The Tangled Web, Four – Conclusion

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I’m getting a theory about why the built-environment reactionaries of downtown went loopy about Elisio. I can feel it beaming down from the clouds just after the rain passes, up there to the left at about ten o’clock.

Not about Costello and Deveney. We don’t know for sure what happened there, but lust for petty power, a few strands of narcissism, the joy of manipulation – things like that came into it.

I mean the ordinary folk, the me-too residents who followed the objection parade but not sure why.

Height is the fallback, the easy one. “High-rise,” and that’s all you have to say. You can cite a binary rule. No nuance required. Then join the war cry; campaign camaraderie, pat each other on the back; soon you’re back home, feeling good, watching Fox News.

The cloudbeam is telling me it is rhythm. Architecture is often compared to music – rhythm, harmony, texture. The New Orleans conservative neighborhoodies are used to the simple symmetries of the old house styles. The doubles that form most of their environment have a simple basic shape, then symmetrical placement of everything – two doors, equidistant from the edges; windows, stairs, porch rails, brackets and ornaments – a simple, soothing symmetry. They remind me of early chamber music, with a harpsichord. What Jonathan calls “powdered wig music.” (He is immersed in it, among other traditions, so has earned the right to poke some fun at it.)

Look at Elisio. It is challenging to find the balances. It is more like Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy. Textures, levels, volumes, reflections – they vary across the surface in unexpected ways. Maybe unease with Elisio bubbles up from the same place that likes repetitive, predictable tourist music on Frenchmen Street. That prefers the “cultural economy” over creativity, exploration and art. That finds it more comfortable to turn away from a design and into a political fight, simplifying the challenge from the mental and aesthetic to the tribal.

It could explain why StudioWTA and its clients took a more conservative visual design approach on the Latrobe buildings and Stateside. Solving the technical challenges of building on Press Street was already incompatible with the fundamentalists’ beliefs. Don’t scare the horses.

Take another look, Marignards. See if there is something in it.

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With some luck, Mercato Elisio may grind some money out of Deveney, who either was happy to or was browbeaten into using the conflict to diminish the integrity of the HDLC, inappropriately influencing its decisions, and build this somewhere else. Maybe a different site on Elysian. Maybe the same site. I like an Ornette Coleman building. I am going to check out the rent.

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Marigny has two Neighborhood Associations, FMIA and One Marigny. One Marigny is unfortunately not yet large or active enough to offset FMIA on its own, and FMIA, despite its occasional boast about its longevity and maturity, is unfortunately stuck in the evolutionary stage of a residentialist vigilante group, not (at least yet) a real neighborhood association. It should be. Marigny is potentially a great neighborhood, much better and fresher than it is now, that deserves better than a sociopathic club claiming to be “the neighborhood.”

A proto-fascist presidential candidate recently told an all-white audience in the suburbs of Milwaukee that we need more police – not better policing, just more blue boots on the ground – in poor neighborhoods – very thin code for Black and Latino, for more suppression of dissent, more repression, more police violence and killing. Now egged on by Bannon of Breitbart, a nativist online comic for wingnuts, the same orange-toned ape-like creature is calling for “extreme vetting,” including of ideology. In other words, thought police. In the thankfully unlikely possibility that this buffoon of a Mussolini impersonator wins national office, we could look forward to reinstatement of the sickening loyalty oaths and ideological probes of the Red Scare McCarthy period.

Let’s not forget that Trump’s lawyer and introducer into Manhattan society through one of its seamier sewers and close friend for years was McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn (not that he believed in it, or in anything). Cohn became a ferocious New York lawyer and power broker, was eventually disbarred, and after achieving some prominence for anti-gay statements in the dark ages, died of AIDS in 1986. The New York Times article a couple of months ago is vivid on what kind of scumbags Cohn was and Trump is.

But even under that orange threat level and West Louisiana catastrophes, we have to reserve some attention for little local tyrannies, for that is where it starts. Or ends up – hard to say.

So, now change your lens to its macro setting (the tulip symbol, for extreme close-up, like pictures of little bugs). To give it a chance of rescue from its own demons and the mounting mood of fascism in the dark corners of our country, I am going to throw FMIA a lifeline.

They are looking for new directors. I am going to volunteer. It’s a sacrifice, but they need saving. Their reputation is in the gutter, Their decision processes are . . . bewildered. Their interactions with the city are confrontational and incoherent, more likely to generate stifled laughter than collaboration. They launch lawsuits without thinking it through, looking lost and desperate as the City Attorney shreds their case.

I can save them. I can help cure their internal affliction and repair their reputation. I can help them pick the right fights. I can teach them to negotiate. I can help them face real problems, not get Increasingly desperate about fantasies. If they are smart, they will accept my offer. I can lead them out of the wilderness Costello and Deveney led them into.

Only I can do this. Only I can save them.

Believe me.

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© NOLscape August 2016

The Tangled Web, Chapter Three

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Eva Marie Campos saw the letter signed “Gretchen Bomboy” attached to Tangled Web, Chapter One, and to use the technical legal term, it pissed her off. She wrote a rebuttal. Let’s get straight to it:

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Dear Robert,

Your blog post is as usual interesting and informative; I however took great interest in the letter you posted from Miss Bomboy dated May 6, 2011. In spite of the fact that it is said to have been delivered to all FMIA members I do not recall ever having seen it. I am sending you this letter to refute the allegations made against me. Thank you in advance for listening to my side of this awful story.

Item 1
The Board has concluded its investigation into the accusation that led to Eva Campos receiving a citation for Disturbing the Peace, and a second citation for Trespassing; and Chris Costello receiving a citation for Disturbing the Peace. There are NO assault charges on the police report, contrary to Eva Campos’s allegations. FMIA Board representatives spoke with both parties, each of whom have been placed on a Leave of Absence, until such time as their personal issues are resolved.”

The board never held an investigation and contrary to what Miss Bomboy wrote I have never stated that the police charged Costello with assault. However I have always SAID that he assaulted me, I said so the day it happened, and many times since then up to and including in my deposition given to Costello’s and Deveney’s attorney in July 2016. Costello was never placed on a leave of absence. That was merely a statement to appease the public. He was too important to the activity of the organization for them to take such action. They were afraid of what he would do with the power he wielded like a cudgel. They didn’t want to cross him, and they never did for fear of what he would do to each of them.

There are two issues with the events surrounding those few months, one was the assault and the other was the information I was making public. The board members did not have to believe that Costello put his hands on me to know for a fact that the information I was disclosing was true. Their reason for not holding him accountable for his actions is that they too were culpable in the illegal and unethical activity being brought to light.

Item 2:
The Board voted unanimously to remove Eva Campos from her position as FMIA Treasurer for failure to perform fiduciary responsibilities. Among them, failure to file our 2009 taxes in a timely manner.The Board then elected Ken Caron to assume the office of Treasurer immediately. Since 4/8/11 we have made multiple demands for the return of the FMIA laptop computer, passwords, software and all property of the FMIA in Eva Campos’s possession. Eva has refused thus far. An attorney has reviewed the final demand letter with a deadline of Friday (4/29/11) by 1:46 p.m. for the return of the nonprofit’s property and confidential information. Eva Campos has not complied, and we have reported the computer to the NOPD as stolen property. The FMIA will use all appropriate measures to regain the property.

The FMIA Board has arranged to have an outside certified financial audit. This can be performed with or without the said computer,still in Eva Campos’s possession, however,it will be considerably more costly. We plan to share the findings with all when we have them available and for transparency will post them on our Web site.”

While the board may have in fact voted unanimously to remove me as treasurer the one and only reason for this was my public revelations about their notorious activities. In regards to the 2009 taxes this was a matter that had been discussed between Costello and me for months.

The storyline is as follows. I became the treasurer when the previous treasurer Brian Frye stood up to Costello in the June 2009 board meeting to state that he would not be signing any more checks to Deveney Communications. It was a vicious verbal altercation where at one point Frye sneered, I’m not giving any more money to your boyfriend. And so as we all know once you stand up to Costello you have to go, Frye was out and I was the treasurer.

It is at this point that I would like to acknowledge that it is unfair to be speaking of Mr. Frye without giving him a chance to tell the story in his own voice and I would like nothing more than for him to be required to speak out about those days. I believe Mr. Frye to be an intelligent, well educated person and during his time in New Orleans he was employed as an engineer at NASA. But for some reason he didn’t perform any bookkeeping duties, when I got the QuickBooks file it was a complete mess, I have gone on about this at length in other places and will try to keep it short here but it was impossible for me to begin working on the data as it was given to me. In all the years of data entry into this file a bank reconciliation had never been performed. Never! Not one bank rec! For about three or four years!!

To begin my work I chose to go back to the beginning of the year 2009, get a good end of year balance from the bank and create all the entries, mainly deposits since there were not a lot of payables. Doing this work took a lot of time and energy, remember I was volunteering and it also took a lot of input from Costello. I was continually asking him questions about every transaction and the activities that occurred during the first half of 2009, specifically the Cold Storage protest that I worked on in all the other capacities but not bookkeeping. This is what gave me the insight and knowledge of how corrupt he was regarding the monetary operations of the FMIA in general and the Cold Storage protest specifically.

So when it came time to submit 2009 taxes I told Costello that I didn’t want to submit them in my name, I suggested that he should put his name on the form. Well he quickly told me that wasn’t going to happen; we discussed getting Frye to put his name on it, nothing doing. I did some research and discovered that the IRS does not require a return every year from non-profits that have less than – I think the cut off was $50,000 – cash on hand. So in reality there was a lot of discussion about this issue, Costello was well aware of and involved in the discussion of the ongoing problem of whose name would be submitted with the form, and in the end I thought the issue was resolved with the decision that there would be no submission for 2009.

And then in 2011 there was Lost Love Lounge. When Costello and company began harassing the owners of that business one of the owners, Geoffery Douville, began to ask for the FMIA’s financial information. And it was then when Costello said the 2009 tax return must be filled out. At that point in time I did not say no to him, I filled it out and put my name on it, only to be accused by Costello himself a few months later of being delinquent with the 2009 tax return and the board using that as the public reason to vote me out as treasurer.

Regarding the laptop computer: I did hold onto it, but not to be an asshole or to stop the everyday activities of the FMIA, I was in fact insisting on having an audit performed before I turned it over, and I felt that holding on to the laptop was the only advantage I had. Although Miss Bomboy mentions an audit in her letter like it is their idea it was solely mine and it was the last thing they wanted to have done. She also states that the result of the audit will be made public. It was not. I believe it was because as I was told confidentially that my work passed the audit “with flying colors”.

Furthermore I doubt Miss Bomboy or Mr. Caron were aware of this, neither one knew how to perform database accounting, but there was a copy of the database in the office. Every month when I completed the entries for the previous month and performed the bank reconciliation I printed out the financial reports and made a copy of the database file on CD. These were placed in a file folder labelled with the month and year and stored in the file cabinet. The new treasurer could have easily grabbed the latest copy and installed it on any computer with QuickBooks – Deveney Communications had many spare laptops in their office – and continued working on FMIA data entry with no problem.

Item 3:
Last week Eva Campos hijacked our nonprofit communications and social media resources including our Facebook page and Twitter account. We are taking steps to regain and secure our online property and resources as well.”

All FMIA social media were created by me and I was the administrator of the accounts, including the Cold Storage Facebook page which is still out there with me as the administrator. It was in fact Miss Bomboy’s cronies who hijacked the FMIA Facebook page when someone I know posted a video of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to the page.

On Sept 16, 2013 I had a conversation with Miles Swanson about the FMIA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. He indicated that he was told both were in my name and would I turn them over to him. I informed him that the Facebook page was long ago taken down by Bomboy’s goons then I went to check out Twitter. And yes the FMIA Twitter account was still there, dormant, with my information on it. I changed it all to his information and had an email sent to him to change the password.

Item 4:
Some of the incorrect information revolves around the FMIA’s successful campaign to Stop Cold Storage. The Board voted to hire Deveney Communication, expending both Association funds and funds collected specifically for this campaign. For transparency, the Board voted to have all funds flow through the Association. The Board is confident that the campaign was responsibly and appropriately managed without exception as the board reviewed and voted on each expenditure. Because of Chris Costello’s leadership this campaign was highly successful against all odds. Eva Campos was not on the FMIA board at the time and has no personal knowledge of the facts surrounding these actions, therefore her remarks are purely speculative and vindictive.”

Obviously the last sentence is a complete and utter bald faced lie. Of course I was not only on the board, I worked on the Cold Storage protest. The board never voted to hire Deveney Communication and they never voted about funds flowing anywhere. Since I had to create all of the entries for that time period in 2009 (see item 2) I can tell you just how it went. Donations were deposited into the FMIA account; all expenses were paid for by Deveney Communications in spite of the fact that the FMIA had the funds to cover these expenses, even without the incoming donations. Volunteers, including myself did all the work for this protest. Costello worked on this protest while his time was being paid for by Deveney Communications. Checks were issued to Deveney Communications in various amounts through the first few months, this action was terminated and reassessed after the dustup with Mr. Frye standing up and declaring he wasn’t signing any more checks for Deveney Communications (see item 2).

In conclusion I thank you again for taking the time to consider the other side of the story. A story that I wish had been resolved all those years ago, and now hope will be resolved in 2016. I will restate that this issue with a power mad sociopath terrorizing the Faubourg Marigny could have been nipped in the bud in 2009 had the FMIA board not been terrified of him, had done their duty and removed him from his self-appointed throne. The blood is on their hands.

Sincerely,

Eva Campos

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What do you think? I love the raw, factual, no-prisoners flavor of it.

I have met Eva Marie Campos. She is straightforward, sincere and disgusted by the character and behavior of people like Costello, Deveney and their followers in the FMIA. She is at least a bit embarrassed that she was ever a member, so it took some courage for her to go public.

It will be interesting to watch the Mercato Elisio v. Deveney lawsuit play out, but again, that is a private drama. In the public arena, Deveney and by implication, the HDLC that let it slide have shown us an ethical blind spot that needs fixing. Their deliberations and decisions are suspect until they clean that up.

© NOLAscape August 2016

The Tangled Web, Chapter Two

Marigny is under ATTACK!”

The current president of the FMIA, who seems to favor the hysterical Costello approach to neighborhoodism, launches that like a municipal missile from her Burgundy Street bunker.

Another FMIAer, Deborah Oppenheim, circulated in August 2013:

“Dear Friends

Once again the Marigny is under attack and this time by a project called the Elisio Lofts at 501 Elysian Fields. The project threatens our historic zoning limits.”

FMIA is not the accused in Mercato Elisio’s case. They just provide the environment of embattled paranoia that either peels away its activists’ judgment and ethics, or provides shelter for the kind of instinctive house protectionist who is challenged in those areas anyway.

