Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The night out against the Night Out Against Crime

That's what Alan called the Tuesday night UNOP meeting.

UNOP? What's that you say? Y'all dern well better stert 'preciatin' what the UNOP stands for boys and girls, because it's the ernly game in town.

And what was the UNOP meeting supposed to accomplish?

Well ... I suppose that depends on who you represent and what your goals are. Are you interested in propping up a process that most residents think is intentionally confusing and undemocratic? Or are you one of "those people," who think that power originates in the people, and that their ideas should be honored?

Ha, ha, ha, ha, haaaaa!

If you stand to benefit from access to an exclusive board structure which limits citizen participation in order to control the flow and distribution of billions of dollars in redevelopment resources, well then, I'll give you the official UNOP answer: The goal of the meeting was to allow "participants to select their top three choices for technical assistance teams to support their planning process."

Huh? What does that mean you say? You say your neighborhood already has a planning process underway? You say you don't need a technical assistance team? You just need money to implement your neighborhood's plan?

No, no, no, no, nooooo! That's a bunch of poppycock!

Let me explain something to you. You see, the UNOP is the "official" planning process. This is not like those other planning processes. This is the planning process endorsed by the Mayor of New Orleans, New Orleans City Council, New Orleans City Planning Commission and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (and this time they really mean it).

If you want the money, you have to go through the "official" planning process. Remember the name: Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP). And you have to use the list of planning teams approved by the New Orleans Community Support Foundation (NOCSF) if you want to get any money at all for the plans you already developed, because only the NOCSF has the proper expertise and judgment to decide who should create the plans for your neighborhood.

How did "they" pick the planning teams you ask? Oh, now you're getting really picky! Who cares? Trust them. It's easier that way. Sure they're getting paid for consulting services. They're just trying to earn a ... er ... a few million dollars like the rest of us. Hey, they gotta fill their SUV tanks too. It ain't cheap living like a king in 21st-century America.

So you're still pessimistic? Oh ... what?!! Damn ... that ... wet ... bank ... guy! It's all his fault for posting that diagram of the planning process!

Now they're going to have to admit to everyone that the whole point of the UNOP process is to once more assert the status-quo pre-Katrina power, class, and crony superstructure on emerging grassroots neighborhood organization efforts.

What's that? You want to know why the federal grant money for neighborhood improvements can't go straight to the neighborhood organizations, where there's already grassroots accountability, so they can spend it with whomever they choose to complete their projects? What a quaint notion. You probably believe in unicorns too, don't you?

People don't know anything about the way things are supposed to work! You just can't do that in the United States of America! The money is supposed to go to people at the top first before it trickles down to citizens and their "neighborhoods." That's the way things are done in this fabulous country. The monied power class are the ones who really know what they're doing, and they should by duly rewarded. They get to define what neighborhoods are, and they get to tell people what they should and shouldn't do.

Now, I know you're worried that they're going to accuse you of being one of "those people," and take away your neighborhood money. That's why you're being offered this one-time opportunity, but this is the last time they're making the offer. This is, after all, the "official" planning process, and by the way, they don't have much time left. They'll give you precisely 12 minutes to consider the merits of each planning team, and then you have to make your decision.

After about a half hour of looking at glossy brochures and listening to "We're the best team for your neighborhood. We care about your neighborhood," I went outside where a bunch of other people were standing around having dispirited conversations while staring at their shoes.

It was all very anti-climactic after Sunday's fiasco. Karen captured the mood exactly in a comment to my post last night:

It was like a really boring trade show, except it was a beauty contest to pic-o-planna.

I didn't think there was a story to report initially. But that's the story really. It's the way that things are being done to usurp the neighborhood planning processes already underway that I find disturbing.

I thought I was going to leave several times to join the Night Out Against Crime, but I stayed a little longer and talked to a couple more people.

