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Saturday, December 09, 2023

Plaza tower, Plaza Duncan

This is a bit from a recent Richard Campanella article about the history of Duncan Plaza. Supposedly everything is in line to build the new City Hall there. I'm still not clear on how much, if any, of the public green space will be preserved in the process.  An acute hostility toward the homeless has local leadership exhibiting a nasty tendency to close off as much public space as possible these days. But we'll see.

Campanella's article focuses on Duncan Plaza but it is really about the surrounding neighborhood too. The "backatown" area of interest in this case extends, roughly,  from S Rampart to Claiborne and from Tulane Ave to where the Superdome is now. Prior to the 20th Century, this was barely a neighborhood at all. It was only after the development of the modern drainage system that it began to take shape. Campanella tells a little bit of that story here.

Yet as the city grew, the area became densely populated, mostly on account of its proximity to the urban core, and also because mechanized drainage had partially drawn down swampwaters, allowing development to extend further inland.

By the mid-to-late 1800s, the area became part of the 3rd Ward, though locals continued to call it the back-of-town, among them Louis Armstrong, who grew up here. Later in life, Armstrong recollected how “the neighborhood was consisted of Negroes, Jewish people and lots of Chinese, (who) moved into a little section of their own and called it China Town,” now 1100 Tulane Avenue. Others dubbed the area “the Battleground,” though it would later become appreciated for its key role in the development of jazz and other cultural contributions.

Wary of the neighborhood, the city in the early 1890s selected the block adjacent to today’s Duncan Plaza for a new criminal courthouse, police station, parish prison and morgue. In 1893, workers completed construction of the fortresslike compound on South Saratoga Street, marking an early attempt to use this area to centralize governmental functions.

Throughout the early 1900s, this area ranked among the most diverse and spirited parts of the city, with such landmarks as the Knights of Pythias Temple, said to be the largest Black-owned building in the nation, and the South Rampart corridor, known as “the Harlem of New Orleans” for its rich cultural life.

Anyway as many people know, the historical character of the neighborhood is greatly diminished now. Its few remaining exemplars, the jazz  history landmarks on Rampart are falling apart. Much of it is surface parking. Some of that was turned into the "South Market" condos where nobody lives. And, of course, the Plaza Tower is there. Nobody lives there either. Or if they do, they'd better look out

The city is currently in litigation with the building's owner. Earlier this month, Jaeger's company sued the city after an administrative law judge agreed to assess $180,000 in allegedly lost parking revenue due to street closures near the skyscraper. Anthony Davis, who recently became the city's new director of Code Enforcement, said the city is moving ahead with securing a demolition contract now, "so we’re not waiting around to see what the result of the litigation is going to be — we’re ready to go."

Jaeger has received the heftiest fine levied by code enforcement so far since its new crackdown began — $220,000 for 11 violations, on top of the fine for lost parking revenue. In September, Jaeger attorney Mike Sherman said that the building had been under contract to an undisclosed investor since early August.

In an email, Jaeger said that the city's comments about demolition create an additional challenge for the sale of the property and "send the wrong message."

Jaeger said the buyer is still hoping to move forward with the purchase but is facing financing challenges.   

"If demolished, I believe the sites will become a surface parking lot and it is highly unlikely that those sites will ever be developed," he wrote, referring to Plaza Tower and another property he owns on the dirty dozen list, the Canal Street Hotel. He said that the Plaza Tower has been secured with netting at a cost of $1.5 million.

Anyway, as we've noted many times now, the Twentieth Century is over.  And there's a feeling that the little world we made out of the swamps is returning there soon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Why does Tim Temple hate Metaire?

Louisiana's next Insurance Commissioner is preparing to ascend to that office next year without having had to campaign for it.  No one ran against him for the open seat (Jim Donelon decided he didn't want it anymore) and so voters haven't really had to think about him much yet.  Would you like to meet him now? His name is Tim

Hailing from DeRidder, Tim Temple has been working in the insurance industry for 20 years, with the last 13 years of that as an insurance executive, like his father did before him. There is really little to remark upon about his resume – he was presumably very successful in these ventures, donating nearly $2 million to his two campaigns (about $900,000 in 2019 and $950,000 this year). But otherwise, he seems to be a case of an insurance man interested in becoming The Insurance Man.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to know about Temple is that he also served as the chairman and president of the Committee of 100. While that may sound like a secretive organ of the Chinese Communist Party, it is in fact just another “good government” business and industry nonprofit group that advocates for “economic development.” But it is a useful context; Temple is not some wealthy political outsider who has elbowed his way into power over the wishes of the usual interests. He is firmly enmeshed in that crowd, and has simply ascended from “interested party” to decision maker.

And he has begun to lay out the sort of agenda you might expect from someone running in those circles. Temple’s main solution to Louisiana’s insurance market woes? A special session early next year, to push more deregulation, more tort reform, and more incentives for competition.
Our state is one of several right now that exist on the front lines of an acute insurance crisis. Fewer insurers are willing to write affordable policies in the places seen as most obviously vulnerable to climate change. There's an air of inevitability to that. But the shape of the crisis, though, and the shoulders that bear the worst of its costs are all entirely the result of policy choices. Political leaders at the state, local, national and international levels consistently move to outsource climate to private finance.
 
The least powerful individual victims of the system are purposefully left to absorb the consequences

Energy bills in New Orleans are rising at the fastest rate in almost two decades, and outpacing increases in the rest of the country.

Despite living in one of America’s most climate-vulnerable and poorest cities, it is still almost impossible for low-income residents such as Jones to reduce their “carbon footprint”. It’s not easy making green choices when public transit options are limited, and where tax incentives for solar panels and electric vehicles have largely excluded low-income households.

“I would love to get my house weatherized. I’d consider an EV if it was affordable – or even giving up my car. But the public transit here is draconian,” said Jones, a volunteer community activist. “Tax rebates don’t help me, because I don’t file taxes. They make it so hard to do the right thing.”

Climate scientists are clear that the world must transition away from fossil fuels immediately if it has any chance of avoiding the most catastrophic climate effects.

In recent years, the fossil-fuel industry and its allies have pushed the notion that personal choices are to blame for the climate crisis, while at the same time lobbying for policies to ensure their products – and profits – continue to expand.

Americans in every income category have bigger carbon footprints than their counterparts in almost all other G20 nations, according to International Energy Agency (IEA) data shared with the Guardian. But carbon inequality in the US is a complex situation which for many people – particularly those on a low income – has little to do with personal choice.

Tim Temple is fine with all this.  In this interview with Stephanie Grace, he says his main goal is to deregulate the insurers. Maybe then, they will be nicer.  Actually he didn't even promise that. Here he basically says that if you expect affordable insurance rates in Metairie you are shit out of luck and it's your fault for living there

Grace: So I guess the flip side of being able to charge the rates they need is very high prices for customers — perhaps unaffordable.

