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Apr. 3rd, 2008 | 12:09 am



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Seeking Interns

Mar. 5th, 2008 | 06:56 pm

Defend New Orleans is looking for an Intern (Midcity)

Reply to: gigs-584976091@craigslist.org
Local Tshirt Company, Party planner, and “Subculture Conglomerate” (last week’s gambit weekly) is seeking hardworking, organized intern to help with online sales, t shirt stock and production, local marketing, non profit research, and party promotion.

Apply if you are energetic, well organized, outgoing, and want to work to make a positive difference in our city.

Please send cover letter and resume. Let us know why you want to help. Please list skills and availability during the week. We work 10-6 M-F.


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Demolition Man

Jan. 12th, 2008 | 06:26 pm

Dear New Orleanians,

The city’s notification process for demolitions has been notoriously ineffective. Lists of Imminent Health Threat and Imminent Danger of Collapse properties are posted to the city’s website, and then disappear within days. The city has been hauled into federal court in two separate cases since Katrina because of its poor notification procedures for demolitions.

However, one should realize that the city’s failure to notify homeowners about pending demolitions is not due to a lack of information. In fact, the city has a bunch of information about demolitions, but they are - for whatever reason - wildly reluctant to release it.


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Demolished- A Further New Orleans Tale

Jan. 2nd, 2008 | 05:08 pm

Dear New Orleanians,
Demolition is not a plan. But the city of New Orleans wants to convince everyone, including its own bureaucrats, of the opposite.
Over the past few months, as I've studied the workings of demolitions in New Orleans, I've gotten more and more dispirited. There's no leadership, no direction, just mixed up mountains of paper and growing numbers of confused, scared citizens getting victimized by their own city government. Homeowners discover their nearly restored house is targeted for demolition, and are forced through all nine circles of hell to prove to their own city that the city is wrong. And some only discover this after the home is bulldozed by the city. It's horrible.
I and a few talented individuals have taken upon ourselves to do what the government should be doing: forcing the city to abide by its own laws regarding demolition. This has turned into a herculean struggle, as the degree of intransigence and incompetence in city government has gradually come to light. Against rather long odds, though, there has been progress.
About three weeks ago, I put out a rather voluminous email about demolitions. I detailed how New Orleans' Safety & Permits department was likely avoiding public review of over 1200 demolitions through various sneaky means. Much has happened since then, so let me bring you up to speed. There has been progress in the administrative, legislative, and judicial arenas.
Administrative - The city never read the law
As I mentioned in my earlier email, in late November the city inked a deal with DRC Emergency Services, LLC for oversight of federally funded demolitions. Demolition permits started getting issued to DRC on December 5th. At first, all the permits were for properties in areas which did not have any historic protections.
However, on Tuesday, December 11th, Safety & Permits started issuing permits in the historic areas. In my previous email, I had suspected there was a pile of demolitions in the historic areas ready to go, likely with damage estimates raised above 70%. I was proved right, as 24 demolition permits were issued to DRC on the 11th for properties which should have required historic review, but didn't because their estimates were raised above 70%. The folks that I've been working with on this issue noticed immediately, and threw up red flags in emails to Safety & Permits personnel. This led to a nearly immediate change.
In previous days, we had discovered a city ordinance which had been on the books since May 3, 2006. It is section 26-10, and says that any properties with storm damage estimates above 70% and which were within National Register Districts (outside of local historic districts) were supposed to be reviewed by the Historic Districts Landmarks Commission (HDLC). HDLC is a far better run body than the other historic review panel - the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC).
HDLC is interested in historic preservation, it has its own staff, and in general has a more mature outlook on things. On the other hand, HCDRC is made up of mostly mid-level city bureaucrats and is chaired by a representative from the same body issuing demolition permits - Safety & Permits. HCDRC's role is to review demolitions of historic properties outside the city's local historic districts, while HDLC reviews the stuff inside the local historic districts.
What we found was that those 70% properties inside National Register Districts had never been sent to HDLC, as the law called for. Three such properties were included in the 24 that got demo permits on December 11th.
A stink was raised, and no permits were issued to DRC for five days. Everyone in Safety & Permits and HDLC and DRC and in other sections of city government had lots of meetings.
As of today, all National Register District property demolitions with estimates above 70% are now being reviewed by HDLC, as required by the law.
Unfortunately, at least 130 properties had already slid through Safety & Permits without the statutory review since May, 2006. You may be wondering how such a thing could happen? Didn't Safety & Permits read the law? The answer is "no."
We have emails from Safety & Permits admitting to such. You'll find them below. These emails became part of a lawsuit against the city (more about that later), so they are now public documents.
The emails were between Meg Lousteau, a fellow historic preservationist, and Ed Horan, the Safety & Permits official charged with reviewing demolitions for further historic review
From: Meg Lousteau
Sent: Tue 12/11/2007 8:24 PM
To: Edward J. Horan
Subject: demolition question
Hi Ed - I want to apologize again for unwittingly involving you in today's mess.  I have never and would never question your integrity or work ethic, or deliberately put you in a bad situation.  I hope you understand that my concern, and the concern of many others, is based on the confusing and varied demolition procedures, and the difficulty we've had in getting information from the department.  From now on, I will contact you first with any questions I have regarding demolitions.
