He’s back!

 

Nathan’s back! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

A sound ordinance op-ed in the Advocate. What’s going on? Has VCPORA sent Brylski out schmoozing the poor Advocate? Or has Chapman’s agency been placing ads in it, so they owe him one? Or is something happening in sound management politics and we haven’t got a sneak copy of the memo yet?

If you haven’t seen it, consider a quick read of it now, then pop back.

http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/opinion/9287744-171/guest-commentary-sound-effort-could

I’m worried. Nathan played personal respect on us, like a big trump card. So is NOLAscape on the wrong side of the proper etiquette rules? Are the new rules going to be, we can fiddle facts and meaning, if we do it with respect? We can let truth slide, but we have to watch our Ps and Qs.

New Orleans has high humidity and flood insurance, therefore we must show public respect to everyone, no matter what bent levers of influence they try to use, or what bunk they pass as facts? Misinformation, misleading – now they are all worthy of personal respect.

Guess we have to downgrade Aristophanes, Voltaire, Swift, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Spitting Image, Lewis Black, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Hicks, Bill Maher, Sacha Baron-Cohen – you know, the people that help us keep our mental canoe afloat through the gales of pompous dementia from power junkies and the human brain’s capacity to lose itself down a canyon of BS.

No, no, no. Or should I say, No, no, no, Sir. Stuff your charades of gentility. The tradition of no respect is sacred. It saves us. And sometimes it saves us from Nathan. For instance, when he seems to be giving himself some credit for the dBC component of the Woolworth-based ordinance, a big input from Dave, which our Nathan – with respect, of course, and in the best possible taste and with personal respect – fought and denounced at every turn. Nathan – sorry; Mr Chapman – in addition to afflicting us with the awful “7 Essentials,” spoke against the original Woolworth report, boycotted the FQMD process, campaigned against the amendment he boasts about to the Key West guy as if it were his own, and contributed to its eventual scuppering by agreeing with Clarkson’s and his VCPORAn colleagues’ lunatic concatenation of “unconstitutional” and “citywide,” which they hooked up with some deliberate lies to try to torpedo the amendment in a cynical, intentionally misleading campaign e-blasted out after Sharonda Williams had explained to them and their legal prey-bird Justin Winch, that their alarm-mongering claims were wrong.

Fast-forward to what we hear happening now: Bourbon Street operators had been ready to try the Woolworth plan. Dial this down a little, pull that back, see what happens. But when Nathan and his friends mangled the process with a BS storm, possibly confusing old Jackie even more in the process, they thought: Fuck it. Trying to work with these fools is a waste of time. Let it float free again, and call the lawyer. I wonder if earnest folk like Nathan played right into plans and expectations of Stuart H. and Meg: carry on with crap regulation and bad law. Then we can keep on suing everybody, running our own game. See who runs out of money first.

Is personal respect really the way to defend ourselves against this kind of corkscrew Newthink? Or would Nathan’s politeness really be deference to intentional mischief?

The 7 Essentials – with all due respect, gimme a break. The 20 “neighborhoods” – help. Clubs that name themselves after the neighborhood they live in, where five people show up and vote for something they don’t understand – that ain’t no neighborhood. That’s just five old nerds grumbling. Warehouse District was a star coalition name: one guy, all alone, without telling anyone at all even in his unincorporated neighborhood outfit, voted the whole neighborhood onto Nathan’s list. And Na . . . – sorry, Mr Chapman – didn’t want to take it off even when the truth went public.

To merit respect, shouldn’t one have to swear off this stuff? Maybe Old Square frauds are so used to it, they may not even notice themselves doing it, but still: what comes first, truth and honor, or being nice? Guess the Hoodie tendency is sticking with the superficial.

“Divisively in the media.” Show me. Every journalist with any sense in New Orleans wanted to see the good amendment, which Chapman and his groupies opposed, passed, done, dusted and change the subject. Technically, you can say “divisive” any time about American media, where the ridiculous media journalism of “balance” gives a couple of talking heads equal time on whether the earth is flat. No, everybody with enough IQ points to find Bourbon Street on a sunny day knew that the Woolworth amendment was a good starting baseline. Divisive were the usual cranks, crackpots and cokeheads who try to keep New Orleans under a gloomy grey cloud instead of out where life happens.

Listen, Neighborhoodies: you want respect? The city of New Orleans and the normal sane people of the world want honesty and an end, and I mean END, to the boring arrogance, pomposity, expectation of privilege and frivolous lawsuits wafting out of the Vieux bloody Carré. Stop all that now. Throw all the diseased beliefs and the people that drive them overboard. Recant, and atone publicly. “We do renounce him, and all his works.” You know the routine. It’s from The Godfather. And then maybe we can revisit the respect issue.

——–

I have a friend that reminds me a bit of Nathan. Soapy Sam, we call him. He belongs to a politically dorky “Neighborhood” association as well. Well, he knew a guy who knew a guy who was a reporter in Glasgow, who wanted to call Soapy for an interview, because they were having a lot of trouble with noise in Glasgow. They have trouble with everything in Glasgow. Well, they have been spared the second amendment and the NRA, so the weekend death toll is lower, but Saturday nights are pretty rough.

Some bartenders from Bourbon Street had moved to Glasgow and started music bars on one street. They turned up the amps to try to be heard over the general commotion.

Most of the interview was language difficulties. A bit like us at City Hall. Fergus’s Glaswegian and Soapy’s Louisiana trying to interpenetrate in search of meaning. The interview took about three hours, but we’ll edit down to essentials.

“Hey, Bourbon’s supposed to be really great, righ’? I wanna get down there.”

“Oh, no it’s much too loud. It’s horrible. Respectable women and Tim Laughlin can hardly walk down it any more.”

“Tha’s nae wha’ I hear. Anyway, what’s all this about “personal respect”? What are you asking for, puffballs? What happens if you get on Jeremy Paxman? He’ll have your eyes out of your head. Or Ali Gee gets on your case? You’re lucky George Carlin is dead. Are you guys just soft or what?”

“No, but you know, it’s not a big city, and, well, there are just not than many of us. You know . . . US. (Soapy winked, but you can’t see that over the phone.) And if you run into Mrs. Landry at Wholefoods, well, it could be very embarrassing.”

“Okay, well look. My mate said you made up a lot of bullshit to try to beat their amendment in the Council. Is that okay in New Orleans, or maybe kinda shitty? Don’t you expect to catch a lot of grief for crap like tha’?”

“Well, I think we just have to be nice.”

“Listen, Soap – is it okay if I call you Soap? – how do you work the council members?”

“Well, you know, we call it political benefit. But that can be a lot of things. Some of them, we just spin a story. Others, they need a deal.”

“Do you ever just give them some money?”

“Oh, no! That would be wrong. There are campaign contributions, of course. But sometimes we already gave them, so you have to call in the chit. Mostly we let the lawyer do that. It’s his money, anyway.”

“Do ye ever get caught?”

“Well, I think it’s all legal here now. We’ve had some court cases . . . ”

“Listen, Soap, I’ll call you back. I want to talk to my editor, see how this Personal Respect idea goes over. I’ll call you back if I don’t get fired.”