Temple: It certainly can be. There seems to be an underlying current of well, it's got to be fair: If I, as a consumer, want to go and build a home in the middle of a forest that's 26 miles away from the nearest fire hydrant, or if I want to build my home on the Gulf Coast 10 feet from the ocean, that I should have some type of affordable insurance.

I mean, we don't want it to be a government-funded, socialized type of product. What it needs to be is if you want to exercise your right to build where you are legally allowed to build, then you have to know upfront it may cost you more to build that house on the Gulf Coast than it does to build it in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Grace: When you're talking about the Gulf Coast, are you talking about down in the marsh, or in, say, Metairie?

Temple: Metairie, you can argue, is dang near the Gulf Coast. If you've ever flown into the New Orleans airport, you know that. Again, the concept is to create an environment where companies can come in and be treated at least not any worse than Texas or Florida treats their companies.

Metaire. People shouldn't live there.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

You are required to vote again for some reason

Here is your AG guide in case that helps.

I can't say much about what's on the ballot today other than this. 

1) The Republican candidates are all going to win the remaining statewide offices. Murrill winning Attorney General is particularly troubling because that will green light a lot of the coming monkey business that Jeff Landry is about to throw at us. Republicans holding the Sec of State office would be a problem in the Presidential election if Louisiana were at all in play. It could still be an issue as struggles over voter registration and access in New Orleans become more of an issue.  It often doesn't matter who the Treasurer is. But John Fleming will figure out how to be a bad one. For example, if Landry wants to keep attacking the city via the bond commission, Fleming won't stand in his way. Anyway, there's nothing anyone can do about any of that at this point. Go vote against the bad guys. But they are going to win today.

2) There are some runoffs in legislative races still pending. Locally the new District 23 in Mid-City is on some of your ballots. Like a lot of things this cycle, the field attracted by that brand new open seat was disappointing. All of the candidates were either empty retreads from among the usual suspects or clueless novelties. The remaining two are one of each of those. Pick your poison. 

3) All four of the constitutional amendments are basically bad. At least if number 2 passes, it doesn't actively harm anything. But I'd vote against it anyway. There are also some of those private security districts up for renewal in a few neighborhoods. None of those should exist. 

In any case, the news is bad. It's all bad. But here we are. The 2020s have not been a fun time for anyone anywhere. In Louisiana, they're about to become more difficult. We'll start working on what to do about all that next year. 

But for now, just be careful out there. 


Friday, November 17, 2023

Groundhog Mitch

Will he see his shadow this time?

All of this has the chattering class wondering if another Democrat should pick up the mantle. A half-dozen recently published lists of possible candidates — should Biden withdraw — all include Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, 41, who retains support among younger voters; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, 52, who won a state that backed Trump; California Gov. Gavin Newsom, 56, who has money, popularity and a growing national profile; and Vice President Kamala Harris, 59, who is the first woman in history to hold that office and is arguably the default choice.

So: What about Landrieu?

He has spent the last two years traveling tens of thousands of miles around the country. It's a role that has involved helping state and local officials, of both parties, quickly navigate the bureaucracy to get the federal money to start often long hoped-for infrastructure projects — not a bad launching pad for a campaign.

Of all the speculative lists of possible Biden replacements, Landrieu, 63, was mentioned in only one, in what amounted to a footnote.

While Landrieu has given no indication he's interested — and there's no way he could do so right now, without sabotaging Biden — five years ago he was openly flirting with a run.

 Back then, Landrieu said he would never challenge Biden, and presumably that rule still applies.

Okay, well, consider the appearance of this article an "indication he's interested."  That's how this sort of thing works. Mitch was extremely close to doing it last time around.  Like, really close. A media whisper campaign had been dropping his name into the rumor mill as early as 2017. By mid-2018 the whisperers were clearing their throats and speaking more loudly.  It came so close, in fact, that Mitch's  friends at the Bayou Brief  even coordinated an announcement day campaign puff feature that got posted prematurely and then quickly taken down.  I happened to see it come across the RSS and read it in the meantime. I hope everyone involved is still embarrassed. 

Anyway today's article doesn't mention this but we read a few weeks ago that Mitch's former deputy mayor and longtime political operative Ryan Berni has taken a job working for Biden 2024.   In 2020 Berni was one of several familiar soulless Louisiana Democratic Party professional assholes who ended up collecting a few checks from the money bomb set off by former New York City Mayor/billionaire Michael Bloomberg's spectacular failure of a campaign flame out. One assumes they were all available to jump on board with Bloomberg because their schedules were cleared for Mitch.

Four years later there's an incumbent Democratic President on the slate. That's where all the dirty money is. And so that's where characters where Berni are going to be. For now, anyway. But that Democratic President is looking shakier every day.  And maybe some of that money is looking for other places to go. The appearance of fresh rumors in the press would indicate someone is at least hedging bets on it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Fun years ahead

 

And, as we've pointed out many times and in many ways,  the state's carbon goals, such as they are, are not sufficient to the problem. Remarkably, all Jeff has to do is run with the same program JBE is leaving behind, and there will be plenty money to be made poisoning the environment and sinking the coast.  In fact, it's likely we're going to see very little substantive change. But the hooting and braying about it will be turned up several levels. Maybe that's better than John Bel's lying pretense that we can keep burning gas all over the place and still care about the climate if we pretend the carbon capture boondoggles actually work. Or maybe it doesn't matter.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Looks like maybe the "making amends" step?

Or maybe something else is going on. Anyway, here is Karen Carter Peterson, still serving a prison sentence for defrauding the state Democratic Party, asking the state to take back one of the last public-private partnership schemes she signed off on before the downfall.  

In early 2022, shortly before she resigned her post amid a federal investigation into her embezzlement of Democratic Party and campaign funds, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson helped earmark $7 million in state funds for the Odyssey House in New Orleans to create southeast Louisiana’s first residential gambling treatment center.

More recently, less than seven months into her 22-month prison sentence, Peterson was moved from a minimum-security camp in Dallas to a re-entry facility in New Orleans, and she quickly became a central figure in the project. She is now pushing to get the state money moved from Odyssey House, a nonprofit, to the Metropolitan Human Services District, a state-run entity.

Peterson, who is working as an advisor to the Davillier Law Group, says she believes the Human Services District, which gets state money annually for gambling treatment services, is better equipped to stand up the facility.

Peterson goes on to say she "has no financial role in the project."  And we have to assume that is true... now. At the time she approved the earmark? Who knows. Since that time, a lot has changed. Peterson is where she is and the real estate deal Odyssey House had in mind isn't looking viable anymore for some reason not quite given. 

