Letters to the editor

Cheap tricks deny rich heritage

I feel the slogan Buncombe County’s Tourism and Development Authority (TDA) selected for Asheville (“Asheville: Any Way You Want It”) is wrong. Permit me to expand on these feelings.

First, Asheville and Western North Carolina are rich in and renowned for our history, scenery, architecture, music, arts and crafts, independence of thought, and diversity. These are well recognized and distinctive assets. We do not need, nor do we want, our identity co-opted and redefined by each separate tourist.

Next, how do our independent restaurant owners feel about having Asheville branded and marketed as a fast-food hamburger?

Yes, sex sells. The vice president of the TDA, Ms. Marla Tambellini, quoted the Nike phrase, “Just do it,” as having sexual connotations. But do I want sex to sell Asheville? No.

Finally, the selection of a consulting firm from Florida showed poor judgment from the beginning of this project. “Hire local, buy local” should be the first consideration. Only flatlanders — those with an extremely limited understanding of the heart and soul of Asheville and our citizens — would find it necessary to picture a fictitious sign on Wall Street. We have enough real local color and diversity to herald without resorting to cheap tricks which bear no relationship to what we really are.

When it comes to Asheville, the TDA evidently felt free to have it the way they want it, and so made a decision which demeans and diminishes all of our citizens and our heritage.

— Alice R. Keller

About that day job

One question about your movie reviewer, Cranky Ken Hanke. Just why is he so cranky? I mean, let’s face it, the guy gets paid to go to the movies all day.

Tell you what: I’ll leave you my phone number in case he wants to switch jobs with me at the hospital kitchen.

— Sam Van Cartwright

Expanding the goods

Somewhere I read that the secret of a good novel is whether the author can get the readers to care about the characters. Maybe this wisdom applies to newspaper stories.

I am not a fan of music, much preferring the quietude of books, but when I read Brian Sarzynski’s Arts & Entertainment story [“Strangers No More,” Oct. 19] of a rare and threatened bluegrass community — I cared.

Maybe this was a good story.

— Gerald Hixson

Thomas was on the money

The heading for the recent Charlie Thomas letter [“Broadening the Picture,” Oct. 26] was apparently chosen by the editors, since the term does not appear in his letter. Hopefully, this is a sign that the hidden story about the Haywood Street parking garage will finally come to light, and the press will take responsibility for reporting the truth about this controversial mess. “This conflict of interest has still not been reported by the media,” wrote Thomas.

The Residents’ Committee Opposing a Parking Garage at Battle Square has made attempts to raise questions about this conflict of interest and has even suggested an investigation. But our commentaries previously submitted for publication have been too risky for editorial boards. Each time we’ve offered our comments, we’ve been asked to soften our tone. Presumably, the truth about the conflict of interest presents a threat of libel. Nevertheless, the story is still there, clear as the water in a country creek.

We have found that there’s been an effort on the part of the city to push the project forward over the past several years by withholding information that’s been requested by the press, and by labeling [the project] as a “done deal.” This psychology has been effective in dampening citizen participation at Council meetings and successful at confounding the press. Now that the story is getting out, the city is attempting to lay the blame on the citizens for failing to raise concerns earlier.

Charlie Thomas is right in his conjecture that the reason for the city’s secrecy was to prevent opposition to what would have occurred had the people and the press been informed. He is also right in his suggestion that Charles Worley should have recused himself from voting for this mixed-use garage. The private development components are what’s behind the effort on the part of a few to continue to push this plan forward.

Apparently, the units planned for “residential” represent a lot of money. And opposition to the project has been serious enough to cause the chairman of the board of the Grove Arcade Foundation (one of the parties involved from the beginning, eight years ago) to come out against the editors of one paper who called for putting a hold on the project.

It’s a good thing that the editors at Mountain Xpress saw fit to publish Thomas’ letter, apparently intact. Let’s hope that this is a sign on the part of the paper and its publisher to broaden the picture some more, until the full story about this ugly matter is told. Let’s hope this happens before Nov. 8, so that the citizens of Asheville will have a fair chance to make an informed decision at the polls.

It might even help members of City Council who voted yes on this bad deal back in December to change their minds and come out publicly against this unwanted garage before election day. That’d be a real “October surprise,” and another good thing.

— Roger Smith

Vote against the deck

By now, everybody knows that the city of Asheville wants to put up a five-story parking deck that wraps around the Battery Park Apartments.

The Battery Park is home to low-income elderly, and this deck would block their views, light and air, as well as subject them to years of construction noise, debris and dust. What a terrible idea. Is this really the best we can do?

