Does Louisiana’s “Hollywood South” nickname cost more than we can afford?

During March 2013, the office of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor issued the following  press release about its “Tax Credits and Rebates in Louisiana” report:

BATON ROUGE – Mar 25, 2013 – Louisiana’s tax credit and rebate programs resulted in a tax revenue loss of more than $6.13 billion in revenue in the last seven years, according to a study of the programs released Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.

The performance audit looked at 44 of the credits that each resulted in a tax revenue loss of at least $1 million for at least one year between the calendar years 2006 and 2011. Auditors said the credits from those 44 programs – 52 percent of the 85 tax credit programs on the books — totaled a revenue reduction of approximately $5.4 billion, with 2011 tax data still incomplete as of October 2012.

The five most expensive tax credits accounted for almost $3.7 billion of the $5.4 billion total for the period studied, or 67 percent of the total revenue loss. The five are:

·  The inventory/property tax exemption for businesses — $1.5 billion.
·  The insurance company premium tax credit — $1.1 billion.
·  The motion picture investor tax credit — $512 million.
·  The credit granted on net income taxes paid to other states — $402 million.
·  The credit for assessments paid to Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — $212 million.

While media sources are generally focusing on the $512 million figure noted above [emphasis added] regarding the “Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit,” it is actually one of three separate components of the film tax credit program listed among the 44 “loss leaders” noted in Appendix C of this report:

· The Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit: $511,613,716 (ranked #3 of 44)

· The Motion Picture Infrastructure Tax Credit: $29,561,287 (ranked #20 of 44)

· The Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program : $10,561,744 (ranked #29 of 44)

That’s a cumulative total of $551,736,747 over a period of 72 months’ time (or an average of $7,663,010 per month) that is reportedly lost through the program as a whole.

This $551,736,747 figure accounts for nine percent (9%) of the reported total lost of $6.13 billion during the six-year time frame examined in the report — or roughly $1 out of every $11 lost.

(Note, too, that those numbers do not include the much-touted year of 2012 with its 61 projects filmed in New Orleans… I predict that those numbers will reflect even greater losses as hundreds of millions more in uncapped credits and rebates are likely to be reflected in the statistics. If the program continues to operate in this unlimited manner, the notion of a “turning point” from subsidizing Hollywood to Louisiana’s realization of a genuine profit becomes increasingly unlikely.)

The three credits/programs noted in the report are described as follows:

Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit: Louisiana taxpayers that invest in state-certified motion-picture productions can earn a tax credit at the time expenditures are made by a motion picture production company. (This credit in particular features a rebate component, which the report defines as “A rebate is money directly reimbursed by the state to an entity or individual, independent of the tax return process or tax liability.”)

Motion Picture Infrastructure Tax Credit: To provide a credit against corporate income tax for an approved state-certified infrastructure project for a film, video, television, or digital production or postproduction facility. This credit applied to infrastructure projects between July 1, 2005 and December 31, 2008. (While this credit appears to time-bounded/no longer be active, it still earned a spot on the loss list.)

Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program: To provide a financial incentive to the film industry in order that the state might compete with other states for filming locations.

It seems that the only guaranteed way to make the big money in “Hollywood South” is to be a so-called “motion picture investor,” given that the tax dollar hemorrhage from that program is a staggering 48 times greater than the losses experienced by the so-called “Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program” itself.

And, oh, the hand-wringing that occurred when Governor Jindal proposed the implementation of a $1 million limit on the amount that could be claimed for each actor’s salary by production companies as qualifying expenses when applying for Louisiana film tax credits! (Never mind that this precise limitation already applies to “payroll spent on Louisiana residents,” apparently whether or not they’re in front of the camera.) The governor only wanted to trim one specific part of the program… however, with media coverage regarding this report currently on the rise, I suspect that future proposed cuts may go even deeper.

