Saturday, December 24, 2016

New Orleans Master Plan Amendments Part 1: Smaller Changes for Mid-City

Back in 2008, the citizens of New Orleans voted to amend the City Charter and give the Master Plan the force of law. I was one of the folks who voted for it, because everyone I knew who was engaged in a land use or zoning situation complained about the capriciousness nature of the process and the mysteries that clouded every decision. Like so many reforms, the intent was to make city planning and land use decisions more transparent, easier to understand, more equitable, and more accessible. It was thought that giving the Master Plan the force of law would remove some of the ad hoc decision making from the process.

Some of these reforms worked. Others didn’t. But one thing the Master Plan did require was a formal amendment process. Guess what time it is? You got it. Amendment time.

City Planning has already scheduled their public hearings for January 24 and 31. You can see what amendments will be on which agenda on their website (http://www.nola.gov/city-planning/mpamendments/).

Wait. You didn’t know? It feels like nobody does. The most surprising thing to me is how few people even realize this process is going on right now and how important it is to your quality of life and cost of living. This is by design. At this point in the process, many of the amendments aren’t very clear about what they would do or how they would impact the lives of New Orleanians. Make no mistake, though, when folks start getting into the nitty gritty in the Spring and Summer, and these changes are closer to becoming law, you’re (hopefully) going to hear a lot more about them. I’m just trying to get ahead of the curve.

When I moved to New Orleans over a decade ago, there was a robust group of engaged citizens bird-dogging city planning and land use decisions. The front pages of now-defunct daily newspapers relayed proposals from this committee or that commission, talk radio shows were dedicated to what the future New Orleans would look like, neighborhood groups held meetings of citizens who were going door to door to tell neighbors what was going on, and bloggers would spend hours of free time pouring over public documents and connecting the dots between the deep pockets and city officials in a way that put many decisions in context.

Several of those profiles weren’t flattering. At one point, a former mayor told a press conference that the bloggers were undermining the recovery of the city. That mayor ended up in jail while bloggers and journalists won awards for reporting. Good times.

What I’m doing here is far more boring than that. It won’t win any awards and it hopefully doesn’t end with anyone going to jail. But the city of New Orleans is in the process of amending its own laws in ways that will affect my life and the lives of those in my community. Participatory democracy requires participation to function, and if you don’t participate, decisions will be made without your input. Complaining about it later won’t do too much good.

There’s also a lot of ground to cover, so I’m breaking it down into something less than a lecture. These are my opinions alone, based on research done by my friends and I, with links to public documents. This isn’t any official statement from any organization of which I am a part. I’ll do my best to describe what these amendments mean to me and what I think about them.

If you agree with me or even if you don’t, I encourage you to communicate directly with your city decision makers. The City Planning Commission wants to hear from you. Your City Councilmembers may not want to hear from you, but they’re the final decision makers. And if you want your neighborhood organization involved, you’ll need to tell them what you think about this stuff. No one can read your mind, and complaining on the internet can only do so much. You can bet the folks who want to change the laws are down at City Hall right now, talking directly to our civic decision makers. If you don’t like what they’re proposing, you’ve got to at least send an email or make a phone call.

I’m going to start with the easy stuff. These are the Master Plan Amendments for Mid-City, the neighborhood where I live. They also aren’t the whole list of Master Plan Amendments for Mid-City, just the ones I find the least controversial. After that 600 word introduction, I figure I’ll lead with some softballs.

The Smaller Changes

Each of these items are amendments proposed to something called the Future Land Use Map of the Master Plan. This Future Land Use Map is supposed to help guide city planners, appointed officials, and elected city council members as they make decisions about the scale of buildings (how big they are), the intensity of land use (how much activity they involve), and the density of land use (how many people can live in an area). These are items on the agenda for the January 24th meeting of the CPC. A list of all Future Land Use Map changes can be found here: http://www.nola.gov/nola/media/One-Stop-Shop/CPC/2016_1216_FLUM_Tables_Final.pdf


  • Request Number PD-4-12: Councilmember LaToya Cantrell request to change the land use map for 2739 Palmyra Street from Residential Low Density Pre-War (RLD-Pre) to Residential Medium Density Pre-War (RLD-Pre). This request brings the Master Plan Land Use Map into alignment with a previously approved up-zone at this location that allows a higher density – more residential units – in the space.

