WBS: “Expecting population surge, Lafayette presses for aid”

Whats Being Said Department

The Boston Globe has a great overview story on the situation in our situation here in Lafayette. It’s reassuring to know that sensationalistic coverage isn’t universal. Some bits:

LAFAYETTE, La. — If disaster aid follows the evacuees, then folks in Lafayette are waiting for the assistance to start flowing. They already have the people…

While Baton Rouge is larger, closer to New Orleans, and has the state government seat, Lafayette, with its boiled crawfish, gumbo, and zydeco, is a key element of Louisiana culture…

City-Parish President Joey Durel said he expected Lafayette’s population of 112,000 to rise by about a third in what he called ”unnatural growth,” which will affect all aspects of life and government. Lafayette is the only major city in Louisiana that has grown in the past 15 years, and outside New Orleans, it is the most progressive in terms of arts and culture, Durel said. Many New Orleanians have deep ties to Lafayette, and officials are concerned that many of the displaced will feel comfortable relocating here instead of returning…

I think the word is more the author wants, and like “anticipating” than “concerned.” Durel has emphasized that how to deal with the inevitable is the issue. And folks here do seem to be on the stick about this. From a distance I have to say that Walter Guillory seems to be stepping into a role of real leadership.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is scouting areas to build temporary housing. The Lafayette Housing Authority is helping put together a proposal for a $1.5 billion federal grant that would provide housing and self-sufficiency programs for displaced Katrina victims throughout the state, said Walter Guillory, the housing authority’s executive director. So far, 9,000 evacuees have registered in Lafayette for low- to moderate-income housing…

There are a lot of good, succienctly-stated examples of the changes Lafayette is undergoing. But there is a plan, if unimplemented, to deal with these issues. I’ve read big chunks of the LINC documents in the course of trying to understand its telecom and fiber suggestions and I was knocked back by the intelligence of the work. It’s a great starting place…if you compress a 20 year timeline for rational expansion into 3.

In terms of the medium- to long-term impact on the city, Durel said Lafayette has a strategic plan for expansion: Lafayette In the New Century, or LINC.

But there is no way to implement a 20-year plan within a year, argued Bill Bacque, CEO of Van Eaton and Associates, the city’s largest real estate firm.

”What’s going to happen? Who the heck knows?” he said. ”There is nothing we can turn to, nothing in history, no guide that we can pull off the shelf, nothing other than a gut feeling of what we can do. There is no owner’s manual for Hurricane Katrina.”

“Lafayette computer center seeks volunteers”

Kevin Blanchard kindly issued a call for volunteers in today’s Advocate. LCT has been involved with that project using computers it had collected for a planned digital divide projects in Lafayette when the hurricane hit. The computers were quickly gathered up and gotten to the dome through the efforts of a few of our number who provided the contacts, expertise and energy to get it going quickly. David Goodwyn and Bryan Fuselier deserve special ataboys for their part in that initial effort. A cadre of about 8 volunteers have been responsible for getting it going and keeping it operating at the dome. Soliciting and managing volunteers has been the domain of folks arranged through David, Zydetech, and the Chamber though the webform for contacting them is located on the LCT website.

The operation is still in the organizing stage: Things go smoothly because folks are kind hearted and cooperative. There are lots of folks sent in from the front of the building and lots of folks that just show up to volunteer. We hope to get that going better. We need everyone we can get our hands on, of course. But we especially need people who can be 1) lead volunteers, and take a regular set of shifts. –Its’ becoming clear that experience is very helpful–and reliability even more so! and 2) patient people who are comfortable searching the web and filling out web-based forms.

It’s rewarding duty. People are in various ways are getting their lives back together. It’s satisfying for them and for the folks helping. Even the hard parts, where people absorb unhappy news, have the quality putting things in place and allowing them to move on….

It’s worth doing.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy or There They Go Again

The headline of a Cox press release: “Cox Communications Won’t Charge New Orleans Customers Until Services Restored.” And in the text: “…we will not charge customers for services not delivered.” Really. Honestly. I’m not making this up. Just follow the link and you’ll see.

You might think that this is tacit acknowledgement of just how bad Cox’s customer relations are. That they know that people believe Cox will try and stiff them and so are going to lengths to reassure the public. Nothing so direct or honest: Once you look at the release a close reading will reveal that what Cox is really concerned about is that you’ll cancel your services–and maybe never turn them back on; or, almost as bad, that you won’t turn them back on until you can afford them. So Cox turns its publicity machine to trying to reassure you that you needn’t do anything now because you won’t be charged until your location is actually back in service.

“As residents and businesses recover from this tragedy and deal with countless details of getting their lives back on track, we want to reassure them they don’t have to worry about calling us to manage billing for their cable TV, phone and Internet services right now,” said Greg Bicket, Region Vice President and General Manager of Cox’s operations in the New Orleans area.

