Creating Lexington Park
Few streets have benefited as much from downtown Asheville's cultural and commercial renaissance as Lexington Avenue. Once seen as one of the city's least desirable addresses, the street is now home to a number of chic boutiques and popular restaurants. There is even a growing movement to rename the area, with many of the street's businesses now promoting the name "Lexington Park."
But, what, exactly, is Lexington Park?
According to Kendra Turner, the city of Asheville's neighborhood coordinator, the basic idea behind the new name is to give a new identity to the street. She notes that several community-based groups have begun working together with local residents to create an image of a brighter, more visitor-friendly neighborhood.
One result of this cooperation is the Lexington Park Open House, a "community design" event scheduled to take place from 3 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at Broadway's (107 N. Lexington Ave.). The plan is to solicit public input about ongoing projects, such as the creation of a neighborhood-identifying "gateway," and other, new initiatives.
"There are several groups involved in this event," Turner notes. "The Lexington Avenue Merchant's Association is interested in adding some improvements and beautification to the street, and the Asheville Mural Project is interested in getting input for a potential mural which would go under the I-240 bridge."
Other topics up for discussion at the open house include the development of a "pocket park" (a small area of greenery) in the Lexington Avenue parking lot, and the future of the annual Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival.
For more information, call 259-5506 or visit Arts2People.org.
— by Steve Shanafelt
Locals rally for 17-year-old facing deportation
Seventeen-year-old Rubidia Carballo, heretofore an energetic and evidently well-adjusted student at Asheville High School, is nervous. A U.S. resident since 1997 who's parents have been legal residents for 15 years, last November Carballo was abruptly informed that she will be repatriated to El Salvador. She'd very much like to stay in the community she calls home, she says.
The U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has offered the family no reason for its action, other than a claim that "there is some problem with paperwork," according to Carballo. "But we sent them all the papers they asked for," she told Xpress.
Confronting the government move has taken Carballo and her parents to the Salvadoran embassy in Woodbridge, Va., and to Charlotte, N.C. The next stop is Atlanta, for a March 6 deportation hearing.
When Dorit Kasper, a neighbor and friend of the Carballos who is herself a legal immigrant, learned of the family's plight, she decided to offer help. "Rubidia's parents don't speak English well enough to understand all of the government's requests," Kasper explained. Furthermore, legal defense and travel has already cost the family thousands of dollars, and Kasper hoped to help them with expenses.
Kasper, in turn, talked to Asheville human rights activist Tom Heffner about the case, and the pair attended a Human Rights Fair at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville in early February. Discussion there led to a tabling event at the church on Feb. 18, where Carballo and her supporters solicited signatures on hundreds of letters to Rep. Heath Shuler, Sen. Richard Burr, Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, seeking intervention in her case.
Multiple inquiries to the Atlanta office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the reason for Carballo's proposed deportation have resulted in a continuing round of referrals and phone tag but no more information at press time.
Contributions to Carballo's legal defense fund can be sent in care of the Human Rights Team, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 2 Edwin Place, Asheville, NC 28801.
— Cecil Bothwell
Business chafes at Shuler's pro-union stance
As an NFL quarterback, Rep. Heath Shuler belonged to the players' union. His father, a postal worker, was also a proud union man. "It's just part of my life," Shuler said last Thursday in a luncheon address to more than 100 members of the Council of Independent Business Owners in Asheville.
Shuler's stance puts him at loggerheads with many business owners in North Carolina, a right-to-work state with a long history of resistance to unions. In fact, the Carolinas have the lowest level of labor-union membership in the nation, according to U.S. Census data.
After a short and politely received speech explaining how the new Democratic-controlled Congress was making business, especially small business, a top priority, some audience members berated Shuler on his ties to labor unions during a brief question-and-answer session.
One challenged Shuler to explain how large campaign contributions from labor unions would not influence his vote. "That would seem to obligate you to be a union promoter in lieu of your constituents in North Carolina," the man said.
Shuler responded, "I tell them, 'You gave [money] to me before you knew how I'd vote.' ... Nobody has me by the purse strings."
To back up his claims that he represents many facets of his diverse constituency, Shuler reminded the crowd he was part of the "Blue Dog" caucus of conservative Democrats. While he has supported bills challenging President Bush's planned troop surge in Iraq and supporting environmental protections, he noted that he often bucks his own party, most notably in a recent vote against federal funds to support stem-cell research.
More prominent than the issue of campaign cash, however, was the audience's fear of a bill, H.R. 800, that would represent one of the greatest reforms of labor-organizing laws since enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The bill, which Shuler supports and is slated for a full House vote within the next month, would fundamentally alter how employees select whether or not to form a union.
Under the bill, called the Employee Free Choice Act, the National Labor Relations Board would certify a union if it wins a majority of cards signed by workers. Currently, the NLRB calls for a secret-ballot election if more than 30 percent of the workers say they support a union. In order to win the election, the union must then garner the majority of the workers' votes.
