Wednesday, May 18, 2011

BioDistrict bill before legislative committee tomorrow

HB 576, by Representative Leger, will be heard tomorrow by the Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs.

Among other things, the bill renames "GNOBEDD" something far more in line with what its more commonly known as - BioDistrict New Orleans.

There's been some discussion by folks in the know here in New Orleans about other aspects of the bill and what they will ultimately mean for the city and for the historic neighborhoods that stand to be impacted by the district.

For one, I'll note that the BioDistrict has attempted to mollify critics by providing some neighborhood representative seats.  That sounds nice, but the new representatives would not be on the Board of the BioDistrict itself...rather, they're seats on an advisory committee... that is clearly heavily controlled by parties favorable to the Board.  Additionally, the new reps must be appointed by the mayor - and the current mayor has shown he's bought the BioDistrict hook line and sinker.  Furthermore, those two reps come from a list submitted by the local legislators...who are all in the bag as well when it comes to setting up and supporting the BioDistrict.

So, the supposed injection of resident input is mere window dressing - not substantive change that gives meaningful representation to the thousands of people who will be affected by the district. Resident input is mediated and muted at least three different ways by the provision as written.


Anonymous said...

Do the BioDistrict and the New Orleans Medical Complex currently have the right to assemble and/or expropriate private property for future re-development? If not, would this legislation grant them that authority?

Brad V said...

This is my personal take and nothing more - it's not advice to rely upon.

To date, the head of the BioDistrict has reiterated publicly, again and again, that the district does not have expropriation powers. In fact, he has stated that the district pushed for such powers back in 2005 at the time of formation and did not get them.

Critics have pushed back at meetings, pointing out that the district already has powers to enter into cooperative endeavor agreements (CEAs) with other governmental entities. That alone would likely permit expropriation as we saw in the case of the VA hospital footprint, where LSU did the dirty work using its expropriation powers.

Much of the discussion turns on whether the proposed bill somehow changes the status of the BioDistrict, which is already a subdivision of the state - but which was ostensibly limited with respect to expropriation when formed.

On its face, the bill does not appear to do that.

But I will admit that I am not well-versed enough to know whether particular terms of art that may be wrapped into the bill would in fact effect a change that would permit an expropriation power that has been explicitly denied by the district head to date. The official summary of the changes that would take place under the bill does not include a provision stating that expropriation is now suddenly on the table.

Once source has even stated that the BioDistrict, as a subdivision of the state, has always had the straight up power of expropriation since it was formed, despite any public assertions to the contrary.

You'll note, as you review the linked text of the bill, that there are really very few changes outlined in the bill. Most textual edits do in fact pertain to the name change.

The other disconcerting aspect is the language that modifies the district's existing ability to "satellite" in additional real estate, including non-contiguous areas. That's deeply problematic given that the current 1,500-acre layout is already overly ambitious and excessive.