The City Planning Commission’s Tuesday session is interfering with my serious academic enquiry into how Faubourg Marigny “Improvement” Association still exists. In John Oliver terms, How Is FMIA Still A Thing?
But I have to set this important historico-sociological (or socio-historical) study aside for a few hours to get yesterday’s CPC half-marathon out of what’s left of my system.
You are lucky you weren’t there. Unless you were, in which case we share the pain. And the irony and the Pythonesque procedures. Like a car race or hockey match, the mayhem obscured the game. We got a Demolition Derby, in slow motion.
In the May 14th CZO Council session a small torrent of last minute amendments were unveiled. In late afternoon, new ones were still coming in by teletype (remember them?). CM Stacy Head actually did yeoman’s work that day trying to impose order in the storm. CM Nadine Ramsey, who is gradually bringing repair and a semblance of sanity to District C after years of VCPORA/French Quarter Citizens damage during the Clarkson Keystone Cops period, sent some amendments which looked like they might trigger a shark frenzy to the City Planning Commission for review and recommendation.
Before the CPC got to the amendments, they had to work through several cases of alcoholic beverages. Wait – I think that should be alcoholic beverage cases. You can work it out. The details would be more stupefying than bingeing the stuff from a can in a paper bag.
New Orleans has a substantial neo-Prohibitionist faction. I don’t know if they work together in coordinated campaigns, or it is just in the air, or are some preachers thundering it out of unknown pulpits? How many of them are there? Do they carry a copy of the Volstead Act? Do they have secret handshakes?
Demon drink. The saloon is the downfall.
Izzo’s on Magazine wanted to sell Margaritas with their tacos.
Citizens with stern expressions strode purposely to the lectern, including a contingent from Maple Street and other home addresses far from the site. What was their standing in the matter? It would open the floodgates. The slippery slope. Izzo’s would unleash crime if customers could mix a Margarita with their quesadilla. In this particular Izzo’s, because the company’s other 12 or 13 branches do serve them, and to the best of our knowledge, the world has not ended and neither NOPD nor the Troopers have raised an alarm.
I’m wondering, why can Juan’s Flying Burrito on Magazine Street serve Margaritas like they were going out of style while Izzo’s, another taqueria about a mile up Magazine, can’t? Is it because in Juan’s you sit down and a waiter brings you the drink, but in Izzo’s you would order it at a counter? Why is a Margarita a nice accompaniment to an enchelada in Lower Garden, but a danger to society as you get more Upper?
Amidst the depressing conversation about the timing of fast v. standard eating, and whether there should be a new category (that’s the trouble with zoning, right? Not enough categories.) called Fast Casual – or whatever – one of the hand-wringers did actually say there would definitely be an increase of violent crime if Izzo’s customers could sip Margaritas. A mile down Magazine around Juan’s, it must look like an ISIS attack by now.
Neighbors and not-so-neighbors of the temperance persuasion told us with rhetorical emotion, if Izzo’s sold anything alcoholic, it would “Open the Floodgates.” It was the start of the “Slippery Slope.”
On and on. The CPC did about two and half hours on passionately argued cases about who could sell some beer.
One case was about a craft beer store on Tulane. Objectors were people who lived and worked on the same corner. They said there were already three bars on the corner, and enough was enough.
The craft beer shop would be a kind of specialized delicatessen, something like a wine store. It had committed to putting in exterior lighting and security cameras that would help the neighborhood. It would close at about 7.00 PM. Nevertheless, an angry little mob strode to the lectern to tell the Commission that people might buy a case of expensive craft beer in the store, but the first thing they would do was take out a bottle, stick it in a paper bag, open it and sit down on a stoop, terrorizing decent people and frightening the horses. When they lost, they gathered outside the back corridor. Their expressions of outrage suggest we can look forward to a more emphatic protest when the matter comes to Council.
What do temperance fussbudgets think? A guy finds himself uptown, craving Demon Drink. He just can’t get his killing mojo up. “I know what: Izzo’s,” he says to himself, skipping about 50 bars he could walk to. “A fruity Tequila with a taco, and I can let Mr Hyde out, maybe chop up a few unwary folks on Magazine Street today. Or even go up to Maple and start a crime spree.”
What if an unwary diner orders a burrito and then, just because it sounds nice, a Margarita. Ka-boom – Mr Hyde. He meant well, but he just has to rob a gas station and try out his new gun on the way home.
We are listening to this in the state with the highest incarceration rate in the world, where the War on Drugs is alive and well, destroying people’s lives every day.
I must be from a different moral schoolyard. For one thing, New Orleanians hardly drink much anyway. There are bars and stores everywhere, open all the time – many literally 24/7/365. There are so many alcohol outlets, the notion that one or ten or 100 more or less would change much is soporific. Yet in my observation, person by person, NOLA is not a heavy drinking town, except maybe some visiting revelers on Bourbon or at Mardi Gras, having big public parties. I go to bars. How many people stagger out pissed with blood in their eyes? Statistical zero.
If you want to see what drinking looks like, find yourself an 18 year old girl in a pub in London on a Friday night. Follow her around for the evening. Or if you are trying to keep pace with her, until you pass out. If you get tired of London and all that English language, pop over to Munich or Hamburg for a few nights. If you think you are up to it, stop off in Dublin for a weekend on the way home. New Orleans bars will start looking like 12 step programs.
