It seems clear that the next mayor of New Orleans is going to have to demonstrate vigor and resolution about post-Katrina recovery, and not let the process of reconstruction be mired in parochial disputes or legal deadlocks.
In particular, adoption of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission's recommendations is likely to produce much dispute and be a test of any mayor's resolution.
From the Times-Picayune, 2/12/06.
"[The Bring Back New Orleans Commission proposal] has been controversial largely because of its call to reduce the city's footprint...
Nagin has ... killed its most controversial element: to enact a moratorium on building permits in flooded areas.
Nagin ... disagrees with its proposed use of eminent domain to buy out homeowners in the most shattered areas.
Forman ... will essentially adopt the plan, subject to minor revisions, as his blueprint for rebuilding. He'll attempt to distance himself from Nagin by positioning himself as the candidate best-suited to implement the plan"
For an interesting discussion of the Louisiana Recovery Authority formed by Governor Blanco and including Ron Forman, and the Bring Back New Orleans Commission formed by Mayor Nagin but now apparently championed more by Forman than by Nagin himself, read this article Katrina's Early Landfall - Exclusionary Politics Behind the Restoration of New Orleans
Author Kristen Burus notes that:
On one hand, politicians have embraced a language of inclusion and restoration1 and used it to legitimize their efforts. On the other hand, there has been an ongoing and retrogressive campaign focused on obstructing the return of traditionally marginalized groups to the region.
Buras goes on to suggest that the goals of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission are comparable to the controversial St Thomas redevelopment:
In 1996 Historic Restoration Incorporated (HRI), a real estate development company based in New Orleans, submitted a grant application for federal funding to redevelop St. Thomas through the Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE) VI program. While the original proposal drafted by HRI included 80 percent public/low-income housing units and 20 percent market-rate units and small resident-owned shops, a very different redevelopment plan emerged after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a grant of $25 million.
With the cooperation of the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) and the New Orleans City Council, HRI set out to raze St. Thomas and build River Garden, a complex consisting of only 22 percent public/low-income housing units and 78 percent market-rate units—a virtual inversion of the original mix. Moreover, it also planned to profit by selling land purchased from HANO to Wal-Mart and to lobby for the use of sales taxes from Wal-Mart to subsidize its for-profit, market-rate units, including upscale rentals, condominiums, and homes.
In a report entitled “Hope VI and St. Thomas: Smoke, Mirrors, and Urban Mercantilism,” Brod Bagert—a native of New Orleans whose research focused on the St. Thomas debacle—revealed that Phase I of the redevelopment project displaced 806 families from St. Thomas while it planned to extend tenancy to only a margin of them once River Garden was built. He also documents that initial public investment in this private redevelopment project totaled nearly $40 million.
With the processes of displacement and redevelopment already historically interconnected in the city, it would be naïve to overlook the writing on the mildewed walls. If we look closely, we find that the Urban Land Institute—a real estate think tank invited to advise the Bring New Orleans Back Commission—has developer Joseph Canizaro and the vice president of HRI on its Board of Trustees and President Pres Kabakoff profiled as one of its community builders.
Nor are the interests of average citizens necessarily being protected on the state level:
Blanco has also been busy assembling her own cast of movers and shakers. The moving and shaking, however, has often occurred in private meetings with business leaders. Among those initially invited to advise Blanco were James Reiss, who early articulated a desire to change the “demographics” of New Orleans; Ron Forman of the Audubon Institute, who expressed support for HRI to the City Council during the St. Thomas dispute; and Ralph Brennan, member of a well-known family that owns various upscale restaurants in the city.1
Indeed, there was an absence of “commoners” among those whose views were privately solicited by the governor. That tradition continues with the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), established on October 17, to formulate redevelopment plans for the state. Times-Picayune journalist Lolis Eric Elie has lamented the absence of cultural representatives, such as musicians, dancers, and museum directors, on the LRA, questioning: “What are we seeking to recover? If the makeup of the governor’s commission is any clue, the most important thing Louisiana needs to recover is our oil and gas business. Four members of the governor’s 23-member commission have ties to that industry.”
For example, from www.ronforman.com
"We are white and black. We are Hispanics, Asians and Carribbean. But that description is, literally, only skin deep, and says little about who we really.[sic] We are citizens of one community..."More
There is little doubt that Ron Forman would have the strength and resolution to demolish any number of homes without any unnecessary delays, especially if economic development was at stake.
In November 2001, as part of the controversial reorganization of the Magazine St side of Audubon Park for the new golf course, the Audubon Nature Institute demolished the old, closed and "little-used" Heymann Memorial Conservatory to make way for extended parking for the new course's clubhouse.
Judge Yada Magee had just heard an application for a restraining order to prevent the demolition, and had refused it on advice from the City's permitting department. A court hearing had been scheduled to determine the fate of the conservatory -- Judge Magee's decision was just to deny a restraining order and not necessarily to permanently decide the matter.
Fortunately for those who believe in decisiveness and determination to move forward, the ANI, lead by Ron Forman, demolished the Conservatory immediately after Judge Magee's ruling and before the scheduled court hearing could be held. The site then lay empty and untouched long after the court hearing date had passed, so clearly it was not a pressing timing issue that forced the ANI to demolish the building so precipitously, but rather the determination to move ahead and not be impeded by commentary from the owners of the property or the land on which it was built .
In the post-Katrina reality, the need to clear damaged structures throughout the city, even if that includes your house, cannot wait around for legal hair-splitting and lengthy weighing of options.