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Commissioner John Deveney of the HDLC is the defendant. The accused. Some of our questions are:

  • Did he violate the municipal code of ethics when Elisio Lofts was before his commissions
  • And has he since compounded the alleged violation by contradictory responses which could not all be true, to the point where his position is untenable? Frequently said in politics: the cover-up can be worse than the crime.
  • These groups are free to believe their residentialist-defense stories inside their club, or even preach them to others; but can it be right that someone willing to discard truth and morality in their service can hold a public office?

Commissioner Deveney and his company, Deveney Communications, worked on the campaign against Elisio Lofts.

Mr Deveney has both denied and affirmed that, so let’s look at evidence. If one set of his statements was true, the other must either have been a deliberate lie to win an undeserved award for aiding a non-profit, or a false statement in a sworn deposition.

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In ordinary circumstances, we would probably think that if FMIA or any club wanted to assemble in a church basement and pretend the Visigoths are at the gates with smelly bearskin cloaks and battle axes, and their members are the doughty Spartan defenders and our only hope – let them do it. Let everybody have his hobby. People get together and tell themselves they are upholding a noble, imaginary tradition that confederate flags don’t represent white supremacy. (Or do.) Others study witchcraft or William Faulkner or play with model trains.

But what happens when the boundaries dissolve between a residentialists’ defense club and a private company whose products are persuasion and influence, a municipal Commission required by law to meet ethical standards, and the people employed in two or three of these?

Eva Campos served as treasurer of the FMIA and did its accounts from September 2009 to May 2011. She also worked for Deveney Communications in accounting from May 2010 through April 2011.

We met Eva in the letter, supposedly from Gretchen Bomboy of FMIA, said to have been written by Deveney and Costello. The letter not only denies any wrongdoing by Deveney, Costello or the FMIA. It paints them as saintly beings, too virtuous for the wretched rest of us; and Eva as the mother of lies, the Jezebel obscuring the inner light of Marigny’s heroes. Tomorrow we will publish Eva’s reaction to that letter. Today we will look at some other documents of the case.

Who comes out ahead in the lawsuit against Deveney is dependent on court rules of evidence, lawyers’ skills, money and risk and more. It is a private battle with public implications. In the public space what we have to decide is, has this guy blotted his copybook enough that his fitness to be a public official, even a volunteer one, is too questionable to continue.

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Following her battles with Costello over erratic record keeping, transactions she considered questionable, and the FMIA in and about the Cold Storage campaign, Eva Campos signed a sworn affidavit on May 28th 2014.

After 15 numbered paragraphs naming and defining the entities (FMIA, Deveney Communications, the HDLC) and the people (herself, Costello, Deveney) Ms Campos says:

16. Because of these close relationships by and among Chris Costello, John Deveney, Deveney Communications, the FMIA, and John Deveney the HDLC Commissioner, the lines between them became non-existent.

17. For example, during my time with the FMIA, this neighborhood association worked exclusively out of the offices of Deveney Communications, at the direction of Chris Costello.

28. The Cold Storage Campaign serves as an example of the conflicts of interest (both personal and financial) that exist by and among John Deveney, his company Deveney Communications, the FMIA and Deveney’s life partner and employee, Chris Costello.

29. There were other examples of Chris Costello using his position with FMIA and his relationship with John Deveney, a public official, to oppose or intimidate business owners into getting his approval before they would move forward with their respective projects.

30. For example, when building projects and renovations were discussed at FMIA meetings, it was openly stated by Chris Costello that John Deveney, as a Commissioner on the HDLC, would vote as the FMIA directed.

31. When there was a dispute among the members of the FMIA, Chris Costello openly stated that it was his view that mattered most, as John Deveney would cast his vote as a Commissioner on the HDLC as Costello directed.

33. The activities of Chris Costello, John Deveney and Deveney Communications resulted in a deprivation of honest services for many businesses and residents, as the normal course of applying for permits and conditional use applications to the City of New Orleans Was co-opted by Chris Costello and John Deveney, on multiple occasions to their financial benefit.

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Deveney Communications loves awards. Look at their web site – you will see how they show off awards.

Until a few days ago, I naively thought companies got awards because they did something good, the organization or publication that awarded prizes and trophies noticed, and gave them a prize. Nope: they apply for awards. They hustle like beauty pageant contestants. Put on old fashioned swim suits, flash your teeth and write an essay about World Peace. Maybe they don’t have to get groped by Trump in the process.

Deveney Communications applied for first prize in PR News’ Nonprofit PR Awards Program in the category: Advocacy Campaign and Lobbying Efforts, PR on a Shoestring Budget, for services to their client, Faubourg Marigny Infiltration (oops, sorry, Improvement) Association, specifically for the FMIA Size Matters campaign, specifically citing Mercato Elisio LLC as the opponent. Some quotes from the application:

Strategy, Tactics, and Execution:
• Create a brand identity for the campaign

o Logo and slogan: Size Matters; Out of Scale – Out of Touch, No High Rise in the Marigny
o Promotional pieces: Yard signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, flyers, and buttons
o Internet presence: Webpage, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube accounts
o Size Matters Rally: A public event in which we raised a balloon 75 feet into the air, the day before the final City Council decision was made for the community to fully understand the proportions of the building

The list goes on in this vein.

The application leaves no doubt whatsoever that Deveney Communications was not only a player in the Elisio battle  – the company claims credit for its strategy, tactics and success, naming FMIA was its client. You will see in the deposition following, a sworn deposition which as far as I know is equivalent to testimony on the stand, that Commissioner Deveney says that neither he nor his company were players in the Elisio fight, implying that his partner Costello was a heroic warrior out there on the line, offering up his life on a strategy and resources completely planned and executed by FMIA.

One of these is true. Depending on which you pick, give me a call. I have a majority stake in the Brooklyn Bridge you might want to invest in.

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Now the game gets afoot. We are going to turn to Mr Deveney’s statements in a deposition dated 20 February 2014. You might think you are about to get into some dry legal dust, but as we track the contradictions and put some police tape around the BS, I think you will find it fun.

P.26 line 15:

Q: The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, which I’ll refer to as FMIA . . . is that a client of Deveney Communications?
A. It has been a client before.
Q. Where are the FMIA offices located?
A. I’m not certain.

Line 25:

Q. And do any of Deveney Communications people work on or contribute services to FMIA?
A. I have been a member and a donor and a volunteer since 1998. Chris has been a member, a donor, a volunteer and a board member since – I’m not certain of the start date. I know that over the years employees have volunteered and attended FMIA events. We’re very active in our neighborhood and the neighborhood association.

Eva Campos’s testimony says several employees of Deveney Communications worked mostly on the FMIA project during the Cold Storage campaign, and also at other times, during their company work day.

P.27 line 12

Q. You indicated you did – Deveney Communications did work for the FMIA on two occasions, you said?
A. Correct.

Q. Was Deveney Communiccations paid for those services.
A. Not the first one. The first one was pro bono and the second one was a paid project.
Q. Can you tell me what those two projects involved?
A. The first one was we facilitated a strategic analysis . . . . . Then the second one was for a specific campaign that FMIA was leading to stop Cold Storage, which was a proposed industrial plant on the river at the . . . .

This is a clear denial of Deveney Communications’ involvement in the campaign against Elisio Lofts, which the Commissioner proudly takes credit for in the PR News award application.

P. 30 line 4. (Fasten your seat belt.)

Q. And you opposed this development, is that correct?
A. Are you asking me if as a commission [sic] I opposed it. As a commissioner, I was not at the meeting, so I had no vote or action when the HDLC considered it.
Q. So is it your testimony that you did not oppose this project?
A. No. I was clarifying that I was not present when it came before the HDLC. If you’re asking me as a neighbor, as a citizen whether I was for the waivers, I was not for the height. I was not for the 75 foot height of the project.

Editorial time out: the significant background of this is the letter Commissioner Deveney wrote to all the HDLC members opposing ElisIo. Mr Commissioner claims that not showing up at the meeting is “functional recusal.” Of course, it is not. Commissioner Deveney misses lots of HDLC meetings. His attendance record is not stellar. Recusing is recusing: disclosure and a statement. “Functional recusal” does not exist.

The Letter JD to Commissioners says everything he could have said if he was there.

P. 41 Line 2:

Q: Were you present at the meeting, the HDLC meeting regarding the Elisio Lofts project?
A. No, I was not. In fact, your petition says I should have been recused from that meeting. My absence is a functional recusal. Isn’t that correct?

So, second time for that line of questioning. I’ll answer again: no, it is not. Not showing up is not equivalent to recusal, especially when you leave a detailed statement of what you would have said if you were there. Deveney did not recuse himself, and the fact that he tries to claim he did puts a question mark over his suitability for a public trust.

P. 49 Line 9

Q. Tell me about your participation, if any, in the “Size Matters” campaign. Perhaps you can start by telling me what was the “size matters” campaign.
A. . . . I would say it was the organized voice of the neighbors that were concerned about the damage that walling off the riverfront from the public would have if suddenly the height ordinance was disregarded in an historic neighborhood, in the Faubourg Marigny.
Q. Was that campaign organized by the FMIA?
A. Yes, I believe so.

Yes, I believe so.” “I believe so” looks like a softener or bolt-hole from the fact that Mr Deveney elsewhere proudly claims that he, Deveney Communications and Chris Costello in his role as employee of DC were responsible for organizing and running the campaign for their client on a “shoestring” budget. I have no expertise on the rules of sworn depositions, but this certainly looks like a flatly untrue answer. What we out here in normal life often call a lie.

“Walling off the riverfront” brought up a query. How could a building at Elysian and Decatur wall off the riverfront? The explanation was that it could open the gates for the Riverfront Overlay height bonus buildings. That means that one unspoken reason for opposing Elisio was because of other buildings which did not exist and had not been proposed. Pre-blaming.

Additionally, the statement is imaginary. There is no visible riverfront in Marigny. There is a wall along almost all of it from NOCCA to the electricity plant, and train tracks behind the wall. The only way to the riverfront in Marigny is by the recently opened footbridge and elevators facing Mandeville Street. The only river views would be from the upper stories of higher buildings that the residential reactionaries oppose.

A comic moment: P. 58 Line 11

Q. I’m going to mark for identification purposes Exhibit Number 9. It is a two page document with copies of two pictures. Do you know who that is?
A. The gentleman with the bull horn is Chris Costello.
Q. What does the picture depict, if you know?
A. A heroic neighborhood activist.

P.62 Line 1 (Part missing)

Q. . . . That came before the HDLC, that you would feel it necessary to recuse yourself, that is, leave the dais and not participate in the vote. Would it also be part of this recusal that you would not be allowed to communicate with the other commissioners about your support of a particular project?
A. I don’t believe that I’m prohibited from speaking as a private citizen. Really, the only time I speak as a commissioner is when I turn the microphone on, lean forward and speak from the dais. And I tell you why I think – it part of what you are saying is what is in my – what was my financial interest in your client’s development. I own a couple of pieces of property in the next block. . . . . .

We should recall that just last week, CM Stacy Head was advised by the City Attorney to recuse herself from voting on an application because she had a shared ownership in a property on the next block The matter was not a development like Elisio, occupying a square block, involving a major contribution to the area. It was just about a permit to sell one product in an ice cream store in an existing building.

Let’s imagine a Council Member or any official in a position of public trust, instructed by the Attorney or ethics office that he or she must recuse his/her self. He or she declares his interest which creates the conflict, announces his recusal, then says, “ . . . however, although I cannot speak today as a Senator, in my role as a citizen, resident and patriot, I have written a letter to each and every one of you telling you what is right and what you should do” Commissioner Deveney’s vision of ethical flexibility could certainly fill a few University philosophy seminars.

Commissioner Deveney’s letter to the other commissioners, which he says he thinks fits the description of recusal, is a matter of public record, so you can find it Letter JD to Commissioners. A few quotes for the click-averse:

“After much consideration of the application, I oppose the proposed 75-foot development at 501 Elysian Fields. The proposed development as proposed does not fit within the context of the historic district. It is wrong for a variety of reasons including that it is wrong in scale and context for the location as well as its massing and deign.”

“3. The neighborhood association which has been involved since the beginning strongly, fairly and wisely oppose it. . . . (This is a passionate, committed, selfless group who has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars to create the current zoning and rebuild the neighborhood to what we have today; and whose voice should carry great weight with our Commission.”

The Commissioner is showering praise on FMIA, of which he is a member and his partner is President.
Some conclusions:

  •  Deveney may run a good business and his friend Costello may be a fine FD, but they seem to have no idea of proper conduct in public life. They should be held to account for what they did. Deveney should resign from the HDLC Right away. You can’t trust its judgment while a guy who thinks like that is on it.
  •  Who wins the lawsuit that is bringing this stuff to light is not a public concern. Personally, I think Deveney did it, and it would be Justice if it cost him, but my opinion is neither here nor there.
  •  What is of public concern is that if HDLC commissioners and the Commission itself do not respect the municipal code of ethics, and are blind or intentionally blind to this kind of breach, the system is bust. If they were experienced pros, you might say, let’s not worry about the fine points of behavior; it’s their technical mastery of building and city design that we want. But as citizen amateurs, if they are glossing over appropriate behavior to carry water for residents’ associations, this system and the people managing it need changing.
  •  Deveney failed to disclose his commercial interest in the Elisio case resulting from his company’s management of the opposing campaign. He declined to recuse himself due to the potential conflicts of the campaign and his nearby properties. He and some others on the Commission, given their casual acceptance of his letter, seem to be comfortable with ignoring the city and state ethical rules. This should be stopped on the spot.
  •  The PR News award, the deposition and the letter to the commissioners document contradictions which place beyond doubt that some of Commissioner Deveney’s statements are intentionally untrue and constitute ethical violations.
  •  The City should arrange a better dialogue between professional planners and architects and narrow imitationists. Clubs like FMIA become tribal, defensive, stuck in their ruts. If they are going to make a contribution to the city’s evolution, they need real planners, architects and urbanists to challenge and open their entrenched beliefs.
  •  We should consider whether the grand avenues and squares should be out of reach of the NAs. Few exhibit the sophistication to understand them. They enjoy the outside café tables in St Marks Square, but want to deny them in Jackson Square; they call it “commercial exploitation.” Elysian Fields is named for and was built to copy the Champs Elysées in Paris, a great Boulevard of shops and stores, bars, cafés and restaurants with lots of streetside seating. Elysian Fields could be a cheerful NOLA version of that – but not if FMIA succeeds in imposing its superstitions on it, so it is not even comfortable to walk along. The “scale” and “proportion” of a 20 foot wide residential street should not be patched onto a boulevard of about 120 feet, burdened with an almost random assortment of open space, blighted properties and a mixed bag of leftover stuff. A linear skyline, whether 50 or 75 feet, would be boring. Develop flexible limits.
  •  Their beliefs clash with reality and stir up conflict on all the wide commercial streets – North Rampart, St. Claude, Canal, Press. The NAs (except BNA) did not understand what had to be done to make Press Street work, despite careful explanations from several architects. The reactionary clubs refer professional input back to Gene Cizek, a preservation fundamentalist and the very guy who came up with the unworkable 50 foot baseline, that drove all the designers nuts until this administration changed it in the last days of the CZO struggle.

