Culture vs. enforcement: Could SB 140 change our City Administration’s priorities?

At its April 2013 Board meeting, the French Quarter Management District presented a draft copy of a flyer titled, “Do You Know It’s Illegal To: French Quarter Businesses” detailing the existing laws and ordinances applicable to businesses operating in the French Quarter (complete with citations!). This document, although still in draft form pending verification and final approval, is an eye-opening compendium of the existing ordinances and laws applying to businesses — and particularly “Alcohol Beverage Outlets” (ABOs or bars) operating in the Vieux Carré.

(For example: it’s illegal to “Allow an employee or any other person on the premises of a Class A ABO, including a doorway, to expose unclothed or in attire any portion of the cleft of the buttocks OR a female breast below the top of the areola. Law differs for live entertainers while onstage. La. R.S. 26:290 (B)(1) & (2), (D), (E); Sec. 110-157, 434, 435” — who knew?!)

In April 2012, the French Quarter Management District also produced a similar — albeit more generalized — flyer detailing the ordinances and laws relative to individuals/citizens/residents: “Do You Know It’s Illegal To: ILLEGAL In the French Quarter.” This document is also reportedly currently being updated with minor revisions.

While both of these documents are interesting, it’s common knowledge that our City Administration’s emphasis on enforcement of such ordinances and laws is inconsistent at best. This could be, in part, because Louisiana law currently limits the amount of fines assessed at the municipal level to a maximum of just $500.

However, Senator J.P. Morrell (D-Dist. 3) is introducing Senate Bill 140 as part of the 2013 Legislative Session (its digest states as follows):

Present law mandates the maximum penalty to be imposed for violation of any parish ordinance is $500 and imprisonment of 30 days in the parish jail.

Proposed law provides for the city of New Orleans to establish a maximum penalty for violations of any parish ordinance as codified in the city code of ordinances at $5,000 and imprisonment of six months in the parish jail.

Effective August 1, 2013.

If SB 140 is passed and our City’s Administration figures out that there’s a possible new revenue stream from stepping up enforcement efforts, these odd little laws that are already on the books might become surprisingly — and possibly unexpectedly — significant. The passage of this bill will likely mean that our city’s officials will pursue more aggressive — and lucrative — fines for numerous violations that are currently possibly considered to be too costly to routinely enforce.

While I am generally in favor of this proposed bill, I am also concerned that it could have unforeseen consequences… particularly when one considers the enforcement efforts that have already been identified as “priority” issues by our elected officials.

Keep in mind, too, that the impact of this proposed bill will affect all of Orleans Parish — not just the French Quarter. Heads up, everybody!

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These birds don’t need to fly South — help keep New Orleans free of “duck boat” tours!

The New Orleans Steamboat Co. and Grayline Tours have filed an application requesting a license to operate “duck boat tours.”

These excursions will travel along Decatur Street through the French Quarter to the Grayline location at the Toulouse Street Wharf, then to Canal Street and out to Lake Pontchartrain. At this time, I’m guessing that these WWII amphibious landing craft vehicles will return to that location for tour participants to disembark, but the precise route of travel throughout the city isn’t something I’ve been able to confirm (yet).  It has been reported that tours will likely also depart from and return to the WWII Museum due to its inherent tie-in with the type of vehicle being used.

The congestion and the sheer variety of vehicles traveling on Decatur Street is already alarming. In addition to standard buses directed to use Decatur as an approved bus route, there are the mule-drawn buggies, the questionably safe candy-colored three-wheeled toy cars, shorter buses and faux trolleys that are permitted to travel throughout the Quarter, pedicabs and, most recently, double-decker hop-on/hop-off tour buses — all in addition to personal vehicles, delivery trucks, taxis, bicycles, etc.

Do we really need to add over-sized amphibious landing craft into the mix of traffic traveling throughout our notoriously pothole-riddled city? I suspect that our elected officials will come to realize that it’s simply too much only after the appropriate licenses have been issued (and the wheels and propellers have started spinning).

I view these duck boat tours as an encroaching invasive species — yet another homogenized cookie-cutter tourist experience not particularly different from all of the other duck boat tours offered in several other cities in the United States. And I am absolutely confident that New Orleans will continue to draw a staggering number of visitors (9.01 million during 2012!) without the addition of this novelty tour.

These open-air vehicles will feature amplified music and the tour guides will use theatrical-quality sound systems to broadcast their repetitive spiels. Tour participants are also encouraged to sing along with recorded music at particular locations along the route, asked to use souvenir plastic “quackers” frequently, and urged to be boisterous to draw attention to the spectacle — noisy displays of “participatory fun” are a part of the overall promotional marketing strategy for these tours.

An example of the duck boat tour experience can be viewed via this video:

 

The duck boat tours have recently ruffled feathers in Seattle, as well:

The company bills the rides as a “party that floats,” complete with a “crazy captain” who narrates the passing scenery through a loudspeaker and passengers outfitted with duck squawkers.

At the height of summer, the Duck boats enter and leave Lake Union 150 times a day, or about once every four minutes in a 10-hour day, according to company estimates and the neighbors’ calculations. Plans call for a ramp just south of a small street-end park and 100 feet from the nearest houseboats.

“It’s like putting a truck route through a quiet, residential neighborhood,” said Dave Galvin, who has lived on a nearby houseboat for 26 years.

