Secretary of the Commonwealth to give Voter Restoration Update in Mt. Vernon
Governor McAuliffe has restored more peoples' voting rights in 18 months than any governor has in 4 years and the Route 1 Corridor has a high concentration of people who are eligible for restoration. It is important to spread awareness about the restoration process and my campaign has already identified a dozen people who are eligible to have their voting rights restored.
Fort Hunt Park Public Comments
The National Park Service is in the process if revising their long-term use plan for Fort Hunt Park.
Their initial proposal was met with a health rebuke from our community. I wrote about it here, accepted hundreds of community comments, the National Park Service heeded our comments and the process was further revised:
The National Park Service is now out with their final two proposed alternatives (three if you count "no action"). My public comments are below.
You can review the proposal and provide your public comments here through August 7:
Needless to say, this is exactly how a public process should work and the National Park Service has done an excellent job thus far responding to community concerns.
Surovell Calls for Debates Across the 36th District
Mount Vernon, Virginia- Today Delegate Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), challenged Republican nominee Mayor Jerry Foreman to debates across the 36th district.
"It's time for Mayor Foreman to stop hiding behind negative push polls and debate me face to face", Surovell said. "I propose we hold a series of debates in every section of the District so the voters can come hear our vision for the Route 1 Corridor."
Surovell proposed a debate in every part of the district- organized by the two campaigns or any community groups willing to do so. To date, no debates have been proposed by any group in the 36th district.
Surovell's plan includes 6 debates, with them held in each of the following areas:
Lee District (Fairfax County)
Mt. Vernon District (Fairfax County)
Occoquan/Coles Districts (Prince William County)
Woodbridge/Neabsco Districts (Prince William County)
Potomac District (Prince William County)
"Our district spans nine magisterial districts in three counties, and runs for over 20 miles along the Potomac River", Surovell noted. "I hope Mayor Foreman will accept my challenge and we can begin planning debates immediately."
Fairfax County Change on U.S. 1 1960-2010
Fairfax County Channel 16 has come out with a new video featuring some historical highlights of the U.S. 1 Corridor 1960-2000's.
The video features discussion of change on U.S. 1 through the years has some nice segments on Gum Springs, Mount Vernon High School, Montebello, and Woodlawn.
Great cameos by area history buff Michael Bohn, Gum Springs History Curator Ron Chase, SFDC Executive Director Edyhe Kelleher, Pamela Hess Executive Director of Arcadia Center for Food and Sustainable Agriculture which is about to launch a major initiative at Woodlawn, and a few clips of me.
Great production which summarizes our local history. You can watch below.
Biking Through Coal County
Woke up this morning at the Comfort Inn in Big Stone Gap, Virginia which is currently populated with about two dozen cherry pickers to restore power lost last night. This morning, I'm heading over to Wise, VA to serve as a panelist at a continuing legal education class on Drones and Spacelaw.
Driving up here last night, all I could think about was August, 1996 when I rode a bike across the United States.
After getting a bike "tune-up" from an aggressive technician in Carbondale, IL, I noticed that my rear shifter had become a bit more erratic. Once we hit the Ozarks in Missouri, it basically started to fail which was lots of fun going up hills with 15% grades. When I got to Hindman, Kentucky it was basically completely dead and I knew there was no way I was going over the Virginia mountains with only about three gears (the low ones that aren't good on hills).
Finding special parts for Italian gear sets was a bit of a challenge in the Kentucky mountains - especially before the internet really existed (it existed, but not like today). We were stuck at a small mom and pop hotel in Hindman, Kentucky for two days. We figured out that Hazard, Kentucky was about 20 miles away, had a cab service and an actual bike shop so I had a cab come and pick me up and drive me over there.
They didn't have Campianolo shifter parts, but they did have an old school down-tube shifter that was junk off another bike. I snapped that up in a heart beat, cabbed it back to Hindman, and the next day we were back on the road.
It rained the entire day as we rode from Hindman, KY, over the Virginia line near Pound, VA, and then down through Wise and Norton on our way to Abingdon, VA. Riding a bike (a) 100 miles, (b) in the rain, (c) through the mountains, (d) getting passed, sprayed, blown by 18-wheelers all day long, is something you don't forget.
