Barq and Bite

The Chamber was full at Tuesday’s City Planning meeting. The main event was a big session on STR. Not Sexually Transmitted anything – Short Term Rentals.

It was overshadowed. I haven’t even seen the STR bit yet, because something really significant happened first. The opening shot of a great revolution was fired. A shot heard ‘round the block!

(I dIdn’t really mean that. Just couldn’t resist. This could be the chance for New Orleans to take the city back.)

My new heroes, gladiators on the side of The Light, are Ms Hillary Barq, lessee and operator of the business, and Ms Darleen Jacobs Levy, owner of the property, no-BS lawyer and all around tough cookie. I’ll link what the Times-Pic has to say about it at the bottom, but let’s follow the story first.

Hillary Barq (yes, yes, of the Root Beer Barqs) wants to open a nice shop on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District. Not among the fashionable boutiques and restaurants on the Uptown side of Felicity – the very Lower Garden District, near the industrial chic and movie set decay of Barrel Proof, which used to be the Bridge Inn. Magazine Street has been a good wheeze for years, and now its fashionable zone is starting move downriver of Felicity. These two women want to help move its allure closer to Warehouse and the CBD, while having fun and making some money on the way.

One of the bones of contention in the case was that Ms Barq wants a liquor license for off-premises consumption to up to 15% of sales by cost, but it was a secondary issue doing red herring duty. You can always depend on a certain proportion of Americans to feel that puritanical itch to restrict the Devil’s temptations. You would think they had learned their lesson from the years of murder and mayhem that resulted from Prohibition and the Volstead Act, then the New Jim Crow of marijuana prohibition in 1935 to keep some of the Prohibition jackboots in work, which we are only slowly starting to roll back. But the Salem virus is like herpes lodged in the American spinal column. Blow the right dog whistles, it flares up. And we can also trust some people in the public eye, and the eye of others in the political lists, to hide what really bothers them behind one of these boring old reliable red flags.

Hillary Barq lost, 5-4. She is a hero. Ms Jacobs is the Ajax of the coming war. I am sharpening my sword to follow these two great Amazons into battle.

The Shoppe
Featured products will be house-made ice cream, jams and jellies. (I am thinking, a gelateria as in Florence. This could be good.) It will serve sandwiches, coffee, teas and cakes. It will sell its ice creams and special condiments for take-away as well. Ms Barq said, someone on the way home from the CBD could stop in and get some treats for dinner or a party, and pick up a bottle of wine. Or a nice bottle of Amaretto or Calvados, I shouldn’t wonder.

You can get a feel for the kind of shop it might be from the presumption that core customers would be Uptowners who work in the financial district. But that’s okay. Affordable housing isn’t everything.

In Commissioners’ statements toward the end, Mr Steeg and Mr Marshall said they had trouble seeing the synergy of jams, ice cream and take-away liquor. I am going to help them out. Least I can do.

Step into Rouses CBD through the Girod Street entrance – just a couple of steps and stop. Look just to your right. You will see the counter for ice cream, pastries and coffee, eat in or take away. Just across from it, a few feet away, you will see the counter for spirits and liqueurs and a few promotional wine displays. Just past them are the tables, where you can drink your coffee and eat your pastries or sandwiches, but you cannot open and drink alcoholic beverages. Thousands of people a day express no shock at that juxtaposition.

Visualization skills vary, but this should help.

To give them their due, some of the Commissioners, particularly Mr Marshall and Mr Duplessis, said clearly that even if the Commissioners don’t get it, it is not up to them to judge an entrepreneur’s business model, only its zoning, legality and impact.

Most of the ABO argument really had nothing to do with Ms Barq’s business. A quirk of Louisiana law assigns alcoholic beverage permits to the premises, not the business. Residents and some commissioners expressed concern that the business might not work or she might sell the store on to somebody less, ahem . . you know. Do I detect a touch of classist xenophobia in there, or is that just my Gentrification Geiger Counter (TM) turned up to eleven?

Neither Ms Barq nor any other business developer should be penalized for this awkward law..

Once again, Mr Royce Duplessis pointed out most clearly, any actions of a subsequent owner should be dealt with at that time, not used to obstruct Ms Barq because of an imagined future with an imaginary person.