Further, a duck boat tour resulted in the deaths of two tourists in Philadelphia, PA: Duck Boat Survivor Describes Chaos of 2010 Barge Crash on Delaware River. A “runaway duck” boat caused a seven-car pile-up in Boston; another ran over a motorcyclist stopped at a red light, then dragged its victim through a prominent downtown Seattle intersection. The Huffington Post conveniently provides additional accident reporting: Duck Boats Have a History of Accidents: A Brief Guide. As one writer noted (regarding the Boston accident), “Weird. It’s almost as if amphibious vehicles from WWII are unreliable or something.” This might very well be true, given that were designed for storming beaches in combat zones instead of providing recreational tours in densely-populated urban environments.

I wonder, how many neighborhoods in New Orleans will be directly affected by these tours? These notably ugly and loud vehicles could end up traveling through any neighborhood deemed “interesting” for whatever purpose serves the tour companies and their guides, just like any other bus tour. Since the most common model of this vehicle exceeds 31′ in length, they won’t be allowed into the interior of the French Quarter… but I don’t believe that any similar prohibition protects any other neighborhood in New Orleans.

(Keep in mind, too, that the Vieux Carré isn’t entirely immune to a future duck boat tour invasion — reportedly there are variations of these vehicles currently in use in other cities that are shorter than 31′ in length, suggesting the possibility they could be seen traveling within the Quarter eventually.)

The way I understand it at this moment, when someone applies for a For Hire Vehicle Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience (CPNC) license for the purpose of operating a tour, it’s pretty much handled directly by the city’s Taxi for Hire Vehicle Bureau (under the purview of its Director, Malachi Hull). In general, a tour is a tour is a tour — even if an application involves a type of vehicle not yet in use in the city of New Orleans. I am unaware of any particular requirement for new types of vehicles or tours to go before the City Council’s Transportation Committee for public review and comment.

Yesterday I sent the following email inquiry (and will add any reply received to this post):

Date: Sun, Mar 24, 2013 at 5:05 PM
Subject: Seeking Transportation Committee agenda information
re: “Ride the Ducks”
To: “Kristin G. Palmer” <kgpalmer@nola.gov>, “Vincent J. Rossmeier” <vjrossmeier@nola.gov>

Hello, Councilmember Palmer:

I understand that the New Orleans Steamboat Co. & Grayline Tours have requested a CPNC license to operate duck boat tours that will travel along Decatur Street through the French Quarter to the Grayline tour bays, then to Canal Street and out to Lake Pontchartrain, etc.

May I please ask when this might appear on the New Orleans City Council’s Transportation Committee agenda for public consideration and comment? According to the “Tentative Committee Meeting Schedule” posted online, it appears that the next meeting of this committee is scheduled for 10:00 AM on Tuesday, March 26, 2013.

Thank you for your time and assistance.

Kalen Wright

I don’t believe that there’s much available in terms of legal prohibitions for our City Council to trot out to deny the issuance of a CPNC license for these tours. These vehicles are being characterized as “tour buses.” We let tour buses travel the perimeter of the French Quarter routinely (as part of the ages-old compromise to keep them out of the the Vieux Carré’s interior) and to otherwise roam the city freely. However, these ugly-as-hell vehicles and the noisy behavior of tour participants will constitute a regularly-scheduled nuisance for all, most particularly those who happen to live near a featured attraction along the tour’s route.

We need for a popular uprising objecting to the proposed duck boat tour invasion of New Orleans, if for no other reason than to give our City Council a groundswell of constituent concern to use as a shield.

Please write to our city Council members, Mayor Landrieu, and New Orleans Taxicab and For Hire Bureau Director Malachi Hull immediately regarding this issue — because there’s not an overt requirement calling for public review or comment regarding this matter, a license could unfortunately be issued at any time.

For convenience here’s a handy clip-and-paste address list:

Malachi Hull <mhull@nola.gov>, Kristin G. Palmer <kgpalmer@nola.gov>, Susan Guidry <sgguidry@nola.gov>, James Gray II <jagray@nola.gov>, Stacy Head <shead@nola.gov>, Jackie Brechtel Clarkson <jbclarkson@nola.gov>, LaToya Cantrell <lcantrell@nola.gov>, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell <chmorrell@nola.gov>, Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu <mjlandrieu@nola.gov>

Opposition to outlandish vehicles isn’t without precedent in New Orleans. Please consider the words of Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (with a hat tip to Jeffrey at Library Chronicles):

I wish that those Scenicruisers would be discontinued; it would seem to me that their height violates some interstate highway statue regarding clearance in tunnels and so forth. Perhaps one of you, dear readers, with a legal turn of mind can dredge the appropriate clause from your memory. Those things really must be removed. Simply knowing that they are hurtling somewhere on this dark night makes me most apprehensive.

Or, as Thom Kahler quipped when I started posting my concerns regarding this subject elsewhere on the Internet, “Oh, no, no! Let’s hold out for ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!'”

Duck boat tours in New Orleans? Please, let’s all sound off with a loud and heartfelt “HELL, NO!” chorus right now! Send a reminder to our elected officials once again that we are a community — not a commodity.

How many Mayors does it take to fix a busted streetlight?

Photo by Grace Wilson @GraceLovesNOLA — used with permission.

