"What’s up with all the Trapezoids and Polygons?" by Janet Hays

New Orleans continues to be carved up into various State created “districts” and territories, generally sanctioned without public input, and come with their own various sets of sovereign powers such as the power to tax, the power to create debt and the power to expropriate - to name a few.  Districts are controlled by boards made up - for the most part - of Louisiana’s economic elite.

Hmmm, so the State freely hands out powers to the wealthy to tax the middle class that have been largely subjugated into indentured servitude.   Sounds a lot like a plantation.

District boards will argue that the revenue streams created by taxes are needed to benefit those that live within “district” boundaries.  Yet residents already pay various kinds of tax that are supposed to do just that.  Income, property and sales tax to name a few.  The mind boggles.  How many layers of taxes will residents of New Orleans be required to pay before they see their streets fixed, their street lights turned back on, their sidewalks fixed, overgrown lots cut back, and the maintenance of other city assets?  Some of the taxation district boundaries overlap creating double and triple whammy scenarios.

Meanwhile, the rich get richer.

One Trapazoid that stands out because it is not a district is the Iberville/Treme – also deemed “NewCity.”  In a hugely anticlimactic moment, New Orleanians woke up one morning to discover that New Orleans real estate mogul Pres Kabacoff, son of Lester Kabacoff, won the contract to redevelop the Iberville Public Housing Development.  Public money is shovelled over to real estate moguls for projects like this all the time.  What makes this project different however, is that when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded New Orleans a Choice Neighborhoods grant totalling $32 million dollars, what began as redeveloping just the Iberville Public Housing Development, ballooned into redeveloping the entire Greater Treme area [bounded by North Rampart Street, St. Bernard Ave., Broad Street and Tulane Ave].

Iberville/Treme is what is known as a Place-Based Development.  Place-Basedis the alternative to people-based and is all the rage. It’s the new supposed panacea to all that ails struggling neighborhoods.  So much so, that Mayor Landrieu brought in William Gilchrist - the Chair of the Public Private Partnership Blue Flight for Urban Land Institute - and created an entire office just for him.  The office of Place-Based Planning.

The problem with Place-Based Developments vs people-based developments is that while certainly property owners benefit, after construction is completed, where is the money to help lift low income families and community development?  Without community benefits agreements [CBA’s] with the developer securing commitments to the community, people are often left without wealth building opportunities and CBA’s are difficult to achieve and often don’t work.  

A district that likes to believe it is also a Place-Based Development - anchored by the new UMC and VA hospitals that are replacing an historic neighborhood - is BioDistrict New Orleans - [formerly Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District -GNOBEDD],

The BioDistrict has to the power to tax, to borrow, to impose impact fees, to implement a master plan and to expropriate through third party entities such as LSU, but one should ask - is this “District” really necessary?

The 15 member board - [2 are positions for residents of Mid-City that have not yet been appointed] - is led by James P. McNamara of McNamara Associates, Inc. - a real estate consulting firm. 

Apparently, according to the news, the Biotech and Biosciences industry in our area is going strong and is becoming a haven for entrepreneurs even though BioDistrict New Orleans is next to broke, will receive no funding this legislative session, and had their plans to levy a 1.5% tax on new and renovated commercial structures doused by the city due to an overburden of already existing tax in the parts of the district that overlap with other districts, and potential new taxes by the sewerage and water board and the proposed Hospitality District.

That did not stop the Board of the BioDistrict from voting to levy a 1.5% tax on new and renovated commercial structures anyway in what is known as sub-district one.  BioDistrict New Orleans created new sub-districts one and two within their greater boundary as reduced taxation sub-districts in response to strong opposition by the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization to being included in the boundaries.  The BioDistrict is in desperate need of operating funds.   In sub-district one, the tax on new construction and renovations is estimated to net them $2,055,000  for the following buildings: the Jung Hotel, the new Hornets Training Arena, the Texaco building and the Old Israel Augustine School - (the last two overlap with the Iberville/Treme development).  This proposed tax will have to be approved by City Council in order to take effect.

Should we trust that the BioDistrict Board does not intend to tax residents of Historic Mid-City in the future?  There is plenty of reason to be sceptical. Take the French Quarter Management District for instance.  When it was created by the Legislature, it was specified that the FQMD could not tax.  Some years later, the legislation was amended giving them the power to submit taxes to the voters.  When they took it to the voters however, it was voted down - giving credence to the importance of staying informed.

