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Thursday, December 05, 2019

I'm guessing Duck Tours?

RTA is supposed to vote this coming Monday on a charter boat operator who will provide temporary ferry service until either the broken down old boats get back up and running or Metal Shark's tin can catamarans ever pass a Coast Guard inspection.
Some of the council members like Kristin Palmer, who district includes the French Quarter and Algiers, displayed signs indicating it's been 67 days with no ferry. "The management system was flawed, deeply flawed," Palmer said. "The operations and maintenance of the ferry system has been deeply flawed. So, we're hear to get some answers."

RTA Board Chairman Flozell Daniels' agreed. "The process was managed poorly," Daniels said. "There was not as much accountability as there should have been The contractor did not do what we thing was the right job to make sure it was managed appropriately."

Daniels promised the RTA is now trying to do better for the public. Two new ferry boats, delivered about 18 months ago have yet to pass Coast Guard inspection. The $10 million vessels were supposed to replace two older boats, neither of which is currently in working condition. People who rely on the ferries to get to work are hurting.

"We've ignored the fact that this is a commuter problem," commuter Fabienne Keenum said. "This is public transportation and I and other service industry and lower income workers rely that ferry to get across."
It's good to see something being done about the "commuter problem," at least. Last week, the city seemed more focused on compensating Algiers Point business owners for our sudden inability to deliver tourists for them to cater to.  There's no doubt those businesses have suffered, of course. But for some reason the city always seems to consider workers as an afterthought. (Did you know, this week, an American city implemented fare-free transit for its riders? Can you even imagine New Orleans RTA currently helmed by a "fare enforcement" specialist considering such a thing?)

Anyway, why won't they name the charter boat operator? Obviously they have somebody in mind.  Please don't tell us we can "Ride The Ducks" across the river anytime soon. You laugh, but thinking about public transit exclusively in terms of amusement rides for tourists is exactly how Mitch Landrieu got us into the Metal Shark problem in the first place.  Here's a public post by Clark Thompson that's been making the rounds on Facebook. I assume it's okay to share here, in a different public part of the internet. He introduces it as a letter to the mayor he wrote in 2016.  Basically, the style of boat that Mitch ordered was never fit to operate on the Mississippi River.
I am not a bidder on the RTA ferry project, therefore I am late to the game, but I recently learned some details of the RFP (for some reason the document is not publicly available).

As a long time ferry user, a USCG licensed captain, a Naval Architect, a builder of aluminum boats, and a principal investigator on marine building materials for Army Research Labratory, I have grave concerns regarding this RFP.

This RFP requests a high speed, catamaran hull, fabricated from aluminum. Such a vessel is well suited to the long runs on the Hudson River, and in Sydney Harbor. Such a request flies in the face of hundreds of years of experience of operations on the Mississippi River.

First, this is a short run, and a high speed boat will have no time to get up to speed before it must slow back down. The medium speed diesel engines will not have time to blow themselves clean, and will end up running dirty. This will in turn lead to considerably higher than projected maintainence costs and downtime. Furthermore, in order to obtain the required speed, larger engines must be selected, further driving up total cost of ownership.

Second, catamarans have poor low speed manuverability. The complicated eddies on the east bank ferry landing require a highly manuverable boat. Bow thrusters are a poor substitute for a proper initial design and are another item of maintainence that will further drive up total cost of ownership and downtime.

Third, aluminum is a poor material for impact. While this lightweight material is acceptable for the garbage strewn waterways of the Hudson or Sydney Harbor, it is ill suited to the frequent impacts with whole trees, oil drums and other large debris carried by the Mississippi river. Look along the waterfront and you will find centuries of experience dictate steel as the prefered material for watercraft along the Mississippi. Only small response boats are build in aluminum here. This flawed material specification will result in a high risk of downtime for the ferry, and much higher than projected total cost of ownership.

I address this message to you as a lover of the city and the river. Our city will suffer with the impact of a bad decision on this contract for 30 years or more and it is critically important to get it right.

Please consider delaying this contract award until the RFP has been corrected to properly request a boat suitable for the Mississippi River operating environment.
We've also noted previously and repeatedly, the various concerns with the contractor itself.  I think this post has most of that in one place.  But the overriding factor seems to be that Mitch thought the catamarans were cool. So that's what he bought.  Let's hope the charter contractor is chosen according to more reasonable criteria.

So many Motwanis

You may be thinking of the different Motawanis that own all of the property in the French Quarter.  But we assure you, these Motwanis who also own all the property in the French Quarter are entirely different Motwanis. 
Though Kama Sutra’s various records list Motwani’s father, Chandru “Charlie” Motwani, as its manager, investigators determined Bobby Motwani actually operated it, the state ATC has previously said. Investigators also established that Rancifer was a club manager despite being a convicted felon who could not legally hold such a job, the ATC said.

Furthermore, the ATC said its investigators collected evidence of “solicitation of sex, lewd acts, underage alcohol sales to patrons as well as teenage dancers performing at the club.”

The ATC — which last year stepped up enforcement of a law that prohibits dancers younger than 21 from performing topless in strip clubs — suspended Kama Sutra’s liquor license on Feb. 17, and according to information online, it has closed permanently.

Kama Sutra in 2017 replaced a strip club named Babe’s Cabaret, which itself closed after drawing ATC citations during an earlier enforcement sweep. Charlie Motwani opened Kama Sutra in his own name after searching in vain for an operator to lease the vacant space.

An attorney for Charlie Motwani said earlier this year that Kama Sutra was separate and distinct from the better-known land and retail holdings of his brother Mike Motwani.
I know, I know, it's difficult to keep up.  But when our entire system is based on... *checks notes* ... the neo-feudal rights of land barons... then understanding the complex lineages of the great families becomes a fundamental civic responsibility.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Speaking of asking the council for stuff

Tomorrow, they're set to vote on the jail expansion. (Yes, it's already been rejected by CPC but City Council always has the last word on these things so tomorrow is the day.) Also please see the below post and everything we've noted about short term rentals since the city began dealing with them to get an idea as to why we don't trust these people to do the right thing ever.

And then go see them tomorrow if you can.  Here's a Twitter thread from the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition explaining what to expect if you are going.

Surely no one could have known

Apparently there was a massive run on short term rental permits just before the new rules went into effect this week. Anyone who got in under the wire is now effectively grandfathered in by right.
The final number of legal rentals could end up being significantly higher by the end of the process, however.

There’s a backlog of more than 1,000 applications that have yet to be processed, and unbuilt projects that could contain another 1,000 commercial units are still on the drawing boards and could come online years down the road.

In both cases, “they were legally allowed (at the time they applied) and will continue to be legal,” said Zach Smith, director of the Department of Safety and Permits.

The imminent approach of the new rules has brought a surge in applications. The city has issued nearly 620 licenses to residential properties since the beginning of September, and nearly 390 more applications are waiting to be reviewed.
This is, of course, exactly what affordable housing advocates said was going to happen if the city did not act to freeze the granting of new permits between the time new rules were passed and the date they went into effect. In fact this is what they chanted out loud in the city council chambers as members were debating the ordinances.  But somehow nobody could have predicted....

The only fair conclusion to draw is this is what the mayor and council wanted all along.  And now they've got what they wanted. Brand new STR hotels are coming soon to Canal Street, and to the former Charity Hospital, and to Mid City along the Lafitte Greenway. The recently passed 2020 city budget is depending on short term rentals to proliferate, in fact, in order to gain revenue via a new tax approved by voters in November.   Your elected leadership has ignored your clear objections and sold you out entirely.  Remember that next time you go to ask them for anything. They hear you just fine. But you aren't important enough to be listened to.

Apologies to the vultures, but the body has already been picked clean

Now that the body of the Kamala For President campaign has officially floated on out to sea, everybody wants to know who benefits. The immediate answer is nobody. The eventual answer might be a little bit different.