Last night, I drove through rain and brutal thunderstorms all the way from Marion, VA to here. Some things never change.
Weekly Column: Prompt Action and Cooperation Needed to Clean the Potomac River
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and The Potomac-Stafford Local in the week of July 6, 2015.
Prompt Action and Cooperation Needed to Clean the Potomac River
This past week, the senior member of Virginia’s congressional delegation introduced legislation to remove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to hold Virginia accountable for failing to clean up the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. People should be deeply disturbed. The Potomac provides drinking water to five million people.
A Rich History
The Potomac River was once a bountiful asset and source of employment. In 1604, Captain John Smith wrote of fish so plentiful he could spear them with his sword, oysters that “lay as thick as stones” and schools of fish so plentiful that his men attempted to catch them with frying pans.
One of General George Washington’s most profitable operations was his fishery. In 1772, he caught over one million herring and 10,000 shad. In 1886, one report estimated that 750 million shad were taken from the Potomac River during the eight-week season. At the turn of the century, a Northern Virginia fisherman used a net with over five miles of total sweep operated by 100 men and eight horses. Pre-World War II census tables reveal hundreds of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford County citizens employed in fishing and aquaculture.
The River's Decline
Between 1950 and 1970, the picture changed. Potomac fish populations and employment plummeted because of degraded water quality. Poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay caused similar population crashes in other species such as oysters and menhaden. Today, there is only one family on Mason Neck still licensed as commercial fishermen in Fairfax County.
Each year, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality continues to list the Potomac estuaries as impaired for fish consumption and recreational uses due to PCB contamination and prevalence of e-coli bacteria and fecal coliform (largely from livestock and pet waste). Lake Montclair in Prince William County is impaired for mercury in fish tissue. Significant nitrogen loads frequently cause aquatic, life-killing algae blooms in the Chesapeake Bay.
Some causes begin with livestock practices in the Shenandoah Valley; however, some also lie here in Northern Virginia – pollution flowing into the river from our stormwater runoff. Most pre-1985 neighborhoods have zero stormwater controls.
Northern Virginia’s streams continue to suffer. Almost 70 percent of Fairfax County's streams are in fair to poor condition. In my lifetime, I found crawfish, turtles, eels and fish in the small streams in the Mount Vernon area. Today, decades of abuse from massive stormwater flows have left many of our local streams as biologically dead, over-eroded, litter-filled ditches fed by uncontrolled sewers.
The solution will require more than litter enforcement and voluntary trash cleanups. Because of Virginia’s failure to take the major steps necessary to solve these problems, EPA is forcing action. Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s effort to emasculate EPA’s ability to hold Virginia accountable is a giant step backward.
Requiring farmers to keep their cows from defecating in Virginia streams should not be controversial. An upriver community should not be able to use their portion of the river in a way that destroys the river for those who live downstream.
Legacy sites such as Dominion Power's coal ash dumps at Possum Point in Prince William County should not be tolerated. Coal ash is clearly linked to water pollution, especially when coal ash holding ponds are near water. Dominion’s proposal to place only a dirt cap on the Possum Point pond is inadequate.
Northern Virginia also needs to act. The construction of high-quality transit on U.S. 1 should be prioritized. Not only will it bring carefully planned redevelopment, it can also modernize storm water infrastructure. Localities also must actually fund the plans they created a decade ago to restore our watersheds by building real storm water controls, those using low-impact approaches.
The EPA is the only agency which has the authority to force action across all state lines. Its authority must not be undermined so that Virginia is not the only state taking action.
We should work together to solve problems instead of fighting attempts at progress, weakening environmental protections or turning enforcement measures into partisan fights. Clean water is not a partisan issue. The Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River are shared assets that bind the Commonwealth of Virginia together and clean water is fundamental to our survival.
It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. Please email me at email@example.com if you have any feedback.
