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Old 12-27-2005, 06:02 PM
tylerdurden tylerdurden is offline
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Default update: new orleans

I've spent the last week in the New Orleans area (New Orleans, Metairie, Mandeville, Baton Rouge) visiting the in-laws. From reading the papers and talking with people that are actually dealing with the aftermath, I'm pretty confident that the city itself is doomed. On top of that, I give the outlying areas about a 50/50 chance of building a viable economy (vs. getting dragged down with New Orleans into a detroit-esque decay).

The basic problem is that everyone wants to tell everyone else what to do, but doesn't want to listen to anyone else. The newspapers are full of people complaining that local governments aren't coming up with rebuilding plans fast enough, but everytime one is advanced, it's immediately shouted down, and any politico connected to it is threatened with lynching. And if you actually try to start rebuilding your own property (anything more involved than interior gutting/remodeling) without waiting for the "big plan" you're ostracized and labeled a "troublemaker" (there was a huge article in the Christmas day Times-Picayune about these meances to society).

NIMBYism has paralized efforts to get utility and constuction workers housed in the city - FEMA has over 17,000 trailers in the area, but is unable to deploy them because nobody wants them near their property (of course, there's the unspoken undertone of "we don't want poor people warehoused near us). The people that are opposing them are basically retarded; they should be pushing to get the FIRST batches of trailers near their property, because the first batches will be housing people that work for the sewage and water board, FEMA, and other agencies. The public housing residents won't be brought in until later (and apparently many of them have decided not to come back). It's funny to hear someone moan about trailers lowering her property value when her property is already basically worthless.

The mayor claims to have exclusive authority over such temporary housing decisions based on the declaration of the state of emergency, but the NO city council went ahead and passed a resolution giving themselves final say over trailer placement. When the mayor vetoed it, the council unanimously overrode him.

The two biggest concerns seem to be mardi gras and "levee board unification". I'm not sure why this unification is so important, as having one group of incompetent, politically-connected cronies doesn't seem to have any significant advantage over having multiple groups of incompetent, politically-connected cronies.

In the two months since my last visit, nothing in the flood zone has significantly changed, except that the endless mountains of debris piled up in the middle of Ponchatrain Blvd have been removed. Everyone is waiting on the "big plan."

My father-in-law can't get a building inspector to approve his electricity being turned back on, depsite several contractors who all say the wiring is fine. Apparently the storm has not lessened the importance of palm greasing. Rather than capitulate, he's decided to move out of town. Apparently a lot of people feel the same way, because the number of for sale signs in his neighborhood has gone up about 1000% in the last two months. Houses that were not flooded seem to be up for sale in approximately equal proportion to houses that were flooded (it's easy to tell, because the flooded houses say "rock-bottom price, as-is" and the non-flooded ones say "NO FLOODING!!!").

More evidence has surfaced that the levee breaches that flooded lakeview were really political failures. Even though the breach was caused by a engineering flaw, the Army Corps of Engineers had recommended back in 1985 that the 17th street canal be gated at it's mouth dumping into the lake and drained. Then the city could drain into the empty canal and a pump at the mouth could dump that water into the lake. Had that system been in place, the breach would not have occurred. The local, crony-dominated levee board overrode the Corps recommendation and went with the convoluted system of higher levees capped with concrete walls, probably so that some favored contractor could get some over-inflated contracts. the London avenue canal failed in a similar fashion, and had a similar fix proposed back in the 80s.

The Corps doesn't escape criticism, though. Several federal agencies browbeat small mississippi communities such as Bay St. Louis into hiring the Corps to do their cleanup and debris removal. Larger cities such as Biloxi used private contractors. The Corps has been more expensive and orders of magnitude slower. They are currently removing debris at a rate 16% of what they were removing at the beginning of the project.

My prediction is that the city itself is going to be left with a group of hardcore nutjobs in the quarter and uptown, while everyone else that actually wants to move on with their lives and their businesses will either set up shop in the suburbs or move away altogether. The old-money crew will continue doing what they've always done, thinking they are running the show while the remnants of the city fall apart around them.
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  #2  
Old 12-27-2005, 06:30 PM
sweetjazz sweetjazz is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

pvn -- I am a New Orleans resident (a "hardcore nutjob" with a place Uptown [img]/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img] ). It is disheartening to see more cronyism and chaos coming from the political leaders.

At the same time, I am not quite as pessimistic as you. While the city's leadership has generally been inept, the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith seems to be at work. Maybe because I am lucky enough to be in Uptown, I am able to see progress being made and people coming back. I have seen other parts of the city and I realize how much people there have suffered and the obstacles they still have.

New Orleans had a lot of problems before Katrina, and many of them have resurfaced, adding to the problems that Katrina brought about. But there are jobs in New Orleans and many of the people who will stay have the resources to rebuild. So there is still hope, which only increases the need for vigilance about the actions of public officials and for a willingness to put the needs of the community ahead of individual preferences.