I’m sensing a recurring trend with regard to our city officials’ modus operandi… Long-overdue sewerage system repairs needed? Pass the cost on to ratepayers’ bills to the tune of a 114% cumulative increase over eight years’ time! Broken streetlights? Hike the Entergy bill $24-36 per year with no clearly articulated and documented plan for implementation or proposed sunset date!

On Tuesday, 1/8/13, the New Orleans City Council’s Public Works Committee convened a single-subject meeting: to hear the initial proposal regarding a requested addition to the city’s Entergy franchise fee. I was relieved that several of our Councilmembers questioned the proposal outright and indicated that this matter requires additional scrutiny.

Areas of particular concern included potential savings to be realized through increased energy efficiency and if such savings could be leveraged to decrease maintenance costs as a recurring revenue stream. Councilmember Susan Guidry also questioned whether this proposed increase to the franchise fee was even legal.

“‘We’ve got a lot of numbers in here,’ council member Stacy Head said, referring to the presentation made Tuesday. ‘But, I’m unable to extract from these numbers exactly what we’re going to do.'” Council President Head also requested that when this matter is discussed before this committee again, the proposal be structured in the manner of a grade school student’s mathematical word problem to best demonstrate the impact of the improvements and long-term savings to be realized. Council President Head and District C Councilmember Kristin Palmer both stated that they’d prefer see a “sunset” provision for the possible increase.

Reportedly Mayor Mitch Landrieu pitched the idea of an increased Entergy franchise fee when he presented his proposed 2013 budget late last year. In a recent interview, he stated, “‘At the end of the day it’s the people of New Orleans who pay for everything, whether you pay it through taxes or Entergy bill,’ said Landrieu. ‘It’s the people of New Orleans who either get the service or don’t have the services.'” The issue of streetlight repairs and maintenance has been a struggle for the Landrieu Administration from the start — the opening gambit in addressing this problem was to award new contracts in 2011, early in the Mayor’s term, when budgetary issues concerning this need were already known to exist.

During the committee meeting last Tuesday, Council President Head was surprised to discover that the recently-approved 2013 budget did not include any allocations for streetlight repairs, replacement, or maintenance. In a carefully neutral manner, she stated, “In our budget we did not allow one dime for the routine maintenance and replacement of ligh tbulbs. This reveals a flaw in our budget process.” It was my impression that her remark was a subtle calling-out of the Administration’s abysmal failure to include maintenance costs for something so obvious.

As I understand it, the Administration submits a budget to the City Council and the Council gets to ask questions and nibble at its edges, but the Administration essentially calls the shots from the get-go. The Council gets to appropriate money to various departments, but the departments — regardless of what they told the Council in their written proposals or during the budget hearings — has total control over the spending once approved.

While the Council appropriates lump sums, the Administration, via its departments, has absolute control after that point, with no reconciliation after the fact. All the Council can do is wring their hands and call the appropriate officials to committee meetings (who seem to sometimes simply ignore such calls); the Council has no means of recourse except to try and reign them in next annual budget session.

The budget for the Department of Public Works was likely submitted by Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan, the Director of Public Works for the City of New Orleans… but under this Administration, it seems that all decisions run through Mayor Landrieu without fail; any delegation of authority is illusory. Accordingly, this would mean that Mayor Landrieu himself is even more responsible than your run-of-the-mill executive with regard to this so-called”flaw” in the budgeting process.

(It was interesting, too, that a City of New Orleans press release regarding streetlight repairs was issued mere minutes prior to the start of the Public Works Committee meeting.)

If our city’s so-called “Cultural Economy” is so profitable, why is our city reportedly broke (without funding available for, oh, consistent ordinance enforcement efforts), resulting in our City’s Administration holding its hand out yet again, demanding more from New Orleanians?

These rate increases, added fees, and tacked-on charges hit those living on fixed incomes the hardest, and there are no checks or balances in place to determine if these rate increases and surcharges are being spent appropriately and wisely.

I think it’s time for Mayor Landrieu to start doing more with less… I propose that this begins with appropriation the Office of Cultural Economy’s slush fund and applying it to infrastructure repairs.

(As a friend quipped the other day about the Mayor’s recent press release and fanfare regarding the 2012’s record 61 film projects in New Orleans, “The mayor complains about state budget cuts, yet lauds the tax credit that is, in part, responsible.”)

While discussing the potential increase, another friend suggested, “I’d also like see his senior staff donate those whack overtime payments [from the Hurricane Isaac work period] to the Save Our Sons campaign” to be applied to the actually provision of support services (mental health counseling and support, job training, etc.). And another added, “What sort of turn around time in repairs can we expect with that significant of a rate hike? Twenty-four hours?”

I suggest, too, that there is more that our City Council could do, as a body, to counteract some of the b.s. in general and the budgeting flaws in particular. To date during the current Administration, it appears that our Councilmembers have been pitted against one another through Mayor Landrieu’s adept application of a “divide and conquer” strategy. If a solid majority of the Council bands together to act independently, I believe that real and significant progress could be made — now is the time!

In June 2011, as part of a project to create action reports regarding particular problems in the French Quarter, I took a series of photographs to document several of the most seriously damaged or missing streetlights. While some have been repaired or replaced, it appears that several remain damaged and non-functional. Below are a series of “Then” and “Now” photographs for your consideration.

