Monday, August 29, 2005

Cat's Out of the Bag

Deborah Greene and I agree on something. Actually, I knew this even when we were on opposite sides of the zoning issue. I distinctly heard her say once upon a time that we need comprehensive planning in Watauga County. That need for planning has only grown greater. Also more remote, thanks to Deborah's success at equating zoning with, approximately, devil worship.

In the interests of dialogue, here are some random notes on the state of the world and on the sad sad condition of my own soul:

1. I don't like fat cats. Never have. Not since I grew up as a tenant kid on a rich man's 3,000-acre wheat farm in west Texas. My father did the work on that farm. The rich man got the profits. My brother and I helped my father work that land. When I got old enough, the rich man paid me a dollar-an-hour to plow wheat stubble for 11 hours a day. I thought I was rich. That's how easy it was to buy me off! Perspective is everything. And my perspective has shifted.

2. Yes, I have issues with rural people, because I am one. I have issues, always, with people I identify with and love, when I see them driving over a cliff while looking the wrong way.

They were looking the wrong way during the zoning debate. They were looking the wrong way because Deborah Greene, among others, was pointing them in that direction: "They're gonna take away your rights!" But what zoning would have done -- and it's the only thing that can accomplish this that I know of -- is to give some rather significant protection to rural landowners from the whims of fat cats. Zoning allows neighbors the ability to offer competent, relevant, and substantial evidence of harm from, say, a toxic waste dump or a nudie bar, and by showing harm, prevent that use from happening. It ain't poor country people trying to put in toxic waste dumps (or whatever). It's fat cats. They don't like being hindered by zoning regs one little bit.

Zoning does hurt some poor people -- I'll be the first to admit that -- because generally the poorest people are already living on what the zoning administrators will invariably label "industrial" or "multi-use," meaning unfortunately "not fit for human habitation." This is the downside of zoning, and I understand it in the marrow of my bones. The poorest people become pawns. Landless poor people, that is. Remember the 50-odd households in the Greenway trailer park in Boone" Fat cats got their way. Poor people got booted. That was NOT because of zoning. That was because of the FAILURE of zoning administrators and appointed and elected officials.

The country people I'm talking about -- the ones D. Greene and K. Carter seem to think I'm snobbish toward -- are not landless. Land sometimes IS their wealth. Justifiably, they want to protect that wealth. And the more valuable that land becomes -- by development pressures, the real estate boom, tax reevaluations -- the harder it is to hang onto it. Any tax increase based on land evaluations hits our rural population base with unequal force, sometimes like a tsunami. Deborah Greene's outrage about that unequal tax burden is wholly justified. There ought to be tax breaks for people holding onto farms and keeping them agricultural. Appreciable tax breaks. Instead, what happens too often is that one generation passes away, and the heirs, often living and working elsewhere, can't pay the taxes and have to sell off the farm to what ends up sometimes being more noxious development. Under these precarious circumstances, no wonder rural people are so susceptible to someone distracting them -- "Look! They're gonna steal your land!" While they continue to drive over that cliff.

Zoning would not impoverish them. Zoning would make them far more powerful, especially with Deborah Greene as their whiz-bang advocate against fat-cat developers before any Board of Adjustment, offering competent, material, and substantial evidence why Development X (let your imagination run wild) would be detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of neighboring landowners. Think of it.

4. I've wandered into Fantasy Land. Why am I talking about zoning anyway? D. Greene won that battle, though I promise she's going to live to regret that victory.

5. I have a sense of humor. I can especially laugh at myself, and often need to. D. Greene or K. Carter need a sense of humor. Or more of one. Just as I need not to be such a smart-alerk all the time. Ah, what are the possibilities for either?

6. I am partisan. I'll cop to that. But I'm no partisan hack. Ask Governor Easley. Ask the state Democratic Party chair. Ask numerous Democratic office-holders. If you read this blog regularly, instead of only when your name appears, you'd know I give 'em all hell. But I'm partisan in that I believe generally this nation would be better off with Democratic values running it -- if we EVER found a Democrat with the courage of his/her beliefs -- than with Republican values running it, because as far as I'm concerned, the current regime in Washington (and in Raleigh, too, for that matter) is run by fat cats, FOR fat cats, and we're all suffering from it.

I don't believe D. Greene is any more enamored of those fat-cat values than I am. She objects to my labeling them "Republican values,” and that's fair. Historically, they're NOT Republican -- NOT, I say.

The Republican Party supported the abolition of slavery, actually INVENTED zoning as a protection of individual rights, fought for women's suffrage. It was REPUBLICAN women who founded the birth control movement and "family planning." (I remember the shock of encountering an elderly Ohio farmer at the first pro-choice march I ever attended in Washington, D.C. "It's stupid to tell women they gotta have babies," he said, succinctly. He was a true Republican (and bound to have been run out of the party by now). The Republican Party locally was considerably more liberal, going back to 1900, than the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party all over the South at that time -- and Watauga County was no exception -- was corrupt to the core. It took a long time to change. Just as it took a long, long time for the national Republican Party to change from protecting women's rights and black rights, etc., to riding the hobby horses it rides today. I hate it that the Grand Old Party has been taken over by rich people and by religious fanatics. D. Greene and K. Carter need to take it back.

7. I'll be glad to help with that project. Though I have to reserve much of my energy for keeping my own damn dumb Democrats from chasing off after false gods.

8. Everything's not a conspiracy. Some things are just plain old human blundering, not intentional but also not always benign, unfortunately.

9. Greene & Carter need an editor. But, then, don't we all?

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