Weekly Column: Predatory Lending Continues Its March Through Virginia and U.S. 1
The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette and The Mt. Vernon Voice in the week of June 23, 2015. Predatory Lending Continues Its March Through Virginia and U.S. 1 The Virginia’s State Corporation Commission latest annual report says that predatory car title lending is thriving in Virginia . With nearly three dozen car title lenders between Alexandria and Quantico on U.S. 1, this is troubling news, except to the lenders out to make big profits. You can read the full report on my online newsletter –The Dixie Pig – at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.
Car title lending began in our state in 2010 after Virginia limited interest rates on payday loans and predatory lenders argued that a new option was needed. Virginia law authorizes lenders to lend money at rates up to 30% per month which equates to around a 297% annual percentage rate (APR). A consumer can borrow up to 50% of their vehicle’s equity and the loan term is limited.
First, the good news from the report. The total amount lent declined from $206 million to around $162 million and the total number of loans dropped from 177,775 to 155,128. This reduction could have resulted from several factors such as more cautious lenders, more informed consumers and an improved economy.
However, the largest lender in Virginia, Title Max,co-located a second business in their car title loan stores and licensed them as relatively lightly regulated "consumer finance companies." Title Max has been promoting these alternate loans, which have higher interest rates, longer terms and marginally smaller monthly payments. I introduced legislation to ban evasion of consumer protections by co-location illegal, but it was killed in committee.
Given the SCC’s reporting methods, it is impossible to determine whether predatory lending is really up or down.
But there is clearly bad news. The interest rates charged on these 177,775 loans ranged from 84% to 268% and the average APR was 222%. Those are not typos.
The number of Virginians who failed to make a monthly payment rose from 33,387 to 38,286. That’s about 400 people per state delegate or nearly 1,000 people per state senator. This means in Fairfax County’s U.S. 1 Corridor, there were probably about 1,000 people in default and probably another 1,000 to 1,500 in eastern Prince William and Stafford Counties.
Out of those 38,286 defaults, 19,368 cars were repossessed and 14,949 were sold at public auction. Court judgments rendered totaled $150,593; the bulk of amounts owed were covered by repossession sales or debt collection tactics.
If you convert those defaults to raw dollars (multiply the number of defaults against the average loan) it equates to about $40 million of defaulted loans or about 25% of the total loans made. For comparison, Experian reports that loans to finance car purchases (not car title loans) have a default rate of 0.62%. Predatory car title loans default forty times more often than traditional vehicle purchase loans.
The small amount of judgments against the lenders also tells me is that this is a very profitable business. If a title loan shop sells only one $1,000 loan per week and has $52,000 under management at the state-sanctioned 30% per month interest rate then the business is projected to earn $187,200 per year before expenses. Given that loans cannot exceed 50% of the vehicle value, there is little risk to lenders if a consumer defaults, thus the tiny amount of reported judgments. These profits are being made off people who are typically in extreme credit distress before they ever borrow the money.
All of these statistics underscore the need for Virginia to step up and short of an absolute repeal of the law that allows these practices, to take action.
The state legislature should pass(1) my legislation to prohibit title lenders from co-locating consumer finance companies in title loan shops and (2) legislation to reduce maximum interest rates from a 297% APR.
Also, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is actively considering my suggestion to prohibit new car title lenders from locating in revitalization districts. Chesterfield County enacted this two years ago. Prince William and Stafford Counties needs to take action as well.
However, more is needed. Localities should also be able to prohibit these businesses from locating near clusters of their favorite targets – active duty military and low-income residents.
With these steps, we can begin to limit the financial destruction and heartbreak that this industry is causing in Virginia.
It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. If you have any feedback, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
California Ordered to Repay $331 Million - Is Virginia Next?
Today, $350 million worth of chickens came home to roost in California. Virginia might be next and here's why.
In the aftermath of the 2008 mortgage-driven financial crash, federal, state and local government budgets were walloped. One of the jurisdictions hardest hit with foreclosures was Prince William County. Property values plunged. Vacant houses were everywhere as people dumped houses that they could never afford with adjustable rate mortgages coming due for readjustment purchased with "no doc" loans.
