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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Prove it

Sewerage and Water Board now says they need to come by and pick up that money we owe them.  It's about $134 million.
The Sewerage & Water Board has failed to collect more than $134 million in charges racked up by customers over the last three years, money that amounts to almost half the operating budget of the financially ailing agency.

City Council members have questioned the amount owed to the utility for months, and at a public works committee on Tuesday S&WB officials detailed the scope of the problem. But they said more research is needed to determine how much of the money is due to unpaid bills rather than errors or other issues.
Jesus, if you don't know that the number is even real, why publicize it? Part of the context here concerns the mayor and various state legislators' pursuit of a grand bargain over ways to bolster S&WB funds with tourism revenues. Currently, that deal looks more like a capitulation on the mayor's part than anything else, as we wrote yesterday

So it's hard to know how to feel about the question of whether this business about uncollected bills puts all that in jeopardy.  On the one hand, we'd probably prefer to wait until SWB learns how to bill your its accurately and on time before we take this seriously.

OR maybe Jason Williams will just go ahead and believe whatever you tell him. 
Council members said those arguments would be undermined -- and support from state officials would be lost -- if it seemed the S&WB was letting collectible debts slip through the cracks.

“We’re talking about $140 million being on the table and we’re asking for people to come save us?” Councilman Jason Williams asked.
And maybe that's for the best if it blows up the bad deal for now.  It probably won't. In any case, if this touches off another round of water shut-off threats aimed at ratepayers, we should demand that S&WB prove it really is owed what it says it is before any action is taken.

Sure hope they know what they're doing

The 2019 Saints are going to a good deal more different from the 2018 Saints than the 2018 teams was different from 2017.  The loss of Mark Ingram is obviously the most visible change. That's been written about enough already, so I won't say much.  The way he ended up leaving for virtually the same figure the Saints replaced him for seems suspicious to a lot of people but I imagine it was more an accident than anything else.  There was a chain of events that week involving three of four different teams that played out like an especially stupid Three's Company episode. It's hard to know who or what to blame. Probably nobody.  Anyway, it's clear Ingram was a critical team leader over the past few seasons. And he had grown to be an absolute fan favorite. This is going to be a different team without him.

It's also going to be a different defense.  The Saints were near the top of the league in run defense last year. But with Sheldon Rankins's return uncertain, David Onyematta's suspension, and Alex Okafor's departure, there are major changes happening along the defensive line. More may be in the works.

Oh also Max Unger retired.

The point here isn't to just list the free agency comings and goings. There are plenty of those every year.  But this year it seems like the goings scoop out a bit more of the heart and soul of the team than usual.  It might be fine. But it's a risky thing to have happen when you're trying to make one last run before your quarterback retires.

Kicking you off the internet

Conservatives are doing the same thing to the internet that they've always done to media. They are looking for better ways to bully the companies that control it into protecting their fragile little feelings and supporting their otherwise unpopular agenda.  It would be a shame if we let them get away with that again. But we always do so why would this be any different.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Grand Bargain

LaToya vs Perry
Krewe D'Etat float depicting Mayor Cantrell and NO and Company's Stephen Perry engaged in a tug-of-war over tax revenue


Here is a T-P story about the latest package of make-work projects the Convention Center has slated in order to continue justifying the existence of a slush fund it manages out of its share of hotel-motel tax revenues. They're getting a new roof, re-doing the bathrooms, putting in some new A/V equipment and a bunch of other stuff.  You've probably already seen the work underway on the redesign of Convention Center Boulevard. That's part of this too. As is, of course, the infamous Jaeger/Berger hotel project.
Part of that package includes $67 million to help spur construction of a new 1,200-room hotel, pegged for 47 acres at the convention center’s northern end across from Mardi Gras World. The hotel proposal has come under scrutiny from Cantrell and the watchdog nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research, which priced the incentives developers are seeking at nearly $330 in public costs including tax breaks and a free land lease. A consultant the convention center hired has said those incentives round out closer to $170 million.
We already know the hotel is a big political controversy.  But it's really just one scheme in a long running gambit by the Convention Center to keep its surplus cash rolling in by spreading it around among the city's political and business elite. The surplus derives from a strategic decision to refinance rather than retire bonds originally intended to fund the convention hall's abandoned Phase IV. The workaround allows the Convention Center to continue collecting the tax dedicated to servicing those bonds. The arrangement is legally ambiguous. In order to justify it at all, they have to spend the money on something, though.  And that's how we get these renovation projects/street reconstructions/hotel plans like the ones described in that T-P article.

It would be nice if we could say the hotel was the last straw. But it's likely all of this would have been allowed to go in perpetuity with important people passing free money back and forth among themselves as long as we could maintain the illusion that we were at least able to approximate the basic infrastructure of a typical US city might rely on in, say, the late 19th century.

But, as it happens.. 
More than half the water that leaves the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board’s treatment plants may be seeping through broken pipes and into the ground before it reaches customers — an amount of waste that is far out of line with other utilities, according to a new report from a consultant hired to study the problem.

All that wasted water — and the millions of gallons more that go to hydrants and other public uses that aren't billed — accounts for almost 20 percent of the cost of running the water system, according to the report, adding further strain to a utility that has faced financial instability for years.
So in order to deal with this, everyone is going to have to get by with a little bit less graft than they've gotten used to.  Or maybe not.

We read in the Advocate today that a working group of 22 public officials and tourism executives are hammering out a grand bargain that should preserve everyone's racket. All they have to do is agree on a buyout price.
A dozen people involved in the latest behind-the-scenes discussions say they think the two groups can deliver about $50 million of the $75 million in one-time money that Cantrell is seeking.

They would cobble it together from a variety of sources including federal money, a small portion of the $235 million in reserves held by the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a tax on short-term rentals in New Orleans and altering the structure of taxes on hotel guests.

Any agreement would include an initial offer by tourism leaders that Cantrell rejected as inadequate by itself: reinstating a 0.55 percent sales tax on hotel rooms that just expired. That would provide $6.7 million a year to the city.
This would have to happen in several different pieces of legislation. But the overall picture amounts to something like a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes type deal cities often strike with developers.  It would exchange a lump sum payment from the Convention Center for future concessions back to the tourism cabal. Basically they're buying the mayor off.

The legislative details aren't available yet. But the general idea is the S&WB gets a one time emergency payment and the cabal gets everything it wants. Berger and Jaeger get their hotel. And the Convention Center gets to ret-con its Phase IV slush fund into legitimacy.
The hotel’s design and financing package have not been approved yet by the convention center’s governing board. Sawaya said it could come after the Louisiana Legislature meets this spring. That’s when legislation will likely be proposed to tweak language in current state law that restricts how the convention center can spend its hotel tax revenue, he said.

That legislation, Sawaya said, would scrap a provision that requires a chunk of tax revenues to fund an expansion project that the convention center decided to abandon after Hurricane Katrina. It’s been a focal point for critics of the convention center’s large reserve account who question why that account has been allowed to grow so large for a project that won’t ever be built.

