to get visas for their long time migrant help. These are workers that have legally worked in these small businesses for years, many who return to the same job year after year. These businesses have advertised their $14 per hour jobs and simply haven't been able to make up for the missing workforce.

I grew up in the farmland of Virginia (yes, it really exists - I have many more stories for other posts). This area was also very dependent on migrant labor. Many of these folks became family. It was their families and children that made up a large percentage of the local ESOL classes. It was those parents that helped the farms be profitable. The farms in turn paid a significant portion of the business taxes for the county, the county and state received income taxes, the families returned money to the community for good and services, which generated more jobs. This work was geared toward the migrant community, that would work south in the winter months, and move North as the growing season expanded. When I go to the farmers market, and I see reasonably priced produce, I know that it's affordable because of the likely help of those immigrant workers. Some find jobs that allow them to stay in town year round, others still move around with the seasons. Luckily for them, a variety of opportunities now exist for them to become more settled (how did you like that wine you had the other night). I could go on but you get the picture.

Ok, so I know that a number of people are going to post comments, or think of comments about the expense of supporting an illegal portion, that this isn't following the law. I didn't say that either, I said that we can't alienate a society of contributing humans. Teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime! Shouldn't we be expending energy trying to get those people that want to contribute, those that want to be part of American culture, to do the things they need to do to be legal? My friends have heard my harp on the talk of in state tuition for illegal immigrant children. These young adults who were brought here and worked hard enough to qualify for college, who have the financial capacity to pay for college, and people want to turn them away? If we educate them, and graduate them, they become part of the solution, not part of the problem. A wise solution would be to require them to take a freshman class that gets them citizenship (yes, laws would be needed to allow them to gain citizenship). They would have to pay for the class and pass the citizenship tests, but then they would be set for the remaining 2-4 years of college.

The current way of handling illegal immigration ala PWC is broken (yes, that's my opinion, but I'll admit to it being an opinion). It's time to get creative, stop thinking in-the-box.

Thankfully, Fredericksburg has not put this in the forefront, especially considering it's an election year. My wife and I are considering an Au Pair, and today I wondered if the country they came from would make a difference in how they were treated once here. Would they get hassled? If I lived in PWC, I would start to wonder when I might be called to bring a visa to the courthouse after a traffic stop.

FYI - I started to write about the whole prejudiced treatment, but being a caucasion guy, some would say I have no standing to talk about it. It pisses me off to see the way illegal and immigration are lumped together, I see comments and words in replies that bring back reminders of growing up in a racially divided local. I read about profiling (note the minimal requirement of suspicion for PWC cops). For anyone that wants to read more, start here. Maybe one night when I feel like imparting more VA history on folks I'll talk about growing up near Farmville VA.

Tornado Sighting Map

Here is a creative use of a internet app to supplement online information:

While researching the storms in Suffolk VA, I was on the VA Pilot Online website (local nespaper for the tidewater region). On the left side of the page was a google map applet/widget with markers for sightings, the emergency shelter, and other markers. Turns out that the VA Pilot is using online maps to supplement several of their stories. With Googles 'my maps' interface, anyone can do this.

Tornado Sightings, Damaged Homes and Shelter Locations, click view larger for full descriptions of markers.

View Larger Map

Here is a link to all their story maps:


This is a very good way to supplement written text and photos. The ability to integrate apps from across different sources is changing the way online articles are being written.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, VA


[4/24 Update on Official Street Closings]
Fredericksburg VA is going to host the Marine Corp Historic Half next month.
May 18th
Start Time 7AM
5,000 Participants (Filled in 2 Weeks)
13.1 Miles

Below I have created a Google route of the course map, each marker indicates the water locations. (If viewing in an RSS feed, you may need to open the story, click here)

View Larger Map

One minor error, the course is going to [EDIT thanks to City Girl] use the canal path to get from Fall Hill back to RT1. Google doesn't have a street here, so the map goes down Normandy Ave around the shopping center. That's probably where the extra 0.2 miles comes from in the distance.

I haven't seen any documents of official places to watch, but here would be my suggestions.