The Hospitality Zone is the district most talked about district as of late, talked about because of the heroic efforts of neighborhood groups, preservationists, concerned citizens and business owners latching on to that moving train this past legislative session and putting on the emergency brakes.  The smoke from the friction is still in the air.

The proposed Hospitality Zone otherwise known as SB 767, is a piece of legislation that was pushed by the Mayor and the hotel and tourism industry, that essentially bites off a chunk of the French Quarter, the Marigny, the CBD and the Warehouse District in order to create a taxation zone where, in theory, tourists and residents would be taxed on amenities such as hotels, parking, restaurants and entertainment in order to create a new revenue stream for infrastructure improvements and capital projects for the effected communities. The original legislation omitted any kind of transparency or accountability.  The Convention and Visitors Bureau wanted tax-payer money without having to open their books.  

It is understandable why the tourism and business community would not want to be accountable or transparent.  The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau President/CEO Stephen Perry, was shown to have a salary of $390K per year in a public records request. 

Hotel owners took particular pride in the great sacrifice that they were making for our treasured historic neighborhoods and the folks that live in them.  This, of course, begs the question - if this new taxation district was for “the community”, then why wasn’t “the community” invited to the table at the very beginning of the formation of this legislation, and why was only 1/3 of the revenues that would be generated by such a zone originally allocated to “the community” while 2/3rds of revenue would have gone to various hotel and tourism boards?

In an article written in NOLA.com, James Gill exposed a horrifying 2009 $2 million dollar tourism “master plan” that was produced by a group of Boston consultants hired by a taskforce set up by then Lieutenant Governor Landrieu.  The plan centers around perception based news marketing that caters to tourists and would largely obscure front page news headlines reflecting day to day realities for residents in order to woo visitors to choose to spend their vacation dollars here.  To “turbo-charge the Riverfront” as it was written - and engorge the numbers of tourists to almost double, focusing on young men that want debauchery. 

That would certainly destroy what makes these places so special.  That being that they are residential districts!  People actually live and work there.  It is not just a Disneyland tourist attraction.

Gill writes:

"Sure those tourists who clog the streets and sidewalks by day, and trash the joint in their cups by night, spend a lot of money, and we have relied on them for a long time. Kowtowing to them, and hiring out-of-town consultants to peddle the same old nostrums, requires less of an effort than finding a more dignified source of revenue."

Luckily, our council members and legislators were listening when efforts led by superheros VCPORA FQC, FMIA, the Warehouse District, Lafayette Square, Louisiana Landmarks, and residents ferreted out this legislation and spoke up to express their grievances about the unequal split of revenue and the creation of a board that would control the district but would be largely out of the realm of public control.  No accountability or transparency measures were included in the original draft of the bill.

The bill went through many revisions culminating in an amendment submitted by Senator Karen Carter-Peterson that pretty much leveled the playing field and turned the bill into what was it’s stated intention that is to benefit the community.  The bill, as amended, is available here.  

Highlights are:

  • It adds a 10 year “sunset” provision;
  • It abolishes the advisory board (which was dominated by tourism interests);   
  • It removes the Faubourg Marigny from the Taxing Zone; 
  • It reallocates the new tax revenues in the following manner:
    •  French Quarter Management District – 10% (infrastructure)
    • Multicultural Tourism Network – 10% (tourism/marketing)
    • New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation – 20% (tourism/marketing)
    • New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau – 20% (tourism/marketing)
    • City of New Orleans via “Hospitality Zone Dedicated Fund” – 40% (infrastructure) 
  • It makes all receiving agencies and organizations subject to public records requests for these funds (but not necessarily for the rest of their operations)but even then – doesn’t it just become a shell game.  All agencies that receive taxpayer’s money need to open their books); 
  • It requires that a written report be submitted to city council annually accounting for the use of these funds by all non-City Council agencies (as the city already has its own budgeting and reporting requirements); 
  • It no longer permits the expansion of the zone via the creation of “special districts”;
  • and it no longer permits the acquisition of property necessary or desirable for carrying out the objects and purposes of the district.

The bill was better but not where members of the effected community wanted it and apparently too sour for tourism and hotel industry leaders and the Mayor.  The bill is shelved for now but likely not dead. Ideally, if the rhetoric about benefiting the community is true, the creators of the bill will go back to the drawing board and hold extensive meetings with the community, as the community - not the tourists - know best what they need.

One development district that has emerged recently is interesting and will be one to watch.

Senator J.P. Morrell’s bill [SB 677] recreates the New Orleans Regional Business Park in New Orleans East and is meant to draw jobs to the area and spur economic growth.  The idea came about as a collaborative effort with neighborhood groups and the New Orleans East business community.  What makes this district different from others is that "this law only redirects existing sales tax revenue, it strengthens the hospital and invites economic development without raising any taxes or granting ad valorum taxing authority to the NORBP."

