Letter writer: Look closely at district voting push

Graphic by Lori Deaton

When you have the time, try this experiment. Starting in North Asheville, take Kimberly Avenue, then Edwin Place south, turn south on Charlotte Street, make a left at the College Street lights, then a right at the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive lights. Follow MLK Drive to the intersection with South Charlotte Street.

Notice anything?

Here are some questions to get you started (it’s OK, I know the answers):

MLK Drive was built half a century ago on the ashes of the homes of East End residents — has it been resurfaced? Ever?

Kimberly Avenue and Edwin Place have traffic-calming measures along their length. Despite the addition of traffic generated by the 500 apartments built over the last few years, MLK Drive has none anywhere. Why not?

Kimberly Avenue and Edwin Place have marked pedestrian crossings and pedestrian refuges. There are school bus stops on MLK drive, but no signed crossings anywhere and no pedestrian-controlled lights at the MLK Drive/Hazzard Street intersection. Why not?

There are stoplights at the intersection of Edwin Place and Charlotte Street. There are none at the intersection of MLK Drive and South Charlotte Street, despite the traffic from the new apartments. Why not?

The city’s motto, “Our quality of service, your quality of life,” rings a bit hollow in the face of these differences. In many parts of the world, it would be surprising that a city can find millions of dollars to build a mile of “green”way to benefit tourists and bike-rental shop owners, but nothing to ensure that kids from the East End get to and from school safely. Here, of course, not so much.

Council members may talk a good game but don’t seem as good at getting their staff to live up to the policies we hear discussed every other Tuesday. We are assured that some of the $74 million bond money will go to maintenance that has been deferred for far too long. We are asked to join in the process of recruiting a city equity manager. But half a century of experience tells us that while clever people come up with clever slogans like “Beer City” and “Climate City,” an honest slogan might be far less comfortable.

The current Council may be ineffective, but its composition is a testament to the efficiency and integrity of at-large representation — at nearly half female, one-in-seven minority, it mirrors the makeup of the city. And yet the cry goes up that the people living in South Asheville deserve their own representation because — well, because they live in South Asheville. There are two ways this might happen:

First, put in the hard yards and come up with a platform of South Asheville-friendly policies that also appeal to the rest of the city. The dog-whistle being used at the moment is so crude that it’s impossible to get beyond the racial animus, so it’s hard to tell what those policies might be.

Or second, cheat. Make the votes of South Ashevilleans count more than those of other city residents. Switch to district-based voting and gerrymander the districts. The words used so far and the maps floating around show that this is precisely what is intended.

— Geoff Kemmish

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7 thoughts on “Letter writer: Look closely at district voting push

  1. Deplorable Infidel

    spare the drama, camille…there’s hundreds of other needs ahead of that…district elections are welcome!

  2. Another View

    “The current Council may be ineffective, but its composition is a testament to the efficiency and integrity of at-large representation — at nearly half female, one-in-seven minority, it mirrors the makeup of the city. ”

    The Council may have racial and gender diversity, but it does not have a diversity of political views? Are there any fiscal conservatives on the council? I would be happy to know which ones represent socially liberal AND fiscally conservative, moderate views.

    The Chief of Police just asked for a million dollars to increase safety downtown. Will safety needs take a back seat to amenities? Will fixing the water system take priority over bicycle lanes and greenway paths? As wonderful as it is to have these amenities, the necessities that affect all of should take priority. (I thought that’s where the letter writer was going, when he compared the amenities in North Asheville, to the lack of amenities and necessities starting with MLK Blvd. But suddenly he switched to speaking against district representation. I think he was going to support district representation.

    I’m glad to have new sidewalks in my neighborhood . . but I rarely see anyone walking them. There’s a beautiful greenway in my neighborhood. Empty most of the time. On the other hand, the water pipes break and leak on a regular basis. Will it really be the case that the recent 25 percent rise in property/house evaluations be “revenue neutral,” or will taxes rise?

