Thursday, May 31, 2012

Scott Bass' "The Perfect Mayor" is far from "visionary"

Back on April 24, 2012, Style Weekly's news editor Scott Bass published an opinion piece masquerading as a cover story entitled "The Perfect Mayor." Bass has been very critical of Mayor Dwight Jones, but has sometimes been short on detailed alternatives. In "The Perfect Mayor," Bass laid out his own agenda for a "true visionary" that would "move the city forward" and be the "perfect mayor." Bass makes four suggestions, three of which relate to a single idea: regional government.

1. Expanding GRTC bus service to the counties (regional government)

Bass wants to expand GRTC bus lines, but as anyone who has written existing system buses knows they are mostly empty during the day. As for extending bus routes into the counties, are the counties willing to cooperate? Will they fund the expansion of GRTC? Will they pay for signage and the new bus stops? The counties already have Park and Ride facilities. I haven't seen anything that suggests that they want to expand these services.

2. Handing key city properties over to developers

Bass would have the city turn over key city properties for mixed income housing and big-box retailers. Bass thinks that the site of City Stadium would be ideal for big-box retailers, even though such development would be out of character with nearby Windsor Farms and would kill the unique marketplace that exists in nearby Carytown.

The city should ensure that any new projects are made up of more-, not less expensive housing. What the city needs to do is draw the upper-middle-class back to the city. Henrico County has built the West End off the tax base provided by the inhabitants of Glen Allen's "McMansions." Richmond needs to maintain and build its tax base; it doesn't need additional places to warehouse and further concentrate poverty.

The former GRTC bus barn on the edge of the Fan should be developed as a mixed-use development with retail on the ground floor and four or five floors of high-end apartments or condos. Dallas, Texas' West Village could serve as a model for this kind of development. It would bring additional small retail to the Fan and additional middle-class housing without overpowering the Fan.

City stadium should be renovated or rebuilt as a stadium for Virginia Commonwealth University to have a football team and track events. Any leftover acreage at that site should be devoted to high-end apartments and condo developments consistent with that neighborhood.

Bass talks about the Boulevard, but misses the larger picture there. Boulevard runs between Scott's Addition on one side and the Three Corners district on the other side. The old FFV bakery building and the area behind the Science Museum of Virginia, the DMV, and the C.F. Sauers' extract plant has ample room for development. This area—known locally as Three Corners—is bisected by W. Leigh Street and bounded by Hermitage Road on the east, N. Boulevard to the west, and Broad Street on the south. There is ample private land available for development in these areas, and no need for the city to turn city property to developers.

3. Busing city children to better county schools (regional government)

In "The Perfect Mayor" Bass proposed busing Richmond schoolchildren to Henrico and Chesterfield counties. The proposal is, in short, just plain silly. The counties are not going to solve Richmond's problems for us. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled long ago that busing across municipal boundaries is not required by the Constitution as a remedy for segregation. Richmond has nothing to offer the counties that would induce them to take on the burden of educating a portion of Richmond's children while busing a portion of their children to Richmond's inferior schools. It's just a dumb idea that will never go anywhere.

Right now, middle class families in Richmond move to the counties when their children reach school age or, if they can afford it, send them to private school. The solution is to build better schools and staff them with better teachers so that people begin clamoring to move to Richmond because our schools are so great.

4. Regional Government (regional government)

Scott Bass fantasizes about a regional government that will never be. He wants to combine the City of Richmond with Chesterfield County and Henrico County; something that is unlikely to happen in our lifetime. Bass seems to think things would be ever so much better if we just handed everything over to the counties and let the counties rescue us from ourselves. Bass considers that "visionary."

I'll lay out my vision for Richmond's future tomorrow morning and talk about what holds us back.

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