For its part, Odyssey House, which runs treatment centers around the state, raised concerns about the proposal last week, with its CEO saying he wasn't given a rationale for transferring the money. Peterson and the Louisiana Department of Health have asked Odyssey House to sign off on transferring the funds through a mid-year transfer process that requires buy-in from area lawmakers and all parties involved in the transaction. 

But on Monday, Ed Carlson, CEO of Odyssey House, said his board has decided to go along with the request and sign off on the deal. (Note: The deal signed off on here is Odyssey House giving the money back)

Carlson said Peterson approached him about the project ahead of the 2022 legislative session. She put the nonprofit in touch with a real-estate agent to look at a building, but it wasn’t suitable for the project, he said. With most of the money still not available, Odyssey House has so far been unable to move forward, he said.

Carlson said he found out only a few days ago that Peterson and the LDH wanted to see the money transferred to the Human Services District — a division of the LDH. He said no one had discussed it with him beforehand. 

"At this point, we just want to get as far away from this as possible," Carlson said Monday.

Anyway whatever the original plan was is in the trash now.  We'll never know who was kicking what back to whom.  One footnote that didn't get mentioned in the article is Ed Carlson was the third candidate in this year's bizarre and acrimonious District 91 race for State Rep.  For some reason, he still thought he needed friends in Baton Rouge as late as this fall.  Interesting.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Bus nap

RTA says it has a strategy to improve service and get the busses running on time more often. Apparently this involves reducing the number of busses in the "active fleet" and by adjusting the schedules so that they don't look like they're overpromising. That sure sounds like a service cut to me. The dreaded phrase "more with less" is ringing around in there somewhere.  But RTA insists it will make things better in the long run if they aren't spending as much time dealing with maintenance issues and after the new busses they bought with COVID money get up and running. We'll see. 

Anyway I thought this was funny. 

On Wednesday, Willy Lee, a dishwasher at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse in the French Quarter, sat on a bench at a stop on the currently out-of-service Rampart streetcar line watching videos on his phone, waiting for his shift to start. He left home two and a half hours before his 4 p.m. shift began

“I leave home around 1:30 because the bus be kinda late,” he said. 

Lee lives in the Little Woods neighborhood in New Orleans East and must transfer buses in order to get downtown, adding more possibility for delays. He said sometimes buses don’t arrive at their expected time shown on Le Pass, the RTA’s app.

In a September interview, Hankins blamed the problems, in part, on a lack of qualified mechanics to quickly fix problems, perform routine maintenance and get buses back on the road. 

The plan announced Thursday will address that by reducing the number of buses that the agency’s mechanics have to work on. Of the 18 buses being pulled out of the active fleet, 10 are being “to sleep.” The RTA will hold onto them, but they will be removed from the roads and the maintenance pool. (The agency currently has 14 buses in that category, bringing the total to 24 beginning in January.) The other eight will be permanently retired.

Anyway, wake me up when a trip downtown from Little Woods doesn't take the same amount of time as a flight to Philadelphia. 

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Hot streak

 Always nice to be thought of as a global leader

The last 12 months were the hottest ever recorded on Earth, and New Orleans had the second-longest streak of days with extreme heat across the world, a new study found. 

Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization that analyzes and reports on climate change and energy issues, released the study to the public on Thursday and looked at major cities across the globe that had long streaks of extreme heat.

Houston had the longest streak with 22 days, and the extreme temperatures lasted in New Orleans for 17 days. The Crescent City tied with Jakarta and Tangerang in Indonesia, according to the study.

Can't say we haven't earned it.  Everyone knows well the amount of Louisiana's public capital and natural resources are sacrificed each year to make the demon live. Today The Lens highlights only one recent example. 

Now, a new industrial operation is taking shape in the unincorporated community of Port Sulphur, which remains a working-class, rural area. The silhouette of Venture Global’s colossal LNG gas-export terminal looms over the surrounding marsh, visible from miles away to cars driving downriver from New Orleans on Louisiana Highway 23.

When the plant is finished, natural-gas-fired turbines will supercool gas down to -260 degrees Fahrenheit to turn it into a liquid 1/600th its original volume that can be shipped overseas. But at this point, it’s still in progress, a 630-acre construction site, with tower cranes and 130-foot storage tanks peeking over its walls. 

Venture Global did not respond to questions about its terminal under construction in Plaquemines Parish. Once complete, it’s expected to employ 300 operational workers, according to Board of Commerce and Industry meeting notes

Those 300 jobs are subsidized to unbelievable levels, thanks to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP), a state tax-incentive program for manufacturers, created with the goal of luring jobs to Louisiana. 

For its local payroll of a few hundred workers, Venture Global’s ITEP abatement over a 10-year period totals $834 million, said Erin Hansen of Together Louisiana, which monitors ITEP incentives and jobs created. 

That works out to $2.8 million in tax breaks per Venture Global job, Hansen said.

During the campaign, Jeff Landry (sort of) led the public to believe that he would let John Bel's rather moderate limits on ITEP remain in place.  We'll see how that plays out.  I do have my doubts.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

3-D Spidermans

Amusing bit from this past weekend's T-P politics round up.  The issue at hand here is the ongoing legal dispute between the mayor and the city council over who gets to pass around Wisner trust money to whose patrons. The council's position is that the mayor is "wrongfully handing over city money to private parties." And that is, of course, true. But the only reason the councilmembers are so hot to challenge her on this is because, in their estimation, wrongfully handing over city money to private parties is supposed to be their job

Really, both sides are kind of right. Ordinarily they all work together to figure out all the spoils. But lately nobody at City Hall is getting along with anyone else. When that happens the little understandings that normally obtain start to break down and the system can no longer function. For instance...

Below the surface, the case involves a more fundamental question: Can the council sue the mayor, as an independent component of city government?

No, it cannot, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in June, a decision that is now before the Louisiana Supreme Court. Before that is settled, however, the council is trying a new tactic, one that will test its power in a different way.

The council on Thursday voted to order the City Attorney’s Office to make the city a plaintiff in the lawsuit, even though city lawyers have already made arguments on Cantrell’s behalf. The strategy is to pre-empt any dismissal based on the council’s lack of authority to independently sue the mayor. And the result, if it works, will be a spectacle: a mayoral administration suing a mayor. Might New Orleanians have the privilege of witnessing one city lawyer arguing against another in open court? Seems highly unlikely, but one can dream.

