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2020 vision: 10 storylines likely to make headlines in the coming year

School divisions to ramp up equity efforts

For the Charlottesville and Albemarle County school systems, 2019 was a year of laying the groundwork for several efforts to improve equity and close achievement and opportunity gaps.

The efforts will continue into the new year, and the school systems will have new policies to guide their work along with concrete metrics and goals.

Equity most likely will be a central focus in Albemarle’s strategic plan, which is getting an update in 2020. The current plan was adopted in 2013.

While officials stress improving equity is a long-term goal, 2020 should be a year in which the needle starts to move. The county invested more in expanding culturally responsive teaching practices, and Charlottesville hired its first supervisor of equity to spearhead a range of projects.

Both want to hire more teachers of color and are putting in place new strategies to make that goal a reality.

In the Charlottesville and Albemarle classrooms, history lessons are getting an overhaul as teachers look to include more perspectives and better address the legacies of racism, slavery and inequity.

Virginia football looks to build on success

The Virginia football program has been on an upward trajectory since Bronco Mendenhall took over prior to the 2016 season.

After an initial 2-10 campaign, Mendenhall has led the Cavaliers to bowl appearances in each of the past three seasons.

This season, Virginia ended a 15-game losing streak to rival Virginia Tech and won the ACC Coastal Division championship for the first time in program history.

The Cavaliers will face Florida in the Orange Bowl on Monday night in one of the biggest games in program history.

Can the Cavaliers continue their rise up the college football ranks in 2020?

Virginia must replace quarterback Bryce Perkins and several key defensive players, including defensive lineman Eli Hanback and linebacker Jordan Mack.

Virginia also has a challenging schedule that includes a matchup with Georgia in Atlanta on Labor Day night and a trip to Death Valley to take on Clemson in a rematch of this year’s ACC Championship Game.

Can UVa men’s basketball repeat?

The 2018-19 Virginia men’s basketball season was one for the ages. The Cavaliers went 35-3 and won the first national championship in program history.

Following the departures of star guards Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter, few gave Virginia a chance to repeat as national champions.

But Virginia is off to a 9-2 start this season, led by senior forward Mamadi Diakite, who decided to come back for his senior year after testing the NBA Draft waters in the spring.

The Cavaliers are 2-0 in ACC play, with wins over Syracuse and North Carolina, but also have suffered double-digit defeats to Purdue and South Carolina. UVa closes out nonconference play on Sunday against Navy.

With national title favorites Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas and Duke seeing early-season losses, this year’s national championship race looks wide open. Despite some early struggles this season, Virginia could be right in the thick of the title race come March.

Democratic legislature will have greater local impact

November’s blue wave election will, come January, shift majority power in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly to the Democrats for the first time in a generation.

The region’s delegation will have the same faces for the most part, with a few changes. Most notably, long-serving Dels. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and R. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, declined to run for re-election and will be replaced by Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and Chris Runion, R-Rockingham, respectively.

Democrats are expected to push hard for more restrictive gun laws, a stance that has received backlash from largely rural communities across the commonwealth, many of which have declared themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries.”

Also on the agenda is changing state code to allow localities to remove war monuments. Bills of this type proposed by Toscano in the past two sessions have died early on in party line votes.

Hudson plans to file a new version and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, has agreed to file a Senate companion bill.

If the legislation becomes law, that presumably would allow the city of Charlottesville to remove its statues of Confederate generals, which the City Council approved doing but then was sued over. The city lost the suit when a judge ruled that the current state law has bearing over the statues.

Plaintiffs in 2017 rally suit to have their day in court

The most expansive civil conspiracy case related to the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally is set to begin a three-week jury trial in October

The lawsuit, filed by a group of area residents against UTR organizers and participants, has languished in federal court in Charlottesville for more than two years, stalled largely by a lack of cooperation from some neo-Nazi and white supremacist defendants.

In recent months, the court has taken steps to prompt cooperation from defendants, most recently finding Elliott Kline in contempt for repeatedly failing to comply with discovery requirements.

While the case, Sines v. Kessler, is expected to be the first to go to trial, various victims and attendees of the rally have filed similar federal conspiracy lawsuits, as well as suits claiming violation of their constitutional rights.

In total, there are about a half-dozen lawsuits related to the rally working their way through federal courts across the country. Due to the complicated nature of these lawsuits, it could be years until they are resolved.

All criminal cases related to the rally have been resolved, though the Charlottesville Police Department continues to investigate the identity of two individuals seen on videotape attacking DeAndre Harris in the Market Street Parking Garage on the afternoon of the rally.

Impact of new City Council; who will be selected mayor?

The new year will usher in a new era for the City Council when three members take office for the first time.

Lloyd Snook, Sena Magill and Michael Payne will join Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill.

The newcomers won the November election with promises to invest in affordable housing, tackle climate change and focus on equity. As they get into the meat of the city’s budget process, it will be evident as to whether those promises were kept.

But their first order of business will be to select a mayor to serve a two-year term.

