Guess Who Represents You? Or does he?

Are you fed up of this damn’ sound thing? I am.

Why is the city government being pinned to the wall by a small clique of rabid Preservationists appointing themselves the city’s lifestyle police?

Come on, let’s knock this damn thing on the head and move on. Move on! Do we have more important things to do, or not?

The sound thing has been going round and round for years. The Fusspots of the French Quarter got it high on the agenda. They have pursued it by propaganda, arm twisting, deception, downright lies, underhanded influence and excessive cranking of the Sausage Grinder. They are opposed by pretty much the whole city. They don’t care. They know what is right for you. They scheme and plot and hose us all down with soundbite BS and for some reason I cannot fathom, the City Government still pays attention to them. That has really become my main interest: why do these people have clout so far above their tiny numbers, and how did they get it? I don’t even think most of City Council likes the sleazy stuff they have got up to, backed by their lawyer, who is now said to be up for criminal charges for attempted intimidation of public officials. In fact, I think just one of them is trying to force the Preservation Mafia’s attempt to beat Bourbon into submission on all of us. Just one.

The small clique who value their personal vision of respectability over life and reasonable democracy and diversity just don’t like the big, raucous, fun Bourbon Street party that is responsible for a good percentage of the ten million visitors expected next year. Do they care about anything beyond their “class” and their “set?” Asked about the huge popularity and world fame of the Bourbon Street brand, their ally in Council’s reply was clear: “I don’t care.”

Do you?

Their latest move:

Nathan Chapman, audio nut from the past, clueless as to the science, who wouldn’t even invest the little bit of time and effort it would have taken to understand the Woolworth process and data, has somehow got his sad self chosen – just by a couple of his mates, of course – to represent FQ residents to the Mayor!

I hope the FQ residents are protesting.

French Quarterites who read this, if you do not agree that Nathan Chapman represents you – think about that – tell the Mayor and the Director of Cultural Economy. Email addresses below. You can stop it.

Fortunately for the city, CM Kristin Gisleson Palmer set a process in motion with a professional acoustician, Dave Woolworth. Instead of just taking the King’s shilling and knocking off a report saying whatever the customer wanted to hear, he actually did the hundreds of hours of hard work of research and data gathering to come up with serious, workable recommendations and regulation methods.

It drove the Hoodies crazy. What, obstructing us with facts? Using truth to stand between us and whatever strokes we want to pull? Honesty over influence and ersatz prestige? What is our precious little world coming to? What does Smith pay Brylski for if not to keep us fact free and neatly bubbled?

And let us not forget that one of the most ferocious of the Hoodie gang once admitted publicly that the reason they wanted unrealistically low limits was so they could sue music venues whenever they wanted to, in vigilante private enforcement. We knew it, but in an unguarded moment, they admitted it.

Tell Mayor Landrieu and Scott Hutcheson whether Nathan Chapman represents you.

If you prefer Woolworth’s method and reason to Hoodie finagling and extortion, don’t assume they know. Tell them.

mayor@nola.gov
cshutcheson@nola.gov

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Same old . . . .

Sometimes, between looking for conspiracies to expose and conspiracy exposés to debunk, I think about, Why are the Hoodies really doing this sound stuff? By really, I mean, you know, really. What’s going on? Do they even know themselves?

Chapman the noise angel tells about halcyon days in the 90s when it was quieter, when you could sleep with your window open. His Seven Essentials wanted to take the sound rules back to 1997, when Jackson Square was still the Garden of Eden. Of course, there is something a bit dreamy about this story. Many remember the FQ in the 90s as drug-loaded, with gay v. straight segregation, a lot of rats and cat shit in the halls of large houses in shaggy condition, divided into many small flats.

Chapman tells one story of how he had to move out of an apartment that he loved, because the “noise” had just become too much. But that was in 1995, if I am following the chronology right. So – what am I missing?

Something is wrong with it anyway. When Chapman moved out, somebody else moved in, and for all we know, might reside there happily to this day. If not, well, somebody else does.

The French Quarter’s population is pretty low now, no more than 3,900. How many actual living people are within serious encroachment range of the four music bar blocks of Bourbon Street? Some point out that we have to include the hotels, which is mostly to say the Sonesta. But the Sonesta charges more for its Bourbon-side rooms, so that doesn’t hold up too well.

The residences affected must be up and down the side streets: Conti, St Louis, Toulouse, Orleans, St Peter, St Ann. Dave Woolworth says count 180 feet from the noise emanator for safety. So counting both ways from Bourbon, we are talking about the residential properties within that distance. I have not done a survey yet, but that space looks like under a third of the area of the FQ, and probably the most intensively commercial third. So I am going to take a stab and call its residential density 1/4 of normal, which is probably high. So I get 3,900 x 1/4 x 1/3 = 325. I suspect that is higher than actual, but until I walk the space and count, let’s go with it.

How many of those are complaining? A certain percentage will have moved there because they like it. Some will have done the things a reasonable person would do in that neighborhood: insulation, curtains, rugs, air conditioning. They may not love every last decibel, but they have their sound absorbers in place, just as they have a roof against the rain. So what are we really talking about? A hundred? Fifty? Less? Is that really what this is all about?

Why is Chapman leading a charge against something that bothered him 18 years ago? Why is Stuart H. Smith, Atty at Law, so crazed on this subject as to risk arrest and prosecution for intimidation of public officials? Why has VCPORA gambled its reputation on bumbling conspirators, inspiring more mockery than serious attention? Bourbon Street – the VCE in zoning language – is already contained by zoning. Why are so many people driving so many other people nuts about this?

Well, before the anti-music crowd blew it in December and January by somehow maneuvering a really bad bill into Council, based on a really bad manifesto, put together by a camel-making committee of 13 or so, none of whom knew much about sound propagation, and then trying to back it up with secret communications, threats and intimidation, they claimed to be acting on behalf of some other neighborhoods as well. But a big chunk of that turned out to be flimflam.

There is something besides decibels in play here. Something that has been around a long time, and it ain’t going nowhere fast, and it is not nice. It is ugly and stupid and needs pushing out of sight and out of the mind of the French Quarter and the whole city.

Respectability is one word for it. More properly, the appearance of respectability. Victoriana: just look the part. Look nice, smile, and you can get up to anything out of sight.

Attacks on music have a long, comical and respectable history. The other side of the musical culture is the anti-music culture.

What? How could I say that. They tell us that they LOVE music. And that is why they have the right to tell musicians how to play it. They know best, you see.

In reasonably recent history, the responsible adults of the classes of privilege feared and repeatedly tried to avoid or suppress new music. A lot of the objection and resistance was from what you might call the upper class, and it was deeply enmeshed with Jim Crow and selling the city as a bastion of white culture. Louis Armstrong is an icon now, but what did they think of him when he was building that style in the whorehouses of Storyville, and then after Storyville, when there he was, black and playing jazz, the loudest trumpet anybody knew. Do you know what the white Respectables of New Orleans thought of jazz in the 1920s?

Before they decided Louis Armstrong and so many others are our heritage, they did everything they could to prevent their children listening to him. They only reconciled to jazz when the big white bands came out, and turned the wild sounds of the early New Orleans greats to swing. The swing bands called themselves Orchestras and they sat in nice lines. The boosters promoting tourism, who had been working hard to make sure the world knew that the Creoles of New Orleans were exotic heirs of Spanish and French culture, but white, above all white, could feel good about jazz now. They could claim it as a New Orleans original, and the white guys would play nice interesting music, not too loud, not too dissonant, not improvised.

They were not original in this. The Jim Crow South intensified racism in New Orleans, but it wasn’t new. Congo Square was under progressive persecution from the Louisiana Purchase. White society had nothing but rabid contempt for what researchers think was the emerging jazz sound after the civil war. Ragtime horrified them. The same did not go for their children. Young people adopted new music, and their parents made futile attempts to suppress it, or at least keep it away from the white side of the tracks.

An interesting unintended consequence: some school music programs owe their beginning to the older generation’s suspicion of what they could not understand. They donated instruments and resources for the schools to teach the kids proper, European, German, white music.

Some of us might even remember the emergence of Elvis Presley onto the national stage. Rock and Roll. What is the world coming to? And Gangsta Rap. OMG. Are we really still here?

