Monday, December 31, 2018

Year of the Jaguar

El Jaguar

Nobody knew he could do it.  The enclosure was built according to well established standards. Those standards were "met or exceeded" according to a recent certification.  Everything in the book said he shouldn't have been able to do it. And the book was very thorough.
The Audubon Zoo was last accredited following an inspection last fall, Vernon said, though he declined to release that inspection report. To pass, Vernon said, the zoo must show it meets or exceeds minimum standards. For jaguars, those standards are spelled out in a 128-page manual.

The manual includes specifics on the thickness and width of steel wire barriers where they are used, though it also says that, “If possible, institutions are recommended to completely enclose the top of any jaguar enclosure.”
It is possible, or likely, the zoo officials are overselling us on their preparations.  But let's take them at their word.  Their plan to contain the jaguar was solid. It was certified.  But this jaguar, as is often the case with elite athletes, was just a bit too much to handle.
Pound for pound, jaguars have the strongest bite force of any big cat in the world, as well as “excellent jumping and ambush capability,” according to the manual.

“A major risk to jaguars is the failure to use suitable materials to contain the animals. Jaguars often grasp mesh with their canine teeth, over time damaging or breaking them entirely. … Single-strand wire mesh types like chain link or welded wire can be compromised by animals biting and pulling them apart.”
The cage was made of a woven steel cable that was supposed to handle that rough treatment.  It wasn't good enough on July 14 to handle Valerio, a three year old Jaguar whose name is derived from a Latin root meaning strong, healthy, or worthy.  On that day he was all of those things. Nobody knew he could do what he did. Days later zoo officials were still in awe at what had happened.

We had a lot of ground to cover in this obligatory year in review show. Naturally we covered almost none of it. But we did get some time at the end to talk about the tragic hero of the year... if not the spiritual embodiment of our age.

Valerio's story has it all. It's a little bit about gentrification. It is a little bit about the degradation of nature for profit.  It's a little bit about the way the New Orleans non-profit cabal drains public finances and exacerbates wealth inequality. It's a little bit about the subjugation of the spirit by forces of a scope beyond the capacity of any individual to comprehend or overthrow.

Most compellingly, it is about the surprising power of the will to freedom to defy these forces.  But also it is a cautionary reminder of the tragedy almost certain to result from such defiance.  Our capacity to resist that which oppresses us is limited by our failure to see beyond our individual enclosures and find solidarity with our fellow wretches.  So long as this remains the case Valerio's fate and the fate of his animal comrades is our fate.   Perhaps in 2019, we'll finally teach the jaguar how to find Ron Forman's house.  But we probably won't.  Happy New Year. Anyway, here's Wonderwall.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Post-Christmas grab bag

Have yourself a Valerio little Christmas

It's been a long and exhausting holiday weekend. Here are a few items that may have slipped out of the Santa sack this week.

  • The Sewerage and Water Board 2019 budgets are approved.  I'd like to know more about this item.
    The operating budget calls for the elimination of more than 130 positions, for a total of 1,581 positions, including 210 that are now vacant. But it includes 21 new jobs dealing with customer service issues.

    Korban has said that the positions being cut are ones that were never filled or are not necessary and that the reductions will not impact the utility's frontline operations. The S&WB has consistently struggled to hire the workers it needs to fill all its vacant positions, and staffing shortages have contributed to the problems that led to widespread flooding in August 2017.
    The staffing shortages are a chronic problem and a reason the utility does not function the way it should. But also the 130 unfilled positions are not necessary? Okay.

    Meanwhile millions of dollars worth of "critical" and "urgent" projects are going unfunded.
    Meanwhile, the S&WB has estimated it will need about $3 billion over the next 10 years to meet imminent and future capital needs. 

    Of that amount, 185 projects totaling $582 million were recommended for 2019, significantly higher than the $384 million the agency budgeted in 2018 and far more than it was actually able to spend.

    The board instead expects to fund 34 projects next year at a cost of $167 million, leaving dozens of projects labeled "critical," "urgent" and "necessary" on the table.
    The Advocate story refers here to the ongoing dispute between the mayor, the state, and "tourism leaders" over the prospect of using more tourism-generated revenue to fund infrastructure.  As it turns out, the Washington Post is covering that this week for some reason.
    Much of the money goes to major state-owned tourism draws: the Superdome and its neighboring arena as well as the massive Ernest N. Morial Convention Center beside the Mississippi River. Changing the flow of money would require legislative action. But so far the mayor’s call for a “fair share” for the city has gotten a cool reception from Gov. John Bel Edwards and the president of the state Senate — as well as from one of the top spokesmen for the tourism industry.

    “Over time, the city of New Orleans has not put one dollar into the building of the Superdome, the building of the convention center; has not put one dollar into the operations of the Superdome or the Convention Center; has not put one dollar into the average, every-year renewal and refurbishment that has to take place,” said Steve Perry, one tourism booster.
    "Not one dollar.." other than every single cent raised in New Orleans off the backs of chronically exploited tourism labor, I guess. It's our money.  Give us our money, Steve.

  • Here is a can't-miss Katy Reckdahl article about the post-Katrina destruction of New Orleans's neighborhoods written for The Weather Channel, of all possible outlets. Because, as we are well aware here, gentrification in our city is, at least in part, a climate change story.

  • After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year, Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, saw the early stages of a housing grab and described it as “disaster gentrification.” Similar buyouts and land-flipping happened in New York after Hurricane Sandy and in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. 

    In every city, storm damage and flooding initially displaced people of every ethnicity and income level, though in New Orleans, like elsewhere, communities of color were harder hit because of historically segregated housing patterns that pushed African American households to lower-lying areas. One analysis of black and white households found that black residents were more than twice as likely to live in flooded areas.  

    In New Orleans, the disparities were exacerbated during rebuilding, as higher-income people moved into city cores, displacing lower-income families. Similar “back to the city” dynamics are playing out in every urban area across the country. But in disaster-ravaged cities like New Orleans, they’re playing out at fast-forward speed.

    Watching this process happen on a daily basis for the past 13 years is why I always have headaches now. The animating ethic of our city's recovery has been about attracting investment and "putting properties back into commerce" with little or no regard for consequences. 
    “There’s so much history here,” Bowman said, as he filed through the box. He is feeling worried about his future here on North Galvez. He was blindsided a few years ago when a suburban land investor bought the house from beneath him through a municipal tax sale. At first, Bowman paid rent to stay in his family home. Then, a second buyer appeared earlier this year, giving him a five-day eviction notice. That’s when he consulted a legal-aid lawyer. 

    Bowman is hard on himself about the situation. He scraped the house so that it’s ready for painting and has made some repairs on his own, out of an obligation he feels to his great-grandfather’s work. But he doesn’t want to sink more money into the house until he’s certain it belongs to him. So he’s embarrassed that needed repairs have gone undone. He’s ashamed that he and his family didn’t figure out that no one was paying taxes. And he’s worried sick about what the future could bring.

    His lawyer, Hannah Adams, of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, is concerned that other generational owners like Bowman may also have lost houses, because of new municipal ordinances and policies intended to move Katrina-damaged properties into the hands of new owners. 