“We have to unwind that,” Sawaya said, referring to state law on the expansion project-tied tax revenue.
Unwind and then rewind, he means. This doesn't say they have to give the money up; only that it won't be based on Phase IV anymore.  Again, we'll have to wait and see what the pieces look like but it figures to be mostly bad.  The fact that part of the deal is built on a "short term rental tax" is ominous. The mayor has been mostly quiet about STRs since taking office. This could signal her intent to favor their proliferation. 

Fundamentally, Mayor Cantrell is selling out the city's working classes while allowing the tourism criminals to maintain their wealth and privilege. The news media won't write it that way.  Likely they will praise her acceptance of the one time emergency payment as a big political victory. It's true the city and S&WB needed that money desperately. Maybe her bargaining position was never that strong.

It's just as true, though, that the oligarchs were never entitled to anything like what they're getting away with.  A true political victory here would break the power of concentrated wealth to withhold vital services from the public.  But, remember, LaToya always told us she was never interested in "taking from the rich and giving to the poor and all that kind of crap."

In one indication a deal is imminent, several of the key negotiators are participating in a public forum on tourism hosted by the Advocate on April 3.  We don't yet know what percentage of the $20 admission price will go to funding public infrastructure. But there's still time to hammer all that out.  In any case, the tone of the conversation should be nice and friendly. The panelists will probably spend most of the time congratulating each other. No one who might possibly object to the arrangement will be in the room.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Print shop politics

Someday we're going to walk into Office Max and find Timothy David Ray there behind the counter. He seems to have a handle on the supplies and furnishings business.
Timothy David Ray lost his bid to serve as the permanent clerk of 1st City Court in November, but that didn’t stop him from cutting a number of suspicious checks from an obscure government bank account just before he left office, according to a recent audit.

Ray gave $4,766 to a Plaquemines Parish pastor for shelving that was never completed, $5,150 to an Apple store employee for questionable moving expenses, and $360 to a printing company for “business cards” that might have been unnecessary, forensic auditors said.

In total, the auditors said that Ray spent more than $10,000 in public funds on suspicious expenses during his last two weeks in office — findings that prompted New Orleans judges to refer him to the FBI and local law enforcement officials on Wednesday.
What a strange case.  Ray finished slightly out of the running in a city council primary a few years ago before landing the interim clerk gig.  Still, Ray seemed like an up and comer.  It seems like a waste to throw that away on something like this.  He couldn't get himself elected there outright because he ran up against Austin Badon's many years of experience having bought office supplies for the right people himself.

In other words, don't expect much improvement in efficiency or ethical operations at the Clerk's office just because Ray is on the way out.  Which was basically Dangerblond's point the other day when I brought this up on Twitter.  She also took exception to the Advocate's characterization of the office as "under the radar," which we have to agree is sort of condescending toward the readership.






Friday, March 15, 2019

Praline disconnection

This didn't last very long.
The Praline Connection was in business on Frenchmen Street for close to 30 years before changing hands and relocating to the French Quarter late last year. The move did not go well.

The Praline Connection closed before Mardi Gras and its location at 301 Decatur St. remains empty.  Aaron Motwani, the local restaurateur who bought Praline Connection from its founders last year, said today that the restaurant will return but could not yet say where or when.

“We’re definitely going to open up the Praline Connection again,” he said. “It’s an iconic brand and has a lot of value in it.”
LOL, yeah yeah "iconic brand."  Nothing is anything but a brand in NOLA Disney.  I wonder if we can buy the Gene's Po-Boy brand separately from the building it's about to vacate since we don't have the $5 million asking price handy.

Back in November when he bought Praline Connection and planned to move it to upper Decatur Street, Motwani said he thought that might get it closer to a "local" clientele. That never made any sense to us.  All the apartment buildings downtown are going timeshare these days

Besides the restaurant was far from the strangest deal the Motwanis had going on at the time.

Anyway, it's hardly surprising this wouldn't work out.  I don't think it was ever meant to.  If I'm reading this correctly, the Motwanis do own the building, though.  Wonder what the plan is for that now.  

Thursday, March 14, 2019

If only 70s Bernie were running in 2020

Everything in here kicks an extraordinary amount of ass.
(CNN)Bernie Sanders advocated for the nationalization of most major industries, including energy companies, factories, and banks, when he was a leading member of a self-described "radical political party" in the 1970s, a CNN KFile review of his record reveals.

Sanders' past views shed light on a formative period of his political career that could become relevant as he advances in the 2020 Democratic primary.
 
Many of the positions he held at the time are more extreme compared to the more tempered democratic socialism the Vermont senator espouses today and could provide fodder for moderate Democrats and Republicans looking to cast the Democratic presidential candidate and his beliefs as a fringe form of socialism that would be harmful to the country.
If CNN wants to describe this as "fringe" they can do that, I guess. But it seems to us that with only 10 years or so left to do anything at all about climate change, the time to start taking these measures is... well, actually, the best time would have been forty years ago when Bernie was saying all this. But now would be good too.

Unfortunately we've only got moderate Bernie in 2020. CNN seems to think this 70s Bernie stuff is some sort of negative against his current campaign, though. Not sure where they're getting that from.

Beto!

Finally the guy who lost to Ted Cruz is running for President. No idea why that's good. The campaign that almost beat Cruz actually did some good in Texas dragging a lot of down ballot Democrats into judgeships and state house seats in the process.  It might have been a good idea for Beto to try and see if he could do the same thing again by almost beating John Cornyn. Instead he's doing this. People are excited for some reason.
It’s fairly easy to explain O’Rourke’s rise: he’s a handsome, tall white guy who liberals can project their longings onto, with little substance to get in the way. He’s been called the “white Obama,” which to liberals seems to mean a return to a time when they were on top, when they felt secure that the seething masses of MAGA chuds who now control the country were safely tucked away in their suburbs.

“He has an aura,” Vanity Fair writes.

Cool, but also, who cares?

O’Rourke, Vanity Fair reports, has been drinking the Kool Aid about himself.

“I got in there, and I don’t know if it’s a speech or not, but it felt amazing,” he tells Vanity Fair of a speech he gave during his failed Senate campaign. “Because every word was pulled out of me. Like, by some greater force, which was just the people there. Everything that I said, I was, like, watching myself, being like, How am I saying this stuff? Where is this coming from?”
Oh dear.

In addition to being full of himself, Beto is also just flat out bad. He's been more explicit than most of the Dem field in distancing himself from the left. He opposes Medicare for All, even in name. Defend that as "electable-in-Texas" if you must, but Beto isn't running in a Texas election. He's running in the Democratic Presidential primary field where we have big picture debates about the direction and values of the party. But Beto doesn't believe in very much outside of having an aura or whatever. 

He does distinguish himself as probably the most right leaning candidate to announce so far.  (Biden still isn't in quite yet.) Apart from the conservative positions we've already mentioned, O'Rourke is also married to the heir to a billion dollar real estate fortune which voters in rapidly gentrifying cities with exploding housing crises like, say, New Orleans, can appreciate.  He's also a big charter school guy.  That's sure to do well for him too in places like, say, New Orleans.

