The many Xpress letters and posts disputing my op-ed analysis of the Sierra Club’s political endorsements [“Sierra Club Chimera: WENOCA Chapter Endorsements Are an Environmental Disgrace,” June 29, Xpress] are so breezily fatalistic that the writers seem to be in a state of prodigious denial.
For instance, online commenter Peter Robbins posted: “Unlike Bill, the Sierra Club does not consider infill construction, when properly done, to be an ‘atrocity.’ It is generally regarded as a sound step towards environmental and economic sustainability.” Stop! Right there! Before the obfuscating justification appears. Let us deeply consider that the environmentally motivated Sierra Club can zealously state that infill development — a process that will involve gouging out hundreds or even thousands of big trees, stuffing crowded buildings onto scores of remaining green spaces, cramming people into concrete, shadeless densities, etc., and etc.! — that all of that is environmentally sustainable? Truly amazing.
Asheville City Council institutionalized this atrocity with its recently passed open space amendment. It accelerates development that will eliminate much of what’s left of Asheville’s green space. Only mayoral candidate and City Council member Kim Roney voted against it. If you care about our sacred ecology, that means that in November, you should vote against those Council members who voted for it.
Of course, the Sierra Club’s justification is the contention that infill prevents more development in rural Buncombe County. But it has not! Dear Sierra Club members, please just drive around the county and look almost anywhere. You’ll see brave glades, gallant meadows and even gorgeous forests clear-cut and paved for giant, cookie-cutter housing projects. You’ll find strip malls and big-box stores sprouting like monstrous mushrooms of asphalt and concrete, and you’ll be smacked by the massive destruction involved in the Interstate 26 widening.
You’ll even see extensive French Broad riverfront woodlands being obliterated to make what may be many more plants that manufacture parts of weapons for that quintessential ecology destroyer: war. And the vanguard of those factories, the new Pratt & Whitney plant, makes products that may be used for the ultimate planetary ecological destruction: nuclear war.
To contend this is not happening involves a breathtaking amount of repression. “We must have ever more destruction of the environment to save it,” chants the Kool-Aid quaffing Sierra Club. “Listen to yourselves, please!” insist the thousands resisting the brutal armies of the Development Empire.
The infill doublespeak also divulges the class aspect of the Sierra Club’s approach, for only in middle- and lower-income neighborhoods does infill occur. Nobody’s urging infill for the large, graceful rose garden in the Griffing Boulevard neighborhood of North Asheville. Nor is anyone suggesting filling up and then infilling the gloriously uneconomic Beaver Lake or the extravagantly pastoral Grove Park and Asheville Country Club golf courses or the sumptuous verdancy of Town-Sunset-and-Reynolds mountains. With eminent domain, we could infill them all, but we won’t because it’s politically untenable and their zoning is too restrictive. However, zoning can work in any neighborhood that has enough political clout. Zone! And save what’s left of our holy, natural world.
Some letters accused me of being bitter about losing to Al Whitesides, but my supporters and I were mostly pleased with the 3,366 votes we did get, given the powerful momentums we were trying to overcome. Nevertheless, some experts believe that a Sierra Club endorsement is worth 3,000 votes. If that’s true and we’d gotten the endorsement, we would have won.
Whether 3,000 or a thousand less or more, the Sierra Club’s endorsement is worth a lot of votes. They are definitely the most powerful Buncombe County political machine. So, contact your Sierra Club friends and try to liberate their severely repressed, environmental souls. With all their ecological energy finally, logically expressed, there’s no telling how much development we can control.
— Bill Branyon