First, we are happy to report that New Orleans survived Hurricane Isaac with little worse than a lot of downed trees and extensive power outages. However, the situation once again pointed out the need for a structured Citizen Participation Program, including high-quality, multi-modal lines of communications. The city's 311 number went out for a good while, and internet service, cell phone service and power were all out for various periods of time. This left accurate and timely information difficult to come by for many citizens, especially the elderly and infirm and those with fewer communications methods at their fingertips to begin with.
On the plus side, in August the New Orleans City Planning Commission formally adopted what it calls its Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP). While this name is a bit misleading, in that it is a document focused on Planning Commission policies and procedures, it does include the first major piece of the New Orleans Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by city government. Specifically, it mandates that all significant projects proposed in the city must be presented to the neighborhood(s) that will be impacted first -- before any Planning Commission staff work is done and certainly before any permits, variances, etc. are provided. This Early Notification System is the foundation upon which the entire CPP is based, so it is a major step forward. One particularly pleasing development was that the Planning Commission's initial proposal would have made this requirement fall only on private sector developments; however, based on our strong recommendation, the final document also placed this mandate on city government projects. Since these are often larger in scope, and therefore have greater impacts on the community, this was a vital improvement to the final document.
Also in August, Committee for a Better New Orleans teamed with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development District and the Business Council of New Orleans to put on a breakfast briefing about the CPP for business leaders. Approximately 70 leaders from a wide variety of businesses attended. The presentation on the CPP was well-received, and the subsequent question and comment session went on for much longer than we anticipated, indicating the high level of interest in the project. While Hurricane Isaac has interrupted our follow-up on this, we did receive many supportive comments at the briefing, and will be organizing a Business Advisory Council from interested attendees to continue building business community support for the project.
Next up is a series of public forums at which we will have a moderated debate on one key element of the New Orleans CPP, the concept of District Councils. These are essentially coalitions of geographically proximate neighborhood associations, and virtually every CPP in the world has some version of them. They have emerged organically in more than 75% of New Orleans, and they are utterly essential to ensuring equity and capacity-building throughout a citizen participation program. This has not kept some loud voices from opposing them in New Orleans. The purpose of the debates is to provide community members with a factual, balanced understanding of what District Councils are and will do, and to give people a chance to question both sides about their stances.
The bottom line for the NOLA CPP is that substantial progress is being made and that community information efforts are continuing; both in turn are building the support base for bringing the full-blown Citizen Participation Program across the finish line. We're not there yet, but just like the last laps of the Olympic distance races, the pace is picking up!