The Landrieu Administration has claimed that all of the backlog of damaged and non-functional streetlights have been repaired and that current outages and other problems which arose during this past year were the result of new causal factors, such as Hurricane Isaac. I believe that this is mistaken at best (possibly even duplicitous), as demonstrated by the “then” and “now” photos below.

Corner of Chartres & Toulouse Streets on 6/1/2011

Same corner on 1/9/2013 (Now with cheap Mardi Gras bead detailing!)

Corner of Royal & Iberville Streets on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1/9/2013 (One Shell Square had temporarily disappeared into the fog.)

225 Decatur Street on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1/9/2013 (Possibly repaired and damaged in the extreme again?)

Lamppost at 1012 Governor Nicholls with missing panel in its base on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1-9-2013 (Apparently this repair was considered to be “good enough for government work!”)

Additionally, French Quarter lampposts that are knocked down are not being repaired or replaced. At last count, there are 17 missing lampposts, a circumstance that impacts the safety of all who visit or reside in the Quarter. The following is a particularly noteworthy location of this type: On Sunday, October 16, 2011, NOPD officers found 37-year old murder victim Dr. Brent Hachfeld, an optometrist from Slidell, lying prone and bleeding from the back of his head near the corner of Dauphine and Dumaine Streets (more than four months after the photo on the left was taken at that same location).

Uptown/Lakeside corner of Dauphine and Dumaine Streets on 6/1/2011 — lamppost missing, wires exposed.

Same location on 1/9/2013 (Note: This corner was repaved as part of the Paths to Progress project. Unlike other locations with missing lampposts, at least this one wasn’t paved over.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One final discrepancy worth noting (a punchline, if you will): A significantly damaged lamppost in the French Quarter serves as the home of a well-documented geocache that was created in July 2007… I know this because I found and logged its location just last week. I also know for a fact that this particular lamppost was included in the listing of damaged streetlights reported in June 2011. To say that all of the city’s broken streetlights were repaired prior to the start of 2013 is simply untrue.

New Orleanians: Don’t let the Sewerage & Water Board piss away twice as much of your money!

Water meter coverPlease read the following now: Council president seeks delay of vote on huge water-rate increase

Or, if you prefer the wholly unofficial CliffsNotes™ version of Tyler Bridges’ exceptional article, please consider the following excerpts:

“New Orleans City Council President Stacy Head accused Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday of trying to ram a doubling of sewage and water rates through the council on Thursday, without, she said, the issue having been fully vetted.

“Head is asking her colleagues to postpone the vote because she said the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans has failed to explain how it would spend the $583 million in additional money that it would collect over eight years.

“Landrieu opposes any delay.”

Bridges adds,

“If approved Thursday, the new rates would go into effect next month. Consumers pay for clean water and sewage disposal every time they take a shower, flush a toilet, wash dishes and so on.”

And Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, zeroes in on why delaying this vote is the only responsible choice:

“‘The council should hold a well-publicized public hearing,’ Howard said. ‘The public deserves an opportunity to comment on something that affects them. A deferral request makes all the sense in the world, regardless of what you think about the proposal. There is a transparency problem.'”

The release of more comprehensive report on this subject from the Bureau of Governmental Research is scheduled for Wednesday, 12/5/12 — the day before the currently-scheduled City Council vote on Thursday, 12/6/12.

The ’70s era water conservation quip, “If its yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down!” may take on twice the significance if this rate-doubling is approved; I wish that this proposed immediate rate hike was even remotely funny.

WHAT IS THE RUSH? Why doesn’t a decision of this magnitude deserve a full public vetting? Why isn’t the city’s administration using this opportunity to compel serious and meaningful changes at the grossly-mismanaged S&WB? Why is anyone even considering handing them MORE money to misuse and squander?

If the Sewerage & Water Board has allowed for the system’s infrastructure to deteriorate to the point where city officials estimate that our city “loses 40 to 50 percent of its treated water,” why are citizens being asked to pay double before what should be a requisite keelhauling and overhauling?

I’d also like the Mayor to explain how, exactly, he went from proposing that the water system not raise rates more than 10 percent annually to demanding immediate approval of its more than doubling (a 114% increase overall) between 2013 and 2020 in less than one month’s time, bypassing the opportunity for customary council protocol. Without a plan in place before any rate hike is approved, I’m betting that the ultimate result will be double the dollars down the drain.

This is about YOUR money. And this could be the ONLY vote on the proposed increase which, if passed, will be in effect forever after.

What can a concerned citizen do on such short notice?

In response to the concerns voiced by Council President Stacy Head, Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson has scheduled a Special Council Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday, 12/5/12 at 2:00 PM in the City Council Chamber to solicit public comments regarding the proposed rate increase. It is likely, however, that this meeting has been called far too hastily for significant public attendance or input.

Whether or not you are able to attend the meeting, please email and call your elected representatives at your earliest opportunity. Demand that the vote be delayed so that there an be a full public vetting of this rate increase.

