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Neighborhood groups ask for more transparency from Greener Bayou St. John Coalition

Bayou Boogaloo is one of many festivals held now on Bayou St. John (flickr/Maddening Crowd).

A nominated coalition of neighborhood groups gathered to discuss future ways in which to use Bayou St. John are divided over concerns about transparency regarding a proposed Master Plan.

Members of four neighborhood groups and a few neighborhood residents were brought together Monday night by founders of the Greener Bayou St. John Coalition, an organization that has started the process of creating a “Bayou St. John Master Plan” with the goal of reconciling the bayou’s health with its multiple current uses.

The working group was gathered to discuss an agenda of activity descriptions, pros and cons of those activities and ways to disseminate information to neighborhood members. But an hour of the meeting was spent first discussing concerns brought up by Keith Twitchell, a working group member and president and director of a Committee for a Better New Orleans.

“What I’m about to say is the result of a lot of conversation. You guys deserve all the credit in the world for this concept of a Bayou St. John Master Plan — it’s a great idea,” Twitchell said to Greener Bayou St. John Coalition founders Musa Eubanks and Veda Manuel in the very beginning of the meeting. “But I feel very strongly that what is happening right now does not meet those criteria. A Master Plan is truly open, it’s truly inclusive and it’s not set in terms of direction or activities, or definitions, or set by a small group of people.”

The Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, the Parkview Neighborhood Association and the Bayou St. John-Lafitte Neighborhood Organization all had representatives in attendance. Twitchell made his comments after it was made clear that the group’s first meeting was not announced to the public.

In terms of Monday’s meeting, members of the public were allowed to attend the meeting, but the meeting wasn’t openly publicized. For example, Mid-City Messenger wasn’t explicitly invited to the meeting, but was allowed to attend once learning about its whereabouts.

However, several members at the meeting said that the process still wasn’t transparent enough.

“A Master Plan process starts with a very large and open public meeting that helps shape the process from the beginning,” Twitchell continued. “We feel very strongly that that’s what needs to happen at this point.”

Twitchell, who is a member of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, along with the association’s president, Greg Jeanfreau, both opted to observe rather than participate in the meeting, as a form of objection to the “private” process.

Jennifer Farwell, the president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, supported Twitchell’s position.

“MCNO believes that the public input process being sooner rather than later is important,” Farwell said. “Your final output, the credibility of it, will be undermined… if people perceive you have served as a gate-keeping function.”

In response, Manuel said that the process would become public when the time was right — essentially, when the organization had compiled a comprehensive list of suggestions and questions to bring to a public meeting.

“We understand that a Master Plan entails tremendous input,” Manuel said. “Greener Bayou St. John is facilitating that process. We feel very strongly that what we’re doing here is putting together a framework and gathering materials.”

Moreover, Manuel argued that the organization’s process wasn’t “secretive.”

“It is a good process. It’s not a secret at all. We’re not ducking and hiding,” Manuel said, adding that she was “surpised” at how the meeting began.

“I’m really shocked that this is the way you chose to approach this working group meeting. I can respect that, but it’s a little disconcerting that this is the way you chose to do that,” Manuel added. “As residents we have a lot of concerns about what’s going on on Bayou St. John. There’s no one way to attack a problem. We ask that you respect that.”

Eubanks added that the Bayou St. John Master Plan was different from, say, a City Master Plan, which has specific criteria.

Manuel and Eubanks didn’t say exactly when the meetings would be publicized when pressed for a time frame.

Jeanfreau pointedly asked Manuel what the true intentions of the organization were — if they were hoping to create a Master Plan or thwart activities that are already happening along the bayou.

Manuel responded that the organization never had the intention to “restrict” anything — even though the word was publicized in the media. In a previous article, former Parkview Neighborhood Association President Jean Lichtfuss — who identified herself at the time as a member of the Greener Bayou St. John Coalition — told Mid-City Messenger that she wanted to see the bayou limited so there’s less “active recreation” on the bayou.

Since that article, Manuel and Eubanks have publicly announced that those views do not reflect the views of the coalition. Rather, the process should be thought of as a “survey,” Manuel said.

“This is about starting a conversation,” Manuel said. “It’s going to be a very emotional conversation when you talk about Bayou St. John.”

Farwell, however, interjected that the language on the coalition’s website insinuates a level of restriction. She particularly objected to the use of the word “grandfather,” as in “grandfather something in,” because that word already implies that you have to restrict something in order to make exceptions. She said that it was a legal term and therefore not appropriate in that context.

“I’m not minimizing your concerns,” Farwell said. “But from a semantic perspective those terms have a ring of restriction to them.”

During the meeting, a resident proposed that the plan be called “Bayou St. John Plan,” so people don’t become confused by the idea of “Master Plan.” Another resident said that she liked the smaller meetings to happen first, before a big public meeting, because the big ones are too confusing.