Anyway, Beto! He's here! He'll probably be here for a while. Enjoy that.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Sonder exception is still in the rules

The City Planning Commission is going to meet at 1:30 on Tuesday to work on Short Term Rentals again. They'll be working with a set of recommendations dutifully put forward by their poor pitiable staff who have been asked to do this several times now.   Well, here they go again. 
The rules proposed by the staff of the City Planning Commission would keep the heart of the City Council’s plan: a requirement that short-term rentals be allowed in residential areas only if the owner lives on the site. But the planners recommend allowing only one entire unit per property to be rented out at residentially zoned properties, while council members had envisioned allowing up to three.
Yeah well that is good and all but when this gets kicked up to Council, they're likely to shift it back.  Still it's encouraging to find that somebody still thinks 1 STR per homestead exemption is good policy. Pity they only think that's good enough for strictly residential zones, though.  The rules get slightly looser for mixed use and entirely too loose in commercial zones. We've talked as nauseum about the problems with this so we won't get too boring about it now.

I did want to point out that Jason Williams's gift to Sonder and Motwani is still very much intact, though.
Larger-scale operations would be allowed in commercial areas. A homestead exemption would not be required on those properties, but the staff's recommendations would prohibit most properties from using more than a quarter of their units as short-term rentals, with some exceptions such as for portions of Canal Street and Bourbon Street.
Anyway, this is far from the last stop for this business.  If you've got comments about tomorrow's CPC meeting, you might as well copy your councilmember on that too. 

Billy and the redeemers

Nungesser told a bunch of  "tourism and cultural preservation officials" yesterday that he's going to put all the Jim Crow monuments back on public display soon.  That should go over really well.

I notice here, also, that Billy implies Mayor Cantrell is cooperating with him in this task.   That also should go over really well.  Even so he can't help but show a little ass toward her city even as the negotiations are ongoing.
“I’ve met with her several times. I really believe in my heart she wants it resolved in a way that satisfies -- as much as we can – everyone," he said. The event was hosted by the Robert E. Lee Monumental Association.

Attendees cheered Nungesser’s promise that public input will be taken on all proposals. He said he personally favors building a replica of Lee Circle in Mandeville’s Fontainebleau State Park, which his office oversees.

He says the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee would be back on top of his pedestal, with his back side facing New Orleans.
So... yeah... that ought to go over super well too.

Maybe somebody can follow up with the mayor on this.  When they do, I hope they would also ask her about the folks in Nungesser's cheering audience.  WWNO doesn't name any of them but describes them as "tourism and preservation officials" so you have to figure there are some prominent individuals among them.  The hosting "R.E. Lee Monumental Association" is listed on the Sec of State's website. Its president is William Mason.  His name does not appear on the organization's website. Nor does anyone else's.  It says here on the membership page that donations and members will remain anonymous.  I don't think Billy's audience was masked, though.  Mardi Gras is over and most of them have put their hoods away..... we think, anyway.

Of course the anonymous donations to the white supremacist organization are tax deductible.  That's in keeping with the standard practice for culture and tourism oriented non-profits in New Orleans.  Take plantation owner, Joe Jaeger's proposed hotel for example.  It says here, Jaeger and his partners want to configure their development as a non-profit also in order to aquire a property tax exemption.  Assessor Erroll Williams is not so keen on that at the moment.

The tourism cabal is also seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in additional rebates and subsidies beyond just the propety tax exemption.
The proposed deal calls for $41 million in upfront cash from the Convention Center, a free 50-year land lease with four optional 10-year extensions, and a 40-year break on property taxes. It also would include complete rebates of a 10 percent hotel-occupancy tax and a 4 percent sales tax on all hotel revenue from sources other than room rentals.

Besides the $330 million value identified by BGR, the proposed plan also calls for other subsidies from the Convention Center: $26 million to perform “site prep” to remediate any hazardous soil and to install utilities on the site, and $20 million to connect the hotel to the Convention Center at Henderson Street
All of this, the wealthiest developers in town insist, is absolutely necessary for them to finance their surefire money making project on some of the most desirable real estate in the city.   If they need that much help, the tourism economy in New Orleans must be in a lot worse shape than they say it is. Either that or they're just not very good businessmen.

Another possibility is that's just how business is done around here. The Advocate points out that the World War II Museum, another of our celebrated tourism and cultural non-profits, is looking to build its own tax-exempt hotel.
Williams said he also isn’t inclined to grant a property tax exemption sought by officials at the National World War II Museum for the hotel they are building across Magazine Street from the museum. The officials say the hotel would be an “educational” facility, according to Williams. No one from the museum was available for comment.
Maybe if they hadn't spent their endowment on the Bollinger Canopy Of Peace they wouldn't have to ask for stuff like this, I dunno.  Anyway, they need more public money now.  And even though Williams is leaning away from giving them more, it isn't clear he's made a final decision yet.

Which is why, as this process goes on, he, and the mayor, may wish to consider the very likely overlapping rosters of individuals involved in the Convention Center project, the World War II Museum, AND the members of Nungesser's audience who cheered when he suggested we could all kiss General Lee's ass for him yesterday.  Can't imagine that's going to win them much favor.  But one never knows. 

Friday, March 08, 2019

Leon's "silent majority"

The hard right position Cannizzaro has staked out ahead of next year's DA election might be surprising given the context. The conversation on criminal justice policy has shifted in recent years enough to allow for the success of a few mild sentencing reforms, an end to the state's non-unanimous jury law, and popular sympathy for the ongoing legal effort to end so-called "debtor's prisons." 

But Leon insists that a "silent majority" of New Orleanians are laying in wait to push back against this, again, rather weak tide of cautious reform. When we noticed this ramping up last month it laid to rest our doubts that Cannizzaro would even seek reelection.  He's already in campaign mode.

Actually he's already in the second phase of  campaign mode. When the Lens caught up with him his spokesperson this week, they already found him playing to both sides a little bit.
In a statement, Cannizzaro’s spokesman Ken Daley said it would be “premature” to comment on an election that is nearly two years away. But he defended Cannizzaro’s record, saying the DA supported criminal justice reform programs when he believed they would work.

“The DA makes no apologies for aggressively prosecuting violent criminals,” Daley said. “That does not mean he opposes reform efforts, if they are rooted in common sense and not simply a grab for grant dollars.”
That's pretty clever.  New Orleanians are so gaslighted by a cycle of violent crime met with decades of "lock em up" rhetoric that they have readily embraced mass surveillance as well as gentrifying efforts such as crackdowns on bars and corner stores and music venues. So it's reasonable to assume a wariness of criminal justice reform from a significant slice of the electorate. Maybe this doesn't constitute a "silent majority" but it probably does mean Cannizzaro has a solid base from which to reach out.  Any opposition campaign will have a lot more work to do than he has.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Where's the rest of the Mardi Gras Guide?

Don't worry, it's all about to get dumped out in the coming purge. I kinda got swept up in a bunch of nonsense this weekend for some reason.....

Anyway I know where there are some ashes today

Ready For Ash Wednesday

Friday, March 01, 2019

Mardi Gras Guide Part 1: Whose Streets? Everybody's Streets

Sirens, gunfire, a panicked crowd reaction, public safety personnel running this way and that.  No we're not talking about the CBD on a Friday night.  No, we're not talking about the scene when Parks and Parkways comes out to clear squatters and ladders off of the neutral ground. We're also not trying to describe the scene of some horrific, but also extremely unlikely, terror attack on a parade route.

