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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Highwaymen

Gill's column today  is about an ethics complaint the Southern Poverty Law Center has lodged against Louisiana DAs  pretrial diversion programs. The Advocate reported on the complaint earlier this week.

There are several problems here beginning with the establishment of a de-facto tiered system of justice that allows a relatively convenient way to avoid prosecution for those who can afford to pay for it.  It also allows the DAs to vacuum money out of local courts and public defender's offices who (perhaps unwisely) are dependent on fines for operating funds.

But the most egregious element is the DAs' use of off-duty traffic officers to shake down motorists with what are basically the "fake subpoenas" of traffic tickets.  Gill writes,
Some district attorneys make sure the money keeps rolling in by hiring off-duty cops just to pull drivers over. They even have their own tickets printed up with instructions on how to pay. It makes a lot of sense to do so; that keeps insurance companies out of it.

Those special tickets also include a warning that, if you sign up for diversion and fail to pay, your driver's license will be suspended, which is a lie. Prosecutors have no authority to impose penalties, but then they have no authority to issue subpoenas either and that has not always stopped them.
SPLC's complaint doesn't name Orleans Parish. Of course we have a system that allows a private contractor to profit off of traffic enforcement by deploying robots all over town.  Hey, LaToya campaigned on taking those down.  What's going on with that? 

Nobody actually lives here

It turns out that when all you build is nice things for rich people, then only rich people will be able to use the nice things.
Now, the city is attracting attention from a new sector of the hospitality industry: timeshares, or at least a new version of the half-century-old business model.

A handful of recently restored apartment buildings and hotels that are now listed for sale could likely go this route, according to some hospitality leaders — a shift that’s partly driven by a recent zoning law change that allows timeshares in areas of the Central Business District where they previously faced permitting hurdles.

One property on Elk Place already changed hands — a move that will displace scores of residents at a time when many neighborhoods are feeling squeezed by rising housing costs and the influx of short-term rentals.

“We all had a sense of place and continuity, and ... to purge us for this purpose, for timeshares, just broke any sense of community,” said Peter Scharf, 73, who lived in a one-bedroom apartment at 144 Elk Place for about three years before moving out in April.
Several of the downtown properties this article names were renovated post-Katrina using public money in the form of historic and new market tax credits.  (The "incentives" LaToya is always so proud to talk about being able to offer developers.) The zoning changes that will allow them all to become timesharse had to be approved through city council. 

When your elected persons make these decisions with your money, ostensibly on your behalf, they use facile justifications based in tricke-down "suppy and demand" dogma. The language they use emphasizes putting "property back into commerce" rather than meeting the housing needs of a stressed population.  They are as clueless as they are corrupt. And unless they and their whole outmoded way of thinking are replaced, they are going to keep selling you out until there is nothing left in this city for you and nobody can actually live here.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Can dance contented to the sound of money

Guys, I believe they may have done it.
The Louisiana House has advanced a sales tax measure seen as a compromise and significant movement in a chamber that has struggled on the issue through three special sessions.

The House had been locked in impasse over whether to renew half or two-fifths of an expiring 1-cent sales tax. Under one scenario, the state sales tax rate would go from 5 percent to 4.5 percent on July 1; under the other, the tax rate would go from 5 percent to 4.4 percent.

In a 74-24 vote and after little discussion, the House agreed to advance a bill that would renew nine-twentieths and set the state sales tax rate at 4.45 percent.

And by, it, I mean they have managed to escape this year's labyrinth of sessions without having achieved anything of substance.  Now everybody can go home and start the 2019 campaign complaining about the same untenable status quo we came into 2018 with. This suits most of the Republicans just fine which is why this ultimately passed. Not sure how the Governor is going to make out.  But, the field is clear for anybody who wants to challenge. That may change now that the script is a little more obvious.

The money pumps are broken

What this says, in so many words, is that S&WB's billing system was working at one hundred percent of like forty percent of actual capacity. 
The billing system "was not sufficiently tested prior to implementation," the letter states, "and does not fully interface with the (current finance accounting system) causing delays and errors in reconciling the billing system to the (utility's) General Ledger on a daily and monthly basis."
Except for some people it ended up billing at like 200% capacity which was also a problem. Anyway they're asking to have their audit delayed. At least until the back end of hurricane season.

70 votes is an absurd threshold

It isn't the sole reason for the "extreme deadlock" but a 2/3 majority is a ridiculous hurdle just to pass a bill.
Morrell and Alario's resolution might have an advantage over tax bills that have stalled in the House. The senators think it only takes a majority of lawmakers -- at most 53 members of the House -- to approve. Tax bills need two-thirds majorities, which come to 70 votes in the House. But it's unclear whether the House will agree with the Senate that the vote threshold is lower for this measure.
Alario and Morrell think they might have a workaround for that.  See the rest of that article for that.  Anything they can think of is worth a try.

But the problem here is systemic. The 2/3 rule is a deliberately anti-democratic impediment to progress. The fact that it is a primary obstacle to averting the fiscal crisis in Louisiana is no accident.  Even the House has demonstrated that votes to raise the necessary revenue exist if such a measure required a simple majority. But the 2/3 rule allows a minority of Republican hardliners to obstruct those efforts.

It's also important to note the anti-democracy reflex in American politics is deeply rooted in the tradition of elite white supremacy. We've talked about James Buchanan a few times this year. He plays a pivotal role in maintaining that tradition.
Over time, Buchanan and his allies tacitly admitted that they had no popular constituency; that the voting public — even those who had supported Reagan and cheered the congressional “Contract with America” — hesitated “when they learned that freed markets would leave them with sole responsibility for their fates.” The solution, first floated in the early debates over Social Security privatization and starkly evident in tortuous repeal of the Affordable Care Act, is to “crab-walk” around the issues, to claim that frontal assaults on popular social insurance programs are efforts to “shore them up” rather than destroy them.

The second, and more chilling, solution is to junk the rules entirely; to tilt an already unlevel playing field decisively and irrevocably against the popular will.

The American political system is already strewn with veto points and eagerly attentive to the demands and resources of the wealthy. But, for the Right, holding sway in “the least responsive of all the leading democracies to what the people want and need” is not enough; the goal is to make it “all but impossible for government to respond to the will of the majority unless the very wealthiest Americans agree full with every measure.” Calhoun would be proud.
Buchanan and his associates advised the framers of Pinochet's Chilean junta to design a “constitution of locks and bolts,” that required super-majorities for any action undertaken by a representative body.  Presently the Louisiana House finds itself bound by similar restraints.  If Alario and Morrell can figure a way to pick the lock, they ought to try to do that.

Fake radio show

Kind of hovering around a once a month schedule as of late. About as frequent as legislative sessions, I guess.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Okay but did Irvin make it back yet?

All this says is that Irvin Mayfield is going to face additional charges now that he is back from Soweto.  He did come back, right?

In a related matter, the American Library Association is holding its annual conference in New Orleans this weekend. What do those people do, exactly?