—————

But enough low mockery! Let’s have some respect! Because the lightly hidden main thing of this latest Chapman manifesto is that he says: everybody got crazy. Now that is a big, big breakthrough for an initiated, anointed, inducted, Kool-Aid addicted Hoodie. This is like deprogramming a Scientologist. What if Nathan Chapman, ex-pres and stalwart, gets turned out of Rampart Street for an honesty leak? We need to take the lonely exile to our bosom. Can we get charitable status for an Adopt-a-Hoodie program? We should have an 800 number for bewildered exiles to call.

He would have to pipe down about those health issues they pulled up for their campaign, though. They are forgetting they pulled that stuff out as weapon against good law, not a reason for it. Bars are not hosing 90+ dB sound into neighbors’ homes, and people walking Bourbon Street don’t stay in one place for eight hours five days a week, so OSHA is not an issue in this law. If you want to address that issue, you need to load up a new crusade. And you are unlikely to get any sympathy on Bourbon Street.

Maybe we can even call time out in the caucus race, pass the damn’ ordinance, which is probably tired of us by now, and find something of importance to fight about. All the issues more important than how a bar plays or what kind of shirts a shop sells. Which is to say: all issues.

Me, I’m sticking with Spitting Image, no respect and George Carlin. Watch this instead of listening to Nathan. Or me.

http://youtu.be/QPcRQubF8cY

Or have another spin of Lou Ludwig’s Let’s all hate on the hipsters.

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Letter to Senator Ed Murray and Representative Helena Moreno – 4

Dear Senator Murray and Representative Moreno,

I am writing concerning what I understand is an effort by a small contingency of people associated with the French Quarter to either abolish or effect negative change to the statute that established and provides for the activities of French Quarter Management District (FQMD).

I am strongly in favor of French Quarter Management District, its Board, its President and the many French Quarter residents and business owners who actively volunteer and participate in the highly positive work done by FQMD in improving the quality of life in the French Quarter. I strongly oppose any effort by any other group to eliminate or reduce the effectiveness of FQMD.

FQMD has done more positive things in the French Quarter in the relatively short period of its existence than all of the other groups in the French Quarter combined. My husband and I own three properties in the French Quarter, the first since 1981. My husband has been involved in the French Quarter since 1964, including as a resident and part owner of a business. His family has been involved in New Orleans for many generations. We have been actively involved as volunteers in many quality of life matters in the French Quarter. We have learned from experience that FQMD is the only positive citizens and business group in the French Quarter.

FQMD has taken many positive actions, with no government funding, including, among many others (1) persuaded business owners in the French Quarter to purchase scooters and iPads for the Eight District of NOPD (2) persuaded business owners in the French Quarter to fund new street lights (3) worked with NOPD to improve traffic in the French Quarter (4) taken action to eliminate drug dealing on Bourbon Street (5) started a program to enforce the ban on over sized buses in the French Quarter (6) taken action that resulted in adding hundreds of security cameras in the French Quarter, and is now working with NOPD to enforce city code sections in the French Quarter.

I am currently the Chairperson of the FQMD Enforcement Committee. At this month’s meeting we had 15 attendees, over half of whom are not members of the Committee but who attend because of their high level of interest in and participation in enforcement efforts in the French Quarter. We routinely have attendance by NOPD officers who are supportive of FQMD and its many activities. We also have volunteers who assist NOPD in its work in the French Quarter during this period of reduced NOPD presence in the French Quarter because of budget restraints.

I am very hopeful that you continue your well known support of the French Quarter and FQMD. The vast majority of French Quarter citizens and businesses support you and your efforts and the work of FQMD, and I ask you to consider this should any other groups or individuals approach you to in any way take action that negatively effects FQMD and, thus, the French Quarter.

The French Quarter is a jewel for our city and our State. We must support it in every way that we can, including working with FQMD in its many, many positive actions.

Thank you for your support of FQMD, the French Quarter and the City of New Orleans,

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A Letter to Sen. Murray and Rep. Moreno -3

Dear Representative Moreno and Senator Murray,

I write to you today to make sure you understand that the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Residents Association(VCPORA) along with the French Quarter Citizens(FQC) organizations do not speak for the majority of the French Quarter residents. I know they often contact you to help on certain topics. While this is appropriate what is not is for them to portray that they represent the views of the FQ residents.

The two groups together represent about 10 – 15% of the French Quarter residents and can only be described as elitists. They are not representative of the makeup of the French Quarter. In general they are against everything. Heres some VCPORA/FQC position examples over the last few years:

FOR
– VCPORA supported development of a chicken processing facility in the French Quarter (the rest of us were adamantly opposed)
– Banning “Duck Boats” from using Decatur Street (this is perhaps the only item that the rest of the residents agree with)

AGAINST
– Demolishing the old Woolworth building at 1031 Canal and revitalizing that area with a new development – fortunately they were unsuccessful – unfortunately the development has not moved forward
– VCPORA opposed the introduction of a small parcel fee to pay for increased security and help make the FQ a safer place.
– Replacing an abandoned gas station on Rampart Street with a nice restaurant (Habana Outpost); here they were successful and the corner remains an unsafe and unattractive location.
– T shirt shops, run predominantly by immigrants, that have been operating legally for many years
– Music as evident by their many, many lawsuits against music establishments including places like Antoines, Court of Two Sisters, Pat O’Briens etc.
– The recent revision to the Sound Ordinance – this ordinance would have improved the quality of life for residents near Bourbon Street yet they adamantly opposed its passage.
– Tourism Industry who they constantly attack
– FQMD

Regarding FQMD, for them to have 2 seats on the Board of Commissioners seems overkill in light of their small residential membership. 11 of the commissioners try hard to develop consensus solutions and the reps for the 2 residential groups do not. Their recent withdrawal from FQMD was because they could not get their way and didn’t want to compromise. FQMD, under the leadership of Robert Watters, has made significant progress in working several of the numerous problems and issues facing us. The organization needs to continue making progress and get this VCPORA/FQC distraction behind them.

Today VCPORA and FQC are joined at the hip and effectively one organization so perhaps they should have one seat with the other seat going to a resident nominated by the Mayor or the District C council member. An alternative would be to give the seat to the new French Quarter Advocates organization assuming they can increase their membership to the same level as VCPORA/FQC.

Are either of these suggestions something you would consider?

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A Letter to Senator Murray and Representative Moreno – 2

This is another letter sent by an interested citizen to Senator Ed Murray and Representative Helena Moreno about VCPORA’s latest attempt to undermine FQMD.

In case anyone has forgotten, it was FQMD that sponsored Dave Woolworth’s public, transparent sound analysis of Bourbon Street. Transparency spooks them. They seem to prefer Star Chamber processes.

Dear Sen. Murray and Rep. Moreno,

There has been extensive discussion over the weekend about proposed or soon to be proposed legislation changing the makeup of the Board of the French Quarter Management District. It is my understanding that these changes are advantageous to VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens.