  1. In and around UMW/Sunken Rd. This is a tree lined area, with lots of shade.
  2. Cowan Blvd should be fun, you get to see the pack at the start, and also the thrill of the chase (uphill) near the end.
  3. Old Mill Park, plus there is parking
  4. Anywhere along Riverside Drive. Plus when there are no runners, you get to enjoy the river.
  5. Start/Finish Line. Surely there will be plenty of parking in Celebrate VA and Central Park. Along with other activities during the day.
  6. Princess Anne & Caroline Streets should be active places. The reason this is low on my list is because of the limited sidewalks. Hopefully the city will restrict parking downtown to give people more room for a block party atmosphere to watch the race. PARK IN THE GARAGE. (Hint Hint, if downtown plans adequately for this, I'll consider moving it up the list.)
  7. [Updated based new route information] If you leave near Normandy Ave, you might be able to use one of the Canal Path Bridges to watch from. Again, nice and sheltered from the sun. This part of the run is going to be narrow, which might make for some interesting strategy, however, I'm not sure if there are going to be good viewing locations since it's the area is designed for people to stay on the pathway.
More info here: http://www.marinecorpshistorichalf.com/
Map w/Elevation: www.usatf.org/routes/view.asp?rID=210414

[update 4/24] Just received this from a friend at the City:

Street Closings on May 18, 2008
6:50 - 7:30 Carl D Silver Pkwy (CDSP) southbound from Convention Center to Cowan Blvd.
6:50 - 11:00 Traffic control point (TCP) at Fall Hill Ave. and CDSP.
6:50 - 8:00 Cowan Blvd. (eastbound) from CDSP to Keeneland Rd.
7:00 - 8:05 Woodland, Keeneland and Westwood Roads from Cowan Blvd. to Rt 3.
7:05 - 8:10 Rt. 3 (westbound lanes) from Westwood Rd. to William St.
7:10 - 8:55 William St. (westbound) from Blue/Gray Pkwy. to Washington Ave.
7:10 - 8:35 Sunken Rd. northbound from William St. to Fitzhugh St.
7:15 - 8:35 Fitzhugh St. between Sunken Rd. and Franklin St.
7:15 - 8:35 Franklin St. between Fitzhugh and Madison St.
7:15 - 8:35 Madison St. between Franklin St. and Littlepage St.
7:15 - 8:40 Littlepage St. between Madison and Grove Ave.
7:15 - 8:40 Grove between Littlepage and Kenmore Ave.
7:20 - 8:50 Kenmore Ave. between Grove and William St.
7:20 - 9:05 Washington Ave. between William St. and Maury St.
7:20 - 9:10 Maury St. from Washington Ave. to Fall Hill Rd.
7:25 - 9:10 Fall Hill Rd./Canal St. from Maury to Princess Anne St.
7:25 - 9:20 Princess Anne St. between Canal Rd and Charlotte St.
7:25 - 9:20 Charlotte St. between Princess Anne and Caroline St.
7:30 - 9:50 Caroline St. (west lane only) between Charlotte and Van Buren St.
7:35 - 9:55 Riverside Dr. (east lane only) from Woodford St. to Fall Hill Ave.
7:35 - 10:00 Fall Hill from Riverside Dr. to canal path.
7:40 - 10:15 US Rt. 1 (one lane and turn lane only) from canal to Mary Washington Blvd.
7:40 - 10:20 Mary Washington Blvd. from Rt. 1 to Sam Perry Blvd.
7:45 - 10:30 Sam Perry Blvd. from Mary Washington Blvd. to Hospital Dr.
7:45 - 10:30 Hospital Dr. from Sam Perry Blvd. to Cowan Blvd.
7:20 - 10:50 Cowan Blvd (westbound) from Hospital Drive to CDSP
7:20 - 11:00 CDSP northbound from Cowan Blvd. to Fall Hill Ave.
Church Patrons Only - Park at the Public Parking Lot Intersection of Sophia and George Streets
Shuttle Transportation
Free race day shuttles to/from the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center will be available for runners and
spectators at the following commuter lot locations from 4:30 - 6:30 am and from 10:30 am - 2:00 pm.
• Houser Dr. lot located just off Courthouse Rd. in Spotsylvania County
• US 17 lot located at US 17 North towards Warrenton, just off I-95 at exit 133
An additional shuttle will be available to take spectators to downtown Fredericksburg at mile seven of the Marine Corps Historic Half course. The shuttle will transport spectators from World St., near the Expo Center.

Note on City PP Taxes

My public service announcement for the week.
Readers from the city should have received their personal property tax bills in the mail this week. Be sure to log into the online system (http://www.fredericksburgva.gov click in the lower right Payments Online). Before paying your bill, you might want to first click on the left side of the page; "Inquiry Options" Then "PP Inquiry", and review your account. I found I had a credit of $30 from an overpayment last year. This credit was not applied when I clicked payment options. The payment screen only contained this year's combination of vehicles. After getting a few busy signals I was able to get through to the treasurer’s office and verify that the lower amount was correct. I believe I could have just entered this amount manually in the online system and everything would have been just fine. So be sure to run your full account to validate your bill.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Friday night at Liberty Town

hat tip to Fredericksblog: Going to Liberty Town on Friday night to support a neighbor.


