One of the city’s better-organized neighborhood associations is opposing a proposed citizen-participation program, saying it is too bureaucratic, too expensive and too restrictive.

The Garden District Association took issue in a letter last week with a draft of the Citizen Participation Project, which seeks to give voice to residents throughout the city by establishing a new system of neighborhood district councils.

The city’s recently approved Master Plan requires some mechanism to gather citizen input on a variety of issues, particularly planning and land use. The model criticized by the Garden District Association is being circulated for comment as proponents prepare the necessary legislation for City Council consideration.

Garden District Association Executive Director Shelley Landrieu wrote that the proposal is “too cumbersome for it to be successful, too restrictive to the existing active neighborhood organizations.”

The plan was drafted under the guidance of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. That organization’s executive director on Tuesday said he’d like to clear up points that the Garden District residents may have misunderstood.

“In reading the letter, I think they have drawn some inaccurate conclusions,” Keith Twitchell said. “We had hoped to meet with them before they formed their conclusions,” but that never happened.

The Garden District letter was copied to 26 other civic or neighborhood organizations. It goes on to make suggestions to implement a “less costly CPP model” that would phase in a new system.

Jennifer Farwell, president of the Mid City Neighborhood Organization, expressed concerns for neighborhoods with less experience dealing with City Hall.

“I can see where the better organized neighborhood groups might not need a structured CPP,” she said, “but I also appreciate how confusing it is for the uninitiated to get information they need from city resources.”

She said she hopes all interested parties can find a compromise to get the program in place.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently expressed doubt at a town-hall-style meeting about providing money for the Citizen Participation Project, especially as the city struggles to close a $79 million budget gap before the end of the year.

Landrieu asked rhetorically why people would want to establish a paid bureaucracy to talk with him.

In New Orleans citizen participation is not a new concept.

With the November 2005 release of the Bring Back New Orleans maps outlining areas to be turned into green space, many neighborhoods organized in opposition, and they continue to address issues related to the recovery.

Unflooded neighborhoods were quick to organize, taking part in various planning initiatives and creating new organizations to address the post-disaster landscape.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...