Thursday, March 23, 2006

Caveat Emptor

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has released his plan for the rebuilding of the city based on the BNOB Commission recommendations. Two of the commission's ideas were dimissed by the mayor. The proposals to condem properties that would be used for green space and the requirement that neighborhoods proved their viability by having a 50% return of its residents.

The most dramatic break from the commission is that the mayor would allow all residents to return and rebuild, regardless of the status of its condition or safety.

[H]e said anyone could rebuild anywhere in the city but "at their own risk." In the neighborhoods most devastated, residents wishing to return would be warned that city services could be limited, although he offered little detail on what that meant.
Although it is not well publicized, Ray Nagin was a Republican businessman before he switched to Democrat in order to run for mayor. He even donated money to Ronald Reagan's campaign in the '80s. Given those facts, Nagin's recommendations make sense. Reading between the lines one can see a strong streak of libertarianism.

Look at Nagin's ideas:

• No moratorium on building permits.

• Build a light-rail transit system connecting the airport to eastern New Orleans.

• Fortify the city in the short term by installing temporary locks, pumps, and floodgates and, in the long term, by restoring coastal wetlands.

• Create a new city-run school system led by a seven-member board appointed by the mayor and state officials.

• Consolidate the city's seven assessor's offices into one.

• Merge the civil and criminal sheriffs' offices into one.

• Consolidate some police districts.

Libertarian ideas are abundant here. Smaller, more efficient government and a laissez-faire approach to private property.

Some have criticized the mayor for avoiding a plan on how devestated are to be rebuilt.

Taking out the most radical and controversial portions of the urban- development plan may please many residents who jeered such ideas in public meetings, but it also leaves them in limbo.

"I don't think the urban-development side has been addressed at all. There was just a big punt on that issue," says Janet Howard, president and CEO of the Bureau of Governmental Research in New Orleans.

She believes the mayor's plan will not be well received given the high level of frustration among residents - "and rightfully so, when you think about people putting their lives on hold and then not getting the direction they need to plan. It looks like it will be up to FEMA to put us out of our misery when it comes out with the maps."

Ms. Howard seems to miss the point in her own statement. FEMA, it turns out is the linchpin in this whole ordeal. Everyone is looking for answers to what needs to be done in order to rebuild because without the flood maps, homeowners will have now idea if their hose needs to be raised and to what elevation and what kind of flood insurance premiums they would be looking at. If the cost of one or both of these is exorbatant, rebuilding may be out of the question.

What many people don't understand when they ask the Mayor if they will be able to rebuild, he has no choice but to "punt" since the one piece of information people need is out of his hands.


On a related subject, my own opinion of how the city should deal with the "jack-o-lantern" problem is to simply use laws already on the books, Several years ago, an amendment to the state constitution was passed that give the city more authority in siezing blighted property and auctioning it off for redevelopment. This way, eminent domain will not have to be invoked and individual property owners will have the ability to do with their property as they please (within zoning requirements of course). That way, should blighted property appear, city action could either put affordable "fixer-uppers" on the market for redevelopment or blocks of blighted property could be converted into green space as many critics want.

The first idea is not my own, I must confess. It has been used in the pass but unfortunately, corruption within the program managing the allocation of blighted property frightened many homeowners away from participating, and with good reason. Consequently, blighted property still dots much of the city.

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