In The News › City plan gets lukewarm reviews

May 22, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

City plan gets lukewarm reviews

City plan gets lukewarm reviews
Commission will take up the matter today
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

To the staff of the City Planning Commission, the revised version of the Unified New Orleans Plan’s citywide recovery and rebuilding plan is flawed but should be adopted to move the city’s post-Katrina planning forward.

To the Bureau of Governmental Research, the revised plan is better than the original but still needs major revisions before it’s adopted.

The eight-member Planning Commission will decide today which approach to take.

The citywide recovery plan, prepared by a team of consultants at a cost of several million dollars and reflecting input from many citywide and district meetings, focuses on a 10-year, more than $14 billion program of 95 capital and infrastructure projects designed to correct or repair the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and preventive measures intended to ensure that a similar disaster does not occur again in New Orleans.

The city is expected to use the list, or a version of it as modified by the City Council and Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration, in seeking money from the state and federal governments.

But the UNOP document also warns that implementing the plan “is dependent on outside funding sources and future levels of funding are uncertain,” and that “many proposed programs are concepts and need further development by others . . . once funding is secured.”

An analysis by the Planning Commission’s staff of the plan, which was extensively revised by the consultants to reflect comments on the original document by the staff and speakers at Planning Commission public hearings in late winter — calls it “a civic tool to help guide the repair and rebuilding of New Orleans in a rational way.”

But the staff says the plan “includes editorial comments throughout the document that appear to be more indicative of the authors’ personal and/or political views than representative of public input,” that it does not “evenly integrate the information obtained from the neighborhood meetings and district plans,” and that it “seems disconnected from the (13) district plans” also produced by the UNOP process.

The staff’s analysis cites several other shortcomings, including that the plan lacks a comprehensive housing policy and fails to address issues such as the costs associated with complying with federally mandated “advisory base flood elevations” and post-Katrina problems such as high costs of construction and insurance.

Further, it says, the plan offers no useful guidance on neighborhoods where residents might want to avoid repairing or rebuilding flooded homes because it “does not specifically identify areas where it recommends that public investments be minimized.”

Despite these failures, the staff recommends that the commission endorse the citywide plan because it “provides a strategic framework for future development decisions that will facilitate the rebuilding of New Orleans” and because it “is the result of an unprecedented citywide planning effort and is supported by a broad coalition of citizens.”

The staff further suggests that the 13 district plans should be “accepted” as an addendum, even though the commission has not discussed or held hearings on those plans.

The staff report warns, however, that the commission’s acceptance of the citywide and district plans “should not be taken as a blanket endorsement of every recommendation contained within the document.”

A report on the revised plan issued Monday by the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonpartisan watchdog group, is less scathing than the bureau’s analysis of the original plan.

The new report says the revised document “is more lucidly written and professional in tone” and has corrected problems in the way the nearly 100 recommended infrastructure projects previously were ranked — problems the bureau said “led to bizarre outcomes.”

But the bureau, in some cases reinforcing criticisms cited by the Planning Commission’s staff, says major problems remain, such as “failure to connect flood risk with policy” and “unclear direction for rebuilding.”

The BGR critique says the plan actively encourages resettlement of high-risk neighborhoods that it acknowledges “will remain particularly susceptible to storm surge for the indefinite future.” Instead, the bureau says, the UNOP planners should insist that participants in a proposed $1 billion voluntary “clustering” program move into lower-risk parts of the city.

Although the plan “emphasizes individual decision-making” and “acknowledges the need to make tough choices when allocating scarce resources,” the bureau says, it offers no clear directions on how to allocate such resources, “does not provide the information needed for decision-making” and proposes policies that sometimes are too vague to be meaningful.

Because the plan has no maps showing where its various recommendations would apply, the BGR says, it “will be virtually unusable, and citizens, investors and policymakers will be no more enlightened about the city’s future development” than they are now.

When it does leave the “the realm of vague generalities,” the bureau said, the plan sometimes “goes to the opposite extreme by providing highly prescriptive policies, programs and projects” that are not adequately explained and whose source is unclear.

Examples the bureau cites include the plan’s recommendations for placing the city’s public schools “under the control of a single, unified, appointed body,” for using the former Methodist Hospital site to provide comprehensive medical services to eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, and for providing public housing “at higher densities than federal HOPE VI policies delineate.”

Overall, the BGR analysis says, the UNOP document “still fails to provide . . . basic information needed to guide public and private investment decisions.”

Rather than approving the plan as submitted by the consultants, the bureau says, the Planning Commission should “clean it up, ensure it is clear, coherent and usable, and strip out unjustified recommendations before approving it.”

The commission will consider the revised plan today after its regular bimonthly meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. in the City Council chamber at City Hall. Discussion of the plan is expected to begin about 3 p.m.

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Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3320.

May 22, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

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