Rich Answers Questions: Sunrise Movement AVL

1. Have you taken Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal Pledge – to use your office to support and advance the Green New Deal through all legal avenues? https://www.sunrisemovement.org/pledge (If yes, we will make sure your name is on the Sunrise National website!)

Yes

2. How will you use your office to advance and build support for a federal and local Green New Deal?

Though the Green New Deal calls on the federal government to enact the action necessary to achieve the objectives, I think local governments must do their part and address needs that we’re able to see in our community. I will support the provisions of the 2020 Asheville Climate Emergency Resolution and fossil-fuel goals. I led the city’s Multimodal Transportation Commission in endorsing the Citizens Climate Lobby’s Carbon Fee & Dividend bill and will continue to rally city support for national climate legislation. I will work to protect and restore tree canopy currently being depleted in historically low-income and non-white neighborhoods, which is associated with worse health outcomes for persons of color, as a matter of climate justice. I will move the city toward community solar fields. I will continue to expand access to transit and non-vehicular modes of transportation in low-income neighborhoods, and continue the electrification of our transit system as more electric buses become available. I will push for a total zoning overhaul to create dense, green, climate-resilient living conditions, and will use city public works to mitigate the impacts of climate change like flooding and extreme heat and drought. I will increase direct city employment in green infrastructure work and contract with green businesses to grow their employment.

3. Do you support a complete transition away from fossil fuels by 2030?

Yes

4. Describe your vision for a just transition away from fossil fuels. Please include specifically what policies you would promote to achieve this and why doing so is important to you.

On a city level, the biggest change we can make on this front is changing our development and living patterns to reduce car dependence. I am for a long-overdue zoning overhaul to achieve this end. Indirectly, we can lobby our state and our local power monopoly to allow competing utilities and transition away from fossil-fuel-sourced electricity. We can create community solar fields under the auspices of our land trust, and restore our tree canopy to reduce the heat island effect. This is important to me as a young person with and also as a father of elementary-school-aged children. We’ve waited too long to take small corrective actions and are rapidly approaching the point where even large actions wouldn’t be enough to protect human and animal life on this planet as we’ve known it for generations.

5. What will you do to protect communities, particularly communities of color, from fossil fuel projects?

I was involved in efforts in recent years to lobby our local utility, Duke Energy, to enclose a gas-cool a proposed substation abutting households of color. This was a first-of-its-kind project for the state, and will reduce the health, environmental and economic impacts disproportionately felt by poor and nonwhite communities. More generally, I will be resistant to new pipelines, substations, high-voltage lines, expansions of our power plant, or remediation of its coal ash pit that disproportionately affects nonwhite residents. The city has some leverage in this, even in a state as dominated by the utility as North Carolina, and I will use all the city’s tools in the service of climate justice.

6. Have you taken the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge? – http://nofossilfuelmoney.org/politician-signup/

Yes

7. How do you plan to support affordable housing in office?

I will support zoning for dense infill on transit corridors and continue to reduce the transportation costs associated with housing by expanding transit, sidewalks and greenways. I will support a pilot of inclusionary zoning, and fund the operating costs (currently unfunded) of our new community land trust. I will direct city affordable housing funds to down-payment and deposit assistance. I think the best gains for affordable housing are in backyard and basement apartments, which reduce traffic and infrastructure impacts, and so I will direct city tax incentives normally reserved for large developments to these as well.

8. How do you plan to use your office to support voters rights?

I will build upon my work with neighborhood groups and the Democratic party to continue to advocate for inclusive democratic and participatory processes including but not limited to voting. Specific to voting rights, I support both protecting and expanding voting rights. Without protecting and expanding voting rights, vulnerable communities will continue to be excluded from the process, and that will undercut the justice component the Green New Deal. I will add city support to lawsuits against voter ID and voter purges. I will support fare-free bus service during early voting and on election day. I will use city resources to inform, engage, and motivate all community members to participate in all political processes.

9. Firefighters are putting their lives on the line and don’t even make $15 an hour. How do you justify that?

It is unjustifiable, and I will work to change it, including pushing the city to engage in negotiations with the firefighters’ union.

10. How do you plan to expand transit in light of the budget cuts?

I support pushing for county investment, including funding through a countywide referendum on an additional 1/4-cent sales tax directed to transit funding. This is in the works, and discussions with the Buncombe County Commission are ongoing. Asheville is on track to expand transit on the schedule laid out in its transit master plan. Roll-out of extended service hours, a must for late-shift service-industry workers, was delayed last year, but is set to occur by this fall. As more people, including low-wage workers, are forced to the outskirts of the city and county, we need a truly countywide transit system. 

11. What are you going to do to ensure that people who work in Asheville can afford to live here?

I listed some affordable housing goals above, but I would also like to make sure Asheville is diversifying its economy and creating more higher-paying jobs across sectors as a way to keep up with rising costs. Local, state, and federal investment in the Green New Deal will create living wage jobs, but our city leadership must do more. I think the expansion potential of local businesses has been overlooked — again, incentives and economic-development deals mostly go to big outside corporations. But when I look at where there’s the potential to greatly increase jobs and incomes, growing 10 small businesses by 5 jobs each seems easier than landing one big 50-job factory or brewery. As a financial advisor, most of my work is helping working families plan and save for rising costs. Most don’t expect to be able to afford to live their whole lives in this city, the place they call home, and that has to change.

12. Do you support participatory budgeting? How will you help reshape our budgeting process to ensure that community needs are met?

Yes. I supported it when I ran for this seat in 2015, and again when I ran in 2017. Despite growing community support, there’s still no action. The important part of PB, besides the direct appropriations of some funds by neighborhoods, is the way it engages people in the budget process more generally. In Greensboro, which is on its 5th or 6th year of PB by now, regular participants in the neighborhood items become budget monitors who sit in on the broader budget negotiations. That makes things more transparent and responsive to the community, including people who have historically been denied access or been excluded.

13. What other issues are important to you as a candidate? How does your concern about those issues relate to your concern about climate change and support for the Green New Deal?

I have a lot of concerns about government acting transparently and with accountability to its citizens. I got started in local politics by trying to help people overcome the barriers that keep people from learning about their local government and participating in its decisions. Those efforts — including the Asheville Politics Facebook group I co-founded — have been enormously successful, but there are still too many shut out of the decision-making that affects them. Without transparent operation and community accountability, it’s not clear whether any of this other stuff can happen. We need daylight on city operations and open processes, even when they’re messy and contentious. That’s what I’ve always believed, and how I’ll continue to act on council, if elected.

14. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions. I look forward to participating in the Sunrise local candidates’ forum.