Friday, May 25, 2018

Countdown to Shutdown

On yesterday's episode of the Sinking of the Sixth Special Session, we saw the Ways and Means committee reject the Governor's preferred 4.5 cent sales tax proposal  and pass Lance Harris's wholly inadequate 4.3 cent alternative.

Of course the Governor's proposal is regressive and bad but we already know this thing is circling the drain anyway. And at least that bill, had it passed, would have represented a good faith compromise measure toward covering a substantial part of the shortfall.  But good faith went out the window well before we reached this point. Harris all but admitted as much yesterday during a particularly testy committee meeting
"You have to work with the other sides and you have to talk to them," Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, told Harris Thursday. "I think we have to start working together and not going into our little rooms."

Harris said he is attempting to compromise. He doesn't like taxes and he never thought he would sponsor legislation to retain a higher sales tax rate. Neither did his spouse. "My wife told me not to come home last night," said Harris.

Harris said he would be unwilling to increase the amount of money that his sales tax bill would raise, even from $369 million to $400 million. House Democrats said that means Harris is not willing to work with them or with the Senate, whose members are likely to want more tax revenue.

"It's a compromise that I'm even bringing this bill," Harris said.
It's a compromise that we're even here yelling at each other in the first place.

What is even happening? On today's episode, so far they've already rejected Walt Leger's expansion of the Earned Income Tax Exemption. This was one of several points of compromise Democrats were asking for in order to commit to any sort of sales tax measure.  So it's no surprise tight now that it doesn't look like they're ready to hop on board
NEW ORLEANS, LA - In response to the proposed extension of sales taxes, State Rep. Gary Carter, Jr.  (D - New Orleans) issued the following statement:

“Either today or very soon, we will be asked to vote for a continuation of the sales tax. During the last legislative session, I explained in the below video why I am against the sales tax: 1) It is harder on working people than on the wealthy; 2) It doesn't raise enough revenue to prevent drastic cuts; and 3) There is still no funding in the budget for additional infrastructure and additional educational opportunities.”

Representative Gary Carter added that until the proposal takes these considerations into account he will remain opposed to the continuation of the sales tax.
Floor debate is about to get started this afternoon.  This very bad sales tax bill is the only game in town revenue wise.  Hope everybody has their plans set for the Shutdown holiday.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

It might be time to dump Transdev

The T-P ran a pretty good feature last weekend on one of the more striking failures of the "Regional Transit Authority."  It has never managed to become "regional" in any respect other than its name.  Parish participation in RTA is voluntary and, over the years, all but Orleans Parish have opted out leaving the region with separate and largely incompatible transit systems.

This is particularity frustrating for riders in Jefferson and Orleans who need to cross between the state's two most populous parishes on their daily commutes.
No one has tallied exactly how much this hurts riders and our region's economy. But hurt it does, experts agree. Like Stevens, riders must spend hours taking several buses, many of which require a transfer from one parish's transit system to another -- a burden that tends to disproportionately affects lower-income workers who most rely on public transit.
I should point out there are some problems with this article. Despite this bit about the "burden on lower-income workers" the story gives too much emphasis to the needs of employers and of people like Michael Hecht who really just need the transit system to be efficient at getting the low-income workforce in and out of the gentrified city where they obviously are not expected to live anymore.

Also, in that vein, it repeatedly asserts that transit problems were a knock against the New Orleans area in the Amazon HQ sweepstakes, again, under the assumption that "winning" that race to the corporate welfare bottom was actually a desirable outcome.

All that aside, the articles do point out one commonality between RTA and JET.  Both systems are currently operated by the same private company.
One idea floated during interviews is to consolidate the operations of neighboring transit agencies under a single operator. Sharonda Williams, the most recent chairwoman of the RTA, says that could theoretically be done through a multi-parish cooperative endeavor agreement.

It's not a stretch of the imagination: RTA and Jefferson Transit are both currently managed by Paris-based Transdev , though the two parishes have separate contracts with the company. Transdev also runs ferry service for RTA from Algiers to Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish, marking a rare stroke of regionalism loosely organized around one company.
Unfortunately no one in this story asks why we couldn't consolidate systems and boot Transdev out anyway. Its RTA contract is expiring next year. Transit activists and watchdog groups are already suggesting that RTA consider other options before renewing.
TransitCenter unveiled a study last year that criticized the RTA’s lack of in-house oversight of Transdev, depicting the arrangement as an example of the pitfalls that can occur under such public-private partnerships.
The groups don't explicitly say the PPP model should be abandoned but they do suggest looking at different operators and the structure of the working relationship.  Interestingly, the newly appointed interim director had a hand in a Landrieu administration push for more hands-on control from the RTA side of things.  Not sure what that means going forward but one thing that does deserve attention is the relative inefficiency of the current arrangement.
RTA collected more than $75 million in state and local sales taxes, and about $18 million in fares last year, according to its financial statements. Compare that with the roughly $13 million total budget approved this year for Jefferson Transit, which makes around $3 million annually in fares and $6.5 million from two millages.

"We don't have extra money," said Sharon Leader, JeT's executive director. "For transit, you need a lot of money."

Ride New Orleans' annual report acknowledged that high costs pose a barrier for more service "both in terms of pure cost and in rallying public support and trust for additional founding." The advocacy group said among 20 comparable peer transit agencies, the RTA had the second highest operating costs in 2015 at $134 per bus operating hour. Only Detroit was higher.
 What is the point of contracting out operations at all, let alone to Transdev in particular? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Countdown to Shutdown

A little over a day into it and it's not looking great for Special Session II The Enspecialing.
Wednesday (May 22) on how to go about fixing Louisiana's budget or what taxes have the support to be renewed or raised before June 4, when the special session ends. There is not even agreement on how much money needs to be raised overall between the governor and Republican-controlled House.

"I realize why Louisiana is shaped like a boot. Because we are the kick-the-can state," said Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central.

There is already discussion from both Democrats and Republicans that a third special session will be necessary because lawmakers are not confident they will be able to finish their business in the next 13 days, when the current special session ends.
Already a third installment?  You know typically the reason these franchises keep getting sequels is because they actually make money. But I think this particular cinematic universe is more narrative driven.  The audience is going to see this train go off the dang cliff and we're gonna make it happen, dammit. We don't care what it costs. 
Some budget must be in place by July 1 to avoid a state government shutdown. About $1.4 billion in temporary state taxes expire June 30, creating the fiscal crisis. 
I believe we here at the Yellow Blog were the first this year to call the shutdown a likely, if not inevitable outcome. So, you know, spoiler alert, I guess.  There's still some time for the showrunners to change things up on us but I don't think they're going to.  The Republicans don't care if the budget gets fixed at all. The Governor thinks they're going to help him fix it if he just gives them whatever they want. And the Black Caucus are the only people in the room smart enough to have seen through any of the bullshit at all.
The head of the House Black Caucus, state Rep. Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace, said his members would refuse to vote for a sales tax bill when it came up on the House floor, unless some other measures -- possibly those affecting income taxes -- came along with that proposal.

Gaines also said any sales tax legislation that passed must keep taxes higher for businesses as well as individuals. "It is a nonstarter without that," he said.
 Tell me how any of this changes before the shutdown happens.  I'd love to hear some fan theories. 

