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.
Jan 23, 2014

January 2014 Project Report

It is election season in New Orleans:  on February 1, we will vote for mayor and six of the seven City Council seats (one incumbent did not draw an opponent).  It has been exciting to see that civic engagement and reforming the city budget process to include meaningful community input have been high-visibility issues during the campaigns.  Coalitions such as the strong Forward New Orleans group have made improving input into the budget process part of their platforms, which they ask candidates to sign on to; and questions about citizen participation and budget reform have been a constant at various candidate forums.

That said, not all candidates have embraced forceful positions on resident input.  Thus the upcoming elections could result in a mayor and strong Council majority in favor; or a mayor opposed and a weak Council majority in favor.  The plus side is that either way, we will still have majority Council support for this work, and we will come out of the campaign with greater visibility for the issues and stronger support in both neighborhoods and the business community.

Meanwhile, the work of the Citizen Participation Project goes on.  One of our top priorities is building on the passage last year of the City Planning Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP), which is basically the Early Notification System from our full Citizen Participation Plan (CPP) model.  Currently, we are working on the following:

- Developing an objective evaluation tool for residents, neighborhood and businesses that have experienced the new NPP, to demonstrate how well it is working and make any recommendations for refinements.

- Continuing to make presentations to neighborhood and business groups about the NPP, to make sure that all are well informed and able to derive the most benefit from the NPP.

- Monitoring the progress on the rewrite of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, which contains the NPP legislation, to ensure that it is compatible with the NPP.

- Identifying additional city agencies and departments to which we can expand the NPP.  Examples would be the Department of Public Works, the Sewerage and Water Board, and the Historic District Landmarks Commission.

We are also working to complete a Blight Resource Guide, which will be a tool for residents and neighborhoods to combat blight in their communities, beyond what city government is accomplishing.  This project has taken longer than we had hoped, but a comprehensive draft has been prepared and we are in the review stage, with a target of a spring publication date.

Work also continues with our partner Puentes New Orleans in the Latino Community of Interest project.  We have completed the second Latino Community Survey; more than 300 Latino residents answered questions mostly pertaining to health care and education, two top issues identified in the first Community Survey.  We are analyzing the data right now, and should have the report published within the next two months.  We appreciate the support and partnership with the New Orleans Department of Health in conducting this survey.

Work also continues on the Neighborhood Boundary Mapping project.  The city recently released a map of what it described as neighborhood association boundaries, but because this also included merchant groups, community development corporations, main street organizations and many other groups, it is full of overlaps and is thus confusing and difficult to use.  We are optimistic that after the elections, we can sit down with city officials and explore opportunities to collaborate on the neighborhood -- not neighborhood organization -- maps.

As always, the CPP work has many facets.  CBNO staff participated in some campaign training in late 2013, and have organized the work more into a campaign structure, which we think will further enhance our capacity to move the project forward.  We remain extremely grateful for the support from the Global Giving community; we wish everyone a happy, prosperous and civically engaged New Year!

Oct 31, 2013

October 2013 Project Report

The big win finally got put in the books, and we are happily at work consolidating the victory benefits!

Thirteen months after it was initially approved by the New Orleans City Planning Commission ... three months after it was approved as policy by the New Orleans City Council ... multiple meetings later than it was supposed to be as opponents made a last-ditch effort to kill it ... the City Council adopted amendments to the city's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that put the Early Notification System from our Citizen Participation Program into law.

Called the Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP) by the Planning Commission, the new law mandates that virtually any public or private sector project that will require any action by the Commission must first be brought to the residents and neighborhood association that will be impacted by it.  Until the residents and neighborhood are notified, a meeting has been conducted, and a report on the comments received (and the applicant's response to them) has been filed, the application process cannot proceed.

Progressive business owners have already begun using this approach, and even before the NPP was placed into law, there were two high-profile situations where a business proposal that initially met with strong opposition from residents and the neighborhood association received final approval after the owner met with the neighbors and resolved the concerns to everyone's satisfaction (ironically, both businesses received their approvals from the Council at a meeting where the NPP itself was deferred).  Beyond question, we will see many more of these outcomes, where commerce proceeds while neighborhood quality of life is preserved -- and even enhanced.

CBNO is doing two things to ensure the success of the NPP.  First, we are doing presentations to business organizations, and some neighborhood groups, to inform them about the NPP and make sure they know how to be effective and inclusive in using it.  Second, we are developing an evaluation tool so that we quantify its efficacy, and also so that after a period of time, we can recommend any tweaks that might improve it.  Thus far we have presented to more than 100 business people, and have been very gratified at the positive responses we have received.  The era of the much-abhorred "Planning by Surprise" in New Orleans truly is coming to an end.