In Charlottesville’s council-manager form of government, the mayor is a figurehead with no real power other than running meetings and setting the agenda.

Walker was appointed on a 4-1 vote in January 2018 in the fallout of the Unite the Right rally. She has indicated a willingness to continue to serve in the role.

If she is reappointed, it will continue a trend of mayors serving more than one term seen in the past 20 years.

Thirty out of 36 mayoral tenures since 1928 have been for one two-year term.

Nine out of the 12 mayors since 1988 served one two-year term, but Councilor Mike Signer was the first to do so since 2003 when he served in 2016 and 2017.

Expansion, reconfiguration of schools to top agendas

The student population in Albemarle County schools increased by 7% since the 2009-10 academic year, and that growth will continue in the next decade.

Meanwhile, this school year, eight county schools are overcrowded and four are on the bubble, capacity-wise. Expansion projects at Red Hill and Scottsville elementaries are underway, and the division has identified several projects to address some of the overcrowding.

Paying for the projects and developing more comprehensive solutions will be key issues to watch in 2020 as the list of capital projects continues to grow for the county schools.

On top of that, the county is set to move forward on a $27 million, 400-student high school center that is part of an effort to reimagine high school and alleviate overcrowding at Albemarle and Western Albemarle high schools. The center will be the division’s first major new construction project since 2002, when it built Baker-Butler Elementary.

While the county moves on that project, the city school division is starting to lay the groundwork for its long-planned reconfiguration, which entails adding sixth grade to Buford Middle and turning Walker Upper Elementary into a preschool center.

Funding for what could be an $80 million project is uncertain. The project’s fate is in the hands of the City Council, which is expected to decide on funding in the summer.

UVa’s new minimum wage among host of equity efforts

University of Virginia employees working New Year’s Day will be the first to benefit from a substantial increase to the university’s minimum wage

The new rate of $15 per hour will impact about 1,400 direct employees at the university and its medical center, as well as about 800 contract employees working in food and support services.

A March report found UVa’s compensation fell short for many; days later, UVa announced the pay increase.

Advocates hope that simply having more money in their bank accounts will help employees improve their housing, health care and education. Some still note, however, that the new minimum rate remains below the living wage calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the base rate a family needs to survive in Charlottesville.

The effort, billed as an attempt to mend fences with the community, comes amid many changes, and amid a years-long effort to study the school’s history of slavery and segregation, which will see a new chapter this spring when the Memorial for Enslaved Laborers is unveiled.

UVa’s Class of 2024, which will start school in the fall, also will be the first to benefit — depending on how one looks at it — from UVa’s new early decision process, in which students can apply to the university earlier if they promise to attend.

Early decision processes have been critiqued at UVa in the past and at other institutions as a system that favors wealthy and well-connected students who do not need to see financial aid offers in order to commit to a school; UVa watchers will need to wait to see the full makeup of the admitted Class of 2024, which has until Jan. 1 to apply using the regular decision process, to draw conclusions.

Finally, the university’s security team and top medical center staff are in the midst of turnover, which will have ramifications for how the university continues to address security updates after the Unite the Right rally, an emergency department expansion and calls to change its medical billing policies.

More attention to be paid

to affordable housing issue

Newly-elected officials in Charlottesville could amp up the pressure to invest in affordable housing.

Snook, Magill and Payne campaigned on the need to invest in affordable housing.

Their first crack at it will come with the proposed Capital Improvement Program.

The proposal comes with $35.8 million for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1, 2020.

The plan allocates $800,000 to the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund, but the Planning Commission and some community members say that’s not enough.

The city also will contribute $1.5 million to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority for its redevelopment of public housing stock in fiscal 2021, rather than the $3 million that previously was projected.

City Manager Tarron Richardson has said that the city earmarked $3 million in bonds for the agency in fiscal 2020, but that money hasn’t been spent.

If it isn’t spent this year, it will be rolled over to fiscal 2021, giving CRHA access to $4.5 million if necessary.

To increase funding for housing, the city will need to slash budgets elsewhere. The council also could raise tax rates, but officials have yet to indicate a willingness to do so.

Albemarle County is scheduled to have an update of its affordable housing policy completed in the fall of 2020.

With growth, traffic to get worse before it gets better

Expected growth in the region will further stress area roads in 2020 and beyond.

A number of housing projects in the pipeline are going to bring more residents to the area, likely adding to traffic in the region.

Approximately 870 certificates of occupancy, which signify that structures are considered safe for use, were issued in Albemarle for residential housing units in 2018, and more than 460 were issued in 2019 as of September.

Most upcoming road projects, including a package of six road projects across Albemarle, are not scheduled to start construction until late in 2020 or later.

Other major intersections with issues, such as Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29, still have no direct funding.

Many Charlottesville Area Transit supporters have advocated for bus route expansion in the county, but at a recent Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership meeting, CAT Director Garland Williams said now is not the time to focus on that expansion.

JAUNT, which operates commuter routes and the area’s paratransit service for CAT under a contract with the city, is planning to launch a service in 2020 where people can request a ride using an app on their smartphone.


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