These organizations have consistently refused to provide their membership list or even a membership number. Many members of VCPORA do not reside in the French Quarter. The sliver of residents these groups represent are already over represented on the Board of FQMD, and there are many other residents of the French Quarter on the Board. This small group of residents is extremely well organized and function in a zombie like manner when commands are issued, so I suspect you are hearing from them on this issue. Do not be mislead to think those statements are actually individual beliefs. The similarity of the emails should be your first tip off that they are cut and paste robots at work.

As a private citizen and member of the Facilitation Committee of MaCCNO (Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans), I participated in the FQMD Government Committee process of drafting a functional sound ordinance based on science. Great care was taken to get it right. It was already in the works when I got aboard, and I worked with them for about a year. VCPORA introduced legislation through Stacy Head in an attempt to derail the process. This instigated a very large musician protest at City Hall. That bad legislation was withdrawn, and VCPORA and FQC completely removed themselves from the FQMD discussion of an ordinance that would work for all stakeholders. I would hesitate to give more influence to people who are reluctant to participate in a constructive manner.

Their absence aside, a very good set of ordinance recommendations was crafted by FQMD, and the subsequent ordinance was stonewalled by VCPORA at the very last Council meeting of the outgoing term. Since it is apparent to them that they will no longer be able to control the newly installed City Council as their own personal puppets, they are now appealing to the State level in order to exert undue influence. Don’t let them do it.

If there are to be any changes to the make up of the Board, I strongly urge you to consider creating some balance by selecting stakeholders that have been actively opposed to the dirty dealings and oppressive and offensive actions of VCPORA. They have most recently targeted small retail businesses and culture bearers, especially at the grass roots level, and those groups deserve a seat at the table.

The situation with the Sound Ordinance has not played itself out yet. There will be a new ordinance brought before the Council, and some of the actions of VCPORA Puppet Master Attorney Stuart Smith, including attempting to intimidate members of the City Council and FQMD Board, could result in him serving jail time. At this point in time, any politician that sides with this organization is putting their own credibility in jeopardy. I urge you to take the high road on this issue and either leave the FQMD unchanged or to create a position for grass roots level businesses and organizations

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A Letter to Sen. Murray and Rep. Moreno

VCPORA and its sycophants are trying to undermine FQMD again. The pretext this time is that the BBA, which nominates one member, has slightly modified itself, changing the name to FQBL – the French Quarter Business League. VCPORA’s action seems a bit silly, but they do this kind of thing to annoy and undermine organizations they do not like. FQMD, the French Quarter Management District, is one of their targets. I think it is because FQMD is a state-mandated body using a structured, transparent meeting and decision process, which VCPORA has been unable to subvert. They themselves operate in secrecy, refusing to reveal even their membership numbers. FQMD is an important part of New Orleans’ defense against oppression and limitation by private interest groups. It deserves your support. We suggest you write to Sen. Murray and Rep. Moreno, asking them to ensure that VCPORA/FQC are not allowed to shift the balance of FQMD nomination, unless it is in the direction of reducing theirs, the neighborhood associations’, weighting. They are already overweighted, and since they have gone on strike against FQMD and do not even participate, their nomination right should really be curtailed.

This is one of the letters sent by people who care. Next piece will be another one.

 

Dear Senator Murray and Representative Moreno,

This is rather longer than an advocacy note to a representative should be. I will try to keep it lively.

Sad rumors say that the Arch-Insufferables of VCPORA are lobbying again to have FQMD abolished or their already overweight influence jacked up to control level.

To get to the point quickly: please reject any such overtures completely, without compromise.

If anything, their current position should be reduced. They represent narrow, unpleasant, minority viewpoints.

VCPORA and its currently symbiotic grafted appendage FQC have recently blocked passage of a useful, carefully crafted sound management amendment, including the City Attorney’s addendum to clear the basic law of an unconstitutional provision. They are engaged in a deeply immoral ongoing persecution of a retailer caught by mistaken identity in their dragnet of shops they do not like. I cannot imagine anything worse in the résumé of a group that claims a seat at the legislative table than knowingly persecuting an individual who did nothing wrong, even in their private, selfish worldview. Officers of any large urban police force in the country would be reprimanded or suspended for such actions, but VCPORA just shrugs and ignores responsibility.

They show every sign of being committed grey panther operations who have seized control of former Preservationist groups, hijacking their credentials. To really recover urban life, the French Quarter needs smiling people and families with kids, not grumpy complainers who oppose all the fun and playgrounds.

I have been tracking these faux-genteel little gangs for more than a year. They are virtually enslaved by Stuart H. Smith, still uncharged for alleged criminal acts which, if found true and culpable in court, would suggest psychological or other counseling is required following a prison term, not more influence in FQMD, currently New Orleans’ best hope for balance and intelligence in French Quarter politics.

FQMD has an excellent, transparent meeting and decision process. The two notorious residents’ clubs operate as cabals, with feudal Star Chamber decision processes. I am sure we all know former members who have left because of that. They say that the board does what the president wants, and the president promotes what Smith wants. In the few conflicts that have occurred, Smith threatens to pull support, and the president buckles, or is gone. Permitting more influence in FQMD is simply handing more weapons to Smith to push policy in his own peculiar, questionable, directions.

Real preservationism has been leached out of them in the course of their tedious moralistic crusades.The French Quarter has to look to the VCC and PRC for real knowledge and decision on historical preservation.

VCPORA likes to point to their age, having been incorporated in 1938, as if it were a justification for current mischief.

Many think VCPORA’s lifespan has now run its course; its ongoing downward trajectory is just a litany of crankiness and damage. A better outcome would be for them to dissolve and disappear, to let newer, younger, better informed groups take over. Their history and money are used to exert malevolent influence on the City in favor of the parochial views of an angry little anglo clique who having taken over the Creole physical territory are now principally engaged in subverting and destroying the heritage.

People in the US have become inured to private interests and the plutocracy not just promoting positions in Washington, but hijacking the processes to control outcomes. That is what VCPORA is trying to do. Probably the most noble thing an elected official can do in America today is to oppose that.

Please say no. Join us in the effort to free New Orleans of them.

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Riverview 2: The List of Shame. Plus more.

 

The news about Riverview is like the news about Malaysian Airlines flight 370: no news. We are now searching the Indian Ocean for any sign of a black box that might contain a sign of human decency surviving VCPORA’s moral collapse.

Catch-up: VCPORA sponsored a dragnet of T-shirt shops last September. Meg Lousteau, Exec and general dragon lady of the ex-preservationist club did a show-and-tell at an HHNC committee meeting, identifying about 42 “T-shirt shops” she said were illegal. Some were allegedly operating against a little tangle of not-quite-compatible zoning regs. Meg and Carol Allen had been able to identify, count, note and research some of the history of these shops into a fairly coherent charge sheet, that VCPORA’s lawyers turned into an indictment. The thoroughness of the persecution dossiers contrasted sharply with the retailers’ apparent invisibility to Safety and Permits for the last twenty or so years.

CMs Kristin Palmer, Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell delivered a public roasting to Jared Munster for not having shut down the tourist industry by the day before. At the time, I had some sympathy for the guy. Sadly, though, he has sunk into the moral dead zone with Meg and the rest of VCPORA, taking down a few others with them.

