These are questions we have been asked as we discuss the Citizen Participation Program (CPP) with people throughout New Orleans. We hope the answers are helpful. If your question is not answered here, or you still would like more information, please feel free to ask a CPP volunteer or staff member.
Q. Who will run the Citizen Participation Program?
A. There is no one person or office that will run the CPP. The CPP will be controlled by the people of New Orleans. They will hire the staff at the District Councils (see below for info on these Councils), and will set the agendas for neighborhood and district meetings. Citizens will also review and revise the CPP through the citywide Community Advisory Group. There will probably be a specific city government agency, like an Office of Neighborhoods, that works with the CPP from the government side, but it will not run or control the CPP.
Q. What are these District Councils? Why should they be able to make decisions for my neighborhood?
A. District Councils are made up of citizen representatives from all the officially recognized neighborhood groups within each Planning District. The citizen representatives will hire the District Council staff, guide the spending decisions, and determine the priorities for their District Council. The primary purpose of the District Councils is to be a resource to the neighborhoods in their District:
- Help neighborhoods collaborate on issues or projects of shared interest.
- Help neighborhoods resolve disputes between themselves.
- Help neighborhood groups with outreach and communication to the people who live in their geographic areas.
- Make sure that information about proposed projects or developments, or other important issues, gets to all the neighborhoods who may be impacted by them, on a timely basis (i.e., before decisions are made).
- Make sure that input from the neighborhoods gets to the right decision-makers in city government, and that government is accountable to the neighborhoods
District Councils will not make decisions for individual neighborhoods. The only time a decision would be made by the citizens at the District Council would be if a project or issue impacted most or all of the District (for example, something like a major street or a big park).
Q. Why is the CPP being set up using city Planning Districts?
A. The Planning Districts were originally drawn up to have boundaries that follow the same lines as individual neighborhood boundaries. While we need to review these boundaries and make some changes, the idea is that Planning District boundaries should not divide neighborhoods the way other city districts – like School Board or City Council districts – often do.
Q. What does the CPP mean for my neighborhood association?
A. Neighborhoods that want to participate in the CPP will need to follow certain guidelines in order to receive formal recognition. These include things like really reaching out to all the people who live in a neighborhood; making decisions fairly and democratically; and keeping leadership in the neighborhood association open to all who might be interested. Also, neighborhood associations will not be able to charge mandatory dues, though they may ask for voluntary dues. In return for giving up their dues, neighborhood groups will receive financial and other support from the District Councils. Beyond that, neighborhood associations will be free to raise funds in other ways (like garage sales or street fairs).
Neighborhood organizations will still be able to set their own agendas and priorities, and otherwise continue to operate just the way they do today. However, the CPP will make sure that neighborhoods have information about projects, proposals and issues that impact them at the beginning of the decision-making process, and they will be able to have meaningful input as those decisions are being made. The CPP will offer trainings to neighborhoods on many different topics, like how particular parts of government work or what to do in the case of a hazardous materials spill. Also, neighborhoods will have the opportunity to do an annual inventory of the assets and needs within their areas.
Q. What kinds of issues or projects will people be able to discuss within the CPP?
A. Anything that relates to the quality of life in your community is open for discussion within the CPP. Almost certainly, issues related to land use and zoning will be the most frequent topics. However, there are many other subjects that citizens may want to discuss and work on. For example:
- Emergency preparedness: the CPP will eventually offer the opportunity for every neighborhood to organize a neighborhood emergency network, to help deal with everything from hurricanes to fires to hazardous materials spills.
- Public safety: the CPP will help neighborhoods set up Crime Watch and other programs to enhance safety.
- City budgets: the CPP will provide an opportunity for people to help city government set its spending priorities each year.
- Street improvements: the CPP can be used to help determine which streets are most in need of repairs or other improvements.
- Assets and Needs: every neighborhood will eventually have the opportunity to do an annual survey of its needs and it the assets it has in place, which in turn will help city government do a better job of meeting these needs.
These are just a few examples; the citizens themselves will set the agendas for the CPP, and can determine which issues they want to address through this structure.
Q. How much is the CPP going to cost? Where is the money going to come from?
A. There is a team of citizen volunteers working to determine what a reasonable annual budget for the CPP might be, and how to find those funds. One thing that people have made clear is that they prefer a dedicated funding source for the CPP, meaning that money is collected specifically for it rather than having it be part of the annual city budget negotiations. Among the ideas people have suggested so far:
- Charge a fee when development proposals are filed with city government
- Put a small fee on people’s water or utility bill
- Pass a small property tax
Ultimately, it will probably be some combination of these ideas, perhaps with another source included as well. If you have ideas on this, or would like to work with the Finance Action Team, we would welcome your input.
