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"It's Not Just About Climate Change" - AVL Councilman Keith Young Talks Local Green New Deal

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio

Asheville city council members meet for the final time in 2019 Tuesday evening, and lawmakers will take up a resolution that calls for a climate emergency to be declared by the city.  While the resolution calls for action but offers no policy, a set of wide-ranging legislative proposals around climate change could be in front of lawmakers early next year.  Their sponsor refers to them as a local 'Green New Deal', patterned after the similarly-named plan introduced in Congress this year two Democrats - New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey.

Councilman Keith Young says he hopes his colleagues start a discussion about his proposals on their retreat in February.  He says the local Green New Deal touches on more than just climate change, but also equity and inclusion, affordable housing, and public transit.  Young adds he wants feedback not just from his colleagues on council but also the public, calling his plan a 'living, breathing document' that can be changed and is far from a finished product.  He stopped by BPR's studios ahead of Tuesday's council meeting to outline some of his proposals.  You can listen to the full interview above.


Young wants to build a community-owned 'solar farm', similar to what the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina operates.  Young says having one would allow resident to purchase solar energy, opening it up past homeowners who can do it now by purchasing solar panels.  Fayetteville's solar farm is part of the city's locally-owned utility, something Asheville does not have.  But Young tells BPR that he has had discussions with Asheville's city attorney and believes the city does have the ability to do something similar.


Young's plan calls for a recommittment from the city to its overall goals regarding equity and inclusion.  That includes the creation of a city Human Relations Commission and the hiring of Asheville's first equity and inclusion officer Kimberlee Archie in 2017.  "When we talk about climate change, the decisions (council) make...the effects of those policies must be looked at through an equity lens", Young told BPR.  He says this was underscored after viewing a documentary done by Asheville High School students over the summer that called climate change a social justice issue.


Young wants to make the public transportation in the city 'fare-free.'  Buncombe County commissioners need to approve and partner on this plan, and Young already has an ally in County Commission Chair Brownie Newman.  In November, Newman wrote an op-ed in the Asheville Citizen-Times supporting fare-free transit as he prepared his re-election campaign for 2020.  Last week, the Kansas City, Missouri city council voted unanimously to make its bus system fare-free.  Young says not only would fare-free public transit help those who use it everyday, it could also attract riders who don't need to use the buses as one barrier to doing so would be removed.  


Young wants to bring back a 'dollar-a-lot' program that would allow low-income residents to purchase land to build a home on it for as little as $1.  Young says a similar program was previously offered in Asheville's East End neighborhood where he grew up.  He says that program allowed the East End to be one of the few predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the city to stave off some of the effects of gentrification, because it allowed home owners to stay put and build up equity as they paid off their homes.