One week after the city removed about 160 homeless people from an area underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway, the City Council voted Thursday to turn much of the area into a fenced-off parking lot, provided that the state agrees.The proposed tent crackdown is actually just a slight adjustment in language to what is already an existing section of city code.
A second measure, which appeared aimed at making it easier to crack down on future homeless encampments, was deferred after a period of debate made clear that the council was divided on the idea.
Both measures were introduced by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell at the request of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.
Likewise, city law already prohibits the obstruction of streets, sidewalks or other public land by “any debris … or any other articles whatsoever.” On Thursday, Cantrell will ask her fellow City Council members to add the following sentence to the law, spelling out more specifically that tents, mattresses and furniture are unacceptable obstructions as well:The law is pretty egregious as it is already. It includes language prohibiting the the installment of basketball goals near streets or sidewalks. Plus there is this section.
Unless lawfully permitted, the erection or placement of any tent, item of household furniture not intended for outdoor use, or other semi-permanent structure shall be considered an encumbrance/obstruction when placed on any of the public places or rights-of-way set forth in this Section. Permanent obstructions shall be prohibited.The original law — which applies citywide — already contained that idea, but the new language puts that intent into writing. The language, Cantrell said, should assist the NOPD and other city agencies when they are dealing with the issue.
If any person by performance of any outdoor act or activities causes a crowd to gather, and if the crowd makes passage by pedestrians inordinately difficult or conducts activities which impede access to the public rights of way the department of police shall have the authority to order such person(s) to cease performance of their act or activitiesPretty much anything can fall into that category. It's interesting language to encounter while the Ferguson, MO demonstrations are still going on. Police don't need much of an excuse to break up an assembly, it seems.
Anyway back to this parking lot idea. I'm a little confused since I thought it was already a parking lot. It's a paved space with street access where people often park cars (particularly during Saints games.) That is usually a pretty big giveaway. So what's the angle?
The ordinance authorizes the mayor to enter into an agreement with the state to transfer control of four sections of the site — all between Simon Bolivar Avenue and Carondelet Street — to the New Orleans Building Corp., the public-private entity that operates as the city’s real estate arm.Oh, of course. There are potential leases to sign and fees to charge. Problem isn't fully solved until we've taken a public space and turned it into something someone can profit from.
Cantrell did not mention the former encampment when explaining her support for the measure.
“Given the need for parking in the CBD, I am encouraged that we would make the most of all available space we have for parking,” she said.
The proposed agreement, between the NOBC and the state Department of Transportation and Development, calls for the NOBC to manage and operate a parking lot at the site on behalf of the city. The agreement would be in effect for five years.
Landrieu aide Eric Granderson said the Mayor’s Office has not decided whether the area will be used as parking for city employees or leased to a third party to operate as a private lot. The second option would require further City Council approval.