From Mountain Xpress


Downtown restrooms? Hum. Just hum.

I recall that when I was an “are we there yet” youngster, sitting in the back seat of Mom’s 1957 Ford with my younger brother, and one or the other of us were suddenly in need of a “rest stop,” Mom would advise us, “Hum. Humming always helps.”

Whether that’s a physiological fact, or simply a great distraction, it worked.

So, Asheville, HUM!

Pack Square Conservancy has lately found one more reason to put off construction of restrooms in our new downtown park. Restrooms were, of course, the main thing missing from the park ten years ago when talk of remodeling first gained traction. The Conservancy took up the remodeling job and has blown it, over and over and over. This week we’ve been told that the restrooms we were absolutely promised, at last, this summer, won’t be constructed until sometime in 2012. And this despite the fact that the money is being provided by the Tourism Development Authority, the plans are finalized, and the site is ready to roll.

This latest news from the Conservancy has led me to recount their astonishing track record. Feel free to add your own memories.

• The new park was going to cost $8 million, with no tax dollars involved. The price has ballooned to $20 million, with $2 million each from City and County, and $6 million from the federal government. PLUS, the Conservancy managed to end up $1 million in hock to the City because of a complicated money shuffle.

• The new stage faces west, directly into the setting sun.
This despite advice from longtime performers from Shindig on the Green that the stage should face north, so summer evening performers aren’t blinded by glare.

• The new stage doesn’t have a roof, so a temporary tarp has to be strung up to protect equipment and performers if rain threatens. Hello? Anybody home?

• The new stage backs up to the emergency access road for City Hall and the County Courthouse, so it can’t be blocked by large trucks with band/stage equipment. This severely limits the kind of shows that can be staged at our grand new park.

• The revamped park has a smaller capacity for crowds. So we now have to stage our biggest community events elsewhere. Huh?

• The design of the park sharply reduced the area available for booths and other festival displays, so some users have simply abandoned the park for other locations. (The Greek Festival comes immediately to mind.)

We should never have turned over a project of this magnitude to a private entity. We must demand a full accounting of all money spent over the course of this ongoing debacle. The Tourism Development Authority should rescind its “restroom grant” from the Conservancy and hand the money to the City of Asheville which has a great track record of finishing projects on time and under budget. Enough is enough.

Campaign announcement coming soon

I’ve decided to throw my hat into a bigger ring. Announcement coming soon.

Defending the American Dream

(I delivered the following speech in Asheville, March 15, 2011.)

Oscar Wilde famously observed, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

By that measure, I’m certain that many of our elected officials in Washington and Raleigh are deeply cynical. They have taken to measuring our lives and our communities in dollars. And the dollars that seem to matter most to them are those in the hands of the very rich.

It’s long past time to quit mincing words.

We are in the midst of a class war, and we the working people of the United States, are losing.

The things that we value are being systematically dismantled in the name of balancing budgets, while the big money is flowing to our ruling class. In 2007 alone, the 150 highest paid investment fund managers made an average of $588 million apiece in annual compensation- that’s 19,000 times the average worker salary. And they don’t make anything of value, they simply bet on prices going up or down.

Let’s not forget it was the economic crash caused by Wall Street greed and massive tax breaks for the rich that collapsed state budgets, not firefighters’ pensions or teachers’ health insurance. In 2010, Congress made a half-way attempt to reign in those corporate crooks with the Dodd-Frank financial regulation reforms. Those reforms were a modest attempt to curb Wall Street piracy.

Tomorrow, Wednesday. Congressional Republicans plan to introduce their first outright challenge to Dodd-Frank reforms with a fistful of bills favoring private equity firms, derivatives end-users and corporate CEOs.

They realized that they haven’t stolen all of our money yet, so the GOP wants to give them the keys to the bank, to our homes, and to our cars. The rich don’t use our schools, our stores, our hospitals, our health care, or our transportation systems. And  some corporations don’t think they need educated workers here these days, they can find them in India or China or Taiwan or Brazil.

