Archive for July, 2006

What Is UNOP?: Sunday’s Unified New Orleans Plan(ning) Meeting

I’m currently watching the rebroadcast of Thursday’s (July 27, 2006) City Council meeting with people speaking on behalf of the Unified New Orleans Plan. Representing City Council were Cynthia Hedge-Morrell (principal), Cynthia Willard Lewis, Arnie Fielkow and Stacy Head. From UNOP – Bobbie Hill/Concordia, Wayne Lee/GNOF, Ben Johnson/GNOF, Steve VIllavoso/Villavoso Associates, Nathan Shroyer/Neighborhoods Planning Network.

The Message For This Weekend: Sunday’s meeting is not a City-Wide Emergency Of Grand Proportions. If your neighborhood does not have a plan or you are unsure whether your existing plan is viable in its current incarnation, plan to attend the meeting at Pavilion of Two Sisters in City Park between noon and 4pm on Sunday, July 30th.

It is just absurd that New Orleanians have to go through a mental wringer to get to the point of Sunday’s meeting, which was not advertised (“no communications plan in place for the diaspora,” as Steve Sabludowsky of Bayou Buzz said), had no venue until recently and even suffered a recent time change. On top of this, the confusion propagated by the lack of open documentation on this process only holds us up further.

Considering the events of the past week and our current planning crisis (yes, the fact that we don’t have a plan is a crisis), the following are my findings, comments and recommendations.

To the ghost board of UNOP:
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The Whack-A-Mole Life

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This week was yet another insane session of my whack-a-mole life since the planning process has begun. It’s a scam, you do all the work for nothing while consultants are making the cash money. Being this is all they are doing and they don’t know what the hell they are doing, they realize they need to ask you, so meetings sprout up within hours. Then there the deadlines for demolition appeals, zoning fires, tenants with roof leaks, someone calling or emailing for help with something like renting out their place while they are staying in Orlando. Yahoo groups have taken over my mailbox like kudzu. I am over it. I am leaving, I need a break. I am going far, far away.

And this new Unifried Planning Process, ha! They changed their time and had no meeting location until at least Wednesday. I have lost most of my hope in the whole in thing. It’s a disaster within a disaster. Now millionaires are creating organizations and are signing up up as a neighborhood organization with the hopes of getting money for their ideas. Some of this process is really ridiculous. I mean, look around you. Just get this place back on it’s feet. I don’t want to hear about memorial brick walks on Galvez nor about flee markets under the overpass, nobody even lives there, so who cares about the overpass north of Poydras? I have heard some plans include moving sections of I-10. Fix Canal St. for god’s sake. Good luck getting development here without flushable toilets in city hall. The medical community was one of the top five employers in the city and they can’t even come up with a plan.

On top of the planning process, individuals are trying to get a slice of the federal pie. Everyone seems to be spending all kinds of time arguing about writing the bylaws for the 1,000,000,000th 501(c)(3) that has been set up. There are only so many of us here now, we are all on at least 3 boards. On that board, only 3 people do all the work. It’s a joke.

We still need to get the trash picked up, the sewerage fixed, and the schools open and fix our streets which are deteriorating quickly because of heavy machinery traffic and learn Spanish. Do we really even need electricity at $220 a watt? Cuz that’s a crisis too.

I need to have a steady life again, the one that I can barely remember. I can’t even think as long as I am in the city because our problems are like a forest fire. I need to focus on what I really want, I can’t live in weekly intervals anymore. I am probably going to retire from servant leadership. I know one thing, I was in a better mood back in October of last year than I am now. Now, I am just disgusted. I’m leaving and I’ll be doing some serious thinking while I’m gone.

Wrapping Up The Week In Lacombe

“You have to start a nail off with little taps,” I have now been told. Multiple times. “Once you get it set, you can go to town on it, but not until you get it set. Otherwise you’re liable to whack your thumb.”

I know this by now. It was only the third nail of Thursday morning when I whacked my thumb, OK? I’ve had plenty of time since then to learn and practice the correct way to hammer a nail.

This, however, doesn’t occur to people who ask me, “Oh my God! What did you do to your thumb?!” when I tell them. Instead, after the obligatory symathy ouch, they tell me about starting a nail off with little taps. Because obviously, with a thumb that looks like that, I need to be told.

But, no. After the one injury, and the difficulties bandaging it, and the way you could tell which two-by-fours I’d worked on by the red smear, I got the hang of that nail-hammering thing really quick. Which was good, because hammering was about all I did all Thursday and Friday. They sent us back to Lacombe to finish assembling foundation frames.

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And we darn near got them all finished, too.
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Gotta do what you gotta do

I’m embarking on a new venture, mandated by circumstance and not design, and I’m sure it’s going to lead to plenty of great New Orleans stories one way or the other. Namely — I’m looking for a job.

