The Charter Amendment that gave the Master Plan the force of law also mandated that the City create a neighborhood participation plan that would facilitate neighborhood input on issues that affect their quality of life. Chapter 15 of the Master Plan further outline a structure for a Community Participation Program. The following document describes how the NOLA CPP Model implements Chapter 15 of the Master Plan.
NOLA CPP Model and the Master Plan
In November 2008, the residents of New Orleans approved an amendment to the City Charter that gave the Master Plan the force of law. This Charter amendment states “The City shall establish by ordinance a system for organized and effective neighborhood participation in land use decisions and other issues that affect quality of life.” The Master Plan expands on the idea of a neighborhood participation system. Chapter 15 of the Master Plan references the Charter amendment and then makes recommendations for a Community Participation Program (which is another term for a Citizen Participation Program).
Throughout the Master Planning process, the New Orleans Citizen Participation Program (NOLA CPP) team, Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO), and its citizen volunteers worked closely with the City Planning Commission (CPC) and Goody Clancy. This ensured that Chapter 15 of the Master Plan reflected what the residents of New Orleans wanted in a Community Participation Program. The NOLA CPP model, which was designed by hundreds of New Orleanians over several years, complies with and implements the Master Plan’s goals for a Community Participation Program. Here is specifically how the NOLA CPP model implements the five goals in Chapter 15 of the Master Plan:
Goal 1: “All parties affected by public decisions about planning and development have sufficient opportunity to build capacity to understand, apply and act upon information pertaining to these decisions.” (Master Plan Volume 2, 15.11).
The strength of the NOLA CPP model is its training and capacity building components. The training will ensure that neighborhoods not only have the opportunity to provide input, they will have the understanding to provide meaningful input. These capacity building trainings will create a CPP that is equitable and beneficial to all New Orleans neighborhoods. The NOLA CPP model provides for capacity building for “members of … organizations…to go through a specific training that will provide information and tools to enhance their abilities to work with and advocate for their communities…on topics such as effective participation in meetings, conflict resolution, the workings of city government, available government programs, etc.” (NOLA CPP, Section VIII).
Goal 2: “Establish a formal community participation program that provides a structured and accessible process by which the City receives and responds to input from every part of the community on planning and development decisions in a timely fashion.” (Vol 2, 15.12).
The NOLA CPP model creates a formal communication structure that will reach every neighborhood in the City as well as interested individuals and organizations. The NOLA CPP model uses District Councils (which are groups of Neighborhood Associations) and Communities of Interest to send information from City Government to neighborhoods, community groups, and individuals. The NOLA CPP model then ensures that input from these groups and individuals are addressed by decision makers. The NOLA CPP model will “create and maintain an Early Notification System (ENS)…designed to supplement current state and local laws regarding public notification” (Sec XII). The ENS will solicit public input early in the process to ensure input is received in a timely fashion.
Goal 3: “Broad public access to timely information about proposed plans and projects and other city information is available.” (Vol 2, 15.14).
The NOLA CPP model uses District Councils to ensure that city information goes to the right neighborhoods and to hold government accountable for considering neighborhood input in decision making (Sec IV). In addition, the ENS will give “Neighborhood Associations and Communities of Interest…access to relevant public documents through the internet… Neighborhood Associations, District Councils, and Community of Interest Coalitions shall be allowed to provide official comment and feedback electronically to City boards, departments, agencies, and commissions via the ENS” (Sec XII). The NOLA CPP model will ensure and facilitate timely access to information.
Goal 4: “Predictable and timely processes for community review of project proposals.” (Vol 2, 15.15).
The NOLA CPP model establishes a process for developers and City government to present their project proposals before registered Neighborhood Associations, because “Neighborhood Associations, District Councils and Community of Interest Coalitions shall have the right to raise issues of concern to them and have their concerns brought before the appropriate city government entities. A mechanism will be constructed through which such issues are brought to the Neighborhood Associations for formal review, with established routing and time frames” (Sec VII). By establishing time frames and getting public input early in the process, this should make the development review process more predictable and less likely to be delayed, which is often the case when the public is informed late in the process and their opposition stalls a project.
Goal 5: “A transparent and open process of city decision-making on land use, development approvals and capital budget expenditures.” (Vol 2, 15.17).
By requiring City government and developers to provide information to and come before the citizens of New Orleans, the NOLA CPP Model makes the City’s decision-making process transparent. “Decisions brought forth from the Neighborhood Associations and Communities of Interest shall…be considered ‘rebuttable decisions’, meaning that if a city government entity acts in opposition to a decision of the Neighborhood Association or Community of Interest, the rationale for such decision shall be presented in writing to the Neighborhood Association(s) and/or Community(ies) of Interest from which the original decision emanated” (Sec VII). Therefore, with decision-makers having to justify their decisions, the decision-making process becomes more transparent and open.
The NOLA CPP model meets all of the goals and implements the Community Participation Program element of the New Orleans Master Plan. The Master Plan even says “One of the first tasks of districtwide councils and the City should be to review additional aspects of CBNO/MAC’s proposals and ideas floated by other members of the community to determine how the process should evolve.” (Vol 2, 15.7). As a result, the NOLA CPP model should be the starting point for CPC’s process of recommending a Neighborhood/Citizen/Community Participation Program to City Council.