Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stacy's hard cap went soft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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