As temperatures plummeted during the Nov. 12 meeting of Asheville City Council, Mayor Esther Manheimer announced some hot news for local climate activists: Council members will vote on a resolution declaring a climate emergency during their meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
“Thanks to everyone who’s been involved in that process, and we look forward for that resolution to come before this council at the next meeting,” Manheimer said, referring to the numerous speakers who have inundated Council members with demands for the resolution since August.
Efforts to persuade Council to make the declaration have been primarily spearheaded by the Asheville chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led campaign to fight climate change and promote the Green New Deal, a legislative proposal to address climate change and economic inequality.
Despite the group’s apparent success, Ashley McDermott, a founding member of the Sunrise Movement’s Asheville chapter, said after the meeting that she was caught off guard by the mayor’s announcement. Her organization and city staff, she added, were “far from being in alignment” on the specifics of the resolution.
In a Nov. 13 group statement to Xpress, Sunrise members wrote that Council’s decision to add the climate emergency resolution to the Nov. 26 meeting seemed “presumptuous” because its terms were still being discussed with the city’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment. SACEE is expected to take up the issue during its next meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
“There’s much to be done on this resolution if we’re going to come to an agreement, so for the mayor to share that publicly feels like we’re being sidestepped in a process we initiated,” the organization members wrote.
The group continued that the resolution must not be “declaration for the sake of optics” and should be designed to generate tangible results. “The purpose of this would be to produce a Climate Justice Plan (or, essentially, a municipal Green New Deal) that shifts the framework for how we approach our budget and city planning process,” the statement read. “Without these changes to assure accountability, timeline, transparency, education and bringing voices from the community to the table, we will not support this resolution moving forward, and it should not be brought to a vote.”
Manheimer told Xpress in a Nov. 13 email after the meeting that she is prepared to postpone the vote for the resolution if Sunrise Movement representatives and city staff do not come to an agreement about the resolution’s language and impact.
“I was of the understanding that SACEE and Sunrise were in productive conversation about the wording of the resolution and felt Council would be able to consider the resolution at our next meeting,” Manheimer wrote. “Again, if that is not the case, the Council can certainly wait to consider the resolution.”
In other business
Council also voted to approve a more than $400,000 contract for the construction of a new fire station on city-owned property at 316 Broadway in North Asheville, which will include room to house three firetrucks, an emergency operations center, an administrative and operations space, and a community room.
The new fire station aims to improve service response in the Five Points, Montford, UNC Asheville and Richmond Hill communities. Funding for the facility had previously been allocated in this fiscal year’s budget through the city’s Capital Improvement Program. Construction for Fire Station 13 is scheduled to begin next fall and take about a year to complete.
Council beefed up supplies for the Asheville Police Department by agreeing to match a more than $25,000 U.S. Department of Justice Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant to purchase 78 vests for APD officers. Council also authorized the city manager to procure a more than $50,000 handheld X-ray imager for Asheville’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas/Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force to aid in detecting concealed items in vehicles. The equipment will be paid for using existing funds from the 2018 HIDTA grant.