A "Big! Bodacious! Blowout! Benefit" for Don Wingate's Liver Transplant Fund...

When: Fri., April 25, 6-10 pm
Where: LibertyTown Arts Workshop; 916 Liberty St., downtown Fredericksburg
Cost: $20.00 admission and kids under 13 for free
For more info or to donate please call: 540.845.2744 or 540.840.1414 or 540-370-4311

F'burg Fire Dept Heart Saver Award

The Fredericksburg Fire Department and several of their responders received an award tonight: The Heart Saver Award by Medicorp American Heart Training Center.

This was from their excellent work at resuscitation for a cardiac arrest response. It's recognition from the American Heart Association.

These service members were given a standing ovation.

City Council Mtg

Marv Dixon may have said it best tonight. Are there any items in the Kalahari package that are deal breakers for him. This sums up what a lot of us feel, there are bits and pieces of the package that we don't like, but would you turn down the benefits because of it?

He went on to state "it took less time for the Continental Congress to form the nation" in relation to having talked about this for 8 months. Every day that we don't get Kalahari, delays 10k in revenue.

Of course Girvan voted 'No' twice. There was a squabble at the beginning of the meeting. She wants to talk about the 800 jobs in the incentive package. Early on, in some memos, and in verbal, Kalahari talked about 900 or 1000 jobs. Like they could ever put that in a minimum bar incentive.

Here's the deal, ANY INTELLIGENT BUSINESS is going to hedge their numbers when an incentive package is 100% dependent on meeting the goals. If I were a betting person, I would bet the 'investment in 10yrs' is a huge hedge. Especially since it isn't indexed to inflation.

Thankfully everyone else on council had thought this through.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ice Cream Eating Contest

Couldn't pass this one up.

"On May 10th the Fudge Factory will be having is 1st annual Icecream eating
contest at 12:00 noon. Up for the challenge?
Then come sign up!
The winner will get a Junk food bucket, Trophy, Fudge Factory T-shirt, and
Gift certificates.
Second place will win a free ice cream cone for three month once a week,
trophy, and T-shirt,
Third place will get a pound and a half of fudge, T-shirt and trophy. 705
caroline street across from the visitors center. "

Link to the Fudge Factory, 705 Caroline StreetFredericksburg Va, 22401 (540) 371-4973

The poster on Fredtalk took a bit of a backlash for "advertising", so for something as fun as this I'll gladly pass along the word.

eBags Earthday Promotion

I checked my email early this morning to find an interesting promotion from eBags. I'm just about due for a new backpack. Two years of commuting, train riding and airline travel have taken a beating on my current backpack. I had never thought of 'green' alternatives when evaluating backpacks. This is a novel idea, so I'm copying the promotion here in case anyone else is looking for bags.

I'm not a fan of spending for the sake of spending (tax rebate anyone). But I am a proponent of spending wisely when replacements are due. For example, it doesn't make sense to go out and just buy a hybrid. You're not going to make up the expense of gas once you count the cost of a new vehicle, hybrid premium, production impacts, etc. However, last year when my very old Durango was on it's last leg, and not being that environmentally friendly with a few leaks here and there, we decided to replace it with a Ford Escape Hybrid. That turns out to have been a very good choice. In refinishing our kitchen last year, we reused some very sturdy components, replaced what was worn out, and purchased our countertops from a Virginia soapstone quary. We couldn't be happier with the results.

Like those examples, it's time to replace my commuting backpack, so instead of purchasing just any product, I'm looking for either something produced locally, or something a bit more environmentally friendly than it's competitors.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fredericksburg taxing train riders and recyclers

This year federicksburg took a step toward removing a defunct requirement for city decals. Unless of course you want to park in the city train station lot or if you want to use the recycling center! If you are one of the eco conscious or commuter friendly residents, its still business as usual, pay your $2 annually and get the sticker. Oh, wait, pay the $20 fee plus an EXTRA 2 for actally getting a physical sticker.

Does this make sense? Maybe. Does it make sense to do each and every year? I think I can prove there is a better way.

I spoke to the treasurer's office and they did take a look at these costs going into the year. They determined that by using annual stickers, they would prevent someone from moving from in the city to one of the nearby counties and still have access to the lot. Their concern was not so much this year or next, but erosion over time. They also decided to not use the decals with your plate # to help save cost.