In 2011, Attorneys General across the United States reached a $25 billion settlement with five major banks regarding illegal and abusive mortgage lending practices. Virginia's share of the settlement was over $66 million and was directed to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to disburse. As part of a floor debate, I made the card on the right.
Here's what the court's order said Virginia could do with the money:
Each State Attorney General shall designate the uses of the funds set forth in the attached Exhibit B-1.
To the extent practicable,such funds shall be used for purposes intended to avoid preventable foreclosures, to ameliorate the effects of the foreclosure crisis, to enhance law enforcement efforts to prevent and prosecute financial fraud, or unfair or deceptive acts or practices and to compensate the States for costs resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct of the Defendants.
Such permissible purposes for allocation of the funds include, but are not limited to, supplementing the amounts paid to state homeowners under the Borrower Payment Fund, funding for housing counselors, state and local foreclosure assistance hotlines, state and local foreclosure mediation programs, legal assistance, housing remediation and anti-blight projects, funding for training and staffing of financial fraud or consumer protection enforcement efforts, and civil penalties.
Accordingly, each Attorney General has set forth general instructions for the funds in the attached Exhibit B-2.
What did Virginia do in the 2012 Session? The Attorney General left it to the legislature, and it was scheduled to be dumped into the General Fund.
After I gave the speech to the right, the Budget Conferees agreed to put about 10% of Virginia's proceeds or $7 million of these funds into the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. The balance, $59 million, went into the General Fund.
I wrote about it here:
Other states did the same thing - simply used the "found" money to plug gaping revenue holes left from the recession instead of helping victims of the largest bank-generated financial crisis since the Great Depression.
One was California has the largest share and put theirs into their General Fund - just like Virginia. Today, a judge ordered the State of California to return $350 million to California's housing assistance fund.
he General Assembly with the Governor's acquiescence willfully violated the court order. I would not be surprised if another judge orders Virginia to pay their money back as well.
My Endorsement for Mount Vernon Supervisor
With the retirement of Supervisor Gerry Hyland, Mt. Vernon is losing passionate fighter with decades of experience. Our next Supervisor must be an experienced leader that will fight for our community's fair share of resources and who has a track record and results.
Mount Vernon has four good candidates who are running. Each have their accomplishments and positive attributes.
However, Dan Storck is the only choice for Mount Vernon and I am proud to endorse his campaign for Supervisor for the TUESDAY, JUNE 9 DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY.
Dan has lived in the Stratford Landing neighborhood of Mount Vernon for over 25 years with his wife Deb and their three children. He previously served as President of the West Potomac High School PTSA and President of Good Shepherd Housing's Board. Dan was first elected as the Mount Vernon Representative to the Fairfax County School Board in 2004.
Unlike the other candidates, Dan can also point to specific concrete results that he has achieved for the Mount Vernon District.
Dan understands the challenges facing Mount Vernon's schools because he has been forced to deal with the underfunding of our schools for the last twelve years and understands why Supervisor Gerry Hyland has been fighting to raise funds for our schools for years. Like Supervisor Gerry Hyland, fully-funding Fairfax County Public Schools will be a priority for Dan.Dan also understands that the strength of our schools is directly tied to the quality of housing and transit on the Route 1 Corridor and has made clear to me that he will work to revitalize Route 1 and extend the Yellow Line as soon as possible. He has also made clear that he finds the explosion of predatory lending on U.S. 1 intolerable and that he will fight to get them under control. In order to fight for these priorities, he needs your support. Please join me in voting for Dan Storck on Tuesday, June 9 and click below to get involved with his campaign this week.
- Opened three brand new schools (South County H.S., South County M.S. and Laurel Hill E.S.) in Mount Vernon in order to tackle overcrowding issues
- Worked to fund construction for two entirely new elementary schools on the Route 1 Corridor in the next few years (at Fort Belvoir E.S. #2 and Pinewood Lake-Area E.S.)
