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The Extraordinary Virtue of Ordinary Americans, and The Rebuilding Challenge

Email Email Print is a brilliant new portal designed out of the goodness of his heart by NZ Bear. Any institution or organization impacted by Katrina can register their needs there, and hopefully the web can search out partners to help meet that need. Please let people know about this new site.

NZ’s generosity online is being matched again and again by the extraordinary efforts of ordinary Americans. MudvilleGazette alerted me to Dr. Goodheart’s ramble down to the recovery region, which now goes into my file along with Todd Sousa’s relief convoy and the Carolinas Medical Center’s emergency room on wheels, with its 90+ staff including my friend Dr. Lee Garvey.

Those are just three names from among tens of thousands of ordinary Americans who have literally dropped everything to rush to the aid of the fellow citizens.


When President Bush addresses the nation tonight, I hope he highlights such volunteers, and then turns to the subject of making the government’s response at least as effective as the private sector’s collective effort.

How will the government organize the rebuilding? It is this area of the recovery effort that is most likely to falter.

Thirteen years ago, after the fires were put out and order restored in Los Angeles, Peter Ueberroth was tasked to lead RebuildLA, and he threw himself into the effort. He retired after one year, having achieved some significant early successes, but slowed by the glacial pace and deep local politics that dominated Los Angeles even as it does most cities in the country.

As billions are approrpiated for the rebuilding effort, the Congress and the President should look very hard at the one condition that will make or break rebuilidng: Control over the local permitting process. Under its Spending Clause authority, Congress most certainly can condition the expenditure of the money upon the states and the local governments’ agreement to cede their land use authority to the federal effort for a period certain –say two years. Congress can also energize the effort by suspending the operation of various environmental laws in the recovery region, thus sweeping out of the way of the rebuilding the NEPA paperwork, the Endangered Species gamesmanship, and the third party standing of individuals less concerned with housing units than the recapturing of “wetland” areas.

Imagine a body empowered to spend and to authorize construction headed by get-it-done Democrats like John Breaux and Sam Nunn, with tough minded GOP reps thrown in as well. (What’s Lynne Cheney doing these days?) What the hell, give Trump a call. Of course they’d need to consult with locals and they’d need a large architechtural and engineering staff, but the idea of assembling an A Team from across the nation to tackle the construction aspects of this disaster –from the I-10 to the bridges to the thousands and thousands of housing units lost– makes compelling sense and would actually spur the region’s rise from the floor.

But if rebuilding LA, and MS and AL is left with the locals, and all the laws that choke development are left in place to sap the energy and the commitment of property owners in the region, don’t expect the vibrant recovery that is in fact possible, if the political will exists to demand it.

Governors Blanco and Barbour would have to cooperate with such a bold innovation, and would have to swallow hard. But if the best interests of their states are considered, a temporary ceding of control in exchange for speed and money is a very good deal indeed.


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