Not knowing how many prole would purchase, the city ordered 2000 decals. The cost works out to about $0.72 each. At the time of this writing (4/2), we have sold less than 100. That is an actual cost of $14.40 per decal. Since the old ones haven't expired, let's assume a conservative estimate of 500, that's 3 times the number of VRE spaces. That's still $2.88 each. Figure in 15 minutes of time to visit the commissioner of revenue window and then the treasurer's office window. I estimate that even at $22 the city is loosing money on this setup.

Now repeat this activity each year, trow out the 1500 unused decals, maintain the staffing to continue to administer the decals. Pay the credit card processing fees for the $2 transactions.

Granted, on the surface, going to permanent decals only saves is $1440 a year. But dig a little deeper and the costs add up to more than that. The comment I've heard is that this whole problem goes back to the city being able to enforce tax collection. That problem exists whether or not we have a vre decal. That decision was forced on the city by other jurisdictions that deleted the decal. If we want to enforce tax collection, upload a list of delinquents to autochalk and start towing - bonus revenue in business taxes from the towing company!

What has resulted is an annual tax on those commuting on the train, and those people that want to use the city recycling center (which is also where you dispose of hazardous waste on April 19th).

What we need is a single permanent city decal tied to a single license plate. The owner will have to get a new decal if they but a new car, if they damage their sticker, or get new plates. All of these happen more often than buying a new home. The savings from being able to but in bulk should recoup the expense of the write on space quickly, and in future years the administration costs drop to near zero. Maybe in 5 years the city issues an updated sticker to clean up any freeriders.

Maybe that $1440 could go to someone's raise next year? Maybe that pays for a few more school books. This is just a drop in the bucket, how many more can the city find in a belt buckling budget year?

Sidewalk Art

Where did all the fish go? Here are some photos from Crystal City Takes Flight. An art project in Crystal City that has been using an empty space in the first floor of my building to paint, plaster, mirror these different aircraft forms that have been placed throughout the city.

Last year, Friends of the Rappahannock and the Fredericksburg Museum took part in a project in Fredericksburg to decorate the streets with creatively designed fish. The fish sale at the end provided funds for the organizations. I guess it was a one year deal, as I haven't seen any similar promotion this year. I kinda miss the fish. It was a great, fun way to brighten up the many storefronts that sponsored the event. Hopefully another organization will pick up this idea in future years.

Ads Everywhere

(warning - sarcasm ahead)
The other week while traveling I discovered a new solution to the city's finance issues, we just need to look for new areas of revenue. No I'm not talking another Kalahari, I'm talking advertising area. How many sq feet of advertising does the city own? If you cound buildings, parking lots, bus sides, anything that's flat and will hold an add - check out this HSBC ad on the side of the gangway at Newark. They had one on every walkway. So every delayed passenger could look out their seat window and ponder new banking/investment solutions. Lets sell the sides and back of every Fred bus. Side of the parking garage? Huge banner space. New courts - I'm seeing legal promotions.

Cheaspeake Bay Blue Crab

How many readers had the chance as a child to use a hook, string and a little left over chicken to snag a passing crab from a dock or bridge?

This weekend I was able to visit with a lifetime crabber and discuss the upcoming proposals in VA. He's headed to the meeting Tuesday when they should find out what VA plans on doing to help recover the bay. He pointed out that in his lifetime, he has seen the number of crabbers in Tangier go from over 100 to less than 25. He estimates that a similar drop in commercial crabbers has occurred on the mainland side. He pointed out that the state shouldn't be pointing the finger at commercial fishermen as the source of the problem for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. We talked about the '60s and the '70s, when bluefish were the king of the bay. As the rockfish/striped bass population increased through the '90s and through today, the blue crab population gradually dwindled. This year is again starting off slowly. Being here, in an area that also enjoys an active sport fishery for rockfish, there is definite resistance to any talk of competition.

I go back to all the articles pointing out the reduction in bottom grasses in the bay. Without these important ecosystem anchors, juvenile crabs don't have anywhere to hide, making them ideal targets for larger sport fish. Opportunistic feeding would quickly diminish the young stock that is vital to replenishment of the species.