Object permanence

So by now I believe even CNN is starting to get a handle on the fact the executive order Trump signed yesterday doesn't have anything to do with "caving" on child detentions but is instead another move toward establishing a legal right to detain everybody indefinitely.

 Anyway here is a look at what comes next.
What happens if the government fights it up to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court says that detaining kids is totally fine?

They might well decide that detaining kids is fine! It’s hard to say. I mean, the Supreme Court did issue a decision this March basically stating that immigrants in long-term detention have no constitutional right to a bail hearing because—get this—they are not legal “persons” and are not, as a matter of law, “present in” the United States. I mean, they’re physically here, but they’re not legally here, you know? “Why do we allow people to become judges who are apparently too stupid to grasp the concept of object permanence,” you may be thinking, and you are correct. Any court that would accept reasoning that morally callous and comically divorced from reality is really capable of anything.

If the Supreme Court gives the green light, the government could keep moms and kids interned together in longer-term detention facilities. This will have a number of consequences. One is trauma to children: being ripped away from your parent is horrific, but being trapped in a jail or a camp surrounded by armed guards is also horrific.

They might get the 4.5

Signs they might be ready to put this year's fight to bed.
House Republican leaders are pushing the 4.4 percent sales tax rate in House Bill 10 by Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge. House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, is a co-authoring this legislation.

Davis did promise Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee that if her bill came back changed -- or with a higher tax rate -- that she would allow it to come up for a vote. That means if Edwards and the Democrats can get the support for a 4.5 percent sales tax, Davis might not stop her bill from being changed.

House Democrats, particularly the Black Caucus, have said they aren't willing to vote for less than 4.5 percent or cut some government services.
Maybe they still won't find the votes for it. But there's an argument to be made that Republicans have thrown enough fits this year to score all the political points they need to go into next year's elections.  They've also managed to stave off more meaningful and lasting reforms. They've managed to protect the bulk of the corporate privileges bleeding the rest of us dry.

Also of note, Cameron Henry has attached his proposed budget re-vamp to the Davis bill.
It’s co-authored by Speaker Taylor Barras, and the amount of revenue it generates served as Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry’s number for the amounts he plugged into his supplemental spending bill, HB 1, on Wednesday evening.

“This removes the priority list in the original budget bill, and appropriates the money from the Davis bill,” Henry told his committee. “I picked the Davis bill, because we needed something to get the conversation going, We need to move along and get something over to the Senate.”
Even if the Senate revises it to a 4.5% sales tax that barely funds state government as it is. It also preserves what most Democrats consider an intolerable burden on the poor and it effectively "denies the Governor a win" by ensuring a continuance of the argument we've been having for the past few years.  It might be time for Republicans to declare the mission accomplished and allow this thing to end. They've done enough damage.

Update:  Wait a minute. Somebody might have found them some free money
WASHINGTON (AP) — States will be able to force shoppers to pay sales tax when they make online purchases under a Supreme Court decision Thursday that will leave shoppers with lighter wallets but is a big win for states.

More than 40 states had asked the high court to overrule two, decades-old Supreme Court decisions that they said cost them billions of dollars in lost revenue annually. The decisions made it more difficult for states to collect sales tax on certain online purchases.
This just happened so I'm not sure how much revenue this produces. A law passed earlier in the year provides for Louisiana to take advantage of the ruling immediately. Although how immediately is also in question.

Upperdate: Here is a full clarification as to what today's SCOTUS ruling means for Louisiana's fiscal crisis. In short, not much. 
The Supreme Court ruling doesn't actually allow any state to start collecting more internet sales taxes. The court has decided to send the case, which involves a South Dakota sales tax law, back to a lower court for another trial. It could be years before the ruling has any effect on state revenue.

"It's not going to result in immediate income to the state," said Rep. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe.

Even if the Supreme Court ruling could take effect immediately, Louisiana isn't ready for it. States that want to collect more internet sales taxes must have a streamlined system and central collection point, according to the ruling.

Louisiana has none of these things.

"Louisiana is probably the farthest from being in compliance," Drenkard said in an interview. 
So much for that, then.  Of course, Cameron Henry's Facebook page hasn't weighed in from alternate reality yet, so we'll see. 

Meanwhile, the House rejected Davis's bill at 4.5% this evening so, so much for that as well.  They still haven't moved any revenue bills.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Constitution can kicked again

One thing that seemed like a possibility going into the latest special session was a deal to pass the 4.5% sales tax in exchange for getting the ball rolling on a constitutional convention. We've already talked about why that would be a bad idea if you would like to review that. In any case we don't have to worry about it now because  it doesn't look like that's going to be the deal.
On separate 3-3 votes Wednesday, the House & Governmental Affairs committee, rejected two resolutions that would have organized a study commission to consider the feasibility and possible issues surrounding the possibility of changing the state constitution to better address the state’s ongoing fiscal problems.

Democratic New Orleans Rep. Neil Abramson said 13 mid-year corrections and a string of special sessions, including this one, to address ongoing budget problems underlined the need for fundamental changes in the way state government collects and spends taxpayer dollars. The most efficient way of accomplishing that goal would be to change the financial structure in the constitution that, among other things, locks away money for specific programs.
Don't worry. Neil will be back with more of the same ideas next year. But first he's sponsoring the least helpful of all the sales tax bills that came out of his committee today.
Bills now advancing to the floor, where they will need 70 House votes, a two-thirds majority of the chamber:

House Bill 10, sponsored by Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, would extend .4 percent of a one-cent sales tax set to expire June 30 and suspend some sales tax breaks.

House Bill 9, sponsored by Abramson, to extend .33 percent of the expiring sales tax and also suspend some sales tax breaks.

House Bill 4, sponsored by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, to extend half of the expiring sales tax for the start of the next budget cycle but automatically drops to .2 percent over time. It does not address the sales tax breaks, commonly called "cleaning pennies" on existing sales taxes.

None of the bills that advanced out of the House Ways & Means Committee exactly matches the half-cent and "clean penny" proposal backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and narrowly defeated in the last special session.
Bishop's bill would get most of the trick done, if you consider the trick just getting us out of this mess and into another one in a year or so unless some dramatic tax reform package gets done between now and then but I think the time is well passed for that kind of optimism.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Actually, transit should probably be transit, primarily

I'm as excited as the next guy for New Orleans-to-Baton Rouge passenger rail and all.  But I'm not exactly holding my breath for this.
Planners in charge of the long-discussed Baton Rouge-New Orleans passenger rail service will unveil conceptual designs for the two rail stations in the Capital City Tuesday evening at a public meeting designed to gain input and provide and update on the project.

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority and HNTB, the consulting firm hired to explore the rail service project, will host the meeting at 6 p.m. in the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church at 185 Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive. The organizations in recent months have conducted technical analysis, met with political and community leaders in the proposed areas and designed the preliminary concepts for two “state-of-the-art, multi-modal” rail stations.
"Conceptual," is the operative term in that first paragraph.  Rest assured we're not anywhere close to getting anything built yet. Not with this state fiscal climate or the current federal political nightmare serving as context.  You aren't going to get any infrastructure built without first raising a ton of money from people who can't afford to pay and second handing that money over to one or several corrupt "private partners."

