Tuesday, March 31, 2015

There's a minor election during Jazzfest this year

There's a Gusman thing and also this.  Today is the last day to register if you're voting.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What was the post-Katrina "reform" period all about?

Sal Perricone is only speaking for the US Attorney's office here.  But it pretty much captures the spirit of the whole thing.
While Perricone sought to distance himself from the most racially insensitive remarks — “Didn’t Katrina demonstrate what 30 years of black rule can do to a city?” — the OPR found he had, in fact, authored those as well, posted under the moniker “campstblue.”
A lot of people speak about the commenting scandal with regret. But this little window into the psyche and motivations of the people who re-made New Orleans after the storm is invaluable. 

Nature's Keystone XL.. in reverse

The National Wildlife Federation has a new report out on the ecological damage of the BP oil disaster.  To put it briefly, it's probably very bad.  But we're going to learn about how bad it is over the course of decades, so no one will actually notice.  But even now they're finding it's more widespread than you might think.
Muth said he and other federation officials visited Cat Island in Barataria Bay last week and found the mangroves that had been used as a rookery by pelicans and other birds before the spill were almost all dead and not being used by the birds.

The island itself is eroding, which Muth said was exacerbated by its being washed over with oil during the spill, and remaining birds have moved to other smaller islands nearby. The island's erosion is just one of a number of locations in Louisiana's wetlands where oil or the cleanup of oil has speeded up the erosion of wetlands, he said.

The report also cited studies that found oil and dispersant compounds in the eggs of white pelicans nesting in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, raising concerns about reproduction of the pelicans.

"Scientists made this discovery at Marsh Lake (in Minnesota), which is home to the largest colony of white pelicans in North America," the report said. "Petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested. Nearly 80 percent of the eggs contained the chemical dispersant used during the Gulf oil spill."

And the moral of the story is...

Dragonslayers are not real.

Nagin, a Democrat, had been elected as a reformer when he took office in 2002. But prosecutors said graft in his administration began before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and flourished afterward. Bribes included money, free vacations and truckloads of free granite for his family business.

Or, at least, they are just slightly more hypocritical dragons. A smarter politics would be about something besides dragonslaying.   Otherwise, this is going to keep happening.

"Portfolio district"

The new OPSB superintendent says (basically): I don't want to actually.. you know... do things. I just want to be the guy everyone is beholden to for some vague reason.
He’s a proponent of charter schools — having actually founded one in Algiers — and talks about giving the city’s few remaining traditional schools the same type of flexibility that charters have.

He intends to run a “portfolio” district, a popular term nationally for the new paradigm in which a central office exists to authorize new schools and hold them accountable, rather than to manage them day to day.

In fact, he thinks the OPSB central office may need downsizing.
We're not here to stop the charter grift. We're just here to get ours. 


It's been fun.
NEW ORLEANS -- LSU's president is laying out a doomsday budget that could result in class cancellations and program cuts.

Dr. F. King Alexander told the New Orleans Press Club that the Baton Rouge campus is looking at a possible 82 percent state budget cut.

"This is a pretty precarious time for LSU and higher education entirely in Louisiana," said Alexander.
Alexander is touring the state, drumming up support for higher education funding.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed state spending plan for the next fiscal year takes more than $500 million away from state colleges and universities to help plug a $1.6 billion budget hole.

That's an $80 million cut in state funding for LSU. Dr. Alexander said that could force LSU into bankruptcy, leading to faculty layoffs, tuition increases and 2,000 classes being canceled.
It's OK if you're Bobby, though. You probably meant well

Nobody actually lives here

This is a, by turns, fascinating, hilarious, and depressing Gambit article about the night life on St. Claude avenue.  What stands out the most is the larger number of tourists, the writers found. 
8:14 p.m. — A young blonde woman wearing ankle boots and a paisley dress is the nucleus of a group of tourists (hailing from San Francisco and Kansas City) swirling between The Front and a gallery at 4036 St. Claude Ave. They are trying, unsuccessfully, to get a cab. "It's impossible. I've been calling for hours. He's off duty," she says, gesturing toward a cab at a stop sign. "How do local people get around?" They're all staying at Airbnbs because hotels are "dumb" and have "stupid prices." "Have you ever seen Treme?" one asks as they set off on foot for the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar.
There's already enough kvetching about whether or not Frenchmen Street is "the new Bourbon" or whatever.   But what if it's more accurate to say the whole city is the new Bourbon Street?  Pick a neighborhood on any given night and you might be surprised at how many people you run into who don't actually live here.

I suppose that sort of thing has always gone on to an extent.  There have always been a lot of tourists here. So it's never been uncommon to greet strangers by asking where they're from.  If you're in the Quarter or somewhere else there might be a lot of visitors about, that's just being hospitable. And we're typically a friendly and hospitable lot in this town.  Hang around downtown long enough and you'll meet someone from just about anywhere in the world.

It gets a little weird, though, when every neighborhood starts to take on that same atmosphere. I think it's affecting the way the locals interact with one another.   During a recent night out uptown, Menckles and I had several encounters with strangers begin with some version of a nativity test. Apropos of nothing, a bartender quizzed us on the history of the Louisiana drinking age.  A patron at another spot interspersed the conversation with probing little local in-jokes which seemed intended to determine just how "NOLA" we really were. 

Maybe it's just me but I don't recall quite the same undercurrent of hostility running into the most casual of conversations. Especially in the neighborhood bars.  A once simple, "Where are y'all from?" has gone from being an icebreaker to an inquisition. When nobody in your neighborhood actually lives there, people naturally become suspicious of you if you say that you do. It's starting to feel like we need to start carrying papers with us. 

The Cowen administration

The good news is the Mayor doesn't have any direct control over the school system.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has tapped a former Tulane University government expert to run his administration's economic development strategy.

Rebecca Conwell, a business consultant who spent 14 years with Tulane alternately serving as chief of staff for the president, interim director of the education policy-oriented Cowen Institute and a lobbyist for the university with state and local governments, came on board as Landrieu's senior adviser for economic development.

The bad news is, it's pretty messed up anyway.

The Hospitality Industry

I spent some time in that business. This is exactly what the bosses are like.

I spend a lot of time writing about people at the low end of the economy, and I see up close how narrowly they get by day-to-day. In this case, writing about Tippen’s plight may have made her situation worse.

Tippen says she was fired by her boss, hotel manager Herry Patel. Earlier that day, Patel had called the Post to express frustration that he had been quoted giving his opinion about the minimum wage hike. (He objected to it.)

It was soon after, Tippen says, that Patel found her in the lobby and fired her.
“He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [the Post],” Tippen said. “He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’ He said, 'it was wrong for me to talk to you.'"
In this city these "leaders" are treated with all the reverence of feudal lords. They even have their own police now.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

CDO of mock drafts

The NFL Draft is a little over a month away.  Already, though, our nation's sports publications have put it through more simulations than an Apollo mission. Unfortunately, since each "mock draft" exists as its own independent fantasy for click-bait purposes only, the near perpetual experiment contributes nothing to science.

Until now.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but we’re already knee deep into 2015 Mock Draft Season. Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I used to hate mock drafts. I just couldn’t see the point of the constant iteration.