The state is proposing several ways to reduce the catch of spawning female crabs. Whereas I see the benefit in doing this now as part of an overall solution, without fixing the grass coverage, the benefit is going to be limited. How long, or is it even possible to rebuild the stocks if the hiding places for juveniles is gone? If the grasses can be returned, how much faster would the stocks recover? These grasses would also benefit breeding other species. The surrounding states need to attempt to fix some of these root causes. Simply modifying the take of mature spawning females is like applying a bandaid to a puncture wound - it stops the bleeding, but without cleaning the wound, it's hit or miss as to how well it will heal.
Will the industry look like this?
Or more like this?

I hope that the next generation will be able to take that string and bait and snag a blue crab.

Weekend in Reedville & Fairport

Gail and I took off for Reedville this weekend. Hoped in the hybrid, and spent a little time enjoying earth (outdoors really) to celebrate our own version of earth day. Here are some photos from our excursion.

A view across the creek

A butterfly visitor (a swallowtail maybe?)

After an incredible dinner at Fairport Marina, we headed over to downtown/mainstreet Reedville to one of the best ice cream shops we've ever been to - Chitterchats. It has become a weekend regular anytime we're in the area. The hand dipped ice cream is good, but what really makes this unique is the home made, hand turned, waffle cones (take note Lee's & Carl's, good ice cream is nice, good cones are the reason to come back). This night they had to call in the master cone maker (her husband) to do a little catch up from the brisk business.

If you plan on visiting Reedville, I recommend any of the following for dinner: Fairport Marina, on Fairport Rd, Crazy Crab & Tommy's on Main St. FYI, rumor has it that Tommy got started in the kitchen at Fairport Marina. If you come by boat, you can tie up at either Fairport Marina or the Crazy Crab. For desert I recommend dropping by Chitterchats for a scoop or two, with the waffle cone.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fertilizer Article in FLS

In the FLS today there was an article/column written about fertilizing your lawn/garden. Thankfully one of the first remarks was to get your soil tested. This is a must if you're going to go the fertilizer route.

What shocked me about this (it really shouldn't surprise me) is that the FLS would run this article just a few days before Earth Day (like a lot of people realize this), and during a time when the Chesapeake crabbers are making the papers for the record low number of crabs. There are reports they may sue the state for not cleaning up the bay. One of the biggest reasons is non-point source pollution, which translates into runoff from everyday operations - a big one being residential lawn fertilization. Fertilizer promotes algae growth, which kills off underwater grasses. VIMS was quoted in this article as saying eelgrass has been reduced from around 30k acres in the mid-90's to only 13,500 acres in 2006.

No wonder VA keeps falling further an further behind in their efforts to clean up the bay. Between the legislature cuts, a lack of attention from senior leadership, and local newspapers heralding a time to fertilize each spring, it's amazing we have any bay left.

Unfortunately the FLS didn't put the article online for me to link to. But here are some alternatives from http://www.chesapeakebay.net/inyourbackyard.aspx?menuitem=16888
- wait until fall to fertilize
- keep it off hard surfaces
- watch where/when you fertilize (see article for details)
- use organic fertilizers, their slow release may mean less runoff

I'll add one more - landscape, I hate cutting the grass, so our yard is mostly landscaping, a combination of mature trees, ivy, shrubs, ornamental grasses, anything but fast growing grass.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mayoral Debates

At the meet & greet with Mayor Tomzak tonight, it was confirmed that there will be a debate at UMW on Monday 4/21. Followed with another debate with HFFI on Thursday 4/24.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

City Budget Public Hearing

I went to the City Budget hearing last night and was posting messages to Twitter, although I forgot to update the InTheBurg.info website to include the twitter posts. I think they came through on fburgblogs.com though. It was an active session of many groups asking for the city to not cut their budgets, requesting increases in their budgets, or requesting ANY budget (tree plantings).

Here are my takeaways-
- there are a lot of people/groups that want money from the city
- if you are having trouble, ask the city which groups can help, there were tons of groups that I didn't even know existed. Did you know that there is an Area Dispute Resolution assistance group? They help mediate differences... They had the smallest request of the evening - instead of $2000, they wanted $2200 (they said + 10%, so that's the math I did).
- The volunteer firefighters had requested an equipment budget of 20k, but are proposed to only get 10k, that's 6k less than the organization to help seniors who are proposed to get 16k. Granted, there is an entire other budget for paid firefighters, but still, volunteers need equipment and it wears out.
- The best public speakers of the night were from the Boys & Girls Club and Head Start. The Cal Ripken rep was also well spoken, but I consider him more of a professional public speaker/fundraiser.

The biggest takeaway is this - in harder economic times, city groups are going to be asked to do more. This is when people have the biggest issues to cope with, creating the more cases for these groups to address. Unfortunately, being economic, this is also the time when the city has the fewest dollars to dole out.

