Mayor Declares – I (Heart) Wrecking Balls!

Sep 10, 2008 by

Dear New Orleanians,

In the wake of Gustav, a number of buildings around town suffered severe damage and fell down. Since the middle of last week, city Code Enforcement inspectors have been surveying properties to determine if any are in Imminent Danger of Collapse (IDC).

I capitalize that because it’s an official city term. If a property is truly IDC, it’s likely a heap of rubble or very soon to be one. In that case, under a city law that has been on the books for years, the city can move to knock it down immediately and clear the debris, bypassing all the normal reviews (if it is in an historic neighborhood) and notification procedures.

Starting last Thursday, the city started issuing IDC demolition permits to its IDC contractor, Durr Heavy Construction. They issued 108 IDC permits on 104 properties (one property got two permits, another got three). This happened on Thursday, Monday and Tuesday.

But despite already having the tools in their legal bag to demolish buildings without historic review, and having already used that tool over 100 times, the mayor decided that wasn’t enough.

Today, I have discovered what was happening Friday, when there was no permitting going on. The Mayor was signing a executive order suspending the operations of the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee (NCDC) due to the “state of emergency” associated with Hurricane Gustav. This committee, which came into being a few months ago, reviews demolitions in historic neighborhoods. It is one of two such committees in the city, the other being the Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC). The mayor’s proclamation, for some odd reason, left that committee alone.

Now the city is issuing demolition permits on properties which were pending for review before Gustav came ashore. Whether they were affected by Gustav or not is apparently now irrelevant, because starting late yesterday, the city started issuing demolition permits to all comers, including itself, on any property – with a guarantee of no public scrutiny. There is currently no public input or review of these demolitions, including input by a property’s owners. The Mayor has declared himself king of the wrecking balls, and he’s going to rebuild the city by tearing it down.

The mayor’s proclamation tries to make the case that the NCDC would be an impediment to cleaning up houses affected by Gustav. So today, the mayor’s staff are ripping through the agenda for the September 2nd NCDC meeting, issuing demolition permits on every property on that list. I have serious doubts that Gustav was so selective as to knock down the exact properties that happened to be on an agenda compiled weeks before the storm formed.

Here’s the additional angle: the demolition permits being issued under the mayor’s declaration are getting issued to DRC Emergency Services. That is the city’s demolition company being paid with federal Katrina dollars.

What this appears to be is a naked grab at power, using Gustav’s glancing blow to Orleans Parish as an excuse. The mayor is temporarily (I hope) stamping out a committee made up mostly of citizens, a committee formed to protect citizens’ rights to not have their property arbitrarily destroyed. His aim would appear to be to accelerate demolitions resulting from Katrina, in order to look good in the eyes of Washington.

None of this has anything to do with Gustav.
Where exactly is the emergency?
The curfew has been lifted in Orleans Parish:

All electricity has been restored in New Orleans:

The city’s own website has a press release from Saturday telling all city personnel to report for work on Monday:

All City departments and agencies will return to normal operations beginning Monday, September 8, 2008.”

So where is the “state of emergency?” And what kind of precedent does it set for a mayor to use such a state to arbitrarily sweep aside legally constituted panels?

To top it all off, there has been no public notification of this. The city’s website includes no mention of the suspension. It also does not have any list of Gustav demolitions.

It’s a brazen power grab, and par for the course by this mayor. But I suppose that’s how you demonstrate “Excellence in Recovery.”

Matt McBride

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  1. Carmen

    Has the FBI issued a stop work order on the NOAH properties under scrutiny, that they not be demolished before accurate federal record is made of their state?

  2. folderol

    Could you please tell me the source of this info, how I can find out what properties the demolition company now have permits for, and who to go to if another mistake is about to happen? A friend of mine stopped a demoliton of his property in the bywater with the help of the HDLC and is still out of town (unrelated to gustav!). He found out he was on the city’s list only when he came home to some workers trying to remove his gas meter and was able to stop them. He recieved no notice, neither on the house nor in the mail, and definitely does not use computers to get his info, let alone consider consulting the city of n.o.’s demolition survey lists just for kicks.
    Thanks for the head’s up.

  3. @folderol I have forwarded your comment directly to Matt as he is the one who could answer it.

  4. This is as scary as the Patriot Act being used to spy on US citizens and hold prisoners without legal counsel, all in the name of Fighting Terrorism.

    We are experiencing an abuse of power, perverted for independent designs & covered by media spin (or not at all), not just in New Olreans, but on a national level.

    So much for Bobby Jindal’s “transparency in government”.
    By the way, what does the Governor have to say about this?

  5. Liz

    Second floor of leaning house on corner of Franklin and Dauphine really did fall down during Gustav. Just FYI. I’m sure all the ones on the mayors list are fakes.

  6. Superdeformed

    I feel blight is the main problem for the city. There is many days I wish I had a bulldozer and a free month of vacation. I’d even tear down “historical” buildings and ones I even like. Cool buildings that are abandoned, unkempt, and will never be re-inhabited need to be torn down. Sorry, get over it.

    New Orleans is so funny. There is hundreds of vacant homes, yet they priced at a premium (this was true even before Katrina). Do property owners down here not get the principle of supply and demand? Ok, that’s a separate rant.

    The city is shooting itself in the foot. Secretively making lists and tearing down houses that are being lived in is just annoying and will ultimately make it harder to tear down the buildings that need to be.

    Interesting times, we need to tear down, rebuild, and move on, yet avoid being 4-lane highways and strip malls like the rest of the country (or just down the road). We do need a bold leader who’ll step on toes and give us the bad medicine we need. But that is not Nagin. He tries, but does it in a completely shifty and wrong way.

  7. termite

    I hear it all the time:
    WE WANT CHANGE!!!!…but don’t chage a thing, ok??


  8. DRC has been in the news for other reasons today. It all has me a bit confused.

    DRC is seemingly about to get dumped from the emergency storm debris pick-up racket for poor performance in favor of SDT which has a price 16 times higher than DRC.

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