When the Lowcountry Livability PAC made its endorsements for Charleston City Council a few weeks back, West Ashley incumbents didn’t fare so well.
In fact, the group suggested kicking four of them to the curb.
And the leader of City Council’s most powerful coalition — one of those passed over for endorsement — has a theory about this.
“In my opinion, the primary purpose for the Livability PAC endorsements is to shut down the completion of I-526,” Councilman Bill Moody says. “If they can get seven votes on City Council to withdraw ‘municipal consent,’ they can stop the project under state law.”
It’s hard to imagine where Moody might have gotten that idea. Maybe it has something to do with his opponent in the November election who last summer was a filing attorney on the Coastal Conservation League’s lawsuit to stop Interstate 526.
The same Coastal Conservation League with strong ties to the PAC.
But honestly, there’s any number of reasons the Livability PAC — with a steering committee that includes prominent conservationists, leading opponents of cruise ships and horse carriages, as well as bike advocates — might have a problem with these guys.
Such as the time they killed a plan to close a lane of the T. Allen Legare Bridge for bikes and pedestrians.
In some ways, this looks like a classic peninsula Charleston vs. West Ashley standoff, a battle between downtown and the suburbs. But that assessment is a tad facile; it’s not that simple.
West Ashley council members are reliable votes for downtown flooding projects, and got on board with plans to regulate peninsula hotels. And the Livability PAC’s concerns aren’t limited to downtown.
But these West Ashley council members have also done a few things that probably did tick off PAC members yet are wildly popular with their constituents. Including:
- Refusing to prioritize the Low Line, a downtown linear park, over the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway.
- Moody taking $500,000 headed for the Low Battery rebuild to bury power lines on Savannah Highway.
- Councilman Keith Waring’s efforts to spend more accommodations and hospitality taxes on West Ashley. In two decades, Charleston has raised more than $300 million from those fees, yet the largest, most populous area of town has seen barely $5 million of it.
Dana Beach, a member of the Livability PAC’s steering committee, says none of that factored into the endorsements. He casts this election as an important chance to wake Charleston from an existential crisis of lethargy.
“It’s the inaction, the inertia and the inability to get things done,” Beach says. “We have a number — $2 billion — to fix flooding, and everybody pretty much agrees on that. But the execution isn’t there. That’s not what we’ve seen.”
Beach says city leaders should be scrapping and digging for flooding money in Columbia and Washington, D.C., the way this community fought for the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the harbor channel deepening and to save the Navy base. Is that this City Council?
"It doesn't look like it," Beach says.
Beach, no fan of finishing 526, points out that nearly every candidate running for City Council has pledged their support to the bypass. Although, he notes, “there’s a lot of subtly there.”
To wit: Moody’s opponent, Ross Appel, says he supports 526 and that lawsuit was a simple “good government” complaint over the misuse of sales tax money.
Of course, it’s hard to keep 526 out of this when the Livability PAC put out a poll that said voters would rather fix flooding than build 526. Which stirred up West Ashley council members even more.
They say we can do both. The PAC says they are doing neither. And that’s where this stands.
Moody says West Ashley council members aren’t against any of the downtown projects the PAC supports — “I know we don’t want to kill the golden goose” — but they believe their neighborhoods should get more than the peninsula’s table scraps.
“You can’t revitalize West Ashley without shifting some revenue,” Waring says. “And therein lies the rub.”
What we have here are slightly different perspectives, and major differences of opinions. The Livability PAC knocked off one incumbent two years ago. Can they take out four this time?
Moody and Waring don't think so.