New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin unveiled the latest plan for rebuilding New Orleans. It appears he is backing off previous controversial Bring New Orleans Back Commission proposals to withhold building permits and the idea of bulldozing poor neighborhoods and replacing them with parks, saying now that residents in places like the Lower 9th Ward can rebuild but only at their own risk:
Mayor Ray Nagin presented his plan for resuscitating this hurricane-battered city, saying residents should be allowed to rebuild anywhere - as long as they do so at their own risk.
Nagin said the city will continue issuing building permits to all comers, but warned that low-lying neighborhoods like New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward could flood again if another hurricane hits.
"I don't recommend you going in areas I'm not comfortable with," the mayor said Monday. "I'm confident that the citizens can decide intelligently for themselves."
The report also recommended a host of other ideas, from revamping schools to consolidating some city offices. The wish-list of projects included new light-rail systems, more farmers' markets, new riverfront development, job-training sites and better flood protection.
The announcement was met with some skepticism and even open hostility:
Residents lined up to speak against the latest proposal during a public-comment period. One of them, an activist named Chui Clark, called the commission "a rotten, racist committee," echoing criticism by many black residents who say they are being discouraged from returning.
Groups including the NAACP, the Advancement Project and the New Orleans-based People's Hurricane Relief Fund complained that the state plan gives short shrift to poor and low-income victims by focusing too much on bailing out homeowners and encouraging high-end development at the expense of low-income renters.
In a letter to Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration, the groups cited government estimates showing that about 126,570 rental units without insurance were flooded last year. By contrast, they said, only about 25,180 uninsured homes were damaged, which is about 20 percent of all the ruined homes.
"This is really like the opening salvo, if you will, of attempts to get a fair share of that money for low- and moderate-income people," said Bill Quigley, a lawyer and civil rights activist.
And here's another report on the mood at the press conference.
Another puzzling thing about all this is, who's in charge? The city's Bring New Orleans Back Commission does not have the force of law. The state's Louisiana Recover Authority and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are all involved. As with all things Katrina related, there appears to be a problem with clear leadership.
But for a bit of good news, Gov. Blanco has proposed carving out $2.5 billion of federal relief funds to rebuild Charity Hospital.