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:

http://blog.nola.com/entertainment/2008/09/curfew_lifted_in_new_orleans.html

All electricity has been restored in New Orleans:

http://995fm.com/cc-common/news/sections/newsarticle.html?feed=135361&article=4216372

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.”

http://www.cityofno.com/Portals/EmergencyAlert/Resources/20080906_IOMemo.pdf

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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