But then I realized that for every mock draft, we had a data point. And I love data. So I decided to track the mock drafts in a data viz for the next month. So keep checking back in as I update the mocks as they roll in and I refine the process.
At that link, you can see B&G Review's slick aggregation of .. apparently every mock draft they are aware of.. into one graphic. Will this eventually tell us a thing of value?  Right now, it looks like the Saints are mock zeroed in on three potential picks at number 13.  The fact that the names Shane Ray, Trae Waynes, and Bud Dupree taken together sound like a traveling bluegrass revue at least tells us there's some trend in the data.

On the other hand, if we learned anything from the 2008 financial crisis, it's that compiling and combining crap into a tradeable commodity is still just finding a new way to sell crap.  So maybe let's wait a while before we buy.

Let the lameness begin

The Louisiana Democratic party officially nominated or endorsed or whatever they're calling it John Bel Edwards today  for .... zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Edwards's campaign is a dead issue from the beginning. The only story here, in fact, is that the nomination probably means that we can stop speculating about that never-was-gonna-happen Mitch campaign.
Members of the Democratic State Central Committee also said they wouldn't be making the endorsement if they thought another Democratic candidate was going to get into the race.

There has been a lot of speculation about whether New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu -- who tend to perform better in gubernatorial polls than Edwards -- would run for governor. He hasn't officially said that he won't run in the race.
We can stop worrying about that, right? Good because... oh what, Mary? 
Mary Landrieu did stop short of giving an official endorsement for Edwards.

"I will be making my endorsements very shortly," Mary Landrieu told the Democrats.
Ha ha. OK. What are the odds that she turns around and endorses Angelle? 

Sidney Torres must have made up the difference

The mayor spent all last spring trying to get this police and fire millage through the legislature. And then spent all last fall trying to make sure it passed via statewide ballot.  So the next step now is... well, nevermind.
Having won those permissions, however, the administration’s interest in raising the millage rates has cooled. There are no plans in place to ask local voters to approve higher tax rates for the two departments, and such an increase may no longer be needed, Landrieu said.

“We haven’t decided whether to do it or decided whether it’s necessary,” the mayor said Wednesday.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Collections racket

Last night the post-Serpas NOPD celebrated yet another Checkpoint Thursday.  Hope everybody's brake tag was up to date.

Here's another brilliant segment from the John Oliver show nobody watches except in the form of Youtube clips.

Last year Matt Taibbi published a pretty good book that treats this sort of thing to an extent.  I'd recommend that as well.

Now we are having some fun

Be Respectful

I was starting to worry that our new city council was going to bore the hell out of us for four years. Finally we're getting some action.
The gloves came off. The claws came out. And any notion that everything is sweetness and light among members of the New Orleans City Council was shredded before a single motion was even considered at Thursday’s meeting.

Five of the council’s seven members began by squabbling about whose turn it was to speak, in what order the agenda should be considered and who said what to whom on whose behalf.

But those preliminary tiffs paled in comparison to a showdown between Councilman Jason Williams and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell that was — depending on which side of the issue one happened to favor — the result either of an at-large councilman thumbing his nose at political tradition and trumping a district representative on an issue in her district or of a councilman holding true to a promise made to constituents.
Better still, the issue that finally got the guys and gals to show a little life was incredibly stupid. 
Williams and Cantrell, though never before at odds publicly, apparently spent the better part of the past two weeks feuding in private after Williams introduced an ordinance to change the name of four blocks of Carondelet Street and 11 blocks of La Salle Street to Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive and Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way, respectively. 
The irregular motion to rename the streets after politically influential preachers had already stirred controversy when it passed the planning commission against the recommendation of the staff there.  The change actually violates city planning rules.  It confusingly disrupts the street grid by breaking up otherwise continuous streets. There's also a rule that prohibits renaming a street in honor of a person who has not been dead at least five years.  The preachers have been dead less than two years.

But the beef between Cantrell and Williams arose because Williams broke with a "tradition" of deference to councilmembers with regard to matters within their districts.  Maybe that shouldn't actually be a hard and fast rule all the time, but it's a decent guideline. The district councilperson is typically the point of contact for neighbors with disputes like this.  So she and her staff are doing the legwork talking to people, considering alternatives, hammering out compromises and so forth.

And that appears to have been the case here. Cantrell had intended to put forth a reasonable suggestion.
However, a motion she intended to put forth would have made the changes honorary, meaning the new names would have appeared somewhere on street signs but not on the official maps used by postal and emergency medical workers. Cantrell said the honorary designations would allow more people to be honored in that way and would eliminate the confusion and expense that can come with actually changing a street name.
But Williams big-footed her citing the importance of "keeping promises".. to preachers. And since Williams, three other councilpersons, and Mayor Landrieu all owed the preachers a favor, we're all gonna be double-checking our Google maps for a while now.

The good news is there's apparently some life in this council.  Next week, I think they're supposed to take up UberX again.  Maybe that will end up being less depressing than it once seemed.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Always attack the powerless

You'll never go out of business.
In other words, while they don’t quite say it this way, the GOP budgets are rooted in the idea that one of the primary obstacles to economic opportunity and mobility is that there is too much government-engineered downward redistribution of wealth. It’s reasonable to surmise that the GOP presidential candidates implicitly share this analysis. As Paul Waldman writes, many of the candidates have flirted with the idea of a flat (i.e., less progressive) tax. Ted Cruz sees the repeal of Obamacare and a flat tax as pivotal to restoring opportunity for our children. Scott Walker is flirting with the party’s most prominent supply siders. Even Jeb Bush, who is said to be the most moderate of the bunch, tacitly premised his big economic speech on the idea that the primary driver of inequality is dependence on the federal government.
The 2016 GOP electoral strategy, believe it or not, will try to make inequality a central issue. I pointed out back in November that we actually saw a preview of this during the 2014 midterms.

Why do Republicans consider inequality a winning issue for their party?  Well, for one thing the polling says so.

People Think The Economy Is Rigged To Favor The Wealthy

Q: Do you think the U.S. economic system (generally favors the wealthy) or (is fair to most Americans)?

Generally favors the wealthy 71%
Is fair to most Americans 24%  

People Think Republicans Will Fix This

Other polls show something ironic: People trust Republicans more than Democrats to fix this and make the economy favor regular people again.

An October 13 Gallup poll: “On the No. 1 issue, the economy, Republicans have more than doubled their April lead over Democrats, to 11 percentage points.”
That's easy to do when Democrats, as cozy as they are with the 1% themselves (see President Obama's support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for the latest example)  present no true alternative.

No one is blaming the super-wealthy for everyone else's diminishing standard of living. And if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for President, we can rest assured that no one will. But inequality is a real and growing problem.  So there's an opening for somebody's rhetoric to connect with voters around the issue. 

And as we've seen time and again, the Republican strategy of blaming the poors; that is blaming " downward redistribution of wealth"  is primed to be a big winner once again.  This is certainly the case in Louisiana. Take a look at this release from the  LSU public policy survey, for instance.
The public doesn't understand much about how the budget works. About 40 percent of people surveyed thought Louisiana spent more on food stamps and welfare than education, health care, prisons and transportation infrastructure. Less than one percent of the state budget goes to welfare and food stamps.
Louisiana is not exactly on outlier in this regard.  The pitiful edifice that remains of our so-called welfare state costs almost nothing compared to the the billions of dollars spent on the upward redistribution of wealth that takes place through manifold tax, trade, and labor policies all over the country.   But as long as no one is complaining about that, voters are perfectly willing to accept whatever scapegoat they are offered.  And Republicans are as eager as ever to make that offer.