The immediate problem is there aren't very many Kamala supporters to divide up at this point. So there isn't much for any candidate to pick up now that she's gone. If Warren was the second choice among most Harris supporters as the polling seems to have indicated, most of those supporters had probably already gone over.  I wouldn't expect Warren to gain an obvious bump now that Harris is out. However it probably helps her down the road.

The game right now is about figuring out where the Biden voters are going to go after Biden inevitably implodes which is what everybody... including a lot of Biden supporters.... expects to happen at some point. Biden is the nominal front runner but his support is softer than conventional punditry suggests. It also is not monolithic. Conventional punditry assumes the majority of the voters considering Biden are "centrists" in search of a conservative Clinton style candidate but this ultimately may not be the case. Because the Biden campaign isn't really about anything besides name recognition, there are many different kinds of  Biden supporters who will end up making many different kinds of choices when the Biden campaign ends.  That doesn't mean the majority of them will land with the most ideologically comparable candidate to Joe Biden.  The Biden campaign isn't about ideology. Voters won't necessarily be drawn to their second choice for the same reasons they have been drawn to Joe.

The main reason the Biden campaign is associated with the more conservative elements of the Democratic Party has to do with its network of surrogates tied to the party power structure. Apparatchiks like Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond for example, are with Biden now because it's the professionally appropriate place for them to be. For the time being, the Biden campaign is the de-facto home of the institutional Democratic Party. A broad base of party insiders are hanging around it at the moment because it suits their personal ambition, or at least their general sense of obligation in some way. After Joe drops out, they're all free to move on, of course. But, unlike the free agent Biden voters among the general public, the party insider class is much more likely to land on a single second choice.

Early on, Kamala was a good bet to become the safe Biden replacement. She cultivated a similar appeal to conservatives and professional class Democrats. And she was never shy about courting wealthy donors and corporate lobbyists. Despite all this she never got it together for a bunch of complicated reasons. Last week's NYT feature shines a light on some of the inside baseball.  There were other problems as well with regard to the "messaging" and "positioning" that cynical political analysts like to fixate on.  But when you boil all of that down what you find is an elitist, conservative, corporate-friendly prosecutor failing to convince enough donors that she can lie her way around that effectively. When you think about it, it's pretty wild that the main idea behind Harris for President in the first place was that a lot of people liked the faces she made on TV during the Kavanaugh hearings. But then again, the current President is a game show host so who are we to say that this is any less valid as a marketing gimmick. Anyway it didn't work out.

Now that she's gone, the game is still about catching the windfall when Biden drops out. Kamala's goal was to be the obvious landing place for ex-Bidenites when the time came. But her campaign never demonstrated any growth as Kamala-curious Bidenites started kicking the tires on Warren instead. And in recent weeks, it looks like voters she might also have targeted began gravitating toward Mayor Pete.

But the bulk of the voters waiting to move are still tentatively with Biden. Which is why having Kamala out of the way is probably helpful to Warren down the road a bit. I also believe it opens up some possibilities for Bernie but nobody seems to want to hear that right now. Maybe we'll come back to that later, though.

Of course Bernie will never be the new favorite of the party insiders once Biden is out.  That is a thing that Pete and Warren are battling over behind the scenes. Expect that little campaign will only intensify now.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Coach O: "Not me, us"

Go read this ESPN feature on the undefeated LSU head coach.  I hope Coach O wins ten national titles before he's through.
"My dad always told me, 'Son, you have to do everything twice,'" says Orgeron, who called some of his former assistants to apologize. "You live and learn. If you want it bad enough, you'll change, and I always wanted to be a head coach. I wanted to be a successful head coach, and I had to try it my way first to see if it would work. In those years I was out from Ole Miss, I just wrote stuff down every day. I changed, and it was a process. ... I had to learn to be a head coach."

For starters, he says he learned to treat people better. That meant handling players as if they were his sons and treating assistants the way he'd want to be treated, with respect. If he saw something wrong, "I'd bring the coach to my office and talk to him like a man," rather than airing things out publicly.

Next, he wanted to cultivate a leadership style that wouldn't be defined by anyone's self-interest. He had seen selfishness of players and coaches creep in during his time as an assistant at USC and LSU, and vowed to create an environment where that attitude couldn't exist.

"I see myself coaching from within," he says. "I don't want to coach from above. I don't want it to be me looking down on everyone else. Na-ah. I want it to be all of us together."

Monday, December 02, 2019

The paranoid style in policing

It is a sad enough statement that we have to note this past weekend's Canal Street shooting is far from the first such incident in recent memory. It's not the first shooting to occur in a large crowd during a major event. We can easily call to mind previous similar episodes during Mardi Gras along the parade route, or during a Second Line, or on Canal or Bourbon Street during a big game or holiday weekend.  We literally hate to see it.  But we have seen a lot of it.

So we can say that it's frusrating or we can say it's depressing, but the one thing we can't say about it at all is that it is surprising. And, if we are the police, who are professionally tasked with responding to these incidents, our training and experience should prevent us from lapsing into paranoid fantasyland when they occur. And yet, here we are.
Ferguson said officers were on the scene immediately after gunshots started to ring out, as patrols had been beefed up for the game. He said that officers at first thought they were being fired upon since the shots rang out so close to them. No police officers were injured, Ferguson said.
What. Why? Why would they think that?  When, in the long sad history of gunfire breaking out in a New Orleans special event crowd, have police ever been the intended target?  It says something about the NOPD's culture that this is their first thought. It says they instinctively view the public as an enemy threat. 

Without getting off onto a tangent about the fundamental nature of policing and criminal justice as an institution of state control, let's agree, for the sake of argument, that there is such a thing as an equitable police department culture and that such a thing does NOT encourage an adversarial relationship with the community at large.  Accepting that premise, this reaction should be a clear warning sign that NOPD is falling alarmingly short of the standard there.   

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Put the mayor under house arrest

The state supreme court says the city owes $35 million to people issued illegitimate traffic camera tickets between 2008 and 2010. The ruling is somewhat technical. During those years the money was collected by the Department of Public Works instead of NOPD in violation of the City Charter. A different suit challenging the constitutionality of all camera tickets is still pending in federal court so stay tuned for that.

Stay tuned also to find out if anybody ever sees an actual refund. As we know, the city is often very late paying out judgements when it isn't ignoring them altogether.  However, there was one time, not too long ago in fact, when the courts decided to play hardball. In 2015, Civil District Court judge Kern Reese came very close to placing Mitch Landrieu under house arrest in an effort to force the city to finally make good on its decades old debt of back pay to firefighters. The state supreme court stopped that at the last minute but the circus seems to have served as a catalyst for the mayor to finally arrange a deal to pay the firefighters.

Anyway Cantrell is quoted in this article pledging this and other judgments will be paid "subject to appropriation" which means, as soon as we find the money, whenever that is. But remember theoretically the judges could still arrest Cantrell, or more likely some future mayor, if there comes a time when they think the foot dragging has gone on too long.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

We need to kill the term "culture bearer"

I cringe every time I see it used. A "culture bearer" is not some separate class of person.  We're all culture bearers. All of us here participating in society together, whether we like it or not, are creating a culture together. Right now it's not a particularly healthy culture. In part this is because of our failure to understand what is happening and to whom. What's happening in Treme is a crime. But it's not just something happening to "culture bearers." It's happening to all of us.
Like the second lines that pass through the neighborhood, those who used to call Tremé home say the culture has become transient. Leaving it with no sense of community.

“All the juice, or the oxygen rather, has been sucked out of the room,” says Al Jackson, owner of the Tremé Petit Jazz Museum. “The culture, oxygen, the children, the raison d’etre that we once woke up in the morning and lived for. It’s gone.”

Jazz Vocalist John Boutté says the community was effervescent. You could hear kids playing and laughing, you’d see people talking on the steps and everyone said hello.
Today, Boutté believes he’ll never see that part of Tremé again.