As noted in this WWL TV story originally broadcast on 3/25/13, Mayor Landrieu’s office has been at work, creating the spin:

“We asked Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration whether the film tax credit program is providing a tangible benefit to the New Orleans economy.

“His adviser on the Cultural Economy said in a statement, ‘The state’s tax incentive program for film has helped New Orleans grow a new industry. We estimate that since 2007, New Orleans has seen more than $2 billion in direct spending from tax credit film projects – money that is spent in and remains in the local economy, as the program intended. Our local film industry is now nationally known, and it supports more than 1,000 full-and part-time jobs. Production companies want to film here because of the tax incentives and numerous related businesses have launched or relocated to New Orleans because of the opportunities that have been created.'”

Unlike the numbers noted in the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report, the figure of “$2 billion in direct spending” (which is not to be confused with $2 billion in tax revenue generated) is unsubstantiated.

The estimated “1,000 full- and part-time jobs” may not be as statistically significant as the Mayor’s adviser’s statement would like to imply if one considers that the city’s current estimated population is ~370,000, nor is it confirmed if all of these jobs in fact consistently pay a year-round living wage.

While the auditor’s report includes fairly “hard” numbers (verifiable, with the exception of the noted not-yet-complete figures for calendar year 2011), the best we see from proponents of the film tax credit program are nothing more than “soft” or estimated figures that are inherently difficult to verify.

As the WWL story notes, “And without a requirement that the tax credit programs track the return on the investments, the legislative auditor said it’s tough to tell if they’re worth it.”

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We need a real “Lesser New Orleans” movement to combat the demons of ambition!

On 4/19/13, a privately-created proposal by the “Tricentennial Consortium” was divulged, one that would replace the New Orleans International Trade Mart building (also known as the World Trade Center site) with a park including an “iconic structure”/”monumental attraction” and a “sleek people mover” (light rail or monorail?), among other attractions. Writing as someone familiar with Seattle, this proposal feels like déjà vu all over again.

Why do the powers-that-be of New Orleans feel the need to change what is frequently referred to as “the most unique city in America” by imitating attractions found in other cities?

While Mayor Landrieu told The Lens “that one possibility for the site would be to create a monumental attraction, on par with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis,” it appears that this bid for tourist dollars more closely resembles featured attractions of Seattle, virtually duplicating the major components of the 1962 World’s Fair location, including the Space Needle, the Seattle Center park, and the monorail. (The unrelated yet eerily coincidental proposed duck boat tours only add to this comparison, as such tours actually depart from a location adjacent to the Space Needle in Seattle.)

(The irony of possibly re-developing a portion of what once was the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition site to emulate features from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition location as a highlight of the upcoming 2018 New Orleans Tricentennial is both mind-boggling and hilarious.)

I wonder: what (if any) public participation will occur relative to the Tricentennial Consortium’s privately-created plan for redeveloping the World Trade Center property? Or is the public’s only welcomed role to pay for this proposal in some yet-to-be-determined manner?

If this proposed park comes to pass, it will likely also include its own version of the highly controversial “Seattle Commons.” (Via The Lens, “…Convention Center officials have been quietly drawing up plans for an expansion of the giant facility. They call for allowing private companies to develop a hotel, apartments, condos, retail stores and restaurants on 50 acres just upriver from the Convention Center.“) Thankfully, however, that particular “public-private collaboration” was defeated by Seattle voters — twice.

Riverfront development of any kind should require incredible scrutiny, including the opportunity for public consideration — will New Orleanians be given the opportunity to vote on any portion of this proposed development?

At the Bureau of Governmental Research‘s “Breakfast Briefing” featuring Mayor Mitch Landrieu as the guest speaker on April 3, 2013, I asked our Mayor the following question:

“Legal notices were recently published in the Times-Picayune regarding the taxation of food, beverages, and hotels in New Orleans similar to what was proposed for the Hospitality Zone in 2012. Will the Hospitality Zone be reintroduced during the 2013 legislative session?”

