The Sunday not-so-Funnies

Anyone for Puccini?
Thursday’s council session, this council’s last, was the stuff of a three-act opera in reverse. Flowers, bows and farewells were first, conflict and confusion ruled the end. Working title: Kristin’s Last Stand, or Eclipse in the Afternoon.

One of the motifs will come from Hannah Kreiger-Benson’s comment: “They are either terribly misinformed or wildly misleading, neither of which is acceptable in a group which insists it should participate in crafting policy or law.” Short form: “Misinformed or misleading / That is the question.” Fortinbras will remind us of it, as near the end of the third act, he snaps his fingers for the cleaning crew to enter stage left to clear away the bodies and mule droppings.  Nathan Chapman could play Scarpia, who rarely appears in plays with Fortinbras, but we’ll make it work.

While the orchestra is rehearsing the first performance (Jax Square at midnight) here are some issues to enjoy. Try to pay attention – there may be a test.

The Unconstitutionality Zone
Have you seen the Hoodie propaganda about VCE v. citywide? They filled the council chamber with this non-issue Thursday afternoon. According to them, the ordinance amendment sprung a citywide application on them too fast, and they were having palpitations. The problem was, the curfew provision in the existing ordinance as written in 1954 is vulnerable to a constitutionality challenge, so the administration wants it removed. They inserted a line in the main amendment under consideration to do so.

The concept of constitutionality seemed to be a real brain-teaser. Not only the usual myopic neo-preservationists, but the about-to-be-ex Great and Good, Jackie Clarkson (who brought us the House of Blues, don’t forget) and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. LaToya Cantrell forcefully joined the exes in a possible foreshadowing of things to come. For CHM, constitutionality seemed to be just one of the things she either could not or was unwilling to understand at her last council meeting. Incomprehension, real or feigned, included zoning districts, which seems a bit lame, after she had spent a morning adjudicating planning appeals.

I suspect Ms Hedge-Morrell was being theatrical. Possibly auditioning for a role in the opera. I think it was in the Reagan era when somebody said, it is very hard to get somebody to understand something when his preferred outcome depends on not understanding it. Still, the better farewell would have been to pass the bill. I had begun to like her when she told us she might return to training Thoroughbreds, but the old scorpion-and-frog nature triumphed.

Most of the Hoodie types and the logic-challenged fellow travelers wanted the curfew to be unconstitutional on Bourbon Street, but not on their street.

So what was going on up on the Council bench? After their years as legislators, are they really baffled by the idea of unconstitutional? Are we looking at misinformed or misleading?

Through its three PR fronts, Krewe of Brylskispin, VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens, SmithStag has presented a little catwalk show of nay-sayers to sensible sound policy for New Orleans. I don’t think they are determining the outcome, though; more the distraction while more tangible strings are being pulled to move the puppets around the Punch and Judy show.

They lay out two overlapping parts to the illusion: curfew and “citywide.” “Citywide” has to be in quotes because the way they used it was so distorted as to be meaningless.

While VCPORANs and their Council allies were hand-wringing histrionically about extension of application outside of VCE, several grownups from the administration tried to explain to them the significance of the word “unconstitutional” and the difficulty of justifying one constitution for Bourbon Street and another one for their house. But it didn’t work.

Council’s plan in January was to start with VCE, which is six blocks of Bourbon Street, and when that was done and dusted, deploy the methodology and newly minted sound office into other areas. Good plan. Dave Woolworth and FQMD stuck to it as closely as possible. The items that VCPORA & Friends did not like were not products of the sound analysis process. They were inserted by the City Attorney for technical reasons.

One of their tricks was possibly even more surreal than the constitutionality snag. A line inserted in the amendment for some obscure reason added a line to an existing Table 1, specifying VCE-1 to remain among all the other non-Bourbon VCEs, under the existing rules. VCE-1 is not VCE. They got that right. It is about half a mile away from the center of VCE. The line seems superfluous, but if it has a meaning, it is to make explicit that VCE-1 is not included in VCE, therefore the scope is not expanding. Whatever the significance to the drafter, the line changes nothing at all. How they could associate that no-change line for one small patch with a claim that it expanded the brief to “citywide” comes back to misinformed or misleading, unattractive in a legislative setting. For this one, I’ll call misleading. It is really too simple to misunderstand.

Curfew seemed to signify two things, uncertainly related: strange, funny looking people might bang drums and blow tubas outside our windows all night; and deleting it has citywide effect, not just VCE.

The illogic is so perfect, it is hard to find an entry point. The reason for deleting the flawed text has nothing to do with VCE per se, or any other area. The city attorney’s office says the curfew as written cannot survive a constitutionality challenge, so the text should be deleted, to reduce risk of the whole ordinance including the current amendment being overthrown and the city incurring costs for legal defense and possibly damages for a bit of text they don’t care about. The neat way to do that is stick the deletion in an amendment to the bill.

The voices of unreason, with proud flag-bearer Clarkson at the mic, say, that would have a citywide impact. Yes, say the City Attorneys, Eric Granderson of the administration and CM James Gray, that comes with the meaning of unconstitutional, the kind of word it is. If it is unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional everywhere. An unconstitutional thing no longer has a location. It is dead and gone. Trying to make it simple for them, Granderson said, you can’t have a thing be unconstitutional on Bourbon but okay on St Charles. It doesn’t work like that.

I am cynically thinking, had the bill passed with the unconstitutional curfew language, would VCPORA now be suing to bring it down on that account?

Neighborhood association types said they need time to discuss this and were not prepared. But unconstitutionality is not subject to hand-wringing. Text does not get less unconstitutional because a group of civic-minded respectable folk sit around a table trying to get comfortable with a notion they inexplicably found difficult. Not to mention (although some people including CM Susan Guidry did) that nothing prevented them from doing that even with the unsound language removed from the ordinance. It is a legal issue that needed addressing by specialists, not neighborhood do-gooders. That is why we have a city attorney’s office.

Anyway, to me it sounded like whining about it. It can’t really be unconstitutional because that isn’t what I want! Stamp your foot. What happens to people’s minds in these clubs, such that they think everything is subject to their ratification, even if they do not have the logical toolkit to work it out? And the city accepts it.

In CM Palmer’s exposition, supported by the City Attorney, the curfew provision is unconstitutional because it specifies musical instruments. The Supremes have decreed that music is free speech, like speech, so if you are allowed to talk, you are allowed to play an instrument. And speech is allowed amplification, so you can’t say a guitar isn’t. So you have to find language that covers all sound and works out a fair use of shared space.

Clarkson, Bringer of the House of Blues, you may remember, invented a new amendment to the amendment to replace the current curfew text, and temporarily hooked poor Susan Guidry into co-sponsoring it. The text was messy and they were fiddling with it on the fly. The final language was really quite funny. It said after 10.00 PM, no sound emitting devices. Does that include the human mouth and lungs? Rosalyn the Queen of Royal Street tested this during Comments by singing unamplified at high volume. Was she a device or a person? Miz Jackie didn’t seem to get it. In the language of her amendment, it would have been illegal to listen to an iPod with earphones. When this was politely pointed out by the attorneys, Council President Clarkson replied, “Now you are being ridiculous! We know what we meant!” CM Gray pointed out that when writing law that restricts people’s freedom, especially law that might be superfluous anyway, that is not good enough. The law has to say what you mean. I think Mr Gray may be the next Nolascape Hero, after Kristin Palmer. Jackie’s expression said she found that notion an unreasonable burden on legislators. As discussion went on, Ms Guidry realized what she had fallen into and found a way to back out.