So it's probably a good thing that this thing isn't especially close to being a shovel-ready project at the moment. Otherwise we wouldn't be designing transit for people so much as building some developer's "economic development engine."
Jones said the rail stations could also include retail, residential or office developments, as well as sponsorships, to make them into economic development engines.

"The most successful projects of this type around the country are not transit centers in and of themselves but are part of a more attractive development that includes a lot of commercial and pedestrian activity," Jones said.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Best of intentions

She's always talking about "being intentional." What does that even mean?



I'm especially curious what it might mean to be "intentional about the bonds with the children" since she tweeted this at the same time that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were at the Convention Center endorsing the Trump Administration's policy of intentionally separating children from their families and putting them into cages.
Speaking at the opening session of the National Sheriff's Association annual conference, Sessions suggested that people entering the country illegally are endangering children in order to avoid prosecution.

“We cannot and will not encourage people to bring their children, or other children, to the country unlawfully by giving them immunity in the process,” Sessions said.

The attorney general also said that if the country builds a border wall and passes legislation to close some "loopholes," then "we won't face these terrible choices."

The sheriff’s association gave Sessions a lifetime achievement award before his speech, garnering a standing ovation from the crowd at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Meanwhile, outside, "at least 5 people were detained" as a group of protesters confronted sheriff's deputies who may or may not have been 1) on duty or 2) within their own jurisdiction.
At least five people were detained outside the convention hall Monday morning. Deputies from the St. Charles Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff’s offices, who were in attendance at the conference, were seen physically restraining protesters.
Some of the protesters were spotted getting intentionally kneed in the back.  Others were intentionally run over by a truck.  I don't know if anyone has asked the mayor for comment yet. But, in light of her concerns about "the bonds with the children in our community," somebody probably should.

Specifically, they should ask her whether or not her office's attitude toward immigration policy differs at all from Mitch Landrieu's. Recall that just six months ago Sessions met with Mitch and Police Chief Michael Harrison to discuss city's practice of sharing information with federal enforcement entities such as ICE.  Sessions came away from that meeting pleased with what he had learned.
"We are pleased that the attorney general and Senator Kennedy have come around to agreeing with the point we have made all along -- New Orleans is not a 'sanctuary city' and the NOPD's policies have maintained consistent compliance ..." Landrieu said in a statement.

Asked for comment after the meeting, Sessions' office issued a statement saying New Orleans "has committed to sharing information with federal law enforcement authorities ..."
Over the course of the last few years, we also learned that Mitch and Harrison used tools like Palantir, private security firms like Trident Response Group,  and a network of surveillance cameras wired in to a 24 hour monitoring center to collect and analyze data which, again, according to Jeff Sessions, they were obviously willing to share with federal enforcement agencies.

Recently, our new mayor along with members of the city council announced a major expansion of that surveillance apparatus involving a highly questionable partnership with yet another unaccountalbe private contractor.  They were very intentional about it.
“Any assistance I can provide from this position I am in, y’all can count me in,” said Banks, who began his first term on the council earlier this month.

(Jason) Williams, who is in his second term, added, “It’s not whether we can afford to do it. It’s that we can’t afford not do it.

A focal point of the partnership’s $1 million first phase involves plans by Bryan Lagarde’s ProjectNOLA group to install more than 300 street-facing surveillance cameras on places of worship and congregation members’ homes in neighborhoods such as the 7th Ward, Gert Town and Central City, all of which are plagued by drugs and violence.
Today, Willliams co-signed a largely symbolic City Council resolution condemning Sessions's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
"I will continue to publicly condemn the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' enforcement of their new immigration policy to separate families," said Council President Jason Williams. "Forcibly separating children from parents as a matter of course is inhumane and unnecessary, and as an African American and a descendant of American slaves, this policy is evocative of some of darkest days in this countries young history. This policy is truly self-inflicted wound, and like many we have seen from the current administration, is antithetical to American values and basic humanity."
That sounds pretty good.  But if he's making these statements at the same time he is supporting a dangerous surveillance network that feeds the very beast he's performatively railing against, what do those words really mean?   What does it mean to be "intentional" about protecting families when those intentions don't match up with your actual policy decisions?

So who gets to keep the money?

Joe Jaeger says his new hotel will actually belong to the people of Louisiana.
But despite its potential significance, the long-discussed project is likely to come at a high cost to the Convention Center and other local agencies, at least if the development team — which includes local businessmen Darryl Berger and Joe Jaeger, as well as Matthews Southwest Hospitality, a Texas-based real estate firm, and Preston Hollow Capital, a Texas-based finance company — gets its way.

Jaeger, the biggest hotel owner in New Orleans, defended his group's proposal, describing the new hotel as "a difficult project" that will ultimately end up back in public hands.

"In reality, this is a Convention Center hotel that will ultimately be owned by the Convention Center,” he said.
And who could argue?  We are going to be paying for it, after all.
To help cover the hotel’s cost, the developers are seeking $41 million in cash from the Convention Center, as well as a complete rebate of a 10 percent hotel occupancy tax and a 4 percent sales tax on all hotel revenue from sources other than room rentals until the hotel's $516.5 million bond debt is repaid — roughly 40 years.

In the first year, the hotel is projected to generate almost $57 million in revenue from rooms — making that rebate worth about $5.7 million, according to financial documents that were included in the developers' proposal.
This is the controversial hotel/motel tax revenue we've been hearing about for years. New Orleanians have long argued that the public revenue generated through the so-called "economic engine" that drives the city should address the city's dire infrastructure needs, or the worsening housing crisis, or anything that might meet the needs of the  the workers who make that revenue possible in the first place. Instead the bulk of the money goes right back into subsidies and support systems for profiteers like Berger and Jaeger.
The BGR study estimated that the hotel taxes generated $165.9 million in 2015. After accounting for all the pass-throughs and levels of distributions, the watchdog group estimated that about $126.8 million -- 76 percent -- went to tourism-related entities. The remaining 24 percent went to public services such as city government, transportation and education.

No other major American destination city devotes a smaller share of its hotel taxes to local government than New Orleans, according to a recent study by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. On average, the 17 cities in the study dedicated 65 percent of hotel taxes to basic services. New York dedicates 100 percent to its city government.
There's really no reason Jaeger would need $500 million in free money to finance a project like this. 

But, hey, there is some good news. 
After the project's debt is paid off, decades from now, the board that governs the Morial Convention Center could take control of the hotel, or it could lease or sell it and retain the full proceeds.
Because we're putting all these millions of public dollars into building this privately managed hotel is that, after 40 years or so, we "could" end up owning it.  But, really, why wait?  If we're building the thing with our money now, why not just keep the revenue?  If it's our money in the first place, there's really no need to just hand it over to some oligarch like Jaeger. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Which side are you on?

