Published January 12, 2006
NEW ORLEANS – Angry residents expressed frustration Wednesday at the debut of rebuilding proposals for this devastated city, taking aim at a suggested four-month moratorium on new building permits in areas heavily flooded by Hurricane Katrina.
"Our neighborhood is ready to come home," said property owner Jeb Bruneau of Lakeview, which borders Lake Pontchartrain. "Don't get in our way and prevent us from doing that. Help us cut the red tape."
The Bring New Orleans Back Commission, appointed by Mayor Ray Nagin, released its initial recommendations to a packed crowd of local residents. The plans could become part of a blueprint for rebuilding New Orleans — a task unparalleled in American history.
The idea behind the moratorium is to ensure that enough people would move back to a neighborhood to avoid large expanses with isolated houses.
But that didn't sit well with residents from the hard-hit Ninth Ward, Lakeview and east New Orleans. Several lashed out at commission members, such as prominent New Orleans developer Joseph Canizaro.
"I don't know you, but Mr. Canizaro, I hate you," Harvey Bender of the Lower Ninth Ward said as he pointed his finger. "You've been in the background scheming to take our land."
After the meeting, Canizaro met with Bender and promised to explain the commission's recommendations in greater detail.
"I told him I want to do everything I can to help this city. I'm not going to make a dime off this," Canizaro said. Commission members have pledged not to profit from their positions on the panel.
Another resident, Caroline Parker, said: "I don't think it's right that you take our properties. Over my dead body."
The NAACP said it would be unfair not to allow residents to rebuild and questioned suggestions that some areas of the city should not be rebuilt because they are not "sustainable."
The commission will unveil more rebuilding plans in the coming days, and it hopes to form a clearer picture of what areas would be rebuilt by the end of the year. Besides home and neighborhood reconstruction, the proposals will cover schools, transportation, entertainment and other topics.
But the most contentious issues have to do with how flooded neighborhoods should be rebuilt.
Despite residents' complaints, the rebuilding recommendations have actually been characterized as too liberal and unrealistic by many urban planners. The Urban Land Institute and other planners have said it would be unsafe and unwise to rebuild those sections of the city where the flooding reached rooftops and which could be flooded again by another hurricane.
Nagin is expected to have all proposals in hand on Jan. 20. He then can approve or reject the recommendations. The plan is expected, though, to be presented to President Bush, who asked early on that Orleanians come up with a vision for rebuilding the city.
The commission offered a phased-in approach for rebuilding. It said each of the city's 13 neighborhood development districts should come up with a rebuilding plan by May 20, and that a citywide picture should be formed by June 20.
The neighborhood groups would need to figure out if and how their sections of the city could be built. The commission envisions setting up a federally funded land bank that would have the power to buy homes and land that residents choose to abandon.
Nagin sought to assuage residents' fears that the recommendations are the final word on rebuilding.
"This is a process," he said. "This is a journey."
Meanwhile, a commission established by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour unveiled a blueprint to rebuild that state's coastal areas.
The report recommended safe, affordable housing that can be easily financed. There is an immediate need for 10,000 homes, and 50,000 more over five years, the report said.
The report by the panel led by former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale also suggested free public transportation for two years to help those who lost vehicles during the storm.
The recommendations are not binding, but are intended as tools for communities to use in tackling housing, transportation, sewage, education, finances and other issues.