One woman I talked to belongs to a family that owns a funeral parlor in New Orleans East. She was most interested in seeing development of the Chef Menteur corridor. At first, I thought she seemed interested in the area because she lives there. But she doesn't. She clarified later that she lives in Gentilly. She didn't say anything about Gentilly. She seemed to want to gloss over the deficiencies of the UNOP process. Then it occurred to me that she may not have the best interests of her neighborhood in mind -- that is, the New Orleans East neighborhood where her family's business is located. That's not to say that she didn't care about that New Orleans East neighborhood -- I think she did. But something else was driving her decision to support the UNOP process, and I think that thing was money. Either she had a connection that she wasn't revealing, or she thought an improvement to the neighborhood would be good for her family's funeral business.

Now, I can't say there's anything at all wrong with wanting to improve a neighborhood around one's business. Everyone wants that. But it gets to the core of why the UNOP process seems so artificial. Residents of different neighborhoods are confused. Nobody's telling them what the UNOP is going to do for them. It isn't clear how money is going to move from the federal government through UNOP to neighborhoods. It isn't clear who the players are and what their associations are. In short, everyone's suspicious of the process, ergo res ipsa loquitur.

A guy I talked to from New Orleans East said his neighborhood already had a planning team it was happy with, so he said he was going to write in that team on his planning team preference sheet. His neighborhood's team couldn't apply to the NOCSF process of selecting "approved" teams because it started working before the UNOP came along, and signed a non-compete contract. He said he's been hearing rumblings that the UNOP was going to collapse just like the BNOB did.

I doubt it, but you never know.

Then we'd have to learn a whole new set of acronyms.

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At 8/02/2006 06:43:00 AM, Anonymous Karen said...

I am going to spend the day in the fetal position sucking my thumb, when I grow tired of that I will try and figure out how to sell 3 Flooded Family Houses. As far as UNOP goes. There is no There There. We have smoke we have mirrors and a bright shiny penny that isn't even made of copper anymore.

I was trying to count heads of the people who are employed in this process. Certain folks that may have made a big noise now are on the payroll

Smoke....Mirrors...Shiny Penny

At 8/02/2006 06:54:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

I've made note of same.

At 8/02/2006 07:13:00 AM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

Good grief. This whole thing sounds perfectly awful, Schroeder. No wonder Karen is all balled up. I would be too.

Your account of the Sunday meeting made me feel the chaos but this one seems like a cold slap in the face.

"Now they're going to have to admit to everyone that the whole point of the UNOP process is to once more assert the status-quo pre-Katrina power, class, and crony superstructure on emerging grassroots neighborhood organization efforts."

It has seemed to me, watching from afar, that this disaster might afford an opportunity to change that, and that new, less tainted, leadership could emerge from the ruins. Maybe not.


At 8/02/2006 07:38:00 AM, Anonymous Editor B said...

Schroder, I thought you and your readers might be interested in this letter from Paul Lambert, distributed via e-mail.

Dear Friends,

We are now entering the last stage of meetings during the next 30 days in the City of New Orleans’ Rebuilding Plan Process and it is extremely important that every resident of the city participate at this stage as the neighborhood project, policy and investment priority list for implementation and funding is finalized. All meetings will be noticed in the Times- Picayune, and other local media outlets and a detailed meeting schedule by neighborhood is available on the planning team web site A schedule of meetings in Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas to obtain the input of displaced residents will be available Monday August 7, 2006.

Through the years working in New Orleans and leading a series of highly charged projects, I have always admired the passion New Orleanians have for this world-class city. Your deep love for New Orleans is stronger than every, and is an inspiration to people across the world.

In March of 2006, my firm was honored to accept the challenge to serve as an integral part of New Orleans’ renaissance and rebuilding. We were unanimously selected by the New Orleans City Council to work with you to develop neighborhood plans in order to bring New Orleanians home. Already, 10’s of thousands have participated in neighborhood planning sessions to repair and revitalize New Orleans, and these meetings and exchange of ideas continue in all flooded neighborhoods. Because I realize that you already have a great deal to cope with, we also want to take this opportunity to add clarity to a process that has become unnecessarily blurred by politics.

Lambert Advisory and our team of local and national planners are working on behalf of the residents of the 49 flooded neighborhoods in the city. We have gathered your input, considered your unique issues, and we are nearing completion of a neighborhood- by-neighborhood recovery plan that will be submitted by the end of the summer to the city planning commission and city council.

