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Stoney Promises Equitable Pandemic Recovery In Annual Address

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney presenting his budget to City Council on March 6, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney presenting his budget to City Council on March 6, 2020. Due to the pandemic, Richmond State of the City address was broadcast virtually this year. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney outlined a pandemic recovery plan focused on social and economic justice during his annual State of the City address on Thursday. 

In his speech, Stoney looked back at a challenging year for Richmond. More than 13,000 Richmonders, Mayor Stoney included, have contracted the COVID-19 since state health officials began collecting data last March. The resulting lockdown has also impacted local businesses, leaving the city’s budget for next year nearly $40 million lighter.

But with vaccines being distributed, Stoney says it’s time to start talking about a “new dawn” for Richmond. He said equity would be at the center of his administration’s recovery plans.

“Make no mistake: The pandemic widened the gap between the haves and have nots in this city,” he said. “We have a responsibility to fix that.”

Stoney announced that he will soon submit an “equity agenda” to Richmond City Council that will help guide the city’s recovery. He said his administration is working on an “equitable economic development scorecard,” which will provide a standardized list of expectations for future development deals in the city.

“Great possibility awaits Richmond, especially in opportunities like the redevelopment of Greater Scott’s Addition, Downtown or the development of a resort casino,” Stoney said. “Our priorities must be providing living wage jobs and growing city revenue to fund vital investments in education, affordable housing and infrastructure.”

As part of his recovery plan, Stoney is promising to increase access to public transit through improvements to GRTC’s Pulse rapid transit line and a new bike-share program that will start in public housing communities. He also reiterated his commitment to a goal of building 10,000 new affordable housing units by 2030.

Thursday’s speech was Stoney’s first State of the City address since winning re-election last November. During his campaign, he was attacked by political opponents for what they saw as a lack of public engagement around the Stoney administration's $1.5 billion proposals to redevelop the downtown Coliseum and the surrounding neighborhood known as Navy Hill. A lack of public input was cited as one of the reasons the proposal was ultimately rejected.

To that end, Stoney announced that he would be creating an Office of Public Engagement that will be tasked with creating opportunities for residents to provide feedback on future public projects, regardless of language and internet access.

“This office will work across all departments to ensure that the city is implementing creative engagement techniques, both virtual and in-person, communicating effectively on city programs and policies, and sharing the city’s story for others to celebrate,” he said.

Over the summer, Richmond wrestled not only with a pandemic and economic recession, but with a growing call for police reform after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Stoney and members of Richmond City Council responded with commitments to creating a civilian review board for police misconduct and a dispatch system for having mental health professionals respond alongside police officers to some calls, dubbed the “Marcus Alert.” 

He called on City Council Thursday to finish that work, and said he will collaborate with Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith to institute other accountability measures. 

Among the other commitments Stoney made during the State of the City Address: 

  • The city will purchase all of its electricity usage from renewable sources by 2025
  • The city will work with health officials to promote vaccination, especially in communities of color
  • The city will use grant money to paint the Pulse rapid transit bus lanes red later this year
  • Stoney says he will lobby Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly to ban the open carrying of guns in public
  • Police will now carry and distribute business cards with their names, precinct information and contact information for filing complaints or offering compliments