In The News › Council wants its planners retained

Jul 1, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Council wants its planners retained

Council wants its planners retained
Foundation shouldn’t halt work, officials say
Saturday, July 01, 2006
By Coleman Warner
Staff writer

Two days after New Orleans officials said they had agreed on a plan for unifying neighborhood recovery planning, City Council President Oliver Thomas said Friday that a Rockefeller Foundation process for helping neighborhoods will be embraced, but with the demand that it not prevent completion of a council-financed planning effort already under way in the city’s most devastated areas.

Neighborhoods “can’t stand alone,” Thomas said. “They all have to work with one process moving forward.”

The City Hall plan, crafted during talks this week between Mayor Ray Nagin and council members, reflects continued resistance among council members to a proposal backed by Rockefeller that would bring a halt to planning work by a council-hired team led by Paul Lambert and Shelia Danzey. The proposal would require Lambert-Danzey’s results to be placed under a new planning structure, backed by a $3.5 million Rockefeller grant and strongly supported by the Louisiana Recovery Authority and Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Nagin and Thomas said Wednesday during a press conference that there would be an announcement within a week about unifying neighborhood planning, but at the time offered few details.

It remains unclear if the compromise offer by Nagin and the Council will pass muster with the Rockefeller Foundation and state officials, who were unavailable for comment. At the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which is serving as fiduciary agent for Rockefeller and overseeing the hiring of new consultants, foundation Executive Director Ben Johnson said it’s too early to react.

“There are still things that need to be resolved,” he said. “When I see something in writing, then I’ll be in a better position.”

Money at risk

LRA members have been clearly frustrated by the slow pace of planning in New Orleans, noting it is essential to the state’s strategy for landing federal and philanthropic money for recovery projects. David Voelker, an LRA member from New Orleans who has taken the lead in the planning negotiations, said Thursday that “everybody is trying very hard to get there” but that no deal was in hand. He couldn’t be reached Friday.

Thomas said he sees no reason for planning work by the Lambert-Danzey team to be disrupted, and that he wants grassroots efforts in neighborhoods such as Broadmoor, Lakeview and eastern New Orleans to be completed without interference.

Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who represents eastern New Orleans and has strongly opposed cutting short the Lambert-Danzey team’s work, said in a statement this week: “I am pleased that Mayor Nagin and the council are speaking with one voice on the neighborhood planning process. It is important because the great residents of New Orleans need a plan now. . . . This process is working and I think we should see it through.”

Launched in April after a planning initiative by Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission foundered due to lack of financing, the council planning effort focuses on roughly 50 neighborhoods that suffered major flooding. It does not include the French Quarter, Central Business District and Algiers.

The council authorized spending as much as $2.9 million on neighborhood hearings and other technical assistance, but the project quickly drew fire from the Bureau of Governmental Research, which complained that Danzey and Lambert faced no competition in landing the work.

Too many chiefs?

Lambert argues the group did compete for work with the council when it was hired in 2004 to provide advice on housing issues, a business relationship that was amended to include post-Hurricane Katrina planning services.

The partnership isn’t competing for a job in the Rockefeller-backed program, which drew interest from more than 60 planning firms around the country.

“I feel like we’ve already been selected in a competitive procurement process, and our work is ongoing,” Lambert said. “I don’t see a reason why we would need to go through another procurement process.”

Lambert and Danzey opposed one basic feature of the proposed Rockefeller program: that neighborhoods be allowed to pick their own teams of planners whose credentials would be vetted by a team of experts. Lambert and Danzey, who are based respectively in Miami and New Orleans, said delegating that hiring choice would bring more confusion, and that the teams of consultants they oversee are highly qualified.

Lambert said meetings have been held in nearly all of the targeted neighborhoods and that the process is more than half finished, with a written report expected around the end of August. Under that schedule, the team’s work would overlap the Rockefeller process by several weeks. The Rockefeller planning effort is expected to last through the fall.

The Lambert-Danzey team was hired by the City Council to help badly damaged neighborhoods devise redevelopment strategies. The Rockefeller program, as previously described, would perform a similar task on a citywide basis, including nonflooded neighborhoods, but also would address infrastructure questions. LRA officials and others supporting the new effort have stressed they will make full use of plans already developed through the City Council process or independently by certain neighborhoods.

Let it unfold

A hopeful tone was sounded Friday by John Fregonese, a Portland, Ore., consultant hired by the LRA for regional planning work. He said it makes little sense to try and shut down the council’s planning effort when it will be done by summer’s end. Any flaws in the first round of consulting can be addressed in the second, Fregonese said, adding that he doesn’t expect Rockefeller officials to lose patience.

“This is a matter of trying to come back from a pretty devastating blow, and things aren’t going to be perfect,” he said. “My inclination would be to let it ride, fold it into the process and then move on.”

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Coleman Warner can be reached at cwarner@timespicayune.com or at (504) 826-3311.

Jul 1, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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