Please clip-and-paste to send your email to the following addressees:

shead@nola.gov, jbclarkson@nola.gov, sgguidry@nola.gov, dbajoie@nola.gov, kgpalmer@nola.gov, chmorrell@nola.gov, efcharbonnet@nola.gov, mjlandrieu@nola.gov

If you, by chance, have additional time available to address this issue between now and 10:00 AM on Thursday, 12/6/12, please also call our Councilmembers and Mayor Landrieu:

Jacquelyn Clarkson, Council at Large supporting immediate vote: (504) 658-1070
Stacy Head, Council at Large opposing immediate vote: (504) 658-1060
Susan G. Guidry, District A: (504) 658-1010
Diana Bajoie, District B: (504) 658-1020
Kristin Gisleson Palmer, District C: (504) 658-1030
Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, District D: (504) 658-1040
Ernest F. Charbonnet, District E: (504) 658-1050
Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu: (504) 658-4900

I believe that they all need to have all of their phones ringing off the hook regarding this issue, but none more so than Councilmember Clarkson, as it seems that she, in particular, is closely aligned with the Mayor in this rush to vote.

As an additional resource, City Council President Stacy Head has also sent out an email encouraging citizen participation and action.

In August 2012 as Hurricane Issac buffeted our city, Mayor Landrieu stated the following during one of his frequent press conference updates: “The water drainage and sewer systems are operating on backup power in much of New Orleans, there has not been enough power to clear sewage out of the system. …We are working right now to balance that power. In the meantime, I’m going to ask you to minimize the flushing of toilets.”

Now it seems that our Mayor and Councilmember Clarkson are asking us instead to flush our money down that same dreadfully compromised system just as quickly as possible with only a charade of vetting, as if it’s just another edict to follow without the need for due public consideration. Unlike the conditions experienced during Hurricane Issac, however, I believe that any urgency expressed regarding this premature vote is inflated and illegitimate.

Two ordinances affecting Jackson Square to be considered on Monday, 12/3/12

Sunset over Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral from an Upper Pontalba balcony on 10/15/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

Via the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO):

On 11/1/12, Councilmember Kristen Gisleson Palmer introduced two ordinances regarding activity in Jackson Square. These ordinances have been drafted with the support of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.

In summary, the first ordinance would ban anyone from stopping, standing or loitering in Jackson Square between the hours of 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM. The punishment for loitering would be a “fine not exceeding $500 fine and/or imprisonment up to six months.”

The second ordinance states that only persons holding “A” permits or “B” permits may conduct business in Jackson Square. This is consistent with the current existing ordinance. “A” and “B” permits are for visual artists. Street musicians are not required to have permits and no such permits currently exist. However, what is different is the punishment for violating the terms of the permit. The existing ordinance states that the punishment for violating the terms of the permit is having the permit revoked. However, the new ordinance proposes a punishment of a “fine not exceeding $500 fine and/or imprisonment up to six months.”

The very nature of enforcing a punishment that is not limited to revoking a permit could mean that there are serious repercussions for anyone conducting business in Jackson Square that does not have a “A” and “B” permit. We are very concerned about the potential for the criminalization of street musicians, performers, and tarot card readers.

The highlighted sections are revisions to the existing ordinances: Proposed Jackson Square Ordinances

MACCNO is working to secure a meeting with Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s office ASAP to raise our concerns. We encourage you to contact her office to raise your concerns:

Mary Cunningham, Director, Constituent Services
mbcunningham@nola.gov
504-658-1030

If you do contact Councilwoman Palmer’s office, please remember to also thank the councilwoman for supporting Siberia in securing their permit for live music and ask her to continue supporting live music.

City Council’s Government Affairs Committee will be voting on the ordinances on Monday, 12/3/12.

Please spread the word about these proposed ordinances and attend our next meeting on Wednesday, November 28th at Noon, at Kermit’s Tremé Speakeasy, 1535 Basin St. At this meeting we will be having a teach-in and will be updating the group on the outcome of our meeting with Councilwoman Palmer’s office and presenting a proposed plan of action. Please be on the look out for further action plans!

Thank you!

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(For additional information, please see Jackson Square needs maintenance and patrolling, not superficial ordinances.)

Update 11/29/12 The Governmental Affairs Committee is presently tentatively scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM on Monday, December 3, 2012, at City Hall’s City Council Chambers, 1300 Perdido Street. It is believed at this time that the two ordinances regarding Jackson Square will be discussed and considered at this meeting. Voting regarding these ordinances could occur at any subsequent City Council Regular Meeting; the next is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, 2012. For additional information, please see the New Orleans City Council Calendar.

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Update 11/30/12Good News: Proposed ordinances re: Jackson Square’s pedestrian mall to be withdrawn

Jackson Square needs maintenance and patrolling, not superficial ordinances.

Under a new ordinance proposed by City Council President Kristin Gisleson Palmer at the request of Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu, people would be allowed to walk through the Jackson Square pedestrian mall (the open space surrounding the fenced-in square itself) from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM daily, but it would become illegal to stop, stand, or loiter during that period of time.

NFL Football Season Kick Off Parade on 9/9/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

After the nationally televised NFL extravaganza kick off concert event in Jackson Square highlighting the New Orleans Saints’ home opening game on Sept. 9, 2010, the 22-member Jackson Square Task Force was convened to address a myriad of community concerns. A report of this group’s recommendations was presented to City Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee on 2/7/11, including the following:

…Jackson Square is not a frozen piece of history.  Instead, it’s a vibrant residential, commercial and tourist hub that is under increasing pressure because of its popularity.  As citizens of New Orleans, we have an obligation to act as stewards of our urban and architectural heritage, particularly those of great significance.  It was in this spirit that Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer convened representatives of the area’s residential, business, institutional, municipal, and religious communities, so that we could come together to discuss ways to protect and preserve this space.