The headline for this column makes reference to the Spiderman-pointing-at-Spiderman meme but doesn't explain the joke in the text of the article. On the one hand, it's refreshing to see the T-P assume even a minimal degree of sophistication in its readers. On the other hand, maybe some clarification is in order. We're pretty sure they mean the two Spidermen here are the hypothetical dueling city lawyers. But they could also be every councilmember and the mayor pointing at each other in every direction as well. Maybe it's all of that.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Imagine if everyone could do this

During the record heat wave of summer 2023, Entergy and Sewerage and Water Board denied City Council requests to suspend utility shut-offs for New Orleanians behind on their exorbitant (and often inaccurate) bills. 

Advocates for utility customers say the number of households vulnerable to losing electricity and water has grown in recent years as heat waves, gas prices, hurricanes and rate hikes have made it harder for New Orleans residents to keep up with their utility bills.

“Folks are absolutely struggling,” said Jesse George, policy director at the Alliance for Affordable Energy. “We were getting calls on a weekly basis from people struggling with outrageous bills.”

Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA, said that energy bills have been a major part of the city’s housing affordability crisis, and that high utility bills are starting to impact more people.

“I’m hearing from people who don’t normally struggle with their bills, which is never a good sign,” Morris said.

According to that article, during the summer there were something like 24,000 accounts considered "delinquent" by S&WB 1,100 of which were facing disconnection. Meanwhile, Entergy is a little more shifty with its numbers. But one out of five accounts behind on bills seems like a lot.

It is harder to pin down how many Entergy New Orleans customers are vulnerable to shutoffs. Customers owe $6.2 million in electric bill debt and $639,000 in gas bill debt, according to numbers the company provided to the council in late August. But neither the council nor Entergy provided any estimate on the number of customers in debt to the company.

Entergy executives did tell the council in Dec. 2022 that 36,000 customers — roughly one in five New Orleans accounts — had entered deferred payment plans to keep up with bills they couldn’t afford in 2022 alone.

This week we also learned that Entergy bills are higher than they've ever been for most New Orleanians. Perhaps not coincidentally, so are Entergy profits. 

At the same time as bills have reached historic highs, so have dividend payments to Entergy shareholders. Entergy New Orleans’ parent company, Entergy Corp., has paid out $3.2 billion in shareholder dividends since 2020. 

Burke and other advocates have long warned that the company has effectively shifted most of the risk of the business onto the shoulders of customers, who have to deal with erratic bills while shareholders enjoy steady, rising profits.

In any case, it's a lot of people who Entergy just figures it can ignore repeatedly. 

And then there's this story.  

The lights are back on at Saint John and the French Quarter restaurant is planning to reopen, marking a swift turnaround from just a day before.

Thursday afternoon chef/owner Eric Cook announced that Saint John was closed "indefinitely" amid a dispute over an Entergy bill for $40,000 that resulted in the restaurant's power being disconnected.

In a statement released Thursday, and in a subsequent interview, Cook described the decision to close as a culmination of frustrations with doing business in New Orleans, and the Entergy billing dispute as the last straw.

However, Cook said Friday that after a morning meeting with representatives from City Councilmember Helena Moreno's office, he heard from Entergy that power to the restaurant at 1117 Decatur St. would be restored while he and the utility work through the billing issue. Moreno sits on the City Council's Utilities, Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee, which oversees the council's responsibilities as regulator of Entergy New Orleans.

And so there you have it.  If you want to be heard fairly by Entergy, you should simply own your own restaurant and have enough reach to get enough people mad on the news.  Why doesn't everybody do that?

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Ghost meter

 While we're on the subject of Entergy today

Chef Eric Cook opened his French Quarter restaurant Saint John two years ago with an aim to showcase traditional New Orleans cooking. Today he announced he’s closed the restaurant “indefinitely” in exasperation over the city’s leadership and its utility providers.

In a statement, Cook said Entergy New Orleans cut power to Saint John, at 1117 Decatur St., over a bill for $40,000. Cook claims this bill is for “a ghost meter that they cannot even determine its location on the property.”

That's a shame. I do sort of expect maintaining a meter that tells you how many ghosts are in the restaurant would be kind of expensive. At the same time, though, I thought that's what the big Varg piece on the wall of the dining room was for.

You are the resilience plan

This is a comprehensive study of Entergy rates going back 20 years by Verite's Michael Isaac Stein. If you've been thinking your bills are higher than they've ever been, then, yes, you are correct. In the last year, alone, the average annual bill in New Orleans is up by 60 percent. The article also points out the City Council is poised to approve an additional 20 percent hike for "resilience upgrades." 

We've been on this horse for a while now. See here and here for some relatively recent posts about this. But, long story short, the main thrust of Entergy's "resilience" strategy is to shift the growing costs of climate change down to its captive ratepayers while investors and executives continue to reap extraordinary profits. You pay more for everything; that's the resilience strategy in a nutshell.  The Verite article shares comments from several parties who also make this point well. 

Some Entergy critics argue that there is also a broader and more simple reason bills are rising so fast — Entergy is favoring its shareholders over its customers. 

Entergy’s mission is to enrich shareholders, so it’s a contributing factor for certain,” Harden said. “It’s about trapping New Orleans residents to ensure we’re always paying high bills, a cycle of billing we have no control over.”

At the same time as bills have reached historic highs, so have dividend payments to Entergy shareholders. Entergy New Orleans’ parent company, Entergy Corp., has paid out $3.2 billion in shareholder dividends since 2020. 

Burke and other advocates have long warned that the company has effectively shifted most of the risk of the business onto the shoulders of customers, who have to deal with erratic bills while shareholders enjoy steady, rising profits.

“Why should only residents be the ones who suffer as a result of climate change and international markets?” Burke said. “Why should people, especially in cities like New Orleans where a vast percentage of our population is in poverty, be holding up these Fortune 500 companies and their shareholders who are insulated from every risk at every turn? I don’t think there’s any world in which that is just or equitable.”

Why should the poorest and least powerful shoulder the burdens of maintaining capital through a global disaster? The short answer is, because that's always been how it's done.  Shifting the inevitable risks of climate change onto the most vulnerable is at the heart of US industrial policy now. You are the resilience plan. Your blood and your bones. It's not going to stop, either. Verite pulls a quote from Monique Harden for its headline that is apt enough here. There's simply "no end in sight" for the costs we're going to endure.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Holiday spirits are up

 It's right around the corner. Have you sent your emails to Santa yet? I think this guy got the wrong address.

Schofield, 76, was charged late Monday in a bill of information, typically a sign that a defendant has signed a plea deal and will cooperate with the government. Schofield's lawyer, Steve London, declined to comment.

Federal authorities in April secured a guilty plea from the restaurateur, Fouad Zeton, and assuming Schofield pleads guilty, prosecutors are expected to take aim at their next target, New Orleans police officer Christian Claus. Claus, a seven-year veteran of the NOPD and a former lawyer who also hails from Nevada, has been on desk duty since at least December, when news broke that he was the subject of the investigation.