Instead we are describing the scene in Armstrong Park last week when a bunch of cops had nothing better to do with their DHS money than go out and LARP their wildest fantasy of such an attack.
The New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness will conduct a "full-scale exercise" simulating an attack on a parade. This important drill will help New Orleans public safety agencies test emergency response plans in the event of a real attack. For example, the simulation will test a hospital surge plan to triage and handle a mass casualty incident. The City's family reunification plan to track and communicate with family members the status and location of people affected by an attack will also be tested through this drill. Role-playing with real people and real equipment allows emergency personnel to fully test plans, policies, and response.
Sounds fun! Was it fun? Looks that way. They had actors and props and floats and all kind of neat stuff. Here's the video.  It's always reassuring to see the SWAT crew show up in tanks.  Really puts you in the Carnival spirit.

The good news is everybody was pleased with the way it went. Emergency responders say they know who to call first and how to get where they need to go in case a drunk driver loses control near a crowd or in case somebody besides a cop fires a gun out there. Both of those things have happened before, of course. Still, it sounds like a lot of these procedures could have been covered in a series of memos and meetings but what would be the fun of that?  As for "terrorism," that's not likely to be as much of a concern.  That is,  unless when police and prosecutors don't want to share exculpatory evidence with defendants. Then there's a terrorist hiding behind every tree. Which is why the trees all have cameras now, probably. Even the floats have eyes.

Mama Roux

Anyway, the point of all this is, Happy Mardi Gras!  We're already deep into the season and I've already got one sunburn and two moderate hangovers to show for it.  But, well, I've gone to all these parades and taken all these pictures so doggone it I'm gonna have to write about it a little bit.  In multiple parts, actually.  There's always a lot going on during Carnival season and it's already Friday. Let's see how far we can catch up before I have to go out and drink in the street some more.


The New Mardi Gras is over... or is really the Old Mardi Gras.. or..

Lego Chewbacchus
Krewe of 'tit Chewbacchus rolling on through


Thanks, in part, to the late Carnival season... and probably to police paranoia as well... the parade schedule got shuffled around a bit this year.  The most significant change saw Chewbacchus moved from the first big Saturday night, all the way up to a week ahead of Krewe Du Vieux.  On the one hand this is probably bad in that it's yet another concession to the city's stupid insistence on supporting only one parade route at a time. On the other hand, maybe Chewbacchus really does belong in the pre-season.

After all, Chewbacchus does have a lot in common with the other small scale parades and street happenings that go on in the weeks before the major parades roll.  NOLADotCom art critic Doug MacCash erroneously lumped them together with a few other recently formed parades and marching clubs into something he calls "New Mardi Gras." But there are all sorts of problems with this appellation chief among them being the fact that there's nothing particularly new about the format any of these groups present. Small, independent, maskers and marching clubs have always been a part of Carnival. In fact, the tradition is older than the larger parade style introduced to New Orleans by Comus in the 19th Century.   We have other nits to pick with MacCash on this point but a lot of this ground was covered on the last Hunkerdowncast which you can listen to here if you really want to get into it. Probably the most thoughtful discussion of Chewbacchus and its place in the Carnival continuity came from this Jules Bentley article in 2015.

I'm still not clear on MacCash's motivation, though. A lot of the time it seems like he's deliberately trolling trolling on behalf of the treps and transplants who do, in fact, comprise much of the Chewbacchus membership. Maybe he's sympathetic to the club's libertarian ethic. Or maybe he just knows this is thing that will get a rise out of people. Just ahead of Chewbacchus, Doug ran with speculation sourced  to one of the Krewe's "Overlords" about the possibility of carrying ads in the parade. 
This year, for the first time, the Chewbacchus parade may include banners or other advertisements for local breweries and distilleries that are sponsors of the krewe. A city ordinance prohibits advertisements of any kind during the officially designated Carnival Parade Season (from the second Friday before Mardi Gras, through Mardi Gras day). But Overlord Ethridge points out that since the Chewbacchus parade falls outside of those dates, it’s legal to display ads.

Anyway, she said, Chewbacchus is actually a church that venerates the “Sacred Drunken Wookiee.” So alcohol is a sort of sacred sacrament and therefore alcohol ads are simpatico.
That touched off the predictable half day or so of yelling on Twitter until someone could follow up with the krewe to discover that, no, they weren't really serious. Was that what MacCash intended? or was it just a stupid accident?  Maybe we'll never know. Sound off in the comments.

Rex dumped Kern

Ball Favors
Fancy shop sells fancy things to fancy people


This is going to be the last year of the longstanding relationship between the King Of Carnival and his float builder.  They will celebrate the occasion by staring into the sun together.
After this Mardi Gras, a different float-building company will take on the Rex parade floats after the Rex Organization and Kern Studios decided to end their partnership, according to a WWL-TV report.

Kern Studios has constructed the King of Carnival's floats for more than 65 years. After this year's Rex parade rolls with the theme "Visions of the Sun," another company will take on the task for at least the next five years, WWL-TV reported.
The WWL story doesn't pin down a reason for the split. We do know the Kern family isn't quite as stable as it once was but to say anything on top of that would be speculating. Also I couldn't help notice we got some comments from "Rex Organization official James Reiss."
"We're extremely proud to for 68 years to have had the backing of Kern artists in creating what we think is one of the premier parades during N.O. carnival," said Rex Organization official James Reiss. "As all business relationships do, they mature. We're extremely proud that Kern has now taken New Orleans Carnival not just to other krewes but internationally to places like China,  to Universal Studios. As they have grown, we think that we've been a big part of that growth. We're happy to see what they've done. It's just time for the two organizations to move on. It's really just an internal business decision. We're both very good friends and will remain so."
Yeah, well, good for them.  The thing is, we can't let Reiss's name pop up without mentioning again his role, and that of his peers, in realizing the vision of a new New Orleans, Reiss so helpfully laid out for us in the days after Katrina.
More than a few people in Uptown, the fashionable district surrounding St. Charles Ave., have ancestors who arrived here in the 1700s. High society is still dominated by these old-line families, represented today by prominent figures such as former New Orleans Board of Trade President Thomas Westfeldt; Richard Freeman, scion of the family that long owned the city's Coca-Cola bottling plant; and William Boatner Reily, owner of a Louisiana coffee company. Their social pecking order is dictated by the mysterious hierarchy of "krewes," groups with hereditary membership that participate in the annual carnival leading up to Mardi Gras. In recent years, the city's most powerful business circles have expanded to include some newcomers and non-whites, such as Mayor Ray Nagin, the former Cox Communications executive elected in 2002.

A few blocks from Mr. O'Dwyer, in an exclusive gated community known as Audubon Place, is the home of James Reiss, descendent of an old-line Uptown family. He fled Hurricane Katrina just before the storm and returned soon afterward by private helicopter. Mr. Reiss became wealthy as a supplier of electronic systems to shipbuilders, and he serves in Mayor Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority. When New Orleans descended into a spiral of looting and anarchy, Mr. Reiss helicoptered in an Israeli security company to guard his Audubon Place house and those of his neighbors.

He says he has been in contact with about 40 other New Orleans business leaders since the storm. Tomorrow, he says, he and some of those leaders plan to be in Dallas, meeting with Mr. Nagin to begin mapping out a future for the city.

