Saturday, January 24, 2009

Proponents of LSU/VA Feeling Threatened?

It was a good week to be a friend of Charity Hospital and Lower Mid City. Advocates successfully took to the airwaves to highlight the fundamental flaws of the monstrous LSU/VA redevelopment being proposed. Their most effective tool this week in Baton Rouge was the presence of architects from RMJM Hillier, who believe that renovating Charity into a modern facility would bring state-of-the-art medical care back to New Orleans faster and cheaper that the state plan, all without demolishing a residential neighborhood. Anyone who watched or listened to the LA House Appropriations Committee hearing on Thursday was treated to lots of stammering two-steps by flummoxed LSU officials unable to provide satisfactory answers to simple questions raised by curious legislators.

With Barack Obama taking office, proponents of the LSU/VA redevelopment have a lot working against them. They certainly can't afford to keep losing the PR war.

I won't be surprised if we experience a last-ditch barrage from groups quietly allied with the LSU/VA-GNOBEDD crowd.

For instance, let's say take, I don't know, the group Citizens for One Greater New Orleans, you know, the red coats.

Citizens for 1 GNO was founded after the storm by a group of highly influential uptown women. The imitative has worked on some pretty important issues such as assessor reform, levee board reform, and helped lead the push to establish the office of the Inspector General.

About them, emphasis theirs:

Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans is a non-partisan, non-sectarian grassroots initiative formed to be a voice for reform and renewal for Greater New Orleans and a better Louisiana. The community group provides a venue and resources for citizens to voice their opinions and concerns and to take action for rebuilding Greater New Orleans.

The group was
formed in November 2005, when a group of 120 citizens gathered for the first meeting in New Orleans. They came together after the state legislature failed to pass levee board reform legislation. The Times Picayune reported, "These citizens want a safe city behind sound levees so that no generation would endure what we have endured, and more than that they want honest and efficient city government, one free of old habits of cronyism and patronage that stifled progress and made us all unsafe."

For a group comprised exclusively of white women, you have to give them credit for choosing truly nonsectarian issues. One false step, like if they'd come out with an official position on other tangential issues such as public housing or the BNOB plan, and the organization would simply not have credibility as a nonpartisan actor. They'd be forever damned as compromised by "the old habits of cronyism and patronage" that they had once set out to combat.

As it is, that's a tough argument for the executive committee of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans. It's executive director, Ruthie Frierson, was once one of the city's most powerful real estate brokers. Louis Frierson, her husband, was once king of Rex. Interestingly enough, CNN Money/Fortune has an interesting account detailing how Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans got its start:

Hours after she learned of the state's action [on levee boards], Frierson was visited by her neighbor Jay Lapeyre, chairman of the New Orleans Business Council. Low-key and conservative in temperament, Lapeyre looks as if he stepped from a box labeled Reluctant Public Figure. Laitram Corp., his family company, manufactures and distributes the creations of his inventor father: shrimp-peeling machines, alternating-tread stairs, and modular plastic conveyor belts.


"I said to Jay," Frierson recalls, "We ought to get signatures on a petition to reconvene the legislature for levee board reform. "He said in passing, 'Oh, that would be great.' I said, 'No, Jay, I want you to draft it with me.' "

Frierson and her husband combed through their Rolodexes. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, their house was packed with 120 friends and acquaintances, many of them wives of Business Council members, most of them from Uptown, the lush neighborhoods around St. Charles Avenue. Lapeyre spoke. The group named itself Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans and formed an executive committee, which met in Frierson's dining room to plot its course.

"The politicians in Louisiana are knitted together underground like an old root system," says committee member Kay Kerrigan, wife of a prominent city attorney. "We realized this has got to change. If we want to rebuild this city, we can't go back to the way it was."

Kay Kerrigan, whose husband is a wealthy corporate lawyer that once represented Pan Am against the victims of the '82 Pan Am crash in New Orleans, is the Vice Chairwoman of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans.

Jay Lapeyre is indeed the President of the shadowy New Orleans Business Council. You might remember him from such shady deals as the arranged consultant gig for former DA Eddie Jordan.

Unsurprisingly, the New Orleans Business Council is highly vested in the Downtown Development District, and the Greater New Orleans Biomedical Economic Development District. The LSU/VA redevelopment is their baby boy.

To the degree that the same social circle that is fighting for the current LSU/VA redevelopment project also funds the Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, it is feasible to think that Citizens for 1 GNO might be tempted to help rescue the redevelopment scheme by taking a public position on the matter.

However, doing so would directly contradict the group's founding principals. It would forever malign Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans as just another sectarian, tribal social network with an untrustworthy agenda inseparable from the selfish economic interests of their funders.

LSU/VA proponents are definitely looking to rebound. It will be interesting to see who they call upon for help.


Puddinhead said...

Ah, yes....somehow I'd expected that the VA/LSU Hospitals issue would eventually boil down to one of "racists" vs. "noble citizens"...since everything here eventually does.

Jeffrey said...

We shouldn't pass on the fact that the whole Lower Mid-City site for LSU-VA was initially hatched by the RPC and the DDD.

I think that GNOBEDD's role in the hospital process is misunderstood too--they do have the power of expropriation and can pass supplementary taxes (as any business improvement district can do), but they are completely disenfranchised. They don't own any land (contrary to a recent Tidmore/Louisiana Weekly claim), and have not levied any taxes (that has to go before public vote). LSU, VA, and Tulane want nothing to do with GNOBEDD, because working with them would be sharing oversight, planning, and responsibility with someone who might have an agenda other than theirs.

The point is, neighborhoods could be taking over GNOBEDD and shaping it into a mechanism to achieve their own ends, but because they keep demonizing GNOBEDD (and LSU-VA for that matter), they are missing on the opportunity to affect how neighborhoods are impacted by these hospitals. I really want LSU to go back into Charity and for the VA to go into LSU's proposed site, but we also need to make sure that if that doesn't happen, then we are prepared, too. Have you seen how shitty the LSU design for the new hospital is? The VA's is actually pretty good--it even includes reusing some of the expropriated shotguns for transitional housing. We need to act on that front, too...

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