Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Home Again

After spending the holidays in New Orleans I was curious as to what happened with the displaced and those returning after being away over a decade from what was their home.  I found only one person who was hostile about my queries but he was overall a douche to everyone around so I took that as part of the problem when you are an outsider who is not but still feels that way as that is what it is like for anyone who returns to their "home" and wonders who has changed more.

One of the issues I was curious about was the Brad Pitt's Make it Right homes that were once so acclaimed and recognized as solutions to the housing issues particularly in the 9th Ward the area most devastated by Katrina.   I found this article from The New Republic regarding one residents experience in coming home to his new house and the long range issues facing the area when it comes to the idea of rebuilding.  Funny how that has never been followed up in the same journals that once praised him. 

Well since that the Make It Right Foundation has closed up shop.  The foundation has faced civil lawsuits over the construction and design of the homes that have now been moved to federal courts due to the complex way the foundation was established - in other words the incorporation papers that enable ways to avoid taxes.  Ah its great to be rich.

What has been revealed was that Brad Pitt has and wants nothing to do with the charity affixed to his name.   Brad Pitt’s lawyers claim that even if the plaintiffs’ complaints against the foundation have merit, Pitt shouldn’t be included in the lawsuit. While Pitt founded and fund raised for the charity, he claims his involvement didn’t extend to anything approaching the actual design of the buildings. Notably, Pitt is only asking that he be excused from the lawsuit, not that the case not proceed.

 As Nola noted, this is the first time Pitt has spoken publicly about Make It Right since the 2015 Katrina anniversary. Funny how I read of the dissolution of this charity on all places the New York Post Page Six.

I recall when the foundation began it was a different story.    I recall when Pitt's charity began I was still active in the Green Build community and many were lauding the construction and design as solid, guess not.  This is from their website:

Founded by Brad Pitt in 2007, Make It Right builds homes, buildings and communities for people in need. All Make It Right projects are Cradle to Cradle inspired – meeting the highest standards of green building.
Through innovative partnerships and community-led design sessions, we are working in neighborhoods across the country and educating others to change the way buildings are designed and built.

 I once again reminded myself of Sean Penn pretending to be the Cajun Army to demonstrate his activism.  It is always nice to plan while in the Four Seasons lobby bar, it is where I do my best planning too!  Funny how looking at that the writer Matt Taibbi and the Rolling Stone have imploded since then as well due to a disaster of their own making.  Remember that El Chapo interview?  Will he be at the trial to testify?  And where was Sean Penn in Houston or in Puerto Rico?   Oh like all good celebrity charities his is undergoing a rebranding. But then again so many disasters so little time. I may agree with the NOLA residents that there is no such thing as bad publicity and any is better than nothing.  I often think it was an attempt to do right at a politically adrift time, as one cannot forget the infamous Kanye remark about George Bush not liking Black people.  Hmm times have certainly changed.  And today when we look to those stepping it up in what seems to be consistently one disaster after another the faces offering assistance are just normal small business owners without the fame or money in which to do so.  I will say the exception is Chef Jose Andreas and his World Kitchen who is just doing right by providing the immediate - food.   And the rest with Altruism tourism to the Real Housewife of New York I am sure there is good intention but as I wonder if cameras were not present would Bethenny Frankel be?

The mainstream media was covering bs Manuel Linn Miranda last week in Puerto Rico when he brought his Broadway musical, Hamilton, to fund raise for the country.  Well $500 tickets to Hamilton is shocking or not given the crime and murder rate  which of course will be ignored by the fans being shuttled under guard to performance which once that run is done they will go home and leave the residents to figure out how to end their own long running drama. 

It is easy to pose and posture and want to do good and the idea should be a part of all our dialogs but the reality is that the community knows its needs and they have the right people and knowledge in which to do so.  It is why I am relieved that at least Microsoft made a monetary effort versus actually building housing in Seattle. But even they are facing a steep climb.   But this is not just about housing it is about being home and finding one's way there.  Some are not so lucky and I suspect those in New Orleans may have to bear and prepare for the worse, now and in the future.

New Orleans under water: 12 years after Katrina, officials can't get it right

The city has seen rain almost every day since April – but pumps continue to malfunction as water board administrators offer wrong information

Jim Gabour
The Guardian
Tue 15 Aug 2017

It is true: New Orleans lives and dies by its water. We eat from the Gulf, lake and wetlands and we breathe deeply of a sweltering, airborne humidity. We get our drinking water from the muddy Mississippi river, which carries the effluvia of half the country. Thousands upon thousands of rainy years have amplified the continuing decay in wetlands surrounding the city, creating vast pockets of valuable petroleum and natural gas which generate a major portion of our economy. The same rainfall and river provide continual growth in one of the lushest plant environments in America.

