Friday, April 28, 2006

The High Cost of Low Motives

By Tim Peck
Mountain Guardian
April 28, 2006
"A social system is a code of laws which men observe in order to live together. Such a code must have a basic principle, a starting point, or it cannot be devised. The starting point is the question: Is the power of society limited or unlimited? Individualism answers: The power of society is limited by the inalienable, individual rights of man. Society may make only such laws as do not violate these rights. Collectivism answers: The power of society is unlimited. Society may make any laws it wishes, and force them upon anyone in any manner it wishes." -Ayn Rand, "Textbook of Americanism."

In a recent city council discussion on taking private property for public use, council member Holly Jones said, "I will say that probably calling something socialism is not really helpful in going forward with an open mind."

Is this true? Is it “not really helpful” to call a thing by its right name? Would it have been more helpful to call it by one of its more colorful euphemisms? Smart growth? Sustainable development? Progressive?

On April 11, 2006, Wal-Mart withdrew an application requesting rezoning for a small parcel of land just off of Smokey Park Highway which would have allowed adequate open space for the building of a Super Center. The existing zoning for a majority of the site would have allowed the development, but an additional few acres was needed to make the development economically worthwhile. To Wal-Mart’s delight, the owner of an adjacent trailer park had put his property up for sale. There were other buyers interested in the property but Wal-Mart made the best offer.

But, why was a trailer park there in the first place? Asheville does not allow trailer parks within city limits. What happened here is that this mobile home community was in place at the time new laws were passed banning such parks. This trailer park was “grandfathered” in; which means that it would be allowed to survive the new law until it ultimately depreciated and became obsolete. With the property up for sale, it would appear that the trailer park has reached its obsolescence and would now go the way of all trailer parks in Asheville and be swept onto the ash-heap of history.

With the ultimate future of the trailer park settled, the only thing left now was for the buyer to request that this sunsetting trailer park property be rezoned for commercial use and join its neighboring parcel for a total area of 184,000 square feet. This addition to the proposed development site would now be large enough to allow the Wal-Mart project to go forward.

The developers made their sketches and estimates and presented them to city planners. The requirements of a Traffic Impact Analysis were satisfied. The Technical Review Committee approved the project. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project. City staff approved the project.

In the course of review, the planners took input from the public and added that input to their own recommendations and came up with a long list of conditions to place on the development project in exchange for approval. Wal-Mart agreed to most of them but objected to a few outlandish conditions, such as paving a side-walk a mile away from the site. The Asheville School took this as a cue to join the extortion bandwagon and demand additional favors from Wal-Mart, such as funding for campus security and the right to tell the retailer what it could and could not sell.

But what to do about the trailer park residents? Would their life-savings pay for relocation? Were they prepared for the inevitable move they would have to make whether or not Wal-Mart purchased the property on which their substandard housing rested?

Not to worry. As part of their proposal, Wal-Mart offered the impoverished residents $4,000 each to help defray moving expenses and lessen the trauma of complying with city laws that prohibit trailer park living.

Problem solved, right? Not so. A handful of local activists called The Cooper Boulevard Community Support Network organized the trailer park residents into a group to protest the rezoning request. They saw to it that the 60% non-English speaking residents were provided with translation services and were afforded the opportunity to be heard expressing their new-found opposition to big-box developments. One by one, they were trotted up to the podium at P&Z to recite statements prepared for them by their college-educated, Anglo handlers. Even some non-Hispanic trailer park residents were duped into joining the chorus of local anti-Wal-Mart political activist and out-of-town college students who all urged the commission to reject Wal-Mart’s plans to provide residents with jobs, convenient affordable shopping and a wad of ready cash.

One key condition that Wal-Mart accepted during their last hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission was to increase their relocation “offer” to trailer park residents from $4,000 each to $7,500 each; this in return for releasing Wal-Mart from the unreasonable condition of building a far away side-walk. With seven grand in pocket, the single-wide occupants could now afford to move their abundant possessions and even pay for tanks-full of gas along the way.

Now, with all this in place, it appeared that Wal-Mart would be in a good position for a favorable vote in city council. However, despite the long and costly chain of agreements, approvals and delays, the world’s most successful retailer had yet to face it greatest challenge: A majority of politically-motivated “progressive” council members who were elected to office by the same people making up the anti-Wal-Mart opposition and eager to throw their weight around and score points with local elites who really don’t like shopping around common, indigenous mountain poor people.

Opposition continued with organized letter-writing campaigns to council members and the local media. Aggrieved activists organized rallies, action meetings, and public forums. And propaganda cinema was shown repeatedly to audiences eager to catalog a potpourri of formula arguments – mostly built on sand.

The final showdown occurred on the morning of the public hearing at city council when Wal-Mart withdrew its application for rezoning after a neighborhood petition was validated. The introduction of this petition would now require a supermajority vote of 6 to 1 which would be far from likely. In fact, a simple majority of 4 to 3 was considered out of reach.

Thus would the city be able to use zoning to knock down sound and legal development projects that they felt were unpopular with their constituency.

