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Depressing NOLA Rumor #2: The real reason why planning has taken so long.

I had drinks with a friend who introduced me to someone in politics in the state recently.  After some time we got on the topic of the new City Council. I wanted to know what he thought about their first few months.  He had positive things to say about Midura and Stacy Head. I was to then learn that the newly created office of the Recovery Tzar only happened because the City Council planned to push for it after waiting for action from the Mayor. For months Fema and the LRA were telling the Mayor's office that it was necessary and important to create immediately this office after Katrina. So to escape embarrassment and under pressure from the City Council the Mayor did what he had been asked to do for 15 months.

I then learned about something else the LRA and FEMA had been telling the Mayor's office for 15 months.  This is much worse because it effects everyone, especially those living in Baton Rouge paying to mortgages as they wait to "hear what is happening."

Since the very beginning the Mayor and City Council were told they needed to plan the Parish to get the funding available.  They needed a comprehensive plan for the entire Parish; ALL 73 NEIGHBORHOODS. Wet and Dry needed to be part of their plan to get funding.

What do you think the City Government did? They said to themselves we are going to only plan for wet areas and all the funding we get will go to fixing those up reeeeal nice. That is our plan. Let's make it happen.

The Bring New Orleans Back Commission only dealt with wet areas of town while the LRA kept repeating the same information: COMPREHENSIVE 73 NEIGHBORHOOD PARISH PLAN IS WHAT YOU NEED TO FUNDING.

Did they listen?  Nope. City Council hired Lambert out of Miami to do planning for the Wet Areas. And plan they did with little dialog with the residents in those areas who were not back in the city.

Fema came through with preliminary flood elevations.  The city government rejected them. Fema explained that they could not fight the federal government. They were at a stand still for 7 months as people waited to get on with their lives. The City was going to have it their way.

Then the Mayor and City Council threatened to visit the state capital and demand that they get access to the millions available for planning these areas of the city.  And what did the State say to this? They said, "Sure guys come on up here. Speak your case. But know this, we will share with everyone in detail the history of this planning process." Guess who showed up to the state to demand the money? 2 council members who then quietly kept their peace.

How does that make you feel?

December 28, 2006 in Nola Stuff | Permalink


Your friend of a friend is either lying to you or doesn't know what he is talking about (most likely a little of each). Here are the facts with some extrapolation (at least I'm honest).

The LRA and Governor had no idea how much the RoadHome would cost when they first proposed it (fact). They initially projected alot of greenfield buyouts (fact, check with ICF if you like). The greenfield buyouts would be done with HMGP money which is a larger pool, but more restrictive than the CDBG funds. It turns out the the projections were all wrong, the State severely under-estimated the amount of people that want to return (fact). This is eating up the CDBG funds. In order to cover their asses for a screwed up plan they have continually changed the planning requirement because the longer they can delay giving any money to the local parish the more they can hopefully direct homeowners to HMGP buyouts (mostly extrapolation, but consistent with the facts). The public infrastructure needs cannot be met with HMGP funds because they can only be used to mitigate against future disasters, not create infrastructure that was ruined (fact). Basically the end result of all this is that there is not enough money allocated to fix these problems, and as long as they can place the blame on "requirements" they don't have to admit it. You can think I'm crazy, but wait until the plans get presented and listen to the rhetoric out of the State with a somewhat critical ear.

Complete conjecture has me wondering if the low awards to RoadHome recipients is yet another attempt to try to force buyouts - I have no facts to back that up, but seems plausible...

Posted by: Clarence | Dec 28, 2006 10:06:43 PM

I can't ignore the cause and effect and lack of empathy that leads to folsk not returning due to slow to non-existent action by the federal and local governments.

Is it racist? Not sure.

In terms of money I heard other Parishes had put their plans together and had been pulling from the LRA capital for infrastructure (and citizens?).

I will touch base with my contact and see about more clarification.

Posted by: humidhaney | Dec 28, 2006 10:15:20 PM

Remember to put in context the numbers we are talking about. The state can be Santa Claus to every other parish and make them whole without putting a dent in the overall amount - once they start spending money in New Orleans there is no way to meet the need.

Every parish has petitioned the State to free up the money and outline the process necessary to apply for infrastructure funds.

"The Plan" is not what is holding up the recovery. Do you really think that the State is going to come in and say that they are going to fund what is in the plan? Or for that matter even a portion of what is in the plan (that would be political suicide)? The plan is merely a suggestion to the CPC for the overall master plan for the City - it does not reduce risk of flood (that is what the BFEs are for), it does not replace or improve public infrastructure (that is what CDBG and FEMA public assistance funds are for), it does not elevate homes (that is what HMGP money is for). All of those programs have well defined guidelines, and none of them require as comprehensive a plan as is being requested by the State (HMGP does sort of, but not land use). "The Plan" is just a way to keep your eyes off the real problem...there is value in the option to wait from the State's perspective, and that value is they can spread the money to everyone else and get the Governor re-elected. This last paragraph, of course, is all conjecture.

Posted by: Clarence | Dec 28, 2006 11:12:53 PM

Just my opinion here: Clarence is probably on target about the State dilly dallying in New Orleans for political purposes. But wouldn't it be nice if we had effective municipal leadership capable of combating these tactics.

Posted by: jeffrey | Dec 29, 2006 9:37:53 AM

I've actually heard the exact opposite. The decision has already been made to shrink the city's footprint no matter what. Look at how few schools are being reopened east of the Industrial Canal.

I like where Clarence is heading with his comments.

Posted by: Clay | Dec 29, 2006 12:58:18 PM

Oh yeah, and the WORST thing that could happen with the rebuilding funds is it being used by local crooks to prop up their own political dynasties...

Posted by: Clay | Dec 29, 2006 1:48:07 PM

What do you make of todays TP article about The Unified Plan redefining the Planning Process and calling it a Recovery Plan?

Posted by: Citizen | Dec 30, 2006 11:52:06 AM

Clarence...how do you know all this? That's the most articulate explanation I've seen on this whole fiasco. How do you know so much?

Posted by: Dambala | Dec 30, 2006 11:47:56 PM

I work for one of the universities and have consulted with local governments and agencies on FEMA issues since Katrina.

I have steered clear of the UNOP process, not because I don't think it is valuable, but because I haven't had the time with everything else that is going on. And don't get me wrong, UNOP is valuable, it just is not, and should not, be a pre-requisite to accessing money at the local level.

As for the flood elevation argument: from my sources, the city never rejected the base flood evelations, they just asked that instead of putting a blanket 3ft, that FEMA put a little thought behind their actions. I mean come on, it took them 8 months to say elevate everything 3ft - there is NO science behind that! The State, instead of coming to the aide of the City, just blindly went with FEMA's rules. Oh, and there is precedent to NOT accepting the FEMA guidlines, but still having access to money - 1997, the flood of North Dakota and Minnesota - the reason, the adverse economic development impact of accepting the advisory base flood elevations. But the base flood elevation argument is yet another thing to take your eye off the real problem, it didn't hold up recovery at all. The real effects of the ABFEs have yet to be felt, but once money is available it will be a HUGE issue (and the worst part, the areas affected the most by the ABFE are the areas that didn't and won't flood!)

Posted by: Clarence | Dec 31, 2006 11:52:00 AM

At some point I will set up a means to write the history of the planning and politics seince Katrina. The full story is too complicated to follow and with too many competing stories to follow (because of the competing interests).

Posted by: humidhaney | Jan 1, 2007 7:43:24 PM

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