Mission Accomplished

The long term policy goal in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina was always to end up with a smaller, more expensive city. This was evident and explicit from the very beginning.  We've spent a decade here pretty much watching it happen piece by piece but we've also reached a point where we're more or less in Mission Accomplished mode.
Nearly 10 years since flooding displaced hundreds of thousands of residents after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans region’s growth rate continues to slow as the initial surge that marked a returning population is giving way to more typical growth patterns, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

New Orleans was home to about 384,320 people last year and sat at the center of an eight-parish metro area with a combined population of more than 1.25 million, according to estimates released this week.

While New Orleans grew at a respectable rate of 1.4 percent between 2013 and 2014 and the larger region saw an 0.8 percent increase, the area is no longer putting up the high growth percentages it did as residents flocked back in the years immediately following Katrina.
The rest of the article puts a rosy spin on things, but really what's happened is we've removed enough of that "drag on the city's economy" underclass Pres Kabacoff told us we needed to shed that now we can get down to selling the rest of our formerly affordable housing to people who don't actually live here.

Not much left to do but start patting each other on the back and handing out Bernardos

The one good thing that Ray Nagin pushed for

This 2004 capital improvements bond issue ended up doing a lot of good, especially after the hurricane recovery suddenly became a priority.  It ended up figuring prominently in Ed Blakely's ambitious rebuilding plan... even if that plan itself never materialized in the way Blakely imagined.

Anyway, it's almost all gone now. Here's a look at how they're planning to spend the rest of it.

Depends on what you believe the policymakers' goal is

The "market forces" introduced by charterization don't actually improve academic performance.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A research group's survey of 30 New Orleans public schools found that competition for students hasn't necessarily driven efforts to improve academics.

The survey released Thursday was done by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University in 2012 and 2013. It found only 10 schools responded to the competition resulting from New Orleans' rare, city-wide open enrollment policies by improving academics.

Twenty-five said they responded to competition by marketing existing school offerings.

The study's author, Huriya Jabbar said 10 schools dealt with competition by, in effect, screening enrollment - advising students to transfer out or advertising invitation-only events. At a news conference ahead of Wednesday's release of figures, the group noted that was a practice education officials have been taking steps to prevent.

"These findings suggest that schools do not always respond to competition in the way that policy makers hope," said Jabbar.
It does, however, encourage schools to engage in exclusionary admissions policy.  The "competition" is really about separating the better prepared students with more stable home lives (i.e. the wealthier kids) from everyone else.  Isn't that the policy goal in the first place?

Ghost of Serpas signal

Always on the Thursdays
NEW ORLEANS, LA,- The NOPD Traffic Division will conduct a sobriety checkpoint beginning at  9:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 26,2015 to 5:00 a.m. on Friday March 27,2015.  Motorists will experience minimal delays and should have the proper documentation available if requested, i.e., proof of insurance, driver’s license, etc. 
Drive carefully

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More with less

RTA's consultants propose that the way to improve rider service is to actually give them shittier service.
While still just a conceptual proposal, the plan from California-based Transportation Management and Design aims to lure more riders into the system without significantly increasing costs, trading off the inconvenience of having to walk, say, an extra quarter mile for the greater likelihood that a bus will be there soon after a passenger arrives at a stop.

“Frequency will dominate, and people will walk and people will use it if you provide service that is reasonably frequent,” said Norm Silverman, who works for TMD. “Not everyone can have a stop at their ultimate destination,” he added
This is not a plan that shaves any time off of anyone's commute. The idea is that, if you spend more of your time rushing to get to the bus stop than you do waiting at the bus stop, then you're more likely to blame yourself than RTA if you're late getting somewhere.  It's clever salesmanship, maybe. But it's not better service. 

It's terrific consulting, though since it probably will cut costs.  The "increased frequency" derives from further consolidating the already insufficient routes.
To make those improvements, the plan would drop several lines in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, Lakeview, near St. Bernard Avenue and the downriver part of Algiers and would make changes to some of the routes that would remain in place.

The routes that would be cut are near other, more heavily used lines that could have more frequent service if the changes were approved, Silverman said.
Let's increase ridership by making a bus stop harder to find.  Sounds like a winner. 

A different kind of cap hell

Here's yet another study of Louisiana's "Hollywood South" film tax credit program.. this time by a usually business-friendly economist.. which finds that the program is a significant net loss to the state.
The study, by LSU economist Loren Scott, concludes that for every $1 in tax credits Louisiana issues to film producers, the state gets back between 18 and 24 cents in tax revenue.

The findings are nearly identical to those in earlier economic-impact studies of the film program, through which state taxpayers cover 30 percent of the cost of any movie made in Louisiana. The Legislature requires that such a study be done every two years.

Perhaps the most surprising finding in the report — though industry insiders had predicted it — was that Louisiana issued about 10 percent less in film tax credits in 2014 than it did in 2013. The drop, from $251 million to $226 million, came after years of steady growth in the program. That decline, Scott concludes, “seems to indicate that the program is leveling off to some degree.”
"Leveling off" means that several other states (including California) are engaged in a perpetual bidding war for these highly mobile productions.
"It is unclear how these sorts of competitions end," the legislative analyst's office said in a report this spring. "In responding to other states increasing subsidy rates, California may only stoke this race to the bottom."

What is clear is that filming is highly mobile, and studios and producers increasingly rely on this so-called soft money to lower their production costs. They routinely expect taxpayers to offset as much as 30% of their qualified production costs. States now pay out about $1.5 billion in film incentives each year, up from a few million dollars a decade ago.

"All you're doing is moving jobs from California to other states," said Joe Henchman, vice president for state projects for the Tax Foundation, a Washington organization and frequent critic of tax credits. "We've just thrown a lot of public dollars to make that happen. There is no net national gain."
This is not too different from the way state and municipal governments are held hostage by pro sports teams.  Only in this case, you don't have that whole angry sports fan base thing to contend with.  It's just a boring old case of politicians being used by industry lobbyists.
When producers of the Netflix Inc. series "House of Cards" threatened to leave Maryland if the state reduced tax credits, Gov. Martin O'Malley in April approved an $11.5-million package to keep the show in the state.

"They say, 'You need to match this, or you don't have a prayer of getting production in your state,'" said Henchman of the Tax Foundation.
Some states are starting to back away from this con.  Louisiana lawmakers are considering tweaks. Although, in some cases, they might need to tweak harder.
Two state lawmakers, Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, have proposed legislation for the upcoming session that would, among other changes, institute for the first time a cap on the value of the tax credits that could be issued in a year. Morrell has proposed setting the cap at $300 million, which is 20 percent above the program’s maximum cost to date.

Telling the easy story

In the last post, I pointed to Oyster's complaint that the political press is inaccurately reporting Bobby Jindal's record with regard to the Americans for Tax Reform no new taxes pledge.  Jindal hasn't always adhered to the (totally non-binding, anyway) pledge. But it's easier to write the story as though he has because it sets up an easy-to-digest narrative for the reader.  Through repetition, the simple but incomplete version of the story becomes convention. 

Similarly, there's this Strawberry Festival poster.Varg wonders why this particular story gets traction while others are left alone. 

Receiving far less publicity even though I think it addresses a more pressing and immediate social and racial concern is the artwork that was displayed in Oakwood Mall this week. This student’s artwork and the (much smaller) controversy surrounding it seems far less abstract and debatable than the Ponchatoula piece. Fear of police is a daily issue for us all. That there are police who do their best to serve and protect but are thought of as murderers is an issue. The huge rift of trust between this student and the police that have vowed to protect him perhaps represents the top social ill of our time. This student made a piece of political art and spoke his voice. This is important and it is critical to our freedom of expression.

