In The News › Various recovery planners might coalesce

Jun 16, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Various recovery planners might coalesce

Various recovery planners might coalesce
LRA awaits assent from Nagin, council
Friday, June 16, 2006
By Coleman Warner
Staff writer

BATON ROUGE — An impasse over how to proceed with post-Katrina neighborhood recovery will be resolved within days if behind-the-scene negotiations with Mayor Ray Nagin and New Orleans City Council members don’t hit new snags, a Louisiana Recovery Authority board member said Thursday.

The report by LRA member David Voelker to his colleagues on the state recovery panel came as consultants hired by the panel said they will soon stage regional workshops to gather public feedback on economic development, storm protection, transportation and other land-use strategies for south Louisiana. The regional workshops will help provide a framework for parish-level talks about land uses, they said.

Voelker has become the LRA’s point man in trying to resolve the vexing question of how disparate neighborhood planning efforts in New Orleans can be meshed.

With help from Gov. Kathleen Blanco, LRA officials persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation in New York to provide a $3.5 million grant to carry out a long-delayed planning process for the entire city. The state officials want grass-roots plans crafted in some neighborhoods, as well as a separate City Council-financed planning effort, to be absorbed into the Rockefeller-backed project, but the council and Nagin haven’t officially signed off on the details.

Appearing before the LRA with Rockefeller official Carey Shea, Voelker conceded that “nobody knows where the clearinghouse is for the plan” but predicted the confusion could end by Tuesday if Nagin and the council officially endorse the new strategy.

While the Nagin administration has repeatedly declined to comment on the matter, Voelker said a Nagin representative privately made it clear that the mayor won’t object. “He has bought into this,” he said.

Shea said efforts to streamline the local planning work are critical to landing federal money for major recovery projects, and that the Rockefeller-backed effort “will fully respect all of the planning that has already been done.”

Voelker praised current and former City Council members, saying they launched their own broad planning effort, going so far as to hire consultants to provide technical expertise. While that move drew criticism from the Bureau of Governmental Research because a competitive process wasn’t used in hiring the consultants, the council effort partly filled a void left when Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission failed to secure financing for a widely publicized proposal to divide the city into 13 districts and hold planning meetings over four months. That effort was to have ended in May.

City Council President Oliver Thomas, after a recent meeting with Blanco about the issue, said council members favor letting the LRA take the lead in the planning and that the varied efforts would be brought into line. He was unavailable for comment Thursday. Blanco said Thursday that the negotiations “are unfolding as we speak.”

Talk of a threat of “planning fatigue” among New Orleanians struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina prevailed during the LRA meeting, with board member Linda Johnson saying, “I’m concerned that we don’t overcommit people to answering questions.”

Irish Channel resident Ed McGinnis, representing a network of neighborhood groups in Council District B, peppered Voelker with questions in the lobby of the Louisiana State Museum, where the LRA meeting was held, about whether the various planning exercises can be brought together.

“There’s a lot of trepidation,” McGinnis said. “People don’t want to participate in the planning process if they don’t understand how it fits into the food chain.”

LRA planning consultant Peter Calthorpe told LRA members that regional planning workshops will be held July 18 in Lake Charles and Crowley, July 19 in Baton Rouge and July 20 in New Orleans. Other location and time details weren’t immediately announced.

Calthorpe said the meetings will give a consultant team “alternate choices” to consider as they craft a list of specific actions that could improve life in south Louisiana, with 10 to 12 people sitting together at tables and poring over maps as they trade ideas.

Calthorpe and another LRA consultant, John Fregonese, said they aren’t dismayed at the confusion and false starts marking New Orleans’ post-Katrina planning. Delays are often a good thing in the planning world, allowing for more testing of ideas, and snags are a feature of virtually any regional planning effort around the country, they said.

“We’ve done a number of these, and nobody ever has their act together,” Fregonese said.

The consultants said regional workshops will complement the more detailed, neighborhood-by-neighborhood effort in New Orleans.

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Coleman Warner can be reached at or (504) 826-3311.

Jun 16, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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