In light of recent events, how are we to address the accountability and responsibility police officers have in our community?
As Chair of the Public Safety Committee I have presided over significant ongoing changes in the APD. We’ve adopted body-cams so all interactions with officers will be recorded. We have adopted a new use-of-force policy and training aimed at reduced reliance on weapons—a policy that is now considered a model nationwide. We’re doing implicit bias training so our officers better understand the mind-set they bring to the job.
Affordable housing has long been a hot topic of discussion but not something that has been addressed with action. How will approach this issue?
According to UNC Chapel Hill, Asheville has the best track record of funding affordable housing projects in the state—but it clearly isn’t working. We are working on some new approaches—one is an apartment complex on City owned land that will remain affordable for 50 years. We’re looking into providing loan underwriting in partnership with operations like Habitat for Humanity and Self Help Credit Union, to help get more people into starter homes. But an underlying truth is that affordability has been driven out of downtowns across the country because flight to the suburbs has reversed. One of the best things we can do for affordability is to extend transit lines beyond City limits to help people who find affordable housing at the margins get to work.
Asheville is represented as one of the greenest cities in the country, even though we are not even close to being one of the movement’s leaders. Are there active talks in implementing these green technologies? Where do you stand on this? Would you be in favor of initiatives?
Asheville is certainly a leader in the state of North Carolina and the south. We’ve been cutting our City operational carbon footprint by more than 4 percent per year for a decade. We’ve increased our fleet efficiency and have plans to go much further, doubling the mpg of our next generation of police cruisers and purchasing 6 electric buses in the 2018 budget year. We’ve doubled our recycling rate, have the best record of water conservation in the state, and have retrofitted all our street lights saving over $350,000 per year in electric bills, and a whole lot of coal that isn’t being burned. We’re working with the County and Duke Energy on conservation measures to eliminate the need for a peaking gas-fired plant that had been planned, and we’re in discussion about putting solar panels on City roofs.
Asheville is surrounded by beautiful natural spaces. However, in light of this sudden influx of growth, these spaces are in danger of being trampled on? New developments are not slowing down so do you propose to strike the right balance?
We are in discussions with Buncombe County to extend land use planning beyond City limits. At the same time we have lately reduced lot width and lot size requirements to permit more infill development, freeing up an estimated 2,600 parcels as homesites. As liaison to the Asheville Tree Commission for the past 8 years I have been part of an ongoing effort to preserve Asheville’s tree canopy, and pushed through funding for a tree canopy study in the current budget. While state law doesn’t permit us to prohibit tree cutting on private land, we are fashioning a set of rules that will encourage design around existing trees instead of clear cutting and bulldozing, then planting a bunch of saplings and calling that preservation.
Where is the conversation on extending our public transit to a 24 hour public service? Are you in favor of extending hours?
I don’t see any likelihood of 24 hour transit in a small city like Asheville anytime soon. We have steadily increased routes and hours in the years I’ve been on Council. I’m advocating fare-free transit, which is easily doable since fares only account for 11 percent of our transit cost. I’ve been advocating a late night collector route for service workers, to get them to park-n-ride locations outside of downtown, and we’ll see how that goes. The big change on the horizon is driverless cars and buses. I’ve been talking with Keolis/Navya, a company that operates driverless buses in Switzerland, France, Amsterdam and Shanghai, and which has done demonstration projects in Austin, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and lately in Atlanta. Driverless cars and buses are going to dramatically rearrange transit, with the use of autonomous ride-hailing services expected to cost 1/10th that of owning a car. Think driverless Uber. Google predicts that operating fleets of its little marshmallow shaped autonomous cars will be cheaper than operating buses. When that happens, 24 hour service will exist in every city.
As symbols from the confederacy draw considerable public outcry, do you favor re-dedications, displacements or complete erasure of America’s dark historical truth? What approach do you propose that strikes a balance between humility and evolving the symbols our national character?
I don’t understand the question about humility. Confederate monuments need to come down, and sooner or later they will. Current state law poses a big hurdle in North Carolina, but no other nation in my awareness maintains monuments to a defeated enemy and traitors to the state.
The service industry is the backbone to Asheville’s success. However the disparity between wages and costs of living has ranked 4th in the country as one of the top worse places to achieve the “American Dream.” Can we count on your support to alleviate this issue?
The biggest thing a municipal government in North Carolina can do to help service workers is to improve and extend transit and make it fare-free. We can’t set wages, though we model it by paying a Living Wage minimum to all City employees. When a company wants a zoning variance, or is seeking a tax increment rebate on new development, we can and do require a Living Wage minimum and a median wage in the overall company equal or better than the regional median wage. But that’s about it.
There was a public access channel that permitted our community to have an outlet for expression, protest and celebration within our locality. Are you in favor in bringing proper funding for this program?
The public access channel was ineptly managed, money was squandered (the management even used public dollars to buy a $400 espresso machine), and video equipment disappeared. The people responsible caused the collapse. And now, technology has passed that by. Anyone with a cell phone can vlog, anyone can upload material to the Web and start a podcast for next to no money. I don’t see any reason to return to an outdated technology and a 20th century model for public access.