The carefully deliberated recommendations include designating a Special Events Point Person, assigning dedicated round-the-clock security, implementing consistent maintenance activity, and improving sanitation by designating a single entity to be responsible for that task.

In total, the group made 15 recommendations almost two years ago; to date, only one has been implemented (banning vehicles from the pedestrian mall). While the proposed ordinance may superficially address some of the concerns cited, an ineffectual closure of the pedestrian mall for a few hours’ time each day was not among the recommendations.

Smoke from the marsh fire in New Orleans East resulted in an eerily deserted Jackson Square at 2:00 PM on 8/30/11. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

If “tourism is ‘a perception-driven business’,”as stated by Landrieu spokesperson Ryan Berni, why is our city’s administration refusing to implement genuine and visible improvements to enhance Jackson Square? Why do the most recent actions by our elected officials instead suggest what could be described as being a conscious effort to create a “Constitution-free” zone in the French Quarter?

Sunset over Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral as viewed from a balcony of the Lower Pontalba Building on 10/15/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

Last month, the American Planning Association named Jackson Square as one of the nation’s 10 great public spaces for 2012. Attempting to ban loitering at Jackson Square for a period of four hours daily will not preserve “its timeless design, historic and cultural significance, and views that encompass some of New Orleans’ rich architectural heritage.”

Mayor Landrieu and City Council, is this really the best that you can do?
Please focus on providing much-needed services (sanitation, maintenance, and security) that will improve the quality of visiting our city’s historic heart instead of proposing ordinances predestined for (wholly avoidable) legal challenges.

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Update 11/29/12 The Governmental Affairs Committee is presently tentatively scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM on Monday, December 3, 2012, at City Hall’s City Council Chambers, 1300 Perdido Street. It is believed at this time that the two ordinances regarding Jackson Square will be discussed and considered at this meeting. Voting regarding these ordinances could occur at any subsequent City Council Regular Meeting; the next is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, 2012. For additional information, please see the New Orleans City Council Calendar.

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Update 11/30/12Good News: Proposed ordinances re: Jackson Square’s pedestrian mall to be withdrawn

Storming the Castle re: LA SB 573: Game-changing amendments added!

ZONE OUT stepping up in Baton Rouge! (Photo credit: N. Chapman)

On Thursday, 5/17/12, LA Senate Bill 573 “SPECIAL DISTRICTS. Creates the New Orleans Hospitality Zone” was presented to the Local & Municipal Affairs Committee of the Louisiana Legislature.

Starting at about 7:00 AM, those traveling to Baton Rouge to oppose this matter began gathering at the Decadence Shoppe Café on N. Rampart, a small restaurant that has been supportive of the ZONE OUT opposition. A group of 25 citizens (on their own time and their own dime) arrived to make the trip. We traveled in one bus with enough seating available that everyone could have their own two-seat row if so desired. To identify our group’s participants, we wore simple yellow stickers reading “ZONE OUT.” WWL TV’s Bill Capo was on hand to see us off first.

The ZONE OUT delegation was lucky enough to arrive at the State’s Capitol Building before the multiple buses that also traveled to Baton Rouge on behalf of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) and other industry-related bill supporters. At one point, we were told that the “Tourism Matters” proponents had ten buses to shuttle people from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to Baton Rouge and back… It is unclear to me if this was accurate or if all of those buses rolled. As an added incentive, tourism and hospitality industry workers who were willing to go to Baton Rouge yesterday enjoyed the benefit of free parking at the Superdome as well.

Supporters of the bill were either wearing red prominently or NOCVB-provided red “Tourism Matters” t-shirts and also carrying cardboard fans bearing that motto. I would estimate that, between industry executives and “general supporters,” there were at least 150 people. Casual questioning of some of the younger participants revealed that at least some of the supporting minions were, in fact, “on the clock” (compensated) for their participation.

All in all, I’d guess that we (the ZONE OUT delegation) were outnumbered at least six to one.

The crowded hallway outside of Committee Room F.

We stood in the hallway outside of Committee Room for more than two hours until the doors were opened to allow our admittance. It was crowded. On several occasions, the Fire Marshal and other Capitol Building personnel had to clear a path of travel. It was uncomfortable and, at times, a little pushy as the supporting contingent jockeyed for an improved position. What mattered at that point was simply getting as many ZONE OUT people in the room as possible — given that the capacity was limited (maybe 50 seats for observers and a finite amount of standing-against-the-walls space), this was our best chance for essentially leveling the playing field in terms of visible representation. Once the doors opened, I’d estimate that 2/5ths of the observers were ZONE OUT advocates and that the remaining 3/5ths were present to support the bill.

Although LA SB 573 was technically the second matter on the agenda, there were several other matters coming before the Local & Municipal Affairs Committee yesterday that were dispatched first in an efficient manner. About an hour after the meeting started, Senator Murray opted
to address this bill first of the three that he’d had in consideration for
the day.

I’ll be honest… I don’t know exactly what other ZONE OUT participants were wishing for, but I personally was hoping for a “Study Resolution” as the outcome of this bill’s consideration (a resolution authorizing a committee to study an issue following adjournment of a legislative session). Metaphorically speaking, it’s a little like hoping for a “stay of execution” and the chance that it would allow for greater participation in the choice of method in the interim. In my opinion, however, even this was a bit of a long shot.

