Letters to the editor

Making life more bearable

I believe your article on the controversy surrounding Bartram’s Walk [“Bartram’s What?,” Aug. 9] contained the first printed concern I have seen about encroachment of development upon the habitat of the black bears in our area. For 15 years, I have lived and hiked on the Haw Creek side of Cisco Mountain, which divides Haw Creek and Chunn’s Cove in East Asheville. This July 5, I was walking along the ridge and ran into a large black bear that aggressively followed me along our trail despite my stopping, making loud noises and shaking saplings to make myself appear larger. I ended up running away (not the thing to do) in fright to escape. Just a few days earlier, extensive clearing had begun on Falcon Ridge, a 42-acre development on the top of Cisco Road on steep mountain property with 25 percent or more grade, within the city of Asheville. I now guess that this bear (maybe with cubs) may have been fleeing the bulldozers or at least was threatened by the loud noise of the clearing [activities].

In my search to understand this scary situation, I read the new book Living With Bears, by Linda Masterson, printed in 2006. In it, Ms. Masterson talks about the inevitable conflicts and dangerous situations that arise as humans encroach more and more on bear territory. She also details numerous community-education programs on safely living with bears (most importantly, garbage management, not feeding the birds and numerous other tips). Some examples are the Whistler Black Bear Management Plan, the Hemlock Farm, Pa., ordinance, the efforts of Snowmass Village, Colo., and many others. She also details many specific building techniques to discourage bear intrusion, apparently a not-uncommon problem in some areas of North America.

Given the crushing pace of proposed development around Asheville, I would like to start such a public education effort to keep bear/human interactions as safe as possible. If you, too, are interested, please e-mail me at grabenstein@cs.com. I think now is the time to rethink how we can continue to live safely with wild bears in Asheville.

— Sarah Oram
Asheville

Capital fee is no capital idea

We are writing to you concerning the recent action on the part of the Asheville City Council to charge a water “capital fee” for [users in] the city of Asheville and Buncombe County, starting on July 1, 2006. All information that we read in the papers and saw in the water-bill brochures was vague and general in wording. The two clear messages were that an increase of $3.50 per month, or $7 bimonthly, would be charged to most residents, and the increase would start on July 1.

On Aug. 5, we received our bimonthly water bill, and in addition to what we usually pay, there was a capital fee of $160 with no specific explanation! As you can imagine, this unexpected, high jump from the stated $7 bimonthly increase was shocking. After receiving this unrealistic water bill, we began to make phone calls to find out about the specific criteria for charging the capital fee. It was only after we talked to several people in the water department and on the Asheville City Council that we learned that the capital fee is based on meter size, it is an ongoing charge, and to change a meter size costs a flat fee of $300. During the phone calls, it was acknowledged that there were no written specifics sent out to the customers in advance of the bills being issued. If this vagueness of notification to all customers is correct, then the City Council’s action can be viewed as bordering on unethical and fraudulent.

We are asking the City Council to reconsider the ways they handled the capital-fee decision and to rescind their action by making any capital-fee charge realistic and just for all residents in Asheville and Buncombe County. For example, it is fairer to charge a capital fee of $7 bimonthly for all residents, plus the regular charge for the amount of water used.

The way this present capital fee has been handled, it is as if the Council is punishing the city and county residents and justifying their action based on the need to replace and improve existing water pipes and treatment plants. It is not the customers’ fault that previous actions of the City Council over the years have not used water funds wisely or in appropriate ways. So, we are asking the Asheville City Council to go back to the drawing board and come up with a much fairer plan for the people of Asheville and Buncombe County.

— Sandra R. Brown
Kermit Brown
Asheville

Living wage realities

I am writing this in response to your issue dealing with the local job market [Xpress, Sept. 6]. I am a college-educated 42-year-old and have lived in Asheville for 10 years. I make almost the same amount now as I did in high school working at a fast-food restaurant. I have been at my current full-time job at a grocery store for five years. My starting wage was $7.75 per hour. Now I make $8.55 per hour. I get 35 hours a week, and there will be no more raises [and] no more hours available.

The total of 80 cents in raises I have received over the last five years is because we have a union. The union also provides us with benefits, which makes me better off than friends with similar jobs. I don’t have children, pets or debts, but it is still hard to make ends meet. If I owned a vehicle, I couldn’t afford rent and food and basic utilities on my current income. Heat is included in my rent, or I wouldn’t be able to afford that either. In the past, even without a vehicle, I’ve had to go without heat in Asheville because my housemate and myself couldn’t afford it, and we both worked full time.

