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Poll 'Struck a Nerve'
In her 20 years of polling, UNO political scientist Susan Howell says she has never seen such a "strong" local reaction as last week's uproar over the latest quality-of-life survey in the New Orleans area. Radio talk shows and Internet forums came alive after Howell announced the poll found that one-third of all residents in both Orleans and Jefferson parishes were considering leaving within the next two years. Howell says she was inundated with phone calls and emails afterward. "It obviously struck a nerve," Howell says. "People who are committed to staying apparently viewed [the poll] as offensive. And people who are considering leaving wanted to [say why]. I guess it surprised me the way people took it personally." Howell says she was dismayed when some media then began running unscientific call-in shows over whether people were staying or leaving. "Those kinds of surveys are not constructive, in my opinion," the professor says. The No. 1 reason cited by those inclined to leave is crime. "Getting control of crime is probably the most immediate problem to address in order to retain population," Howell says. -- Johnson


Sleepless in Big Easy
One of the most surprising findings of the recent UNO poll is that there has been no improvement in the mood of area residents over the last seven months, says pollster Susan Howell. One of every five residents surveyed in Orleans and Jefferson parishes reported feeling either irritable, sad, tired, weary, having trouble sleeping or lacking concentration "nearly every day," the poll showed. Fifteen months after Katrina, the stress on people here is "tremendous," says Howell, citing the massive labor shortage as one reason why. "Many people's jobs have been expanded simply because they have to take on other people's work." Residents also report frustration with a "lack of leadership," a lack of regular information on levee repairs and infrastructure improvements, and with the "slowness" of the recovery, Howell says. Most folks "want to know who is in charge, what's the plan and what's going to happen -- and when." Until then, "the good news is that these people are still here and they are still answering the phone." -- Johnson


Sharks Circling
The smell of money is wafting through the political waters and it's attracting all manner of sharks to the special session that kicks off this week. There's an $825 million surplus to be spent and everyone seems to have an opinion on it -- and there could be another $800 million up for grabs from this year's budget. Some lawmakers want to spend the surplus on roads. The governor wants to cut thousands of insurance rebate checks for Louisiana residents. Others want to wait to spend the money. Even the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations -- usually a quiet presence around the Capitol -- has tossed in its two cents. "This is a great opportunity for the state to think differently about our future," says Melissa Flournoy, LANO's president and a former state representative. "Reforming the capital outlay system, investing the housing trust fund and supporting the child-care quality rating system are vital to rebuilding systems to meet the needs of the state." Further details on the group's proposed priorities are included in its new report, "Louisiana Budget Basics: Guide to the Louisiana Budget." Meanwhile, political heavies like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the largest lobby in the state, has called for using the extra revenue to pay down debt, advance priority highway improvements, initiate coastal restoration projects, bolster flood control, improve health-care delivery, reduce taxes and create a state-supported reinsurance fund. It's a laundry list, indeed, and only one of many. But with an election year around the corner, everyone will be watching what's doled out. "The choices they make on how that money is used will be the biggest issue in the elections coming up next year," says LABI president Dan Juneau. -- Alford


Coastal Forum Dec. 12
"A Forum Defining a Coast" is the theme of a reception and forum on coastal recovery issues that will be held on Dec. 12 at the St. Dominic Gym, 6326 Memphis St. in Lakeview. The forum will be moderated by WWL Radio host Garland Robinette. The forum will feature local as well as national speakers, including Professor Ivor Van Heerden of LSU Hurricane Center, levee engineering study leader Bob Bea of the University of California Berkley, Anne Konigsmark of USA Today, Michael Grunwald of the Washington Post, Eugene Schreiber of the World Trade Center in New Orleans and local attorney Bruce Feingerts, former counsel to the Orleans Levee Board. The evening will begin with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by the forum at 7 p.m. "This forum is meant to tell a clear story of this region and its needs," says organizer Jimmy Delery. For more information, call 861-0333 or email Sponsors include the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation,, Beacon of Hope and St. Dominic Parish. -- DuBos