What do you know - my comment after the last reassessment about why they shouldn't lower the tax rate so far seems to start making sense. Could the city have actually saved that money though? Probably not. So as it is, the city managers budget, which is actually lower than last year, probably isn't a bad starting place. I think the city can be more efficient, and do more with less. What I mean is that they could get their raises, and expend less on day-to-day activities by increasing productivity. I really believe that if the divisions would stop making decisions in a vacuum, and start looking at the cities productivity, there are a lot of little drops in the bucket that when added up easily make it to a level that supports raises, retirement benefits, etc.

F'burg Baseball Fields Design Preview

At last night's city budget beg-a-thon budget hearing, there was one tidbit of new information that I found very interesting. Even though the Cal Ripken foundation hasn't announced where it is with fund raising for the Fredericksburg "Youth Sports & Development Complex" aka Cal Ripken fields, they did announce that they have been spending money on upfront design and engineering. They brought this design concept with them.

As you can see, it appears that the fields will have one primary playing field, with full size outfield, and two smaller practice/tournament fields for a total of three. It may be that the perspective didn't come through on the 2D photograph, maybe it will be three full size fields. Looks like a concession stand and other support buildings are there. The design looks nice, with trees remaining throughout the area.
Several observations:
  • I don't see any placement of light posts.
  • Obviously these are all baseball fields, with grass infields. Maybe the city will feel encouraged to expand the complex later to include other rec facilities (softball, soccer, etc).
  • Why didn't they turn field #1 around so that home plate was next to the concession stand for all 3 fields?
  • Does anyone else notice that there are only small sets of bleachers, although they appear covered?

The Cal Ripken foundation was there last night requesting that the City not forget their commitment to provide the roadway and utilities to the site. From my conversations/emails with council, I don't think their idea of delaying the 500k of improvements was intended to signal an unwillingness to improve the site. I personally would expect that other site improvements such as land clearing, grading the fields, construction of footers, etc would have to occur before the city should expend any money on road improvements (think heavy equipment over a brand new roadway). Bringing in water and sewer will be important once buildings are being constructed. But until there is an expected start date, why tax the citizens an extra cent for this project. Let that money be used this year for other items (I vote for COLA), and expense it when necessary.

With the progress being made, hopefully a start date will be announced soon and real plans can be put in place.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lee's Ice Cream

Went to go try Carl's tonight. Should have gone earlier. By the time we got there the line was out to the street, down to the corner, and 1/2 way down the side street. So we continued downtown and got some true Ice Cream at Lee's on Caroline St.

Tasty as usual.

Followed that up with a Hendrick's & Homeade Tonic at Bistro. What a perfect night!

Choctail Hour @ Brushstrokes

I'll start off by issuing an appology. The purpose of this Blog was to inform of UPCOMING events in Fredericksburg. I could blame it on wonderful airline service this week, but that meant I had plenty of time in the airports that I could have written this. So to all my loyal readers, I'm sorry for writing this after the fact, like all those other news outlets. I will strive to do better in the future.

Now onto it:
Friday night Gail and I attended the Choctail Hour at Brushstrokes Gallery. It was a benefit for the SPCA. The event was a series of chocolate and wine (and one beer) pairings by chocolatier Mary Schellhammer from Spice Rack Chocolates and sommelier Edwin Wyant of E. Joseph Wines (and VA Wine Experience).

The night began with a Belgian beer paired with cheese (it worked, unlike it sounds), followed by several flavored chocolates from Spice Rack, with a variety of wines, and finished with a desert chocolate paired with one of my favorite VA desert wines, Cooper Vineyards Noche.

Check around town for Spice Rack Chocolates (they are available at VA Wine Experience) for this flavorful french style chocolate.

Both the chocolates and the wine were delicious! What a great evening out on the town.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Overheard at the airport

- you won't believe where I am!
- can I send these bags with my cats through the scanner?
- time to sell my AMR stock
- how many cancelled flights were you on before switching airlines?
- what day is this?

New travel hints

I probably should wait to post this. To say I have a lack of sleep is an understatement. I was one of those lucky 100000 fliers caught up in American's reinspection screwup this week. So this week brought a few new travel tips.

- if your children have games that make noises, or you choose to being a DVD player, invest in some headphones. It will make your seatmates much happier.

- don't travel with your 2 cats in the cabin. You can't send them through the x-ray machine, so its going to back up the security line and then no one is happy-happy. I can now say I've seen it all (until someone tops this one)

- be sure to tell the people doing a good job that they are doing a good job. In a month where American has been testing my patience, there have been very nice people at continental that are picking up the slack. And a well written survey response at my hotel complimenting the bar staff got me at least one free drink.