I’m happy to say that what actually occurred was nothing of the sort.

We’d been aware that yet another newly-revised version of the bill had been created at about 7:30 PM on Wednesday, 5/16/12. The biggest change was that, instead of a “superboard,” there would now be an “Advisory Committee” that would present its proposed budget to the New Orleans City Council (but would still be equally unaccountable with regard to the general public’s participation). I believe that this “Substitute of Senate Bill 573 by Senator Murray” was what was submitted for consideration before the Committee when this matter was addressed yesterday.

From the start, Senator Karen Carter Peterson (District 5-Democrat) became invested in the discussion of this bill; aside from the Committee’s Vice-Chair, Sen. Tarver, she was the only member of the committee to address this matter directly. She spoke with clarity and passion about her experience representing the French Quarter for a decade when it was part of her district and of her concern for its needs, identifying it as “an anomaly,” and adding that it “stands out and there’s much more to be done in that area.”

After introductory remarks by the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Edwin R. Murray (District 4-Democrat), Sen. Peterson grilled Mayor Landrieu’s representative — Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin — regarding the $30 million in funds to be provided by the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau for infrastructure repairs and putting the best shine on the French Quarter in advance of hosting the Super Bowl in February 2013. As reported in the Times-Picayune, she asked Kopplin “why it seems the Convention Center money is a ‘quid pro quo.’ Kopplin disputed the characterization, saying the board and the city merely want a long-term financing stream to support initial investments.”

Sen. Peterson also noted that special districts/non-governmental entities are usually created with the inclusion of a “sunset clause” (meaning that it would need to be revisited by the Committee at a future date and either reinstated or retired at such time). Sen. Peterson asked if it would be problematic for the city’s administration to add such a clause; Mr. Kopplin replied, “Yes, it is.”

Four additional speakers spoke in support of the bill, including Darryl Berger of The Berger Company (New Orleans Convention and Visitors Board At Large Board member, French Quarter Management District Board of Commissioners member, etc.), Melvin Rodrigue (Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Board President, Chief Operating Officer of Galatoire’s Restaurant), and two spunky hospitality industry workers (one of whom stated that she was also a French Quarter resident; I don’t remember if the other mentioned such). As if coached to do so, supporters of the bill applauded openly in response to the remarks of these two young ladies, both wearing the requisite red “Tourism matters” t-shirts.

After the supporting commentary concluded, a brief flurry of activity ensued at the Committee members’ table. Senator Peterson then introduced “Amendments proposed by Senate Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs to Substitute for Senate Bill 573 by Senator Murray.” At that moment, the entire game changed. I was lucky to receive copies of both the substitute bill as presented and these proposed amendments from the Sergeant at Arms. The details are as follows:

The “Hospitality Zone” boundaries are as follows: “…all territories within the boundaries of the Pontchartrain Expressway, at the point where it intersects with the Mississippi River to Claiborne overpass/I-10; I-10 to Canal Street; Canal Street to North Rampart, along the rear property lines of parcels that front on the downriver side of Canal Street; North Rampart to Esplanade Avenue, along the rear property lines of parcels that front on the lakeside of North Rampart; Esplanade Avenue to the Mississippi River, along the rear property lines of the parcels that front on the downriver side of Esplanade; the Mississippi River back to the point where it intersects with the Pontchartrain Expressway.”

(Technical note: this means that the portion of Tremé that borders on N. Rampart Street is now included in the zone, as well as the portion of the Faubourg Marigny that borders on Esplanade Avenue… I suspect this is to allow for the repair of sidewalks, street lights, signage and such on both sides of these streets.)

Original/Revised version: “Superboard”/”Advisory Committee” made up of appointees and hospitality/tourism industry executives.
New Amended version: ABOLISHED! The New Orleans City Council and the French Quarter Management District would now administer the non-tourism/marketing funds.

Original/Revised version: 33-1/3% to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB), 33-1/3% to the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC), and 33-1/3% to the “Hospitality Zone Dedicated Fund.”
New Amended version: 20% to the NOCVB, 20% to the NOTMC, 10% to the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network, 40% to the “Hospitality Zone Dedicated Fund,” and 10% to the French Quarter Management District. The amendment also expressly states that funds dispersed to the Hospitality Zone Dedicated Fund “shall only be used for public safety, sanitation, infrastructure, and maintenance thereof, and code enforcement” (meaning that administrative expenses must come from another revenue source). Finally, funds in the Hospitality Zone Dedicated Fund “shall supplement and enhance those services routinely provided by the city or its agencies.”

Instead of 66-2/3% going to tourism and marketing and only 33-1/3% going to repairs, care, and upkeep, this changed the balance to 50% going to the services and maintenance for the Hospitality Zone and 50% going to promoting tourism/marketing. (Note: It is currently estimated that ~$15 million in revenue will be generated annually from the taxes included in this legislative instrument.)

Original/Revised version: Recommendations regarding the expenditure of funds for services/maintenance purposes would be made by the “Advisory Committee,” subject to approval by the New Orleans City Council (submission of a budget would be required).
New Amended Version: Four-fifths of the services/maintenance funds would be administered directly by the New Orleans City Council; one-fifth would be controlled by an existing political subdivision of the state of Louisiana created in 2007 by the Louisiana Legislature pursuant to R.S. 25:796, et seq. — the French Quarter Management District (FQMD). It is expected that the FQMD will hold open meetings that allow for public attendance/participation.

