Thursday, July 13, 2006

7/12/2006 NPN meeting notes

Last night, the Neighborhoods Planning Network hosted a panel of key planners who are helping to coordinate a vision for rebulding New Orleans. About 50 people were in attendance. It was one of the most productive and informative meetings of this kind that I've attended since Hurricane Katrina.

Nevertheless, it's all still confusing as hell. I'll provide what I can in the way of an unresearched, layman's understanding.

I caught the Q&A, so I wasn't clear about the big vision for how the plans that all 73 neighborhoods are developing will be knit together into an overall unified plan that the city will review and approve. A lot of really essential questions were asked, and some of them were even answered -- sort of.

Sitting on the panel were:

Ben Johnson, CEO, Greater New Orleans Foundation
Carey Shea, Rockefeller Foundation
Steve Bingler, Concordia
Yolanda Rodriguez, City Planning Commission
Bobbi Hill, Concordia
Brenda Cho, Concordia

As anyone who's been trying to follow this process would know, everyone seems to be competing for their own version of a "unified plan." Presumably, the bulk of the money to finance neighborhood redevelopment will come from CDBG grants, but I'm not sure about that.

Center stage -- the confusion began last fall when New Orleans Mayor C. "Oreo" Nagin, after considerable criticism for his slow response, created the Bring New Orleans Back Commission to research options and make recommendations on a host of issues including whether or not services should be restored to the entire city, or to a smaller footprint.

Back stage -- When the BNOB told residents that their neighborhoods might be turned into green space if they couldn't be proven to be viable, residents responded like war had been declared. They began organizing their own efforts to come up with a blueprint for their neighborhoods.

Nagin created confusion by backing off of the BNOB recommendation, telling residents to use their own best judgment about whether or not to rebuild, but he stopped short of promising services to all neighborhoods. He announced which parts of the plan he would accept or reject, then called for the creation of yet another commission to ponder for more months how to implement the plan, and then ... nothing happened. Nagin dragged his feet too long, didn't seek a broad consensus of support, and ultimately, FEMA denied a request to fund the BNOB plan.

Stage left -- as the recipient of federal relief money, the state's Louisiana Recovery Authority stepped in with their own agenda in order to come up with a plan for distributing aid. The LRA hired Philadelphia-based architecture and planning firm Wallace, Roberts, Todd to come up with a unified plan to rebuild New Orleans.

Stage right -- enter The Greater New Orleans Foundation. Adding a $1 million grant to a $3.5 million Rockefeller Foundation donation, the GNOF created the New Orleans Community Support Foundation as the fiduciary agent to oversee and coordinate neighborhood planning endeavors.

And from deep down in the orchestra pit -- without publishing a new Request for Proposal, the City Council broadened a 2004 $125,000 public housing contract to Miami-based Lambert Advisory into a $6 million contract to to come up with a unified plan for post-Katrina New Orleans.

Understandably then, Tulane architecture professor Reed Kroloff said, "It’s a mess. There are too many cooks in the kitchen."

After the LRA got behind the GNOF/Rockefeller planning project, Ray Nagin fell into line with the GNOF effort. Meanwhile, the Lambert group continues to work for the City Council, providing consulting services to individual neighborhood associations which have sought its assistance. Neighborhood associations may, however, choose anyone they want to help them with their planning.

The initial structure of the consolidated GNOF/LRA/city planning organization:
The New Orleans Community Support Foundation consists of six board members from the Greater New Orleans Foundation. They are: Board Chair Wayne Lee, Kim Boyle, Cleland Powell, Gary Solomon, David Voelker and Joseph Williams.

The Community Support Organization (CSO), a nine-member advisory committee, will oversee and monitor the planning efforts. The nine members of the Community Support Organization, still to be named, will include one representative appointed by Mayor Nagin, one by the City Council, one by the City Planning Commission, one by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and five citizens selected from the five council districts.

Here are some of the questions that were asked at the Wednesday Neighborhood Planning Network meeting (from my very loosely-taken notes):
Q: (Probably expressing concerns caused by all of the confusion, and that important decisions being made before announcements that those things are happening). You have all the expertise on your side of the table. You know things my mom and me and we don't know. We don't know what we don't know until we find out we don't know. How are we supposed to know what we need to know if you don't tell us ahead of time?

A: Rely on your neighborhood planner. Each neigbhorhood should have opportunities to interview planners. The process will honor the work that's been done. This is part of the "values system" of the process to allow neighborhoods the say in what happens in their neighborhoods.

Q: Am I at the right meeting? How do I know? There are so many processes and organizations and plans that nobody knows where they're supposed to be.

A: If you're not getting what you want, talk to your CSO.

Q: When will the next GNOF/CSF board meeting be?

A: We don't know. Our goal is transparency, to create a calendar, to create a Web site. An announcement will be made when a date for the next meeting is set. If you want advertising in the newspaper or WWL, we'll do that. The first problem was just creating a board so that these things could be decided.

Q: People don't understand the way the unified planning process is going to bring together the plans of 73 neighborhoods.

A: People who want to find out more about the process should pick up a Nieghborhood Planning Guide at the City Planning Commission office on the 9th floor of City Hall.

Q: Our process started a long time ago, independent of the city's planning process. What do you mean when you say that a neighborhood has to sign off on its plan? How does a community "sign off" on, or reject, a plan?

A: There will be 73 different answers to that question as different neighborhood associations figure out their own process.

Q: How long is this process going to take, and when will we have access to city planners?

A: Understand that this is a $4.5 million grant and resources are limited.

Q: The LRA set a deadline of August 29 for all neighborhood plans to be complete. Is that deadline going to hold?

