Friday, October 10, 2003

Attended the Richmond Chamber/Arts Commission Mixer last evening,

and it took only a few conversations to sense that the chaos of Washington is deeply effecting the local scene. Wondering if that's being reflected across the country? Talked with a number of city officials and staff and picked up what feels like a general deterioration in the ability to plan beyond a few months. For instance, Richmond has adopted a half-year budget. That's unheard of for a city of this size. It is so desperate for sales tax revenue, that little attention is being paid to the negative effects of "big box" retail on small businesses in the city, and it's small business that employs the most workers.

We're at the moment watching WalMart beginning to gather signatures in order to put on the next ballot, something that will make it possible for this national behemoth to override local ordinances against SuperCenters that devote more than a limited amount of space to foods. It's an important matter, since they are known to obliterate other markets from the a wide area. And, since the other chains pay higher wages and have more benefits, the unions are fighting hard to keep them out. Yet, the need for sales tax revenue is so great in these tough economic times, that -- unlike neighboring cities that have used zoning to screen them out -- Richmond appears to be actively wooing them.

The city has seen a 30% layoff in staff and is facing another major cut in January. The promise of WalMart jobs is sweetening the pot for this strapped city, but those who need work most won't be touched since drug-testing will eliminate many at the bottom of the economic ladder. And you have to figure that this city, like many inner cities, is seeing an increase in abuse and addiction due to increasing hopelessness, joblessness, and a failing public school system that's left so many illiterate and ill-equipped for the workforce. The streets are becoming meaner and the murder rate rising with each day. One has to figure that drugs are being used, cynically, as a pacification program since few of the poor have the wherewithal to import narcotics into the urban core. That means that some much higher up are the suppliers; higher ups who are never touched by law enforcement.

With hundreds of thousands of the poor now beginning to reach the lifetime limit (in January) on welfare (Welfare Reform), more and more will fall prey to the underground economy fueled by drugs. It's inevitable. More will become homeless, and still more won't survive at all. It is impossible to build enough prisons to house the "offenders," and we're eons away from treating what's happening on the streets as a crises in public health. This county has about 35 beds available for in-patient drug treatment and thousands in need. The wait for males is many months, and -- to my knowledge -- there are still no treatment facilities for women, though one is on the drawing boards for next year.

Even the "micro" is overwhelming. In fact, it's hard now to get beyond, "Osama bin Who?"