- Renovated or expanded ten existing Mt. Vernon schools with an additional Mt. Vernon seven schools in planning or currently under renovation
- Personally re-worked the financing of the South County Middle School development and saved taxpayers $35 Million in financing
- Fought for full-day kindergarten for all Fairfax County Schools
- Created the Smart Services, Smart Savings initiative that has saved taxpayers $1 million by increasing efficiency and cutting unnecessary costs
- Secured a needs-based staffing formula which secured a lower relative student-teacher ratio for most Mt. Vernon area schools
- Fought to create the Priority School Initiative which supplements staffing at the neediest schools
- Prioritized teachers' salaries in the budget
Weekly Column: VDOT Still has a Huge Amount of Catch Up
The following appeared in the Stafford and Potomac Local on May 25, 2015.
VDOT Still has a Huge Amount of Catch Up
As the weather warms and summer nears, we are approaching the road mowing and paving season in Northern Virginia. Several paving projects are coming to eastern Prince William County and northern Stafford County in the 36th District.
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VDOT plans to pave I-95 from Neabsco Creek to Smoketown Road, all of VA-123 and Old Bridge Road from VA-123 to Minnieville. Cardinal Drive will get a new surface from U.S. 1 to Minnieville as well. Southbridge will see new blacktop in on Wayside Lane, Pine Ridge Boulevard and several surrounding streets. VDOT will pave the entire length of Joplin Road from U.S. 1 to Bristow Road and all the streets of the entire town of Quantico. Main Street (U.S. 1) between Curtis Drive and Quantico Gateway Drive through Dumfries is also scheduled to be repaved.
Many of Stafford County's secondary roads are in better condition than streets in other areas since many are newer. In northeastern Stafford County, VDOT will resurface half a dozen streets around Dorothy Lane and Anita Drive in Garrisonville with all of Stefaniga Road.
Legislature Addressed Road Neglect
Over 70% of Northern Virginia's secondary roads, roads numbered over 600, have been rated as having substandard pavement quality and despite my efforts, the state legislature has not met the challenge. From 1987 to 2013, the Virginia General Assembly refused to raise Virginia’s $0.17/gallon gas tax to even keep up with inflation. As salaries, the cost of materials and infrastructure needs all increased, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) had to prioritize funds for other critical maintenance needs. As a result, VDOT limited grass mowing, prioritized primary and interstate highway maintenance and curtailed secondary road paving. Deficient road pavement has been a consistent, frequent complaint since I have been in office these last six years.
In 2013, the legislature replaced the retail fixed gas tax with a wholesale percentage gas tax plus an overall sales tax supplement, steps which restored some roads and maintenance funding . We also passed a series of local taxes to fund transportation construction, but these taxes do not apply to Stafford County which is in the Fredericksburg Transportation District. Last year, VDOT started a major phase of paving in our communities as the direct result of this infusion of funds.
VDOT tries to bid out paving projects based on need and geographic location. Contractors may provide competitive bids when projects are conducted all within compact areas. This is why VDOT usually does not repave random streets miles apart (there are some exceptions). Also, typically, not but always, roads in entire neighborhoods tend to deteriorate at the same rate.
I am pleased that VDOT is finally taking steps to properly maintain our roadways, but VDOT still has a huge amount of catchup ahead. Nearly every secondary road in Woodbridge still has substandard pavement quality and after this summer, and over 50 percent of Virginia's 36th Senate District’s roads will still need repaving. You can find a map of the 36th Senate District at https://scottsurovell.net/district-36. If you review the entire Northern Virginia map at www.virginiaroads.org, you can see that we are very lucky to be getting attention this summer given the massive backlog. I am working to make our area a continuing priority after this year.
Our experience over the last two decades is a basic lesson in the consequences of starving basic government services. If we do not keep our revenues commensurate with our needs, from schools to health clinics to roads, infrastructure and quality of life will suffer. In 2013, with bipartisan support, the state legislature addressed the transportation revenue shortfall and you are now seeing the results. These steps can likely save your family an alignment or a tire or two.
If you have any questions or complaints, please contact me at email@example.com. It is an honor to a state delegate and I look forward to earning your vote as your State Senator.