October 2013 Project Report
By Keith Twitchell – President
The big win finally got put in the books, and we are happily at work consolidating the victory benefits!
Thirteen months after it was initially approved by the New Orleans City Planning Commission … three months after it was approved as policy by the New Orleans City Council … multiple meetings later than it was supposed to be as opponents made a last-ditch effort to kill it … the City Council adopted amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that put the Early Notification System from our Citizen Participation Program into law.
Called the Neighborhood Participation Program (NPP) by the Planning Commission, the new law mandates that virtually any public or private sector project that will require any action by the Commission must first be brought to the residents and neighborhood association that will be impacted by it. Until the residents and neighborhood are notified, a meeting has been conducted, and a report on the comments received (and the applicant’s response to them) has been filed, the application process cannot proceed.
Progressive business owners have already begun using this approach, and even before the NPP was placed into law, there were two high-profile situations where a business proposal that initially met with strong opposition from residents and the neighborhood association received final approval after the owner met with the neighbors and resolved the concerns to everyone’s satisfaction (ironically, both businesses received their approvals from the Council at a meeting where the NPP itself was deferred). Beyond question, we will see many more of these outcomes, where commerce proceeds while neighborhood quality of life is preserved — and even enhanced.
CBNO is doing two things to ensure the success of the NPP. First, we are doing presentations to business organizations, and some neighborhood groups, to inform them about the NPP and make sure they know how to be effective and inclusive in using it. Second, we are developing an evaluation tool so that we quantify its efficacy, and also so that after a period of time, we can recommend any tweaks that might improve it. Thus far we have presented to more than 100 business people, and have been very gratified at the positive responses we have received. The era of the much-abhorred “Planning by Surprise” in New Orleans truly is coming to an end.
On another front, we are in the final stages of completing our second Latino Community Survey, with partner organization Puentes New Orleans. This is part of our Latino Community of Interest project of the Citizen Participation Program. The follow-up survey was requested by Latino community leaders and also the city Department of Health, and focuses on health and education issues that Latino residents face. The Health Department has committed to using the findings to improve its capacity to deliver health information and programs to Latino residents, and CBNO and Puentes will similarly work with schools and other education organizations to improve education outcomes for Latino students and families. We were aided in the survey design by expert volunteers from Tulane University, and they will also help us to analyze that data, which will give even more value, credibility and weight to the data.
Finally, we have continued our work to reform the municipal budgeting process in New Orleans. While this seems like a pretty dry and arcane subject, we have found a strong appetite for involvement on the part of community members throughout the city. We have done a number of teach-ins and other information sessions, and generated a substantial turnout of residents for the Budget Town Halls that preceded the mayor’s submission of the budget to the City Council. We are organizing this effort into a formal campaign, and are assembling a steering committee that will have a majority of the seats held by community members. The next major step will be an unconference in mid-January to bring budgeting information to even more residents, and to help set priorities and objectives for the campaign moving forward. Just a hint here: we would love to have your support for putting on this event!
So, it has been an exciting and productive time for the Citizen Participation Project, with significant progress, increased momentum, and even greater opportunities ahead. We appreciate your interest in this important work, and thank you so much for your support.
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