On that note, I do have a question that I hope you can help answer.  Below is the municipal code that states that buildings in National Register districts that have damage assessments at or above 70% are supposed to be reviewed by HDLC.  To my knowledge (which is, admittedly, incomplete), no such buildings have gone before HDLC.  Am I misreading the ordinance, or has another ordinance superseded it?  Or maybe it's in conflict with another law? 
Thanks in advance for your help.
Sec. 26-10. Demolitions within national register district.
Any structure that is located within a national register district and which has been determined by the department of safety and permits to be substantially damaged by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita, and where the damage is defined as 70 percent or more of the replacement value prior to the hurricane damage as determined by inspection by the department of safety and permits, and which structure is constructed below base flood elevation according to the flood elevation maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and in effect as of August 29, 2005, must be reviewed by the staff of the historic district landmarks commission prior to issuance of a permit for demolition.
(M.C.S., Ord. No. 22226, § 1, 5-3-06 )
In response, on December 13, 2007 , Mr. Horan sent the following email to Ms. Lousteau:
On Dec 13, 2007 8:22 AM , Edward J. Horan < ejhoran@cityofno.com> wrote:
Yesterday was the first time I have ever read Section 26-10 of the City Code. I have read, re-read, quoted, cut and pasted, and mentally tattooed onto my brain Section 26-6 of the City Code . I was certain that 26-6 (which contradicts 26-10) was the Section governing the Housing Conservation District. I have already alerted both Mr Centineo and Mr Perkins of my ignorance of 26-10 and can assure you and them that all future demolition applications will follow the procedure outlined therein.
This morning I will inform the permit analysts of the misunderstanding and of new process as required by law.
Edward Horan
Zoning Administrator
City of New Orleans
Department of Safety and Permits
In response, Ms. Lousteau asked on December 13, 2007 as to whether Safety & Permits would be reviewing their error, and having the permits in question now reviewed by HDLC. Specifically, she was asking about a permit application for 1231 S. Rampart St. , issued on December 12, 2007 .
From: Meg Lousteau
Sent: Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:41 AM
To: Edward J. Horan
Cc: Mike Centineo; Elliot Perkins
Subject: Re: demolition question
Hi Ed - thank you so much!  I can't wait to forward this information to my fellow concerned citizens.  It's a huge relief to know that so many demolitions will now get some kind of review.  We deeply appreciate your help with this.
We noticed that at least one property seems to have slipped through the cracks - the building at 1231 S. Rampart Street , which is in the Central City National Register District, was issued a demolition permit yesterday.  I could be wrong, but shouldn't this be going to HDLC?
[screenshot of permit application for 1231 S. Rampart St. from velocityhall.com]
That brings up another, very important question:  what steps will Safety and Permits take to rescind the erroneously issued permits that should have been reviewed by HDLC?  I think that all eleven I mentioned on Tuesday would now need to be reviewed, as well as many more.  I can try to get a list of them, if that would help.
Many thanks,
Mr. Horan responded on December 14, 2007 :
From: Edward J. Horan
Date: Dec 14, 2007 12:39 PM
Subject: RE: demolition question
To: Meg Lousteau
Cc: Mike Centineo, Elliot Perkins
The permit for 1231 S Rampart has not yet been issued, as you can see in the information below the status is n/a and the fees have not been paid.
We will not retroactively apply this Section.  All future applications will be evaluated with Section 26.10.
Edward Horan
Zoning Administrator
Dept. of Safety & Permits
Cityof New Orleans
1300 Perdido St. Rm 7E05
New Orleans , LA 70112
So now we know why some (but certainly not all) demolition permits were not getting proper review. It was because Safety & Permits had not read the applicable law since it was passed on May 3, 2006. In addition, they will not correct their error, even though they admit to it in print.
Legislative - Some things need to be changed
As I mentioned, about 130 properties were affected (when I say "affected," I mean that a review was not performed - I do not mean that a demolition could have been prevented) by Safety & Permits not performing their duties as prescribed in law. However, those were only a small slice of the over 1200 properties which did not receive any historic review at all before demolition for the last two years. That includes the batch of demo permits issued to DRC on December 11th (as well as a few on December 12th, before the pause completely took hold). Those properties, under the current law, are exempt from review, even if the city was raising the damage estimates simply to avoid review.
The idea of public review of demolitions of historic properties in a town such as New Orleans is excellent, especially considering the giant volume of demolitions now underway. The city's housing stock is precious, and any removal of part of it should be thought through carefully and in public. Not only is it wise to conserve historic housing, but it is also smart to have an extra layer of review to prevent mistakes (which have definitely been made).
Unfortunately, the process has been subverted by loopholes in the law which should be closed. One loophole - the 70% exemption from review - appears to have no real basis other than accelerating a process that should, by its nature, be deliberate. It should be repealed. It serves only the interests of bureaucrats eager to impress their bosses.
Another loophole - regarding properties to be demolished under the the Imminent Health Threat law - also exempts such properties from historic review. I can't think of a reason this would be necessary, especially when one considers the seemingly random and scattershot application of the Imminent Health Threat law by the city. We are still trying to gather all the various imminent health threat lists that have been published over the last year. Thus far, we have collected at least five different lists with dates from March until December 29th, with some properties appearing on one list, dropping off the following list, and then reappearing on a third list.
To describe the Imminent Health Threat process as "haphazard" would be generous. Thus, having a public check on a bureacracy known to make mistakes is a good thing, and should not be subverted.
