The Sunday Scapegoat (Late Edition)

The Monteleone v. The Royal Cosmopolitan

A quickie on the Preservos’ Ball at the Monteleone, to raise some loot to sue the city to overturn Council’s agreement to the Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel renovation and reconstruction: how merry and gay it must have been, for all its mournful purpose. The women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo . . .

In the event that anyone showed up – people probably did; decay is fashionable in some of our most respectable circles – what’s the tax deal?

The sponsors or hosts belong to 501(c)3s. Contributions would end up under the tax exempt umbrella of one or more of the hustle clubs that set it up. The tax exemption is not so much for the clubs – it’s for the contributors, who can deduct the donation from income if the donatee has the right IRS number. So a donor in the 39% bracket who stumps up say $1,000 can deduct that from his or her taxable, so about $390 does not go to the country or state. It will not be used to support city services. It won’t support schools, infrastructure maintenance or Louisiana’s Jindal-crippled healthcare. It has been diverted into business and political harassment by your Preservatives in action. Or viewed from the other end, if the services and benefits are provided, it means you paid for those while the donor’s money pays a lawyer to undermine city council.

Taxation without representation, our three cornered hat ancestors used to say. New Orleans’ most fashionable grouchy yard dogs get you to support their hobby, without consent. They have their hands in your pocket.

“Historical” must be one of the most overused and abused words in the NOLA political vocabulary, usually with the NAs and Preservos ghostly fingerprints on it. A curious twist in this one: they don’t. They just get to cite the CZO. Mr Farrell’s restoration of the building gives him the Historical platform on all points: the aspect, the function and the height. The Wyndham, the Crowne Plaza and the Monteleone itself, the tallest building and most over limit inside the French Quarter, were all built to their current stature before the current virulent strain of height-averse passion gripped the Yard Dogs. So the Royal Cosmopolitan has a firm grip on the “Historical” flag, and the Hoodies just have the CZO, a very questionable (and constantly questioned) legal framework, to wave as their battle flag. It’s a Historical Civil War, one building wide and 168 feet high.

People who can think in three dimensions must be in favor of the hotel.

2501 St Claude
Another “Historical” scenario is simmering around a wooden house fallen on hard times next to a Shell station on St Claude. The owner of the gas station owns the old house, whose last functioning incarnation was as a car parts store. He wants to take it down to expand and rebuild the Shell station to include a convenience store to be operated by the retail business he partners with Wendell Pierce in.

Many people oppose, some angry at the circumstances of the purchase, which wouldn’t pass a forensic examination, some just using that to reinforce their aesthetic and “historical” case against demolition.

There is some merit on both sides. I don’t think a lawsuit or ethics complaint will change the outcome. Whatever really happened, NORA is going to take the rap for the dodgy assignment, and has already changed its rules to prevent a re-run. Council ruled to let the old sticks go. The owners offered the house free to anyone who wanted to move it. I would say the practical move for activists should be to move on and lobby for walkability: make sure that the design of the new store and the station’s forecourt make for a civil sidewalk in an urban environment, which is not an easy challenge for a gas station with tanks already installed at the intersection of two wide streets, with an old-design suburban look McDonalds across Franklin, all blacktop for parking near the sidewalks, no traditional storefront. Getting those to optimum would be a more realistic quest.

Employment and opportunity
But I don’t want to go on about that now. Looking for common elements in the two cases, the Preservationist position reduces available jobs in the small-to-medium business sector in both. The Royal Cosmo did not lean on this point enough in its arguments before Council. Troy Henry and Wendell Pierce did. Mr Pierce said several times, “Jobs stop bullets.” Pithy, right? But still, it makes sense. New Orleans has a lot of people that need the kinds of jobs hotels and stores provide. In office blocks in the CBD or up in the hospital corridor, or new hi-tech factories outside the city, corporations recruit people with special skill sets and educational backgrounds. New Orleans people stuck within what inner city America has had to offer need incomes, too. It would even be helpful if they make a point of hiring employable people with prison records, to help alleviate the damage done by the epidemic of incarceration. There are situations in which preservation and economic development are not in conflict. These two are not among them. A culture of low availability of employment increases economically motivated street crime. Our Council Members, especially Nadine Ramsey, know the city has to get beyond policing on that.

The anti-Cosmo Hoodies laid on Jackie Clarkson, Nadine Ramsey’s opponent for District C at the last election, and Kristin Palmer, ex-CM in that period, as “hosts” for their begging punchbowl. There is a message in there about what they want Council to go back to. Get ready to stand up against it. It is not politically correct to say, but I’ll risk it: another Council dominated by White upper middle class interests, positioning “Quality of Life”in the riverside neighborhoods above better conditions and economic opportunity for the whole inclusive city would be bad for everybody. Go back to doing it stupid like the bad old days of 2013, and even Sidney Torres won’t be able to motivate the police enough.

© NOLAscape February 2016

Please follow and like us:

The Royal Cosmopolitan: Real Preservation Struggles Against Fundamentalist Opposition

I hope this can hit the electronic street in time to help potential donors to the Preservatives’ fundraiser at the Monteleone this evening save their money. That would be a noble result. I will nominate myself for a miniature Pulitzer if it works.

A few days ago, the HDLC announced an open visit Wednesday afternoon to the current remains of the Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel at 121 Royal Street, which has become the center of an unfortunate, wasteful, unnecessary storm – a weather front of the usual suspects against progress.

Quick recap: the hotel was built in the 1890s by a leading architect. A fashionable spot for years, it deteriorated over the late 20th century to the point that only the ground floor front is usable. The upper floors are not safe, the scanty remains of a former utility building in back unstable (and unnecessary). It can be restored and renovated with a very large investment of money and care, and returned to commerce with additional rooms to pay its way. Mr Angelo Farrell bought the site some years ago, and after a turbulent history including Katrina and the crash of 2008, still has the determination to bring the building back to life. Opposing are the forces of fundamentalist preservationism, who as we so often witness, have set up an aggressive plan to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I arrived early at the site on the currently uninspiring 100 block of Royal Street. Zoning places the space between Canal and Iberville in the Central Business District, but VCPORA/FQC et al claim it as culturally and spiritually French Quarter, so subject to their baleful eye. On another occasion, we may discuss the selectivity of their legal originalism, under which they claim strict application of every law and restriction that they like, and elastic application of others that increase their influence. For now, though, just the facts, Ma’am.

I looked at the frontage from a few street angles, then went in. I was first to arrive. Workers were finishing some sweeping and cleaning in preparation. Yellow police tape had been set up to make a safe corral to keep visitors from wandering around alone, possibly tripping on damaged floors or dislodging bricks whose mortar was long gone. I met Mr Farrell, architect Hank Smith of Harry Baker Smith Architects and Reade Nossaman of McDonnell Group, the construction contractor. Waiting for others to arrive, Mr Farrell showed me some aspects of the project that I did not know or had not been able to visualize. Seeing the interior of the space and the features in full size three dimensions added a lot to my understanding of the problem and the potential.

Soon the main bloc of visitors arrived, members of the CBD and New Orleans HDLCs and leading opponents planning to block the project, Meg Lousteau, Carol Gniady, Susan Guillot of the French Quarter negative neighborhood associations. I did not see any members of French Quarter Advocates, who support the project. I do not want to poke fun at the Hoodie tendency in this piece. I am not giving it up, but I intend to try hard to be as respectful and tolerant as I can today. Any criticism or satire is strictly due to indomitable temptation. But they looked like a cloudy winter day. Grim expressions. Spiritually prepared to meet the enemy and expose the flaws in his nefarious plan.