Robert Watters pointed out that a curfew that prevents an adult person from playing a song on an instrument when not bothering anybody and causing no disturbance would be an unjustifiable infringement of individual liberty, about as unconstitutional as you can get. Example: fiddling with a kazoo on the bus bench at Esplanade and Claiborne at midnight next to a closed gas station, bothering no one, would be subject to a $500 fine.

In a rather dazzling show of political sleight of hand, Clarkson turned failure or refusal to grasp the “citywide” fallacy into an act of nobility: it would be a betrayal of the city’s trust to vote for a bill that removed unconstitutionality in New Orleans law, because unconstitutionality flows outside the borders of VCE. Wry smiles on the Council bench and in the chamber, as the pros unconsciously signaled appreciation of the trick. It would not do to let people think that constitutionality might be bigger than the House of Blues.

So they retained the tainted wording, and now a lawsuit is likely to be launched against the city within a week. Noble work, Ms C. If we are lucky, Sharonda Williams will concede the case, the risky text will be out by adjudication, and unconstitutional v. locality can go back to being a category error instead of a fake legislative issue. Then this specious argument would not be available in the next round. Alternatively, the city can decide to defend the action, at considerable cost for outside council because Ms Williams has already acknowledged the plaintiff’s case. And they would still lose.

Men of Letters
I wonder if this bugs anyone else or am I alone? Let me know. Every time Smith introduces one of his krewe of kranks, you get a bunch of letters after the name chucked at you. Arline Bronzaft, Arno Bommer, Anthony Tung – before content, letters. Isn’t that just boring? Why would uni degrees validate Tung’s history-free, preservationist-bubble ideas?

Their opponents have plenty of academic letters. Dave Woolworth has a long list of degrees. Ashley Keaton has some lovely letters. Robert Watters has a decent inventory of degrees. Bob Simms must; he is a rocket scientist, but has better manners. You would need an extra page to list the academic qualifications of the Khan family, whose businesses the Vieux Carré Piranha fish and OCD Association is now attacking. For each of these, you can find a hundred others who think more clearly and see farther than Smith’s cranks, but got bored of academics a couple of years earlier, or never liked it much. Free advice to the enemy: it’s a turnoff.

The History Validation
History can inform or be turned into a trick. Speaking on the unconstitutionality of the curfew, Ashlye Keaton said the legal history began in 1808 as regulation of Congo Square. That is rhetorically significant because it links adult curfew to slavery and discrimination. (Kristin Palmer reminded us that CM Clarkson was not on the Council yet at that time, so can deny responsibility.) As the law evolves into present day, the flaw still has to be identified as currently relevant. The current rule is not invalid only because it’s ancestry traces back to 1808.

Carol Allen used history differently. She said that 76 years ago, her predecessor the first president stood before council to protect the FQ from businesses and people who wanted to tear it down. That effort had actually started several decades earlier, but at its incorporation in 1938, VCPOA, as it was known then, when ownership was distinguished from residency, a significant difference at the time, did become a forceful leader in the preservation struggle, among other things. Some of their policies looked like a mixture of moral militancy and forced gentrification bordering on ethnic cleansing to reconstruct the Quarter as it never really was, but okay, we’re here. We are not going to be able to repatriate people from Gentilly to Dauphine Street to re-open the pleasant little brothel her great-granny ran there in the 20’s, or seek out descendants of the guy who ran a floating crap game on upper Royal when Grover Cleveland was elected, to reclaim grandfathered rights of non-conforming legal use.

But Carol seemed to use that history to justify a current activity or statement without addressing the current point. Meg Lousteau did the same thing a couple of months ago. I don’t get that. I can’t justify arguments in favor of the Woolworth report by saying I won the spelling bee in the third grade or my uncle was a horse thief in Odessa. I need to provide applicable reasoning. Carol said that history makes her proud to fight for what she believes in, which is fine, but it doesn’t validate the argument at hand. Remember misinformed or misleading? The five points VCPORA was pushing Thursday had been argued inaccurate here on the 22d, using not a law degree but logic, and definitively by Sharonda Williams the next day. Proven wrong and now known to be wrong, they were still VCPORA’s weapons of choice on the 24th. Is that okay just because you believe your objective has merit, and you can point to accomplishments 76 years ago generally agreed to have merit? To honorably participate in lawcraft, you have to pass the Hannah test: neither being yourself misinformed nor intentionally misleading. Do your homework and be honest. On this criteria, VCPORA may have survived a skirmish Thursday, but no honor in it.

Before we bow out, this,is not easy to say, but I have to: Nathan Chapman’s input Thursday was very skillfully spoken, well constructed and no more logically incorrect than the rest of them working the “citywide” fallacy. I was impressed. And he brought a priceless new gem to the discussion: the former head of the Health Department said the Woolworth Report helped the Devil. A superb and illuminating addition to the process.

Then – last and I am going to get out of here – Kristin Palmer, Nolascape heroine of the week, said this process had led to vilification of the neighborhood associations, and that is abhorrent.

Is it? Nolascape may be the arch-vilifier, but we never post anything here, never, that we know is inaccurate. Polite, gentle? No. No currying favor or access. But no lies. And if we find out something was wrong, we retract and apologize, every time, no exceptions. So now that the City Attorney contradicted all of VCPORA’s five inaccurate scare-fostering points, where is the retraction? Where is the apology? All that brave history, but they just can’t do it.

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The Dementor Tax on Entertainment

While little eddies of scandal were swirling around who gets control of the Ho’ Zone special tax on hospitality businesses last year, much of it stirred up by the Smith+Protectionist wingnut faction that burdens the life of New Orleans, we missed a special entertainment tax that slipped in under the radar. We could call it the Music Tax. Or in honor of its creator, the Smith Tax.

It’s the special extra cost of doing business in a city with a parasitic law firm that likes to bug entertainment businesses. They don’t seem to win that many of their cases, although I am not sure of that. It doesn’t matter enough to do the research. The heavy burden is the defendant’s legal fees.

Here it can be hard to get hard information. The defendants don’t like to be specific, but realistic gossip floats around. We hear one victim of Hoodie assault racked up over $600,000 of legal fees so far, defending itself against SmithStag parasitic activity. We have heard of another music bar in for $120,000 so far. These are only two out of the 15 or so cases S. Smith, Esq. or his companies brought, using FQC as plaintiff, without, say ex-officers, informing them of their involvement.

So add up the toll of the last few years, and we are talking about millions of dollars of selectively applied cost burden imposed on music and entertainment venues by pious “preservationist” bloodsuckers.

Now factor this in: right now, Wednesday, April 23, months after VCPORA was caught fiddling around with legislative process and their lawyer/owner threatening and attempting to intimidate city elected and state appointed officials, these same people, stil posing as respectable, important citizens, are up to all sorts of stuff to ruin the Sound Ordinance Amendment so many worked so hard for so long to accomplish, on behalf of and for the benefit of the real people of this city.

Apathy gets you more of it. Maybe a lifetime of it. What stops it is: Step up. Go to council. Tell every Councilmember they will get no elected job in this city ever again if they play ball with the people trying to sell you down the river. Tell them now.

Stop respecting people because they have an elective job or a ton of money. If you are getting screwed, bring them down

Right now, keep an eye open. Remember Ray Nagin. If we see a dime of Smith money moving to an elected or appointed city official, from the individuals, the clubs, the firm or Brylski, somebody is going away.

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Curfew Constitutionality

This article is reprinted with permission of Ashlye Keaton, New Orleans based entertainment attorney and musicians’ advocate, Adjunct Asst. Professor of Law at Tulane, who has worked for years on city sound and music issues.

Going on five years now, the noise ordinance has been an issue that we have been working to resolve. The stimulus for establishing the first working group meeting on July 10, 2010, was the TBC brass band being cited for playing music after 8pm. The response was indeed the establishment of the working group to determine how we could strengthen enforcement of the ordinance and then lift the curfew.