Regardless of what ends up happening, I wish the best for your family.
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  #3  
Old 12-27-2005, 06:48 PM
tylerdurden tylerdurden is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

[ QUOTE ]
At the same time, I am not quite as pessimistic as you. While the city's leadership has generally been inept, the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith seems to be at work.

[/ QUOTE ]

The invisible hand is being strangled by government interference. Nobody that had significant damage is able to get their houses repaired efficiently due to an army of bureaucrats slowing things down and looking for bribes.

[ QUOTE ]
Maybe because I am lucky enough to be in Uptown, I am able to see progress being made and people coming back.

[/ QUOTE ]

Sure, uptown is great, since there isn't very much damage. Uptown alone isn't enough to sustain the city at pre-hurricane activity levels (though many of the uptown residents are unaware of this fact). Metairie is the same way. My sister-in-law lives in old metairie, and since her house didn't have any flooding, she thinks it's "retarded" that everything is still busted in orleans parish. As if the only thing keeping the flood zones in a state of disrepair is lack of resolve on the part of the residents. She sees the fact that burger king closes at 6:00PM as a violation of her civil rights.

[ QUOTE ]
New Orleans had a lot of problems before Katrina, and many of them have resurfaced, adding to the problems that Katrina brought about. But there are jobs in New Orleans and many of the people who will stay have the resources to rebuild.

[/ QUOTE ]

A lot of people *don't* have these resources. The middle class is the most likely to be in this situation, since they had houses that were more valuable than the federal flood insurance cap ($250k) but aren't wealthy enough to bounce back from the loss they have to eat (the difference between their home value and the insurance cap). As long as they can't rebuild (or aren't *allowed* to rebuild), there won't be enough residents and therefore businesses will suffer (both from a lack of customers and a lack of employees).

[ QUOTE ]
So there is still hope, which only increases the need for vigilance about the actions of public officials and for a willingness to put the needs of the community ahead of individual preferences.

[/ QUOTE ]

Putting the "needs of the community" first is exactly the problem (not to mention a large part of how the problem got created in the first place). Too many individuals are being sacrificed in the name of this vague, unachievable goal.
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  #4  
Old 12-28-2005, 12:14 AM
tylerdurden tylerdurden is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

BTW, note that my observations are those of an outsider, although one that has been *heavily* involved in the disaster, through extensive dealings with insurance companies and contractors, housing relatives, and financially contributing to relief efforts.
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  #5  
Old 12-28-2005, 01:31 AM
SheetWise SheetWise is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

Is there any indication that the incompetence of the local leadership has eroded their political base? Is there an impeachment process, and has it been threatened? As an outsider I'd assume that the wealthier residents remaining would force the leadership to start pandering to their demands.
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  #6  
Old 12-28-2005, 01:32 AM
LittleOldLady LittleOldLady is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

Many people in Lakeview and Gentilly desperately want to rebuild their properties and neighborhoods exactly as they were before the storm. To that end they are appealing their damage assessments to get them below 50%, so that they don't have to elevate. This makes no sense to me. Why do they want to rebuild at a level which will leave them vulnerable to ordinary street flooding without any assurances that the problems with the canals will be fixed properly? The flooded neighborhoods now have contaminated soil, and while the houses can be gutted and treated for mold, who knows what harmful material is left in the walls and ductwork? The idea of bulldozing and redeveloping is anathema.

I think, however, that the city will be redeveloped. Various plans have been floated, all of which have as the end result people losing their property which will then be made available cheaply to well-connected developers. First some "housing activists" came up with the idea of usufruct in which the owner retains title to the property but the city repairs it and rents it out to whomever for however long, at the end of which time the property owner must buy back his own property or lose title to it. Other ideas include allowing the free market to determine what gets rebuilt where. After a period of time (both one year and three years have been mentioned), the powers that be will determine which neighborhoods have come back enough to be viable (the powers that be get to decide what constitutes enough). Those neighborhoods will be supported with services. Those deemed not to have come back enough will be abandoned and the property seized (even the property that has been repaired). This latter idea comes from the likes of the big developer Joe Canizaro who, no doubt, already has his eye on what he wants when the land is seized and sold cheap. Now that land can be taken by eminent domain for private purposes, if one's land is coveted by a developer, one can kiss it goodbye. True, the owner must be compensated at fair market value, but what is fair market value for New Orleans flooded property? Not a whole heck of a lot.

Under these circumstances, whether an owner does or doesn't repair his property, he runs a real risk of losing it. I own what was once a nice 11-room, 2400 sq ft house one block from the London Avenue Canal smackdab in the middle of the two breaches. I am not putting a cent into my property under the current circumstances, thereby causing a problem for any of my neighbors who do want to rebuild. Given the location of my neighborhood, I can see Canizaro or someone like him getting control of the whole subdivision cheap and redeveloping it as high-rise condos and retail space aimed at the university personnel and the people who work at the tech center, since neither of those entities suffered major damage.