- roll with it. Cancelled flights happen, have the phone #s to your airline and if you're nice, they really will try to work with you. Its thurs morning and I'm in Newark, the alternative was to wait until at least Friday before even starting home.

So there are my morning musings from a sleep deprived traveler.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kalahari Meeting 4/8

"nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes" - Benjamin Franklin

So I hope the city does what it can to keep the 2nd in check. I think they have a good plan to entice a developer to build an east coast destination for families. Hopefully they will get an adequate amount of revenue in return for whatever incentives finally get approved. At this time, based on what I've read, I'm reasonably happy (see previous posts on parking decks/parking lots/light pollution). I expect Kalahari to be held to their statements of being a partner with the community.

So, I'm going to be in airports the first few days this week, hopefully my voice will be heard by those councilors that take the time to read this blog.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chocolate Extravaganza Week

Gail and I went to the "Chocolate Brunch" this morning at Jake & Mikes. More on the Chocolate Extravaganza Week here - with benefits going to the SPCA. No photos as it was raining and I forgot the camera. Regardless, the brunch was delicious.

We had a great morning talking with fellow blogger Andrew Flusche and his wife Nicole. Between the four of us, we had a combination of entrees. I had to stay in the theme and order a side of chocolate pancakes. They didn't exactly go with my fish & chips, but then rules are meant stretched on a day like this. All of these were very nice, but the real treat came with desert. The Dulce de Leche ice cream deserts were incredible.

If you missed the brunch today, there are other chocolate events going on this week. Maybe we'll see you out there.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Traffic Solutions Circling

Something to think about this weekend:
I opened the paper today to be greeted by yet another picture of an area wreck. This one was at the corner of Amelia & Princess Anne. Here is the FLS article. Based on the details in that article about previous wrecks at that location, we could infer that the stoplights are not getting the job done. I think it's high time that VDOT and the City of Fredericksburg take a look at something other than stoplights for our intersection needs.

Just yesterday, the Washington Post ran this article about traffic circles and roundabouts used in surrounding areas, titled "A Better Way to Get Around". Take a look at the first image in their slide show, it's a test using yellow cones in a circle at an existing intersection.

The Harford Courant ran this article on safety - "Safety, Traffic Flow Give Roundabouts An Edge"

The FLS did an article here about the few local roundabouts.

And don’t forget, NASCAR almost always has you turning left.

In a small roundabout, where only single lane roads are entering, it's pretty easy to see why traffic will benefit. Everyone is only required to yield. Traffic collisions, if they do occur, are at much smaller angles. Traffic speeds are kept more constant.

It takes drivers a few times around to really figure it out. Go to Gordonsville, VA and watch for a while and you can quickly tell which drivers are from out of town. Yet most of the time, that busy multi-street intersection of US15 & US33 runs very smoothly.

Here is my wish list for intersections to convert.
Kenmore Ave @ Hanover St @ Lee St (Great example of a 5-way intersection)
Lafayette Blvd @ Kenmore Ave
Fall Hill Ave @ Riverside Dr

Last year City Council put an item on the VDOT list for "widening Fall Hill Ave". Ever since then I have deliberately chosen to drive Fall Hill at various times of the day. Twice going west I have been slowed, once by a school bus and once by a postal vehicle. Both turned left at the apartments just before the interstate. At all other times the observed flow of traffic was either above the posted limit or way above the posted limit, but rarely at the posted limit. There were the other occasional stops for red lights. Traffic did slow going up the hill, but by slowed, I mean the speed limit.

If Fall Hill becomes 4 Lanes as proposed, then what's the purpose of Cowan Blvd? What if this road were widened, single lanes separated, bike lanes installed, and separated sidewalks run down both sides. Then each intersection at Bragg Hill, Whicklow Dr, the Cal Ripken Fields, Crestview Way, the business center, etc. could get their own small roundabout, where without any stoplights one could drive from Rt1 all the way to Wegmans. These roundabouts would also act as traffic calming measures, reducing overall speeds to maintain safety with bicycles and pedestrians.

Perhaps we could get the new Arts Commission to support some public art in the medians on a rotating basis (idea borrowed from Charlottesville's Art In Place).

