By: Mike Hixenbaugh; PilotOnline.com
Two groups representing the city’s police officers voted Thursday to oppose extending light rail into the city. The vote came a little more than a week after the city’s firefighters union took a similar stance.
“The city is always complaining there isn’t enough money to pay for services or hire additional officers, yet they’re trying to push light rail through,” said Chip Condon, president of the Virginia Beach Police Supervisors Association.
The Police Benevolent Association, which represents the department’s rank and file, joined the supervisors in voting to oppose light rail. Leaders from both groups discussed launching a public awareness campaign and working with the firefighters union to explain to voters their opposition through social media and short videos.
“We feel like now isn’t the time to be taking on additional responsibilities,” Condon said.
Organized opposition among city workers could hurt the city’s efforts to win support for extending The Tide light-rail system from Norfolk. Virginia Beach voters will be asked this fall whether they support extending The Tide into the city. Supporters said the referendum shouldn’t be a choice between trains and public safety.
A consultant estimated that extending the system from Norfolk to the Oceanfront would cost $807 million, but most of that would come from state and federal funding. Mayor Will Sessoms, a light-rail advocate, said he wouldn’t support extending the line if it threatened money for public safety or schools.
Public-school teachers might also take a stance against light rail if the city can’t guarantee the project won’t cut into future education money, said Dominic Melito, president of the Virginia Beach Education Association.
The vote by firefighters last week came a day after the City Council approved a $2 billion budget package that raised the real estate tax rate but did not include raises for city employees. School employees received 2 percent raises.
As for the Legos, yellow meant a place to live, blue a place to work.
Christopher’s point – the need to join blue and yellow Legos – was made at another table, too, by former Norfolk City Councilman Randy Wright: “You have thousands of jobs here, but if you don’t have any residences, it’s not going to work.”
Participants tended to concentrate much of the employment and housing growth along transportation corridors, such as Interstate 264, some in clumps in downtown Norfolk and Virginia Beach’s Town Center.
Other common themes included preserving green space, providing affordable housing and maintaining a strong relationship with the military.
Participants cited factors like cost and complacency as impediments to progress. Susan Hirschbiel, a philanthropist and civic activist from Virginia Beach, complained of the region’s “aversion to raising any type of revenue.” Others wondered whether politicians could escape a city-first mentality.
The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission plans to issue a report on the event later this year. Old Dominion’s E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate and Economic Development will continue research, serving as a conduit for citizens and public and private groups.
Some attendees said they, too, had a responsibility to continue lobbying for their priorities.
“We can have all the ‘Reality Checks’ we want,” said Dana Dickens, a former mayor of Suffolk who is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Partnership, an organization advocating regional cooperation. “If we don’t take it to the next step and get it implemented, we’ve wasted a great opportunity.”