We shall see.


"NOLA for Life??? Why flouting the 1,438 jail bed cap undermines our collective vitality" by Jordan Shannon

I have the feeling that for the last 18 months, I’ve participated in a grand scale hat trick.  I’ve sat through sessions of the Mayor’s jail working group, community forums on OPP, and criminal justice committee meetings of the city council.  I’ve tracked our progress as a city on what I have come to view as the keystone of criminal justice reform in New Orleans: capping the size of the new jail at 1,438 beds.  Recently, emails exchanged between CAO Kopplin and Sheriff Gusman revealed that despite a public face of support for a smaller jail, the city is privately making plans for a third building to house 650 people.  The revelation flies in the face of the unequivocal need for policy reform made obvious by recidivism rates.  Our community knows that those who enter the system emerge with less opportunities to find housing or employment and more necessity to make a living at society’s expense.   Our community knows  that the jail generates crime.

The worst of the hat trick is not the confirmation that our elected officials take community input and oversight as a joke.  The part that stings the most is not the memory of James Carter, Marlin Gusman and Andy Kopplin trotting out a series of “yes’s” to the 1,438 cap before rows of packed pews at Household of Faith back in April, even as the latter two public officials were plotting behind the scenes to construct more beds.  Yes, this is a violation of the public trust.  Yes, this makes a mockery of transparency, representative democracy, civic engagement, and all the other ideals America is supposed to be about.  But what made me sit down on the ground and hold my head between my hands when I read the news about the 650 additional beds is not the betrayal of a set of ideals but the very real consequences for 650 more New Orleanians who will have to fill those beds in order to maintain the financial solvency of the jail, and the 343,829 of us who will live in a less safe community as a result.  It is no accident that we lead the nation in murders and incarceration.  

If you build it they will come.  It is a well-known truth that systems act consistently for self-preservation.  We can wave white papers and hold community forums on best practices while the DOJ denounces conditions but there will be no genuine criminal justice reform in New Orleans until the various players in the system are forced to stop over-incarcerating.  The 1438 cap, endorsed by the working group and given the force of law by the City Council’s unanimous decision on February 3rd, 2011, was the wrench in the system that was supposed to slow things down and cause us to examine a series of important questions: does mass incarceration prevent or generate crime?  Who actually needs to be in the jail and who is there because the per diem funding structure is a perverse incentive to over-incarcerate?   Does the D.A.’s nation-leading 80% case acceptance rate stock the jail with residents who lose their jobs, apartments and educational opportunities only to be found not guilty (or not dangerous?)? Are we running a pauper’s prison?  Are we running a mental health facility disguised as a jail because we have opted not to fund appropriate services?   Is re-entry best housed in the jail or in community organizations that can provide wrap-around services, including housing?  In fact, the Mayor’s working group was charged with offering preliminary answers on a number of these issues, although CAO Kopplin has not convened them in months.  Honest answers to these questions require a major overhaul of our criminal justice system, and the 1,438 bed cap recommended by the working group was designed to ensure that our community got started. 

If we understand that the human beings held at OPP are there because New Orleans has consistently decided to undermine its collective vitality by denying opportunity to our young, black men and dehumanizing them rather than educating them, employing them, or embracing them, what is the meaning of accountability?  Whom we choose to hold responsible expresses what kind of a society we aspire to be.  If we have created a criminal justice system that produces crime rather than delivering justice, every New Orleanian must do his/her part to reform that system.   Accountability should be not only for those at the bottom but also those at the top who display flagrant disregard for the public good and devastating loyalty to the status quo.  


2012 New Orleans Favorite Fathers Awards and Recognition Ceremony

The partners and members of the New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium would like to thank all of the partners, communities, friends, and families who worked so hard to make the 2012 Favorite Fathers Awards a tremendous success. This year, we were honored to have 127 fathers recognized and on Friday, June 15, 2012, we were even more delighted to have 80 fathers and their families participate in the reception and ceremony. In being recognized, stories were shared about these men that demonstrate the value they add to their families and communities. Their stories provide clear evidence that men are indeed being the responsible teachers and leaders that they are called to be. Their stories are stories filled with sacrifice, leadership, and love. The highlight of the ceremony was Lloyd Dennis’ Keynote Address. Mr. Dennis delivered a heartfelt tribute to true definition of fatherhood and how the 127 nominated have committed themselves to being fathers by more than a title. Also, the graduation-style recognition of each father allowed families and communities to cheer for their “Favorite Father” while he enjoyed his time in the spotlight of fatherhood.

