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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Getting a lot of buy-in

The John Bel Edwards re-election campaign continues to take shape.

In recent weeks we've seen John Bel strike a deal to steer hundreds of millions of dollars toward highly questionable Superdome renovations. Among the planned changes are the destruction of much-loved stadium exit ramps and the addition of a  "natural lighting" source which many of us believe would ruin the atmosphere in there.  At the state bond commission meeting where the funds for this were approved, the commission deferred a decision on $7 million for affordable housing in New Orleans because they had too many questions.

But the important thing for John Bel is that he's satisfied the state's most high profile billionaire and the criminal sports entertainment empire she represents. That's not just good campaign "optics." It's how you pay off powerful potential allies to make sure they stay that way.

Speaking of which, we also find that John Bel has handed a massive state "energy services" contract to serial disaster profiteer Jim Bernhard.  The benefits to the state in this privatization deal are murky and debatable. The immediate political benefit to John Bel for entering into it is easier to figure out.
Bernhard Energy Solutions partnered with the HVAC company Johnson Controls at the request of the Edwards administration after both firms submitted proposals to the state. Bernhard Energy Solutions is one of several companies controlled by Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm run by former Shaw Group chief executive and Democratic Party official Jim Bernhard, who was floated as a potential candidate for governor before ruling it out last year.
And then there is the strange case of John Bel's handling of the state's Medicaid contracts. This year the Governor decided to cut out Aetna and Louisiana Healthcare Connections and hand their shares of the $8 million pie over to Humana.  While I still haven't seen any reporting that points us to exactly why that choice makes political sense for the Governor (it does seem to have upset Cedric Richmond) there must be some reason. The companies who lose out on the deal seem to think so, for what that's worth.
A Louisiana state health department evaluator fell asleep during the sales pitch for one of the companies trying to land a state contract worth billions.

At least that’s the way Kendra Case, the chief operating officer at Louisiana Healthcare Connections Inc., recalled the June 24 meeting in a sworn affidavit presented as proof that the state had gamed the competition to keep them from winning one of the lucrative “managed care” contracts.
The point is, as election time rolls around, John Bel is doing the most to attract a lot of buy-in from some powerful players around the state.  Which is why this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anybody.
Jim Ward and Fred Heebe, the owners of the River Birch landfill in Waggaman whose prodigious political donations were at the center of a sweeping, four-year federal criminal probe that eventually imploded without any charges being filed, have re-established themselves as a dominant force in Louisiana king-making.

Ward, Heebe and other landfill executives are some of the largest financial backers of the effort to reelect Gov. John Bel Edwards even as they gird for a civil trial that will air long-standing accusations that some of their earlier political donations constituted bribes — in particular, a batch of checks they gave to disgraced New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who sits in prison on unrelated corruption charges.

New Horizons USA PAC, a political group formed by Dominick Fazzio, the longtime chief financial officer at River Birch, has donated at least $200,000 to Gumbo PAC, an organization that is expected to play a crucial role in Edwards’ reelection bid. That tied New Horizons for the title of largest in-state donor to Gumbo since Edwards took office.
 Nothing untoward there, for sure.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Another day, another doomsday

[meme of "this is fine" dog drinking coffee in the forest fire]
The record number of fires raging across the Amazon rainforest in 2019 could be part of a doomsday "dieback" scenario in which the rainforest spews carbon into the atmosphere and speeds up climate change even more

More than 70,000 fires have been recorded this year in the rainforest, which produces more than 20% of the world's oxygen — threatening its future, the billions of plants and animals that call it home, and possibly the entire planet's health.

If more of the Amazon is destroyed, not only would it stop producing this oxygen and supporting wildlife, but it could create a feedback loop that worsens climate change.
But don't despair. There is some good news.  At least one of those Presidential candidates people seem to like  is taking it seriously.  I'm not sure the kids today appreciate just how unusual that is.
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders released a sweeping $16.3 trillion climate plan on Thursday, vowing to create 20 million jobs and completely zero out planet-heating emissions by 2050.

The proposal outlines easily the most ambitious vision for a Green New Deal to date, with calls to massively expand public ownership of everything from power generation to groceries. With Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ending his climate-centered bid for the Democratic nomination a day earlier, the plan vaults the Vermont senator ahead of his 2020 rivals on what’s emerging as the defining policy issue of the Democratic primary.

At a moment when record wildfires are raging from the Amazon to the Arctic and Greenland is losing up to 12.5 billion tons of ice in a single day, the plan is dense with detail and frank in its goals. Where other proposals, including those from Inslee and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) depict expanded regulatory regimes and public spending aimed at spurring private investment, Sanders charts out a path to a hospitable global climate through Nordic-style social democracy.
No "transitional nuclear." No Silicon Valley vaporware Ponzi schemes.  Just a straightforward comprehensive internationalist approach to reorient the whole of the economy toward halting the global disaster. It's the last best hope of salvaging... whatever is left that is salvageable.

Unfortunately the marking experts tell us that because this plan is not associated with the appropriate brand ambassador, it is therefore not going to win the approval of the decision makers who could help ensure its launch.

They're probably right about that.

The bars are still open after 3

They deferred a vote on the much dreaded ABO overhaul. It's still not great. But it does sound like certain aspects of the rules under consideration are moving in a better direction.
The ordinance has been in the works since former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. Landrieu’s controversial proposal included a provision requiring that all businesses with alcoholic beverage permits install cameras linked to the city’s Real-Time Crime Monitoring Center and another that allowed for the emergency suspension of a permit, without a hearing by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. That proposal was dropped last year, before Mayor LaToya Cantrell and a new council took office. 

The current City Council revisited it in November 2018 and introduced a new ordinance the next month. That proposal called for cameras at certain “nuisance bars” as an alternative to license revocation and kept the language on emergency suspensions. Since then, it has been rewritten and repeatedly amended to address the concerns of the hospitality industry and local culture advocates. 

When taking into account a package of proposed amendments introduced on Thursday, the new rules would be much looser than originally proposed, meeting many of the demands from advocates and workers. 
But we're still not quite there. Commenters at the meeting still aren't happy with a provision that would give ABO the power to revoke a bar's permit simply by declaring an "emergency."  There is still a bizarre prohibition against issuing licenses to anyone convicted of a felony within the past five years. (Although this might actually be a state level problem depending on how we interpret things.) 

The good news is they seem like they've removed something I was especially worried about when this process got started. 
The currently proposed ordinance also omits many of the more controversial aspects of the ordinance as introduced in December. One example was a “neighborhood compatibility” section that stated that if five or more residents within a half-mile of a bar submitted written complaints, that bar would be presumed to be a “nuisance” or “detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the community.”
They can't just shut you down because some Nextdoor freaks got together and did a letter writing campaign.  So there's some progress.  But let's keep arguing. 

Some days the shark eats you

Late last week we learned that, once again, the aluminum catamarans built by Metal Shark for RTA had failed an inspection and were not yet ready for duty.  But at some point someone does have to ask why we're building aluminum catamarans to operate on the Mississippi anyway. In other words, maybe this is at least in part the fault of the people writing the orders. That seems to be what RTA has decided, anyway.  Today they fired Transdev from the ferry business.
But in July, Metal Shark’s boats were again rejected by the Coast Guard. That appeared to be the last straw for the RTA board members who agreed Wednesday to seek bids from new ferry operators. 