Mayor Landrieu initially replied simply, “Not in that form.”

He then continued, stating that the city doesn’t get any money from sales inside of the Superdome, the Arena, or the Convention Center, and only a sliver of funding from Harrah’s Casino. He also described the failure of the “Hospitality Zone” legislation during 2012 as “a great tragedy.”

Is it possible that these legal notices might be related to this proposed park project (instead of another Hospitality Zone initiative outright)?

The movers and shakers of our city seem hell-bent to attain the desired 13 million annual visitors at any cost. Do you ever get a sinking feeling that those coveted 13 million non-residents seem to matter more than the ~370,000 New Orleanians who, to date, have dug their heels in to rebuild this city? I do… and with ever increasing frequency, as the Landrieu Administration continues to march relentlessly to the beat of its own drummer.

With the City of New Orleans obligated to pick up the tab for two consent decrees, wouldn’t one of the other options to re-purpose the International Trade Mart building or redevelop the site as a whole to become a viable revenue generator be more sensible? Yes. But that wouldn’t facilitate what appears to be yet another classic land grab attempt.

If the City that Care Forgot  is going to emulate the attractions Emerald City, there’s a lesson to be learned about organizing opposition to prevent the over-development of New Orleans. The following “Network X” episode (originally broadcast on June 1, 1995) still serves as an excellent primer for the kinds of citizen-driven concerns that may emerge regarding this project:

This kind of city-altering project must include public participation. If such an opportunity is not permitted, our elected officials may learn an unpleasant lesson about what happens when “doing for” the citizens of New Orleans crosses over into “doing to.”

And although legendary Seattle curmudgeon Emmett Watson’s tongue-in-cheek “Lesser Seattle” campaign ultimately failed for a variety of reasons, it did get one thing right: “It served as a kind of talisman against vanity, overreach, and hubris.”

I hope that New Orleanians will take heed of this lesson from its demise:

“The city we loved is being choked by gigantism. The small, livable, sensible, sustainable city we once purported to love is dead.”

Super Bowl sleight-of-hand: Jackson Square remains open, Louis Armstrong Park is closed

NOPD Supt. Serpas, Mayor Landrieu, Councilmember Palmer, and other city officials at Armstrong Park’s re-opening on 11/18/11.

While City Hall has lived up to its word that Jackson Square would (technically) remain open to the public throughout the Super Bowl media activity, that policy does not apply equally to Louis Armstrong Park.

The NFL Honors ceremony, a two-hour prime time awards special event, will be held at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre on the evening prior to Super Bowl XLVII (Saturday, 2/2/13). And although the city’s official press release indicated that Armstrong Park would not be closed to the public in preparation for this event until Wednesday, 1/30/13, the park has, in fact, been locked up tight since Monday, 1/28/13.

Locked gates have been keeping the pubic out since Monday, 1/28/13.

Isn’t it particularly unfortunate that the one place designated by our city to recognize its jazz heritage isn’t available to the public — visitors and locals alike — at this time when our city is celebrating its moment in the media’s spotlight?

A tented red carpet now stretches from the St. Ann Street arched main entrance to the park all the way to the Mahalia Jackson Theatre; its construction reportedly started on Thursday, 1/24/13.

Here’s the thing: New Orleanians lived around 61 filming projects last year (without issue or incident). The current media activity in Jackson Square has been equally undisturbed… and yet, Louis Armstrong Park is closed.

So why is the park closed for a full week’s time for a one-night event?

20130130_093451Initially I’d thought that it’s because the city didn’t want to maintain security/a police presence, but now I suspect that there’s an even simpler explanation: because there’s nothing for the visitors to buy there, it’s been sold out for a private event, denying the public reasonable access without a second thought.

In discussing this casually online, one friend suggested that possibly it was a measure to steer our city’s visitors to destinations more directly aligned with the Clean Zone’s objectives and boundaries; he added that the enhanced police presence in the Clean Zone would also reinforce this theory.