By the end of the meeting, Eubanks passed around a few documents to attendees, including a “Citizen Input Form,” asking for public input as to whether or not certain activities should be encouraged, be considered conditional or considered incompatible with the health of the bayou. Some of those activities include Bayou Boogaloo Festival, amplified sound, mooring of boats, organized sports, Praise Fest and weddings.

Eubanks also handed out definitions of a handful of events that occur on the bayou, including the Krewe of Kolussus Boat Parade and Mid-City Volleyball Group — a list that Mid-City Neigbhorhood Organization representative Sarah Howard said could be seen as too restrictive.

“I think we’re targeting, and I don’t think you want to come across as targeting,” Howard said. She suggested that the definition list either be comprehensive and include every little event that happens on the bayou, or be more general, and broadly define “festival” or “sports.”

At the end of the meeting, Parkview Neighborhood Association member Mary Lou Main said that the questioning of activities along the bayou shouldn’t be seen as “gatekeeping,” but rather as “stopping abuse.” Her complaints included port-a-lets on the bayou, indecent exposure from festival-goers, litter and more.

“We’re not trying to buy the bayou,” Main said. “We’re just trying to stop the abuse from going on. It’s getting worse. It’s like cancer.”

Manuel added at the end of the meeting that she would take into consideration everything that was said at the meeting — but asked that members of the neighborhood association don’t “work against” the coalition.

“We are dealing with something that is very precious and very emotional when you’re dealing with the bayou. I’m always shocked when people are aghast at the Greener Bayou St. John Organization,” she said, asking that folks not fight the organization’s process. “We love Bayou St. John. Our goal is to protect Bayou St. John. It’s not evil. It’s not nefarious. It’s not any of those things.”


16 Replies to “Neighborhood groups ask for more transparency from Greener Bayou St. John Coalition

  1. “We’re not trying to buy the bayou,” Main said. “We’re just trying to stop the abuse from going on. It’s getting worse. It’s like cancer.”

    Who knew that people using open green spaces could be linked to cancer.

    1. Organized sports and the cardiovascular health that results from exercise often prevent illness such as cancer. 🙂

  2. Good morning

    I am very concern about this topic. I own a condo by the Bayou. I would like to know what was the process for electing the members of this coalition and how they determine who would design the master plan. Like I mentioned, I own a property by the Bayou and do not have any idea about who is doing this either how they are taking decisions.

    I agree that this type of plans should be more open to the public. We all live in this area, we all love the Bayou, also, we all wnat the best for the Bayou but I am not sure if this coalition is listening either inviting everyone to be part of this process.

    It is easy to start to make plans considering our own ideas or the idea of a limited gorup of people but at the end those ideas do not represent the mayority of the people.

    Sports: our children are having healthcare issues, having a place to practice sports as Yoga, Volleyball, kayaking is very important.

    Social Events: New Orleans is a lovely city. One of the reasons is the social events we can find in this city. I am proud to live in an area where we have these type of events.

    I am very concern because maybe in the future this coalition would ask people to do not ride their bikes either run if they are more than 4 people, because it will be consider an organize sport activity.

    They are so many ways to coordinate with organizations, groups, etc to find solutions and prevent problems. Stop the practice of sports and the opportunity to have events is not the solution.

    Thank you

  3. when you read a comment like “It’s getting worse, it;s like a cancer”, I’d like to know exactly what activity she’s complaining about? Too much volleyball? I live a few blocks from the bayou, and rarely notice a problem.

    I don’t have a problem with enforcing things like parking or littering laws, but I don’t think we should restrict access to the bayou. It’s there for everyone to enjoy. If some person or group is doing something to abuse that privilege, it can be dealt with on an case by case basis without restricting everyone else from using it.

  4. It seems to me that the coalition is trying to restrict anyone from using the bayou. The Bayou is for EVERYONE to enjoy, not just the the member of the greener st.john coalition!

  5. I’m with Louis.

    Who is hurt by any activity like a wedding, a sporting event (volleyball folks), or people doing yoga that happens on the bayou? Grumpy old people that don’t like people walking on the grass, or paddling down the bayou.

    Too many laws, enforce the ones that we have already. People litter, fine them. People too loud at ungodly hours? Shut them down. The last thing we need is another $100 permit to walk your dog on the bayou.

    Get a life.

  6. Vision for Bayou St. John:
    “Today, in 2014, residents surrounding Bayou St. John and others who care deeply about the Bayou are again coming together because there is a need to further the great work accomplished by the Bayou St. John Conservation Alliance and other organizations in improving the health of the Bayou’s waterway. We also see a need to mitigate the effect of the number, and increasing intensity, of events and other uses of Bayou St. John and its environs.”