During this process, parties from each perceived “side,” in addition to public officials and staff, have acknowledged that the curfew on musical instruments is unconstitutional. In fact, it arises from a law first established in 1808, which prohibited slaves from playing horns and drums at any place and time other than mayoral designated areas on Sundays, and that’s how Congo Square became a meeting place for musical activity. Over the past 200 years, there have been attempts to overrule this law, including our country’s Civil War. Additionally, civic leaders have moved to remove this discriminatory law and practice over time. Unfortunately, to date, in its current form, first introduced in 1956, this discriminatory law and practice still remains, and the same kind of people are fighting to keep it in place, using the same language, red herring arguments and other tactics that have been employed by the elite for centuries, all in an attempt to stay in power and prevent equal application of civil liberties.

Since the first working group met in 2010, I have encountered less than a handful of individuals who have stated that this law might not be unconstitutional. Those people are driving the VCPORA. Significantly, those same people acknowledge the unconstitutionality of the curfew to the extent that I am prepared to seek declaratory relief against it, because they fear a federal judge will strike the entire ordinance for being unconstitutional, and they are correct.

I have participated in countless meetings and conversations about this ordinance on behalf of the cultural community. In good faith, I have agreed and have proven over time to contribute measures that would strengthen enforcement of the ordinance so that the VCPORA and others would feel comfortable in your repealing a curfew, which the Council does not need their permission to strike.

Just three weeks ago, I met again with leaders of the VCPORA, all who understood that I could and would not endorse their recommendations without them endorsing the curfew lift. Their only concern seemed to be that I was asking for too much and that the city council would not know how to address all our collective concerns together. They were wrong, as the current proposed ordinance does indeed address concerns germane to the cultural community, neighbors and club owners.

By lifting the curfew, the City will ensure that our authenticity is considered and supporting measures that prevent its dilution and export to other geographical areas, where musicians are better compensated. Lifting the curfew sends a signal to our youth that we are committed to ensuring they have a place to carry on the traditions and legacies established by generations before them.

As a homeowner and tax payer in the Lower Garden District, I am paying for the administration of this city wide program, and I support it, but only if it addresses our collective concerns. I do not support funding a city-wide agency exclusively for select residents, backed by a bully-lawyer, who I understand to be facing criminal charges in connection with blackmailing at least one public official, and who seems to enjoy rainmaking lucrative lawsuits while sending individuals to our underfunded prison in connection with alleged sound violations.

The curfew on music is the single cause that generated the response and participation in this conversation of the cultural community. Voting against the proposed ordinance would serve to eliminate all recourse sought by the cultural community and would send a message that their inclusion has amounted to nothing more than theatre guised as justice.

Let’s petition Council to use this carefully considered ordinance as a tool to prove to the cultural community that they support it. Let’s ask them to vote in favor of the ordinance tomorrow. Beyond being the appropriate legal action, it’s the right thing to do.

(c) Ashlye Keaton, 23 April 2014

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Bob Simms’ comment

Bob Simms put this in as a comment on last post, but I am taking a liberty to escalate it to a post, because of its sound thinking and because Bob is a man deserving of respect, who brought the HHNC session to a wise finale yesterday.

Really great recap of what actually happened. I hope that Richard Rainey, the Times – Pic guy, who reported on this meeting but, based on what he wrote must have been asleep some of the time, reads it.

As a FQ resident I find it difficult, maybe impossible, to figure out what Nathan and VCPORA are trying to achieve. On Monday they were more concerned with protecting the people who work in the clubs than the few members they have who actually live close to Bourbon Street.  I thought they wanted to reduce the sound coming from Bourbon Street yet they totally withdrew themselves from the process of figuring out the problem and potential solutions.   I suspect that when we get the new values in place and the clubs comply they will claim it was all their doing.

They want to leave in place a requirement that you can be arrested and thrown in jail for playing a musical instrument on the street when everyone else wants to de-crimalize the ordinance. They want to leave in place a street music curfew requirement that is unconstitutional while the rest of us accept it needs to go but are working to put some protections in place that limit the sound levels at certain times of day.

For the last year, Nathan has told everyone that he was leading a city wide group of residents who want to solve sound issues throughout the City – now he wants to limit it to Bourbon Street and remove any City wide implementation actions.

Years ago, a prominent FQ figure stated if VCPORA says “Yes” you should say “No” – take the opposite position to VCPORA and you will be making the right decision for the FQ.  At the time I thought that was a little harsh but for the last few years I’ve been keeping a scorecard  and it’s sad to report that the rule works almost every time. Personally, I want to work with all parties to make the Quarter a better place and I wish that VCPORA and FQC had that same goal.

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Perdido Fest

It was Perdido Fest yesterday. Let’s have one every year.

Kristin Palmer as MC opened the curtain with a message from Stacy Head on why she would not attend. Her intro and commentary are masterpieces of Voodoo pin juggling, a piece of art of the faint-praise school. When Kristin has more time after she leaves council, she would be welcome as a Nolascape contributor. I know our own KGP can be a tough customer. People don’t lightly turn their back on her, but if you don’t give her a round of applause after you hear her opening statement, you missed it:

Perdido Fest’s first act was Arline Bronzaft, Prof. Emeritus of the Rudy Giuliani School of Streetcraft, expert in Trains, Planes and Automobiles. She spoke first, “by request.” Of whom we know not. Maybe she wanted to get out of here.

I had Googled her up the day before. Her area of study is mostly the environmental commotion that pervades New York. Subways, elevated trains, taxis, horn-honking showdowns, crowds. Her big claim to fame is pretty cool. She discovered that in a school next to the El, the kids on the train side of the building got lower scores than the kids on the quieter side. She helped the school sort that out, and now all the kids get the same scores. Cool, but . . . she wouldn’t be so tone deaf as to triangulate from that to Bourbon Street, would she? She must have some other good stuff in reserve.

Well, not so much, it turned out. She opened by saying there was no need of a long introduction, because we could check her out on Google. Then she gave us the long introduction anyway – qualifications, accomplishments, what a privilege it was for us to have her here. Phase two was a dissection of the amendment, pointing out that she did not like the writer’s placement of the words “sound” and “noise.” On this account, she suggested that the ordinance be withdrawn for further study, by her. Actually, if the drafters agree with her about the two terms, they can fix it in about ten minutes. Then came some stuff about hearing damage and death by music. That’s an old VCPORA saw; no matter how many times they are told that it is irrelevant to this bill, they can’t stop. I guess it makes them feel good. They do like to feel virtuous, even when dropping a card while trying to deal off the bottom of the deck.

Ms Bronzaft suggested that the draft amendment should be tabled for further work, at which she would be glad to help the City of New Orleans get everything lined up like New York, and helpfully pointed out that visitor numbers to New York had not reduced since their decibel laws were introduced. Since very few people go to New York to visit Bourbon Street, that sounds off the mark. If any do, they should probably have a word with their travel agent. A big point that Bronzaft skated around is that nobody is in Bourbon Street against their will. Visitors to Bourbon Street go there for the high volume music, intentionally, eagerly.

In nearly every sentence, Bronzaft emphasized the words “I” and “my.” Bit of an eye-roller, that. Were we supposed to be impressed? Of course, she pissed off pretty much everyone in the room, and should consider herself lucky Kristin Palmer didn’t have a brick handy to bounce off her head. Technically, some of her stuff was probably quite good – but totally irrelevant. Unless perhaps she knows of a secret plan to build an elevated train and a school on Bourbon Street.