A little clarification is necessary - Imminent Health Threat properties are NOT properties about to fall down. Those properties are known as Imminent Danger of Collapse. If they are truly about to fall down, I have no problem skipping the historic review step. Imminent Health Threat properties seem to be whatever Safety & Permits judges them to be, whether they are an actual threat or not.
Unfortunately, the law as it stands now allows all of this tomfoolery by the city administration. Currently, the city is under no obligation to present any but a small slice of demolitions for public review, due to the loopholes in the law. To get those loopholes closed will take legislative action on the part of the City Council. That particular part of the story is being worked on actively, and will hopefully bear fruit in January.
Judicial - Appeals process to be enstated
Just before the public housing demolition debate captured the city's complete attention, another demolition dispute was wending its way through the courts. A Federal suit had been filed against the city in August claiming that private homeowners' due process rights had been violated by virtue of the city not having a clear administrative process for review of demolitions. However, until I started slicing and dicing the numbers, no one was sure of the extent of the problem. When I found that over 1200 properties had bypassed HCDRC, and over 300 of them had their estimates increased past 70%, that got the attention of the lawsuit participants.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs in the suit contacted me and asked if I would write an affadavit describing my analysis of the city's demolition permits. I did so, and it was filed on December 18 in advance of a planned evidentiary hearing in the case.
The Times-Picayune got a hold of it and wrote up an article the next day. You can find that article here:
City Inflating Damage, Lawsuit Says
Times-Picayune, 12/19/07
Many officials - including possibly the mayor - were scheduled to testify at the hearing. But the city apparently didn't see the point in fighting the suit, and agreed to enstate an appeals process for those people who felt their properties were unfairly targeted for demolition. The paper covered this as well:
Owners Can Appeal Demolition Orders
Times-Picayune, 12/20/07
I'm sure this escaped a lot of peoples' attention, because that was the same day as the City Council vote on the public housing demolitions.
Frankly, the very fact that such a process must be enstated is horrifying. Why should someone have to worry about their house being demolished out from underneath them if they have no reason to worry?
While this result is nice, it does not address the core problems at hand with the city's demolition "process," which is actually a mishmosh of poorly managed and poorly documented multiple processes riddled with loopholes.
1) The 70% exemption from historic review needs to be eliminated.
This exemption serves no purpose but to accelerate a process which should be deliberate. The acceleration is likely to satisfy Federal funding deadlines, which is not good public policy when one is talking about the irrevocable act of demolishing a building.
2) All properties to be demolished in the Housing Conservation District must be reviewed by the Housing Conservation District Review Committee, no matter what the reason for their demolition.
The city has been exploiting loopholes in the law to ram through demolitions without review. This must stop. What is so wrong with simply reviewing demolitions publicly?
3) The city should apply for an extension of the funding cutoff for demolitions past the current February 29, 2008 date. That is when FEMA expects the demolitions of approximately 1800 buildings to be completed through the DRC contract. From what I understand, the city has begun this process.
There are hundreds of HCDRC-eligible and HDLC-eligible properties in that list, and it will be impossible to adequately review them in time. The HCDRC only meets every two weeks, which means there's only 4 or 5 meetings before the funding gets cut off.
4) Adequate review means adequate review
What I mean by this is timely publication of HCDRC agendas so that neighborhood organizations, concerned neighbors, and (yes) surprised homeowners can get to HCDRC meetings to speak their piece about a demolition. Also those agendas should be compiled in accordance with the laws of the city
We know that is definitely not happening now. On December 26, 2007, the city published a list of 114 "extra" properties which are being added to the HCDRC meeting on December 31, 2007 (a previous agenda with around a dozen properties was issued the previous week). This list is culled from a bigger master list of properties being given to DRC for demolition. This is the first in a growing wave of hundreds of HCDRC-eligible demolitions on the DRC contract.
The particulars of this list of 114 "extras" are interesting. All 114 properties have damage estimates below 70%, but many of the properties are classified as Imminent Health Threats. This gives us a window into the city's thinking - they are strongly enforcing the 70% loophole, but the Imminent Health Threat loophole is not as important anymore. However, this appears to be a bureaucratic choice on the city's part. Their thinking could change at any time - unless the law is changed to close the loopholes.
But of course, even the batch of 114 extra properties is incomplete. We have the list that the extra agenda items were culled from. There are properties on that list that probably should appear on the 12-31-07 HCDRC agenda, but do not. On that list, there are:
- 21 HCDRC-eligible properties with NO damage estimate (so it is impossible to tell if they are above or below 70%)
- 18 properties with current estimates below 70%. This would appear to match the rationale for the assembly of the HCDRC agenda, so it is unclear why these properties are not included.
While actually getting notice (however incomplete it may be) ahead of meeting is a step forward, there is no way people can possibly respond in time to obscure notice in the classified section of the newspaper if their property is on this list. Three business days between Christmas and New Years Day is nuts, but it's just one more indication of the hurry-up attitude of a city where demolition has become a proxy for rebuilding. HCDRC and Safety & Permits must do a better job on notifications.
Some people might wonder why I'm so interested in this. My interest is simple: I want to see government work correctly.
A government that flouts its own laws is useless to the people it supposedly serves. Over the past few weeks, I and my fellow historic preservationists have struggled mightily to get the city to simply follow its own legal procedures. The overarching goal of historic preservation has become secondary to simply following the rules. It should not be this hard.
My heart breaks to see what is happening. But at least there is a little sunshine.