    In 2015, Bowman discovered that, in 1997, a city treasury official had adjudicated the property for back taxes of $577.91, sending certified mail notices to his grandmother, Marie Camille, who had been dead for nine years, and to DeDe Pierce, who had been dead for 23 years. There’s no record of whether certified mail notices were sent and no records of any notices being returned undeliverable.
    Had he known, he would have simply paid the taxes, Bowman said.
    A process that worked to push multi-generational New Orleanians out of their family homes has also greatly benefited "investors" who can pick up a properties at auction prices and turn them into cash cows on Airbnb. In January, the City Council will discuss a motion that may limit some of these abuses. Naturally, the investors are whining to the Advocate.  
    My wife Andrea and I have operated a licensed “temporary” short-term rental in our 7th Ward New Orleans home since February of this year. Under New Orleans Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s proposed changes to the STR ordinance, we will lose this much-needed revenue, and likely be forced to sell our home and leave the area. We bought the double lot on Franklin Avenue at a NORA auction in December 2015 with the stipulation that we would build a new house on the previously blighted property within one year of the auction. Neither of us are professional builders, but over the course of the following year, we managed to complete a modest 900 square-foot home, fulfilling our obligations to NORA. Like many working people, we sought creative ways to finance our project, ultimately receiving the assistance of my in-laws, who obtained a mortgage on our behalf.
    It kind of sounds like he's upset that he could lose his STR license because the house isn't technically in his name?  He doesn't say whether or not he and his wife actually live in the "home," though.  The signature on the letter gives his location as Metairie. Anyway, this is only one in a string of confused and/or disingenuous pro-STR letters and op-eds the Advocate has published since basically the day Palmer's motion was publicized.  The "pro" side seems like they were ready to roll.

  • I haven't had a chance to watch this WDSU segment on the Orleans Parish school system yet. Is it any good?  Do they talk at all about the Board's decision to charter out McDonogh 35?  

  • The board heard about two hours’ worth of impassioned commentary before that vote at the evening meeting, mostly from parents and alumni who wanted the school to remain run directly by the OPSB, as nearly all public schools in the city once were.

    As they spoke, protesters with the group Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children cheered them on, sang chants with biblical references and shouted, “Erase the board!”

    “These are the alumni of McDonogh 35, these are the parents, these are the children. This is the community,” resident Walter Goodwin told the board. “We did not elect you to be a rubber stamp. Do not rubber-stamp this. We elected you to represent us.”

    Several audience members began crying and screaming after the vote.
    I watched this meeting on the live stream and, while this Advocate reporter's description is technically accurate, it reads a little cartoonish to me, like she is almost making light of the protest. But "Erase The Board" is likely the beginning of something.   It's something well overdue, of course. Remember all of this was still in front of us in 2016 when the Board was up for election.  Almost nobody ran.

  • Are the 2018 Saints the "most complete" team in the history of the franchise? Probably.  Of course we'll have to wait and see how it all ends but, assuming they manage to at least advance a little in the playoffs,  it's really not going very far at all to ask if this is the greatest Saints team.  

  • The season has had a little bit of everything. It had spin moves. It had dance moves. It had a blowout win against a defending champ. It had a sweep of Atlanta. Drew Brees broke an NFL record. Mark Ingram and Wil Lutz broke team records. Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara set some early career benchmarks that indicate they'll break records of their own one day.

    But the most impressive thing to me has been the way Saints have consistently won tough games against physical opponents at Baltimore, at Minnesota, and at home against Pittsburgh. The key here is the Saints aren't doing any of this with smoke and mirrors. They've gone toe to toe with every heavyweight this year and come out on top.  Anything can happen in the playoffs, but there's nothing we've seen this season to give us any cause not to be confident seeing them matched up with anybody.  That's not often how this goes, even in the better years.

  • Finally, hey look, more things go boom on Monday night.

  • City and tourism leaders have revealed there will be not one, but four fireworks displays launched at different points around New Orleans on Tuesday (Jan. 1) for New Year’s Eve. The shows will start in New Orleans East and follow at City Park and then Uptown before culminating with the traditional downtown display.
    Take the celebration out into the neighborhoods a little bit.  I like this idea.  I don't know how much I understand the timing, though.  
    The fireworks are scheduled for:

    · 8:30 p.m., at Read Boulevard near Interstate 10

    · 9:30 p.m., at City Park’s Big Lake near the New Orleans Museum of Art

    · 10:30 p.m., from barges on the Mississippi River between Napoleon and Jefferson avenues

    · Midnight, downtown from river barges between the French Quarter and Algiers.
    The whole point of the fireworks is to mark the coming of the new year, right?   And the point of having them in far flung locations is to bring them to people who probably aren't going to the Quarter anyway. So there's no reason to believe any of these displays conflicts with the others. Why not just do them all at midnight?

Friday, December 21, 2018

The price of an uptick

Warren Riley is still smarting over missing out on an opportunity to lead the city's public safety operations pull down another six figure salary plus benefits.
Former New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Warren Riley filed a federal lawsuit Friday that accuses Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city of breach of contract for reneging on an agreement to hire him as public safety czar.

In the lawsuit, Riley claims more than $700,000 in damages as a result of quitting a lucrative job in the federal government and preparing to move from Georgia to work for the city where he served a tumultuous four years as police chief beginning a month after Hurricane Katrina.

The suit names Cantrell both individually and as mayor, claiming Riley has been unable to find a job with the same salary and benefits as the $170,000-per-year post he left at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In that job, Riley helped coordinate federal disaster response and recovery efforts.
Go ahead and read the rest of that article for the full re-cap. But the short version is, LaToya was all set to announce Riley's hiring until a last minute "uptick in the community" in her words, persuaded her to back out.  The community was particularly upticked that the new mayor wanted to hire the man who ignored/covered up the Danziger bridge murders buy New Orleans Police officers under his charge in the days after Katrina.  The shooters themselves have eluded justice due to an already bizarre set of circumstances. That their boss would be rewarded now in this fashion only further highlighted the glaring lack of accountability for that crime.  Of course, in LaToya's estimation, the real problem here was the upticked community was still too caught up in their feelings to move forward, or something.

Well now it looks like it's Riley who's having trouble getting over it.  Would it help if we sent him a Christmas card?  Maybe a councilmember can make him a video
New Orleans may be one of the few towns in America that keeps a piano in the City Council chamber — in this most musical of the nation’s towns, that’s how often City Council members invite performances during meetings.

But during the Thursday (Dec. 20) meeting, council members were treated to a whole new genre of music: The Constituent Christmas Carol, created singlehandedly by District E resident Frank Richard with his “District E 12 Days of Christmas.” The song counts down the accomplishments District E Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen has achieved since taking office in May.
Congratulations to Cyndi Nguyen on winning this year's #Hostilidays.  This one is a real banger. 

Well, okay.. it's still better than another Benny Grunch re-run. Nguyen's explanation for it is especially gratifying. 
Nguyen has worked for the past seven months to raise the district’s profile, which includes New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward — two areas where residents often feel like they get the least attention. So Nguyen wanted to continue that work when she came up with the idea for the video after Thanksgiving because it was too expensive to mail Christmas cards to everyone in her district.
What is meant by "worked to raise the district's profile," by the way, is  Cyndi explored the idea of re-branding it "The E" along with "The L9" for the lower ninth ward just to give you a sense of the high-wattage we're dealing with in the Nguyen creative department.  As for the Christmas cards being too expensive, I'm a little surprised she didn't ask Entergy to sponsor them.  I'd hate to think we aren't exploring every option to make things right with Riley.