But the story has seemed to have sputtered out while the festival poster has gone worldwide. Why? There are protests in Ferguson right now about police killings. Doesn’t this student’s art reflect how concerned he or she is about their future? Somewhere in the local area a student watched protests in Ferguson and was inspired to do something with his or her emotions on the matter and the story of it being pulled from an exhibit was just a blip on the media radar. Why was the Festival poster so sexy and this very relevant one not?

I guess because it’s an easier story to report: Small town white folks are ignorant and racist. Gets reported all the time in all sorts of ways.

Yet somehow RT EXPO in New York, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, FI-ART in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Northshore Regional Endowment for the Arts and the African-American Heritage Museum in Aurora, Illinois are not ignorant and racist despite doing the same shit.
Again we're skipping the more relevant stories in favor of the easy ones. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Norquist The Great And Powerful

Except not if you look behind the curtain.
For some crazy reason, this episode is invisible to all the pundits who wail about Jindal's presidential intentions. They never, ever mention that Jindal broke his ATR pledge by voting for the farm bill in 2007*. Instead, they imply that Jindal has always been without "sin" when it comes to taxes.
It's kind of a big deal that nobody in our pack-minded press is reporting Jindal's record correctly. It allows him to get away with having been for a tax increase before he was against any tax increase.. but after he said he'd never be for one.  

If that sounds stupid, it's because it is.   Oyster's point is that by selectively ignoring the exception that disproves the easy "narrative" the political press is making Jindal's job easier.

I keep promising more on this but it's been a busy few weeks.  Still, I'll probably have more on this soon.

Show em what they've won

So the rationale is apparently this.   
One analysis included only the fixed rent being offered by developers -- not including percentages in gross sales and income from cultural attractions, which is more speculative -- along with potential tax revenues to the city. In that review, Four Seasons came out on top.
  • Carpenter/Woodward with Four Seasons -- $400 million
  • Two Canal Street Investors with Hotel Alessandra -- $375 million.
  • 2 Canal Redevelopment with Conrad Hotel -- $347 million
  • Oxford Capital with Godfrey Hotel -- $315 million
  • HRI Properties with Crescent Hotel -- $266 million
There's likely more to it than that, though.  Had they picked a different developer, we'd be reading about a differently scored analysis to justify it.

Anyway, here is a copy of the winning Four Seasons WTC redevelopment proposal. You can dig around for your favorite details. But I'm guessing most of us are curious about the "cultural attraction" they've chosen for us.  This proposal doesn't include an "Iconic Structure" or a Gondola to Nowhere, or even a video wall. 

Instead they're giving us a more conventional IMAX movie along with some sort of New Orleans history exhibit to be curated by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Tulane professor emeritus Lawrence N. Powell.  Gates goes on for 5 pages about the exhibit in the proposal.
We see the creation of the Museum as a most fitting tribute to the city as it celebrates its 300th birthday on May 7th, 2018. We want to design a highly interactive, digital cultural exhibition that will be a model of museum technology and information delivery in a 21st century contemporary world, a world in which we, the “consumers,” are bombarded with ever-changing news feeds, with dynamic input that changes virtually all the time. Accordingly, our concept is built on the idea of using artifacts and cultural elements that allow the consumer to redesign their own experience within the museum through the extensive use of artifacts linked to digital interactivity, so that each visit to the space constitutes an experience that changes constantly, underscoring the fact that New Orleans’s history endures in the present and is very much alive here.

In case you can't wait for all that, though, you can always drop in at The Cabildo where the Louisiana State Museum will be happy to "bombard" you with artifacts from the city's past. They do charge a nominal fee for admission but, because they are a public institution, they won't insist on calling you a "consumer."

The Four Seasons proposal doesn't tell us what they're charging for the opportunity to "redesign your own experience" at their privatized museum.  But since they're clearly presenting us with "The Uber of" historical exhibits, we should expect a commensurate surge in pricing.

Meanwhile, the city can begin negotiating with Carpenter and Woodward over the final lease details.  Let's hope Woodward doesn't run into the same sort of problems that contributed to the scuttling of their deal with the airport renovation last year, or we might end up with yet another do-over.

BREAKING: I clearly have no inside information about what's going on

It looks like they only picked one developer and it was neither of the developers I guessed they would pick.

If you're looking for a quick and dirty glimpse into the reasoning, this might help.

Chose your icons

They're picking tower teams this morning. They tried to do this last year but the general rule for major policy and or development decisions in New Orleans is you spend the first year having a crazy public debate that ends in nothing happening at all.  The next year, the public moves on and you can do whatever you want.  It's demolition by attrition.

This time the city's strategy is to pick more than one "winner".
When the city went back to the drawing board last year after failing to conclude a deal with its chosen developers for the former World Trade Center building, it made a critical adjustment to the rules governing the selection process for the site.

This time around, instead of picking just one development team with which to negotiate, the city gave itself the right to deal with as many suitors at a time as it wants. The adjustment, intended to force the developers to try to top one another’s offers, may begin to pay off this week.

The five teams in the running to redevelop the vacant and bedraggled but exceptionally well-located 1960s office building at the foot of Canal Street each raised their bids to the city on Tuesday, a week before a selection committee will decide which team or teams the city will negotiate with to turn the 33-story structure into a hotel and residences.

The selection meeting starts at 10 so there's still time to place some last minute bets.   I tried to handicap the field a little bit a month ago.  Since that time, one of the contenders has gotten some attention for this Gondola-to-nowhere Wigsphere looking thing they've added to their bid.  I don't think that will matter much, though.  I still think they're going with Daryl Berger's Conrad group number one and Pres Kabacoff's HRI group number two.  After that the city enters into parallel negotiations with both... and probably both contenders will make whatever deals with each other they've already agreed to as contingencies.

At the end of the day what happens is a lot of rich guys make more money building hotels and condos downtown. Then the mayor announces to the world that this is a sign of the city's "resilience" and we shoot off some fireworks and have a parade or something.  It's good fun.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Xanax State

The annual LSU public policy research opinion survey is out. It might be worth your time to look through seeing as how this is a big election year and all.  Although a lot of the findings are kind of bland. Or, at least, they don't indicate any particularly eye-popping trend.

If anything, they tell us that Louisiana residents are pretty blase about the state's numerous problems.

 For example, this is from NOLA.com's summary.
Louisiana residents are relatively split on whether the state is headed in the right direction, according to LSU's annual survey of Louisiana citizens.

About 44 percent of people contacted by LSU thought Louisiana was on the right path. Around 45 percent thought the state was headed in the wrong direction, according to the recent Louisiana survey.

Overall, the number of people who think Louisiana is headed in the right direction has grown over the last two years. In 2014, more people thought Louisiana was headed in the wrong direction, than in the right direction. But Louisiana residents appear more optimistic about the state this year.
Are we doing ok?  Louisiana residents are decidedly meh about it.

The rest of the survey goes on like that. There are slight, predictable differential opinions about the way things are going according to party.  There are indistinguishable, difficult to interpret changes in degrees of "optimism" and "confidence" over a year ago.  Here's one that looks to me like people may be beginning to sense the light at the end of the Jindal.


Beyond that, the survey appears to indicate that respondents, who can barely make up their minds as to whether Louisiana is on the "right or wrong track," are more or less unbothered by the state of some of our most crucial issues.