For some extra entertainment, about FMIA’s reign of terror period, enjoy this article from 2011. http://nolaslate.blogspot.com/2011/04/fmia-strange-days.html Think of chickens coming home to roost.

Tomorrow, we are going to see a response by Eva Campos to the letter FMIA wrote to Kristin Palmer, explaining that Eva was evil and refuted by a vote of the Board, while John Deveney and Chris Costello were heaven-sent saviors of the People’s Republic of Downtown.

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Most people probably think we oppose the existence of neighborhood associations, if not neighborhoodism itself. Not so. They are a good idea, potentially a valuable contribution to local democracy. But many have been captured by narrow, parochial residentialists with a retrogradevision of what their neighborhood must be. They become dictatorial. They want to dominate commerce through Good Neighbor Agreements, and some of our City Council members unfortunately encourage them. After Deveney, we have to stop those, too.

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© NOLAscape August 2016

The Tangled Web, Chapter One

O, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive!
– Walter Scott, from Marmion

Remember that? Probably from junior high or middle school.  A cliché now – but so are the villains of this piece. They may look like an Abbott and Costello tribute duo, but don’t let that obscure the damage they do. They diminish the city. Diminish us.

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The Historic District Landmarks Commission’s mandated mission is to safeguard the legacy of designated historic areas of New Orleans. Reconciling the traditional built environment and the sometimes apparently conflicting necessity of new development and facing the future can be a complex task.

The commissioners are generally amateurs nominated by “neighborhoods” – usually the homeowners’ associations, which many of our CMs haven’t given up on yet – and appointed by Council Members. The setup mirrors the council – most are members for a neighborhood; some (five, I think) are At Large. The process probably results in about as representative a group as you can expect; a different process might be worse.

An Architectural Review Comittee of professionals advises the HDLC, and should help them understand the most abused terms in homeowners’ associations’ messy discussions of buildings, “scale” and “proportions.” But it doesn’t always work.

Given the choice of citizen amateurs over professionals, ethical conduct is paramount to make sure the best interests of the city, the neighborhoods and property developers are properly served and balanced. As appointed city officials, the HDLC commissioners are responsible for following municipal and state government ethical guidelines.

Neighborhood associations are not. They are self-appointed. The rules of membership are less stringent than the Hell’s Angels. Members are self-sorting, and only members vote for officers. Unlike most Harley gangs, neighborhood associations generally have no mandated code of ethics, no standards of expertise or intelligence. They benefit fully from our American constitutional right to be total jerks. Some of them have shown themselves to be almost criminally immoral, uninformed and frankly stupid.

As a municipal agency, the HDLC cannot allow itself to be infected with that. A commisioner can carry his nominating club’s story to the table with appropriate disclosure. You can frequently see City Council members citing constituents’ positions right in their stride.

But if a commissioner steps over the ethical line, or maybe more accurately erases the line, it is like a virus let in by a figurative back door. If you allow that, the system falls over.

Without borders, disclosure and recusal when conflict of interest is clear, there would be no point to it. The NAs could just phone in their vote.

In this story, we are going to follow the trail toward and through a serious breach. Since it is now the subject of a federal lawsuit charging ethics violations resulting in undue prejudice, documentary evidence is surfacing. I don’t know whether there is a criminal charge available for what happened in this case, but one thing needs asking:

> How is this guy still a commissioner?

Are they that hard to replace?

Tracking the relationships and lines of communication is a bit like tracing a couple of strands of spaghetti through a big bowl of pasta under dollops of Bolognese sauce, while some of the players are trying to hide the bowl.

You need a program. (I should sell ads for the back pages.) Let’s set up the game board.

You know those cork boards on police shows, with mug shots, victim photos and crime scenes pinned up, with name labels and lines showing connections? Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe? Think of the next chapter as one of those.

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The Incident Room

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John Deveney, defendant and prime suspect (center of the pin board). Founder/President/CEO of Deveney Communications, a PR firm, apparently quite successful. They used to be headquartered in Marigny. Deveney was an active member of FMIA.

FMIA proposed John Deveney as HDLC Commissioner for Marigny. Considering the organization’s well-known narrowness, rigidity and frequently questionable character (alleged, alleged!) I would find that worrying, but CM Kristin Palmer appointed him, and then reconfirmed him for a second term.

Deveney’s conduct in the Elisio proposal is the ethical issue at the center of the lawsuit.

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Chris Costello. Hyperactive President of FMIA for several terms, one of which included FMIA’s wild war against Elisio Lofts, a three building apartment complex proposed by applicant Sean Cummings.

Costello’s reputation in the neighborhood has a whiff of a comedy Sopranos Lite about it. Unlike the No’t’ Joisey guys, there is no evidence that money extortion was the benefit sought. Sources and some of the people who were on the wrong end of his attacks suggest that for President Costello, petty tyranny was its own reward. Some former targets say that Costello wanted to be the go-to guy for everything a neighborhood business might need. A permit for your bike rack? Come to me. Somebody might complain about your new wood fired pizza oven – see Costello. The Godfather will sort it out for you. Or else. Some say Costello was trying to spin a neighborhood dominance game into a city power base. Others say there was no substance in it; if you stood your ground and said “No,” he would go away. Some reports say his warning shots or retribution style included things like calling police and fire marshals. Outsourced harassment. Tony Soprano’s rep is safe.

John Deveney and Chris Costello are partners. “Life partners” is the term Deveney used in his depositions. Not equal business partners, though. Costello is employed in a senior management position at Deveney’s company and shown as a director on its statements. But Deveney is the business boss.

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Sean Cummings. Plaintiff in the case against Deveney. Executive and property developer Cummings’ businesses include the International House hotel and the office building across the street, the Rice Mill Lofts apartments at Press and Chartres, the Via Latrobe project on the other side of Chartres Street, approved but construction not yet started. Through a company called Mercato Elisio, Cummings was the principal behind the Elisio Lofts project.

FMIA’s attacks against Cummings and the Elisio project in 2012 and an apparent – alleged – breakdown of propriety and ethical responsibility in Deveney’s conduct as an HDLC Commissioner are what is bringing them into court.

In an FMIA letter we are going to look at before we recess for today, FMIA solemnly informs us that they have no prejudices, no favorites, open minds and truly are, every day and in every way, the best people in the world. However, some observers say the top table there are members of a cult in which Sean Cummings is an evil demon and his father, John Cummings, is Satan incarnate, with brimstone attendant. Unless it is the other way ‘round. We are looking for a sociologist with voodoo experience to investigate these claims. (Disclaimer: Brian Luckett of Neighbors First for Bywater, a kind of junior partner of FMIA, has stated publicly that my view of New Orleans civic voodoo is insufficiently respectful of religion in Haiti.)

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Wayne Troyer. Head of StudioWTA, the architecture firm that designed Elisio Lofts.

WTA is an excellent design firm. Troyer also serves on the Architectural Review Committee for the HDLC. If he allowed his architects to present a design with a 75 foot ceiling facing Elysian Fields Avenue, it would be because he knew it was the right thing to do. Unlike FMIA, Mr Troyer does understand the words scale and proportion.

He is also in the Incident Room as a virtuous example of how you deal with a conflict of interest. When a project involves his firm, Wayne Troyer recuses himself from the ARC, correctly and completely. That means no advisory letters, no prevarications, no games.

 

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NOLAscape didn’t get rolling until the Sound Wars of 2013/14 so we  missed the opportunity to lay some verbal Punch and Judy on Costello in his prime NA gangsta period. He got to run amok with nobody hitting him in the face with pies. We will try to make up for it this week

 

imageFaubourg Marigny Improvement Association. A crotchety little club which takes itself very seriously. This is the group that brought us the attack on Café Istanbul, the time-wasting lawsuit against the Riverfront Overlay, the unpleasant attack against Troy Henry and Wendell Pierce and of course, the Size Matters comedy against Elisio Lofts and the Riverfront Overlay.

Despite an addiction to clownish costumed publicity stunts and and repeated misstatements about almost everything – hard to be sure whether from general ignorance, malice or over-excitement – FMIA manages to occasionally get some traction at City Hall. Confidential sources in the whispered conversations at the back of the council chamber suggest commissioners and CMs are not persuaded by their arguments, just want them to go away.

If we try to give the board and membership the benefit of the doubt in its Costello/Deveney period, maybe FMIA were hustled by a couple of con artists. Even so, I think they liked it. After Costello, they tried sanity for a couple of years, but it didn’t stick.

The Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC). Everything is “One Stop” now. Faded velvet ropes, stand behind the yellow line until you are called, fill in your form and sit over there. Fun’s gone out of it.

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A problem with the HDLC is – it’s New Orleans. Everybody is everybody else’s brother-in-law. The real meaning of impartiality, independence and arm’s-length have special  Louisiana meanings. But even here, there is a line you can’t cross. Evidence in the pending federal lawsuit shows that Commissioner Deveney crossed that line. Trampled that line. When you get caught, you’re caught. And you should resign.

 

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This guy is on the Incident Room board just in case you need a break from bad actors.

 

 

 

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Elisio Lofts.  A well-designed apartment complex wirth six stories on the Elysian side. FMIA calls it a “high rise.” In Haussman’s Paris, it’s a walk-up. This view is the high side, facing Elysian Fields. You are looking east down Chartres. On the right is the electric field, so more open space.

 

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Looking west on Chartres. Notice how height and “massing” is in scale and proportion to the street, the facing space and the older buildings across Marigny Street.

 

 

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Our main theme is a major ethical lapse in the HDLC by at least one commissioner, to which FMIA is either an active or passive party. But we will put a bit of time on the content of the dispute as well. This sign seemed cute or convincing to Marigny people. In fact, it is deceptive. It compares the dimensions of Elisio to lower, smaller wooden houses in Marigny’s interior streets, which Elisio was not adjacent to. To use the word “scale” properly, the correct relationships are with the wide expanse of Elysian Fields Avenue, the electricity field and plant across Decatur and the brown brick factories across Marigny Street.

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This rust belt-inspired blockhouse was a subsequent proposal for the site. We don’t think it will happen, but boring as it is, not a peep out of FMIA, because it fit the height fundamentalism by a squeak.

 

 

The Cold Storage Campaign. The New Orleans Cold Storage Company needed a new port facility. They used to load in the canal, but changes after Katrina limited its capacity. The Port Authority proposed a new site at Governor Nicholls wharf. FMIA’s denial letter that we will look at in a minute ascribes the “improbable” victory to Chris Costello, but it seems to me from newspaper reports from 2009 that pretty much everybody opposed it. Sean Cummings and FMIA seem to have been at least fleetingly on the same side. As far as I can tell, NOCS didn’t care much, as long as they had a way to load frozen shrimp into ships.

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FMIA went ballistic on the campaign. This is where John Deveney and Christopher Costello step on to the stage. They set up the M.O. that was largely mirrored in the Elisio campaign, with a significant difference: money. FMIA collected donations, then handed all the money over to Deveney Communications. Costello was an employee of Deveney, and according to witnesses, he and other employees spent most of their time on the Cold Storage job.

The letter we will be looking at says that everything between FMIA and Deveney was clean and above board, but Eva Campos was, as we shall see, concerned about corporate procedure, prudence and the risk of commingling funds. Eva Campos says Costello came up with a way to deal with her argument that is unusual in even the most cantankerous NAs – physical assault.

 

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Sidney Torres has nothing to do with this, but I saw him at City Council yesterday. He is backing a large, controversial development in mid-city. I don’t understand the political conflict about it yet, but some say he might run for Mayor, so just to stay on his good side, let’s drop a picture in.

 

 

 

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The Story

The year was 2012. Sean Cummings, a developer with an interest in the Marigny/Bywater area, who cares about good design, proposed a medium sized apartment complex for 501 Elysian Fields, a blighted site in a potentially good location – still an eyesore today, due to the misguided exertions of. Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA) and the inappropriate efforts of HDLC commissioner Deveney. The reactionary club that dubiously claims to represent the people of Marigny did not like the height of one of the buildings.

Of course!

Height is the only element of design anyone ever hears them talk about. In FMIA dialect, architecture and planning are linear quantities. In FMIA’s private jargon, anything over 50 feet is called a “high rise.” Just the words are a red rag to these bulls-in-a-China-shop. Net benefit, design quality, harmony, utility, scale and proportion (correctly used) – forget it. Their founding fight that they like to brag about (they bring it into the Elisio case) was against Christopher Inn, the retirement home on one side of Washington Square, for being insufficiently imitative and too high. (I never understand why they are so proud of that battle. They lost. Christopher Inn is there, and sort-of okay. Not a great example of design, but of its time, and the contrast with the other two built sides of the square isn’t all bad.)

Elisio Lofts got their juices bubbing. The officers and activists attacked with gusto, They cooked up a witch’s brew of PR and sneaky stuff fronted and obscured by the street fight tactics. Our target is the sneaky stuff, but as long as we are here, we’ll enjoy a few shots at the rest.  Costello, President and oh so proud of it, stoked the troops and played battlefield commander. His crusade was partly guided by John Deveney and supported by the resources of Deveney Communications, his PR and marketing firm. John Deveney, founder, owner and CEO of DC was a member of FMIA, and donor. Costello and Deveney were also partners – “life partners” in the depositions, not business partners.

And John Deveney was – and curiously, still is – an HDLC Commissioner.

Elisio lost, but Sean Cummings’ lawsuit and the documentary evidence show that at least part of the reason for its defeat was inappropriate influence in the HDLC. As a member of FMIA, Deveney might have got away with it; but with him personally and his company having been players in the campaign against Elisio, it was right out of order for him to do anything but recuse himself totally from the HDLC deliberation and vote. We’ll get into this next installment. What I am seeing is that, under pressure, at the last minute, he managed to miss the meeting on an excuse, and sent a letter of opinion to the commissioners. Not a letter consistent with recusal; it was like one you send to be included in the discussion when you are going fishing.

Deveney, Deveney Communications, Costello, the FMIA, the HDLC – is that spaghetti metaphor working for you yet?

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The Letter of Denial

This letter is so funny, I have to get it out there before court recesses for the day. It’s too juicy for quotes – read the whole thing. The conflict in play was the New Orleans Cold Storage battle, which preceded Elisio. It was a righteous campaign in intention, but given the cast and their club, of course it went wrong.