“The folks aren’t there anymore and unless you bring those people back, you’ll never have that part of Tremé again,” Boutté said.
What's happened to Treme is a crime of capitalism. It is the same crime that is happening to every neighborhood to some degree. It is the same crime that is happening to most cities.  Land is hoarded by real estate speculators. Housing prices and rents are artificially inflated. Wages and benefits are stagnant for most working class people so they can no longer keep up with the escalating cost of living. People take on second jobs or part time jobs or jobs where schedules are unpredictable so their time for leisure (or "creative labor" if you prefer the more commodified term) is limited. 

Meanwhile, the aforesaid real estate speculation encourages the city to crack down on institutions and mores that might disrupt profits such as substandard lawn maintenance, corner bars, and outdoor musical performance. So not only is time for creative leisure reduced but so are the physical spaces where it formerly flourished are also taken away. Those that remain are under increasingly intrusive police surveillance which further intrudes on our social space to think and act creatively.  These are sinister processes meant to commodify basic human freedom.  Everyone has the right to be creative. Everyone has the right to spend their leisure time appreciating or conversing with, the fruits of that creativity. It is our collective creative leisure, the act of creating but also just enjoying what others create that generates authentic "creative culture." 

Despite what the oligarchs who control the extractive tourism economy would have us believe, that isn't something they can put that in a bottle and sell in a shop. They can't manufacture it at New Orleans & Co. no matter how much public money the city dumps into their hands. "Culture bearer" is a term they encourage, though, because it conjures a specific product they're already primed to profit from. It isolates a bland branded and frozen version of New Orleans Culture and limits it to something they can control.

We all bear the culture. It is ours to share, to replicate, to elaborate on, and, most crucially, to evolve. But we can't do that when the marketers, hoteliers, land speculators and the homeowners association product who is currently our mayor conspire to steal what we've already created and deny our right to continue as before.  That's what's happened to Treme. And it's going to keep happening until we recognize that a threat against a "culture bearer" is a threat against us all.  A good way to start is to dispense with using that term at all anymore. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Let's all cosplay against homelessness

Hope everybody had a good time at the LARP.
On a balmy November night in New Orleans, 230 people filled the rooms and courtyard of Covenant House, a residence for homeless youth on the edge of the French Quarter.

They came from as far away as Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. Starting around 6:30 p.m., they placed large pieces of cardboard on the sidewalk around the building, and later that night they slept shoulder-to-shoulder in sleeping bags on the cardboard for the center’s eighth "sleep-out," an annual event that raises both funds and awareness for the city’s homeless youth.

By dawn the next morning, the event had raised $610,000 in pledges, over 10% of the facility’s $6 million annual operating budget.
I don't know, guys. Seems like the donors could have just mailed in some checks without going through the little demonstration. Better yet, we could just tax these people a bit more so we can fund true public services that aide and house the needy instead of just allowing them to throw their money at a corrupt religious non-profit like Covenant House. But since like 70 percent of the local economy relies on flattering the well off into thinking they are the real heroes anyway, I guess it's a natural fit.

Reason for the season

Happy Thanksgiving to the 46,000 Louisianians just booted off of Medicaid this month because they didn't answer a letter.  Maybe that means none of them need it anymore. But it probably doesn't mean that.

Imagine if the system just provided health care to anyone who needed it instead of constantly making them prove their eligibility or jump through bureaucratic hoops designed to discourage them from even seeking care in the first place.  Crazy talk, I know.

Dangling

Hey good news! The dangling crane is dangling more safely now.
A crane dangling at the site of the collapsed Hard Rock Hotel in downtown New Orleans has been stabilized and the surrounding evacuation zone has been reduced in size, city officials announced late Friday.

Engineers told the New Orleans Fire Department that an operation to strap the damaged crane and boom that loomed over Canal Street to the core tower of the building had been completed, the city said.

Because the crane is now in safer condition, the city is shrinking the size of the evacuation zone around the building.

Going forward, the sidewalk on the upriver side of Canal Street that has been closed since shortly after the collapse of the 18-story hotel the morning of Oct. 12 will be open.
That's great news for anyone who wants to get a tattoo or brunch on the upriver side of Canal Street as businesses that provide those things can now reopen.

Meanwhile there isn't great news for everybody, though. Some are still dangling precariously as ever.
Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, a Honduran national who was arrested by Border Patrol agents two days after the Oct. 12 collapse, was moved by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement on Nov. 15 to an immigration holding facility at the Alexandria International Airport in central Louisiana.

ICE’s charter airline uses the Alexandria airport as a hub for deportation flights to South and Central America.

Bryan Cox, a spokesman for ICE, said he couldn’t comment on possible plans to deport Ramirez because the agency does not discuss future operations “for security reasons.”

Advocates and attorneys warn that deporting Ramirez could seriously hamper an ongoing Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into the cause of the hotel collapse, both because Ramirez has spoken out about unsafe conditions and deficiencies at the work site and because other undocumented immigrants who were working at the site are now fearful about speaking with federal investigators.

The collapse killed three workers and injured dozens more, including Ramirez.
  Ramirez's wife believes he may be deported as soon as today.

Update:  #Actually they aren't deporting him today, says ICE.  But there isn't much more information than that.  The New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice is asking for your help in trying to halt the deportation .

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Might be a good time to do some business with St. John Parish

The school board there just denied Marathon Oil a tax exemption that will result in something like $25 million in revenue for the district. This is good news, of course. The state has been handing over massive public subsidies to petrochemical interests for decades. Thanks to John Bel's decision to revert ITEP authorization to the local level, the public is only now beginning to recoup their losses. Had Eddie Rispone been elected Governor last week... and he very nearly was... we'd be preparing to forfeit all of this progress.

At the same time, knowing what we know about how local government works, we can't help but wonder about the inevitable side effects of this.
But the $25 million is small potatoes compared to larger, expiring exemptions looming on the horizon for St. John Parish.

Although Marathon is the parish's biggest taxpayer, it also enjoys industrial tax breaks on a whopping $3.1 billion in property. Those exemptions are set to expire next year, which would mean a $44 million windfall in parish property tax collections.

That would push St. John's total property tax revenue, now around $55 million, according to the Assessor’s Office, to close to $100 million.
That's a lot of money about to suddenly fall into the laps of some heretofore small time criminals... erm... elected officials.  No telling where it all ends up eventually.  But, still, it's important to remember that even if a school board member's brother-in-law gets a chunk of the money sunk into a new school building, well, that is still a new school building. And it's all a much better way to blow money than on kickbacks to Marathon Oil.

Meanwhile at the Convention Center

Quick addendum to the city budget discussion from this week. That process involved some heated discussions, anxiety, and even threats resulting in cuts to some departments so that we could afford to hire more police.  But was any of this necessary? When we look over at the Convention Center's finances, we do have to wonder.
As usual, the convention center expects to have a budget surplus in 2020. Next year the center will get $18.7 million more than what it needs to operate, according to budget documents presented to the authority. That’s in large part due to the $66.4 million in tax revenue — mostly from hotel taxes — that the Convention Center expects to haul in for 2020.
The much celebrated "Fair Share" deal that permits this to go on is a complete fraud. Unless we are able to get that point across, it will only serve to set back progress in the continuing fight to get these oligarchs to pay what they owe.  Until that happens, prepare to watch public money which could go to relieve fiscal dilemmas like the one we just experience be used, instead, to pay prison labor contractors.  
Also on Wednesday, it was revealed that the convention center has gone forward with a $183,000 purchase for an iron fence from Prison Enterprises — a division of the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections that sells services and products manufactured and provided by Louisiana prison inmates.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Do do do do do do

Well now there's a lawsuit.  Surprised it took this long.
The suit, filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court by Algiers resident Skip Gallagher, claims the Regional Transit Authority shirked its duty when it ignored Gallagher's requests for more information on what's been keeping the boats from service on the Mississippi River.
I like that the person suing over the seaworthiness of the boats is named Skip. Anyway, assuming most people reading this already know enough of the Metal Shark background saga now. So let's skip to the end of this story where we see Skip is actually asking about the part that's been missing from that so far.
Gallagher wanted to know more about the whole ordeal, including what RTA and Transdev executives were saying to each other about the boats via email.