Claus is described clearly but not named in the documents, instead referred to as "Individual A," in keeping with Justice Department policies that frown on defaming people in court documents who have yet to be accused of crimes. Schofield is accused of sending Claus an email that "misrepresented [his] honest assessment of the appraised art's value."

Somebody's already made a list of naughties, anyway. I wonder who this is. 

Court documents in Zeton's case say that Claus was to receive a kickback from the proceeds resulting from the false insurance claim. In addition, prosecutors alleged that Zeton had promised to use his influence with “a high-ranking NOPD official” to get Claus better posts and promotions. It’s unclear who that official is, or whether Zeton or his friend ever attempted to help Claus.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Ghouls and goblins

Governor-elect Landry's transition team is populated with all of the infamous figures you might expect to see. You've got your Grigsbys and your Bollingers and whatnot. There are other things you might expect.  An oil company lawyer will chair the Coast & Environment committee, a charter school guy will chair a K-12 education group.  I also see there's a committee chaired by Gray Stream. That's an interesting character we highlighted last month as well. 

Lane Grigsby will be in charge of something called a "Constitutional Reform" committee which is itself a whole 'nother can of worms we've been trying not to have to open for quite some time, primarily because of some issues we brought up on election night

Anyway, I'm linking back to old posts here because we're about to get swallowed up by some monsters that I, like a lot of people, have been warning about for a long time. You might say we're practically haunted. Not sure what anyone can do about it now. After all, the exorcist was two governors ago.

Louisiana's Privatized Utility King

We flagged this a few years ago. Jim Bernhard is slowly building himself a little public utilities empire through his new-ish private equity firm. Today we learn he's about to add a pretty big piece to that. 

Entergy Corp. is selling its natural gas distribution business to Baton Rouge-based Bernhard Capital Partners, part of a broader strategy shift that if approved by regulators will mean a new gas provider for tens of thousands of Louisiana homeowners.

Entergy officials announced the $484 million deal on Monday and said they hope to finalize the sale in mid-2025.

In an email to customers, Entergy executives said there would be no immediate changes to gas service or bills for their roughly 200,000 customers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

“We will work with our customers, regulators and Bernhard Capital to ensure a smooth transition and minimize any inconvenience,” read the message, which was signed by Entergy Louisiana CEO Phillip May and Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez. They promised to provide additional information “in the months ahead.”

"Hot commodity"

 Your District Attorney is doing a little forcible real estate flipping

The structure is one of three surviving buildings from the Storyville district, according to a 2022 City Planning Commission report. It once housed seminal jazz clubs Frank Early Saloon and My Place Saloon.

In 2019, the location at 1210-1216 Bienville Street was cited for demolition by neglect by the Historic District Landmarks Commission. The case remains open and the $3,075 fine unpaid, according to public records.

Williams described the historic property as a "hot commodity," though its future is murky. Williams said he'd like to see it house fresh produce for sale to the neighborhood. David Abbenante, president of HRI Management, developer of the abutting, mixed-income Bienville Basin Community apartments, said the impact of the market's closure is just beginning.

Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial practice that has been banned in four states. Louisiana's laws are among the ripest for abuse in the nation, according to the libertarian Institute for Justice, which gave the state a D+ grade.

Williams, throughout his career in politics, has been rolling in contributions from developers.  Here's a brief taste from the 2020 Antigravity voter guide, for example. 

Williams has received money from charter school supporter Leslie Jacobs, a point of concern if ending the school-to-prison pipeline truly is a goal, as Williams states. (For a more thorough look at how and why charter schools directly serve the school-to-prison pipeline, revisit our introduction to the school board races in our previous guide.) Williams has also received money from notorious real estate developers Pres Kabacoff and the Motwanis. “Development” and policing go hand in hand, and New Orleans is no stranger to the trend.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Spooky Season Reading

The older I get, the more I find myself becoming a creature of ritual. I don't know why, exactly. I think it has to do with wanting to mark the accelerating passage of the year. At my age, it can slip by almost completely unnoticed if you don't make a special effort to feel it happen. This requires us to participate in the seasons; make the gumbo when the weather turns cold, eat the king cake on Jan 6... wait, are these all gonna be food?  

Maybe not all of them. I'm also in the habit of trying to find the best spooky books to read during this time every year. That's easier said than done. So much horror in books and movies turns out to be trash. It's easy enough to be grossed out by cheap schlock. (And hey sometimes that's exactly what we're in the mood for!) But, like I said, I'm doing these rituals for the sake of.. I dunno... spiritual communion with the season, or something like that. The good Halloween books are more atmospheric than shocking. In the best ones you might even find something profoundly moving.

This October I read six spooky books covering a wide variety here of style, of form and of audience.  There are picture books for children, a graphic collection for teens, as well as some fiction for adults. Anyway, here's list. 

The Skull by Jon Klassen (2023)

Klassen might be my favorite children's author and illustrator.  A girl runs away into the woods. We aren't told why, exactly. She comes to an abandoned house where she befriends a disembodied skull. The skull can talk. It can move a little bit. It can even taste the food and drink the girl feeds it. Or at least it politely says that it can. Like the girl, though, the skull is also hiding from something it will need her help to escape. Klassen's re-telling of this folk tale is, I think, about processing trauma and what it means to choose your own family. The illustrations are lovely and the text is imbued with his trademark existential wit.

How To Sell A Haunted House by  Grady Hendrix (2023)

There's a lot to like in this novel it but it was maybe a little too much TV melodrama for me. The title says, haunted house, but really this is a haunted doll story. A single mother is a tech engineer in Silicon Valley when she learns that her parents way back home in Charleston have suddenly died. This requires her to fly across the county and settle the estate with her estranged fuck-up of a brother. What ensues then is a plot where unfinished family issues must be confronted and secrets... um... unearthed. Drama tropes and horror tropes abound.  Still, it's clever and even a little funny in spots and there are some interesting ideas in it about art and performance and memory.

In The Dark by Kate Hoefler (2023)

This is a picture book about community and acceptance of outsiders. Pages depict alternating points of view between villagers witnessing a mysterious group of newcomers (witches?) to the nearby woods and a competing narrative told by the newcomers themselves. The brief text and gorgeous pictures make this a great read aloud. 

A Night of Screams: Latino Horror Stories Edited by Richard Z. Santos (2023) 

Mostly a collection of sketches, many of them quite short. Some compelling ideas, though. Does a hurricane leave ghosts in its wake? Is an aging couple stalked by El Chupacabra or the idea of death? Is the noise next door La Llorona or an even more terrifying reality? Little evocative ideas are often better than drawn out novels in this genre.