“You already have one,” you say. And that I do — as owner of a four-year-old specialty food company. We were just coming into our own before Katrina, but then were put out of business for about ten months. I made do by selling BBQ from my trailer until the shop was functional again — and things have been going pretty well since we got back in operation in mid-May. However — this is the WORST time of the year for this kind of item (cheese) and, frankly, we’ve gotta augment the income a bit. Quite a bit, actually. Hence the job search.

If I know only two things in this world, they are how to cook and how to write the news. The city, these days, is neither short of restaurants nor begging for news to write — and neither situation is going to change in my lifetime. Given my food background, I have this week applied everywhere from Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar to Margaritaville to the new Cochon (a Herbsaint outfit) to even Emeril’s (where I have a friend or two). But, to also cover the other side of the professional coin, I’ve dipped my hand back into a 30+ year career in broadcasting and journalism by applying at The Times-Picayune and the local outlets of Clear Channel Radio. So I could basically wind up anywhere. I’m viewing it as an adventure — since trying to see it any other way would be counter-productive.

I’ve had a few e-mails lately from people outside New Orleans, wondering how the local job market is and if it’s worth trying to make a move to take advantage of our need for workers. I’ve really not know how to answer them, since I’ve usually been pretty content to do my own thing within my own company. But now circumstances are forcing me to break out of this professional myopia. Whatever happens, it’ll mean stories to tell — and life ain’t worth a good goddamn if you don’t get that.

No-clue NOLA.com

I’ve always had problems with NOLA.com. Its layout is ugly, its javascript is buggy, and its template was clearly designed by someone who’s never even thought of reading a newspaper–online or otherwise.

Today, I found another reason to loathe the site: its editors are lazy bastards.

In NOLA.com’s “Visitor” section–one of the site’s eight prominently featured information areas–there’s a “New Orleans FAQ”, which purports to answer questions from potential visitors. When should we visit? What should we see? That kind of thing.

There’s no mention of Hurricane Katrina anywhere on the page. So in addition to lists of restaurants and shops and cultural attractions that don’t exist anymore or haven’t yet re-opened, we get this little ditty:

Q. What about hurricanes and tropical weather?

A. Tropical weather is a definite concern to residents and visitors to New Orleans. While not at the top of the list of danger zones for hurricanes, New Orleans is high on that list, and even tropical depressions can bring dangerous flooding. Even regular storms can produce extremely heavy rainfall, and street flooding is a continual issue in the New Orleans area. Massive pumps work to alleviate this flooding, and generally, knee-deep flooding from an afternoon storm is drained away quickly after the storm eases.

NOLA.com

But then again, when your site is just one in a large, ungainly family of sites–most of which have nothing to do with one another–I guess you can’t expect much attention to detail.

What Is UNOP?: NEIGHBORHOOD Planning

While a bunch of us ironed out more of the upcoming Rising Tide Conference last night, it seems there was a showdown at the City Council meeting. As predicted, NOCSF/UNOP’s pitiful lack of PR and advertising for such an important meeting as Sunday’s Neighborhood Planning Workshop was brought up and several were lambasted by the council members present.

The drama aspect of the planning process boils down to a representation competition. A couple on the City Council and some NOCSF members may be guilty of wanting to place their own hand picks on the Planning Board. If so, it’s territorial pissing as usual in New Orleans. Big deal.

The bottom line, however, is that there are very few involved in this downward-spiralling planning process who really care about New Orleans’s neighborhoods and true citizen participation. This is why I emphasize the word “neighborhood” in the title of this post. If Oliver Thomas Arnie Fielkow suggested last night that the people have been given enough of a run-around and do not need another GNOF/UNOP talent show, he is right. His message should not be thrown out with the bathwater.

Citizen participation means ALL citizens – not those picked by NOCSF/Concordia or the City Council. We shouldn’t even be having this discussion until all New Orleanians are informed of the planning process and, along with their respective neighborhood organization, are given ample time to pick their planner and put together a coherent proposal for funding, e.g. MidCity Recovery Plan and the Broadmoor Process, discuss it with their planner and come up with feasibility and deliverables.

The unnecessary rush, egos tripping over one another and resultant standstill are only impediments to the democratic process. The final product will be the wrong or most vocal projects getting funded while neighborhoods that need the time and money get nothing.

Is this what the city and so-called community supporters want?

See previous articles in this series:

You Must Attend The Unified New Orleans Plan Meeting This Sunday

i weep for hibernia

Many of us are rather perturbed by the Capital One takover of Hibernia. Until now, the only reason I didn’t like Capital One is because they aren’t local and because I did not chose them. Now I have solid reason to not like them.
You see, I had to report a stolen debit card on Sunday. The process went smoothly and the lovely customer service agent offered to rush the card to me since I needed it by Wed. so that I could leave town on Thursday morning with some cash in hand. Super.
Wednesday afternoon I receive the card, but no pin number. They SNAFUed. So sorry. Nothing can be handled over the phone and I will just have to wait until I get back to go to a bank branch to establish a pin or wait for them to send me the pin in the mail, which they had intended to send at the same time as the card but failed to do.
What kind of geniuses rush a debit card but not the pin? The piece of plastic does me no good unless I can access the information it contains.
So, now there is actually a valid reason to dislike Capital One. Any suggestions on good banks ’round these parts?

