I believe an elected official must be a public servant. If you’re not representing the views and desires of the people who elected you, you are a fraud. Too many elected officials seem to think they are dipped in magic powder when elected and suddenly feel smarter than the voters who put them in office. I have always and will always do my best to honor the wishes of the folks who believed in me, and to be true to my promises. That’s really the whole platform.
My record on environmental issues is clear. I advanced the LED streetlight replacement program which is saving upward of $300,000 per year in city utility bills. I was the primary advocate on Asheville City Council for single stream recycling. Adoption of the Big Blue single stream recycling system has substantially changed waste disposal patterns in the City. As our education program proceeds we will continue to cut what we dump in the landfill—thus saving City taxpayers significant money and extending the life of the Buncombe County landfill. (Anyone who remembers the battle to site the current landfill knows that we will never be able to build another here. We need to make this one last.) I have advocated for alternative fuel vehicles – including the second plug-in police cruiser in the nation (after NYC), and am urging forward the idea that our next fleet of garbage trucks and buses should be electric. We will buy six all-electric buses in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Today scientists are telling us that climate change represents an existential threat to humanity. We must do more and do it faster to reduce carbon emissions. The City of Asheville has, during my terms, adopted plans to cut operational emissions by 80 percent by 2030. Buncombe County has begun the same sort of program.
My current goal is to make Asheville energy independent by 2050 – that is to generate as much electricity as we use via renewable power sources. We can. We must.
Near term goals are important as well. Building out the proposed greenways, connecting Asheville’s growing system with links throughout the County will preserve riparian areas, provide safe bike and pedestrian corridors, and enhance the lives of everyone in Buncombe County.
One of the important environmental policies that I’ve fought for as a Councilman is the creation of more public parks and greenspaces as opposed to rampant development. However, over the 20 years, Asheville has become increasingly commercialized. Chain stores are moving into downtown and at any one point in time there are half a dozen hotels under construction. Growth isn’t inherently bad, but healthy growth takes the needs of the residents into consideration. The developers who have ever increasing power and influence in this city have not done that. Thus, we as a city have a choice – do we want to let our city be continually commercialized, or should we fight for a higher standard of living for our residents? Personally, I’m going to fight to make Asheville more beautiful, livable, and environmentally friendly. One extremely important way of doing that is by putting parks downtown instead of more hotels or businesses. A prime example is the ‘Pit of Despair’ currently sitting across from the St. Lawrence Basilica. I believe we need a park there, and I envision a greenspace that can interact with Ashevillians by being a place for entertainment, art projects, festivals, food trucks, tail gate markets, etc.
This issue has been in the news a lot lately, but I’ve been involved with advocating for the creation of public parks downtown for the last 15 years. In 2003, I started a petition drive in 2003 which killed plans to build a high rise on the property on what is now Pack Square Park. In 2005, I helped organize a petition drive and protests to stop the parking garage that was going to be built in the space across from the Basilica. Much more recently, in 2015, I was one of the two organizers behind the St. Lawrence Green campaign, which brought the idea of a park to wide attention and resulted in a Council decision not to sell it before considering options.
Conducted polls, as well as the results of previous elections, show that the vast majority of people in Asheville want a park across from the Basilica. I want to continue fighting for a greenspace for the people of Asheville. Currently there are 3 of us on council – if I and another park supporter gets elected, there will be a park. Last year, I voted for the creation of a Task Force to follow through on the people’s wish for a park, but the promised methodology, including multiple community meetings, never occurred. Additionally, it has come to light that there was extensive misogynistic bullying on the task force and I do not believe it was properly handled – I will always stand up against that inexcusable type of behavior and the bullying clearly affected the process and the outcome of the task force. I believe that this issue will ultimately have to be decided by a vote on Council, and I intend to be among those voting for the public park that the people of Asheville want.
Short Term Rentals
I believe that we should permit Asheville citizens to use what is often their most valuable asset to benefit from the burgeoning tourist economy here – their home. Allowing Ashevillians to use their homes for Short Term Rentals is smart, just, and necessary.
There hasn’t been a full recovery from the Great Recession and many people have fallen back in income. Using their principal capital investment for extra income is fair and reasonable. 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. Why should all the tourist money in Asheville go to hotels? Short term rentals allow Asheville locals to benefit from tourism instead of just the hotels – and the money they make gets re-invested in the local economy.
In 2015, City Council voted to impose $500 fines per day for anyone renting out Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which are rooms with an available stove, as a Short Term Rental in a residential area. I fought against this and to instead legalize Short Term Rentals under the same roof as an owner’s primary dwelling. That motion won 3 votes – not enough to pass. Going through with the strict enforcement of the new regulations, the City is spending something upward of $250,000 on enforcement efforts, which has created an STR black market – effectively not solving anything and wasting the taxpayers money. In other words, the City is spending the taxpayer’s money to persecute citizens in an effort to protect the pockets of hoteliers. If I was re-elected, I would continue to advocate for the citizens of Asheville who pay their bills by participating in our tourist economy in the best way they can.
From my years on Council and serving on the Housing and Community Development committee I have come to the conclusion that the best way local government can boost affordable housing is through transportation policy. I am not at all impressed by the success Asheville has had in diverting tax money to affordable housing. (Yet, according to a study at Chapel Hill, Asheville has the best record of city-finance affordable housing in the state.)
My specific goals are these:
- Eliminate most or all parking requirements for apartment development in urban areas. When we mandate parking we drive up the cost of building and therefore the cost of rent. Developers should be free to create apartments for people who choose not to own an auto – or who are willing to park a car at some distance. (Colleges frequently have this requirement for students who want a car on weekends, etc.)