A: The deadline was created as a logical one-year period to move on to the next phase of rebuilding. The deadline really only applies to a state funding of planning efforts.

Q: We're all working very hard to come up with plans for our neighborhoods, but there's a lot of discussion about whether or not public services will be available in some neighborhoods once those plans are completed. Will Entergy, for example, get the CDBG money it's requesting? There's no conversation about this. We'll come up with nice plans for all 13 planning districts and all this open space, but Entergy could just say, "sorry." Someone else will decide where to prioritize, and it won't be us. The conversation needs to happen now!

A: It's a chicken and egg question. We need the schools, police, fire, sewer and water, and all the other infrastructure, but we need to know what people are doing too.

Q: How are you going to hire planners to facilitate integration of neighborhood plans into a unified citywide plan?

A: The CSF board and CSO will be involved in that process, but we don't know how right now.

Q: Money to rebuild neighborhoods is on hold until plans are developed, but we can't develop plans until we get the money. Is there any way to expedite the money?

A: (Carey Shea, Rockefeller) There's government money, but I can't speak about that. I can speak about the non-profit sector as a representative of the Rockefeller Foundation. You're about to experience another big media event. The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is just a few weeks away. That's a huge opportunity from a funding perspective. If you're a non-profit, capitalize on that opportunity. Find funders, plan, ASK FOR MONEY!!! I can't tell you how much time I've spent with people who never send proposals. Philanthropists feel guilty because they never spent money down here. They were afraid of sending their money into a hole. Now that's different. Do your research so you know whether to ask for $10,000 or $100,000. Make sure you're hooked up with a non-profit if you don't have one. Take advantage of the media siege at the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (In reference to criticism of New Orleans not making progress) Funders like to pick winners. There was a front-page story in The New York Times criticizing Nagin for waiting so long to create a unified process. That scared donors.

Q: We don't speak philanthropese. We're virgins. You have to help use through our first time.

A: Find help. That's what you're planner is for. Make them work for you. The Louisiana Association of Non-profit Organizations in Central City is now open. It's a beautiful facility, and they're ready to help.

Q: (About the fact that no elected officials appeared at this meeting) Our elected representatives need to get behind this process so that people have confidence in it. They need to be an active, vocal presence in these meetings.

After the meeting, I entered into a group discussion which generally centered on the fact that Ray Nagin needs to really get his shit in gear. There are a lot of difficult issues that need to be resolved which aren't being addressed.
What happens, for example, when people rebuild their homes but live in the middle of blighted properties everywhere?

What happens to people who want to rebuild their homes, who didn't have flood insurance because they inherited the property over the generations, and they probably never bothered to go to City Hall to transfer the title, and the transfer has to be proven by succession, or the title records are now being freeze-dried to salvage them because they were all in a mess of sewage for weeks, and they need to show legal title before they can get an LRA grant?

The city has been collecting an enormous amount of data. Every time someone goes down to City Hall to get a work permit, the city records the damage into a database which is being mapped. There's a lot of data like this that the city needs to make public. Citizens need to be able to see the amount of damage that happened in their neighborhoods. Greg Meffert seems to be holding on data for one reason or another. The city has been talking about making GIS resources like this available for years, but so far, nothing's happened.

Something like what happened at the Neighborhood Planning Network meeting should be available 24 hours a day. There should be an office open all the time where people can get their questions answered. In fact, there should be offices open in different neighborhoods. It's not enough for Nagin and Meffert to create a redevelopment authority to oversee the process. That's still going to be involved in the political machinery. There needs to be a development corporation totally independent of the city.

Neighborhood planning rules to be decided on Saturday

Tar and feather: City councilman Oliver Thomas

5/10/06 Architectural Record -- New Master Planners Being Sought in New Orleans

The Greater New Orleans Foundation (in particular, see the New Orleans Recovery and Rebuilding Planning Process and the New Orleans Community Support Foundation FAQ).

WDSU -- Rebuilding Plan Finished But Not Available To Residents -- Nagin sets guidelines to plan rebuilding

Bayou Buzz -- Blanco Applauds New Orleans Planning Agreement

Rockefeller Foundation -- The Rockefeller Foundation to Provide $3.5 Million to Accelerate Recovery Planning for New Orleans

The Times Picayune -- N.O. blazes trail for grant money

Associated Press -- New Orleans to unite reconstruction groups

The New York Times -- New Orleans Sets a Way to Plan Its Rebuilding

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At 7/13/2006 12:51:00 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

Thanks..Nice Summary of The Chaos that has been "Planning"

Like the City Planning initiative they seem to allocate NO monies towards consensus building and P.R.

The failure of The City Council initiative is that we are never sure if they did not want people to show up

It will be doomed to failure if they do not convince people that it is a legitimate and forward moving process

At 7/13/2006 02:04:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

"Never sure if they didn't want people to show up" -- that alone will quickly turn any "unified" plan into a doorstop.

Or will it be a "unitary" plan?

I was also shocked that there was no press at the event. I know it might be difficult to staff all meetings, but this one seemed particularly important -- especially now as things are getting down to the wire. The real news isn't what's happening in the mayor's office (unfortunately), it's what citizens are doing.

At 7/14/2006 03:41:00 PM, Anonymous Editor B said...

Nice notes. Well done!

BTW, I was there. I was the guy who asked the question about "sign off."

At 7/15/2006 04:25:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

It was one of the best questions B, and what a diplomatic response to put the question back to the audience. I mean, Steve Bingler is a planner isn't he? I would have thought he'd have some experience facilitating decision-making processes.


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