Kristin Palmer
Four months after she defeated incumbent Nadine Ramsey in a brutal New Orleans City Council District C election that included issues such as short-term rentals, Kristin Gisleson Palmer made a surprising move.

She quietly applied for and received a short-term rental license. Palmer would later withdraw it, realizing that it was extremely likely she would have to vote on short-term rental regulations. That came true last month when it was Palmer's own legislation -- a sweeping ban on whole-house rentals in residential areas -- that is threatening to permanently change the short-term rental game in New Orleans.
 Four months after an election when she and others elected to this council supposedly rode in on a strong anti-STR mandate.  It was an especially critical issue in Palmer's district. She herself made an issue out of Airbnb contributions to her opponent's campaign.  Turning right around and putting her own property up to tourists seems a strange decision.

The T-P story does its best to explain it away, though. We are asked to sympathize with the Gisleson clan and the difficulties with having so much family money tied up in speculative real estate.
Palmer's own brief journey with owning a licensed short-term rental began in Algiers, where she lives and operates a business renovating and selling historic houses. The home for which she obtained an STR permit, a 3,400-square-foot house on Brooklyn Street, had long been a dream of Palmer's to renovate. She finally acquired it for $129,000 in 2016.

To help with the financing, she brought on her brother, Pittsburgh attorney John Gisleson, as a partner. As the renovation took shape, an early potential buyer saw the property as an investment opportunity, Palmer said, and planned to turn the house into a short-term rental. But that didn't feel right to Palmer, who said she turned down the initial offer.

The property sat without any serious offers for about six months. The costs of owning an empty home -- insurance, taxes, utilities -- began to weigh on Palmer, she said. She felt badly that her brother was helping pay those costs without seeing a return on an investment, so in January she began the process of applying for a short-term rental. The license was issued on Feb. 9, but Palmer said she withdrew it two days later upon recognizing the potential for conflict. She had yet to host guests there.
It doesn't say exactly why Palmer didn't "feel right" about the buyer seeing an "investment opportunity" in a property her professional flipping concern was clearly trying to turn a profit on. Besides, her brother needed a return on his investment. That must have felt okay.  But Kristin was elected as an ostensible anti-STR candidate so she's gotta play the role for a little while. At least until all this blows over which will probably happen right around the time her IZD delaying tactic expires. 

In the meantime Kristin hopes she hasn't hurt too many feelings in the landlord community.  She understands what they're going through. It's important for her to say that.
"I started looking within and at my family dynamic and all the things that happened, and I realized that this is a microcosm of what's happening citywide," Palmer said in a recent interview. "I want people to know that I see the benefits, and I can see how they help developers and homeowners and neighborhoods if they're done right."

Uh oh is Irvin coming back?

Looks like that festival Irvin Mayfield left the country to go play is running into some weather related problems or something.
The organisers of the Soweto International Jazz Festival have cancelled the second day activities of the inaugural musical event.

“We regret to announce that due to unforeseen circumstances, today’s planned festival activities and evening concert are cancelled.”

The programme for the second day of the festival was supposed to be themed under the ‘Power of Women’ and include workshops from 10am to 4pm.

The evening concert was scheduled to feature the likes of American R&B singer Deborah Cox, Jamaica’s Kreesha Turner, New Orleans artist Yette Summer, Zamajobe Sithole, Lady Zamar and more.

All media interviews with artists were cancelled.

The festival got off to a slow start on Thursday with performances beginning several hours later than the set times. The event was moved inside the Soweto Theatre venue due to the cold weather.

There festival is supposed to be a four-day event that sees artists of different genres from around the world perform and entertain music lovers across the board.

Saturday and Sunday line-ups include performances from Charlie Wilson, Neville Brothers, Marion Meadows, Third World and Spyro Gyro, Irvin Mayfield, Gordon Chambers, Ernie Smith and Micasa among many others.
I'm trying to find out more about this Soweto International Jazz Festival. I think this is the first one although it is described here as "iconic" which is a little confusing. Most of the press I can lazily google up suggests, at the very least, that it is relatively new.  This article talks about its aspirations
"We want young people to see themselves represented. We want people who can afford to buy a ticket and to support local vendors to generate revenue in Soweto,” said Baynes, adding that there would be significant free tickets and discounted tickets for Soweto residents.

But the festival is aimed at the entire city – the entire planet, in fact. International Night will also feature a multigenre line-up, among them Grammy winners, including Deborah Cox, Third World, Bob James, Spyro Gyra, The Neville Brothers and, in his first performance in South Africa, R&B legend Charlie Wilson.

His first ever performance in South Africa, the legendary @ImCharlieWilson, alongside the dynamic local gospel artist @khayamthethwa will be gracing our stage this year! A tribute to Hugh Masekela and Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday.

"We love jazz, but the economic reality of a purely jazz line-up is limited in scope. We are attempting to duplicate the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Newport Jazz Fest or Montreal Jazz Fest models,” said Baynes.

After attending an event at the Soweto Theatre last year, his plan to host a jazz fest became an imperative. His ultimate goal is “to have Pan-African, American and European music fans descending on Soweto”.
If they're trying to duplicate Jazzfest, they're going to have to be a little bit tougher about the weather.  How bad could the cold have been?  This is sweater weather, right?



Also it is difficult to discern how much of the program was actually cancelled. Some stories say "the second day," was cancelled. Some say last night was. And others suggest the whole thing is off.  According to the festival's Twitter account (33 followers) part of the slate is going to be replaced with a "jam session."

So.. if you happen to be in Soweto this evening, maybe stop by the theater to check in on Irvin. Dress warmly!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Which side are you on?

If the City Council really is going to "war" with Airbnb, as the title of this Clancy DuBos column suggests, a lot will depend on which side the mayor decides to enlist in. At the moment, she's still claiming neutral status.
Through a spokesman, Cantrell told Gambit she supports the study, which began while she was on the council, and she plans to let the council do the legislating. The spokesman added that Cantrell “wants to find the appropriate balance that will serve the residents who rely on the potential income with the needs of their neighbors and neighborhoods.”

Exactly what that “appropriate balance” is could determine whether some New Orleans neighborhoods retain their historic local character — or become overrun with tourists
At this late stage, it's confounding to think that the mayor hasn't made up her mind about this. We're reaching a point where talking about "balance" really just means looking for any excuse to show deference to the real estate vampires while pretending  "show the love" to residents.  But we'll find out soon enough.

In the meantime, keep an eye on your councilpersons for signs of defections.  Even Kristin Palmer who is frequently held up by the anti-STR side as a staunch advocate talks out of both sides of her mouth sometimes.  Here she is in a recent WWL story sneaking in a few lines about "balance" and "blight reduction" as well.