He also wanted to know who was responsible for selecting Metal Shark and whether that team had any expertise in boat construction management.
We've learned a lot about why what Metal Shark built can't pass inspection. But what we haven't heard enough about yet is why was that faulty product ordered in the first place? We did note back in May a pair of stories about RTA board member Al Herrara, who was forced to resign over a conflict of interest wherein a company he owned sold parts to Metal Shark.  Herrara went on to allege “questionable bidding and billing practices" at RTA in response.  I don't know if anything else has been learned since then.  Maybe Skip's lawsuit will find some emails about it or something.

Meanwhile, the city says they are looking at ways they might be able to compensate Algiers business owners affected by the ferry outage. No one has any idea what can be done for transit riders who may have once relied on these ferries.

Dire consequences

A couple months ago, New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño told a City Council budget committee there would be "dire consequences" if the council did not agree to "roll forward" its property tax millages this year.
Perhaps the biggest criticism was around what Montaño said the consequences would be if they failed to roll forward. One potential budget cut, according to the presentation, would be laying off 500-plus city employees. Another was a 10 percent budget cut for all city departments. The options also included pay cuts across the city and cutting personnel in the police department, fire department and EMS.
After it became clear that councilmembers were unconvinced by what Helena Moreno correctly identified as a "scare tactic,"  the mayor's office lowered its demand by 50 percent. "I don't make idle threats," Cantrell warned.
Her administration has warned of things such as slower response times from police and fire, cuts to recycling, closing down rec centers or libraries -- or even longer waits to fill potholes if they can't get the extra money.

“I don’t make idle threats,” Cantrell said. “I’m telling you if we don’t see a modest roll forward -- $6.9 million? Come on. Yes, we will have to look at how we can make cuts.”
The possibility of a half-roll was still on the table come November when the mayor took a new scare tactic to the public as she argued for a 3 mill tax increase which was on the local ballot during the state election runoffs this past Saturday.

Voters were unmoved by the idle threats, however, and the property tax ballot measure failed by almost 9,000 votes. It's particularly telling that it did, too. Because all of the rest of Cantrell's "Ballot of Yes" items she campaigned for passed and all of the legislative candidates she endorsed won their races as well, this result didn't mean voters were rejecting her, specifically. It just meant they didn't buy her pitch on this particular issue.

Maybe they read the DSA voter guide.  There they would have found one of the more cogent arguments against the new tax. Maybe it's authors won't mind if we share a couple paragraphs of that here.
The new taxes would have serious impacts on the city’s cost-burdened renters and homeowners. Typically landlords pass on all or most of the cost of such increases to tenants. According to HousingNOLA, 41 percent of New Orleans homeowners are cost burdened and one third of all owner-occupied homes earn below the median income. Meanwhile, our property tax system remains riddled with exemptions handed out to developers, manufacturers, and non-profits that need to be revisited or eliminated.

The mayor claims there is no other way to raise the $10.2 million the new tax is estimated to bring in but her 2020 budget proposal includes $4.7 million in highly questionable appropriations to police and surveillance and has left the door open to funding Sheriff Gusman’s proposed jail expansion. We recognize the city’s fiscal situation is tenuous. But we also question why proposed remedies favor the privileges of wealth and bolster the police-surveillance state while heaping even more excessive burdens on poor people. We can do better.
That part about landlords passing property tax hikes on to renters, by the way, is definitely not an idle threat. My rent just went up 50 bucks this month based on the recent reassessments alone. I expect it may have been more had the millage gone up too.

Anyway nobody has to worry about that now because the final budget approved by the City Council this week is based on a deal among the council and various taxing authorities that amounts to a net cut in the overall city controlled property tax rate.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the City Council, which has the final say on the lion’s share of taxes in the parish, are close to finalizing an agreement that would cut the city's overall tax rate by about 5%, juggling about a dozen individual millages to come up with a deal that would, in effect, give up any revenue the city stood to gain from this year’s reassessment.
This is actually even more complicated than it already looks. So, apologies to everyone whose eyes are already glazed over. To begin with,thanks to the assessments, a lot of people's taxes are going to go up regardless of what the rate is. 
Exactly what that means for a property’s tax bill depends on the details of the city’s deal and where the property is located, since some taxing bodies cover only portions of the city.

And how well a taxpayer makes out also depends on what happened during this year’s reassessment.

Owners whose property values stayed the same will pay less. Those who saw only a slight increase will pay around the same amount as they did in 2019. But the tens of thousands of homeowners who saw substantial jumps in their property values will face significantly higher tax bills.
There's also the matter of the school board which is one of the independent authorities who voted to roll its millage forward thus capturing the reassessment windfall. Not only will this contribute to an overall tax hike for many residents, it also constitutes a shift in costs formerly assumed by the state onto local taxpayers.
The School Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to roll its tax rate forward all the way to its current level, in part because the higher assessments will trigger a $9.1 million automatic cut in state funding for the city's schools.

The roll forward will fill the gap left by that cut and provide an additional $15.1 million for New Orleans schools on top of that.
But leaving that aside, the crux of the deal that's been struck, is the library and the Audubon Commission have agreed to reductions this year in order that S&WB, the Fire Department, and NOPD can "roll forward" to pull in new revenue. That's not an ideal solution. But it's also not a disaster.  The actual numbers aren't available but this article strongly suggests that departments taking cuts can cover their expenses with reserve funds or other revenues.

For now, this will have to do. Streets and drainage improvements need funding. We'd prefer the city find the money it needs by reducing the amount we spend on police, not boosting it. Ideally, cities like New Orleans with critical infrastructure needs would have access to billions of dollars in Federal aid as part of a Green New Deal program.  But that's all in the future. Or at least we hope it is. Otherwise, the consequences could be dire, indeed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Festival Marketport

What if we made a Jax Brewery except it was waay out of everybody's way, and airplanes landed there?  Would that bring in the locals?
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport will join a handful of airports across the country that allow people who do not have airline tickets to access the concourse, where nearly all of the new terminal’s much-discussed concessions are located. Right now, a boarding pass is required to pass through security to eat, drink or shop in the concourses.

The program, called MSY Guest Pass, is slated to begin after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, though a precise date has not been announced.

Aviation Director Kevin Dolliole said the program is aimed at giving the public a different way to access the $1 billion terminal.
I don't know about you but I can't wait to drive (there is no other reliable transit option) all the way out to Kenner, wait in the terrible traffic bottleneck, pay to park, wait in a TSA line to get frisked, and order a $12 beignet or something from a food court.  Is that the idea?

This article says it's kind of a trend in other cities.  It seems like a dumb one on the surface. But there must be some angle to it that isn't obvious.  I wonder what that could be.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

We'll never know what happened to Epstein

I mean, sure, that's always been obvious. But when John is free to go around making John type wisecracks about it, that's when you know the thing is hopeless.

The real problem with caring for the homeless is there's no money in it

Ozanam Inn is being kicked out of its building after 64 years. The reason is it turned out, finally, to have been bad business?
According to its tax filings, St. Vincent de Paul over the past four years has seen a sharp step-down in gross receipts, from nearly $900,000 in the year ended September 30, 2016 to below $600,000 in the year to end September, 2018, the latest tax year filed.

Expenses have consistently outstripped revenues, and in the latest year, the accounts show an unexplained $311,000 write off in the value of its assets which, together with the deficit, meant assets fell to $1.75 million from $2.1 million.

The society at one point operated a half dozen thrift shops in New Orleans, but this has contracted in recent years so that it now operates just one shop on the Westbank, on 4th Street in Marrero.
The article points a bunch of fingers at the St.VdP director. And who are we to say anything about that situtation. But the bigger question here is, was booting a homeless shelter out in favor of a "hotel and parking garage" during a housing crunch really the best solution?  Who decides these things anyway?

