It's the first weekend of parade season. And so now is the time when we perform the ritual of the Carnival Ordinances Reminder Press Conference. This year, we've got an exciting new venue in the NOPD Real Time Crime Center surveillance camera batcave. As you can see, it is a fantastic space for comfortably arranging a dozen or so public officials behind one podium as is in keeping with local tradition.
Tuesday's event featured performances by the heads of NOPD, NOFD, Parks and Parkways, Homeland Security, as well as BOTH MAYORS. Take it away, kids. And I mean, literally, they are taking stuff away.#FBI New Orleans SAC Eric Rommal participates in a #MardiGras press conference with Mayor Landrieu and city officials to discuss safety and security during the upcoming Mardi Gras season. SAC Rommal also encouraged all visitors that if you #SeeSomethingSaySomething. pic.twitter.com/atmjCHDvUO— FBI New Orleans (@FBINewOrleans) January 30, 2018
During a news conference about Mardi Gras safety preparations Tuesday, city officials said ladders already set up before Friday's parades will be removed during sweeps. Crews will begin sweeps Tuesday and continue them into next week.Sure enough, within an hour of the end of today's presser, crews were spotted out on St. Charles ripping down ladders and hauling them away. Probably the highlight of the press conference was Parks and Parkways Director Ann Macdonald delivering the shot heard round the Krewe Of Chad.
Officials said ladders and setups on public green spaces -- like the neutral ground or the sidewalks -- will be disposed of during the sweeps. Items cannot be placed on the parade route more than 24 hours ahead of a parade.
In addition to the sweeps, officials said people will not be able to claim their items if they are removed. City officials said they plan to only dispose of the items that are collected.
“You’re creating a barrier. We have bolt cutters,” she said. “You can’t reserve a piece of public green space. That paint means absolutely nothing.”
We have bolt cutters and we know how to use them. I can't tell you how gratifying that was to hear. If you've followed this blog for any length of time you'll probably be aware that we've been on the Carnival ladder beat for pretty much ever. I contributed some comments for a Gambit story in 2013. The year before that I wrote this article for NOLA Defender. I've watched the problem become worse in little steps each year. But I've also watched the city's response slowly become better and better. This year it looks as though they are finally taking it seriously.
They're also following a smart game plan. Start the season off by making a big show of it. We all know that once the parades start rolling, there isn't going to be time to focus solely on enforcing this stuff. But on the first day, when everyone is paying attention and there aren't a million things happening at once, that's when you go out, find some ladders and make an example of them.
City sanitation and parks crews had commenced "constant sweeps" to remove any ladders placed on public spaces such as neutral grounds more than 24 hours prior to the start of the first parade on Friday, Macdonald said. The sweeps would continue through next week, she continued, and any property taken away would not be returned.If I had to guess, I'd say the sweeps probably aren't as "constant" as they are claiming there. But that's fine, actually. Pretty soon we'll be at a point where we're always 24 hours away from one parade or another anyway. The point was to get on TV early so that people see that this is an issue. Maybe they'll be watching Channel 4 where, for some reason, they've decided to frame the whole story as thought the space-hogging ladder people were the real victims. But it doesn't matter. As long as the message gets across that there are rules in place and the city might actually enforce those rules, I think people might start to police their own behavior a bit better.
"All items will be disposed of," Macdonald said. "We will not be cataloguing any ladders or personal items."
While it's nice to see the city start to do something, it's concerning to see the rationale they provide for stepping in.
The city code appears to allow tents along parade routes, requiring only that "ladders, tents, grills and other personal effects" must be set back 6 feet from the curb.Umm.... no. A tent is not a "homeland security threat." I agree they can be a threat to a good fun shared experience when they needlessly appropriate large chunks of the neutral ground. They impinge on the communal experience of the street festival that Carnival is at its best. And preserving that experience is really where the city officials should be focused. Obviously, they have other priorities this year.
But Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration has decided that tents with walls, as opposed to open-sided canopies, constitute a "barricade" that might "obstruct passage along public property," something that's prohibited.
“This is a homeland security threat,” Landrieu said. “We need to be able to see. There can be tarps, but there can be no tents.”
We've already seen the emphasis on security manifest in the plan to "streamline" the parade route and format. We're also seeing it up on street corners up and down the parade route.
We're told the "Real Time Monitoring Center" where these cameras all feed into is fully staffed now. We're also told FBI will be monitoring your social media feeds. So if you are going out to the parades this week, remember to be on your best behavior and dance like the cops are always watching.
I haven't had a chance to FOIA the tapes yet but if my hangover is any indication, they will show that we went a little too hard for the first Friday night. I should know by now that's way too early to get out the whiskey. This is Miller Lite time only. Not that there wasn't any Miller Lite. The Green Thing was full of those. But I ended up using it to trade with a street vendor for peanuts.
I'm interested in seeing how krewes adjust to the new restrictions on the number of bands and marching clubs that can appear between floats. Oshun's solution appears to have been to just start the parade with nine or ten dance teams in a row. The Dancin' Divas here were one of many.
You never expect Oshun to do anything elaborate anyway. But line of dance troops followed by the several court floats of "Goddesses" kind of made it feel like the parade was taking a while to actually start. Eventually the emotional support peacocks showed up and everything was fine.
Oshun's floats were themed around Louisiana festivals. There are enough of those these days to make a parade that spans the globe. Certainly, the streamlined route would never fit it anyway. So they had to pick just a few. Here's a Seafood Festival.
And a Po-Boy Festival
And, well, you get the idea. There was one float I didn't get a photo of but couldn't figure out. The signage said, "Louis Armstrong Festival" but the figure on the float was definitely Michael Jackson.
I think Cleopatra might be hungover this morning too. If I was taking swigs off the whiskey too early in the season, this krewe was going for the big guns earlier in the year than we are used to seeing them. Here is St. Aug leading the parade.
Maybe this is the new normal now that all of the West Bank parades roll Uptown. Cleopatra is a bigger event than what we've been used to. Bigger floats, bigger throws, just bigger in general. The themeing is still very first weekend. That's okay.
No peacocks in this one. But there were other kinds of birds; roosters and ravens and turkeys.
What was surprising, though, was the appearance of so many marching clubs. Fancy ones too. Elvi, Sirens, Muff-A-Lottas, and others not pictured here.
And, well, yeah. That was Friday. I gotta shake off the.. uh.. shakes and go see Pontchartrain before the ladder people get all the good spots. I trust the real time monitors will let me know when they get here.