The obsession with the nuances of alcohol sales is not a sign of society caring for itself. To my corrupted mind, it is a sign of puritanical adolescence, one of the expressions of the centuries old American dichotomy between Puritanism and the Enlightenment, John Winthrop v. Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps this cultural contradiction is one of our great economic engines: Al Capone and Pablo Escobar thank you, good citizens.
After a couple of hours of this, I thought maybe I needed a Bourbon break in the nearest watering hole. But I didn’t want to risk robbing or killing anyone on the way back to the Chamber when the demon drink kicked in.
Finally they got to the NMR (Nadine M. Ramsey) amendments. The water fountains on the ground floor didn’t work. The City Hall snack bar was closed. Just sticking with it this far was a sign of virtue. When Council re-lists the CZO amendments, I am going to apply for a permit for a Cokes and beer stand in the back corridor.
The tout ensemble army was in place, loins girded, in their bunker at the front right of the chamber. As their topics of passion and peeve came closer to the top, the motivational honchos (mostly Meg Lousteau today) were on their feet, moving around, energizing the players, working out batting orders, keeping her players in focus.
What finally happened was no focus at all. The kickoff point of the conversations is the staff recommendations. They were incoherent. The language was tortured. Double and triple negatives dotted the text. Listening as carefully as I could, I usually had no idea what they were talking about, let alone recommending.
As the proponents and opponents came to the lectern, to protest, oppose, support, demur, deter, moan and vent, it was often hard to tell what they thought they were objecting to or supporting. Did they themselves know? On one issue Alex Fein, president of French Quarter Business League, and Meg Lousteau, exec of VCPORA, which has been awarded its own level in Inferno, spoke in support of the same recommendation! They were on opposite sides of the issue; it was just impossible to unravel what the staff recommendation meant.
FQBL and VCPORA playing doubles on the same side of the net is as probable as a collaboration of Bobby Jindal and Michael Moore on healthcare and gun control. I think in this instance Meg probably got the recommendation right, but watching the Hoodies’ huddles preparatory to going to the mike – Miz Meg Herself, probably New Orleans most experienced citizen hustler, had her fingers crossed.
Before each vote, the Commissioners had a time-out discussion to try to agree on what they were voting for. Was it the original amendment as submitted? Or was it the staff recommendation? If it was the staff recommendation, what exactly was it? Sometimes they asked the staff spokesman to recap what the recommendation actually was. Her recap usually made it worse. My bet: in some of the votes the Commissioners did not know what they were voting for or against, or what Yea and Nay meant in the vote.
Bottom line: It didn’t matter!
At some point in the afternoon, enough of the commissioners had beetled off that the population was down to five. Five good men and true. (And women of course, for the PC trolls.)
Five is a quorum, so the session continued. But a CPC recommendation requires five votes for or against. 4-1 or 3-2 are no decision, so in order to send a recommendation to council, they needed unanimous. How likely was that in the general muddle? So the result of CM Ramsey’s attempt to get legitimate support for her amendments was – no result. If there was blame to place, I would have to lay it on the staffers. Their recommendations were incomprehensible. And unnecessary. Ramsey’s amendments were clear enough without the staff messing them up.
One agreement. One recommendation. 5-0 on the dumbest amendment among them, “Takeout alcohol sales.” This simple, sensible amendment had raised an adrenalin storm among the FQ jihadis in the closing moments of the Council CZO session on May 14th. In children’s book terms: if you order a pizza and a beer, that is fine. If you order your pizza and a beer to go, No, no! Every restaurant would turn into a crypto booze store, and you know . . . demon drink. Slippery slope. Floodgates.
Even Kyle Wedberg, the Commissioner of the rational persuasion, voted for it. Or had he fallen asleep by then and pushed any old button on his keypad?
The remaining five commissioners quickly agreed that this simple thing was undesirable, a step too far, a great no-no. So if you want to pick up a pizza and a beer to eat at home, or take to a friend’s to watch the game, you have to go to two stores, one for the beer, one for the pizza. If you go to the grocery store first, the beer gets warm. If you get the pizza first, the pie gets cold. What happens if a grocery starts selling pizza?
I don’t know. Better ask the CPC staff. They can clear things up.
CPC has thus saved New Orleans from a dire threat of takeout abuse. Don’t forget to say thanks.
Let’s hope Council overrides this ridiculous recommendation.
The CPC shambles promises a very entertaining series of bouts and an all star card at the next City Council session. The Usual Suspects will champion prohibition and intone about encroachment and “the residents.” The entertainment and food businesses will have to waste time and effort struggling for the right to keep doing what they have always done, while the militant against almost everything cite instances of bad actors acting badly to justify why nobody else should be allowed to do anything. In matters music, they will keep insisting that laws about live and recorded stay in zoning, thereby creating confusion, instead of in a clear sound ordinance.
Well, you have a choice. You can do some work, like a sensible person. Or you can stay home and watch Louis C.K. on YouTube. Or you can go to City Council and watch either the fights or Monty Python, whichever happens to be playing.