We love our cameras

Cyndi Nguyen and Kristin Palmer are bringing last year's narrowly scuttled mass surveillance ordinance back to life.
Less than a year after a similar measure was dropped, a proposal from members of the New Orleans City Council could require "nuisance" bars, clubs and liquor stores to install live-streaming video cameras inside and outside their businesses, part of a proposed ordinance that tightens restrictions for businesses that sell alcohol.

The proposed ordinance — which mirrors parts of a scrapped plan from former Mayor Mitch Landrieu — also gives the mayor’s office or New Orleans police superintendent the ability to revoke or suspend an alcohol license, if the city or its Alcoholic Beverage Control Board determines that the business “directly endangers the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
I still don't understand the universal enthusiasm for sticking cameras everywhere. Particularly since it obtains among a set of elected leaders who profess often to care very much about social justice. It's possible they all suffer an acute case of cognitive dissonance. Although Occam's razor, as always, suggests they're just full of shit.

More to the point, they're predisposed to be full of shit on account of the fact that so many of them have a personal interest in or close association with the real estate business. Which is why, for one thing, this ordinance is being carried by Palmer and Nguyen. More importantly it is why its major point of the ordinance isn't just about installing cameras. Rather the cameras are one piece of a plan that is really more about shutting down as many neighborhood bars as possible. 

Bars and music venues also can’t be built within 300 feet of a playground, church, public library or school — unless the owner has a sworn affidavit from 75 percent of property owners within a 300 foot radius.

They’d also be forbidden within “residential or park area,” and would grandfather in existing neighborhood bars, unless there’s a six month lapse in their permits and licenses.

MaCCNO also warned that real estate speculators and developers, including short-term rental operators with multiple listings, which proliferated in recent years, could abuse the complaint process to shut down area bars.

“This is an aggressively pro-gentrification ordinance and presents a clear and present danger to every small grocery, pharmacy, bar and music venue in the city,” MaCCNO said.
This ordinance is slated for committee discussion  on January 31. Between that and the Jan 10 motion on STRs, it's going to be a busy month.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Colossal Brother"

Holy cow
In August 2017, three months before former-Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the opening of the city’s $5 million Real Time Crime Monitoring Center, the city spent $2.8 million to buy a suite of software from Motorola Solutions that includes artificial intelligence and object detection to help law enforcement sift through the thousands of hours of footage recorded every day.

The package includes software called BriefCam, CommandCentral Aware, CommandCentral Analytics, and CommandCentral Predictive.

“My initial reaction is, holy cow, this is not just big brother. This is colossal brother,” said Bruce Hamilton, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana. “When you take a step back, you really get the sense that the surveillance state is rapidly expanding here in New Orleans.”
At several junctures during the evolution of the surveilance "canopy," as city and police officials like to call it, that, despite our supposed hysteria, the cameras were minimally intrusive.  But here we are wondering if we need to be more mindful of our "dwell time" in public.
Still, with the software the city does have, the NOPD could, for example, pull up every piece of footage that includes a man in a red shirt on a blue bike riding north on Esplanade Avenue. Or it could pull up every person with a backpack that appeared on the corner of Broad Street and Orleans Avenue, displaying them all simultaneously on one screen with timestamps over their heads to indicate when they were there.

My question is, what does it mean to say you’re not using facial recognition technology when you’re using something that’s equally powerful?” Hamilton said. “So for instance, the city may not be able to identify me by my face, but if the city knows what I’m is wearing, or what I drive, I mean there’s any number of factors they can use to track you from place to place.”

BriefCam can also produce “heat maps” of dwell time, object interaction, and common paths. In a YouTube video from March, the head the Hartford, Connecticut crime center illustrated how he used the software to track the movement paths of everyone who walked in the frame of one of the city’s cameras to track which homes they were coming in and out of. He claimed that the analytics helped him locate a drug operation.

“How long did that take me to do?” he said in the video. “That took me a minute.”
Everybody loves it, though. 

Send the bill to Gayle

The Mayor's office is (at least it is posturing as though it is) thinking about playing hardball with the Superdome commission.
After arguing for months that New Orleans’ powerful tourism and sports agencies should shift some of their tax revenues to help fund the city's aging and sometimes crumbling infrastructure, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is demanding $3.6 million in rent from the Superdome's governing body for its use of a city-owned portion of Champions Square.

The city and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, also known as the Superdome Commission, have been trying for years to conclude a land-swap agreement that would include the 1400 block of LaSalle Street that runs between the Superdome and Champions Square.

Because of a disagreement over the land’s value, those talks have fizzled. So on Tuesday, Cantrell sent a letter to Superdome Commission Chairman Kyle France that said the city is owed $3.6 million in back rent, plus $488,000 in rent annually.
They probably owe significantly more than that, actually.  Take a few minutes and review the original AZ story about this from a few years ago. 

Anyway, I don't know what will come of it. Probably nothing. But it's been fun these past few months to watch LaToya at least try to hold some of these tourism-focused state entities to account for all the money they suck out of the city every year.

#CityOfYesTR-day's news

The pro-Airbnb lobbying group Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity has "parted ways" with its sometimes-coherent head, Eric Bay.  His replacement seems to have even wackier ideas about stuff.
Meanwhile, the largest pro-short-term rental group, the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, announced the departure on Wednesday of its president, Eric Bay. The organization will now be led by Mary Margaret Keane, a realtor who filed an ethics complaint against Palmer over the summer because Palmer briefly held a short-term rental license that she said she returned without using.
Councilmember supposedly trying to rein in STR abuse had a legal STR license so the pro-STR people are mad at her.. or something.

Oh also in that story, a bunch of people took over the lobby during the council meeting today to speak out against the short term rental effect on affordable housing. Kristin Palmer's proposed motion on the matter has been deferred to January 10.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

They grow up so fast

Everybody got such interesting jobs after graduation.
The ranks of Baton Rouge lobbyists are thick with former lawmakers. Erich Ponti left the Legislature in mid-2015 to head the Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association. Ann Duplessis is now the president for the Louisiana Federation for Children, which advocates for charter schools. Anthony Ligi represents the Jefferson Business Council. Another former House speaker, Chuck Kleckley, advocates on behalf of casinos and makers of body cameras. Mike Michot’s clients range from local governments to grocery stores.
The "revolving door" phenomenon is one of the oldest stories in politics. That doesn't make it any less relevant.  It's just that it's difficult to see what the solution is besides just let's do our best to deny power to corrupt assholes.  And aren't we trying to do that already? One thjng that might help would be to get rid of term limits. At least that way we might keep some of the corrupt assholes out where the voters can see them a bit longer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Holiday recipes

The thing about gumbo is it is not very complicated and actually any idiot can make it. To prove this, we made a video. It took longer than a minute, though.

See also in Yellow Blog posts about gumbo recipes:

The Gumbo Z'herbes that, I guess, could be vegetarian if we wanted to but instead is loaded up with pork is at the bottom of this rambling post from Easter Weekend 2010

The Great Big Turducken Gumbo I made in 2011 appears as the lead in to this rambling post about some Saints games from that season.

