Saturday, March 24, 2018

This sounds awfully familiar

The case study in this article is about Seattle but it points to a nationwide phenomenon much like what we've just watched play out regarding adult entertainment venues on Bourbon Street.
None of the men arrested, however, were charged with trafficking — only with promoting prostitution. At a sentencing hearing for one of the men who pled guilty, a King County prosecutor acknowledged that his office had no evidence of trafficking or forced behavior in any of these cases, according to court documents. “Trafficking requires some sort of coercive behavior, usually physical coercive behavior. And believe me, we looked hard at whether we had facts or not to file trafficking and it did not meet the standard,” prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff told the judge. He added that prosecutors could not prove that the man was guilty of promoting prostitution in the first degree, which consists of coercion or profiting from sex work. “We did not have the evidence in this case to file… Promoting 1,” Ernsdorff said, referring to the first-degree charge.

Global human rights groups like Amnesty International and World Health Organization have called for the decriminalization of adult sex work in an effort to reduce violence and discrimination against sex workers, and to cut down on the spread of sexually transmitted disease. Yet U.S. authorities are continuing to crack down — sometimes, as in the Seattle area, with the aid of nonprofit advocacy groups pressing for harsher enforcement. King County’s acceptance of funding with strings attached from an anti-prostitution advocacy group raises ethical questions about whether prosecutors’ judgement as impartial “ministers of justice” was impaired by their financial arrangement with Demand Abolition.
It's almost the same story.  A radical non-profit with political ties shapes policy that involves local, state, and federal law enforcement resources in an invasive, unconstitutional crackdown based on the "trafficking" false pretense. 

In New Orleans, this has been a high profile issue for months going back to the advent of the raids themselves (not to mention the propagandistic cheerleading from certain corners of the local media.) Prior to this week's council meeting, there were weeks and weeks of public discussion, protest, and engagement leading all the way through a heavily attended and highly publicized City Planning Commission hearing on the matter. And yet, when the matter came to them, many councilmembers, particularly the mayor-elect who sat among them appeared to know next to nothing about the very motion they were voting on let alone its larger context.

And so we land again on the old, stupid or lying question.  In the case of these elected authorities, I almost always tend toward the latter.  They assume we are too stupid to know the difference. Maybe they're right about that.

(Still) nothing to see here

This 17th Street Canal water seepage was a bit of deja vu.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Something something Ponzi something

This is a touchy conversation to have in New Orleans. It comes too close to threatening a perpetual scam run by some Very Important people.
“Audubon Institute is not a park; it’s a large organization that runs a park,” said Mike Moffitt, a former commissioner of City Park. “It seems to me very confusing to have funding so broadly distributed, because it doesn’t get any focus. If the city needs to fund insectariums and aquariums and other projects, then they should fund them, but they shouldn’t fund them thinking they’re funding a park.”

The need for funding drives initiatives for park leaders to create “amusements” that charge admission, the panelists said, but every new amusement takes away from land that was previously open to the public, a concept described as “We pave our parks in order to save them.” Debra Howell of Save Audubon Park said that these projects often end up losing money anyway, and become part of the larger system that needs financial support, rather than contributing to it.

Every new facility loses money rather than raises money, and the next thing you hear is yet another plan for a new facility,” Howell said. “At some point when does it become obvious that none of these new facilities are going to raise money?”
The "next facility" is the fundraising pitch that keeps everything going. When your non-profit launches a new campaign to the donor base, it's helpful to say you're raising the money for a shiny new thing. That works better than just begging for money to stay afloat.   It's sort of like the way firms like Uber leverage piles of venture capital to hide their massively unprofitable business models. Which is why Ron Forman can pull down a six figure salary running a public-private "non profit."

Of course, a park is not a start-up. It is a public resource. It isn't supposed to turn a profit. But because we like to pretend that everything is better if it is run like a business through "public-private-partnerships" we create all sorts of byzantine opportunities for socialites and oligarchs to pass public money around to each other.
Justin Kray of “City Park for Everyone” noted that City Park is also likely to begin looking for tax support from voters, and that he too thinks a single citywide system would be a better approach. He noted that while individual parks such as Audubon and City Park have conducted surveys of their users, he’s not aware of any survey of recreation of the entire city.

“We’re continuing to perpetuate bad solutions to a problem that’s structural about how parks are funded,” Kray said. “I’d like to contemplate a future where we have a unified parks governance and operational strategy citywide. All these things are related, and the health of the city is in large part related to the health of the parks system.”

Ideally, all of this would fall under one unified NORD/Parks and Parkways department with its own dedicated funding and a mandate to provide free open and equal access to facilities in each and every neighborhood.  But that would be horning in on too many rackets.

Heroes inspire change every day

It was barely even a month ago, during the height of the Carnival season, when we witnessed this brief moment of glory.

The hero of Carnival 2018

Could it be this fleeting act of defiance that spurred J.P. Morrell into action this week
“I waded into this because, as the chairman says, it’s a liberty issue,” Morrell said. Booting keeps the owners, who often weren’t involved or even knew about the parking ticket, from the use of the vehicle.

The city changed its procedures, apparently, to make more money, he added.

Morrell’s Senate Bill 440 would require New Orleans city government to notify the owner of the vehicle by certified mail 15 days before booting.
Who are we to say for sure?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stacy's hard cap went soft

This was an unusual city council debate. I would encourage everyone to watch the video when it becomes available.
The New Orleans City Council on Thursday (March 22) narrowly rejected a proposal that would cap Bourbon Street strip clubs and make them a permitted use in the street's six-block entertainment district, limiting the number to 12. The zoning changes were proposed after the council asked the City Planning Commission to study strip clubs in March 2016.

The vote on the proposal was 4-3 with council members Jason Williams, Nadine Ramsey, James Gray and Jared Brossett voting against it. Stacy Head, who authored the ordinance proposing the cap, Susan Guidry and LaToya Cantrell voted for it. After the vote, about two dozen dancers who sat through most of the six-hour meeting erupted in cheers.
I'm pretty sure this will come back up under the next council. As things are now, this vote opens the whole district up for unlimited strip club venues once an interim zoning provision expires in a few months.  The way this played out, one has to wonder why Stacy proposed this at all.  If she had just put forward the City Planning Commission's  recommended 14 venue "soft cap," it probably would have passed. This way she gets nothing.  Well, that is, she gets nothing but a slight boost in tough-on-vice political cred which she must be after for some reason.  What state legislative district does she live in?  Is she in Neil Abramson's term-limited House District? What is Stacy up to?

Some of the back and forth between Head and the public commenters was pretty dramatic. Both the T-P and Gambit accounts picked up on this one.
Dancers and club workers illustrated the impact of club closures — lost wages, increased risk of trafficking, and a trickle-down effect that extends to families and the tourism industry itself. BARE’s Lyn Archer said despite intentions and “no matter your political stance on this work, we are the people being hurt by this.”