Additionally, the city has included three other buildings in this dreadful plan that would almost completely block our view of the Basilica. What could they be thinking? The Basilica is a beautiful, historic building; why would we hide it behind a parking deck? Our children will not thank us for this.

Please vote for Robin Cape, Bryan Freeborn and Holly Jones for City Council. They are the only City Council candidates who are firmly opposed to this deck.

— Laura Thomas

Redefining the hard-drug problem

A candidate for public office recently observed that the most serious problem facing Asheville is the problem of “hard drugs” and the attendant problems of child abuse, domestic violence, crime, etc. One is not sure what is meant by the term “hard drugs,” but usually it is meant to refer to illegal drugs like cocaine (especially crack cocaine) and heroin. Excluded are generally legal drugs like alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, and the illegal drug marijuana.

There are at least two problems with this way of framing “the problem.” One is that all the problems cited in relation to the use of hard drugs occur in much greater frequency in any community as a result of alcohol use. The other is that the core problem is seen as residing in the drugs themselves and in their use and distribution. In reality, these drugs are primarily consumed in communities other than where their effects are most often observed. The communities most identified with hard-drug use and distribution in Asheville are public-housing neighborhoods. Asheville’s public-housing neighborhoods are predominantly populated by people of color with low incomes. The epidemiological data on drug use indicates that drugs are used more heavily by white people, and that use increases with income. The “problems” seen by our local officials are the result of something other than the drugs themselves.

Drug-control policy in this country virtually assures that the drugs that are most identified as problems by politicians will be distributed by the people, and in the communities, most at the margins of society. This is because those people most marginalized have the least to lose by engaging in behavior that has the potential for resulting in long prison terms. And it occurs in those marginalized communities because of the dominating influence of the most marginalized residents and interlopers who come into those neighborhoods to engage in illegal activity.

Public-housing neighborhoods — in large part — replaced true, organic communities, in which there was a diversity of residential, social and economic activity, with artificial residential neighborhoods isolated from a robust economic and social life. The Block in Asheville is only one of several vibrant neighborhoods that urban renewal “renewed” into oblivion.

The dual and complementary problems of racism and poverty are both cause and result of the manner in which our community has chosen to beautify itself and remove the least empowered of our citizens out of day-to-day public view. (Except, of course, for those pesky homeless people who continue to besmirch our streets with their nervy panhandling. Here’s a suggestion for all of you who find the unwashed panhandlers unnerving: Smile at them, nod at them, indicate you recognize they are human beings, even if you are not going to give them any money.)

It is noble that some of our public officials want to get rid of the hard-drug problem. (This is, it should be noted, contradictory to the Bush administration’s conviction that the “real” drug problem is marijuana, and if people would just stop using that drug they wouldn’t go on to hard drugs. These people are even more clueless than our local officials.) The problems that people identify with hard drugs are, in fact, problems attendant to racism and poverty, and until our — or any — community is really ready to address these problems, drug dealing, violence, crime and child abuse will be observed disproportionately in those communities with the least resources to address them.

— Robert F. Wilson

Progressive at what cost?

At the Oct. 12 meeting of City Council, approximately 30 mostly elderly, concerned citizens watched as Bellamy, Newman, Jones and Worley refused to listen to the complaints of the citizens. The associated project on Virginia Avenue (West Asheville, across from Ingles on Haywood Road), once named Brotherton Commons and now known as Green Point, is a 44-unit housing project on five to seven acres of land, 25 percent on a 45-degree slope (a site for a playground, suggested Bellamy). Virginia Avenue will be cut off at the end, near the project, by an expanded I-26; 21 on-street parking sites have been allocated by the city planner, who described to the City Council the project that the citizens opposed. This, on a 23-foot wide street where we must pull aside to allow someone to pass. No, we don’t want Virginia Avenue widened.

The citizens of this part of West Asheville have been trying to block this project for 10 years. First it was farm land; developers razed all the trees in preparation for 32 units. Then when that project’s funding collapsed, the city of Asheville, which owns the land, cooked up a relationship with Neighborhood Housing Services, [an organization] which has honorably served inner-city development for many decades in various cities.

This will be settled in a court of law, and undoubtedly the violation of the seven UDO standards pertaining to development will be mentioned. This is not to mention the violation of the city’s own rules and procedures pertaining to the Council meeting itself. Fortunately, Charter Cable recorded the event.