Q. Who will control this money? Who decides how it gets spent?
A. Most of the CPP money will go to the District Councils, which means that the citizens who serve as neighborhood representatives on these Councils will control most of the funds and make most of the spending decisions. There will be some formulas relating to what the minimum amount will be that will go to each neighborhood group, so that we can be sure that each neighborhood gets the support it needs to be organized and effective. Additional District Council funds – whether they come from the CPP funding source or are raised by the Council – will be spent based on the priorities set by the citizens. Some additional CPP money will be spent to prepare informational materials and trainings for citizens; to produce certain general communications for the CPP citywide; and to make sure that city government is providing accurate, timely information to citizens through the CPP. The Finance Action Team is working on these topics as well, and again, we welcome any thoughts you have on this subject.
Q. How will information get from city government to residents?
A. Once the CPP legislation has been passed (along with the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance), there will be requirements for city government to provide specific information to citizens and neighborhoods. There will also be requirements that this information be provided within specific time frames. So, the responsibility will begin within city government to provide the information to the CPP. This could be provided to CPP staff at either the District Council level or the city agency level, or both, depending on the final legislation. Once the information reaches the District Council staff, the most important part of their jobs will be making sure that the information reaches all the neighborhoods that should get it as soon as possible.
In addition, another responsibility of the District Council staff members will be to be proactive in seeking information from government. For example, if a neighborhood wants to know more about a specific project, proposal or policy, they will be able to ask the staff, who will then seek the information for them. This will include not only information from city government, but also from other sources that can provide useful insights. These might include Communities of Interest within the CPP, as well as local universities, on-line research, etc.
In turn, once neighborhoods receive information about a project or proposal and have had a chance to discuss it and determine their position on it, their input will be carried by the District Council staff to all appropriate decision-makers within city government.
Q. How will this impact my (or my neighborhood’s) relationship with the City Council?
A. First, the CPP will not in any way interfere with any existing relationships between people and neighborhoods and their Council members, or with anyone else in government with whom they have a relationship. Citizens are always completely free to contact their Council members and to speak their minds at Council meetings. What the CPP does is make sure that – regardless of who is serving on the Council or anywhere else in government – neighborhoods and community groups can be sure of getting accurate, timely information about proposals that will impact them, and that their input on these proposals reaches Council members and other government decision-makers before final decisions are made. In addition, the CPP provides City Council members with a very good method for keeping their constituents informed about government services, proposals, projects, and issues. In short, the CPP provides an additional, structured avenue for communication between people and the Council, without stepping on any current relationships.
Q. How is all of this different from the way things happen now?
A. The major difference is that the CPP provides a permanent structure for communication between citizens and government, and for citizens to have input into city government policy-setting and decision-making. Presently, some neighborhoods are well-organized and have good relationships with their Council members, and they can be fairly sure that their voices are heard before decisions are made. However, all relationships are transient, meaning that when a new person is elected to that Council seat, there is no guarantee that the neighborhoods will have that same positive relationship with the new Council member. Also, some neighborhoods may be well organized, with effective leadership, today, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case in the future. Even for the strongest, best-connected neighborhoods of today, the CPP provides a structure that guarantees that they will a voice far into the future.
For neighborhoods that are not well organized right now, and/or do not have regular communications with their Council members, the CPP provides resources and opportunities to come together and be effective in advocating for themselves.
In addition, many decisions are made by city government that do not go through the City Council. To be honest, many decisions are made by city government with little or no input from the citizens at all. While the CPP cannot guarantee that every future decision made by government will reflect citizen input, it will make sure that when decisions are being made, or policies are being set, that will have an impact on a particular neighborhood or community, the citizens will get information about these issues before the decisions are made; that the information will be clear and accurate; and that they will be able to provide input to government – again, before final decisions are made.
The intended result of all this is that New Orleans will no longer experience “planning by surprise”, where you wake up one day and a major project is taking place in your neighborhood that you had no idea about. Developers and businesses will benefit by knowing who they need to talk to in the community about their projects; and everyone will benefit because good projects will get completed faster, with input from all stakeholders. Citizens and neighborhoods will also have the ability to work proactively on things that will be good for their neighborhoods, quite possibly having the opportunity to initiate projects themselves in concert with government and private developers. Because city government will get clear input about what the people want, officials will be able to make the best decisions for the whole community, and everyone impacted by those decisions will know about them as they are being made and have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the process.
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