For example, here is a list of issues respondents say they are concerned about.


I get that "environment" is kind of a nebulous term with certain hippie-dippie connotations. But, in Louisiana... particularly in South Louisiana, our most pressing existential dilemmas are environmental issues.  Strange that it would be so low a priority.

"Education" is another vague term, but a more inclusive one in terms of public opinion. It serves as a replacement for actual thought about whatever the issue might be. It's also a placeholder for people who either have no solid opinions on specific issues.. or people who choose not to share them.  Everybody likes to say "education" is important even if they don't know why you're asking them about it. 

Which is how we can get a result like this where "education" leads the list of concerns in a state whose public universities are facing a severe budget crisis.  This morning LSU President King Alexander told the Baton Rouge Press Club that the Governor's proposed cuts are so severe that  the university would, "have to furlough everybody for the entire year,” in order to meet the budget.

And, yet, the "optimistic" respondents to the survey are pretty pleased with higher ed in Louisiana. They give our underfunded colleges and universities mostly "As" and "Bs."

Letter Grades

We hit something of a milestone late last year when the state unemployment rate exceeded the national rate for the first time since before the recession. We also barely noticed.

Business Optimism

The survey writers also point to slight regional discrepancies in "optimism."
Perceptions of economic trends partly reflect the conditions residents face in different parts of the state. For example, residents of the Baton Rouge area tend to take the most optimistic view of state business conditions (see Figure 1.8). Residents of southwest Louisiana – with a regional economy especially sensitive to the rise and fall of oil prices– have far more mixed assessments. 
But, okay. Look at the chart they're talking about. Even "oil sensitive" Southwest Louisiana is pretty evenly split between better or worse with "meh" still  holding a plurality.

Most improvement

They seem pretty happy in Baton Rouge, though.  Looking at that, you'd never guess there was a whole secession movement afoot there

So, hey, Heckuva Job, Louisiana. The southern half of the state is melting into the ocean but we've barely noticed. Our one-horse petrochemical driven economy is stalling but we're pretty cool with it.  We really care about "education."  And we really like our universities. Bobby Jindal is about to sell them all  off for campaign yard signs but our "confidence" and "optimism" are on the rise.  Louisiana must be the Xanax State.

I'm not sure what this means for the election this year.  I had David Vitter as the odds-on favorite but it turns out he might be a little too spicy for our tastes. 

"One or two teams"

The NFL is out to hurt some feelings this year.
A consensus is growing around the NFL that a return to Los Angeles is happening. The questions now are more about which team or teams will move there than whether a team will move there.

Giants owner John Mara says 2015 looks like the NFL’s last season without a team in L.A.

“I think there’s going to be one or two teams playing in L.A. next year — 2016,” Mara said, via Bob Glauber of Newsday. “Maybe a temporary stadium [next year], but I think — and this is just my opinion — that one or two teams will be playing somewhere in L.A. next year. But we’ll see.”
Their business relies heavily on goosing the civic pride and "loyalty" of American cities in order to extract billions of dollars in local and state public funds all over the country. And then leaving those places holding the bag whenever it's convenient.

 Also don't count the highly unstable Saints franchise out of this as a darkhorse contender.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sounds like a real job-killer

Those 47 Republican Senators are just trying to keep Obama from imposing a job-killing Iranian nukes moratorium.
The possibility of an Iran nuclear deal depressing weapons sales was raised by Myles Walton, an analyst from Germany’s Deutsche Bank, during a Lockheed earnings call this past January 27th. Walton asked Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, if an Iran agreement could “impede what you see as progress in foreign military sales.” Financial industry analysts such as Walton use earnings calls as an opportunity to ask publicly-traded corporations like Lockheed about issues that might harm profitability.

Hewson replied that “that really isn’t coming up,” but stressed that “volatility all around the region” should continue to bring in new business. According to Hewson, “A lot of volatility, a lot of instability, a lot of things that are happening” in both the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region means both are “growth areas” for Lockheed Martin.

"What's wrong with him?"


This is a quick Salon interview with Dave Zirin about the NFL-Media Industrial Complex and its overreaction to the retirement of one player. 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired last week after only one season citing concerns for his health based on the mounting evidence that pro football can cause severe brain trauma.  Zirin is asked to comment on the paranoid response.

Some very big names in the NFL’s media universe were critical. I don’t really get it, to be honest; why do they care if he plays football or not?  
I communicated with Chris Borland this morning; we exchanged emails. He was truly, truly stunned that this was as big a story as it was. To him, it was like, second-year player decides not to play football because he’s concerned about concussions— why is this a big story? Everybody is concerned about concussions. Especially since you have had other young players leave the game this off-season, he thought he was going to be one of a group that was doing this. The difference between Chris and these other folks is that these other folks had already suffered real injury before their 30th birthday. With Chris, it also has to do with the situation in San Francisco, where he really had a shot at superstardom. The 49ers linebacker core was depleted, he had a very promising rookie year, and they were going to put him in a position to be a Pro-Bowler and a star but he decided that he did not want that.

The thing I kept thinking about was Dave Chappelle, because when Dave Chappelle walked away from tens of millions of dollars from Comedy Central everybody was saying he was completely crazy, like, literally mentally imbalanced. A friend of mine said to me, we always wonder in this country why everybody’s all about the money but when somebody shows he’s not all about the money he gets mocked for it. I was thinking about Dave Chappelle with Borland, because isn’t this what we always say we want for people? How often have you heard people about the fact that schoolteachers and firefighters aren’t role models but athletes are? Why do we put so much worth on them just because they perform for millions of dollars? Here’s somebody who walks away from that money and that celebrity— which is like the nobility of the 21st century— and the response has been, what’s wrong with him?
 If you're not chasing the money and glory, even at the potential expense of your own mental health, well then you clearly must have some sort of mental health problem. 

Every crisis is an opportunity

The Louisiana budget crisis is an opportunity to shift a business tax burden onto individuals.
A brewing legislative push to reduce or eliminate parish inventory taxes could trigger automatic property tax increases — without additional voter approval — by local governments that carry long-term debt, some parish assessors and state officials say.

Whitney Joseph Jr., assessor of St. John the Baptist Parish, estimates that St. John’s School Board and parish government would have to raise the tax rate by a combined 16.6 mills to keep meeting their debt payments for what are known as general obligation bonds. That would bring the total millage rate to about 134 mills and raise a typical homeowner’s tax bill by about 14 percent.

“You’ve got to be able to pay your debts,” Joseph said. “So whatever my bond millage needs to be to pay that debt, that’s what you have to raise it to.”
Remember Jindal's idea ostensibly was to cut out the tax credit by which the state reimburses businesses who pay local inventory taxes. Predictably, business owners large and small across the state howled that Jindal had raised taxes on them thus violating his sacred pledge to Governor Grover Norquist never to do that.  It was "a tax increase we simply cannot afford"
LABI president Stephen Waguespack wasted no time calling the inventory tax credit change a tax hike. He said repealing the credit and leaving the inventory tax in place would "throw sand in the gears of our growing economy ... and lower the number of jobs in Louisiana." He added, "Repealing the inventory tax credit is bad policy and a tax increase we simply cannot afford."
So, nevermind that. Now we're on to repealing the inventory tax altogether. Which, in turn, leaves local governments to find other ways to make up the revenue.
Officials in parishes that rely most heavily on inventory taxes, such as St. John, St. James and others, are raising concerns that in addition to making draconian cuts to services, they would ultimately have to pass on tax increases to homeowners and small businesses to recoup some of the revenue lost for the benefit of the biggest industries and the state budget.