Do you think our Hoodies will see themselves in this picture? I don’t. They see what they want to see, and the mirror is not part of it. Like the parents that were nervous if their children heard that loud, brash trumpet of Louis Armstrong – and I don’t mean Pops, the avuncular icon of the 60s; I mean Louis of the 20s and 30s, in his prime – they have a powerful need to judge what they don’t understand. Why does Bourbon Street have to be so loud? What good is it? That is not how music should be! We know! We are wise and powerful! We can stop this!

No, you can’t. You are neither wise nor powerful. You are at your very worst capable of being a temporary annoyance. Or not.

In 1955, the wise and powerful knew that Elvis Presley wasn’t how it should be. Didn’t help. Neither was Jelly Roll Morton. Neither was Leadbelly and Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry and Pete Seeger and JZ. Neither was Eminem and Madonna. Now she is okay, rich and into religions. We are used to her. But how did you feel about your 12 year olds buying that metal book?

In a public discussion last week about Bourbon Street sound volumes, one of the Council members, possibly annoyed at the charts and cool discussion of the recorded volumes instead of general indignation at the “noise,” asked in a tone that sounded vexed, What about my right to enjoy a walk down the street without being offended by loud music? Thinking it was a serious point for discussion, I asked, How do you weigh that against the thousands of people every day who are visibly loving their experience on Bourbon? Our CM’s answers were interesting. A bit angry, but interesting. In effect, it did not matter, because as a tax paying middle class citizen of New Orleans she has a right to quiet enjoyment of whatever she wants to quietly enjoy. That seems so strange that I may be exaggerating her intention, but that is what it sounded like to me. She also retorted, What about all the people who are not there because they don’t like it? I thought but did not get an opening to say, Presumably they are someplace else, where they do want to be. Personally, I rarely want to be on Bourbon Street, and I find that a good solution is not to go there unless I want to. Works for me.

Then she told me I would never understand because I thought shops could do whatever they want, a laissez-faire free for all. That would be based on Nolascape’s retail articles of a few weeks ago. Her accusation is not true, of course. The right question is, how do you regulate? What is fair, and when does it become an inappropriate attempt at social engineering?

But why was that statement in a technical discussion about sound? Are mechanisms of control closer to the real issue?

The next segue pulled the curtain back, and there was the ol’ Wizard, looking shocked: What about nudity? (Where did that come from? Weren’t we doing decibels here?) There is a woman, in Jackson Square!, topless for pictures for money or tips. Someone interjected, she has body paint on. It is a possibly tricky legal question whether she is sufficiently exposed to be called nude. The Council member seemed unimpressed. Dave Woolworth, still standing by the projection screen, looked perplexed. What do T-shirts and painted breasts have to do with decibel charts?

So the associations are: loud music -> T-shirts -> lewd women. Plus ça change. The Hear the Noise clique like to say they love jazz, just not this loud stuff. But Louis Armstrong who made his bones in Storyville would have recognized this association instantly. These music lovers would not have loved jazz so much in 1920, when the word itself scared many white New Orleanians.

Remember this?

“If any of this is true you won’t be electable as dog catcher by the time I am finished with you. I really can’t believe it but now have 2 investigators on it and intend to depose Robert Watters under oath. I sincerely hope none of this is true. You only promised me one thing when Wilma (Heaton) and I got you elected. I expect you to stop these people who are attacking me personally and pass this legislation. Your victory party was at my house for christs sake and after all that a strip club owner (Robert Watters) has become your confidant and spokesperson.”

Palmer responded by email telling Smith, “This is bulls— and I am disappointed in you.”

I quoted the whole thing because it is fun. Lest we forget. The juicy part for this discussion is, ” . . . a strip club owner . . . has become your confidant . . . ”

There it is again: loud strange music -> commercial sex.

But they love jazz.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll, Bourbon style, and the first two aren’t properly illegal any more either. The loud sound, the big bass and big amps – that is what millions of people like now. If you are not one of them, you don’t have to understand it. They don’t care. You can be as irrelevant as you like. It won’t hurt them. Your father didn’t understand Rock and Roll and your grandfather didn’t understand jazz, so you are in good company, fulfilling your generational mission.

That is all the ferocious Lawyer who has captured the Hoodies really is – a guy who doesn’t get it. He will strut and fret his hour upon a small stage and fizzle away with his comical sidekicks. We remember Louis Armstrong, not the strutters and fretters. If the Council panders to the Dementor again, and to his acolytes and the suckers he threatens and tries to frighten, I predict they will be on the way down soon too. Do you think the people will put up with another Jackie, yanking their chain for 25 years? I don’t think so. Stacy Head should think about it. Join the future. It’s alive.

You have Royal Street, O Ye Class Warriors. You have Magazine, and Wholefoods. Bourbon is not opening pole dancing shops on Royal, at least not yet. There are nice things there. I like them too. I usually like them better than I like Bourbon Street. But not everybody does, and not all the time, so be smart, guys: leave it alone.

The sound ordinance should be a minor issue. Oil and gas giants are taking our world to bits, ruining the air and the earth and the sea, using your air and water as an industrial sewer. The military industrial complex has become an indispensable component of the economy, needing wars to keep it spinning. Financialization of the economy does not create value, it concentrates money. Most of Congress, federal and state, are paid to cover for one or the other of them.That is what we should be looking at, not telling people what they should be listening to, impenetrable to the lessons of a century or more of mass entertainment.

It should be a minor issue, but it isn’t. The Bourbon Street ordinance is in preparation. The Hoodies will be on the warpath again, to undermine, control or take it over. Make them shut up, for being wrong, for being boring, for being sleazy and for being a distraction. I think this council will be rewarded by the city if they do this right, and be out of office before their terms end if they try another round of Hoodie tricks.

————

I am no expert, hardly even a duffer, on music history. Maybe I got stuff wrong. Here are some references. Prove me wrong, I’ll be glad to correct.

Matt Sakakeeny,
“Music v. Noise,” 2013
“The Band is Always There and Always Playing,” 2013
“”Defining New Orleans Music,” 2013

Bad Vibrations: The History of the Idea of Music as a Cause of Disease

Anthony J. Stanonis, The Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism 1918-1945.

Richard Campanella, Bourbon Street.

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Tomorrow Morning redux

“Tomorrow Morning” happened.

Pretty good. Very good, really. CM Kristin Palmer’s summary of the situation and guidance of the meeting was fair, focused and efficient. Dave Woolworth was realistic, factual and practical.

This is no fun at all. Can’t get any jokes out of people doing things right.

Everything seems to be moving right along toward a good outcome of this long and crazy struggle over a subject that has stirred up a lot of adrenaline. We are all waiting to see what the decibel guidelines on Bourbon Street will be. Dave Woolworth is still keeping those cards close to his vest. CM Head wants a draft bill to be read in next week; Dave is to work with the legislative staff to block out the text of a bill while finalizing his dBA and dBC parameters. We know that initial measuring position for middle of the block bars will be the doorways, the measuring standard or algorithm will be Leq and the time per measurement take will be 20 seconds. So much was clear from the FQMD presentations and sound walks. Details still to come for corner properties and courtyards.

We hope Council will continue to follow the Woolworth plan, and not be struck by a Hoodie relapse. I want to trust them. Perhaps we should send them some nice electronic good will cards for encouragement.

Bob Simms was first commenter, essentially summarizing his comment on “Tomorrow Morning” in Nolascape. Subjective perception cannot be completely encapsulated in decibel numbers. Different age and cultural groups perceive things differently. When we see thousands of people enjoying something that we may not ourselves like, let’s think: Is it up to us to legislate their lifestyle? Bourbon Street is a great brand, let’s respect it. Balance and fairness.

Then . . .

Careful sign

Hoodie Alert!

. . . came Nathan Chapman.

The “noise” ordinance process has been so rational, reasonable, educative and scientific for a while, we thought the craziness had gone away. Thought too soon? Was his statement delusional, or could we be underrating a real risk?

I can’t get the hang of Chapman. His “Hear the Noise” coalition fizzled after they got caught playing dirty pool in December and January. I really hoped my prediction was wrong and that he would not try to revive the bad numbers and bizarre claims of special prerogative for preservationists that went down in little sputtering flames in January, amidst public protests and revelations of unsavory goings-on, which had dragged their reputations into tattered disrepute.