    Context: the existing up-zone was inconsistent with the Master Plan, but approved in support the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (http://jpnsi.org/), New Orleans first public land trust. This project is an attempt to create permanently affordable housing in New Orleans, and is based on a model that has been successful in other cities. From a zoning and land use standpoint, there ought to be a better way for our laws to allow neighborhood scale multi-family residential developments like this one without unlocking the potential problems and legal allowances that come with designating it “medium density,” but for now no real middle ground exists. Zoning inconsistently with the Master Plan followed a few years later by lot-specific Master Plan amendments is probably not the best way to do this, but absent a better solution for this spot, here we go.

  • Request Number PD-4-31: The City Planning Commission staff request a change to the land use map for multiple addresses at the intersection of N. Carrollton Ave and Dumaine Street. The lots in this area currently mapped as Neighborhood Commercial (NC) will be re-mapped Mixed-Use Low Density (MUL). As I understand it, this is part of a city-wide proposal to use the NC designation in more suburban neighborhoods and the MUL designation in the more urban neighborhoods. Despite the name change, the differences are relatively minor ones, as all these lots are already mostly “neighborhood commercial” and “mixed use low density.” If the shoe fits. (This is a similar type of change to PD-5-5 below, and changes like this will be found all over the city.)

  • Request Number PD-4-40: The City Planning Commission staff request to change the land use map for 501 S. Bernadotte Street from Open Space/Parkland (OS) to Mixed Use Low Density (MUL). This is the triangle of property on the outfield side of St. Patrick Park, between the neighborhood and the railroad tracks and I-10. Remapping this space would allow the private property owner to do something with this property that could include residential or commercial uses depending on what zoning it applies for.

  • Request Number PD-4-52: The City Planning Commission staff request to change the land use map for 2901 Canal Street. from Transportation (TRAN) to Industrial (IND). This is the RTA HQ Streetcar/Bus Barn. This is a nominative correction to the map that should have little impact. I doubt the City of New Orleans is going to abandon this important public facility and sell it off to some factory. But the noise and activity involved with the streetcar and bus barn justify the “Industrial” designation from a land use intensity perspective.

  • Request Number PD-5-3: The City Planning Commission staff request a change to the land use map for 5290 Canal Blvd from Cemetery to Residential Single Family Post-War (RSF-Post). Some of the land owned by the church probably got mapped into the cemetery, and this corrects that so the church can do something on their property. Yeah, it is outside Mid-City. This is across City Park Ave in Navarre, but you always want to look at proposed changes nearby.

  • Request Number PD-5-5: The City Planning Commission staff request a change to the land use map for multiple addresses between City Park Ave, N. Hennessy St, St. Ann St., and N. Murat Street. The lots in this area currently mapped as Neighborhood Commercial (NC) will be re-mapped Mixed-Use Low Density (MUL). As I understand it, this is part of a city-wide proposal to use the NC designation in more suburban neighborhoods and the MUL designation in the more urban neighborhoods. Despite the name change, the differences are relatively minor ones, as all these lots are already mostly “neighborhood commercial” and “mixed use low density.” If the shoe fits. (This is a similar type of change to PD-4-31 above, and changes like this will be found all over the city.)

  • Request Number PD-5-6: The City Planning Commission staff request a change to the land use map for 615 City Park Ave & 5501 General Diaz. This is Delgado Community College, and the change would remap from Open Space/Parkland (OS) to Institutional. Institutional is the designation usually associated with uses like colleges and hospitals. This is also outside Mid-City, on the other side of City Park Ave in Navarre, but you always want to look at proposed changes nearby.

  • Request Number PD-5-8: An owner-initiated request to change the land use map for 5068 Pontchartrain Blvd. from Residential Single Family Post-War (RSF-Post) to Mixed Use Low Density (MUL). This is on the other side of the Interstate from Mid-City, so I don’t really have an opinion. Just looking at proposed changes nearby.


Now, let’s be clear. Everything I just wrote is my opinion and my opinion only. If you see something on here you don’t like, or something that you do, don’t complain to me. I’m only some guy writing stuff on the internet. Ain’t nothing I can do for you I ain’t already done.

If you want to fuss at someone who CAN do something, contact a city decision-maker. For stuff like this, that’s the City Planning Commission and your City Council members. You don’t have to be some sort of expert. This is America, all you have to have to talk to your government decision makers is an opinion. We live in a participatory democracy, so feel free to participate!

