Sunday, September 24, 2006

Streetcar named St. Charles ...

From "Slow return for New Orleans streetcars," an AP story by Mary Foster:

The St. Charles streetcar line - the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world - may be rumbling along at least a short strip of its namesake avenue by the end of the year for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

Workers are repairing the system that supports the overhead electrical lines that power the streetcars.

"We're hoping that if things go smoothly we'll have cars running along the stretch of St. Charles from Canal Street to Lee Circle," said Rosalind Blanco Cook, Regional Transit Authority spokeswoman. "The rest of the line won't be ready before the end of 2007."

That initial stretch is only nine blocks long.

The old green streetcars have been carrying passengers through the streets of New Orleans since 1835, but since Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city Aug. 29, 2005, they have been running only on the Canal Street and Riverfront lines.

All but one of the new red streetcars that ran on the Canal Street and Riverfront lines before Katrina were wiped out by flooding at a storage barn.

Unlike the St. Charles cars that are only cooled by lowering the large windows along the side, the new cars are operated by computer and are air-conditioned and handicapped accessible. It took 142 days to build each car, said Elmer von Dullen, who supervised their construction for the RTA.

The RTA resumed collecting the $1.25 basic fare on buses and streetcars in August for the first times since Hurricane Katrina. The fare had been suspended since the scaled-down system was started in October.

Currently, the RTA employs about 700 workers and operates 28 bus routes, the two streetcar lines and a door-to-door service for disabled riders. Before the storm, it had 1,357 employees and ran 46 bus routes and three streetcar routes.

The agency had already budgeted money to rework the St. Charles power system before the hurricane, Cook said.

"The price has risen somewhat, and there is more to do now," she said. "And we would not have shut down the whole system; we'd have done it on a block by block basis."


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Sunday, September 17, 2006

What if they don't want to come back?

From an AP story titled "Many poor Katrina evacuees plan to stay in Houston, survey says"

Despite obstacles such as high unemployment and no health insurance, nearly 70 percent of the poorest evacuees who fled New Orleans for Houston after Hurricane Katrina plan to stay, according to a Rice University survey.

The study, conducted in July and scheduled for release Friday, shows that almost 69 percent of the 1,081 refugees surveyed plan to remain in Houston. That figure rose 12 percentage points from a similar survey in October and 18 points from another survey last September.

Rice political science professors Rick Wilson and Robert Stein said in Friday's editions of the Houston Chronicle that their survey represents the views of up to 40,000 evacuees. About 150,000 evacuees are thought to be living in Houston.

The evacuees plan to stay despite difficult living conditions, according to the study. Less than 20 percent have jobs, and about 74 percent earn less than $15,000 a year. About half of the evacuees do not have health insurance.

"This means a couple of things," Wilson said. "One: They have little to go back to. Most of the group were renters, and the rental situation in New Orleans is pretty bleak. Second: Many of them had been working in the service industry, and that is still a little rocky there. The chances of finding something to go back to are pretty slim."

The growing cost of living in New Orleans might be contributing to the decision of so many to stay in Houston. Rent has tripled in some areas of the rebuilding city, said Jacqueline Jones of the Jeremiah Project, a New Orleans advocacy organization.
"Before Katrina, a house might rent for $700 or $800," she said. "Now you couldn't get into it for less than $1,500."


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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Nagin's first 100 days

From the Associated Press, by Michelle Roberts:

When he was re-elected, Mayor Ray Nagin promised to act quickly on housing, crime, debris removal and other issues in the first 100 days of his new term. As that mark arrives today, his results appear mixed.

He has some new staff members and a visible reduction in the number of flooded cars and debris in populated areas, but violent crime has worsened and his administration's initial plans to overcome Hurricane Katrina's destruction continue to gather dust. An official report on the first 100 days is to be released Tuesday.

"The city is looking much, much better," Nagin said Thursday. But "it's a mixed bag. We still have lots of work to do. We're just working as hard and fast as we can."

Earlier in the year, questions about Nagin's re-election chances against Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu slowed cleanup and planning, a hiccup that Nagin promised would pass after he took office again June 1.