Next up was David Freedman of WWOZ. Everybody seems impressed by Dave Freedman, especially Dave Freedman. Personally, I don’t get it, but I guess I am just not properly attuned to my cultural icons. He needed lots of minutes, and wanted the minutes he spent talking about how many minutes he needed subtracted from the minutes he wanted.

Notwithstanding my lack of reflex respect, his first few sentences were tough and good. Who needs an expert from New York? And VCPORA and their boring lawyer are pests. Had he sat down then, he would have merited a round of applause. At least from me, although CM Palmer glowers ominously when I do that. Unfortunately for the audience, he did another ten minutes or so of rambling, rather pompously phrased philosophy, mostly irrelevant to the subjects at hand: dB levels on Bourbon and side streets, the constitutional questions around the curfew, and the creation of a trained sound management team.

Then came people who did not want enough time to run for President. Hannah Kreiger-Benson for MaCCNO and Kim Rosenberg to introduce FQMD’s report and comments. FQMD is a big and exceptionally fair-minded presence in this. I hope the Council does not lose sight of this in the storm of political static that is bound to assault the senses over the next few days.

The star was Earl Bernhardt, owner of the Tropical Isle bars and the Grapevine restaurant, a great contributor to the international attraction Bourbon Street is today. Earl spoke simply about the efforts of his businesses to comply with the rules, while still making sure they fulfilled customers’ expectations. And he mentioned that he has been under attack, or let’s say, under annoyance, by Nathan Chapman and VCPORA for several decades, which must be like trying to build your business with a couple of Chihuahuas snapping at your ankles.

The message is: pass a fair law, and the music venue operators will work with you. Pass a dim VCPORA law, and they will not – cannot – comply. A legal wrangle will start. Everybody will lose but the lawyers. And who is the city’s main music crank? Why yes, a hyperactive lawyer. To quote Mary Howell, a serious lawyer, if you want a law like this to work, you need buy-in from the players. Resistance and draconian enforcement will not cut it.

Then Chapman. The ankle snapper in chief. Never ceases to amaze. Kristin smiled comfortingly, saying he had been painted with a bad brush. Is that me? Nice little me? Is Nolascape a bad brush? Just because I don’t think presumption, velvet-coated arrogance and persistent mendacity merit respect. Neither do a lot of other people; they just don’t like to go public with it. The Chapman show today says he was personally promised by the CMs that Woolworth would be just one expert voice, on even footing with their expert. I challenge him to produce serious evidence of that. Woolworth was engaged by the city to do a big job, and he brought it in big. I am sure in other contexts he does fine work, but here, Arno Bommer is Smith’s paid trial witness, who states all the letters behind his name, and then tells us Smith’s preferred numbers. Irrelevant is too kind a word. Don’t even have to get the bad brush out.

Then Nathan goes on about Bourbon Street a bit. Can anybody out there tell me why it is any of his business? Then tell me why VCPORA presumes standing in the pompous way he expresses it. Why does Council even listen to them? I do not see why VCPORA has anything to say about Bourbon Street. It does not fit their fictional storybook picture of a French Quarter of preserved residences, fashion boutiques, art galleries, antiques and chandeliers. Got it. Nobody cares. Now go away.

Nope. He’s still there. Back to a bit of boring stuff about bar staff, which has nothing to do with this bill. If they are concerned about that, they could propose a bill that did address it, but they would be even more irrelevant in that area. They would be wise to clam up and let Bethany Bultman and specialists of her choice take care of it. Then he introduces their new objection, that it is not just about Bourbon. The curfew sneaked in, and decriminalization – which, allow me to remind ol’ Honest Nate, everybody including Himself knew was a principal tenet of the revision for the past year at least, including any VCPORAn with the attention span to read the Woolworth and FQMD reports.

Another speaker whose name was hard to catch, French-Cole possibly, antagonized by something Kristin Palmer said, spoke angrily but simply and soundly: stop those people trying to mess up what New Orleans has built and is famous for. Just stop it. Let it live and breathe. Hear hear!

Then Bob Simms wrapping up, which is good, since Bob is most reasonable of us all. He reminded us that Woolworth’s methodology is monumental, landmark and will be a new reference point in music zone management, and one of his achievements is bringing the C scale bass-heavy measurement into the equation.

He suggested respect for Mr Bernhardt’s statement, which is key, because what has happened in the evolution of this process, and what must now really be given prominent recognition, is that the Bourbon Street operators are now much more reasonable than the Citizens Council. Oops – I mean the “preservationist” clubs.

But all good parties must end, except maybe Bourbon Street, and after an excellent summing up, in which she finally – I have been waiting for it – put a stake through the heart of the Hoodie-and-Head sponsored December amendment, Kristin Gisleson Palmer, CM of Sound, kicked us all out to make room for the firemen.

(c) Robert Freilich, 2014

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Krewe of Kleweless

What a party. Were you there? Council’s HHNC Committee had a public comment session on the Sound Ordinance amendment, as part of endorsing it for Council vote Thursday. Or is it the Noise Ordinance amendment? It is so confusing . . . . I think I have to check with New York.

But first, sports fans, before we stick a dull scalpel into The Proceedings, let’s have some fun disembowelling a little rag shot out by VCPORA right after the meeting, then posted to the Hear the Noise web site.  That is generally a sign that it is a Brylski product. It must have been written before, ready to shoot out, because it fails to note clear statements made at council. Or maybe they just ignore the proceedings and use their standard rule of engagement in the Sound Wars – never give in to facts! VCPORA is above the truth! Determination with Dopiness! Onward into oblivion!

It came under a nice VCPORA logo in the first email I saw, then posted here: and alerted to its mailing list. Before the body decays totally, here is a medical examiner’s report.

1. Citywide, the ordinance removes time restrictions (also known as the “curfew”) on street performers. The Woolworth study and public debate was overwhelmingly about bars and businesses. People concerned about street performances had no warning that language would be included in this ordinance. Such a change needs to be considered and discussed by the public in its own process and ordinance.

This paragraph is strangely, probably unintentionally, correct but spun to make you think it is a fault of today’s amendment. As clearly and succinctly noted by Theresa Becher of the City Attorney’s office and Stacy Head’s message, the curfew as written in 1956 has constitutional issues. Therefore it cannot properly be used to exercise anyone’s “rights as a citizen.” The amendment is used as the opportunity to remove the wrong language and now it “needs to be considered and discussed . . . In its own process . . . ”

Correct – but that validates the amendment! (What do you think – they don’t understand it, or just spinnin’ and fibbin’?) No one, or as good as, thinks a 19 piece amateur rowdy brass band should be blasting away at 1.00 AM, as happened this week in the Marigny. It was not stopped earlier because the curfew’s constitutional question mark interferes with enforcement.

Now we have to find a fair, legal way to address this issue.

2. Citywide, the ordinance will remove even malicious sound violations out of Municipal Court. An adjudication officer cannot issue an arrest warrant or send the police to locate someone who fails to show up for a hearing. Police officers will no longer be able to arrest a recalcitrant violator who refuses to turn it down after repeated violations.

No, ‘fraid not. As Theresa Becher and Stacy Head clearly said, police authority is in the Charter and cannot be removed by an ordinance of this type. Police power to deal with a violation that steps over a line into criminal is unabridged.

3. Citywide, it eliminates citizens’ right to go to court to seek injunctive relief when the sound ordinance is violated. In a city that often lacks resources for enforcement, to take away citizens’ rights to use the courts is very, very scary. For many, it has been the only remedy.

They must have found this one deep in the bottom of their Halloween pumpkin. Give it a microsecond’s thought: can a sound management ordinance amendment alter the basis of civil law? Of course not. Immunity from suit would require very explicit language, and would almost certainly be struck down by the first magistrate it came before.

