I delivered this speech on the steps of the Buncombe County Board of Elections after filing as a candidate for Asheville City Council, on Monday, June 6.
I have just filed as a candidate for a seat on the Asheville City Council. I do so in part as an answer to President Barack Obama’s call for a new spirit of patriotism. It is also partly my answer to the first presidential speech I can remember hearing as a child, when another young president suggested we not ask what our country could do for us, but to ask what we could do for our country.
[photo by Edwin Shelton]
The patriotism I embrace is that of concern for the people of my country and my state and my community. To that end I echo Obama’s call for volunteerism, donating volunteer hours myself and encouraging others to join hands and hearts to lift up our community.
One lesson I have taken from our recent and ongoing economic collapse is that we shouldn’t count too much on passing along monetary wealth to our children. We have seen how suddenly dollar wealth can disappear due to forces far beyond our control. The important things we can create for our heirs are cultural and institutional. If we leave them well educated, with a society more firmly rooted in justice and equal opportunity and participatory democracy, we have left them more prepared to move ahead in their own lives. If we leave them an infrastructure that enables conservation of resources with cleaner air and reliable sources of water and food, we have handed them important tools for self-reliance. If we have moved along toward renewable energy systems and transportation modes that will work into the future, we will have given a lift not only to our children, but succeeding generations.
In Asheville, if we leave our heirs a city as beautiful as the city we have come to love, we will have left them both a beautiful place to live out their lives, and a place that will continue to attract others who patronize our businesses and bring new businesses into our midst, who purchase our arts and crafts and tune in to our music, who enrich our lives with their own stories and take home memories to share with others.
If, on the other hand, we guide our lives and our policies to enable short-term monetary gains, to use the resources of today’s taxpayers to underwrite pie-in-the-sky promises from outsiders only interested in cashing in on Asheville’s natural and cultural riches, we undercut our own and our children’s futures. We will burn today’s wood and leave ashes for those who follow.
I am convinced public policy should encourage conservation, through utility rate incentives and by using public borrowing power to help retrofit existing homes and businesses.
I am convinced public policy should protect current taxpayers rather than play the game called “increasing the tax base,” which has resulted in increased taxes for people in Asheville and hundreds of other growth-directed communities across the country.
I feel sure that a healthy, interdependent, locally focused economy can benefit the people who live here now, with increased job opportunities, particularly green jobs, and resulting in a community with higher real security in terms of food, water and energy.
And I have come to understand that the world is facing some very challenging times as we pass peak oil production and begin to address the most urgent crisis our species has ever faced, global climate change. The next decade will be critical in determining whether we make a smooth transition to sustainability or leave our children to ride an unpredictable roller coaster of economic upheaval and environmental disarray. Global warming is actually a local problem everywhere. It will have to be addressed city by city and business by business and home by home. It is a challenge we can only solve here and it is a challenge we can only meaningfully address now. If we succeed we will surely be remembered in our turn as the greatest generation and be ready to hand off that mantle to the next.
This weekend I celebrated the 4th of July like many of you, with friends and families, reenacting traditions that go back many years. In our case we went white-water rafting and canoeing on the French Broad river and camped up in Hot Springs. We shared sweet corn and watermelon and hot dogs while we sat around a campfire and stayed up late to watch fireworks while children played with old fashioned sparklers.
As happens so often when I’m camping, I thought about something my father taught me when I was a Boy Scout. He said, Cecil, when you leave a campsite, you should always leave it cleaner than you found it, better for the next person who comes that way. That’s a rule I have always tried to follow, where I camp, where I work, where I live. I even try to leave a few sticks of firewood as a gift to the next camper who passes by.
Of course, when you’re in a public campground, the sites are well used,the fire pit is a permanent fixture and there are remnants left by many previous campers. But out in the wilderness, I’ve always practiced what they call “no-trace” camping. That’s where you leave a campsite in the pristine condition you found it, so no one coming after would know that you had been there. If some thoughtless previous visitor left a mess, you clean that up too. In other words, you “keep it real” for the next person who comes along. I hope to serve Asheville as a member of city council for the next four years, and I will do my very best to leave this place better than I found it. I will do my best to keep it real.
