Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Aspen you shall receive

These few paragraphs are from a column last week by Patrick Armstrong in Mid-City Messenger. Pat has been following, with growing trepidation, Mayor Landrieu's proposed amendments to the city Master Plan. Pat describes an administration in such a rush to make land use processes easier for developers that it's ignoring its obligation to promote open democratic decision making.
Instead of waiting on the public to get involved, technocrats consolidate and automate the process. The “experts” get to make the decisions, and if the public misses their chance to provide input, they should have been paying closer attention. Technocratic solutions remove the mess of democracy and make things easier, quicker, and cheaper for those who are most invested and connected and knowledgeable about the process. If the voters don’t like it, they can participate on election day – if they even show up to the polls.

Proposed amendments to Chapter 15 double down on resident non-participation by consolidating the big, messy, difficult democratic process into management by one small office at City Hall. Even if every city employee in that office has the best of intentions at heart, how long will it be before the sheer weight of this process demands less access from the public, and more decision making at the top?
That sounds bad. But what's it this all about, exactly? Well, it's a lot of stuff. If you want to read through all of the proposed amendments they're here on the city's website.  But what Patrick is most concerned about is the Chapter 15 neighborhood engagement process. Here's an Advocate guest column by Keith Twitchell explaining what that's all about.
Equally unquestioned is the utter disregard for community voice, as exemplified by both the process and the specifics. The most gratuitous example is the mayor’s proposal to completely write the Community Participation chapter in a way that eliminates all reference to a community-based civic engagement structure. Instead, the mayor wants to put resident participation completely under the control of the Neighborhood Engagement Office.

Given that it has only been two years since New Orleans got its first-ever community participation structure, the City Planning Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP), why propose something that would limit engagement and the public’s voice? Though it has room for improvement (something the Planning Commission is working on right now), and will only reach its full potential when it is part of a comprehensive community participation structure, the NPP has already demonstrated on many occasions that bringing neighborhoods and developers together in a formal process benefits both.

Moreover, the administration’s reason for denying community voice is breathtaking in its solipsism and circular reasoning. In essence, they are saying “we didn’t give the people what they want, therefore they don’t want it.” This is like saying “I didn’t give you food, therefore you are not hungry.”

On top of this, the mayor has heard directly from the people that they want more community participation, not less. At a Neighborhood Roundtable last summer, with the mayor present, Chief Resiliency Officer Jeff Hebert was specifically asked if the process of developing the city’s Resilience Strategy might provide an opportunity to move forward on establishing a formal, communitywide, community-based civic engagement structure. The entire roomful of nearly 100 neighborhood leaders broke into applause in support of the question.

Thus the argument is not only specious, but flies in the face of direct evidence to the contrary. And throughout the administration’s amendments, the theme is to move away from a community-included approach to planning and development, and move toward a technocratic, top-down, “we know best” philosophy.
Hardly surprising given everything we know about how this mayor operates. We need only refer to his recent big-footing of the process over short term rentals for the most obvious example. But there are more and this Master Plan process is particularly egregious. The October slate of public meetings on this have passed  but there will be more to follow.  Here's one that takes place in the middle of the day on Election Day. Can't imagine an overflow room at that time.  Anyway note the purpose of these changes and the wording.
The Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability (ORS)  is recommending major changes to the Future Land Use map to open up development opportunities and a mix of uses and housing types in Gentilly. The suggestions of the ORS aim at preparing adaptable infrastructure for landscape in flood risk and loosening up Future Land Use categories, in shifting from a value of the preservation of current neighborhood character and use over to the continued viability of neighborhoods.

The ORS said in a report that current Future Land Use categories in Gentilly are likely too restrictive for incoming residential and commercial demand that the City expects to see in public funds more than $140 million.

A meeting about these zoning changes will take place on Nov. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the Homeland Security Conference Room 8E16 in City Hall, located at 1300 Perdido Street. Those who can’t attend the meeting can send comments to  cpcinfo@nola.gov.
In other words, their policy goal is to give up worrying about the needs of the people who live here currently and shift priorities over to the demands of future investors. In the opening to Patrick's column, he starts off with a tongue-in-cheek bit about "technocrat" as an epithet.
Technocrat. Noun. An obscure insult used to describe a politician who promotes progress through innovation and technology at the expense of the way things have always been done. The term is most often seen on the left or liberal side of the political spectrum to describe Democratic elected officials deemed insufficiently protective of liberal or progressive interests and who attend the Aspen Institute a few times too many.
Sure, har-har. It's that that us dirty lefties might lay off a bit if  only they'd give us a moment to catch our breath.  For instance, here's today.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has nominated author and former Time Magazine editor Walter Isaacson to New Orleans' Planning Commission, according to a statement from the mayor's office.

Isaacson, who also served as CEO of CNN, is currently the CEO of the Aspen Institute of Washington, D.C., and splits his time between there and New Orleans.

A native of New Orleans who once shucked oysters on Bourbon Street, Isaacson is also known for being Apple founder Steve Jobs' biographer and for his 2014 book, "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution."
In other words, these critical matters of democratic process vs technocratic gentrification will be deliberated on by a part time resident who is the literal CEO of the freaking Aspen Institute. How are us jokers and doomsayers supposed to even keep up?  It might start to get funny again when Mayor Torres replaces Isaacson and the entire CPC with an app.  But let's not give away all of our ideas now. 

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