I am confident that the plan we have devised together will meet with your enthusiastic approval. Once it does, it should immediately be submitted to State and Federal funding agencies to spur the release of significant funding for neighborhood projects. It cannot and should not wait for the fledging Unified New Orleans Plan which the principal organizers have indicated will not be ready until late spring, 2007.

I am particularly distressed that we are receiving multiple inquiries from residents who have apparently been led to believe that if they do not select a planner from the UNOP list; their neighborhood will not receive funding. This is patently false and an abuse of community trust. You absolutely DO NOT need to choose a planner from the foundation’s list to obtain funding for projects and investments in your neighborhood. It would be foolish and wasteful if the Unified New Orleans Plan duplicate work already completed. Their capable planners would better serve New Orleans by helping plan for the 23 non- flooded neighborhoods we have not assisted, develop a CBD plan, and then further focus on planning for specific projects and specific industries that are so critical to the revitalization of New Orleans: the medical districts and corridors, retail and commercial districts, the working waterfront, a recreational lakefront and more.

Under the existing contract my company has with the City of New Orleans, I can assure you that the plans we have devised together will qualify for State and Federal funding. Our team works directly for the City of New Orleans, the entity which must submit plans to State and Federal funding agencies. Your continued participation at our planning meetings will only hasten the development of the plans, their approval and submission for funding.

Know that we will continue to stand with you in your fight to rebuild your lives and communities. On behalf of the New Orleans Neighborhoods Rebuilding Team I am,

Gratefully yours,

Paul Lambert

Managing Principal, Lambert Advisory

At 8/02/2006 08:06:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Wham bam thank you maam!

Wow -- that's pretty amazing!

Wouldn't it be interesting, though, if for the sake of inspiring integrity in its own ethics, Lambert backed away from the City Council's noncompetitive appointment, and submitted itself to a competitive selection process to turn in a unified plan?

I know, they're probably too far along at this point. But what if their work sucks?

Did you hand type the letter? There are a couple of typos.

Thanks B.

Oooo ... I love shiny objects. Maybe they should throw beads too.

At 8/02/2006 08:56:00 AM, Anonymous Editor B said...

No, I didn't retype, that's a straight copy and paste from e-mail. I figure since Lambert's being paid for this work with public money there's no ethical question in sharing this missive. Indeed, I'm just helping him get his message out. He should be paying me! And you!

"What if their work sucks?" Yeah, I worry about this too. We still haven't seen a written report from our assigned planner. Come to think of it, I believe he said we'd have it by now.

At 8/02/2006 08:59:00 AM, Anonymous Editor B said...

Oh, and I meant to add: In Mid-City we are pursuing getting help from UNOP simply because it seems foolish not to get all the technical assistance we can. I still see our planning effort as belonging to us, the community of neighbors, not to Lambert or UNOP or anyone else.

At 8/02/2006 12:48:00 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

Not being a real geek, I have to ask the question? What is the length of a YouTube Video,is it not 12 minutes? What is the length of the Planner Presentation? 12 minutes...

At 8/02/2006 01:11:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

You really are a geek Karen. I don't know -- is that true? Well they could have done two 12 minute pieces, or two 10 minute pieces ...

Or how about doing the thing on a Saturday and Sunday, with opportunities to see the presentations a couple of times. Or a recorded presentation for passersby to view if they want and then ask questions.

Lots of ways to do this differently, and I'm just coming up with sh*t off the top of my head. I'm sure "planners" could come up with some great ideas if they actually gave it some thought (if not, maybe we need fewer planners in the process, and more citizens).

At 8/03/2006 08:51:00 AM, Anonymous humidhaney said...

The youtube system limits video to 10 minutes and 100 megs.

The videos I uploaded this AM are all at about that length.

At 8/03/2006 10:41:00 AM, Blogger G Bitch said...

yeesh! Good thing I was out of town--if I'd gone, I'd've had a stroke AFTER I went all G Bitch on everybody. And we wonder why depression and suicide rates are skyrocketing? I didn't lose anything (but my job for 2 months) and I am ready to be committed.

Give 'em hell, Schroeder!


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