Suing music bars has not been the only remedy for many. It has been a course of choice for a very few. In fact, almost entirely for one. The plaintiffs in the sound suits have been mostly stooges or straw men enabling VCPORA’s patron the Dementorish tortmeister to harass music venues he doesn’t like. Rescued and escaped French Quarter Citizen ex-cultists tell us that last year club officers discovered 15 lawsuits that they were plaintiffs in – fifteen! – that the plaintiff’s attorney had not bothered to inform them about. Apparently the law firm just used VCPORA and FQC as general purpose plaintiffs, exposing officers and board to legal liability without a paddle, so to speak.

4. Citywide, it eliminates an important role of the police. Even with the new (positive) sound-related role for The Department of Health, the police must still maintain a role. The Dept of Health can never be as responsive to time-sensitive situations. The following deleted words should be restored in Section 66-137 Administration 3) “Execute other necessary action, including but not limited to, variance and permit review, and institute necessary proceedings to [“PROSECUTE OR ENJOIN” is deleted] adjudicate violators of the noise control ordinance.”

False. Pretty similar to no. 2, don’t you think? One of them is padding to make the case look bigger. Again, the City Attorney has assured Council and us in public session that this is not true, and could not be true, because an ordinary ordinance cannot abrogate or supersede the Charter. A full video of the session can be seen on Council’s web site, if you would like to check.

5. In VCE-1 (near House of Blues) the ordinance proposes the badly flawed system now used on Bourbon Street, but for another part of the Quarter. The 10 dBA above ambient or 60 dBA whichever is HIGHER (as opposed to lower) means there is no maximum. The use of “higher” created “sound wars” on Bourbon.

Let’s get real. VCPORA is either stupid, or thinks you are. The amendment to table 1 inserts VCE-1 into the table as a separate line to the existing one, which says all VCE areas, using exactly the same language as the original. I am not sure why the drafters wanted a separate line for VCE-1, but it changes nothing.

Here is the text in the original table 1:

10 decibels above the ambient noise level; or 60 decibels, whichever is higher.

Here is the text of the amendment:

10 decibels above the ambient noise level; or 60 decibels, whichever is higher.

If you can spot the difference please write urgently to Ms Brylski of the Krewe of Kleweless to congratulate her for finally making a true statement. This amendment is about VCE, not VCE-1.  What the Table 1 line does is not change anything for VCE-1.

Brylski, Lawyer Smith’s trusty if clumsy flack, also wrote a circular letter to praising them, actually praising them, for Richard Rainey’s kackhanded reporting of yesterdays session. In feeble exculpation we could say, he probably did not really know what was going on, since he had not covered the process. Between his report, and Prescott Stokes’ free commercial for Inspector Lousteau last week, we might wonder whether the Times-Pic isn’t creeping into VCPORA’s corner. They should think about it. VCPORA and FQC are badly busted brands. Their current owners and duplicitous spokesmen have bent their moral compasses way out of shape, hopefully irreparably, so New Orleans can soon be rid of this old clown car. Under cover of preservationism, they launch all sorts of nasty attacks on citizens and businesses. I suspect they are pretty rusty on real preservation, since they practice so little of it. Their purpose now is harassment and suing, mostly of things we all like.

This is the Bourbon Street amendment. One of its functions will be to protect one of New Orleans’ greatest industries from attack by “preservationist” piranha fish. Make sure all the Council and the administration know that you support it.

(c) Bob Freilich 2014

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The Law Zapper

Behold the Lord High Executioner
A personage of noble rank and title —
A dignified and potent officer,
Whose functions are particularly vital!
Defer, defer,
To the Lord High Executioner!
Defer, defer,
To the noble Lord, to the noble Lord,
To the Lord High Executioner!

Tomorrow at the Housing and Human Needs Committee at Council Hall, and then Thursday at the regular Council meeting, a lot of fun, as we used to say, will be had by all.

The game that will be afoot is just the usual contest between Light and Darkness, heroes trying to save us and the forces of evil trying to end the world as we know it. Same old. Civilization will be destroyed, or virtue will overcome. We’ll know by Thursday afternoon.

The specific issue, in case you have been in Miami for the past few months, is the sound ordinance revision, phase one: Bourbon Street. Many wanted to see city-wide revision last year, but our civic-minded, public-spirited French Quarter preservationist cliquemeisters decided to interfere with a Compleat Toolkit of sleaze, and somehow shoehorned into Council a ridiculous bill which ignored all the good work Dave Woolworth had done, and would have precipitated an avalanche of lawsuits and countersuits and the kind of generally ugly, rancid environment of conflict that they seem to thrive on, when not dreaming of a decorous Sunday stroll down Royal Street with a parasol, window shopping for chandeliers. Massive protest binned that bit of coarse-ground tripe, and a healthy process began again, focused on Bourbon Street only. A tight space, dominated by music venues. Probably the most complex, knotty urban social soundscape in the country, if not the world. And arguably New Orleans’ most well-known feature and attraction.

Dave Woolworth did it, with the support of French Quarter Management District, backed by Council. It looks like a landmark job of research, whose methodology will probably now become the new reference system for how to do this in cities with music districts everywhere.

The process was bitterly, if limply, opposed by the Dementor’s disciples. The transparent scientific process, the careful administration of FQMD, all the people who attended meetings and followed the progress of Woolworth’s work, the thousands of us who have read the recommendations and the draft amendment – we were getting it wrong. Without attending, our Hooded brethren knew better. Faith, you see. When it is time for us to know what works and what we want, VCPORA will tell us what it is.

Galileo had to put up with people like this. In fact, as a thought experiment, think where science and civilization would be today if everyone had joined VCPORA in 1625.

Here is what we can expect to see, hear and suffer this week from the cultists and their Lord High Dementor.

They will be telling everyone that they represent “The Residents.” They do not, of course. They represent their own little out-of-date special interest clubs. In the words of Her Ladyship the Executive Director, ” . . . private, mission-driven . . . ”

They – well he – you know: Him – has brought down an environmental psychologist from New York, an expert from the technocratic wing of the Giuliani administration, Arline Bronzaft. You can look her up on the internet and see her on YouTube. Her area of expertise is environmental noise – trains and planes, the general heavy industrial commotion of New York. I have no doubt she has done great work to help schools and all sorts of good things. What it will have to do with Bourbon Street and other music areas, where people go not only voluntarily but eagerly to revel in the sound – we’ll see. My prediction: Ms Bronzaft is a serious expert in a related but different field, and New York’s process for music has just been superseded by the Woolworth methodology. We can even predict that soon New York’s sound team will be coming here to study the Bourbon solution. Hoodie club folks are most comfortable in a dream of the past; for the rest of us, Bronzaft’s relevance will have to be demonstrated.

VCPORAns throw up OSHA as an objection to pretty much anything Dave Woolworth says. They have been doing this for some time. Completely inapplicable, but they keep going. What do people say about expecting a different outcome? They even tried it in the Mayor’s meetings, but it didn’t fly. It generally just raises a groan now, like Grandpa’s old army joke. They don’t even get it right. In their mythology, OSHA’s first harm level was 85 dB. It is not. The first threshold is 90 dB, with exposure eight hours per day, five days a week. What does that have to do with this ordinance, which is about the sound that comes out of a source, not the sound inside? Well, Nathan Chapman, clown prince of the Dementor Court, came up with an answer: If it is 85 just outside the door, it must be 90 inside! QED! Except this amendment has nothing to do with the inside of bars.

Street music curfew: a real problem. The new amendment has pulled it for reasonable cause: it is a constitutional issue. Lawyers have been ready to take the city to court for it. Rumors say the Mayor or his office requested it out, and that would have been on advice of counsel.

