Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Charles Samuels owes Rand Burgess an apology

The interior of The Camel, located at 1621 W. Broad Street.
Bad laws turn good people into criminals. Years ago when a certain stretch of Richmond's Broad Street was overrun with empty storefronts and transvestite prostitutes, the City Council of Richmond changed the parking signs on Broad to make parking from 11:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. in the morning. Goal was to discourage cruising and prostitution.

Fast forward nearly two decades and that same stretch of Broad Street has blossomed into a mini arts district with a theater and a music venue. Naturally, these businesses need parking and they need it even after 11:00 p.m. But the current city council has fallen behind the times. This past weekend one of the arts entrepreneurs that helped turn this area around was arrested by Richmond police ticketing his customers cars.
Thursday night, Richmond police arrested one of the businessmen who has helped revitalized those blocks.

“I’ve never been arrested, ever,” said Rand Burgess, owner of The Camel restaurant and bar at 1621 W. Broad Street, one of midtown’s key entertainment destinations.

That changed Thursday night when he tried to get police to give his customers time to move their cars before ticketing them for no parking signs that hadn’t been enforced in a decade or more.

“For the past six years, since The Camel’s been here, there’s been no enforcement, it hasn’t been a problem,” Burgess said.
Here are the key facts in this story:

1) The Camel (a restaurant and music venue) has been in the 1600 block of Broad street for six years.
2) In that time Richmond police have never enforced the parking signs.
3) 2nd District Councilman Charles Samuels claims he's " started working to sort the situation out and said it was a shame all this had to happen."
4) And then the police show up and suddenly start enforcing the signs.

The question has to be asked whether it was Samuel's own enquiries into the status of the signs that triggered the police department's decision to suddenly start enforcing the law with very little notice. From the look of it, Samuels may have drawn down the police on top of the constituents he ought to be serving. WTVR's Mark Holmberg reports Samuels as having this to say about the situation:
Samuels said there are possible solutions, but they have to be carefully considered or you can discourage people from coming to the city, or penalize one neighborhood or business over another.
In other words, delay, divert attention, and hope people forget about it. This problem could be solved in one afternoon with an adjustable wrench. The city needs to take those signs down and change the law and allow the businesses on the 1600 block of Broad Street reasonable access to street parking.

The foot dragging "careful consideration" proposed by Samuel's is more than a little surprising. When the ultra lounge Off the Hookah moved into my neighborhood the street signs were changed within weeks to allow that club and Morton's Steakhouse to use all the street parking in front of my building as valet parking after 6:00 p.m. City Council thought nothing about taking away those parking spots from residents, but now, when it comes to a business in his own district, Charles Samuels wants those businesses to wait!

Of course this isn't the first anti-small business action (or inaction) on Samuel's part. Samuel's noise ordinance aimed to shut down the many small restaurants in the Fan. I don't think Charles Samuels is going to be a reliable ally in the city's efforts to grow. Samuels seems to want to turn Richmond in southern Chesterfield County.

Mr. Burgess was just trying to run his business and protect his customers; he did not deserve to be arrested.  Charles Samuels needs to apologize to Mr. Burgess for dragging his feet and not getting the signs taken down in a timely fashion, and then he needs to introduce a change to the parking regulations for that section of Broad Street at next week's City Council meeting and make sure it passes that night, with no foot dragging.  City Council needs to get out of the way of Richmond's small businesses.

Update: Charlie Diradour weighs in on this subject. 

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