Monday, March 19, 2007

New Orleans and this Year’s School Buses

The image of the fleet of school buses, languishing under flood water, rather than in use evacuating New Orleans residents, as per the city’s contingency plans, is a lasting image of Katrina ineptness. Now New Orleans has a new symbol of incompetence: six doublewide trailers, supplied by FEMA to provide primary care, still unused because of the City government’s excruciating red tape.

When the Times-Picayune titles an editorial “Slower than FEMA” that’s a heavy statement, but local officials have been nothing short of derelict in their duties. The Times-Pic writes:

“This outbreak can’t be blamed on state and federal agencies that failed to grasp the urgency of the situation. LSU started planning a temporary network of neighborhood clinics two months after Hurricane Katrina shut down Charity Hospital. FEMA delivered six double-wide trailers, each equipped with eight exam rooms last summer.

But New Orleans officials dithered and delayed over zoning concerns, and as a result, the trailers are still sitting in the University Hospital parking lot. Meanwhile, poor New Orleanians have had little access to health services and often end up seeking attention in overcrowded emergency rooms.”

According to the Times-Pic’s reporting the trailers were delivered in early July. Since then they have been consigned to a regulatory purgatory. LSU devised a plan, supported by the City Council President to locate the clinics at schools in neighborhoods where healthcare was severely affected by Katrina. However, two council members, James Carter and Cynthia Willard-Lewis put the project in limbo. According to LSU papers acquired by the Times-Pic:

“‘multiple calls to Councilman Carter and Councilwoman Willard-Lewis regarding the ordinance’ were placed between August and November. ‘Unable to get a firm commitment to pursue ordinance change,’ the timeline reads.”

Their zoning concern? Allowing the clinics could lead to unintended commercial development. Evidently, Carter and Willard-Lewis think over-development is the greatest challenge currently facing New Orleans. If the City of New Orleans cannot shepherd six emergency neighborhood clinics through its labyrinth of red tape in less than nine months, they hardly need worry about an invasion of commercial developers.

The council finally granted a temporary zoning waiver, but it still requires mayoral approval and permits from the city. This is the same local government led by Mayor Nagin, who has toured the country to boost NOLA’s economy. When city councilors are willing to stall neighborhood clinics in order to keep commerce out, he is not exactly promoting a business friendly environment. By the way, as an American taxpayer, you spent $761,000 on these unused trailers. Feel like you’re getting your money’s worth?