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Sierra Club Questionnaire

1) Would you like your candidacy to be endorsed by the Sierra Club and why?

Yes. The Sierra Club is a force for environmental and social justice. I especially appreciate how the Sierra Club is centering its work on anti-racism and advocating that access to nature, clean air, and clean water in one’s day-to-day environment is a human right. I would be honored to have the support of the Sierra Club in the form of an endorsement, outreach to voters, and financial support.


2) Given the current devastating impact of unemployment and other economic stresses on local residents that COVID has created and the need to foster racial equity in every decision making process, what actions could you take as a council member to support sustaining individuals, families and small businesses?


We recognize that COVID’s economic impacts are worse for people who were already vulnerable and teetering on the edges of survival. We need to be specific, we need to listen, and we need to plan for measurable change that improves lives in the short-term and long-term. Before COVID-19, more than half of our community members were renters, more than 30% of residents spent 50%+ of income on housing, and 1 out of 5 of our neighbors didn’t know where the next meal would come from. That was before COVID! Practices and policies that have excluded or forced Black Ashevillians out of generational wealth building are reasons why Black Ashevillians were and are disproportionately impacted. I will bring to Council decades of experience, relationships and advocacy for our local businesses, for affordable housing, for equity, for our Downtown, for our neighborhoods, for how we rebuild together, and how we all thrive.


In March I began working daily to help community members and our small businesses navigate the devastating and quickly changing landscape. Visit this page in a new window before reading on.


From filing for unemployment and or PUA, to understanding and applying for EIDL and PPP, staying abreast of the changing rules and bills, or finding an open grocery store, food bank, or take out restaurant, I was researching avenues. Childcare, town halls, homelessness aid, and eviction rules, too. I began researching, sharing, and helping organize people and solutions. This is how you can expect me to tackle community issues as your Councilor.


For many years, we have watched as Black owned businesses and contracts dwindled. If we are going to lose some tenants and businesses in our community to COVID, we need to be looking at ways to help reboot them as minority owned businesses. Easier said than done, surely, but there is momentum right now and we need to gather it and add to it. Many community members are wondering how best to help with Black entrepreneurship and support needed efforts. I’d like to see a skill sharing and assistance site/tool/resource that can pair those able to help with those in need of help. I.e. “I can create branding and design templates. How can I find Black entrepreneurs in need of this work?” Let’s work with Black entrepreneurs to start a site/tool/resource.

In addition to city-sponsored programs and investments, Asheville City Council can leverage its powers by writing policy and urging those in higher offices--and control of state and federal-level amounts of funding--to take action to help cities. See a recent Resolution (here) on evictions I drafted in late August just ahead of the NC General Assembly going back into session.

To rebuild a stronger Asheville after COVID-19, we will need to focus our efforts on social health, equity, infrastructure, housing and jobs. There will be an increased need for community planning to address growing disparities and inequities and an increased need for mental health services and reconnecting with our neighbors. It would be an ideal time to pilot neighborhood participatory budgeting, encouraging community members to regroup and discuss their impacts and needs.


We are entering year 4 of 7 of the bonds. Streets and sidewalks across the city are being updated. The Land Trust is activating. Our second public/private partnership for affordable housing on city owned land is about to begin (319 Biltmore). S Charlotte St and Riverside Dr are next. There’s an RFP out for redeveloping Deaverview. The City bought land in May adjacent to Pisgah View and Cedar Hill. Cedar Hill is where we have hundreds of affordable units and condos planned--a mix of rentals and homeownership. We have more than enough on our plate to complete; it will serve us to refine and focus our energy around completing major works and queuing up future projects that grow living-wage and better jobs and housing.

We need to continue our tourism tax planning and not let the delays of the NC General Assembly thwart our efforts to retain more lodging tax dollars, then put those dollars to work, too. And if we seek a spike in COVID this Fall, we need to be ready for a potential shutdown and assisting small businesses again.


We need to advocate at all levels for federal programs that will assist in rebuilding and recovery. NC House Bill 1200 is a great example. We’ve received money for transit, for rental assistance, homelessness prevention, and could receive more soon.