The Hoodies’ response will be: removing the curfew disqualifies the ordinance. People of clearer thought will see that the opposite is the case: it protects the law from invalidation. They will see that the issue of late night intrusive loud sound is still there, and significant. It just has to be resolved another way, not by including a clause that could sink the statute. It is a problem that will not be resolved by this amendment this week. Neither will nuclear proliferation or malaria. I hope they don’t bring those up, or this amendment could be in real trouble.

Preventing law suits. Think I am kidding? No, I assure you. One of the Hoodies’ objections is they think one word in the amendment – adjudicate instead of prosecute, changed because of the virtually universal agreement that sound offenses are to be transferred from criminal to civil, so you don’t get a criminal record for playing a trombone – means they would not be able to sue people. Sounds like superstition, but if correct, that would be pretty good. Their real problem is that with a clear, rational law and sensible sound parameters, you can’t so easily get away with frivolous lawsuits.

Let’s keep it short, because you have to sit back and digest your Easter brunch.

Lawsuits are Jabba the Hutt’s game. That is what he is good at. The Dementoring Tendency want to play with New Orleans life as a video game, and lawsuits are the zapper on their controller. They want you and your city government to hand them the volume knob as well as the little mover and shaker buttons.

Don’t forget: it is your city, not theirs. Just say no. Tell your council member, tell the mayor, turn up at City Hall, hiss and boo and cheer in the right places.

And laugh at them. When you see pompous people presenting ridiculous ideas, just laugh at them. Point and jeer.

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French Quarter Management District Board Supports Sound Ordinance

This afternoon the main order of business at French Quarter Management District main board was to discuss and decide whether to recommend the draft sound ordinance prepared by City Council and, I believe, the Mayor’s office. Let’s call it a cooperative administration and council bill.

Mary Howell also attended as a visitor or attendee. That makes it more exciting – Mary is a true rock star of New Orleans law and justice.

FQMD is a very impressive organization. The board members are people capable of serious, intelligent thought, able to see the essentials and bring a matter to a focused decision quickly.

Most business and administrative meetings are fluffy affairs. A lot of exchange of hot air. Entropy in action.

Not these guys. I don’t like to be impressed, but I was. Except for one.

The draft ordinance incorporating Woolworth’s work is brief and limited, but a huge accomplishment. Before, every modest attempt to gather facts and produce a plan foundered on special interests. Worst, of course, were the two neighborhood associations who consider themselves privileged, VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens, self-centered private interest groups who present themselves as representing the “community.” They don’t, of course. They represent a few people who know how to manipulate volunteer, non-profit clubs. Their dishonesty is often jaw-dropping, their pretension flabbergasting, their shameless rebounding from what anybody else would consider embarrassing defeat like an acrobat’s trick, and the missionaries’ fervor with which they seem to thrive on the disapproval if not detestation of real New Orleanians is . . . . Scientological. Westboro-ish. Even more surprising is their ability to still get some serious attention from Council. Feedback from the Mayor’s meetings on the sound ordinance suggest however that he at least has their number now.

Back to events: the draft ordinance is straightforward. There were some comments from Government Committee, which sponsored and supported the weeks of Dave Woolworth’s work. The clearest one was probably a shift in the beginning and end of daytime and nighttime hours. There were a few other points of detail, but remember this ordinance concerns only Bourbon Street and is intended to be the first step in a process to get the whole city intelligently covered over time. Above all, it establishes a methodology to evaluate soundscapes and sound impact.

The meeting started late. Before they arrived at the vote, one member, had to leave for another appointment, but that was okay – there was still a quorum of eight.

At a certain point board members said, we think we are there. Can we go to a vote?

Then came something I did not think I would see in this body, which is the most intelligent, effective public body I am aware of in New Orleans, if not more: Brian Furness, the delegate appointed by French Quarter Citizens, stood up to leave. Without a word, he was walking out the door. His intention was clearly to break the quorum, so no vote could be taken. I have spoken to Brian on several occasions. He is a serious, intelligent man. He has a noticeable tendency to kick the can down the road and avoid irrevocable decisions. People who know him much better than I suggest it comes from a career in the State Department. I couldn’t say; I am certainly not a fan of FQC. I think their recent behavior has been unforgivable, but I believe Brian personally has public interests at heart. What would motivate him to do this? FQC vocally and publicly withdrew from FQMD, so he should not be voting on their orders. How dishonest if they say they are not participating, but they really are, under the radar? Obviously, I wouldn’t put it past them for a minute, because I detect no compunction in favor of truth in these organizations. Their faith in their own piety overrides fact and truth.

Brian didn’t say anything. He just stood up and started walking out. Fortunately, the members present understood his intention in less than a micro-second, and called him back. To give him credit, he looked embarrassed at what he had been about to do.

Imagine that – the months of time, the dozens of hours of work by Government Committee, the hundreds of hours of work by Dave Woolworth to get the recommendations, methods, definitions and descriptions right – and Brian would try to trash it and FQMD’s final ratification by slinking out. He is a decent guy; the motivation must have come from sleazy source – the FQC board or their vampire squid unofficial dictator. I hope Brian has the character to be at least a bit ashamed of it, and to try to lay that shame on FQC. Or he could join the exodus. A lot of decent people have left FQC in disgust at the internal immorality they saw there.

Anyway – he didn’t leave. Key people of power called him back. Some more waffle about imperfections, which everybody knows about. Not necessarily even imperfections in the bill – urban reality does not always match your storybook. Sometimes the ordinance just cannot change the real world.  As Mr Berger said, perfection is the enemy of the practical.

The vote to support was seven yeas, one abstention – Brian Furness. The recommendation passed, in wording pronounced by Darryl Berger but composed by Mary Howell.

Sigh of relief.

Now I have to urge French Quarter Management District to be strong. They have the firepower, the accreditation, the authority, the prestige to defend this starting point.

There will be opposition. The opposition will not be fair, truthful or honest. The opposition will be backed by and stirred up by Smith, and will use methods similar to the attacks on Habana Outpost – disinformation, dishonesty, discord. Cheron Brylski will be unleashed to write amateurish press releases, unlikely to be believed by any grown-up reporter operating in New Orleans, but some of which will be quoted anyway. They call that “balance.”

French Quarter Citizens say they withdrew from Management District, but clearly they haven’t. They or their Lord Dementor are trying to work some puppetry on the board while pretending to be too sniffy to attend. Ultimate instructions probably from SmithStasi LLC.

Rumor says neighborhood club dictator Jabba the Hutt intends to bring a sound guy and an “environmental psychologist” from New York (does that add some prestige to their trade credentials?) down to oppose the ordinance. Opposing means standing up for the narrow, selfish interests of one tiny clique, caring only for their own wishes, against the interests of the city and a painstaking professional process to set this contentious mess on a path of reason after more than five years of conflict. Smith and his acolytes would destroy that to enable more aggravation and expense to dozens or hundreds of people by frivolous lawsuits and endless depositions in cases strung out forever, deliberately using nuisance to wear people down because they are losers in court.

It’s your city, not his, not theirs. Tell your Councilmember, tell the Mayor: FQMD and the Woolworth report, not Smith and the Hoodies of Rampart street.

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The Respectability Militia

Yesterday the Board of Zoning Adjustment deferred 15 T-shirt shop appeals against VCPORA attacks for 30 days, pending a city government department’s production of relevant documents it has so far failed to produce.