Maybe not. Maybe they just went underground to lick their wounds and come out for another go. Was his three minute speech just crazy, or does he know something? Jackie Clarkson losing C seemed a good thing, but Wilma Heaton, a Smith/Chapman accomplice exposed by the infamous “enemies” email, is now deeply inveigled into the Nadine Ramsey team. Keep your powder dry.

The preservationist clubs and Chapman’s “Hear the Noise” subsidiary are neither audio experts nor the lifestyle police, but have somehow convinced themselves and unfortunately some others not only that they have standing in this, but the right to say who does not. Chapman wrote to FQMD in December, warning them to “back off” the sound ordinance. Essentially a self-appointed lobbying group, VCPORA throws its weight around in the city by local political influence; but what does it think gives it standing to issue warnings to a state subdivision? Warnings and threats eventually became some of the Hear the Noise group’s preferred ways of communicating, so maybe Chapman had been caught up in the prevailing mood.

Now follows a deconstruction of three minutes of Nathanism. Please switch off if you feel in danger of being bored stiff.

In a creative intro sentence, he mentioned “common sense improvements” to Bourbon Street. Improvements? Really? All those clubs and bands and discos and the millions of visitors that enjoy them – Chapman and the preservation lobby are going to “improve” them? Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but they are almost all middle aged or older grey-haired white people. So am I.  Are we really the right people to be telling tourists and the operators how to do their thing right?

I think the right word would be suppress, not improve. Make changes to Bourbon Street so it is less unappealing to people who don’t like it, such as himself and any remaining “Hear the Noise” stalwarts.

Then he declared absolute first hand knowledge that FQMD was supposed to be a forum for residents and businesses to work together in areas they agreed on, not issues that divided them, like zoning and sound management, “and we have seen recently why.” Zoning and sound were among the proscribed, he said.

Have we been drinking different Kool Aids? We have just been listening to Dave Woolworth reporting to Council on a program conducted in collaboration with FQMD, which Council proposed or endorsed. Is Chapman telling Council it was invalid? They got it wrong?

What “we have recently seen” is how well FQMD supported Woolworth’s teaching of sound propagation, in a series open to all who wished to attend, with each session video recorded and posted on YouTube. His methodical data gathering process was also public and accessible. Was there something they missed, the dozens of people, some residents, some from businesses, who carefully engaged with this process?

FQMD’s legislative basis does preclude zoning and land use; he got that right. I have little doubt that Chapman was there at the starting line. If it is about the French Quarter, Chapman is a bit like mule droppings on a rainy day – don’t count on it not being underfoot. But he was not the only one present at the creation. Others do not share the memory of either controversial issues or sound issues being out of bounds. Quite the opposite: FQMD was specifically charged to engage with quality of life matters. From a FQMD committee officer:

The FQMD’s statutory purpose declares that, among other things, the FQMD is “to foster quality experiences and quality of life within its boundaries, and to improve commercial and residential vitality. . .” LSA-R.S. 25:797(B). “All powers of the board shall be exercised for the best interest of the district to aid in the improvement of public safety, quality of life, and infrastructure of the district, . . “. LSA-R.S. 25:799(E)(1). The Board has all the powers of a political subdivision of the state. It has no statutory limitations about addressing only non-controversial matters.

For confirmation, let’s quote a whole section of the enabling statute:

B. Purpose. The purpose of the district shall be to strengthen the district as a National Historic Landmark, a historic residential district, and a vital component of Louisiana’s tourism industry by investing and reinvesting public funds in the district to aid in the preservation of the district’s architecture, quaint charm, and tout ensemble, to beautify its appearance, to improve public safety, to foster quality experiences and quality of life within its boundaries, and to improve commercial and residential vitality; thereby vastly increasing the quantity of the district’s local, national, and international visitors and full-time residents, as well as to protect and improve the tourism industry and to promote economic development throughout the state.

Please note for this context: to improve commercial and residential vitality and increase the quantity of visitors

In New Orleans, if that doesn’t include sound, I don’t know what does.

Also, just to beat this into the ground, in 2012, FQMD’s Government Committee was instrumental in generating the law that forced outdoor speakers back indoors. Chapman supported that process, which is a clear precedent for the current subject.

I have been going over it all with time-wasting care, and I think “we have seen recently why” must mean the fact that he did not attend. That must be the big price the city paid: no Chapman. Until today.

In fact, the Woolworth program of education and data gathering, with participation of all interested, was more than valid. It was excellent. We all learned a lot about sound science, and saw in person the careful data gathering process employed to get a clear picture of what is happening. We witnessed his serious search for a solution to value all stakeholders.

Chapman complained that VCPORA had not been notified in time about FQMD setting up the education and data collection program with Dave Woolworth, so they, the preservation minded groups, could not participate in defining the methodology. So they quit.

To be thorough, I requested information about the program launch and copies of the announcing emails.

Kim Rosenberg, vice chair of FQMD Government Committee, who set up and facilitated the program, Robert Watters, Chairman of FQMD, and Kristin Palmer, Council member for District C discussed this idea during w/c 2/3. Ms Rosenberg announced to the Government Committee meeting on February 3d that she intended to ask Dave Woolworth to present a program or seminar series, with target start date the 17th. VCPORA’s Government Committee delegate was there. So Chapman, VCPORA and the others all had the information at the same time – possibly even before Dave Woolworth.

There were two weeks between the first announcement and the start date. Do we all remember Chapman’s soundbites about his “recognized expertise” in matters acoustic? I don’t recognize it, but maybe somebody does, so we can’t invalidate the claim completely. Mr Chapman had certainly been working the room on sound politics for well over a year by then. How much time did he need? Two weeks seemed enough for everybody else. I don’t believe there were any complaints from the Mayor’s office, or the Vieux Carré Commission.

FQMD’s voting system normally requires eight for a decision. The board has 13 members, so seven is a simple majority, but they use eight to ensure that representatives of resident and business appointing organizations are on board.

Mr Chapman was on the email list for confirmation of the start date, 17 February. He received that notice at the same time as everyone else, plus or minus an hour (the time it takes to send to the complete mailing list).

What I (and others) are trying to “get” is why he thinks his groups should have had advance knowledge for management input. The two preservationist clubs collaborating on this each have mandated seats on FQMD and the committees. The Mayor only has one. The VCC, the city’s bulletproof FQ preservation police, only has one. I think the private preservationist groups have representation above their actual weight, but the groups themselves do not have management or veto authority over FQMD’s activities. Their representatives are supposed to participate, like the appointed representatives of other groups, not take over, dominate or control. We haven’t heard the Mayor’s office saying that they needed earlier notice than the other members.

Remember that CM Head had said she wanted a good draft on the books in time to be functional for French Quarter Fest. Delay so Chapman, the Dementors and “Hear the Noise” faithful could propose useless options and then have tantrums and claim hostility when rejected was not a realistic option.

Is it possible that their withdrawal was tactical – the plan was to call the process invalid no matter how well it went?

Mr Chapman said that his early meetings with FQMD were “hostile at best, slanderous at worst.” He did not give us details, but we know of two meetings that he might be referring to. One, referenced in the New York Times article, in which he was accompanied by Wilma Heaton, was with Robert Watters and Chris Young. Although Robert Watters is chairman of FQMD, it was not in FQMD session and was not an FQMD meeting. Watters and Young found the Seven Essentials flawed and declined to support the program. Is this hostility? Did they publish something slanderous? I don’t think so.

On another occasion, Chapman presented the Seven Essentials to FQMD Government Committee. They also thought the manifesto was flawed and would not adopt or support it. Is that hostility? Did Government Committee publish a personal attack that we have not seen?

Those meetings took place in 2013. By December, it was clear that Seven Essentials was not getting into law the straight way, and they took up the sausage grinder game. And then disagreement did start to morph into hostility. But that was us out here. The riffraff. Not FQMD.

Then Chapman says he has “good news” and waxes imperious. Smiling, expansive, imperious. He can save us.

When Woolworth’s recommendations are in, before drafting a law, if Council brings everybody together in a meeting with Chapman and his sound guy (Arno Bommer?) they can “negotiate” a solution.

