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?

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