"Vocal minority"

Eric Bay is getting real close to saying anti-STR activists are "paid actors" here.
Eric Bay, president of the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, a local group short-term rental supporters, said in an interview Wednesday that he's concerned the council is acting at the behest of a small group of New Orleans residents opposed to short-term rentals. He estimates that as many as 1,000 permits renewals will be denied when they expire between May and August.

"To have this knee-jerk reaction without properly studying real-time, independent data and statistics is simply bad policy, and a blatant attempt to appease a vocal minority," Bay said. He also said he's concerned the city hasn't properly warned short-term rental operators, saying, "the city is not informing license-holders that actions are being taken against their right and privilege."
Don't worry, I'm sure he'll get there eventually.

Anyway, we're coming off a municipal election where voters consistently said affordable housing was at or near the top of their list of concerns. A majority of the new council believes, at least for now, that the impetus to tighten STR regulations was part of the mandate that won them their seats. But maybe if ANP continues to hammer at this "vocal minority" characterization all summer, eventually some of these elected people will start to buy it.

Also, Jared Brossett has been a reliable anti-STR vote in the past.  Seems like his addition would cement the "veto-proof majority" brought up here.  Where is he on this motion?
According to a City Council agenda released ahead of their Thursday (May 24) meeting, Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer has already convinced three of her fellow council members to co-author the proposal, indicating their support. Those four council members -- Palmer, Jason Williams, Joe Giarrusso and Jay Banks -- constitute the majority needed for approval of the ordinance.

One additional vote will make a veto-proof majority, though Mayor LaToya Cantrell hasn't weighed in on the matter.

#CityOfYes we still randomly stop and search your car

It's been a while. Or maybe I just haven't been seeing the notices in a while. But I believe this is the first official police checkpoint under the new mayoral regime. 
NEW ORLEANS - The NOPD's Traffic Division will conduct an upcoming sobriety checkpoint within Orleans Parish.

The checkpoint will be in operation from 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 24, 2018, through Friday, May 25, 2018, at 4 p.m.
Drive carefully. If they nail you for a brake light, there's a way to address that this weekend


Well guys, I am afraid I have some bad news and some good news.  The bad news is we're gonna have to deal with another one of these horror shows
The NFL awarded the 2024 Super Bowl (58) to New Orleans after the city secured a unanimous vote during Wednesday morning's single-city ballot process among NFL owners, snapping New Orleans' two-bid losing streak for the NFL's championship game. 
With each return of this comet, the rate at which our civic democratic institutions and public spaces are corrupted and left weakened by corporate welfare is accelerated. This is from a Lens examination of the city's concessions to the NFL in 2013 and the offer it was making in a bid to bring it back in 2018.
In 2013, local government bodies, including the city and the Orleans Parish School Board, agreed to refund up to $800,000 in local taxes to the league and member teams.* The actual refund came to about $500,000.

Finally, Kopplin wrote that the city could not agree to the NFL’s request for the right of first refusal to buy public-transit ads. A private company, Laurel Outdoor Advertising, controls ads on RTA buses, streetcars and shelters.

“It is understood that Laurel has long-term commitments on such advertising, but they have committed to the Host Committee to provide as much available inventory as possible to the NFL and/or their sponsors,” Kopplin wrote.

The city agreed to every other NFL request without objection, including:
The city also agreed to some items that would not require any city action, such as allowing alcohol service until 4 a.m. at certain venues. And odds are it wouldn’t have had to do anything to meet one NFL requirement: equipment and services to deal with a snowstorm.
Are we going to get a look at what the city gave away this time around? Or is every media outlet going to just publish thousands and thousands of words of breathless cheerleading? For example, here is Jeff Duncan already writing without the slightest hint of irony...
We might not be able to fix our streets or drain them when it rains, but we know how to host a big event and throw a party. And events and parties don't get any bigger than the Super Bowl.
Jeff goes on to prattle on about "economic impact" without interrogating what that actually means much less to whom the benefits of such an "impact" accrues.  No time for that when we've got PR copy to write for Gayle Benson and "civic leaders" who aren't technically even employing Jeff now but who knows maybe someday. 
And it's possible, the mega-events will take place in a glitzy, renovated Superdome if state and Saints officials can execute their plan to upgrade the stadium in the 2020-2022 offseasons. Considering the state of the state's finances, that's a big "if."

Wednesday is a day to celebrate. Landing Super Bowl 2024 is a major triumph for the city. The civic leaders who collaboratively worked to land the big game deserve a toast. Their diligence paid off.
The Advocate doesn't really have a Duncan in the sports department. But it does have Nick Underhill who, at least, knows a thing or two about football and does a serious job writing about it. When he's writing about the people in charge of football and the business of football, though, he does a serious job of flattering them.
The victory was the result of six months of hard work by the GNOSF’s Jay Cicero, Joffray and others, who went back and forth with the league to meet all their demands and ready the presentation. While that group led the charge, they also worked alongside the Saints, Edwards, Cantrell, former mayor Mitch Landrieu, the Mercedes Benz-Superdome and SMG, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, as well as several hotels and hospitality venues on the bid.

Committing to make upgrades to the Superdome was not part of the bid process or a requirement to be awarded the game. However, during her remarks following the announcement, Gayle Benson said there would be many changes made to the building before the 2024 Super Bowl.
What did they commit to, though?  What did all that "hard work" produce?  We don't know.  We do know it was "competitive,"  though. Which is a neat trick to pull off when you haven't actually been asked to compete for anything.
The process for bidding on Super Bowls changed this year. Instead of having several teams present competing bids, the NFL worked solely with Arizona for the 2023 and New Orleans for the 2024 game. The league realized the benefits of such an approach last year when it tapped Tampa Bay to fill in for Los Angeles, which was facing delays with its stadium construction, in 2021.

Not only did the league realize that it can generate competitive bids by taking this approach, but the new process also cuts back on the bitter feelings losing teams and city’s often harbor after failing to land the game. New Orleans knows all about that after losing its last two bids to Minnesota and Atlanta, which were both rewarded for building new stadiums.
Minnesota was also rewarded for offering the most embarrassing package of incentives and payoffs yet reported on.  Maybe that's why we've gone to this non-competitive bidding process. Fewer opportunities for something like that to leak.

Oh yeah, I also have some good news. The good news is, thanks to any or some combination of factors such as, greater exposure of the untenable health risks of football, the sinking of the city into the sea, or the dissolution of the entire nation into fascism,  the odds of there actually being a Superbowl or a New Orleans by 2024 are so slim that the prospect of a Superbowl in New Orleans is probably not something we're going to have to worry about.

It's always boil order o'clock somewhere

Venetian Isles today.
Venetian Isles will remain under a precautionary boil water advisory Wednesday (May 23), the Sewerage and Water Board said. The advisory covers areas east of Textron Marine & Land Systems on Chef Menteur Highway.