Head asked attorney and dancer RJ Thompson why dancers aren’t fighting for workers’ comp in Baton Rouge at the state Legislature. “We don’t have time because we’re here fighting you,” Thompson said.
Head had a few other disingenuous misdirects to go along with that one. The most insulting one was her attempt to downplay what was happening by saying over and over that this is "just a land use issue." Jason Williams had to reestablish some of the context.
Head said her motion is “merely a land use matter” to reduce congestion of an “intense use” in the district; City Council President Jason Williams said despite the legitimate efforts of creating legislation “in a vacuum” over the last several years, those raids (“a complete waste of time”) are now inextricably linked to the issue of a club cap. “You didn’t do that,” he told Head. “But that is part of all of this now.”
And, of course, there is more than that to it. As the Gambit report also notes, the raids and the crackdown certainly go hand in hand with the strategy laid out in the mayor's "security plan" last year. Several commenters at the meeting also made reference to the hired gun lawyer the city brought in for the specific purpose of shuttering all of the strip clubs.  But Head was just being obtuse. I'm still not sure whether or not she even cared if this thing passed.

And that brings up another interesting aspect of all of this.  It's a rare sight to see the fate of a matter under this much public scrutiny actually decided during a live council debate. Ordinarily, everything is pretty much decided in advance of the meeting. But here we apparently had people making up their minds as they talked about it.  Nadine Ramsey said as much, in fact.  Actually, what she said was Jason Williams's comments about the raids changed her mind.  Gambit's is the only report that quotes him directly (above.) But NOLA.com gives a fuller description of what he was getting at and includes a link back to a story about the basis of his criticism.
Williams led the opposition to the motion, and criticized the New Orleans Police Department's treatment of dancers during state-led raids that uncovered illegal activity in the clubs. Williams said he was disturbed by reports of officers photographing dancers in their working attire and acting unprofessional, which he said was a poor use of manpower considering no one was arrested.
But there is more to it, which is why watching the video is helpful. Williams went on to describe police behavior during those raids as "unconstitutional" and "misogynistic" adding that they may have even endangered some of the dancers by exposing their identities in front of clients. Curiously, the Advocate summed all of this up as "perceived gaffes."
But Williams said he could not support it, given perceived gaffes by New Orleans police during the January club raids and because it would not apply to other businesses where human trafficking has been suspected, such as massage parlors. 
In any event, Nadine said Williams's objections helped change her to a No vote on the cap. The Mayor-elect, however, was unmoved.  Probably because she had no idea what they were actually voting on.
Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell supported a cap, though she initially supported the “soft cap” of 14 before Head clarified that the motion supports a 12-club cap. District A Councilmember Susan Guidry also supported the cap.
Not that this stopped her from launching into a smarmy demagogic speech about what she seems to think the raids uncovered. It was as if she hadn't heard a thing Williams had said.  Dan Faust was there to point out some of the criticisms  of and subsequent backtracking by ATC and NOPD after the raids operation although if LaToya can't even read the motion she was about to vote on, she probably hasn't paid much attention to any of that either.

Oh and James Gray was good enough to vote the right way but not before chastising everybody in the room for having the temerity to show up and criticize him... as is so often his wont.   Can't say we'll miss that when the next mayor and council take over.  When they do, if the M/O ends up being as improvisational as today apparently was, we're in for a fun ride at least. 

Run, Irvin, run

Okay, not really.  But what if he does?  He won't. But, man, how much fun will that story be?

John says things

Looks like they've made him a regular character at the NOLAdotcom content farm. Such an adorable character. The fans really take to him.  He starts conversations!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Who is minding the store?

You know what they say. Mayors are like starting quarterbacks. If you have two, you really don't have any. Okay they don't actually say that about mayors. But it sort of does apply to the city's current situation as it relates to the legislative session. Who is in charge? Is anybody?
"Bills are running really fast," said state Rep. Helena Moreno, a New Orleans Democrat who will be leaving her seat to become an at-large City Council member on May 7. "It's toward the end of a shortened session where you'll see a lot more action. I think it leads to people not being able to catch a bill. People really have to be on their toes this session and keep monitoring what's happening."

Moreno said the Landrieu administration typically briefs lawmakers about the administration's bill package, and provides them with a list of legislation they're supporting. That didn't happen this year, so legislators have been mostly on their own in filing bills that could affect the city.
This article also says LaToya cancelled a Monday news conference where she was expecting to outline her priorities, assuming she has them.  Also, ha ha, I had forgotten about this.
The mayor-elect had previously announced that state Rep. Neil Abramson would be her point person in the Legislature, raising eyebrows among elected officials who have sparred, sometimes bitterly, with Abramson.
As far as we can tell, Neil's big priority the past few years has been punting all the budget questions to a constitutional convention... as well as, probably, getting himself elected to the state senate, but that's not important right now.  What is important is nobody seems to know who is advising Cantrell's transition team with regard to the legislative agenda.  We're pretty sure it isn't Derrick Shepherd.   Maybe it's the Business Council.
Cantrell has had a far longer transition than Landrieu because of a one-time-only quirk in the election schedule that was approved by voters in 2014.

The $194,000 is only a snapshot of her overall intake; she plans to release at least one more financial report for her “Forward Together New Orleans” transition fund before she takes office May 7.

The transition’s single biggest donor from mid-December to mid-February was the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, which gave $50,000.
Update:  Turns out she supports this one bill. Sort of.
New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell came to the House Administration of Criminal Justice committee meeting where both pieces of legislation were considered.  Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, spoke in favor of the legislation at the committee hearing.

Cantrell said she backs the legislation, but wants to more review of the details of the project that Harrah's has laid out. She refused to say what portions of the casino's plan may need more scrutiny.

Probably should sell them with frames

I'm an old now so this doesn't really pertain to me.  But, yeah, if I were eligible to obtain an official State Of Louisiana Drinking Certificate, I would definitely get one of those.
HB 409 would require 19 and 20-year-olds to take an alcohol education course to learn about the risks of drinking. After completing the course, the participants would receive a Louisiana Alcohol Consumption Certificate, which would allow them to legally drink in the state.
In all seriousness, our laws regarding certain things are puritanical to the point of self-defeating paranoia. The arbitrary 21 year old drinking age is one of those. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Kind of a strategic retreat

Looks like this surveillance business was creating too much static for Mitch in the middle of his book tour.
The New Orleans City Council is expected to drop a controversial proposal that would have required every business with a liquor license to install security cameras linked to a government monitoring center.

City Councilwoman Stacy Head, who sponsored the ordinance at Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s request, will withdraw it and introduce a proposed ordinance that, she said, will only change which city department issues liquor licenses.
They aren't actually backing off, though. They're just falling back on subtler modes of coercion.
On Tuesday, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which deals with those cases, signed consent decrees with two bars requiring installation of cameras “providing a live feed to the city’s Real Time Crime Center.”

That’s the city’s name for its new video monitoring center, which collects video feeds from cameras all over the city.

