I feel sorry for Bill Branyon.
First, Branyon, who considers himself an environmentalist, doesn’t get the endorsement of the local Sierra Club chapter when he challenges popular incumbent Al Whitesides for a seat on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Ouch. Then, Whitesides wins the Democratic primary by a more than 2-to-1 majority. Double ouch. Then, Branyon gives the Sierra Club some friendly advice about how to avoid backing winners like that in the future, and people in the eco-community go ballistic.
To hear them talk, you’d think Bill had called the Sierra Club — one of the world’s most respected ecological advocates — a front for reckless, out-of-town developers that has enabled some of the worst environmental atrocities in recent local history.
Oh, wait. He did say that, didn’t he? [“Sierra Club Chimera: WENOCA Chapter Endorsements Are an Environmental Disgrace,” June 29, Xpress.] He also called the local chapter “one of Buncombe County’s most destructive environmental parasites,” and the “bane of what’s left of our environment” and cynical performers in an “environmentally destructive charade.”
Well, at least he said it wasn’t sour grapes.
Politics in Buncombe County can get so personal. It’s times like these when I feel blessed to live in the calmer confines of Madison County, where the most contentious political question turns on whether there are any holdout hollers God has yet to take back.
I don’t really care if Bill wants to carry on a vendetta against the Sierra Club. I don’t care for whom people in Buncombe County vote, and I don’t care what endorsements, if any, they rely on. But there’s an important point lurking in all this bitterness that should be underlined.
People need to remember how climate change has complicated environmental issues since the ’60s and ’70s, when everything was a simple matter of green-good, developer-bad. Carbon footprints matter now. We have to think in terms of managing growth.
And nowhere is this reality better illustrated than in the incoherence of Branyon’s emotional opposition to “relentless urban infill” (atrocity No. 1 on his list of infamies that the Sierra Club has supposedly enabled through its endorsements).
The fact is that people are moving into this area whether you’uns in Buncombe County like it or not. Smart growth involves tradeoffs, especially as we move to replace energy-wasting urban sprawl with more energy-efficient urban density as the national paradigm. That doesn’t mean approving every development that comes along. But it does mean increased density in places where it makes sense: that is, in the city core where infrastructure exists and alternatives to automobile traffic are practicable.
That’s what urban infill — building new housing in existing neighborhoods rather than the sprawling suburbs — is all about. It’s not an ecological disaster. It’s sound policy. There’s a ton of research to back it up.
The trouble with Branyon and people who think like him is that they come from the King Canute school of public policy: If you don’t like the direction the tides are taking, just hold up your hand and order them to stop. Too many newcomers? Tell them to stop. Too much development? Tell it to stop. Resulting housing shortage makes rents skyrocket? Well, you get the idea.
Actually, I’m not being entirely fair. King Canute knew he couldn’t really stop the tides. According to the history books, he was just making a point to his fawning nobles about the limits of regal fiat. Bill and his friends have no such clue.
— Peter Robbins