On Monday five members of Richmond City Council took an essential step toward honoring democratic process and public governance by recommending council strike the ordinances tied to Dominion Energy’s coliseum redevelopment project.
This recommendation comes after over 14 months of negotiation, debate, and public meetings. There have been two public mobilizations to council in opposition to the deal, on December 17th of 2018 and again November 12th of 2019. There have been six public meetings of the Navy Hill Advisory Commission, each of which was followed by well attended public comment sessions. The Commission closed with five public hearings, which City Council followed with an additional five public hearings.
Six public meetings of the commission alone. Ten public hearings.
This process of public review was driven by the community and opposed by the developers. Four members of city council backed the developers, silencing public voice in a range of ways: by voting in opposition to a public commission, by voting in opposition to a ballot referendum, by opposing expert testimony critical of the deal in Commission meetings.
Our City Council is starkly divided between those who are willing to hear their constituents, and those who have spent 14 months driving a high-cost marketing campaign for a private development team.
This week, following the move to strike, Dominion Energy’s team kicked into high gear, announcing last-minute additions to the project and applying intense pressure on council to extend this debate an additional month. While the developers demand even more time to make their case, the residents of Camp Cathy face eviction. In an emergency meeting to address their needs one resident spoke very frankly: our coliseum has been forcibly closed by the mayor as a cheap political ploy to further the coliseum redevelopment project. While it remains closed and unused, Richmond residents sleep in the rain. Less than a mile away from that camp, units remain vacant in public housing that awaits demolition at the Mayor’s endorsement.
Enough is enough.
The residents of Richmond oppose the use of public subsidies for private development while our residents lack even the most basic services. That is abundantly clear after the last week, where over 30 Richmond residents mobilized to the General Assembly three times during their work days to oppose a bill to fund this project, forcing it to be tabled twice with the support of its original patron.
Additional time, debate, and public resources spent on the Dominion Coliseum benefits the developers and taxes an already exhausted public.
The 5 members of council who have moved to strike have chosen to set their sites on something that is too rare in our city: good faith public process to determine our collective future. That has taken the form of a sincere Request for Proposals, one that would allow public input on the front end, not as a marketing maneuver on the back end.
We are hopeful at the prospect of a true, good-faith RFP. We welcome people-first development that engages Richmond residents in the very first stages of its visioning, not as props for corporate elites. We demand a process that puts the needs of our public schools, our public housing, and Camp Cathy residents first, not last. We can do better, and we look to council to lead that work.