No vacancy?

Town Council holds its season opener this Wednesday, Sept. 12, and I can’t seem to rally the excitement I usually have for local politics. It’s not that the decisions council makes aren’t important – in fact, council members are set to vote once again on Charterwood, and the outcome could tip council’s hand for what we can expect on approvals for numerous development projects already filed with the Planning Department.

My lack of enthusiasm for local bickering over building color, signage and unenforceable ordinances stems from the realization that we have much bigger issues to decide in the next couple of months. The presidential election this year presents a sharp distinction between the two parties in vision and implementation.

As I’ve been knocking on doors in all types of neighborhoods this summer, campaigning to re-elect President Obama, my view of the “average American” has broadened. I’ve talked with folks from the middle class, as well as from the low-income and wealthy classes. The assumptions about what makes a good life and how to get there differ markedly among each class. Across the board, people in all three classes value self-sufficiency. So if we expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, we can’t institute policies that keep smacking people down as they try.

Chapel Hill increasingly is becoming a haven for the wealthy. CNN Money Magazine ranked our town as one of the Best Places for the Rich and Single, and reported that the median family income here is $105,327. As our demographics skew from middle class to wealthy class, our values will change, too. We’ll shrug at redeveloping apartment complexes affordable to teachers, town employees and international graduate students into housing for the wealthy. A decade down the line, will any of us be left in town who remember when Chapel Hill paid less attention to appearances and more to improving the lot of all its residents?

The results of the presidential election will decide whether the federal government will shield boot-strappers from the sharp elbows of the wealthy who don’t believe there’s room in their class for more inhabitants. Likewise council members will make decisions in the coming months that show whether Chapel Hill wants to make room for more than just the wealthy.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Terri Buckner

     /  September 10, 2012

    I share some of your concerns Nancy, but so much of the national level debate is really out of bounds. The president can’t do some of the things Romney says he wants to do (like repeal the Affordable Care Act). Most of the economic and social elements being debated are in the hands of congress, not the president.

    To me, the really important debates will always be those in the local community. If council continues approving new developments that add expensive new residential housing to the tax rolls, and if they continue an unaffirmed but much discussed economic plan that depends on sales tax as a primary revenue source, we as a community will undoubtedly continue down the current path of gentrification.

    My hope for this year is that we can have a collective discussion that looks 5 to 10 years out and then craft policies and positions that make housing more affordable (and by that I do not mean affordable housing as in 80% of median wealth with ownership through the Community Land Trust); policies that support the quality of life as defined in the 2020 plan; the practice of making decisions after a systematic investigation of all aspects of life impacted by the issue at hand rather than the currently disjointed approach of reviews often conducted in a vacuum.

  2. Nancy Oates

     /  September 10, 2012

    All true, but still, I’d rather have the political infrastructure of an administration that allows more choice for everyone and preserves some of our societal safety nets.

  3. Steve Wells

     /  September 11, 2012

    This is part of what I find annoying about living in Chapel Hill – two basically Liberal people splitting hairs. The idea that the National debate has no effect on local issues is wrong. The idea that a locality isn’t affected by macro issues is misguided, deluded or even worse: wishful thinking.

    National transportation funds put a priority over bigger roads, not rail, not bike lanes, not public transportation. National policies are sucking funds out of schools and requiring testing that is of no value other than lining the pockets of testing companies. National policies have turned out people who need psychological help onto the streets or put them in prison leaving communities to pick up the pieces.

    If you don’t think National policy affects localities, then you clearly have forgotten that Interstate system that created the suburbs, so a place like Chapel Hill can exist with $105,000 median income yet only 18% of its tax base is built on industry.

    We can work together to solve our issues, but we can’t until we stop splitting hairs trying to one-up each other on how local we are. We cannot ignore that we live in a State that has a Government that does not share our values.

    You can stick your head in the sand and say “local this or that” but that doesn’t solve any problems. Local issues are important, but to deny the effect of National policy is like denying the crosswalks on MLK (built by Federal money). It is wrong-headed.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  September 11, 2012

    I didn’t say national policies don’t count. However, I think most of your examples are state funding. My point was that debate at the national level is full of hooey. Presidents don’t control the economy. They may influence it, but Congress has the bigger impact. Same with health care. And yet in the national debate, no one looks at what the President actually does and asks those questions. If they did, the current election would be much more heavily weighted toward international issues.

    States have lots of leeway over how they chose to use federal tax dollars. If this state put a primary emphasis on non-automotive transportation (as in NC DOT was instructed by the legislature with support from the governor’s office), MLK would get crosswalks, regardless of Fed policy.

  5. Tom Field

     /  September 12, 2012

    I’d rather have Chapel Hill remain a beautiful town and force me out due to the expense, instead of just becoming another typical, ugly suburb that I can afford to live in. Unfortunately, we are getting very close to the latter anyway.

  6. “self-sufficiency”
    Nice to see the Modifying term “Self” used!
    Now if we can just learn to use it ahead of the word “sustainable” …Individuals would rejoice!

    “I’d rather have the political infrastructure of an administration that allows more choice for everyone and preserves some of our societal safety nets.”

    Choice as in Liberty? Much of our Liberty is reduced due to the entanglement of “safety nets” which grow and demand more of our treasure which is required for enhancing our Liberty. The role of Charitable Organizations( private safety net) in the community should be assumed buy the County according to one up coming Commissioner. This would be a public safety net paid for by more taxes. Again, no Choice for taxpayers.

    Have no fear, the entrenchment of ONE political party in this County will always assure a Fight on school Choice, No Choice in US taxpayer dollars to Illegal Aliens in supplements and crime that follow Sanctuary Cities, No choice in County Small Business loans that abate the Permits/Fees/Regulation set in place by the same County (to pay for safety nets), No Choice for land owners in the EJTs that are regulated w/o representation from their farms and land to provide Nutrient Sinks for Developers(who pay fees/taxes for safety nets).

    Do not worry, even the addition of 2 staunch conservatives to the county counsel will not change the status quot. Safety nets are here are sticky, tenacious, and attached to every notion of Choice and Liberty in this county and limit private (tax base) industry to 18%. Check outside the borders for those who see the web. Have no fear, it would take a revolution on the order of Fredrick W Strudwick proportions to reverse it.

    Happy Constitution Day!
    Chris Weaver