A lot of local small stores are suffering. I would love to be able to support them but don’t have money left over to do so after paying my bills. It is a Catch-22 situation. I really like living in Asheville, even though I’ve had to get used to a lower standard of living. However, if I do decide to leave Asheville, it will be for a living wage.

— Monique Turoff
Asheville

Santa Fe numbers don’t add up

I appreciated reading the recent article in the “Jobs” issue about the need for a local living-wage ordinance [“An Honest Day’s Pay?“, Sept. 6]. A living-wage ordinance would be an important step toward achieving the mayor’s goal of making sure that people who work in Asheville can afford to live here. … The notion that the Santa Fe living-wage law was “directly responsible for a 3.2 percent increase in that city’s unemployment rate,” [however], is simply not true.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Employment Policies Institute, which paid for the study by professor Yelowitz, is a notorious anti-minimum-wage front-group for the profitable yet low-wage restaurant-and-hotel industry, Yelowitz’s conclusions … have been criticized as unreliable for several reasons.

First, the study relied on national household-survey data … [that] includes only a small number of households in Santa Fe … [covering] fewer than 60 workers [each month], yet it has been estimated that roughly 15 percent of the Santa Fe workforce is covered by the living-wage law (over 21,000 workers). … Whatever conclusions could be made about the larger population from such a small sample size would be questionable, at best.

In contrast, the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico conducted its own study … and did not find any evidence of job losses. … The study found that overall employment at businesses covered by the ordinance (those with 25 or more employees) actually increased after the living wage law went into effect. See www.santafelivingwage.org/economic.html. In addition, the New Mexico Department of Labor found that 1,400 jobs were added to the Santa Fe workforce after the living-wage ordinance went into effect, a 2.3 percent growth rate …

Yelowitz’s main findings are based on his examination of the unemployment rate, … [which] is only one aspect of the employment situation in any given labor market … . Two economists from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that the increase in the unemployment rate in the Santa Fe labor market among those with high-school degrees or less (the group that Yelowitz analyzed … ) was due entirely to a large increase in the percentage of such people entering the labor force … and had nothing to do with people having greater difficulties finding jobs in the area.

The broader point, of course, is that raising wages to a level where people who work full time can afford the basic necessities of life … is good for the economy and for our collective quality of life. When people … have more money to spend, it stimulates the economy and reduces the need for taxpayer-funded government assistance. Those who say that these laws hurt the very people they are trying to help are intentionally misleading the public about the true effect of local living-wage laws.

— Steve Agan
Steering Committee Member
Asheville/Buncombe Living Wage Campaign
Asheville

Letting go

I appreciate the 24-hour meditation that Namaste Yoga held on Sept. 9 and 10 to [help us to] let go of all the fears surrounding the memory of 9/11. There was a constant flow of Ashevilleans sitting, chanting and silently immersed in the beautiful candlelit space of the meditation center.

— Almira Dickerson
Asheville

Exercising a neighborly right?

One of the perks of moving to Asheville is [the] proximity to the UNCA campus and the opportunity to avail oneself of the culture and programs there. Although I have lived here for 10 years, I [have] rarely found myself on that campus except as a committee member of North Carolina Beautiful, which awards fellowships and scholarships to undergraduates majoring in ecology, the environmental sciences and the like. I am also an avid racquetball player and weight trainer.

Until last July, I — and many of my friends — enjoyed fellowship and exercise at Visions on Kenilworth Drive. Alas, Visions went the way of so many structures in the city and became a sight for upscale condos. Faced with the dilemma of where to go, we found the choices limited. Ultimately, we found a new home at UNCA, where we joined the Center for Creative Retirement for $30 (now $40), and joined the “sweat shop” [gym] for $250 and enjoyed a trouble-free year playing and exercising …

We are a group of retired or active teachers and business people, men and women. We interact weekly with faculty and students and in no way interfere with their activities, although they often join us.

Lest we become too acclimated, this year a mandate was issued by the director of the center [saying] that members who sign up for the use of the gym must take a course for cost, many of which carry a cost of $100 plus materials. No other Center for Creative Retirement members share this mandate. It is indeed arbitrary and punitive.

I applaud the CCR, for it is a unique place that provides numerous citizens remarkable opportunities to enhance their educations and to learn useful and interesting things. As a matter of fact, I will probably sign up for a few courses. … [But] sadly this mandate flies in the face of what education should be. The director … seems to be uneasy with several men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s using the gym facilities and in no way interfering with … any other person enjoying that facility.