Persecution of a whole retail sector not engaged in under the counter child pornography, dangerous drugs or untraceable automatic weapons for second line shooting, based on aesthetic perception by one clique, is pretty questionable, but VCPORA and its accomplices found a way to lower the game to positively and unmistakably indecent.

They pulled a guy into their sweep who has nothing to do with it, Ed Azemas and his shop, Riverview. How did this happen? Why it’s easy, folks. Carol Allen tells Meg that 535 Decatur “looks like” a T-shirt shop. Meg puts it on a list presented to the last Council, the unlamented Jackie Clarkson Double-Speak Fest, and Safety and Permits. Trying to pacify Meg and maybe stay out of the firing line that SmthStag buys the bullets for, S&P zaps around town, photographing and researching and cross-checking files and comes up with about 13 businesses to charge, A bit of file-sharing with VCPORA, a charge sheet written by SmithStag, their associate Michael L. Martin polishes up his Perry Mason act, et voila, presto we have a show trial.

One big slip-up, and for me this gets a whole lot bigger than Benghazi to a tea party headbanger: Riverview at 535 Decatur. An S&P oppo named Devra Goldstein takes pictures (which show clearly that it is not a T-shirt shop) and slaps up a notice that this shop sells crack imported on a truck full of dead bodies from Ciudad Juarez. There was no evidence, because the evidence itself was no evidence, and as far as I can pick up, she did not really understand the T-shirt ordinance anyway. So back then, S&P had already bent over into ass-kissing mode.

So far, so what? A municipal cock-up. Miscommunication by a clutch of VCPORA-whipped under-motivated nine-to-fivers. What’s new?

What’s new comes on April 29th. Ed Azemas appears on a radio show with Meg Lousteau and Carol Allen. He shows clearly that Riverview is not a “T-shirt” shop and he has been unjustly snagged into their game. It turns out that there was once a T-shirt shop, a shabby, unsuccessful one, at one of the parts of that address. Whatever your feeling about application of the haphazard T-shirt law to that shopkeeper, it (a) no longer existed and (b) had nothing to do with the Riverview fashion shop.

Injustice and false accusation are pretty serious matters, and the facts are easy to check, so let’s let the folks reserve judgment and keep grave expressions on their judgmental mugs for 48 hours, until May 1. By Mayday, everybody with a functioning brain connected with this case knows that the Riverview case is a cockup like a dolphin in a tuna net: let it out.

What do they do? Nothing. Not a peep, not an apology, not a public statement. That means Carol Allen, at stage one; Meg Lousteau, next step in the march of shame; Devra Goldstein, who wrote and photographed the ridiculous “official” accusation; Jared Munster, who as head of department should provide some moral leadership; Michael L. Martin, popping up and down, may it please the court, as some kind of privately inserted prosecutor against the shops, who if he does not know that his client VCPORA and the official accuser have brought a false charge against one of the guys in the dock should have his bar exam re-checked. Pretty soon, some of the BZA members must know it, because it is in the press, on the radio and TV, and getting harder to miss. And I would add, every member of VCPORA and FQC who is aware of this continuing persecution being perpetrated in the name of the club they are paying dues to. Come on, stand up, you guys. How can you let this go on?

Result: not a peep. Not one of these people, not one, so far, has the simple guts to say, We made a mistake. Sorry, Ed. Munster is down a bolt hole somewhere, and La Lousteau won’t even talk to Ed Azemas, which is a signal that legal advice has happened. Pull the manhole cover over your head. Decent behavior not allowed on Rampart Street.

That puts VCPORA deeper into the moral underground than even I thought they would go. They promote bad ideas with a creepy Orwellian thought process. They falsely claim to represent “the residents.” They edit information to mislead intentionally. They claim preservationist credentials as protective coloration for what they call among themselves ‘residents’ quality of life.’ Which translates as, “Naff off, you guys. This patch is our child-free retirement gated community, just waiting for the gate to be delivered.”

Most FQ residents agree that VCPORA is a self-centred little gang and do not want to be considered represented by it. They do not represent anything like a majority, and they are not real preservationists.

Chapter the Second

I went to the 40th anniversary do of the Preservation Resource Center at the Saenger yesterday. There you could see what Preservation really is. At first I thought it was a lot of elderly folks, with gents in white suits. Then I thought: wait a minute. I’m probably older than a lot of them. Just not quite grown up. But the observation wasn’t quite right. Younger people showed up, just a bit later. They probably had to finish work.

The attendance was huge. Hundreds, probably more than a thousand. The Saenger is huge, a superb theatre and magnificent restoration. And the PRC, real preservationists, are a cheerful gang with an honest approach to their mission, able to point to a history, not of complaint and nag and moaning, but of hundreds of positive accomplishments, and they keep doing it. They focus on buildings and houses, and they help people. Imagine that – the real leading urban preservationist group doesn’t try to do people down – it tries to help people who want to buy heritage property to do it up right, renovate well and enjoy a great house. They are a big non-profit. They fight battles to preserve buildings and neighborhoods. Motwani is the devil in their Paradise Lost and they say, You know what: we win some, we lose some, so how about a donation to help us win more? I liked them.

The keynote was Stacy Head. Now, I am not CM Head’s favorite person, so I stand ready for a nice lambast, just to try to keep up a defense. But her speech was fine. She said she was in her last term in Council and in politics, which surprised me, because Perdido Zone gossip is that Stacy is going to run for Mayor. So what’s true? Hard to say. Loads of candidates for executive office spend a year so so saying they are not running, as basic prep for running. So let’s wait for more rumors.

Chapter the Third

I left PRC early and nipped over to a Marigny meeting of concerned citizens against short term rentals. TV vans outside, suggesting Meg Lousteau in the limelight and Brylski earning her crust. This had a large attendance too; being in a church hall, not the Saenger, standing room only. Miles Swanson, FMIA’s President, is speaking as I enter but, yep, there’s Meg, seated center stage ready to pick it up in case Miles said anything off-message. VCPORAns and FQCers had a lot of the front row seats. Nothing like a bit of evening news action to highlight your missionary position.

I was watching and listening. Not a public word. One reason to go to a Meg-centred event is to calibrate your BS meter, so you have to be observant. And I noticed something in the course of this technical task last night: Meg Lousteau is the queen of howling at the moon. The Conductor of Kvetch. It is an interesting talent. She does not offer positive solutions. She does not lead people forward. She embodies VCPORA’s chosen role as moaners-in-chief. She identifies a thing that troubles people, especially property owners protecting investments and “quality of life,” curtain-twitchers reluctant and addicted, and she pokes it with a big hat pin. A nice sharp dart in the latest festering boil on your property value.

Some of the comments were interesting. One from a woman I would have liked to speak to, but she got away. She said, I have had every kind of neighbor, from hookers to people cooking meth in the kitchen. That is what it is like to live in a city like this, so let’s dial down a bit of the exaggerated indignation. Maybe I will get an interview with her one day.

Another guy who commented a lot hit an issue that interests me: weaponizing law. The plague and the addiction of the Smith-era VCPORA/FQC. He said, transient tenants are bad neighbors. His neighborhood is zoned residential. Renters are running a business in a home, so let’s get them with zoning. Let’s get ’em! At the same time, it was pretty clear that if his neighbor sat in his house in front of a screen all day, working as a day trader, writing history books or software, businesses without a lot of coming and going, he would not have said a word. So it is not rule of law that concerns him. It is things that bug him. Then he looks for a law to beat you over the head with. Land of the free, home of the brave, and may Babbitt ride your range until the rising seas wash our sins away.