They're going to do whatever they want

Remember that "leverage" some people thought John Bel had going into the special session?  Yeah, well, not everyone agrees that is real.
House Appropriations Committee chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said he wants to reopen the discussion about health care spending and whether sheriffs can absorb a major reduction in the money they're provided to house state prisoners and parole violators.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and Senate leaders are not interested in having that debate again. The governor's official call for the special session released last week restricted discussion of budget changes to technical adjustments, without allowing for a re-vote on the spending plan itself.

There is a disagreement about whether the governor's call restricts the Legislature from voting on a reworked budget though. Because the technical change to the budget bill has been included in the call for the special session, the entire budget bill is open for debate, according to Henry.

"You can't open up a section of a bill. It is all of it or nothing," Henry said. "We confirmed that with the (House) clerk."
I'm not sure if opening the whole budget back up for debate means we lose the one the Governor has already signed (thus sending us back on the path to a shutdown.) It probably doesn't. But it does greatly increase the workload for the new session which would mean there's a much better chance that nothing gets accomplished.  And, like we said earlier in the week, Republicans don't care if anything gets funded at all. So getting nothing accomplished would suit them just fine. 

The prohibitionist reflex

From time to time people try to explain to me what is about neighborhood associations and their aversion to liquor licenses. I don't think I'll ever understand it.
The restaurant needs a conditional-use permit from the city — which includes alcohol sales — in order to open on Magazine Street, so the owners held their required Neighborhood Participation Plan meeting May 21. Addressing some of the neighbors’ concerns, the owners said they were looking into the possibility of valet parking, although services such as Lyft and Uber have reduced parking needs.

Some neighbors were also concerned about permanently adding alcohol sales to the building, in the event that the restaurant does not remain at the location.

“We are very concerned about these unanswered questions and others and reiterate our opposition the concern and our opposition to the liquor license being for the building, and not for your specific business,” nearby neighbor Donald Maginnis wrote in a letter a week after the meeting.
Anyway, they're turning Jim Russell Records into a ramen restaurant. Maybe. 

Budget season is coming

Latoya at the podium
Then Councilmember LaToya Cantrell addresses the District B Community Budget Hearing July 2016


Sorry, I know the legislature still has another special session to do this year so I need to be more specific.  City budget season is coming and we're all very interested to learn about the new mayor's approach to the process. Already she's got a few things to say about how her predecessor went about it.
To provide New Orleans police officers with a pay raise starting in 2018, former Mayor Mitch Landrieu tapped into an initial lease payment to the city from the team redeveloping the former World Trade Center. Over the next two years, the Four Seasons project will remit $20 million to City Hall.

Even with that money, the NOPD faces what current Mayor LaToya Cantrell calls a "structural deficit" of around $3.6 million for the current fiscal year. While the Four Seasons lease payments have gone toward NOPD raises, they aren't enough to cover the overtime officers earn at the higher pay rate.
There isn't enough space here to go through the whole WTC backstory. But for now, just recall that Mitch strong-armed and restarted the bidding process a few times. This resulted in years of delays, litigation, and legislation, before we finally arrived at the current deal with Four Seasons. That  may not, in fact, have been the best deal as its scoring appeared to be inflated by estimates of future property tax revenue based on speculative assumptions about the real estate market.  But, it's the deal Mitch wanted.  And now LaToya isn't happy with the way he's used part of the one-time lease payment* to cover recurring costs in the police department.

This probably won't be the last time we hear her complain about the way Mitch appropriated funds, by the way.  The Landrieu administration has also been criticized for improperly redirecting property tax revenue dedicated to various purposes in order to fill obligations to a state pension fund.  There will be more like this as the Cantrell people dig further into the nuts and bolts of how things work. Wait til they get a look at the Wisner trust, for example. Also, here is a recent FOX 8 interview where LaToya says some things about replacing contractors and architects Mitch had working on S&WB projects she isn't happy with. Also there is a "FEMA bottleneck" to deal with. (There is always a FEMA bottleneck to deal with.)

Anyway, the point is even mayors who have six month transition periods still have a pretty steep learning curve to deal with once they get their hands on the city budget. Right now they're still figuring things out. As the years go on, we'll learn more and more about how the Cantrell people decide bend the rules in exactly the same way Mitch did except in service of slightly different priorities. Sunrise, sunset, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, summer is here and as budget season... um.. heats up, we're curious as to whether or not Cantrell wants to continue Mitch's program of community input meetings such as the one pictured at the top of this post.  If so, we should expect to see a schedule soon.  It isn't a given, though.  These meetings have been criticized in the past as pointless dog and pony shows. There was never any evidence that the public input collected there ever had much effect on the actual budget.  But they were fabulous venues for people to show up and yell at the mayor about whatever was bugging them and I always think we need more of that whatever the circumstances. 

LaToya likes to talk about how important is for her to "listen to my people" so you'd think this sort of thing would be right up her alley. On the other hand, they're also the sort of place one is likely to encounter a "community uptick" from time to time. It's not clear whether she thinks those are good or bad, exactly.  Maybe the answer to that will help determine the fate of the meetings.




*The city was also due a one million dollar payment from Four Seasons recently that it declined to collect for some reason. Maybe that needs to be revisited too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Congratulations, Taysom Hill

Turns out you can be an NFL Hall Of Fame inductee and the backup to Tom Savage all at the same time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

But what about the wax museum?

Good news! The Cantrell Administration is not ready to give up on redeveloping the Six Flags site.  They just need another year maybe.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell wants her shot at finding a developer for the abandoned Six Flags property in New Orleans East, and the Industrial Development Board has agreed to give her a year to try.

The board on Tuesday (June 12) voted to enter into a new agreement with Cantrell's administration after the agreement with former Mayor Mitch Landrieu expired on May 31. The agreement essentially allows the city to control the redevelopment process for the 227-acre amusement park that was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina.
Only one disgruntled former bidder shows up near the end of the article this time. (There's at least one in every new episode of this. It's kind of a running trope.) But it doesn't give us an update on Tonya Pope's Edwin Edwards funded wax museum.  I'd like to read more about that.  Will it exist before a plan for the Six Flags site does?

# City Of Oh Hell Yes

This is how you know it's been a good day in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS - A cement truck got stuck in a sinkhole in the French Quarter Tuesday morning. Crews were apparently working on the sinkhole when the truck fell in on Burgundy near Ursuline.

Countdown to... ?

We were counting down to a state government shutdown.  We probably aren't doing that anymore. Even though the legislature failed to fund it, John Bel did decide to sign a budget passed in the most recent session. This means, I think, that the shutdown scenario has.. probably.. been averted.  It looks like the state will have a budget no matter what happens next.  The upcoming Ultimate Special Session will determine how much, if any money gets put back into it.

A lot of attention has been paid to the possibility (should the legislature fail to come up with any new revenue) that Louisiana could become the first state in the union to completely shut down its food stamp program. This would be an astounding turn of events for too many reasons to go into but consider at the very least that it is currently hurricane season.
Without the regular food stamp program, Louisiana also won't qualify for the disaster supplemental assistance program, which provides funding for groceries to people who are recovering from hurricanes, flooding and other disasters.
So something has to be done.  Or does it?  Tim Morris says here that signing the budget gives the Governor an advantage he hasn't had previously.  
For starters, the governor chose to sign the budget lawmakers approved in the second special session, which means the battle over appropriations and who gets what is essentially over. The budget, as rewritten by an Edwards-friendly Senate, guarantees full funding for health care.