“We are going to shift the tax burden,” St. Charles Parish Assessor Tab Troxler said.
Guess someone will have to afford it. 

Not quite "bigger than US Steel"

But you can sort of see the idea.

Not yet, but someday, perhaps even soon.

That’s the message 75 businessmen, lawyers and educators from south Louisiana are taking home from Cuba after a weeklong trip aimed at re-establishing trade and cultural links that were broken after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The trip ended Saturday.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Big Gubmint

The unthinking, uncaring bureaucratic wheels of Big Government can make some terrible mistakes. Like life and death type mistakes.  This is what the honest conservatives among us (and, yes, such people do exist) are always warning about.

They do love capital punishment, though.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hollywood South of the Border

It's a globalized grift.
Mexican officials reportedly offered up to $20m in tax incentives to Sony Pictures and MGM in return for changes to be made to the next James Bond film, in an apparent attempt to combat the country’s negative image.

According to a report on the US website Tax Analysts, Mexico offered incentives in exchange for changes to to the script of Spectre, including a request for a Mexican Bond girl and a non-Mexican villain.

Shooting for the latest instalment of the Bond franchise, to be directed by Sam Mendes, is due to begin next week.

The report, based on internal Sony emails that were posted online by hackers purportedly linked to North Korea, said that studio executives from Sony Pictures Entertainment and MGM pressured for changes to the script to secure the incentives.
We would like you to help us improve our image. Please accept this bribe. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Daddy's alright

This writer says Benson's alright
He's really up on things
Writer Ken Belson was behind the scenes with Benson for nearly a week.

"He was very sharp.  He was presiding over a couple of meetings that I was lucky enough to sit in on," The New York Times journalist told WWL's Angela Hill.

He noted that it was obvious that Benson is aging and can't recall every name and number.

But he added, "When he is in his element, which it so say in the business milieu... he is very comfortable."
They sent Belson to cover Benson.  I'm not sure but I think that might have been part of the mental acuity test.  You see, the names are similar. Just like the way the names Obama and Truman are not.

 Anyway Belson says Benson's alright even if he does seem a little weird. 
Belson said it seems to him that Benson knows what he is doing in deciding who will run the Saints and Pelicans after he dies.

"It is easy to... say, 'Oh jeez the old man has lost his mind.'... It was nice to see that he's still getting around, he still has a sense of humor, he's on top of things." 
Which raises the question is the Saints' current defensive roster among the things Benson is currently "on top of"?  Because if it is, then I still want to wait and see what the doctors have to say about his mental competence
But owner Tom Benson, who spoke to Jen Hale during Tuesday’s Pelicans broadcast, appears to be in support of all the wheeling and dealing.

“We’re just trying to get better,” he said. “We want to win another Super Bowl.”


We mentioned yesterday that both sides in the BP litigation are now appealing Judge Barbier's ruling in the Amount Spilled portion of the trial. One reason there may be so much confusion is the constant unit conversion.  Sometimes we're talking about flow rate. Sometimes it's gallons. Sometimes it's barrels.

Right now we're dealing with pounds.
On Monday, BP released a statement claiming the environment of the northern  Gulf of Mexico had returned its “baseline condition” five years after its Deepwater Horizon disaster pumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf off Louisiana’s  coast.

But on Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard was supervising the ongoing removal of a large oil tar mat on East Grand Terre Island that has yielded more than 25,000 pounds of oil mixed with sand since late February, a BP spokesman confirmed.

Meanwhile, a few miles to the west, two dead adult bottlenose dolphins had washed up on Queen Bess Island, continuing what has been a large die-off of dolphins in Barataria Bay since the oil washed into that critical coastal estuary five years ago.
I don't have my slide rule handy, but I'm pretty sure 25,000 pounds converts to more than just 2 dead dolphins so obviously there's more work to do. 

Q: In what way is Louisiana like Iran?

A: Each state has arrested the reporters covering its prison system.
Although Crain’s update did not reveal the name of the other reporter, he is believed to be Shane Bauer.

In 2009, Bauer was one of three Americans hikers who were detained by Iran, which alleged that the three were spies. Bauer’s 26-month long detention in Iranian prison set off an international diplomatic firestorm and became the subject of intense media coverage. Although he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison, he was released after the Sultan of Oman arranged a half a million dollar payment, whisking him out of Iran in a private jet.
Only one of these regimes currently "controls Teheran," though.  This may or may not be a fact to be alarmed about. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The model is constant upheaval

"School choice" means a perpetual hustle for students and parents.
Harper Royal spun her laptop around to show me a spreadsheet she's created. By her count, since 2009, 24 schools in New Orleans have been closed, forcing 4,393 students to seek an education elsewhere. If Lagniappe and Miller-McCoy Academy are closed at the end of this year, the count will be 26 schools and 4,938 students, she said.

"That's totally unacceptable to me," she said, "that we would displace that many children."

One of the arguments for charter schools is the relative ease at which they can be shut down for underperforming. A school that's not cutting it can have its charter revoked and be erased out of existence. But our conversation revealed that Harper Royal doesn't see that as a feature of charter schools but as a bug.

She sees it as inherently problematic to shut down a school and, thus, destabilize a child's education, problematic to tell parents they're free to choose a school and then shut down that school soon after they do.

The Hollywood South Hayride

How many is this now?  I've lost count.
A Baton Rouge film producer has been charged with defrauding the state’s tax incentive program of more than $160,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

George Kostuch, 43, who owned and ran K 2 Pictures, is accused of writing checks for more than $500,000 in false expenses, which led to reimbursements from the state for $161,850 during a period of several months between 2010 and 2011, U.S. Attorney Walt Green said in a press release.
 More background here

Always bet the under

Bibi looks like he's going to hang on.
Polls just closed in Israel and a raft of exit of polls show a big comeback for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud, who closed the last two days with a round of racist, anti-Arab Israeli appeals to consolidate the right wing vote in Likud. It seems to have worked. The exit polls don't all agree. But most show a virtual tie between Labor and Likud in the high 20 seat range. In other words, both major parties seem to have over-performed their numbers.
So, incidentally, does Rahm.
CHICAGO, March 15 (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has opened a 10 percentage point lead in his re-election bid against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, an opinion poll on Sunday showed, though his challenger received a hard-won labor union's endorsement that could bring in campaign cash and volunteers.

The Chicago mayor's race went to an unprecedented run-off when well-funded Emanuel, mayor since 2011, failed to clinch the 50 percent of the vote he needed for an outright win on Feb. 24.
In other words, democracy, basically, doesn't work. 


Back in January, Judge Barbier lazily picked a halfway number between the government's and BP's estimates of the total amount of oil spilled during the Macondo blowout.  The ruling represented something like a $4 billion to $8 billion win for BP. Nevertheless, BP appealed the ruling. Because from BP, point of view, they are pretty much done paying anything.

And now the government has appealed also .

Eventually, they'll have to pay some nominal fee. In another 20  years or so.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Life in "Cap Hell"

Cap Hell doesn't really exist.
What’s certain is that a shot had to be taken. This is not is a fire sale. Those two words have been tossed around quite frequently during the past week, and it’s easy to see why. Three key players have been traded, and another two have been released. Jimmy Graham is gone. Kenny Stills. Ben Grubbs. Curtis Lofton. More could come.