Angelo Farrell introduced the tour quickly – interested visitors would already have a lot of background information – then took the people into the courtyard behind the original hotel building to explain the restoration, the placement of the new tower in the center of the block to provide additional rooms, which should eventually finance the restoration. The tower is what the opponents oppose. I’m sure we are all familiar with their chronic acrophobia. Their reasoning is mysterious. The legal height limit for the 100 block has been set at 70 feet, but that is really capricious. The fundamentalists say Council may not vary from the Master Plan or CZO, which suggest 70 feet in this area. But of course Council can and frequently does vary all sorts of zoning law, and especially must vary the Master Plan and the CZO, which were quixotic ideas from inception and out of date before they were passed. The original building is already 85 feet high, the building across the narrow street 205 feet high and the adjoining building behind about 190, making the 70 foot number less than a fantasy.

The solemn watchdogs of the FQ did not want to like this project. They did not want to let down their guard or open themselves to the benefits of the Royal Cosmopolitan restoration project for the city, Royal Street and the French Quarter. Their fundraising bash to oppose it in court was already set up. It would not do to have to announce to the attendees. “Friends, thanks for coming. We have changed our minds. Keep your money. Mr Farrell is engaged in a great project. Let’s withdraw all objections and support him.” A stern look and a furrowed brow can help keep that kind of radical thought at bay.

The tour strongly reinforced what we all already knew: the restoration would clean up and revivify the shabby block, a daily scene of petty crime. The renewed hotel will be a classic, with its meticulously restored late Victorian original part and frontage, then a glass roofed atrium which is expected to house a restaurant or something like it, and behind that a “tower” of new rooms – high, but lower and smaller than the facing and backing buildings and a lot of others in the CBD. The tower is necessary because the number of rooms in the original building is simply not enough to cover the cost of the renovation and bring the space back into realistic commerce.

What the opposition collectively wants is that Mr Farrell or somebody invest let’s say $20m into museum quality restoration without the tower, so that he can lose a lot more money when the business cannot pay its way. They want him to go broke funding their dream while they ride free. The reality is that without the extra rooms, the hotel could not pay its way. Farrell’s alternative would be to close off the unsafe upper floors, cancel the renovation, and kit out the ground floor front as a retail shop to rent out. That might pay the carrying cost and give him and the city the option of another ten years or so of dilapidation while he waits to see if wiser heads become influential in the CBD and French Quarter.

One of the CBD HDLC commissioners present was Wayne Troyer, the architect of the Latrobe project in Bywater. Wayne is a smart guy and a fine architect. I hope he will support it, and that the other commissioners will understand the significance.

Two women with uniforms, badges and sensible shoes were there. I asked, were they police? No, they are HDLC inspectors. Wow! The HDLCs have uniformed, badged enforcers. Sexier operations than I thought. The other HDLC on the case, the New Orleans HDLC, has a few shadows hanging over it. At least one of the commissioners is coming into the crosshairs of an ethics enquiry. From what I know of the case, while he is a commissioner and the president of FMIA one of the opposing “hosts,” the objectivity of the commission must be open to question, so we’ll see what happens there.

One of the reasons for wariness is a move afoot to get the HDLCs to designate the remains of an old outbuilding behind the hotel a protected historical structure. It can hardly be called a building now. It is about two and a half brick walls, with leached out mortar, bricks at unsettling angles, and rotting roof timbers held up by some steel supports inserted at some point after the original construction to keep it from tumbling down. Since the functions of the old utility house are gone now – hotel laundry is outsourced, things like coal and wood stoves long gone – it is quite meaningless, really just some old soft bricks staying up in delicate balance for no purpose.

But if those old walls were declared historical, it would be impossible to build the tower, hence no new rooms, hence no renovation – hence the 100 block of Royal Street wins a new T-shirt shop.

So I find myself wondering, as I look at the potential of this space and the grimly combative expressions of its opponents: how did the HDLC come up with this idea? Was it just in the course of their selfless commitment to the city’s welfare that they decided to rule some rickety bricks a necessary historical site, knowing that it would shut down an important restoration? Or was that idea perhaps suggested by a delegation of our French Quarter friends, whose sense of proportion and understanding of best net benefit seem to have suffered radical bypasses? A possible NOLAscape exploration, but not for today. I suspect mischief, but I don’t know whose.

So, are we ready for a conclusion? The lawsuit the FQers want to pursue is against the City for Council’s having approved the Cosmo’s restoration. They want donors to pony up cash to overturn our elected legislature so they can block a valuable contribution to the city. Their reason: the annex will be higher than 70 feet, even though the original building and the surrounding buildings already are. As Mr Nathan Chapman, a VCPORA stalwart, intoned at the Council hearing: “We have to stop.” That’s the state of hyperpreservationism today: just stop. Stop the world. I don’t care what it is or what’s the name of it, I’m against it.

After the tour yesterday, it is my fervent hope, as a 19th century politician might say, that Mistresses Lousteau, Gniady, Guillot and the other directors and executives of the Stop party join me in saying to potential donors: Stop! Do not donate money to this negative cause. It is a plea for prolonged dilapidation. Participating will put you in a bad light and hurt the city.

The Monteleone, across the street and a few yards left, is hosting the funder, but is not a neutral party. It is a competitor and should either drop the civic rhetoric and declare its interest or recuse itself.

If you know anybody who might be at risk of going to The Height-Averse Begging Bowl Party, I suggest telling them: save your money. It is a very bad cause. It’s chances of winning in court are infinitesimal. Save your money for a meal at the Royal Cosmopolitan’s restaurant when it opens.

Far from being beyond Council’s reach, we hear that there are plans developing for Council to amend the Master Plan, perhaps to try to reduce the constant necessity for variances to get out of its straitjacket.

A final note, not the first time: If you read the Master Plan for the 21st Century, you will quickly see that it is predominantly upbeat and positive – how the city can improve walkability, public transport, neighborhood parks, playgrounds and local shopping. Isn’t it indicative of something in the strange spirit of these aggressive, negative neighborhood associations that we only see them invoking the MP to block, obstruct and shut down projects or change they find uncomfortable or that does not comport with their fundamentalist faith?

Save your money. Support Angelo Farrell and City Council.

© NOLAscape February 2016

Please follow and like us:

Immigration

NOLAscape is taking a quick Washington break. We have to take our eye off of the local land use hawks, Master Plan cultists, preservation fundamentalists and other urban subversives for a few hours. I hope they don’t break anything – we couldn’t get a babysitter. We are going to take a look at another political disease, possibly related – racist nativism. Some wonder whether they are strains of the same virus.

Candidate Trump will loop back to racist speech patterns about Mexicans and Muslims soon, probably when the Republican circus is trimmed to three. Shouldn’t be long now. Then the Final Three will look for traction trying to out-genocide each other in Syria and out-deport each other here. They call that foreign and domestic policy.

Build walls! Round them all up, ship them out. A country without a tough border is no country at all! How will we Make America Great Again without walls against people?  (Even though the US didn’t used to be a real country because except when President Polk turned the area into a war zone so he could steal Texas from Mexico, something like the Crimea heist but bigger, we did not have a militarized border.)

A recent New York Times analysis suggests that Trump is not creating the intolerance, nativism and supremacy beliefs. He is releasing toxins that already infect American souls. L’Amerique profonde has not let go of a visceral ethnocentrism that should shame us all. The  hope of the country is the Millennials, who seem to be letting go of old sicknesses and taboos. Unfortunately, they don’t care much for voting either, so the disarmingly good-natured old toxic dinosaurs of the caucus and red states hold disproportionate influence.

