Light rail language, questionable math removed from Virginia Beach website


COURTHOUSE – This week citizens noticed language posted to the Virginia Beach city website that seemed to soften the impact of the recent advisory referendum in which voters opposed extending the Tide from Newtown Station to Town Center.

By factoring in past referenda that were on the same topic but used different questions, the site suggested public opinion on extending light rail was that of “ambivalence” over time.

Official returns from the Tuesday, Nov. 8, vote show 57.1 percent said “no” to 42.9 percent on the “yes” side. The city page took that margin — which followed a spirited, costly and sometimes-bitter campaign — and effectively added to it.

“For broader context,” it said, “the combined vote of the 1999, 2012 and 2016 light rail related referendums equaled exactly 50 percent ‘Yes’ to 50 percent ‘No.’”

The site continued:

“Consequently, over the longer term, there is not clear direction on whether light rail should be part of Virginia Beach’s multimodal transportation system – either way.”

City officials said the language, which has been replaced, was the result of a city employee creating content that does not reflect the local government’s policy. Though the 2016 referendum was advisory, a number of city leaders have made it clear that they intend to follow the result while considering other transportation options.

One citizen surprised by the language that ultimately was removed from the site was Jimmy Frost, the spokesperson for No Light Rail Virginia Beach. That’s the group that got the referendum on this year’s ballot. He contacted The Independent News about the language on Monday when it was still online.

“I’m glad that I kept my ‘No Light Rail’ T-shirt and yard sign because I have a sneaking suspicion that we might need them again,” he wrote in an email.

City Councilmember John Moss, who holds an at-large seat and has opposed extending the Tide, said citizens contacted him about the language. He reached out to the city administration because the message did not reflect city policy.

“I just chalk it up to an exuberant staff member,” Moss said.

City Manager Dave Hansen knew nothing about it, Moss added. The language reflected what Moss called a “personal belief” by the staffer.

“That’s not the larger city policy,” Moss said. “We don’t know what that is right now. … We’ll all get over it, and life will be good.”

This morning, Julie Hill, the city’s communication administrator, said the issue was brought to her attention on Monday. She agreed the language shouldn’t be there, and it came down.

Monday evening, the light rail page in question could no longer be reached without a password. This morning, this language was posted there:

“A Nov. 8, 2016, referendum asked voters if they supported local funds being used to extend The Tide light rail to Town Center. Fifty-seven percent voted ‘no’ and 43 percent voted ‘yes.’ As a result, staff has terminated all work on the project.”

Reached by phone this morning, Frost said he is still holding on to his tee and yard sign.

A screen capture of language about light rail that was removed from the Virginia Beach city website on Monday, Nov. 28. [Courtesy of Jimmy Frost]
A screen capture of language about light rail that was removed from the Virginia Beach city website on Monday, Nov. 28. [Courtesy of Jimmy Frost]

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