A few weeks ago, Richmond City Council hesitantly gave its support for Mayor Jones’ “Revitalize RVA” project, which would include a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
A few weeks ago, Richmond City Council hesitantly gave its support for Mayor Jones’ “Revitalize RVA” project, which would include a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Among those voting against the plan was Councilwoman Reva Trammell, who proposed that the decision be made by way of a referendum.
“Referendum” is just fancy political jargon for popular vote. Trammell suggested citizens head to the polls and make the decision on their own at the February 24th meeting. Her proposition was met with booming applause by the 400+ Richmonders in attendance.
But as goes everything in politics, the process is difficult to understand and littered with red tape. When I spoke briefly with Councilwoman Trammel, she mentioned 9,000 citizens would need to sign on to allow the popular vote. I reached out to Steve Skinner of the City Clerk’s office, who said there are methods for both citizens and public figures to get a referendum moving.
“Short answer would be that, if she [Trammell] was interested, she would introduce legislation to that effect and go from there. Which would be a process for a referendum originated by Richmond City Council,” Skinner said.
“Regarding process for non-Council/citizen-led referendum, that would be the Virginia Supreme Court Richmond Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court, which is a state judicial branch of government that operates at the local level, and would have jurisdiction over that.”
The citizens’ effort is being spearheaded by the prolific Paul Goldman, a local attorney who’s known for running former Mayor Doug Wilder’s campaign, among many other political roles he’s played here in RVA. Goldman drafted the referendum, which is currently going through the Virginia Circuit Courts for approval.
A popular vote would seemingly be in the City Council’s best interests. If a referendum does in fact happen, they’d no longer have to make up their minds about whether they support the Mayor’s plan. Which is fair, in a way, to both them and the citizens – the Council’s ambivalence has been on display in how they’ve voted and discussed the possible ups and downs of Revitalize RVA. It’s (obviously) fair to the citizens, in that they’d be in control of their own city’s destiny relative to a major project which would change a major part of the city.
In a Times-Dispatch article, Goldman said he’s hoping push comes to shove during this November’s elections. According to the article, “He is requesting the questions be placed on November’s ballot, which would require getting the signatures certified by August.”
The impression is that there are plenty of Richmonders willing to register to vote for a referendum – it’s just a matter of finding them and getting their John Hancocks. As for the public’s opinion on the Mayor’s plan, well, there’s been a routinely present group at City Council meetings voicing their opposition to it. But it’s hard to determine whether they’re representative of most of Richmond, or if they’re just a vocal minority. I walked around Carytown, Oregon Hill, the Museum District and downtown, and talked to Richmonders of all ages, races, and backgrounds to get their take.
Chris was walking his dog in Carytown, much like he’s done the past 24 years he’s lived in Richmond. “I’m in favor of [the plan]. I know a bunch of people are bummed out about the traffic and stuff, but I think they should build it,” Chris said.
Also in Carytown was Josh, who’s been in Richmond for 15 years and lived in the Museum District. “I think it’s a good idea. Something needs to be done with that site there; it’s a really prominent site,” Josh said of the slave grounds in Shockoe Bottom. “I know they have the museum they’re proposing to build. I feel like some deference is going to have to be paid to the artifacts that are still there.”
Joe and Alex grew up in Chesterfield and have been in Richmond for 10 years now, living in Oregon Hill and the Museum District, respectively.
“I think I’m kind of for it. I think that Shockoe Bottom is suffering and there needs to be some kind of revival down there,” Alex said. She also stressed that she never does down to the Bottom because she simply has no reason to go there.
“I think people get worried about change for the sake of change, but if it’s a stadium and shops and whatnot, it’d be nice to have developments. I would not be opposed,” Joe said. Joe and Alex were both ambivalent about the idea of a referendum.
Lastly I talked to Matt, a middle-aged man who’s been in Richmond for 17 years. He was emphatic that a slave memorial and a stadium could coexist in Shockoe Bottom.
“I’m absolutely in favor of it. It’s a great project, it’s fun, it’ll revitalize and add to the whole area. Regarding the slavery sites, there’s nothing there now… It’d come in, enhance and reserve the slavery sites,” Matt said.
“I think they should have a referendum for all the people that would go to the baseball stadium,” he added.
I didn’t talk to anyone who was against the plan. They’re without a doubt out there, as demonstrated by the picketing at City Council meetings, online forums, and billboards along I-95. But at noon on a random Wednesday around town, Richmonders seemed to be in favor of both a referendum and a stadium.