Before you let yourself be lured into the scapegoat game by the trash talk I hope you will watch the link below. See what our Southern border is really like – what xenophobes and scapegoat enthusiasts want to make even worse.

If you can understand what the Border Patrol really does and still ride with this sickening nativism, I would wonder whether you had had a moral bypass at some point in your life. Maybe in an alien abduction.

I suggest paying special attention to the correlation of illegal border crossing and the deportation program that has been sending thousands of fathers and husbands who have lived in America for decades back to Mexico and Central America, leaving theIr families here. Learn about the private prison racket sucking profits out of the deportation game. Listen to the young girls near the end. Think about the Border Patrol and vicious racist vigilantes destroying water stores in the desert so migrants will die of thirst, or sometimes just shooting them.

But don’t worry – we will be back to local

The Empire Files: The Border of the Empire (Parts 1 and 2 combined) http://youtu.be/e94K30251MI

© NOLAscape February 2016 

Please follow and like us:

Attempted Suppression Backfires

A game changer happened last night.

“Creatures of the Mist,” published Sunday evening (I hope you all read it!) Is a satire on the some of the latest antics of the French Quarter gentry, the Knights of the Miniature Mind, the obstructionists, building height fundamentalists and their friends, associates, lovers and others of the gray anti-creative obstacles whose lives are fulfilled by sucking some of the fun out of New Orleans. The people of NO!

“Creatures” is supposed to be funny, not nice.

MaCCNO shared it on their discussion forum Facebook page. We appreciate their support.

Monday evening, whaddaya know – it’s not there. From the clues I can find beating some of our local bushes, someone of the VCPORA persuasion, or one of their lookalikes, was behind it. I don’t know whether they found a way to get into MaCCNO’s page and take the share down themselves, or did some arm twisting on the webmaster.

A couple of verdicts:

  • NOLAscape’s security division is putting Meg Lousteau of VCPORA in the “person of interest” frame. Meg is the tactical smarts of the gang. I don’t think anybody of their crowd would try a bit of blackmail or possible anti-First Amendment action without a green light from Meg.
  •  If it wasn’t Meg, maybe we’ll hear some other claims for credit today. We’ll discount any claims from Al Qaeda, the Taliban, FARC or the Real IRA, but let’s see if any member of the NOLA Suppressive Tendency wants to own up.
  •  If MaCCNO did it, no gripes. Hotels and zoning and fundraisers to obstruct elected government are not their main patch. If they think best policy is to bend with the wind of some VCPORA bluster, that’s up to them. Maybe a MaCCNO officer will decide to tell us about it.
  • VCPORA/FQC and the other anti-life forces of the riverside petite bourgeoisie reckon they are tough enough to override City Council and oppose CM Ramsey – but they are such sensitive, delicate flowers they can’t take a bit of full-blooded political fun. The “Creatures” share came down, but they exposed a crack in the shield. Let’s see if we can widen the breach and let some of the venom out.

NOLAscape policy for dealing with attempted Hoodie suppression, passed unanimously by the editorial board just now:

  •  Increased distribution. We opened NOLAscape Facebook and Twitter accounts last night. To help the action, please Follow the Twitter and Like the new Facebook. Tell all your friends. It all helps.

https://www.facebook.com/NOLAscape/

@NOLAscape

  •  Publication frequency will increase. The baleful influence of the French Quarter forces of exclusion, suppressive gentrification and the graying of the New Orleans mind will be a special thread in posts and on the Facebook page. Feel free to pile in.
  • Plans are simmering to add audio reports and interviews soon. And maybe one day video.

Some suggestions for discussion:

  • What odds do you give their effort to block the Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel? Me, I hope the punch is okay at the Monteleone funder, because I suspect that’s about all the benefit donors are going to get for their money.
  • What do you think of the Monteleone, a direct competitor just a few yards away and itself the most well-known height exemption in the French Quarter, participating in the effort to block the Cosmo? New Orleans business as usual, right? Just don’t be fooled.
  • What do you think about an effort to block a new hotel by people who complain stridently about AirBNB? They may be right about the damaging effects of Short Term Rental, but if at the same time they oppose hotel and B&B development, what is the message? Go Home Yanqui? Impaired brain function?
  • How come VCPORA/FQC/Landmarks and other ganglets of Mordor are scratching around for money for a legal case? I din’t hit on this one in “Creatures” – thought I was being polite. If they are a bit down on their luck, you know – don’t want to kick a person for that. They have been putting expensive legal teams on hopeless cases for years without breaking stride. They didn’t even worry about the verdicts too much; they could extend cases for years, subjecting defendants to endless depositions, questions, postponements and motions, costing opponents small fortunes with a combination of bulldozer and mosquito tactics. Now they seem to be bragging that they have $3,000 whole dollars. In modern capitalist law, that gets you a few hours on the upper floors of Poydras Street and in Civil Court. Let’s discuss.

 

© NOLAscape February 2016

Please follow and like us:

The Creatures of the Mist Gather for an Evening of Spells and Curses at the Monteleone

Look at this! A gathering of the Creatures, a springtime coven of New Orleans’ obstructionists, a convention of the questionable, all swarming together in one place! (Don’t tell ISIS. It would be too tempting. Just one big flashbang, and free at last.)

imageimage

Some of the major boils on the butt of progress will gather Thursday to pray for money. They need money to overturn City Council decisions. Money to get lawyers to get judges to reverse the decisions of our elected Council Members, including the best representative District C has had in decades, Nadine Ramsey.

A cotillion of the petty bourgeois. A stately dance of the stultifying. They proudly gather here, oblivious of the mockery of their unlovely caste from Stendhal to Sinclair Lewis. They live here still among us, as pompous and full of their own rectitude as we see them in action in Council and in Civil Court, proud of their role as righteous nuisances.

Jackie Clarkson will be there! Not usually playing with a full deck, but should be worth good points on the dartboard. Ex-commadre Kristin Palmer, who brings a soupçon of the unpredictable to the soufflé. A tricky customer, but she can do better than this crowd If she puts her mind to it. CoCo Garrett, once president of French Quarter Citizens (Hey! Who said airhead? Be nice!) aimlessly advocating classist snipe at every opportunity. Carol Allen, who could be the fundamentalist preservation preacher responsible for dragging poor Patty Gay of the PRC over the edge into Preservationist Jihad. Keith Hardie, a fine preservationist he – don’t miss one of his turns at Council. Hardie doesn’t even pretend that he wants anything more noble than the riff-raff out of his neighborhood so he can breathe while he sleeps. Do you know what color some of them are? He seems blissfully unconscious of the codes we hear in his stiff presentations.

Oh my, it goes on and on. Pat Meadowcroft, usually smiling and affable, striving without great success to be the acceptable face of classist, gentrification-preservationist, strident VCPORA, the scolding granny of neighborhood nannies. I don’t see Meg Lousteau on the list. Is she going incognito? Susan and Albin Guillot of French Quarter Citizens, the me-too double act that opens for VCPORA at the City Council show, a comedy duo with both partners striving to be the straight man. Nathan Chapman – don’t forget Nathan, ex-President of VCPORA, the silky Svengali of the Sound Wars. He used to be a star – such a serious look, and nary a fact in sight. A living lesson in the unnecessary nature of truth. (Miz Jackie already knew. She seemed to give Nathan extra points for the brazenly bogus.)

