In The News › Redevelopment agency backed

Feb 2, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Redevelopment agency backed

Redevelopment agency backed
But authority to buy, sell land could be abused, BGR warns
Thursday, February 02, 2006
By Gordon Russell
Staff writer

The watchdog Bureau of Governmental Research on Wednesday endorsed — with major reservations — the notion of creating a powerful new authority to oversee redevelopment in New Orleans, an idea floated first by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute in November and then recommended last month by Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission.

The BGR’s report clearly indicates the group has a healthy dose of skepticism about creating an agency that, as proposed, would be able to use eminent domain, issue bonds and buy and sell property, and the report warns that the entity could become a venue for abuse.

But bemoaning the current state of affairs in New Orleans, the report said “the status quo is failing residents.”

“We have searched in vain for signs that the City Council and mayor have joined forces to meet the challenge of rebuilding. We fear that leaving the rebuilding in the hands of squabbling officials will inevitably and unnecessarily slow the process, causing the city to wither,” the report said.

While the political atmosphere might be an argument in favor of creating the authority, the report cites multiple concerns. It said the authority “could become a vehicle for sweetheart deals,” or, at a minimum, a tool of developers. Also, because its members would be appointed rather than elected, the agency could wield power without accountability, becoming a “shadow government.”

“Too often, appointed bodies have been used to facilitate transactions that were not in the public interest,” the report said. “The same could happen in this case.”

Viewed more optimistically, the agency — tentatively named the Crescent City Recovery Corp. by the mayor’s panel — could oversee the city’s redevelopment in a more efficient and less political way than city government, the BGR said. Those were among the reasons the Urban Land Institute and the mayor’s commission gave in support of its creation.

Getting specific

The BGR’s report includes recommendations that don’t necessarily conflict with the recommendations of the mayor’s panel; rather, the BGR’s are more detailed. The bureau’s board of directors includes two of the 17 members of Nagin’s commission: lawyer Kim Boyle and health-care executive Mel Lagarde, who is co-chairman of the mayor’s commission.

Efforts to reach Lagarde and Joe Canizaro, who oversaw the land-use committee that recommended the creation of the new authority, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Nagin’s commission, the BGR report notes, did not offer many specifics about the proposed authority’s structure or membership. The commission’s land-use committee, which recommended to create the recovery corporation, suggested that it should have seven to 15 members with staggered terms, with no single politician controlling the majority of appointments.

The committee said the agency could take several forms. Among the ideas it laid out were the creation of a new authority, via state legislation and changes to the City Charter, or the retooling of the existing New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which is already authorized in state legislation and has the power to seize blighted property.

Legislative action

Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s call for a special legislative session beginning Monday allows for legislation enabling cities to acquire and dispose of blighted and abandoned housing, as well as the creation of a “housing and land trust” to rebuild regions devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Andy Kopplin, the executive director of Blanco’s Louisiana Recovery Authority, said the trust item is designed for legislation that would create a state entity to dispense federal dollars to homeowners. It is unclear whether it is broad enough to also allow for legislation to create a city-based entity like the Crescent City Recovery Corp.

The Legislature will meet for its regular session beginning March 27, at which time lawmakers will be able to introduce ideas beyond the narrow scope of a special session.

The BGR report lists a number of ways in which the bureau thinks the proposed agency could be held accountable, thus increasing the likelihood that the authority will serve the public good rather than injuring it. Among other things, according to the bureau, any legislation creating the new agency should:

— Require the authority to follow the city’s master plan, once that plan is updated to reflect post-Katrina conditions.

— Ensure that the authority uses public comments in its decision-making process and that its operations are transparent.

— Create an independent oversight agency that could investigate the authority’s business dealings.

— Establish tough conflict-of-interest rules for authority members to guard against self-dealing.

— Create a “structured appointment process” that would ensure board members have “expertise, professionalism, leadership, integrity, balance and civic spirit.”

. . . . . . .

Staff writer Laura Maggi contributed to this report.

Gordon Russell can be reached at or (504) 826-3347.

Feb 2, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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