«Mission Statement The following Mission Statement was adopted by the Board of Directors on March 28, 2000: The Committee for a Better New Orleans is ...»
4.1 Mayor to appoint a Freight Railroad Task Force, chaired by the General Manager of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, to develop and secure funding for a plan that will enhance rail safety and improve system efficiency, including acquiring of appropriate rights of way that will foster coordination and rationalization and will accommodate high speed passenger and freight rail services.
4.2 RPC, in conjunction with Freight Railroad Task Force, to develop and implement the Regional Rail Gateway Study, which will resolve railroad congestion problems on a regional basis by ensuring that trains move through the area in an expeditious manner and without causing inconvenience or posing safety threats to residential neighborhoods.
In the course of the CBNO process, many issues appeared in the conversations of more than one Task Force; these crossover issues are referenced at the end of the introductions to each Task Force Report.
However, three issues arose that infused the discussions of all the Task Forces: Race Relations, Regionalism and Cooperation, and Accountability, Monitoring and Results Reporting. In addition, in the course of public input to the first draft of this Blueprint, Indigenous Culture also emerged as an overarching issue. A look at each of these issues, and the thoughts that surfaced regarding them, follows.
The discussions are not so much intended to present solutions as to promote focus and dialogue on the issues.
Race Relations and Poverty 37 years after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, race relations is still the most contentious issue in American society. Racial issues and interaction have shaped much of the history of New Orleans, and continue to impact virtually every aspect of the City today.
Despite the considerable ground yet to be covered before legitimate equity based on racial differences is achieved in New Orleans, there are grounds for cautious optimism. The question of racism was on the table during the Task Force process, and while the Committee makes no claim to have solved the City's racial problems, the issue was discussed with extraordinary candor, openness and willingness to listen. In that the Committee for a Better New Orleans represents leadership from a broad cross-section of the City, this is a hopeful sign. The CBNO recognizes that candid discussions are a good beginning, but widespread action is required before equity and balance is achieved among African-Americans, other people of color and whites in New Orleans.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the forced desegregation that ensued, especially in the public schools, should be viewed as a watershed event in New Orleans history. While African-Americans gained at least access to education and jobs by law, the fact is that equal access has still not been achieved. In addition, a large segment of the white community responded to desegregation by abandoning the City and its institutions. This has resulted in a huge population loss, with attendant tax base decline. Ripple effects are many, including substantial infrastructure decline, tremendous decay of the City's housing stock, concentrated poverty, under-funded City government, loss of federal funding, and most pervasively damaging of all, a horrific decline in the New Orleans Public Schools.
Among the areas where racial problems are most visible in New Orleans today are:
- Housing. Black renters still have a much more difficult time finding quality, affordable rental housing than white renters. Real estate agencies continue to steer white and black homebuyers into different areas of the City, resulting in de facto segregation in many neighborhoods. Access to home loans is much more difficult for African-American homebuyers.
- Criminal justice. Racial profiling continues; African-Americans continue to be sentenced more harshly for similar crimes than whites; access to competent legal services are severely limited; and the percentage of the African-American population -- particularly males -- that is incarcerated is much higher than the percentage of the white population.
- Economic opportunity. Twice as many black people as white people worry about their ability to survive economically. White people still own and operate most of the largest businesses in the City, and have access to the best paying, most career-oriented jobs. Pay inequities for similar jobs have been greatly reduced but still exist.
- Education. African-Americans suffer disproportionately from a public school system which has been historically under-funded.
- Safety. African-Americans are significantly more likely to be the victims of all types of crime, including violent crimes such as murder. Impoverished conditions make poor, Black neighborhoods vulnerable to the trade in drugs and the culture of violence with which the drug trade is associated.
- Poverty. Although not exclusively a racial issue, there is no question that white flight contributed greatly to the overall poverty in New Orleans, as well as to the concentrations of pockets of poverty in the City. The low income levels and overall financial resources in the City contribute to many of the most substantial problems in the City, including the poor educational system, the decay of the housing stock and general infrastructure, drug sales and criminal and gang activities, under-funding of City government, and the need for a high level of social services. Poverty levels are higher, and income levels lower, for African-Americans than whites; addressing this inequity will go a long way toward resolving other poverty-related problems.
In addition, regional racism cannot be ignored. Many African-Americans who would like to at least consider moving out of New Orleans into surrounding areas feel they are trapped by racial attitudes in the suburban areas. Regional cooperation is in part thwarted by racism. For example, cooperation to build a regional transportation system is hampered by race based perceptions and attitudes.
The Hispanic and Vietnamese populations of the City must also be acknowledged. They were referenced, and their concerns discussed, during the Task Force process. Also important to this discussion is the issue of race-based decisions and racial prejudices directed at white individuals. While understandable in a historical context, and in now comparable to the burden of racism on the black community, negative racial attitudes from and towards anyone dehumanize people, and thwart efforts to bring people together and move in unity towards a better future for all.
One strong advantage New Orleans has in addressing racism is that in this community, AfricanAmericans and whites need each other. Neither population can survive without the other. Interaction between the two races -- as well as the Hispanic and Asian communities -- occurs constantly.
