Monday, December 28, 2009

Programming Note

Will return to posting on January 4, 2010!

Monday, December 14, 2009

LSU Board: Expropriation is fine by us

The LSU Board voted to allow the state to proceed with expropriation (the Louisiana civil law term for eminent domain) of properties in the proposed LSU medical center footprint in Lower Mid-City.

The resolution allows state officials working on the projects to seek a court order to seize private property if the owners refuse to sell. A judge would decide the purchase price the state must pay.

While government takings of private property are permitted for a very loosely defined "public purpose" (no longer a public use, as we saw in the notorious Kelo case in Connecticut) under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution, property owners must be given "just compensation" for the taking to be permissible.

And, although the U.S. Constitution authorizes a state or local goverment to exercise their power through takings, it must be remembered that even when something is authorized doesn't mean it's the right way forward or the best policy.  Just because it's authorized doesn't mean the state should do it.  Employing expropriation for a project that does not entail a crucial, necessary, "this is the only way we can possibly do this" justification is highly reprehensible.  I think we have precisely that unfortuante situation in the case of Lower Mid-City - an argument that locating the hospitals there is the only way forward when it most clearly is not.

Bringing in the heavy hand of government to drive someone from - and destroy - his or her home is a power that should only be used as an absolute last resort.  This sort of government power over individuals fits squarely within the basket of grievances that led us initially, as a nation, to declare independence.  Its use, especially on a large scale, beyond the rarest of instances undermines the legitimacy of government, no matter how much process is involved.

In the article linked above, a state official notes that "nobody has outright refused to sell their land for the hospital projects yet." And while it's clear that some individuals inside the footprint are not going to go without a fight (only eight out of 450 parcels in the two footprints have even been acquired at this time through regular buyouts), I find it interesting that LSU is opening the door to expropriation before it has even contemplated paying out higher amounts to some individual property owners who hold out longer.  Expropriation is clearly not a last resort here in the minds of the LSU board members.  Instead, it's a proactive tool being used unscrupulously to force a project forward, damage to unwilling property owners be damned.

And the truly sad part of this move is the end result.  So many of the properties that may ultimately be subject to expropriation (including those that contribute to the tax rolls, that aren't harming anyone else, that aren't blighted, that rebuilt post-K in reliance on government statements and policies), especially in the LSU footprint, will be used not for a nice, dense, beneficial hospital building, but for...acres of ground level parking lot. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chimneys


It's interesting, when you stop, step back, and look at some shotgun houses...just how large they are.

Compared to the average ranch home in Metaire, the actual frame of this building at S. Johnson and Palmyra, for example, looms large.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another Suit in the VA Controversy

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has filed suit in federal court here in New Orleans to stop the demolition in the VA footprint.  Judge Eldon Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana has been assigned the case.

The Trust's suit alleges a violation of NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act.  Interestingly, The Trust filed a similar suit on seemingly the exact same grounds in federal court in Washington, D.C. back in the spring of 2009.

Dick Moe of the National Trust lays out a reasonable case for the new suit:

"We took this action because time is running out for the residents of Mid-City," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. "The acquisition process is moving forward swiftly, and it compels us to ask for an expedited response. We fear that if we waited for the agencies to proceed through the courts at a slower pace, the ongoing process of acquisition would make it much more difficult for the court to evaluate the legal issues objectively."

The acquisition process in indeed proceeding in the VA footprint.  Several properties have already been purchased by the state.  If the acquisitions aren't halted, the state will doubtless begin to argue soon that it has proceeded too far to turn back.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"We're leaving if they take our house."

A story in today's Times-Picayune highlights the sad absurdity that passes for reality in The Footprint:

Louisiana Recovery Authority data shows that Road Home paid owners of 41 properties at least $3.2 million and perhaps more than $3.4 million to rebuild in the neighborhood bounded by Tulane Avenue, South Rocheblave Street, Canal Street and South Claiborne Avenue.