The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."
Yeah, well, good for them, too. They got everything they wanted. The schools are all charters, the "demographics" have shifted, the city is smaller, whiter, and fewer poor people can afford to live here.  And, from the looks of things, our political leadership is fairly satisfied with that. This week, the City Planning Commission considered the results of a study on affordable housing set asides that appears to recommend taking little or no action.
Forcing developers to add lower-cost apartments to their residential projects would be difficult to implement outside of New Orleans' most sought-after neighborhoods, and it likely would create only a few dozen lower-priced units per year, according to a study commissioned by the City Council.

The local housing market is strong enough to support an affordable-housing mandate, known as "inclusionary zoning," only in areas such as the Central Business District and the French Quarter, said the study, a summary of which was released Tuesday.
As we've pointed out numerous times here, inclusionary zoning and developer incentives aren't going to protect our neighborhoods from displacement and gentrification anyway. To do that we need to build actual public housing and, very likely, to implement some sort of rent control policy. By admitting that "the market" isn't going to solve the problem for us, this study actually confirms this. That isn't what the CPC wants to hear, of course. And it's certainly not what they'll hear from any of the Rex Organization men. Maybe if something happened to displace them from their homes they might finally be able to empathize just a little bit.  But probably not.

Black wreath
A black wreath lain on the fencepost at the now ruined Downman Mansion. Rex is still going to stop here on Fat Tuesday.

There's all kinds of king cakes now

Late January pricing
Also available in vodka form

King cakes used to be such a prime topic for hot takes.  Do you eat them out of season?  Do you like them filled or plain? Should the baby come in the cake or separately in the box?  Is your neighborhood bakery doing it wrong?

Most recently, I think, the thing that got everyone excited was the Dong Phuong fad and associated manufactured scarcity.  But I think it's time to declare that over now.  There also was a time when everyone enjoyed freaking out over the newest weird flavor with like... tomato sauce and pretzels on it or whatever.  But the process of one-upsmanship has become so baroque now that there are a million varieties and none of them can stand out anymore.  Do whatever you want with your king cake. Nobody is shocked. Nothing matters. 

The only sane move is to stick to basics.  So in light of that, here is a perfectly cromulent king cake guide from NOLA.com.  These are all good recommendations. I am still partial to Antoine's, though.

City government is saving Mardi Gras but also it is ruining Mardi Gras

Tent construction
A civilization rises on Napoleon Avenue


God bless Mayor Cantrell.  She has picked up and expanded on the previous administration's recent emphasis on reminding parade goers to share the public space and not obstruct it with too many ladders and tents and chairs and such. We here at the Yellow Blog have observed this problem closely for many years. We've even appeared in the local media from time to time advocating for change. It's gratifying to see the city take it seriously.

They've made it a major point in the annual get-ready-for-Carnvial press conference
The city will also be taking a hard line against those who leave items on the parade routes to try to reserve preferred spots.

Workers will clear away items such as tarps and ladders left along the routes, Parks and Parkways Director Ann McDonald said.

"We will not store items," she said. "We will not tag items. Any items that we remove will be destroyed.”
The "will be destroyed" comment got a lot of attention this week because LaToya repeated it as city workers charged down the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground making good on the threat. But it's worth noting this was the policy from the outset.  Anyway the beatings will have to continue until morale improves because people really do need to be forcefully reminded about these issues every year.  My personal observation has been that, while the enforcement effort has done some good, it hasn't obviated the problem entirely.  This week, the parade route is still tightly walled with tents, ladders, and those dang festival chairs that seem to get worse every year. If people would just put them in the back where they belong everyone would be able to move around and..... well, you've heard all this from me before.

A few weeks ago, this story got passed around about a guy offering to camp out and "save a spot" for on the neutral ground. 10 ft. by 10ft. for $2,000! This is supposed to be a free and open public celebration.  We can't allow the very public spaces dedicated to that purpose become walled off and monetized.

There is something else the city could do to decrease the high demand for real estate.  The city could allow the party to spread back out into the neighborhoods it once belonged in rather than bottle it all up along one corridor like the over-leveed Mississippi River.  One reason the St. Charles route is crowded beyond capacity with campers and ladders is it's more or less the only place anyone can go to catch a parade anymore.  It wasn't always like this as a recent Gambit commentary noted.
Older New Orleanians remember seeing the krewes of Endymion and Pontchartrain rolling through Gentilly and New Orleans East, respectively. The Krewe of Mid-City's unique, foil-wrapped floats once used to delight people in … Mid-City. And the Krewes of Freret and Carrollton used to roll down (you guessed it) Freret Street and Carrollton Avenue, respectively.

The concentration of parades on St. Charles Avenue makes things easier for the city, especially for our manpower-challenged police department, but it has taken something away from New Orleans' neighborhoods. Carnival season is a party we put on for ourselves, and it's time to ask: Can we move a few parades back to their neighborhoods?
We could move a few parades back to their neighborhoods. But the city doesn't want that. The police don't want it.  But the police and Homeland Security don't think we should be doing any of this in the first place and only tolerate it insofar as it benefits the tourism industry.  But our holidays are about more than the most crass and efficient means of turning a profit.  We're never going to put things right if all we do is listen to the police and wealthy few they serve and protect. And we're never going to solve the route overcrowding problem until we see that.

More Mardi Gras Guide to come:

Part 2: Racism, politics, and Carnival con artists

Part 3: The parade ratings matrix

Monday, February 25, 2019

Restless river

This will be the fifth Spillway opening since 2000 but only the 13th in its history.  The river is getting harder to control in its current channel. The Advocate took a long look at the situation last spring

It's something to keep in mind especially since we've still got a few months to go to peak flood season. 

Breakaway Republicans

The St. George petition has apparently succeeded.

Now we get to hear Bodi White and Woody Jenkins tell us how extremely not racist any of this is.  Looking forward to that.

Just take the moneeys back

A lot of what the mayor wants to do in order to claw back from the tourism cabal has to go through Baton Rouge first. That's going to be difficult. The Governor has already signaled some opposition to her plans and most lawmakers from other parts of the state are more likely to respond to requests from tourism lobbyists and less likely to care about funding drainage in New Orleans. Also everybody up there is just used to the money piling up in the direction it currently does and, well, there's a lot of inertia to overcome.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some options available outside of all that if you know where the pressure points are. Flozell Daniels has an idea about that.
The RTA sent a letter to New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. CEO Mark Romig this month demanding the return of more than $31 million to the transit agency. The RTA's current chairman, Flozell Daniels, said the agency now believes the 2001 agreement that diverted the funding was unconstitutional.

Daniels added that the agency isn't planning to give up any more money under that agreement.

"For two decades our service has been impacted by limitations on financial resources, while the resources available to the tourism and hospitality marketing agencies have steadily increased," Daniels wrote. "New Orleans cannot be a 21st century city without 21st century transit."
The legal stuff here is tricky. By the terms of a 2001 settlement, RTA gets to collect sales tax on hotel rooms but it has to kick back some of that to NOTMC.  What Daniels is saying, now, though, is that NOTMC doesn't use the money for the purposes specified in the ballot referendum authorizing the sales tax.  So, I guess, as a steward of these public funds, he is stopping the payments. 