(Technical note: It should be noted that the FQMD also has an appointed board without term limitations for Board of Commissioners members and there is no known mechanism for removal of a Board member for unsatisfactory performance. The majority of its board members remain as appointed in 2007, including appointees by former Mayor C. Ray Nagin and former Councilmember James Carter that haven’t changed during the current administration. This may need to be addressed in the near future, particularly since the sunset date for this district is June 30, 2014.)

New Amended Version:

§140.558 Accountability
    A. There shall be a pubic accounting of all funds received as a result of this Subpart as well as a prompt response to public records requests in relation to these funds irrespective of the status of the receiving organization.
    B. All entities identified for funding under R.S. 33:130.557(F), except R.S. 33:130.557(F)(3), shall submit an annual report to the New Orleans City Council and the Legislature that identifies their use and allocation of the funds. The annual report shall be submitted on October first each year. The first report shall be due October 1, 2013, and shall cover allocations made in the prior fiscal year.

(This means that the NOCVB, the NOTMC, the French Quarter Management District, and the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network must publicly report and be accountable regarding the disbursement of these funds; the exception applies to the portion of the funds controlled by the New Orleans City Council, which is already bound to existing budgetary deadlines, reporting requirements, and public records requests responsiveness.)

Original/Revised version: The special district would have no expiration date.
New Amended version: The special district would “sunset” in ten years’ time, meaning that it must be re-approved by the Legislature at that time or it would be dissolved.

Original/Revised version: Included the right to “acquire by gift, grant, purchase, or otherwise all property, including rights of way; to hold and use any franchise or property, real, personal, or mixed, tangible or intangible, or any interest therein, necessary or desirable for carrying out the objects and purposes of the district.”
New Amended version: Removed/abolished.

Original/Revised version: “The district may create subdistricts…”
New Amended version: Removed/abolished.

New Amended version: The New Orleans City Council is required to adopt an appropriate resolution giving notice of its intention to levy taxes, and the proposition for the levy of such taxes has been “submitted to the electors of the city at an election held for that purpose and the proposition has received the favorable vote of a majority of the electors voting in such election.”

The city is also authorized and empowered to levy an additional tax on the occupancy of hotel rooms in the city (not to exceed 1.75%), to levy a tax on food or beverages for consumption on or off the premises “not intended for home consumption” within the “Hospitality Zone” (not to exceed 0.2495%), and to levy an additional 1% tax with respect to overnight registered guest’s overnight parking. (I would prefer it if this applied to all commercial parking enterprises within the zone — not just “overnight” parking.) These taxes do not appear to be subject to the previously-noted requirement of a proposition and vote; I believe that they are automatically “empowered” via this act of legislation.

After these amendments were presented and read into the record, five speakers from the opposing ZONE OUT delegation spoke (prominent neighborhood association leaders and business/community figures). Given that many of the major issues were addressed by the amendments (abolition of the new and unnecessary governing structure, lack of accountability, subversion of processes that would allow for oversight and citizen participation, etc.), comments were brief — there simply wasn’t time to fully consider the amendments presented just moments before in order to react in a more direct manner.

(I was later informed that our delegation had submitted a list of seven speakers, including my name; for the sake of parity, however, the number permitted to do so was five. I’m grateful to have “made the cut” for the list that was submitted, even if I did not have the opportunity to address the Committee directly.)

The amendments were approved unanimously by the Legislature’s Local & Municipal Affairs Committee. In all truth, everyone in the room was stunned to some degree — support (by my observation, particularly Sen. Murray and Mr. Kopplin) and opposition alike.

On the ZONE OUT krewe’s bus, bound for Baton Rouge.

What comes next? The bill will now head to the full Louisiana Senate, where it will need to be approved before June 4, 2012. Keep in mind, however, that this bill can still be be pulled from further consideration or changed/amended again at any time between now and then (although Sen. Peterson did state unequivocally, “Blanket statement: If these amendments come off, I… probably… am off” (meaning that she would withdraw her support). She continued, “And I would hope that that would not be the case, because they are all significant and there’s a constituency that’s reflected behind each one of those amendments.”

Please keep your fingers crossed that any modifications that might occur from this point on are limited to improvements to this legislation… this isn’t over yet.

Thank you to EVERYONE who took the time to contact our elected officials, either by email or phone, to express your concerns re: LA SB 573. I am absolutely certain that these amendments were created, in part, in response to your actions. These game-changing amendments belong to every citizen who chose to get involved.

Council Members Need To Remember Who They Work For

Due to personal reasons I’ve been away from New Orleans for the past two weeks and will be for an unforseen amount of time. The world is turning outside hospital windows but my world is the ICU waiting room and measured by the time between visiting hours. Needless to say, politics is the farthest thing from my mind and I watch very little TV and read very little online. THIS, however, caught my limited attention span when I logged onto my igoogle page and I am quite pissed off by it. I have very little patience for silly political antics and it’s even more pronounced now that I have life and death issues to deal with. Councilpersons Hedge-Morrell and Johnson need to be reminded who they work for (US!) and get back to it. It makes me very angry to see such blatant disregard for their constituents and such obvious grand-standing. It’s unprofessional and childish.

GET BACK TO WORK.

P.S. – I don’t know what I’d do without Gambit.