Each opportunity to honor fathers is important to us as we recognize that Fathers are the foundation of strong families.  So often, these fathers go unrecognized for the good things they do. They are fathers by far more than a biological connection – they are fathers by love, by teaching, and by responsibility.  With the help of families and communities acrossNew Orleans, we were able to present model fathers and lift up the example of responsibility that they live in their families and communities every day. This ceremony was extremely important in counteracting the unending stream of messages that we receive in tying men – our fathers – to the irresponsible behaviors that lead to fatherless homes and communities without leadership. The 2012 New Orleans Favorite Fathers are men who work daily to set higher standards for themselves to live by and their families to follow. They are committed to work of community change through re-establishing the healthy family unit and re-connecting the fibers of healthy communities. The New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium is dedicated to helping these fathers to realize those outcomes for better families and better communities.

We will continue to be intentional in our work to lift up the fathers who are an asset for growing communities and strengthening families. In present-day New Orleans, the value of fathers can not be understated. The New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium is proud to be a part of this much-needed celebration and we look forward to continued work with our partners and all other entities to identify opportunities for fathers to be present, engaged, and active in the lives of their children, families, and communities.


Help Support the Work of Resurrection After Exoneration

Later this month, Resurrection After Exoneration will hold its annual Juneteenth Fundraiser. Please consider supporting the important work of this organization by donating online or buying tickets to their fundraiser. Tickets are $25, available at the door or in advance. To purchase a ticket, please contact Marya at 504.302.1940 or maryaearl@r-a-e.org. The event will feature Lolis Elie, Jordan Flaherty, live musicians, and wonderful appetizers and drinks from local vendors.  

About Resurrection After Exoneration

After being incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, exonerees are faced with an even tougher battle. They must readjust to a world that isn’t waiting with open arms; in most cases, it’s the opposite.

The challenges that await exonerees upon their release compound the injustices of wrongful incarceration. The pressure of finding employment and gaining access to medical treatment, dental treatment, housing and job training are just a few typical hurdles. In addition, there is no system in place to help exonerees deal with the trauma of incarceration and its impact in their lives post-exoneration. Exonerees are forced to re-enter a society bearing the stigma and the stain of incarceration, despite their innocence. 

RAE is working to transform the experience of exonerated men and returning long-term prisoners, creating social leaders where there is currently a cycle of recidivism, desperation and poverty. We have completed renovations on a transitional housing facility that can house up to 3 exonerees. Run by exonerees for exonerees, this home is the first of its kind. As well, we are formulating plans for a screen-printing business, Beacon Industries, that will sustain the home and provide us with leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

RAE’s exonerees can now access individual counseling, educational opportunities, and financial and computer literacy training.  Instead of working for free for the prison system, we are working together to help each other, building our solidarity. Above all, we are positioning ourselves as advocates for criminal justice reform, speaking about our experiences at events and venues nationwide.


"Arson Attack on Women’s Health Organization in New Orleans" by Jordan Flaherty

Women With a Vision (WWAV), a New Orleans advocacy and service organization that provides health care and other support for poor women of color, was the victim of a break-in and arson late Thursday night. A small organization that has won a national reputation for their work, WWAV was founded in 1991 by a collective of Black women as a response to a lack of HIV prevention resources for those women who were the most at risk: poor women, sex workers, women with substance abuse issues, and transgender women.

WWAV has made national news for leading the fight against Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Statute, which targeted poor women of colortransgender women, and anyone forced to trade sex for food or a place to sleep at night. The law forced women to register as sex offenders in a state database and placed a “sex offender” label on their drivers license, among other requirements. With the grassroots leadership of WWAV, a national coalition that also included Center for Constitutional Rights, Loyola Law School, and police misconduct attorney Andrea Ritchie was able to get the law off the books and has won a series of further victories in the process of removing the sex offender registration requirements for those convicted in the past.

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"Jungleland? Really?" by Jenga Mwendo

Backyard Gardener’s Network's Jenga Mwendo crafted this response to the recent NY Times article entitled “Jungleland

Recently the New York Times Magazine ran a story on my home, New Orleans’ the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, titled “Jungleland.”  The article, written by Nathaniel Rich (who claims to be a resident of New Orleans), paints the Lower 9th Ward as an untamed mess of overgrowth.  He describes our neighborhood as a forgotten wasteland, where few have attempted to bring order and where the residents seem resigned to the wilderness.  He highlights the City’s futile attempts to beat back the endless brush, but doesn’t give half as much mention to the overall lack of government support given to the neighborhood both before and after Hurricane Katrina. Needless to say, this article got under my skin. Although it’s taken me a while (I’m not a journalist, and I’m balancing two jobs and single parenting right now!), I’m finally writing a response.