This is a fun argument to present because it forces Romig to justify his organization's use of the funds in terms of whether or not they "specifically benefit public transit," as Daniels puts it.  I don't think he succeeds at this.
But Romig said the Marketing Corp. often promotes the RTA's streetcars in the ads it aims at tourists, and that it has used the roughly $2.9 million a year it gets from the tax to support local festivals and other events for which public transit is used.
Ha ha, yeah, making ads that tell more tourists to get on the streetcar isn't doing much to benefit public transit.  It does crowd the streetcar lines a bit and reinforce the notion that public transit is an amusement ride. It might also get some tourists to dinner at Commander's, although not necessarily on time. I suppose this provides some benefit to that wing of the Brennan family. 

As for the festivals, that's really more a case of creating a challenge for RTA, isn't it?   Romig's phrasing suggests they should be happy to have been brought more "customers." But public transit doesn't exist just to collect more fares. It is the transit agency's job to move people to and from these events without disrupting too badly the commutes of their regular riders in the process. If anything it's RTA who needs extra support from tourism agencies to meet the demand these events create.

And if they can't do that then maybe RTA is better off just taking its money back. 

Hollow victories

This is not an "affordable housing" plan.  It is a scheme to allow developers to build nice things for rich people all up and down the riverfront and excuse that decision with a worthless token.
The council voted 6-0, with Councilman Jason Williams absent, to direct the commission to review amendments to the zoning ordinance that would require developments along the riverfront in Marigny and Bywater to include at least 10 percent affordable housing units in order to qualify for additional density and height limits, up to a maximum of six stories or 75 feet.

The affordable units would be reserved for households with incomes equal to or below 80 percent of the area median income; at least half must contain two or more bedrooms.
The story says this development was "counted as a victory by affordable housing proponents."  If that is true, then these "proponents" have a very low bar for what counts as a victory.  Just to give you a sense of what this says, here is a quick calculation based on what I think are the correct numbers.

Median income for the city of New Orleans is estimated at $38,721. But this says Area Median Income which, in Census terms refers to the New Orleans-Metarie-Kenner region for which the median income is $50,528. So the "affordable" set aside here is priced for households earning $40,422.  An "affordable" unit should not cost more than 30 percent of that which means, again, if I'm doing the HUD math correctly, that this action by City Councils should "affordable" housing units that cost about $1000 a month to live in. 

Remember also this requirement applies to 10 percent of the units in each of these now permitted high rise developments. So what we've done is give a green light to luxury condos throughout Bywater in exchange for pretty much nothing.  But councilmembers will now claim they achieved an affordable housing "victory."  Why would anyone let them do that?

Carnival comes at you fast

There's a lot to catch up on and I am currently not alive so here is the podcast from this weekend. This all feels so long ago but it was only recorded this past Thursday. Mostly it's about Alli being in Krewe du Vieux which we thought was pretty nice.



There's a part where we chase after her float and try to read a toast. It goes sort of okay. Here is a video of that.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Privacy is important to Google

The company monetizing every bit of personal data about everybody on earth is very careful about what information it shares about itself.
Last May, officials in Midlothian, Tex., a city near Dallas, approved more than $10 million in tax breaks for a huge, mysterious new development across from a shuttered Toys R Us warehouse.

That day was the first time officials had spoken publicly about an enigmatic developer’s plans to build a sprawling data center. The developer, which incorporated with the state four months earlier, went by the name Sharka LLC. City officials declined at the time to say who was behind Sharka.

The mystery company was Google — a fact the city revealed two months later, after the project was formally approved. Larry Barnett, president of Midlothian Economic Development, one of the agencies that negotiated the data center deal, said he knew at the time the tech giant was the one seeking a decade of tax giveaways for the project, but he was prohibited from disclosing it because the company had demanded secrecy.
A very long time ago Google was more or less just a website you used to search for information.  Like if you wanted to know about who your elected representatives were about to shower favors and tax breaks upon, you might use Google to do some of that research.  You can still do that. But Google is hoping you won't find what they're up to until it's too late.

Why are they so worried? Well, it turns out that showering favors and tax breaks onto mega-corporations and international oligarchs isn't the no-brainer political winner it used to be.
The inevitability of Amazon’s arrival, however, had formed a strong common sense. Many acknowledged that it was a crummy deal – including, at times, the plan’s own architects – but urged New Yorkers to resign themselves to its eventuality. Just two days ago, the New York Times published an editorial by historian Kenneth Jackson that granted the subsidies’ absurdity, but suggested still that the city capitulate, stating: “this is how the game is played.” A few weeks earlier, Governor Cuomo, in an interview with Brian Lehrer, said that in a perfect world a company should not have states bidding against one another, but that: “We pray for the perfect, we live in the real.”

In other words, the deal may stink but our hands are tied. Mayor de Blasio acknowledged the obscenity of tax breaks for Bezos, but insisted that the deal was democratic because its key negotiators — the mayor and governor — were democratically elected. The message to New Yorkers was clear: sit down, there is no alternative.

And then, on Valentine’s Day, New Yorkers proved them all wrong. They burst the ideological bubble the establishment was floating, and showed that they will not accept the trickle-down, supply-side urban economics under the vague and misleading banner of “progressive” policy. This demonstrates that we can — and we must — do more than “play the game,” “pray for the perfect,” and follow the leaders.
God bless the kids who write this stuff for Jacobin.  They really do try like hell to convey a sense that great things are happening and victory is right around the corner and man is that ever annoying.  But that doesn't mean they're wrong about what happened. People in New York got together and said they'd had just about enough of this shit in so loudly that it ran the world's richest man right out of town.  So good job, those guys.  How's the rest of the world making out, though?  Not so good.

Making out especially not so good are we here in Louisiana where we're still very much invested in a model of governance that requires us to shower favors on the wealthy first and then hope for good things to come from that.

Maybe they can run Bezos off in New York but we can barely reserve the right to review the occasional industrial tax exemption. Not a single person in New Orleans questioned the cash payroll subsidies handed out to DXC Technology in 2017.  The Sonder STR hotel project is going to have full city council backing. 

In New York they told the world's richest man to fuck off. We can't even stand up to Torres and Motwani and Joe Jaeger. Jaeger just bought himself a dang plantation.  But all indications are we're going to subsidize his downtown hotel with money that could be better spent on shoring up our infrastructure.

What's worse is all of this stuff happens right out in the open where we can read about it in the local papers and whatnot.  What would happen if the local oligarchs started getting all huffy about their privacy when anybody tried to hold them accountable.

How would a local "wealth tax" work?

Danae Columbus seems worried here that LaToya might change her mind on the whole "take from the rich and give to the poor and all that kind of crap" thing. I'm not sure why she would worry. Anyone in New Orleans politics raising the kind of money Cantrell has clearly is already taking enough from the rich that she wouldn't want to hurt their feelings too badly.  Still, Columbus is right to point out, taxing the rich is a popular idea. And one thing we know about LaToya is she does like to be popular.
Another option that the populist Cantrell could consider is a tax on the rich, which is growing in popularity nationwide, according to the New York Times. In a recent poll by the online research platform SurveyMonkey, a majority of voters favor such an effort. Even Republicans support presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to increase taxes America’s wealthiest based on net worth. Many Democrats consider it a “moral issue.” Sixty-two percent of those surveyed agreed that government should try to reduce inequity. The survey suggested a 2 percent tax for those with wealth above $50 million.

