By Leslee Kulba- At their last formal meeting, members of Asheville City Council adopted their 2016-17 Strategic Priorities. To its credit, the document seems less pie-in-the-sky and more responsible than its recent predecessors. For example, one goal is to address deferred maintenance of city infrastructure, although part of the program includes another bond referendum for 2018. Another project would be collecting data for reviewing the efficacy of the city’s corporate welfare programs. And the document calls for a review of the city’s OPEB policy. But other strategies for attaining well-intended goals may prove counterproductive.
For one thing, the city wants to count colors. The goal is to prevent discrimination, but by making race a criterion in the hiring process calls attention to it. Care is to be taken making the right number of the right colors of people serve on boards and commissions and participate in public input opportunities for the city’s Parks & Recreation programs. This would be a scale-back from former Mayor Terry Bellamy’s wish that all city departments be reflections of the city’s demographics.
The document reads, “Without intentional intervention, institutions will continue to perpetuate racial inequity.” To address the problem, the city will apply the Government Alliance on Race and Equity Tool. It is a program that will require the hiring of an equity manager. Even though it’s harder to believe people in this day and age are practicing racism than that people are playing the race card; may city employees emerge with the serenity to accept the things they cannot change like skin color, change the things they can like the content of their own character, and the wisdom to know the difference. It would do more for the African-American community than the proposed tax-funded heritage statue.
Also high on the list is support for the Food Action Plan of the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy agenda. It sounds heavy-handed and terribly demeaning that people should rely on government for something as basic as food. But, in our hyper-regulatory environment, the policy actually has legitimate goals. Among these are requests to lighten up permitting and regulation for urban gardens, make sure zoning maps don’t make food deserts of low-income neighborhoods, and provide pedestrian crossings by food markets. A little further out would be recommendations to improve the city’s list of recommended plants provided to developers to focus on edible species in lieu of exotics and invasives. Usual suspects in the FAP include an education and outreach component and federal funding.
It is good to be good stewards of the environment. Some people, like Councilman Cecil Bothwell and old-timey mountain folks, actually manage a zero-waste lifestyle. In an urban context, though, with apartments piled on top of each other, visions of zero waste may look like Medieval times inviting a plague. Municipal sanitation has its advantages for health and safety, but council is looking at beginning Pay As You Throw garbage collection and citywide backyard composting. It almost smells like one of Representative-turned-Commissioner Tim Moffitt’s anti-Asheville plots.
Also for Gaia, the city will continue with its plan to reduce its carbon footprint, though the percentage reduction per year, relative to a publicly unspecified baseline, will be subject to review. The target annual percent drop started at 2 and went up to 4, but the low-hanging fruit have been plucked. As the city proceeds with its own efforts to reduce fuel consumption, it intends to expand initiatives into the private sector with an Asheville Workplace Challenge, a program that would pilot in the Innovation Districts.
While providing “Quality Affordable Housing” is one of council’s priorities, the explicit action steps and goals don’t seem as progressively-fetched as former councils’. For example, there is no mention of land banking and rent controls, though the latter are currently in full play with the development review process. It is suggested that the city change its zoning ordinances to allow different forms of housing. More tiny houses would help the situation; but another suggestion, container housing, is ripped by engineers as an architectural fantasy. Adapting railroad cars for home life is not green in reality, and suitable, they say, only for short-term and un-stacked emergency relief. Presumably single- and double-wides will still be banned.
Affordable housing is but one of the goals for which the city would request partnership assistance from Buncombe County. County partnership will also be sought for, “energy, transportation, greenway extension, solid waste, parks and recreation, and other amenities.” Another partnership goal would create small business loans.
Preventing climate change would of course be a big part of the plan. It manifests in a number of recommendations for multimodal transit. Cities are fairly in charge of the natural monopoly governing the circulation of people and goods as they move from Point A to Point B in their modes of choice with minimal headache. But in spite of ongoing demands for greener routes, bikers remain few, and those walking to work are still rare enough to prompt ride offers from passersby. Among improvements to the bus routes are suggestions for expansion to the county. Against traditional notions that government should never force the human mind, the document reads, “Success is dependent on changing culture or mindset so that individuals make transit a natural part of the daily commute.” This is another area calling for 2018 bond referenda.
The document is replete with planning goals. The Downtown Master Plan is to be updated to include subjectives like, “enhancement of community character and neighborhoods and expanded options for place-making.” Other plans are in the works for Haywood Street and neighborhoods in general. The usual visioning processes will apply. Work will continue on the River Arts District, which, in addition to redirecting the road through Chris Peterson’s restaurant, will collect federal Innovation District and TIGERVI funds for multimodal improvements. Groundwork for the South Slope Extension and Charlotte Street innovation districts will be laid for work to begin in 2018.
It all takes money, but it would be inappropriate for government to say so. Instead, the city will “diversify” “both restricted and unrestricted potential revenue streams” not for special initiatives, but, “in order to stabilize funding of identified core services.” To help the city “leverage partnerships,” it will create and fill a “grants and partnership specialist position.”