That safely walls off a huge pot of money in a state agency that has been routinely assailed by conservative lawmakers as inefficient and bloated. That argument is over for this year.

The Senate also structured the budget bill so that any new money must be added pro rata, meaning proportionally to all areas where a deficit now exists.

That means that lawmakers will not be able to direct the new money to a popular program like TOPS while giving less or nothing to something like food stamps. Everybody gets fully funded or nobody gets fully funded. Some House members are disputing that interpretation, which could end up being the most important fight of the session.
But let's not take even this for granted. If there is any one thing, observers of this year long exercise should have come away with by now it is that this is an exceptionally stubborn Republican caucus. After all, as Gambit (and many others) have pointed out this week, the line in the sand they drew in the last session was over, 17 cents wort of sales tax on any $100 purchase.

More importantly, these Republicans... or at least the key members of their leadership..do not actually care if anybody gets funded at all. Cameron Henry doesn't want to cut Medicaid because he's worried about state finances. He wants to cut Medicaid because he literally doesn't think poor and elderly people should have health care benefits. This needs to be explained more clearly.

The state and local press coverage, for all its very good reporting on the legislative drama, still tends to make outdated assumptions about the political dynamics. I think some writers are starting to catch up but most suffer under the belief that there is a political check on the radicals somewhere in the system. Surely, sooner or later something will shame them into a "compromise."

But no such check exists.  In fact, Henry et al's radical ideology is perfectly aligned with the political and financial infrastructure that comprises their power base. Or, at least, it had better be.
Among other things, (State Senator Danny) Martiny asserted that Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax political action committee financed by the mega-billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, had allegedly threatened to spend $100,000 to oppose any Republican legislator who refused to vote in lockstep with the organization’s political agenda.

“Americans for Prosperity pretty much laid down the gauntlet saying that if you don’t vote the way we like, we’re going to be spending $100,000 against you,” he claimed, “And I’m all for Americans for Prosperity, but they shouldn’t be calling the shots. We need to be voting based on the needs of our constituents, not based on the political needs of Americans for Prosperity.”
But AFP, and the big corporate donors they represent, are the constituents. Here is another Bayou Brief report published in March that takes a look at how Cameron Henry's very healthy machine works. The article concerns itself with how Henry spends the money his PAC raises. But the real big takeaway from all of that is look at all the money he is rolling in by virtue of basically being a monster in politics and the patronage that money can buy for him.  That doesn't come from "voting based on the needs" of people in danger of losing food stamps.  It comes from protecting the privileges of his actual constituents regardless of the cost to anyone else.

Henry, and the Republican caucus he leads and funds, have no real reason to care if anything in the state budget is funded as long as it means their backers don't have to pay for it. And when you don't actually care if anything is funded, then "everybody gets funded or nobody gets funded," probably isn't going to give the Governor much leverage after all. No matter what happens, we can rest assured, they're going to find a way to blame him anyway.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The day she truly became mayor

There is something about being the Mayor of New Orleans that renders your endorsement a near guaranteed kiss of death for whichever office seeker comes upon the misfortune of acquiring it.
LaToya Cantrell’s first attempt as mayor to influence a local election failed recently, but it may be too soon to judge the true length of her coattails.

That’s because she endorsed, not in a municipal race, but in the race for King Zulu 2019. And her candidate, George V. Rainey, lost by an apparently close margin to Naaman Stewart, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club’s president.
So that's normal, anyway.  One thing this article doesn't point out that may be worth noting is Stewart was a heavy donor to LaToya's opponent in last year's election.  Granted a somewhat less prestigious post was up for grabs there but there's still clearly an element of payback at work in all this.

Also, the number of players who got involved in this and the way they aligned themselves is interesting.
Rainey also was backed by state Sen. Troy Carter and Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice, both Zulu members, according to the mailer. Clerk of 2nd City Court Darren Lombard and Constable of 2nd City Court Edwin Shorty also endorsed him, as did City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

Meanwhile, Stewart received the backing of 11 former Zulu kings, former Mayor Marc Morial and three former Zulu board members, according to a separate mailer.
As for me, I'm still a little mad LaToya didn't throw me a shoe when she rode in Muses this year.  At least I don't have to go through her to get a coconut now. 

They don't want you to vote

There is no rationalization or pretense to this that passes any kind of smell test.  The simple fact is they don't want people to vote anymore. That's all any of these "reforms" are about.  Also, what a time to be alive when these people own the courts.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday upheld Ohio’s aggressive efforts to purge its voting rolls.

The court ruled that a state may kick people off the rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state election officials. The vote was 5 to 4, with the more conservative justices in the majority.
Imagine you live in a place like Louisiana where *some say* that we have "too many elections" (I would dispute that but it's not important right now.) And say you just couldn't bring yourself to get too involved in the last three heated contests for Clerk Of Court between another random Landrieu and whoever the latest creature they've grown in a jar over at Adams and Reese. Well, too bad, you have forfeited the right privilege to vote. 

Ok it's not quite that bad in our state yet. But Cameron Henry has been kind of busy this year crashing the budget. Give him time to get back around to this part of the agenda. 

Anyway, if you haven't come across Nancy MacLean's book about James Buchanan yet, I think this would be a good time to pick it up. It's apparently struck a nerve since she's been making the rounds again lately answering criticism.  Here she is on a recent Dig podcast talking about all of that.  But that's not why I'm bringing up the book here.

I have an economics degree from LSU. The reason for this is I am a glutton for self abuse. The other reason for this is because I accumulated a requisite number of credit hours listening to professors drone on about the virtues of Buchanan's "Virginia School" of Public Choice Theory. It was so central to the econ program at our state's flagship university that it is impossible for a non-libertarian person to come through it without a keen and permanent sense of impending doom.  So, you know, that explains me a little bit.

So it was a little bit surprising to me when I read MacClean's book to see that  this demon who haunted my undergrad years was an obscure figure to her.  Maybe he is unfamiliar to you as well. In which case, you really should read her book. Or at least take a look through the reviews.
Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called public choice theory. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like, and a strategy for implementing it.
They don't want you to vote. It's not good for their "freedom."

Friday, June 08, 2018

Yellow cinderblock

Circa 2009

Tee-Eva's Creole Soul Food

RIP Tee Eva
When she came home to New Orleans, Mrs. Perry became a walking vendor of pies and pralines. She was a frequent, and quite welcome, visitor at City Hall, where staff would chase her down to buy her sweets.

"I'm very proud to walk the streets with my basket. I strut when I walk the streets with my basket," Mrs. Perry said in 1992, "because I'm part of a long tradition of black women who made a living and kept their independence selling pralines this way.

