East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden on Wednesday defended his efforts to bring new business to north Baton Rouge but cautioned that government can do only so much to spur development.
Holden and a host of city and state leaders appeared at a north Baton Rouge town hall meeting to answer questions from residents worried about the area economy, crime, education and health care. The nearly three-hour meeting had about 200 people at some points.
One woman asked how to bring a Wal-Mart or grocery store to north Baton Rouge, which is often classified as a food desert void of access to fresh food.
“Can we borrow one from Coursey Boulevard?” she asked, prompting cheers throughout the auditorium at Scotlandville Magnet High School.
Holden said it is ultimately up to developers to decide to build in a community.
“We can go out and tell people what we have, which we’re doing constantly; we can’t make them come, but we’re doing the best we can,” Holden said.
William Daniel, the city-parish chief administrative officer, attended the meeting with stacks of binders that list plans for economic development and improvements in each north Baton Rouge community. Daniel said the city-parish gave $278,000 to the Redevelopment Authority in recent years to outline plans to improve north Baton Rouge.
Holden also pointed to road improvements in north Baton Rouge as part of the Green Light Plan. But of the Green Light Plan’s 36 road improvement projects, only six are in north Baton Rouge.
At the town hall, led by self-described community organizer Daniel Banguel, many residents asked about the image of the Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. One person asked how to restore respect to police officers, rather than the fear many in north Baton Rouge have of them.
Police Chief Carl Dabadie said police officers have tried to work on their community relations. He and Holden pointed to programs in which police officers are introducing themselves in neighborhoods they patrol and eating lunch at schools.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, also said he’s working on criminal justice reform at a national level. Richmond may find a challenger in Holden this fall, who has announced he’s 90 percent sure he will run for Richmond’s congressional seat.
Richmond said he wants to repeal mandatory sentences for offenders and find alternatives to incarceration.
Many also asked about the lack of an emergency room in north Baton Rouge. State Sen. Regina Barrow and Rep. Ted James, both Baton Rouge democrats, said they are actively working on a solution to the health care gap in the city-parish. They said they have been encouraged by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who announced last week that he wants to explore reopening Baton Rouge General’s Mid City Emergency Room, which closed a year ago.