Another friend replied, “[It’s] more like without a first thought — not a second one. It seems right now that we (the folks) are all in the back row for the big show.”

One can only wonder how much the city is being paid for this week of exclusive use and hope that those funds will eventually serve the public-at-large in a meaningful way.

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

Enforcement vs. Culture: Winning the battle while losing the war?

From WWL TV: Live music stopped at popular New Orleans venues due to licensing rules

It seems that the sky’s the limit when it comes to enumerating the many and varied ways in which this latest enforcement action is just plain wrong.

I frankly have a hunch that the City of New Orleans’ Bureau of Revenue will lose more in taxes that would have been collected via food & beverage sales at the venues affected than will be derived from the fees associated with those venues obtaining live music permits. Here’s hoping that they will work to expedite the issuance of the permits and that patrons of these locations will make an effort to support these businesses in the interim.

While I am generally in favor of the rules applying to all, it does seem that there could have been a better way to address the enforcement of this permit requirement. (For example, does Siberia really need to be silenced until “mid-December,” waiting to become compliant?) It’s not as if the affected venues and their employees don’t already have to deal with the “August slump” without this sudden focus on enforcement being added into the mix.

As our Mayor warned the citizens who attended a District C community meeting in September 2011: “When the city does start cracking down on enforcement of the laws, Landrieu warned, it will be ‘across the board.’ So, he concluded, quoting his mother, ‘Be careful what you ask for.'”

I don’t recall anyone in attendance at that community meeting asking for stepped-up enforcement regarding live music permits; meanwhile, the lack of enforcement re: short-term rentals (where there is no protection provided for harmed or wronged guests) remains unaddressed… By comparison, it would seem that heavy-handed bureaucratic enforcement of a permitting issue with little risk of actual harm outweighs the very real risks regarding properties not subject to inspection and instances of scamming resulting from fraudulent and illegal rentals.

Note, too, that this isn’t the first poorly-conceived and thoroughly bungled crackdown by the City’s Bureau of Revenue: Mardi Gras, meet the new Administration.

I have no complaints whatsoever about live music performances in my ‘hood (and probably never will — my life here automatically has its own unique soundtrack every day and I love it all the more for that fact). I do, however, take issue with bars and businesses blasting a classic-yet-generic ’80s Journey chart-topper or the latest pop hit sensation at a volume where the song being played can be identified immediately more than a half a block down the street. Knock that crap out of the equation first, instead of reducing employment opportunities for local musicians.

(When’s the last time you heard a catchy tune blaring from a T-shirt shop and thought, “Gee! I like that song! I think I’ll buy that inane ‘I put ketchup on my ketchup!’ t-shirt right now!”? Yet talented musicians playing — even when there are cover tunes involved — will lure me into a venue almost every time.)

Walter “Wolfman” Washington at d.b.a. on 4-25-12.

In an informal online discussion regarding the WWL news story, friends added the following comments:

Debby: “A better way… you mean like enforcing it all the time instead of just now? That’s what is wrong here…”

Kim: “Typical city bull crap. They don’t want to address what the real concern of the citizens is. The consistent egregious behavior of some ridiculously loud live music venues on Bourbon St. and instead go out and ‘enforce’ against all the other music venues. Be careful what we ask for? Of course we have to be careful, because they will do exactly the opposite of what people have asked!”

Earl: “If they would have issued a warning and allowed them enough time to get the proper licenses while continuing to have music, they would have had a win-win. The city would still be getting their tax revenue and finally their license fees and the bars wouldn’t have to stop their music shows.”

