As Expected, City Planning Commission Walks Away from its Responsibility

Yesterday, in what was correctly expected to be a rubber-stamp decision, the City Planning Commission voted to close public streets in the Lower Mid-City neighborhood surrendered for the LSU/VA. Though the CPC staff has stipulated that no roads can be closed while residents remain in their homes, access to individual street will be cut off as soon as those living on a specific block are kicked off of their properties. Residents who fight for their neighborhood, while permitted access to their own homes, would be slowly choked off from what was once their community. City Council will need to pass an ordinance to officially enact the recommendations adopted yesterday by the City Planning Commission. The move is reminiscent of the building moratorium imposed on the neighborhood by City Council in 2007. Lower Mid-City has been the only community in New Orleans officially barred from rebuilding.

The hearing, which was packed with those wishing to speak in opposition to the street closure recommendation and the CPC's overall negligence on the LSU/VA controversy, became contentious as CPC board members refused to answer questions, city officials omitted critical information from their presentations, and citizen comments - including from Lower Mid-City property owners - were cut off. The period in which the CPC permitted written comments to be submitted was suspiciously scheduled to begin on the Friday before Mardi Gras - and end on Ash Wednesday.

In the most stunning selective disclosure of detail, Brenda Breaux, a city attorney presenting information about blight conditions in Lower Mid-City, intentionally failed to mention the building moratorium that has barred property owners from receiving the permits necessary to make repairs. Citizens who jumped to bring it up were shushed and ignored.

That the CPC had even called a hearing on street closures in Lower Mid-City was ironic. After refusing to hold the public hearings on the cumulative value of the project, as stipulated by City Charter and as practiced in other instances, most recently the proposal to acquire the Chevron Building and relocate City Hall, the City Planning Commission suddenly jumped at the chance to preemptively shut down streets in a neighborhood where residents still live and where only one parcel has been transferred.

You can read the Times-Picayune's account here.

One City Planning Commission member, Dr. George Amedee, a political science professor at Southern University, voted against the street closure recommendation after his motion to defer the matter was not seconded for a vote. He said the matter was premature given the flawed process and questioned why there is no plan to share the benefits of the development of a new medical center with the residents being forced out of their homes by its construction.

In calling for approval, Joe Williams complained that the CPC had been left out of the process to date, but decided to rubber-stamp the recommendations anyway. That complaint is insulting, not on its merits, but because the CPC has the authority to call hearings and easily could have exercised its power at any point during this process instead of just cowardly yielding to backroom political pressure.

Just four persons spoke in favor of street closures, including a paid LSU consultant, the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District, Ron Forman on behalf of the New Orleans Business Council, and Bill Detweiler of the National WWII Museum. James McNamara of GNOBEDD submitted an additional list of names in favor of the preemptive street closure measure, but none of them bothered to either show up or speak.

It is unclear when the matter will be considered by City Council.