Those properties are among the 432 residential, commercial and vacant parcels the state is in the process of expropriating to make way for the hospitals. The state plans to build the 424-bed successor to Charity Hospital between Galvez Street and Claiborne Avenue. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans a 200-bed facility across Galvez. It's unknown at this point how much the buyouts will cost.

Homeowners suffered the devastation of Katrina and were intrepid enough to return and rebuild with state and federal assistance...only to have the city, state, and federal governments turn around a few years later and force them out of their homes, spending more government dollars to acquire the same properties. 

I can understand how someone faced with that prospect would feel betrayed enough to leave the city for good, as Bobbi Rogers, a resident, expressed in the quote at the top of this post.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Different Angle

At Wally Fest, I had a chance to meet a number of people who work for The Phoenix of New Orleans, or PNOLA, a rebuilding organization that channels volunteers and resources to low income homeowners in New Orleans.

Based on Broad Street just blocks from the VA footprint, the organization focused specifically on rebuilding Lower Mid-City since Hurricane Katrina.

It was interesting to hear about Lower Mid-City from a different perspective.  As individuals who had invested a great deal in bringing the neighborhood back after the storm, they had built up an intimate knowledge of the people and structures that comprise The Footprint.

I also learned that the building and repair moratorium for area, instituted in December 2007, did in fact expire at some point.  I noticed that a building, an old store of some sort, directly across from Outer Banks Bar at the intersection of Palmyra and S. Tonti had very recently been spruced up and painted a bright salmon pink.  It's not clear to me whether the owner is looking to use the building, or if he or she is merely taking advantage of the lack of moratorium to obtain a higher buyout price from the state when it comes down to expropriation.  Here's a Google Streetview look at the building

As a side note, it's interesting to peruse the Streetview images inside the footprint, as they all come from a time closer to Katrina where damage is much more extensive than one would see today.

Since I mentioned the state buyout, though, I should note...several properties in the VA footprint have been successfully purchased by the state in the past month.  I hope to do a more extensive post focusing on those purchases and what they mean soon.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Same Face, New Body



220-222. S. Johnson St.
Notice that the entire rear of the house has new windows and siding--at the very least.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunburst


2000 block of Cleveland Ave.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Offset




















I've seen this building from Claiborne in the past. But until recently, I had never viewed it from any other perspective. I was surprised to find out just how interesting the building was when I came at it from another angle - the second story is offset from center in a manner that seems almost more post-modern than early twentieth century Arts and Crafts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Closer to a Reprieve for the VA Footprint?

There's certainly a glimmer of hope to be found in the big news out of Baton Rouge today:

Moments ago, by a 7-3 vote, the Commission on Streamlining Government passed a motion ordering an independent study weighing all possible alternatives to, and the efficacy of, the proposed $1.2 billion LSU medical complex. The study will represent the first ever independent analysis in the ongoing controversy over the abandonment of Charity Hospital and new plans to expropriate and demolish private property in Lower Mid-City to make way for a sprawling new medical center campus.

As Save Charity notes, this will be the first state-commissioned independent study on the issue.

Additionally, any potential delay or alternative is a good thing for the residents of the VA Footprint who don't want to be forced out of their homes...as it makes the ultimate destruction of the neighborhood less likely.

It's a very positive development, but its significance should also be tempered just a tad because there is still work to do to ensure that it's a meaningful development.  As the Times-Pic article on the Commission's vote notes, providing some context:

It is far from clear whether another study will change anything -- or if it will ever be conducted, as it would first require the Legislature to allocate money. But the hearing gave further evidence that many state leaders, including allies of Gov. Bobby Jindal, are still not comfortable with the administration's plans for building a 424-bed, $1.2 billion academic medical center at a time of financial strain in state government.

