Guest column: Why we don’t have a Citizen Participation Program

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By Nick Kindel

In two recent columns, the Uptown Messenger has explored the situations with the Magazine Street Pilates Studio and the proposed new security district, and how in each case outcomes might have been very different if we had a Citizen Participation Program (CPP) in New Orleans.

Consequently, a number of people have asked about the status of the New Orleans CPP, and how close we are to getting one adopted and implemented by city government.  What follows is a brief recap of the process to date as well as the current status of the project.

The original call for a citizen participation program in New Orleans came in 1992, in the New Century New Orleans document.  Post-Katrina, the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) document contained a clarion call for a New Orleans CPP.  The November 2008 amendment to the City Charter mandated “an organized system for neighborhood participation”, and the Master Plan as adopted in July 2010 has an entire chapter on Citizen Participation.

In September 2010, the Committee for a Better New Orleans submitted a draft CPP model, designed by about 160 New Orleans residents over a three-year period, to the City Planning Commission.  The next month, the City Council passed a resolution directing the Planning Commission to take the model and other work submitted to it, do whatever additional research it felt necessary, conduct a final round of public meetings, and submit a final version to the Council for approval in summer 2011.

However, at this point Mayor Landrieu announced the formation of his new Office of Neighborhood Engagement (since renamed the Neighborhood Engagement Office), and asked that the entire process be moved from the Planning Commission to NEO.  All work came to a halt.

Over a period of many months, NEO worked on several versions of a methodology for what the city was now calling a Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP).  The final scope for at least the next stages of the work plan focused strictly on internal policies and procedures for city agencies and departments to work with citizen input.

In October 2011, NEO conducted a series of three semi-public meetings.  Attendance was low, and declined from each meeting to the next.  At the end of the three meetings, NEO Director Lucas Diaz prepared a draft NPP, which he circulated to meeting participants and others.  After making revisions based on the comments received, Mr. Diaz submitted a final version to the mayor before the end of the year.

Also at the end of year, the City Planning Commission held a public meeting to get preliminary input on its own NPP, which again is focused primarily on establishing internal procedures for the CPC to inform the community about land use and zoning issues and to use the input it receives in return.  CPC is currently working on a draft plan, which should be released in the next few weeks.  This will be followed by a public comment meeting (keep reading the Uptown Messenger for information about this meeting!).

It should be emphasized that creating these policies and procedures for city hall to work with community input is a valuable piece of the overall puzzle.  Certainly creating a culture and practice within city government of including such input is a vital component of creating a strong CPP.

At the same time, doing the internal piece without the external piece accomplishes little in terms of helping neighborhoods deal with qualit-of-life issues.  It is not unlike building a tennis court, but not putting up a net or providing racquets and tennis balls.

While neither the Planning Commission nor the Neighborhood Engagement Office is currently working on the external CPP, there are a few encouraging signs.  NEO Director Diaz has been asked by both the NORD Commission and the NOPD to put together community input structures for them, and in both cases, he is proposing structures that have a lot in common with the CPP model submitted to the city back in 2010.  These provide interesting opportunities to demonstrate the value of a strong CPP to both city government and the community, and we hope that in each case the structures do move forward in a way empowers meaningful citizen input.

While the citizen volunteers who assembled the CPP model are understandably frustrated with the pace, many of us involved with this work remain optimistic that we can get this vital piece of civic infrastructure across the finish line not too far into the future.  Mayor Landrieu continues to state his support for civic engagement on a broad level, so perhaps clear signs of support in the community for the CPP can bring him on board with this specific civic engagement tool.

City Council members also remain supportive of a meaningful external structure for citizen input, and it always helps when individual residents voice their support to their Council members and other city officials.  Community participation in the Planning Commission’s public meeting on its NPP will also be important.

As described in the earlier Uptown Messenger articles, a CPP in New Orleans will benefit residents, neighborhoods, businesses and the city.  As with any other public policy and infrastructure, it is incumbent on those of us who will benefit from it to continue to push it forward. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about the New Orleans CPP or if you want us to make a presentation to your group.

This is the third in an occasional series of columns about the benefits of a Citizen Participation Program. Nick Kindel is the Citizen Participation Project Coordinator for Committee for a Better New Orleans and a resident of the Freret Neighborhood. You can reach him at


5 thoughts on “Guest column: Why we don’t have a Citizen Participation Program

  1. As my columns indicate, I’m not too keen on more citizen participation in land use decisions because it’s all self-selection, and those who select themselves tend to be busybodies that seek to hold up development, backed by the blood, sweat and tears of a property owner, for the sake of some perceived threat to local property values or aesthetic sensibilities.