Back tracking

Kristin Palmer says in her press release that she is putting off a vote on her short term rentals motion until after the holidays. But this story says the vote has actually been moved due to "mounting criticism."
With criticism mounting from short-term rental advocates, City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said late Monday she plans to delay a preliminary vote on changes to New Orleans' short term rental rules until January.

Palmer, who unveiled a package of changes that would curtail short term rentals through platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway in New Orleans last week, had initially planned to kick off the four-month process needed to put the plan into law with an initial vote on Thursday.

But in a news release late Monday night, Palmer said she would delay that step to provide more time for residents and council members to weigh in on the proposal.
Well I'm relieved to see that the problematic criticism mounted from the other side. I had some quibbles with Palmer's proposal myself last week but I have to say the main element of it tying most STRs in most residential areas to homestead exemption is good and should be passed if not expanded. Now "mounting criticism" has slowed even that long overdue development.

No one is saying much about where and to whom the pressure is being applied although we do have our suspicions. The one-to-one affordable to STR unit requirement for large scale commercial developments might screw up the Motwani Canal Street plan that Jason Williams loves so much. Also some of the key landlord groups pushing against homestead exemption requirements are based in Cyndi Nguyen's district.  And, of course, Mayor Cantrell has a long history of approving STR spot-zones for influential property owners during her time on the council.  None of the above have issued a public statement to the press on Palmer's motion as far as I am aware. So we'll just have to wait and see where they show up on this stuff.  In any case, the deferral on the motion is probably about more than just the holidays. 

Update: You know when a newspaper website substantially rewrites its story a few hours later after publication it really should just make it separate post. It doesn't hurt anything to do that. And there's something at least a little bit dishonest about pretending a thing you already wrote never actually existed. I'm just an idiot blogger and I at least note when I update or edit a post.

Anyway the rewrite of the Advocate story linked above confirms some of my speculation.

Some council offices could raise concerns about that part of the proposal, particularly in light of plans by Sonder — a short-term rental company — to put rental units on vacant upper floors or in blighted properties on Canal Street. Both Councilman Jason Williams and Mayor LaToya Cantrell have supported that plan, and the stricter rules proposed by Palmer could potentially derail those projects

Monday, December 17, 2018

Rearranging the Board chairs on a sinking utility

It says here that a task force appointed by the legislature to come up with options for reforming Sewerage and Water Board is moving away from the idea of privatization.  It says that loudly in the headline so that everybody can relax and not worry about what they're actually suggesting. That would be a mistake, though, since what they are suggesting is not necessarily better.
One option Antrup said the task force may recommend is forming a drainage-specific agency to oversee all drainage operations in the city, either via a newly created agency or an oversight body similar to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services in North Carolina. Antrup said the option could involve implementing a new stormwater fee for impervious surfaces on properties, which the Sewerage & Water Board has already been analyzing in recent years as a way to harness additional drainage system revenues beyond property taxes. That fee would also allow for the utility to offer grant programs to assist low-income residents with reducing impervious surfaces on their properties, Antrup said.

Another option on the table for the task force, Antrup said, is reforming the Sewerage & Water Board’s management structure into a public benefit corporation, whose profits would be directed into the agency’s operations. The task force has taken a look at how Citizens Energy Group in Indianapolis works as a model, Antrup said. The city struck a $1.9 billion deal in 2011 to transfer the city’s water and sewer utilities to Citizens, which an Indianapolis news release at the time described as “a public charitable trust that operates like a not-for-profit.”
Ah see that's probably the preferred option.  A public benefit corporation offers all the opportunities for piracy that outright privatization would while also building in the means of keeping the graft inside the usual circle of quasi-governmental non-profit operators who run everything in this city anyway.

On that note, I thought this recent episode of the The Lens podcast could have been improved if the segment about the web of kickbacks and favor trading that comprise the local non-profit industrial complex had been connected to the segment about the now 14 year old Taylor Energy oil spill. Phyllis Taylor is, after all, kind of the matriarch of that whole scene. It would make more sense if people got some perspective on how dirty all the dirty money that gets passed around really is. 

Whatever they end up doing at S&WB is likely to be just the latest rearrangement of the same old deck chairs. Every now and then they need to refresh the order. But it's still the same game of determining a more frictionless system for distributing the money.

Which is why the ballot measure passed in last week's election isn't likely to be of much consequence. What it does is put a City Councilmember back on the Board.  Mitch Landrieu's reforms removed two Council seats just a few years ago in favor of seats appointed by the mayor with input from a collection of community luminaries such as the University Presidents and others with heavy ties to our friends in the familiar NOLA fundraiser's cabal.  I voted for this year's amendment figuring it at least looks like a move toward a more democratic spirit of oversight. But I don't have any illusions it will actually achieve that.

Anyway, after the measure passed, the Council decided to appoint Jay Banks as their SWB representative. What's most interesting about that is, prior to his election to City Council, Banks had been a John Bel Edwards appointee to the Convention Center Board.  Currently the Governor and the Mayor are having a disagreement over whether hotel/motel tax revenue currently controlled by the Convention Center should go to SWB instead.  Banks seems to have a foot in each of those camps now.  Will his role on the Board find him furthering the Mayor's plan? Or will he be more involved in walking it back?  Either way, I'm sure the key will be in making sure the important people who pass all the money among themselves under the current system continue to do that under whatever new plan is devised.


It's pretty harsh when an individual is legally barred from performing any more acts of banking from now on.
First NBC Bank’s stunning $1 billion collapse likely ended dozens of banking careers, some by choice and some by circumstance.

Gregory St. Angelo’s circumstances are unique.

St. Angelo, the former longtime attorney for First NBC, has been cited by a federal agency for having engaged in “unsafe or unsound banking practice” and essentially banned for life from the banking industry.

According to a four-page prohibition order issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., St. Angelo demonstrated “willful disregard for the safety or soundness of the bank,” which failed in April 2017.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Nagin Presidency

Kicking into Phase II now.
WASHINGTON - Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.

Give us our moneeeys

Helena Moreno:
The voices are growing louder, as is the frustration, on a recurring theme that the City of New Orleans isn’t getting its fair share of tax dollars or losing out completely. Based on our significant infrastructure and public safety needs, I’m glad to see this grassroots push for fairness, which includes support to rein in one of the most irresponsible giveaways in Louisiana; the Industrial Tax Incentive Program. Since 1998, ITEP has cost the City of New Orleans and Orleans Parish School Board more than $210 million in lost property tax revenue, due to exemptions rubber-stamped by a state board. Yes, a state board can exempt local property taxes. In fact, the state Board of Commerce and Industry has a 99.95 percent approval rate for companies who seek the local property tax exemption. In 2017, this led to a $1.9 billion loss to local taxing bodies across Louisiana.
Moreno has an ordinance in front of the council now that will tighten restrictions on how ITEP is handed out locally. This is a positive development, of course. But even as we seem to be moving in a better direction, it's worth pointing out that state officials are still handing out very large gifts via this instrument.
The developer of a liquefied natural gas export facility in southwest Louisiana won approval for a controversial tax break that could reach more than $2 billion over 10 years, potentially the largest exemption awarded in the state’s history.

The Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry voted in favor of the exemption for Driftwood LNG LLC, a subsidiary of Tellurian Inc., on Friday. A spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards said he will sign off on it.
Also, at the local level, despite some progress, such as this decision by the Orleans Parish School Board to deny an exemption to Bollinger, other local entities continue to take the exact opposite tack. This week, the Jefferson Parish School Board approved an ITEP exemption for Bollinger.   Win some, lose some I guess.  But Moreno is right to keep pressing this.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Please rush

Short Term Rentals. We're in the endgame now.
The most wide-ranging aspect of the proposal would require any property used as a short-term rental in a residential neighborhood to have a homestead exemption verifying that the owner lives on the site. That would limit the practice to owners renting out one or more rooms in their own home or, for example, half of a double house when they live in the other half.

That change would eliminate the licenses that now allow entire homes to be rented out for up to 90 days a year, whether or not anyone lives there full-time.

Such rentals are the most common type in the city and have been in the cross-hairs of critics who argue that they allow investors to amass multiple properties, reducing the supply of housing for residents and often leading to neighborhoods emptied of most residents and overrun with hordes of partying tourists.
A homestead exemption requirement has been the most important priority for housing activists since this argument began and it's taken a few years to get us to a point where that goal is close to being realized. As always, the devil is the details. This says the restriction applies in residential neighborhoods which implies it is tied to zoning which further implies that commercial or "mixed use" areas might still be vulnerable to exploitation.

Oh and while I'm typing this, yes, here is the story that lays out that exact problem.
The proposal would also create three categories for short-term rental permits in commercial and mixed-use districts. “Single unit” commercial permits would be similar to residential permits, but for properties in commercial and mixed-use zoning districts, including condos and single-family homes. The permit would require a homestead exemption.

“Small scale” commercial permits would allow properties with four units or less to use the entire building for short-term rentals, except the first floor, which would be reserved for commercial use unless the first floor is already being used for residential.

“Large scale” commercial permits would be for properties with five or more units. These buildings would only be allowed to use 30% of their units as short-term rentals, and would have to add one affordable housing unit for each short-term rental.
The "large scale" permit looks like an acquiescence to the notion that the CBD is a sacrifice zone for wealthy tourists and part-time residents.  They do get us an "affordable" set-aside written in. And, I know housing activists have been more or less conditioned to fight for inclusionary zoning policies lately (and with good reason.) But that's really just indicative of how far the goal posts have been moved. Generally speaking, set-asides are a sop to developers looking to rationalize public approval and/or subsidies for the nice things for rich people they want to build.  Will the "large scale" commercial STR permit described above create enough "affordable housing" to be considered worth the trade?  Probably not.  But we'll wait and see how they end up defining "affordable." 

The "small scale" deal looks tailored to set up STRs all along commercial corridors through neighborhoods.  I'm thinking especially here about the cultural overlay districts along Oretha Castle Haley or Freret Street where you can see developers already trying to figure this out. There's even one on LaSalle Street where there's the possibility of renewed tourism interest.

Still, even though we'd like to see it expanded, it's important that the homestead exemption requirement passes.  Expect a fight.  Even now, several years into the debate, the pro-STR side is worried about regulations being "rushed though."
“We've long been committed to working with the city leaders to find fair, reasonable regulations for short-term rentals, but this proposal was crafted in a backroom without input from key stakeholders like hosts who rely on home sharing and short-term rental platforms,” an Airbnb spokeswoman wrote in an email after being informed of the proposal. “We urge the council not to rush this through."
Uh.. if "rush this through" means getting us about 50 percent of what we want four or five years after we started asking for it, then, yeah, let's rush it through, please. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Cyndi Nguyen's price

It's somewhere between $1500 and $20,000 but definitely not $1500. That's not nearly enough.
Nguyen, who said she understands the concern about the donation, considers the $1,500 contribution is a relatively small donation.

“If it was like a $20,000 question," Nguyen said she would understand the concern. "We’re talking about $1,500 to help boost a district that’s been neglected, and they are a company in the city” that supports those goals.

"We were going to do this ourselves in my office with our team and we realized there was no way we could pull this parade off and deal with constituent services,” she said.
To be clear, she's trying to relieve East New Orleans of  "neglect" by putting a Christmas parade on Crowder Boulevard. And that's fine and all.  I especially like the non-traditional Santa there on the poster.

Is this a Christmas parade or a Cyndi parade?  Also does "family come first" in District E? At the parade? Or just at Cyndi? What is this poster promoting? Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen presents Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen along with some other stuff.

So you can see why it's a dicey matter to have  Entergy underwriting the Cyndi presents Cyndi parade. Especially, as Kevin Litten points out in that NOLA.com article given the Lens's prior reporting on Entergy's relationship with Nguyen's non-profit.

Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training, or VIET, the nonprofit group Nguyen founded and ran, received more than $6,000 in grants and payments from Entergy as part of the company's campaign to get the plant approved.

Nguyen wasn’t the only politically connected person involved in Entergy’s $530,000 public-relations campaign. Two top officials in LaToya Cantrell’s mayoral campaign were also on Entergy’s payroll.

Bill Rouselle was Cantrell’s chief strategist. Bob Tucker was her campaign chairman and served on her mayoral transition team.

Their companies billed Entergy tens of thousands of dollars to bolster public support for the plant.

According to invoices submitted to the city council as part of its investigation, Entergy paid Tucker’s company Green Pastures Unlimited $95,240 for strategic messaging from 2017 to 2018.

Rouselle’s public relations firm Bright Moments received $336,583 from 2016 to 2018. At least $166,800 of that represented hours billed by another public relations firm, The Ehrhardt Group, which was a subcontractor.
I went ahead and quoted the whole bit about LaToya's friends also being on the take from Entergy just for kicks.  But, really, the broader context is worse than that. As the Lens has continued to report this week and previously, the whole of the New Orleans non-profit universe is really a network of bribes and kickbacks from which Entergy is not shy about calling in favors.
To avoid a $5 million fine from the city, Entergy New Orleans is recycling a tactic they used in the campaign that led to the potential sanction: leveraging their donations to lobby the City Council.

Communications obtained by The Lens show that in response to the possible fine — over the use of paid actors who appeared at public meetings to support a proposed power plant — several beneficiaries of Entergy’s charitable giving sent letters supporting the company to New Orleans City Council members. At least two of the authors were directly asked to write the letters by an Entergy employee who oversees the company’s charitable giving.
So maybe Nguyen is just the one haggling over the price, but she's far from the only person or entity for sale around here. 

We built the nice things for the rich people

Nothing to do now but find some rich people to sell them to.
Multifamily development isn't exclusive to downtown, either. Look to the Edwards Communities apartment complexes going up in Mid-City or the Parkway Apartments taking shape near Xavier University.

However, it's the downtown luxury condos (and their prices) that raise brows. Who's buying them?

Talbot said out-of-towners looking for a second home have always driven the downtown condo market. They're more likely to be wealthy people from Mississippi and elsewhere in the South than well-heeled buyers from the East or West Coast, he said. New Orleans Saints fans who live elsewhere in Louisiana, but have money to spend, have scooped up downtown properties for years.

"There are a lot of people who want a place here, but don't necessarily want to live here full-time," Talbot said.
I'm so old now I can remember when it was very important that we built dense high rises on high ground (and heavily subsidized it with tax credits and PILOTs and so forth) because that was the way to re-build the resilient city we always wanted to be with sustainable affordable housing and what not.  But that was a long time ago. Also it was a lie. Some of us are even old enough to have said so at the time.