S&WB officials said testing began overnight to see if contaminants had entered the water system. The results are expected to be back around midnight Wednesday.
Too bad there's no money for infrastructure work.  At least not until Gilbert Montano finishes "literally" unclogging the big money pipe by literally poking at a wad of bills with a literal stick probably.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

John Bel sounds kinda desperate

This is from his speech this afternoon in Lafayette.  Everybody is out of ideas other than the ideas the Republicans have been pushing all along.  John Bel's big idea for the special session is to retain a half penny of the sales tax.  Maybe permanently.
That tax plan is a shift in the governor's position from just a year ago. Edwards had said for months that he did not want to adopt a higher sales tax rate on a permanent basis and would only accepted as a "bridge" to making other changes. In recent months, however, he has become more open to accepting a higher sales tax rate permanently -- an approach Republicans favor.
This is not a compromise most of them are likely to accept.. or even acknowledge, really. Already a glance at the #lalege Twitter tag finds dozens of Republican activists and politicians critizing the Governor's "tax and spend polices."  Amusingly, though, Billy freaking Nungesser (who appeared with the Governor at his event today) is clapping back at some of them. Who knew Billy would turn out to be such a cuck, right?

Meanwhile, the Legislative Black Caucus held a townhall meeting this morning to discuss the special session.  Back in March, they took a particularly hard line against the sales tax. It will be interesting to see if they hold that line in the face of all this (failing) bipartisanship the Governor has become mired in. 

Session gavels in at 4PM.  They have 14 days to figure this stuff out. Or not. 

Oh come on

This is because we moved the embassy to Jerusalem isn't it
A sinkhole has developed on the White House’s North Lawn, reporters observed Tuesday.

Did these guys finally get what they were after?
The Rev. John C. Hagee, a televangelist who gave the closing benediction, has said the Holocaust happened because God’s “top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel,” a prelude to the Second Coming. In an email, Mr. Hagee said his comments, in a sermon about the problem of evil in a world of God’s creation, were taken out of context, and he has apologized for any offense.

David M. Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel who presided over the embassy dedication, said evangelical Christians “support Israel with much greater fervor and devotion than many in the Jewish community.”

“You’re running a country, you need friends, you need alliances, you need to protect your people,” he said in an interview.

So.. some people really were in that number

What exactly happened here? Yesterday the Saints sent out emails informing people that their "number had been called" on the season ticket wait list and they had thus attained the privilege of buying Saints tickets if they still wanted to.

I got one. But that was weird because I'm not on the wait list.  We've actually had season tickets as part of a group since 2006.  We just renewed those, in fact. I already ordered my J.T. Barrett jersey and everything. Anyway, I'm not on the wait list but I am on the Saints' email list. As are a lot of people who got these messages yesterday
The offer, apparently intended only for members of the waiting list eligible to buy tickets, instead went to a much broader batch of names in the organization's database, including current season-ticket holders, people who had never signed up for the waiting list and some who had had no history of buying Saints tickets in the past.
Soooo at least some of the people who got the emails were meant to get them.  It would be interesting to find out how many.  Have the Saints announced anything regarding renewal numbers this year?  They seem to say at the end of the article that the wait list is 100,000 names long. I've been wondering about that for a few years now.

Also what is the deal with the Benson sports franchises and screwing up online ticket sales lately?  I'm starting to think that maybe the only person in the office who knew how to work the emails was Tom. 

Pressing pause again

Who knew that when LaToya found that "pause" button during the Riley flap that she'd be starting a new rhetorical trend?
The New Orleans City Council could vote this week to temporarily halt the issuance of new licenses for short-term rentals of entire homes and bar the renewal of those licenses in residential areas until it decides whether to overhaul the long-term rules that legalized such rentals last year.

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who returned to the council this month after a four-year absence, has drafted a measure to “push pause” on some short-term rental licenses and plans to put it to a council vote Thursday.
Or maybe it's just that shutting things down "until we figure out what is going on" is a standard move in the Trump era. Either way, it looks like that's what we're doing. Sort of.

What Palmer is proposing here is an Interim Zoning District that freezes the issuance of certain types of STR licenses in certain areas for a certain period of time. Because those licenses don't expire all at once,  though,  this means that many or possibly most of them will continue to operate through a substantial part of the "pause" period. In other words, don't expect this action to suddenly shut down every Airbnb on your block.

Meanwhile she's effectively pushing back the timeline on getting to a more permanent solution. The other part of the motion extends the scope of a "study" aimed at revising the STR ordinance thus also delaying the possibility of action from the summer on back toward the end of the year.

There is a risk that such a delay moves us further from the political mandate on this issue generated by the recent elections and thus dampens momentum toward the tougher restrictions voters clearly demanded. One would hope that momentum could carry through but it is concerning to read that some councilmembers are already starting to talk more about "balance" and acceptance of things that "aren't going away" while speaking in support of this measure.
“We understand that there are competing interests here,” said Councilman Joe Giarrusso, one of the co-sponsors. “We’re trying to balance something here that we know is not going away with making sure that quality of life for people who live here is at its highest.”
It would be a shame if that "pause" turns out to be a prelude to a full stop. But don't discount the possibility that that's where we are headed.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Everybody sues Ashton

How many like this are there?
But a decade later, First NBC Bank and St. Theresa are both closed, and in the aftermath of First NBC’s collapse, the Liljebergs’ borrowing is the focus of separate civil lawsuits in which they are both suing and being sued. One of the suits accuses Ryan of fraud.

The Liljebergs borrowed almost $40 million in a nine-year span, much of which, they now allege in court documents, was done without their approval and at Ryan's behest. They say the First NBC president and CEO issued them new loans so that they'd be able to make payments on older ones as they came due. His goal, they claim, was to “fraudulently improve” the bank’s finances.
So far this is only the second such civil case that may have to be stayed while the federal criminal probe against FNBC proceeds.  This "community bank" had a lot of loans out there in the, uh, the community.  Of course all of the recipients are going to claim they were being taken advantage of by Ryan.  But there's probably more to it than that in a lot of cases. I wonder how many we're going to learn about as this goes on.

Resilience fatigue

Take a look around outside this week and see how many palm trees you can spot that are starting to come back now and which ones may not have made it through the Blizzard Of 2018. The chances are most of them did okay

Palm tree

You can see a lot of them like this around with the green coming back in on top. A similar indicator is observable at the Broad Theater, by the way.

The green shoots aren't always so easy to spot, though. Especially in places where they've had to re-sprout multiple times already.
The rising flood waters came as a frightening sight for Sonnier who runs Gabrielle Restaurant.

"We were probably going to open, I want to say maybe, we were planning to open the week after the flood."

The waters gave Sonnier flashbacks of what happened last year. He says just as he was about to finish renovations, it was hit twice by the July and August flooding. Before that, Sonnier had been waiting 12 years to reopen since Hurricane Katrina took out his old location on Esplanade.

"I was very much thinking of starting to raise equipment and get everything off the ground to prepare for the water to get inside," Sonnier said. He can't even imagine what would have happened if the rain didn't stop when it did.
 Well we might get another chance to ask, what would happen this weekend
 Eh but what are you gonna do? We live in a "City That Floods," right?

Atomic Cannon

Vice President Nixon: "Congratulations to this young weightlifter or whatever."

Because Menckles is not from Louisiana, yesterday I found myself in the unusual position of having to answer the question, "Who is Bill Cannon?"  That took a while to explain but I think I started with, "Paul Bunyan but for Louisiana football," or something like that.  Anyway, this is a better explanation.
Nationally, LSU’s best known sports figures are probably “Pistol” Pete Maravich and Shaquille O’Neal. But on the home front, Cannon is the legend of legends.

Nearly 60 years after he stepped off the field at old Tulane Stadium after his final college game in the 1960 Sugar Bowl, Cannon remains the standard by which all LSU football players are judged. It is easy to get all hyperbolic over the latest five-star recruit as being the best this or that. But there are still plenty of Tiger fans who will look at the helium-filled recruiting rankings and huff, with justification, “He’s great, but he’s no Billy Cannon.”
The window flags on every RV in the state are gonna be at half-mast for the rest of the year. 

Fear not for the fading of your myths, though, Tiger fans. Legends do indeed continue to walk this earth
They're rare at LSU, famous for its night games. All but three were played in the evening last year with one 11 a.m. tucked in Nov. 11 against Arkansas. A handful of former Tigers recalled the locker room scene that preceded that brunch in Baton Rouge.

Ed Orgeron got primal before that morning game.

"He walked in there and said it's time to set your jaw," said former Tiger offensive lineman K.J. Malone. "And started punching himself in the jaw."

Astros pitcher Ken Giles recently went viral for smoking himself in the face. That was punitive.

Orgeron, LSU's 56-year old head coach, sacrificed for motivation.

"Punch yourself in the face in the morning if you're not ready," center Will Clapp remembered was the message.
Self harm is kind of the unofficial state passtime anyway.  We'll be right back at it tomorrow, in fact.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Are they playing chicken or egg? Or just playing chicken?

How did we get here?

The spring special session was called so that we could find more revenue. But that failed because the Republicans all said we we didn't need more revenue. They said we had a "spending problem" that just needed to be fixed with responsible budgeting.

So we went to the regular session where the House very responsibly passed a horror budget that closes hospitals and throws people off of Medicaid.  But when the Governor announced that the horror budget would do horrible things, they all said this was premature. The implication was either 1) Somebody would find us some more revenue. 2) Their horror budget would not be the budget because the Senate would fix it.  But it couldn't be 1) because, responsible budgeting, remember?

So the Senate passed a "pretend" budget that  puts money back into health care by, basically, removing it from everything else which, of course, nobody thought was a viable solution in the first place. Hence, the "pretend."

Both the horror and pretend versions of the budget being bullshit, the Governor has decided to veto them. This way we can start again in the summer special session by going and getting the revenue first this time because, it turns out, that's how this is supposed to work.
Edwards, a Democrat, had avoided saying publicly in recent days whether he would veto the budget, which called for deep cuts to state agencies but protected funding for health care.

"It's obvious now, I think to everyone, there simply isn't enough revenue forecasted for next fiscal year to fashion a reasonable budget," Edwards said.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha is it "obvious to everyone" now or is this the dumbest chicken or egg game yet played?  Seems like if it were that obvious, we would have figured this out in the spring... or last year.. or the year before that.  But here we are in late May and the fiscal cliff is still there. It can only be that way because it's what the Republicans wanted all along. They've been playing chicken with the budget for three years, there's no reason to believe they're gonna give that up next week.   Maybe that isn't obvious to everyone, though. 

Is that how it's supposed to work?

What are you gonna do? It just floods here
WWL: Is the system working to capacity?

Rainey: That's a hard question. Capacity means many different things. Our pumping stations are all now working the best they can. We do have five pumps out, but we have 115 of 120...

WWL: So, is this as good as it gets?

Rainey: The system right now is operating well, we’re not having any issues with it, it’s just hard. It’s hard to keep up with these fast-moving, heavy-dumping rain storms.’
 I guess one idea would be to just lean into the branding opportunity.
Numbers from the Sewerage and Water Board said Friday 115 out of 120 pumps in the city were working, and all of those working were at full capacity.

"We have these rain events and we are prepared as much as possible, but we are a city that floods," Cantrell said. "If we get too much (rain), too soon, we're going to see street flooding as we have always seen."

When asked if this was as good as the flash flood protection gets, Cantrell replied "this is as good as it gets right now."
We are a "city that floods."  It is exactly as "we have always seen." 

Is it, though?  I guess if we all agree and don't ask too many questions then it can be. If we adopt such a conceit, though, how will it affect our decisions regarding the way that "whole new drainage system" we're going to need works?  A lot of interested parties would like a hand in shaping the way that question is answered.

Friday, May 18, 2018

What was the fight about?

So many jokes about and head shaking over the incivilitude of legislators punching one another in a bar but almost no attention paid to what they were actually fighting about.
The incident happened at the River Room on Laurel Street.

"He's not happy with me over a bill," said Bishop, who as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee blocked a bill from Chabert.

Chabert is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Neither man identified the bill in question.

The argument began on the House floor earlier Tuesday before spilling outside of the Capitol later that night.
Titillation aside,  isn't "the bill in question" really the more relevant bit of information in this story.  Lawmakers are mad at each other. Okay, there's the hook.  But you have to tell people what they are mad about. Otherwise, you aren't reporting on politics. You're just doing celebrity gossip.

It took forever for anyone to figure out what this was about.  The Advocate reporters did. (Four of them are credited in that story! This was an all-hands-on-deck situation.) Here's what happened. 
Chabert said the incident stemmed from ongoing arguments on coastal issues between the two and not a specific bill. Bishop is chairman of the  House Natural Resources and Environment Committee; Chabert is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Bishop said the fight was over a bill to alter the make-up of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board. Chabert's bill, Senate Bill 433, would grant voting power to two legislative members on the executive-branch board, which Bishop changed through amendment.
There's more detail on that bill from Mark Schleifstein here. But even that doesn't get to the heart of the matter which is Norby Chabert wants to be able to dip into the Coastal Protection fund in order to pass out patronage projects to affiliates. I don't know what Bishop's angle is exactly. But there's probably money at stake.

Upticked off

Shorter LaToya: Warren Riley is very good at being in charge of things and you guys just can't handle it I guess, oh well.
But here in New Orleans: the pain is too great. The untreated and lingering trauma so many of our residents still struggle with, the post-traumatic stress that still informs how we all look back to that flashpoint, makes it untenable to move forward with Mr. Riley as part of our new administration.
Cantrell says she did some "listening" to people's objections, but clearly she missed the point.   It is fine to recognize the "lingering trauma" caused by the experience of the flood, and specifically the outrageous police violence that occurred in its wake.  But the actual question before the mayor here involves stewardship of institutions not psyches.  Can we expect Warren Riley to act in the public interest when those institutions fail?  Jarvis DeBerry describes, here, why the public may not be so confident. 
With two people dead, four people wounded and seven of his officers originally charged in state court with either murder or attempted murder, should we believe Riley's claim that he didn't read a report of what happened?

It's obvious why he would say he didn't read it.  If he had said he read his department's report of what happened on Danziger and did nothing to punish the officers who were obviously lying, then he would be admitting that he was a huge part of what was wrong with NOPD in the years after Hurricane Katrina.

Then again, if he didn't read it, if he was purposely trying to avoid knowing of his officers' alleged criminality, then by not reading he's indicating that he's a huge part of what was wrong with NOPD in the years after Katrina.
Cantrell's statement glosses over the issue entirely and suggests, instead, that the upticked community is incapable of thinking rationally because of trauma.  That's kind of insulting, isn't it?  It's definitely in the category of a "sorry if you were offended" apology. Stephanie Grace's "It's not me, it's you" description is also apt.  Of interest also is Grace's use of the term, "rookie mistake."
What really made the situation untenable isn't the lingering trauma but the reality of what happened on Riley's watch, and the problem lies with the new mayor, not the people she represents. The sooner Cantrell acknowledges that and learns from her rookie mistake, the better.
We're about to see if the rookie mayor has learned anything as she deliberates over the fate of the Confederate monuments. She's on a different listening tour with regard to that issue. DeBerry describes who is involved in that.
Thanks to the public records request mentioned above, we now know that the Monument Relocation Committee is made up of Frank Stewart, Geary Mason, Mimi Owens, Richard Marksbury, Charles Marsala, Pierre McGraw and Sally Reeves.

Frank Stewart is the businessman former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called out last year for not using his wealth to help make sure the monuments were replaced with something non-offensive.  Mimi Owens is "Mikas Eaux," the administrator of the Facebook page "Forever Lee Circle" and the person we have to blame for this year's Robert E. Lee throws during Mardi Gras.

From the minutes of one of the committee's meeting: "We represent the following: Monumental Task Committee, Louisiana Landmarks Society, SaveNOLAHeritage.com, Beauregard Monument Association, Lee Monument Association and two of us were plaintiffs in legal procedures hoping to prevent the city from removing the monuments."

We should expect those members to do everything they can to return those monuments to a place of prominence -- a place where they will remain visible.
Previously, LaToya told Gambit that she wants monument supporters to decide what happens to them because, "you know, reverence matters." But we'll wait to see what happens when she is finished weighing everyone's relative traumas or whatever.

In any case, I don't think this is as much about "rookie mistakes" as it is a mayor elected without a distinct policy-based mandate. Was our recent municipal election actually about anything?  What was LaToya's platform? What did she say she was going to do for us if we elected her?  Specifically, I mean. Not just, "spread the love" and such.  On the monuments, she talks about "listening" and "reverence" without ever speaking to the political purpose of the Jim Crow propaganda they represent.  On housing she talks about "balance" in a way that weighs the needs of stressed residents against those of "the landlord community." On crime, she... well, actually she is pretty clear on crime saying over and over she sees surveillance cameras as an "innovation," praising Sidney Torres's app, and so forth. Oh and she thinks the guy who looked the other way at Danziger is "uniquely qualified" to be in charge of public safety.

All of this proceeds from a politics divorced from tangible consequences that depends wholly on individual bios and credentials for motivation. It produces government via condescension and phony pop-psychology subject to the mercy of various occasional upticks.  Expect more of the same to come.

They need to hear from the mayor

OPSB put off a decision on that Industrial Tax Exemption we were just talking about.  I wanted to highlight one quote in particular.
Board member Ben Kleban, who proposed the resolution, moved to defer it because the school board hasn’t gotten buy-in from the city.

“We need to hear the voice of our new mayor on this issue, because it does cross multiple government entities,” Kleban said.
It is common to rebuke anyone who tries to bring up education policy during the mayor/council election cycle with a dismissive, "But they don't have anything to do with the schools!" type comment. Obviously, that isn't true in practice since we're in the bizarre position of having to weigh school funding against "economic development."

One issue that hasn't been discussed yet is the way certain of the local charter operators depend on donations from companies who benefit from the tax exemption. In other words, a select community of privileged business owners gets to choose which schools benefit from their contributions. Inequality is baked into the charter system in a myriad of ways. This is one the school board has the power to undo.  It's something they're going to study.. "aggressively" now.
Thursday, the board approved a substitute resolution that creates a working group to develop a long-term strategy for the program.

The group must present its recommendations by October, which Kleban praised as an “aggressive timeline.”

He said he was optimistic that the group could come up with a plan that could do more than a one-time allocation.

“Though this isn’t the same as my original proposal,” he said, “it has the potential to be even bigger.”
Waiting on the mayor now, I guess. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Only took two years to get started with this

We've been hearing a lot lately about the negative effects of state level preemption over municipal governing policies. In Louisiana, the state legislature has interfered with the ability of local governments (New Orleans in particular) to establish their own laws regarding all sorts of things including gun control, minimum wage, even zoning regulations.    It's a fundamentally anti-democratic practice and a never ending source of frustration for local elected persons who find themselves effectively blocked from carrying out the will of the people they represent in many cases.

Given the growing controversy over this practice, it is strange that certain local authorities have been slow to take advantage of an opportunity to bypass one of its most damaging manifestations.  In 2016, the Governor signed an executive order that grants local taxing authorities a greater degree of control over the Industrial Tax Exemption
The most significant change in the executive order may be that approval of the tax exemption now requires a resolution of support from local taxing agencies. Also, the order shortens the maximum length of an exemption from 10 years to eight years, and in the final three years, the property tax exemption will be capped at 80 percent rather than 100 percent. Those changes should trim the program's costs by at least 25 percent.
There are complications but, basically, what this means is local school boards and sheriff's departments who have been especially crippled by this massive corporate giveaway now have the power to reject or rescind it.  It wasn't until February of this year, however, that anyone actually exercised this new power. Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator denied an applicant a small exemption  worth $6000 over 8 years. That seems insignificant but it sets a precedent which hasn't gone unnoticed.

Last month, teachers in Baton Rouge began agitating the local government to tighten its leash on the tax exemption.   And this week, the Orleans Parish School Board introduced a resolution by Ben Kleban to impose a three year moratorium on granting the exemption. According to Kleban, here is how the Industrial Tax Exemption affects Orleans Parish schools.
According to Kleban's resolution, the "intent of the Industrial Tax Exemption program is to create jobs and stimulate the economy, recipient companies of industrial tax exemptions in Orleans Parish promised to create over 4,500 jobs since 2000, but the actual change in jobs was a net decline of 76 jobs."

The school system's tax exemptions in 2017 totaled $3 million, which could have been used for education programs, Kleban said Tuesday during the board's finance committee meeting.
Even if we accept the premise that there's ever a justification for diverting tax dollars intended for education over to private sector "job creation," this program fails according to its own metric. The bigger picture is even worse than what Kleban's numbers describe.  In December, Together Louisiana presented findings to the City Council about where that money goes.  All in all they found that the exemptions up for renewal this year had delivered a total loss of 279 jobs. Also there's a breakdown.
Here are  the top six incentive recipients in Orleans Parish, the subsidies they received and the jobs they created as a result of the incentive, according to Together Louisiana.
  • Folger Coffee Co., $105.5 million in subsidies, 121 net jobs created
  • Brookfield District Energy USA, $17.2 million in subsidies, 14 net jobs created
  • Air Products and Chemicals Inc., $16.7 million in subsidies, 24 fewer jobs after the tax break was approved
  • Southern Recycling LLC, $15.6 million, 80 net jobs created
  • Entergy New Orleans, $13.9 million in subsidies, nine fewer jobs
  • Textron Marine & Land Systems, $9.6 million in subsidies, 51 net jobs created
All of which costs the city $10.6 million altogether and the school board, as stated, $3 million.

So Kleban's moratorium seems like a no-brainer, right?  Well the school board isn't so sure just yet. They're gonna wait for the Business Alliance to tell them what to do.
A representative for the New Orleans Business Alliance asked the School Board to defer voting on the measure and to give the group an opportunity to present findings to the group.

The committee chose to forward the resolution to the full board for consideration without a recommendation.

Update: I should have known there would have been a more detailed story about all of this at The Lens.  The full school board is expected to vote on the tax exemption today. 

Well that's one

Julie Stokes is going to run for Secretary of State. She says she wants to protect us from "illegal voters."
In a campaign announcement video, Stokes says she's running to "protect the integrity of our elections, and to defend it from illegal voters and cyber attacks, because good government never flows from corrupt elections."
For a rebuttal from the anti-voter suppression side in this race, we turn to.... well, actually, nobody because Stokes is the only announced candidate.  Who else wants this plum of a statewide office?

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Ballard wrote that there were "15 Republicans and 5 Democrats" mulling it over.  But he didn't name any of them.  Ok, that's not exactly true. He references, the speaker of the House and "The Mayor Of Turkey Creek" in the first line of that article. We know the former is Taylor Barras. 

The Mayor of Turkey Creek is a person named Heather Cloud. Here she is in a Facebook video promising to "bring in the full force of the law" against individuals in possession of drugs in a local park. That probably doesn't bode well for her on voter's rights. Neither does this story which says she's already had one election result reversed by suing to have her opponent's votes disqualified. 

This is a November 6 special election. It would be nice to know if any candidates who actually support the right to vote are planning on getting in.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Quote of the day

"Stop interfering with our work"

Must have been one of the "crazies."

Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp was heard asking who the "crazies" were.

The group of about 30 people from the Poor People's Campaign, all wearing similar t-shirts, were moved out of the Senate chambers by the sergeant-at-arms. They were escorted out of the State Capitol and told that they would be arrested if they tried to reenter.

The never ending Bourbon Street project

They will be digging in these blocks until the next Tricentennial or until the money runs out whatever comes first.
A sewer pipe improperly connected to a drainage line under Bourbon Street backed up into the bathroom of the True Religion clothing store in the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street, revealing a problem missed during the months that crews were rebuilding the roadway and the pipes beneath it.

The oversight means contractors will, once again, have to tear up a portion of the first block of Bourbon, just months after that part of a project plagued by delays and cost overruns was thought to have been completed.
It's probably a good thing since the more money they have to spend digging up the street, the less they'll have for surveillance cameras and rent-a-cop squads, right?  I think the original pile of money Mitch got for them to do all of this stuff was $40 million. If so, they've already blown a quarter of it. 
The first phase of the work, covering the 100 through 400 blocks of Bourbon, was expected to cost $6 million and last from April to June of last year. Instead, it wound up with a $10.3 million price tag and didn't wrap up until January.
This story also says the city is about to put out bids on digging up the next 4 blocks.  This would be different from the process used for the first four


To: Karen Carter-Peterson

From: Once and current Saint Ben Watson & Future Saint Demario Davis
As athletes and community activists, we have been particularly struck by the way our system continues punishing people long after they have served their time – sometimes through extensive supervision, but here, in Louisiana, through felon disenfranchisement. People can return to their community, own businesses, become faith leaders, but they cannot exercise the most fundamental right: the right to express political will at the ballot box. This right is fundamental to personhood and to democracy. It is how we hold elected officials accountable to all of the community, not just a select few. We should not take it away after someone has already paid their debt to society.

We therefore write to extend our deepest support for a bill (HB 265) that will restore the most fundamental right of democracy to thousands of people in Louisiana. Voting is essential to individual citizenship, human dignity, and collective democracy. The legislature should pass this bill with all speed.
This bill has passed the House and is out of committee already in the Senate as of yesterday.   So, see? Between that and the unanimous verdict law making it out, the session hasn't been a complete disaster.

Okay it's been a complete disaster but those things aren't the reason. 

Guess it is summer time now

Temperature gets up above 90 and well...
Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta posted on Facebook that he was told that Entergy experienced and overload issue on a substation transformer.

Entergy says crews are out working to restore power.
Those are not crews. They are paid actors.  Definitely don't need any upgrades to the transmission infrastructure, though.

Follow the money... in a circle

There's finally an indictment in the FNBC scandal. It might not be the last one.
Jeffrey Dunlap, 44, of Slidell, faces one felony count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in what's likely the first domino to fall. Federal prosecutors have been investigating potential criminal charges related to First NBC's stunning collapse in April 2017 collapse, and in fact, many of the latest allegations were aired in a civil lawsuit filed in November in 22nd Judicial District Court in St. Tammany Parish.

Dunlap was charged in a bill of information, which usually indicates a defendant is cooperating with the government.
The allegations in the case illustrate the sort of shell game the bank played counting various instruments as revenue producing assets. In this case, Ashton Ryan is supposed to have been, basically, lending money to himself via Dunlap's firm.
Phoenix's work on the Mandeville project, called Wadsworth Estates, spanned seven years beginning in 2009, and included utility work as well as installing drainage, roadways and other infrastructure to develop the property, located on La. 1088. Plans call for a high-end business park and commercial development.

Each time Phoenix's loan from the bank became due, Ryan referenced his own debt to the firm as incoming revenue to justify the loan's creditworthiness and extend it, according to the lawsuit, which alleges fraud, unjust enrichment and unfair trade practices.

Monday’s bill of information echoes that complaint, alleging that Dunlap schemed with Ryan so both men could “unjustly enrich themselves, disguise the true financial status of (Phoenix), and conceal the accurate performance” of the firm’s credit line.
Anyway, there's potentially a lot more.  I wonder if the scope of this will remain limited only to the Phoenix stuff, though. 


Chaos Mayor had Warren Riley all signed and sealed and whatnot before anyone had a chance to object.
Riley filled out 23 pages of employment documents on April 30 in preparation for the announcement that he would become Cantrell's director of homeland security and public safety, overseeing police, fire and disaster response for her administration.

About 48 hours later, though, Cantrell cited an "uptick" in community concern as reason for giving the matter further thought.
Earlier Clancy Dubos wrote that this behavior suggests LaToya might have a "political death wish." I don't think that's what it is. Obviously, stuff like this isn't great for her politically.  But it's not a major crisis. And new mayors get a fair amount of leeway.  LaToya's transition report recommended that she flip flop on one of her first and most highly publicized campaign promises this week and I've already seen people give her a pass on that. She probably won't take lingering damage over a personnel decision either.

More to the point, I don't think Cantrell suffers from a subconscious self-destructive impulse as the the term "death wish" would imply.  Rather, I think she's opening her administration in the throes of a stubbornly sycophantic echo chamber.  There's a lot of love in the room behind those NDAs. Which is why the "community upticks" come as such a surprise.