Sandra Stokes – ah, the estimable Exec of Louisiana Landmarks Against Everything, appears at council with a woodpecker-like attack. Landmarks and Ms Stokes specialize in narrow vision, something like an optical slit experiment. She usually annoys everybody except CMs Head and Guidry. Don’t worry, the fingernails down the blackboard effect soon passes. And me-oh-my, looky here: Ms Lisa Suarez of FMIA and the Size Matters corruption is going to be there. Ms Suarez and her confrères of the architecturally challenged Riverfront Alliance – including Mark Gonzalez, whom I see on the “host” list as well – reinforce the spread of architectural boredom in Bywater. They oppose all exceptions to the old smooth brained law, especially height, making it expensive for developers to build anything more architecturally inspiring than a giant shoebox. One Bywater proposal, Latrobe, had architectural merit. They opposed it. The Alliance’s concept of the relationship between good design and cranky neighbors is right out of Bugs Bunny. Rumor has it that FMIA, Ms Lisa Suarez’s home club, is about to find its little Marigny sky darkening with the wings of chickens coming home to roost. Watch this space.

The manager of the Monteleone should be in there somewhere as well. He strongly objects to the Royal Cosmopolitan’s new height limit. Far be it from me to insinuate – but I wonder if it just a little bit possible that he wants his hotel to be the only one on the block close to 200 feet high.

I am sincerely sorry to leave out the others. I hope they are not jealous. I am sure some of them are just as damaging as those I have mentioned.

NOLAscape policy reminder: Preservation is good. Fundamentalist, mindless preservationism, coupled with the petty bourgeois snobbery that we see dripping from the statements and advocacy of so many of these folk, is a plague. I often wonder whether they know it and just don’t care. Are they really so unaware of themselves? Maybe some people are susceptible to preservationism addiction. Could preservation jihadism be the crack of the 20-teens? Maybe they simply lack the perceptive and empathic skills to see and hear themselves.

If we could lock the doors, light a rocket fuse under the Monteleone and shoot it into orbit, or at least to Charleston, New Orleans would be a better place. That would be real Preservation – resuscitating the freer spirit of old New Orleans.

Let’s not forget the second graphic box, just below the one in which they list their august selves as attractions. Council cannot ignore the Master Plan, they say.

Of course they can. Council has not only the right – it has the responsibility. It’s only a law and a pretty messy one at that, written by consultants who implanted ambiguity so we can as well defend the Cosmo’s tower as oppose it. As soon as it was passed, all interested sentient beings saw the “uh-oh” lines all over it. That’s what the amendments wrangle was about. If they had had the courage of lions, the sensible CMs would have voted the CZO down, and started over. The consultants had enough experience to anticipate the dead spots and insert get-out clauses. Those are what the Council members were silently voting for. We needed them, because the Master Plan and the CZO combination was a wasteful, quixotic idea from the off. That kind of strait-jacket is not how New Orleans became the city we should want to preserve. The whole rickety scaffolding of it amounts to a two-dimensional picture focused on an unnaturally restricted time period. The obstruction brigades love applying it negatively to oppose, block and frustrate. The overwhelming thrust of the Master Plan is positive, to encourage good things, preserving the essential while improving quality of life for all. Have you ever seen the Preservation Jihad bring up those bright, positive parts of the MP? They search for dark corners to live in.

Progress sometimes is where you can get it, not where you want other people’s money to make it for you. Council has to evaluate real, actual cases and real net benefit, frequently over the noise of this crowd.

What Council should really do is repeal the whole show. It didn’t work. Get themselves out from under it. Commission a new Master Plan from smarter planners than the last one. Andrés Duany’s firm is the right place to start. Get a quote for a ten-page Plan and one for a 20 pager. The ten page will be more expensive. Then get Duany’s Smart Growth inspired (real Smart Growth – some of the Louisiana chapters have lost the plot) CZO, maximum permitted length 60 pages. (I believe DPZ publishes one free on their web site.) Let us rise to form-based, which basically means design, not land use. That helps things look good, brings architecture back into the game and stops residential cranks from going all Carrie Nation every time a restaurant serves a bottle of wine or a musician plays a piano. Put a stop to all that. Push these cranks back to twitching their curtains.

Boom!

Right?

©Bob Freilich February 2016

Please follow and like us:

The Business of Government v. The Government of Business

On Facebook this week I saw another dose of claptrap about how the country needs Donald Trump so the country can be run by a proper businessman.

A couple of weeks ago, Sidney Torres, addressing French Quarter Management District’s Security Task Force said the French Quarter Task Force (the name similarity is awkward) that he brought to life and at first managed had to be run like a business.

Let’s chase this idea around the schoolyard a bit.

What’s going on here? Is Torres a Trumpian? Or has a propaganda virus escaped from Trump Tower and resurfaced on Esplanade? Either Trump or the virus would count as a social Ebola invasion.

If “business” equaled political leadership, you could just change the deal to USA, Inc., blow off the Constitutional claptrap of elections, bicameral Congress, Supreme Court, First Amendment and a bunch of high-maintenance Greek and Roman Revival buildings. We could get the ownership straightened out by selling shares. Pension funds, institutions and banks would buy most of them, so plutocratic business as usual but we wouldn’t have to argue about it so much. We could retire the national debt with an equity-for-debt swap. Yeah, China would end with a lot of shares, but maybe we could work out a non-voting preference class for international creditors.

The command structure that serves highly profitable, free wheeling, regulation-breaking American and global corporations is much more streamlined and efficient than the Constitutional setup.

Torres’s and the Trumpets’ claims are not quite the same. Torres says run the police as a business; Trump says he can do anything better than you because he is a businessman. Not exactly the same thing.

Here around the huge editorial conference table at NOLAscape we say: both are bogus.

While business experience and skills do not disqualify a person from legislative or executive office, they are not especially qualifying either.

“Why?” As Bernie Sanders would ask himself.

“Businessman” is hardly definable. Trump likes “deals.” The Iran “deal” is horrible. Mexico beats us on the “deals.” America loses in the trade deals. Torres was talking about operational efficiency.

A capitalist corporation in the current Anglozone style exists for the benefit of itself and its owners.

The proper purpose of government agency or service, or the government itself, is always to serve an end outside itself.

When government agencies forget this, when civil servants build empires (eg, the FBI under Hoover and the DEA, which is coming up for a NOLAscaping) the outcomes disfigure the government.

You have to define “efficient” in business. Some say it is doing things right. Others say it is doing the right things. If you define efficiency as good application of resources with good ROI, the best thing for NOPD might be to cut staff, sell off a lot of cars, lower expectations and charge for services – so much to report stolen car report, so much for a mugging, so much for an assault. Why not? You don’t expect the police to get your property back anyway; you just need the report for your insurance claim.

Speed of service could provide another revenue stream: within 3 minutes, $20; within six, $10; within 12, $5.00; over is free. 911 helps you select the right service level for you.

Arrests are limited as a performance indicator, since you can’t tell how many arrestable offenses occurred. Since police (nor anybody else, from what I can see) rarely address the causes of crime, that aspect will just keep bumping along.

Don’t forget sales. They may need to run commercials. Harrison and the Commanders will have to make frequent media appearances touting the benefit of policing as a business, possibly offering discounts for frequent service. A Frequent Victim Discount. As the format evolved, over time people who could pay more would get better police service. That should pass. Republicans, even the poor ones, usually vote for more and better for the wealthier.