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Threats of Violence Downtown

Dec. 11th, 2007 | 09:45 pm

Burning Condos Close Up

These are up all over downtown.

http://humidcity.com/2007/12/11/infohazard/ for more info and links.

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DNO Video

Dec. 7th, 2007 | 10:41 pm

Our video brother Drew has set up a website featuring documentary-style footage on the REAL new orleans, not the file footage seen over and over again on CNN. so check out his website, www.dnovideo.com, and give him some props, feedback, whatever.

massive party coming up in a week or two. we'll let you know more of the details soon.

thanks kids,

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FEMA considering changes to Relocation Assistance program

Sep. 7th, 2007 | 08:49 am

Dear New Orleanians,
In direct response to my concerns regarding the Feb. 1, 2006 start date on their new Relocation Assistance program, FEMA is strongly considering (NOTE: considering) revisions to the policy.
I've received two phone calls over the last day FROM members of the Individual and Household Program inside FEMA. Both have confirmed that the start date is very likely to be changed to an earlier date.
They also said they will be issuing new guidance to the public in a few days on this which will - in addition to changing the start date - also clarify the 50 mile rule. That rule was not mentioned in the original August 27, 2007 press release, but it is a part of the restrictions on the program. They did say that such a rule does not apply if a household is moving back across state lines.
For those of you who may have not received email from me on this topic yet, here are the key documents:
FEMA grants help finance trip home (Times-Picayune article, August 28, 2007)
The following articles give a little more information about how the program came about:
FEMA to pay return costs (Times-Picayune article, June 1, 2007)
ONE-WAY DILEMMA  (Times-Picayune article, January 7, 2007)
I'll keep you informed with further updates.

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Hey Bush!

Aug. 29th, 2007 | 09:04 am


Never Forget.
(image from Greg Peters at Suspect Device, spread it.)

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17th Street Canal: Evidence and Assesments

Aug. 2nd, 2007 | 05:29 pm

Here we go folks, missives from Matt McBride- our Guardian Engineer. After outing the Coprs to the press concerning their faulty pumps he has ceased blogging, but like most of us cannot stand at the sidelines when he sees wrongdoing. I will be posting his emails as I receive them. And now, the man himself:


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(no subject)

Jul. 31st, 2007 | 07:49 am

This is from Matt McBride, the man who busted the Corps and turned their memos over to the press when they got exposed for the failing pumps. This shit is important so give it a once over.


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