Maybe it's just plain old capitalism at work where all parties compete on perfectly equal footing in the fair and free market.  Right?
Demma went on to say that Ozanam Inn would have the right of first refusal to buy the Camp Street building if they could come up with $100,000 "earnest monies" and reach a deal on the final amount.

Last month, Demma told members that 843 Camp Street had been sold to an unnamed developer. Documents showed that the building was sold for a nominal $100 and that St. Vincent de Paul issued a $2.69 million mortgage note to Excel Advertising Group LLC, a company registered in Delaware, which is the official buyer.
Ozanam says their $3.5 million offer was rejected in favor of this $100 dollar up front investment. So whose money is that?  Stay tuned because it is a mystery.

Although the story does provide us with a tantalizing lead.
Excel lists Michael Boudreaux, a New Orleans property management agent, as its sole officer and he signed the sale document. Also, John Holmes of True Title in Metairie was listed as the buyer's authorized agent on the sale. Neither responded to requests for comment.

Several people who have been privately briefed and didn't want to be quoted by name said the owner is a long-time New Orleans developer who has built hundreds of condominium units, sub-divisions and commercial real estate in and around the city, including the conversion of a landmark riverside historic property into condominiums.
LOL, they obviously know who it is. Is it Sean Cummings? That sounds a lot like Sean Cummings. It could be several other people too. (I think the suggestion that it could be Marcel Wisznia is kind of elegant since it makes sense that the guy building a "co-living" development would be interested in a homeless shelter.) But why give us this many clues and not just say who it is?  I'll bet John Georges knows who it is.
John Georges, who along with his wife, Dathel, owns The Times-Picayune|The New Orleans Advocate, said the company — a direct neighbor of Ozanam Inn — is interested in jointly developing the proposed parking lot.

"We would certainly welcome the redevelopment, and I was happy to hear Ozanam Inn has opportunities for other locations that should be announced before the end of the year as part of a master plan to address the homeless situation," said Georges.
So instead of Ozanam buying the building for $3.5 million, we have this alternate transaction where it transfers (for $100!) to a mystery "long-time New Orleans developer" and John Georges is possibly cut in on it in some way.  Of course that looks real bad if it means actually booting homeless people onto the street. We're gonna need some help to keep that from happening.  Luckily the city has already stepped in to facilitate.
Ozanam Inn's plans depend on a broad agreement with homelessness agencies being negotiated with the city of New Orleans.

"We are aware of the recent sale of Ozanam Inn's building, and we're in close contact with their staff and board of directors as they determine their next steps," said a spokesperson for the City, who declined to comment on talk among homeless advocates that city land on Poydras Street near South Claiborne Avenue had been earmarked as an alternative location for Ozanam Inn and other housing.
This looks like it's been in the works for quite a while. Rich developer gets a free building. Local magnate gets a piece. The city gets to maximize the property's revenue potential. All they had to do was scoot a decades-old charitable institution out of the way. Remains to be seen what the city's homeless advocates and their clients end up with out of the deal.  We sure hope it's a "fair share."

Monday, November 18, 2019

Pretty late in the game to be asking questions now

Did Kristin Palmer express support for Mayor Cantrell's Fair Sham bargain while the push was on to pass its enabling bills through the legislature? At the time it seemed like area politicos were presenting a united front. If an elected person had any questions at the time, I'd like to think I would have noticed.  I had plenty. But it sure felt like I was alone in that.

Anyway all that stuff passed months ago and now we have to deal with the consequences.  Which is why it's frustrating to see that now we're hearing complaints that should have been raised way back when.
The merger will transfer $8 million in annual funding and all but one or two of NOTMC’s employees to New Orleans & Company, NOTMC CEO Mark Romig told the New Orleans City Council at a Friday meeting. In Romig’s proposed 2020 budget, $1.8 million would remain with NOTMC for some lingering responsibilities, while $3.9 million would go to the city for infrastructure funding.

But some council members expressed concerns about accountability for the public dollars and other remaining uncertainties with the merger.

Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, who sits on the board of NOTMC along with council members Jay Banks, Helena Moreno, and Jason Williams, complained earlier in the week that she had yet to see a written plan for the merger.

“There are three other council members who sit on NOTMC and we have repeatedly requested information on any type of transition in writing, which we have yet to receive,” she said at a Monday meeting. “And meanwhile, [New Orleans and Company] is like absorbing and hiring all the NOTMC employees and we don’t know what’s going on.
What's going on is what was always in the plan since the deal was first announced. The public money that used to go to NOTMC (a public board) will now go to NO and Co. (a private entity) where there will be far less public oversight. This is in no way surprising to anyone.

Of course city council wouldn't really have much reason to speak up until it came time to start hashing out the budgetary implications of all of this. Which is why we're seeing this discussion now. In the same article we see there are also concerns about NO and Co.'s share of the short term rental tax passed over the weekend. Interestingly, the city still has a bit of leverage to play.
In July, the council voted to put the tax on the November ballot. But before it did, council members raised similar concerns about accountability and public input.

“The accountability and transparency question, the mayor recognizes that’s a concern for the council,” Cantrell’s Chief of Staff John Porciau said at the July meeting. “It’s a concern for her.”

If the ballot measure is approved on Saturday, it wouldn’t institute the tax right away. It would simply give the council the ability to levy a 6.75 percent tax. The council would have to vote again to actually put it into effect. It would also have to approve a cooperative endeavor agreement that would funnel the 25 percent from the city to New Orleans & Company.

“That is where we have our say regarding the transparency piece,” said Councilwoman Helena Moreno. “It’s on the CEA for that 25 percent that we’re going to have some control in making sure those tax dollars are used properly.”

She also said that the council has the option to refuse to approve the agreement until they find it to be acceptable. Until then, she said, the money would go into an escrow account that’s out of reach of New Orleans & Company.
It's a bit of a cop-out, though, for City Council members to wait until there's nothing they can do about these issues until they have to deal with the fall-out. The "accountability and transparency question" isn't new.  It was well understood even at the time that the mayor was negotiating the deal. Council is dealing with it now because she conceded on points her predecessor would not.
A push to merge the two groups in 2010 floundered over many of the same issues. Then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu objected because he wanted the organization that resulted from the merger to be a public body, not a private one like New Orleans & Company, according to the Times-Picayune. The NOTMC board ultimately voted against the merger in 2010.
Having given up the fundamental issue of whether or not public money should fall under public governance, we've backed ourselves into a position where we're hoping to negotiate over a small portion of what we still sort of control.  Maybe someone could have asked about that sooner.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Whatever keeps everybody miserable

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court has found a creative way to deal with its unconstitutional "debtors prison" situation. Rather than give up entirely on setting cash bail and collecting punitive fines and fees from poor people, they've instead been taking that money and putting it aside in escrow. It isn't useful to anyone there. The money had been going to cover the court's operating expenses but, last year, a bump in their allocation from the city budget was meant to eliminate the need for that. Which leads us to suspect that some of these judges are still setting bail out of spite.
Meanwhile, advocates say that even if there were no conflict of interest, (Judge Harry) Cantrell is ignoring his constitutional obligation to consider whether defendants can actually make bail.

In a federal court petition filed Friday, they cited the case of Miles Moran, a 28-year-old homeless man from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, who’s accused of unauthorized entry into a Walgreens drugstore on Canal Street.

Cops say Moran has a history of shoplifting at the store. On this occasion, they claim he walked out with four Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas, two bags of Lay’s potato chips and two Cokes. The total cost of the goods was $21.28 — but the unauthorized entry charge is a felony.

Cantrell set Moran’s bail at $1,250, then slashed it to $300. Still, attorneys from the Orleans Public Defenders say Moran, who’s been unemployed since December, can’t afford any cash bail. They’ve asked the judge to release Moran with no bail to Odyssey House, which offers residential treatment for people with substance abuse problems.