Neighborhood leaders like Lakeview's Jeb Bruneau say they are reluctant to be critical but are disappointed that work and planning continue to move slowly.

"Every day that goes by, we lose people to other states, to other cities. We lose good people who are trying to make decisions about their lives," he said.

Bruneau's once desirable, upper-middle-class neighborhood was reduced to flooded ruins overnight, and cleanup and rebuilding have mostly been the work of stubborn individuals.

"Government has been more of an obstacle than a help," he said. "If a little more attention was paid to us and we got a little more help, we'd recover faster."

Nagin acknowledged everyone would like a faster recovery, but said efforts to make more housing available and to pick up debris are paying off. The city has issued 102,000 demolition and building permits and collected 48 million cubic yards of debris since Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005, Nagin spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said.

"You're talking about re-creating first, and then trying to maintain normal city services. Then, you can talk about, `OK, let's make it better,'" Quiett said.

Some areas emphasized for the first 100 days have improved. Looting in Lakeview and other mostly abandoned neighborhoods has been curbed since the National Guard began patrolling, Bruneau said.

But violent crime has spiked. Ninety-three people have been slain in the city this year. With the population down to about 230,000, that translates into a homicide rate roughly 10 times the national average.

Nagin hopes proposed pay raises will help retain and recruit police officers.

Trash pickup has improved in parts of the city. Cars and boats covered in dried muck are now mostly gone from highly visible sections of town.

Housing remains scarce, and many residents in Houston and elsewhere complain they haven't been able to return. To help them, Nagin's office opened a center in Houston and one in New Orleans last week to offer services for residents who want to return.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Nagin Storms Gotham ...

We found this AP article, by Beth Fouhy in the Casper WY newspaper, via

NEW YORK -- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin opened a visit to New York on Friday by expressing regret for describing the World Trade Center site as "a hole in the ground."

He said residents of New York and New Orleans both "understand what tragedy is all about."

Nagin was in town for a two-day pitch to investors to support business in New Orleans, which still has an enormous rebuilding job ahead of it a year after Hurricane Katrina.

During a recently broadcast "60 Minutes" interview, a CBS correspondent pointed out flood-damaged cars still on the streets of New Orleans' devastated Ninth Ward. Nagin replied: "You guys in New York can't get a hole in the ground fixed, and it's five years later. So let's be fair."

Nagin apologized soon afterward, saying he was simply making a comparison of how difficult it is to recover from a disaster.

On Friday, he stopped short of explicitly apologizing but expressed regret for the remarks and said he hoped to put the matter to rest. More than 2,700 people died in the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists piloted two commercial flights into the twin towers, causing them to collapse.

"I will never refer to that site as a hole," Nagin said at a news conference with the Rev. Al Sharpton and representatives of a New Orleans delegation. "It's a sacred site that's currently in an undeveloped state."

He added, "We as New Orleanians and as New Yorkers understand what tragedy is all about and understand the difficulty of recovering from tragedy."

Deputy New York Mayor Dennis Walcott said neither he nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg held any resentment over Nagin's comments.

Many New Yorkers have also criticized the slow pace of reconstruction at ground zero, which has been mired in political battles over what to build there.

Nagin sidestepped questions about whether his criticism was legitimate. "It's very difficult to deal with an emotional tragedy -- there's no quick fix," he said. "Unfortunately, we in America like the fast-food mentality."

Nagin was leading a delegation of business and public sector leaders on the New York trip. They were to spend Friday and Saturday at a Manhattan theater, touting city and federal tax breaks for investment, encouraging filmmakers to return to the city and seeking commercial sponsors for next year's Mardi Gras, an idea that didn't take off this year as the city struggled through a scaled-back Carnival season.

Wall Street executives, representatives of the arts and tourism industries, and private investors have been invited to attend the New Orleans presentations, Nagin spokesman Ernest Collins said.

New Orleans is still struggling to market itself one year after the storm flooded 80 percent of the city. Its pre-storm economy was largely based on tourism, shipping, military installations and higher education.

How well do you think our Mayor is representing us?


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