The TV crews were of the professional variety, with expensive tripods, swiveling from the stage speakers to audience speakers to capture lots of footage to comb for sound bites.

Short-term and transient is too complex an issue to start on now, because we don’t want you to be late for work, but it was clear that this was an early venting occasion. People who have a real concern about this issue, and others who don’t, were letting it hang out. The issue is building up, locally and nationally. Ideas are starting to form. It is the kind of thing that will soon be squeezing interesting venom out of a colorful variety of poisonous snakes, so stay tuned.

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Riverview, part 1

News Flash:

Not the usual NOLAscape thing. Better to take some time to close-focus the lenses and get the spotlight just right on the civic glitterati acting out caricatures of themselves.

Meg Lousteau refuses to speak to Ed Azemas.

Ed Azemas of Riverview found a photograph of the now defunct T-shirt shop that once traded at 535 Decatur. He called Meg Lousteau to show her the picture. Meg blew him off: she can’t talk to him any more.

Ed has been caught in the dragnet incited by Meg and VCPORA last September, attacking T-shirt shops with intent to force them to shut down, put their owners out of business, send their employees, possibly a few hundred, into unemployment.

Ed Azemas’ Riverview boutique however is not and never was a T-shirt shop. Without discussing the rights and wrongs of VCPORA’s attack on the others – we’ll come to that – Riverview has no business in it. But he has been caught up in it, on the indication of Carol Allen and Meg Lousteau, carried forward by a Safety and Permits inspector named Devra Goldstein, whose file photos clearly show that Riverview was not a T-shirt shop at the time of her inspections, even though she indicted Azemas anyway and put up a notice that he was a violator. And what can we say about head of Safety and Permits Jared Munster, who has gone underground on this issue? He has not responded to emails or telephone messages. We can only speculate on his position. Could he be scared of VCPORA, their aggressive boss, already accused of intimidation of public officials? Or Meg? Or just concerned that by not cutting Riverview loose, he may have got stuck in something bad and better shut up? On the other hand, maybe Safety and Permits is just too many spinning plates for him. It’s the department that shelters the infamous Taxicab Directorate and Malachi Hull. It’s where strange stuff in building permits and completion certificates go on every day. Maybe Munster just doesn’t have time for guys like me or Ed Azemas.

So Meg can’t talk to Ed any more. Sounds like lawyer’s advice, doesn’t it? Sounds like the kind of advice your lawyer would give you when you might be at risk of something.

I hope so. Regular NOLAscapers may think I give VCPORA/FQC a hard time. I think I am gentle on them. A few can’t stop clowning around, spinning their private club wishes as public interest, but many of them are nice enough people, who think they are doing the right thing. I try to leave them out of the firing line. But now they have stepped way over a line. Even the most ordinary rank and file of neighborhood associationists have to stand up and denounce this, or they are hanging together, complicit in a false accusation that unjustly victimizes a person. Until they cut this case loose and make it right with Azemas, they can have no expectation of shelter. Carol Allen, President, and Meg Lousteau, Executive Director of VCPORA know beyond reasonable doubt that they share in the false accusation that Ed Azemas violated a bunch of ordinances, on dates before Riverview, the accused business, even existed. But they decline to say so, and allow this injustice to go on, prosecuted by their effective owner, Smith, and their appearing attorney, Michael Martin. Isn’t Martin what they call an officer of the court? Wouldn’t he have a duty to report an injustice, even if Allen and Lousteau are too insensitive to care? Well, crime or not, it is blatant injustice against a person. If they are not ashamed, they should be embarrassed. That is our job, and yours.

Okay – let’s bring in a fresh dead horse, and get started. (1)

– – – – – – – – – –

Eruptions of sanctimony and hypocrisy, most common in the French Quarter, reassure us that we are not just adrift in the happy go lucky New Orleans of legend and tourism. We really are in America. Babbitt walks our authentic streets, smiling, pompous, mean, narrow and boring. Kansas has come to town, Toto.

That is why we must treasure the Krewe of Kleweless web site, a reliable source of hot air to warm the cockles of the intellectually challenged. The 5/12 entry published the brief lawyer Michael Martin is following against the T-shirt shops caught in Mystic Meg’s 2013 dragnet. It is signed by SmithStag and Martin. I think I can sense the SmithStag style I have seen before – strikes me as self-righteous, arrogant and patronizing.

How could Meg Lousteau run a dragnet sweep of French Quarter retail? (Sorry, Vieux Carré retail. The historic gem.) Meg is a tough cookie, but just one cookie. I think her secret is, she cured the blindness of Safety and Permits, which for the past twenty years has been unable to see a T-shirt shop, even those building-width, wide-open ones on Bourbon that so many visitors like to shop in. They didn’t know they were there. Maybe it was the lighting or something. The owners are really lucky visitors can find them.

Meg’s crusade is so holy and VCPORA so self-righteous that on that fateful day in September, Kristin Palmer glaring balefully at him, the scales fell from Jared Munster’s eyes. He could see at last, and the first thing he saw was the handwriting on the wall. It said, “Munster, your ass is mine!” in ancient Bourbonian, with a Miami accent. Whose spirit was lasering through Kristin’s gaze that day?

Hallelujah, the veil is lifted, the clouds clear. Munster’s Rangers see T-shirts everywhere – even, in at least one case, Riverview, where they are not.

How did Meg do it? Is it just the steely gaze and narrow focus? Or the well-known honor and integrity of her employer? Maybe she uses a stick. Or a whip! I can see Meg with a whip. She might have a career opportunity with some British MPs who need cheering up from time to time. Or maybe she had some backstairs support from the political sausage grinders who keep popping up in Vieux Carré exercises in social management.

Just a wee bit more about Riverview. Have patience. Here is the section from the brief.

                       BZA Docket 023-14 – 535 Decatur Street
City records contain an application submitted by the business at 535 Decatur (“Posters Unlimited”) to Safety & Permits on March 11, 2003, identifying the current use of the property as a “Frame Shop”, and seeking authorization for TEMPORARY sales of souvenirs for the “Final Four” basketball weekend. [See: VCPORA/FQC Exhibit BZA 023-14-1.] A similar request, submitted on December 10, 2003, sought a permit to sell souvenirs for the 2004 Sugar Bowl. That application was DENIED, pursuant to an issue with the Vieux Carre Commission. [See: VCPORA/FQC Exhibit BZA 023-14-2.] The appellant’s own submission to the Board, p. 19, contains a December 2, 2008 occupational license application representing to the City that the owners sought to operate a “Gifts, Souvenirs & General Items” shop at this location. The application shows that it was DISAPPROVED at that time on grounds that it was not a permitted use. On December 12, 2008 a subsequent occupational license application (appellant’s submission to the Board at p. 20) representing to the City that the owners sought to operate a “Vietnamese Mask Shop” was approved by Safety & Permits. Subsequent City licensing documents indicate “Family Clothing Store” in 2013.
These records indicate that the City had no written notice that the use at that location was in violation during the 10 years preceding Safety & Permits’ 2013 action, and in fact, suggest that the business was operating under another guise altogether. Accordingly, it is beyond question that this appellant has not met the requirements of La. R.S. 9:5625 for acquisition of nonconforming use status.