Alex: “Half the time they won’t give you the right license and then try to ding you for being non-compliant. We need to remember the city government is supposed to work for us rather than just grant some of us the ability to make a living. More people should be pissed about this. How is this benefiting the city? Especially one known for its live music.” He added, “I am sick and tired of city government taking credit for the hard work and talent of New Orleanians by saying, ‘Look what we let them do! Aren’t we the best?’ Get the hell out of the way and fix some potholes and put away violent criminals. Once you have that down we can talk about what to fix next. Pretty sure where someone can sing or dance is way down on the list.”

Hospitality Zone bill not passed; can we now work together and move forward?

(Photo credit: N. Chapman)

As of 5:18 PM CDT today with the adjournment of the 2012 Legislative session, Louisiana Senate Bill 767 “SPECIAL DISTRICTS: Creates the New Orleans Hospitality Zone” expired without being called from the calendar for its third reading and final passage.

I wish to commend the following elected officials that are on record for being responsive to their constituents as a priority over answering to the desires of industry-related bureaus and corporations: Senator Karen Carter Peterson, Senator Jean-Paul Morrell, Representative Helena Moreno, New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson, Councilmember Kristen Gisleson Palmer, and Council At-Large Stacy Head.

This victory belongs to every single person who wrote to or called our elected officials, wrote about, reported about, or discussed the bill (publicly or privately), and who supported the rally cry of “We are a community — not a commodity!” Together we gave these words meaning: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978)

The idea of a Hospitality Zone with dedicated funding for infrastructure, maintenance, provision of appropriate and much-need services, and inclusive management (allowing for resident involvement in the process) is admirable and well worth pursuing. I hope that Mayor Landrieu, our Senators, and our Representatives will go back to the drawing board and revisit this proposed special district in a manner that incorporates community meetings and invites citizen input, as well as ensuring community involvement, transparency, and accountability subsequent to the Hospitality Zone’s possible implementation at a later date.

In the interim, I ask that the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation, and all other tourism and hospitality industry “stakeholders” carefully consider the opportunity that now exists to do the right thing: please release the $30 million from the canceled Phase IV expansion of the Convention Center and follow through on the previously-noted plans for much-needed infrastructure repairs and improvements. There has been no significant investment in the care and upkeep of our city’s historic heart for almost 30 years’ time; please recognize that these efforts are, in fact, long overdue. Significant wear-and-tear or deterioration of such improvements will not occur between now and commencement of the 2013 Legislative session and the passage of any relevant legislation during that session.

To our elected officials and the hospitality and tourism industries: You have in your hands at this moment the opportunity to create unity between the residents who will continue to make the proposed Hospitality Zone a living and vibrant community and the economic interests that derive benefit from such. Please consider paying it forward by demonstrating your genuine commitment to protect the areas of our city that you seek to promote. Please use the time between now and the 2013 Legislative session to create a true and meaningful consensus.

Let us all make the best effort to work together from this point forward by choosing to create a partnership that is embraced by and inclusive of all concerned parties within this community.

To the readers of this post: I invite you to consider sending an email encouraging our elected officials and the tourism and hospitality industries to move forward with plans to dedicate the $30 million derived from tax revenue previously budgeted for the canceled Phase IV development of the Convention Center to much-needed infrastructure, maintenance, and service improvements within our city. Please commend them for their interest and request their consideration to do what’s best for our city now. Please clip and paste the following addresses to send emails of support for this effort:

mayor@nola.gov, murraye@legis.la.gov, petersonk@legis.la.gov, morrelljp@legis.la.gov, morenoh@legis.state.la.us, legerw@legis.la.gov, jbclarkson@nola.gov, kgpalmer@nola.gov, shead@nola.gov, sgguidry@nola.gov, chmorrell@nola.gov, jdjohnson@nola.gov, bobjohnson@mccno.com,  sperry@neworleanscvb.com, mark@notmc.com, ltgov@crt.la.gov, neworleanshozone@gmail.com

Let’s prepare for celebrating New Orleans’ upcoming 300th anniversary in May 2018 as a community. It’s time for all of us to work together to do right by and properly care for our beloved lady who has a pretty face with dirty feet.