3) Do you consider urban sprawl to be an issue in Asheville, and if so, what would you do to minimize it? Would you support the continuation of the current “density bonus” for new development in the city? What other ideas do you have to increase density in Asheville


I support the density bonus, yes, but it has issues and needs to be revisited. It has been rarely used, if at all, and that is a flag signaling weak policy. Urban sprawl is an issue but not as big an issue as it will be if we don’t change some things soon. There is a science to building cities. Where we build, how much we build, and how we connect everything is crucial to our long term fiscal, environmental, and social sustainability.


I have a general philosophy: let’s leverage what we have going for us as tools and resources for creating the future we want. We have the ability to make strategic changes to our ordinances that will grow housing options, stabilize pricing, and create new affordable housing. We can increase equity and reduce dependence on personal vehicles when we plan housing along transportation corridors and near urban areas.

· Up- zoning to multifamily all parcels within .50 mile of major corridors

· Updating the # of residential units requiring greater approval from 50 to 100, creating additional amendments if needed.

· Many cities have adopted ADU guidebooks, expedited approval for ADUs, and preapproved designs. We need to do this, too. We need to make it easier for inherently small, infill solutions that blend into neighborhoods, provide efficient and often more affordable options to be built.

· Allowing two ADUs by right, especially when one can be attached and one detached, and working with large, older homes to become shared housing.

· Adopting Missing Middle standards, guidebooks, and pre approved plans for projects with only four to eight apartments.

· Partnering with the County on LUIG - land use incentive grants - for projects that mirror the ones the city currently has in place. This will reduce the entire property tax burden temporarily for newly constructed multifamily projects that produce community benefits. Right now only the city participates in the program and city taxes are less than half of the total property tax burden. Please request that all County Commission candidates support partnering on LUIG

· The City is drafting new zoning regulations for hotels. One new tool in the ordinance will be a community benefits rubric, whereby new hotel projects will be able to choose from a list of project components that earn points towards approval of the project. This rubric is currently drafted to include affordable housing. I support this concept. It is an example of taking an all hands on deck approach to affordability.

· We also need to look at offering points for hotel projects that build rooms that can be more easily converted to housing in the future. Many of our dense, affordable housing towers in downtown were once hotels and it is likely many more will convert one day. Let’s plan ahead and make those pivots and transitions simple.

· We need to look at new models, including options for residential projects that are half short term rental and half affordable housing in dense formats and in urban areas. 20 STRs and 20 affordable units. Again, this is putting to work what we’re good at--attracting tourists and fostering entrepreneurship--to create solutions for what we need.

· We need to develop and maintain property tax initiatives that help us map a sustainable and revenue producing model. In other words, analyze where and how dense we should build to produce a city finance model that can operate with fiscal and social sustainability. See Urban3’s work here.

· Let’s finalize the Urban Centers zoning, prioritizing centers that do not create displacement issues.

· We need to invest in housing education for our community. We’ve had dense infill projects run off by neighborhoods out of fear, when those projects can help us achieve our collective goals.

· Implementing the Transit Master Plan to encourage folks to reduce single car use and live in denser areas.

4) How would you protect open space in Asheville? An overlay district may be established for future development to allow Asheville to better regulate hotels and to address their impact on the environment and other concerns. Should the City require open spaces? Should the city minimize stormwater runoff by requiring more retention or detention basins, rain gardens, or other methods to reduce surface water runoff and flooding?

The largest zone contributing to stormwater is Downtown. We recently adopted a new policy, that any change to impervious surface requires a stormwater plan. Before, it was only if you impacted 5000 sf of impervious surface or more. Yes, we should plan for and implement all the bioswales, rain gardens, and remediation techniques to not only reduce surface water runoff, but also to help cleanse it. There will be a hotel overlay district; it is already drafted and undergoing review, headed to Council in late Sept (or Oct if delayed). Open space is a component of the guidelines, as is tree canopy preservation and planting of new trees. I support the protections and green and open space provisions in the draft.


5) Asheville City Council has adopted a plan to expand public transportation, including routes, frequency, and hours of operation. Even before COVID, the city did not have the revenue to fund this expansion. Given the current economic situation, how would you propose funding this plan short term? Longer term?


Short term we need to brace for the reality of little to no expansions in transit. We are currently executing safe plans that limit passengers; those plans have increased costs, which are paid for with help from federal COVID aid. We should be lobbying for more aid to get through these times.