How would The Business System of Government select the right President/CEO? I would suggest considering the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. Sean Penn could help find him. They run bigger, more profitable businesses than Trump Enterprises. They could keep the price of street drugs high by monopoly, so they could end the lunacy of the War on Drugs, which does the same job but costs a lot of dead guys. And ISIS – have you seen the Republican hopefuls talking tough? Soft Senators like Cruz telling us how many Jihadi fighters they are going to kill? I think Al Baghdadi would take El Chapo and the Cartel more seriously than the RNC.

Trump, on the other hand, says everything will be better because he will make it better because he is a businessman. So he doesn’t want to change government to a business. He wants to bring the boardroom sense of public responsibility into government. Corporate responsibility is: win. Make money. Milk what you can out of the surrounding world, which is called your market. As he said, take the oil, and don’t worry about a bit of mass murder in the attempt. It’s a good deterrent.

This isn’t just dumping on the megacorporate world. It’s the law. If they fail to deliver shareholder value, or give priority to another value, a widely held publicly traded corporation faces boardroom battle and court time.

Hard to say which is the worse idea, isn’t it? The country or city transformed into a business, or the some kinds of the business mind Invading and taking over the mechanisms of government.

The church and state problem would be easily resolved either way: put it up for auction. How much am I bid for prayers in schools? Anybody for Intelligent Design? Whew, there’s a big number from Rick Warren. Wait a minute, Pat Robertson is starting to fidget in his seat. What about the Pentecostals? Let’s give them a chance. Maybe they can pick off a Southern state. How about leasing religious “freedom”? Ted Cruz could have his theocracy in Texas for say two years. If Rafael the ferret hasn’t managed to trigger the Rapture by then, we’ll talk to the Pope . . . . wait a minute – there’s an Imam from Saudi Arabia on the line . . . .

Shall we re-visit reality for a minute? What do you really hear from Trump supporters, and even Torres on Torres. Trump’s appeal doesn’t come from business skills. Maybe a little bit from claiming them. It comes from being an arrogant, rich white guy who validates your inner pig. If Trump spoke with the bombastic “Follow me, men” arrogance that he does, but had inherited all his money, would his fan base evaporate? I don’t think so. Contra-case: if he had been wildly successful in some business, but looked hesitant like Jeb! now a Twitter-based gunslinger, or normal, sensible CEOs – would he have ever built the loud, neckless, knuckle-dragging nativist fan base?

Sidney Torres does not exhibit feral pig tendencies like Trump, but does project self-assurance that he knows best. To give him a break, I think he thinks “business” is a synonym for “well done.” But check General Motors, the largest manufacturer, and AIG, the largest insurer, for management models.

Mr Torres’s businesses may be efficient. If they are, it is a consequence of his ability, not the other way around.

The biggest difference between the Trumpeters claim to businessman magic and Sidney Torres’s is that our Sidney did the work and actually knows what he is talking about. Trump is running a low information game, saying if you elect him, he’ll spend some time finding the facts.

Would the Trump fans who give him a pass on any buffoonery because he says he is such a great business guy also agree that George Soros is a worthy candidate? Soros has been a much tougher poker player than Trump for a lot of years. For the money cultists, he has probably given away more money in charity than Trump could cash out for. I propose Soros for Chairman of the Board, CEO and Chairman of both the RNC and DNC. Can I get a Second from the “businessman” faction?

Aside: I wonder if any of the high tolerance for Trumpism came from Hip Hop. All that gangsta flashing bling and bitches – did that pave the way for Trump generating blood lust in his crowds by hosing insults all around? Is Killer Trump the new White rapper?

Shall we return to reality for another moment? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson ran substantial agricultural and land businesses. Benjamin Franklin started and ran urban businesses, but knew how to make some solid money out of them.

None of them thought for a recorded minute of using their businesses as models for the government they were designing, nor were they selected for their expertise in cost control in agriculture.

Of course, they had certain advantages: learning and intelligence.

Let’s celebrate one fine businessman in government, a successful executive and hedge fund manager with public service experience – an exemplar, a real top guy. Let’s hear a round of applause for Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan. This genius’s experience in cost control led him to change the water source for the city of Flint. As a consequence of his business acumen, he poisoned the city. He put the lives of 8,000 children in danger. He covered up EPA test results so he could keep on doing it. The bill for his exercise in businesslike efficiency will keep spinning zeroes for a long time. He still sounds like he doesn’t understand the criticism. He was balancing the books and cutting some losses in one of the state’s failing subsidiaries, right? What else could he do? Had to be done. Responsibility of a tough business leader.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the most popular and arguably most successful President ever, never built or ran a business. Neither did Abraham Lincoln. But Warren G. Harding did. He bought a little newspaper and built it up into a very successful company. Compare their records.

Since Shareholder Value became the corporate Ark of the Covenant, government as a business is an even sillier idea than it might once have been. One of the things government is for is to prevent corporate objectives from infecting the wrong arenas, because the closer alliance of the corporate and governmental is fascism. The USA is way too far down that road already.

To limit the depredation. That is something the US federal government and states already do a pretty shoddy job of, from issuing slack licenses and weak regulations for oil drilling, coal mining and polluting industry to letting the military-industrial complex goad the country into war after war with no better brains at the helm than W., Cheney and Rumsfeld, and putting the foxes in charge of the Wall Street henhouse after the crash.

All three of the Neocon team could claim businessman chops, too. Cheney and Rumsfeld participated in the management of much bigger companies than Trump, Inc. Take a look at Iraq and ISIS to understand the significance of their corporate resumés. How about McNamara, a famously efficient Ford executive? Check his management of the Vietnam war.

And do you know what’s really sad? The rest of the leading Republicans, the “conservatives,” are even worse. We could be better off with our bona fide Neanderthal than with a nutter like Cruz or the Rubio-bot.

© Bob Freilich February 2016

Please follow and like us:

Caucusoid

I gotta go national again. Local stuff is rising up. I feel it coming over the tops of my shoes. The ABO has been found to be a new species of kangaroo, found holding court on the dark side of Ayers Rock, looking very much like the “systemic” in systemic racism. But the antics in Iowa and New Hampshire are a whole ‘nother sandbox..

Preludicrous

Cloven Bundy

There’s something about these hats that makes it really hard to care.

(When you decipher what the heads under the hats want, you still won’t care.)

The Presidential Cup
A lot of Americans do not understand the World Cup. They think it is like the Superbowl. Not even close. The World Cup is planetary. It involves countries that NATO has not even heard of, hundreds of teams from dozens of countries, playing thousands of matches, coming together after a complex system of qualification for a long, complex playoff series. It is always overshadowed by accusations of FIFA corruption.

That makes it something like the American Presidential election process, but we have higher-stakes thieves than Sep Blatter. The primaries and elections go on and on, complicated, peculiar. Other countries watch it like a funny movie. Normal countries have a campaign season of four to six weeks, spending caps, more than two parties, some of them proportional representation. Some of them have Carnival for funny hats, like we do here in NOLA; they don’t need politics to dress as clowns. Most are bored by the NFL, but entertained by the complex American President’s Cup.

A lot of the old three-cornered hats in Philadelphia fighting over the Constitution were afraid of democracy so they found ways around it. The party infrastructures and the deep state still are. Would-be candidates can’t just declare themselves a candidate. There are hoops to jump through, boxes to tick for some apparatchiks, then some kind of PR operation because media are going to own most of your ass for a few years.

Voters can’t just vote. They have to “register” to vote, and Republicans get to play tricks to prevent some people from registering to vote. In your “district,”which probably looks like the squidged entrails of an unidentifiable road kill critter, as parties have selected their voters to prevent it being the other way around. In other countries, if you are a citizen or sometimes a tax-paying resident, you are a voter. There is no “registering,” an out of date, unnecessary process.