The affected bars are Chuck’s Sports Bar in the Central Business District and the Hangover Bar in the Seventh Ward.

“It does seem somewhat like an end-run around” the passage of a law, said Ethan Ellestad, director of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, which has campaigned against the surveillance ordinance.

“They can still put in a proviso that anyone who goes before the ABO board has to be part of that network,” he said.
Yeah, that's how they like to do it. 

Also there's plenty of stuff worth paying attention to on Thursday's agenda besides the ABO ordinance. Stacy Head wants to impose a "hard cap" on the number of strip clubs permitted on Bourbon Street (against the Planning Commission's recommendation.) Also there are some short term rental spot zoning requests, notably the former Zara's case, which, yeah, the Planning Commission recommends against that one too.

In the meantime keep an eye out for the surveillance ordinance, or something like it, to come back during the next council's term.  After they strongarm enough businesses into having the cameras anyway, everyone will be used to it by that point anyway.

Jefferson Parish politics

Pretty much.
The race for Jefferson Parish sheriff became a bare-knuckles affair weeks ago. But the campaign nearly came to literal blows over the weekend as Parish Councilman Mark Spears was handing out John Fortunato fliers to motorists in Marrero.

Spears called 911 to report that a passenger in a passing vehicle told Spears to stuff the campaign literature "in his ass," according to a Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office report.

The passenger, Vincent Bailey, told deputies a different story, portraying Spears as the aggressor and saying the councilman threatened to "put a hit out" on him for refusing to accept the brochure.
Don't talk back to your elected people over there. They will call 911 or "put a hit out" on you.  Those are basically the same thing in JP anyway. 

Kicking the Can-stitution

Last week in Baton Rouge, Jay Dardenne made a joke
This week, addressing state legislators’ recent failure to renew or replace an expiring “temporary” sales tax, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said, “I hope the Legislature doesn’t morph into the Professional Can-Kickers Association.”
Remind me about this when we come to the government shut-down crawfish boil on the capitol grounds.  We need to organize a game of kick-the-can on the lawn.  We're definitely still headed that way. Radicals in the House have already determined to tank the next special session much the same way they did the previous one.  Their strategy for the regular session is to pass a comically unrealistic budget, if they pass any budget at all. Here they are arguing with Dardenne over current revenue projections.
“How comfortable are you with the $302-million we’re expected to gain as a result of the federal tax cuts?” asked Rep. Blake Miguez (R-Erath). “When are you going to start using the lower number instead of insisting it’s a $994-million shortfall?”

“The official number from the Revenue Estimating Conference is $994-million,” Dardenne replied. “The amount from the federal tax changes are speculation, until the REC says differently.”

“But that’s going to help this budget tremendously,” Miguez insisted. “Where would you allocate those moneys?”

That’s your decision,” Dardenne fired back. “I’m not here today to talk about ‘hypothetically.’ That will be your decision.”
Oddly enough, the Republicans on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee don't think budget allocation falls under the mandate of their office.  As they have explained in their Facebook videos, they've already done their job making sure there isn't enough revenue.  Now they want to force the Governor to make the politically unpopular cuts ahead of next year's elections.

Prior to the start of the special session, the Governor issued a warning in the form of a budget proposal meant to demonstrate the consequences of inaction. The so-called Doomsday budget outlined, according to the Governor, "what falling off the cliff looks like."  This would mean $26 million cut from higher education, an 80 percent cut  to the TOPS scholarship program, as well as further cuts to local Sheriffs' departments and DA's offices.  Most severely it included a $656 million cut in state funding for health care services, which, when we factor in the federal matching funds that spending draws down, amounts to an effective $2.4 billion reduction.  

We are already seeing how such a disaster might play out.  Here we have the operator of the University Medical Center threatening thousands of layoffs if the Doomsday budget is enacted. In May, 60,000 Medicaid patients will be notified that their benefits are at risk.  The draft budget was meant to spur Republican legislators into action. Instead they are bucking at the canter.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said the notices will pose a problem, but he also implied that the Edwards administration didn't have to propose the cuts and could have prevented the notices from being sent in the first place.

"This administration, like other administrations, always go after the poor and vulnerable when they are trying to scare legislators into voting for taxes," Henry said.
One reason the radicals are comfortable playing chicken with the healthcare of tens of thousands of Louisianians is they don't actually care if such things are funded.  But, more importantly, they know the political repercussions of the failure are much more likely to redound upon the Governor than on them. Which is why they're just fine pretending the shortfall is hundreds of millions of dollars smaller than it is.  It forces the Governor to make all of the unpopular cuts himself.

Meanwhile, back in the House, legislators have found an even more fashionable scapegoat than the Governor.  They have also taken to blaming the Louisiana Constitution for their own inaction.   
House Bill 500, by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, calls for a limited constitutional convention in 2020 if the idea is approved by a 27-member committee of non-legislators whose purpose is to decide by 2019 whether the convention is needed.

The convention would focus on local government; state funds, taxes and revenue; and K-12 and higher education. The convention in 1973 was more comprehensive and looked at the state's entire body of laws.

Supporters say a new convention could serve as a long-term fix for the state's budget crisis. Excluding federal aid, about $4 billion of Louisiana's annual spending is set aside by the Constitution or state laws for various programs, and about half of the remaining $6 billion is spent on health care and higher education, leaving those areas vulnerable when spending cuts are needed.

Neil brought this up during last year's budget fight. The objections we raised then are the same as they are now. A constitutional convention is a technical solution to a political problem.  Which is to say, it is an illusion.  It asks us to imagine that we can magically sidestep the political questions raised by the allocation of state resources rather than address them head-on.  Louisiana's tax code favors the rich and privileged. It relies on an insufficiently progressive income tax and the highest sales taxes in the country to fund billions of dollars in corporate giveaways and bogus "job creation incentives" that deprive local governments and school boards of essential services.  There is nothing stopping the legislators from addressing these issues apart from their own contempt for actually doing what they so smugly refer to as, "the people's business."

Instead they prefer to abdicate that responsibility in favor of the narrow interests who make their careers possible.  Imagine if those interests were allowed to re-write the rules.. at a constitutional convention, for example. The Bayou Brief's Sue Lincoln describes an exchange last week between Franklin Foil and Barry Ivey that gets to the circular logic in play. They both favor a convention but disagree about how the delegates might be selected.
But Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central), who has his own bill calling for a constitutional convention, had some concerns about the delegate selection process.

“You said anyone can run to serve as a convention delegate, right? John Q. Public needs resources to run an election campaign. If we elect the delegates, we could end up with a constitutional convention that’s bought and paid for by special interests. Big money could decide who is going to ‘own’ the convention – and then nobody is looking out for John Q. Public and his small business. How can we protect from having special interests dominate the convention?”

“By doing it this way,” Foil replied. “It’s democratic. It gives everyone an opportunity to participate, and everyone will decide who they will elect.”