However, simply allowing time to heal wounds is not a viable option. It is imperative that leaders from every aspect of the community -- religious, governmental, business, educational, civic -- make every effort to be inclusive, to avoid the language of racism, to think in terms of inclusion rather than exclusion.
For it is also true that the ideal of a color-blind society has no reality to it. There are cultural differences among all races and within each race; when these differences are viewed as assets rather than feared, racism begins to be less of a divisive issue. For change to occur, continued honest dialogue, government efforts to ensure racial equality, absolute commitment from the business community to avoid racist practices, proactive efforts in the private sector to widen the doors of economic opportunity, emphasis on both racial and economic diversity in housing and neighborhoods, and a citywide commitment to rebuild the schools must take place.
In the matter of race, we have made significant progress over the last generation, but the problem remains disappointingly widespread. Today's leaders may not be able to eliminate racism, but they can and must provide the foundation for tomorrow's society to be respectful of racial and cultural differences.
Regionalism and Cooperation
From the perspective of the average citizen, the lack of cooperation among regional leaders and institutions is incomprehensible, baseless and absurd. Regional thinking, regional dialogue, regional problem-solving, and regional consensus must become the norm.
Every CBNO Task Force addressed regionalism. A brief synopsis of each one's concerns includes:
- City Management: the biggest issue is revenues. The metro area must work together to ensure that all governments have the revenue they need to operate well. The quantity of services New Orleans provides for residents of surrounding areas, without return compensation, needs to be addressed. In addition, New Orleans needs to work with municipalities statewide to expand revenue-generating options.
In general, City and Parish leaders must demonstrate an ability to work together, and to put an end to the bickering that hurts the entire area's national image, creates an attitude of conflict and distrust between citizens and impairs federal funding and economic development opportunities.
- Economic Development: while there will always be some competition between the City and its suburbs in this area, it cannot be allowed to overwhelm cooperation. Large companies will bring jobs and the need for local business suppliers to the entire area, regardless of where they specifically locate. Issues that underlay economic development, such as workforce training, transportation, infrastructure, and incentives, must be addressed together and resolved by consensus.
- Education: surrounding areas must come to the realization that they are directly impacted by the quality of education in New Orleans, an impact that may become substantially greater if BESE imposes certain school choice options. Sharing of best practices and resources, mentoring and other cooperative approaches will benefit the entire metro education system.
- Housing: any review of the homestead exemption must be conducted on a regional basis, and consensus must be reached on this difficult issue. In addition, blight cares little for lines drawn on maps;
it is in the interest of the neighboring parishes to be involved in efforts to reduce vacant and blighted housing in New Orleans. Finally, given the Housing Task Force's overarching goal of regaining population in the City, discussion should be open on how population movement in either direction impacts not just housing but infrastructure, revenues and any number of other related issues.
- Public Safety: crime and criminals also pay no attention to city borders. Communication and cooperation among regional law enforcement agencies and officials are of paramount importance.
Similarly, the courts and the probation and parole systems in all jurisdictions will benefit greatly from information-sharing and other forms of cooperation. In addition, hazardous materials incidents and major storms are threats to the entire geographic region; evacuation and other response planning absolutely must take place on a regional level.
- Transportation: the issue most permeated by the need for a regional approach. From the airport to bus routes, from passenger rail to freight rail, transportation concerns inextricably link the entire metro New Orleans area. As mentioned in the Transportation Task Force report, a regional master plan for transportation, representing consensus and commitment from all area governments and transportation entities, is essential for economic development, public safety and simply improving quality of life for the man on the street -- regardless of in which parish that street is found.
The federal government is taking an increasingly regional approach to local funding, and regional leaders must come together on any number of federal programs and initiatives or face the threat of losing vital federal dollars. More important, the people are demanding civility and cooperation from their leaders, because they know their future depends on it. It is time for the leaders to respond, and commit to a regional approach to resolving the problems and issues they face.
Accountability, Monitoring and Results Reporting
Simply put, accountability is the difference between promises and results. In most instances, accountability only occurs if the people demand it. Part of the overall purpose of the entire Committee for a Better New Orleans process is to serve notice that the people of the City are demanding accountability: accountability from government, from the business community, from nonprofit institutions, from the school system, and from any and all other entities who purport to serve the people.
Two key components of accountability emerged in numerous Task Force discussions:
- "One-stop shopping". This catch-all term refers to the need for severe reductions in the bureaucracy and politics involved with most interactions with City government. In Economic Development, it relates specifically to the permits and related approvals needed to establish, move or expand a business. It also refers to certification as a minority or woman-owned business. It should be taken to mean that the people demand that entrepreneurs be supported, not thwarted, by City Hall. In Housing, one-stop shopping refers also to permitting and approvals, this time related to renovation, construction, zoning, and similar issues. In focusing on these specifics, no one should lose sight of the need to streamline any number of government processes -- while of course retaining necessary safeguards to protect legitimate public interests -- and generally to make the business of doing business with the City a supportive and productive interaction rather than a frustrating, time-consuming and costly misadventure.