NOCS needed new port facilities, because their canal loading had been restricted after the storm. The city or the Port Authority proposed a site at Governor Nicholls. It was a bad idea. It would have brought big truck raffia to the unsuitable streets of Marigny and the French Quarter. Not good. FMIA collected a bunch of money, somewhere between $23,000 and $30,000, and handed it all to Deveney Communications to run a campaign for them. Eva Campos was treasurer of FMIA and did accounts for Deveney. Deveney provided office space for FMIA, largely occupied by Costello and Eva Campos, in their dual jobs. It started to be hard to tell where FMIA ended and Deveny began. Eva did not like the way some things were done – insufficiently substantiated invoices, commingling of funds, things like that. At some point, Costello decided to take this insubordinate accountant’s insurrection in hand, using a few basic wrestling techniques. Assault, police, accusations and counter-accusations. Very undignified. In fact, open as I am to bad news about our neighborhood associations, I haven’t found another one where the President stood accused of assault and battery on the Treasurer.

Although the letter is over the signature of Gretchen Bomboy, Recording Secretary, people who were there whisper that she never wrote it. Deveney and Costello wrote it, they say, carefully explaining how great they were, and sent it out, thinking this naive text would save their reputations. Wiser heads advised them that excuses and repeated attacks on Eva Campos by name were not going to look professional, but Dev and Cos had a wisdom deficit that day.

Their use of the word “refute” is classic.

“There have been numerous and ridiculous false accusations about Chris and his leadership. The Board also voted unanimously to refute all of these accusations.”

We’re in a Red Queen world here. “The Board” refutes by a vote (if it even met). And what the Board refutes – stands refuted!  Snicker-snack! Resist, and they will say it three times.

Have fun with the denial letter.

Now we know the players and where the battlefields are. Let’s get the story going after a break.

© NOLAscape August 2016

How Mad is Max This Month?

I am going to do some pontificating about police (and some shameless alliteration). Everybody is doing police. And they are right to, so why not me?

It is a Penelope piece. I have been writing parts of a police series for weeks. It gets longer and shorter. Almost every day another example of brutality, insensitivity, mismanagement, injustice or on the worst of them, murder or mass murder was surfacing, and like Odysseus’s wife and her eternal tapestry, I started over.

It’s also a Boy Scout piece. No irony, no tricks, no multiple entendre. It’s just looking for an entry point to do something better. It shouldn’t offend anybody, except maybe the irredeemably pro-police nuts, out of the range of reason. They imagine we live surrounded by Tasmanian Devils just beyond the fire light snarling in Spanish and Arabic. We will be safer if cops just keep shooting, because most of what they hit will be them. And they die. So what? America is a dance of daily violent death anyway.

Enemies everywhere. We need a savior. Could it be . . . Trump, our national embarrassment? Stop – I said no jokes.

I grope around for good ideas – none of which is likely to happen, given the deep apparatchik investment in status quo.

The police killing scene was quiet for a few days. No news of police shooting or beating up unarmed people who were not committing any crime, or police being shot in retaliation. I did not unweave the tapestry for a few days, but now it has started again.

Can you believe there are people in the world against Black Lives Matter? The Trump campaign trotted out a few of them in their raggedy-ass convention: professional bigots Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, and a stooge named Sheriff David Clarke. Palin’s lizard brain spews up some ugly stuff along a screechy rhythm line that scratches an inner itch of some people of the scapegoating inclination. Giuliani is distinguished from her mainly by the ability to complete a sentence. Clarke – I don’t know where they got that guy.

Clarke and Giuliani denied there is any difference in how police treat Black and White people in confrontations, and in choosing who to stop or confront. Right there on screen in front of millions of people, they said that. Are they as dumb as they look and sound, or just paid to tell lies to gullible White people who want to take their country back?

In partnership with Ozzie and Harriet and Ronald Reagan, the audience of these primitives claims they own the country. Or used to own it until some people who didn’t look just like them started homesteads on their black and white lawns. If you don’t clear them off, they might look at your daughters funny. Do they know how stupid they sounded? Probably not, because thousands of people in silly hats clap and cheer for more people getting killed..

In any case, anything Giuliani and Palin don’t like can’t be all bad.

The undeniable in-your-face fact is that if BLM had not forced the police problem out of the depths of administrative suppression, deep and wide police reform, which the Justice Department, the President and the nation’s best police thinkers now finally admit is necessary, would not even be in the spotlight. Now members of congress are coming out to see something done – see Rep. Andre Carson. You don’t have to like every action BLM takes to understand that if it keeps working and its eye on the ball, the result will be another advance in America’s level of civilization, which is behind too much of the world.

If these deniers of what we can see every day on YouTube and the news – see, not just hear about – want to prove it’s all color blind, let’s see those videos of police abusing and humiliating White men and women as we see them doing to Black men and women. Let’s say they are right; then we can re-evaluate these nightmare pockets of American policing as less discriminatory and more – just bad.

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Until a few weeks ago, police departments, commentators, politicians, journalists, apologists were all saying, every time a new case of killing or beating up somebody who was not committing any crime emerged: systemic racism. The police culture. I was thinking: something is missing here. Who cares about the individual cop’s racism or some putrescent “culture”? Police is a very special kind of public service. Officers are sent on to our streets with lethal weapons and a badge conferring some still not very well defined authority. I don’t really want to hear about them carrying around any culture or systemic anything while carrying automatic pistols, stun guns and clubs, with, apparently, the right to stop and bug anyone whose look, or tail light, didn’t suit them. They can’t just maintain a culture, like those confederate flag fantasy clubs that came out of the woodwork when Landrieu said he wanted to to move the statues. If some people in their own time and on their own dime want to indulge Civil War fantasies instead of playing with toy trains, they can do it. But an armed cop on the street, a public employee – he better leave his systemic anything in the privacy of his own fantasy life, not carry it around the streets we have to walk down.

The missing ingredient was management. Not to worship it, like a 90s corporation cultist getting high on Peter Drucker or Tom Peters, but where was management in police forces where these crimes were being committed? Racism or systemic racism are just names not reasons, and a police “culture” involving systemic bias and cover-up is at best a description. They give a name to the disturbing sight of cops who stand quietly by while one of them beats up a Black girl with a stick, or the LA cops that watched four of their colleagues administer an almost lethal beating on Rodney King in 1992. Nobody is responsible; it’s just the way it is. The culture. Just a name, not an explanation or indication of a solution.

Management abdication had first occurred to me as an issue to be explored here in New Orleans, when Sidney Torres handed the French Quarter Task Force, the efficient, fast micro-force that he had created, over to FQMD to manage and the CVB to fund. Pretty soon, squabbling broke out about the GPS system, use of the phone app v. 911, maintenance and serviceability of the Polaris cars. NOPD seemed to be on the edge, watching.

The fuss was fun to watch, but essentially a sideshow. The need for changes was normal. Unforeseen snags and improvements for a new effort – what’s new? You would get that in a sandwich shop. A few weeks before, when Torres was footing the bill and making the decisions, management would have been a fuss-free function, not a public squabble.

The dog that didn’t bark: not once, and not yet, have I heard the top table of NOPD publicly say anything like, “Sidney’s system works. Why don’t we roll out a bigger version of it for the whole force?” Put a GPS transponder or identifier in or on every unit, whether car, motorbike, bike, horse or foot patrol. A version of the FQTF phone app would work with 911 or some other processing center. There would be a control center with screens showing the location of every police unit on duty. Incident reports would appear on the map. Dispatchers or monitors would know where the closest assets were. The software would give response ETA – that’s no trick; Google Maps and Waze do it for free on everybody’s phone. More effective action from the officers you have might even reduce the staffing requirements, probably even reduce operating costs.

I wondered: do police forces even have what a non-government public service company might call “management,” or just a hierarchy of supervisors with snazzier uniforms and more gold braid as you go up the ladder? And why do the residents of New Orleans think it is okay for the French Quarter to have a whizzy publicly funded rapid response first-responder system, while response times for some of them remain in the donut zone?

I patched that idea over to the police killings that were hitting the headlines and populating YouTube with depressing frequency.

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The talking heads said: systemic racism, police culture, etc, etc. District Attorneys, grand juries, judges and juries almost always let the cops off. Some of the exonerations were astounding. Remember the process in Los Angeles clearing a clutch of cops for firing 107 bullets into the wrong pickup truck, shooting up two Hispanic women when they were supposed to be searching for one man? Even if it had been the right truck, were their orders to execute him on sight?

Why were they acquitted? The police said they were “afraid.”

Airlines operate complex equipment and crews, and have people’s lives in their hands. Imagine an airline with 1,100 employees, something like the population of NOPD. Suppose that some of the pilots occasionally descended so fast the oxygen masks popped out. They landed hard, braked hard to get to the terminal quick, blowing out tires and scaring passengers to death. Management says, “Most of our pilots are really good with passenger planes, but some, you know – there is a culture of macho flying.” Maybe one of them finally overstressed a civilian plane and crashed it. Can an airline’s management use any excuse? PTSD? Racism, and the flight was from Nairobi? If a plane crashes and the black box recorder shows the pilot was afraid, that he (or she) “feared for his life,” is that an excuse? Is the FAA and the court going to let the airline’s money, directors and executive suite off the hook?

There is no excuse. Airlines train, re-train, test and re-test, to eliminate quirks and personal weakness from the decision process. The captain has to have a steady hand on the wheel and face challenges with calm, speed and determination, to be trusted with the lives of passengers. If he doesn’t, it is not only the pilot who is going down. It might be the whole company. If management knew about a weak spot, or should have known, the executives are going down, too.

You would not knowingly fly with an airline that made excuses about life-and-death issues, yet many among us are happy to see cops out on our streets carrying lethal weapons who can’t even keep cool when a few of them together, by looking scary and shouting peremptory, possibly contradictory commands, finally get a person, often a woman or teenage girl, excited and frightened enough to escalate a situation that them descends into violence. I’m sure we have all seen videos where several cops, probably 180 to 250 pounds each, decide to exercise physical restraint on a 120 pound woman, usually Black, and finally can’t find a way to move forward without brandishing or using a weapon on the already subdued but still excited detainee. The prevailing principle seems to be: the police must dominate as quickly as possible, at any cost. If you don’t respect them quietly, eyes down, they may start to fear for their lives.

What were the superior officers, who are supposed to be the management, doing about it? Usually hiding behind bland statements like “administrative leave,” “thorough and impartial investigation,” meant more to get reporters to go away than to add anything to the discussion.

If an airline’s management didn’t follow through any better than that, they would risk being grounded by the FAA. But it would be a rare case in which the chiefs, commissioners and superintendents of police were in the dock with the line officer, for allowing a cop on the street to be in that state of mind or mis-training. The process to force improvement on a local force generally involved court action resulting in a consent decree with the federal government, but some of the forces involved in recent police violence cases were already operating under consent decrees.

So police brass were not like an airline, more like Goldman Sachs or Chase.

The soft excuses have actually been reducing over recent weeks, as I daily unraveled my Penelope piece. Top cops are starting to say, we have to get this in hand. They may not know what to do. Active management can be complicated. It includes keeping an eye on the future, scanning for opportunities, weaknesses and risks, testing possible opportunities, exploring innovation, as well keeping the plates spinning and overcoming current weaknesses.

Maybe like John Doman in The Wire, they mostly polish up the brass chain of command, expect the politicians to block any calls for change, and resist them when introduced. Or given the explosive political and economic brew, and the possibility that the 99% (current jargon for what used to be called the working class) won’t be passive forever, they focus on militarized crowd control and nifty equipment for counter-revolutionary operations. From what we can see, Chief Carl Dabadie of Baton Rouge is focused on suppressing or containing protest over achieving civil behavior by officers on normal duty and the residents of his city outside of times of crisis. A military attitude.

Progress will be spotty. Many will resist and delay. But the commanders are going to have to take charge and put the rules and requirements of good policing above any “culture” that has lodged in their department or been brought in with recruits, like an infection.

A major problem is localism. In Europe, most police are national. In France, for instance, most police for smaller towns and cities are the Gendarmerie, a division of the military that does civic police work. Some cities have municipal police, but they are normally unarmed and do not carry out the same kind of duties as the nationally managed forces.

But in the US, there are over 15,000 separate police forces. Municipal forces generally report to the mayor, state forces to the governor, and sheriffs are elected, which means maybe they report to nobody. They create and run their own training programs, principles and rules.
National management is of course not a guarantee against violence. French police dealing with big demonstrations, much more frequent there than here, or with Algerians in the suburbs or cités is evidence of that. And of course localism can be handy for the movies, enabling the police force in Mississippi Burning, for instance.

If I was going to be activist in police matters, I would suggest the the Justice Department set up some very clear standards and procedures of police activity and behavior, including rigorous psychological testing, before a police officer can carry a gun as part of his work. Just because the Supreme Court’s lunatic 2008 misinterpretation of the second amendment allows some private citizens to be time bombs doesn’t mean we should pay our police to raise the craziness stakes with a badge.

The temperament of a police officer able individually to decide to use lethal force should be as steady as an airline pilot’s. Maybe the Justice Department would be influenced by the European Convention on Human Rights, which would not recognize a policeman’s claim that he was afraid for his life as justification for shooting a suspect or detainee. There would have to be a real credible threat. Armed police should be required to issue warnings, as in most European forces. Policeman are trained – at length, sometimes for up to three years – to avoid shooting to kill, certainly not to start by shooting a clip into the center of mass. Resisting arrest should be carefully defined, so it cannot be used as a blanket excuse. If somebody runs away for a petty crime, let him get away. Selling cigarettes is not a capital crime; a normal level of resistance to being arrested for it should not be either. The “disrespect” justification, recently invoked by Fox News’s comic book cop, Hauk, should be off the table entirely. The elements of the comply-or-die scenario have to be banned.

Then the local police forces would have to report regularly on everything, and be inspected and investigated regularly.

Over the top? The FAA does it.

Results: commercial airline is the safest mode of travel in the world, and US police are dangerous to be around.

A story in the newspapers last year was that US police killed more people in March 2015 (111 known) than UK police had in the entire 20th century. The final count for 2015 was 1,146 (Guardian) or 1,207 (killedbypolice.net). 2016 seems to be heading in the same direction, with 623 down so far. 153 were Black; 25 of them were unarmed. The armed category must include Philando Castile, who had a permit and was not engaged in a crime nor any threat to officers. He was armed, but no self-defense was involved.

299 of the people shot by police were white; 45 of them unarmed. The numbers suggest White people should not be opposing Black Lives Matter – they should be joining up, asking for a White section, or starting their own protest movement.

Unless the American people are stupid or sick-minded enough to elect the spray-tanned baboon who managed to hijack the Republican Party from its previous hijackers, already a radical right wing insurgency. He served notice in his ugly closing convention speech that he would turn our cities into a Judge Dredd reality show, expanding on the Addams Family sitcom he wants to install in the White House. The safest thing to do would be to leave the country until it burns out the fascism, and hope it doesn’t go the way German fascism did in the 1930s.

Management. Active management deals with racism and “the culture.” It doesn’t use them as an excuse.