- Expand the City transit system, in partnership with Buncombe County. We can create park-n-ride lots on transit corridors and help people get to their jobs more affordably.
- Continue to use Federal funds for affordable housing, but not increase the contribution from City taxpayers. According to a Dec. 2014 study done at UNC Chapel Hill, Asheville has led the state in creation of new affordable units since 2000. That sounds good, but the result has been meager.
Better to fund expansion of the transit system. Why the expansion?
After WWII as industry shifted from war materiel to building cars and the economy expanded, those who could afford to left the cities. Due to racial disparities in income this was known as “white flight.” Cities became poorer and run down. (Remember Asheville in the 1970s?) After the turn of the century the wealthy rediscovered city life and started bidding up downtown property in Asheville and around the country. Now the affordable housing has been pushed to the margins, and many workers are spending 25 percent of their income to commute to homes they can afford. Cutting that travel cost will make thousands of residences more affordable.
It does not seem rational to use Asheville tax money to compete in a booming real estate market to attempt to suppress rents. I don’t say this because I like it, but because that is the situation we face. Furthermore, it seems to me that subsidy for low cost housing represents an indirect bonus to low wage employers. In the same way that Medicaid is the health care plan of choice for Walmart’s part time employees, city-subsidized housing is a bonus for Ingles, McDonalds and all the other large corporate employers who pay paltry wages.
Buncombe County needs to work with all municipalities, and particularly Asheville, to provide county-wide public transit. A large proportion of employees in Asheville live outside city limits, and a county-wide transit system will provide multiple benefits: 1) Reduce traffic congestion; 2) Enhance affordability of housing; and 3) Reduce carbon emissions as more people use electric buses instead of fossil-fuel powered cars.
The first step will be to create park-n-ride lots along major corridors and provide frequent bus service, particularly during commuter hours. Using collector transport, on the lines of the currently operating Mountain Mobility service, could help people make the “last mile” connection to park-n-ride locations. The coming revolution with driverless buses will make this possible sooner than most people can imagine.
The incipient shift to autonomous vehicles will have a profound effect on transportation as I noted in a 2014 TEDx talk. Since then I’ve continued to study the issue and it appears that driverless trucks and buses will be on our highways soon (before widespread adoption of automobiles) and planning for use of driverless buses needs to be a top priority for City and County planning. I am currently in discussion with a major driverless bus firm which has done demonstration projects in other cities around the county. I hope to line this up in Asheville in the near future.
Additionally, I am calling for the shift to fare-free public transit. Along with expanded routes, fare-free transit will make getting to work and back far easier for thousands of Ashevillians. Fares currently account for 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.
- When the City finishes installation of new curbside meters we will be able to generate upward of $600K per year by extending meter hours. Unlike the old models, the new ones can be read at night. (Inability to easily monitor the old units is the reason paid parking is limited to daylight hours.)
- We can and should expand curbside metering into Biltmore Village and West Asheville as well. (There is no current estimate on the increase in revenue from this proposal.) Metering helps people find parking by eliminating day-long parking.
- When the City replaces its parking garage pay system, we should implement a dual price structure with Asheville taxpayers eligible for a lower price than outsiders. Our garage fees for non-residents should keep up with private parking rates which are significantly higher. This shift could easily bring in another $200,000 per year, and probably more.
- 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.
Fare-free is entirely doable, and we need to get it done.
I will continue my efforts to guarantee protection of the civil liberties of everyone in this country, just as I worked for passage of the NC Racial Justice Act in 2009, and successfully crafted a Civil Liberties Resolution for the City of Asheville from 2009 to 2013.
The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, including China with a vastly larger population. We can’t keep blocking people from jobs due to mistakes they’ve paid for. That’s why I voted to “ban the box” for City hiring.* And by the way, our drug laws have to change. The War on Drugs has utterly failed, and is the main reason for our high incarceration rate. See my statement on decriminalization.
Steep Slope Protection
In view of studies conducted over the past decade I believe we need to do more to regulate development on steep slopes in our region. Retaining tree cover not only prevents catastrophic landslides, but it diminishes flooding by preserving absorption of heavy rains.
Again, climate change demands we do this. All models predict increasing drought and heightened deluge as a warming atmosphere holds more moisture and then releases it suddenly during temperature shifts. Mountains force air up and such inundations are even more likely in a region like ours.
Planning for growth
We need to consider the latest information and the best possible projections in every decision we make regarding urban growth. This may seem self-evident, but it is easy to coast along on old assumptions. My example above concerning the “housing crisis” is a case in point.
Technical changes like the introduction of a Form Based Code on Haywood Rd. in West Asheville, and in the works for the River Arts District represent the best sort of forward thinking. Whereas “old fashioned” zoning attempted to separate land uses in the age of the automobile, a Form Based plan prescribes how things should look, how buildings should relate to each other and the neighborhood and the street, but now what goes on inside those buildings. (With the obvious exception that some uses simply don’t fit in some places—say an electric substation in a residential neighborhood, to pull one recent issue out of the air.) This encourages mixed use, with street level retail and offices and upstairs residences or offices.
* “Ban the Box refers to the idea that job applicants shouldn’t be required to mention their criminal record on an application. They should be allowed to qualify for an interview based on other factors, and then permitted to explain whatever legal trouble they had in the past. A youthful mistake ought not prevent an otherwise qualified person from at least interviewing for a job.