 

Sounds convincing, right? “It is beyond question . . . .” If I was on the BZA, though, I would have binned it before reading for the patronizing tone and typography. “The applicant’s own submission . . .” What is this, a teenager’s diary?

One flaw, though, is a little bit fatal: SmithStag/Martin’s story is not about Riverview, the shop at 535 Decatur. It is about another business that used to be at that address. But VCPORA, with Meg at the vanguard, leading Safety and Permits, which does not seem to have anything resembling a vanguard, is just too mission-driven to care about such details as getting the identity of the victim right. Equal opportunity persecutors.

The Lady Crusader will not give a clear answer. Jared Munster, Lord of Safety and Permits, will not answer our emails or calls. Remember Major Major from Catch-22? Only in when he is out, always out when he is in? I think that is what we are dealing with here.

These people at least have seen or have access to the photos, are fully aware that the charges are bogus, but won’t lift a finger:

Carol Allen
Meg Lousteau
Devra Goldstein
Jared Munster
Michael Martin

Here is the takeaway: since VCPORA/FQC and Safety and Permits know they made a mistake but will not acknowledge or correct, they have no credibility. They are both on the moral scrap heap, and cannot even begin recovery if they don’t find the courage to get Riverview off the docket before the hearing. You don’t play Kafka games with living people and keep any claim to respect.

Now I have a legal question. I am asking the City Attorney’s office to clarify, but if any lawyers who happen to be reading would like to help, that would be great.

Why is VCPORA permitted to play prosecutor before the Board of Zoning Adjustment? A zoning appeal is not a lawsuit, is it? There should be no role for a plaintiff who is not materially affected. In variance requests, affected neighbors much more directly affected by the matter at hand just have standard commenter status. Even on hot topics like the Holy Cross development, commenters were commenters, not auditioning for Boston Legal. I guess in the New Orleans cinematic cultural economy, NOLA Legal‘s lawyers would all be vampires. Wait a minute – kind of realistic, isn’t it?

It may be the the New Orleans way or a tradition for a private party’s lawyer to ponce about like a freelance DA, but it doesn’t look kosher to me. The shops are appealing against charges of zoning violation. Shouldn’t the matter be between the appellants and the BZA, without interference from private pressure groups which were also behind the sweep that got them accused, and probably sponsored the zoning regs they are charged with violating? The appellant accused should have their counsel, if they so desire, and if the BZA needs to consult about the law, they should have access to the City Attorney or their own advisor. Why is unsolicited carping from Stuart Smith and Michael Martin allowed?

The hunting pack in this has left classic Preservationism way behind. This is something else: social control. Dressed up as aesthetics but obviously a social class issue. Historic Preservationism comes unstuck when it leaves architecture. The tout ensemble phrase in the statutes enabling the VCC broaden the scope so that social things can be included, but the results are rarely pretty. We hope to look at the history of that in upcoming articles. If their social management objective was seriously historical, the FQ would probably be a lot more fun. Small business would recover a market share of gambling, instead of the Harrah’s monopoly. Prostitution would be spread out in the streets near North Rampart. The resident population would be ethnically diverse again, rather than dominated by white middle class people of post-child raising age. The population would be higher, and there would be more local service stores. There would be more children. Residential diversity would bring retail diversity, which the residents’ clubs may realize one sunny day that you can’t get just by lamenting its passing and expecting private entrepreneurs to lose their own money trying to sell things people don’t want to buy.

The population has decreased partly through tourism – more hotels taking up space – but also through preservationist-sponsored gentrification. VCPORA has been a major player in creating the problem they complain about.

Brylski’s Krewe web site publishing SmithStag’s brief is helpful. If you read it critically, you can see the spin for yourself.

And you will probably see that the zoning rules are largely made up of chocolate-box hope. They have not nearly kept pace with demographic changes, tourism growth, economic dependence on tourism, and national and global economic shifts.

Remember, the city is chronically cash-strapped. Tourism is now a huge source of City income, paying for police, fire, schools, pothole repair, and all those services you expect. If the residents’ mafias succeed in cutting that income by suppressing Bourbon Street and visitor-oriented retail, the shortfall will be made up by you. Millages will increase, sales tax will creep up, the City might seek an income tax. Parking meters and tickets will be more expensive. And services might decrease. Police numbers are already more than 25% below target, with recruiting low, because of the basic pay and internal wrangling. You – we – will pay the difference. Not VCPORA – it is tax-exempt.

But the 3,800 residents of the French Quarter – 1% of the population – will not have to listen to music they don’t like when they want to stroll down Bourbon instead of Royal, talking of Michelangelo, and they won’t have to look at those trashy shops.

Tightening up the picture a bit, though, at least half of the residents have no problem with Bourbon Street and natural retail evolution, so let’s call it 1,900.

Let me throw together some hypothetical numbers, just for illustration. Suppose visitor numbers next year are 10 million, average spend $600. That is six billion dollars. Suppose the city’s share of taxes and fees through the multiplier is say 5.0%. It is actually more, given that it is outside money and cascades through circulation, but I can’t do the microeconomics, so let’s go with that – $30,000,000. And suppose the FQ residents generate enough boredom so that 15% of them go to see the ruins of Detroit instead. That is $4,500,000 to make up. Let’s say there are about 150,000 houses. That is about $30 a house. I am sure I am way short of the real cost, but I would say that is the minimum subsidy we have to pay for making sure those 1,900 feel better about the shop fronts on Bourbon Street – where they never go, of course.

Since the change they want is for their own benefit, should they pick up the tab? It would come about $2,368 a year each. I think they will prefer to share the cost.  I think they will want us to pick up their tab.

 

(1) Line stollen from Jon Stewart.

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Kickin’ the T-shirt Can

Justin Schmidt, gunslinger for most of the shops accused of the High Crime and Misdemeanour of selling products with the words New Orleans printed on them, kicked the can not so much down the road as out of bounds Monday. He got an injunction preventing the BZA from acting in the cases until the City produces documents he first requested, then subpoenaed.

At first glance, consequences seem to be that the BZA cannot rule or shut down the shops, and that the shops may now be in zoning limbo forever.

NOLAscape interviewed ex-Assistant Deputy Wintergreen, in charge of archiving and document distribution, in his cubicle in the underground vaults of City Hall.

NS: Have you received instructions to locate and deliver the documents?

W: Absolutely.

NS: From whom?

W: My superiors.

NS: And will you carry out the instruction?

W: Absolutely.

NS: When?

W: As soon as it gets to the top of the list.

NS: What list is that?

W: Urgent business.

NS: Can you explain that?

W: We list things in order of urgency and importance, using a system worked out under Governor Long in 1931. As soon as it gets to the top of the Most Urgent list, we will get right on it.

NS: How many items are on the Urgent list?

W: It fluctuates. Today there are 168 items the administration considers urgent.