When things like this happen, it’s easy to see why people wonder whether Drew Brees will be under center next season or if this is the end. But even though conspiracy theorists have suggested this is a stripping down to tank or some wacky ploy to damage the franchise because of the Benson family feud, it’s not. You don’t spend $18 million on C.J. Spiller, another $16 million on Mark Ingram and sign Brandon Browner to solidify the secondary if you’re trying to lose games or hosting a fire sale

That is to say it doesn't exist in the sense that the salary cap prevents your team from fielding a winning roster.  There is a kind of "Cap Hell" from the players' point of view insofar as the salary cap exists at all.

The cap is a perpetual fake emergency engineered by ownership for bargaining leverage.  It sets an artificial limit on player contract negotiations.  It also puts constant pressure on players to let teams renege on deals as a matter of course. Every year most teams are faced with some sort of cap-driven imperative to approach players under contract about renegotiating.  To the casual fan, this might look like a series of individually managed crises but it's actually designed to work like this.  It's sort of like the way congressional Republicans use the imperative to raise the debt ceiling as a hostage in exchange for unrelated budgetary concessions.  The cap exists in order to allow teams to manage by manufactured crisis. It doesn't actually have anything to do with "competitive balance."  This Saints offseason should demonstrate that pretty clearly.

According to the conventional definition, the 2015 Saints are in "Cap Hell." They've had to cut ties with favorite veterans. They've traded away a potential Hall of Famer. The 2015 team will look significantly different from the 2014 team.  Black and Gold Review's Ryan Chauvin put together these neat charts one of which demonstrates a marked spike in average snaps played per player lost.  In other words, this year's roster turnover represents a much greater contribution in terms of playing time than in previous offseasons. 

And yet, apart from the Kenny Stills trade, which is a bit of a head scratcher, all of the Saints' moves this offseason immediately make the team better. They've added a big physical corner and a speedy back who doubles as a receiving threat.   Most observers agree that improving the interior offensive line was an essential priority.  The Saints have added a Pro-Bowl center and dumped an underachieving guard so that's being worked on as well.

As for the Jimmy Graham trade, I'm aware that it's largely characterized as a deliberate effort to focus on improving the defense.  You can read that here.  But I would argue that the goal is to make the Saints better on offense as well.  For one obvious thing, they did get a center in the deal.

Beyond that, though, it's worth considering that NFL offenses... particularly offenses that have featured the same quarterback and (basically) the same coach designing and calling the plays for several years... need to change in order to remain effective.  A static personnel group running the same scheme over the course of a few seasons piles up enough film to go a little stale.  People start to figure out how to defend you.

Of course, none of Sean Payton's offenses have been bad.  In fact, just last year the Saints finished first in overall yardage. But it's clear to everyone watching that the 2013 and 2014 Saints lacked the explosive suddenness (to borrow a favorite Payton term) that characterized previous editions.  These teams could move the ball. But they were more sluggish and plodding, far less reliable in critical situations, and less the constant threat to score immediately that we'd become accustomed to seeing.

Fans have had difficulty pinpointing the problem but they're aware something isn't right. Hence the frequent discussion of Brees's arm strength or the somewhat related conversation about "Grandpa Sean" and his presumably more risk averse approach.  It could be, though, that teams had figured out how to contain the Saints.

Without trying to getting too far over my own head with regard to Xs and Os, I'd venture that strategy involved pressuring Brees up the middle and then understanding that he's probably looking for Jimmy Graham.  Here's an interesting comparison of the Saints' passing efficiency in 2009 vs 2014.
Completion percentage to TEs was less than expected from a Drew Brees lead team.  Completion percentage to WRs was far worse.  WR play has dropped off big-time since 2009.  As far as TEs go, the Saints still had more TE receiving yards last year compared to 2009 even though Graham had a down year, but the efficiency was much worse.
Jimmy Graham is a monster. But it's possible that his presence made the offense less effective as it came to rely more on him and him alone to make the passing game work.  The Saints won't have that problem this year.  They are gonna have to throw the ball to somebody, though, which is what makes the Stills trade all the more curious. It's also why we can't be surprised if one or more of these stockpiled draft choices goes toward picking a receiver rather than fixing the defense.

But whatever the Saints are up to with all these moves, one thing they aren't doing is trying to claw their way out of "Cap Hell."  From the looks of things, they seem pretty comfortable operating there.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A question that answers itself

Dambala (kind of) asks a question that answers itself.
If these guys aren't seeing a pattern of hazy contracts and potentially catastrophic backroom deals going on within the University, I'm not sure they deserve to hold their respective offices.
They're in those offices specifically to look the other way when it suits. 


Nadine Ramsey is reintroducing the noise ordinance.
As written, Ramsey's ordinance leaves enforcement under the New Orlean Health Department and New Orleans Police Department (rather than hand it over completely to the health department, which Palmer had proposed). Both departments would be responsible for noise monitoring, reviewing permits and handing out violations.

Ramsey's ordinance also does not remove the current law's curfew in place for street musicians, which Palmer and others called unconstitutional, as it is not equally applied to all people making noise after a certain time. Last year, City Attorney Sharonda Williams said that the city cannot and will not enforce the curfew — though it still remains on the books, along with the rest of the 60-year-old noise ordinance.

As The New Orleans Advocate's Jeff Adelson reported earlier this year, the city hired a new sound specialist following outgoing consultant David Woolworth, who wrote an extensive report with recommendations to the City Council and had suggested its rules and sound limits were too restrictive and difficult to enforce. The new consultant, Monica Hammer, has a background in noise pollution and its impacts on public health (compared to Woolworth's background in music) and is working with the city's health department to "inform residents about the health effects of noise and ways they can protect themselves" along with training and department procedures in accordance with the current laws and forthcoming noise ordinance.
The change in consultants was concerning although it doesn't have to mean anything.  And, if you read the rest of that Gambit article, you'll see that the mayor's office and MACCNO oppose the curfew and favor taking NOPD out of the enforcement picture.  So the ordinance Ramsey introduced this week will look different from whatever is eventually passed, whenever that happens. She even says as much here.
"I am introducing this instrument for the purpose of initiating a thorough public debate on this important issue in my district," Ramsey wrote in a statement to Gambit. "With a couple of important exceptions, the ordinance introduced yesterday, like the ordinance considered in April of last year by my predecessor, only affects the Vieux Carre Entertainment (VCE) and Vieux Carre Entertainment-1 (VCE-1) zoning districts. I am not necessarily committed to everything being proposed by this ordinance and intend to ensure that this issue is fully and publicly vetted by all interested parties."
The word choice is cute, though.  Did she do that on purpose? 

Imagine it

Imagine a city filled with empty super-condos, money vaults in the sky. Our streetscapes will be sleek windows on the dead space of bank branches and real-estate offices.

There will be no more bookstores, no more theaters, no more places for live music. No more places to sit on a stool and drink a beer with regular folks.

When that day comes, and in some ways it is already here, what city will this be? It will be a hollow city for hollow men.
That guy is writing about New York but, yeah, we can imagine it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nobody actually lives here

This is from Tuesday's Advocate. It's a blurb explaining the result of a visitor survey produced by UNO upon the commission of two of the state boards who spend public money doing market research for New Orleans hoteliers.