Hospitality Zone bill LA SB 573 rises from the ashes as LA SB 767

The substituted and amended bill, as approved by the Louisiana Legislature’s Local and Municipal Affairs Committee, is now available: “SPECIAL DISTRICTS: Creates the New Orleans Hospitality Zone.”

(Digest Version for enhanced readability: http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=803540)

Its current status on the Louisiana Legislature’s website is listed as follows: Status: PENDING SENATE FLOOR ACTIONUpdated: 5/21/2012

This new version of the bill accomplishes the following:

– adds a 10 year “sunset” provision;

– abolishes the advisory board (which was dominated by tourism interests);

– removes the Faubourg Marigny from the Taxing Zone;

– reallocates the new tax revenues in the following manner:

French Quarter Management District – 10% (infrastructure)
Multicultural Tourism Network – 10% (tourism/marketing)
New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation – 20% (tourism/marketing)
New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau – 20%
(tourism/marketing)
City of New Orleans via “Hospitality Zone Dedicated Fund” – 40%
(infrastructure);

– makes all receiving agencies and organizations subject to public records requests for these funds (but not necessarily for the rest of their operations);

– requires that a written report be submitted to city council annually accounting for the use of these funds by all non-City Council agencies (as the city already has its own budgeting and reporting requirements);

– no longer permits the expansion of the zone via the creation of “special districts”; and

– no longer permits the acquisition of property necessary or desirable for carrying out the objects and purposes of the district.

While these courageous actions by Senator Peterson, Senator Morrell, and Representative Moreno are to be applauded, we, as citizens, must also continue to be active and vigilant.

There are only two weeks left in the legislative session this year – so stay engaged! Your emails, phone calls, and presence in Baton Rouge have already made a real and measurable difference in this matter! THANK YOU!

The creation of the Hospitality Zone is unfortunately a given at this point; it is unlikely that this will go away. The only real question remaining is, “How will this be implemented?” This may be our best shot at a version that provides enhanced accountability and transparency.

It’s as if Senator Peterson, Senator Morrell, and Representative Moreno addressed the specific concerns of the constituents with the addition of each of these amendments; they cannot be lost in the shuffle of whatever happens next. As was evidenced on Thursday, 5/17/12, everything can change in a just a few moments’ time, including when this goes before the House for further consideration.

It is presently understood that the addition of a “sunset clause” is considered to be problematic, as it may be perceived as making the pursuit of bond revenues in the future challenging. It is unlikely that the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation are particularly pleased with the revised allocation of funds and there may be push-back on this issue. It is also possible that revisions could occur prior to this bill’s consideration by the House, including stripping off all of these amendments and their intent to address constituent concerns. And it also remains possible that Governor Jindal could simply veto the bill if it makes it through the House intact in its present form.

(To be very clear: I, personally, am in support of LA SB 767 only if it moves forward unmodified in its present form. Following Senator Peterson’s lead, if the amendments are altered in any way or stripped off, then I’m off — rescinding my support — too.)

Please continue to communicate with our state legislators. Thank them, but let them know we are still paying attention — please take the time to write or call again and let them know that we DO NOT want these amendments weakened.

For your convenience, here’s a list for convenient cutting and pasting into the “To” field of your email in support of the new bill, LA SB 767:

murraye@legis.state.la.us, morrelljp@legis.state.la.us, morenoh@legis.state.la.us, petersonk@legis.state.la.us, legerw@legis.state.la.us, brossettj@legis.la.gov, info@vcpora.org, kgpalmer@nola.gov, shead@nola.gov, jbclarkson@nola.gov

If you prefer to phone, the Baton Rouge switchboard number is (225) 342-2040. To local district office locations can be found at: http://senate.la.gov/Senators/Offices.asp

Thank you to everyone who has become active and invested in this process. Without you, this new bill would likely never have come into play.

We are a community — NOT a commodity!