I remember a conversation I had back in 2002, with Cynthia Brown who was a candidate for U.S. Senate here in North Carolina. Cynthia asked me, “Do the rich all believe they can just trash the planet and then go somewhere else?” I told her, “I don’t know, but they sure do think they can trash this country.”

They’ve done it. Our future is on the line.

Now conservative governors have stepped in to help the super-rich steal more. They are placing the burden of deficit reduction on the backs of their state’s public employees, students, and middle-class taxpayers, while enacting corporate tax cuts and giveaways. Govs. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Jan Brewer in Arizona are all on that bandwagon.

Sadly, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has joined that race to the bottom, and wants to cut the state corporate income tax rate from 6.9 percent – among the highest in the Southeast – to 4.9 percent – among the lowest in the nation.

Both Republicans and Gov. Perdue also want to end a pair of temporary income tax increases set to expire this year. Cutting taxes when the state is facing a massive shortfall in funds is wildly irresponsible. I can only surmise that Perdue is afraid that the same voters who stampeded to the GOP last fall will threaten her reelection in 2012. Frankly, I prefer elected leaders who don’t worry about reelection but instead make the tough choices that build real value.

The spending decisions being made in Washington are going to have sweeping effects on the national and state and local economies. Unfortunately, both sides seem to be stuck in their assumptions. The Republicans seem intent on keeping the economy wrecked through the 2012 Presidential election, so they can blame Barack Obama and beat him at the polls. Their spending cuts will guarantee a long continuation of the Great Recession, and their claims of concern about the National Debt ring hollow, as they continue to push for tax benefits for the wealthy.

The Democrats aren’t doing much better. What they seem to want is a return to the bubble economic model that Wall Street has used to drain the wealth from America’s middle class. Most of their leadership simply can’t understand that the crony capitalism that has prevailed in this country for the past 30 years is the problem, not the solution.

We need to embrace a new economic model that prevents corporations from externalizing their costs to the rest of us, that demands corporate accountability, that ends corporate personhood, that removes corporations from political campaign funding, and that returns economic power to the people. Bailing out Wall Street doesn’t trickle down, it squirts up.

Meanwhile, our state’s Republican leaders are using the usual tactic of fanning the flames of hot button social issues in order to keep people distracted while they rewrite rules to steal our money and rig elections. They have raised the issues of gay marriage and immigration and even arming District Attorneys to keep us from paying attention to their real agenda. Our future is on the line.

They’re determined to put a constitutional amendment about marriage on next November’s ballot. They’ve introduced an Arizona-style bill that will turn all law enforcement officers in our state into immigration agents and make you a criminal if you give a ride to someone without proper papers. And they claim our courts will be safer if prosecutors are packing heat.

Republican legislators have introduced a photo ID bill that the Institute for Southern Studies estimates will cost taxpayers more than $20 million. So much for saving money. They claim we need to prevent “voter fraud” — even though in 2008 North Carolina election authorities reported only 40 voting irregularities out of 4.3 million votes cast. The real targets of the bill are our state’s elderly, disabled, minority and college-aged citizens. The goal is to shut out likely Democratic and progressive voters. Our future is on the line.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the General Assembly are working to prohibit cities from providing wireless internet service. The bill was designed to please Time Warner and its cable lobbyists who would rather keep rural North Carolina unconnected than allow for any competition. Net neutrality and freedom of speech on the internet is a key piece in empowering the modern working class. No wonder the GOP is trying to shut it down in North Carolina and across the nation. Our future is on the line.

Some of us are not cynics. We know that our community has a value that can’t be measured in dollars. We know that access to quality health care has a value that can’t be measured in dollars. We know that pre-natal health care and family planning have value that can’t be measured in dollars. We know that the safety of our food and medicine has a value that can’t be measured in dollars. We know that educating our children has a value beyond calculation.

We need to use the current crisis to reshape the American economy, to place our values first, to put Wall Street in its proper place, to put our communities, our families and our children first, to Defend the American Dream.

Our future is on the line.

CIBO newsletter twists my position … sigh

This week’s edition of the Council of Independent Business Owners newsletter directly misreports my position on the future of automobiles and transit. This is a particular disappointment because CIBO’s newsletter is usually pretty even-handed, and so readers might assume its accuracy in this case.

The writer states: “Councilman Bothwell has been very vocal on this issue both at this hearing and through the local media. He advocates against cars and wants a trolley system. He has said on several occasions that cars use gas that is too expensive and people will not drive. Unfortunately, Mr. Bothwell sees life from both a Chicken Little “the sky is falling” approach and also, at the same time, advocates for the City to look at expensive “pie in the sky” items. Bothwell’s reality just doesn’t match up to true world experiences. Just a few pointers for Mr. Bothwell…
– Americans love cars…we like to hear them..we like to smell them..we like fast ones..we like pretty ones.
– Americans park cars..on the parking parking garages..and everywhere else.
– Americans will buy more cars – gas cars – diesel cars – electric cars – hydrogen cars – 4 wheel cars – 3 wheel cars – probably not 2 wheel cars. We’ll buy motorcycles for that – even great big motorcycles.
– No matter how you want to change Americans and the people who drive cars – we ain’t changing.)

Just a few pointers for the CIBO editorialist:

• I don’t advocate against cars. I point out that global oil supplies have plateaued and prices are rising with demand. Experts are telling us to be prepared for $5 gas by 2012. When gas hit $4 in 2008, Asheville transit ridership went up by 25 percent in weeks. Whether CIBO’s writer believes it or not, Americans change very rapidly in response to new information.

• One person’s “pie in the sky” is another person’s rational approach to change. Many Americans love cars, but many Americans eschew auto ownership. Most cities of any size use park-and-ride to limit the need for downtown parking. Buncombe County has two new park-and-ride lots north and south. This isn’t some kind of new idea I cooked up, it’s happening.

• I have not actually advocated building a trolley or downtown circulating shuttle (though they are almost certainly a good idea) – I have advocated STUDYING the use of a circulating shuttle, before we sink $14.1 million into an overpriced parking project. When I make personal business decisions, I weigh all of the options (of which I am aware) before investing. I would suppose that most CIBO members do the same, but I could be wrong.

• I have pointed out studies from other cities that show that trolleys are affordable for cities our size and do more for local economies than parking decks. Again, looking at options that might benefit our city.

Some people prefer to make up their minds first and then twist events to fit their own version of reality. Maybe that makes them feel “independent?”

Just out from City Manager’s office

51 Biltmore Cash Flow_1-14-11

If you look at page one of the pdf, it shows the total projected cash flow for the parking deck. The upper section is income. The next section is outgo. The next section is the total available to pay the debt (income minus expenses) and the amount to be paid each year.  The totals at the bottom represent the net year-by-year, and the final figure in the lower right is the projected total for 25 years.

The (parentheses) are the bookkeeping equivalent of a negative sign.

The proposed 51 Biltmore parking deck will lose $10,122,083 over the first 25 years of operation according to this City estimate.

Why a trolley does more for business than a parking deck

New Report Examines How Smart Growth Can Enhance Prosperity

A new report by the Center for Clean Air Policy finds that smart growth practices can enhance community prosperity and generate economic benefits for local businesses, households, and governments. The study, Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, shows how reduced driving and efficient land use planning are strongly interconnected with economic growth and better quality of life.

Growing Wealthier reports that cities investing in public transportation and downtown development are experiencing cost savings, growing tax revenues, increased property values and higher retail sales. For example, downtown retail sales in Dallas, Texas, grew by 33 percent annually after the city’s light rail system began operation. In Portland, Oregon, a $100 million investment in streetcars helped attract $3.5 billion in private investments. And in Denver, Colorado, home values within a half-mile of stations on a light rail line rose by 18 percent from 2006-2008, while home values in the rest of the city declined by 8 percent during the same period.

The report also documents how efficient land use planning can improve household resilience to rising oil prices by enhancing travel choices. Allowing more people to live closer to job centers can boost employment rates and income levels for low-wage workers while reducing exposure to congestion for all. Smart growth policies are also shown to cut government infrastructure costs, enhance public health, and conserve natural resources.

The executive summary and full report are available here,   and here.