What? Am I hearing right? After having his science-free Seven Essentials rejected by the public, by the Bourbon Street businesses, by FQMD and Oxford Acoustics’ analysis, and then getting caught trying to subvert democratic process by sneaking their legislative sausage grinder up City Hall’s backstairs in December, now, after doing none of the hours of learning work that Government Committee and we camp followers have done these past weeks, Chapman wants 50% weighting to bring back his discredited stuff and ruin the statute by fiddling with Woolworth’s numbers? No, no, no. Stop!

We still do not know whether the queasy disconnect between Chapman in public and the rest of the world’s shared reality comes from living in a peculiar mental dimension, or if he just coolly makes stuff up to support whatever he is trying to ban, reduce, limit, squelch or control that day. I like making fun of it, but here in the home stretch – be vigilant. Seven Essentials advocate Heaton is inside the Ramsey camp, while Chapman supported Clarkson. Or seemed to – a few unkind souls suggested Chapman’s support might have cost Jackie the election. But I think she was able to take care of that herself.

Let’s be careful out there. Meg Lousteau did not take the mic Monday. That could be a good sign. I am anything but a fan of her positions, but Meg is the smarter cookie in this barrel. If she is keeping below the parapet, it might be because she can tell a lost cause from a dead horse.

Keep that big brass band ready for another Perdido Parade.

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Tomorrow Morning

Tomorrow morning council’s Housing and Human Needs Committee will turn to the sound ordinance again, this time just for Bourbon Street. The session starts at 10.00 AM. Dave Woolworth will present a report of recent activities and preliminary recommendations.

it is sure to be interesting. Richard Campanella just wrote a whole book about Bourbon Street. If anything can make a decibel really interesting, it must be the non-stop raucous world class party that is Bourbon Street.

We have to watch out for new tries by the Preservationists, who get a bit frenzied by this issue, to oppose reason and science. They might already be in the process of trying to introduce unrealistic bills. They might even have another try at some of the tricks they got up to in December and January. Fortunately, although seeming to border on the criminal, their conspiracies so far have been rather inept, but let’s not be complacent. They have been toughing it out, admitting nothing. Maybe they have learned from their mistakes and will have another go.

David Woolworth’s report is expected to be based on data gathered on the series of “sound walks” in connection with the seminars on sound propagation sponsored by French Quarter Management District’s Government Committee.

We need to look out for push back from the faith-based sound politics of VCPORA/FQC. They withdrew from FQMD last month and declined to participate officially in the process, although some of their members did. The preservationist clubs never explained their withdrawal clearly – not clear enough for me, anyway – leaving room for speculation.

I think there might have been several unmentioned reasons. One could be that they do not want facts to cloud the issue. They know what they want and what they believe. Science, testing and data should not be allowed to interfere with a good belief, right? Another might be to discredit the process, calling it invalid because they did not participate or approve the method. Bogus, of course. They were invited to participate from before the beginning. I suppose they did not get their own way at the very beginning, so decided to undermine the process right from the stage of data gathering.

There is strong reason to suspect that the powers behind the current incarnation of the preservationists do not really want a workable, realistic sound ordinance. They did not expect their proposal to work. They expected it to expand their control, to extend their tentacles deeper into the entertainment industry. Bourbon Street is serious business. The club owners will not allow themselves to be disabled by a group of cranks, no matter how well organized, even if supported and funded by a predatory lawyer. If decibel limits are set very low, the bars will have to violate them.

That will enable VCPORA/FQC/SmithStag to bring more private suits against more bars and restaurants, launching a paintball fight of depositions, subpoenas, interrogatories, trials – a lawyers’ playground. A very expensive playground.

Meg Lousteau said as much, at least once. From a reliable, confidential source. January 26th 2013, at a meeting of VCPORA with one of the acoustics experts, the consultant said that the decibel limits VCPORA wanted were unrealistically low. Meg is reported to have said, I don’t care. They will never cooperate anyway. Just set the limits low, so I can sue them whenever I want to.

If you can, come. Help New Orleans keep the culture warriors away from real life.

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Pitchfork Pieces 3

 

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Look! Nathan is back! And about the Noise Ordinance, the scene of the crime! What a fun present after the cold wet Mardi Gras.

Let’s recognize his resurfacing by having the pop-up clown out to take a bow:

Clown

“I just think it’s funny in the state of ‘Duck Dynasty’ and Bobby Jindal that we’re having meetings in a strip club, with the pole over there.”

Chapman quoted in New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/us/fighting-noise-new-orleans-focuses-on-bourbon-street.html?hp&_r=1

You see why reporters track Nathan for soundbites? You can always count on him for a bit of burlesque. Unlike Nolascape, the Times-Picayune and NYT are careful about editorializing in news articles, and probably don’t want to risk losing access to such a rich source of inadvertent comedy, so they just print what he says, leaving us to spot the laugh lines ourselves. That way, the source keeps thinking he is clever and important and the reporters keep the free giggles coming.

Did he mean that a dance pole did not rise to the level of dignity of Duck Dynasty and Jindal? Does Nathan think Duck Dynasty is real? Is Nathan as real as Duck Dynasty? Are we to expect Phil Robertson to ride in to rescue New Orleans from . . . what? Does Nathan expect us to think that Rick’s Cabaret is less dignified than Jindal? Duck Dynasty and Jindal as positive references in New Orleans – you couldn’t make it up.

Some background: Nathan and Wilma Heaton met Robert Watters and Chris Young in a coffee shop to pitch the “7 Essentials.” After a while they took the meeting across the street to the conference room of Rick’s, which was closed. Well, Nathan saw a dance pole, and Robert is chairman of French Quarter Management District, a state sponsored organization. It was not an FQMD meeting, but maybe he got a bit flustered and free-associated into Jindal and Duck Dynasty.

Don’t forget who Wilma Heaton is. The Mata Hari sans tradecraft, busted by Richard Webster of the Times-Picayune when he exposed the conspiracy to pervert the course of Life, the Universe and Everything involving a preservationist “7 Essentials” and some council folk. Ms Heaton instructed Arno Bommer to change to Jon Harris’s and others’ private emails so they could plot in secret, thereby exposing all of them to having their private emails subpoenaed for trying to conduct city business out of oversight. Ms Heaton is still a director of the French Market Corporation – nobody resigns for getting caught any more – said to have been proposed by and working in some way on behalf of Stuart Smith.

Needless to say, Robert Watters and Chris Young did not buy into the “7 Essentials,” an awful plan that they managed to sell to people with no understanding of the science of sound or sense of balance.

Should we encourage Nathan Chapman, as he tries to crawl out from under the wreckage of the sneaky legislative plot his clumsy compagnons de guerre tried to pull off in December and January, and re-launch his career as a soundbite engineer? Not much given to shame, are they, these amateur conspirators? If there were a charge of perverting the course of democratic process as there is for the course of justice, quite a few of the sad cabal, including a few council members, might be facing some judicial proceedings right now. The Dementor on their team did cross the lines, and is possibly looking at some charges for intimidation. You might think public apologies were in order, and maybe laying low for a year or so. But nope, they are popping right back up.

Although it was not a French Quarter Management District meeting, Chapman’s references relate to the state mandated organization intended to join businesses and residents to help the Quarter’s post-Katrina resurgence. VCPORA and FQC were each given a seat on the board – generous, in the opinion of many, for “preservationist” organizations of relatively small numbers (which they decline to reveal – might well be no more than a couple of hundred between them). Last month, they pulled out, or “suspended” participation in FQMD. The reasons were never satisfactorily clarified, leaving me room to speculate: they dislike not getting their own way on every issue and point. They are not used to it, and they see FQMD as a rival, diluting their authority. They think they have authority.

They will probably deny this, but let’s quote from a VCPORA member or sympathizer signing comments in the New York Times as “Nola4Life”:

The French Quarter Management District was formed in the Legislature after Katrina while most were still cleaning out the mud, comprised of mostly hotel mgrs and the politically anointed. It was a sneaky way to try and take over the governing of the Quarter – taking it away from the very active citizens. Chopping the city into little fifedoms [sic].it took awhile to even realize what had happened.

So poor old VCPORA/FQC is the plottee, not the plotter.

ELECTION
And then yesterday, Mr Chapman popped up again, with a political recommendation! Well, that should cost his candidate a few votes.

Let’s have another pitchfork first.