Just before the session opened a real* resident of the French Quarter sent this email:

From: Michael Tilbury <>
Subject: T-Shirt Shop Zoning Review
Date: April 14, 2014 at 9:30:57 AM CDT
Cc: “Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu” <>, “Kristin G. Palmer” <>

To Whom it may concern:

“It is one of most common complaints we hear in the French Quarter from people who live there, visit there and work there,” Meg Lousteau, executive director of Vieux Carré Property Owners Residents and Associates, told the council last year. “They can’t understand why this beautiful historic gem allows the proliferation of T-shirt shops. We have yet to find anyone who thinks they add anything of value to the French Quarter.”

As a full time resident of the French Quarter, and a property owner here for the past fifteen years, I personally disagree with the view stated here by a community activist group. As the saying goes, “possession is 9/10ths of the law”. These establishments are here operating, and have been for some time. To create ordinances, and then go back and try and close businesses is just wrong. Unfortunately, the city zoning, if was even existent, was not enforced when these businesses opened up. So the fair course of action, would be to bring them up to what ever zoning codes are applicable and move on.

A question? What businesses do the activist groups have in place to replace the vacant store fronts that will be created in the 17 businesses that will be closed? Are we looking at 17 vacant store fronts, loss of tax revenue, and loss of employment?

It would seem a rational assumption that perhaps these businesses would not be here unless there was a reasonable demand for their services.

Honor the grandfather, bring them up to reasonable zoning codes, and move on.

Seems like the city has more important things to focus on.

A concerned citizen,

Michael L. Tilbury

632 Pirates Alley

*A real resident of the French Quarter is one who is unaffiliated with or has escaped the cult clutches of VCPORA/FQC.

I ran into Mr Tilbury a few hours later at an FQMD meeting, and got to ask a few questions. A former member and director of French Quarter Citizens, Michael Tilbury left in disgust at what the organization has become, and is hugely relieved to be out of it. I asked, what do you think of what they get up to now, suing music bars and restaurants and attacking retailers?

“Terrible. Just terrible.”

How about elder sister VCPORA and Meg Lousteau’s tactics?


Michael Tilbury is one of the many who reside and work in the French Quarter who are repeatedly annoyed when they hear VCPORA spokesmen claiming to represent “the residents.” They believe that VCPORA in its current incarnation has become a pernicious influence in the Quarter and the whole city. Don’t worry, we won’t hurt their feelings. Like missionaries, they are validated by harsh criticism. It proves the virtue of their campaigns to overcome the rabble. That’s me. And probably you.

It is becoming increasingly unnecessary to say VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens. The Eminence Grise pulling their strings, said to largely bankroll both, has stated aggressively – that seems to be a common mode of intra-Hoodie communication – that he wanted to merge them together into one club, and that until that time, they had to speak “with one voice.”

“We need one organization to speak for everyone, or two organizations who are joined at the hip as we historically have been.”                        Stuart H. Smith to Linda Malin, 17 May 2013.

Most of the email is harsh reproach of Linda Malin, president of FQC at the time, for following the vote of the FQC board on an issue instead of Smith’s instructions. Under the Smith lash, some of the board members seem to have changed their vote. Like Michael Tilbury, Linda is relieved to be out of there.

The preservationists of the 20s and 30s, mostly groups of white women, accomplished one big thing: they were largely responsible for saving the old French Quarter buildings and houses from destruction. Back when most of it was a dilapidated slum, many New Orleans businessmen wanted to knock it down and build a modern city. The Vieux Carré Commission had only weak powers in the early part of the 20th century, and was rather passive. The determined preservationist clubs made a big difference.

But a price of the white ladies’ mission was the destruction of diversity.

In the early 1920s author Oliver LaFarge wrote:

The population included Negroes, Creoles, and Cajuns, an occasional Malay drifted in from the Barataria marshes, Italians, Greeks, Jews of both French and North European origin, and a great many Latin Americans.” “There were sailors of all kinds, . . . antique dealers, second-hand dealers, speakeasies galore, simple workmen, a fair variety of criminals, both white and colored nuns, the survivors of a few aristocratic Creole families clinging to their ancestral homes, merchants of all sorts, and whole blocks of prostitutes.”
Stanonis, A.J., Creating the Big Easy, p. 146

For preservationists, especially the white women who rallied to the cause, salvaging historic buildings gave vent to reformist zeal.
ibid, p. 144

With the historic buildings mostly salvaged, and a pretty good job done too, it seems that what we are left with is the zeal, snuffling around for things to reform. Be careful the next one ain’t you.

I am just catching on to their new campaign to expand the Preservationist Blackwater Ops into all Downtown. Pledge allegiance to that great, unchanging, quiet, pastel French Quarter in the sky, or it’s your ass. It looks a bit like Royal Street, but corresponds to no real instance of the neighborhood from Bienville’s landing to yesterday morning. Anyway, Bywater beware. Meg has us in her crosshairs. And they are here. Be vigilant! Meggifiers walk among us.

Meanwhile, in the FQ, diversity is coming back. Not so much in residency – the property cost explosion tends to keep the Quarter for the Grandmothered and Grandfathered and wealthy Snowbirds – but in the variety of nationalities who work or operate businesses, and visitors. That is not likely to have any effect on the Siamese twins; nativism seems to be in their DNA, as they attack the businesses that help integrate our new people.

French Quarter Advocates is hoping to change all that, but meanwhile the white women’s respectability crusades of the 1920s are still alive and well in the Rampart Street clubhouses of VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens, probably looking at merger one day in Smith’s forge (pun unavoidable). I wonder if that might not be desirable. It might be easier to stuff one of them into a padded room than try to get two into the same cage.

Politically, and seriously, it is imperative for the real people of New Orleans to curb or eliminate these clubs’ joyless influence in city government. Recently they have done a fair job of discrediting themselves, with their scolding, irritating manner, massaged misinformation and getting caught around the back stairs of City Hall with that greasy old legislative sausage grinder, and I hear they get more laughter than attention in Baton Rouge. Keep a beady eye on the next council, starting in a couple of weeks. Real people may have a chance – but don’t take your eye off them.

Back to the T-shirts. One of the posters on VCPORA’s Facebook forum wrote today:

Nothing screams class like being asked on every block of the Quarter….

So that’s still the deal. Class. Every block and every street has to conform to the respectability lobby’s notion of “class.” Do they have a point, up to a point? Maybe. Up to the point of diversity, because a French Quarter in the homogenized dream of the current Preservationist clubs would be . . . boring. That is where a French Quarter recast in their own image will go: boredom. They would hound Bourbon Street off the map, souvenirs out, personal services out. Maybe a bit of decorous trad jazz with a clarinet, and a few nice restaurants with fake French names. Some of the great personalities of New Orleans now spend many of their days with these petty respectabilists snapping at their heels.

I’m feeling cheerful. Tax day is fading. Let’s hope serious people will come through and the next council will have the nous to seek positive, cooperative solutions, not the ridiculous Off-with-his-head! What should we ban today? ideas that have enabled these petty pogroms.

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Real Retail and the Gentlewoman’s Dream

In Woldenberg Park, near where the first landing was in the 1720s when Bienville was still in charge and Adrien de Pauger was laying out the street plan of what we now call the Vieux Carre, there is a statue of an arriving immigrant family facing the French Quarter, where many of the arriving people started their new lives in New Orleans. Miss Liberty faces the Mississippi. The dedication on the base:

to the
to the
courageous men and women
who left their homeland
seeking freedom, opportunity
and a better life in a new country

On Monday at 10.00 AM, Council may make life harder for some of those immigrants to make an honest living and be part of this community. It does not show on the Council calendar, but they are supposed to be coming to a decision about some T-shirt and souvenir shops.

It will be a skirmish in a class war. A key element of VCPORA’s program has always been classist and de facto racist: the French Quarter for people like us. Whether you consider the social battles as an unavoidable by-product of architectural preservationism, or the true cause of Preservationist politics, the significant thing now is class war. The FQ Preservationists’ entry point is aesthetic rather than economic, but the economics is unavoidable.

