Mayor Mitch Landrieu will hold the fourth of five town-hall meetings on the 2015 city budget tonight at 6 p.m. in City Council District B. It will be held at Touro Synagogue, 4238 St Charles Ave.
The Lens will live blog the meeting here.
Landrieu’s first week of community budget meetings ended in District E in eastern New Orleans. As has been the case in years past, attendee questions tended to focus on two themes: blight and economic development. District E, which also includes the Lower 9th Ward, has struggled to regain population and lure businesses in the years following Hurricane Katrina. It has high rates of vacant, blighted homes and lots.
Several people asked about an eastern New Orleans property that touches on both those themes: the dilapidated Lake Forest Plaza shopping mall site. The owners, Lake Forest Plaza LLC, owe the city millions of dollars from failed redevelopment loans and overdue taxes. Another speaker asked about a notorious abandoned hotel on Chef Menteur Highway.
The mayor did not offer much detail on Lake Forest Plaza, saying only that the city has been in talks with “much better folks” to redevelop the area. He brought out First Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin to address the hotel.
“That’s on our list. We’ve got liens on it,” Kopplin said. “It’s hard in the United States of America to take someone’s property. That’s a good thing unless it’s blighted and next door to your house.”
According to city records, the property has undergone one blight hearing since Landrieu took office. The February 2013 hearing ended with a guilty judgment and a $500 fine. In July 2013, the city filed a lien against the property’s owners to collect the fine, plus $155 in administrative fees. The property is scheduled for another blight hearing in September.
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” Landrieu said “We’ve taken down 10,000 blighted properties in the past four years.”
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and recently appointed New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison spoke about crime at the meeting. Cannizzaro highlighted his office’s partnerships with local police and federal law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve reached out to work with what we call our federal partners, the FBI and DEA.” He mentioned the city’s gang enforcement efforts, which, he said, resulted in a murder conviction last week.
Responding to an attendee’s suggestion that the police department’s 7th District be split up, Harrison said he didn’t think it was necessary. The district is by far the largest by area in the city, covering nearly all of eastern New Orleans, and has been criticized for slow response times.
However, Harrison said, much of the area is uninhabited.
“It really can be done with one district. Could it use a sub-district? Maybe at some point in the future,” he said, adding that 7th District officers are responding to about half as much crime as they were pre-Katrina.