That move will strip Transdev of at least $6 million a year it had been getting to manage the ferry service, Wiggins said. In all, the firm has been paid more than $80 million annually.
Mitch Landrieu wanted to get a lot of projects approved in a hurry as the clock ticked down toward the Tricentennial celebration and his departure from office. Maybe meeting those deadlines was never really the point in comparison with just shoveling out the money as quickly and with as little scrutiny as possible.  Was Veolia/Transdev really the best choice to oversee RTA's first ferry operation?  Or did they just happen to be the contractor of convenience? 

Mitch also happened to think Veolia would have been a great choice for privatizing Sewerage and Water Board management.  Apparently Mitch was trying to sell the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad off to Veolia at one point too.  That company sure did have a good friend in Mitch.  Wonder what that was all about.

Where does Ike find the time?

It's remarkable that Ike Spears has the energy and time to devote to this petty business.  Dover must have really pissed him off.
On Tuesday, the criminal defense attorney and political operative filed a defamation lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against a prosecutor over a courtroom confrontation that has already spawned a Louisiana Supreme Court reprimand. Spears is seeking more than $50,000 in damages from Iain Dover for calling him a “liar” during a routine hearing in Criminal District Court last year.

The lawsuit revives a year-old beef between Spears, a political ally of U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, and Dover, who prosecuted cases in New Orleans before he took a similar job in Washington Parish.
This is a busy time for Ike.  He's already got his hands full suing half the people who qualified to run for office against his and Cedric's favored candidates this month. Yes, Ike, we know it's usually you even though you say it isn't. Please don't sue us for saying that, though. We only know what we read in the electronic papers.
The hour-long hearing did reveal a hectic few hours leading up to Jones’ qualifying, including clearing fines with the state Board of Ethics and driving through the rain to enter the race at the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.

Linnell Steib, a resident of Jones’ district who also has grandchildren in the public school system, said she filed the suit after learning Jones did not. She said she was informed of the issue by former City Councilman James Gray and defense attorney and political consultant Ike Spears.

Reached by phone, Gray and Spears both denied that they provided the information to Steib. Both said they were not working for either Ashonta Wyatt or Shawon Bernard, Jones’ opponents in the fall election.
We do remember noticing the scrap between Spears and Dover back in May.  Spears threatened to "punch the shit out of" Dover and offered only this hilarious non-apology after the judge got the two of them back under control.
When Pittman tried to stop the fight, Spears told her he was going to be the bigger man than Dover — but also offered to settle the exchange "outside the courtroom."

"Perhaps, you shouldn't, Mr. Spears," Pittman said. The judge then ordered the two men into her chambers. They both apologized on the record after meeting with her.

"Your Honor, let me first apologize to the court for losing my temper with Mr. Dover, threatening to kick his butt after using profanity in the courtroom. It won't happen again," Spears said.
I'm sorry I almost had to kick his butt.  Still cracks me up.  Anyway, here we are months later and Spears still isn't ready to let it go. How big of an asshole must Dover be?  Pretty big, actually.
In September 2016, Assistant District Attorney Iain Dover and an investigator showed up at the victim’s house in a neighboring parish, according to a transcript of a court hearing.

They brought a so-called “DA subpoena” ordering the girl to come to the DA’s office for an interview, Pensanti said.

The girl and her mother had retained Pensanti, who was recommended by a friend of the family, to act as a liaison between them and the DA’s office. The Lens is not identifying the girl or her mother because of the nature of the charges.

The Lens hasn’t seen the document delivered that day, but Dover described it in a court hearing. “The State went out to the house to attempt to contact the victim, short of issuing an Article 66 subpoena,” he told a judge.

The prosecutor didn’t explain what he meant by that. Later in the hearing, he called the document a “subpoena.”
Sorry nobody kicked his butt.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Well the first question is how much is the fine

Nobody could have known that all this time Sewerage and Water Board was working to make Elon Musk's dream a reality.  So far the results are... well.. there's work to do still, obviously.
At this point, it's no surprise when workers pull trash, debris or even literal tons of Mardi Gras beads out of New Orleans' clogged drainage pipes. Entire cars in the city's underground pipes, however, are still a bit of an unusual find.

Sewerage and Water Board crews on Tuesday came across what appear to be two vehicles crammed into a drainage culvert that runs under Jefferson Davis Parkway near the Lafitte Greenway. The cars, embedded in a pile of other debris, were clogging up one of the key pipelines that feeds water to the pump station that drains parts of Mid-City, an area that has been hard hit by flooding in recent years.
So many questions. And I don't just mean, how did they get there?  I'm guessing they washed in from an open canal.  We already know abandoned cars are regularly dumped into Bayou St. John.  It would be shocking if the same thing wasn't happening in the drainage canals that lead to these culverts. But beyond that, who do they belong to? How much do they owe in parking fines?  And isn't it tragic that the owners of these vehicles did this instead of just waiting for amnesty summer to happen? Anyway it's good to know this is an option next time we're trying to avoid an NOPD checkpoint. There'll probably be a few of those over the Labor Day weekend.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Traditionally this is done to help light Santa's way

Sometimes Christmas comes early, I guess.
A black-stained patch of marsh grass in Cox Bay, just east of Port Sulphur in Plaquemines Parish, will be put to the torch Wednesday to remove about 1,000 gallons of crude oil spilled there last week when a Time Energy oil well flowline sprang a leak, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Tuesday.

The in-situ burn is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., weather permitting, and is expected to last until 4 p.m. The burn is tentatively scheduled for Thursday if weather conditions don't allow it Wednesday.
One hopes that "weather conditions" involve  taking into account which way the wind is blowing.  Nobody wants to breathe that shit.  Although, at this point, how would we know the difference between a plume of black smoke and a regular day?

And in the end, it's just another tower of Airbnbs

There were several years of public meetings, bidding processes, and publicity campaigns specifically intended to imply that this is not what was supposed to happen to Charity Hospital. But it's what happened.
An agreement is in place with Sonder, Inc. for 150 residential units of the total 392 units planned. The office anchor tenant is negotiating for 75 residential units for their use, and approximately the same number is reserved for marketing to middle income or work-force users. The balance is available for full market rate tenants whether long term typical apartment dwellers or short term corporate and medical/hospital users.
Who could have predicted?  Also this is doc is basically a flier for  a subcontractor interest meeting that happened on August 13th.  Did the Daily Georges have anyone assigned to ask about that?  The most recent reporting of any substance I can find was filed in February by a reporter who has since been laid off in the paper merger. Maybe we'll hear more when it's time to start doing propaganda in favor of the TIF district planned for the surrounding neighborhood so more developers can steal more money.

Anyway, I think this "Tulane Partners" group had proposed renting out space to a charter school at one point.  I don't see that mentioned in the flier. So that's an improvement, maybe.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Some of the ends are coming aloose

Just last week, we noted that John Bel was gearing up for reelection by paying off Gayle Benson with a sweetheart deal for Superdome renovations right before he paid off Jim Bernhard with this Energy Partners/Johnson Controls deal. So far so good.

But the largest contracts let by the state are with the managed care firms who administer the state's privatized Medicaid program. Altogether these contracts total something close to $8 billion. The current deals were negotiated during the Jindal administration (that process was not without its controversies) and were kept in place by John Bel even after the state accepted the Medicaid expansion.

Those contracts are up for renewal now and, for whatever reason... just ahead of election time... John Bel has decided to shake things up a bit. The new deal brings the number of contractors down from five to four. It also replaces another of the existing companies.  Humana has been cut in while Aetna and Louisiana Healthcare Connections are out. Which means we have to ask who is John Bel paying off here and what is their relationship with Humana? 