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“I can’t think of a more serious “political e-Mail” that I have ever written,” says Chapman. (What are the quotation marks for?)

“While Jackie Clarkson may or may not be your very favorite elected official . . . “.   Well, that’s a good start, isn’t it?   “. . . you know she’s hard working and honest.” Do I? No, I don’t think I know that Jackie Clarkson is more honest than Nadine Ramsey. Do you? I know she is usually not less honest than Nathan Chapman’s team has been about their noise ordinance escapade in December and January, but that ain’t sayin’ much.

There are very powerful people behind Ramsey, trying to get access to that powerful District C seat, says Chapman.

So is C going to be a less powerful seat if Clarkson wins? Chapman is not really being clear. Talking about powerful people, Mayor Mitch is pushing Clarkson into C.

“You can look up yourself how Bourbon Street bar money has POURED into the Nadine a Ramsey campaign.” Yes, and you can see what money has POURED into Clarkson’s, too. http://ethics.la.gov/default.aspx, and just search electronic filers for the one you want.

Are we supposed to think that Ramsey’s contributions come from powerful people, but Clarkson’s from all the widows and orphans? Up to the February election, Clarkson’s contributions were $227,355. Ramsey’s were $170,496. So Clarkson had 33.35% more campaign funding than Ramsey. The contributors look like a lot of oil and gas to me, but I’m not sure. And Tom Benson.

Nathan does not mention that a good bit of Nadine Ramsey’s support comes from the Bourbon Street area, but not bars. Retailers. The reason is simple: Jackie Clarkson and Kristin Palmer consistently side with preservationists, and give a lot of retailers a hard time. Many of them are immigrants who tend to keep quiet and work hard on their businesses, but they are justifiably fed up of being treated as second class citizens.

“There is a LOT of terrible race-bating [sic] going on,” says Chapman. Well, I guess there could be, but that would be a different motivation than Bourbon Street bar money. Have you noticed many African-American Bourbon Street bar owners lately? People say Ramsey’s base is the African-Americans of Algiers; maybe they have a reason for a race-based view.

What I hear is that Nadine Ramsey may not be very clear on her positions, but people are well fed up of Clarkson moving from seat to seat for over 40 years, trying to outfox the term limit rules, passing the ball back and forth among a few women as if they own the legislative branch, and they are concerned about Clarkson being Landrieu’s spy hole and cat’s paw in council. They want to see some independence, not just the usual suspects signing off on each other’s projects, so the others will do the same next time she cranks the sausage grinder.

And Nathan signs off with a preservationist pet terror: Habana Outpost. “. . sign-waving today at 4-6 PM at Esplanade and North Rampart (where Jackie hung tough against Habana Outpost developers’ bad-for-French Quarter proposal.)” Actually, most people thought Sean Meenan’s proposal was pretty good, including the Vieux Carré Commission. It looked a lot more fun than the vacant gas station that has been crumbling there for 25 years.

Habana Outpost was initially approved. Then His Dementorship, the Preservationists’ Predator, turned against it hard, bullied a U-turn out of some – let’s say one – of the CMs, and the restaurant owner (not a developer – a restaurant operator) put the proposal on ice for a while. He hasn’t sold the land, as far as I know, and if the voters do finally get Clarkson out of the way, we might get it yet. Habana Outpost will be a lot more fun for most people than Jackie Clarkson has been.

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Retailer’s Riposte, Attachment 2

In Defense of Tourism, T-Shirts, and Tolerance

(The moral, legal, and economic case against the City’s current treatment of souvenir merchants, as shared by Sadiq Khan, a local businessman and French Quarter shopkeeper since 1983)

RE: Docket NumberS: BZA 017-14; BZA 022-14; BZA 021-14; BZA 018-14

The principles of tolerance and collaboration are essential to New Orleans and represent the fundamental values that have allowed our community to overcome recessions, social tensions, and Hurricane Katrina. Sadly, some vocal residents in the French Quarter seek to impose their narrow vision of the city and have lashed out at visibly vulnerable groups that incidentally market T-shirts, gifts, and souvenirs in their shops. Now city officials are suddenly pressuring some businesses to remove all souvenirs from their stores, penalizing the same shopkeepers for the smallest of infractions, and threatening more punishment. Sharing the cultural capital of the French Quarter through commerce, creativity, and economic diversity is a proud tradition of New Orleans; the persecution of all shops that sell T-shirts, souvenirs, and gifts is misguided and utterly contrary to the French Quarter’s inclusive heritage.

The T-shirt, souvenir, and gift shops of the French Quarter are not only part of the city’s fragile tax base—they also offer personal pathways for various tourists and locals to remember their experiences, share their memories, discover unique and affordable items, promote the city, and tap into the rich cultural tapestry of New Orleans. Hats, masks, and souvenirs make strolls along the Quarter more colorful. The humorous gadgets sold by various stores add to the evening’s fun. Shopkeepers and their associates scrub the sidewalks after all of the parties in the morning; they welcome guests warmly and make sure those that wander into their stores to take a picture or find a gift know how to return home or to their hotel.

Our businesses balance the beer joints, daiquiri outlets and nude bars with family-owned and family-friendly establishments. We offer gifts that can be shared at home to memorialize and promote the allure of New Orleans—tokens for family members and friends that could not make it—and we offer this service at reasonable prices. Our products and stores carry what ordinary customers and families want and are rooted in free enterprise. In 30 years, we have carried these items because they promote the city and help visitors enjoy their experience more. The founding principles in this country and our city are being challenged!

The city’s ability to connect with tourists from a variety of backgrounds has always been based on an environment that is diverse and expressive—not authoritarian and joyless. If tourists, residents, and other stakeholders of the French Quarter eventually seek out higher-end retail, then the environment will evolve democratically and the market will achieve a natural balance. Many high-end retail art galleries, antique shops, and boutiques on Royal Street cater to wealthy tourists. Given the lack of scrutiny placed upon other businesses that arguably pose greater nuisances for their neighbors in the French Quarter, the current intimidation of souvenir shops violates the principles this country and the free marketplace is established on.

The Landrieu Administration and City Council hardly need a reminder about economic inequality, the importance of every demographic, and the dangers of making our local economy too insular or catering to the whims of a privileged few—especially in a city that has struggled with providing equal opportunity to a variety of groups and has witnessed the consequences of misguided policies firsthand. In the French Quarter, very few items can be sold at a profit in sufficient quantities; the residential population decreased from more than 4,100 in 2000 to roughly 3,800 in 2010. Locals have not shown a willingness to buy the quantities and pay the fees sufficient to cover formidable rents in the Quarter and other operating costs.

As the larger customer market for French Quarter merchants, visitors can only carry or transport a limited amount of items at a reasonable rate. Consequently, souvenirs, t-shirts, and small items derived from the famous sites, foods, and wildlife of the region primarily sell. Some of the past, present, and future events hosted by the city reflect this economic reality; by and large, Super Bowl fans (2013), Essence Festival enthusiasts (held every summer), and WrestleMania followers (upcoming in April) do not buy extravagant art or antiques. Ironically, T-shirt, souvenir, and gift shops tend to offer items that appeal to visitors and families from each of these eclectic events. If T-shirt and souvenir shops are displaced entirely, sellers that use mobile kiosks, go-carts, or folding tables are likely to sprout up to meet the natural demand for inexpensive clothes, gifts, and souvenirs. These temporary and roaming merchants will probably lack the proper permits, fail to report or pay sales taxes, and offer little—if any—protections for their customers. They will also be difficult to monitor and regulate.

Tourism and neighborhood preservation are not natural adversaries. The most vibrant urban areas in America consist of neighborhoods that support mixed uses, density, and governance by consensus. A collaborative and solution-oriented approach to addressing the concerns of residents, businesses, and visitors is more preferable and fitting with the city’s tradition of tolerance than the unprecedented attitude of intimidation and suppression currently shown toward all gift shops.

Not every T-shirt operator is engaging in the worst excesses that have understandably earned the ire of some residents in the French Quarter. Many of these businesses are independent family- owned and operated businesses that have survived economic turmoil, social upheaval, and natural disasters. They have provided consistent tax revenue, property maintenance, and employment to a variety of marginalized and immigrant groups without placing too many demands on local resources or the environment. Dialogue between responsible merchants, city officials, and residents would better conserve scarce public resources and allow the police to focus on threats to safety. Collaboration between the city, residents, and businesses would also dispel concerns that the scrutiny placed on souvenir shops—but conspicuously not directed at other types of businesses—is rooted in bias or unfairness.