Okay, now we know where we – or they – are after New Hampshire and the resulting dropouts, let us wobble through a few bits of the story. We time-travel back a couple of weeks by the exercise of White Privilege, which still seems to work.

Iowa Caucuses
Did you watch that hoedown?

Another Republican punch-up just finished (Friday 2/6) but I have either an Iowa hangover or Mardi Gras season PTSD.

Some Iowans must be a little bit sane. They gave Bernie Sanders a lift to tie with the Inevitable One. He should win New Hampshire pretty strong, so now we have a horse race, somewhat rigged by the Clinton machine’s working the establishment “Superdelegates” – another limitation on democratic process.

But the other side! Are they kidding? Listen, some of my best friends are wingnuts. But Cruz? CRUZ! Come on.

The news wizards say it’s the Elmer Gantry vote. Even in Iowa, that many people voting for a shape-shifter between reptile and ferret personae proves that tent show religion is choking the blood out of this country’s brain. Ted Cruz? Seriously? The creep’s creep who creeps out the other creeps. The Senate’s useless parasitic lizard zombie. The good Christian carpet bomber.

He wouldn’t be the first political Gollum mentally marinating in damp internal caves, though. We had Nixon. Nixon also poked the prairie cults with his slimy stick and worked his Southern Strategy; but himself, he didn’t really believe in anything but Realpolitik, whiskey, some recurring nightmares and Henry Kissinger. “Henry, they are coming to get us,” said the President, looking out the window, and took another sip. Since Henry would always cover his ass, Nixon had no need of either God or human decency. Cruz, though – he might believe the crazy stories. He might believe that prairie prayer will defeat Muslim prayer. Dominionist Jihad trumps ISIS jihad. Back that up with a spot of carpet bombing, and God has spoken. Or he might be totally cynical and the reason he looks so rehearsed and artificial is he is saying stuff to pacify his father, who might be ferocious, and his base, which is gullible.

For further Cruz study, don’t forget the late great Senator Joe McCarthy. Take a good look at those ferret features, then play some McCarthy on YouTube. Check out Trump and Mussolini while you are there.

Some people think handing over the Pentagon and the nuclear codes to these creatures is okay.

Iowa voted itself out of civilization that evening.

We need a Trump wall between church and state.

New Hampshire
Cruz told us what to expect from him. In the last debate, when he stole some votes with a kind of blackmail of voters and spreading a false rumor about Ben Carson, he said he would “carpet bomb” ISIS. Asked Friday whether given the vast amount of civilians, innocents and children that would be murdered, did he wish to change his statement, Cruz said that he meant of course, carefully targeted surgical carpet bombing. I don’t think a person – I say that loosely – of a Cruzian level of venality could be elected or tolerated by a population that has seen what a Nixon or a Bush can do. But this is America, the exceptional nation, right? Can’t be sure.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has been in training since the 90s to be the “inevitable” first woman, next up to the plate, Robin to Bill’s Batman, partner of the canniest politician and together the most powerful political duo in the country, with control of the DNC through Ms Wasserman Schultz.

She would have been more inevitable if Senator Sanders hadn’t entered the game. But he did.

Perfectly consistent, scandal free, an honest populist with a winning platform, Sanders tells us he is going to emphasize domestic policy, not let people get lost in the gears of empire and the military-industrial-oil-security complex. He will put the well-being of all in America who don’t have quite enough of it ahead of the international hardball game, where Presidents can exercise big schoolyard power, free of the nagging, sclerotic, corrupted Congress. Contrasted with Bernie, the untrustworthy Clinton system of dexterous adaptation to what the polls and focus groups indicate looks cheap and sleazy. Actually, it is expensive and sleazy. Not as crude as Cruz, but it does seem to be starting to leak.

Okay: vote for Bernie Sanders. Now let’s get on to what this article is about.

What it’s about
Bernie and Hills are doing traditional politics – issues, substance, values, specific objectives.

That’s what we want to hear, but it’s traditional. Even old fashioned.

A lot of our countrymen prefer living in an imaginary past – “Make America Great Again”; “Take Our Country Back.” (Pause for gag reflex.) Back to black and white. Close your eyes, fold your mind into the Fifties, and ISIS and Obama won’t be there.

What past they are taking us back to? Ozzie and Harriet? The prairie towns of Sinclair Lewis? Teddy and the Rough Riders charging San Juan Hill? Jim Crow and George Wallace? President Polk’s imperialist robbery of Mexico? The ethnic cleansing of Native Americans? Jefferson reluctantly extending slavery to Southwestern states? 1929, which the wizards of financialization have now learned to reproduce at will?

The Republican subculture has moved on to pure spectacle adapted from the WWE. Trump is the big orange Hulk Hogan of it – swagger and boasting with no content. It could all be scripted by Vince McMahon’s writers.

He concocted a slanging match with Fox News. Trump’s tough, we’re supposed to think. He can take down the powerful “conservative” noise box. Megan Kelly might have bought it for a couple of days. She got a new stainless steel hairdo to frighten Big Don next time. But I would bet Ailes and Murdoch knew what was going on. By the challenge, Trump acknowledged where the power lay. He just put himself on the same level. Ailes and Trump both follow Edward Bernays, accepting that reason and intelligence are minor players in public affairs. It’s emotion. I am going to win, I am the winner, I will kick their ass, she is a pussy, I will have the best tax plan, I will have the best health plan, I will have the best military, you’ll see. Emptier than anyone has ever had to listen to, even since the Republicans broke Sarah Palin out of Wasilla. Marshall McLuhan, if anybody still knows who he was: “The medium is the message.” Content optional.

Megyn Kelly caught on. Trump had put her on the launch pad. She went on Colbert and stuck a pin in one of O’Reilly’s balloons as a warning of the status she could spin out of this, so Murdoch is going to give her a load of money and probably some visual dominance over O’Reilly so she doesn’t jump ship. Some Fox mid-level gopher said they have to face an “altered media ecosystem going forward.” I have never heard anyone with any decision power use that MBA language. I’m sticking with: Ailes, Murdoch, Kelly, Trump and maybe even O’Reilly are going to get some cash benefits from this. O’Reilly maybe not – I look at him about twice a year and he seems more boring every time so maybe he is on the way down.

Marco Rubio tried to be the anti-Trump. Another McLuhan creature, an empty suit with bland sound bites. It has been suggested, and I agree, that we should all be grateful to Governor Christie for blowing his act off the platform.

Why don’t we see what we are watching?
America is a master of popular entertainment. The companies we call technology quickly interweave with it – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Sony overlap and interweave with Disney and Pixar. Netflix, HBO and Amazon are gutting the delivery system of traditional TV, but not the dominance of image. Yet we don’t seem to connect what we see on screens with what happens around and to us. Literature and film are reflections on society and our world; the popular American seems to use them as a way to shut them out.

Hunger Games is about forced exploitative spectacle replacing politics. A single illusion of power is to compensate for all the people’s power having been taken away. Stalin would have banned it because Russians would have understood it. Elysium, even Star Wars are about oppressive distributions of power, but even after Orwell and Philip K. Dick, Americans still think “science fiction” is fairy stories not observation. That’s why we have freedom of expression: we present little danger. We don’t understand what we don’t want to understand, so it is hard for ideas to have impact. We are allowed to line up behind Trump the schoolyard bully, Cruz the creep, Hillary the tough Mom or Bernie the liberator. The owners of the money, the oil and the stuff don’t think any of it will come to much.