Its hard not to believe that if folks follow Greg’s advice and just ignore the fact that they have a contract with Cox that in a few months some couple living in Phoenix won’t get a Cox bill forwarded from their Ninth Ward address because Cox lit up their old house the month before. It’s hard to believe that the people from Cox don’t know this.

Here’s a better way to reassure people that has the virtue of actually helping them: tell folks you understand that times are hard and that anyone who ends service now won’t charged a reconnect fee to get turned back on when they get on their feet. Or better, that when the reconnect comes your first month and a half is free and that your “bill” for that first month of service will let you know when it’s time to disconnect without charge if you no longer are at that location or no longer wish to receive Cox service. (It’s possible to be honest, concerned, and to serve long-term corporate interests.)

The sort of smarmy, self-serving reasoning exhibited in this press release leaves a very sour taste in peoples’ mouth. It is the sort of self-serving reasoning that led Cox in Lafayette to tell the residents of Lafayette that they were opposing the city’s fiber optic initiative because they were concerned that the citizen’s taxes would be raised. Cox does not care about your taxes and will never show up during sales tax or property tax elections. They don’t really care about reassuring you that you won’t be charged for services your location doesn’t receive either. They do care about their bottom line. That’s ok; we can live with that. But attempting to deceive us about your motives just promotes distrust.

We’d all feel a lot better about corporations with Cox’s enormous resources if they didn’t try and pretend that moves clearly intended to increase their local take weren’t justified by falsely solicitous reasoning.

All of this makes me a little sad as well as angry. Cox is, I know, is doing plenty of good works right now, putting in services like a bank of 6 or so VOIP phones in the entry area of the Cajundome for residents to use. I believe the folks who came and installed those phones and those that ordered their placement did so because it was the right thing to do (the same motive that drove the folks who put the Sprint and Cingular trailers with free-to-use cell phones in the dome or our own volunteers who brought their own VOIP phones to the dome) and that people who are working hard to do the right thing don’t deserve to be associated with the sort of reflexive deception to which this release points.

Public Service Commission Rescheduled

(Back to our regularly scheduled channel)

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) meeting cancelled on September 1 has been rescheduled to September 14 at 8 am in the Galvez Building, Natchez Room in Baton Rouge.

Let’s hope that the PSC now has better things to do than paying attention to corporations that would like to make it difficult for communities to solve their own problems. Now more than ever we in Lafayette need the maximum freedom and the flexibility to run our own lives and control our own cost. Cox and BellSouth need to stop making our lives more difficult than they need to be.

“Many Displaced by Katrina Turn to Relatives for Shelter”

Here’s a story from the Washington Post, one of America’s great newspapers that pursues a non-sensational story about our disaster. Some good bits excerpted. Get thee to the full story for rest.

LAFAYETTE, La., Sept. 7 — Owing to stealthy acts of hospitality that are largely invisible to government, aid agencies and the news media, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina seem to be disappearing — into the embrace of their extended families.

It is hard to see and harder to quantify, but kinfolk from Louisiana — a state that has the most sedentary family structure in the country, with 79 percent of its current residents born here — are quietly sponging up the bulk of the people whose homes have been destroyed in and around New Orleans, according to Red Cross officials, local politicians and longtime students of Louisiana hurricanes…

Ellis, who lives in Indiana and has worked with the Red Cross after four hurricanes in Florida, said the willingness of people in Louisiana to provide housing, food and clothing to large numbers of relatives and family friends is unique in her experience…

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army all said they have no precise numbers on how many people displaced by the hurricane are staying with family or friends or in hotels. The numbers are more precise for those in shelters — 182,000 people, said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for FEMA.

But estimates of the total number of evacuees in the Gulf Coast states are dramatically higher than that.

Louisiana officials have said there were more than 1 million evacuees from that state alone, and Mississippi officials have said the total number of people displaced there could be several hundred thousand.

“Without families, we would have a major, major disaster in this part of Louisiana,” said Walter Guillory, director of the Lafayette Housing Authority.

“It has been more than seven days, and FEMA is just getting ready to put an office in Lafayette,” said Gerald Breaux, director of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. “If the families and the community didn’t step up, we would still be waiting.”

It is all very, very hard. Family is important here and people will help out for as long as they can… FEMA will be making a very large mistake if it chooses to, as Red Cross officials are telling me, gather all the people without resources into mass shelters in order to receive assitance. There is nothing to say but that that is stupid in the extreme and will only slow the victims integration into our community. Give them money where they are. I can say from first hand experience that FEMA’s culture prefers control over service. That must change. It killed people in New Orleans and they need to get over it. Picture IDs should NOT have been FEMA’s first act when they finally got around to us.