  3. I see more diversity of opinion on Council than is, perhaps, visible from outside. I would suggest that I am often on the side of fiscal conservatism. I have voted against most of the incentives offered to businesses that have come our way. I remain very skeptical about the businesses which claim they would go elsewhere “but for” tax increment incentives. I have continually pressed for changes in our public safety functions, in particular advocating for a change in our response to medical emergencies. Seventy percent of our fire department responses are for non-fire calls. We send a couple of fire trucks to every heart attack. The argument in favor is: our fire trucks get there faster than the county EMS, and we save more people. We can’t send the fire fighters in a smaller vehicle because if there is a fire during the heart attack call they would need to go back to the station to grab the truck. But I’m pressing for a better solution, perhaps either teaming up with the County to improve their response time, or withdrawing from the County and creating our own EMS. Either one would save money without reducing success. I was the principal advocate for replacing our street lights which is saving something like $350K per year in electric bills. I have been a consistent advocate for a plan that may come around in 2 years (due to contracts) where Asheville citizens will get a lower parking rate in garages than non-residents. I’ve also supported the new parking meters which will permit us to run them a couple more hours into the night, so that tourists and patrons of restaurants and bars contribute more to the transportation dept.
    And yes, lower income neighborhoods (which translates as non-white) have been treated badly for a very long time. I have long criticized the fact that upscale neighborhoods seem to get preferential treatment and there has finally been some movement. Bear Creek finally got speed bumps. And the East End will get better treatment soon. It continues to rankle that we seem to install pedestrian safety measures after someone gets killed.
    As for the greenways, they are going to be an increasingly important part of our transportation system. They are not simply parks for tourists. If we are going to seriously address climate change it is essential to get people out of their cars as rapidly as possible. This is a key reason for the Form Based Code we are gradually extending around town. Transitioning to walkable neighborhoods is key, and New Urbanism includes the tenet that in an ideal neighborhood everyone is within 1/4 mile of most necessities and normal pieces of daily life. Meanwhile we also have to amp up the transit system to make it as convenient as possible. (Longer hours on meters will help fund improvements in transit.)
    Meanwhile, to return to the question of diverse opinions, I think there have been distinct splits on Council on a number of “hard” issues. Short Term Rentals would be a case in point. My position (permitting STR of Accessory Dwelling Units) is arguably the conservative or libertarian view of many in town, from the viewpoint of people being allowed to benefit from their principal investment.

    • Another View

      Thank you to Mr. Bothwell for that comprehensive and well-thought out response. I applaud his fiscal conservatism in the instances he cited. “Getting people out of their cars” in a small town like Asheville is probably a pipe dream. Asheville can never have a public transportation system with buses running often enough (within ten or fifteen minutes of each other) and late enough (midnight?) to entice people to abandon driving. Greenways are indeed walkable parks for the well-to-do and tourists, since they don’t take people to places they need to go; they are wonderful amenities. They’re not for going to the grocery store, the bank, the post office, the drugstore, and doctor appointments.
      I am intrigued by Mr. Bothwell’s comments on EMS and fire truck responses to medical and other emergencies. I’ve had quite a number of experiences with both for family members, including my own trip in an EMS truck for what might have been a heart attack. Never two fire trucks, although as I recall the fire truck came first because it was closer, but it was followed almost immediately by the county EMS truck, so it could return to its station. Response time for both on all occasions was exemplary. Maybe Mr. Bothwell can find some small savings in those areas, but be careful not to mess up a superbly working system.

      City-wide elections leaves representation of different viewpoints to chance, and the hope that a council member who lives in, say, West Asheville, will have the same understanding of neighborhood issues in, say, East Asheville, or a predominantly African-American neighborhood, that a resident of those areas will. Getting representative government at all levels closer to people should be one aim of democracy. Mr. Bothwell believes in walking. I want to be able to walk to my representative’s house to chat and have her walk to the townhall she holds at my neighborhood community center. I want to see my representative at the grocery store I’ve walked to. Most of us can’t afford the level of financial contributions required for access to our state and federal representatives. (I only get to see a candidate for senate at a fundraiser, and only if I give $100.) Let’s keep city, and county government, truly local and personal, with the smallest unit of government representation possible: the neighborhood.

      • luther blissett

        “City-wide elections leaves representation of different viewpoints to chance, and the hope that a council member who lives in, say, West Asheville, will have the same understanding of neighborhood issues in, say, East Asheville, or a predominantly African-American neighborhood, that a resident of those areas will.”

        That’s imposing a false model of geographical homogeneity on the city, unless you want a 40-member city council. For example:

        “I want to see my representative at the grocery store I’ve walked to.”

        Off the top of my head, west of the river you have the Earth Fare, the Patton/Leicester Ingles, the Patton Sav-Mor, the Haywood/Louisiana Ingles, the West Village Market, the Smokey Park Highway Ingles, the Enka Food Lion, and arguably (though outside the city limits) the big Ingles up by Erwin High. At which grocery store would you expect to run into the West Asheville council member?

        This isn’t meant to be facetious: it just illustrates how any district model that preserves the current size of city council won’t come close to representing residents on the “neighborhood” level you’re imagining, and is more likely to pit neighborhoods against one another.

  4. Actually we are on the cusp of being able to greatly expand the transit system. Driverless buses will be a phenomenal game-changer. The principal reason for the lack of 15 minute service and late night service is the cost of drivers. It’s also why we have large buses – to amortize the cost of labor. But driverless buses are regularly operating in Shanghai, Switzerland, Amsterdam, and as of last month being tested in Las Vegas. Soon, and certainly within 10 years, they will be ubiquitous. 15 passenger buses running every 15 minutes will completely change the convenience factor. And the links on less populous routes will be filled by driverless Uber and Lyft services. The shift will come at least as rapidly as the demise of the phone booth due to the rise of the cell phone.

    • Another View

      Fifteen-passenger buses arriving every fifteen minutes would certainly get me out of my car. Mr. Bothwell, you are a visionary.

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