I believe that UNCA has intimated its desire to foster close ties with the community. To my dismay, the first time I have extended contact, it is a negative experience. To have good neighbors, one must act as a good neighbor. I optimistically hope that this comes to the attention of the powers that be, and that we can walk onto the campus and feel we are welcome — as good neighbors should be.

— Edward T. Wolfsohn
Asheville

Editor’s note: According to Ron Manheimer, executive director of the N.C. Center for Creative Retirement, the center adheres to all UNCA policies, including the requirement that users of the Recreation Center be students, alumni, faculty or staff. Therefore, to qualify as “non-degree seeking students,” individuals must not only become members of the Center for Creative Retirement (cost $40), but must also enroll in one of the center’s programs. This policy has been in effect since January 2006.

Oust those Democrats

Upon reading the recent, ridiculous defense letters about Rep. Susan Fisher, Democrat, N.C. House District 114, I had to respond.

Ms. Fisher was handpicked and placed on the House Ethics Committee by the most corrupt man in North Carolina, House Speaker Jim Black, who expected (and received) milquetoast, meaningless rules. It was important for Black to pick the committee to help cushion all the problems of his illustrious career of corruption. Her protective activities are indicative of the whole pay-to-play atmosphere at the legislature, controlled by Democrats for the past hundred years. I am continually appalled at the numbers of people who think she could possibly be effective as a legislator. She and her ilk are totally beholden to statewide corruption.

Contrary to one letter writer’s mistaken claim, the District 114 challenger, retired Col. Mike Harrison, does indeed provide proven leadership, after 20-plus years in the U.S. military! His common sense and leadership skills are badly needed to overcome the dominant Democratic oppression that has corrupted our once-great state. How did Democrats ever get to be so corrupt in North Carolina? What about it, Larry Leake or Gordon Myers? Any answers from you guys?

Harrison supports equal ballot access for all worthy candidates from qualified parties. The Democrats are scared to embrace that inclusiveness and diversity. Why? Even though I am an unaffiliated independent, without the [opportunity] to vote for a Libertarian candidate in North Carolina, I will vote for the only sensible choice in this race! Maybe one day we can have fair elections in North Carolina, currently about the most difficult state for “other” candidates to obtain ballot access. Did you know it is easier to get on the ballot in Iraq than in North Carolina?

We need sweeping changes in Raleigh, and the incumbents are against the citizens! Please cast your N.C. House votes for Mike Harrison, Eric Gorny, R.L. Clark and Charles Thomas in your respective districts!

Please do not vote for any Democrats, as they keep us all oppressed!

— Fisher Caudle
Asheville

No peace offered to doves

At the Sept. 11 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the launching of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent peace and justice movement, the words peace, justice, healing, reconciliation, nonviolence, compassion, respect, honor and love flowed through Pritchard Park in abundance. Yet right in the middle of it all, the crowd was oblivious to the imprisonment and possible death looming for the caged doves, symbolizing peace, that were later released. The cages were placed directly in front of a blasting speaker, ignoring the sensitivity of these animals to sound.

Not all doves come back when released. Some collide with cell-phone towers and power lines, fly into office building windows, or are killed by predators. White doves are particularly vulnerable to predators because of their lack of coloring. Gandhi surely would have been upset by the exploitation of animals in memory of his movement. One of his most famous quotes is: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Gandhi was a vegetarian and thought that spiritual progress demanded that we stop killing other beings for food. The potluck following the [park] event was not vegetarian.

Instead of walking away from the event with a sense of peace, I came away disheartened that the organizers ignored Gandhi’s deep belief in extending compassion to all animals.

— Terri David
Asheville

Looking over our shoulders

A year after Katrina, the Bush-Cheney administration is still stumbling to recover from absolute disregard for the U.S. citizens who were victims of the storm. I have finally lost all faith in this administration. Its Nixonian secrecy, its lies and its arrogance toward human life are unacceptable and un-American.

Oh — and whatever happened to the guy they say killed over 3,000 people of the United States in New York city on 9/11, 2001? Osama Bin who? We have got to open our eyes, America!

— Mark Fields
Asheville

No fantasy life for these birds

If the neighbors were force-feeding geese and ducks and keeping them in small, filthy cages in various stages of painful illness and death due to enlarged livers, stress and disease, the whole neighborhood would be in an uproar. It would at least be a minor local news item, drawing sympathy and plenty of clucking about kindness to animals. By the end of the week, the birds would be rescued and/or euthanized and charges filed. However, since foie gras is a business, the same situation is a non-issue. Patrons of the four local restaurants who serve it probably do not relate it to the beautiful birds that grace their neighborhood ponds and lakes.

