In The News › Recovery czar would clarify city’s uncertain future

Sep 4, 2006

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Recovery czar would clarify city’s uncertain future

Recovery czar would clarify city’s uncertain future
by Mark Singletary

We need a czar.

As the recovery of New Orleans moves into its second year, it’s painfully obvious no one is in charge. A lot of people want to be in charge, and there are a few who should be in charge, but the reality is no one has taken charge of our recovery effort.

By naming someone to be in charge of the entire recovery and rebuilding effort for New Orleans, the mayor and City Council would change our future from uncertain to clear.

I have no doubts Mayor C. Ray Nagin and the City Council want our city to recover fully from the devastation of last year’s storm. But the truth is they are hamstrung by tradition and politics.

They seem to want to make a difference, but it also seems they are unwilling to do anything but talk about it. We are way past talking about leadership — it’s time to act.

I read with interest most of the work done by the Bureau of Governmental Research and more often than not, agree with their findings. Their latest report, “Planning for a New Era — Proposed Charter Changes for Land Use Decision Making in New Orleans,” is no exception.

This report outlines several proposals to simplify and rationalize the planning and development process for land use within Orleans Parish. BGR calls for giving the city’s master development plan the force of law, limiting exceptions to the master plan and involving property owners in the process.

The BGR approach would necessitate changing our city charter, and the report includes those proposed changes.

I’d propose an additional change: Put a rebuilding czar in charge of the process.

According to the BGR, the biggest impediment to a real recovery plan is the power City Council members have over the planning process.

Two traditions, deference and discretion, have evolved to give individual council members too much control over property zoning issues. Zoning issues, the basic units of urban land use, shouldn’t be held hostage to politics and personal feelings.

Through our present city charter, recommendations from the City Planning Commission are presented to the City Council for action and a single council member can exercise discretionary power to modify or kill a project. The rest of the council defers to that member because they might want to kill another project themselves. And, of course, they wouldn’t want to give away that right by denying it to a fellow member of the council.

By naming a professional urban planner to be in charge of the rebuilding process, the City Council and the mayor can rise above the usual politics and, more importantly, stay out of the way.

Our czar would be beholden to the citizens and property owners. The czar must be a benevolent ruler. He or she must act with one objective: to facilitate the expedient redevelopment of the city of New Orleans within the guidelines set forth in a master plan adopted by City Council and ratified by voters.

Acting for the greater good, and without a second thought to political consequences, the czar can direct our resources to cleaning up, strengthening our failing infrastructure and rebuilding our city under plans submitted by property owners and confirmed by professional planners.

The czar would report to the city regularly (I suggest weekly) with progress updates on current activities, including plans and impediments for future developments.

Following the guidelines set forth by the BGR report is essential for our city to rebuild correctly. Left on our own, operating under traditional deference and discretion, the city will become a patchwork of disparate homes and businesses encircled by blight and failing infrastructure. It will be destined for a bleak future.

Adopt this plan and our future looks brighter immediately.

The options are simple. Choose a new plan and put someone in charge of making it happen, or continue down a path already echoing with insincere statements and hollow promises.

Yes, we need a czar.•

Publisher Mark Singletary can be reached at mark.singletary@nopg.com or call 293-9214 or fax 832-3570.

Sep 4, 2006

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

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