Asheville City Council candidate Cecil Bothwell has advanced a revised plan for Asheville water rates aimed at encouraging conservation.
“The biggest problem with Asheville’s current water rate structure is that it encourages more use,” Bothwell said. “We need to put water consumers in stronger control of their bills and discourage over-consumption.”
Bothwell’s proposal includes a move that seems counter-intuitive: he wants to give away water in order to convince people to use less.
“I propose that we give every household on the Asheville water system 100 gallons of water per day, absolutely free,” Bothwell explained. “Households that use less than 100 gallons would get a tradeable credit. That is, if you use less water you can sell your free water to a bigger user. This system would be no more complicated than the computer systems we use to track cell phone minutes or frequent flier miles, and it will create a big demand for water conservation technologies.”
Bothwell points out that conserving water is not a “turn-on-a-dime” project, and that when cities face extreme shortages as they did last year in Atlanta, Raleigh, Durham and elsewhere across the southeast, stop-gap measures tend to be difficult to implement. “If we incentivize conservation today, water customers will be able to make their own choices on best practices, local contractors will be able to create and offer options and we will be far better prepared for both population growth and future droughts,” Bothwell said.
Current household use on the Asheville system averages 150 gallons per day, according to the Asheville Water Authority.
Such a rate structure is legal under the Sullivan Acts which regulate Asheville’s sale of water to non-city users. Bothwell’s proposal would require an increase in high-use rates since state law requires that the system be revenue-neutral. While this proposal addresses residential use, he is pulling together ideas to incentivize commercial conservation as well.
Bothwell also notes that fixing the leaks in the system remains a high priority and that he both supports the ongoing repair project and will seek to engage county participation in infrastructure repairs.
At present the City of Asheville operates with the stated goal of paying all employees a living wage, a policy which I fully endorse. If we hope to raise the living standard of the lowest paid workers in our town, the city has no business depressing wages through low-balling the system. And personally, I don’t want my tax money used to hire people who are paid too little to sustain their lives.
However there are two loopholes in the application of those goals that need to be addressed.
1. The city adopted the living wage policy in 2007 and it has not adjusted those wages for inflation since the adoption. The figure should be adjusted annually.
2. City contractors are not included in the rule. We should act immediately to require anyone doing contract work for the city to pay workers a living wage. Naturally this will raise the cost of some contract work, but it will affect only a relatively small number of people and won’t cost the city all that much money. (My campaign is currently researching the actual anticipated cost of this policy.) Of course, the consultants, architects, lawyers and other professionals hired by the city are paid sums far in excess of a living wage, but the people who scrub the urinals, mop the floors and mow the lawns are not included in the living wage program. It is long past time to for change.
We all learn in school about the invention of the wheel about 7,000 years ago, originally used for throwing clay pots and later turned sideways for use in transportation. Wagons, chariots, carts and wheelbarrows were invented in the next few millennia, though widespread use of wheels didn’t emerge until the invention and construction of smooth roads. Later we invented engines to move the wheels on bigger and better roads, developed cheap fuel and personal vehicles, and then all headed out on the highways—until, as Cat Stevens put it, “They just go on and on ’til it seems that you can’t get off.”
But the automobile era is headed for a bump in the road—a very big bump which involves dwindling oil supplies and rising global temperatures together with an ensuing economic shift which will fundamentally change the way we relate to travel, to distance, to resource use and to community. We are passing the point of peak oil production and petroleum fuels are likely to become much more expensive within a very short time frame (although the current economic slump has tempered that rise in the very short term). We need to plan now for a different, healthier, lower-carbon-footprint future, and that necessitates a new framework for transportation—a plan often referred to as multi-modal.
As a society we need to address some very big questions, but the first place to start is at home. How will I get to my job without cheap gas? Or without any gas at all? (Think back to the fall of 2008 when WNC experienced a week of sharply curtailed supplies.) How will my children get to school? Where will I buy food and other necessities? Can I walk to work, to school, to a store? Can I ride my bike?