The mayor's people formed a PAC a few months ago. But nobody paid it much attention until she tweeted out a link to it this afternoon.  I know mayors always have some form of electorally focused political presence while they're in office but this is little different.
Mayors and other elected officials have long used political action committees — independent organizations, often referred to as PACs, that can collect and spend money for political purposes — to advance their goals.

Former Mayor Mitch Landrieu, for example, formed a series of PACs to run campaigns in favor of ballot initiatives and millages sought by his administration before bringing those efforts under a more general-purpose organization, NOLA PAC, in his second term.

But based on the issues highlighted on its website, Action New Orleans may have a broader scope than just urging residents to vote for candidates or propositions supported by the Cantrell administration.

The group highlights six specific issues on its site, including bail reform, affordable housing, transportation, families in crisis and reducing homelessness.
Mitch's PAC website doesn't list any issues. It just has a big picture of Mitch and a donate button.  He has also launched something called the E Pluribus Unum fund which he says is supposed to "bring people together in cities and towns across the South to find common ground and solutions around the issues of race, equity, economic opportunity and violence."  But when I pulled up the site tonight it set off my anti-virus software so who knows what's going on with that.

Anyway Cantrell's PAC is called "Action New Orleans" and, as the Advocate article above explains, it names issues that, I guess, we can expect the mayor to push in various ways in the future.  But the only thing it's currently asking for "action" on is her call for the city to share more hotel/motel tax revenue.

That's fine for now but this is something to keep an eye on.  The "goals" page is loaded with equivocal language that names real problems in a sympathetic voice but leaves us with little sense of what the policy response might be.  Others have already pointed this out, but the housing section is particularly concerning.
We know New Orleans is a world class city, but our residents should feel world class too. In 2016, 61% of renters were cost burdened. And over 30% of homeowners were cost burdened, according to HousingNOLA's 2018 report card. Lenders, the Louisiana State Legislature, and landlords can all work with us to make our city a more affordable place to live.
Lenders, landlords, and legislators.  Expecting that Three L coalition to meet the needs of a housing poor city isn't a particularly inspiring idea. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Oh now this is interesting.  It's taken a few years since John Bel granted local taxing authorities some discretion over the Industrial Tax Exemption but we're finally seeing the New Orleans City Council set to take some positive action.
The ordinance, approved by the council’s Economic Development Committee, is aimed at ensuring that city residents benefit from the millions of dollars of annual property tax breaks given to New Orleans businesses through the Louisiana Industrial Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP.

For businesses to receive the benefit, which can cut their property taxes on new buildings, factories or other investments by 80% for up to ten years, they would need to create jobs paying at least $18 an hour and must be located in areas that are struggling economically, among other conditions.
According to this, New Orleans is roughly $112 million poorer for tax revenue than it would have been over the course of the past decade were it not for the ITEP.  There are a lot of ways to BS around whatever limits the Council imposes, but this is definitely worth watching. The Advocate article notes a possible push back from LABI.

I'd also point out that the mayor hasn't weighed in yet. Earlier this year, the Orleans Parish School Board denied an ITEP request from Bollinger Algiers. Boysie Bollinger was a key contributor to a PAC that helped elect LaToya Cantrell. But since she's become mayor, LaToya hasn't been shy in talking about the city's "fair share" of various tax revenues.  Maybe she'll let this go.

Workforce development

The Data Center says that great big robust tourism industry, on which our entire existence depends and to which we must offer daily devotionals of eternal gratitude, may not be quite so as hugely robust as it would like us to think.
While hospitality leaders have long touted the industry’s ranks as amounting to more than 80,000 jobs, the Data Center’s report Tuesday pegs the number of New Orleans residents who make their living from tourism at closer to 30,000.

Part of the issue with such projections, the Data Center notes, is that defining what qualifies within a set industry cluster is “a rather subjective activity, leaving definitions vulnerable to pressures to make industry clusters look as large and inclusive as possible.”

The Data Center’s research relies on parameters put together in 2014 by Harvard University researchers.
Also the report pegs the average annual salary for a full time restaurant employee at $29,464. (Yes, including tips.)  

All of which is why it is so nice that we have dumped a ton of public money into subsidizing pet projects of industry magnates like this.
The school has emerged in a cluster of properties — originally built a century ago for a furniture store — that was previously destined to be an arts center called Louisiana ArtWorks. Though it soaked up millions in funding, Louisiana ArtWorks proved to be a massive boondoggle that never fully opened.

A few years after that project ground to a halt, the property was acquired by NOCHI from the city through a bid process in 2013. The organization later sold it to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center with an agreement in place to have NOCHI operate it as a culinary school. Martin said the Convention Center’s investment was a key piece of moving NOCHI forward.

As a training institute aimed at a clear industry need, NOCHI appears to have broad support. One backer, for instance, is the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, a trade group that is contributing an estimated $5 million in cooking equipment to the school.
 NOCHI opens January 7. Tuition is $14,000. 

Offbeat has a noise complaint

Yes I know this is mostly a Torres story but here is the LOL.
Torres is not the only one upset about the noise Vaso generates. The club has become a headache for nearby businesses, including the local music scene publication. At its offices nearby, publisher Jan Ramsey said working on the weekends can be problematic when Vaso opens at 11 a.m. and keeps doors open, blasting music into the street.

While Ramsey said she considers herself a champion of musicians' rights and is sympathetic to the plight of artists affected by the eviction, she said Torres has a point about the club’s operating practices. She’s tried to get the club’s management to shut its doors but was told, “If we have to shut the doors, we might as well not even be open,” Ramsey said.
You never know who is a NIMBY until the thing comes to their own BY, I guess. 

Any day now the self-driving college will come along and solve this

One of Loyola's accredidations is on probation due to fiscal problems. That's not a huge surprise given the school's well-publicized struggles with cuts and layoffs in recent years.  This article suggests things are going a bit better with regard to enrollment and fundraising, though we really have no idea what sort of bar they need to hit in order to be comfortable.

In any case, this isn't as reassuring as it is meant to be.
Moreover, the university has committed to finding new revenue by investing in more online degrees, she said, expanding continuing education and adding innovative programming that is more likely to appeal to newer generations of incoming freshmen
It's hard to read "investing in online degrees," without concluding that means faculty layoffs but I could be wrong about that. As for "innovative programming," I have no idea what that means.  What new degrees are all the kids dying to take on piles of debt in order to acquire these days?  Even in the "innovative" fields, there's not much wage growth to speak of. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Never leave the house

If you do, they'll know.
Like many consumers, Ms. Magrin knew that apps could track people’s movements. But as smartphones have become ubiquitous and technology more accurate, an industry of snooping on people’s daily habits has spread and grown more intrusive.

At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information, The Times found. Several of those businesses claim to track up to 200 million mobile devices in the United States — about half those in use last year. The database reviewed by The Times — a sample of information gathered in 2017 and held by one company — reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day.

The lady the Times uses as its example at the top of this story really gets around.  If they were looking at me they'd see a billion one mile trips to work and back every day with the occasional detour to Rouses.  I've aged into becoming one of these New Orleans weirdos who never leaves the neighborhood anymore. The algorithm that tracks me can be programmed on an abacus.  Last weekend I crossed Canal Street on the bike and three nearby crime cameras caught on fire.

