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A delegation of Sacramento business and political leaders returned from a four-day tour of New Orleans with fresh insight into what it takes for a city to recover and thrive after a disaster, including improving transportation methods, sustainable housing and flood protections.
“New Orleans had a unique opportunity to reinvent itself because of all the investments made there after Katrina,” City Councilman Kevin McCarty said Tuesday. “We need to look at how we can reinvent ourselves here, too.”
On Tuesday, Council Members Angelique Ashby, Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty and Mayor Kevin Johnson shared the lessons learned from the people in New Orleans about methods of recovery the city has used to rebuild itself after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.
“(New Orleans) Mayor (Mitch) Landrieu is a vibrant, energetic mayor,” Johnson said, “and he is an excellent example of the focus it takes to turn things around after a disaster. We went (there) to learn from the work they have done in New Orleans.”
Johnson, Ashby, Cohn, McCarty and 85 other delegates joined Maggie Townsley, public policy vice chairwoman for the Sacramento Metro Chamber, for the chamber‘s 13th annual study mission in Louisiana last week.
The study mission is a program the Metro Chamber develops every year to provide a learning experience for delegates about the challenges faced by other regions and how they successfully manage those challenges for long-term regional prosperity, according to the chamber website.
“We represent about 170,000 employees in the Sacramento region,” Townsley said. “One of the key things we do is partner with government and nonprofit organizations to further specific objectives for the region.”
Some of the objectives highlighted on this year’s study mission include improving city transportation, public housing and flood control.
Delegates on the tour had the opportunity to meet with Landrieu and other civic leaders and came away with ideas for improving Sacramento and the region.
“It’s been six years since New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina,” Ashby said Tuesday, “but the devastation from that event was widespread, and you can still see it.”
Ashby said that one thing that struck her was that the flood waters during the hurricane reached nearly 20 feet in height.
“Should our levees break in Natomas,” Ashby said, “we could be as deep as 33 feet. We can’t let that happen.”
Ashby said it is necessary to improving flood protection for the region, including having the levees in her district certified by the federal government for improvement funding.
One thing McCarty said he found fascinating in New Orleans was how they are rebuilding their public housing.
“One in five kids lives in poverty,” McCarty said, “and many times those families are isolated in neighborhoods divided from economic development and grocery stores and other public investments that improve the neighborhood.”
McCarty said one thing that the city of New Orleans has done to “reinvent” the city’s public housing is taking down old units and rebuilding them as mixed-income units.
“They are making sure they have (an economic) blend to bring in development opportunities,” McCarty said. “That is something we are going to look at for some of our neighborhoods here in Sacramento.
McCarty said that neighborhood housing and development, especially for low-income populations, should be a priority for Sacramento.
Representatives from the Sacramento Metro Chamber are preparing a report about the study mission and said they expect it to be completed sometime next week.
Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.