So what will we see Monday morning? Respect for enterprise and entrepreneurial small business? Or deference to VCPORA’s neo-Edwardian post-plantationist dreams?

The T-shirt and souvenir trade is one of the induction conduits of immigrants who settle in New Orleans. Some of the people who have succeeded and prospered in it combine running a successful business with a perceived social obligation – they help immigrants have jobs. Some of their employees eventually become entrepreneurs and invest in shops or businesses of their own.

The gift shops are not charities. They make money. They pay wages to their employees, property taxes, sales tax. (VCPORA doesn’t.) They make money because they sell things that people want to buy, and respect their customers. Appreciating your customers is important. If the shopkeepers treated their customers with the lack of respect we have seen some of the council members apply to some of the city’s residents and visitors, shops really would close.

Why force viable, working businesses to close? Last September 16th, Housing and Human Needs Committee had a session on the T-shirt and souvenir trades, essentially led by Meg Lousteau of VCPORA, with the council members as cheerleaders:

According to Ms Lousteau and the sympathetic CMs, it was very important to understand that all gift shops opened after a 2011 law imposing a moratorium were violators. Wicked scofflaw enemies of the city. But I suggest that the 2011 law is questionable as a moral or legitimate force. VCPORA guided that law into and through council. It is VCPORA enforcement of a VCPORA law. Somehow that just does not hold Biblical or Constitutional weight. The question is still open: what is just regulation?

VCPORA and its sympathizers in government don’t think T-shirt shops are authentic enough. Not the true spirit. Their customers are not authentic enough. Art galleries and their customers are authentic. Antique shops and shoppers are authentic. Artisanal cheese and micro-bakery bread are authentic. Great restaurants are authentic. But the people who buy souvenirs and T-shirts and Saints hats – what do you call them?

In his article in The Lens this week, Professor Cannon spotlights the class battle, and says our precious Preservationists are afraid that T-shirt shops won’t convince visitors that New Orleans is the Athens of the South. That we might as well be in Biloxi. I think Dr. Cannon is generous. I think our VCPORAns want visitors in their neighborhood to look just like them. Educated, polite, respectable, professional. Of course, some of the gentry have a few questionable habits, like sneaky games with the city government, addiction to hypocrisy and excessive drinking – but they are respectable. As long as you can’t see it . . . . Those noisy crowds loving their New Orleans experience on Bourbon Street, drinking Hand Grenades and beer in go-cups, those Wrestlemania fans buying inexpensive stuff to take home – they just are not like us. Or at least not like what we want people to think we are.

In 2011, VCPORA also decided that neither T-shirt merchants nor anybody else could display goods outside the shop. This applies not only to retail premises with wide frontages, show windows and plenty of opening, but also to narrow shops with no windows and one narrow front doorway. This despite the fact that such shops were ‘lockups’ – shops where you put your display outside during opening hours, took it in and locked it up at night. The kind of outside display that adds color and life to cities everywhere – Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam. Used to be here as well. But now, VCPORA’s reverence for even the most ordinary architecture, as long as they think it is “authentic,” means you cannot sully something that was once meant to be functional, with anything related to what it might have been meant to be functional for.

Very noticeable in the preservationists-turned-lifestyle vigilantes’ campaign against the gift and souvenir trade is that they don’t bother to learn about what they are judging. In the September 16th show trial, no representative of the trade was there to speak for it.

We are lucky that so many people blew up about the sound and music issue. At first, the council members didn’t know anything about the propagation of sound. VCPORANs drove the agenda and pushed a lot of bunk. Kristin Palmer decided to get a consultant and we were lucky. She engaged one that took the project seriously and really did the work. There could have been a real danger of knuckling under to pressure to engage a consultant who would write down whatever VCPORA wanted the council to hear, then take the money and run. You can see that preference in Stuart Smith’s blog piece on the subject.

In the September 16th video, Meg Lousteau and the council members show no sign of understanding or even caring about the trade they were discussing. They should; three of them are directors of the French Market Corporation, but from everything I can find out, they bring politics to it instead of taking retail management understanding from it. For them, those shops they don’t like the look of are just “them,” the other, not us.

Shall we all hold our breath for a moratorium on art galleries? Take bets on how soon they are going to shut down antique stores? In the video, they discuss openly that a shop owner cheated. A terrible fellow, a criminal. He said he was going to sell sportswear, holiday-wear, but he is selling T-shirts. VCPORA and the compliant panel show righteous indignation. To some of us, a little hissy fit because a retailer sells what works for him. Not alcohol without a license, not pornography to children, not Class A drugs – just a different kind of shirt than council in its wisdom thinks people should buy.

Egged on by Meg Lousteau, at least three of the CMs were ready to pass judgements that could cost whole families their livings based on VCPORA’s vision for a French Quarter in their own image, that they justify with a mythological version of its history.

Ms Palmer suggested shopkeepers could open restaurants like Sylvain instead, and Ms Hedge-Morrell was all for closing everybody down without due process. Anything normally considered pertinent – capital requirements, return on investment, credit availability, competitive analysis, skills required, rent, lease terms – nada, niente, rien, zilch. They don’t care.

You cannot compare the French Quarter to a mall or even the French Market, a supposedly non-profit subsidiary of the city. The French Market Corporation owns its commercial properties and has a stake in its tenants’ success. The tenants expect reasonable coverage from certain kinds of competition if they stay within the bounds of certain product categories. Encumbrances like that are normal in commercial leases. The landlord risks loss through reduced rent or empty shops if the tenants do not succeed. Similar rules would be in operation in Canal Place or Lakeside in Metairie.

In this case the city does not own the properties. Council does intend to buy or manage the shops. They have not hinted that they would support traders who risked their own money to make their shops match VCPORA’s dream.

CMs Gisleson-Palmer, Hedge-Morrell and Cantrell are on the board of FMC. Is it possible they have blurred the difference between managing a property business and working in city government?

Council members have accused me of advocating retail anarchy. Not true. There is a lot of territory between anarchy and micro-regulation. Zoning and permits distinguish a restaurant from a shop, a bar from a factory. But do city permits tell a restaurant how to season its fish? Whether it must serve potatoes or rice?

What is the right current way to apply the laws about the Tout-Ensemble of the Vieux Carré? If the object was to keep the famous neighborhood in its once-upon-a-time state, people could re-open the saloons of old Royal Street, the factories, gambling places and prostitutes that were major components of the French Quarter’s economy before the Preservationists’ gentrification push toward North Rampart from the river, consolidating and gentrifying, reducing the resident population from a diverse 20,000 or so to the current almost all white 3,800 or so.

This issue needs serious attention, not a VCPORA-backed Alice in Wonderland-like show trial. Deliberation by serious people. Without digging too deep, they must consider investment, immigration, and the real mix of visitors who come here, not just a haute bourgeoise vision of a nice day out shopping.

Small business is hard anywhere. In New Orleans, where government and preservationist interference and corruption are almost always in the cake mix, it can be harder. Think of Bourbon Street. If Bourbon were a site of a big corporation like Disney or Caesar’s Entertainment, the city or anybody else trying to mess with it would face a phalanx of lawyers and lobbyists who would wear them down to bankruptcy. Check out the history of Harrah’s and even House of Blues, and why Disney World is not in Louisiana to get a glimpse of how it works.

VCPORA and the council acting on its behalf attack small business because they can.

In a more just setup, VCPORA’s standing would be no more than any interested party and council would stand up for local small businesses, all of them, not just the ones Preservationists liked the look of. They would reflect very carefully about their treatment of successful retail businesses.

Maybe they will surprise us. Maybe they will.

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