'Worst' Not So Bad Now
What was once considered the worst of times at City Hall might look pretty good now to city planners, developers and business people. A 1986 report by the City Planning Commission to then-Mayor Sidney Barthelemy recalls the last time New Orleans underwent massive layoffs of city workers and drastic cuts in service. The loss of seven of the 45 positions at the City Planning Commission back then, along with other cost-cutting measures, threatened to "erode our ability to guide and develop the city," then-chairperson Paulette J. Smith warned. By contrast, the $1.25 million proposed for the Planning Commission in Mayor Ray Nagin's 2007 budget would add 20 planners to the present staff of just nine. The goal: ending long delays in the processing of zoning and land-use applications for commercial and residential projects deemed critical to the recovery. City Planning Director Yolanda Rodriguez says she needs even more help to perform tasks mandated by the City Charter, including adopting a citywide master plan for development. As the 1986 report states, "City planning is simply a way of making the best of the future." -- Johnson


Survivor: Katrina Can't Compare to Hiroshima
The awesome destruction of Hurricane Katrina -- the worst natural disaster in U.S. history -- cannot compare to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, says a New Orleans man who survived both events. Sangman Kim, 83, a native of South Korea, briefly compared the calamities after attending an academic forum on the A-bomb during the International Conference on World War II at the World War II Museum recently. "Hiroshima is nothing left," Kim said, speaking through a family translator. In post-Katrina New Orleans, "buildings and houses are still here. And Hiroshima was covered with fires and ash." A Korean conscript in the Japanese marines, Kim was only 2 miles from Ground Zero at Hiroshima, yet he suffered only a slight hearing loss, family members say. ("Hiroshima Memories," Aug. 2, 2005) He downplays his role as a witness to the historic dawn of the nuclear age, but sometimes jokes how he can still glow in the dark. After Katrina, Kim initially refused family pleas to leave his home in Marrero, but relented after witnessing looting in the Metairie area and the arrival of armed troops. Kim still works at Korea House, his family's restaurant in Fat City. -- Johnson


No More Dry Holes?
It took the state more than a year to draft the rules and regulations, but a new program has finally been launched to help oil companies recoup losses from so-called dry holes. The law, which technically went into effect last summer, aims to assist oil and gas companies that find themselves empty-handed after an expensive drilling operation turns up nothing but silt and sand. Formally, it's called the Developed Resources in Louisiana Act, or DRIL, and it allows companies that hit a dry hole to deduct 50 percent of the royalties they owe on the next good well they drill. Financial forecasts originally attached to the legislation estimated a return from the program of more than $1 billion over the next 26 years. State officials hope the program will help bring back old oil towns like Venice and continue strengthening hot spots like Port Fourchon. As an environmental side note, the law also requires oil companies to mitigate 1.25 acres of land for every acre of wetland impacted. Dave Meloy, a geologist supervisor with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, says the law could bolster drilling activity because it encourages companies to continue investing in the state -- and it's an incentive not found in neighboring regions. Eligible wells must be drilled in offshore waters at a depth greater than 19,999 feet. On average, such an undertaking can cost companies $30 million, Meloy says, which explains why a tax credit is needed to encourage more exploration. "Right now 20,000-foot wells are expensive, and they'll always be expensive to drill," he says. "That's not going to change." -- Alford


Farmers Taken By Surprise
Farmers and ranchers in Louisiana are still bristling at recent news that the popular guaranteed loan program many are eligible for could expire at the end of the year. There has been no official warning from the federal government, and it now appears up to Congress to save the day. However, drumming up support for a simple extension of a Farm Bill provision has proven difficult during the current lame-duck session. That's because the larger bill is considered controversial, while the smaller loan provision isn't. Still, the two are connected. The entire congressional delegation has sent a letter to the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, but there's been no movement yet. The Farm Service Agency loan program provides operating money to "several hundred" farms in Louisiana, according to Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lafayette Republican. "A temporary extension will allow these family farms to stay operational until the current Farm Bill is reauthorized," he says. For now, the clock is ticking louder each day, but December is expected to be a busy month as countless measures are rushed through this Congress' final days. -- Alford


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