There are two American story lines in the primary debate narratives, the Empire and the one we live in. Listen to Trump or Creepy Cruz, you may think that you personally live in the Empire, that you should feel good because of their killing sprees, that you should be proud that a brand spanking new state of the art battleship soaked up your school and healthcare money. Battleships and bombers will improve your life, fix your potholes, clean up your water, bring our healthcare distribution up to international standards. For some of us, that may be true, at least at one level. If you work for Lockheed Martin or the NSA, you probably benefit personally from the imperial narrative.

The other story looks at the space you live in every day – jobs, income, taxes, subsidence, mosquitoes, rents, doctors, food labelling, water purity, education, environmental degradation. The fundamental question is: do you want the priority to be the Imperium, the Exceptional Indispensable Nation storyline, which hugely benefits a few thousand people at everyone else’s expense? Or do you want to give that a break and prioritize our home space and a more balanced, coherent, inclusive society?

Some of those Trump followers probably genuinely don’t care about people who are not like them. They are low information. They believe the Trump line about Mexicans, with no awareness of what actually goes on at the Texas border. (Maybe next time – it really is ugly and murderous, but it’s not the Central Americans. It’s us.)

They might really prefer to see resources devoted to international adventuring – invade and take their oil, as Trump says. Kill them and their families, as Cruz the Christian said. But I would bet that the majority of the Republican sociopathy internally refuse to get it – that they are being asked to let their quality of life and their city or town be gutted to pay for the costs and profits of a warlord class. They can see how the corruption and exploitation work when they look at Afghanistan. They can see it when they look at North Korea or China in the early 20th century, or Sudan and Somalia. They can’t see it here.

Too many Americans are really goofy on and in the world, happy as clams rocking gently in soft, warm waves of delusion. After Huckabee dropped out of the primaries, he went on Megan Kelly – surprisingly undaunted by her new steel hairspray Trump-scaring Marvel movie villain look – to say he was so grateful and proud to be American, because a kid like him, from a little red house, standing up there on that stage . . . . the emotions that flitted across his pudgy, pious face . . . . Gimme a BREAK! That’s the tired old “only in America” story. Where do other politicians come from? Some are David Camerons, born in a pile of loot; some are Margaret Thatcher, grew up over dad’s corner store. Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany. Alexis Tsipras was a kid in an eastern Greek village who rose to some prominence in the Communist Youth. Conservative Prime Minister John Major’s father was a music hall performer, who moved on to a garden ornaments business that failed. Idi Amin’s father abandoned the family when he was little; he grew up on a subsistence farm yet managed a stellar career as a murderous tyrant. Stalin’s father was a cobbler in a Georgian town; his mother was a housemaid. Khrushchev’s father was a coal miner. Our politicians feed back the American Dream story while in fact, social and economic mobility here is lower than in most advanced Western societies. You can check it out: http://www.epi.org/publication/usa-lags-peer-countries-mobility/ .

How do these beliefs persist? People like them. Emotion trumps reality. Some just don’t care about anything. They just want to hear happy endings.

Another one Trump is trying to sell is the big business he built. So what? Might as well have Michael Jordan telling us how many points he got or Peyton Manning how many passes he completed. Business leadership and entrepreneurship are important skills. Give them the respect due, but government is not a business. (Neither is privately subsidized policing, but that is not for this story.) Business management requires effective organization of people. So does managing Burlington, Vermont, the State Department or a police force. Doesn’t make them the same thing. Abraham Lincoln never built a business. Neither did Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson or the Republicans’ bobble-head plastic saint Reagan, who wasn’t so great at running the government, either. Neither did Bill Clinton. The other Republicans have to put Trump down to get anywhere. Why don’t they attack the business claim? Trump reacts badly to harsh criticism to his face. They might goad him into some stupid reactions.

The Sinaloa Cartel is a much bigger business than Trump’s. Its bosses are richer. They have more airplanes and boats. They face bigger challenges, and they can’t shake off their creditors by sticking a couple of hotels into Chapter 11. And they might have some worthwhile ideas about how to deal with ISIS. Do you want to consider El Chapo for President?

And while we are on the subject, does anyone really believe that an Israeli style wall along the Texas border would stop drug importing, manufacturing and distribution? Or do they just like to hear it? The industry would fake a temporary shortage to justify a price hike, then business as usual.

The whole sorry lineup in the Republican circus ring is telling you – they look right out through the screen and tell you – that they intend to make the individual lives of about 80% or 90% of the people in the country worse, and in other counties, a lot worse. Kasich disguises it, but he is just a more diplomatic fascist sympathizer who likes an accountant’s approach more than a butcher’s. They have ways to spin it, but they avoid mentioning almost anything of meaning to a person. They tell you nothing positive about your mortgage, your education loans, your prospects in income, job security or working conditions. Nada. They look through the screen, brag about which Muslims and Central Americans they are going to beat up – and people vote for them. Amazing. Aztec priests working human sacrifice might have had similar experience of human nature.

Trump’s role model was obviously Archie Bunker, who was adapted for American TV from Alf Garnett, which, being pre-PC English, gets pretty hairy. In this episode Spike Milligan gets in the game. Enjoy. It’s funny, and Trump will be easier to take after it.

© Bob Freilich February 2016

Please follow and like us:

French Quarter Security Challenges

French Quarter Management District’s Security Task Force meeting was on fire Tuesday. TV news crews, standing room only in the small room at Antoine’s. The reason: a celebrity appearance by Sidney Torres, high profile garbage entrepreneur and the guy that finally brought the French Quarter Task Force to life. A dispute between Torres and FQMD has been bubbling away on the cooker. Tuesday was time to go public.

I had not been to any FQMD events for months, even though it is usually my favorite political body in the city. FQMD commissioners are articulate, disciplined, decent people. Not Boy Scouts or pastors; mostly rich, mostly White, but people who either know what they are doing, or are capable of choosing a clear approach to find out. And they do it in grammatical sentences with little digression (which includes me out).

Bob Simms usually chairs the Security Task Force sessions, but today Robert Watters, past Chairman of the Commissioners and now co-chair of the committee, took the wheel. You’ll see why as we go along. He described the situation briefly and introduced the guest speaker.

It was my first personal encounter with Sidney Torres. Intense and driving, with a clear voice that easily reached all corners of the room, he recounted most self-aggrandizingly, with a low undertone of resentment, how he created “his” French Quarter Task Force. It really was an impressive accomplishment. Torres designed the now well known FQ police app, the patrol routes, selected and purchased the Polaris vehicles he thought were right for the job, including police modifications – blue lights, sirens, iPads for messaging. He bought and had set up computers and a GPS tracking system as management tools. It worked. The new rapid response team reduced crime in the French quarter.

It was strong, creative work, and very generous – though with conditions, as we were about to find out. Bob Simms had been pushing heaven, earth, City Hall and Bourbon Street up a steep slope for almost two years when Torres caught the crime fighting bug. He started with some TV ads to bulldoze Landrieu and the city, then swooped in with ideas, experience and money. (Experience: routing efficiency for garbage trucks is similar to patrols.)

Torres told the room and Fox 8 energetically, forcefully, with a staccato beat, that he bought all the equipment, designed the systems and paid the detail officers $50 an hour. He designed it to run as a business, with accountability, expecting the detail cops to meet standards, stay awake, alert and on the job. He proudly extolled himself as a driven micromanager. If a car stood still too long, Torres might turn up to deliver an on-the-spot reprimand.