Ivey was shaking his head while Foil was responding, and Foil reluctantly conceded, “Okay, maybe there will be some influence exerted…”

“Not maybe. Will,” Ivey insisted. “If special interests own 60% of the convention, you’re set up for bias.”
Ivey wants the convention to be made up, mostly, of current legislators. Foil's idea is to have it comprised of.. well, let's face it... more lobbyists than anything.  Is this a distinction without a difference at this point?  Maybe. Foil would have us believe that it is more democratic to elect a slew of unaccountable one-timers whereas Ivey's formula assigns the same representatives currently seated to do a job they are currently proving themselves to be incapable of.  Or maybe this really isn't about the budget after all.  Whatever it is about, it does offer lawmakers an opportunity to put the fiscal issue off until after the next election. Or as, Lincoln put it the other day, it gives them another chance to play their favorite game.
That delegate election would take place in the fall of 2019, during the next statewide election, and the proposed constitutional convention would then occur during the first half of 2020. So while the idea is touted as the ultimate fix for Louisiana’s budget imbalance, it’s actually kicking the Con con can down the road.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Super Sunday is cancelled

Today, it is actually just postponed due to weather.  Tomorrow, the story may be different.
Those who made New Orleans famous for its culture — its Indians, musicians and social-aid-and-pleasure-club members — simply aren't making enough money to cover costs of living. It's "discouraging and heart-wrenching," said bass drummer Ellis Joseph, who leads the Free Agents Brass Band and is a music instructor at a public school, but was saddled with student loans and rent that just rose by another $100.

Joseph will move into an apartment at Bell next month, but a long list of bandmates and musical friends are now on Bell's waiting list, he said. One musician had moved into a sketchy area, because it was affordable, only to dodge bullets when he gets home from gigs, Joseph said. Another was forced out by a landlord turning the rental into an Airbnb, leaving him sleeping on a family couch in eastern New Orleans, far from where his gigs are.
We love our neighborhood cultural traditions but nobody actually lives in those neighborhoods anymore.   It's fine, though. As long as there is a market for the simulacrum of these folkways on display at Jazzfest, the Airbnbs that replaced them should keep property values high enough to sustain the illusion.

What did the mayor know and when did he know it?

Well, if he read the reports...
A consultant found 17 Sewerage & Water Board pumps and two power turbines out of service last May, months before heavy rains in July and August caused widespread flooding in New Orleans. Outlined in a draft report presented Wednesday (March 14), the inspectors' findings reinforce the notion that agency officials had recourse to be aware of startling problems facing the utility's drainage system prior to the summer floods.
Maybe they didn't put it in bold face on the front page or something.  Or maybe he wasn't at the meeting that day.   There's a bill in the legislature that is supposed to address that problem. 
If passed, the bill would return a City Council member to the board, require either New Orleans' mayor or the city's chief administrative officer to attend board meetings and tighten rules on quarterly reports submitted by the utility to the council. Its author, state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, says it's high time for more accountability over Sewerage & Water Board's top ranks after flooding last summer revealed severe deficiencies in the utility's power and drainage systems.
Ok but you do have to wonder how they enforce that. Maybe it involves the threat of house arrest

Also it's worth pointing out that this is a partial walk back of the very S&WB reforms Morrell and the New Orleans delegation pushed through only a few years ago at the Mayor's urging. Last year, those reforms were called into question in The Lens by Jacques Morial which prompted a response from Morrell defending them.

So this new bill indicates J.P. agrees something needs to change, at least.  It doesn't go far enough unless it takes the damn university presidents out of the selection process. To this day, I still have no idea why these professional fundraisers get a say in so many local governance issues.  In any case, there's more than one S&WB issue that needs to be addressed.
The utility has previously said the drainage system is short more than $50 million in projected brick-and-mortar costs, while an estimated $80 million in emergency work is rapidly drawing down cash reserves. Black & Veatch's report accounts for a roughly $82 million shortfall by 2021. To help mend the gap, the utility's board of directors last month began the process to secure a bond sale to finance $27 million for drainage improvements.
Not sure what sort of reform the next mayor might put forward to deal with that.  Maybe we should ask the co-chair of her transition's infrastructure committee
Troy Henry and Bruce Thompson co-chair an infrastructure committee made up of four subcommittees: a subsurface committee looking at Sewerage & Water Board systems, a surface committee looking at roads and bridge, and committees looking at transportation and the implementation of a citywide water management plan.
Certainly Troy has all sorts of interesting ideas
Nevertheless, Troy Henry, the southern regional manager of United Water, is convinced that private water providers can do a better job than public utilities. He readily admits that his company and Atlanta city managers have had problems “dealing with the complexities of the system” in Atlanta and says the company is spending “multiple millions of dollars [to] win back the citizens’ and mayor’s confidence.” A biomedical and electrical engineer and former manager at IBM, Henry argues that private companies can do for water delivery what Big Blue did for computing — revolutionize technology and attract “the best and the brightest and most talented people.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

The day he truly became President

Here is a chilling thought.
With tariffs done, Trump’s sights are now on the Iran deal—and, possibly, the Russia investigation. “The president is finally realizing he is the president,” a former White House official told me. “He’s just making these decisions on his own.”
Which, okay, maybe. But what does it mean? That article talks about the possibility of firing Sessions and replacing him with Scott Pruitt who we can presume will be replaced at E.P.A. with a literal bag of coal. This might be an improvement, actually.

All of that is amusing to a certain degree. But I feel sorry for people whose job it is to parse some sort of strategic policy direction from Trump's constant personnel shuffling.  Currently there's a consensus forming around the notion that making a crusader ideologue Secretary of State, putting the torture lady in charge of CIA, and trying to figure out how to place a crazy war hawk as National Security of Advisor indicates a deliberate rightward shift in foreign policy.  The shoes all fit so maybe. On the other hand it could just be that he's finally coming around to Bolton's mustache.

Anyway, maybe Trump really is starting to feel his oats in the presidenting chair.  Or maybe someone will write the same thing when everybody is fired again in a few months.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Striking the right "balance"

The French Quarter is a Neighborhood

Last week Latoya Cantrell and Jason Williams called a fair amount of attention themselves for suggesting that it might be time to take some (limited and dubious) action on the short term rental front. Cantrell's bold idea is what they're calling a "soft cap."

Under the current law, people who own property in most non-residential zoning districts are guaranteed the ability to get commercial short-term rental licenses, which allow them to rent entire homes or apartments every day of the year.

There’s no limit on the number of such licenses in each building, so an apartment building can become, in effect, an Airbnb hotel.

Some large apartment buildings in the city have dozens of commercial, short-term rental licenses. The Lens recently reported on a small Bywater apartment building that’s in the process of being converted to full-time Airbnbs.

Cantrell’s proposal would allow just two commercial, short-term rental licenses in each building. Anything beyond that would have to be vetted by the City Planning Commission and approved by the city council — hence the council’s description of the limit as a “soft cap.”

The proposed change would apply to two types of zoning districts: one type of mixed-use district and one type of low-density, commercial district.

Notably, it will not affect some downriver neighborhoods, including Faubourg Marigny and Bywater, which have some of the highest concentrations of Airbnbs in the city.
The vetting process here is the same as one that applies already where there are limits in place. Most of the city is already under a "soft cap."  This process has already come under criticism for being a glorified system of spot-zoning where the determining factor in each decision tends to be the amount of money and influence on the city council an individual property owner can wield. For example, in a few weeks, we'll see how much political sway the developers of the Sun Yard hold. Their poshtel/pool bar proposal was rejected by the Planning Commission. But Counicl can override that for any reason if they want to.

LaToya and Jason also agreed it is time to do a "study on the effects of short-term rentals." That is encouraging. A good time to start learning about a problem is a year or so after your supposed remedy has been enacted into law.  Also the information they're looking for is already available. JPNSI has been compiling and distributing it for a few years now. They're releasing a study this month, in fact. One thing they've found, unsurprisingly, is concentrated wealth.

A few corporations and individuals are gobbling up chunks of New Orleans real estate to profit from the expanding short-term rental market.

"We're talking about 10 individuals (or corporations) that have taken 568 homes off the market and have redirected them toward tourists," said Breonne Dedecker with the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative. "Every unit of housing that is removed from the long-term-residential market has an affect on the market around it."
The city's law is, still, in this very story, described by Mitch Landrieu's spokespeople as "a model for other cities trying to limit, regulate and tax short term rental platforms." But their model is just turning neighborhoods into resort villages to the profit. It needs substantial revision.

LaToya Cantrell would tell you it needs "balance" and that she will do some listening or whatever to determine how that works. But there are obvious actions that should be taken immediately. Here are the two most popular ideas. Short term rentals of "whole home" units should be be banned from residential neighborhoods.  Licenses should be limited to one per individual.  Those are the two most direct means of stopping the conversion of structures into virtual hotels via the STR process.  LaToya's spokesperson claims she is against that.
"The mayor-elect does not support converting structures into virtual hotels via the STR process, especially when those structures can house our residents. She is currently working to strike the right balance on this issue so that the right regulations are in place that protect the cultural fabric of neighborhoods," Mayor-Elect Cantrell's Communications Director Mason Harrison stated in an emailed response.

Recall that Susan Guidry proposed limiting licenses to one per homestead exemption in the original ordinance. LaToya made a big to-do during the mayoral campaign of her having voted for that amendment (although it was clear it wasn't going to pass at the time.)  So why isn't she offering a similar proposal now? 

Jane Place points out that much of the luxury condo development in the CBD has sustained itself through the STR market. 
Dedecker recently took to Twitter to point out two corporations, Stay Alfred and Sonder, have more than 100 STR permits in New Orleans each. 

Stay Alfred, which is based in Spokane, Washington has more than 30 permitted STR in The Maritime apartment building in the Central Business District.

Neither Stay Alfred or The Maritime returned FOX 8's request for comment. 

"[The Maritime] has 106 apartments in it. As of last week, there were 61 permitted short-term rentals in the apartment building with another 21 permits pending, which means 82 out of 106 units are currently or about to be used as short-term rentals. That is 80 percent of a residential building basically being utilized as a hotel," Dedecker said.
Last week, we mentioned Sonder, in relation to its presence in another faux-tel development in Mid-City.  That development's owner, Joshua Bruno, has a history of getting LaToya to listen to him and "balance" things in his favor from time to time. Until she makes a solid commitment to clamping down on STR expansion, we have to assume she's still listening to people like Bruno.

And that is a problem because next they will want to "balance" the French Quarter too. This morning's T-P allows Quarter landlords to whine that the total ban on STRs there is cutting into their racket now.

Michael Wilkinson, also of French Quarter Realty, said that some of his clients have been converting short-term rentals into "what they should've been in the first place: Long-term rentals."

"We're seeing that, which we kind of expected, and some people are keeping them for themselves," he said. "It's put a lot of things on the rental market because of that."
But the large inventory of long-term rentals has made things challenging for landlords. John Ferrara, a longtime French Quarter landlord and a former resident, said it's as challenging to find long-term renters as ever.

"People who had condos and second homes in the Quarter, they used them periodically and then they rented them out the rest of the time. Now they can't do that," Ferrara said. "You can't rent -- I have vacancies for over a year now."
Wither the pied-a-terres? It sounds a lot like the ban is actually doing what it's supposed to do. Notice nobody in this story ever takes a minute to wonder if the problem might have to do with the rent being too damn high. The pro-Airbnb and YIMBYist crowd loves to talk about the sacred value of "supply and demand." At least they do as long as those dynamics are favorable to the investor class. When it doesn't, though, somehow that's a bad thing.
For years, he said French Quarter Realty used to have handouts with listings of apartments and corresponding photos running one to two pages. But now, "we have four pages of apartments."

"I have one client that just rented a $1,200 apartment, a guest quarters behind the main house, that he had on the market and after a year he finally got someone," Ripley said. "It's just been very difficult because it impacts the investment buyer, and now is competing with a whole new market in the CBD."
The "whole new market in the CBD" is where all the STRs are, of course. Real estate just isn't very successful in New Orleans if it is wasted on housing people who actually live  here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How we live now

This is a good article to read for #NationalWalkOutDay. It is primarily about, you guessed it, the damn interminable gun debate.  But it is also about the reasons that debate appears to be so intractable. Mostly, it is because our politics, dominated by neoliberalism as it is, is bad.  
What is neoliberalism? The many competing definitions can be confusing and even misleading. And, since the history of neoliberalism has played out in many different countries, what the word denotes in one place is not necessarily the same in others. But we shouldn’t let nuance and complexity dissuade us from using the term, because neoliberalism is an incredibly powerful concept for understanding not just contemporary American life and politics in general, but our reactions to gun violence and school shootings specifically.

Neoliberalism is at once a subspecies of capitalism and a model of governance, a vision of what politics can and should be. It sees political and social life almost exclusively through the lens of the free market, and asks us to consider ourselves and our fellow citizens primarily in terms of our economic activities: as consumers, as workers, as competitors, as human resources. Under neoliberalism, in other words, the individual is less a human subject with rights that entail obligations from the government, but rather a variable in a broader calculus of efficiency, a site for maximizing revenue and minimizing expenditure. Simply put, neoliberalism is about the withdrawal of government responsibility for political problems in favor of market-based “solutions” and individual “choices.”
It doesn't have to be this way, of course.  There are other ways of organizing politics that emphasize democracy and basic human dignity.  We don't have to swallow this crap forever.  Somebody should really tell the Democrats about this.   
The Senate on Wednesday passed the most significant loosening of financial regulations since the economic crisis a decade ago, delivering wide bipartisan support for weakening banking rules despite bitter divisions among Democrats.

The bill, which passed 67 votes to 31, would free more than two dozen banks from the toughest regulatory scrutiny put in place after the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite President Trump’s promise to do a “big number” on the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the new measure leaves key aspects of the earlier law in place. Nonetheless, it amounts to a sweeping rollback of banking rules aimed at protecting taxpayers from another financial crisis and future bailouts.
That's 16 Democrats voting yes. Way to go, guys.  Is that the over/under on Democrats who will vote to confirm the Torture Lady as CIA Director?  I'm gonna take the over there.

Fortunado finally read the other poll

Yenni's Risky Business
"Yenni's Risky Business" Krewe D'Etat 2017

Guess he's not Yenni's friend now.
"I do not and will not ever endorse Mike Yenni for any election in Jefferson Parish," Fortunato said Wednesday.

But during a forum broadcast Sunday night by WDSU-TV, Fortunato said he did not think Yenni should have resigned in the wake of the scandal and answered "Yes" when asked if he would support Yenni in the 2019 re-election cycle.

When moderator Eric Paulson pointed out the inconsistency between the two answers, Fortunato responded, "I said that I would support Yenni. As the sheriff of Jefferson Parish, I understand what it is to have to work with all parish government officials."

The Prodigal P-Rob

The Saints have finally made their big splash in the free agency market this week and it is this.
Cornerback Patrick Robinson is returning to where his career began.

The New Orleans Saints and Robinson agreed to a four-year deal two hours ahead of the start of free agency, a source familiar with the situation confirmed Wednesday (March 14) afternoon.
This makes me very happy. Much better than if they had brought Jimmy Graham back.  Now.. about this business right here...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Does Fortunato think he's got this?

This must mean the guy pretty much already thinks he is going to be the Sheriff, right?
Nearing the end of a relatively lackluster campaign, Fortunato made headlines and raised eyebrows by saying that embattled Parish President Mike Yenni was right remain in office, despite calls for him to resign following reports that he'd been involved in a sexting relationship with a teenager. During a televised WDSU debate against interim sheriff Joe Lopinto, Fortunato also went on record supporting Yenni's reelection next year.
Maybe he is putting a lot of stock in this UNO poll that showed him with a 16 point lead.  Most people aren't, though. 
The pollsters noted that Lopinto has closed the gap since that time, picking up a significant percentage of voters who had been undecided last fall. But Fortunato holds an overwhelming advantage among west bank voters, the survey found, leading Lopinto by some 30 percentage points there.

The Lopinto campaign said that the automated UNO poll, known as an interactive voice response survey, "did not follow best practices for accuracy" and did not call cellphones or screen for likely voters.
In any case, he doesn't seem too worried about touching any live wires.  Same goes for this, I guess
Fortunato told the students he would not tolerate racial profiling under his administration when asked about policing difference in black and white neighborhoods.

"It's important that you know that I'm going to do my absolute best, that when you get out of your cars and are walking through the neighborhood, some police officer is not going to come around and decide to mess with you. That's not going to happen when I become sheriff."
Fortunato is gonna try real real hard not to do any racism.  That's probably the best you can expect from a JP Sheriff anyway. 

Not that Lopinto sounds much different. These two candidates seem to agree on a lot of stuff. At the very least, the both have more sense than Steve Scalise. Their differences are more about the bizarre follies and inside baseball of parish politics. This Advocate article parses that as a philosophical difference in approach to the office but I think that is mostly campaign code-speak.
Fortunato and Lopinto have made such disparate pitches to voters that it sometimes seems like they are running for different offices.

Fortunato has portrayed himself as a no-nonsense, old-fashioned lawman who will put public safety above everything.

Lopinto likens the job to being chief executive officer of a major company, pointing to the agency's $125 million budget and 1,500 employees. He cites historic lows in crime in the parish and says there's only so much a sheriff can do to prevent certain crimes.

Campaign finance reports suggest that Lopinto has emerged as the establishment favorite, receiving contributions from several local officeholders, law firms and contractors that do business with the largest law enforcement organization in the state. He also is supported by a number of political action committees as well as businessman Shane Guidry, the biggest Republican contributor in Louisiana politics, who has given Lopinto $75,000 through his various companies and raised another $50,000 for him.
Basically Lopinto is the "insider" at the moment insofar as he is Newell Normand's anointed and therefore receiving favor from most of Normand's network of allies.. which is pretty substantial. Fortunato is the "outsider" at the moment which just means that he would like to be the person benefiting from the favor of the people Lopinto currently is. If he becomes Sheriff, this will undoubtedly happen for him.

Anyway, right now he's kind of acting like he's got it in the bag.  At least, that's how I read that Yenni endorsement. Maybe he's just careless. Or dumb. Which is to say, maybe he's Sheriff material after all.

Update: See what I mean about not believing that UNO poll?
But a third-party poll from JMC Analytics and Polling conducted March 10 reveals a much-tighter race, with Lopinto ahead of Fortunato by just 2 percentage points.


Drew Brees
“I love my agent. I think he’s the best there is. ... But at the end of the day, my intent was much different in regards to building the team," said Brees, who noted that it was interesting to hear what other teams were willing to pay him for the first time in 12 years, since teams were free to negotiate with Condon when the "legal tampering" window opened on Monday.

"I've never had a chance to hear that, except for when I was hurt back in 2006,” Brees said. “But in most cases when my agent would begin to open his mouth about another team, I would not even let him finish the sentence."
We all know Brees is a hypercompetitve workaholic weirdo, a soulless brandwhore, and a credulous acolyte of the worst manifestations of the American security state.  He's basically the Stepford Wife of quarterbacks.   He's also the best we've ever seen play the position.  The desperate run to squeeze one more Superbowl out of his career is going to be a hell of a ride. I'm writing "Thoughts and prayers to Tom" in the notes field of my season ticket renewal check as I am typing this.

Human jukebox accepts coins

Putting your explicit request for kickbacks into writing seems like a good idea.
BATON ROUGE- A lawsuit against Southern University, its band director and a number of other campus officials claims the university's band director asked for a kickback to have the famous Southern band perform at an event.

White Enterprises of Louisiana LLC and Octagon Media sued the university asking for damages it incurred from having to pay out refunds after the band didn't show up for events.

"It was going to be for East Baton Rouge Parish school kids to come to Southern to hear the band play," Attorney for Octagon Media, Amy Newsom said.

The lawsuit alleges Nathan Haymer asked for a ten percent kickback to have the band and Dancing Dolls perform at events they scheduled.

Attorneys wrote in the lawsuit Haymer sent a text message asking to be paid: "The ten percent needs to be made payable to me so that the staff can be properly compensated. I am asking for you to hide this ten percent in your percentage charge from your business. If this cannot be done, please let me know."
You know, the Southern band performs at a lot of events. That would suggest the hidden percentage is actually standard operating procedure and most everyone else pays it.  Here they are leading the Krewe of Femme Fatale this year.  I wonder if the parade paid the tithe. Hard to argue it isn't worth it.

Some would say New Orleans East is a rural area

I mean they've got wild hogs, and alligators, and Grunch monsters, and all sorts of things out there. 
So this hardly seems like a disqualification.
On Monday, Transdev - the Paris-based company that manages RTA's day-to-day operations - confirmed through spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo that DOT had not awarded a TIGER grant for the transit center. In an email, Transdev noted that only one grant was awarded to a Louisiana project -- $13 million for the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District to patch up two wharves on the Chalmette Slip.

It's unclear why RTA lost out on the transit center grant, through DOT stressed in a news release that special consideration was given this year for projects in rural areas. Transdev says it intends to "request a debrief from the federal government."

Oh well. At least we got all those streetcars to nowhere and pedestrian-only boat rides for tourists while the money was still coming in. Ideally it would be nice if East New Orleans residents could get downtown to see all that stuff once in a while but that's never been a priority. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

"Help is on the way"

Some of us may remember a few months ago The Advocate published a friendly profile of Scott Angelle's time in Washington as Trump's top safety deregulator in the Interior Department. Mark Ballard' article described Angelle as an "impactful political warrior" who may "enrage environmentalists" but is really just an aw-shucksy family man trying to do the things he believes are right.

What are those things again
While attention has been focused on President Trump’s disputed decision in January to reverse drilling restrictions in nearly all United States coastal waters, the administration has also pursued a rollback of Obama-era regulations in the Gulf. Those rules include safety measures put in place after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010, a disaster that killed 11 people and resulted in the largest marine oil spill in drilling history.

Smaller oil and gas companies, many backed by Wall Street and private equity firms, say they need the relief to survive financially, and the top safety official at the Interior Department appointed by Mr. Trump has appeared an enthusiastic ally.

Help is on the way, help is on the way,” the official, Scott Angelle, said in September at a gathering in Lafayette, La., of oil and gas executives from so-called independent companies, which focus on drilling alone rather than the extended drilling-to-gas-station operations of bigger competitors.

But an analysis of federal inspection data by The New York Times found that several of the independent companies seeking the rollback, including Energy XXI, had been cited for workplace safety violations in recent years at a rate much higher than the industry average. Their offshore platforms suffer in some cases from years of poor maintenance, as well as equipment failures or metal fatigue on aging devices, records show.

Good looking out, Scott.  You sure do know your constituency. 

Number 64 is no longer eligible

Once you've got enough that you are sure you don't have to do it anymore, there is no reason to spend one more second running around a football field destroying your brain than is absolutely necessary. 
Veteran right tackle Zach Strief announced his retirement on Monday, bringing an end to a 12-year career spent entirely in New Orleans.

Drafted out of Northwestern in the seventh round of the Saints' pivotal 2006 class, Strief spent five years as a backup tackle before ascending to the starter's role and becoming one of the locker room's enduring figures, a leader in the offensive line room and a standout player at right tackle.
There are far more enjoyable and less strenuous ways to destroy brains anyway.   Good luck, Zach. You were a pretty shitty tight end.

Speaking of which, as shitty tight ends go, this one was a pretty good receiver.

Wonder if Drew asked specifically for that in contract negotiations.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Resilience Exemption Privilege

Drain leaves

Flood control is everyone's job, dontchya know.  You guys don't have any business criticizing the sloppiness and neglect resulting from corrupt patronage at the Sewerage and Water Board until you have adopted your own storm drain. Don't any of you lazy takers understand personal responsibility anymore?

Ok, well, not you, though, Costco. We know you didn't mean it.  Besides, how could you have even predicted this would be an issue? 
The city offered a statement, that reads New Orleans’ understanding and relationship with water has changed dramatically over the decades and its water policy has improved with it.

“We now know that living with water will be paramount to the City’s future success. As the City has learned more about this relationship, through publications like the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, published in 2013, the City has worked tirelessly to implement aggressive storm water management requirements for new developments and redevelopments.”

“In 2015, New Orleans City Planning Commission adopted a storm water management requirement through the comprehensive zoning ordinance (CZO) requiring developments or redevelopments over 5,000 square feet of impervious surface to detain and filter the first 1.25 inches of runoff for the whole site.

"Additionally, the City’s Resilience Strategy, Resilient NOLA, released in August 2015, adopted the urban water plan and committed the city to investing in comprehensive and innovative urban water management. The Comprehensive Endeavor Agreement (CEA) with Costco finalized in July 2012, long before these new and important requirements were made into law.

So you see, when we wave our shaming finger at residents for not bootstrapping up their own infrastructure we don't mean to point at our good corporate job creator friends. We just mean the stupid poors who were here before you. They're the ones who were supposed to have known about resilience and stuff before we did.

Anyway, just to prove how not mad we are at Costco.. or any company with the money to do a big development project from here on out, we're offering them an opportunity to buy their way out of their obligations.
As for the fee program, developers would have to first document to the city's Department of Safety and Permits that they made a good-faith effort to comply with the mandate to include green infrastructure, but couldn't due to landscape or design hindrances. Developers who opt out would then pay a fee of $44 per cubic foot of property that otherwise would have been devoted to a drainage feature on the property.

Officials last week estimated around 20 percent of large real estate projects undertaken over the last years in New Orleans would likely have qualified for the opt-out fee. Other cities with stormwater management programs also have a fee-in-lieu setup, officials say. They argue that it's better to have the city produce bigger green infrastructure projects rather than rely on smaller drainage features on individual properties to reduce flooding after heavy rains.
It is better to have the city just do collectively funded bigger infrastructure projects.  Of course, to do that, we'd also need a competent and honest agency in charge of the work. But since we prefer to drift toward the semi-privatized grift factory model, we're gonna go with opt-in funding for the wealthy and public shaming for the poor. Everybody seems happier that way.

Not a great time to go messing with teachers

In Kentucky
Hundreds of Kentucky teachers cheered Friday as Republican lawmakers decided not to vote on a bill that would cut retirement benefits for one of the nation's worst-funded public pension plans.

The GOP-led Senate was scheduled to vote on the pension bill Friday, but lawmakers quickly called a recess to talk about the bill in private for several hours. They finally emerged shortly after 1:30 p.m. to announce they were sending the bill back to committee for possible changes.

"Individuals wanted more time to consider the position that we are in," Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said.

Outside, teachers cheered when they got the news before erupting into chants of "we won't back down." The showdown comes at a time of growing unrest among public educators across the country, led by thousands of West Virginia teachers who walked off the job for nine days to secure a 5 percent pay raise from the state legislature.