During the campaign, the format was different.  Back then, they made sure to stage the "listening sessions" before the policy proclamations in order to give the impression that one actually affected the other. When they do that in reverse order, though, it just looks silly.
A day after Riley's paperwork was filled out, Cantrell met with the family of one of the people killed by police following Katrina. She told The New Orleans Advocate last week that the meeting caused her to reconsider the appointment.

“I needed to do that to listen to how they were feeling. And the pain, there’s still a lot of pain there, and it’s real,” Cantrell said. “But I also needed to listen to the other side — and that includes Mr. Riley. So I’m working through that right now.”
What is this, Dr. Phil? This isn't about letting people vent their "pain." It's about choosing whether or not to reward the cop who failed them by putting him back into a position of power.  In LaToya's conception, it's fine if she does this as long as she validates feelings in the process.  During the campaign, I compared her style to Bill Clinton. This is exactly what I meant by that.

Anyway, maybe she won't hire Riley after all, who knows. But expect to go through this exercise a few more times before the Cantrell team figures out their routine.  They're about to make another high profile decision that might get the community all upticked at them.  Wonder how they'll feel their way through that. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Pretend budgets

I keep saying this is all definitely leading to a government shut down next month. But really, I have no idea what will happen. All I know is the scenario remains unchanged. The Fiscal Cliff is 600 some odd million dollars big. Depending on what they decide not to fund, there are federal multipliers at stake that could do billions of dollars worth of damage to vital services.

Republicans have (or believe they have) very little political incentive to take that seriously. They calculate that they can spend the next month lying about "medicare faud," and making a show out of holding the line on taxes, and whatever the form of the resulting disaster might be, the voters will take it all out on the governor next year.

If they can get there while passing one of the "pretend" budgets, they will. If they can get there while crashing the whole state in the meantime, they will do that as well.

Update: Looks like the special session call is going out this afternoon

Density bonus

So much energy gets spent arguing over whether or not the city is even allowed to do bank-shot trickle down style housing policies like inclusionary zoning or voluntary density bonuses that we miss out on the fact that these are largely just sops to developers who benefit from slapping an "affordability" label onto what are really luxury developments.

In some cases, the developer doesn't even have to participate in the density bonus in order to at least associate it with their branding effort.  All that really matters is that they get to say, we tried.
The building will still be mixed-income, though there are some changes in what that mix will look like. The original plan set aside 15 percent of the apartments for lower-income residents for 50 years, with some units priced at rates targeting residents who earned as low as 30 percent of the area's median income.

In the updated plans, 10 percent of the apartments -- or seven units -- will be priced to target residents who earn 80 percent of the area's median income. That translates to about $900 a month for a one-bedroom unit and $1,100 a month for a two-bedroom unit.

Doucette said the remainder of the apartments will have rents at "workforce levels," geared toward people who work in Bywater or commute to jobs in the nearby downtown area. Rents would fall between $1,400 and $1,600 a month for a one-bedroom unit, and between $1,900 and $2,200 for a two-bedroom unit.
Even the lower end of that "mix" is too damn high. The median income in New Orleans is roughly $36,000.  The seven(!) units in the less expensive range really stretch the notion of what would qualify as affordable there. But it's really that "workforce" terminology that ought to insult people. It suggests to us that, if we aren't able to meet a $1,400 - $2,200 rent, then we aren't the sort of "workforce" that is valued here.  I don't know who commutes downtown for that kind of money.  Maybe they're oil and gas executives.  (Oh wait. No.)  Maybe they're at the University Medical Center. (Oh no.)  In any case, they certainly aren't part of that "backbone of New Orleans" cultural/service economy we like to celebrate.  I suppose you could pull down that kind of rent letting those units out as STRs, but that's not why we build multi-unit housing in tourist-friendly neighborhoods, right.?

Anyway, the good news is the Cantrell Administration should be able to glean some helpful insights into these challenges from the developers themselves.  One of them is LaToya's new deputy CAO.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Can we build a monorail out of wax?

During his final year in office Mitch Landrieu learned for himself something that many others had discovered before him.  Nobody knows what to do with Six Flags.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has not been able to find anyone to redevelop the site of the old Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans East, meaning the property will pass, untouched, from one mayor to another for a second time.

A Landrieu adviser conceded Tuesday that she had no news to share with the public board that manages the site, nearly a year after the same adviser announced Landrieu’s office would take the lead on redeveloping it.

Responsibility for the vacant 140-acre property now falls to the 15-member Industrial Development Board and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, who will be sworn in next month.
When Mitch took charge of the proposals last year, it sparked a round of rumors and conspiracy theories about one or another ways a "fix" might be in the works.  Who knows if any of that was true. I suspect none of it was. But whatever he had in mind, it turned out "the timing" just wasn't right for it. Or at least, according to him, in retrospect, this is the reason nothing has happened.
But no such plans have materialized, Conwell said Tuesday, though she said the city still believes the site can be financially successful.

She also hinted that any project that might have come through was complicated by Landrieu’s impending exit from office.

“It is logical that anyone considering such an investment on this site would, given the timing, want to avoid the transition period between administrations,” Conwell said.
So they're saying there's a chance.

But, really, should they even be encouraging anyone at this point? The previous several attempts at this resulted in escalating frustrations at the Industrial Development Board as the same two or three bidders kept coming back with different versions of the same harebrained schemes. It got so bad at one point that the board called the proposals, "an insult to the people of New Orleans." This is also, famously, the process by which we came to know Frank Scurlock. And look how well that worked out.

But it was never only about Scurlock. There were other serial bidders with strange ideas and shoddy financing as well.  Does anybody remember this scrap metal scam, for example?  I think that's the only instance where the foolishness rose to the level of actual criminal activity. But there's always been the potential for that. And, of course, there is still time for more. Which is why it's a good idea to keep an eye out for anything having to do with Six Flags that maybe seems a little off. For example, there is this nugget at the bottom of the above linked Advocate story.
There was at least some positive news Tuesday: Developer Tonya Pope, who has long sought to revive the former Jazzland Theme Park at the site, announced that she will build a $20 million wax museum near the site instead.

That’s a modified version of a plan she and her partner, the now-closed Musee Conti, announced last year to feature the museum’s wax figures as a Jazzland theme park attraction.

Jazzland operated only two seasons before going bankrupt. It was sold in 2002 to Six Flags Entertainment, which had its own financial problems over its three-year tenure and never reopened the site after Katrina.

Pope said her project has received financial backing from former Gov. Edwin Edwards and is expected to be open by late 2018 or 2019.
Pope doesn't have Six Flags but she does have $20 million to build a wax museum near the still rotting site of Six Flags. That seems normal.

Previous to this, Pope has been involved with a company called  TPC-NOLA, a partner in bids on the property going back at least as far as 2011 when it was eliminated in the early rounds.  The next year, the winner of that prestigious contest sank into the swamp after the Riverwalk outlet mall redevelopment basically duplicated what they wanted to do in a better location.