It cost a bit of a fortune, though. Expenses were running over $70,000 a month. After three months, Torres had invested hundreds of hours and a lot of money in giving birth to this tough new baby. He said about $500,000. I had also heard $350,000. Let’s go with a lot of money.

He wasn’t going to support it out of his own pocket forever. That seems fair enough. It looks like around this point things began to change. The Convention and Visitors Bureau agreed to take on the running costs, and wanted to vest management in FQMD. In practice, that meant Bob Simms as a volunteer, running a 24/7/365 small police force single-handed. That wasn’t going to last forever, either.

Torres was telling us the whole system had to run on his design, and it was designed to run as a business. There were some details about attendance, timeliness, breaks, unapproved coffee and girlfriend breaks and disciplinary procedures.

What I was hearing was that French Quarter Task Force had an ongoing accountability to him, Sidney Torres, and a contractual responsibility to stay on his model, or he was going to take his app and go home. And more – he said he had registered and owned the name French Quarter Task Force. Implication: Sidney created it; Sidney can kill it.

I thought this extra police presence tailor made for its local environment getting kicked into action after such a long struggle for money, with a realistic operating plan, was a fantastic achievement, but he was losing me, and I suspect a lot of the room. Petulance doesn’t play so well.

He was really losing me from the open, at running it “as a business.” What does that mean? A police service is not a business. Government is not a business. The American autocratic corporate model is not a heaven-sent formula for social or community service. The commissioners who drive FQMD are mostly business directors or owners. They don’t call FQMD a business.

Accountability is not unique to business. The CIA has accountability. The Fire Department has accountability. But they are not businesses. Some government services get off without it. The US congress obviously meets no performance criterion known to the mind of man.

Public services trying to run run as businesses can come unstuck. The Blair government in the UK had a mania for setting targets. They drove the National Health Service around the bend with it, until it looked like they had more managers and management studies than doctors. The world’s worst case might be the business model of American health care, which produces high profits, astronomic costs and prices, and the most uneven, dysfunctional distribution system of any economically advanced country, a fact acknowledged by all except the beneficiaries of the profits and a few million blinkered, delusional people in the radical insurgency wing of the Republican Party – possibly a majority of them now – who tend to avoid awareness of alternatives and best practice. Facts interfere with their belief-centered mental processes.

When he finished his speech, Torres gathered his stuff and said he had to go. A lot of what he had said was a sideswipe at Bob Simms. I don’t really understand why. Bob Simms is an intelligent, practical, clear thinker who gets things done, extremely generous with his time and energy for the benefit of the city and the French Quarter specifically, a welcome – I would say essential – counterweight to the cranky neighborhood associations who threaten to turn the FQ into a perpetual battleground. His understanding of NOPD’s manpower challenges, the minimum time needed to build it up, the security depletion in the neighborhood and on Bourbon, the current and potential consequences, and his dogged determination to get something done about it had created the space Torres stepped into.

Bob asked Torres to stay to work through the issues. Torres refused, saying he had an appointment. That was questionable. For some reason, he preferred a dramatic exit to engaging in the debate. On the way out he shouted several times, “You lied to me!” Well, the many of us who know Bob Simms know that that wasn’t very likely. So what’s going on?

When Torres had come in strong, creating the app, planning the patrols based on his rubbish business experience, buying and donating equipment, Bob had been grateful for and immensely respectful of his input. But after that, it had to run.

From what I can suss out, Sidney Torres seems to believe that his initial structure was perfect. Sacrosanct. In reality, like any other startup, whether business or public service, it needs tuning up, trial and error correction, parts replacement and upgrades.

He said he owned the rights to the app, and could take it away. He owned the name French Quarter Task Force, and could take that away, though that wouldn’t be much of a loss. It wouldn’t take long to think of a better name, and FQMD owned “Security Task Force,” which would do in a pinch. This was getting a bit schoolyard.

The police had problems with the GPS system. Police rules do not allow civilians to have real-time tracking of officer locations, for fairly obvious security reasons. Police on details are still police, responsible to their commanders and police rules. There were problems with the refresh rate on the original system. It was replaced, apparently infuriating Torres.

The little Polaris cars have problems. They do not protect drivers from rain or cold. They have mechanical problems. One of them stalls out repeatedly to the point of uselessness, possibly because it’s electrical system may not be suitable for the extra load of sirens and blue lights. Working 24 hours a day under control of many different drivers may exceed the design spec. I picked up that NOPD officers had had experience of Polaris buggies before, and were skeptical. But Torres had insisted on Polaris. The Task Force was trying out an electric vehicle that was available, as well as using a regular police car in bad weather.

After Mr Torres left, it came out in discussion that there was no fund to replace the vehicles. But cars depreciate and the expected service life of Polaris buggies under the FQTF service load is short, so FQMD’s Executive Director, Emily Remington, was assigned to work up a depreciation and replacement schedule. Here’s me still thinking about this policing as a business thing, and I’m hearing that the “business” hadn’t thought to include asset depreciation of cars in its figures. Could that be true? Would Sidney Torres or any of the mostly business guys conducting this meeting today do that in one of their own actual business investments? Accountants spot that kind of omission within 15 seconds of looking at a business plan. That would be a major crack in the business model, unless Torres was planning on its being a private not a public business, even after the CVB picked up the tab.

My first impression of Sidney Torres: brilliant. Driven, energetic, intensely focused, tenacious. Unfortunately rather feudal in his ideas of control. My way or the highway on decisions.

Second impression: has real difficulty letting go. Your baby girl’s growing up, man. Time to let her go to college, and you can’t pick all her boyfriends.

The meeting was interesting, acrimonious and sharp. I was surprised that Jeffrey Walls, Commander of the 8th, who was there, didn’t take a hand in it more forcefully. He seemed quite relaxed, but maybe he knows where it has to go, so doesn’t need to get in the fight.

Sidney Torres left the impression that this saga was not over, and the storm clouds were gathering. Maybe. I don’t see where it is going to go. Names are easy to change. Apps can be written. Other little scooter cars are available. I don’t think he can now take back a public service as a private fiefdom. Except for Torres, I have spoken to the players enough in the past to know that they are reasonable people, well capable of compromise and finding solutions. Torres is a very successful guy. If he wanted ongoing involvement and was willing to contribute more, why not work something out with the others? Maybe there is a jigsaw piece missing.

The State Police presence came into it, among details of funding provision and the FQ hotel tax. Bob Simms suggested they could use the State Police supplement more efficiently by having their patrols for 12 nighttime hours instead of 24, because the daytime was low crime. Some objected. Many French Quarter people are very keen on the State Police presence. For me, except maybe for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, I think having troopers doing city police work is a terrible idea. They run on their own rules. It looks like two different police policies operating in the city. They stir up resentment and over time probably instigate more crime than they cure. Council is in the process of changing the marijuana laws and informally expecting restraint in enforcement in New Orleans. Will the troopers follow the Council’s new way? Or carry on with the petty drug busts they were proud of a few months ago, justifying them under unaltered state law? Do we really need thousands of car stops as part of New Orleans culture? How come African American tail lights seem to crack so much more frequently than Caucasian tail lights, and is it just a rumor that they lead to different search procedures? I would prefer to see NOPD pulling out the stops to get more guys on FQ patrol, and let the mountie hats saddle up pull back to the I-10. Keep improving a police service designed for New Orleans, not importing one designed for hassling traffic in the countryside.

(c) Bob Freilich, February 2016

Please follow and like us: