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The following editorial does not necessarily reflect the view of the Mountain Area Information Network
GUEST EDITORIAL, Jan Schochet
CONSIDER AMENDMENT ONE CAREFULLY
For those of you who are newcomers, as well as those of you who remember the early 1980's in Asheville, please read the following: We have received exposure to much information about the candidates running in the November election, but little about the amendments at the bottom of the ballot. One amendment that is of interest to all citizens is Amendment One and it has a direct effect upon all our lives. If Amendment One had been in place twenty-five years ago, it certainly would have changed the way Asheville is today and would have had a direct impact upon most of you who have moved here in the last, say, ten years. In fact, you probably wouldn't have moved here at all. If you want to know why, read on.
The issuance of municipal bonds is the heart of Amendment One and is of primary importance in this election. Amendment One supporters would have you believe that allowing municipalities to issue bonds without citizens voting on the issuance--an issuance that sometimes can raise your taxes--will create jobs and be a beacon for progress. In fact, if such an amendment had been in place in the late 1970s, we would not have the vibrant downtown we now have. Instead we would have a suburban mall. Yes, you read right. A suburban mall in the middle of a leveled downtown, possibly outdated now, for malls have a life of 20-30 years. It would sit in a razed 17 square block area bounded by I-240 to Patton Ave and from Broadway to Haywood, a large area.
When this fact of Asheville's history is brought up in public meetings, as it was in the public forum about the Grove Park Inn proposed development last year, entire audiences gasp out loud in unison because most of those in the audience didn't live here back then and they have no idea what nearly happened to their city of choice. Well, it really did almost happen.
The city fathers and the city council approved a proposal from an out of town developer who wanted the city to put up 40 million dollars while the developer put in five million to build this suburban mall downtown in the late 1970s.
The citizenry spoke by voting against the bond issue, a vote required by law. Fortunately. The law states that if a project must issue municipal bonds called general obligation bonds to obtain needed funds, the bond issuance must come to a vote of the electorate. A contentious fight led up to the vote, with a loud, but small, voice against the project. The leadership of a few key people--Wayne Caldwell, John Colby and others--enabled the issue to play out. This was a three year battle. It made last year's Grove Park Inn high-rise battle look like a skirmish. The organization Save Downtown Asheville was able to get the city to sponsor two public citizens' meetings that were held in the very large sanctuary of the First Baptist Church and were televised by WLOS-TV (this was pre-Sinclair, of course), preempting prime time television for more than an hour. Only by the input of citizens voting did the proposed mall go away and Asheville was left to evolve into the world-reknown arts haven it now is.
Voting against Amendment One is the only way to keep citizens in control of the issuance of municipal bonds and projects that depend on municipal bonds. It is one of the only ways for the citizens to have a real impact on at least some of the development that happens here. Amendment One is an extremely important issue, not to be skipped because you don't know what it is about. It is not a "jobs and progress" issue. It is an amendment about retaining your voice in local matters.
"Jobs and progress" was the way the downtown mall proposal was presented to the citizens. If you were against the mall, you were against "jobs and progress." The truth is, jobs and progress are debatable.
Are short-term construction jobs, chain-store wages and a "modern" facade preferable over long-term historic preservation efforts and a downtown full of small businesses whose owners live here and contribute to our local economy and community? That choice was a gamble in the early 1980s.
But the creation of an ambiance that is the envy of many towns in America, making Asheville a tourist destination and a city many want to move to, a darling of the travel media. That's what I call progress and jobs.
If you give up your choice by ignoring Amendment One, who knows what development packages the local governments might foist upon us, without a vote from you?
Vote No on Amendment One on November 2.
ŠJan Schochet 2004
Jan Schochet is a native of Asheville. She worked with Save Downtown Asheville in the late 1970s and early 1980s.