In a written ruling, Cantrell stood by his decision to impose a money bail, citing a pending municipal attachment and warrant for Moran from Kenner. Public defenders said Kenner wouldn't even have bothered to pick up Moran from the New Orleans jail.
Clearly the judges need additional incentive to treat people humanely. One solution offered today during City Council budget hearings would have made their budgetary supplement contingent on eliminating the bail and fees but the judges say their hands are tied by state law.  Instead, it looks like the Council resolved to create a "task force" to figure out ways to lobby Baton Rouge. Good luck talking to the incoming Republican supermajorities about bail reform.

Helena Moreno floated a different idea.


The problems with that should be obvious and VOTE says it well enough in that tweet.  But it turns out this is an actual thing under consideration.
One option the court is considering is to ask the Legislature to pass a law that would direct money raised from bail fees to the city, which would continue to make up for the resulting revenue shortfall. The money in escrow could also be sent to the city.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said he thought that would solve the conflict of interest problem.
So there's your solution. Keep right on collecting exorbitant bail, fines and fees from poor people. But make sure to "Fair Share" the proceeds out to City Hall and everything's golden.

Do the collapse

Turns out they have to blow more stuff up. Terrific way to ring in the New Year. Don't worry. The football and tourism related events will still happen, of course.
City officials presented a timeline for when the implosion of the failed Hard Rock Hotel construction site would happen shortly after they announced the demolition of the building would move forward at a press conference Tuesday evening.

Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell told media the building should be imploded in nine weeks, with recovery of the bodies of two still-missing workers and further investigation to follow. A three-month cleanup will also take place after the planned implosion.

The only factor that could move the demolition past the nine weeks is the College Football Playoffs and New Year's Eve events, McConnell said. "We will not let it interfere with CFP," McConnell said.
This also says they're going to stabilize the "Alpha" crane that has been dangling over Canal Street since the last time they set off explosions down there.  That one collapsed into the now-condemned building while the other broke in half and nose-dived into Rampart Street where it punctured a sewer line.

This result was different from the elegant "umbrella closing"  effect officials said they were going for beforehand. Nonetheless, we were all told immediately afterward that the crashing and dangling was, in fact, exactly what they meant.  McBride also noticed this discrepancy and points us to this video where the contractor continues to say that it happened just like they planned.  McConnell even said at the time that after the demolitions, the dangling Alpha crane was "very stable." It's weird though that the thing they did on purpose just left something that still needs to be stabilized hanging off the side of the building for a month. Sounds fishy to us. But it was good enough for the sages at Georges Media where the moral of the story was, as usual, everyone in charge is doing a great job.

For a different take on that, please see this month's Antigravity where Jules Bentley offers this counterpoint
It’s not surprising that Mayor Cantrell now wants to raze the whole structure to the ground, since this murder monument indicts her entire political class. What a towering tribute to its enablers the Hard Rock Hotel presents, a great slumping sundial whose gnomon points to their collective moral lodestar, unquenchable greed. It celebrates the greed not just of its developers but all who collaborated on, encouraged, profited from, and rubber-stamped this deathtrap. The list of the guilty is long, and every name on it is written with the blood of the building’s laborers—for Mammon, whose temple this is, desires human sacrifice.

Yeah you are going to want to read the rest of that. Jules is probably the only writer in town who can so, um, lovingly pull together the threads of New Orleans power, politics and exploitation that run through this story.  (Others who lack the patience and craft can only blurt stuff out into the void.)

I do feel compelled to add one bit, though.  In this passage, where Jules is describing one of the Kailas family's several scandalous entanglements with the corrupt polity, we learn what became of their Bayou St. John home.
Because the Kailas family is one of metro New Orleans’ biggest landowners and developers, almost everyone’s in bed with them, including former Governor Jindal, whose various campaigns they provided with tens of thousands of dollars of donations, monetary and in-kind.

In just one year under Jindal’s tenure (2011-2012), the Kailas-owned Lago Construction firm got more than $1.5 million of taxpayer money through state contracts—contracts which, thanks to the hard work of WWL’s investigative team and David Hammer, we now know were variously improper and fraudulent. On dates they charged taxpayers for long days of public service work, Lago employees were instead laboring on the Kailas family’s multi-million dollar Bayou St. John mansion. You won’t find them there now, alas. In 2016, they sold that property to Metro Disposal CEO Jimmie Woods for ten dollars.
Woods immediately put the Kailas house to use as a venue for political fundraising events. This one was for JP Morrell who was considering a run for mayor at the time.  Look at all the folks who showed up.
In addition to Gov. Edwards, the $250-per-person fundraiser at businessman Jimmie Woods’ home on the bank of Bayou St. John drew a host of other Democratic officials — U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who is running for U.S. Senate, as well as City Councilman Jared Brossett and current and former members of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. The packed event suggested an unusually strong coalition around a term-limited state senator, and Morrell acknowledged there is widespread speculation around who will run in New Orleans’ upcoming mayoral race.
Not long after that Woods hosted a similar event for Karen Carter-Peterson.  She didn't run for mayor either. But that's not the point here so much as it is that, politically speaking, New Orleans is a small town where the money does seem to go around and around in a very tight circle. You can get a pretty good glimpse of it behind just about any building you knock over.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Curious

Just last year the DeFelices collaborated with Poppy Tooker on a (pretty interesting as these things go) nostalgia-heavy cook book.  No idea why they're selling the restaurant now.  They must have their reasons.
The DeFelice family, the fourth-generation owners of the Uptown institution, have sold Pascal’s Manale to Jessica and Ray Brandt, long-time proprietor Sandy DeFelice confirmed today.

Ray Brandt is a New Orleans native who has built a large local network of car dealerships, Ray Brandt Auto Group, representing a dozen auto brands.

“What we’re feeling is a bag of mixed emotions,” DeFelice said, shortly after the sale was completed Tuesday. “You hate to see it go, but it really was the right time to turn the page in our lives and start a new chapter.”
So that's weird. It doesn't say exactly why Ray Brandt wants to own a restaurant. (Tom Benson no longer available to buy?)  But it does say his nephew already has a history with Pascal's and will be the new manager there. So it's kinda sorta still in the family.  Anyway, this is one of those New Orleans museumstaurants that would be a real shame to lose.  Let's hope they don't plan on changing too much.

Nobody could have predicted.. nobody can predict... nobody will have predicted

Can you believe it? The City Council's STR regulations aren't actually clamping down on STRs.
Councilman Joseph Giarrusso had questions of his own on short-term rentals. He asked Smith whether the city had seen the “radical increase” in commercial permits that some short-term rental critics had feared would occur this fall. He specifically asked about Mid-City.

The new rules passed in August include a 25 percent cap on the number of units within large commercial buildings that could be used as Airbnbs. However, that will not apply to permits that are approved before Dec. 1. Some short-term rental critics urged the council to put a moratorium on new commercial permits until Dec. 1 to prevent a rush of applications meant to lock in rentals above the 25 percent cap.

“I wouldn’t use the word radical, but there has been an increase, especially in some of the commercial units that just came online,” Smith said. “We don’t expect that trend to continue.”

Smith was referring to a new gated community in Mid-City called 37Hundred Bienville. According to city data, all 20 of the luxury condos have commercial short term rental permits, which allow the owner to rent out the unit 365 days a year.

The permit holder for all 20 units is Hosteeva LLC, an international rental platform based in Metairie. A unit in the new development is advertised on their site at $142 a night.

According to city data, the number of active commercial short-term rental permits has increased by 331 since the new rules were passed by the City Council in August, up to a total of 1,371.
"We don't expect that trend to continue." Does that mean after December 1?  Because, sure, I guess. But it should have stopped before it began in August. It isn't just a problem with this site either.  The Charity Hospital deal also has "grandfathered" STRs over the new limits baked into it. Everybody knew this would happen. Even idiots like me knew it would happen.  Councilmembers certainly knew it would happen.  On the day the regulations were passed, people in the council chambers literally were chanting "Freeze commercial permits!" It's why Giarrusso even asks the question here.