1926 Canal Street



Sunday, November 15, 2009

Party in The Print

Head Inside the Footprint next weekend to stand, literally, with residents of Lower Mid-City.  Dubbed "Wally Fest," it promises to be a memorable birthday bash, as the gents over at Save Charity note:

We're planning an 80th birthday party for Wally Thurman - a veteran and life-long resident of LMC (also lead plaintiff in the suit against Mayor Nagin) - next Saturday, November 21st from 6pm-9pm. We'll have music and special guests, including Hot 8 Brass Band and Charmaine Neville. It's going to be a great time and a celebration for a wonderful man.

I know Mr. Thurman lives near Outer Banks Bar on S. Tonti Street at Palmyra, so I'm sure the festivities will be underway in that vicinity, as the flyer below from Derrick Morrison of the Committee to Reopen Charity outlines.  I'm looking forward to the party - feel free to stop on by, full details follow (click to enlarge):


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Charity Proposal Goes Before Streamlining Commission Today

According to Derrick Morrison of the Committee to Reopen Charity, the Commission on Streamlining State Government will consider Treasurer Kennedy's suggestion supporting the renovation of Charity Hospital for the LSU teaching hospital.

Here's the relevant item from the Commission's agenda for today:

AGEB #17 To rehabilitate and use the currently unoccupied "Big Charity Hospital" building as
a public teaching hospital if the State of Louisiana decides to go forward with its
plans to construct such a hospital in New Orleans.

I hope the Commission supports the measure.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

329 S. Miro Street


Under the proposed plan, this location would be part of a large parking lot.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Times-Picayune Gets it Wrong on the VA Hospital

After news broke yesterday that the VA site wouldn't be cleared until summer of 2010, the paper's editorial board offered its unequivocal support for hastening the process of preparing the site of the proposed VA hospital in "downtown" New Orleans, by which it appears to mean Lower Mid-City.

It's unfortunate that the board utterly failed to qualify its stance.

While pretty much everyone agrees that a new VA hospital would be a good thing for New Orleans and for veterans, it's disturbing to see no mention whatsoever of other concerns in the editorial.  There's not a single mention of another interest in play: the rights and treatment of residents of Lower Mid-City.  The editorial is wildly imbalanced in this regard.

What the board fails to understand is that the lack of progress in acquiring properties it laments has some underlying sources.  For one, as a state historic preservation official stated recently in a speaking engagement at Tulane, there are only two properties in the VA footprint that are actually looking at moving at this point given all the complications.  This is not just some issue that can be overcome by applying greater willpower - it's an intractable problem.

Let's not forget that there are residents who have made it clear that they will fight to the bitter end.  Making the VA footprint "construction-ready" will require full-out expropriation by means of eminent domain in the end.  The board's editiorial fails to address the negative consequences of having to resort to that remedy - even if that tenuous option is arguably constitutional after the unfortunate Kelo case.  There's still the Louisiana constitutional amendment, passed post-Kelo, to keep in mind:

‘property shall not be taken or damaged by the state or its political subdivisions: for predominant use by any private person or entity; or for transfer of ownership to any private person or entity,’ (La Const. Art. I § 4(B)(1)).”

Monday, November 2, 2009

VA Footprint Update

The VA has agreed to give the City of New Orleans an extension on clearing the VA footprint - the site need not be construction-ready until July of 2010.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Paradox of the Moratorium

One of the notions in play in the debate over the VA/LSU Hospitals is the nature of the footprint for the two hospitals.  It's easy to dismiss the Lower Mid-City neighborhood that would be eliminated as hopelessly "blighted," unsighly, and beyond saving.

While there are a number of structures in the footprint in sore need of repair, it's worth looking at why some of them are still in a sad way over four years after Katrina.  In short, the City Council of New Orleans prevented the area from ever getting better, even if individuals sought to make it happen, as outlined in this piece from August 2008:

"People think this is a run-down area that is not recovering, but we have homeowners who want to renovate," says resident Bobbi Rogers. "They can't because there is a city moratorium on issuing building or demolition permits until a final decision is made." (New Orleans City Council Resolution 22944, dated December 6, 2007, prohibits the issuance of most demolition, building, renovation, or repair permits within the LSU-VA footprint for a period of one year or until the implementation of permanent land use measures.)

