Latest Posts

A New Poor People’s Campaign

In 1968, Martin Luther King and the SCLC waged the Poor People’s Campaign in an attempt to bring the country’s attention to the economic needs of the underprivileged and underserved. King and the other leaders of the campaign recognized that racial justice and economic justice are intricately intertwined, and to truly liberate the American people, we would have to fight to scourge our nation of both white supremacy and corporate greed.

Part of what came out of that campaign was an Economic Bill of Rights, drafted by the Committee of 100, a group of poor Americans formed to lobby for their economic rights. They came up with the following rights that every American deserves:

  1. The right to a meaningful job with a living wage
  2. The ability to get a secure and adequate income for those unable to get a job
  3. Access to land for economic uses
  4. Resources and capital for poor people trying to promote business
  5. A larger role in government for ordinary people

Unfortunately, the campaign was unable to achieve these critical reforms, and since 1968 wealth disparity has only grown greater in this country, and our need for drastic changes to our economy are even more necessary.

Recently, Rev. Dr. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, stepped up to lead a new Poor People’s Campaign. In announcing the effort, Rev. Barber argued that “the fights for racial and economic equality are as inseparable today as they were half a century ago. Make no mistake about it: We face a crisis in America. The twin forces of white supremacy and unchecked corporate greed have gained newfound power and influence, both in statehouses across this nation and at the highest levels of our federal government.”

Rev. Barber couldn’t be more correct in his analysis of our current cultural failure regarding both racial relations and the influence of powerful oligarchs. We need to break the grip of moneyed and racist interests on a scale not seen since the trust-busting days of Teddy Roosevelt. Barber has called this renewed effort ‘A National Call for a Moral Revival,’ and I think he’s spot on.

In my time on the Asheville City Council, I’ve worked to fight for the economic rights of the working poor in our community. I’m a strong advocate for the Living Wage Campaign waged by Asheville’s Just Economics. During my time in office, the City of Asheville has adopted Just Economics’ wage as a baseline for all hiring and as a fundamental requirement for any corporate entity seeking tax benefits from the City. I’ve also fought for a living wage requirement for contractors with the City, but Republicans in Raleigh thwarted that plan.

I support Rev. Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign, and I urge my supporters to as well.

Link to Poor People’s Campaign:

Link to Ashevile’s Just Economics:

Fare Free Public Transportation

Cities and municipalities around the world are finding ways to fight the existential threat of climate change — Asheville should join those fighting for expanded and fare free public transportation. Fare free buses would, in the words of the non-profit Fare Free Public Transportation, “lead to a decline in car-traffic and a surge in the demand for public transportation, which in turn would stimulate a much needed capacity and comfort increase in the public transport system.” Increased public transit dramatically cuts down on carbon emissions and reduces traffic congestion, both issues the people of Asheville are eager to address.

Prominent cities around the world, such as Melbourne, Manchester, Athens, and Oslo, along with American cities such as Boston, Miami, Columbus, Baltimore, and even Chapel Hill have all adopted fare free public transit. To see a full list of cities that have followed suit, check out the list cultivated by Fare Free Public Transportation at Asheville has the capability to be a global leader on this issue, and it’s time we take that leap.

Beyond being instrumental tool against climate change, fare free public transportation will help make the lives of Asheville residents more affordable. According to the City of Asheville’s Transit Department, an annual pass costs $220, but because many low-income riders don’t buy annual passes because they never have enough money on hand to purchase one, the cost is closer to $550 annually in order to get back and forth from work each day. Additionally, the only ways to get the discount fares are through Medicare, by being over 65, or having a disability. While it’s vital that those populations receive these important benefits, there are too many working people who don’t get those discounts who dearly need them.

So, how to pay for fare free transit? Fares currently account for only about 11 percent of Asheville’s transit system budget, with receipts in the current fiscal year expected to be $827,000.

My plan to go fare-free includes four elements.

  1. Our current curbside meters are hard to read at night, which is why parking is free when the sun goes down. When the City finishes installation of new curbside meters we will be able to generate upward of $600K per year by extending meter hours.
  2. We can and should expand curbside metering into Biltmore Village and West Asheville as well. Metering actually helps people find parking by eliminating day-long parking.
  3. Our parking garages should charge higher for tourists and lower for residents. This dual price structure could easily bring in another $200,000 per year, and probably more.
  4. Fare boxes on buses run to $15,000 per vehicle, and are slated for replacement. Skipping this expense offers a one-time saving upward of $300,000. When we purchase 6 all-electric buses in the 2018-19 budget year, we’ll cut $90,000 from that bill as well.

The people of Asheville want a more environmentally friendly city, and they also want their day-to-day lives to be more affordable. This is why fare-free public transit is so important.

Fare-free is entirely doable, and we need to get it done.

Filing for re-election

For immediate release: 7/10/17

What: Cecil Bothwell files for re-election to Asheville City Council

Contact: Justin Nemon, campaign manager

cecil bothwell Asheville City Council
Making a point

Citing his successful record as a member of Asheville’s City Council, Cecil Bothwell has filed for re-election. “I have always listened to the people of Asheville and have done my utmost to move the City in the right direction,” he said. “While commercial interests often seem to pull the strings, I have and will continue to fashion a government that works toward environmental health, social justice and economic equity. I regard climate change as an existential threat to modern civilization and consider that issue in every decision I make in both my personal and public life.”

Bothwell’s Council accomplishments include: a Civil Liberties Resolution prohibiting discrimination based on race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, or place of national origin by all City employees; making Asheville a Living Wage Certified employer; requiring Living Wages as a minimum for economic development grants; single stream “Big Blue” recycling; raising the City’s carbon reduction goal to 4 percent per year; a street light retrofit that saves $350K per year; expansion of the transit/greenway/bike-ped system; a steady increase in homeless services; substantial changes in Asheville Police Department policy; requiring Council approval of more development projects; and winning some battles with Raleigh.

Bothwell is Chair of the Public Safety Committee and has served on the Finance Committee, Housing and Economic Development Committee, the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission, and as liaison to the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment, the Asheville Tree Commission, the Asheville Regional Airport Authority, the Noise Ordinance Appeals Board, the Recreation Advisory Committee, and the Board of Electrical Examiners.

Bothwell’s career includes decades as a green building contractor followed by years as a writer and editor. He was founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal in the 1990s, wrote a radio and syndicated print commentary for ten years, and became Managing Editor of Asheville’s Mountain Xpress in 2002. He has ten books in print, one song collection, was included in the first issue of the Asheville Poetry Review (after winning the 1993 Southeast Poetry Slam), and his paintings have been exhibited in numerous regional shows. He has lived in solar powered homes for most of the past 37 years, currently resides in a net-zero grid connected all electric house and has been an organic gardener/farmer for 45 years. He was first elected to Council in 2009 and re-elected in 2013.

Time to remove the Robert E. Lee Monument from Pack Square

Constructed in 1926, the Robert E. Lee monument in downtown Asheville commemorates an individual who stood and fought on behalf of racism, white supremacy, and intolerance. He is also arguably responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any individual in our history, given that hundreds of thousands died when he continued to fight long after he knew the war was lost.

Installed by the Daughters of the Confederacy, the antiquated monument is emblematic of the extreme bigotry represented by the Confederacy. This bigotry didn’t end after the Civil War, and our nation has been permanently scarred by racial lynchings, which were common during the period in which this monument was constructed, and systemic racism, which is still prevalent to this day.

Another monument honoring Confederate soldiers next to the Buncombe County Courthouse should also be removed. Perhaps it could be re-installed in Riverside Cemetery where many of those fallen are buried. A memorial to ancestors in a cemetery is appropriate. A monument to those fought against our nation in a public plaza is not.

We must recognize that the values of the Confederacy are not our own and that we should not permit the commemoration of an individual who stood for such values. It is morally reprehensible to celebrate individuals who stood for slavery. Nearly a century after the monument’s construction, it is long past time that we follow in the footsteps of cities such as New Orleans, who have removed and relocated their monuments of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Asheville must utilize public spaces to reflect the air of the future: equality, inclusiveness, coexistence.

A similar argument can be made regarding the Vance Monument. It is my view that the Vance monument should be disassembled or repurposed, and certainly re-dedicated. I’ve heard suggestions for renaming the obelisk as a Peace or Unity monument, and of course many have advocated complete demolition.


Campaign Kick-Off June 17

It’s time to kick off this year’s re-election campaign with a party! (As Jim Hightower quips: “It’s never too late to put the party back in politics!”)

Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 7:17 p.m.
In the studio of John Mac Kah – across the parking lot from the new Wedge Brew Pub and 12 Bones, on the back side of Riverview Station, 191 Lyman Street, Asheville.

Participating artists will donate 50 percent of all sales to the campaign during the event. so you can upgrade your visual environment and help out the campaign at the same time!

You can let us know you are coming by replying to this post below. Thanks!

My position on short term rentals (AirBnB, etc.)

I support Short Term Rental of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Asheville mural project, farmers
A mural on Chicken Alley depicts Asheville hospitality

(And here are my comments on WLOS TV-13)

Short Term Rentals (STRs) have been much in the news in the past couple of years because internet advertising systems have made it possible for more would-be hosts to reach more potential tenants than ever before. It isn’t a new idea. When I traveled in the British Isles in 1981 I bought a newsprint booklet that listed Bed and Breakfasts (BnBs) in every town. Some were rooms and some were stand-alone apartments. And of course larger BnBs have been familiar here in Asheville since a decade or two before Thomas Wolfe’s mother launched her boarding house.

For whatever reason when the current version of Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) was fashioned in the late 1990s it included a strict prohibition against renting any housing unit in residential areas for less than 30 days. A housing unit was deemed to be a place where someone might live full time. As a practical matter it was deemed to be rooms including a stove. It also provided for  legal HomeStay rental, which meant rental of a room or two within a private home for less than 30 days, without a separate stove. Oddly enough it also required the host to serve breakfast to guests. For other meals it was necessary to share the kitchen.

Who Knew? And When?

As near as I can determine, most people didn’t know about the 30 day limit, and those who did didn’t much care. Numerous hosts I have spoken with insist that when they went into the business in recent years they contacted Asheville City Staff representatives and asked if it was okay. Many were evidently told the same thing (though no one on Staff today is willing to admit it): “As long as there are no complaints.” As a practical matter, whether Staff said those words or not, that was the basis for enforcement. No problems? No problem. For the most part it seems that loud parties were the principal trigger for complaints, though sometimes parking issues or other infringements on neighbors were an issue.

As internet advertising caught on the number of people participating as hosts grew. AirBnB is the best known, but Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), FlipKey, CouchSurfer, and others including Craig’s List began to feature listings. The systems with the best feedback became the most reliable for both hosts and visitors which may be why AirBnB has been such a success around the world. Hosts rate guests and guests rate hosts. In order to be permitted to make reservations a guest had to have a clean record—make trouble for one host and no one else wanted your business. Hosts had a big incentive to provide the best facilities in their area or price range. Hosts often invested substantial money in their rental units. (I know one couple who put something like $60,000 into a honeymoon suite: hot tub, kitchen with latest appliances, spiffed up furniture and decor.) These hosts made their financial plans based on what they believed was a de facto legal business, whether or not they knew it was illegal de jure.

Many people operated their STRs for years without neighbors even noticing (in my case a house across the street was doing this for three years and I only learned about it when the STR issue blew up in 2015.) On the other hand, some neighbors were very aware and angry that their neighborhoods were “being turned into hotels.” During that same time period housing prices in Asheville and around the country were rocketing. (This was largely the result of a house building dip during the Great Recession, with the added stress locally of Asheville being the most popular city in the country on numerous best-of lists.) Affordable housing advocates began to blame STRs for the shortage of affordable apartments and homes.

As an upshot of the upset, Asheville City Council voted in the fall of 2015 to begin strict enforcement of the UDO rule against rentals less than 30 days, and to raise the fine for violation from $100 per day (after a Notice of Violation was issued and if the host did not desist) to $500 per day. In the November 2015 City election the chief advocate of the high fine and strict enforcement was voted out of office, with his stance on STRs one of two principal reasons for his defeat. (The other was his support of sale of the Haywood Street property to a hotelier.) However four members of the new Council continued to support the enforcement effort and hundreds of hosts were issued NOVs and forced out of business (or forced to remove stoves in order to get HomeStay permits.) (How many of those stoves remain removed is anybody’s guess.) The City is spending something upward of $250,000 on enforcement efforts (depending on how one calculates the cost. New staff and new internet search services have been contracted, but its hard to figure how much pre-existing staff and so forth are enlisted in enforcement.)

So we continue to have a black market in STRs. Many are still operating using all sorts of strategies. Some only advertise to previous guests (return business is a mainstay for many hosts.) Some post at night or on weekends when City enforcement staffers are off duty. Some pose as HomeStays. But the bottom line is we have no idea how many are operating and where they are operating.

I believe we should permit people to use what is often their most valuable asset to benefit from the burgeoning tourist economy here. Millions of dollars of property tax money go into the infrastructure and public safety demands of tourism, and millions of room tax dollars (from hotels and AirBnBs) advertise this city around the globe. I see no reason why the benefit of the tourist economy should all run to non-local hotel chains which pay meager wages when local residents are prohibited from offering rentals. The need for affordable housing is not limited to the minimum wage workers in the hospitality business, it includes hard pressed couples and single parents unable to make ends meet with Recession depressed wages. Furthermore, STR hosts often employ local housekeepers who are paid much better than hotel maids, and service workers who keep their properties in tip-top shape.

As an interesting sidebar I met two strong opponents of STRs at a coffee shop in mid-March, 2017. While they both oppose “turning neighborhoods into hotels,” their reasons were diametrically opposed. One feared that STRs would diminish the value of his home when he eventually sells and moves to a simpler (retirement) dwelling. The other feared that STRs would drive up property values and make housing less affordable. I suppose each hopes that the other one is right.