People are shocked and all but I have no idea why that would be.  Remember, Council only came back to pass these insufficient rules because they were embarrassed that people had noticed how insufficient the last set of rules passed under Mitch had been. The current council members aren't stupid. Most of them were elected during a year when voters were mad about STRs so they want to at least look like they tried to do something about it. On the other hand, these politicians don't actually care if you have an affordable place to live. Ultimately, they all work for the real estate vampires.  Which is why the new rules have gaping loopholes in the zoning language in addition to this deliberately planned three month "gold rush" on grandfathering.

What's remarkable, though, is despite having obviously sold housing stressed New Orleanians out more than once, this Council still gets to play Good Cop during the city budget hearings. But only because it turns out the mayor is a more ham-fisted bad actor than they are.
Palmer, along with Councilwoman Helena Moreno, also once again questioned whether the city was properly allocating millions of tax dollars that are specifically earmarked for short-term rental enforcement.

“I’m talking about making sure that the money that’s coming in for enforcement is actually being used on enforcement,” Moreno said.

Monday’s meeting was part of the council’s annual budget process, which includes hearings on the proposed 2020 budget on a department by department basis. The council has until Dec. 1 to tweak and approve the budget. The Department of Safety and Permits — which is responsible for much of the city’s short-term rental enforcement efforts — was one of the five departments or agencies to present their budgets to the council on Monday.

As The Lens recently reported, Cantrell administration officials have gradually walked back plans for beefing up enforcement over the course of 2019. In March, Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño sent a memo to the council explaining that “in order to ensure the city is adequately staffed to handle Short-Term Rental Enforcement,” 16 new employees would be needed.

But now, the Department of Safety and Permits only plans to hire a quarter of that. According to the presentation from Safety and Permits Director Zach Smith, the department is adding four new employees to enforce the new, stricter short-term rental rules that the City Council passed this summer — two attorneys and two code enforcement inspectors.
The trick here is the mayor doesn't really want to do anti STR enforcement. She wants them to proliferate. This week, in fact, the mayor and her PAC are campaigning hard in favor of a local tax on Short Term Rentals on the November 16 ballot.  Just how much revenue that tax will produce is still a matter of dispute. And we've written plenty about how this part of the "Fair Sham" is as inadequate fiscally as it is damaging to the affordable housing supply. Most crucially, as the DSA election guide points out, the new tax enters the city into a Faustian bargain with exploitation.
Turning to short term rentals for revenue only further lets the elite off the hook while actively worsening conditions for cost-burdened workers. This tax would create a perverse incentive for the city to encourage STR growth to gain more tax revenue. In fact we are already seeing the effects of that.
Knowing what we know now about the failures of even the latest set of STR regulations, it isn't hard to imagine a future moment when City Council has to revisit the issue yet again. If the STR tax passes and we end up having to argue against a vital revenue source just to prevent our homes from becoming full-time hotels, it's all going to be a lot harder.  Your mayor and council members understand this now.  But rest assured they will have not difficulty affecting surprise later.

Monday, November 11, 2019

No complaints about the plumbing, yet

Even though it feels like a lot longer, we've now lived through an entire weekend of the New Airport Era. And so far the only complaints have been:

1) There's no dedicated flyover exit from I-10

2) You can't get a cab out of there

3) They're probably going to lose your luggage

4) It takes over an hour to get through security

But the toilets work.  At least so far as anyone can tell they do.  Stay tuned, though.

And, yeah, everyone has already excitedly pointed out that the holidays are fast approaching. Should make for some excellent sport.

Gotta get everything or else you get nothing

There are two campaigns in the running for the Democratic Presidential nomination presenting a  (kinda sorta) left-ish policy platform.  There are key differences of detail between those two policy platforms that deserve your attention but the more significant matter of distinction has to do with building power. If the next President is committed to turning campaign plans into lasting and impactful change, they're going to need some muscle to get it done.  And that comes from having been elected on the strength of an actual mandate. Fostering a continuing movement outside of the government is the only way to overcome the inertia on the inside.

Because if the next President has to walk into this mess with no one to have their back, then we're all in for a whole lot of nothing happening.
Most Democrats expect the governing agenda of the next Democratic president to be set by, well, whomever that next president might be. Ben Cardin, Democratic senator from Maryland, has other ideas.

“I think we’ll take up our own proposals,” Cardin told The Hill on Tuesday. Asked if he would vote for a “Medicare for All” package — a policy supported by the two most popular 2020 contenders in the Iowa caucuses ― the 76-year-old Cardin suggested the bill wouldn’t even be granted a vote.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

America needs this

Coach O has to know he's got a lot riding on today. At the very least, the fate of the Governor's election hangs in the balance. But, probably, Coach O's own future is at stake as well.  He's a couple of years in and things are going well. But once it starts looking like you can't beat Bama, well, no LSU coach has been able to survive that so far.
“Sometimes it’s why you’re shown the door,” Neuheisel said. “No question Les Miles was shown the door because of his inability to crack the code of Nick Saban since 2011.”

Ed Orgeron, Miles’ successor, may have refused to call Alabama by name during LSU’s open week (“Our opponent,” he growled), but he has never shied away from the fact that to be considered a successful coach at LSU, you have to beat Alabama. At least once in awhile.

It has often been this way for LSU when it comes to Alabama. Charles McClendon was Bear Bryant’s first former pupil to beat the master; he did so 50 years ago Friday. But his own nine-game losing streak to Bama and the Bear, from 1971-79, helped hasten McClendon's forced retirement, despite being LSU’s winningest coach ever.
Anyway, as we all know, Trump is going to be there at this Alabama home game.  Maybe this is finally the venue where he might not be mercilessly booed out of there by everyone in attendance. But that's no guarantee.  Especially if the home crowd isn't in a great mood for some reason. What could that be?  Coach O, American needs you to do your part.

If it helps, I think maybe it's time to bring back an updated version of this.
Back in 1946, the rallying cry for LSU was “Beat Bama for Bernie!” a reference to then-coach Bernie Moore and LSU’s quest for its first win over Alabama since … 1909.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Oh good now I have more time to write something

Thank god they finally put this out before early voting ends.  I want to write a big thing about the Governor's election but I haven't had the time to finish it yet.  Here is a pretty good tl;dr from these people.
The consequences of these elections will be dire regardless of who sits in the Governor’s office. But if that person is Eddie Rispone, the scope of the disaster would be magnified immensely.  Rispone’s program constitutes an all-out assault on Louisiana’s poor and working classes for the exclusive benefit of its wealthiest.
There's more in there to pick through on the legislative races and ballot propositions and stuff. But as it regards the marquee race, what else is there to say?

Meanwhile, thank god B&G Review published this before the Saints came back from the bye week.  I've also got a long-ish draft about football but there's plenty enough good stuff is here.  That post is about the "Hero's Journey of Sean Payton" (sort of).  But I've got a different hero in mind this season.  Let's find out if I ever get around to writing it out.

In sum, I am terrible with deadlines.  But that's part of the fun. 

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Bible pledges

It's not an original expression by any means but it does seem popular this year. Eddie Rispone made it a thing in one of his early ads this summer when he promised to "get tough on illegal immigration the second my hand comes off the Bible.”  This week John Bel had a riff on it too.
“There is a big difference between me and him,” Edwards said, “but I am supremely confident as I stand before you today that the people of Louisiana know that, they get it and when the hand comes off the Bible on inauguration day, it will be my hand.” He was mocking a commercial by Rispone who promised to get tough “on illegal immigration the second my hand comes off the Bible.”
It's weird what politicians think is funny, or even novel. Bible pledges have been a thing for as long as I can remember. It's what you say instead of, "On Day One..." when your campaign relies on patronizing churchy types.

