Committee for a Better New Orleans

CBNO is a multi-racial, multi-generational community organization, a catalyst and convener, working to bring all voices to the table to address systemic issues that will help to build a better quality of life for all New Orleanians. CBNO/MAC will accomplish its mission by providing and maintaining an advocacy role that encourages the kinds of partnership, collaboration and candid conversation that reflect the interests of the citizens of New Orleans.
Mar 10, 2015

March 2015 Project Report

Spring is in the air here in New Orleans, and we are happy to see more fruits of our labors sprouting up like the leaves and flowers!

Within a week, we will be submitting to the City Planning Commission our report on the Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP).  The NPP is the first major part of the overall Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by New Orleans city government.  Over the past twelve months, we have surveyed residents and applicants (primarily business owners and developers) regarding their experiences with the NPP.

We are very pleased to report that overall, there is considerable appreciation for, and recognition of the value of, the NPP.  Not surprisingly, we received quite a number of recommendations for improvements, and will be including 17 specific recommendations in our report.  Rather surprisingly, satisfaction with the NPP was actually higher among applicants than residents.  Some people had predicted a business backlash against the NPP; instead, while there was a little bit of grumbling about the time it requires, the large majority of applicants appreciate the opportunity to discuss the project with their neighbors-to-be, and to begin building a relationship with the community.

From the residents' standpoint, there are issues with the notification timeline and process, and opportunities to improve the productivity of the NPP meetings.  Most of the complaints/suggestions (from both sets of respondents) are easily addressed.  Only a very small number of people were strongly negative.  This gives us plenty of information to make improvements, and a strong base from which to advocate for expanding the NPP to other city agencies that could clearly benefit from getting direct community input for their decision-making.

One interesting outcome from the survey was that both residents and applicants felt that having a city staff member present at NPP meetings would be helpful.  A few other comments from both sides also indicated that a stronger city presence throughout the process would be an improvement.  These comments clearly help build the case for implementation of the full Citizen Participation Program, as this is the only way to accomplish this.  Stay tuned for more on this ....

On another front, we are nearing completion of the website that will enable people to track the city's actual spending compared to budget over the past seven years.  We actually thought this was ready to launch, but the city did a little deeper review and asked for an additional set of numbers to be included.  These would reflect the large number of amendments to the budget that are made over the course of the year.  While we regret the delay, we agree that this will be good additional information for the site.  We have a tentative agreement now to launch the site in early April.

The city's long-deferred, comprehensively revized new Zoning Ordinance is about to come up for discussion again, and CBNO will be working with other community partners to make sure residents are informed about the content of the Zoning Ordinance and aware of their opportunities to provide input.  While more work remains to be done on this, the current Ordinance is tremendously out of date (roughly 40 years old and amended so many times as to be almost impossible to use); we will be working with partners and community members to get the new Ordinance into shape and across the finish line as soon as is reasonably possible.

Finally, we are preparing for our participation in the East-West Institute's program on the role of community engagement in post-disaster recovery.  The institute is bringing together representatives from five different entities in each of two American and two Japanese cities for a three-year program to exchange and develop information on this subject, concluding in a major symposium at the University of Pennsylvania.  CBNO was chosen to be one of the five from New Orleans.  We greatly appreciate this validation of our work and take our participation very seriously.  The first major activity will be a trip for the U.S. participants to Japan in June; look for our report in the next project report.

As always, we thank you for your interest in, and support of, this challenging, rewarding, essential work.  Your role in its continued flowering cannot be overstated.  Thanks, and Happy Spring!

Dec 15, 2014

December 2014 Project Report

Latino Health Survey Release
Latino Health Survey Release

We've been wondering why we all felt so worn out around here -- then we looked back at all that has been accomplished in the last few months and realized we earned the right to feel that way!

Nothing was bigger than the release this week of the report on our Latino Community Health Survey in New Orleans, conducted in partnership with Puentes New Orleans and the New Orleans Health Department.  The findings are both deeply disturbing and cause for guarded optimism.  Among some of the more heartbreaking pieces of data:  nearly 2/3 of Latino residents in New Orleans do not have health insurance.  Roughly half have not seen a doctor in the past two years -- and nearly a quarter have never received any kind of formal health care.

The optimism comes from the fact that many of the barriers can be overcome fairly easily, with some political will and some resources.  For example, simplistic though this may sound, many New Orleans Latinos are not accessing health care simply because health facilities have no external signage to indicate that they are health facilities.  CBNO and Puentes have worked with a local sign company to develop a package where for just $1000 we can get external and internal signs made and installed -- and our City Council has agreed to waive the permit fee for the external signs.

Other solutions will involve more work -- training bi-lingual health workers, producing more information and outreach materials in Spanish (and other languages), increasing access to healthy foods and to recreation opportunities -- but none are out of reach.  The Health Department is already moving forward on several fronts, and we have begun raising funds for the signage packages and other important measures that will ultimately improve health outcomes for this vital segment of our community.