The other side: the Justice department has a way to deal with police departments that go off the rails, but it is piecemeal, slow, expensive and in some cases ineffective. New Orleans is in it: the consent decree, imposed by a judge after the kill rate hit I think 27 people in 17 months.

Some references:

Federal oversight:   http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/11/13/forced-reforms-mixed-results/

The Problems With Policing the Police

With well over 15,000 distinct police forces, how is the case by case, painstaking, years long for each case going to effect improvement? Is there another option but national standards of conduct; training programs; basic rules of engagement, if that is the right word; standards of management and reporting; and oversight and investigation that do not require a court case.

Predictable problems: Congressional gridlock; resistance by States Rights states; an explosion of red tape, which can be exploited by resistant departments to bury improvement.

Downside: national rules could stifle innovation. The Torres experiment in the French Quarter might have been impossible under an overly tight federal umbrella.

I am surprised at myself for thinking through such a conservative idea. Proposals not that far off the mainstream now are saying just disband police. They don’t reduce crime. Maybe they even increase it. Another is police attendance as response only – no more random stops, confrontations, car stops, police presence or menace. Maybe next time.

Quiet for a few days.” Spoke too soon! Two officers shot, one fatally, in San Diego last Thursday night. Saturday, reports of shooting of Loreal Tsingine, Native American, five feet tall, 95 pounds, by a cop whose record shows he had been cited for being too quick to resort to a gun, had disobeyed orders, falsified reports, and had been reported as temperamentally unfit by superiors. (What would happen to an airline that let a pilot with reports like that fly passengers?) Now the Korryn Gaines case, which raises new questions.

© NOLAscape August 2016

Striptease

Chastity prays for me, piety sings,
Innocence sweetens my last black breath,
Modesty hides my thighs in her wings,
And all the deadly virtues plague my death
From Lament, Dylan Thomas

The mission of NOLAscape is to send out clear reports when our latest model Swiss-engineered Firebolt BS meter starts ringing off the hook. Sometimes that may compel us to step on a few social toes or coax an angry moo out of a sacred cow, but . . . a mission is a mission.

Disclaimer: I have never been very good at belief. I have made a few stabs at it, but after a week or two, I always revert to Hume, Darwin, Einstein, Russell and Neil de Grasse Tyson. Maybe the Dalai Lama gets some space. Most recently, I have been trying to believe in Zeus, Apollo, Athena and that crowd. They are elegant, if a bit cruel sometimes, and I figure, if I could believe in them, I could read the Odyssey and Euripides with the same passion I see some religious folk bring to the Bible.

I found the Hellenic effort useful in understanding the arguments a clutch of our Priests and Pastors have been bringing to the latest episode of their crusade against the strip clubs. Their reasoning helps me. Following their patterns of thought, I can use the syllogism:

  • Poseidon is the god of the sea.
  • There is a sea.
  • Therefore Poseidon.

The Knights of NOLA Christendom have girded up their l**ns against their enemy. Or is it The Enemy? Or is it life, or just nearly-naked life? The padres, pastors, priests and preachers have laid such a cumulative load on my imported precision Meter of Reason that it may need a service call. Specialists from the 21st century have to fly in with coolant chemicals. It is not clear whether the coolant is for the machine or the overheated imaginations of the Crusaders..

Let’s tell it as I saw it unfold instead of from the top. One day, when this essay is included in the best-selling anthology of Bob’s Uncollected Stuff and assigned to advanced students in top universities, they should have the opportunity to watch the story emerge as I saw it.

8 March 2016, at City Planning. The Council Chamber, City Hall, New Orleans.
I was there on another matter, but Robert Watters of Rick’s, French Quarter Management District and the Bourbon Street business associations was in the house. What’s up? My thing finished, but I better stay. Mr Watters in the Council Chamber suggests some lively moments coming up.

City Council had smacked a wet, fragrant fish down on poor Planning’s desk: research into Adult Entertainment and sex trafficking. CPC was squirming. The entry point today was an IZD – an Interim Zoning District. In this administrative world, strip clubs have been assigned the passion-killer name of Adult Live Performance Venues – ALPV. So an ALPV-IZD would be the designation for where strip clubs are, and they would all be conditional use. Into such dry, scratchy hands has Burlesque fallen. It was also proposed on a yellow Power Point projected on the screen that the number of dance clubs be cut back 65%. It would be a shrinking IZD.

Robert Watters seemed to be okay with that, at least with the conditional use. One could test for an axe to grind there, because if new clubs had limited permitted space and had to run the conditional gauntlet, and others had to age or be harassed off the board, that could mean less competition for Rick’s, but I don’t think Robert Watters thinks like that when engaged in his public roles, so we can let that go. He is saying: let the ALPVs (gak!) go through conditional use so the Respectable Citizens can be reassured that they are good business citizens, so the Respectables will go watch the telly of an evening and let everybody alone..

Was he right to concede that? Was it a tactical compromise? I don’t know. One of my instincts is to say, strip clubs feature a kind of dancing frequently called “exotic.” Women – mostly women – take a lot, or maybe all, of their clothes off in the course of the dances. People like it, so they tip the dancers and pay a lot for drinks. What’s the problem? It’s a legal business, it’s fun, it’s good entertainment, so why does it need to be surrounded with this prairie puritan fuss? Let the municipal government get on with something important.

In between Watters and the grand finale of that day’s Opry spoke a series of pastors, preachers and faith-based operatives. They implied or asserted that pole dance clubs directly led to or were at least linked to sex slavery, drug trading and using and prostitution.

Something supposed to be unnoticed – but our Zurich-produced Meter was storing it up – was that the Church worthies never mentioned God, the Bible, sin, hell, perdition, salvation or any of the vocabulary of spiritual terrorism. Nope – all dry and sociological. Just folk of good will, here to help poor victims – who were notably absent. Peculiar, don’t you think? Not one of these damaged victims was brought into evidence. Where was the Poster Child? Their existence was asserted, but not demonstrated. (Remember Poseidon?)

As the worthies spoke and dropped in a few references, I was remembering what I knew about this. Jim Kelly, director of Covenant House, had been banging on for 25 years or so that the dancers should be employees so they get the “protection” of minimum wage.

Covenant House is a Catholic order or charity that shelters teenagers at risk and homeless. As far as we can see, it does good work – at home. But the game afoot here is not young people who come to Covenant House because they need help. This is Covenant House, accompanied by an ecumenical council of religions, perhaps most notably the powerful Southern Baptists, in missionary mode, reaching out to tell the city who the victims and victimizers are, and what has to be done about it. Reaching out, they use their religious badges to establish credibility but suppress their old pulpit language. They speak in the bland secular language of sociology, to tell us that a whole legal industry is tainted by drug trading and sex trafficking.

Wow. No matter how pale you paint it, and allowing for the free pass these guys are going to get from a lot of people (not me) for the religion shields they carry, that’s some heavy sh*t (asterisk out of respect for the churchmen and women) going down. God is wearing a velvet glove, but the meaning is harsh. Shut down the pole dance clubs not for crimes or infractions the club had committed, but for the infraction some other club might have committed – or not. A solution this twisted could only come from religion, where belief precedes thought. A destructive solution to a problem which might not even exist.

I remember that Jim Kelly is said to have been banging on about some aspects of this for about 25 years. He is reported to have said that the club owners deny the dancers their employment rights.. For all of that quarter of a century, Kelly seems to take no notice of the preferences of any actual dancers, who universally opt for contractor status in order to be free of the inadequacy of American and Louisiana minimum wage, the parsimony of labor law, the feebleness of our employee protection and the rigidity of standard employment contracts. No matter. People of the pastoral mindset nobly protect the interests of an imaginary essential victim, the Platonic Idea of a victim, in an imaginary world of victims and villains. Perhaps once in a while, they find a real person to cast in the role, who has been a victim of the sex trade and has also danced in a club. (Or perhaps a young person who just knows what the religious questioner wants to hear.) They have a heroine. They engage the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc but nem’mind. The churches and charities are presumed good, virtuous Crusaders.

Who will save the dancers, and even us, from our crusading saviors? Quis nos proteget de ipsis protectoribus? (Did I remember enough Latin to get that anywhere near right?)

Some of the Commissioners seemed quite impressed. I was wondering, do they really like Kool Aid, or is it just the done thing to act deferential to anyone claiming to speak in the name of a church, even when it is obvious that they are selling pure jive? Chairman Kyle Wedberg looked ready to genuflect to the self-proclaimed pious. Me, I was working on my gag reflex.

The Crusaders’ main reference point is a study, supposedly done by Loyola (a Jesuit institution) based on interviews with clients of Covenant House. It shows that a certain percentage claim to have been at some point victims of the sex trade or in danger of trafficking. The details do not matter, because the “study” was anecdotal, insufficiently supported and didn’t show anything like a causal link between strip clubs, drug dealing, drug use, prostitution or sex trafficking. The Faithful seem to believe that if you say two things in adjacent sentences or paragraphs, that constitutes causality and leads to meaning.

On the basis of this record of amateur imitation of investigation, the assembled pastors and priests as good as accuse the ALPV owners and managers of complicity in selling illegal drugs and sex trafficking. Recreational drugs is probably a bit of a ho-hum, but any kind of human trafficking is an ugly, brutal crime, closer to systematic murder than managing burlesque and enabling some fit women to earn a good living. Who could get away with that kind of slander but a religion?

Just to reassure you that I am awake: I know there is a church every couple of hundred yards in this city, that millions of Americans like religions socially and some even believe in it. Some people expect universal, automatic deference to the churches, but I try to keep my immunity to belief topped up, and I make sure that that fine-tuned Swiss measuring device is well lubricated.

Some of the speakers referred to Trick or Treat, an enforcement operation by Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control. It’s bass was Troy Hebert. ATC investigated and raided strip clubs on Bourbon In November 2015. They found some illegal drugs and some prostitution, they say, in some clubs. The number varies from five to nine of those raided, depending on who is spinning, pretty much all of them owned by one company. (That made me wonder whether it was the crime or the company that was targeted, but my meter from Zurich could not confirm.)

The detail is unimportant, because whatever it is south of 100%, it could not possibly justify the solution proposed – imposing a reduction of the number of clubs by 65%, with no reference to whether the club engaged in or permitted illegal practices or not. I am not making this up – that is what the folk of Faith and their surrogates in the City were proposing according to the Power Point staff was putting up on the screens. But let’s be fair: CPC didn’t know what it was doing, knew that it didn’t, and would rather be out from under the whole thing.

Let’s explore some crime prevention techniques we could learn from this proposal:

• Repair garages can be fronts for car theft. They have the skills and materials to change the color, appearance, plates and so forth to disguise a stolen car, or take it down quickly to parts. So to reduce car theft, let’s reduce the number of car repairers.

• A major cause of drug dependency is doctors over-prescribing opioids. Because of the way the US allows the pharmaceutical industry to operate, the cost of legal addiction is high. Changing to street drugs offers significant savings. To choke off this route to addiction and illegal drug trading, let’s cut down on the number of doctors.

• Street drug retailing is a game of corners. We can cut down on drug abuse by making longer blocks, hence fewer corners. Or even round blocks, with no corners.

For convenience, let’s break the unities and flip forward: isn’t Troy Hebert, the state alcohol ex-czar who presided over Trick or Treat, the same guy who is now himself under investigation for using his position to extort sexual favors from permit holders?

Wait a minute! Isn’t Covenant House the Catholic charity started by an unlovable misery of a Franciscan and priest, Bruce Ritter, in 1972, who was subsequently exposed as a pedophile, sexual predator and financial finagler? Check him out.

So Trick or Treat offered up the Shock Doctrine opportunity, but its background blows a hole in any notion of moral superiority of the aspiring regulators. To even discuss it rationally, we need more information on who sicced Hebert on the clubs. And we need to know more about the game the religions are playing. Who organized a parade of pastors to get on the case of the strip clubs all at once? Why are they asserting a culture of victimhood without managing to adduce one victim?

The best suggestion so far says this sanitized Crusade against pole dancers and strip clubs has its beady eye on the collection plate. Puritanism pays. The strip clubs are a visible target. You can tell a story that will titillate the indignation of some well-heeled old refugees from American Gothic.

The NOLAscape question: If you turn over the wet rocks of churches and strip clubs, where are you likely to find the most sordid scandals? We will check with our Swiss machine.

The final gobsmacker of that day’s assault was an intense, personal presentation by former Council Member Kristin Gisleson Palmer. It was moving. I don’t want to intrude on it. You can watch it on http://cityofno.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2292 at 2:32:10.

Moving, yes. But did it have meaning in the context? “I believe,” she said, that stripping led to drug use, prostitution, depression and despair. People of religious inclination might soften toward a proposition so introduced. Me, I stick with my Swiss-made meter. It rings a warning bell when a sentence starts with “I believe.” (Except when Bernie Sanders says it in his stump speech. But that’s a different trip) Ani ma’amin. Credo. Pisteuo. Sometimes the BS meter’s screen reports: Gimme a break!

It tells me: I can’t demonstrate or prove what I am saying, but I believe it anyway. Have faith, act on it anyway, even if there is no truth in it and it harms others.

Interim. Okay, we are out of 8 March. Kristin Palmer, now really getting into her stride as Joan to Kelly’s Pope, started an online petition to activate sanctions against the strip clubs. You can pick it up on her Facebook page. I am sure she means well. Ms KGP is a complex character. She does some very good things, and some dumb stuff. She sounds totally sincere in her Crusade. Many of the faithful driven by the Pope to kill Cathars in the Albigensian Crusade were also sincere. Didn’t help them not be wrong.

In the petition, she refers to an article in the Times-Pic and Covenant House’s inadmissible “study” as authorities, when she could easily have spoken to any number of actual, live dancers just by wandering down to Bourbon and asking.

Leaving them out didn’t smother their testimony, though. Pole dancers can work Facebook. Some of them blasted her petition right on her own timeline. They were as much in charge of their own lives as Ms. Palmer. They didn’t want saving.

KGP led with, “We have a problem in this country that permeates our society and our city. It is the objectification of women that leads to their exploitation.” As a non-woman, I know I am going to be pilloried for saying anything about this, but here I go, head on the block: this is Early or First Phase Feminism. Gloria Steinem/Andrea Dworkin feminism. To update this, check out the sharper mind and hugely greater knowledge of Camille Paglia, an art scholar as well as a ferocious feminist. Objectification? Of course! Greek sculpture objectified men and women. Socrates objectified young men all the time. Didn’t stop him being the reference point for all Western philosophy, and being objectified in the Symposium didn’t stop Alcibiades from being a tough general who managed to get a major ass-whupping at Syracuse. If I watch a lawyer who is a woman running a great case, I can handle that without qualifying it by her measurements or turn of leg. If she had an after-court gig in a burlesque show, asking to be objectified, I would be rude not to do so. Objectification is not a permanent state, for either the subject or object. If an observer or an observee cannot handle that, how is the problem of inflexible perception or stunted intellect cured by reducing the number of strip clubs?