We have been working via the Tourism Management Investment Planning to find ongoing funding for transit from tourism; these efforts must continue. We cannot let the NCGA’s delay on the lodging tax bill stop our efforts.


We need the County to invest more in the city’s transit. Too often it seems the County operates outside the city when in fact, city residents make up the majority of the County’s population. The County rescinded its pledge to provide $700k for transit. The County has also ended its subsidizing of paratransit, increasing the City’s costs by $500k. (See Aug Council meeting consent agenda). Again, city residents are part of Buncombe County, and half of the taxes we pay go to the County. We are behind on a planned step - expansion of evening hours. Instead of looking at all routes expanding into later evening hours, let’s look at which routes are the most in need of longer hours and start there so we can strategically improve service and get some growth.


Long term, post recovery, we need to look at parking solutions to grow funding, targeting strategic grants based on ridership, working with hotels to funds transit, and possible tax increases to support funding needs.

6) The city has a multi-modal commission to better address the mix of transportation modes in the city including bicycles and pedestrians. Where do you think that commission should focus its efforts?


Reviewing our priorities and abilities to implement the Transit Master Plan now that we have had a pandemic and budget shortfalls.


In light of COVID, more people have turned to alternative modes of transportation, particularly biking, and we need MMTC to prioritize bike infrastructure and pedestrian safety efforts.


We also need MMTC to finalize the bike share assessment and e scooter study, creating new ways for locals to move through the city.


7) Given that global climate change is with us, Asheville City council has adopted a 100% Renewable Energy Goal by 2030 for all city government operations including adoption of LEED Gold Standard for green buildings and installing solar panels on some city owned buildings and property.


-Do you support the continuation of these programs? Are you willing to continue to reinvest the savings from these programs into the Green CIP, the nation’s first municipal energy savings capital improvement fund, to continue to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy?


I do. This follows an enterprise fund model that we commonly use, where the revenues (or savings in this case) fund the expenses associated with said revenues/savings. We need to ensure the administrative costs of managing these projects also come from the savings. We need programs that pay for themselves and reduce taxpayer burdens. Additionally, many enterprise funds help support other related needs. HOW MUCH ARE WE SAVING? Some of these savings could be shared with tree canopy replacement in low income areas lacking shade, further reducing our electricity demands.


-Would you support putting more Solar Panels on city buildings and/or putting solar farms on city owned or leased property?

I would.


-Would you support replacing fossil fuel powered city vehicles and buses with electric powered vehicles as they need to be replaced?


Yes, if they can meet our needs. My understanding is we need to find buses that are more suited for our hilly terrain and until that come in 30’ lengths. The ones we have (5) are all 35’ and they can only be used on certain routes. We have reverted back to hybrids.


-Many large banks financially support pipelines and other fossil fuel investments. If a smaller bank could provide adequate services to the city, would you support divesting from the larger banks that support fossil fuel investments?

Yes. With enthusiasm.

-What other measures would you propose to reduce our carbon footprint?

See above answers about reducing sprawl; those should be our most important initiatives in creating a community that cares about environmental sustainability and reducing carbon footprint.

Other items:

We need to work with NCDOT to reduce all urban streets to 30mph or less. Right now, we are prevented from planting street trees along NCDOT streets that are 35mph or more.


We need to develop a plan (SACEE can help) for how we will transition our fleet to 100% Renewable. This plan does not exist.


Incentivize transit use and create a downtown shuttle for workers to alleviate the high cost of parking, reduce congestion and air and noise pollution, and free up spaces for outdoor dining, rideshare, and parklets. This should be a high priority of the Tourism Management Investment Planning.


Allow initiatives like electric scooters and bike share to help encourage mass transit use and easing what is known as the “last mile”. Getting to and from transit stops using easy and small modes of transportation.

Repair or replace and expand the many broken and or unusable electric vehicle charging stations. I drive an electric vehicle and the systems we have in place are not suitable or dependable for reliable use. There is some potential funding through Volkswagen and the NCDEQ - NC Department of Environmental Quality - that could help us do this.


Replenish our tree canopy, starting with areas of low income and hot, open space for hosting trees.


I’d like to see programming for our BIPOC - Black, Indigenous, People of Color - youth to enroll in AB Tech’s solar installation certification and align with entrepreneurship programs like Mountain Bizworks to create startups for residential solar installations.