Mrs. Perry parlayed that business into a full restaurant on Freret Street. She quickly relocated, after her shop was vandalized, to a bright yellow cinderblock building on Magazine Street near Napoleon Avenue that became a landmark of Uptown. From the walk-up window, she sold not only baked goods, but also jambalaya, red beans and snowballs. The shop moved up Magazine Street in 2009 to the corner of Dufossat Street.
That building has been a bunch of different things since she moved out. It's been at least two different middle eastern places. I think now it's sushi... if that's still open, even. I'll have to walk by and check when I get chance.  Everything closes so quickly now

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Spirit of Charity

Who will win the Charity redevelopment derby? We are down to three contestants already
LSU has selected three development teams it says are qualified to bid for the right to redevelop Charity Hospital, the downtown New Orleans facility that was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina.

The three selections were made after a process announced in April that opened up what's long been seen as a prime redevelopment opportunity to competitive bidders. LSU officials said last month that they would select developers that "have the vision, experience and financial capability" to complete a project.
Let's see who is in here. Well there's Pres Kabacoff which is not going to surprise anybody. There's also this guy who is sort of the Kabacoff of Dallas but with a larger, international portfolio. But this group is the true curiosity.
1452 Tulane Partners: This is an ownership group that includes New Orleans-based CCNO Development LLC and El Ad US Holdings, part of the Tshuva Group, a commercial real estate conglomerate based in Israel. El Ad's holdings are in Israel, Europe, Asia and North America. They include the Plaza Hotel in New York, and more than 10,000 rental units in 10 U.S. states. CCNO projects include the adaptive reuse of the former McDonogh 16 school building and a few multi-unit residential developments. Joseph Stebbins, a former Housing Authority of New Orleans official, architect Michael Lee Mattax and contractor Richard Mithun are the principals in CCNO.
Hey, it's a good thing the City Council made sure to reject the BDS movement, right?  Otherwise these guys would be out of the running for this big pot of money and that's the real injustice, right?

We're not yet to the stage of this where we get to see the actual proposals but if we're wondering what they will look like, all we have to do is check out what these same developers proposed the last time this was tried
Previous competitive bids outlined a vision for Charity Hospital in 2015 that included a bid from New Orleans developer Joseph Stebbin that proposed a 600-unit apartment building, an extended-stay motel and housing for medical students. The company formed to bid on the property offered $30 million for the 1 million-square-foot building; overall development costs at the time were pegged at $275 million.

Also bidding on the property was New Orleans-based HRI Properties, which proposed a $194 million renovation that included apartments and a medical research tower.
So, basically, they're going to do fancy apartments glommed on to whatever window dressing best flatters the public fashion and/or nostalgia.  Here is Andy Kopplin back in April illustrating that with some empty slogan salad.  I highlighted my favs.
"After more than a dozen long years, this effort to adaptively repurpose the iconic Charity Hospital building presents an exciting opportunity to bring back a place that is sacred to many New Orleanians," Kopplin said in a statement. "Even more exciting to us here at the Foundation is the potential for using this initiative to kick-start long-standing efforts to develop the neighborhood surrounding Charity into a vibrant, job creating, inclusive and equitable innovation district that celebrates the spirit of charity and that everyone in our region can claim with pride."
In recent years, the marketing strategy for these kinds of developers has also picked up the phrase "affordable housing" because they've learned that is something people worry about.  The Advocate quotes Stebbins hitting that note in this story.
“It’ll be a modern, vertically integrated development no matter who does it. You’re going to have residential pieces, and you’re going to have an affordable (housing) piece,”
Although, as we've seen, the developments themselves rarely contribute much in the way of actually addressing the housing crisis. Token set asides (the "affordable piece") are in there to mollify the growing public concern on the one hand and to qualify for various public subisdies and land use exemptions on the other.  The more juice housing gains as a political issue, the better our politicians and developers who fund them are learning to rebrand their schemes in ways that co-opt the language of activism without actually changing the course of public policy.

In a particualry strange episode of this kabuki last week, John Bel vetoed a bill that would have banned  local "inclusionary zoning" requirements.  That's fine. That bill, like most state-level attempts at preempting local political authority, should have been vetoed.   The Governor's  veto statement, though, was almost as nonsensical as the bill itself saying, basically, that local governments will have to use it or lose it. 
“If local governments in Louisiana do not actively pursue these policies over the course of the next year, I will conclude that it is not their will to utilize these strategies and I will be inclined to sign a similar piece of legislation in the 2019 regular session,” Edwards stated in his veto.
If cities aren't implementing this policy in the first place, why ban it?  I don't know.

Anyway, from the looks of things, our new mayor is something of a branding enthusiast herself.  And, as such, she is as on board as anyone with applying the new language of faux affordability and "vibrant, job creating, inclusive and equitable innovation" or whatever toward the same old program of  handing out money and favors... oh I'm sorry..  "incentives" to the real estate mavens who elected her.
Mason Harrison, a spokesman for Cantrell, said stimulating development activity and business growth are priorities of the new mayor.

"A great deal of opportunity exists in returning vacant buildings to commerce, generating tax revenue," he said. "Businesses, however, must be offered the kinds of incentives that will make that possible, and the mayor-elect believes that we are losing to other parishes on that front."

Luckily, she has friends in Baton Rouge willing to help.  Cantrell has chosen State Rep Neil Abramson to serve as her point person in the legislature.  Last week, he introduced her (and New Orleans Saints mascot Gumbo) to the House so she could greet members with a brief speech about how much fun she had at D.C. Mardi Gras and congratulate them on the fine work they've done this year.  (This is really what she told them. I am not making that up.)

In addition to this service, Neil (on the days the House was not considering anything involving abortion) also managed to pass some legislation on the city's behalf.

For example here is HB 684 passed during the regular session.  What this does, basically, is remove a cap on the size of the tax break the city can give private entities who have entered into cooperative endeavor agreements with them. Previously, if a "private partner" were to donate "cash, equipment, goods, or services" to a city infrastructure project, then they could collect a tax break equal to one half the value of the donation or $500,000 whichever is less.

Say, for example, the management company running the St. Roch Market were to install a new sidewalk or something.  They could then recoup half of their investment in tax subsidies. Now, under Neil's version of the law, the "incentive" payment has no limit. So, in theory, a thousand dollar "donation" could merit a million dollar "incentive."

You go out and buy some new signage.. ooh.. or maybe some cameras...  and the city can more or less guarantee you're going to come out ahead.  That ought to get the ol' spirit of charity up and running. Especially if it applies to whatever deal governs the Charity development which I think it probably will.  But you can see the possibilities extend well beyond that too. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dark smoke success fail

In only the latest of a long line of self-authoring punch lines to come out of our fine city, the Sewerage and Water Board issued a public notice yesterday assuring us that the plume of dark smoke is normal.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -  Residents may see dark smoke rising from The Sewerage and Water Board's Carrolton Power Plant Thursday.

