Residents feel Comprehensive Plan unfairly targets certain neighborhoods

Published 8:41 am Friday, June 5, 2015

Residents of Poplas Quarters and Richardsontown threw out charges of overt racism and divisiveness concerning the Bogalusa Comprehensive Resiliency Plan and requested more changes to the document during Tuesday’s Bogalusa City Council meeting.

Before the meeting began, picketers with signs against the Plan marched on the sidewalk. The meeting took place before a packed audience and lasted almost two hours.

The Bogalusa Comprehensive Resiliency Plan is a document authored by Dana Brown & Associates of New Orleans. The Plan’s purpose is to help Bogalusa grow in the future and give it a visual plan to fall back on, if necessary. Poplas and Richardsontown residents oppose it because some elements of the Plan suggest that land there may be appropriated for other use.

The Comprehensive Resiliency Plan was tabled until further notice at the March 3 Council meeting. It has yet to come back to the Council for a vote. There have been a number of workshops concerning the Comprehensive Resiliency Plan.

Theresa Keller spoke for the majority of Comprehensive Plan opponents during the public participation segment. She claimed references to the two neighborhoods were to be omitted from the Plan, as was agreed upon in earlier meetings with Brown, but were not. She said in no uncertain terms residents opposed the Plan in its original form.

“We are here tonight to express our grave concerns about the Bogalusa Comprehensive Plan and to make it known that we are totally dissatisfied and disappointed in Dana Brown & Associates and that under no circumstances do we want this Plan,” Keller said. “We do not want it now, tomorrow, the next day or ever.”

Keller said the Plan begins with untruths.

“The Plan starts out with a falsehood,” Keller said. “It says the vision for Bogalusa must be specific to its residents and their needs, and it totals their ideas and input. Somehow in the development of this Plan this statement was forgotten because this Plan is not specific to our needs, and our ideas and out input has been totally ignored.”

Keller said of the city’s 20 neighborhoods, only Poplas and Richardsontown appeared to be targeted.

“The negative, offensive and unnecessary references that were used to describe Richardsontown and Poplas are applicable to 90 percent of 20 neighborhoods in Bogalusa. So why out of 20 neighborhoods were only two neighborhoods picked out to be belittled, degraded, criticized and attacked and the residents just happened to be African-Americans?” Keller asked. “Instead of deleting these negative, offensive, discriminative and unnecessary references that were hurled at just two neighborhoods, these negative descriptions were left in the Plan or were reworded or moved from one paragraph or page to another or camouflaged in unfamiliar terms. Sentences were turned around or changed but retained the original meaning.”

Keller went on to say a future ordinance concerning rental home inspections is a ploy to control African-American homeowners.

“This Plan is saying that an ordinance is currently being written that would require inspections of rented houses before the city will issue the owner an occupancy license,” Keller said. “If such an ordinance is being written, it needs to be rescinded. An ordinance such as this is just another ploy to control and manipulate the lives of African-American residents…This Plan would make it next to impossible for African-Americans to rent their property thereby giving others the opportunity to rent and raise prices to the point that poor people will have to make a choice between buying their medicine or paying their rent.”

“We do not want this Plan because it is just a mechanism to use to destroy and eliminate two African-American neighborhoods because they want to use our taxes but take out land,” Keller said. “We say no to the Bogalusa Comprehensive Plan,” as supporters roared their approval.

Council members accepted an amended resolution concerning Director of Administration Stacy Smith’s salary. She began on Jan. 5, but her $60,000 salary was initially omitted from the resolution officially hiring her.

“It was just an oversight,” Council President Teddy Drummond said. “What we’re doing now is crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s.”

The vote to accept the resolution was 5-0 with Gloria Kates and Drummond abstaining.

An ordinance to amend and re-enact the Bogalusa’s Comprehensive Building Regulations was accepted. Bogalusa goes by the International Building Code.

The Council accepted an ordinance authorizing Mayor Wendy Perrette to lease the building at 411 Industrial Park to General Dynamics. The new lease will expire in March 2018.

Washington Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Ryan Seal asked the Council to accept the lease.

“When we did the lease, it was a three-year lease with a one-year option,” Seal said. “They pay rent on time, and this is a way to solidify their business for years to come,” Seal said.

An ordinance authorizing the city to enter into a lease agreement with The Dimension Fellowship Hall was accepted. The ordinance repealed all ordinances that conflicted with the new ordinance, which was a renewal for the Poplas Recreational Center. The lease ended in June 2013 and was renewed in November 2013 but was never signed.

Council members accepted an ordinance that set 2015 Ad Valorem tax rates at 47.89 mills, the same rate as 2014.

Finally, an ordinance was accepted authorizing the city to contract with ARE Consultants for a partial parallel taxiway at Carr Airport. Approximately 1,000 feet of the 5,000-foot runway has been completed. The ordinance allows for a cut off lane so when two airplanes are on the runaway one can move over. Funding for the project is 90 percent by the FAA and 10 percent by the Department of Transportation Development.

Another ordinance concerning the airport was introduced. It will come up for pubic discussion and voting at the June 16 meeting. The ordinance authorizes the city to purchase property at the north end of the runway and improve drainage at the north end.

Perrette said the city was awarded a $400,000 Brownsfields and Land Revitalization grant. The grant is to assist cities clean up 10 properties. She said the city’s legal team will study the grant’s legal aspects.

The mayor said the city will open bids on July 7 for the Austin Street overlay project.

Perrette added the first annual “Summer Fest” on Louisiana Avenue is scheduled for tonight from 5 to 10 p.m. Music will be provided by the Eli Seals Band.