Through The Woods by Emily Carroll (2014)

This graphic collection was recommended to me on Bluesky after I began a thread of these. The stories here have moody elements of folk tales and Victorian gothic. Much like the short story sketches in "Night of Screams" these vignettes are evocative pieces to read at night. Both of those books were great for Halloween mood setting. 

The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan (2023)

A not-too-distant future Toronto is falling apart. Its physical and social infrastructure are neglected and rotting away amid the forces of capitalism and climate change. Gig workers and civil servants struggle to keep heads above water (often literally as street floods and sinkholes proliferate.) At the top of the precarious social order, a territorial battle is taking place between a corporation in charge of a "smart cities" style privatized district and an old line set of real estate developers trying to maintain family legacies. 

The titular "Marigold" tower is one such legacy. Permitted, we learn, through a ritualistic boardroom gathering of oligarchs somewhat reminiscent of a Comus ball and built, in accordance with custom, on top of a literal human sacrifice, the building is a manifestation of the city's longstanding way of doing business. One of Sullivan's characters describes it this way.

"They would say they aren't monsters. The system works out, so their hands are clean. In the past, people were walled into these places alive. Now when they do it, they'll say it's humane. These people don't care, and they want you to not care either. Everything you own comes from bodies and blood, one way or another. Your phone. Your clothes. The good things you have are primarily drawn from the misfortune of others. Blood, sweat, tears. All of it literal."

In the face of the economic and climate crisis, though, the condo development, like the entire city, is failing. Meanwhile, a mysterious mold is growing out of the ground where all this blood and exploitation was sewn and is beginning to threaten everyone. 

The Marigold is set in Toronto but I kept thinking about New Orleans.  You could probably insert any city into this narrative. For example, it was hard not to read this novel without thinking of the conglomeration of private real estate developers, university boards, and tax exempt non-profits in control properties like Charity Hospital

Nearly five years after a team of developers was selected to bring Charity Hospital back to life, the landmark building's renovation is at least two years behind schedule and in need of more money to get the project back on track.

Officials involved with the project have recently brought in a new developer to help jump start the renovations, which have seen delays due to the pandemic and soaring construction costs.

According to one person familiar with the project's financing, the costs have risen to well north of $500 million from around $300 million two years ago.

The image of a city's social elite literally building their wealth on top of the bodies and bones of the poor comes further into focus with this macabre bit I remembered from having read Kathryn Olivarius's Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom last year.

If we were to travel back in time to October 1833, when John Wyeth was digging mass graves, and sat in the Cabildo's public gallery to listen to the deliberations of New Orleans's city council, we might not realize that the city was in the grips of its worst yellow fever epidemic in a generation. We would hear detailed discussions concerning the oyster shells being used to pave a new road out to Lake Pontchartrain; debates about city attorney salaries; estimates for the amount of wood needed for a flying bridge; and fights about the cost of lantern oil for the cotton exchange. Across the road in the mayor's office, the conversation might center on city finances or the schedule of the city guard. There would be little to no discussion about the horrific situation at the Charity Hospital less than a mile away, where unclaimed corpses baking under the sun outside had recently exploded. Nothing either about the roughly 300 immigrants around the corner in Marigny who had just died from yellow fever. 

The elite culture of apathetic fatalism ran deeper than silence. New Orleans's city fathers actively avoided discussing yellow fever, even at the height of epidemics, instead preoccupying themselves with finances, zoning, and parochial matters like bread weights. Aldermen considered it a poor use of political capital to seek out means to resolve or ameliorate disease. Some believed the fatal status quo was intractable and that there was nothing to be gained by raising controversial topics like quarantine, which did little but produce shouting matches and inflame the ire of businessmen. Others were weary of discussing disease which inevitably morphed into conversations about other sensitive issues like taxes, regulation or immigration

There's much in Olivarius's book about Yellow Fever that foreshadows the political response to COVID, no doubt. But the larger point, I think, is illustrated in Sullivan's novel, where the fundamental issue, as always, comes down to who decides who gets what, no matter the circumstances, and the futility of thinking that those fundamentals could ever change. As one of his protagonists concludes, "It didn't matter what you knew. The future was owned by someone else, someone bigger than you, someone or something that didn't even pay taxes." 

Anyway, Happy Halloween.  I suppose it was the spirit of this real estate horror novel that inspired this year's Jack-O-Lantern.  I give you, Joe Jaeger's Crumbling Plaza Tower of Terror.

Plaza Tower of Terror 

And one more passage from Sullivan describing what's going on with one of his characters whose family has parlayed its wealth from slumlording into luxury condo development.

Another revenue stream, another way to maximize return on tragedy. A building wouldn't do anymore. The very act of holding onto a property was immoral. He reconciled himself to that years ago, welcomed his role as the villain. To be an owner, to be a landlord, meant someone had to be subjugated. The other developers who talked around those facts were kidding themselves, doing their best put some polish on an ancient profession. Humans couldn't survive without a roof over their head. A building gave you more time, sometimes decades. To deny anyone that, well, you'd need to be a monster, wouldn't you?

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Still pretty far from getting it right

This could be the week we get a ruling on the latest legal challenge to the latest attempt by City Council to rein in the plague of short term rentals on our city where nobody actually lives. We keep saying the only remedy for this is a full ban on these in our neighborhoods. When we say that we mean a full ban on the residentially zoned AND commercially zoned parts of the neighborhoods.  Which means we've got a long way to go with all of this. But it does like we're about to get one step closer

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle suspended the city’s regulatory system governing STRs. As a result, there are essentially no rules governing the industry while the city awaits Lemelle’s decision on a suit filed by the industry in May. Although the judge hasn't explicitly said which way he's leaning, his suspension of the rules, apparent skepticism of the compromise and a lack of movement on the issue since then has opponents of the industry increasingly convinced he'll strike them down. Lemelle is expected to make a decision during a Nov. 2 hearing.
I don't care for the way John Stanton frames things in that article. In lines like this one, he buys into a bullshit myth that the app-i-fied STR business is merely a noble purpose corrupted. 

What originally started as a gig economy style way to temporarily rent out a spare bedroom has turned into a multi-billion-dollar, global industry dominated by large corporations.

He also goes heavy into flourishes about the aesthetic consequences of STRs, "predatory packs of bachelor and bachelorette parties," and so on. And while that's unpleasant, it's just a symptom of the more fundamental illness. A community is being destroyed for the benefit of capital. 

This "gig economy" Stanton seems neutral about is just a new name for an old process. STRs, rideshares, delivery apps, all of these arbitrage businesses that turn workers into independent contractors or demand that people commodify their private living space just to get by, all of this is just the same logical progression of unfettered capitalism we've always seen. The alienated subjects of this regime have always been vulnerable to more intrusive and efficient extraction of value from their time, their bodies, their privacy. The "innovative technology" here is really just a means of circumventing existing rules protecting us from these intrusions.  This is why we've always needed to band together and work out ways to protect ourselves. That's democracy.  And so we need new rules to keep the beast in check.  Hopefully we can still get there.