We don't know the answer to that yet. But we do know LHCC has a friend in Cedric Richmond's orbit.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, penned a letter Friday to Edwards raising concerns about the decision to drop Louisiana Healthcare Connections from the state’s managed care system. He warned of lost jobs in his district and said 84,000 of his constituents receive health care through LHC’s network, raising the possibility of patients losing access to their providers with the change.
Today LHCC and Aetna have filed some sort of appeal.  And a joint legislative committee will begin considering the new contracts sometime in September. Again, right in the middle of election season. Can't imagine anybody there would be up to making any mischief for any reason.

The lead pit

The city is (finally) preparing to do remediation work on the lot where the Central City incinerator once sat.  It's been a long time coming.
The city has planned a remediation for the space 10 years after the Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative commissioned a grant-funded survey showing the dangerous levels of contamination. The work should be completed by the end of the year, according to the city.
It's not as if the Jericho Road study revealed anything unexpected. The incinerator was cited numerous times during its lifetime. And most New Orleanians are familiar with Howard Mielke's maps showing high concentrations of lead contamination in the older and formerly industrial parts of the city.

I'm not entirely sure but I think the reason they're getting around to actually doing something about it now is they have "resilience" money to spend re-habilitating vacant lots into stormwater management projects. This site sits right along the path of the uptown watershed currently receiving work.  But it isn't specifically included in the description. However this FOX 8 story does say the city claims it is associated with the project.

Anyway, they're about to go digging in the lead pit.  Hopefully they know what they're doing.  Not everybody is convinced.
But residents are worried that the plan, which involves removing a few feet of soil in some areas and up to 5 feet in others, will cause the lead and PAHs to migrate into their lawns, heightening their risk of exposure.

The 21-page removal plan, put together in March 2019 by the Leaaf Group for the LDEQ, details where the lead is highest and how workers will remove it. But it doesn't address residents' concerns about migration of the lead during heavy rains and during the remediation process.
Yeah well, good thing there's never any street flooding or anything like that in the area.  At least there isn't anything radioactive in the pit.... that we know of yet.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Do do do do do do..

Another inspection, another chance for the the boats to be found "lacking on multiple fronts" 
Two trouble-plagued ferries that were supposed to go into service a year ago for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority still don't meet federal standards, and it’s unclear when they will start carrying passengers across the Mississippi River.

U.S. Coast Guard officials said Friday they inspected the boats in July and found them lacking on multiple fronts. To remedy the problems, the RTA said it will hire a project manager.
The new RTA head wants you to know it's not as bad as it sounds.  To be clear, they didn't fail the inspection. They withdrew from it before that could happen. 
In an interview, new RTA CEO Alex Wiggins disputed the idea that the boats had failed inspection, saying the process was paused at his request after the Coast Guard found issues on the boats on the first day of inspections. But Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Rachel Ault said it's standard practice for the Coast Guard to stop an inspection midway when it's clear that a vessel isn't ready for service. The Coast Guard did just that on July 25, she said.
This is, of course, after the boats weren't ready in June, which is after they weren't ready for Jazzfest.  And, of course, all of that was well after they weren't ready for the Tricentennial celebrations.
Three years later, the agency entered into a contract with Metal Shark for two new high-speed, catamaran-style vessels to handle the Canal Street-to-Algiers Point run. Transdev, the RTA's private contractor, managed that process.

The boats were supposed to arrive by May 2018. That deadline was later advanced to March to align with some tricentennial celebrations and former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s tenure at City Hall. But neither deadline was met, after inspections revealed numerous problems.
So, much like the airport, the ferries are something else that aren't ready at least in part because Mitch wanted them rushed in time for his big party. Not that we can say for certain this is why Metal Shark was hired. But we are pretty sure that was a less than great idea.   

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Well that's what we've got What do y'all got?

Step five ga-jillion and seventy two in a never-ending series of steps toward the time when we inevitably just dynamite the old Six Flags back into the swamp is, yep, more public input.
Come September, residents can sound off about the latest plan to transform the old Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans East, officials said this week.

City officials are considering a plan to turn the site into a place where people can ride ziplines or hike and learn about the shrinking Louisiana coast.

Those kinds of attractions, which have been considered part of the ecotourism or adventure tourism industries, have grown in popularity in the U.S. and globally in recent years.
That's after the latest consultant to plug the site into a random land use generator came back with ZIPLINES OF RESILIENCE. 

Prior to that it was Cyndi Nguyen's Indoor Water Park For Families Presented By Cyndi Nguyen.

Prior to that it was Tonya Pope and Edwin Edwards's Wax Museum

Prior to that it was Frank Scurlock's Zipline and Katrina Museum featuring John Young and a monorail, maybe?

Prior to that it was Scurlock with a different configuration of ziplines

Prior to that it was Pope with "dining and retail"

umm... here is a different consultant being called in

Prior to that Scurlock wanted to do one of those Noah's Ark amusement thingies.

Box retail!

This is sneakily my favorite episode. These guys went to jail after claiming to investors they had a contract to demolish the park for scrap metal.

More consultants!

We can go further back (all the way to Ed Blakely times, in fact) to find other proposals for movie studios, "advanced manufacturing" outlet malls, etc. Most of these presented by Scurlock, Pope, or Danny Rogers over and over again. But somehow we keep landing somewhere in the monorail/zipline zone. 

So, yeah, maybe everybody really is out of ideas. What have y'all got? 

Tying up the loose ends

Let's see here, John Bel has got Gayle Benson paid off before election time.  Now who else is still out there?
Louisiana will enter into a complex agreement that could lead to the widespread privatization of energy systems at state agencies and universities throughout the state, after lawmakers reviewed the deal for a final time Tuesday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration struck the deal with LA Energy Partners, a joint venture between Johnson Controls Inc. and Bernhard Energy Solutions, one of several companies controlled by Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard.

The company will lease chiller systems at the Shaw Center for the Arts, a state-owned building in downtown Baton Rouge, from the state for $3 million over 20 years. The state will then buy back the chilled water — used to cool the building — for $6 million. The firm will also make energy upgrades at 31 state buildings, including the State Capitol, Governor’s Mansion and state Supreme Court building, in exchange for $54 million.

Aside from the cash, LA Energy Partners will also make money selling the extra chilled water to other companies, who use it to cool their commercial buildings, in downtown Baton Rouge.
Oh yeah. Well, thank goodness they got that wrapped up. Can't imagine a single thing that could go wrong with that, no sireee.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

So anyway, who was fire bombed?

Any follow-up on this yet? Seems a little weird that we don't have any names of the affected property owners in this story.
NEW ORLEANS — Someone set two vehicles on fire in a Lakeview neighborhood last week in an explosive moment caught on camera.  The man fires what appears to be a flare at one of the cars, soaked in gasoline, blowing it and another nearby vehicle up. According to neighbors, it happened around 2:15 a.m. on July 29.

Home security video shows a pair of SUVs suddenly burst into flames, followed by a series of small explosions. Neighbor Quinn Eagan heard a loud boom, ran out of his house and found the vehicles on fire. "I grabbed the neighbors garden hose over here and just started trying to put it out and then when the thing started exploding, I hid behind the tree over here and kept spraying and just realized it’s futile," Eagan said.
That's "neighbor, Quinn Eagan" so we have to assume it wasn't actually his cars on fire.  Whose cars are these?  The reason we ask is because when this, or an incident like it, has happened in the past (and it has happened, repeatedly) the target's name has been of some note.

