BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Residents of North Baton Rouge expressed frustration over lacking economic and healthcare opportunities at a town hall meeting Thursday.
The meeting, which was set up by Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel, came just one day after two hours of an East Baton Rouge Metro Council meeting were spent debating inequality in the parish.
"The reason why we may have high crime in our communities is because there opportunities in our community. But if you bring opportunities, then the crime is going to d rop, said state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. "Everything that exists on the south side of town, we want it on the north side of town."
Topics at the meeting ranged from business to recreation, including the Baton Rouge Zoo. In recent months, leaders have discussed the option of moving the zoo as part of an improvement plan.
"There is sufficient land to expand. There is sufficient economic interest, but for the fact that we are beginning to build up the southern part of this parish, particularly the St. George area, to the exclusion and denigration of North Baton Rouge, this wouldn't even be an issue," said Joyce Plummer, an attorney and member of the panel.
The full house gathered for the meeting almost universally agreed, calling for the zoo to stay where it is. On Tuesday, members of the NAACP released a letter, objecting to any move of the zoo.
Zoo director Phil Frost pointed out that approximately 1.2 percent of the visitors to the zoo actually come from the 70807 zip code, where it is located. Community members responded by asking how the zoo is reaching out to and advertising to those local residents.
"Are we going to change and go in a different direction? I don't know. There has not been a decision made about the zoo," said BREC superintendent Carolyn McKnight.
A discussion over healthcare also produced a heated discussion. The health district designed for part of south Baton Rouge was the topic that first launched the Metro Council debate Wednesday. It would stretch across the campuses of Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General on Bluebonnet Boulevard.
"The health care district in South Baton Rouge basically is about economic development. It's not so much about health care," said Gary Chambers, the publisher of The Rouge Collection website.
Since the closure of the Earl K. Long Hospital and the emergency room at the Mid-City branch of Baton Rouge General, the northern part of the city has lacked local access to emergency care.
"What good is it for me to have a job on the other side of town, if I get sick on this side of town and there's nowhere for me to go to take care of myself?" Chambers said.
Questions still remain as to what sort of change will come, if any. Though one young LSU student did provide a rallying cry as the meeting came to a close.
"If you want true change in your community, then you need to be the one to go your neighbor, to make phone calls, to send out those emails," he said.