Teachers in Arizona and Oklahoma are considering similar action. In Kentucky, some teachers say they are willing to strike. But Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, said striking is illegal in Kentucky. She said the only way it could happen is if superintendents agreed to close the schools, adding: "We hope it doesn't have to come to that."
The wildcat strike in West Virgnina was "illegal" or, technically, unlawful, too.  But we may have reached a pivotal point in the degradation of labor where that question no longer has any power.
Though it is illegal for public employees in West Virginia to strike, they struck anyway. Highlighting the long tradition of taking illegal action to win a righteous cause, many strikers here made homemade signs saying, “Rosa Parks was not wrong.” The state initially threatened to file injunctions to end the strike, but it was forced to back down. At moments of mass struggle, in other words, legality becomes a question of a relationship of forces. If a strike has the strength, the momentum, and the support of the public at large, it is hard for the ruling elite to crack down.

A willingness to flout the law will be particularly crucial over the coming period. The constraints of the legal and institutional structure of US labor relations have already set up the union movement to fail. This will become even more the case if, as expected, the Supreme Court eliminates crucial labor rights in the public sector. But as the experience of West Virginia shows, it is possible to fight and win even in the face of the most draconian legal obstacles.
Teacher evaluations and job security are on the agenda in the Louisiana legislature this session.  Lawmakers ought to know this may not be a good year to antagonize them. 

"Political opinion aside..."

Public art can be appreciated best if we separate it from its message.
Political opinion aside, the wooden sculpture charmingly blends the suggestion of digital-age government surveillance with old-fashioned birdhouse carpentry. Passing drivers may very well smile as they slow down for fear of receiving a robotic speeding ticket.
After all, that is why we kept all those Confederate monuments up for so long, right?

Friday, March 09, 2018

So that happened

About this time next year, we'll all be just recovering from the March 5 Mardi Gras.  So, really, it's good that this three hour recap of Carnival 2018 is coming out just now. It serves to get us acclimated. Anyway, you know, Mardi Gras. It's big, it's busy, it's sublime, it's cathartic. There's no right way to do it.  I hope that all comes across in here. Enjoy. Or just skip ahead to the next one where we talk about the legislature or something.

Keeping up appearances

The Short Term Rental "debate" (because every terrible thing has to be framed in bothsidesey terms) where we take a series of actions that don't actually accomplish anything but for the sake of appearing to take action.
Cantrell’s proposed change is a scaled-back version of what she offered last year while running for mayor. If it becomes law — which would require another council vote — it would apply to certain non-residential areas in certain parts of the city.

Under the current law, people who own property in most non-residential zoning districts are guaranteed the ability to get commercial short-term rental licenses, which allow them to rent entire homes or apartments every day of the year.

There’s no limit on the number of such licenses in each building, so an apartment building can become, in effect, an Airbnb hotel.

Some large apartment buildings in the city have dozens of commercial, short-term rental licenses. The Lens recently reported on a small Bywater apartment building that’s in the process of being converted to full-time Airbnbs.
Also they still have to draw up an ordinance. Who knows what that will actually say.  After that there will be a "study," naturally.
At the council’s next meeting, Cantrell said, she and Councilman Jason Williams plan to call for a study on the effects of short-term rentals, with an eye toward changing the city’s short-term rental law.
 That ought to buy them some time before anything else has to happen.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

He really is gonna do the Bobby Jindal thing

The annoying thing about Mitch's big leap into national politics is the corporate press has a slower learning curve spotting the phonies positioned as corporate centrists than the ones who come from the hard right.  Which is why we're gonna have to put up with a longer period of fawning promotion from the very same pundits who saw through Jindal right away.

It doesn't help that Mitch has better chops. Mitch is every bit as brutal, self-centered, and unprincipled as Jindal was. But he pulls off the stagecraft much more professionally. It's hard to imagine Landrieu launching a campaign for President with a "Look, a turtle!" surveillance video, for example.   Although, he does have the equipment available to shoot such a video should he somehow decide to do so.

This is probably not a great time to go messing with teachers

They're seeing their unions come under attack in court. They were pushed all the way to the wall in West Virginia.  They're talking about pushing back in Arizona.  This might not be a good time for adventurous state legislators in Louisiana to go poking a bear... no matter how much they may hate the Governor.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday he will support bills that would reduce the value of student test results in teacher evaluations and make it easier for teachers to earn a form of job protection called tenure.

Those and other proposals will be debated when the Louisiana Legislature begins its 2018 regular legislative session on Monday at noon.
As we saw in the special session, House Republicans are doing everything they can this year to attack Edwards ahead of next year's election.   Ordinarily, they'd be fine beating up on some teachers in service of that cause.  This might not be the best year for them to try that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Sometimes it really is best to do nothing

Now that the book is out, Mitch can say he is pretty much done with statues.  And that's fine, actually.  Apart from the dubious idea to put a big flag up on Jeff Davis and Canal, this is the best way it could end.  We just wanted the Confederate crap down. There's no need to replace it with anything.

Nobody actually iLives there

Is the concept supposed to be, "smart" apartments, I guess?
The apartment complex, the MidCity iLofts, is billed on its website as a "luxury complex" with perks such as bocce ball courts, stainless steel appliances and built-in Dolby 8.1 surround sound speakers, all priced to attract young professionals.

But now the apartment complex has become something different: It's basically a hotel.
It's zoned mixed use so our crappy ordinance allows for unlimited short term rentals there. What's fun about that is some entities do get long-term leases. Notice the developer's tricky way of describing a deal to rent his building to this hotel operator.
City records indicate MidCity iLofts, owned by Bruno Inc., has leased apartments to Sonder Inc., a San Francisco-based company operating more than 100 short term rental properties around New Orleans through sites like Airbnb.com and HomeAway.com. Its website notes it also operates in nine other cities.

Joshua Bruno of Bruno Inc. described his company's lease with Sonder as "multi-year," but did not offer specifics, nor did he directly address whether his company has deals with Sonder for other properties.

"It's great for the city, and it works for the city," said Bruno, who characterized the renters taking advantage of Sonder-managed properties at MidCity iLofts as corporate, "longer term rentals" with contracts for "one year, two years."
See, it's one big "long term" tenant. Sonder is an out of town tourism-speculator using STR platforms to leverage distressed urban housing markets to its advantage. To do this they need to partner with dishonest property developers like Bruno. They never seem to be in short supply. Of course they also need local elected persons to enable the dishonest developers by treating them as legitimate parties whose interests need to be "balanced" against the housing stressed people of the city they're taking advantage of. 
Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, as councilwoman, originally proposed changing the commercial short-term rental designations in mixed-use zoning districts. Mason Harrison, a spokesman for her transition team, said she "is currently working to strike the right balance on this issue."
I'm sure they'll work out a nice both-sidesy deal that preserves all the investors' profits. This is gonna be a fun couple of years.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Back from the winter palace

Your City Councilors have returned from their tour.

On the March 8 Agenda:

The owners of some of these denied STR spot-zoning requests are appealing the Planning Commission's decision.

A proposal to limit "by attrition" the number of strip clubs allowed on Bourbon Street.

The "surveillance ordinance" is supposed to be on this agenda but I don't see it. Correction: Here it is   There were rumors it might be deferred again. Understandable given the significant amount of local and national pressure.