(I had volunteers waiting for 3 and half hours to get a silly picture card in order to get to a 3 hour shift at the Dome Compter Center. FEMA should have known better and local Red Cross folks should have defied the Feds and waved through the volunteers who had been working for a week at the shelter without the need for clearly unnecessary security–if that level of security had ever been neccessary the moment for it was over. Our organization made sure the registration process got two more computers. That was necessary to facilitate the work. But we shouldn’t have had to waste any resources on it. And neither should the Red Cross. Nor, most especially should the dome residents who have been nothing but helpful and cooperative.)

“Dalton FTTH network paying off”

Yet another municipal fiber success story. Dalton, Georgia is yet another FTTH project that, like Bristol, seems on its way to becoming a roaring success. (And, also like Bristol, is a city that has been abused by the bought and paid for psuedo-academic think tanks of the incumbent Telecommunications corporations.) Like Bristol, they too are running ahead of their business plan and begining to expand outside the city to serve larger parts of the surrounding community. Saith Ray Buzzard of the Dalton Utility company:

“We are ahead of our business plan – we were projected to hit payback in 12 years and we’ll beat that by two years.”

Of course not everything is peaches and cream, not even in Georgia. They do have their problems:

The growing problem for Dalton Utilities, if there is one, is that neighborhoods are clamoring for the service faster than the network can be built.

Folks like dealing with a local company.

“When our customers call customer service, they get a human being, and a human being that sounds like them, with an Appalachian twang,” he said. “If we can’t fix your problem, we roll a truck. A lot of times, it’s a matter of plugging something back in, but we do it anyway.

It’s working in Dalton. It’s going to work here.


Digital Divide in Illinois

Our friend Annie Collins from Fiber for Our Future in the Tri-Cities of Illinios has been named to a state-wide digital divide panel there.

A key element in the announcement is tucked away at the end:

The Council will make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding telecommunications initiatives that require legislative approval, including the creation of a state entity that handles distribution of funds for private and public telecommunications projects.

That the panel is charged to design an “entity” that handles distribution of monies for both private and public telecommunications projects is notable. What makes it even more interesting is that the composition of the panel includes flat-out advocates of the public interest like Annie and Bill Samuels of Chicago’s Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide.

This contrasts distressingly with our state’s rural broadband initiative, a group called the Louisiana Broadband Council. Mike dissected their membership. But suffice it to say that what is missing from the mix is anyone to represent rural consumers…..

“Refugees deserve Lafayette’s trust and full support”

Another break from our usual programming;

From the Advertiser, a letter to the editor from Guy LeBreton a local police corporal who worked the Cajundome. Excerpts:

As a police officer, I spent Wednesday night at the Cajundome as many of the displaced residents from New Orleans were brought in. I want to share my experiences.

I am ashamed to admit that when I was first notified that I would have to provide assistance and security at the shelter, my thoughts were about having to fight with angry, violent mobs coming in frustrated from their recent disaster and the treatment from rescuers and law enforcement along the way. Learning that we would have to search each and his or her belongings for contraband, I expected more resistance….

I awoke Thursday to reports of riots, robberies and terrorizing in Lafayette from these people. For a moment, I was ashamed of the community where I was raised and where I work. Then, I realized that all of you have not seen and heard what I have. These people are physically and emotionally beaten down. They are not here to ravage Lafayette. In fact, many commented how they have been treated better here than in New Orleans. I am embarrassed that my community would foster such rumors without any evidence.

Good for Guy. What seems criminal to me is the national news media’s self-indulgent, sensational treatment of the “anarchy” to which New Orleans was abandoned that has the consequence of feeding the sorts of irrational fears of which Mr. LeBreton complains. Our local media folks appear to have tamped down their instincts in this direction pretty quickly; a fact for which I am grateful.

Of course there are here, as elsewhere, always the shameful few. A fie on
Reginald Tosclair: Apartment complex forces evacuees to leave. (Interestingly, I couldn’t find this article on the KATC website; apparently I am not the only one who finds such behavior embarrassing.)

Stop The Rumors

The State Police have issued a warning to the media to Stop the Rumors. There have been NO riots at the Centroplex or the Cajundome and there is NO sudden rise in robberies or carjacking in Acadiana. They are asking the media not to broadcast unconfirmed rumors of civil unrest and, instead to “dispel these rumors.” This is good advice for citizens as well as media.

I have spent most of my days recently in the Cajundome with the refugees and I cannot tell you how angry it makes me to hear what some people are saying in response to our neighbors in need. These are people who have been subjected to the greatest losses imaginable and have reacted with calmness and good will that is a testament to all that is human. They are unfailingly polite and kind to each other and have been nothing but good to the volunteer staff at the ad hoc computer center LCT and the tech community has set up in the dome. Stunningly, unbelieveably, they are sympathetic with us when we can’t figure out how to help them find the information they so desperately need.

We would all do well to turn off CNN’s endless replays of sensational footage, to tune out the whackos on talk radio, to flick the channel on the empty-headed local news readers and to get ourselves to local shelters to help out people who are just like us and could have been us if that storm had moved a few degrees west.

Stop the Rumors