I believe we need to accept the new economy, sometimes called the sharing economy, and see the the entire community is better off for it. As I wrote this, AirBnB reported that their participants took in $13 million in 2016. That’s money that stays in the local economy.

12 Years and Counting … St. Lawrence Green

Basilica of St. Lawrence, Friends of St. Lawrence Green
Thousands of yard signs appeared throughout Asheville in the summer of 2015

A majority of Ashevillians want a public park opposite the Civic Center 

For more than a decade thousands of people in Asheville have expressed a desire to preserve the property opposite the Civic Center and the Basilica of St. Lawrence as a public park. Petitions have circulated, demonstrations have been held, and letters have been written to newspapers and elected officials. Two opinion polls* have indicated overwhelming support for a park. Still those who want commercial development persist.

As we prepare to start holding events in the space that was covered with gravel for several years, the City conducted an online poll in May 2017, to name the performance space. Nearly half of respondents chose St. Lawrence Green or Park, with a majority for Green. It’s hard to imagine that the name will not finally stick.

Two City Council elections have been substantially decided over this issue. In 2005 when a proposed parking deck on the site became a hot issue, three opponents of the deck were elected and the project died. In 2015 when creation of a park became an explicit issue, park proponents finished 1,2 and 4, and the 3rd place finisher had shifted position from mild opposition to qualified support. The vice mayor who had been a vocal proponent of selling the property to a hotelier was voted out of office.

Meanwhile, in a “saved by the bell” moment, sale to the hotelier was scotched by a lawsuit filed by other hotel owners who challenged the legality of the sales agreement.

My view is that the first thing we need to do when Council finally agrees to take action is to enlist a traffic designer to propose the best solutions for traffic at the intersection of Haywood St., Flint St. and Page Ave. Nothing else should be decided before the traffic flow decision is made because it dictates the rest.

In the meantime we should do what we should have done a few years ago—start using the space for public events. In modern design terms these are referred to as “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” uses, a way for people to figure out what they like or don’t like in a public space. A festival? A concert? A farmer’s/tailgate market? Busking? Some benches? Permits for food trucks? Perhaps once the hotel construction on Page is complete, close that street to automobiles on Sundays and create a pop-up pedestrian mall?

The Project for Public Spaces, which made a presentation at the outset of the current task force effort, has helped facilitate this sort of effort around the world. Their advice? Start small with “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” experiments before any decision is made about the ultimate shape of a public park.

* One poll conducted online by the Asheville Citizen-Times was “self-selecting” and therefore somewhat unreliable. However about 75 percent of respondents wanted a park.
The poll I conducted was an automated poll (respondents touched 1 or 2 or 3 to indicate answers). Such polls are way cheaper than “scientific” polls where a company dials a few hundred “representative” people and talks to them. Automated polls cannot dial cell phones, which arguably shifts the sample to older people more likely to have land lines. But mine dialed over 5,000 Asheville voters who had voted in the previous two City elections, which is a large and arguably random sample. The results were 86 percent in favor of a park. On the same poll, conducted several weeks before the 2015 election, I asked about retention of the City water system which was being snatched away by the General Assembly, and which was a referendum question on the November ballot. My results lined up within a couple of points with the election day outcome. That gives me fairly high confidence in the accuracy of my poll.


Complementary Strategies for Affordable Housing and Carbon Cuts

organic garden, trellis, black-eyed Susan
My home in the summer

Zoning that creates walkable neighborhoods

Transit that reaches out into the surrounding county.

As an organic gardener for more than four decades, I am acutely aware of the interconnection of systems, both natural and cultural. In the same way that production of healthy food is a result of the amendments put into the soil, it is clear that the amendments we inject into our society have fundamental effects on our lives.

We need to consistently think in systems. You can never do only ‘one thing’ because every action spreads out like ripples from a stone tossed into a pond. That’s why I recognize that climate change has to be addressed by changes in zoning as well as transit and parking policies. It’s why I press for changes in waste stream collection as well as housing regulation reform. No issue sits in isolation and our City policies need to reflect our wishes and needs in every application.”

Our zoning decisions will affect development practices for decades. Will we build ourselves into walkable neighborhoods or continue the post-WWII practice of institutionalizing auto traffic? Will we supplement affordable housing by extending transit lines or by sinking money into downtown apartment projects? The choices could not be clearer.

My position is that attempting to battle the surge in downtown property values is fruitless. Affordability has migrated to the margins as big money rediscovered downtown in the new century. Spending City resources to bid into a rising downtown market will create a few affordable units. Spending the same money to help folks who find affordable units outside of town to commute to their jobs is a tangible and realistic goal.

This dovetails with my vision for Asheville’s future.