Respectfully submitted,

Sadiq Khan

Local Businessman, New Orleans Citizen, and French Quarter Stakeholder Since 1983

– – – – – – – – –

PETITION TO THE BOARD OF ZONING ADJUSTMENTS

PETITIONER SADIQ H. KHAN

Dear Board of Zoning Adjustments:

My name is Sadiq H. Khan. I am a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I immigrated to the U.S. in 1973 and earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Southern University, Baton Rouge in 1975.

I worked for Procter and Gamble Company as a mechanical engineer for 9 years. I am married to Farida S. Khan and raised 4 children; I am blessed with 7 grandchildren. Two of my daughters are medical doctors; one son is a local realtor in New Orleans. My youngest son earned Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration (JD/MBA) degrees jointly from the University of Texas at Austin; he declined opportunities in Houston, Atlanta, and New York to return home to New Orleans, help the city, and assist in my business.

I have fulfilled my American dream by educating my children, building a successful business, improving the city that has provided my family so much, and being self-employed in the French Quarter.

For nearly 30 years, I have been operating the following retail locations on Bourbon Street that incidentally sell some T-shirts, gifts, and souvenirs.

1) 222 Bourbon Street (Since 7/16/90 for 23 Years)
2) 434 Bourbon Street (Since 8/3/84 for 29 Years)
3) 526 Bourbon Street (Since 8/2/85 for 28 Years)

During all these years of operating my business and investing in the community, I have never been asked by the City of New Orleans to stop selling t-shirts, gifts, and souvenirs. In fact, on August 25th, 2007, then Mayor C. Ray Nagin bestowed honorary citizenship on me and recognized me for outstanding and dedicated service to the City of New Orleans.
On October 15, 2013, I was asked by Zoning Inspector Devra Goldstein to remove all the t-shirts and souvenirs from the aforementioned locations on Bourbon Street in 10 days.

I would like to submit to the Council as follows.

A. Removing the T-shirts and souvenirs from my shops will destroy my business.

B. It will create a tremendous financial difficulty for me, my family, and our staff. I will not be able to pay my employees, rent, suppliers, and other obligations. This unprecedented warning from the Zoning Administration Division and extreme demand to remove all souvenirs will plunge me into a financial disaster. I have survived Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav, recessions, crime waves, and economic challenges, but my family and I will not survive this restriction.

C. Ordinance No. 13860, sponsored by Council Member Mike Early in 1990, grandfathered in my business and ensured that it met all legal requirements.

D. Over three decades, my family and I have worked hard to achieve our dreams of becoming productive members of the community and we contributed greatly to the City of New Orleans. I have attached the following information and compiled data on how much that our businesses have paid in taxes.

1) Sales Tax Paid to the City of New Orleans for the Last 10 Years

With this petition, I am requesting that the Board of Zoning Adjustments advise the Department of Safety & Permits to refrain from pursuing further actions or harassing our family-owned and family-friendly businesses that have been in operation for nearly 30 years.

Respectfully submitted,

Sadiq Khan

Local Businessman, New Orleans Citizen, and French Quarter Stakeholder Since 1983

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Retailer’s Riposte, attachment 1

BRIEF SUMMARY OF FACTS AND POLICY CONSIDERATIONS TO THE BOARD OF ZONING ADJUSTMENTS BY SADIQ H. KHAN RE: BZA 017-14, BZA 022-14, BZA 021-14

MAY IT PLEASE THE BOARD:
1) Personal views and feelings about the taste, value, or beauty of our legal, non-conforming use have no relevance to the factual question before the board. As an orderly and fair public body, the board should discourage and dismiss comments based on sensationalism, stereotypes, preferences, or artistic disapproval.

2) We have submitted fifty affidavits and letters of support from nearby property owners, businesses, employees, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders attesting to the legal, non-conforming uses at our shops for at least ten years. Can the opposition assemble a similarly diverse array of supporters and stakeholders?

3) Mayor Mitch Landrieu has publicly expressed a goal of attracting 13 million visitors to the city by 2018. To reach 13 million visitors, New Orleans and the French Quarter will need more family-friendly establishments and shops that can offer something for everyone. The variety and nature of goods in our shops help to highlight, promote, and advertise the unique art, music and cultural heritage of the city and the French Quarter. We provide these items at affordable prices. Our products and stores carry what ordinary customers and families want and are rooted in free enterprise. The foot traffic and pedestrian interest that we generate also help to draw the customers needed to support local artisans and their family-friendly ware in the cultural economy.

4) Our businesses are neither affiliated with nor associated with the t-shirt shops that excessively display merchandise on the exterior of buildings or that place mannequins on public rights-of-way. We hope that the opposition does not stereotype, argue for guilt by association, or make generalizations about all t-shirt shops.

5) The opposition may try to portray itself as the representative of residents, but the stakeholders of our businesses can also be considered “residents.” Shopkeepers, merchants, suppliers, employees, customers, and cultural economy workers reside here, work here, buy items here, pay taxes here, and vote here as well! The people who disfavor our establishments do not speak for everyone else, and we should not be demonized.

6) Our shops are located in the heart of the Vieux Carre Entertainment District, and they are surrounded by more intensive land uses and establishments that can present greater nuisances, including strip clubs, bars, beer stands, daiquiri outlets, and nightclubs. I would ask the board to consider how any of the people that are complaining truly live close enough to the 200, 400, and 500 blocks of Bourbon for our businesses to actually affect their residences. What segment of the immediately adjacent population is not complaining, and why are our businesses—which are owned, operated, staffed, supplied, and patronized by diverse constituencies—being targeted? Should the opposition’s tastes and opinions regarding the appropriate kind of retail establishments and businesses be the only one that matters? Our businesses draw a wide variety of clientele as well as vendors.

7) Our legal, non-conforming use is one of the few establishments that provide balance to the Vieux Carre Entertainment District. To get a sense of how unbalanced the area has become, the board should note that the City Council itself has said that “no other neighborhood in the city, state or nation sized at .66 square miles, just 12 blocks wide, contains more than 350 alcohol beverage outlets, and includes adult entertainment establishments and numerous strip clubs.” Due to the proliferation of adult and alcoholic oriented businesses in the French Quarter, a curfew for minors was tightened. The existence of T-shirt shops in the French Quarter has never led to excluding members of our New Orleans community from the historic neighborhood.
8) If existing businesses in the French Quarter are unfairly targeted, what source of funds will replace the sales tax revenue lost by eliminating tourist-oriented businesses? When the assessor last attempted to raise property taxes, he received considerable criticism, lengthy lines, frustration, and a plethora of appeals in response.

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A Retailer’s Riposte

I thought “Preservation Retail” would probably be boring for most people. In fact, there has been a great deal of interest and strong reactions.

One of the most interesting has been from William Khan and the Khan family, who are actually in the T-shirt and souvenir shop business, which has generally been treated with snobbish, unattractive disdain by VCPORA’s hatchet lady Meg Lousteau and her Council cheerleaders. (Maybe they could find some nice pom poms in William’s shop to liven up the committee meetings.)

William Khan’s letter and accompanying documents were extremely interesting and significant, so I asked permission to publish them in Nolascape. Here is the letter. I will put the attachments in following posts and pages.

If you would like to review the HHNC presentation and discussion that started our discussion, click to http://cityofno.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1627&meta_id=217742. The T-shirt shop discussion starts at 1:27:00.

CORRECTION: in Preservation Retail, I speculated that the T-shirt and souvenir retailers might be connected in some way, something like a crypto-franchise that constituted a support group. William Khan assures me that that is incorrect. Each retailer is independent and they compete freely. My apologies to the Khans and all the souvenir, fan and T-shirt retailers. And my congratulations for toughness and survival.

Dear Mr. Freilich:

I read your Preservation Retail article on nolascape.org, and I thought it was balanced, circumspect, and particularly persuasive in that you included historical photographs to make your point about factual precedents for the retail mix (and display layouts) in the French Quarter. Let me give you a personal perspective on the families and staff that live, breathe, and work in some of the T-shirt shops in the French Quarter.

