Thursday, January 18, 2007

Walking a Thin Line; Tottering a Bit

A Nashville City Paper editorial tip-toes its way through the car wash exemption controversy today, bracketing the question of ethics but underscoring the importance of questioning campaign financing in Metro Council politics. Except for a couple of missteps, it is worth the read. There has been no response whatsoever (outside of Diane Neighbors's response) from the council members supporting this bill as to their relationship with the car wash special interests. It is important especially for members like Buck Dozier, who is running for Mayor, to be explicit about those ties.

The problems that I see in the NCP editorial concern its characterization of the sides in this debate. It erroneously suggests that the pro-neighborhood side is not pro-development. I don't know any neighborhood advocates who see development of city neighborhoods as at odds with their goals. Development, if responsibly pursued, supports the interests of neighborhood residents and leaders. The law requiring neighborhood and council member consent on development stipulated that developers and neighbors should work together for the overall good. Absentee developers should be responsible to the folk who actually live near the development. That is pro-development; just not pro-any-kind-of-development-whatsoever.

Likewise, editors should not pit communities against "the progress of development," precisely because not all development is progressive in nature. For instance, does clogging neighborhood streets with 200 to 300 cars resulting from new car washes really count as progress? Would that count as progress in your neighborhood? It is progress for the individual who owns the wash and his bank account; but does it really count as overall community progress? Moreover, introducing the labels "liberal" and "conservative" into the mix strains analogy, since the political spectrum spans both sides of the car wash issue.

The most glaring error in the NCP editorial was the mention that the letter was from a handful of neighborhood groups. The letter came from the Nashville Neighborhood Alliance, which represents more than a "handful" of associations. Granted the number of the most vocal neighborhood groups who take issue with the car washes are the few currently facing car washes in their neighborhoods. But notice: the NCP editors failed to point out that the special business interests involved on the "development" side constitute something closer to a "handful": three individual car wash entrepreneurs. Throw council members behind them and that is a handful.

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