    A community participation program would work better, in my eyes, if we had a better balance of power between property owners and the city. Right now all that has to happen is a neighborhood association screams “I don’t like this!” and the city council ensures it doesn’t happen. The reasons why opposition forms are often petty and selfish. I’ve only been to one local neighborhood association meeting, but the opinions expressed were off-putting enough to where I did not want to return.

    Front-loading the debates over development projects may add more predictability to the process, but it may also invite more unecessary meddling. In short, I’m just not sold.

  2. As I understand the program, it will be run by the city with neighborhood input.
    My concerns are
    1) this is taking too long to establish
    2) how will the resident input be handled?
    It is the residents that will live with city decisions regarding permits, zoning and variances. If those decisions effect your quality of life and your property values, yes then it very well may be termed “petty” & “selfish” when there is push back. Yes, the city needs to address its internal problems and also continue to have the residents voice their opinions of those problems/decisions.
    After all do you send a fox to guard the hen house?.

    • ksvb,

      It is the residents that will live with city decisions regarding permits, zoning and variances. If those decisions effect your quality of life and your property values, yes then it very well may be termed “petty” & “selfish” when there is push back.

      People can be very, very petty when they perceive their property values to be the least bit threatened. The truth is that buying property involves risk, and unless a neighboring property is actually creating a nuisance (as would be the basis for a lawsuit), then the complaints that come out are typically the type I would consider petty. You have the investment-backed expectations of a property owner versus some nebulous perceived threat seen by neighbors, and the neighbors essentially have veto power.

      • A “nebulous perceived threat”?
        Please clarify…a RUMOR or the application for a PERMIT is a “Threat”?
        Is every change to an existing area is a good one? Certainly there have been some projects that have been a bane to neighborhoods, for example,creating increased parking problems.
        Yes, there are good projects, but certainly the feelings of the neighbors should be taken into account. Or do you feel that the city has the right to do whatever it wishes…for the “good of the People” but with or without their in put?

  3. We believe that having a Citizen Participation Program involved in the decision making process regarding the Six Flags site would have led to a different outcome as well. While the Mayor’s committee applauded themselves at their last meeting for presenting their chosen proposal at a community meeting the previous night, they also commented that “they didn’t have to do that”. I would beg to differ. The citizens of New Orleans were left out of the entire decision making process. Further, they still have not been presented with honest information about the viable options available. The property is owned by the City and the Citizens have a vested interest in what happens to that property. The proposal the committee wants to move forward with would replace the theme park with an outlet mall funded primarily with a TIF or other public monies. The City would be required to continue making their $1.8 million/yr loan payments on the HUD loans used for the original development, with no new sales tax revenues generated at the site for 4 years. After 4 years, the new sales tax revenues would mostly go towards the new TIF, so the City would still have to pay $1.8 million out of the general funds each year.

    Our proposal is to re-invent the park as Jazzland, infused with our art, music and culture, adding a water park and movie studio back lot to the site. The back lot has its first tenant lined up and could begin attracting film productions immediately. The theme park itself could be re-opened by 2013 as the permitting process is simplified by the re-use of existing infrastructure. The water park would be open in 2014. As our plans include having the theme park open year-round, we would be creating over 600 new jobs, with an additional 1000 seasonal jobs. Our proposed lease terms also offered a cash annual payment plus a local sales tax guaranty of $1.8 million so that the HUD loan could be paid without having to use monies from the general fund. We also would NOT require a TIF as we have the financial backing of local business leaders.

    Aside from the economic benefits, we have worked diligently on finding ways to make the park become a true asset to the community. We would be working with several locally owned businesses, featuring Louisiana companies and products, and we would be working with area youth organizations so that we could provide internships, job shadowing, mentorship programs, and art & music educational programs. We would also provide our stages to area schools to use for their band and choir concerts.

    We believe that if the citizens had been involved in the process, they would have chosen our proposal as it makes the most financial sense, without costing the taxpayers more money, and benefits the community the most. We hope that the citizens have the opportunity to research the topic further, and if they agree with out stance and want to see the park return, they will support our cause. Information about our proposal is on our website. We are also on facebook and twitter and have a petition at

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