My family (the Khan family) have owned and operated stores that sell gift, novelty, and souvenir items (and T-shirts as well) for nearly 30 years in the French Quarter. Right after I was born, my mother and father moved to New Orleans and started their shops to fulfill their American dream of educating their children, building a successful enterprise, contributing to the city that has provided my family so much, and being self-employed in the French Quarter.

My family business prides itself on offering opportunities to immigrants, newcomers, and often overlooked & diverse segments of the community. We have team members from every continent and a wide variety of cultures, including Africa and Asia. Our shops are one of the first gateways for immigrants and newcomers to New Orleans to become part of the French Quarter economy and cultural community; many of these people go on to establish their own businesses, lead productive lives in New Orleans, and enrich the city (both in terms of culture and tax revenue).

We sell a wide variety of products at affordable prices to allow visitors from every demographic and income group to share their memories and promote the city. The criticism directed at T-shirt shops by VCPORA may reflect an intolerant and extreme desire to push out lower and middle-income tourists and visitors. For example, ordinary Saints fans, Essence Festival enthusiasts (held every summer), and WrestleMania followers (upcoming in April) do not buy extravagant art or antiques. Ironically, T-shirt, souvenir, and gift shops tend to offer items that appeal to visitors and families from each of these eclectic events. We love our customers, our staff, and the memorable items that we sell to provide people with their personal piece of the city’s traditions and share it with others.

My family and I want to pass this legacy onto the next generation. After attending the University of Pennsylvania for my undergraduate studies, I earned Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration (JD/MBA) degrees jointly from the University of Texas at Austin; I declined opportunities in Houston, Atlanta, and New York to return home to New Orleans, help the city, and assist in my family’s business, which has run smoothly until now. VCPORA’s proponents in city government are trying to get some businesses to remove all souvenirs from their stores, penalizing the same shopkeepers for the smallest of infractions, and threatening more punishment. We are concerned that since t-shirt shop owners and staff are some of the more visible and vulnerable members of the French Quarter cultural economy that VCPORA/FQC and their allies in city government will not provide my family and our counterparts with due process.

Other cities are pursuing smart public policies concerning tourism that are based on economics, urban development, and balanced city planning; what concerns me is that in our city’s case, a small & insular interest group (VCPORA/FQC) with absolutely no background in economics, urban public policy, or tourism management is setting the agenda and tinkering with our city’s future and the livelihoods of the cultural economy. Because of this situation, we have cut hours for some of our staff, laid off some associates of our team, and reduced orders from suppliers.

I am attaching two short documents which summarize the legal, economic, and policy arguments in favor of tolerance, tourism, and t-shirts. Of course, these reasonable positions have fallen on deaf ears, especially with VCPORA and FQC; the administrative procedure for recognizing the legal, non-conforming status of our t-shirt shops has dragged on for months (and we think it is because VCPORA/FQC and their allies in city government won’t have it as long as they are in power). However, my family and I are just as much part of the French Quarter community, and we will see this through, just as we persevered for nearly 30 years.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

William Khan
Small Business Owner and Resident in the French Quarter
NOLA Native and JD/MBA Graduate of the University of Texas at Austin

wkhan@utexas.edu

 

The documents referred to will be in separate posts.

 

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Preservation Retail

In honor of Carnival, when society’s rules are supposed to turn upside down, I am going to go gentle on the gentry today. The upside down turned upside down.

It may be boring for some of you. I watched the video of the September 16th HHNC session several times – the one Nola Tourist Economy posted the link to. I think that Meg Lousteau and Kristin Palmer and even Lary Hesdorfer, who seems more grounded, were sincere. They want the French Quarter to look nice, and for many kinds of shopper to enjoy browsing diverse little shops selling a variety of interesting merchandise.

Nolascape’s favorite thing is mocking the pompous, the pious and the self-satisfied, so just to keep our hand in, you might note Meg Lousteau’s usual air of superior knowledge and the almost-smirk of higher moral standing than the hoi polloi, such folk as I, and Kristin Palmer’s presumption of knowledge and authority born of sitting in the high chair. Without doubting their intentions – and for respect of Lundi Gras, maybe it is unintentional – both exhibited considerable innocence of retailing reality.

One reason T-shirt shops proliferate is that this kind of merchandise is very high margin. Most items are probably 300% to 500% gross profit. Branded fashion sportswear is competitive. It looks better on display in bright, modern shops on North Peters or in Canal Place. You are not going to be able to get a 50% higher price in a small, dark shop on Decatur, just because the row of storefronts in the right light would make a nice postcard.

I would want to find out if the T-shirt shops are really separate businesses. All these small shops, selling the same stuff at about the same retail prices – as really independent businesses, would they have the necessary purchasing power? Are they really part of a few networks, or virtual franchises, outlets for a background wholesaler? Do individual owners of small premises like these really have the experience and confidence to lead enforcers and the city around the mulberry bush as Hesdorfer and Munster of Permits and Safety say they do.

Their rule that shopkeepers cannot use the sidewalks or display goods outside has no precedent in history that I am aware of. Shops like Decatur Street were lockups, where you moved all your stuff in at night. Here are a few pictures from the turn of the 20th century, but you can easily find dozens more in Google Images.

image  image image

I have not been able to find any photographs specifically of Decatur shops around a century ago, but it would be surprising to find that shopkeepers in New Orleans eschewed the retailing techniques that were universally used in New York, Paris, London, St Louis and everywhere.

Ms Lousteau’s presentation says that between 1950 and 1999, local service shops declined sharply, and probably much more since. The reasons are more difficult to confirm in detail than the bare statistics. Loss of local shopping mirrors a very broad, economically and socially important trend in American and to a slightly lesser extent international economics: suburbanization. A synergy of cars, eventually SUVs; suburban residential development, not to say sprawl; supermarkets and malls with parking lots; home freezers and new modes of shopping requiring much larger floor space stores than previously, combined with marketing skills and capital allocation resulting in dominance by big brand retail. The result is that small shops such as those on Decatur Street stand in a very different relationship to the current spectrum of retail than they did a century or even fifty years ago.

In 2011, the French Quarter is supposed to have had about 3,800 residents. What kind of local shops can the population support? Can tiny shops like these house a business like La Boulangerie in the Garden District, selling house-made French breads and pastries, as well as coffee and croissants? It would require space for industrial baking, display, food service equipment and tables.

Would French Quarter residents use local service retail, or would most of their shopping spend still go to supermarkets, malls and the internet? If the residents were not reliable sources of revenue, the clientele would be tourists, and that is a different retail tableau.

Will modern shoppers even go into narrow shops with no display windows through a small door, in sufficient quantity to support the kind of businesses the Preservationists and Kristin Palmer want to see embellishing the photogenic potential of Decatur and Bourbon Streets?
Dark entries might survive with specialist services, where the patron knows exactly what he wants and why he is there. He may have come for bicycle repair, or to visit his acupuncturist. For browsing and general shops, such as shoes and fashion, these claustrophobic little premises kept in their historical format would be a gamble. Some might survive, but it would be a high risk investment. Even the outdoor French Market offers a better shopping environment for lower investment and commitment. Business should remain brisk there, unless the director succeeds in his ambition of overloading it with “arts and crafts.”

Some will point out – Meg Lousteau and Kristin Palmer among them, no doubt – that some businesses do survive and thrive there. Of course. The odds are not 100% against retail survival.  But they are against a business of a kind that has not been proved viable in the area, especially of kinds that have failed or moved away before.

The economy of south Louisiana is based on oil and gas, seafood and tourism. Pretending the French Quarter is somehow exempt from that is hardly realistic. In fact, hardly any successful retail business does ignore it, or is about to, even as VCPORA collaborate with City Council to plan a postcard dream world.

VCPORA and Kristin Palmer want the old FQ shop streets to be picturesque and historical, but in the whole segment, I don’t think I heard one positive proposal. “No” is the VCPORA modus operandi, and the council apparently buys into it. The positive input is perhaps supposed to come from unknown individuals unconnected with the FQ resident gentry, who are prepared to invest in the preservationist dream, possibly before having heard of it.