And I guess that does fit Derrick Shepherd's M.O. well enough. He's always inclined toward that sort of thing. It's no surprise that he would lean on it even harder now in his first run for office since getting out of jail. Shep is in a runoff now with his cousin Byron Lee for the Jefferson Parish Council District 3 seat. He's made "atonement," with a fair amount of religious subtext, a theme in his messaging.

Beyond that there is the, well, the text that appears on the website of his website, 2ndChanceNOLA. Ostensibly the site is about Shep taking up the cause of ex-offenders' rights. In a vacuum, that is quite laudable. In fact, we here at this very blog have cheered Shep's previous efforts at restoring the full civil rights of those who have been convicted of felonies. Although, we can't help but suspect that his motivation in these matters is, to put it nicely, personal, to put it less nicely but more accurately, cynical.

During his days in the state senate, Shepherd was most famous as the author of one of those "baggy pants" bills that were popular at the time among the Cops & Jesus set.  Despite his sudden affected sympathy the victims of the criminal punishment system, Shepherd's website indicates he is in no way reformed on those points.
I owned up to my crime, pleaded guilty and paid my debt to society.

I am pro-criminal justice, pro-police and pro-law and order. Going to prison didn't change the core values I upheld as a citizen, a JAG officer in the military, attorney and state senator. I still believe in the strength, honor and importance of those values as strongly as I believe in God. With everything I brought upon myself, my family, friends and the constituents I represented in the state legislature, I still want to be a contributing member of the community and not sink into the shadows.
So it's not surprising at all to read that Shep would be the latest candidate to deliver a bible pledge. The circumstances of that are pretty interesting too.
Lee has at least one powerful ally on his side. A political action committee funded by River Birch Landfill owners Fred Heebe and Jim Ward has sent out several mailers calling Shepherd untrustworthy and bringing up his past legal troubles, including allegations of domestic violence.

But Shepherd shrugs off the attacks from the New Horizons PAC, saying they were prompted by his vow to make sure River Birch is operating in compliance with state regulations.

"I plan on siccing (the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality) on the River Birch Landfill as soon as my hand comes off that Bible," Shepherd said.
Long time Shep fans will recall that his name did come up in the River Birch bribery case when he and other local officials appeared to work on behalf of the River Birch owners to shut down a rival landfill by, yes, "siccing DEQ on it." It was then alleged that Shepherd turned to the River Birch owners in search of an exchange of favors-for-favors.
No evidence has surfaced to show that Shepherd was working on behalf of River Birch. But at least once, he had a direct interaction with one of the company's owners.

On Dec. 18, 2008, after he was convicted and shortly before he reported to prison, he pulled into Ward's driveway and demanded an audience, according to a letter that River Birch attorney Peter Butler wrote to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

Ward invited him into the backyard, where Shepherd said he was "contacting his 'friends' to help him out and asked if Mr. Ward could give him a job," Butler wrote. Shepherd then asked for money.

Ward ended the conversation and brushed off Shepherd.
And now Shep is on the comeback trail and, if the above story is correct,  River Birch would understandably be worried he could end up in a position to seek retribution.

Of course, if Eddie Rispone's hand comes off the bible too next year, it's questionable whether there will be anyone left at DEQ to sic on anybody. So, you know, joke's on Shep.

The only survival skill is flattering power

Here, during the endgame of the collapse of the free press, the only professional journalism that exists anymore is the "polite" kind. Something vital is being lost.
If the news media has no place for journalists and critics and columnists who voice contempt for people like Peter Thiel and Jim Spanfeller and Bret Stephens, then you will read and see no news from people who have these entirely compelling ideas about Thiel, Spanfeller, and Stephens. It turns out that even the bygone, now-lamented golden age of the blog was a diminution of rudeness’s influence. If your local media has no place for people who voice contempt for your city’s police chief, say, or your state’s attorney general, or the publisher of your city’s largest newspaper, all of those people will feel more comfortable in abusing their power. They will grind you down, and in the process, they’ll tell you to be civil about it.
 We're going to miss it. That is if we're even allowed to acknowledge it mattered.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

How fair is fair?

Yesterday we thought it was kind of funny that LaToya was still saying "fair share" about everything, including, now, the Entergy rate case negotiations, like it's some sort of tic she's developed.  Today, though, it's less funny since it appears she has signed onto a proposal from Entergy that looks a lot like her bargain with the tourism cabal that is the actual genesis of that catch phrase.   
The company is offering to send up to $75 million in a one-time payment to the embattled Sewerage & Water Board if the City Council allows it to earn 10% profit,  the company's vice president told council members in an email.

The utility suggested the money could go toward building a modern power substation for the S&WB, which operates more than half of the pumps in its drainage system on an older power standard that is used almost nowhere else.

Cantrell has spent much of this year trying to secure more money for local infrastructure improvements, especially those sought by the S&WB. 
So to recap, here is what has happened so far. Hopefully this won't be too technical.  City Council's regulatory consultants (themselves not exactly hostile to Entergy's interests) recommended we hold Entergy to an 8.93% ROE. (Return On Equity: the figure that determines a regulated monopoly's profits). Entergy balked at that.  LaToya intervened at that point on behalf of something called the Crescent City Power Users Coalition in order to help Entergy negotiate the rate up to 9.35%.

The "Power Users" are apparently comprised of several entities with large electricity bills including Touro Infirmary, University Medical Center, New Orleans Cold Storage, and Sewerage and Water Board. It is assumed that Cantrell's deal offered those entities a better rate and spread more of the burden onto regular ratepayers. But that is just an assumption at this point.

Whatever it was, Entergy's CEO later decided it wasn't good enough for them. So now they want to back out and the mayor has spurned even her friends in the "Power Users" coalition in order to back out along with them. We thought, yesterday, that the City Council had rendered the whole matter moot by moving the case to its consent agenda for Thursday, essentially declaring the argument over.

But now we find out today that Entergy is offering this $75 million kickback.  The mayor thinks that is too good to pass up. It's difficult to understand why she thinks that, exactly.  This story suggests it's because this arrangement makes it look like more of an accomplishment for her, specifically. Although it doesn't quote her directly, that's how we would interpret this, anyway. 
Cantrell's office said Entergy's latest offer indicates its willingness to do more for residents at her urging.
But if that really is the case, she's made a mistake. Leave alone for a moment the point that a one time $75 million donation to Sewerage and Water Board is, pardon this expression, a drop in the bucket.  It's also just a wholly inappropriate way to go about raising the money. As Helena Moreno correctly points out here, it's not a gift to the city from Entergy. It's just something else you will pay for via higher electricity bills. 
However, City Councilwoman Helena Moreno said Entergy ultimately would get the money for the S&WB contribution from its customers — the residents and businesses of New Orleans. She said Entergy should be more upfront about that fact.

“If ratepayers are asked to foot the bill, we need a transparent process to examine these projects, along with how much more the people of this city will have to pay,” Moreno said.
And, of course, in the long run, once they make their $75 million back, it's just a rate hike.  As was the case with the tourism bargain, this is a deal that sustains corporate profits while increasing the costs borne by poor and working class New Orleanians.  Every time this happens we get a clearer understanding of how the mayor defines, "fair share."

Anyway, it looks from here like City Council isn't going for any of this and is set to approve their original compromise rates tomorrow.  But who knows what sorts of negotiations are happening this afternoon.  Maybe Entergy has decided to play hardball.
NEW ORLEANS — City Hall and the Orleans Parish Civil Court were shut down Wednesday afternoon after losing power.

City officials posted about the power outage on social media around 1:30 p.m. An Entergy outage map did not show the outage, but the company did tweet that "crews are on site assessing the cause of the power outage."
That's a joke, of course.  But then again, this is the mayor who tried to cut off everybody's water last year so maybe let's not underestimate the potential for wacky behavior here.