Then we can expand those questions to the level of the community. How will everyone get to work, to school, to shopping? How will my employer get the materials needed for my work? How will the schools obtain their goods? How will the supermarket and pharmacy transport the goods we need for our lives? How will the high price or low availability of fuel affect the prices of food and other goods? (And as a collateral effect in Asheville, what will all of that mean for a post-tourist economy?)
There are parts of this scenario that are completely out of the realm of local control, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless to prepare. And the preparation can make life better today and into the future, no matter what happens at the national and international level.
What we can do is create a resilient transit system, building on the public system we have today, ready to expand rapidly as the situation changes. We need to focus on creation of sidewalks and bike lanes that connect to transit corridors so that more people can access public transit on foot, in wheelchairs and through pedal-power. Sections of parking garages should be easy to adapt for bike parking as well, perhaps with rentable bike lockers in parts of town remote from garage facilities. (Portland, Oregon, has had such a system for more than two decades.) Development planning should focus on density along transit corridors as well.
At the same time, it will be a very good idea to resist expansion of highways through our city. The really heavy highway traffic involves interstate trucking and that system is due to shift as well. Railroads move goods much more efficiently than trucks. (Did you know that a single adult can push a box car on level tracks? Have you ever tried to push a tractor-trailer, or even your car? That’s the difference in energy use.) Our rail system will pick up our freight load, with trucking relegated to moving goods from train depots to nearby destinations. That is the fundamental reason we don’t need an 8-lane I-26 through Asheville. If NC DOT builds the highway they decided we need back in the 1990s, they are preparing for a past that won’t return, not for the real future we will inhabit.
Electric vehicles will become the new norm within a very short time-frame, but they won’t simply be oversized 20th century cars with electric motors: think small, commuter bubbles. The recently introduced AirPod is one example. SmartCars, just 8 feet long are another new option. Trains will replace both autos and airplanes for much of our longer distance travel. One shift that has already occurred in Europe and Canada and is only beginning here, is downsizing of parking spaces for the new smaller cars. That means we can resize parking slots and get more cars into current garages and streetside spaces. New stripes are much cheaper than new parking decks.
I believe I’ve come up with more effective ways to encourage water conservation in our system. (For an even simpler way to encourage conservation click here.)
The first 100 gallons per household per day should be free, with sharply steeper rates above that. (The number of free gallons is subject to analysis and debate – but is based on the idea that everyone has right to some quantity of potable water. We can make this rate adjustment work so that people who choose not to change their water use would have approximately the same bill as at present.) At the same time we create a water credit system. You would accumulate credits by using less than your free allotment, and the credits could be traded. The value of a credit would be established in the marketplace and would presumably be lower than the established rate. Therefore, those who conserve could sell credits to big users. Overall the price for the “biggest” use would still be higher than it is today, so everyone would be encouraged to conserve, but the tradeable credits would help big users to offset some of the price increase. This kind of system is no more difficult to operate than cell phone minutes or frequent flier miles, both of which are quite familiar to modern citizens. My thought is that we could try this on residential rates, with the tradeable credits available for purchase by both residential and commercial customers.
Because the system would apply to all on the Asheville water system it would meet the requirements of the Sullivan Acts that we offer the same rates inside and outside the city limits, but because there are more large users outside the city limits it would presumably shift more of the burden to county customers.
At the same time, it would seem entirely reasonable to me that the city and county should step up support for infrastructure repairs and one possibility would be to raise rates for schools, which would also help shift some of the rate burden to the county.
I propose that Asheville enact an ordinance which requires new development to pay the full infrastructure cost to the city. Studies elsewhere have shown that fees and permits come nowhere near to covering the actual cost to taxpayers of subsidizing new development.
We are frequently told that we must “increase the tax base” for some unstated reason. The implication is usually that by increasing the value of taxable property in the city we will all reap benefits. But, in fact, we all share the costs, not the benefits. We end up paying more for traffic control, for schools, for municipal services, than most new developments pay for with the added taxes. So we all lose.
Researchers in Oregon have done the most comprehensive studies on this issue. As in so many other areas we could do a lot worse than to emulate plans introduced there.