We've also had good results from our work to open up the city's budget to real community input.  We conducted a People's Budget Summit, with some 60 residents participating in a process whereby they created a People's Budget.  There were a lot of similarities to the budget proposed by Mayor Landrieu, but also some striking distinctions.  The underlying theme is that the community wants city funds invested more proactively -- libraries, job training and placement for youth, reacreation facilities, mental health care -- and less reactively in things like police and jails.  We received a good bit of very positive media coverage for the People's Budget; as part of that, we were able to make the case that the present city budget process does not allow for meaningful input and that such input would be very valuable to city decision-makers.

We also wrapped up work on the Big Easy Budget Breakdown website, which will enable anyone to compare city budgets to actual spending for the past seven years.  We will add each new year's figures as they become available.  The last piece of information from the city just arrived, and as soon as the holidays are past and people's attention is not so diverted, we will have a formal launch.  We talk a lot about how we want community input provided to government but at the same time, that input must be informed and thoughtful; this site will be an incredibly valuable tool for building community knowledge about the budget so that residents can provide that kind of quality input.

We are also nearing completion of the research related to our evaluation of the City Planning Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP), the first major piece of our larger Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by city government.  We have now surveyed more than 60 residents about their experience with the NPP, and interviewed close to 20 business owners.  After completing more of both over the next two weeks, we will begin writing up the evaluation, with recommendations for improvements to the NPP, immediately after the holidays.

Some of our attention has been slightly diverted by the fact that CBNO has been offered matching funds by a few long-time supporters for a year-end campaign.  So any contributions we receive between now and January 5 will be doubled!  We hope to get support for several of the $1000 clinic signage packages as well as general funds to help us build on all this momentum as we move into 2015.

Whatever you may be celebrating at this time of year, we hope you are able to do so with a sense of peace and joy, and to share your celebration with the people who mean the most to you.  We are so grateful for the support we have received this year and what it has enabled us to do for the city we love so much.  We are happy to have a little break for the holidays, and look forward to coming back even stronger next year!

Links:

Sep 22, 2014

September 2014 Project Report

The winding down of summer coincides with putting the finishing touches on a couple of major components of our ongoing citizen participation work -- and we're still keeping the heat on with the New Orleans answer to the Ice Bucket Challenge!

The most exciting piece is completing the report on our Latino Community Health survey.   This is part of the CPP's Latino Community of Interest pilot project, with our partner Puentes New Orleans.  The New Orleans Health Department also joined us in conducting the survey.  We've put a lot of work into the report, which we plan to release in mid-October, but the findings are clear:  for a variety of reasons, Latino residents in New Orleans face multiple obstacles to accessing health care and to other important aspects of healthy living.  The good news is that some of the problems can be fixed easily.  For example, as simplistic as this may sound, the simple lack of Spanish-language signage on the exterior of health clinics prevents many residents from knowing where to get health care.  We are already working to raise funds to place both exterior and interior dual-language signage on as many health clinics as possible; we can do an entire clinic for just $1000.  We expect to have the full Health Survey report posted on our website in a few more weeks.

We are also nearing completion of our evaluation of the City Planning Commission Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP), the first major piece of our full Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by the city of New Orleans.  Overall the NPP is really doing its job of preserving neighborhood character while promoting quality economic development.  It is, however, only a first step towards meaningful and inclusive community engagement throughout New Orleans.  The city is on the verge of a major update to its Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO), which is where the NPP legislation sits, and we have made a few initial recommendations to improve it, such as increasing the minimum notification time for NPP meetings, setting a maximum distance for holding these meetings from the property site, and increasing residents' access to the meeting reports.  We are confident these recommendations will be accepted as the new CZO moves forward, and both the Planning Commission and the City Council have told us that they will be very willing to consider further amendments to the new CZO once our full report is completed, which we expect will be before the end of the year.

We're also still working on connecting New Orleans residents to the city budgeting process, and will be having a major community event on October 8.  We are partnering with numerous organizations to provide information on every aspect of the budget.  The real fun, though, will be engaging residents in a process to develop the People's Budget, which we will release at the same time the mayor releases his budget.

We continue to move ahead with other key aspects of the CPP work, including the neighborhood boundary mapping project and our new resource publication, the Residents Guide to City Government.  All work and no fun, though, makes for a dull project, so we decided to spice things up (literally) with the New Orleans answer to the Ice Buck Challenge:  the NOLA Heat Challenge!  Check it out at www.vimeo.com/102070194.

The seasons change, but nothing changes our focus on creating every possible opportunity for meaningful civic engagement in New Orleans.  This work only happens because of the support we get from people like you; on behalf of all of us who are involved with all of these projects, thanks so much for keeping it going!

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