The process didn't begin again until 2014 when IDB had a hard time getting anybody to apply.  Only Pope's group had put together a bid before the application deadline. This time, they claimed to have "spent the last two years maturing the plan and getting a lot more support from the community and business leaders."  What she meant was that they got Ashton Ryan's Money Club to buy in.
Much of the money would come from a $25 million construction loan financed by First NBC Bank and federal tax credits for revitalization projects in impoverished neighborhoods. Paidia is also counting on another $10 million in private financing for equipment, $8 million in state tax incentives and $2 million in corporate sponsorships, according to its proposal.
This is exactly the kind of shaky investment scheme that would go on to cause the spectacular collapse of FNBC. (Please see the Advocate's excellent reporting over the past year and a half.) The IDB seemed to sense a problem at the time. So they extended the deadline.  Only Scurlock showed up to join in the bidding, though. Unsurprisingly, his proposal was even less sound than Pope's and the whole thing was scrapped again.

Throughout this process, the IDB became increasingly uncomfortable with its position as a landlord. It's not really something that board is set up to do. So it was desperate to just sell the property off in 2016 when Pope came calling again.  But it wasn't clear what her plans were for development. Something about "mixed-use" dining and retail or whatever. But evidently not enough to convince anyone of anything.

In 2017, she came back again, along with Scurlock and a surprise last-minute bidder who just jumped up out of the audience.
As the board heard from the two groups making purchase offers as listed on the agenda, Henry Klein, an attorney who said he represents 30/90 Development, said his group wants to offer $5.5 million for the property, while giving no details who's involved in the group or their plans for the Six Flags site. Klein left the meeting while it was still ongoing.

IDB member Justin Augustine said people jumping out of the audience to make an offer is "not a professional process" and urged the board to use a more professional method to receive offers.
It was shortly after this episode that Mitch stepped in saying he was going to find a developer on his own.  Last month, we were not surprised to learn he was unsuccessful.  But, hey, the new mayor is installed now. And maybe we'll see where it goes when she gets back around to dealing with this. In the meantime, Pope will (maybe) be right there in the neighborhood playing around with her wax dolls or whatever. 

Set the Doomsday Clock to Rage Monkey O'clock

There is an update in the decades-long saga of Tulane University's  mission to bring death to us all via a scientifically engineered monkey-borne pathogen.  Please take a minute from your busy morning of boiling your breathing air for the day and consider the following.

The story stretches back to the 1960s when the Tulane National Primate Research Center opened on a 500 acre plot of land near Covington where it has been making monkeys ill in various ways for science ever since.
Even in its first few decades, research at the center stirred some controversy. In the mid-1980s, activists complained about monkeys at the center being spun at high rates of speed and having their vomiting rated in experiments that were part of the space program. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, concerns were raised over three monkeys that, as part of experiments on spinal cord injuries, had nerves cut that cost them the use of their arms and legs; their brains also were pierced with electrodes.
In addition to spinning the monkeys at high rates of speed, the center also uses them for "basic and applied biomedical research on human health problems using nonhuman primate models." The center's website lists twelve, "diseases we investigate," here. I'm not an expert in microbiology so I'm not sure if any of those twelve relates to this particular bacterium but we do know it was definitely present at the facility in 2015 because...
An animal clinic worker at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington has tested positive for exposure to a potentially deadly bacterium that escaped from a high-security lab at the center and infected several monkeys, officials said Wednesday evening.

The results of blood tests on the worker showed antibodies consistent with exposure to Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is native to southeast Asia and Australia and can cause melioidosis, a potentially fatal disease.

The worker’s blood had barely enough antibodies to trigger a positive result, and further tests are needed to confirm the initial positive reading, according to a statement from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Confirmation could be received as early as next week.
We also know the center conducts research on Zika and Ebola which we learned from this article last year when the man in charge died suddenly at age 57 after a "brief illness."  That's probably a tragic coincidence, of course, but it's worth keeping in mind that this is definitely a facility where accidents are known to happen.

We've noticed a few of them over the years beginning in 1998 when 24 monkeys ran loose for three days after defeating the security system by "jiggling the lock." 
Twenty-four Indian rhesus monkeys housed at the Tulane Primate Center in St. Tammany Parish escaped on Oct. 18.

All but one of the monkeys were recovered three days later. One female monkey is unaccounted for.

According to Dr. Peter Gerone, director of the Primate Center, the monkeys are housed in a quarter-acre chain-link catch pen that encloses a smaller pen. By jiggling the lock, the monkeys apparently opened the gate which leads from the chain-link catch pen to the outside.
The article about the jiggling incident also notes previous episodes where the monkeys were sprung with a little help from the outside. 
No large escapes involving a number of monkeys have occurred at the center since 1997, and these two previous large escapes were due to vandals cutting the wires of the pen.
There were, "no signs of vandalism," however in 2003 when another two dozen monkeys escaped into the woods.  The emergency crew snapped into action... until they got tired, I guess.
COVINGTON, Louisiana (AP) -- Two dozen monkeys escaped from a research center and holed up in a forest, where animal-control workers used bananas and oranges to try to lure them out.

The monkeys are classified as disease-free and posed no health risk to humans, but workers trying to capture the animals wore protective gowns and gloves as a standard precaution, said Fran Simon, a spokeswoman for the Tulane Regional Primate Center.

By Wednesday, eight of the 24 rhesus macaques remained on the loose.

"When they get hungry enough, they'll come back," Simon said.
Let's assume they got hungry and came back. That's better than getting hungry and going on a deadly rampage, right? Anyway two years later it happened again. I'd love to link to the original story for you but it's not even available via the Wayback Machine. Link rot is going to destroy civilization if the death monkeys don't get us first. The good news is, I've been on this beat long enough to have preserved some of it.
COVINGTON -- More than 50 monkeys escaped from the Tulane Primate Center late Monday evening, leaving authorities with the daunting task of tracking down and catching the animals.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, officials said 47 of the monkeys had been captured while 6 managed to continue to elude authorities by hiding in the heavily wooded along Three Rivers Road.

Mike Aertker, spokesman for the Primate Center, said the monkeys were being used solely for breeding purposes, and had not been subjected to experiments of any kind.
"More than 50" this time. If anything, the problem was getting worse. The KATC version of the story (preserved in part here) tells us the monkeys had by this time, in fact, learned to outsmart security protocol.
The monkeys had observed how the cage was opened and closed and apparently used that knowledge to their advantage
Since then, the most notable incident at the facility is the 2015 bacterial containment crisis we mentioned. 

That is until today when we learned that everything is definitely fine.
A WWL listener said he went there this morning. "I went there to make a delivery," he explained. "The lady told me; 'The place is on lockdown, come back in an hour.'"

The delivery man explained that he did notice some unusual activity. "I looked around, and there were police all up and down the street on every corner." He said there were also apparent staff members outside at the center. "There were people in the woods, looking up in the trees." the listener explained. "That made me think they were looking for one of the monkeys."

We called the center and a man who refused to identify himself said, "Everything is fine." When we asked for his name and further information, he said we would have to contact the press office at Tulane and hung up the phone.
Tulane PR later emailed WWL to tell them that one monkey had gotten free but has been rounded up.  How often is everything really this fine up there? We'll probably never know until the day the mutant rage monkeys swarm down to eat our faces which, frankly, might not be the worst thing that could happen at this point.