City approves Downtown Mall cleanup proposal

Council endorses city manager’s recommendations to create street outreach coordinator position


Charlottesville City Council Monday evening approved recommendations from City Manager Maurice Jones’ plan to address the concerns about panhandling on the Downtown Mall.

Jones recommended the Council create the position of a Street Outreach Coordinator; prohibit lying down within 10 feet of a building to permit free flow of traffic; and maintain the current law enforcement presence on the mall, which includes additional officers in the spring, summer, fall and Friday and Saturday nights.

Several members of Council raised objections to the recommended ordinance that would prohibit lying on the mall within 10 feet of a building. The majority of Council, however, supported the proposal.

City Mayor Satyendra Huja, Councilman Dave Norris and Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos said they did not want the Street Outreach Coordinator to be a separate City position, instead saying they would prefer to direct the program through a local nonprofit. Most of Council approved this suggestion.

Norris said he was concerned Jones’ report did not do enough to address the breadth of the issues on the Downtown Mall. “I read … that so many people in our community feel unsafe coming downtown,” Norris said.

According to Jones’ recommendations, it would cost an estimated $90,000 to implement a one-time pilot program, which includes paying a long-term temporary coordinator and purchasing a mobile kiosk on the Downtown Mall to allow police to shift their locations.

City budget officials also shared good news at Monday’s meeting. For fiscal year 2012 the City took in $891,240 more in revenue than anticipated in its budget and spent $2,903,832 less than expected. Most of the nearly $4 million in unanticipated monies will go to the Capital Improvement fund, which funds maintenance of streets and public buildings. Council at the meeting added $50,000 to the Council priorities budget for general workforce initiatives.

Council’s plans to clean up the mall’s image inspired several impassioned statements by area residents. The police officer in the Council chambers had to escort from the room at least two men who attempted to shout over the Council’s consent agenda after the public comment period ended.

Albemarle County resident Nancy Carpenter said she was concerned that Jones’ recommendations were aimed at forcing homeless people off the mall.

“People seem more concerned with the transformation of space than the transformation of lives,” Carpenter said. “I really feel that what I’m seeing is the Disney-fication of a public space into a private space.”

The Council took up the issue based on a report compiled by the North Downtown Residents Association, a local group of homeowners who compiled surveys and recommendations for the City, said Jim Neale, the association’s Special Committee Chair.

“This is a report that was developed over a long period of time,” Neale said in an interview before the Council meeting. “It involved surveys sent out to the Downtown Business Associations, patrons of the Downtown Mall.”

Szakos said the association’s report showed the City did not have an insurmountable problem but rather “areas of concern” about a “certain small subset” of those on the mall who cause trouble.

Szakos voiced concern about the mistaken perception that everyone causing a disturbance on the mall is homeless.

“A lot of these folks are not [homeless]. … Although some may be homeless, it’s not an exact parallel,” Szakos said.

Council may consider a more formal resolution and appropriation of funds as early as its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 3, when Jones may present a more concrete resolution or ordinance to be voted on. Jones said ordinances would likely be presented to Council and voted on early next year.

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