For example, in 2014.
An apparent firebombing ignited a pair of early morning blazes Thursday in Uptown New Orleans, incinerating three vehicles and scorching a house in a startling scene that resembled a war zone. Federal law enforcement officials said they were investigating whether Mario Zervigon, a well-known political fundraiser, had been specifically targeted in the attack. 

Prior to that in 2009,
Talking Points Memo tonight reports that the car belonging to Brian Welsh, aide to putative/possible Senate candidate Stormy Daniels, did not "explode," as had been reported earlier, but was simply a car fire:Brian Welsh's story isn't quite adding up. He keeps describing the incident as an "explosion" that lifted the car's roof five stories in the air -- which differs from what the New Orleans Fire Department has told us.

"It was a fire. The car didn't explode," said Public Information Officer Jonathan Pajeaud. An arson investigation is underway and foul play hasn't been ruled out. But, Pajeaud said, Welsh told firefighters he'd recently gotten electrical work done on his 1996 Audi, and investigators are also looking into that as a possible cause.
You can see from that description that not everybody believed Welsh's story at the time.  I was among those non-believers, in fact.  But I'm less certain about that now.

There was also this in 1997.
When (Attorney Stuart) Smith tried to stop the city from issuing a music license to an outdoor bar around the corner from his 5,000-square-foot home, Molotov cocktails scorched his Mercedes-Benz and rained down on his roof and into his courtyard. His home was not badly damaged.

The bar's owner, George Mellen Jr., and an associate, Richard Jones, pleaded guilty to conspiring to plant firebombs.
Now, a lot of people don't care for Stuart Smith, or for the continuing cause of shutting down live music venues in New Orleans. But most of us tend to frown on fire bombing as a go-to political tactic... despite its apparently frequent use.

Which brings us back to this Lakeview incident which we can't help but notice happened really close to qualifying week for the October statewide elections.  Whose cars were those, again?

That Tricentennial was a long time ago now

I'm so old I remember when Mitch was going to cut the ribbon on a new airport to celebrate. He's moved on to his new career of not running for President now. And the airport is, well, there are problems.
KENNER, La. — Kenner's top building official says he warned contractors about the potential for plumbing problems when construction began on the new, billion-dollar terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

An email exchange from 2016 shows that the contractor asked to cut back on plumbing hangers to keep costs down. A city inspector would later blame the plumbing problems on a shortage of those same hangers.
Typically when you build anything on top of the South Louisiana Jello soil, you've got to take certain precautions in order to compensate for the inevitable subsidence that is going to occur.  One can easily imagine that this is particularly true when you are building something the size of airport terminal.  Anyway, it's common enough knowledge among the layfolk.  There's no way an engineering firm would just ignore a problem like that out of ignorance. They could only do that as a deliberate cost-cutting measure.  
The audit was based largely on an interview with Mohamad and an email exchange between the contractor, a joint venture called Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro, and 2016 Kenner Code Enforcement Director Stephen Petit.

“Kenner officials insisted subsidence would in fact occur with the soil beneath the terminals, but were told the cost to support the pipelines every two feet would be cost prohibitive, and the national minimum standard of five feet per hanger should be upheld,” writes Adam Campo, Director of Risk, Insurance, Audit and Compliance for the City of Kenner, in his report.

Engineers put a shorter length of pipe in between hangers when they are trying to add extra support.

“It was costing too much to put them at two-foot centers. It was costing a lot of manpower to have those hangers tied into the slab as well,” Mohamad said.

HGBM’s construction manager did not return email seeking comment and a representative for Square Button Consulting, the plumbing subcontractor listed on inspection records, said they simply installed the hangers and pipes to HGBM and the architect’s specs.
Not to get too deep in the muck here (the pipes are doing that well enough on their own) but it's worth remembering that Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro became the contractor after a series of  acrimonious disputes, stops, starts, court challenges, etc. involving allegations of racial discrimination, conflicts of interest, and political side deals among other complaints.  Eventually they hammered something out where everyone could get paid whatever it was they thought they were owed.  Although it now looks like they also took a few shortcuts to get there.

There's no way for us to say what Square Button's role in the shortcutting might have been. But it is interesting to see their name come up given that the firm's specialty wasn't exactly plumbing so much as it was political networking.
Square, however, is not a plumber. He was Mayor Mitch Landrieu's chief information officer until 2014. He holds an MBA from Wharton, an Ivy League business school often regarded as the best in the country. He engineered wireless networks for companies like Verizon and was a corporate consultant for Boston-based Bain & Co.

Square Button Consulting became licensed to work as a plumbing and mechanical contractor in April 2015, just as construction companies began jockeying for a piece of the new Armstrong Airport terminal.

Square's company is getting into plumbing because he was handpicked by the 70-year-old New Orleans firm Gallo Mechanical for a subcontract on the airport project. Gallo describes the deal as a mentorship arrangement that's a win from many sides: Part of the airport's DBE goal is fulfilled, Square gets a mentorship that will show him how to succeed in building trades, and the community, hopefully, gets an African-American-owned business equipped to thrive in a competitive marketplace.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Times change, or do they?

Councilwoman Cantrell January 2014
New Orleans City Council canceled today's Housing and Human Needs committee meeting. * That didn't stop a massive crowd, led by a wailing brass band and Glen David Andrews, from blasting inside City Hall. District B councilwoman LaToya Cantrell second lined with the group into City Council chambers, where she handed them the mic and held an open forum.
Mayor Cantrell's Safety and Permits Department 2019


  


Actually we should be clear just how insulting they are being about this.

New Orleans' Department of Safety and Permits has taken the position that outdoor live music and entertainment is not allowed in conjunction with ANY business in the city without a special event permit, though existing businesses with outdoor live music may be grandfathered in.

The department has determined this because one of the use standards of live entertainment says doors and windows must be closed during performances. There are no doors and windows to close outdoors, therefore no live entertainment can be held without a special event permit.
Yeah but this is the same authoritarian mayor who shrieked "that's illegal!" rather than answer legitimate questions about why the public wasn't informed about her virtual speed traps this spring so none of this should surprise anybody.  In fact we thought she got far too much credit in 2014 for making sure she was on TV giving the mic to the protesters when 1) the ordinance in question had already been withdrawn and 2) Cantrell didn't take a public position on it even then.  There has never been a time when she wasn't just a total fraud.

*No that Advocate link doesn't work. The Daily Georges crew promised they would resolve their archiving issues within a week of the papers officially merging. That hasn't happened.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Keep on ITEPing

Can't think of any reason we would want to re-think this activity.
Westlake Chemical plans to add more machinery to increase its volume of chlorine, vinyl chloride monomer, known as VCM, and used in production of polyvinyl chloride, which is PVC, a type of plastic often used in pipes.

There are three plants on the Geismar site. A chlor-alkali plant produces about 700 million pounds of chlorine and 770 million pounds of caustic soda each year. The VCM plant can produce 850 million pounds each year, while the PVC plant can produce about 730 million pounds of the product annually.

"Global demand for both PVC and caustic soda is expected to exceed the limited global capacity additions," according to the company's 2018 annual report.
Sure is expensive. 
In exchange, the company would be eligible for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which could offset 80% of its property taxes for up to 10 years. Westlake Chemical would need to obtain approval from the state and local leaders before the incentives would kick in.

The market value of real and personal property taxes for the company's Geismar site is nearly $600 million, according to the Ascension Parish Assessor’s office. The assessed value, or what the company will pay taxes based on, was about $89 million due to existing tax abatements, records show.