The idea of a government body barring a property owner from making lawful repairs to his or her home, rental property, or business for one year is disconcerting.  The 2007 footprint moratorium trapped the neighborhood in downtrodden state, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy of a neighborhood that could not be saved from its own decay.

It's unclear to me whether the moratorium, having passed its "one year" benchmark, technically remains in force given the perpetual uncertainty as to what could be conceived as "the implementation of permanent land use measures," i.e., finalization of hospital plans and the commencement of eminent domain and demolition processes.  Some properties within the footprint do appear to have been spruced up since December 2008, from what I can tell, but it's unclear whether cosmetic changes fall outside the moratorium's mandate.  It's something I plan to look into, and if you have any information as to the status of the moratorium - is it still being enforced by city permitting agencies? - please pass it along.

Here's the text of the ordinance - which ultimately passed unanimously on December 20, 2007, not on December 6, 2007 (the date it was originally intended to be addressed by the City Council):

CAL. NO. 26,814 - BY: COUNCILMEMBER HEAD (BY REQUEST) - An Ordinance to establish a temporary moratorium, to be entitled the Regional Medical District Redevelopment Moratorium, on the issuance of any building permits for construction, renovations, repairs, or for demolition of buildings in the area bounded by the west side of S. Claiborne Avenue between Tulane Avenue and Canal Street, the south side of Canal Street between S. Claiborne Avenue and S. Rocheblave Street, the east side of S. Rocheblave Street between Canal Street and Tulane Avenue, and the north side of Tulane Avenue between S. Rocheblave Street and S. Claiborne Avenue, excluding Square 556; and otherwise to provide with respect thereto. This moratorium shall not apply to permits needed for stabilization of properties that have been determined to be in danger of collapse and to projects previously approved by City Council ordinance or resolution of the Board of Zoning Adjustments. This ordinance shall supersede the provisions of Section 26-3 thru 26-7 of the Code of the City of New Orleans temporarily reassigning demolition review of properties within the above reference boundaries from the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC) to the City Council, in compliance with the review and waiver standards set forth herein.

Note that the record above, from the Council ordinance website, does not appear to mention a date.  Even if the moratorium has been lifted at this point, it nonetheless stands as yet another unfortunate step in the hospitals saga - a regrettable and unnecessary burden on the residents of Lower Mid-City.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Waiting






















One of the more surprising aspects of a stroll through the footprint is the occasional glimpse through the open - or missing - door of one of the vacant historic homes in the area.

Sometimes, the view inside is rather remarkable.  Though vacant and open to the elements, some of the interior spaces are in decent condition - dry, light, airy...and, with a little TLC, usable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

VA Footprint Suit - Hearing Today in CDC

As we've been noting, there's a hearing today before Judge Ethel Julien on whether Mayor Nagin violated the City Charter in agreeing to clear the proposed VA hospital footprint.

I plan to stop in at the hearing, if at all possible, for a bit.

Today's Times-Pic article on the hearing summarizes a few of the parties' arguments, including standing arguments by the city.  Of the four plaintiffs, the city objections toward two of the plaintiffs make sense - they don't live in the affected area, even if they do use the streets.  The city's objections to the other two, however - people who live in the footprint - seem borderline absurd.

Their homes stand to be razed if the agreement is followed.  That seems like a pretty clear "special interest" of potential harm to me.

UPDATE:  Arriving at 11:30, I found that the 10:30 a.m. start was but a hoped for starting point.  The hearing had not yet begun as of 12:10 p.m.  I did sit in on the oral arguments that precede the matter in Judge Julien's courtroom, though - a case involving the creation of a port in Nicaragua, the laying of fiber optic cables, res judicata, allegations of "fanciful" arguments, and a man named Mr. Wheelock.