Or maybe we won't.  Democracy is hard to accomplish but easy to subvert.  It often comes down to identifying the most venal or willfully ignorant political power brokers and buying them off; sometimes with bribes, but also with bullshit if they're stupid enough. 

The one major exception is sales tax collections, which have been below projections in the second half of this year. Cantrell’s budget anticipates a slight decrease in sales tax collections, about $3 million, next year from what was budgeted this year. During her speech, Cantrell appeared to blame the shortfall, in part, on the council’s attempts to rein in short-term rentals, on which the city collects taxes. Cantrell has repeatedly expressed frustration with recent council-backed restrictions on the industry, saying in September that she felt the city’s original short-term rental law — passed in 2016 and criticized as being too lax — “got it right.”

From the looks of things we're still years away from getting it right. Maybe by that time there will still be some city left to save. But it's slipping away fast. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Tell me more about the vending machines

Yeah yeah Susan Hutson is being sued by a guy she fired for whistleblowing over the Mardi Gras hotel rooms. (allegedly!) And yeah yeah there is a salacious bit about an (alleged) affair thrown in because that is how we sell any story nowadays. But what I'm really interested in here is this. 

Trautenberg says he investigated, and alleges that Hutson told him to stop, and if he didn't, "she would fire him for insubordination,” the lawsuit states.

Hutson defended the spending to WDSU Investigates.

OPSO now says they used the money they collected from donations, fundraising, and vending machines to pay for the rooms and not tax dollars.

I've already said, I don't think that accepting the hotel stays from "donations and fundraising" is necessarily better than just using department funds to pay for them.  If anything, it's worse, actually!  But what is this vending machine money all about?  The Sheriff has vending machine money? How much? From where? How does that normally get spent anyway?

Thursday, October 26, 2023

But what about the monorail?

This week, Troy Henry and the city's economic development team he has been negotiating with over the Six Flags site showed up at a convention of water park operators to do a little carnival barking

The yearslong effort to redevelop the former Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans East took a major step forward Wednesday as the 227-acre property was formally turned over to Bayou Phoenix, the local group selected to tackle the ambitious project.

At a ceremony held during the annual meeting of the World Waterpark Association at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Troy Henry, who leads the Bayou Phoenix consortium, signed the lease to cheers from residents and applause from public officials.

Henry's one dollar per year lease now gives him permission to demolish what remains of the flooded and shuttered park. Beyond that, though, nothing is guaranteed. In fact, Henry even says here that the master plan he's been waving around in order to drum up public support and secure his bid for the project will probably be altered once the demolitions are done. 

Now that the document is finalized and Bayou Phoenix has control of the property, Henry said his group can begin the difficult task of figuring out how to turn their vision into reality.

“We just got the keys, so now we have to assess the property because we need to understand if the master plan we have designed can physically be located in the way we have laid it out,” Henry said.

While today’s ceremony was a significant milestone, many questions about the project remain.

Over the next 12 months, the developers plan to assess the site and clear it out, demolishing the rusting old amusement rides and removing junk from the property. The Bayou Phoenix master plan will also likely change during that process as the partners get a better understanding of the land and determine what is feasible.

In other words, yes, we have been plying you with bullshit for years now. But trust us.  

A few months ago, WWLTV helped spread some of that bullshit by running a little feature about Tyler Perry's music partner. Apparently Henry had trotted him out to say vague things about how he could do Hollywood things of some sort on whatever the Six Flags site becomes. 

His next venture takes him from Hollywood back to his hometown of New Orleans as he tries to help revive the Six Flags site.

“I walked in there and immediately went into reimagining what the space could potentially be, including equity and inclusion. Being able to have representation for the unrepresented."

The former church organist from Hahnville has big plans for Six Flags and his own career. They include technology centers on the abandoned site and partnering with industries that can help teach the courses and plant the seeds in the next generation.

But at this week's signing ceremony, we learn that Henry doesn't actually have any partners lined up to operate any of the "attractions" he has promised. And, of course, it follows that there's no financing lined up for anything. 

The developers have had initial discussions with several operators, including nationally known brands that are interested in taking on various pieces of the project, Henry said. Because Bayou Phoenix did not have a signed lease agreement until Tuesday, however, it has not engaged in serious talks or, even, secured letters of intent with any specific partners.

For those same reasons, the group has not secured any financing commitments yet. The price tag for the project has previously been mentioned as ranging from $500 million to nearly $1 billion, though Henry said Tuesday that it will likely be closer to $500 million. 

It's well known that Henry and his friends in media and entertainment pull this sort of stuff all the time. It's also fairly well understood that this circle of friends extends into politics

 



Which, in turn, is one reason Troy's project, which may not have any solid partnership commitments or private financing, does have access to $100 million in public subsidies. 

Of that, an estimated 20%, or $100 million, is expected to come from city, state and federal funds, including the possible creation of a special taxing district and “other creative, innovative government programs,” Henry said.

Anyway as of right now, Troy has a one year lease. Let's check back next Halloween to see how many of these deadlines need to be extended.

Its first deadline is 12 months from the date of the lease signing, October 25, by which time it must have a sublease in place with an operator for at least one component of the project. That portion of the project must be completed in early 2027, according to the lease.

The developers will be considered in default if they do not hit the milestones, though the lease contains clauses that allow for extensions.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

What happened?

We did it! We're back, everybody

Revenue projections

The Cantrell administration expects general fund revenue of more than $762 million, driven by sales taxes, property taxes, licensing and permitting fees, and more. The remainder of the operating budget is funded via revenues earmarked for specific purposes like federal and state grants and specific districts' property tax funds. Those revenue projections suggest that the majority of the city's revenue streams will return to pre-pandemic levels, according to MontaƱo.

A whole year ahead of time, according to 2021 Monatno, anyway. 

New Orleans is set to receive $388 million from this year’s coronavirus stimulus package, and while council members are calling to spend at least some of that money, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration is urging a slower approach.

Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert MontaƱo on Monday resisted calls from the council to hold mid-year budget hearings on the funds and urged that the vast majority of the money be held back, with the first major round of spending not coming until next year. And even then, MontaƱo urged council members to take the long view and parcel out spending through 2025, when some projections say New Orleans will finally emerge from its pandemic-induced deficits.

At the time, MontaƱo and Cantrell were resisting calls to spend the federal relief money on housing and other support for service industry workers facing evictions. In other words they were being asked to use the funds to help poor people affected by the pandemic; the purpose they were actually intended for.  Instead, MontaƱo wanted to squirrel as much of it away to address his 5 year "projected" deficits.  