Concerns have been raised by current council members about the safety of pedestrians in roundabouts. IIHS has research and a study of 24 conversions "SAFETY EFFECT OF ROUNDABOUT CONVERSIONS IN THE UNITED STATES" documenting as much as a 75% decrease in pedestrian accidents at converted intersections. A quick Google search led me to this government agency article on improvements to roundabouts for the visually impaired. This article also stated that slower traffic speeds increased the occurrence of yielding to all pedestrians. Widening and re-architecting Fall Hill would be an opportune time to institute these as well as other smart and visually appealing designs.

This isn’t to say roundabouts are our answer to everything, but how many stoplights were you sitting at the last time you went through Central Park, or down Princess Anne? It’s time to start looking for alternatives, because the current set of timed and untimed lights just doesn’t get the job done.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Smith Run Trail Opening Announced

I've blogged about Fredericksburg Pathways Partners before, this is a great group trying to put together a comprehensive set of walking and biking trails around town. They work through with the city to get grants and donations for their projects, some of which require a fair amount of engineering.

I just received this announcement for the opening of Smith Run Trail which winds through the woods between Hugh Mercer, Great Oaks Subdivision and Cowan Blvd.

TIME – 10 AM

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Finding Unique Beers

In this month's Front Porch, there is an article titled "Brown on Beer". Great writeup on how and why things are the way they are when trying to get something unique.

Let me just give you a few examples of some local stores going out of their way.
VA Wine Experience was able to get a case of Belgian Delirium Nocturnum for me.

And when I wanted a bottle of Utopias which is only released every 2 years, I was able to call and set one aside at Total Wine in Central Park. When I went to pick it up later that day, they still had one bottle remaining.

Since then, I have found Kybecca to be very helpful in finding what I want, or making a suggestion for something in stock that is very similar.

Gotta Love Election Years

Ok, I can't let this one go. If you haven't read the print paper today, there is an Op-Ed from Girvan. If she really wants to put this out here like this, it opens herself up to all the responses. Matt Kelly and I don't always agree, but he wrote a very well articulated response.

Let me try to be even clearer - what is it Girvan wants to say? Here is why so many people have responded negatively to the way she asks questions at council meetings: It isn't clear until the very end what she is trying to say. It starts with the moment she is recognized to talk - routinely the first words are "I have a question", yes, we all know that, it's why you were recognized. Then there are several sentences of supporting information, and a minute or two later it's followed with something like a question.

Lets compare this to the Op-Ed. First she makes a statement wanting to devalue one council action over another. She tries to define subsidy and incentive in light of recent actions. If she would visit the Webster-Meridian dictionary and lookup the definitions, she would find that her examples are not accurate. Then she makes statements comparing a 200M single tourist attraction to a mixed use 1.8B development in Arizona. I'm sure I could find a dozen examples more closely related to what the city is doing for Kalahari.

Subsidy: a grant or gift of money as a grant by a government to a private person or company to assist an enterprise deemed advantageous to the public
Incentive: something that incites or has a tendency to incite to determination or action

Ale House of Fredericksburg, Kalahari, Kybecca, all of the JumpStart beneficiaries - are getting money as both incentives AND subsidies. The subsidy is done as an incentive for certain activities: Moving to the area, restoring facads, changing office space to retail, etc, etc.

Do I like that Kalahari is getting so much tax money back? No. Would I be against the program because of it? NO. I'm able to weigh the disadvantages, with the many other benefits. Is she really saying that if the current proposal doesn't change she's going to vote 'no'?

Even Ms. Givan states "We must work harder to market the city as an attractive place to work, live, and play " - doesn't having Kalahari here make the city more marketable? She also states that we need to be "creating an action plan". I think this is a great idea - so show us what you've got? Don't expect us to vote based on words alone, if she thinks we need a plan, how about giving us a proposal. According to Matt the city already has an incentives plan, I know they have a documented JumpStart, and we have full time city employees specifically tasked with economic development.

Wow, and there is still a whole month left before the election. Lets just say it's going to get interesting around here. (Did anyone else notice that she hasn't mentioned Autochalk since my article on cost/benefit.)

Newly found Area Websites

A couple of new blogs & websites of interest:
- A local attorney and fellow blogger

- City Library site with many local arts events

- Another publication of Fredericksblog

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

City Decals - Pay By Phone

I just spoke to the city treasurer about our new city decals that are required for those using the city train station parking lot or don't want to show id at the recycling center.

You can pay-by-phone. Just call them up (540)372-1001, give them your info and a credit card for the new $2 fee and they will still mail you the city sticker (if you're paid up on your taxes).

So that's good news - I'm still working on a story about why these are still annual stickers and not permanent decals.

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