But we're all so pleased with the way this sort of thing has worked out thus far so, you know, carry on.

Update:  It's all part of staying in that top 10, baby!
But a Bloomberg Environment analysis of the U.S. EPA’s air toxic emissions data shows that the top 10 ethylene oxide emitters in the nation were actually chemical plants in Louisiana and Texas. Dow Inc.'s sprawling 2,000-plus-acre Union Carbide Corp. petrochemical complex in Louisiana’s St. Charles Parish topped the ranking, followed by Huntsman Corp.'s chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas, according to the 2014 data, the latest available.
That sounds bad but, really, we are working on it. Trust us.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said it is working with the EPA to address concerns about ethylene oxide. At the same time, the agency is considering permits for Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp. to build a $9.4 billion plastics complex in St. James Parish, which would be allowed to release up to 7 tons of ethylene oxide a year.

Many residents oppose the “Sunshine Project,” which would be a mile from an elementary school. St. James Parish is bordered to the north by Ascension Parish, home to petrochemical plants owned by BASF Corp. and Shell Chemical, which were the fifth-highest and ninth-highest emitters of ethylene oxide in the nation. Shell Chemical is the petrochemicals arm of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

Gregory Langley, spokesman for Louisiana’s environmental quality department, said the state’s regulators sent letters and met with some facilities permitted to emit ethylene oxide in the state, to ask them to develop strategies to lower their emissions and make sure they report emissions accurately. Langley added that “LDEQ is early in the process but will continue to work with EO emitting facilities and EPA to develop a path forward.”
No, seriously, really, we've got our biggest guns on it just as soon as they, um, learn about the problem at all. Maybe they can read about it on the plane.

Louisiana Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R) said he was committed to “clean air” but acknowledged he was unaware of the problem caused by ethylene oxide. And Louisiana’s senior senator, Bill Cassidy (R), did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

On the House side, Louisiana’s lone Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Cedric Richmond, whose district includes the Union Carbide plant, brushed off questions about ethylene oxide, saying he was rushing to the airport. His office did not respond to subsequent questions.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Legal non-conforming use

Looks like the "Residences du Barronne" are fine to remain operating in perpetuity.

Residences du Barronne

Despite what headlines say are "stricter limits" on short term rentals, operations like the Hosteeva property pictured above that have been gutting neighborhoods like Central City, are going to be grandfathered in.
New applications for such “commercial” short-term rentals would be limited to 25% of the units in a single property. There had been a last-minute push by some council members to eliminate that cap, at least in certain areas of the city, but that effort was dropped before Thursday’s meeting.

However, city staffers said those limitations would not apply to existing short-term rental units. If a property is already more than 25% short-term rentals, the units above the cap would be considered legal nonconforming uses and can keep their licenses as long as there is not more than a six-month gap in their operations.
Because this Hosteeva fauxtel is technically zoned for mixed use, there's nothing anybody can do about it now. 

There's also nothing anybody can do to protect much of the surrounding area either. Everything below Euterpe street between St. Charles and OCH is mixed use as well. (That includes the Brown's Dairy site, by the way.)  The next four months are now open season on that whole area.
Some advocates and residents remain concerned about what will happen in commercial districts between now and Dec. 1, when the cap will become law. Buildings that exceed the cap before Dec. 1 will be grandfathered in because of the city’s non-conforming use laws. Residents like Jack Steward worry that big companies like Sonder will use the next four months to open commercial short-term rentals and beat the cap. 

“Is this going to be a gold mine rush to get your permits in before December 1st?” asked resident Jack Steward at Thursday’s meeting.
The council members responsible for structuring the process this way will tell you there's nothing anybody can do about that either. “We obviously don’t know the market will do but these have always been the rules on the books, " Safety and Permits Director Zachary Smith tells The Lens in that article. We're already aware that Safety and Permits thinks everybody is stupid.  But, come on.  

Anyway that's not really who to be mad at in this case. Instead it is these folks.
Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, who has led the charge to place more restrictions on short-term rental rules, proposed a 25 percent per-building cap. Council members Jason Williams, Helena Moreno and Joe Giarrusso had considered introducing an amendment to remove that cap. The proposed amendment, however, was never formally introduced, and the 25 percent cap passed.
 No need to introduce an amendment that you have to put your name on and own when you can finagle a back door alternative that keeps your friends nice and happy anyway.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Ken Charity's guilty plea

Did this make into the Daily Georges?  I must have missed it if it did.  Prior to the merger of the papers, the Advocate had been doing such a good job of following all things FNBC.  I'd hate to think they were giving up on that now that it's getting so good.  The BOI on Charity is pretty interesting for a number of reasons. I'd love to know more about who the other D.O.R.K.S. were, for instance. (Is "S." Gregory St. Angelo?)

They found a way to finesse it

City Council passed the STR restrictions with the 25% commercial cap in place.  One of the things we were worried about yesterday was the possibility of Jason Williams offering an amendment to strip that out.  Jason is interested in helping Sonder convert a Canal Street building owned by Mike Motwani into a virtual hotel with, like an Apple store or a Pottery Barn or something on the first floor.  But he probably didn't want his name explicitly associated with that with so many people paying such close attention.  So, instead, they figured out a way to do an end run.
However, the cap will not apply to existing short-term rentals, which will be able to operate as non-conforming uses.

The fact that the cap will only apply to new operations has raised concerns among many advocates. That will mean the roughly 1,150 commercial units now in operation across the city would be unaffected by the change.

And opponents of short-term rentals warned that the fact the new rules won't go into effect for months could lead to a rush of applications to convert buildings before they go into effect.
The new law goes into effect December 1.  So that means commercial operators now have three months to run down and secure as many irrevocable STR permits as they can buy before that happens. At the very least it is plenty time for Sonder to get what they want out of Canal Street.  But we're probably in for a much bigger "gold rush" than that. 

Municipocalypse 2019: The final STR shitshow

Well it is early August now and the first thing I gotta say is it looks like we may have picked the wrong week to stop taking kratom.  There's so much going on all of a sudden! For those of us accustomed to a long summer's nap this is very jarring. Seriously, how is it football season again already? We haven't even gotten to see the Commissioner's deposition over the NFC Championship debacle and somehow we're already doing the 2019 fake games and everything.

That is to say we will be doing that  Friday if we first survive what could be the most intense City Council meeting of the year on Thursday. Expect a full day shout-a-thon. Public commenters may, in fact, be lining up even as I type this. The reason for that, in a word, is gentrification.
Property values across New Orleans jumped by more than 18% in the last four years, an increase that is expected to result in a sharp rise in property taxes for many residents, according to preliminary estimates from the city's assessor.

The jump is far larger than has been seen in years in New Orleans as the spread of gentrification has caused prices to rise both in the already expensive historic core of the city and in more outlying areas that had remained relatively affordable until recently.
Mayor Cantrell took care this month to make sure nobody blames her for the rise in assessments. For example, during this video session, Cantrell urged us to complain to assessor Erroll Williams's office and not hers.  "It’s not us doing something to you,” she says. But that isn't really true.  In fact, her office is expected to ask City Council to for a millage roll forward in order to maximize revenue windfalls from the new assessments. That is apparently on top of a proposed new tax of 3 mils.
Chief Administration Office Gilbert Montaño has suggested the city would be looking to roll its property tax rates forward, arguing that New Orleans’ budget is about $100 million short of what it should be to meet the city’s needs.