Proponents like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez consider the tax as a way to resolve inequity problems not being adequately addressed by government. Inequity continues to be an on-going issue in New Orleans, a city where a large number of under-educated, non-homeowners are stuck in low-paying tourism industry jobs. But that doesn’t mean Cantrell would want to alienate her former Garden District and Uptown base who would be natural targets. New Orleans has always been a city with wide contrasts between the haves and the have-nots. A wealth tax based on any income level could trigger a new exodus to the suburbs, especially from older tax-payers.
Okay but explain to me about how a municipal "wealth tax" would even work? Does the city even have the authority to implement such a thing?  What a radical idea. I would love to hear more. Thanks to Columbus for bringing it up.

Still, I'm not sure what the point is since nothing like that is even on the table.  Presently we're having a fight over how much of the existing tourism tax revenues should accrue to the city rather than to the various tourism facilities and promotion boards who currently receive a lion's share. 

This week, the mayor appeared on the Advocate's podcast for a brief interview about this. It would relieve Columbus to know that nothing Cantrell said there sounds particularly socialistic. In fact she took great pains there to emphasize the fact that she wishes the tourism cabal nothing but success. "I come from tourism," she says alluding to her time working for the hotels. Completely oblivious to any sort of class consciousness, LaToya talks about her time as a hotel front desk and housekeeping grunt implying that the interests of such are completely aligned with those of plutocrats like Stephen Perry who exploit that subsistence labor to arrange six figure salaries for themselves.

If Cantrell does manage to wrest a "fair share".. or at least a fairer share of Perry's bounty away from him then maybe, in a way, we could consider that a kind of "wealth tax."  Maybe it's a wealth re-appropriation.  In any case, it's still apparently different from the full communism Columbus is proposing. I do hope she explains this further.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Fair share"

It's an interesting thing to see LaToya Cantrell adopt this phrase as a rhetorical staple.  She's been using it most often in reference to the ongoing fight over revenue dedicated to the tourism cabal.  But now it's bleeding out into other areas.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said her office will be going after dollars that are owed to the city in many areas -- including one uncovered in a FOX 8 Investigation into overdue parking tickets and citations from traffic cameras.
An examination of data from the City of New Orleans found $245.9 Million owed to the city for tickets dating back to 2008.

Collecting on money owed to the city follows Mayor Cantrell’s latest effort to make sure the city gets its share of fees and services.

“Across the board New Orleans needs to get her fair share and we are just seeing too many examples where this isn’t taking place,” Cantrell said Tuesday in a one-on-one interview with FOX 8′s Rob Masson.
Now we're talking about parking tickets so it could easily mean they're coming after you with bounty hunters and shit for your 40 dollar expired meter citation.  That's not great. But it kinda sorta sounds like she means to go after bigger violators like Fed Ex, for example. 
One of the biggest violators of unpaid parking tickets dating back years were FedEx delivery trucks illegally parking in the city. One truck we spotted making deliveries in the Central Business District owed more than $75,000 in parking fines. We also found trucks making deliveries with parking tickets still held in the dash.
“While we’ve been so aggressive on the residential side, I only think it’s fair to go after those dollars left on the table, by delivery companies not paying their fair share,” Cantrell said.
The way she phrases that isn't clear. It's almost like she sees Fed Ex and Joe Schmoe as equally viable targets. If so, that's not good.  It's certainly not "fair" anyway. And remember this is the mayor who told us, "I'm not talking about taking from the rich and giving to the poor and all that kind of crap" so maybe this is a real blind spot for her. 

Still, keep talking about fairness. That might get us to a better place.

Downman mansion

So this is basically right down the street from us. Our whole block has been cordoned off all morning.
A historic home on St. Charles Avenue burned in a massive 6-alarm fire Wednesday morning (Feb. 20), according to the New Orleans Fire Department. The house at 2525 St. Charles, known as a toasting spot during the Rex parade, is between Second and Third streets.

Three people inside the home, plus an elderly poodle, escaped the fire without injuries, according to the homeowners.
There used to be more than just one "elderly poodle" there.  At one time there were, I think, three very large attack poodles who would yell and scream at anyone walking too close to the fence as though Smithers might release them at any moment. This is getting a lot of attention today so probably everyone knows by now but the house has some historical significance
The house was built in 1888 for John Morris, founder of the Louisiana Lottery, according to the website, Experience New Orleans. Anne Grace’s great-grandfather bought the house in 1906 and it became the Downman Mansion, famous during Mardi Gras as a toasting stop during the Rex parade. At least six generations of the Downman-Kock-Montgomery-Grace family have made it their home during the past 100 years.
There have been a couple of Rexes in the family. One in 1907 and the other in 2002. That's what the flags in this picture indicate.  I think the 1947 Comus flag refers to a queen since Comus is supposed to be a big secret and all. I could be wrong about that not being privy to the mysteries of the Mystick Krewe and whatnot.

Downman House 2017

The house hosts a couple of big functions every year. There's usually some sort of party during the holiday season I've often thought about trying to crash just for kicks.  At Carnival time, there are reviewing stands out on the front lawn and the family hosts a couple of large parties. On Tucks Saturday there is usually a crawfish boil and a band on the porch.

Crawfish boil

Music on the porch

And, of course, there is the party on Fat Tuesday when the Rex parade crosses to the wrong side of the street so it can stop in front for a toast.

Downman Mansion Fat Tuesday

This has been pretty convenient for us over the years because it holds up the parade long enough for us to get back from watching Zulu come up Jackson.  By the time we get back, Rex is there waiting for us.

Rex toast

Anyway the good news is it sounds like nobody was hurt in the fire. But they're also saying the house appears to be a "total loss."  And Mardi Gras is just a couple weeks away so it's really bad timing for everyone.

Best police practices

Oh man it was just a few weeks ago they told us we were so so close to having a constitutionally compliant police department in New Orleans.   In light of that, it's pretty embarrassing to find a bunch of cops running through the heart of downtown just shooting this way and that like Yosemite Sam or whatever.
Bursey was still on Canal Street when he saw one of the uniformed officers get out of their car, Liviccari said. That’s when Bursey started shooting, he said.

Police returned fire as Bursey fled around the corner on Elk Place, near the bus stop, then went through the park on the neutral ground and took a right at the next block, to Cleveland Avenue, then a left on South Saratoga Street, then to Tulane Avenue. Near Tulane Medical Center on Tulane Avenue, he “ducks in some of those bushes,” Livaccari said. Officers spotted him and gave verbal commands, he said, Bursey shot at them again. It was at that point the state trooper who had been called to help fired his gun at and fatally struck Bursey.
Why did they fire back? Were they supposed to do that?  According this, they probably weren't even supposed to confront the guy in that situation.  
Statuary law from a 1968 case, Terry v. Ohio, authorizes police to stop, question, and even detain a person without a warrant if they have “reasonable suspicion.” The stop of Bursey likely fits in the category of a so-called “Terry stop,” but “Terry stops have risks as well,” said LSU School of Public Health criminologist Peter Scharf.

