AshevilleCity - County Gov.Leslee KulbaNews StoriesOpinion

As the World Turns… Upside-Down

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By Leslee Kulba – By way of their consent agenda, Asheville City Council unanimously approved the sale of a condominium the city acquired via foreclosure auction in 2014. The condo had been part of a project subsidized by the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The property was advertised as a “beautiful newer condominium … containing a bright, open floor plan, … and views overlooking a forested area.” To qualify for the deed-restricted property, the buyer had to provide proof he earned no more than a certain amount.

Then, so as not to waste the public’s time, changes made to council’s Strategic Vision and Priorities at their mid-February retreat were added to the agenda only as a written presentation. One concerned the development of the North Charlotte Street Innovation District. Somebody had, “discovered some controversy that suggested that a new approach might be needed.” The report added, “We may want to work with property owners to review and revise the current overlay district.”

Another amended priority appears to represent a letting up on the gas for a pilot program that would have charged per pound for garbage service. Now, the drive to become a zero-waste city is only guided with a promise for a plan that will “use components of the work plans developed for pay-as-you-throw and composting.”

The third amendment detailed ambitions for small and minority business support. One topic watered-down was retention; which would have made the city force unsuccessful models to stay and languish, propped up by artificial life support rather than letting them do some introspection and reinvention or spread their wings and fly someplace where they could shine. Rather than simplifying its business licensing procedures, the city has prepared a guide to help restaurateurs navigate permitting and inspections processes. The guide was intended as a template replicable with modification for other industries.

Conventional wisdom teaches poverty is either hierarchically-imposed or learned culturally. Modern dogma has it that identity trumps biology. Flying in the face of both is Asheville’s proactive bolstering of minority- and woman-owned businesses. Staff would take extra efforts to reach out to these businesses to give them an inside line to city contracts. Special notifications, help with navigating the application process and education about available subsidies were among listed strategies. Council would also like to erect a monument commemorating African-American heritage, hardly the first thing on the bucket list of one perishing for hunger in an income trap.

Much of the unchanged portion of the visionary document audaciously calls for forging partnerships, reaching out to others to support municipal programming beyond the city’s means. One curious goal reads, “Examine new revenue streams and make recommendations regarding viability; Develop dedicated revenue stream for multimodal infrastructure; Evaluate application of annual municipal motor vehicle fee; Develop a plan to enhance funding from TDA; Leverage private partnerships; Food and beverage; Bond referendum.”

The meeting concluded with public comment. Several people had come to complain about the Asheville Police Department receiving another $1 million. Former city council candidate Dee Williams suggested council give audience to Ian Mance, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Mance joined the SCSJ on a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations. He specializes in police misconduct attributable to racial bias. “Why want another $1 million to be used to perpetrate more violence against African-Americans and other folks who we have documented as receiving disparate treatment?” asked Williams.

Next up was the Reverend Amy Cantrell. Echoing Williams, she said instead of spending $1 million on unjustly rounding up minorities for incarceration, “$1 million can be dedicated to long-term solutions that make the community stronger, solutions that will lift up fellow community members living in poverty, solutions that will positively change the State of Black Asheville by investing directly in the Black community for black-owned business creation and resources for jobs and housing that the community itself controls. These solutions will also support our Latinx [the gender-identity-inclusive form of Latino] community in creating a sanctuary city.”

Angel Archer thirded the emotion. “The police chief acknowledges that the cause of the increase in crime is poverty, right? But when you increase policing in an area in response to that, what that does is it protects those property values. It protects those businesses. It makes it so that the problem, the inequality that is producing the crime continues. … So, $1 million for the police is $1 million for inequality, for crime, and we want to see it go to the people.”

Lastly, Joe Pendergraft begged attention after being ignored by the mayor and governor. He said the Western North Carolina AIDS Project was handing out needles to underage teens who were using and dealing drugs in the parking lot. Pendergraft said he had been in the trenches volunteering for WNCAP in its early years. What was happening now was “immoral and illegal.”

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