In addition, the mayor’s office and council are currently sparring over a 3-mill tax proposed by the administration. Council members, in part responding to complaints from residents who have already received their notices of higher assessments, have sought restrictions on how that money could be spent, arguing that they could not ask residents to pay even more unless the money was specifically dedicated to infrastructure.

Administration officials argue they need to have flexibility to deal with unforeseen future needs.
Now before we get too far with this, we should probably emphasize that we here at the Yellow Blog are sufficiently orthodox in our socialism to understand the importance of funding essential government services. We also recognize the relatively progressive approach of a property tax as compared to, say, fines and fees generated by hyper-aggressive policing.  But the tax burden in New Orleans still falls disproportionately on poor and working class people and jacking up the millage is not going to repair that discrepancy.  The higher assessments combined with higher tax rates are almost certain to push poorer homeowners to cash out and move likely leading to further concentration of wealth in the city overall. Renters are also likely to suffer as higher taxes are passed on to them by landlords and fewer rental properties are available at affordable prices. This is what the mayor's 3 mil tax is doing to you.

Meanwhile, the mayor isn't exactly doing anything  for you either. LaToya swears assessments are "not her job." But she does consider it her job to push for millions of dollars in tax breaks and "incentives" to hand out to wealthy real estate developers who build more nice things for rich people.  All of which ultimately leads, again, to higher assessments, higher rents, higher taxes. The cycle (vicious or virtuous depending on which side of the wealth divide you find yourself on) keeps driving property values higher until you've got block after block of attractive speculative assets where nobody actually lives.
NEW ORLEANS — Tandra Smith has been living in her Fairgrounds neighborhood home since 2008.

"A lot of my neighbors have been here longer than I have," Smith said. She said she likes the area, mainly for its affordability, but after seeing her recent property assessment skyrocket she fears she won't be able to live here much longer.

She said her assessment last year valued her property and home at $167,000, which she said was reasonable because she purchased her home at $135,000. This year's assessment, which by law has to happen at least once every four years, put her house value at $416,000.

“I wanted to cry,” Smith said. do  
There are several factors pumping gas into this speculative bubble. But the one thing New Orleanians have been most loudly asking their elected representatives to do that could take some of the air out is get a handle on the explosive growth of short term rentals.
Robinson says it's something that's effected everyone on her street.

“So last year I paid one rate, and this year it’s a full 100% higher," she said. "The remaining six neighbors on this block, yes, there are only six of us left, theirs have gone up 300-450% higher.”

Ask her why, and she has one answer

"I believe 45% of the homes here in Treme are AirBnBs or Short Term Houses," she said. “That’s a business, but technically that’s a residence. So now we’re comparing their property taxes to my property taxes.”
City Council is planning to take up the short term rental ordinances this Thursday.  As a courtesy to all of us who enjoy a long and rancorous meeting, they have also wisely punted the property millage question that very same date. Expect a total shitshow of confused rhetoric. No doubt there will be landlords arguing in favor of more STRs in order to compensate for the rising taxes.  Also expect to hear that we need to hold the property taxes down specifically so that we can impose more fees on STRs. But these are false choices. Councilmembers can choose to protect people from rising housing costs without playing the drivers of those costs off against one another.  It's not at all clear that they understand this, unfortunately.

For example, here is Jay Banks saying some troubling things to WWLTV just a couple weeks ago. Talking about STRs, in particular, Banks says they "allow regular people to participate in this tourism economy."  By regular people, we have to assume he means individual landlords holding single properties.  But that is a gross misapprehension of the STR landscape in New Orleans. A report published by Jane Place last year showed that the bulk of the business is controlled by a handful of international corporations.
JPNSI found that 18 percent of all operators control roughly half of all STRs in New Orleans. Gambit’s recent review of licenses issued by the city found the top 10 operators - including Sonder, Hosteeva and Stay Alfred - hold more than 400 licenses, with several operators holding several listings per license; JPNSI says those top 10 operators have 568 listings.
Since then, that situation has almost certainly gotten worse. More to the point, though, there's no way Jay Banks wouldn't have been made aware of the data by now. But here he is pretending otherwise and saying defeatist things like, "we can't put this genie back in the bottle" and  "we've got to come to a happy median somewhere." Uh oh.

Similarly confused, or at least saying similarly confusing things is Mayor Cantrell. It's been difficult to pin her down on the specific ordinances being considered this week. But the comments she has made lead us to suspect she's not especially sympathetic. Just last Tuesday, councilmembers expressed frustration with the mayor's lack of commitment to enforcement. Even under the current overly liberal rules, there are an estimated 5,000 or so STRs operating illegally. But the mayor's staff are reluctant to do anything about that because of a circular argument I'm not even sure they understand.
The mayor’s representatives, however, said they could not bring on new staff until they figure out how stricter rules on Airbnb and HomeAway rentals would affect the amount the city now brings in from taxes on short-term rentals, whether they’re operating legally or not.

“We have to be careful about what we’re greenlighting to see how the market reacts to these issues,” said Gilbert Montaño, Cantrell’s chief administrative officer. He said uncertainty about how much will be brought in once short-term rentals are curtailed makes it “vitally prudent to hold off on hiring $2 million” worth of new staffers.
I think what  Montaño is saying is they are waiting for "the market" to decide what the law actually is. So that's encouraging.

That same day, LaToya was interviewed by Norman Robinson for a WLAE show called "Housing Matters"  primarily to promote the city's having landed $28 million in new grants and tax credits with which to "incentivize" the creation of new housing.  Cantrell doesn't always do a great job of explaining things. She mentions various applications for the grant money; soft second mortgage programs, home repair grants (probably distributed via non-profit partners) and, of course developer incentives. To the extent that money trickling down through those infamously sticky pipes is helpful, it's still mostly about chipping away at the symptoms of the housing crisis without really getting at the causes. Of course, there's only so much $28 million can do.  But for the sake of perspective, it's estimated that at best we're talking about 620-640 added "affordable units."  Currently the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance estimates we need upwards of 30,000 to adequately address the need.

Norman also asked Cantrell to speak about East New Orleans in particular which led to some more confusing double talk.  The mayor was naturally eager to show that she wants the often neglected East to benefit from the new pile of money. But her choice of phrase, "New Orleans East is somewhere we want to push people towards" with regard to housing is ominous.

Generally speaking, the mayor's philosophy with regard to housing policy is neoliberal in the extreme.She even ducks a question about the demolition of the Big Four housing projects after Katrina choosing instead to fixate on a right wing policy paper about the 2008 financial collapse which she connects to a drying up of the state and federal "incentive" pipeline she prefers to just about any other possible solution.  What's worse, Cantrell is not at all convinced that STRs are a serious problem.  She sort of admits that they "don't help," but continually brings the conversation back to the need to find "balance" with the tourism industry in light of the fact that New Orleans is "a destination city."

So LaToya doesn't want to talk about it. But we should probably take a moment to explain what the City Council will actually be debating at this meeting.  We'll try to keep it simple.

Kristin Palmer has introduced a set of ordinances based on the most recent round of Planning Commission recommendations which would create two basic sets of rules. In residential zones STRs will be restricted only to properties whose owner also claims a homestead exemption there. The intent is to effectively outlaw the so-called "whole home" short term rental on any residentially zoned property.  In commercial or mixed-use zones, the ordinance would limit owners of large apartment buildings to convert only 25 percent of available units to STR while also requiring a 1-1 affordable unit match.