(Just make sure that when you do, identify your opinion appropriately according to the correct Request Number.) To tell the CPC what you think, email CPCINFO@NOLA.GOV. They’ll put your thoughts in the public record for any proposal. Full contact info here for letters & phone calls: http://www.nola.gov/city-planning/contact-us/.

If you want to take it a step further, tell your City Council members: http://nolacitycouncil.com/meet/meet.asp?id=45. Remember that no matter where you live in New Orleans, you have 3 representatives on the Council, your district reps and the two at-large members.

And don’t forget to share your thoughts with your neighborhood organization. Neighborhood organizations don’t have any power and can’t do much, but they do host meetings and communicate with the city on a regular basis. Letting them know how you feel can go a long way to amplify your voice. If you’re in Mid-City, you can reach Mid-City Neighborhood Organization at (board@mcno.org).

Citations

I didn’t make any of this up, y’all. You can find all the information online at the CPC website. And if you’re not in Mid-City, don’t worry, there are plenty of Master Plan amendments for your neighborhood, too. You should talk to your neighbors about them.

New Orleans CPC Master Plan amendments webpage: 
http://www.nola.gov/city-planning/mpamendments/

New Orleans CPC Master Plan amendments (itemized):
http://www.nola.gov/city-planning/mpamendments/master-plan-amendment-submissions/

You can also view where the proposed Master Plan changes are on a map of your neighborhood. Go to the above link, scroll to the bottom, and click on your neighborhood map. Mid-City is in Planning District 4 with Treme: 
http://www.nola.gov/nola/media/One-Stop-Shop/CPC/2016_1007_FLUM_Amend_PD4-1_1.pdf

Monday, September 05, 2016

The Fraudulent Case of Saint Teresa

Mother Teresa is a rock star. Her reputation is that of one of sacrifice and a life dedicated to the poor and the good. If you scratch the surface of the products of her life though, you would open a window into someone who dined with despots, praised warmongering dictators, and humbly received tens of millions of dollars in gifts in the name of the poor, only to have about 7% of those dollars actually trickling down to the ones in need. Her scandalous promotion to "Saint"makes me want to nominate Don Vito Corleone. He was a good Catholic too and at least the people in his neighborhood actually loved him.

CRIMINALLY FRIENDLY

Mother Teresa claimed many friends. From the Royal Family of the United Kingdom to our own conservative hero, Ronald Reagan. All lined up to shake hands and took their turn in line as she embarrassingly received offering after offering just so they could hear a few words of wisdom from such a pure and holy woman.

Among those, you could count Jean-Claude Duvalier in the early 1980s. Jean-Claude, before his overthrow in 1986 was the dictator of  Haiti, beginning in 1971. Before fleeing his country to exile in France, thousands of his citizens were killed or tortured, and hundreds of thousands fled the country in fear. While he lived a life of luxury, making millions in the drug trade and selling body parts from dead Haitians to medical schools overseas, poverty among his people was considered the most widespread of any country in the western hemisphere. He was apparently an okay guy to our newly appointed saint, who in 1981 flew to Haiti to accept the "Legion d'Honneur" award, and receive a quick donation(from embezzled funds from the state). In return, she showed her gratitude with public statements of support. She praised Duvalier as "loving their poor" and that "their love was reciprocated". Her testimony on their behalf was shown on  state-owned television for weeks.

The other questionable friend I will mention was Charles Keating. He was a Catholic fundamentalist who would become famous for his role in the Saving and Loan scandal of the late 80s, where he was convicted of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy for his involvement in a scam which cost the federal government an estimated $3 billion dollars and left 23,000 customer with worthless junk bonds, many losing their entire life savings. Keating donated millions to Mother Teresa as well as unfettered use of his private jet when she was in the United States. As he was awaiting sentencing, she wrote a letter on his behalf asking for clemency. In the prosecuting attorneys own words in response to this letter; "No church...should allow itself to be used as salve for the conscience of the criminal." He also pointed out the money he donated was stolen money, and pleaded for her to do the right thing and give the money back to whom it rightfully belonged: "You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the 'indulgence' he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it!" Saint Teresa never replied to this letter.

Keating and Duvalier are just two examples(among countless others) that illustrate the level of filth Mother Teresa actively advocated for and called friends.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The question then goes to, "okay, well at least she could do some good with the money regardless where it comes from, right?" Man that would be almost acceptable except that just wasn't the case.