NS: And where are the T-shirt documents on this list?

W: Not on it yet.

NS: But you do intend to get the job done.

W: Absolutely.

I wonder if Wintergreen’s assessment of the urgency has anything to do with Sharonda Williams’ assessment of the quasi-prosecutor’s institutional intelligence and integrity after Council’s Sound Ordinance Game on April 24th, when they played dumb on the meaning of “unconstitutional.”

So the campaign against retailers Meg Lousteau lashed into murky wakefulness last September 16th now has between another month and eternity to hang over the heads of retailers.

The wraith-like scowling finger-wagging form of Big Sister, Scourgette of the Anglo Backlash, may be fixed on their mental movie screen forever, ready to call down rain on our parade at the drop of a funny hat.

Am I mixing these metaphors enough?

I don’t care. First of all, visualize Meg doing the Rain Dance. It’s worth it. Then remember that VCPORA has been instrumental in getting Riverview snared in this net smelling loudly of old dead decaying vampire squid. Faced with the fact that their accusation was unfounded and unjust, what do you think they said they would do about it?

Nada. No retraction, no apology, no withdrawal, no responsibility. The Pontius Pilate position: nothing to do with us.

Knowingly complicit in injustice against an individual – you’re tainted goods. Can’t even begin to rebuild a moral platform until you put that right.

In the Great White T-shirt Hunt, Big Sister doesn’t even try to conceal using legal technicalities as weapons to impose subjective aesthetic judgment. In Council chamber, the arguments are all about occupational use categories available in 1993, Revenue forms, Grandfather Claus, affidavits of who what when where, various licenses retailers must pay for each year. Were you a T-shirt shop because you sold T-shirts, or because of a faded old form in one of Wintergreen’s boxes?

In normal life, the city is not too finicky. Pay your fee, your renewal shows up in the post. When it all goes Bleak House, ancient details meaningless at the time are given zombie life to haunt the present.

Give her a microphone or a camera, though, and Big Sister cuts quickly to the chase: ” . . . those trashy T-shirt shops.” The legal folderol is a choose-your-weapons ceremony for shutting down retailers that the Ladies’ Smelling Salts and Parasol Club doesn’t like the look of.

I want to find something out. I believe it is the BZA’s policy to avoid public comment, and Jared Munster of Safety and Permits seems to have pulled the manhole cover shut over himself. No answer. No reply. AWOL. Maybe a lawyer or off-the-record city official can tell us.

A commenter in the Council chamber usually gets two minutes, sometimes three, to come to the little lectern and say a piece opposing or supporting the matter at hand.

But Michael Martin for VCPORA pops up and down like Perry Mason, objecting to this and pointing out that. Under what rule does a private club have this right of unlimited advocacy before the BZA?

 

Are we for or against T-shirt shops? The question is premature. While the structure of rules is such that five models of T-shirt in Riverview are illegal merchandise, and 105 models of the same stuff are legal in Walgreen’s, while shirts saying Dallas Cowboys are legal but New Orleans are not, while the system tacitly authorizes shoddy action from Safety and Permits and Big Sister vigilante action in its public session, the law, Sir, is less than a ass. It is a tourist mule, and prosecution is unsafe.

When law can do no right,
Let it be lawful that law bar no wrong.
            Big Shakey, King John 3.1.189

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=S7Jw_v3F_Q0

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The T-Witch Hunt

Monday 12 May, 10.00 AM, Council Chamber, Palazzo Perdido: next episode of The T-Witch Hunt, live. Admission free.

It is not like a Council committee session or the Supreme Court. The seven members of the Board of Zoning Adjustment maintain dignity throughout the session. The participants on both sides, and the lawyers, will maintain serious mien, discussing grandfathering, technical zoning matters, documents provided or not provided by the city. VCPORAns will huddle with Michael Martin, quarterback for the T-Hunters, while Justin Schmidt, defense coordinator, parries hypotheticals with reality. Witch-hunting may give a whole new meaning to “stake-holders.”

But underneath the surface seethes visceral class warfare. Not Marxian economic class warfare, which we as loyal pledge-allegiance Americans are trained to reject. This is social class warfare, which we Must Never Even Name. It is worse than unconstitutional. It is un-Declaration of Independence. Its name Must Never Be Spoken, but it is alive and kickin’ in French Quarter politics.

Preservationist clubs own and operate the Vieux Carré as an aesthetic franchise since the incorporation of VCPORA as an independent nation in 1938. Teams of PORAn inspectors scan the streets and stands for violators. Civilians who live and work in the French Quarter, which has the same boundaries as the Vieux Carré, persist in the belief that they are in the United States, entitled to constitutional safeguards. Neither is quite right. It’s still going to be New Orleans when the dust settles.

Here are a few highlights flickering in the legal mudpie:

Trading in T-shirts is a criminal enterprise.

VCC-1: T-shirt, novelty, gift and souvenir shops are prohibited:
VCC-2: T-shirt, novelty, gift and souvenir shops are prohibited:
VCS: T-shirt, novelty, gift and souvenir shops are prohibited:
VCE: T-shirt, novelty, gift and souvenir shops are prohibited:
VCE-1: T-shirt, novelty, gift and souvenir shops are prohibited:

See map below for geographical spread of laws to prevent T-shirts corrupting visitors and residents.

FQ zoning map

FQ zoning map

Definitions:

179. T-Shirt. Any garment or article of clothing, including, but not limited to, T-shirts, sweat shirts, tank tops, shirts or scrub shirts, which are designed or intended generally to be worn on or over the chest and containing any communicative verbiage, graphics, or images imprinted or to be imprinted on the garment or article of clothing, exclusive of a garment manufacturer’s mark or logo, exclusive of decorative words and information woven or dyed in the fabric by the manufacturer of the fabric, exclusive of hand stitched, needle work or embroidery, exclusive of tie-dye garments, and exclusive of hand painted or air-brushed garments that contain no communicative verbiage, graphics or images.

168. Souvenir Shop or T-Shirt Shop. Any premises in which the retail sale of T-shirts or souvenirs or both is conducted as a principal use of the premises, or as an adjunct to some other business activity, but which constitutes the primary, or is the major attraction to the premises. For the purposes of this Ordinance, “souvenirs” shall mean items, exclusive of books, magazines or maps, which serve as a token of remembrance of New Orleans and which bear the name of the City or geographic areas or streets thereof or of events associated with New Orleans including but not limited to events such as Mardi Gras, the Sugar Bowl, or the World’s Fair.

189. T-Shirt Shop. Same as Souvenir Shop.

Summarized by Jared Munster, head of Safety and Permits Department: the operative T-shirt definition for zoning is: if it says New Orleans, it is a banned T-shirt. If it says F*#€ Yo’ M@&#¥ with an illustration of what that looks like in action, you’re cool with his department. If it says New Orleans or Mardi Gras under that, you could be going away for a while.

Now, what I am trying to figure out is, are these T-shirts illegal, or only illegal while being sold in a shop meeting definition 168? We need to ask this because Walgreens and H&M have hundreds of T-shirts with New Orleans on them. So if it is the case that the set of definitions allows large stores to have a T-shirt department which might be bigger than a whole small shop, because the souvenir business is not the principal use of the premises, don’t the words anti-trust, restraint of trade and similar notions start to dance around in your peripheral vision?