I sympathized with CM Hedge-Morrell’s question: if the law says no, why not just shut ’em down? Are we the Council or what? And Kristin, probably intuiting the unreality of the plan, comes up with Sheriff Meg and the Preservation Posse as the solution to this outlaw shoppery. Problem is, unless somebody, or the city, go very forcefully pro-active, the result of shutting ’em down could be empty shops.

By pro-active, I mean a heavy application of eminent domain, controlled rents, the kind of enforcement of what is sold that a mall operator exercises, and incentives and guarantees in case the selected virtuous use is not profitable.

Mall operators rent to national retail brands. If Gap takes a unit, you know what is going to be in the store. If you rent a small unit to an individual operator to sell elegant teas from around the world or cheeses and saucisson from France or ever so elegant baby clothes (check the reproductive rate of the FQ before encouraging this one), if the city wants the business there for its postcard value, it has to be ready to step in with support if it loses money. If the city is asking individual small entrepreneurs to buy into its picturesque plan, it has to be prepared to underwrite risk, or accept a landscape of empty shops. It would be an injustice to expect a retailer to be on the hook for his rent and overheads, but not be able to sell merchandise customers want to buy at prices that crack the nut.

So what do they do? Keep the buildings as preserved lockups, with restrictions they did not even have when they were local shops 150 years ago?

There are towns that manage the kind of artisan-look shopping zone that I think VCPORA imagines. I can think of small “picturesque” towns in the north, like New Hope, Pennsylvania, and several market towns in England, which specialize in middle class visitors. Some of them are summer stock centers for touring theatre companies. But we have to face a fact: although it is to the great distaste, not to say horror, of the VCPORA tendency, Bourbon Street and chunks of the French Quarter have become, and been sold as, a Honky Tonk. Not only that, one form or another of Honky Tonk has been a great New Orleans tradition for a very long time. From Congo Square to Storyville to the Bourbon Street that Jim Garrison attacked in 1962 to its current incarnation, Honky Tonk plays here. It brings money, now big money. Since Bourbon Street in its current form took off, annual visitors have increased from about five million to somewhere between 9.5 and 11 million. I don’t know what average spend is but let’s say $500. Five million times $500 is $2.5bn. That is a lot of zeroes. It counts. The city has a tourist bureau and sales director, Mark Romig, to ensure it keeps going and growing. Visitors come here for Bourbon Street and Bourbon Street type visitors tend to spend in tacky T-shirt shops more than artisanal cheese shops.

Also, if some entrepreneurs took a risk and opened a butcher shop, a green grocer, or a cheese and charcuteries deli on Decatur, how many of the 3,800 FQ residents would really turn to walking shopping every day for food, like in once-upon-a-time Paris, instead of taking the family battle wagon to Rouse’s or Wholefoods, to find everything at once and trundle it home in a bunch of stylish ecological bags?

I suspect the conditions are unrealistic. Nobody wants a Williamsburg solution, but if the shops have to be tiny, narrow and dark, without display windows, brightness or feeling of space, and all risk on the retailer, what are the possibilities? Entrepreneurs doing what they think they have to in order to make some money, and Council providing the occasional forum for VCPORites to complain in that snippy, righteous way that sets our teeth on edge, as if they were a church not a special interest lobby, with some of the CMs showing a rather snobbish, warm approval of Hoodie dreams of a time that never was.

Unless the city is ready for a positive plan combining substantial investment with a light and graceful touch, the choices may be: structural modification, government support or T-shirts.

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Pitchfork Pieces 2

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“Nola Tourism Economy” sent us the link supposed to show Kristin Palmer proposing to set Meg Lousteau up as Sheriff Meg. You can see it in the Comments to the first Pitchfork Pieces. The CM’s comment was tongue in cheek, signaled by a wink and a nod. She was making the point that Mlle. Lousteau and the VCPORA Irregulars are more assiduous in winkling out violators of the FQ’s veneer of gentility than the VCC. In the case in the video, the candidate for Sheriff of the Quarter had discovered that a certain store was selling Saints football stuff instead of Polo by Ralph Lauren, thereby lowering the tone of the Vieux Carré if not the very honor of the Southern Gentleman. No wonder their legal Rottweiler resorts to intimidation. Style counts, right?

The whole section about the shops does have some points of interest. Next chapter.

Still, Kristin Palmer never really replied to my question. I wonder whether she remembered that The Lord Dementor’s instructions included, “I expect you to stop these people who are attacking me personally . . . .” Did she miss a chance?

But don’t despair, Nola Tourism. (Why do people do that? At least Kristin uses her real name.) she may be off the hook on this one, but we’ll find other hooks. The ducking and diving, lies and secrets this little sound ordinance has stirred up should provide material to embarrass and annoy ant dirty pool players still standing for some time yet.

Sausage Grinder Malfunction
Sometimes the Sausage Grinder suddenly jerks into reverse. With a crunch of grinding gears, it becomes a Rumor Mill. Stuff just starts to tumble out of the top instead of glooping out of the front.

On the track of the mysterious Wilma Heaton, we hear (“reliable sources”) that she came to the French Market Corporation with strong “recommendation” from Mr Stuart Smith, who shall go nameless hereafter due to risk of lethal texting. Now, the French Market Corp. manages not only the Market itself but other properties including the prestigious Upper Pontalba apartments on Jackson Square, which are fully occupied and have a long waiting list of applicants. Shortly after Ms Heaton was introduced to her FMC colleagues, we hear that she took the then director, Frank Pizzolato, aside, and passed on instructions: which level Stuart Smith would like an apartment on, how many balconies it should have, and other key information it would be wise for any director who wants to survive in his post to take seriously.

Mr Pizzolato said, If Stuart wants a Pontalba flat, fine. Just put his name on the list.

“I don’t think you understand,” says Wilma. “Stuart doesn’t wait. He wants it now.”

“Sorry,” says Mr Pizzolato. “Can’t do that. There is a procedure. People have been waiting years.”

(This dialogue is a re-enactment. We have not been able to locate a recording.)

Soon after, whaddayaknow, Pizzolato is out, a new guy called Jon Smith is in, irritating the stall holders by all reports, and Frank is suing the FMC for unfair or constructive dismissal, or something like it.

So that gives us some background to Ms. Wilma’s wonderful instruction to Arno Bommer, Smith’s expert witness for matters acoustic, linking Jonathan Harris, head honcho of Stacy Head’s command centre, in a sub-rosa behind-the-arras communications network on behalf of His Intimidating Dementorship. Let’s refresh on that:

“Heaton then instructed Bommer to coordinate directly with Harris and herself using their private email accounts.

“Again, very sensitive time and lots of misinformation out there,” Heaton wrote. “I want you to be a resource for CM Head’s assistance because of your extremely superior qualifications on the subject. We are out of time for 3rd party translation. Enemies are using false issues and fear to try to defeat the sound ordinance.””

“Attorney Stuart Smith Calls on City to Fire Sound Expert”, Richard Webster, nola.com, 2/11/14

So the scenario seems to be, Wilma Heaton (who is she, anyway?) nominally a director of FMC, clearly works for or is associated with Smith in some skullduggerous capacity, and Jonathan Harris is in the chain of command somehow, so seems to be channeling Smithness into Stacy’s office.

“Enemies are using false issues and fear . . . ” suggests that at least some of this lot have come off the rails. (Eggelhofer’s equipment should be able to give us their undoubtedly elevated dX levels.) Fear is probably a fairly rational starting point when dealing with people with this tightly wound mind-set who have titles like Director of the FMC and Chief of Staff; they may have access to levers and pulleys that can f**k with your life. (It’s okay to say that when you use asterisks instead of letters.) It is probably just a lot of petty BS from people feeling important through involvement in small plots and fancied association with the rich and powerful. Not the kind of thing we need infecting city government, is it?

A well-known New Orleans attorney (a proper one, not a sub-Dementor) told me that Wilma’s email to Bommer is sufficient evidence that these folks have used personal emails to conduct city business with intent to conceal it from public view that they can be compelled to render up their personal email accounts, and deleting anything can be a criminal offense.

New Orleans needs a conspiracy teacher. So many of our civic worthies going to prison, and not yet indicted mental wizards are still writing potentially criminal emails to .gov addresses. Really, it’s embarrassing. How can we hold our heads high in Chicago and Dade County with our best and brightest as knack-handed as this?

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