Ever wonder why Asheville is such a clown town when it comes to local politics? Our City Council works very hard with good and honorable intentions, but they seem to trip over their personal agendas, egos and lack of pragmatism.
My conclusion is that this is because they’re elected by, and only hear the drumbeat of, a very narrow segment of the population. On almost every issue, these small groups of very vocal and articulate advocates give our elected officials the impression that their group’s wishes represent the voice of the people.
An example was the brouhaha to save the magnolia tree in City/County Plaza. Some 8,000 people signed a petition asking the county and city to stop developer Stewart Coleman from cutting down this tree and to take back the land the county sold him. Hundreds danced around the tree, prayed and camped out in an effort to prevent its demise.
When they presented this petition, they insisted that they represented the desire of the people of the city and county to save this tree. I’m not saying they were wrong, but they constituted only a tiny fraction of county residents and couldn’t honestly know the position of the 210,000 people who didn’t sign the petition. Similarly, it would be instructive to know the opinions of the many thousands of people who don’t normally weigh in on the many pressing issues the city faces.
Since I have zero budget for this column, however, I decided to gather the opinions of the silent majority via a “virtual poll” of people on the street and at truck stops, senior centers and community centers in a variety of ethnic neighborhoods. (This required occasionally asking questions in Spanish or Russian, with apologies to Dr. Mumpower.) So here’s the consensus on some of our more pressing issues, as revealed by my extensive “virtual interviews”:
Water system: We have sufficiently enriched the legal profession. Just cut the best deal you can with the county for a regional water system, keep the rates down and the water flowing. The water system should not be a city piggy bank.
By the way, are these questions you’re asking going to help us get better jobs—or find jobs at all?
Interstate 26 connector: We have flogged this dead mule long enough. Don’t do anything fancy; all those gateways and bike paths sound good, but the state ain’t going to buy it, so just let them put through the plan they want.
Sure, some people and businesses will be displaced, and they must be compensated fairly. That’s the nature of eminent domain (for the public good). We are tired of wrecks and traffic jams; we need to get our kids to school and get to work. As our hero Larry the Cable Guy says, “Git ‘er done!”
By the way, are these questions going to help us find better jobs?
Greenways and bicycle paths: Many of us are too old to ride bikes up and down these hills, and the young folks say we already walk enough running for the bus and carrying those trays back and forth to the kitchen.
The UDO: What’s the UDO?
Affordable housing: We sure would like to have some of that, but the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods says it will be built only over the dead bodies of the 56 neighborhoods they represent, and we don’t want to have to have a coroner’s inquest. We don’t understand why they object to having nurses, firemen, schoolteachers and other hard-working people living in their neighborhoods. How do you spell “NIMBY”?
By the way are these questions you’re asking going to help us find jobs?
Downtown Master Plan: This bunch of Boston Yankee consultants don’t know nothin’ about downtown Asheville. They can’t decide between tall and sprawl. They think tall buildings block the view of the mountains. Hell, if you want to see the mountains, go to the greenways.
They are going to tell the developers how and where to build their buildings. If you build in Asheville, you don’t need an architect: Just announce your intention to build and you’ll get 500 amateur architects for free.
Meanwhile, the obstructionists, aided and abetted by the economy, have rendered this issue moot. Hardly anyone will even think about building downtown in the next 10 years.
Never mind: We locals don’t go downtown anyway. There ain’t no parking, and that graffiti looks like chicken scratching. Of course, if the job situation doesn’t improve, we might be joining the panhandlers on the streets.
Forced annexation: We thought you people wanted to keep Asheville small, quaint and charming.
Storm-water ordinance and stream buffers: There have been a couple of mudslides over the last 20 years, and RiverLink says the French Broad turns muddy when it rains. In response, they are ready to legislate our property into worthlessness and throw the baby into the stream. Old people: “That French Broad has been muddy when it rains for as long as we can remember.”
Pack Square Park: Young people: “It will be a proud day when our grandkids are grown up and we can all go to the grand opening together.”
Old people: “Pass the green bananas.”
Civic Center: Stop studying. Just put the damn roof on, bring in some wild bands and put in some big exhaust fans, so the pot smoke won’t sting your eyes.
And finally, the most burning issue of all: What do you think about The Magnolia Tree?
[Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]