Summing up so far: Selling T-shirts and/or souvenirs, which appeal to many tourists, is prohibited in the areas where most tourists go, except by large corporate retailers.

Effect: native or resident New Orleanians cannot legally sell merchandise with the words New Orleans or Mardi Gras. Branches of national chains (Walgreens) or global brands (H&M) can.

Other rules that have been tacked onto the body of T-shirt wisdom say that no T-shirt shop may be within six hundred feet of any other T-shirt shop, and then there is the “grandfather” clause. The 600 feet rule is pretty weird. Is that a backhand way to limit the numbers? Or it a kind of protectionism, to insulate existing shops from competitors? First, zoning says shops are illegal unless they are grandfathered, then they have to be 600 feet apart. But if they are grandfathered, they are where they are. You can’t move them. And the law is trying to say that you can’t open any new ones. So can it mean anything, or is council just messin’ with us?

So that’s the law. Bit of an ass.

Grandfathering has an unsavory history. Grandfather laws originally referred to state laws made in 1898, saying you could only vote if you were able to vote legally in 1867, or could prove descent from someone legally able to vote in 1867. African Americans were not able to vote in the South in 1867, so about two thirds or more of the Black population was disenfranchised.

In land use, the usual current cut-off is ten years. If you have been a T-shirt shop for ten years, you are okay. Less than ten, kiss your investment and jobs good-bye. So if a shop has been open for four years and the souvenir vampires of the Vieux Carré Autonomous Republic get on its case, everybody can be unemployed. But if the shop has been open ten years, there is greater job security, so maybe pay should be lower.

Not only that, says the side acting like prosecution; to start the Grandfather clock, you had to operate under the non-conforming category, in this case T-shirt shop, having advised the enforcing department, for the ten years. Wee problem: the grandfathered shops have been open and trading since before the category “T-shirt shop” existed. Well, then says Mr Martin, they don’t qualify. Shut ’em down. Their grandfathering period starts when they change the category, which of course they can’t do, because the category is illegal. It was added to the CZO in order to declare it illegal. Catch 22. Off with his head.

That’s what we call “black and white” law, says Mr Schmidt. Reality is what counts. If a shop has been selling T-shirts since 1988, then it has been a T-shirt shop for 25 years. It hasn’t become something else because City Planning changed some words. Realists v. creationists.

Judicial precedents permitted “the city” to apply restrictions, but mention that zoning limitations in the VC districts are to enable the city to increase tourism. In these cases the neighborhood busies are explicitly trying to control and reduce tourism.

There is something silly about the tout ensemble of these laws, starting with the idea that souvenirs cannot be sold in the areas where tourists and visitors want to buy them, in a city whose largest single municipal revenue generator is tourism, which has a department of tourism whose mission is to increase visitors from nine to 13 million. I put “the city” in quotes above, because these rules are the tracks of a city at war with itself: VCPORA protecting its “little gem,” fighting off encroachment by those trashy people, you know, them, while tourism-related businesses supply a willing and eager market of visitors who pump in the money that keeps the wheels going ’round.

This little tangle of contradictory restrictions clearly does not constitute a solid body of law. It is a documentary tracing of social class warfare. For a great discussion of this, please read Dr Cannon’s discussion of the subject in The Lens. I will resist the temptation to quote extensively from it, and just suggest you savor it yourself.

Are there too many T-shirt shops, as activist residents claim? (Note activist residents. When polled, most residents disagree with the activists’ cultural policing.) I don’t know. But I think most of us know that banning by subjective judgment of one group is not a great way to decide. The prosecutors will say that it is according to law, but those laws record the subjective judgments of the people using the law. It’s a self-referential circle jerk.

Banning things is a funny way to try to bring about positive change. I think Safety and Permits knew that when they gave all the right licenses to Fleurty Girl’s French Quarter branch T-shirt shop. The permits were granted after the VC-whipped council set up the tricky maze to try to force the others out of business. From what we hear, Fleurty was clear and straight about their business, so they can’t be accused of anything. Good for them – nice shop. Maybe the license staff liked the Fleurty Girl style. Or the Fleurty Girl. But by licensing Fleurty, Safety and Permits has nullified the rules under which they are attacking most of the others. I guess it might be possible to set up a style-based regulatory system, but the current regs ain’t it. If Fleurty Girl, subtitled Everything New Orleans, is good to go, so are the others.

The rules also affect landlords. If a T-shirt shop moves out, is it realistic to expect the property owner to leave the property empty, waiting for an approved business, which might lose money because the rules don’t keep up with current trends and demographics?

Let’s cut VCPORA a little break today. Let’s pretend it’s their birthday or something. Meg Lousteau and Carol Allen have both stood up in council sessions and started presentations with past glories of VCPORA. In broad outline, I agree with them. The French Quarter fell into a state of progressive dilapidation after the Civil War. Many developers said, Knock it down. Who wants to invest millions in fixing up old wooden shacks with bad plumbing? VCPOA’s charismatic first president, Elizebeth Werlein, unleashed holy hell on council, mayor Martin Behrman, on the destroyers and developers, even on the VCC when it seemed bit sleepy. If it was not for Werlein and her commando corps the lake side streets of the Quarter might be strip malls and the river side another CBD.

And the right response is: so what? That history does not excuse bad thinking, dishonesty, thoughtless aggression, lawsuits launched with intent to harass, and the general nuttiness of VCPORA/FQC’s “cultural” activity, which people have been trying to fend off for a few years. Even some of their top-table members know they have a problem with the way some of the powers in the clubs have been driving them, which is wrecking their reputations and will probably require a few years of quiet repair after they shake off the vampire squid. History is important, but Abraham Lincoln does not excuse Bush II’s invasion of Iraq or the NSA. You have to look at the thing itself.

So what we have is crazy rules, subjective selective enforcement, citizen groups attacking people they don’t like, city officials declining to answer questions – a regulatory jambalaya.

Should anybody have their business endangered by this kind of hodgepodge, made up of successive attempts to codify prejudice in legalistic language?

Remember this too: tourism is a huge contributor to the City’s funds. For every dollar of income reduced, the shortfall will be made up. Most likely source: you. Your property tax, sales tax, extra restaurant tax. It’s them, or you.

Unless of course the Vieux Carré citizens who want the authority are willing to pick up the responsibility as well. That would be appropriate, don’t you think? There are a bit less than 4,000 of them so if, between Bourbon bars and tourist shops they manage to reduce municipal revenue say $100,000,000, that would be just $25,000 each. Do you think they will go for it?

I think most of the FQ residents might not like it. They might think the Nation of VIeux Carré and its high priests should pick up the tab. They don’t like to say how many of them there are, but let’s take a shot at 400. That’s $250,000 each. It sounds painful, but they say in some of their communications that their patron Smith is very generous with them.

Of course, there is a better option. I bet you have spotted it by now. Leave Bourbon Street alone, and let the market sort the T-shirts out. It is not the right issue to build imaginary VC flavored Marxism based on imaginary social classes. That stuff is not historic process. It’s just snobbery.

 

 

 

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