Some concerned citizens have contacted the mayor and City Council to request a ban on foie gras, which is already banned in much of Europe and other parts of the world, including many American cities and soon, the state of California. So far, Robin Cape has expressed support, but no one has offered to initiate legislation.

Naturally, foie gras is merely one tip of the (mostly hidden) world of commercial animal abuse. While animal care has become more restrictive and expensive due to leases, moving, and increased demands from veterinarians for expensive tests and treatments, agribusiness continues to make profits and even collect government subsidies from animal abuse. Zoning even makes it impossible to legally care for farm animals, however responsibly.

From a business perspective, it certainly makes sense. Leave it to the professionals. Big Macs grow on trees, or (when you’re old enough) farm animals are happy, stupid, do not feel pain or mind being abused. It would be impossible to keep up the fantasy if it were happening next door. For more information please visit www.nofoiegras.org.

— Lisa G. Leming
Asheville

It’s not about winning

The United States has not won a war since World War II. We didn’t win in Korea; we didn’t win in Vietnam; and we haven’t won in Iraq. The so-called “War on Terrorism” is not really a war and is not winnable, in that there will always be new terrorists.

War is a barbaric way of settling disputes, in any case. We should strengthen the United Nations and work on civilized ways of settling disputes between nations.

As for fighting terrorists — none of whom have come from Iraq — we have created more terrorists and hatred of the U.S. by our totally unjustified, immoral and illegal invasion of Iraq and our continued presence there. We should withdraw immediately. And we should vote out of office the politicians who got us into that mess.

— Fred Flaxman
Weaverville

Oh, promise me

They said that, as a rising tide lifts all boats, everyone would be better off when government policy favors large corporations and the wealthy. Instead, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and the middle class is being squeezed out.

They said we should lead internationally through the demonstration of power and that the world community would follow. Instead, we have lost the respect of most and are hated by many. They said pre-emptive war would make us safer. Instead, the terrorist threat has expanded exponentially.

Republicans said they would bring compassion and fiscal responsibility. Instead, assistance programs to the vulnerable have shrunk or vanished, while the military budget has mushroomed beyond belief, and the nation staggers under a wildly increasing trade deficit that threatens the future of our children and grandchildren for decades to come.

Why would anyone believe their promises any more, or support those who got us into this mess?

— Liz Garrison
Brevard

I’ve got that sinking feeling

In the years following Sept. 11, 2001, I do not feel any safer. Our wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq are fueling the pursuit of terrorism by extremists in our world, not stopping it. Iraq is a quagmire that the USA is firmly mired in, and our Republican leaders seem committed to sinking our troops further in, not getting them out.

The events surrounding Hurricane Katrina show clearly that we cannot handle threats at home, much less abroad. Our Republican-controlled Congress still has not followed through on recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. How many people have to die, and how much destruction do we have to face to make our leaders realize our path is poorly chosen and needs to change? Our troops will be far safer at home, as will the rest of us.

— Adam J. Laiewski
Asheville

Balancing the budget increases

In a recent article from a local newspaper that compared Bruce Goforth and his opposing candidate for the N.C. House of Representatives in District 115, an interesting comment was made. In [that] article, Goforth was quoted as saying that he had the experience in balancing a budget. I find this infuriating!

[While] Goforth has been in office, our state’s spending has been up almost 25 percent from the 2003 figures, according to the John Locke Foundation. He voted for the 2005 budget that increased spending by $1.3 billion, an 8.9 percent increase. He voted for the 2006 budget that increased spending by $1.7 billion, a 9.75 percent increase. So how does he balance this budget? He increases our taxes. The ’05 budget increased our taxes over $600 million alone! We are now the highest-taxed state in the Southeast. The article reported that the ’05 budget was having a hard time making it out of committee, so Speaker Black simply put his puppet Goforth on the finance committee to push it out of committee.

Goforth has become a lap dog to Jim Black and [has] left the interests of Western North Carolina behind. Eric Gorny is a great solution to the bought-and-paid-for Goforth!

— K. Rhodarmer
Candler

Correction

In our Sept. 13 Green Scene article, “Shaping Public Space at the Crossroads,” we reported that a speed-limit reduction from 25 to 20 mph at a West Asheville intersection had been approved by the city. In fact, the current speed limit is 30 mph, and city staff has recommended lowering it to 25 mph — a change that has not as yet been approved.

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