But that was before a consultant's report came back at the end of July and argued against the affordable match and 25 percent cap.  Essentially, their recommendation was for no restrictions on commercial STRs whatsoever. That seemed pretty shocking at first. But after The Lens pointed out the consulting firm, HR&A had some pretty glaring conflicts of interest, it started to make more sense.
The real estate consulting company that wrote the report, HR&A Associates, has worked for Airbnb at least four times since 2012, producing glowing reports about its local economic benefits and job creation bonafides. Most recently in 2017, the company produced “Sharing for a Stronger New York” on behalf of Airbnb.
HR&A responded a few days later but even if we take their argument in good faith, it doesn't add up. The problem begins with the treatment of the commercial and mixed use zoned properties as though it occurs in a wholly separate universe what happens in "residential areas."

HR&A says the scope of their report was to focus on the commercial zones only. But this is really a warping of perspective.  In practice, commercially zoned properties are a necessary component of any residential area. The corner grocery, the neighborhood bar, the hardware store, the gas station, laundromat, etc. these are all part of what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood. Here is the city's land use map.  If you look around at the zoning, you can see commercial properties running through the city along transit corridors or highly trafficked areas, or just occasionally on a corner lot maybe. So allowing unlimited STRs  to proliferate in commercial or "mixed use" zones doesn't protect these neighborhoods at all. It aggressively disrupts them.

We could see every affordable housing unit along a major transit line turned into an STR. This, in turn, will cause businesses along these commercial corridors; Magazine Street, St. Bernard Ave., Oretha Castle Haley, etc., to cater primarily to visitors rather than residents with further negative ramifications for the surrounding areas. Land use policy is supposed to be about managing an interdependent urban system. HR&A is structuring an argument that treats the different zones as if they exist as completely independent municipalities.   It's a deliberate obfuscation to tell us a tale of two cities where in fact there is only one.


The second thing HR&A wants to tell us is that we need to maximize STR proliferation in the commercial zones because that will, through a series of bank shots and hypothetical fees and plans that do not exist yet, generate money for "affordable housing" at some point.
But Phillip Kash, the lead author on the study, said the study’s recommendation to promote affordable housing primarily by imposing fees on such commercial short-term rentals would give the city the most bang for the buck.

“We came at it with the (idea) that the goal was to generate the most subsidized units or the most money for affordable housing,” Kash said this week. “We thought there was consensus on that point; now I hear there is less consensus on that point.”

But what that means in practice is sacrificing every commercial and mixed use corridor to tourist hosting and services. It means we are leaving the entire "historic" or "high ground" portions of the city (and then some) vulnerable to accelerated gentrification.

Meanwhile, the affordable housing hasn't been built yet. Remember, LaToya wants to filter the funds HR&A says we're going to generate back down through a series of developer incentives and bank loans in order to build a number of housing units woefully insufficient to meet the city's need.  Plus, once that even happens, because we have willingly failed to protect our core neighborhoods, whatever newly affordable housing we create will inevitably be cited in further flung and lower elevated neighborhoods. In other words, residents are displaced to less desirable areas. Perhaps New Orleans East where the mayor has already said she wants to "push people."

Unfortunately the study, flawed and corrupt as it may be, appears to have had some impact on the policy direction. On Wednesday evening even Palmer appeared to have given up on the one-to-one affordable match for commercial properties.  And the 25% cap also could be in serious trouble if Jason Williams decides to move on it.
Gisleson Palmer’s team said there will likely be several amendments, mostly technical updates, but they don’t expect a lot of push back. Except for one: A proposal to remove the 25 percent cap on short-term rentals in large scale commercial buildings in the CBD.

“That basically means you could take an entire apartment complex building and turn it into a short-term rental, a de facto hotel, which would basically kill the residential life within the CBD,” Gisleson Palmer said.

Council members said Jason Williams is the main author behind the amendment, but his staff told FOX 8 he’s still debating on whether to propose it.
He very well may do it. Remember Jason already has a handshake agreement with Sonder and Mike Motwani to convert a building near the foot of Canal Street into a de-facto STR hotel.  Because God forbid our tourist facing downtown corridor ever go "under-retailed." Not when Pottery Barn is right there waiting.
Peter Bowen, Sonder New Orleans’ general manager, said he hopes to have the three projects up and operating within three years.

On Monday, City Council President Jason Williams expressed optimism that Sonder’s approach would help efforts to bring more big-box retailers, such as an Apple store or Pottery Barn, to Canal.

“New Orleans is significantly under-retailed, but it’s not because we don’t have people with resources who want to spend money,” he said. “It’s because of our lack of investment over a period of time.”
On the other hand, maybe he will back down. If so, the result might not be too bad.  The match can be revisited later and the cap is a good enough imperfect place to start.  One thing is for sure. There will be a lot of yelling and speechifying between now and the time that we arrive at that place.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Overboarded

Meet your new "Infrastructure Advisory Board
A new seven member board has been appointed to oversee spending of an influx of cash to the Sewerage & Water Board, the result of a deal cut with the state and hospitality industry during this year's legislative session, city officials announced Wednesday.

The deal, which involves a $50-million infusion to the S&WB and $26 million a year that will largely come from new taxes on hotels, was a major priority of Mayor LaToya Cantrell. It included an agreement that a board be assembled to oversee how the money is spent.
These are the guys who are supposed to.. um.. oversee (?) how the new but insufficient revenue from the "fair (but not really) share" deal is spent. It's the board that does, um, something with the money before the Sewerage and Water Board does whatever it will do with it. Looks like, write reports every now and then, mostly.  Anyway Neil Abramson is here so that's something.

Here's who else is in this club?
Chairing the Infrastructure Advisory Board will be Woodward Design and Build CEO Paul Flower, who was appointed by Edwards.
Yeah okay so a major contractor. Here is a story about how Flower conquered the engineering challenge of installing a new swimming pool at his Garden District home in 2012.  That's one. Who else?

Casey Tingle is the Governor's emergency preparedness guy so, okay, check. Bill Hammack owns restaurants so, who knows. Lewis Stirling lords over a massive commercial real estate empire and was therefore a S&WB member until his term expired this year.  Looks like the mayor found something else for him to do. Karen Raymond is, I am pretty sure this Karen Raymond  who currently works at Laitram, in which case, lol.  Elisa Speranza is an independent, um, resilience consultant, I guess? That's the best way I can summarize this.
I help purpose-driven organizations succeed so that people, communities, and ecosystems can thrive and prosper. I am passionate about improving the human condition through environmental stewardship and organizational excellence. I am a strategist, advisor, facilitator, writer, teacher, board member and water geek.
I don't really know what any of that means but the other "water geeks" vouch for her ability to do it. So, okay.  But I did want to point out that her bio is very heavy in CH2M experience which probably doesn't raise red flags immediately with everybody but maybe it should.  Neil is, of course, himself.

Anyway, that's your board over the board.  Hope they have fun signing all the checks or whatever.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

The robot cops we needed

If I had a robot

Have you ever parked without paying the meter? Have you paid but gone over the time by a few minutes?  What was the reason? Maybe you stopped in front of a meter to run and drop something in the mailbox across the street. Maybe you left the car somewhere for a brief moment to pick up a friend. Maybe you were stuck in a meeting a few minutes longer than you expected.   Sometimes, if you are unlucky that day, the attendant will happen by at exactly the wrong moment and you end up with a ticket. But on most days you get away with it.  Does that seem fair to you?  Most of us would probably say so.