Sorry about that.  Next time I'll read the terms of service.
Many location companies say that when phone users enable location services, their data is fair game. But, The Times found, the explanations people see when prompted to give permission are often incomplete or misleading. An app may tell users that granting access to their location will help them get traffic information, but not mention that the data will be shared and sold. That disclosure is often buried in a vague privacy policy.
"Misleading explanations." Yeah, mostly what that means is an app is either demanding or strongly implying that you enable location tracking just to get the thing to work at all. Meanwhile there's practically nothing that explicitly limits what companies can do with your data once they've acquired it.  There's just a jungle of internal policies and practices.

The article comes with a guide to disabling your phone's location service although it's not at all clear that's going to solve the problem.  Not when such an action is bound to greatly reduce your device's actual functionality.  And certainly not since there's little anybody can do to disable the city's surveillance camera "canopy." The mayor would have to call that off.  But, according to her, "we've barely begun to scratch the surface," of that that network can do. 

Less is more

The Saints' Reduced-Taysom strategy has been a bit of a surprise in recent weeks. But if it means they're choosing to get one huge game-changing play per game out of him rather than 10-15 little trolling opportunities, then there's a solid logic to that.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The Ralph Abraham full employment plan

Well if you are a Republican political consultant or job seeker wondering where all the money will be next year, Ralph Abraham has provided some help there
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., will run against Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019, he said in a press release Thursday (Dec. 6). “I’m running for Governor, and I intend to win,” Abraham said in a written statement.

Word from Abraham comes three days after U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said Kennedy would not run in the election. Many had assumed Kennedy would join the race and be the GOP frontrunner before he declared otherwise. Now the field is considered wide open, with a chance for lesser-known Republicans to gain traction.

Businessman Eddie Rispone, a Republican who has never held elected office, has already said he intends to qualify for the governor’s race.
Rispone is more or less a vanity candidate. And even though Lane Grigsby has been talking him up, I would expect he's probably not going to raise or spend a whole lot of money that isn't his own.  So Ralph is making an early bid to pile up the real stuff. Other Republican B-listers like Sharon Hewitt are thinking about getting in as well. But without Kennedy or Landry, it's likely these campaigns will be more about building resumes than they will be about winning the governorship.&nbsp

Of course, this is Louisiana and anything can happen.  We talked about this last week already. But, presently, the conventional wisdom indicates that John Bel is a relatively safe bet for reelection.  I say relatively safe, not so much because this is supposed to be a "red" state as we're told over and over, but because John Bel tends to play just about everything safe. A little too safe, maybe, which can cause problems

Take minimum wage for example. An extremely conservative estimate this year puts the minimum living wage on which a family of three could expect to barely scrape by at something like $23 an hour.  But Louisiana lawmakers are resistant to even $15. This has to do, in part, with the degree to which your typical state legislator is in the pocket of business interests. But it also has a lot to do with the Governor's failure to lead.

This year, voters in Missouri and Arkansas passed ballot measures that phase in raises to (still quite insufficient) $11 and $12 wages in a few years. Edwards, who himself has only ever asked for is a gradual raise to $8.50, took that as cover to meekly chime in, on the need for a "modest increase" in Louisiana. John Bel is a former high school quarterback and veteran of the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division so it wouldn't make any sense for us to call him a wimp.  Instead we're just not convinced he cares all that much that the minimum wage is a true living wage. If he did, he might take a harder line in negotiations.

Maybe the Governor needs to take a cue from LaToya Cantrell here.  This fall the mayor has been fighting publicly with the tourism Brahmins over the hotel/motel tax. New Orleanians have complained for years that revenue generated by the tourism economy which could be used for the greater benefit of the city is mostly funneled back into the hands of a few state boards controlled by the owners of that industry's profits.  In recent years, those complaints have finally reached the ears of politicians.  Some of us never would have dreamed we'd see the Mayor of New Orleans take this matter on with any degree of seriousness. But here we are.

Cantrell began by criticizing a Convention Center plan to subsidize a private hotel development. But even as the Governor stepped in to try and quiet her down, she upping her demand that a greater share of the hotel/motel tax revenue be dedicated to critical city infrastructure. Then, even as the tourism agencies themselves offered an alternative plan, Latoya made sure to let them know that wasn't going to be good enough.  
The announcement appeared to be an effort to mollify Cantrell as she seeks to convince state leaders to redirect some of the $200 million in tax money collected in New Orleans that now goes to the Convention Center, Superdome and tourism promotion groups including New Orleans & Co., the new name for the former Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But the announcement appeared to just provide more ammunition for Cantrell, who so far has been largely unsuccessful in convincing state officials to back her plan.

“We’re not asking anybody for a favor. Last year, our people generated more than $200 million in hospitality revenue — but less than 10 percent of that came to the city.  Seventy percent of that $200 million went to just four hospitality agencies,” the mayor said in a news release.

“I will continue to fight to get our people all that they deserve,” she said.
Now, I fully expect that, if LaToya does wring some money out of the tourism cabal, it's still not going to be "all that (we) deserve."  But at least she is on a path to get us more than the inadequate $6.7 million currently on offer. This is not only because what they're volunteering isn't good enough but also because it's less than they can afford to give.  Always reject the first offer, right?

All John Bel can say to the first offer is, thank you.

The Governor doesn't even have to be aggressive about it if that isn't his style. All he has to say to Ochsner is, "That's much better but, hey, why not $25?" Seems a modest enough ask of the state's largest employer. At least Ochsner holds that distinction during non-election years, anyway. Maybe if a few more Republican candidates jump in the race, the numbers might change.

Friday, December 07, 2018

LaToya sure does love the cameras

Oooh we're upgrading to the platinum plan
The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation SafeCam NOLA program has 6,000 cameras in its index, made up of privately owned cameras that are registered with the program to be accessed by law enforcement.

SafeCam Platinum — which began its soft launch in October — integrates cameras installed outside homes and businesses into the center’s network, creating a “21st century neighborhood watch,” foundation director Melanie Talia said at a press conference recognizing the first year of the city's Real-Time Crime Center.
What they're doing here is plugging thousands of privately owned cameras into the city's "Real Time Crime Monitoring" center. Last year the Independent Police Monitor issued a critical report on these cameras questioning both their efficacy and constitutionality.  The mayor and her staff don't seem to share those concerns.  Some of their quotes this week, are downright chilling. Homeland Security director Collin Arnold refers to a "canopy" of cameras. LaToya proudly beams, "We will grow. We have only scratched the surface.” The implication is wherever you are in the city, chances are a cop will be watching whatever it is you are doing. 

Ordinarily I'd think that maybe they're exaggerating a little bit. But this Lens story suggests they very well may not be. Police may be labeling camera footage as evidence provided by "undercover officers" in their reports. In the case the story cites, it seems pretty clear there is a cop sitting behind a camera zooming in on people from afar.
When asked if there was in fact an undercover officer at the scene, NOPD spokesperson Gary Scheets told The Lens that the “NOPD does not publicly discuss investigative tactics employed during surveillance operations… In the case that is the subject of this inquiry, investigators conducted a surveillance operation from an undisclosed location that provided a clear and unobstructed view of the events that transpired.”