May Council have the wisdom to blow off this stuff, I thought. It is stroking for the preachers and pastors and their favorite flock, not civil society. They want their religious freedom; I want my freedom of clarity and logic. Freedom from cant in sheep’s clothing. The religious want the State out of their private fantasy; I want religion out of our civic life.

Jump-cut to 28 June – a red-letter afternoon at City Planning. Watch the video when you get a chance – it’s fun.

The chamber was full, mostly with attractive, fit young women (I know, I’m objectifying; sorry, Kristin) who work as dancers in the Bourbon Street clubs. Some of them travel the country and even other countries on a gig basis, like musicians. They earn a living far above average. They make their own business decisions. Since they are not employees of the clubs, their relationship is with their customers, the audience. They make their own decisions on how to relate to them.

The clubs understand the problems the women have. Most give them solid security. They are safe within those walls and some of the clubs have security escort them to their cars or homes after work. Security stops offensive customers. One of the women got a round of applause for saying, I wish I could feel as safe walking in the French Quarter as I do in the clubs.

The women were articulate, intelligent, strong and independent. They buried the condescending saviors. Buried them. Game effing over. Every one of the preachers, every single one who joined in this foolishness, stood exposed as ill informed and out of his or her depth.

Jim Kelly, the man himself, came to the mic at one point. He is a good communicator, a smooth player. First he did a commercial for Covenant House – irrelevant, but well-presented. I even believe it. I can accept that Covenant House does fine work. Then he seemed to be saying, Covenant House is ready to help and protect any young man or women, regardless of history, race, creed, etc., who is victimized by sex traffickers or even by the New Orleans strip clubs.

That is a huge walk-back! His and Palmer’s claims were left threadbare by the powerful counter-attack of the dancers and some of the club managers. Kelly basically gave in, and unless they resurrect themselves with a better story, or don’t notice what happened, this absurd time-waster of a campaign should be over. Maybe it had worked for the church organizations by then. Maybe they had reaped some contributions between March and June, and could afford to retire gracefully in decorous defeat.

Commissioner Nolan Marshall chaired the session of the 28th instead of Kyle Wedberg – refreshing change. In his summation, Mr Marshall said that it had become unmistakably clear that the worthies attacking the strip clubs had very little understanding of the “adult” industry. In short, they did not know what they are talking about.

What we, the city, need now is for City Planning and Council to put this thing back in the drawer, forever. I suspect that is not what they will do. I suspect they may be buying into this fairy tale, or possibly exploiting it for other reasons. Or somebody else’s reasons.

One of the first women who spoke said the arguments of the religious were laden with confirmation bias. That is so, but the confirmation-biased arguments are almost certainly not even their real positions. They are just overlays on the old missionary position. Bring The Message to the barbarians, the inferior, the benighted, the infidel.

It is of exactly the same order of mendacity as the Texas laws, just struck down by the Supreme Court as transparent lies, that laid unreasonable demands on abortion clinics in the name of “women’s health.” They are of the same order of thinking as “Intelligent Design,” thrown out of school curriculum as thinly designed incursion of religious doctrine into public education. Let’s hope our Council and administration have the wisdom to follow the Courts’ decision, not Puritan moralizing thinly disguised as sociology.

And if I find myself in need of some spiritual restructuring, I think I would be at lower risk with Zeus, if I can find a temple around here, than in the hands of people trying to put others out of work on pretexts most of them must know are false.

The pious and the pretenders to piety and purity have been fighting against the life of New Orleans for generations.

“And all the deadly virtues plague my death.”

Don’t let them gain ground.

© NOLAscape July 2016

Maybe It’s not Mad Max just yet

If you spend a lot of time around a keyboard, it is hard to keep quiet about the most recent outbreak of police violence, and violence against police.

The failure of American institutions to protect its people from violence, including violence of its own making, is increasingly difficult to conceal. Add to that the economic brutality of globalizing corporatism (or corporate capitalism, if you want to include the word that comforts many older Americans) and military adventurism generating enemies around the world, it is justifiable to ask: is the United States still an entity that can be properly called a nation or a country? Or is it just a geographical space falling to control of clusters of warlords?

I don’t mean protect Americans from the threat of Islamic terrorism. As much as it gets Republicans of both parties excited, that is relatively trivial. A greater danger in America is being killed by our own police.

Other “first world” countries have national police training and standards. They make police service into a good, respected job, so there are many applicants to select from. The level of education is much higher. Training is longer, in some countries as much as three years. Researchers find that most European forces spend a lot of training time on avoidance of lethal force, while American training programs invest much more time on applying it.

American police forces are local, governed by cities. They have relatively low resources, low standards and inconsistent training programs. Add this to our lizard-brained love of guns, a few goofy court decisions that give police an easy out on murder in the line of duty, and you get the street violence that we live with.

Are those suits and furrowed brows we see saying on TV that their first duty is to ensure the safety and security of the nation really politicians, responsible people in governance, or just vultures dressed up to look like it while they jockey for position to pick the bones of a collapsing state?

Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If happiness is anything but the right to kill people, they are not doing a very good job of it. Add to the monstrous incarceration rate, the criminal “justice” fast-track to jail, the persistence of institutional racism, the astronomical level of police violence in American cities and towns, and you have to ask: what is going on here?

If you are not familiar with some of the staggering differences, take a look: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries

Many Americans like to feel superior to other nationalities. I always found that distasteful, but it is encouraged if not instilled by our schools and our political mythology. “Our freedoms” and all that. How superior should you feel when your government reserves the right to kill you on the street at 70 times or more the rate of other nations’ governments? When your government by, for and of the people puts you at serious risk by allowing inadequate police to prowl our streets and menace people with guns many of them do not have the temperament to control?

I might hear in response to this a familiar refrain: our police are heroes doing a tough, dangerous job . . . . Of course most of them are!  I have met and respect many of them. But we have a management problem. For one thing, the tough, combative stance that is the position of many forces, and probably the collective impression, contributes to the danger the police as well as we ourselves face; and for another, that is completely irrelevant. The fine, devoted, stable officers with steady hands and calm minds are not the ones that shot Alton Sterling or Philandro Castile. Our problem is that the system also empowers cops who are really bad, and others whose threshold is too low. Cops who are racist, brutal, bullies, ignorant, and deep-down scared. If you want to see what that existential fear looks like watch the videos of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. Watch a cop pull a gun and shoot a man who was down on the ground, posing no credible threat. Watch another one shoot a guy to death for reaching for his drivers license – shot while the cop was almost certainly engaged in the familiar game of turning a crack in a plastic lens into an illegal search.

The similarity of these events now – shooting Black males as a byproduct of petty infractions or none, for “resisting arrest” or non-compliance with unnecessary bullying, show beyond any doubt that at least some police do not care about Black lives as they do White. BLM has it about right: these police either just don’t think Black lives matter, or they are so afraid of Black people that they need a gun in their hand to communicate with them. If they cared, they would not easily let tail lights escalate to the point where they would even imagine a deadly gun face-off as a result.

But it is not only Black lives. I may have a smaller target on my back, but while armed, anxious, mis-trained, mismanaged people in uniform prowl our streets, looking for people to confront, it is there. I don’t think these officers go out intending to kill, but their readiness to use murder as the solution to a perceived problem is too close to the surface for comfort.

I do not want to appear disrespectful of Black Lives Matter. BLM is doing a masterful job of raising the profile of the ongoing official murder spree and forcing the government to address it. The outcome will benefit all of us, wherever you place yourself on the rainbow. But don’t think you are immune if you are not Black. Police shoot more White people than Black, though at a lower rate. Police shooting is not due process, and none of us are immune.

The highest estimate of the manpower size of the ISIS military was 200,000. It is probably less.

The count of American police a few years ago was 1,220,000.

They killed 516 Americans in the first five months of 2016. Three US soldiers have lost their lives fighting ISIS since October 2015.

Be careful out there!

There are grounds for optimism. Some of America’s top police officers and consultants are aware of the need for better training and new orientation.

To see how even Conservatives are facing up to the issue, read this article from Red State, posted on Facebook by William Walker: http://www.redstate.com/leon_h_wolf/2016/07/08/uncomfortable-reason-came-dallas-yesterday/

And in case your own ideas are not completely lined up, watch this brief excerpt from a presentation by the brilliant Jane Elliott: https://youtu.be/4yrg7vV4a5o

Even if you are a dug-in pro-police card-carrying NRA Republican, you should support BLM and reform to bring US policing up to modern standards. They make law and order work better.

© NOLAscape July 2016

Barq and Bite

The Chamber was full at Tuesday’s City Planning meeting. The main event was a big session on STR. Not Sexually Transmitted anything – Short Term Rentals.

It was overshadowed. I haven’t even seen the STR bit yet, because something really significant happened first. The opening shot of a great revolution was fired. A shot heard ‘round the block!

(I dIdn’t really mean that. Just couldn’t resist. This could be the chance for New Orleans to take the city back.)

My new heroes, gladiators on the side of The Light, are Ms Hillary Barq, lessee and operator of the business, and Ms Darleen Jacobs Levy, owner of the property, no-BS lawyer and all around tough cookie. I’ll link what the Times-Pic has to say about it at the bottom, but let’s follow the story first.

Hillary Barq (yes, yes, of the Root Beer Barqs) wants to open a nice shop on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. Not among the fashionable boutiques and restaurants on the Uptown side of Felicity – the very Lower Garden District, near the industrial chic and movie set decay of Barrel Proof, which used to be the Bridge Inn. Magazine Street has been a good wheeze for years, and now its fashionable zone is starting move downriver of Felicity. These two women want to help move its allure closer to Warehouse and the CBD, while having fun and making some money on the way.

One of the bones of contention in the case was that Ms Barq wants a liquor license for off-premises consumption to up to 15% of sales by cost, but it was a secondary issue doing red herring duty. You can always depend on a certain proportion of Americans to feel that puritanical itch to restrict the Devil’s temptations. You would think they had learned their lesson from the years of murder and mayhem that resulted from Prohibition and the Volstead Act, then the New Jim Crow of marijuana prohibition in 1935 to keep some of the Prohibition jackboots in work, which we are only slowly starting to roll back. But the Salem virus is like herpes lodged in the American spinal column. Blow the right dog whistles, it flares up. And we can also trust some people in the public eye, and the eye of others in the political lists, to hide what really bothers them behind one of these boring old reliable red flags.

Hillary Barq lost, 5-4. She is a hero. Ms Jacobs is the Ajax of the coming war. I am sharpening my sword to follow these two great Amazons into battle.

The Shoppe
Featured products will be house-made ice cream, jams and jellies. (I am thinking, a gelateria as in Florence. This could be good.) It will serve sandwiches, coffee, teas and cakes. It will sell its ice creams and special condiments for take-away as well. Ms Barq said, someone on the way home from the CBD could stop in and get some treats for dinner or a party, and pick up a bottle of wine. Or a nice bottle of Amaretto or Calvados, I shouldn’t wonder.

You can get a feel for the kind of shop it might be from the presumption that core customers would be Uptowners who work in the financial district. But that’s okay. Affordable housing isn’t everything.

In Commissioners’ statements toward the end, Mr Steeg and Mr Marshall said they had trouble seeing the synergy of jams, ice cream and take-away liquor. I am going to help them out. Least I can do.

Step into Rouses CBD through the Girod Street entrance – just a couple of steps and stop. Look just to your right. You will see the counter for ice cream, pastries and coffee, eat in or take away. Just across from it, a few feet away, you will see the counter for spirits and liqueurs and a few promotional wine displays. Just past them are the tables, where you can drink your coffee and eat your pastries or sandwiches, but you cannot open and drink alcoholic beverages. Thousands of people a day express no shock at that juxtaposition.

Visualization skills vary, but this should help.

To give them their due, some of the Commissioners, particularly Mr Marshall and Mr Duplessis, said clearly that even if the Commissioners don’t get it, it is not up to them to judge an entrepreneur’s business model, only its zoning, legality and impact.

Most of the ABO argument really had nothing to do with Ms Barq’s business. A quirk of Louisiana law assigns alcoholic beverage permits to the premises, not the business. Residents and some commissioners expressed concern that the business might not work or she might sell the store on to somebody less, ahem . . you know. Do I detect a touch of classist xenophobia in there, or is that just my Gentrification Geiger Counter (TM) turned up to eleven?

Neither Ms Barq nor any other business developer should be penalized for this awkward law..

Once again, Mr Royce Duplessis pointed out most clearly, any actions of a subsequent owner should be dealt with at that time, not used to obstruct Ms Barq because of an imagined future with an imaginary person.

So reason can be found in the City Planning Commission. There are some smart folks up there on the dais. Yet she lost, 5-4. What really did it?

The Neighborhood Association!

From now on, this is a recruiting speech.

Aux armes, Citoyens!

Right-thinking people, rise up with me to help Hillary Barq and Darleen Levy-Jacobs to help us to put an end to this reign of petty tyranny.

A story before we resume this story: a couple of years ago when VCPORA was persecuting somebody – I think it was T-Shirts that time – Kristin Gisleson Palmer, the well-beloved KGP of the previous council (who is going to be on the wrong side of an upcoming NOLAscape) was grilling Meg Lousteau of VCPORA and Jared Munster of Safety and Permits. Meg was more up on violations of T-Shirt lore than Munster. She is also a better public speaker with an arch manner that pleases some of the audience. Kristin Palmer seemed to quite fancy her. At one point she said, with a wink to the crowd, “Maybe we should just deputize Meg and VCPORA to enforce the rules if S&P can’t.” Gasps and titters in the gallery. She span it as a joke, but it had a real-ish, chilling feel to it. There was a message in there. We could feel power transfusing.

That mood has metastasized into a plague of Neighborhood Benefit Agreements or Good Neighbor Agreements. They share a balkanizing platform with the gated-community police forcelets that are turning up, most visibly the French Quarter Task Force.

Some of our friends in city government may not like us trying to stir up this muddle. Sending the job of monitoring and regulation back to City Hall means work for them. Good Neighbor Agreements outsource responsibility to unelected private clubs answerable neither to city nor state nor electorate, with no standard policies, principles or responsibilities. Members are self-selecting. What are these clubs like? They range from responsible, honest groups integrating lots of information to reach net best conclusions for their neighborhoods, to homeowners’ protective crypto-gentrification clubs of questionable morality whose intentions are to enhance their own property values with occasional undertones of racism. There is no standard.

We hear that as Freret Street developed, it became virtually a private legal enclave. Neighbors objected ferociously to everything unless businesses signed up to contracts imposing limits more restrictive than city law. Stacy Head claims to have been instrumental in the development of Freret, and I am sure that is correct. But why was she complicit in this residential tyranny? Why can’t bars and restaurants on Freret Street operate under the same laws as others in the City? Somebody gave in. Freret residents had created their own invisible legislature.

