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.
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!
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.
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.
The New Orleans Citizen Participation project is wrapping up one of its most successful years ever!
As we reported previously, the New Orleans City Planning Commission adopted the first major piece of the New Orleans Citizen Participation Program this summer. The Planning Commission calls its piece its "Neighborhood Participation Plan", or NPP. Since the Commission's adoption of the NPP in July, the Plan was reviewed and unanimously approved by the New Orleans City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee, and final ratification of the Plan by the full Council is expected in early December. However, the mayor's proposed 2013 budget initially did not include funding to implement the NPP. Fortunately, subsequent negotiations between the administration, the Planning Commission and the Council have led to inclusion of the necessary funding in the Commission's 2013 budget. This ensures that residents, neighborhoods and businesses will be receiving information on both private and public sector projects that will impact them beginning early next year, and will also have the opportunity to meet with developers prior to any discussion of permitting, zoning, etc.
CBNO has also completed its Latino Community Survey and report, in partnership with Puentes New Orleans, a Latino organizing and advocacy organization. The report details the needs and priorities of Latino residents in New Orleans, as well as their attitudes towards government and community participation. It also examines the barriers Latinos experience to participation and the obstacles to obtaining needed government services. This has already led to a meeting with the leadership of the city's Department of Health and a commitment from them to work with both Latino and Vietnamese communities in New Orleans to improve access to health care services and information. Follow-up work will involve additional conversations with city government as well as Latino leaders, neighborhood leaders and other service providers. The full text of the report can be found via the link at the end of this report.
The Neighborhood Boundary Mapping pilot project in the city's Planning District 6 has also been successfully concluded. This will serve as a template for mapping neighborhood boundaries in all 13 Planning Districts, which is critical for the success of the Citizen Participation Program as well as for equitable economic development in New Orleans, for city service delivery and for many other vital reasons. The report on this project has been provided to the city administration, and we hope to collaborate with the city to complete the mapping project over the course of the next year. This report can also be found via the link at the end of our Global Giving report.
Building on our growing outreach to the New Orleans business community, the Citizen Participation Project also organized our Business Advisory Council. The initial meeting of the BAC led to some new insights into business priorities for the CPP, as well as some excellent thoughts on how to continue building business support and to move the next phases of the project forward in 2013. Among the more subtle but important accomplishments for the Project in 2012 is our expansion of awareness of and support for the CPP in the diverse New Orleans business communities.
Finally, less than two weeks ago a year-long tug of war over a proposed amendment to the New Orleans Master Plan came to a final resolution in front of the City Council. The administration-proposed amendment would have substantially weakened the Community Participation chapter of the Master Plan; further, the amendment was offered with no community input, to a Master Plan that was created with the input of thousands of community members. From our standpoint, this made the amendment a bad idea in terms of both content and process. Though accepted by the City Planning Commission, the amendment in its original form was sent back to CPC when it came before the City Council. CBNO worked with CPC staff on the language, and the revised version was significantly less damaging; however, we still felt that it was unnecessary, damaging to the advancement of meaningful civic engagement in New Orleans, and contrary to the spirit of community input that shaped the Master Plan. The Planning Commission almost voted to reject the amendment, then ultimately decided to forward it to the City Council. At the Council meeting where the amendment was considered, there was lengthy debate before the Council finally voted 4-3 to reject it, putting the issue to rest at last. CBNO is very appreciative of the community voices that weighed in with the Council in opposition to the amendment, as well as the willingness of the Council members to examine the amendment thoroughly and take a stand against. We do see opportunities to improve the Master Plan going forward, and hope to work with the administration on both language and a community process that ensures this is done in a way that is inclusive and productive.
With a critical piece of the Citizen Participation Program adopted by New Orleans city government, with two major reports completed and serving as the basis for community actions in 2013, with growing support for our work and the threat of damage to it in the Master Plan eliminated, we look back on 2012 with satisfaction -- and as always, with tremendous gratitude to the many people who support our work with their time and their contributions. Best wishes to all for the year ahead!
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