Katrina and her storm surge were bad enough, but the problems have been compounded may times over by foot-dragging insurance companies, bumbling bureaucrats, and well-connected self-servers with an eye on the main chance.
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  #7  
Old 12-28-2005, 01:54 AM
LittleOldLady LittleOldLady is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

[ QUOTE ]
Is there any indication that the incompetence of the local leadership has eroded their political base? Is there an impeachment process, and has it been threatened? As an outsider I'd assume that the wealthier residents remaining would force the leadership to start pandering to their demands.

[/ QUOTE ]

The leadership IS pandering to the demands of the wealthy. What the wealthy want is a richer and especially whiter New Orleans. That's what all this NIMBY-ing about the trailers is all about, preventing the housing project and Lower Ninth Ward people from coming back. The council members representing the Quarter, Algiers, and Lakeview are putting the kibosh on the trailers--which is exactly what their constituents want them to do.

The voters of Louisiana are scattered all over the country, and no one has a clue as to where they are except FEMA which refused to provide the addresses to the state for voting purposes until it was forced to yesterday. There is supposed to be a mayoral election in February, but that is not enough time to figure out the practicalities of how to run a fair and legal election under the circumstances. And then there is the problem of local candidates being forced to run a campaign that is national in scope. Right now the storm and subsequent mass relocation have eroded everyone's political base--whose voters get to come back when is very much part of the political agenda.
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  #8  
Old 12-28-2005, 02:33 AM
SheetWise SheetWise is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

[ QUOTE ]
The leadership IS pandering to the demands of the wealthy. What the wealthy want is a richer and especially whiter New Orleans. That's what all this NIMBY-ing about the trailers is all about, preventing the housing project and Lower Ninth Ward people from coming back.

[/ QUOTE ]
That seems like a good thing to me. It seems these people were never productively involved in the economy of the city in the first place. They've been relocated, why in the world would anyone want to make an effort to bring them back? As the OP put it -

[ QUOTE ]
pvn: The public housing residents won't be brought in until later (and apparently many of them have decided not to come back).

[/ QUOTE ]
I don't get it. Public housing residents get to choose where they will live, and be returned at someone elses expense? Those that can afford to return will.
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  #9  
Old 12-28-2005, 03:25 AM
LittleOldLady LittleOldLady is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

[ QUOTE ]
[ QUOTE ]
The leadership IS pandering to the demands of the wealthy. What the wealthy want is a richer and especially whiter New Orleans. That's what all this NIMBY-ing about the trailers is all about, preventing the housing project and Lower Ninth Ward people from coming back.

[/ QUOTE ]
That seems like a good thing to me. It seems these people were never productively involved in the economy of the city in the first place. They've been relocated, why in the world would anyone want to make an effort to bring them back? As the OP put it -

[ QUOTE ]
pvn: The public housing residents won't be brought in until later (and apparently many of them have decided not to come back).

[/ QUOTE ]
I don't get it. Public housing residents get to choose where they will live, and be returned at someone elses expense? Those that can afford to return will.

[/ QUOTE ]

Until the storm it was customary to send buses round to the projects on election day to bring the residents to the polling places. That was, for example, how bond issues and millage increases got passed. (Public housing and section 8 residents did not pay the increased millages either directly or indirectly; they just voted for them.) The busloads from the public housing projects also formed the voter base of many of our elected officials. Those officials would like to see their voter base return.

Just as some people and their political representatives would like to see a whiter, richer city, others have a vested interest in maintaining a large African-American majority.

It should also be remembered that while the Lower Ninth Ward was the least desirable neighborhood in the city, and it did contain (infamous) housing projects, much of the Lower Ninth Ward consisted of modest homes which had been passed down from generation to generation. These homes were owned and occupied by many of the lower-paid workers on whom New Orleans' service-based economy depended. These people have as much interest in coming home to their properties and rebuilding as the people in the big houses on the lakefront. And the economy as it revives will need their labor.
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  #10  
Old 12-28-2005, 04:31 AM
sweetjazz sweetjazz is offline
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Default Re: update: new orleans

LOL -- I like your posts.

I agree that there is too much pandering going on to the wealthy people in the city, but at the same time I am somewhat sympathetic to the effort. For one, keeping wealth in the city is a priority, probably more useful than bringing in labor (which is more readily available). And it is easier to help out those who can help themselves already.

So while I don't particularly like it, I understand it to some extent. Hopefully more will be done to help people in the Lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly, Mid-City, NO East, etc. Everybody will be better off if everyone in the city is given a chance to succeed. The way to have an affluent and low crime New Orleans is to give everyone who ends up in New Orleans the opportunity to succeed.
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