We have written several times of the situation in Bywater. It can serve again as an example here. Several years ago, the Bywater neighborhood Association was recaptured from a homeowners’ protectionist crowd who had held sway on the board for years. It was reset into a proper neighborhood association, with a responsible zoning committee that studies the legality and impact of any project on the whole of Bywater, not just a dozen anxious near neighbors. Impact negative and positive: will a project bring new jobs, new people, new services? Committees formulate recommendations to the directors, the directors consider, vote and write their recommendations to the responsible municipal bodies.

BNA’s old guard didn’t like it. Too sensible, too wide-angle. They broke away and formed Neighbors First for Bywater, a homeowners’ klatch, with less structure. In a recent hearing, asked how NFB arrived at a decision to support or oppose, its President said she liked to ask people’s opinion as she walked her dog. She and an ally accused BNA of being too legalistic. Apparently they wanted less data, more reaction and ideology. (Sounds kind of Republican, doesn’t it?)

Bywater Neighborhood Association will not engage in Good Neighbor Agreements. Few NAs have the resources to manage one properly. To move beyond the initial stage of discussion, you need to engage a lawyer, pay arbitration costs – it’s not a lot of fun.

So who would sign a business up to an agreement in Bywater? If BNA won’t take it on, you would be stuck with NFB and the dog-walk poll approach. Yet I hear that NFB is quite keen on Good Neighbor Agreements. They make homeowners’ associations feel important.

The great Café Istanbul is just shaking itself free of an attack by its counterparty to an NBA, the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, which it was pressured into signing by Council members. FMIA never handled its side of the contract anywhere near correctly. It never engaged in appropriate dialogue with the business. The activist directors worked themselves up into a snit, writing complaints to themselves in their newsletters, and eventually just shopped the venue to Dan McNamara, where they could hide anonymously behind the kangaroo ABO court, where one of Stalin’s prosecutors might feel at home. I wouldn’t want to accuse the Coliseum Square Association of being like FMIA, which has a very checkered history – but things change. Since it can be difficult to operate the NA’s side of an agreement properly, in this case, they just managed it improperly. The niceties of the agreement did not seem to trouble Prosecutor McNamara.

Okay. We resume . . .

Ms Barq and Ms Jacobs Levy defied the Coliseum Square Neighborhood Association by refusing to sign a Good Neighbor Agreement! By refusing to consider it. By brushing it away with a one line reply.

Halle bloody lujah. That is the opening shot. Rise and throw off your chains, New Orleans.

Julie Simpson, President of the Coliseum Square Association, came to the mic. She opened,“We represent the neighborhood . . . . “ Of course, they don’t at all! These clubs are not elected. They are not accountable. They are not bodies of the city or the state. They claim to represent the interests of their neighborhoods, but they have no consistent principles, policies, restrictions or responsibilities. Some of them have behaved very badly, with episodes of deep immorality that border on criminal.

Ms Simpson and her Vice President looked hurt and saddened that Ms Jacobs Levy would brush them off like that. So convinced of their own good intentions, virtue and sense of duty are they that they seemed to find it difficult to imagine that a business might want to manage itself by reference to the law and municipal government without sheltering under their club’s umbrella by signing some of its legal rights away on their well-meaning dotted line.

As the story unfolded, Ms Simpson met Hillary Barq at the shop’s location. Ms Barq explained the business. Ms Simpson invited her to attend a meeting of the association. She did. Ms Simpson told her about Good Neighbor Agreements. She said that Ms Barq had agreed to sign it. She then sent copies of her text to Ms Barq and Ms Jacobs-Levy. They did not respond. After a while, Ms Simpson sent them a reminder. She received a brusque reply from lawyer and landlord Jacobs-Levy: “We’re not signing.”

Wow, people! History in the making. Let’s see some fists in the air, guys! Hard-boiled landlords like Jacobs Levy may look like the enemy sometimes, but now she is the good guy.

One guy named Banks McClintock came to the mic to both support and oppose with a.tortured argument. He was opening a business with liquor sales on the same block. He had gone to LaToya Cantrell and Stacy Head. They told him that he had to see the neighborhood association. That is how it is done, they said. His point was that if he and other businesses had signed the NA’s stuff, why shouldn’t Ms Barq?

Why, indeed, Sir? Because Ms Barq and Ms Jacobs Levy have more courage than you and the others. His presentation was a declaration of advanced Stockholm Syndrome: Why won’t these two women be contented hostages like the rest of us? Show us your chains if you want to join this club!

I note with Commissioner Eugene Green that the squeamishness about alcoholic beverage sales went away when McLintock agreed to sign on to Coliseum’s loyalty oath.

If CMs Head and LaToya (and “they” say, add Susan Guidry to the list) are sending people to meet and talk to the NAs, that’s fair enough. It is even in the rules of conditional use that the applicant must set up an NPP – Neighborhood Participation Program – inviting all interested parties within a certain radius (depending on size of the project) and must include recognized NAs even if outside the radius. It does not say the business developer must attend a meeting and present there, but why not? They care and it takes an hour.

But if the Council Members instruct property and business developers to subject themselves to any control by these self-appointed clubs, it is commercially inappropriate and part of the unofficial outsourcing of municipal responsibility. It has an analogue in the little neighborhood police forces, picking up what the city doesn’t get done. It is part of an overall withdrawal from responsibility.

What is the appropriate role of one of these associations? In one of its rare moments of lucidity, challenged when it was throwing down some gauntlets about a property on the wrong side of Bienville, VCPORA in the decisive tones of Meg Lousteau said: VCPORA is not a neighborhood association. It is an advocacy group.

That’s it! Thank you, Meg. That’s what they all are. Even one that I belong to. Even if we call them neighborhood or homeowners’ associations.

Their appropriate role is to study and understand the zoning, the law, the impacts, to evaluate the costs and benefits of projects and make rational recommendations to City Planning, City Council, HDLC, VCC – the proper deciding, accountable, legal bodies. The ones you can unelect.

They can be rational, data-driven, logical, inclusive and wide-angle, like BNA. They can be close-focus, emotional, reactive like NFB or FMIA. What they must not be is entrusted to share municipal authority. No! The Good Neighbor Agreement is the step too far.

As advocacy groups, it should be normal and expected for them to discuss projects with CPC staff and with Council Members. It should be fine for them to support or oppose projects before Council or the HDLC or VCC, IF they properly identify themselves. (VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens should be disqualified, because they will not say how many members they have or be clear about their decision processes, but most of the others are satisfactorily transparent.)

But supporting their assuming authority over businesses under civil contracts is wrong. They are neither elected nor subject to certain standards. They do not have to submit performance or compliance reports. They are not subject to regular ethics reviews before Council. Some of them would be long out of business if they were.

A spokesman for Ms Barq, summing up in rebuttal, said,” We will operate the business under rules and regulations of the city, but not under the rules and regulations of the neighbors!”

Bravo!

In Commissioners’ comments at the end, some of them showed a very weak spot in their perception of the case. They cited opposition of the neighbors. The only two neighbors who opposed were the President and Vice President of the Coliseum Square Association. As Commissioner Eugene Green pointed out, they do not seem to oppose McClintock’s store, so the remaining basis of opposition is the Good Neighbor Agreement that they want signed because it gives them contractual authority over Ms Barq’s and Ms Jacobs Levy’s businesses. To me, that neutralizes their testimony for conflict.

The business owners of New Orleans can end this petty tyranny. Just get behind Hillary Barq and Darleen Jacobs Levy and say No!

The neighborhood clubs will whine. The stores and bars and restaurants will have to be strong, and they will have to face down the Council Members who have been pushing these things. But the Good Neighbor contracts are bad in principle, an addiction they have to get over. Bring back the rule of law. The Council Members will eventually understand and thank you for it in the end.

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The Times-Picayune’s article on the Barq project:

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/06/no_liquor_permit_for_root_beer.html

©NOLAscape June 2016

Stateside 2

Back to New Orleans neighborhoods! Enough of California, voter suppression and our presumptive national embarrassments that the mainstream and social media are exploiting to boost ratings. We won’t even track Trump, the unruly baboon that the Repubs can’t get a collar on, exploiting the sad Orlando mass murder and America’s astonishing level of gun violence to advance his agenda of bigotry. Sad and ugly, but what are you going to do? Stupid stuff and gullibility are part of the elephant’s burden.

Stateside, the hotel/hostel causing some of its Bywater neighbors to jump up and down on their hats, is up before the Historic District Landmarks Commission in two days. It should pass. HDLC is about buildings; the building is a good design. But who knows? The opposing team will almost certainly be there, fuming and sputtering, brandishing invisible pitchforks, threats of lawsuits and the usual arsenal of obstruction

They have put some of their recent stuff in writing, so today we can take another stroll through the presumption of privilege under which Residentialists, usually bunched up in homeowners’ associations which they deceptively call Neighborhood Associations, expect protection by special laws to appease their particular anxieties. This is an evolving pattern in the city of neighborhoods. Once a city was the local unit. Since the spread of “neighborhoodism,” residents wanted special laws for their patch, and they sometimes found or invented histories and stories of special local qualities to justify their separatism. The French Quarter is the NOLA champion of this game. Localism sounds like a good idea, but one of the Unintended Consequences is that traditional municipal government can take the opportunity to opt out. The French Quarter and neighborhoods around the country are scrambling to set up their own police forces as their elected government sits on the sidelines or devotes all its attention to new ways to raise money, like parking meters and balcony fees. .

When it concerns new building, they call these special laws provisos. They are like the contra of zoning adjustments. Zoning Adjustments is the name used for variances by people who are okay with them. Opponents call it Spot Zoning.

Now sub-neighborhoods are congealing into political action committees. One of the recent maneuvers of the action club of Stateside’s nearest residential neighbors is proposing to raise the proviso game to a new level which treats Ted Kelso, the developer of the building and operator of the business, like a prisoner on parole, surrounded by electronic devices comparable to an ankle monitor with a CCTV feature, required to check in with various kinds of warden and parole officer in intervals sometimes as short as every day.

Our neighbors are not, of course, proposing a general law for the City or the common good. Nope. Just special privilege for a few who think they are exceptional enough to need a unique law, just for them. (They are not even the worst recent case. Neighbors First, one of the homeowners’ associations, requested an amazingly silly proviso for the Montegut face of Via Latrobe, just to allay the irrational anxiety of one woman who said she found the sound of music life-threatening.)

Here is an email by Carolyn Leftwich, the Joan of Arc of the residents’ insurrection against the Stateside hotel, sent first to Aylin Maklansky, Legislative Director of District C, then to Ted Kelso, developer, owner, CEO.

Mr Kelso has not responded to my request for comment. However, Ms Leftwich sent it to City Hall first, and it has been ricocheted around the place a bit, so I reckon it is public enough.

It can be great fun describing and characterizing the rages of residential protectionists when they go off the rails, but this one just speaks for itself. Doesn’t give me enough to do. Still, after it gets done speaking for itself, I am going to kick it around a little bit anyway.

From: *carolyn leftwich* <carolynleftwich@yahoo.com>
Date: Monday, June 6, 2016
Subject: Provisos to conditional use zoning docket 17/16
To: Ted Kelso <chartresstreetlot@gmail.com>
Cc: “Aylin A. Maklansky” <aamaklansky@nola.gov>, Carolyn Leftwich <
carolynleftwich@yahoo.com>, Quin Breland <qbreland@brelandlawllc.com>,
“Kara Y. Johnson” <kyjohnson@nola.gov>

Ted,

A committee formed by near neighbors put considerable time and effort in
writing provisos. Last week, a request to include provisos was made to
Ms. Maklansky concerning noise and open air occupancy of the Mazant
Entertainment Complex (MEC) that would be acceptable to the surrounding
neighbors. Following her suggestion, I am sending you a copy of what was
sent to her.

Ms. Maklansy [sic] and I are waiting for your response.

*MEC Peak Nightime Population Proviso*

The occupancy limits are posed [sic] on all interior and exterior spaces that
match the references in the permitted architectural drawing set.

Open air occupancy spaces include: open air pool courtyard and hostel
courtyards with all balconies and circulation areas, and adjoining rooms,
if doors or windows are left open.

1. Peak nighttime population: open air hostel courtyard space 136 max.,
open air pool courtyard space 108 max. (per Cm. Ramsey’s draft proviso)

The MEC property owner is to file daily, signed occupancy reports for the
open air spaces with a designated CPA auditor that maintains records and
makes the reports available online for transparency. The CPA also receives
Fire Marshall occupancy inspection reports, so any inconsistencies with the
reports received from the property owner are flagged as a discrepancy to
insure the quality of the reporting, and to provide feedback to MEC
management for corrective action to peacefully co-exist with neighbors.

The MEC property owner contracts with the Fire Marshall for 10 random
nighttime occupancy inspections of the open air courtyard spaces per month.
There is to be no warning whatsoever of a pending nighttime visit. Fire
Marshall is to file the 10 random nighttime inspection reports with the
designated CPA.

The CPA and Fire Marshall inspection fees are to be paid by the MEC
property owner.

Monthly and annual compliance reports are posted online by the CPA auditor
with flags to mark inconsistencies with Fire Marshall reports.

Online data provided by the CPA auditor is to be considered prima facia
data that enables recovery of the legal costs incurred for filing
restraining orders with the New Orleans municipal court and reports to the
LA Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

*MEC Nighttime Noise Proviso*
The responsibility of noise management is with the producer, the MEC
property owner. It is impossible to manage noise pollution without
verifiable measurement and procedures for corrective action. (See attached
copy of 2013 “New Orleans Sound Ordinance and Soundscape Evaluation and
Recommendations”, Problems that face current noise enforcement, pg. 42)

1. The quieter of the MEC noise provisos or city noise ordinance shall
prevail.

2. No amplified sound between 10p and 10a in all exterior spaces
including balconies, pool courtyard, hostel courtyards, parking lot, open air roof top bar/ and any indoor spaces with open doors/windows.

3. A source monitor in each of the pool courtyard, hostel courtyards
and parking lot open air spaces provides data for real time, online charting of noise
levels. Time varying pressure readings to these spaces provide unique sound signatures to identify which noises received in a residential home were sourced by a MEC open air space.

4. A receptor monitor in an abutting Bartholomew, Royal and Mazant
residential address, charts noise received in a residential home
attributable to an MEC open air space. The location of a receptor sound
monitor is at a preference of a resident—3 feet above the lot line wall, a
balcony, an open window or occupied rooftop. The receptor monitor
distinguishes noise generated from the MEC source from other noises in the
ambient soundscape to flag excessive noise as it is generated by the MEC.

5. Maximum noise level proviso for noise sourced by MEC that invades
residential addresses at Bartholomew, Royal and Mazant:

3dBA L10 Max above the prevailing ambient soundscape from 8 pm to 8 am
that excludes unrelated peaks due to extraneous ambient noise

6. An accredited 3rd party monitoring service provides online charting and
actionable metrics to manage the nighttime noise broadcasted from the MEC
into residential homes.