While she received untold millions of dollars from despots, criminals and what you would call legitimate royalty, the money never actually trickled down to those who needed it. Independent accountants trace the lion's share of the funds(92-93 percent) was spent two ways. It was either for the founding of more nunneries, over a five hundred counted, to train more female personnel in the dogma of the Church or the cash went straight back to Vatican City itself. That left almost nothing to actually help any of the poverty stricken people that she was championed for.

You would think that given her well-funded programs, that she would make the places she represented better than when she left it. But one consistent theme was the complete lack of improvements where money was donated.

In one particular nursery, noted writer Christopher Hitchens asked where specifically $25,000 dollars went that was raised a few months prior to an official visit. The contributions was given on the pretense of buying cribs, diapers, formula and medicine. The nursery was exactly the same months after receiving this money.
According to Hitchens:

"The sister in charge said something to the effect that they had to give the money to the main MC(Missionaries of Charity) office-or something like that. They never saw a penny of it. One of the babies died during our visit-of starvation. He could have been saved very easily."

DEPLORABLE CONDITIONS

Saint Teresa was mainly known as nursemaid and "helper of the poor", with her hospice Home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta serving as her flagship station all run by her Missionaries of Charity order, which she established in 1950. Despite routinely receiving millions of dollars, what is shocking is how criminally ill equipped the clinics were as well as how untrained the staff was.

The best you could say the clinics were rudimentary and haphazard, and at worst they were unsanitary and dangerous. There are many accounts, directly from volunteers that have testified to the inadequate care for the dying. No proper beds, just lines of cots on a dirt floor. No tests were performed to determine ailments, thereby no separating contagious patients. No modern medical equipment was available. Needles were constantly reused without proper sterilization, which led to her nuns spreading AIDS and hepatitis. Toilets were used as a cleaning source. No visits by friends or relatives. Patients were restricted to their cots and no excessive movements were permitted.

Multiple journalists noted that there were many patients, in these "Houses of Dying" that Mother Teresa herself called them, that had curable, treatable diseases. Questions of transporting these patients were consistently rebuffed. Reasons given ranged from "well, they all might want to be cured" to in Mother Teresa's chilling own words; "their pain brings me closer to God."

MOTIVATION OF OTHER'S PAIN

People suffering from terrible, painful diseases such as cancer were not given painkillers or anything stronger than aspirin. There were multiple instances of Saint Teresa's wish to keep poor in their place of suffering. Her main priority was to convert the sick and poor to her religious dogma(and use them as a fundraising source).  Providing for the care and needs of the poor was not at all part of her program. In her own words:

"I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people. "

On another occasion, Teresa told a terminal cancer patient, who was dying of extreme pain, that he should consider himself fortunate, because: "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you". She then freely related his reply, which she seemed to not realize was a passive rebuke: "Then please tell him to stop kissing me."

Ex-nun Kelly Dunham who worked directly with Mother Teresa in a convent in New York, was troubled by her experiences. She says that the thing that Mother Teresa should be accountable for is the "cult of suffering" that she has created. Kelly was moved by the pain and misery of the residents, but angered by her instructions on how to deal with it.

    "One of the goals of Missionaries of Charity is to love people but one of the things
we were instructed to do is cut ourselves off from loving people."

"They are in the business of alleviating suffering, but I think that they believe a lot IN suffering, and it's really tough to do both at the same time."

Most neutral observers of her activities found a troubling "Cult of Suffering" in Mother Teresa's activities. As she stated earlier, "their pain brings me closer to God." It seems clear that she was motivated by the religious conviction that keeping others in a poverty stricken, painful state was essential to her own spirituality. It should be noted when her own health started to fail, she spared no expense in getting the best possible medicines and kept her last days as comfortable as possible. I guess her "great sacrifice" was fostering millions(yes millions) of others to suffer so she wouldn't have to.

HERO? I DON'T THINK SO

Mother Teresa was a great Catholic. Vatican City loves her. She promoted the Church and its principles(especially its views on contraception) better than even some popes in the past hundred years. Her timing in being canonized couldn't be better for the Catholic Church who is seeing their numbers plummet due to being turned off by its Bronze Age values in modern times(never mind its pederast scandal) and need a hero to bounce back from a PR nightmare. 

I just wonder if the average person actually knows what she was all about before cheering for their new saint, because as Hitchens said, either Fanatic, Fundamentalist, or Fraud all seem more appropriate.

*Quotes and information was taken from various sources including; Christopher Hitchens "Hells Angel" documentary, Penn and Teller's BS series, and various articles from Patheos and Huffington Post. Any opinions interpreted are my own.