Outside, in the hallway, a representative from the Committee to Re-open Charity chatted with supporters and speculated as to when the hearing on the demolition would actually get underway.

UPDATE 2Judge Julien permits the suit to go forward. 

UPDATE 3:  The city's attorney gives the post-hearing spin - an injunction was not granted freezing the footprint site.  Thus, in theory, the city can proceed with making the area "construction ready."  However, part of today's hearing, from what I understood, involved an attempt by the city to have the suit as a whole thrown out - and that did not happen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Channel 12

A documentary on Deutsches Haus and German-Americans in New Orleans is on local Channel 12 at the moment.

Quite interesting.

Stoops


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are you ready for "Construction Ready"?

This is going to be interesting.

Litigation to stop the city from acting under a 2007 memorandum of understanding to clear the 34-acre VA hospital footprint goes to court this Friday, October 23 in Civil District Court before Judge Ethel Julien.

The memorandum, agreed to by the Nagin administration, obligates the city:

"to demolish houses and businesses, remove water and sewage lines and tear up the pavement, while making surrounding streets ready for construction to begin. He also agreed that the city would pay as much as $5 million in penalties to the VA if the promises were not fulfilled by the November 2009 deadline."

Plaintiffs in the suit claim the move by Nagin's administration is a violation of the city charter.

While the VA did include money in its plans to move some structures out of the footprint, it only allocated $800,000.  And that amount was capped at an amount of $40,000 per house.  So only 15 structures could possibly have been funded (and only partially, at that).  Additionally, the house would have to be relocated in a vacant lot elsewhere in Mid-City.  According to a representative from the State of Louisiana's State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), only "one or two" homeowners are seriously trying to be moved given all the difficulties (age of structure, need to move streetcar lines, etc.) and costs involved.  The rest, she noted, "are just burnt out."
























This suit represents one of the last possible efforts to halt demolition of the VA footprint, which is the more densely populated of the two footprints, the one with a greater portion of the 249 total structures in the combined footprints.

One of the absurdities of permitting this large-scale demolition proceed is that the Charity issue has not yet been resolved.  If renovating Charity were to become a viable part of the hospitals plan after arbitration, the "limited footprint" option proposed as an alternative would become tenable.  That option would not require the demolition of the presently planned VA footprint, as the entire plan, as drawn up by RMJM Hillier/FHL would shift toward the CBD, cost less, and take up less overall acreage in Lower Mid-City.  

Thus, permitting demolition on the VA footprint to proceed before the Charity reimbursement issue is resolved may result in the destruction of a dense swath of Lower Mid-City...that, at least as I understand it, might not be necessary for the fulfillment of the overall hospitals project.  There's also the fact that LSU, at least, has not finalized the funding necessary to complete their plans.

Here's a copy of the petition in the matter.  We plan to do our best to provide firsthand coverage of the opening hearing in the matter on Friday.

Old and New


310 S. Tonti Street

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

FOR RENT: 2 BDRM $675
























Near the corner of S. Roman and Cleveland, I found another prime example of the toll that the shadow of eminent domain takes on the people and places of Lower Mid City.  This shotgun double on Cleveland, sporting a great new coat of paint and a few spruce touches since the storm, sits awaiting renters on one side.

As neighbors down S. Roman told me later, sitting out on their stoop: if they had known about the looming demolition, they wouldn't have moved into the neighborhood in the first place.   And they don't know why anyone would move into the neighborhood at this point knowing of that specter.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Flat Front



2405 Palmyra Street

The Last Oktoberfest



Deutsches Haus , a long time center of German-American heritage in New Orleans, hosts an annual Oktoberfest celebration in Lower Mid-City, replete with various German beers, a pleasant biergarten, and polka music.

The Cultural Center itself screens German films, including a few that played recently directed by the infamous yet talented Leni Reifenstahl.