For Bixby, this raises concerns about how the NOPD is labeling their video surveillance operations in police reports. She also believes the surveillance and search and subsequent arrest may have violated the Fourth Amendment and infringed upon Carter’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

LaToya doesn't sound too concerned about the Fourth Amendment. She is a true believer in this stuff. Watch her during the press conference here say that the cameras literally "in real time prevent crimes from happening." Also she concludes, quite forcefully, "It will live within the fabric of the city of New Orleans for generations to come." Teach your children to expect they're being watched, I guess.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Are the schools right?

Hey look Mitch Landrieu was on a panel about cities and "leadership" with Dean Bacquet and Walter Isaacson and... *yawn*....

What? Oh yeah, here's the thing.  I'm always amused at the way Mitch defenders are quick tell you to STFU about the mass charterization of our public schools that happened during his time as a "leader" here. "#Actually the mayor doesn't control the schools!" they will tell you. This is technically true. But we all understand that the mayor is a powerful figure and a policy thought  leader in his own right. It matters which side he takes on a question like that.  Mitch was always a vocal supporter of the charter movement. To this day he still touts it as a success story.

Anyway the thing that gets me here is the minute his fans find themselves in front of a friendly audience, they're all too happy to throw him some credit for this thing he supposedly doesn't control.
Walter Isaacson, a former Time editor and best-selling author, credited many of the improvements in New Orleans to progress during the last eight years, saying that Landrieu took over a city “so financially messed up.” A friend of Landrieu, Isaacson called Landrieu “the best mayor we had probably in the history of New Orleans.”

“He got the budget right, he got the schools right and what we need in this country is people who solve problems the way mayors do,” Isaacson said.
Are the schools right? A lot of parents, students and teachers who don't happen to be extremely wealthy media figures would disagree.  More specifically, did Mitch Landrieu get the schools right, himself? His own defenders might not even agree that this is possible... if they listen to their own arguments.

Clearly this is the only way they could finance this project

Barry Kern, Joe Jaeger, and Arnold Kirschman aren't the sort of people who can swing the credit to develop property in New Orleans.  Humble disadvantaged small time developers like that are going to need a little help. That's what public subsidies like this are for.
The building sold in 2016 for $3.5 million to local investors Joe Jaeger, Arnold Kirschman, Barry Kern and Michael White. In addition to the tax approved Thursday, Drive Shack has secured a 12-year freeze on its property taxes in lieu of paying the city nearly $260,000 annually.

Per the latest agreement, Drive Shack would receive three-fourths of tax proceeds leveled through the newly created Broad Street Sports Entertainment and Dining Economic District, which covers only the area where The Times-Picayune building sits. The city would receive one-fourth of the tax proceeds and is obligated to undertake up to $450,000 in street improvements around the site. If, however, the city is able to reconnect Howard Avenue with the Central Business District, the city and Drive Shack would then split tax proceeds 50-50.

Eminent domain

The oil company has the power of the state here. If they want your land they can just take it.
A Louisiana judge on Thursday (Dec. 6) ruled that the company building the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline has the right to seize private property to construct the 162-mile-long oil pipeline.

Judge Keith Comeaux of the 16th District Court in St. Mary Parish also ruled that the pipeline’s owner, Energy Transfer Partners, had trespassed when it began construction before finalizing land seizure procedures.

Louisiana is one of the few states that allows oil companies to take private land through expropriation, commonly known as eminent domain. This right is usually reserved for governments constructing highways or other public works.
This is all well and good according to the rock solid conservative principle of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Kick them out

It's well past time to get the State Troopers out of New Orleans.
An attorney for a man who was shot by a state trooper early Sunday said her client was a civilian agent with the U.S. Army who was visiting New Orleans, and that he pulled out his gun after feeling threatened by a group of juveniles who were following him.

Meanwhile, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, or "CID," on Tuesday confirmed that it was investigating after one of its civilian special agents had apparently been shot by a state trooper while the agent was on vacation in the city. The agent is "suspended from all law enforcement duties pending the outcome of the investigation," said a statement from Chis Grey, the CID public affairs chief.
Mitch invited the Troopers to augment downtown policing on what has become a permanent basis, for all intents and purposes back in 2014. But they had already been working special events and serving other long stints in the Quarter for some time.  Their tenure here has drawn controversy on several occasions. It's not clear, for example, what "security" is gained by having the Troopers write tickets for expired brake tags. That may be preferable, though, to just letting them loose in the streets to attack people at random. The Troopers are not subject to the mandates of the NOPD consent decree intended to bring that department into constitutional compliance. As such they tend to act out from time to time. Examples of this behavior include but are not limited to:

This incident where they assaulted two young men one of whom happened to be the son of an NOPD officer.

This assault on a man who just happened to be locking up his business at a time when the Troopers were looking for somebody else.

This assault on a man who happened to be local musician Shamarr Allen.

Or this incident that happened to make national news where the Troopers body slammed a tourist on Bourbon Street.

And, again, these are just the events that happen to get attention.  The Troopers harass people all the time down there.  And it's not just them you have to worry about.  
The security situation in the French Quarter doesn’t make a lot of sense to New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

In addition to the New Orleans Police Department, the city’s busiest neighborhood is patrolled by four different agencies, some of whom don’t coordinate with each other, at a cost of nearly $8.8 million a year. A supplemental sales tax charged only in the French Quarter, approved three years ago, pays for $2.9 million of that, but there’s a variety of different funding going to a variety of different places – a situation Palmer says has become unwieldy.
Palmer is looking, specifically at the State Police, the independent security forces run by the French Market Corporation and the Downtown Development District as well as taxpayer funded French Quarter Task Force which manages a separate NOPD detail.

But, at times, there are even more layers of complexity than this. The State Supreme Court is in the Quarter and, despite sitting directly across the street from NOPD's 8th District HQ, has its own security force. They shoot people sometimes.  A few years ago, Attorney General Jeff Landry put together his own little gang to run around the Quarter searching people for weed for a while. Also there briefly existed a posse of civilian "quality of life" officers known as "NOLA Patrol." And, of course, we're all familiar with Sidney Torres and his crime fighting hi-jinx.

Palmer is just asking questions at this point, but it sure does look like she's on to something.  If we must be policed in the first place, it's likely the safest, and most cost effective way to go about it is  see to it that the actual Police Department is responsible for handling that task. Kick everyone else out of there and focus on getting that right.

We are never going to fix this

2018 was (another) record-breaking year.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide are reaching the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are doing.

Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes appear to have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent.
There's no such thing as "turning a corner" here, though.  We're never going to fix this. We're headed full bore into making worse, in fact. 
A number of other LNG facilities are either operating or planned in Cameron Parish on the western side of the state, and along the Texas Gulf Coast.

According to FERC, there are more than 110 LNG facilities now operating in the U.S., though many do not export LNG overseas.

As of October, there were five approved export facilities under construction, another five approved but not under construction, and, including the Plaquemines terminal, 18 that have been proposed and are awaiting licensing.

The push for new export terminals has been fueled by the development of hydrofacturing, or “fracking,” to capture gas from shale deposits deep underground. In 2017, the U.S. exported 1.94 billion cubic feet per day of LNG, up from only 0.5 billion cubic feet per day in 2016. All of that LNG product was shipped from Louisiana’s Sabine Pass terminal in Cameron Parish, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Can't turn a corner in the middle of a frack boom.  And to be clear, what's going on in this instance is the domestic gas market is saturated. So we are building the export infrastructure to keep the boom going. In other words, it's a deliberate choice to do more fracking. Even now.