The same CPA auditor makes available online monthly noise reports plus an
annual summary report as prima facia evidence for recovering legal expenses
to effect compliance with city noise ordinances or provisos specific to the
MEC conditional use.

Cost of the CPA auditing, third party sound monitoring services and random
night time Fire Marshall inspections are the responsibility of the MEC
PROPERTY OWNER. Legal expenses to gain compliance with noise provisos
and/or city noise ordinances are also the responsibility of MEC PROPERTY
OWNER when supported by prima facia monitoring data reported by the CPA
along with data validations provided by the sound monitoring service.

ALL PROVISOS SURVIVE CHANGE OF CONTROL OR MANAGEMENT OF THE PROPERTY.

Regards,

Carolyn Leftwich
cell 214.636.0412

“MEC” or “Mazant Entertainment Complex.” This must be the rebel committee’s sarcastic pet name for the Stateside hotel/hostel. Their little in-joke. Very cute. A helpful little sneer. The letter must have been written to show the neighbors’ displeasure to CM Ramsey’s office. Re-directing it to the developer without editing suggests they read Aylin Maklansky’s response as a brush-off. That’s what it deserves, so I hope it was.

Intentional disrespect is hardly the way to elicit a serious reply. It suggests they are showing off to themselves, asking the Ramsey team and Kelso to watch them strut, but they don’t really expect a reply from Ted Kelso. He can sit back; NOLAscape is on the case.

“Considerable time and effort.” Is the developer supposed to be impressed by this? To appreciate the effort put in by an ad hoc committee of snarling residents circling imaginary wagons, intent on annoying him and obstructing his business plan? Snip and snark and the presumption of privilege. Do you think the Residentialists hear themselves?

“Following her suggestion.” This must be intended to sneak in the Legislative Director’s name as if she backed or authorized this screed. My reading: Ms Maklansky replied in the polite code of a raised eyebrow and a gentle diplomatic brush off whose underlying meaning was: “Run along and play now; let the grownups work.”

Daily signed occupancy reports, certified by a CPA and the Fire Marshal. Okay, fasten your seat belts. We are moving out into the lunatic fringe zone now, right? This clutch of neighbors needs a special policing detail, to be paid for by the guy they don’t like, for everything a properly permitted business does in a site where it meets the requirements of the Holy CZO and the Sacred Master Plan. Maybe their next production will be a new Bartholomew Street Master Plan. With “the force of law.”

Note that they are not proposing this for every homeowner or neighborhood everywhere that might be near a hotel, restaurant or bar. Just them. It is not for New Orleans. This special level of Residentialist tyranny is for one street of folksy Bywater, so fragile, special and privileged that it just needs every single sound and person checked and verified and open to critique, fusspottery and prosecution by them, at the hotel’s expense.

I wonder whether this is not a job for the Department of Health. Mental health, neurasthenia division..

Do they hear themselves?

Prima facie, municipal court and the ABO. This time, let’s start with: Do they hear themselves? They don’t like Ted Kelso’s business plan, we get that. But does that give them standing to act as if he is a prisoner on parole? They embarrass themselves. I guess they are telling us that they intend to make a hobby of inciting Dan McNamara of the ABO, the City’s own Cocktail Torquemada, and abusing civil court to try to harass Stateside. They condemn themselves to the status of annoyances and pests. I wonder if it is possible to add a proviso that says that having threatened harassment, residents must be warned that they may be held liable for costs in any action held to be frivolous.

I thought I saw two streams of opposition to this project, one this group of residents, another, Pete and Jenny Breen of The Joint, one of Bywater’s favorite restaurants. Pete and Jenny were strongly against Stateside as well, but their arguments were reasonable and civil. The opposition might have done better, quicker if they followed their lead. I’ll remember that when I order my next plate of brisket.

“3dBA L10 Max above the prevailing ambient.” This and the monitor scheme is nothing more than indulgence of, and self-indulgence by, their amateur acoustician, Michael Bolan. If you watch him at the hearings, you will see that he seems to enjoy showing off some technical jargon. The first acoustic poseur I have seen. Even Arno Bommer was actually a pro – probably scripted by the boss, but he did it for a living. Kelso has David Woolworth, an experienced professional, on the case. Bolan’s stuff is redundant.

I am not the biggest fan of the Stateside business model either, but Ted Kelso has had the building redesigned so that it should be one of the best new developments approved for Bywater, making a contribution to the riverside cityscape. So good on ‘im. The business is legal and permitted in the zoning. If the operating laws regulating the business are good enough for the city and everybody else, they are good enough for these neighbors. Claiming special privilege, as if they merit more Council protection from urban life than residents of Gentilly or Broadmoor or the Ninth Ward, is just unattractive.

In at least one meeting, the developer mentioned a self-imposed limitation that we don’t need. If its purpose is to appease residents, let’s talk him out of it. He said Stateside would not have live music. Why not? It has a restaurant. Restaurants can have live music by right. New Orleans has a lot of musicians that need work, and New Orleans people like live music. Make your deal on sound emission, on volume, not the source.

So on Thursday, June 16th, at 1 PM, if you don’t have a dogfight or anything to go to, the HDLC may be good for some free admission entertainment.

Oh, and don’t forget: Neighbors First of Bywater opposes Stateside. That is usually a good reason to support a project.

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Here are the approved sound provisos. They actually impose some extra investment on Stateside, but it may not be that bad. It is not silly like the resident moaners’ proposal and might work for other venues as well. The Tropical Isle bars already have monitoring systems, installed voluntarily years ago. The quality of the outcome depends of course on the sound ordinances being reasonable – that may be a big “depends” considering the craziness of the last round of sound wars and the messiness of some of the old ordinances. With a good law, monitors could protect the venue from harassment as well as defend neighbors who want to legislate suburbia. Ted Kelso would be well advised to keep a good monitoring system, because given the warnings to invoke the dreaded McNamara and civil court, it is a fair guess that Michael Bolan, the team’s amateur acoustic enthusiast, will set up a device of his own and make it his mission to catch Stateside in violation of something.

The angry neighbors won’t care, but a big problem for serious people is that decibel meters are not reliable measurements of music. Music is complex. Decibel algorithms integrate it down to a couple of numbers.

3. The applicant shall alter the massing between the courtyard and parking area and coordinate landscaping to provide for sufficient sound mitigation from the courtyard.

15. The applicant shall submit a noise abatement plan, to be reviewed by the Director of Safety and Permits, and all other appropriate City agencies, indicating compliance with the noise ordinance and documenting all efforts to abate noise outside of the property lines, including the installation of a system to monitor sound at the property line and which shall address the intended use of amplification, noise levels, and need for soundproofing. The sound monitoring system shall be operational at all times the exterior courtyards are in use.

©NOLAscape June 2016

Low Jinks in the California Primary

Let’s give the neighborhoods a break today – zoom out to the California Democratic primary.

I am picking up reports of voter suppression in Los Angeles targeting probable Sanders supporters. We don’t know if it will ever make the news. Since Hillary Clinton posted a win of about 12%, it is unlikely that the Sanders campaign would be able to justify or even benefit from a recount. The propaganda mill we call Main Stream Media has gone all Party, no principle. We may just be looking at another tiresome case of theft of American democracy – assuming there was one to steal – with our supine news industry too bored and cynical to mention it..

Here are selections from an email to The Young Turks about it. You may notice that the writer has the same last name as mine. He is my son – that is how I am picking up the news.

Dear TYT,

. . . I registered in the beginning of April at my new address. I have registered Democrat since 2008 when I voted for Obama. When I got to my polling place, I was ‘not in the system’ and my girlfriend was a ‘mail-in vote’, despite the fact she has never been a mail-in voter and didn’t tick that box this time.

All day I had calls and social media hits that this was happening to under 40s across the city. I saw it happen with my own eyes time and time again to young people coming into the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. Told they either were not registered or were mail-in votes and had to cast provisionals. . . . .

I gave up my entire day to fight for my vote and got nowhere. I called every number I was given, sat on hold for hours and when I reached people eventually they were unhelpful and said cast a provisional in the hope I’ll magically ‘show up in the system’ later on. I know personally a good number of Bernie supporters this happened to yesterday, can you please help me get the word out on this?

The Democrats have lost me on this. From now on I am Bernie or Jill Stein. Or Elizabeth Warren, that’s my only other exception.

. . . The voting official at the poll, a Bernie supporter, was appalled and tried to help me with the calls – to no avail.

Thank you,

Gabriel Freilich

Gabriel put his experience on FaceBook, and people started to comment from other precincts. Their names had been omitted from registration lists, had been incorrectly entered as postal voters, or had been entered in the wrong party, as in the FaceBook comment below.

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Given the late stage of the nominating process, I don’t know whether any of this will be investigated, but it looks like more shenanigans from the old ward-heeler core of the Clintonian Democratic Party. Although getting no attention so far, it looks comparable in effect to the suppression at the Nevada convention, fronted by state party chairman Roberta Lange, but probably puppet-mastered by Harry Reid, hard man of the Nevada Party, staunch machine apparatchik and rabid opponent of Sanders.

NOTE: This critique of the Dems is not to favor the Republican Party or any of its “Conservative” shadows. The current Republican Party is a sociopathic aberration advocating social injustice and economic mythology. The Democrats’ problem is, they are not better enough. Installing a Neoliberal as formal head of the party, they might never be.

If I, sitting in New Orleans, can be aware of 15 or 20 cases of vote suppression in the Sanders demographic in a city 2,000 miles away, what is the real scale of this in California? If Matt Taibbi or Jeremy Scahill took an interest in it, thousands more cases might come out of the cobwebs.

California exit polls showed 9% to 10% Clinton lead, much higher than earlier polls predicted, but it’s a benchmark. In the final tally of votes on the day (postal and provisional ballots not all counted yet) Clinton won by about 12.6%. What if the 3%+ difference could be explained by plain old Chicago style election fraud? It might even be worse. If some of the latest pre-election polls were reasonably accurate, it was neck and neck.

Are these polling place cockups simple incompetence, or systematic suppression? You could almost put it down to muddle, but for one thing: the observed cases were all or almost all in the under-40 demographic, which in California polled well over 60% for Bernie Sanders. Maybe the machine Democrats were spooked by the Sanders momentum and Clinton’s extraordinarily high unfavorable rating. Maybe they have worked out a way to mobilize and manage incompetence to support DNC objectives.

Have you noticed that while Red State governors and legislatures are passing voter ID laws and pretending that they are to counter voter fraud, an almost nonexistent phenomenon, voter suppression and political fraud, crimes committed by their own class and profession, is increasingly obvious, skewing votes in the hundreds of thousands or millions?

Which runs these messy games? Local hustlers? The State committees? Senators and Congressmen (many of whom are Superdelegates)? Or the DNC, which in this election looks like a mercenary contractor to the Clintons?

This is before we even get to the Superdelegates, a mechanism created to suppress Progressivism in the Party, ensuring  that even after an exhausting primary process, whoever holds the reins of the apparatchik team can still manipulate the nominally democratic process.

The Party duopoly trivializes the political process by jamming Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton under the same umbrella. They represent totally different platforms. Clintonites suggest the difference is a matter of degree and pace, but that is not true. Sanders has lifted and expanded a political revolution advocating a New Deal-ish version of North European Social Democracy, probably the most successful sociopolitical structure in the world for citizens and residents. Quality of life, in a significant sense – not the neighborhood association meaning. Clinton represents the smoke-filled room (now probably smoke-free), the revolving door, the back door, the hustle, acting. Deliberately as a brake on popular activism. The Party duopoly, while marginalizing real other Parties, like the Greens with their amazingly sound and sensible candidate Jill Stein and the entertainingly crazy Libertarians, tries to absorb and dilute any ideology that will accept their hegemony.

Had Sanders won the nomination, the DNC would have been torn down and rebuilt without the repellent smirking mug of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Clinton is unlikely to change anything. The house servants of the DNC helped the corporate media undermine the Sanders campaign. One of its functions is likely to be to provide sinecure posts for Clinton loyalists.

Watching so many of the party people and “pundits” (or as many pronounce it, “pundints”) angry or feigning anger that Sanders won’t stop shows that they never understood the campaign. They think Sanders is just another candidate trying to grab the Presidency, and his progressive or Social Democrat or New Deal Redux policies are just his campaign brand and logo. They didn’t grasp that he means it – that he does not put Party above principle. At least so far.

So Presidential politics is once again down to Lesser Evilism. Jill Stein says, the Lesser Evil instead of the Greater Good. A race to the bottom of the septic tank, with blasts of verbal air freshener to mask the stench. A covert Neoliberal against a not-yet-housebroken baboon in a blue suit, with a red tie instead of bum, vulgarly fighting his business lawsuits by trying to undermine a judge on his campaign stage.

There is a national benefit to Trump. He drives the Republican establishment crazy. Their normal jobs include applying various veneers of fictional principle over their cruel objectives and abject service to the oligarchy. It takes a lot of work and a few different looks – one for the evangelicals, one for the racists, one for the shopkeepers and another for the bankers, extractors and military-security complex. Now, not only do opponents keep trying to expose the illusion, their own new leader is like an oversized puppy tearing up the furniture, while people like Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan have to rush about like hyperactive spiders mending tears in the web before Trump lets too many people see what the Republican brand conceals.

It’s fun to fantasize that the immediate fate of Progressivism may rest with FBI Director James Comey. If he brings an indictment which could toast the Presumptive Candidate, and Bernie Sanders does not let the President and the Nomenklatura badger him into quitting, the undemocratic Democrats would have to decide whether to lose to Trump or pass the baton to Bernie. If the Clintons offer Comey Vice President or Attorney General, I’m going to be suspicious.

Bernie is the second threat to the Dems’ establishment. If he doesn’t get what he wants at the convention and opts to be an independent candidate, he will split the Democrats and the Independents badly. He said he wouldn’t and seems to be the most honest guy in national politics, but maybe, just maybe. Since Presidential elections are usually won with just a few point advantage, if he takes just ten or 15% of Democratic voters with him, Trump wins. His promise not to go independent was surely part of the price of being permitted to campaign as a Democrat, but the DNC has given him a rough ride from the beginning. Even if he is as honest as he seems, I hope he can make the threat to bring them down credible, even though any commitments the Party and Clinton make are unlikely to be worth the paper they might or might not be written on.

Anyhow – as part of the Decline and Fall Show, there are intriguing signs that Los Angeles is joining Florida and some other states in electoral sleaze. The choice of Trump and Clinton (assuming she really won) means millions of Americans are more comfortable with the corporate oligarchy and the Walmart economy that is sucking the purchasing power and the fun of life out of most Americans than with the risk of something better. Politically passive US citizens once more vote for their own serfdom.

© NOLAscape June 2016