One thing we never seem to tackle is our waste. We are behind on our carbon reduction goals in this area. There are some simple things we can do like Pay as You Throw, moving to better bags, and differently sized bins to encourage less waste and more recycling. We can also invest in a composting service.


We need to be watching the changes of the recycling world, i.e. China refusing to take our recycling, and get more serious about our waste goals and waste planning.


8) Sierra Club members and City residents are gravely concerned about climate change. While we are waiting for Washington to act to curb carbon pollution, communities all over the country are working with their electric utilities to transition off of their dependence on coal and natural gas-- a primary contributor to climate disruption. As a member of council, will you use your leadership position to call on Duke Energy to invest more heavily in clean energy, battery storage and energy efficiency?

Yes.


9) Would you be willing to lobby the Tourism Development Authority to help fund Greenways and Parks in Asheville?


I will continue to lobby the TDA to help fund many initiatives in Asheville, including greenways and parks.


10) The city is facing an affordable housing shortage and gentrification. What would you do if elected to address this critical issue?

As Chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, I have worked the frontlines of minor and major changes on this issue for many years and have been working to queue up over 1,000 new affordable housing units in this next 4 year term. The pandemic has added a new layer of complexity; there is now an uptick in demand for housing as more families work and school at home and climate issues make it increasingly challenging to live in some areas.

We need to implement all the affordable housing bonds before we lose the window to do so (3 years left). We need to activate the land banking money, the city owned parcels, the high impact sites, and get the Land Trust actively investing. We need to finalize the hotel overlay with actionable items on affordability. We need to implement all housing ideas listed in question #3 above. Sprawl and affordability are intricately connected.

We have to get creative and have frank discussions and asks of developers that want to build in Asheville. I recently helped navigate concerns with the RAD Lofts. While there was no direct displacement of buildings or locals, a project of such size can trigger other area development and slowly begin to impact nearby neighborhoods. My solution was to have several meetings with the developer to help them understand the impacts their project may have 5 to 10 years out. We came to the idea of helping with programs the nearby neighborhoods could utilize to protect their homes. The developer chose to donate $200,000 to the Community Land Trust and THRIVE Asheville, programs that help low income families buy their homes and voucher holders to find homes in different census tracts.

We also need to update the UDO, prioritizing Chapter 7 first. This is costly, timely, and a must do if we wish to design a fiscally, socially, and environmentally sustainable and affordable city.


11) The city recently passed a Resolution Supporting “Community Reparations for Black Asheville." If elected, will you support this?


Yes. Starting with housing initiatives, which I believe to be crucial to creating generational wealth and making amends with past failures.

Action items:

1. Amend the Housing Trust Fund and LUIG - Land Use Incentive Grant- policies to add prioritizing home ownership opportunities for those who lost property to Urban Renewal.

2. Sell 68 Haywood to a developer that will build the community’s vision, put to rest our time consuming and costly relationship with these parcels, and use the proceeds to jumpstart a Reparations Fund. We can concurrently go to RFP for 68 Haywood and work to establish Reparations policies and goals, with a goal of beginning to spend money in late 2021.

3. Finalize the Operations Study for the City owned land on S Charlotte St. Relocate the services, renting if needed, and return that land to a bustling Black business district.

4. Agree to a schedule of investing in the redevelopment of all of our public housing communities, opting to develop a new community first to prevent displacement and looking at ways the developments can implement ownership.


12) What are the major challenges facing the city of Asheville and what are your top priorities if elected?

· Equity and affordability

· Public safety - reimagining policing and public health

· Inequities in education

· Environmental Justice

· Tourism Management

· Housing and Development

· Rebuilding after COVID

-What do you anticipate will be the most important environmental and environmental justice issues you will face if elected? What actions do you plan to take to address these issues?

The worst thing that could happen with environmental awareness and justice is if we repeat previous patterns of economic sectors leaving vulnerable populations out of the activity and financial gains.

We need to face the reality of our French Broad river and its declining water quality--years after the successful clean up of the river. The first step is to adopt the Riverkeeper’s goal of a stormwater task force to assess the impact and path forward.

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© 2019-2020 by Sage for Asheville. Paid for by Committee to Elect Sage Turner. Treasurer: KeithThomson. Sage for Asheville, P.O. Box 262 Asheville NC 28802.