But, here we are. Not even 5 years down the road and the deficits seem to be over.  Maybe it's finally time to make good on the original promise of the American Rescue Plan? 

Or maybe not. As these counter-programmers to today's hearing pointed out, we're mostly spending it on cop stuff.

At a press conference outside City Hall before the mayor's budget presentation, advocates with the Big Easy Budget Coalition issued their demands once again.

"The American Rescue Plan dollars really offered New Orleans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move in a different direction and recover from the pandemic and recover from years of inequity," said Sarah Omojola, director of Vera Louisiana, a local initiative of the Vera Institute of Justice. "Instead the ARPA dollars— the American Rescue Plan dollars— were used to plug budget holes and invest in policing."

Are they definitely building it ON the park, though?

This is a good quick summary of the history of Duncan Plaza and its environs. But I'm still not clear on whether the plans for the new City Hall will maintain the park as a park or will the new building go on top of it? 

Duncan Plaza has always been more than just a green space in a concrete jungle. 

For decades, the park has served as the backdrop for protests and gatherings. Now, city and state leaders have struck a tentative deal to construct a new City Hall on its grounds.

On Tuesday, the New Orleans City Planning Commission okayed the plan for a land swap so that the city can reacquire the portion of the park owned by the state of Louisiana.

The lots they're getting from the state are the flat vacant area where the State Supreme Court building used to stand.  Is that where the new City Hall will go? Or will it take over the rest of the park? Or both? I still don't know. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Mondays

 Oh man, well, that's not good

Contractors are attempting to recover as much as 15 barrels of crude oil released from an Extex Operating platform near Turtle Bay, about 9 1/2 miles south of the Jean Lafitte Harbor, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The Coast Guard received a report of the release at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday. A team of LSU researchers in Turtle Bay also videoed the release on Saturday, showing crude oil spewing from a pipe atop the platform into the open water of Barataria Bay. 

There are so many little oil spills happening all the time along our coast from both active and "orphaned" or abandoned wells that it's really a mundane sort of thing to report. 

Meanwhile, watch out for "superfog"

Area residents should expect repeated bouts of “superfog” through at least mid-week, thanks to a stubborn dome of high pressure sitting over southern Louisiana, National Weather Service meteorologists said Monday.

The dense fog resulting from the combination of clear skies, light winds and overnight temperatures dropping to levels where dew forms are pretty normal for this time of year, said Ben Schott, director of the weather service's Slidell office.

What became more problematical was that the fog combined with smoke, creating superfog conditions, he said. "Smoke naturally diminishes visibility, and in combination with particles from the fires it can enhance the already foggy conditions by creating even more droplets of water in the air to make visibility worse, dropping visibility on roadways to zero visibility in some cases this morning across the region," Schott said.

They say the smoke is mostly coming from marsh fires in the Bayou Sauvage area. All weekend it smelled like burning plastic. Today, the superfog is causing even worse problems

Parts of interstates 10, 55 and 310 are closed after dense fog and smoke led to a massive pileup and other isolated accidents Monday morning. 

Authorities are asking drivers to avoid a roughly 20-mile stretch of I-55 running alongside Lake Maurepas and the entirety of the Bonnet CarrĆ© Spillway. 

So avoid that area.  Also, maybe just avoid all the areas today.

 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

"Violent people"

Going to be a fun time figuring out how the legislature defines that next year.

Weird how deeply this line of thinking permeates the political discourse in this country

As Wild told fellow House Democrats that she didn’t want any religious community to feel ostracized — noting that Muslim leaders weren’t present at the event she participated in — Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a moderate Jewish Democrat and Israel hawk, loudly interjected.

Accounts differ, however, on whether Gottheimer was referring to Muslims or made an ill-timed remark in an unrelated conversation, with some attendees overhearing him saying “because they’re all guilty” and others saying he stated “because they should feel guilty.” A spokesperson for Gottheimer strongly denied that he was talking about Muslims.

It's almost like decades of waging repressive wars of empire start to leave their mark.  Eventually you end up with a lot of "violent people" walking around the halls of power.

Ghost bus

 Clearly this app is haunted.

RTA launched a new app called Le Pass in August 2022. The app uses GPS technology to track buses. While it does include information about route delays, Ride says the updates don’t appear quickly enough, leaving riders waiting at stops with no idea when to expect to get picked up or whether they should change their transportation plans.  

“What we’re frustrated by is that we don’t have real information from the RTA on how the service issues are affecting different parts of the system,” Buckley said. 

Buckley said riders are reporting to Ride that sometimes the Le Pass app will sometimes show a bus’ location where there is no bus and sometimes a bus will be running and won’t show up on the app. 

And when a bus breakdown causes a delay, the app only tells users there are “significant delays,” but it doesn’t offer added information about a vehicle being taken off its line.

That's great. I've literally had RTA workers tell me not to use Le Pass. It can't even tell you whether or not a real bus is coming, let alone begin to figure out why it isn't. 

Hankins said she’s trying to work on getting more accurate information out to the public, but it’s hard to know how long a delay might take. 

“What I have gleaned from my peers across the country is they will say there is an incident on this line [or] police activity on this line, but they can’t describe how long the delay will be. Whereas our app just says there’s a delay. And so how do we … give riders better information?” Hankins asked. “That is something I’m challenging our team to try to figure out.”

To be fair, there are a lot of factors to consider in estimating delays in New Orleans. Maybe a tree has fallen on a bus. That could take an hour or so. A flooded street might mean two or three hours. But what if a sinkhole has swallowed a bus whole?  That might take longer. Perhaps a building has collapsed onto a streetcar line.  Now we are talking about a years' long delay.  All of this may be beyond the app's ability to compute efficiently.

Or maybe the delay is caused by something more mundane. Like, for example, decades of negligence. 

On its worst day the agency had only 78 buses available. At its best, it had 89, one shy of what the agency says is the ideal number — 90 buses — to accommodate. 

In an interview last month, RTA CEO Lona Edwards Hankins acknowledged that the transit agency is facing a number of challenges in providing reliable service to its bus riders. 

The fleet size is down by more than 50 percent from its pre-Katrina number, when it was about 370 strong, according to media reports from the time. Much of that fleet — about 200 buses — was destroyed in the citywide flooding that followed the 2005 storm, The Times-Picayune reported in 2009, and the remaining buses were aging out of usefulness. 

After receiving funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and settling with its insurance company, the RTA purchased 137 new buses between 2008 and 2012, officials told Verite.

But Hankins, who was named CEO in March, said there wasn’t a long-term purchasing plan in place.

Whatever the case, you're probably gonna be waiting a while. Maybe just have the app say that.