What Is UNOP?: You Must Attend The Unified New Orleans Plan Meeting This Sunday

The upshot of this post is that if you don’t make it to the New Orleans Community Support Foundation meeting this Sunday, your neighborhood will have a planner picked for you. The abject lack of advertising for this very crucial meeting doesn’t sit well with me. You may ask, “So what if a planner is picked for my neighborhood?” Your input was not actively solicited, it’s supposedly a city-wide meeting and where’s the democracy in the process if it isn’t advertised far and wide.

From the website of the Unified New Orleans Plan of the NOCSF:

A city-wide meeting will be held on [Sunday, July 30] from 12:00 noon until 4:00 pm [at] Pavilion of the Two Sisters at City Park (same location as the Festival of Neighborhoods). This meeting will begin the process for community members to be involved in the selection of the technical assistance teams of professionals to support them in neighborhood, district and city-wide planning. Attendees will establish criteria for working with the assistance teams, define neighborhood boundaries and confirm projects for each of the 13 planning districts. Everyone is encouraged to attend. Refreshments and childcare will be provided. You can sign up online here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Why should you go? The following Tuesday evening comes time for Sunday’s participants to:

select their top three choices for technical assistance teams to support their planning process. The site is [again] the Pavilion of the Two Sisters at City Park. Participants will be able to visit tables for each of the teams to ask questions from 4:00 pm until 6:00 pm. Beginning around 6:00 pm, each of the teams will conduct formal presentations. Each team will present twice from 6:00pm until 9:00pm allowing participants enough time to listen and review these teams. Following this meeting and until 5:00pm on Friday, August 4, participants will have the opportunity to select their top three teams.

It is with this planner that your neighborhood has a voice and chance to get some of the LRA and Rockefeller money allocated to rebuilding New Orleans. Without your input and choice, the decision will be made for you. When I inform friends and colleagues about this, however intelligent, active, educated and informed they are, they invariably ask, “What’s the NO Community Support Foundation? What’s the Unified New Orleans Plan?” This is something that should be blared from the TP, nola.com, TV and radio stations and flyers all over the city and evacuation centers. As a friend remarked today, “So much for democracy.”

It’s short notice even for me, but please make it out to City Park on Sunday between noon and 4pm and be active on behalf of your neighborhood. Whatever else you may be doing, it’s that important.

The Pavilion of the Two Sisters
1 Palm Dr (in City Park)
New Orleans, LA 70124
(504) 488-2896

Also read Becky Houtman’s post on the topic and learn more about (and add to) the Unified Planning Process at the Think New Orleans Wiiki.

Update: Yesterday’s Bayou Buzz echoes my thoughts in this article (nothing about this in the TP).

Last Friday, a group of city planners and others were chosen from a very competitive process called the Rockefeller Grant being administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation. However, many of these “winners” are reportedly totally frustrated with the entire process for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons include timing, disparities of evaluations and the lack of communications strategies which could result in a very small minority making decisions for the very large majority. Also, another problem is the ultimate “beauty-contest” down the road. The neighborhoods will choose who they want to plan their neighborhoods out of a pool of recommended “authorities” previously chosen by the Greater New Orleans Foundation. We do not know [sic] should be speaking for the neighborhoods. Herein the confusion begins.

My Adventures With Home Security Electronics

Apparently, everyone I’m related to went security crazy after Katrina. I’ve slept over at three different houses since arriving into town Saturday, and all three of them are electronically monitored. And none of those electrical security systems seem to like me much.

Oh, all the people like me just fine. But the little demons haunting all the wires, they hate me.

Monday morning

Mom introduced me to her system on the first night. I was going to be up until ungodly hours trying to meet a Monday deadline (an act of futility, as it turned out; my editor ended up giving me an extension). It was very likely I’d want to go for a walk, or duck out into the store-room for a Coke. So Mom gave me the run-down: password “stay,” password “away,” verbal password for the people who call you up if the alarm goes off.

Mom and Dad use Di Maggio Home Electronics. I can tell you, their products work as advertised….
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Shovels and Rakes and Implements Of Destruction

and, furthermore, The Astonishing Non-universality of Snowballs

Today I had occasion to explain snowballs to my fellow amateur lot graders.

First, a pause for amazement. Snowballs. How can anyone not know about snowballs? Is it only the New Orleans area where people figured out that shaved ice covered in flavored syrup is a great thing to stuff your mouth with in the summer? I mean, sure, exotic flavors like “Frog in a Blender” and “Yellow Cake Batter,” those might be ultra-local, sure, and I’m aware that significant advances in snowball technology were invented right here in New Orleans, but–dude, it’s snowballs! Eating ice! It’s a fairly basic concept, right?

*sigh*

Second, an explanation about lot grading….
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