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.
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!

May 14, 2013

May 2013 Project Report

We are very happily celebrating the final step in the City of New Orleans' formal adoption of both policy and legal code that establishes the Early Notification System of the NOLA CPP model in our city.  First passed in policy form by the City Planning Commission last July, the policy document and amendments to the City's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance were unanimously adopted by the City Council on May 2.  The policy is officially called the "Neighborhood Participation Plan" by City Planning.

What these changes mean is that going forward, virtually any public or private sector project that requires any action at all by the City Planning Commission must be brought to the nearby residents and neighborhood association first, before the City Planning process can begin.  This a truly groundbreaking step in terms of protecting New Orleans neighborhoods against unwanted development, and the biggest achievement to date in this project.

While this also has positive ramifications for businesses, it will not be until the full NOLA CPP is implemented that the full benefits to businesses will be realized.  Good developers are already meeting with residents and neighborhood associations, and the new mandate will give all sides a chance to get together, solve problems and find common ground.  This should expedite the rest of the city's decision-making processes, which go much faster when all parties are in agreement.  However, business owners remain vulnerable to individuals who may appear later in the process, identify themselves as stakeholders, and demand changes and/or delays in a project.  In New Orleans, sometimes these individuals are legitimate; many times they are not.  Currently, there is no method for authenticating these individuals.  The full NOLA CPP model does include a method for identifying, authenticating and including all stakeholders at the beginning stages of a project.  Thus, one major next step for the project is working with business interests 1) to inform them about the new mandate and facilitate effective communication with residents and neighborhoods and 2) to enlist them in supporting adoption of the full CPP model.

We will also collaborate with the Planning Commission staff, the Neighborhood Engagement Office and our partners at the Neighborhoods Partnership Network on other aspects of implementing the NPP.

Simultaneously, our work to map neighborhood boundaries in New Orleans continues.  We are nearing completion of our second (of 13) planning districts, are making good progress on another two, and are about to start up in three more.  We also continue to work with the Neighborhood Engagement Office to enroll residents in the New Orleans Recreation Division Commission's new Community Advisory Boards, which are the first formally established structures for resident input in the city's history.  And our Neighborhood Association Manual has now been downloaded over 160 times, been circulated in printed copies, and is being used by several resident groups to help start new neighborhood associations.

Finally, we are advancing work on our Latino Community of Interest pilot project with our partners Puentes New Orleans.  Following up on the well-received Latino community survey, which examined Latino residents' priority needs and issues as well as their barriers to civic engagement (the report is currently being translated into Spanish), we are preparing a new survey that will take a more detailed look at issues, concerns and needs among Latino residents regarding health care and education.  We will be working with many of the Latino leaders who assisted us with the first survey, and also with the City's Department of Health, in designing and conducting the survey.  It is also likely that Puentes and Committee for a Better New Orleans will present on the first survey at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, which will take place in New Orleans in July.

While it is tempting to take a few breaths and celebrate a little longer over the adoption of the NOLA CPP Early Notification System, the other projects are keeping us much too busy -- and the new momentum is much too strong -- for such a luxury.  Our Citizen Action Team and other key partners will be meeting soon to discuss a comprehensive strategy and specific next steps for moving ahead with adoption of the full NOLA CPP model.  We have a great opportunity to speed up the already-accelerating pace, and must take full advantage.  As always, we are extremely grateful to our many supporters, here in New Orleans and across the country and world.  You enable our work and inspire our dreams.

Feb 21, 2013

February 2013 Project Report

Despite the distractions of Super Bowl (which severely restricted access to downtown New Orleans for an entire week) and Mardi Gras, the Citizen Participation Project team has been completing some ongoing work and laying the groundwork for an immensely productive 2013.  The early part of the year is typically an important planning time for us.  Major plans and activities have been laid out in the following aspects of the Project:

- Latino Community of Interest:  working with our partner Puentes New Orleans, we have prepared a presentation on the highly acclaimed Latino Community Survey completed last fall.  We will first present this to the Latino leaders with whom we worked on the Survey, to get their input on next steps; then to larger Latino community groups as well as neighborhood leaders.  This will be followed by setting up direct dialogue between Latino and neighborhood leaders, for the dual purposes of establishing "grasstops" collaboration and also for examining ways to engage Latino residents in neighborhood activities and programs.  These conversations will culminate in a Community Summit.  While open to the public, the primary focus will be to bring the Latino and neighborhood leaders together, along with government officials and other community leaders, for unifying dialogue on wider cooperation, better integration of Latino residents into community activities, and improved delivery of government programs and services to Latino residents.  As part of this, we will also continue our collaboration with the New Orleans Department of Health, assisting them to do a better job of reaching Latino residents with health care information and services.

- Participatory budgeting:  working with our partners in the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance (NOCOG), we continue to examine ways to engage residents in the city's budgeting process, and to increase community voice in designing the city budget.  A Community Summit on this topic is contemplated as well, and in particular, we are seeking to enable residents and community groups to work directly with city departments and agencies as they craft their "budget offers" that become the foundation of the city's budget.  We have identified this as the best opportunity for community members to impact the budget.  In addition, we have met with City Planning Commission staff to discuss opportunities for direct community input into the city's Capital Projects budget, which is distinct from the operating budget.  CPC staff has been very receptive to this concept.  For the next year's budget, this will hopefully include conducting a series of sessions where residents can evaluate and rank proposed projects; looking further ahead, we would like to move towards true Participatory Budgeting, where residents actually initiate projects to be considered.  CBNO, with NOCOG, is exploring funding sources for a pilot PB project.

- Early notification system:  adopted in conceptual form by the Planning Commission last summer and by the City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee in December, language is now being prepared by City Planning and the city's Law Department to embed this formally in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.  Vote on the legislation is scheduled by the Planning Commission at its first March meeting.  This is the first major piece of the overall Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by city government, and will ensure that all public and private sector projects must be brought to residents, neighborhood groups and businesses before they can begin the City Planning permitting process.

- Neighborhood mapping:  we have met with neighborhood leaders from the New Orleans East section of the city, and will tackle this area for mapping early next month.  We have already compiled all available maps of the region, including city assessor data and several post-Katrina planning maps, and developed a baseline map for the East.

- Neighborhood Association Manual:  this has been completed and released; it may be downloaded and printed from the Project website, www.nolacpp.wordpress.com.  It provides a great guide to starting and managing a Neighborhood Association, with topics including managing committees, outreach and recruitment, creating public - private partnerships, managing conflict, and much more.  It also includes sample neighborhood association bylaws, a tool for compiling neighborhood needs inventories, and many other valuable references.  In addition, the first draft of the Blight Resource Guide has been completed and is currently in review and revision.

- New Orleans Recreation Development Commission Participation Plan:  NORDC and the New Orleans Neighborhood Engagement Office spent many months putting together a Participation Plan related to NORDC facilities and programs, drawing extensively on the NOLA CPP model.  The Commission formally adopted the Plan in January.  CBNO will help promote participation in this structure, and is considering the possibility of bringing Participatory Budgeting to the Commission as it develops its strategic plan.

2012 was a year of substantial achievements for the Citizen Participation Project, which gives us the opportunity and the obligation to build and expand upon this progress in 2013.  As always, we are extremely grateful to our many supporters, without whom we would simply not be able to take on this vitally important work.

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