Yes, many parts of the Lower 9th Ward are overgrown and neglected.  (And many are actually not, a fact Rich fails to mention.)  But a more thorough story, and the story that we actually NEED told, is HOW and WHY this happened.  The city, state and federal government basically left this population out to dry.

Millions of dollars have flowed into New Orleans, on the tragedy that was magnified internationally using the Lower 9th Ward as its poster child.  And yet, nearly 7 years later, the money that poured into New Orleans (and into immediate repairs of the French Quarter and other areas of tourism and affluence) has merely trickled into the Lower 9th Ward.  And many of those properties described in Rich’s article actually belong to the City of New Orleans, not the residents.

To add insult to injury, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t see a tour bus riding through the neighborhood.  So not only are those of us who live in the Lower Ninth not being supported in revitalizing our neighborhood and keeping it from converting back into “Jungleland,” but tour companies are actually making money off our tragedy and lack of support.

Shame on you, Nathaniel Rich.  You should’ve used this article to take the city, state and federal government to task.  You had a national audience, a national stage, and you used that golden opportunity to bad-mouth a neighborhood that hasn’t received the proper support and attention it needs to recover.  In your own backyard, at that.  You are a New Orleanian, man!

Furthermore, you completely ignored organizations that are working hard (and are largely unsupported by the City) to do positive work here.  You mention Brad Pitt’s Make It Right organization as the only silver lining on the dark cloud that is the Lower 9th Ward.  

What about Common Ground Relieflowernine.org (which you only mention in reference to Lower 9th Ward tours) and the Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association (NENA) who have been helping Lower 9th Ward residents to rebuild their homes since Katrina?  What about the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) who has been organizing volunteers to help homeowners and providing services to help them rebuild sustainably?  I wonder how extensive your basic research for this article was, Nathaniel.

What about my own organization, Backyard Gardeners Network, that has been organizing neighbors together to re-connect with one another and the land using our cultural tradition of growing vegetables?  What about Sankofa Community Development Corporation?  What about the efforts of All Congregations Together (ACT) and A Community Voice?  What about All Souls Church and Community Center and the Lower 9th Ward Village Community Center? They may not have the clout and financial power of Brad Pitt, but they are here.  These are groups that actually NEED national attention to garner support and resources to continue the work.  Yet you used this opportunity to highlight an organization that already has all the support it needs. You talk more about the variety of plant and animal life that have moved in, than the PEOPLE who have moved back to revitalize this neighborhood.

Before you judge us, think about why these lots are empty in the first place.  Before Katrina, nearly 15 thousand people lived here and, with a higher homeownership rate than anywhere else in the city, most owned their homes. The overwhelming majority of these homeowners were Black. As the foreclosure crisis around the country has taught us, homeowners don’t just casually walk away from their properties.  That’s what renters are more likely to do.

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"The PURPOSE of Educating" by Timolynn Sams

An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.  ~Author Unknown

The educational system in New Orleans to say the least is a conversation that has been diced and sliced in many discussions. The dynamics of the conversation can be heard in almost any environment you enter and is connected to every social ill we experience. The hybrid access points on the topic bring many sore feelings about our past and how to move forward in our future. However New Orleans is not unlike many other major cities across the nation. Even before Katrina, it was always complex dynamics that usually resulted in finger pointing and blame games. No one person wanted to take on the responsibility for the failure of our schools. As a community blame has been place on integration, corruption and poverty. We’ve changed superintendents, school names, and gone from district to magnets to City-wide access dynamics to now our newly decided reform of charters schools only to maintain the same results. These results are tangible in our drop rates, national testing averages, and our incarceration rates. They are also visible in our voter turnout and basic civic engagement.

The foundational principal of public education was to establish and build the cultivation of a civilized society. Thomas Jefferson took this idea and expanded on it by declaring that at least one citizen in every four- to five-square-mile radius was to provide the area’s children with instruction in the sciences, arts, and morals of society. From Thomas Jefferson to Frederick Douglas to Horace Mann to W.E.B. Dubois to John Dewey to Mary McLeod Bethune to John Gardner to James Nabrit all who fought in the civil rights movement agreed that better education for all children was the key to a far better American future.

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