On another front, we are in the final stages of completing our second Latino Community Survey, with partner organization Puentes New Orleans.  This is part of our Latino Community of Interest project of the Citizen Participation Program.  The follow-up survey was requested by Latino community leaders and also the city Department of Health, and focuses on health and education issues that Latino residents face.  The Health Department has committed to using the findings to improve its capacity to deliver health information and programs to Latino residents, and CBNO and Puentes will similarly work with schools and other education organizations to improve education outcomes for Latino students and families.  We were aided in the survey design by expert volunteers from Tulane University, and they will also help us to analyze that data, which will give even more value, credibility and weight to the data.

Finally, we have continued our work to reform the municipal budgeting process in New Orleans.  While this seems like a pretty dry and arcane subject, we have found a strong appetite for involvement on the part of community members throughout the city.  We have done a number of teach-ins and other information sessions, and generated a substantial turnout of residents for the Budget Town Halls that preceded the mayor's submission of the budget to the City Council.  We are organizing this effort into a formal campaign, and are assembling a steering committee that will have a majority of the seats held by community members.  The next major step will be an unconference in mid-January to bring budgeting information to even more residents, and to help set priorities and objectives for the campaign moving forward.  Just a hint here: we would love to have your support for putting on this event!

So, it has been an exciting and productive time for the Citizen Participation Project, with significant progress, increased momentum, and even greater opportunities ahead.  We appreciate your interest in this important work, and thank you so much for your support.

Links:

Aug 9, 2013

August 2013 Project Report

Perhaps it is just the summer heat in New Orleans, but things have been moving more slowly than we would like over the past few months.  While our work to bring Participatory Budgeting to New Orleans is engaging a much greater number of people, implementation of the Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP) is on hold as the City Council repeatedly defers votes on amendments and final passage (among the many quirks of local government is that despite unanimous passage of the NPP in May by the Council, it still requires one more vote before it is formally adopted).

For the third consecutive time, the Council deferred the NPP at its August 8 meeting.  Ironically, at the same meeting, final approval was given to three businesses whose initial proposals were met with considerable neighborhood resistance but who ultimately had the support of their neighbors and neighborhood associations after meeting with them.  This is exactly what the NPP will accomplish; and it will make this kind of outcome the norm in New Orleans rather than something rare and remarkable.  With concrete evidence in front of them of the value of the Plan, it was all the more disappointing to see its final adoption deferred once again -- this time, supposedly at the request of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.  We have been told yet again that the NPP will receive final approval at the next Council meeting; but it is nothing short of amazing that what would be a slam dunk anywhere else gets turned into a political football in New Orleans.  Nevertheless, we are forging ahead with implementation tools and strategies, working with our Citizen Advisory Team, the Planning Commission staff and our partners in the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance (NOCOG; www.nocog.org).

Much cheerier news on the Participatory Budgeting front.  The NOCOG PB NOLA campaign, with which CBNO is closely involved and which links directly to the citizen participation infrastructure work, has conducted two "teach-ins" in the last three weeks.  Not only is this informing more New Orleans residents about opportunities to have input into the city budgeting process, we have now enlisted a number of community members into working with us on the campaign.  Community engagement is great; community ownership is even more powerful.  Further acceleration of this campaign is inevitable.

In late July, the National Council of La Raza national conference took place in New Orleans, with CBNO partner Puentes New Orleans serving as the local host.  CBNO served on the conference host committee, and teamed up with Puentes and the Latino Forum to put on a workshop during the conference.  Our presentation focused on results from the 2012 CBNO-Puentes Latino Community Survey, highlighting obstacles and opportunities relating to Latino residents and civic engagement.  Also during the conference, we debuted our follow-up survey, focusing on issues of health care and education for Latino residents.  These were identified as priority issues in the first survey, as well as in conversations with local Latino leaders.  The city's Department of Health, which has already used findings from the first survey to improve access to health care information and services for Latinos, helped design the new survey, along with several prominent Latino education and faith leaders.  Surveys will be conducted throughout the fall, and the findings will be used to advocate for changes in policies and practices to produce better outcomes in both areas for New Orleans Latinos.

Slogging through the world of politics is never fun, but we will absolutely persist.  We are appreciative of the many local officials who do support meaningful civic engagement, and also of the encouragement and support we receive from colleagues and supporters from afar.  We think of all of you as being part of our team, and could not do this work without you!

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