Low Expectations

Yesterday, the City Council voted for an ordinance to close the streets of Lower Mid-City. They limited debate to a paltry 15 minutes, shutting out numerous Lower Mid-City residents. However, they also changed the street closure ordinance and passed an additional motion designed to give the Council more information about how poorly homeowners are being treated and compensated. It's a sad day when Council won't even let people who are going to be forcibly evicted from their houses a few minutes to explain how they've been treated. Their unrelenting empathy for those who will most directly suffer the consequences of a decision to build the misguided LSU/VA in Lower Mid-City that they were, despite their protestations otherwise, very much a part of.

This was, in fact, the first time that Council has ever held a meeting on the issue of the proposed LSU/VA Hospital and demolition of Lower Mid-City.

Someone at yesterday's meeting brought up an earlier hearing of the Housing and Human Needs Committee, from September 29th, 2008, at which several City Councilmembers cut debate short after hearing the passionate testimony of Lower Mid-City neighbors and their allies because it was simply too important to not be discussed at a larger, evening public hearing. We have a transcript of that hearing:

 

Councilmember Stacy Head:

I think -- I think that your point is well made. I had actually hoped that there were going to be two more members of the City Council here today.  They’re not, but it may give us an opportunity to have a meeting at night.  That way we can invite more people that are working during the day to a meeting.  This was actually -- several members of the council on the dais right now want to be sure that we have the missing members who aren’t on the committee.  You know. They’re not absent.  They’re just aren’t on this committee, be here.  So if we can try to -- night time is not a problem scheduling the council chambers. If we can schedule that, but I want to make sure that it is going to be an even-handed opportunity to speak, pros and cons, because your points are very well made, but as you know as I’ve articulated to you, on those same -- there is – there’s also negatives at least that have been expressed to choosing the Lindy Boggs site, and the question is cost-benefit. Is the cost of ...the cost of going to the Lindy Boggs site, worth it?  That’s the real key, and if – if creating a synergy downtown will be lost, then we need to acknowledge that, and we need to decide whether or not, you know, that is critical and important and whether that is even true. So you know, I would like to have -- if someone from LSU or GNOBED – GNOBED want to speak briefly, otherwise we can just defer this entirely, whichever you prefer -- to bring this entirely to a meeting in the next week, week and a half in the evening at the Council Chambers, maybe starting at six o’clock.  That way we don’t have any scheduling problems.

 

Councilmember Felkow:

And if I could – if I could comment in there, I think – I think that’s a very wise move.  This is an extremely important project for this community that is going to have effects for not only years, but generations.  I do think that we need an opportunity to have a full blown hearing in front of this council so that we can – we can hear both perspectives.  We’ve heard them privately.  Okay.  There has been private meetings where we’ve received on both sides the pros and cons of this, but I would hope at that meeting that all of the stakeholders on both sides will – will speak to the issues.  The Regional Planning Commission, obviously the district itself, the VA, the LSU. I would like to hear on that side of it discussion of the effect both on the healthcare situation in New Orleans and also the effect of the economic development in New Orleans because both of those have been indicated or part of the equation, and I think they both need to be addressed.  On the – on the other side, I would hope that we would have leadership in a very respectful way, a voice the opinion from the community both business and residential as to the – the effects of – of this development.  The VA is – is moving.  Okay.  We’re -- we’re – you know, we -- they’re going to come down with a decision relatively soon.  So I think it’s really important here that to protect the – you know, the best interest of this community that we get that done within the next couple of weeks, but again, have both sides represented. I attended a public meeting a couple of weeks ago that I thought was very productive, you know, but quite frankly, other than one representative who would be on the con side that was it.  There was nobody else there.  So the request was made at that time by Dr. – Dr. Ikemire.  I’m pronouncing it right I hope or close enough – Ikemire, that we go to a public hearing in front of the Council.  I think you’re hearing the – the will of this Council to want to do that, and I hope we can get it done in the next couple of weeks.

 

Councilmember Clarkson:

Thank you. Before Ms. Willard-Lewis speaks, Jim, to both sides and the crowd, Thursday at our City Council Meeting, it will be announced as to when the public meeting, public hearing will be, time, place, and all the arrangements, and then we’ll put it on the website.  We’ll make sure each of you – each of you specifically are contacted.  Thank you.  You will be noticed.  Put it properly. Yeah.  Thank you.

 

Councilmember Willard-Lewis:

I just wanted to thank you-all for being here, and I heard the pain, and I want to acknowledge that and honor that because three years ago, my entire district was under assault, and I was having flashbacks of a discussion about green space and shrinking footprint and taking people’s homes, and no dialogue or voice of the people included in the creation of public policy that somehow got shaped in the middle of the dark, in a board room or a back room or some room, but the people weren’t  in the room.  So it changed, but we’re still struggling, and one of the things we are struggling with is adequate healthcare, and thank you, Madam President, for always being there supportive of our desire to bring back Methodist Hospital in Eastern New Orleans.  So whenever we talk about healthcare, and I see our Lady Diana in the room, we always talk about New Orleans East as well as the central core of the City, and we understand that the medical industry is an economic development component, not simply healthcare. So I share that with you because as Arnie indicated, we’ve all been briefed, and we’ve all heard you, Mary, and ma’am, you just articulated with such passion the real heart of the individual being affected, and so I’m very grateful for that sensibility and  sensitizing to what this movement is actually doing, and I’m very glad that Stacy, the recommendation was put forward as a hardworking district council person to just have a evening meeting where everybody can come out and be there, and I also think it’s very important that our recovery office, Troy, is there, so that it’s not a singular discussion of proponents and opponents, but there is a whole plan that talks about the recovery of New Orleans as well as the dollars that are being used to do this because cost feasibility, impact on neighborhoods, displacement, emotional trauma, all of that have dollar values also.  So it becomes the whole experience of rebuilding all of New Orleans, which is very important in our medical infrastructure but also our great families. So I will be there, and I’m sure we’ll probably have families from New Orleans East there as well, because whenever you talk about one hospital, you should be talking about both hospitals, and so I say that, and we look forward to this, and again and I thank you for being here and for forging this new step where we can have that opportunity for a fuller conversation with everyone involved.

 

 
The evening hearing they promised was never delivered. They refused to consider the site selection preferences handed down to them by LSU and the RPC. In other words, the first time they determined it was appropriate to take action was yesterday, when they rubber-stamped the closure of the streets in Lower Mid-City.
 
We're thankful, we suppose, that the Council is concerned about the struggles that homeowners currently face now that compensation appears to be subpar. But it's hard to be anything other than disappointed that this is, apparently, what passes for empathetic leadership in New Orleans.
 
It's pathetic.
 
Every neighborhood in the city can learn an important lesson here about the lengths some officials will go to paper over peoples' rights. It isn't just City Council. At every step of the way when someone - the Legislature, the City Planning Commission, the Mayor, the Governor - could have stepped in to do the right thing, to try to work out a compromise, no one had the courage.
 
This city deserves so much better.