But the study goes beyond mere hotel occupancy in order to count tourists.
The results of the New Orleans Area Visitor Profile are obtained by using hotel occupancy figures, calls to a sampling of local residents to ask whether they had friends or relatives stay with them, and an estimate of the number of people who did not stay in hotels when they visited. The latter is generated by surveying visitors at Louis Armstrong International Airport, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and other destinations.
Notably, this week's Gambit refers to this same aspect of this same survey when introducing a series of personal vignettes on Airbnb.

City Council is currently considering a new regulatory framework that could permit short term rentals turning them into a more reliable source of tax revenue, yes, but also turning more of the housing stock over to the hotel business. Thus driving up the cost of housing for the few of us who manage to still actually live here.

From the point of view of the landlords pushing this policy change, tourism rentals are potentially more lucrative and less of a headache than regular tenants.  This is especially true for well-capitalized landlords who own multiple properties in New Orleans.   If the recent real estate listings are any indication, there is no shortage of this kind of speculative investment going on around town right now.

From the city's point of view, well maintained and revenue generating properties that nobody actually lives in are a win win.  Money is coming in. "Blight" is reduced. Plus there aren't as many actual residents hanging around complaining about how they need stuff like schools and police and public transit that doesn't just move conventioneers around downtown. The city is currently holding an adjudicated property sale you might have read about which figures to place more residential property in "historic neighborhoods" into the hands of vacation rental companies.

The Gambit articles are pretty terrible. Each in its own way looks to validate the triumph of the forced side-hustle desperation we have come to euphemize as the "sharing economy" by reducing the issue to irrelevant little anecdotes about how Gambit writers feel about things.

Anna Gaca lives next to a short-term rental. She sums up Gambit's know-nothing attitude toward it pretty well
Despite many reasons it could bother me, the constant stream of visitors doesn't. It's a little odd to have strangers around all the time, but I can relate to young travelers. Potential issues of regulation and tax evasion seem more like my neighbor's problem than mine. As New Orleans apartment hardships go, I prefer tourists to roaches, leaky ceilings and Cox installation.

Would I feel differently if I owned my home, rather than renting? Probably. And there are drawbacks, most obviously the impossibility of securing a shared backyard to which guests need 24-hour access. If I had allergies or small children, I wouldn't be so unfazed about opening my back door and seeing strangers playing with their dog. When visitors park cars stuffed with road trip gear on the street, I worry the block could become a easy target for theft.

Gambit is a schizophrenic publication.  Despite the fact that it's under constant pressure to be a glorified boutique ad sheet, it still does style itself an "alternative" newspaper with an interest in public affairs.  As such, maybe they should aspire to better than "not my problem!" Instead, we have a deliberate appeal to lifestyle sensibilities.  "I guess this might bug you if you were like, old or something," this reporter says, in essence. Besides, having tourists around all the time is fun. It's almost like living in a dorm room.  Better than Cox-roaches, anyway, amirite?  

Alex Woodward uses Airbnb when he goes to Brooklyn. To hear him tell it, Airbnb, is a great social leveler.
There's a certain kind of privilege in travel. It's the first thing you don't do when budgets are tight. If you can afford it, you want absolute control — over how much you spend and where. Hotels are one option, friends' couches are another and Airbnb opens a third. Airbnb believes itself to be the community-building, connection-making answer to the burgeoning sharing economy, in which we travel to meet new people, make and tell stories and connect on some vaguely humanitarian level. Airbnb "connects people to unique travel experiences," and, in bold capital letters, tells you to "BELONG ANYWHERE."

You could get cynical about that mantra — but then your eyes glaze over as you peruse the beautiful listings in faraway places on your to-do list. Airbnb's biggest selling point is that it's everywhere you want to be. Hilton Hotels advertised its properties as a familiar place in every vacationland you could imagine; Airbnb actually is that.
"You could be cynical" about a company valued at $10 billion   built on the subversion of consumer and labor protections through clever regulatory arbitrage selling itself as "community-building" humanitarianism.   But that would just be your "privilege" showing.  Better to let your eyes glaze over and be a more self-absorbed consumer. But, you know, in that smug "connection-making" way that people like now.

Jeanie Riess makes some connections she would probably rather not have. Although, something tells me the two New Orleans Airbnb rentals she samples were chosen specifically for their creep factor.
I make it inside and enter my bedroom through the kitchen. The bed is huge and has two polyester comforters and a set of thin, fake silk sheets that smell like Febreze.

I really do not want to sleep here. Everything around me tells me that I should not, from the dark and stormy night to the crusty spoon to the fact that I'm a single female sharing a house with an older man I don't know.
At least she was uncomfortable enough that she didn't have to be too embarrassed about "privilege."  On the other hand, it cost $140 per night so who even knows what that means anymore? I think in the post-modern usage employed for the benefit of Gambit readers, "privilege" is the original sin you didn't spend enough money buying the "authenticity" required to cover up.

Finally, Missy Wilkinson lets out her own home via Airbnb. She says it's easy money, this moonlighting in the (don't call it) tourism business that she does.
I live in Bywater a few blocks from the Mississippi River. The neighborhood is in demand among Airbnb travelers (always travelers, never tourists) — it's close enough to the French Quarter to be convenient, far away enough to be "authentic."

Like the Mississippi with its life-giving sediment, travelers flow through my home and leave it a little richer. There's the Dutch professor who gave me an impromptu art lesson. The Israeli graphic designer who gifted me with her art, which now hangs in the master bedroom.
The image of visitors travelers leaving "sediment" (perhaps in the bathtub) is difficult to shake. Maybe someday we can use it to replenish our wetlands. In any case, the impression of Airbnb conveyed from the isolated ant's eye level is simply that it's honest work. It pays the bills and "leaves the home a little richer" in a figurative sense as well.  And good for Missy that she's comfortable taking that on for the extra money.

I would suggest, though, that these entrepreneurial personal enrichment experiences aren't representative of what Airbnb's eventual impact is going to be in the aggregate
Although the company refuses to release numbers, a data analysis commissioned by The Chronicle found almost 5,000 San Francisco homes, apartments, and private or shared rooms for rent via Airbnb. Two-thirds were entire houses or apartments, showing how far Airbnb has come from its couch-surfer origins, and contradicting its portrayal as a service for people who rent out a spare room and interact with guests.

And 160 entire homes or apartments seem to be rented full time, giving weight to arguments that the service is allowing landlords to flout strict rental laws.
The real story here is about how 21st Century capitalism is enabling a speculative real estate industry, with the blessing of political leadership, to create boutique neighborhoods of part-time occupants where nobody actually lives.  Maybe Gambit will get around to telling that story eventually. But they have not done so this week.

Turf wars

Malachi Hull is suing
The former head of the New Orleans Taxicab Bureau has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of New Orleans, claiming he was wrongfully fired for expressing concerns about the "ride-sharing" transportation service Uber.
Thou shalt not take the name of Uber in vain.. or so goes the claim, I guess. I'm sure several people will yell at me over the next several weeks that Hull is a bad person and such. Maybe they're right. But consider this is a main part of the argument against him.
The city fired Hull in July 2014 after two Taxicab Bureau investigators under his supervision were charged with assault. After Hull was fired, Inspector General Ed Quatreveaux released a damning report on his tenure as director, accusing Hull of operating a rogue agency that allowed its employees to carry mace, handcuffs and act like a quasi-police force.
Note that one year after firing this "rogue" for creating a "quasi-police force,"  the city has gotten together with the hospitality industry (some aspects of which Hull's department once regulated) to create its own quasi-police force