After all, the purpose of metered parking is to dis-incentivize the hoarding of a scarce resource. In highly trafficked areas, such as an urban commercial corridor, there are often too many cars and too little space to put them all at once.  In order to keep things moving, we make it expensive for any one vehicle to occupy a space indefinitely. A parking fine is like a library fine in that its primary function is to encourage people to share a scarce resource. If you've parked your car at a meter for a minute or two without paying, or if you've gone over the limit a smidge, you really aren't violating the spirit of the law.  Technically you can still be ticketed.  But it's probably fair that you aren't always ticketed.

Of course some people have a different understanding of what the law is for.  Certain city officials, for example Ramsey Green and Jay Banks here, want to use it to punish bicyclists for violating traffic laws originally written to apply to motor vehicles. It's difficult to know how much of that comes from the ever-expanding quest for new ways of shaking money out of people vs how much of it is just general hostility.

There's less confusion over what motivates  LaToya Cantrell's decision to fiddle with the school zone cameras.  Emails and memos uncovered by the Daily Georges show that the primary motivation was to grab as much revenue from unsuspecting motorists as possible. The hostility came as a bonus reaction from the mayor once people started to notice.  
Digging in her heels despite public uproar, Mayor LaToya Cantrell this week defended her surprise move to reduce the speeds that prompt traffic camera tickets in New Orleans, saying her goal was to increase safety.  In a 30-minute interview with her own staffers posted online late Wednesday, the mayor said that dropping the allowable speed for cameras in school zones and elsewhere was a way to protect children. She didn't address why drivers weren't told about the change beforehand.
That article does an okay job of relaying the mayor's comments. But you really have to watch the video to get the full experience of her bullying belligerent style. The main thrust of her message that day was New Orleanians are a bunch of slackers and she is not going to tolerate that anymore.
Letting people take a laissez-faire approach to following the rules often leads to larger problems, she added.

"We have to shake this image of being 'the Big Easy' where you can do whatever you want to in the city of New Orleans," Cantrell said.

This isn't the first time a mayor has lectured us about our insufficiently submissive attitude toward the rules. Mitch Landrieu once argued that we should close all the bars in town at 3 because our "culture of permissiveness" was what was causing all the murders. Our mayors love to tell us our problems can be traced to some inherent character flaw. It's almost as if there's something in their culture of authority that drives them to this. Whatever it is, LaToya has certainly taken to it well.

If a motorist enters a school zone and happens to slow down to 25 mph instead of 24 before the camera tags them, well "that's illegal!" Cantrell shrieks in the video. "We can't pick and choose" how we handle something like that. "Cyclists will be ticketed!" she says, pounding the table. Discretionary enforcement in order to uphold the spirit of the law while accounting for the human elements that might lead to its technical violation from time to time has no place here.

Which brings us back to the parking meters. This week we learned they are getting "more efficient."
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans is testing out a high-tech system to write parking tickets, without you ever seeing a parking enforcement officer. Placed at two different spots downtown, new meters monitoring parking electronically are currently gathering information the city will study.

"There's always room for improvement on trying to make things more efficient," Deputy Director of Operations Josh Hartley said. "We're looking at the vehicle types that park here, looking at the violations that come in, how long people are actually parking here."

So how does it work? After you park your car, you find your spot number and put your money in the meter. If your time runs out, a sensor in the spot will tell a camera nearby to take a picture of your plate and you could get a ticket.

"There's potential with this technology that if there's a violation activated, this system could automatically generate a ticket," Hartley said. "Versus having staff actually have to come walk to this site and issue a paper ticket you'd normally see on a windshield."

The meters are expected to make enforcement easier by adding extra lenses, instead of eyes, to the street.

"We are wanting to make things more efficient," he said. "This does not eliminate jobs, what it actually does is it would allow us to utilize our resources better in other parts of the city that we normally are not monitoring."

Well at least it does not eliminate jobs. We like that.

Meter Maid Mural

It's this "holding people accountable for their parking" bit that is concerning.  For all of the reasons stated above, it seems to us we're already doing that well enough without adding robots. But, hey, it's a free trial offer so...  
And if all goes well, installation around town could be put into drive, holding people accountable for their parking. The trial is free for the city, it's unclear how much the system would cost if implemented. It's already being used in other cities in the United States.  If the city of New Orleans moves forward with the meters, it's expected they'll first be put into the busy parts of downtown and then into other areas.
Speaking of which, how did the free trial come about? According to a press release this week, the vendor is something called Municipal Parking Services Inc.  The product is called a "Sentry SafetyStick" As the WWLTV article says, it is being used in other cities.  Here is a story from Bridgeport, CT where they were removed last year because people were already tired of being "threatened" by them.
As previously reported, a year after installing the high-tech meters, Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration has cried “uncle” in response to complaints the equipment was too aggressive and hard to operate, poorly publicized, and hurting the local economy.

The meters will be replaced with a different model that offers the same conveniences — like accepting credit cards — without the cameras that caught violations and helped to issue tickets-by-mail.

Ricci and Nkwo on Thursday offered members of the council’s contracts committee additional details about the overhaul.

Ricci said the existing meters, built and installed by Municipal Parking Services out of Minnesota, will be replaced with less “threatening” ones supplied by IPS Group of California and already in use in other municipalities.
As usual, though, New Orleans is jumping on board with a scheme that's already failed elsewhere and calling it a "best practice."  Where do they get these ideas?  Well here is one possibility. About a month ago the mayor attended the US Conference of Mayors get together in Hawaii. There was some grousing on talk radio about that but mayors go to these things all the time.  Mitch was actually the President of the USCM for a time.

Basically, it's a trade show.  The mayors get together and congratulate one another on the fantastic and visionary jobs they are all doing. And, of course, there is ample opportunity for them to receive further flattery from potential "corporate partners" who are there to sell them things. Sponsors and presenters at this year's conference include Verizon, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, AT&T, Interise, Google, Facebook, and our very favorite friend of urban policymakers everywhere, Airbnb. I didn't find Municipal Parking Solutions on the agenda, but it's a fair bet they had a rep or two in the room at one or another discussion on "Smart Cities" or "Intelligent Transit Solutions" and whatnot.

Not that this mayor needs much convincing that her citizens and their "Big Easy" attitudes need to be watched more carefully.  But it's nice to know the market may have provided just the robot cop product she needed.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Try to make me go to prehab

A day in the life of Terron Armstead. We begin in the morning with a story about how Terron is rested and ready.  Nothing broken. No sauce necessary.
With a full offseason under his belt, Armstead has put the injury behind him and is happy to be healthy as training camp kicks off.

“I feel good,” Armstead said on the first day of training camp. “Great to be out there with the guys. Every offseason I’m just learning more about prehabilitation and injury prevention, but there’s no secret sauce.”
Armstead is about three fifths of a great player.  When he's playing, he's an elite athlete; quick, agile, straight up fast, even. He'd be an ideal left tackle if he ever lasted a whole season at close to full strength. He's never played a full schedule, though, so it's expected that he's going to miss time. The Saints need to plan for that every season.  But this roster looks especially thin along the offensive line so it would help matters greatly if Terron were able to make it the whole way through. So it's good to see he's learning... "prehabilitation".. whatever that is.

Anyway, he probably needs to learn faster because here we are later in the very same day.

ARMSTEAD SCARE

The Saints had a scare late in practice when starting left tackle Terron Armstead limped off to the side with an apparent injury during an 11-on-11 drill. He went to the ground after getting behind the line of players and trainers immediately surrounded him as he lay on the ground. After a few minutes, Armstead eventually got up without assistance and appeared to walk without a noticeable limp. He eventually returned to the main group.
Nobody could have prehabbed for that.