The smoke is part of a test for the board's recently-repaired power turbine.

Turbine #5 is one of the main turbines that runs the city's drainage pumps.
The result of the test is even more confusing than that. It says here that the test failed.  But it also says that means the turbine works.
A newly repaired turbine at the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board's Carrollton Plant failed a test run using diesel on Thursday, though it is still "fully functional" when using natural gas as its fuel, the utility announced Thursday.

The Thursday test was aimed at seeing whether the repairs would allow Turbine 5 to be switched to diesel in case its main natural gas fuel supply was interrupted during a storm. But officials concluded that "additional repairs are needed" before it'll be able to switch to that backup fuel supply, according to a news release.

After the diesel test, the turbine was tested with natural gas and "continued to show strong performance," according to the release.
Okay, well, good. Congrats on your auspicious, dark smokey failure.  They're still working on the six year money pit that is Turbine 4, by the way. 
Officials had hoped that Turbine 4 would be brought back online by the start of hurricane season on Friday. The current schedule calls for it to be fully tested later in June, though the S&WB may be able to use it if necessary before the tests are complete, Rainey said.
Sure, give it a whirl if you're feeling lucky.  I wonder what color smoke that will make. 

"Most risk-reduced"

What an odd phrase.
The pumps were formally declared complete by the Corps, which is responsible for building $14.5 billion in flood protection upgrades in the metro area.

They've now been turned over to the Flood Protection Authority, which is responsible for the rest of the system of floodwalls, levees and gates that surround the east banks of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.

That system is designed to handle storms that have a 1 percent chance of occurring each year, though Col. Michael Clancy, the Corps’ commander and district engineer for the New Orleans district, warned that storms could exceed the its capabilities.

“We still live in a high-risk area and it’s a matter of fact that the full fury of Mother Nature can overwhelm our system as great as it is and it’s safe to say we’re the most risk-reduced city, structurally, in the world,” Clancy said. “But we’re still a high-risk city. With the surrounding area, we’re essentially an island in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Also the word "robust" shows up in this article so, you know, trigger warning. Also, I don't know about you guys, but I am gonna ride out the next storm at the pumping station. 
When needed, the pump stations can operate more or less autonomously. When run in what Derek Boese termed “storm mode,” the stations will automatically determine the water levels in the canals and make adjustments to the pumps accordingly.

Crews can also control the pumps using computers from within a safe-house inside the station or manually at the pumps themselves.

All three buildings are designed to withstand the sustained winds of a Category 5 Hurricane and 200 mph gusts of wind.
Anyway, Happy Hurricane Season.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Show em what they've won

All those questions we had last week about what the city was giving up to host the Superbowl, the Lens went out and got some answers.  The answers are, predictably, bad. Also they are incomplete because they still don't have access to the full bid.  Also it will get worse because apparently, according to Beau Tidwell, “We are in the early days of this process,” of giving away public money and resources to this giant corporate monster.

Many many Flints in waitng

This is a national problem as much as it is a Louisiana problem.. but it definitely is a Louisiana problem.
Of the state’s roughly 1,300 drinking water systems, about half operate infrastructure that is more than 50 years old.

Other systems have some of the problems — and they will be on a list eventually — but the 10 are the closest to crisis. The governor’s task force plans to work with these 10 systems before they get to the emergency level that the northeast Louisiana town of St. Joseph’s did in 2016, when dangerous levels of lead and copper required the total replacement of the pipes, filters and equipment at a cost to taxpayers of $9 million.

Eight of the targeted 10 systems are under state administrative orders for not addressing the problems inspectors have found. The state has issued 300 administrative orders to systems over the past three years.

Four of the 10 systems on the list have found traces of lead in single or multiple tests and didn’t properly inform the water customers. But lead findings alone didn’t get the systems on the list.
It's a critical public health challenge that could be met with a massive investment but that isn't likely to come any time soon. The federal policy at the moment is more about privatizing infrastructure than revitalizing it.  Meanwhile at the state level, we're... well.. I think we know.

Tone deaf

New boss goes to old boss in record time. 
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is raising concerns about the City Council's "tone" and "demands" made in a letter to the Sewerage & Water Board shortly after the council took office on May 7.

Cantrell sent the May 24 letter to City Councilman Joe Giarrusso, who issued the original letter after obtaining signatures from all of his fellow council members. In Giarrusso's original 10-page letter, he criticized the embattled agency for "terrible customer service, lack of transparency and poor efforts to engage the public," which he said has led to "severe mistrust."
It's impressive, in a way.  But we shouldn't be too much surprised given what we know about LaToya by now. Giarrusso's response is subtle (gotta watch that tone, you know) but he gets the point across. 
The letter serves as a snapshot of Cantrell's transition from the City Council to the city's highest office, a position that often requires defending the actions of city employees or acting swiftly to correct them. After several city neighborhoods flooded Aug. 5, former Mayor Mitch Landrieu began dismantling the Sewerage & Water Board's executive team, which had relayed misinformation to the public about the state of the city's drainage system.

Giarrusso said he understands the position the mayor is in now. Although she acknowledged in the letter that as a council member she had "the same frustrations over lack of information and transparency," Giarrusso said she now "wants to stand up for her people."

"While all that is understandable, our job is making sure we're getting these reports and that we're asking questions," Giarrusso said. And, he added, "The questions we're asking are questions we're getting from our constituents."
Another way of putting that is, there just isn't a whole lot of there there regarding Cantrell's political motivation.  What does she believe in?  What was her campaign for mayor about? Apart from the proliferation of empty cliches like "spreading the love," I mean.  All politicians are ciphers to some degree, but she seems to have a special capacity for hollowness. That can be a useful talent during campaign season.  But it also can lead to a rudderless and ultimately conservative governing style.

If your campaign has not articulated a cause beyond merely putting one individual into office, then the agenda for executing that office is going to hew closely to the status quo. If your raison d'etre in politics is all about "finding balance, "rather than implementing a program based on well-defined principles, then that is an inherently conservative position.   You're basically just going along to get along. And typically that means getting along with entrenched power.

And this is exactly how you end up with tone deaf actions like trying to hire a public safety official who enabled the Danziger cover-up and then blaming the community for its own "upticked" response. Or the similarly tone deaf empowering of a panel of Confederate sympathizers to decide the fate of Confederate monuments.  Or today where we see this tone deaf and defensive response to the "tone" of the City Council's criticism.

Giarrusso points out that she shared in these criticisms and in their tone right up until only a few months ago. But nothing has changed between that time and now except for the personal circumstances of LaToya Cantrell. In other words, LaToya is concerned only with the who rather than the why of power.  She is the person making the appointments therefore they need to be defended against even the slightest perception of a critical tone. These are "her people" now and she wants to stand up for them. 

When you elect a mayor solely on the strength of her own personal brand instead of any particular belief in anything, then personal loyalty is going to be the beginning and end of that mayor's public policy.  Get ready for four more years of tone deaf tone policing.