But let’s return for moment to question of the displacement of the trailer park residents. In the beginning, they were in solidarity with the opposition to Wal-Mart. They were asked by activists to, “Please help us prevent Wal-Mart from opening yet another store in West Asheville. They plan to evict 60 families from a trailer park on Smokey Park Highway (Patton Avenue) and build a supercenter (sic).”

It looks like this may be another case of “be careful what you wish for.” They opposed Wal-Mart and won. By their own actions they prevented Wal-Mart from distributing to them a total of $375,000 to soften their fall. Who would help them now? Another buyer was in the cue and would likely offer them no more than a hearty handshake and a salutary “don’t let the door hit you.”

Re-enter the Cooper Boulevard Community Support Network. Now here’s a group that knows how to keep its eyes on the prize. With the Wal-Mart project defeated (with their help) and the trailer park residents still facing eviction by the next evil developer, this support network sprang into action once again to champion social justice. The threesome decided to appear before city council during public comment and recommend that the city pass legislation that would make any buyer of trailer park property displacing 10 or more residents liable for their relocation.

Where did the magic number 10 come from? By their logic, any conflict of a lesser quantity would simply be “a matter between tenant and landlord.” Reaching the threshold of 10 or more would “make this a community problem.” Council member Robin Cape concurred claiming that such a solution recognizes a certain “social value” present in this conflict.

Another solution proposed by the Network, which also recognizes that elusive “social value,” was their recommendation that the city enter into a land trust to protect the trailer park. But what does this mean? The rightful owner of the property has provided affordable housing for the city’s poorest for decades and has chosen to dispose of his property as he sees fit. Will the government now step in to take it and deprive the property owner the use and disposal of his property? Why? For the greater common good? Does this not place society’s producers in the position of involuntary servitude?

What is all this talk about “the greater good,” “10 or more,” and “social value”? Do groups compete with individuals for a claim to rights? Who wins that competition?

The simple truth is that there is no such thing as social value; only individual value. There is no such thing as group rights; only individual rights. The concept of “the common good” is a phantom cooked up by the left to which no one can lay their finger.

What we are talking about here is, in reality, the brutish democracy of collectivism. Any time a majority of thugs can assemble and vote against the legitimate rights of an individual, we have established a regime that cannot respect the rule of law or recognize the moral supremacy of the individual liberty. Collectivism must necessarily deny individual rights. As Ayn Rand puts it: "The violation of an individual's rights means the abrogation of all rights." Collectivism demands sacrificing the achievers and producers to the whims of mobs and parasites. The result may be socialism writ small, but writ nonetheless. And on whose back? Mine today, yours tomorrow.

So, in the end, which is more helpful? Calling it what it is: Socialist -- or calling it what it can never be: Progressive?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Citizens/Police Advisory Council

West Asheville
With Police Chief Hogan

One item that made it to the flip chart was the issue of "reaching out to the growing Hispanic community." Kathie Lack asked, "Are we talking about reaching out to illegal aliens or legal citizens?" The moderator stated that we don't want to make that kind of discrimination. I responded, "Excuse me, it's law enforcement job to discriminate between criminals and non-criminals."

We were then told by the moderator, Ms. Lamantia, that "we were not going to talk about that."

Kathie and I promptly left the meeting.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

County Commissioners: Zoning

Buncombe County Courthouse
Issue: Zoning

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Friday, April 21, 2006

Landslides Presentation

North Carolina Geological Survey Group
170 Lyman Street
Asheville, NC

Senator Burr

Chamber of Commerce
36 Montford Ave
Asheville, NC

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Telecom Hearings

General Assembly
Raliegh, NC

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Meeting: Kathy Lack

Met with Kathy Lack at the Grove Park Inn to discuss developing a documents declaring a campaign for legal immigration that could be published and handed out to political candidates, elected officials, employers and administrators.

We also discussed libertarian and Objectivist political philosophy.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fundraiser: Charles Thomas

Attended a political fundraiser at 21 East Forest Rd, Asheville, for Charles Thomas who is running for North Carolina House of Representatives from District 116.

Class: Citizen's Academy

Attended introductory class of the City of Asheville Citizen's Academy at 100 Court Plaze, Asheville, led by Lauren Bradley. We all introduced ourlselves and told a story about our names.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Weaverville City Council

Attended a special Weaverville city council meeting with their planning committee. The planning committee presented a number of maps related to land use planning. The council asked the planning committee to develope a land use plan that they could present by May 16, 2006. A vote is expected by December.

I asked council member Al Root if he thought the town of Weaverville would welcome overtures from Wal-Mart now that they have withdrawn their application for rezoning in Asheville.

He said that they might not welcome Wal-Mart but they would probably not be opposed to it. He thought Wal-Mart might look at some property just to the north of the Weaverville corporate limits, but if they did they'd need to buy their water from Weaverville.

In this case, Wal-Mart would have greater say in the development plans but would have to negotiate with Weaverville for this service.

If Wal-Mart locates inside the corporate limits, the council would have more say in the development plans but would be required to provide water.

One interesting note: Weaverville has no power to set conditions on the development that would require that Wal-Mart pay for relocation expenses of displaced trailer park residents.