Unions argue that the change is needed because employers intimidate workers before voting and use legal battles to stall election results, sometimes for several years. The reform proposal would also toughen sanctions for interfering in the organizing process and introduces fines to NLRB rules. It also would introduce federal mediators in talks when the union and company cannot reach a deal on a first-time contact. If both sides fail to resolve their differences, then an arbitrator's finding would be imposed.
"We think this violates the privacy of the employee and stacks the deck against the business owner," said another audience member. Shuler responded: "There's good and bad [people] on both sides ... but if we do right in our businesses, I don't ever think you'll have a problem."
— Hal L. Millard
Buncombe Republicans line up for battle
Buncombe County Republicans gathered for their annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner at the Crest Center on Feb. 19, pointing their energy in the direction of the 2007 elections. In attendance were a bevy of candidates, including two gubernatorial hopefuls and a number of local-office seekers.
Outspoken Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower, sole Republican on that seven-member body, was rewarded with a standing ovation, and upcoming Council candidates Selina Sullivan, Matthew Hebb (both of whom ran for the office in 2005) and Tim Peck drew loud applause.
Gubernatorial candidates included Bill Graham, chair of N.C. Conservatives United, who spoke briefly on the need for tax relief, and state Sen. Fred Smith, who argued it's time for a "change in management" in Raleigh. Other GOP candidates included Marcus Kindley from Guilford County, who's running for chair of the N.C. Republicans, and Mike Harrison and Chad Nesbitt, who are squaring off in the contest to replace George Keller outgoing chair of the Buncombe County Republicans.
Guest speaker for the evening was retired Lt. Col. Frances Rice, president of the National Black Republican Association. The Atlanta native, who now lives in Florida, drew cheers by opening with, "Is this a great country, or what?" She continued with a nod to Abraham Lincoln, chronicling her personal odyssey from a "one-room shack" to a military and then legal career.
Rice harkened back to the beginnings of the Republican Party, which, she noted, played a key role in ending slavery. Then she spoke of the need for Republicans to "fight again" -- this time to "free blacks from economic bondage."
Post-Reconstruction politics undercut prosperity for blacks, Rice argued, denouncing "socialism" for promoting subsistence-level existence in black communities. After detailing her work against that economic agenda, she spoke of her goal to bring 25 percent of the black vote into the Republican fold -- a step the party must take, she said, if it's to take back Congress. In closing, Rice declared that "there will not be a President Hillary Rodham Clinton," bringing the audience to its feet again.
Elections for the Buncombe County Republican Party officers and delegates will take place at the Saturday, March 10, Precinct Meeting and County Convention in A-B Tech's Ferguson Auditorium, beginning at 9 a.m.
— Nelda Holder
That's a bellyful
When a big, green solar-powered trash compactor appeared one day on the corner of Battery Park Avenue and Wall Street, downtown-Asheville vendor John Frank was bewildered. What was this contraption, he wondered, and what was it doing squeezed up next to his hot-dog cart?
It's called a BigBelly Cordless Compaction System, and it's one of about 300 solar-powered waste receptacles that have appeared on busy street corners from New York to Australia. Manufactured by Massachusetts-based Seahorse Power Company, it's made out of heavy-gauge galvanized steel and operates using a 40-watt solar panel and a 12-volt interior battery. It can contain the same quantity of garbage as six regular bins, and it automatically crunches down the rubbish once it starts to fill up.
"They're remarkably consistent," says Richard Kennelly, vice president of marketing and sales at Seahorse. "They can actually work without direct sunlight, and they save three out of every four garbage pickup trips. After just a couple of years, it can pay for itself."
The return on investment stems from a savings in fuel costs for garbage trucks. Cincinnati recently purchased five BigBellies, according to Kennelly, and may spring for 200. A Cincinnati Parks and Recreation Department study determined that the BigBellies would save the city $200,000 in operating costs while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 90 tons annually.
Asheville's own BigBelly is in a four-week trial phase. "We're just testing it out," says Wendy Simmons, solid waste manager at the city's Sanitation Division. It's still too early to determine what the compactors would cost the city, but the North Carolina distributor says that pricing starts at $3,595 per unit.
At first, Frank, the vendor, wasn't too pleased with the placement of the boxy receptacle mere feet from his stand. He'd been paying the city to set up shop at the intersection since July, and viewed the BigBelly as an unwarranted intrusion on his tiny patch of sidewalk. "I don't understand why they didn't put it on that corner," Frank told Xpress one day, gesturing about 10 yards away to the corner opposite his stand, which seemed to be getting more sun. In addition to feeling crowded, he wondered why there is not a recycling component on this "green" trash bin.
Frank was appeased a few days later, when Steve Henderson, field operations manager at the Sanitation Division, helped make arrangements with the city to allow him to move his cart across the street without paying a fee. Frank had originally gotten word from the city that rolling his cart across the way would cost $75, "to relocate."
The BigBelly may even be a blessing in disguise for the vendor, as it became a conversation piece that lures curious passersby to his stand. And aside from its apparent environmental benefits, perhaps this fancy trash compactor will prevent accidents like the one that occurred last week, when a smoldering cigarette butt ignited and melted down a nearby plastic trash can. But that's another story.
— Rebecca Bowe