But we occasionally have our homes ruined, and we occasionally drown, in water.

In the last big lesson, involving the loss of 134,000 homes and 1,500 lives in New Orleans, a hurricane overwhelmed the manmade walls meant to keep the water at bay. Since then, hundreds of miles of new and reinforced levees have been built, over the last dozen years, to make sure that a ruinous intrusion does not happen again. The army corps of engineers built three huge new multimillion-dollar pumps on the Lakefront, so that when the engineers close the floodgates to keep the lake waters out, the pumps can be activated to keep excessive water from overwhelming the system.

Now all the city needs to do is be able to remove water that falls from the sky throughout every single year. And in 2017, that rain has fallen almost every day since 1 April.

The water is indeed rising down here. A lesser but integral part of the problem is loss of trees and foliage that absorb water before it goes into the drainage system. The city had an enormous saltwater intrusion during Katrina. Many plants and trees, like magnolias, that were exposed to the long-term saltwater were killed outright.

In 2012, a US Forest Service study of 20 major American cities reported:

The greatest percentage of annual loss in tree cover occurred in New Orleans, Houston and Albuquerque. Researchers expected to find a dramatic loss of trees in New Orleans and said that it is most likely due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In fact, almost 10% of the city’s trees died in the four years after Katrina.

Even without the trees, we supposedly have manmade protection. But last week, in the wake of the previous two weekends’ floods, the recently retired sewerage and water board executive director (S&WB) Cedric Grant again repeated the oft-cited fact that “the pumps can only drain 1in of rain the first hour that they’re turned on and half an inch every subsequent hour”.

By most reports, the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, where I live, received almost 10in of rain in three hours on Saturday 5 August. Marigny Street itself was completely full and overflowing. Our neighbors moved their cars from the street to park up on higher sidewalks. The water quickly rose over the curbs, and into my own yard and drive. I was pulling my shallow draft Mudbug pirogue out of storage when the water finally stopped rising. My house is on a high lot four blocks from the river, and the main structure is built up on piers, so in the end, the water did not get to the floorboards.

The meteorological bottom line is that even if the entire pumping system had been operating at maximum capacity, as Grant and the S&WB general superintendent, Joseph Becker, had earlier claimed, the rain would still have overwhelmed the system.

However, when pressed by an angry public and a media swarm that sensed something amiss, Becker first admitted eight of the city’s pumps had been out of service before a drop of rain fell on Saturday.

Subsequent investigation found that of 67 pumps on the East Bank of the city, just 58 were “functional in some form”. But the board’s dedicated power system also failed, so that only 38 pumps could be used at one time. Half capacity. And according to the board’s own logs, one crucial pumping station, No 12 on the Lakefront, had not even been manned until four hours after the 3.30pm storm, and not actually turned on until 8.49pm. Which is exactly when residents say they first saw waters starting to recede.

So, we are in the midst of this monster rainstorm season, with hurricanes coming up in the Gulf. What do the ever-alert Nola civil service employees do in this circumstance? Well, of course, they take half the pumps we do have offline for maintenance. Most of these pumps work on antiquated 25-cycle electricity, instead of the prevalent 60-cycle system, and need power produced by the city’s turbine system to function.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who also serves as S&WB president, essentially fired all the top administrative personnel at the board on 8 August.

But his friend Cedric Grant was allowed to resign. For allowing the city to flood twice in two weeks, Grant will receive free health benefits and $175,400 a year in pension for the rest of his life.

And you can bet Mr Grant’s car did not get flooded or stolen.

On 13 August, Landrieu announced that the rainwater removal system was nowhere near up to speed, and that the city was “vulnerable” for the next two weeks, as the height of hurricane season approaches. He also reported that only two of the S&WB’s five electrical turbines, which power the pumps, were operational, and that a total of 26 mobile generators had been moved into place or were being transported into the city to provide additional electricity for the pumping system.

The immediate prospect is grim, even without a hurricane. Forecasts for the next week call for a 40-60% chance of “downpours” every day.

Twelve years after Katrina, things have not changed one iota at the New Orleans sewerage and water board. Still using tap, glue, and spit.

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