Planning & Economic Development Committee

Attended the Asheville Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting at City Hall.

Gene Ellison presented his plans for Eagle/Market Street development.

Scott Shuford presented a prioritized list of annexation prospects with maps. The planning department will prepare a Resolution of Intent to Annex for the neighborhoods Biltmore Lake, Sand Hill and Biltmore Commons. Next on the list will be Reynolds and Emma.

Staff elaborated on the Board of Adjustments process for the edification of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhood (CAN).

CAN made its own presentation on Staples and Prudential sign. Chairman Jan Davis cut their presentation short stating that review of these details was not the purpose of this meeting. CAN held an informal meeting in the hallway with council member Holly Jones.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

City Council

Attended the city council meeting for April 11, 2006. This was to be the Wal-Mart meeting but Wal-Mart withdrew its application for a zoning variance at the last minute.

I spoke about this during the public comment portion of the meeting. Here is the text of my comments:
I'm sorry that Wal-Mart felt compelled to withdraw their application. I feel sorry for the under-employed poor people of Asheville who desparately need jobs. I am one of them. And I feel especially sorry for the poor trailer park residents who were offered $7,500 to defray their moving expenses. Now, when that property is sold to the next buyer, they will likely get nothing from that buyer. When the time comes for them to move, and it will, they can look back to today and remember who is responsible for their hardship: The anti-Wal-Mart activists from Asheville -- and students from Warren Wilson College. One of whom, I know, is graduating next month and is moving to San Francisco.

Boards & Commissions Committee

Attended the Boards and Commissions Committee meeting at City Hall. Council members Holly Jones, Carl Mumpower and Jan Davis were in attendance. I was the only member of the press in attendance.

The meeting was short and mostly administrative in nature; board openings and candidates were discussed. Jones proposed creating a Floodwater Task Force. This should be a joint task force with the county but the county was not moving forward. The city would still pursue cooperation.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Convention: Buncombe County Libertarian Party

Attended part two of the Buncombe County Libertarian Party Convention. We selected three delegates to the state convention.

Fred Barnes Luncheon

Crowne Plaza
Asheville, NC
Presented by the John Locke Foundation and
Sponsored by WWNC 750-AM

Friday, April 07, 2006

Conference: Christian Apologetics

Attended a two-day conference on Christian apologetics at Woodland Hills Baptist Church. The conference included lectures and breakout sessions by ID proponent William Dembski and Christian scholar Gary Habermas.

Local radio talk show host Ken Bagwell invited me to the conference and paid my way. I joined him briefly during the general presentations and we broke up to attend other sessions.

Overall, the conference was quite excellent and I had the opportunity to hear Dembski's complete presentation on the essentials of ID and pose several questions for him.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lecture: Christian Apologetics and ID

Attended Christian apologetics lecture at UNCA given by Mike Lacona. He gave an excellent presentation on intellegent design and its application to the resurrection.

I asked a couple of questions:

1) Is there anything in the teaching of Jesus that proscribes or discourages intellectual investigations into the scientific evidence for God? He agreed that it is not prohibited by the words of Jesus. In fact, Jesus performed miracles to make divinity evident to the senses.

2) Which is the stronger argument -- the positive argument for God and creation or the negative argument against accident and evolution? Lacona felt that intelligent design was a strong positive argument for God and creation. I disagree. I thing ID is the better argument against accident.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Consultation: Bill Porter

Joined Bill Porter, candidate for NC House of Representatives from District 116, at his home to help him work on a computer problem. Afterwards, Porter asked me why his presentation at last Monday's Citizens for Change meeting was a disaster. He had been grilled on the illegal immigration question.

I told him that it was not as bad as he thought it was. I told him that his position on illegal immigration was not a bad one but it was not presented in the way people wanted to hear it. He had explained that the issue was very complicated and he offered a nuanced response to the question. I told him that what people want to know first is that the candidate takes an uncompromising, hard line on illegal immigration and complexities can perhaps be mentioned later. Porter left the impression that he was soft on the issue.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

NoWalmart Forum

Attended a public forum at the Pack Library on the West Asheville Wal-Mart proposal given by the local Wal-Mart Watch political activist group. Attendance was very poor and no compelling information was gained by attending.

After the meeting, Dale Moburg and I walked out with the group's ringleader (a scowling student from Warren Wilson) and Dale asked him, "Are you a student?" He said, "Yes, I'm a student at Warren Wilson College and I'll be graduating in a couple on months." I took that opportunity to ask him pointedly: "Where will you be going?" He said, "San Francisco." I said, "That's odd." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "You're trying to affect development in this town but you won't be here. I will." He said, "Well, I can work against hunger in Africa but I don't have to live there." Dale thought this was a good rejoinder but I had a problem with it. I told this young, transient activist that Asheville is a community-based city and I turned and walked away. My problem is this: There is no one advocating hunger in Africa.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Meeting: Citizens for Change

Attended a meeting of Citizens for Change at Shoney's Restaurant on Smokey Park Hwy. Nathan Ramsey gave a presentation on issues impacting Buncombe County with emphasis on an imminent vote in favor of county-wide zoning.