The West Asheville Neighborhood Association (W.A.N.A.) has now been established, and may be contacted at hammondmv@netzero.com. Our agenda is simple: Make the City Council attend to their own seven UDO rules of development. Moreover, though I am a progressive Dem and Green-leaning person, I must vote for Joe Dunn and against Bellamy. Dunn, as well as Mumpower and Davis, have consistently challenged the violation of the UDO standards — something which the “progressive” caucus has simply ignored. “Progressive” at what cost? Violation of the city ordinances? Killing a neighborhood?

— Marsha Hammond
West Asheville

Beware the wave of ugly

I am writing to someone because I’m not a political activist and don’t know where else to write. Hopefully, a couple of politicians will read it, if you publish it.

I live in West Asheville, still known as Waste Asheville. Well, guess what? There are all kinds of people here who are fixing up houses and trying to raise families. Since we moved here, a former crack house has been renovated by the new owner. The house next door got fixed up, and a couple with a young boy moved in. (I’m not sure if they’ll ever finish putting finishing touches on it, but that’s another story. At least they care.) I don’t think anyone around here is rich; we’re delivery people, plumbers, store clerks, teachers, a few small-business owners, etc.

Here’s the to-the-politicians part: Developers are raping West Asheville, and we are sick to death of it. Terry Bellamy is supporting a high-density complex down the street that everyone here has been fighting for 10 years. She seems to feel it will be more acceptable if a playground is included. About a third of the land is on a 45-degree grade. How about putting a basketball court in there — it will add a whole new dimension to the game. Every postage-stamp sized piece of land is being bought, and multiple little ticky-tacky, pre-fab, two-room studios are being built that are advertised as single-family dwellings. Already a mother pushing a baby in a stroller has to duck and cover because there are so many cars parked in the street that when one of these pocket-rocket Japanese hot rods comes ramming down the street, there is just barely enough room for them to get by.

Folks, I’ve seen it in San Francisco, Charlotte and Atlanta. If the folks who live in this town give a tinker’s damn about where they live, they — we — better start getting political and voting in people who represent the voters and not the developers. It seems our City Council is ready to lay down for any big-bucks proposal that comes their way, and the heck with the city of Asheville and any long-term vision as a whole. By the time a wave of ugly rolls over the town and it is culturally dead or dying, it will be too late.

Well, that’s it. A lot of folks around here are getting madder by the day. If you want this junk built, do it in your back yard. My advice is to find out who and what you’re going to vote for. I never used to vote, but I am now!

— Paul SaintClair

Healthier transportation is really an option

The Mountain Xpress really recently published my essay on commuting to work by bike [“Surviving the Ride of Death,” Oct. 19]. After the Strive Not to Drive activities last April, I commuted to work by bike over 30 times (as often as schedule and weather permitted in June and July). In the last few weeks, I have not been commuting because even I would not try the Ride of Death in the dark. But I do see light on the horizon.

Bryan Freeborn is running for Asheville City Council. One of the first things that caught my eye on the Freeborn Asheville shirt was the bike. Freeborn has worked with the Asheville Transit Commission and is committed to an Asheville with strong communities that are not reliant on cars. A vote for Bryan Freeborn is a vote for healthier transportation in Asheville.

— Keith Bamberger

Farmers markets need city support

Asheville is blessed with outstanding local food. One of the great things about Asheville is that people here are supportive of local food and local farmers. Unfortunately, the local government does not seem to share this enthusiasm.

There are several farmers markets in Asheville, but they are apparently neglected by the local government. On Saturdays, markets occur in two widely separated locations (behind Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company, and near the French Broad Food Co-op) that are small and lack infrastructure. Together, the separation and lack of infrastructure limit consumer access to farmers, and farmers’ access to consumers. What we need is support from the city to consolidate these markets in a central downtown location and provide infrastructure such as a rain shelter. The city could close a downtown street every Saturday, or provide a permanent rain shelter for the market. Such support from the city would greatly benefit local farmers and Asheville consumers. It would also benefit downtown merchants by bringing people into the city on Saturday afternoons.

In the upcoming election, I will be voting for Bryan Freeborn and Robin Cape, in part because they will advocate this kind of city support for our farmers markets.

— Dan Steinberg

On politics, public service and Freeborn

In mid-January of this year, a small group of Asheville area citizens met with Rep. Wilma Sherrill to get her input on such issues as election reform and instant runoff voting. I was among them, mostly in the role of “fly on the wall.”

I have three strong memories of that day. The first is that I came away with a respect for Wilma Sherrill, who made time in her busy schedule to talk to a small group (who likely hadn’t voted for her) and who struck me as an honest, straight-talking, experienced and practical politician.