    As a Midcity resident I am deeply concerned about the vision statement of the Greener Bayou St. John Coalition. The section that refers to mitigation of the number and intensity of events along the bayou suggest a targeted approach to eliminating activities that this group deems harmful. I am all for having open discussions about the use of this public reasouce. However, there has been no evidence that the current activities have caused harm to the bayou or a need to lessen the effects of such activities. If the purpose of the Greener Bayou St. John Coalition is to care for the health of the bayou then get the public involved. Don’t set your groups agenda based on a few individual perceptions of how the bayou should be utilized and then with that “let’s mitigate” agenda move forward. You will have no credibility with the public through unpublished meetings and directed agendas.

  7. I understand having organizations to help bring the community together and what not. I have lived near the bayou for 30 years. The recent interest and support the bayou has recieved has been wonderful. i think the celebrations, the festivals, the kayak/boat events all help the bayou.

    Somehow i get the impression there is a group of people who have a hidden agenda. This is a public space that should be used by the public in all reasonable fashions.

  8. Please don’t turn the Mid-City/Bayou St. John area into the new Marigny/French Quarter, where the uppity out-of-towners who live there 2 months out of the year complained and griped enough to restrict one of the most culturally rich areas in the city. They moved into the area attracted by the music and vibrant scene, then complained of the noise knowing what they were getting into.
    Mid-City has the benefit of being away from all of the big tourist centers, and when I lived there I loved my neighbors. Seemed like a bunch of down-to-Earth, practical, good-minded folks. Don’t let this minority group of folks ruin what makes MidCity the city gem that it is. Y’all moved here because you liked it there, it is what it is. Why change something that has worked fine, and continues to work just fine, for everyone, just because you happened to see a loose nipple or two during a festival? That and I hardly understand how outdoor activity in this obesity-ridden country is a bad thing. The string of comments above (none of which are pro-Greener Bayou St. John) I think reflect my beliefs are widely shared. If you want peace and quiet next to your own private bayou, move to the country. This is New Orleans. Can’t stop, won’t stop baby.

  9. My wife and I have lived in the Bayou St. John area since the early 1980’s and have watched it change from a litter filled waterway ( grocery baskets, tires etc ) with guys swimming their pit bulls to toughen them up to a vibrant, lively and lovely area that people can now enjoy safely. We love seeing the people in their canoes and kayaks, the people running an exercising, the volleyball games and festivals and yes even the occasional wedding. Citizens have a right to access along public waterways and there are more than adequate city laws on the books to control any abuse. The last thing we need is some self appointed group deciding what my wife and I or others can or cannot do along Bayou St. John. You folks need to get a life.

    1. As a 21 year resident of Mid-City, and a lover of our precious green acreage, specially the Bayou St. John, I’m entirely with you on this subject, Richard. Talk about keeping this “master plan” under wraps; I for one will object to the arrogant and willful way this subject is being addressed. I think we should leave the Bayou to the people because they love and respect it also.

  10. Does anyone listen to others anymore? When someone says they are opposed to a large volleyball facility with lights, bleachers, fences, concession stands, bathrooms, loud speakers, tournament parking and advertising being placed on the green space of the bayou, why do people hear that those persons are opposed to friendly games of volleyball which exist now? As for access you could forget the yoga, the frisbees, the dog walking and the “walking on grass” if the sand lots proposed had been built. To be clear, the extremists pushing one specific activity are the ones limiting access. Those “grumpy old people” are the ones who want openness and gentle recreational use, that is undesignated greenspaces for all to enjoy, not strictly those making a profit while excluding access with their ticketed events, or their planned weddings on the bridge, or whatever next exploit comes down the road.

    1. This is a gross misrepresentation of the plan that MCVG put forward to build sand courts. The proposal put forth was in the empty lot adjacent to Armstrong Supply on the far side of Moss Ave from the Bayou. There was no bleachers in said plan. Lighting and speakers were proposed but it was stressed at every neighborhood meeting we attended to present out proposal that we wanted to light the courts not the neighborhood and the music was background to play by not to blast. We did propose bathrooms but would have needed portable facilities temporarily. It is clear to me that you received information about the sand courts that we wanted to build from those who oppose us. I urge you Mr. Robert T. to visit us on the bayou. Ask for Thomas Gorman. I drew up the said plans.

  11. I’ve lived near Bayou St John since 1976. It’s a wonderful resource and a beautiful asset to our neighborhood. I think all the laws necessary are already on the books to monitor activities on the Bayou and to keep it safe.
    In the City of New Orleans you better be careful what you ask for i.e. neighborhood parking permits. It should have been a good thing but now people are having to jump through hoops to park in front of their own houses. Once a committee is created, they will want to make rules, charge fees, and create red tape. In my opinion, it’s not necessary.

    1. Not only is not necessary (as most if not all of the day-to-day concerns can be handled through enforcement of existing city regulations and laws) – it’s simply not NOLA.

      “It’s not evil. It’s not nefarious. It’s not any of those things.” Whenever someone feels the need to explicitly TELL you this, then don’t believe the lie – that’s EXACTLY what it is.

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