Before stopping Bursey, Scharf said, officers should consider if the person could be armed. NOPD preliminary reports show a gun was involved in both the Central City armed robberies the detectives were investigating. Livaccari said a gun was taken either during the Feb. 8 hold-up on Clio Street or in Saturday’s carjacking on Josephine and Carondelet streets.

Best practices in police departments around the country call for officers to weigh the risks of approaching a target with “any possible harm to the police officers, the subject and, especially, to bystanders,” Scharf said.

Even if a suspect then shoots his or her weapon, that does not automatically call for the same response from officers, he added.
See the "best practices" tell us that real life isn't like an action movie. You really do have to worry about what happens to the extras.  You have to make some effort, at least.
Livaccari said he had no information about whose gunfire struck the bystanders, but noted that at “some point,” Bursey was firing his gun “indiscriminately.” He said he was told Bursey at one point was seen “firing behind him while running forward.”

“Police at least were aiming,” Livaccari said.
 At least they aimed. 

Cost/benefit

I don't know how accurate this is but here is a sort of progress report for HANO's plan to "replace" the affordable housing units lost in the public housing demolitions. Of course given the decade of displaced families, scattered communities and other hardships amid skyrocketing housing cost, there's a lot that gets left out in that equation. 
HANO has in recent years worked with private partners to build what are known as "mixed-income" developments — developments that include both subsidized and market-rate apartments — as replacements for its former housing complexes, which had become centers for poverty and often crime. The effort is aimed at alleviating the ills associated with concentrated poverty and giving low-income residents more modern homes to call their own. 

The former B.W. Cooper (originally Calliope), St. Bernard, Lafitte and C.J. Peete (originally Magnolia) complexes were rebranded as Marrero Commons, Columbia Parc, Faubourg Lafitte and Harmony Oaks — mixed-income neighborhoods with far fewer units for the very poor than the former public housing complexes.

Iberville became Bienville Basin in an on-site redevelopment that has been handled by HRI, another local developer. McCormack Baron, the firm behind Harmony Oaks and Marrero Commons, is handling the off-site component of the vast Iberville replacement project and has been working to pepper low-income units throughout the surrounding Treme neighborhood.

Of the 821 former Iberville units, HANO and its partners have fully replaced 579, have another 102 under construction and have yet to break ground on 50, officials said. That will leave 90 still to go.
This particular story says we're supposed to see 30 more added to that total via a planned redevelopment of the abandoned St. Louis Street Winn Dixie. The scheme here, as usual, is to accomplish this by handing out a package of tax credits, grant subsidies, and a 25 year PILOT agreement to the developer who will also get to build another 46 apartments for sale at "market rate."

Anyway, since HANO is apparently keeping track of the number of units it has "replaced" since blowing up the Big Four, I'm curious to know if there exists a full accounting of how much all of this has cost in terms of tax credits and other incentives paid out to developers.  For extra credit you can factor in their profit from the luxury rate housing they've built on the prime real estate they've been granted in the process.

If we're agreed with the Advocate here that, "alleviating the ills associated with concentrated poverty," and not just handing sums of cash to wealthy developers is really the goal of this project, we should also look at whether or not the costs justify the supposed benefits of that.

How is that whole de-concnetrating poverty thing going, by the way? Well, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities..

Few Metropolitan Families Using Vouchers Live in Low-Poverty Neighborhoods, Despite the Presence of Affordable Units

Just 14 percent of all metropolitan voucher-assisted families with children — 123,000 households — live in low-poverty neighborhoods. The share varies considerably by location, ranging from 4 percent in the New Orleans metro area to 45 percent in the Washington, D.C. metro area (see Figure 1).
Not great, then. Not really de-concentrating poverty. From the looks of things, we are re-concentrating it on lower ground and further away from the city center. Here it is on the map. Click to embiggen.

Monday, February 18, 2019

How they throw away the key

If you go to jail in Louisiana, don't get too attached to the idea that, at the end of your sentence, they're actually going to let you out. Technically, they're supposed to but, you know, there's so much paperwork.
In 2005, a federal district court judge in Atlanta wrote she had been “unable to find any case... in which the detainment of a properly identified individual for days beyond his scheduled release date was held constitutionally permissible.”

That judge, Julie E. Carnes, who is now the Senior U.S. Circuit Judge in the 11th Circuit’s Court of Appeal, made the statement as part of a ruling on litigation by jailed people in Atlanta who sued a sheriff and the State of Georgia. The plaintiffs in that case had been overdetained by an average 3.9 days, court records show.

Despite those rulings, the Louisiana Department of Corrections appears to give itself in many cases anywhere from a few weeks to several months to process and release inmates. When New Orleans public defender Stanislav Moroz contacted the sheriff’s office to ask why Traweek was still in jail seven days after he was sentenced to time-served, OPSO employee Monique Filmore wrote back, “First of all Johnny Traweek was just sentenced on 5/2/18 so his paperwork has not went up yet.”

When Moroz checked in with OPSO five days later, Filmore reasponded, “He can’t get released until DOC sends him a release. The whole process takes about 2 weeks. He has to wait!!!!”

Meanwhile, an outgoing message on a DOC hotline states that “it takes at least 90 days after sentencing” for the department to calculate how much time a person must serve of their sentence. Only after this step is completed will DOC issue an official release date.
And that's "time served" can end up leaving you in jail for weeks or months. Some of the cases in this article end up tacking on years when the Sheriff and the Department of Corrections apply the Sewerage and Water Board billing system to calculating release dates.
A 2017 state auditor’s report on how DOC manages inmate data blasted the department as being incapable of calculating in an accurate and consistent manner how much time people should spend in prison and when they should be released.

For example, the auditor asked two DOC staffers to “calculate release dates on the same offender, and each used a different method. The two results differed by 186 days.” That would be a difference of about six months more in prison.

The haphazard manner in which DOC calculates time is one of the main drivers of overdetention and has resulted in multiple lawsuits, two of which the department recently settled for a total $250,000, records show. 
And this sort of thing happens all the time, apparently. Sure leaving people who have already served their sentences to sit indefinitely in dungeons is inhumane, expensive, and unconstitutional. But you gotta understand, not doing it is hard work.

In DOC’s official response to the legislative audit, Secretary James LeBlanc defended his staff, writing that the calculation of releases dates is a “very complex and ever changing” process that considers up to 20 different criteria. It is complicated even further, he said, by the Legislature passing new laws every year – such as 2017’s historic criminal justice reform package – which drastically alter the sentencing guidelines.

“Training for this job is ongoing and takes time to truly understand the intricacies of how each case is handled,” LeBlanc wrote. “Time computation staff are expected to know all laws, old and new.”

That same staff consists largely of people in entry-level jobs who collectively work on an average of 4,213 files per month, according to DOC. The staff’s turnover rate in 2017 was 33 percent. It dropped to an still-high 21 percent last year.
I suppose you could mitigate some of this instability by hiring more staff and paying solid wages and benefits but that's just crazy talk. Much better to waste that money housing prisoners at $54.20 per day per inmate for months and years longer than necessary.