The second is that, after their many years of activism and advocacy for causes ranging from local water quality to world peace, it was the last time that I saw local legends Hazel and John (Jack) Fobes working together as a team. I always felt privileged when I would encounter them, and I admired them again this day — Hazel, so sharp-witted and quick to laugh, and John, a little frail but keenly engaged by the conversation. Sadly, I found out later that he died shortly afterward — humanitarian and model American (and world) citizen until his very last day.

The third memory is of meeting City Council candidate Bryan Freeborn for the first time, after seeing him at various progressive Democratic party events leading up to the 2004 election. A quick visit to his Web site (freebornasheville.com) will let you know where he stands on local issues and challenges. Subscribing to his e-mail list is even better.

But what I’d really like to say is that I met that day a young man whose young face might have fooled me had I not heard a thoroughly informed, articulate person who made me think, “This is a going to be a guy to watch.” After every new conversation, I come away with new respect for his ideas, his ideals, his drive and his motivations. He strikes me as a perfect representative for this new Asheville. He has a vested interest in our town: married, with two young children whom I’m sure he’d like to see playing safely in their neighborhood, going to strong public schools, and having the option of staying in an economically healthy and affordable Asheville when they’ve grown. He knows how to build relationships in order to get things done, but he also knows when not to back down. If we will only support candidates who make this strong a showing so early, we can foster the kind of lifetime commitment to public service that we’ve been graced with from the Hazel and John Fobeses of the world. Please vote for Bryan Freeborn and others like him.

— Sarah Brown Sullivan

Having it both ways

After the Katrina disaster, and seeing the dearth that plagued New Orleans, President Bush announced that we must address the issue of poverty. At the same time this announcement was made, budget cuts were taking place, one of which was for Medicaid.

As a social worker with individuals challenged with mental illness, I witness the financial struggles these individuals face on a daily basis. To cut [the resources of] those relying on Medicaid benefits will in no way “address the issue of poverty.”

Frankly, there are only two things I can say I like about President Bush, and that is his face.

— Sharon Connolly

The potential of the free mind

A slave of old received care and amenities at the discretion of the slave owners. Over the decades, a good understanding was achieved of the economics of keeping the slaves controlled and distracted, while squeezing them till they dropped or rebelled. Servitude, bondage and slavery are gone. Or are they?

I ask you, has much really changed? Men and women and children have toiled and died, from the coal mines to the fields to the factories — the lives of many for the leisure of so few. And now the Walton clan made Forbes‘ top-10 wealthiest people with a combined net worth in the tens of billions of dollars, while the millions who work at Wal-Mart actually have a negative net worth. Cuts are proposed to Medicaid, pension guarantees and food stamps, while the poor are fighting and dying in a war or are neglected in the streets — all while the rich profit. A slave was as free as we are today. There were options to rebel, even escape to another life, but for most, the best was to accept your lot and make the best of it. Now, as then, we are bound by social, economic and deeper personal constraints. But freedom is actually in the mind, and from the mind comes action or inaction. And like minds in action can make a change.

Today there is a difference. We can communicate and share directly with one another through e-mail, chat, print and old-fashioned conversation. As diverse as our views may be, I believe it is in the open sharing that we will find commonality and unity. I urge you to speak your mind with the people you meet every day. You may find enough like minds to make a change.

— Michael Birkle

Don’t slash working-class chances

In light of recent proposals by Congressional Republicans, who plan to slash $35 to $50 billion from vital national services such as Medicaid, student loans, food stamps and unemployment, I must speak up!

Why these, of all programs? Medicaid is a last-resort health-care option for millions of people who are poor, elderly or disabled. Food stamps help feed 20 million families in need per month, and student loans are the only way that millions of middle-class Americans, including myself, can afford higher education.

Congress must understand that these services are critical to the survival of American working-class citizens, and vote down the proposed budget cuts! Without these programs, so many Americans will not even have a chance of succeeding — let alone surviving — in today’s world.

— Katie Pecunies

Feathering the pork barrel

I would venture to say that few, if any, of the “lawmakers” working on the cost-cutting project for federal spending will ever need to use any of the taxpayer-funded programs they are trying to butcher or even eliminate. Being wealthy spares them the trouble of having to figure out whether they are going to buy their medicine or feed their family. It’s easy to forget that there are people making that choice when you are surrounded by other wealthy people whose only concern is becoming wealthier.

Walk a mile in my shoes.

Perhaps seeing firsthand the results of their cuts would convince a few of the elitists just how much their greed and corruption has cost the common people who happen to be poor or middle class. Maybe if the lawmakers weren’t allowed to feather their own nest through extravagant pork-barrel spending, they would find much of the money needed to achieve their goal. But that would be too much to ask.

— Gary M. Poppas

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