Bill Branyon, candidate for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners from District 1, has three positions that could make our county much more humane and ecological.
The first is the decriminalization, not the legalization, of most drugs. This will remove much of the violence in our city that comes from police interventions into drug use, much of the homelessness, as the expense of black-market drugs and fleeing from police drive many addicts into the street, and much of the violence that results when drug abuse is made into a punitive issue rather than a health one. He will use a harm-reduction approach whenever possible, not a mass incarceration approach that’s being violently enforced now.
His plan to hold a countywide referendum on how much more development we want may prevent the continued destruction of our tree canopy in the city and destruction of our remaining forests, including Big Ivy, in the rural areas left in the county. As well as the destruction of the grace of many of our beautiful neighborhoods by excessive traffic and crowding.
If we vote no more development, or a small amount, he will zone the county accordingly, just as Biltmore Forest zones its town. Though, of course, Buncombe County would have many more different gradations of zoning than Biltmore Forest. Should we vote to have significantly more development, his plan is to appoint someone like Jack Cecil (cousin of the Biltmore Estate owner) as zoning czar. Mr. Cecil’s ecological developments of Biltmore Park, Biltmore Lake and The Ramble are models of how to preserve forests, tree canopy and grace.
And then there’s Mr. Branyon’s plan to fight homelessness and poverty by instituting at least a $15 minimum wage and hopefully even a $17.30 living wage as determined by Just Economics. This would replace the brutal $7.25 minimum wage now imposed by the N.C. General Assembly. Why should we be bound by a state legislature controlled by mostly Republicans who support Donald Trump, who wants to overthrow the democracy? And one in which profit maximization is their only goal, when they aren’t trying to end democracy?
He will also try to freeze property taxes in lower- and middle-income neighborhoods, and thus end the policy of the commission of effectively taxing people out of their own homes or putting pressure on landlords to raise rents to pay for ever-increasing property taxes. Subsidize security, not precarity.
As noted, some of these policies will require bypassing the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, but Mr. Branyon has a plan for doing that. He will harness nonprofits as well as use the county commission as a social pressure center on nonconforming entities, and even bypass Raleigh, should that be needed as a last resort. He notes that Asheville already bypasses Raleigh by being a sanctuary city and by lax enforcement of marijuana laws. So, avoiding inhumane Raleigh laws can and has been done.
These positions may sound somewhat transformational, but we live in transformational times. Without a more humane, ecological economy, we may lose our democracy. Vote Branyon in order to govern Buncombe County as a beloved community, not a bulldozing corporation.
— Ed Schell
Former chairman of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods
and Precinct 3 for over 20 years
Editor’s note: Schell did not respond to a question about whether the writer is volunteering for the candidate.