Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Mayor's Commission Gives Up

The New York Times reports today that the winning plan for the reconstruction of New Orleans is the Cannizzaro "let God sort them out" approach.

The plan, scheduled to be released Wednesday, "will recommend that residents be allowed to return and rebuild anywhere they like, no matter how damaged or vulnerable the neighborhood, according to several members of the mayor's rebuilding commission."

The leaders of --presented with an enormous challenge requiring clear vision and strong leadership--have punted. Even if there is a secret plan underneath all this (it would be simple; the city doesn't issue construction permits in the hardest hit areas, putting those people in a Catch-22), it still is a complete failure of leadership, no an abdication of leadership, by Mayor Ray Nagin and his commission.

I think the respected Bureau of Governmental Research, an independent goverment watchdog cum think tank, I think hits the right note in their response:
"There are some very tough decisions that have to be made here, and no one relishes making them," said Janet R. Howard, chief executive of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit policy organization based in New Orleans. "But to say that people should invest their money and invest their energies and put all their hope into rebuilding and then in a year we'll re-evaluate, that's no plan at all."

Part of the Canizaro "plan" involves promises to pay out a full pre- values for people who chose to rebuild in areas that are subsequently abandoned. Think about that. The people who can afford to rebuild on their own terms will be rewarded with a full price payout. Those who can't will get bankruptcy and a prayerful best wishes from President George (who blocked even a 60% payout under the Baker plan in the wanning days of 2005).

Canizaro plan calls envisions that "the market, and not planners, would determine which neighborhoods would come back." Yes, the market that provided sub-standard housing and schools and jobs to hundreds of thousands, the market that has made post-Hugo Charleston, S.C. a rich and empty vacation ghetto, the market that has left thousands of Floridians stranded in FEMAville trailer parks with no affordable place to live.

I believe the Canizaro and his peers, people I called the Knights of the Invisible Hand months ago on this blog, understand what they are doing. Their own class, those who can afford to come back on their own terms, will be allowed, even encouraged. Those people who lost everything will be left out. And we all know who "those people" are.

I don't think the Knights are racist. I do think they are very class conscious, and want the right "class" of people to come home. I agree, to some extent. Nobody wants the gang-bangers back. But the city will continue to depend on tourism as an economic mainstay, and I find nothing in the NYT trial balloon article that says where the people who staff that industry will live, how they will come back.

Perhaps the plan for "those people" is what I always feared it would be, a Gaza-strip solution of housing necessary but "undesirable" workers in controlled FEMAville trailer compounds.

The dirty little secret is, there is no plan for most people, at least not at the rarified levels where Mr. Canizaro moves. The plan is to let the "free market" determine who can come back and who cannot. That is the Jimmy Reiss plan of September, the one I quoted out of the Wall Street Journal back in September:
The new city must be something very different, Jimmy Reiss, head of the New Orleans Business Council Reiss told the Wall St. Journal, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a complete different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

A great way to build bridges and consensus, Jimmy. You're right up there with the people standing with bullhorns blocking the removal of rubble--those aren't homes anymore, its rubble--from the Ninth Ward. People who are demanding a return to a status quo ante bellum are delusional; those who want to use the aftermath as part of some vast project of social re-engineering or ethnic cleansing are scary.

What we need are leaders not just politicians.

We are coming home. I will be there by June at the latest. These issues are no longer an abstract exercise in on-line polemics. And this Canizaro "plan" is unacceptable. Sadly, I won't be back in time for the spring elections. But I know that the current leadership has proved unequal to the task before them.

What was really needed was a strong and compassionate outside hand, somebody to lead the people of New Orleans through the post-K desert and into the promised land, someone of impeccable credentials. I remember when Collin Powell's name was bandied about. He would have been perfect. What President George gave us was a banker, to make sure we didn't spend foolishly the few dollars he tossed us like rare doubloons from Rex's pages.

We are on our own, and our current leadership has failed. We need new leaders, who will not be afraid to stand up to President George and publicly humiliate him and the Congress before the world until we get what is needed and deserved; who will not be so timid they cannot stand up to those who stand in the Ninth Ward and shout "racism" so loud it can be heard amid the complete and total wreckage of lilly-white St. Bernard; who will have what it takes to tell their peers in Lakeview and New Orleans East and Gentilly: wait, stop. We are not ready to rebuild her yet.

I move that nominations be opened.

Comments:
That's too bad, but the good news is that there's no shortage of "commissions" and maybe one of the other ones will come up with something closer to a plan. ;) You are right, though. There appears to be a leadership void and a fear of making decisions. In the meantime, people are coming back and it's happening without direction. Loyola, Tulane, Xavier, Dillard and UNO will begin their spring semesters in the next weeks and students from all over the country (in, fact, the world) are returning to NOLA right now. As the parent of one of them, it causes me concern that there is no plan, particularly relative to the levees.

What you're saying is important.
 
Sophmom - part of the leadership problem is the very number of "commissions" to which you refer. Self-interest groups are the bread and butter of NOLA politics, and it is absolutely paralyzing any progress.

Someone commented on my blog that they were not against the Canizaro Plan, but liked it better if it ran for the originally proposed 3 years. I liked this plan better with a longer timeline, also, but I would like something definitive in the way of planning much more.
 
This is no plan, it's a suicide pact. Until we know where the people will be living, businesses will be slow to return. There are no gas stations, no grocery stores, no restaurants in my neighborhood of Vista Park, and there won't be for a long, long time. Our "leaders" are totally devoid of leadership abilities. As my friend in Miami would say, "These guys have no huevos." I am very disappointed in this.
 
Mark, e-mail me ... I can't access your address via the blog link. Annette --> asisco@timespicayune.com
 
It may not be as bad as you think, as the Land Use Committee of the Commission has released its recommendations: a four month moratorium on building permits, and each neighborhood must prove it would be viable before it could be rebuilt. Criteria would be things like the number of residents committed to coming back, and whether it would be economically possible to comply with the new building codes (elevated houses, etc.). Areas that can't make the cut would be consolidated through buyouts and such, and remade as new park space and flood control zones.

It seems a pretty good compromise. The footprint will shrink in a planned way, but not before everyone has a chance to prove his neighborhood really can come back. If it can't, according to standards that are equitably applied, it's much harder to argue that the process was unfair.

I think the NY Times got a bum tip.
 
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