So reason can be found in the City Planning Commission. There are some smart folks up there on the dais. Yet she lost, 5-4. What really did it?

The Neighborhood Association!

From now on, this is a recruiting speech.

Aux armes, Citoyens!

Right-thinking people, rise up with me to help Hillary Barq and Darleen Levy-Jacobs to help us to put an end to this reign of petty tyranny.

A story before we resume this story: a couple of years ago when VCPORA was persecuting somebody – I think it was T-Shirts that time – Kristin Gisleson Palmer, the well-beloved KGP of the previous council (who is going to be on the wrong side of an upcoming NOLAscape) was grilling Meg Lousteau of VCPORA and Jared Munster of Safety and Permits. Meg was more up on violations of T-Shirt lore than Munster. She is also a better public speaker with an arch manner that pleases some of the audience. Kristin Palmer seemed to quite fancy her. At one point she said, with a wink to the crowd, “Maybe we should just deputize Meg and VCPORA to enforce the rules if S&P can’t.” Gasps and titters in the gallery. She span it as a joke, but it had a real-ish, chilling feel to it. There was a message in there. We could feel power transfusing.

That mood has metastasized into a plague of Neighborhood Benefit Agreements or Good Neighbor Agreements. They share a balkanizing platform with the gated-community police forcelets that are turning up, most visibly the French Quarter Task Force.

Some of our friends in city government may not like us trying to stir up this muddle. Sending the job of monitoring and regulation back to City Hall means work for them. Good Neighbor Agreements outsource responsibility to unelected private clubs answerable neither to city nor state nor electorate, with no standard policies, principles or responsibilities. Members are self-selecting. What are these clubs like? They range from responsible, honest groups integrating lots of information to reach net best conclusions for their neighborhoods, to homeowners’ protective crypto-gentrification clubs of questionable morality whose intentions are to enhance their own property values with occasional undertones of racism. There is no standard.

We hear that as Freret Street developed, it became virtually a private legal enclave. Neighbors objected ferociously to everything unless businesses signed up to contracts imposing limits more restrictive than city law. Stacy Head claims to have been instrumental in the development of Freret, and I am sure that is correct. But why was she complicit in this residential tyranny? Why can’t bars and restaurants on Freret Street operate under the same laws as others in the City? Somebody gave in. Freret residents had created their own invisible legislature.

We have written several times of the situation in Bywater. It can serve again as an example here. Several years ago, the Bywater neighborhood Association was recaptured from a homeowners’ protectionist crowd who had held sway on the board for years. It was reset into a proper neighborhood association, with a responsible zoning committee that studies the legality and impact of any project on the whole of Bywater, not just a dozen anxious near neighbors. Impact negative and positive: will a project bring new jobs, new people, new services? Committees formulate recommendations to the directors, the directors consider, vote and write their recommendations to the responsible municipal bodies.

BNA’s old guard didn’t like it. Too sensible, too wide-angle. They broke away and formed Neighbors First for Bywater, a homeowners’ klatch, with less structure. In a recent hearing, asked how NFB arrived at a decision to support or oppose, its President said she liked to ask people’s opinion as she walked her dog. She and an ally accused BNA of being too legalistic. Apparently they wanted less data, more reaction and ideology. (Sounds kind of Republican, doesn’t it?)

Bywater Neighborhood Association will not engage in Good Neighbor Agreements. Few NAs have the resources to manage one properly. To move beyond the initial stage of discussion, you need to engage a lawyer, pay arbitration costs – it’s not a lot of fun.

So who would sign a business up to an agreement in Bywater? If BNA won’t take it on, you would be stuck with NFB and the dog-walk poll approach. Yet I hear that NFB is quite keen on Good Neighbor Agreements. They make homeowners’ associations feel important.

The great Café Istanbul is just shaking itself free of an attack by its counterparty to an NBA, the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, which it was pressured into signing by Council members. FMIA never handled its side of the contract anywhere near correctly. It never engaged in appropriate dialogue with the business. The activist directors worked themselves up into a snit, writing complaints to themselves in their newsletters, and eventually just shopped the venue to Dan McNamara, where they could hide anonymously behind the kangaroo ABO court, where one of Stalin’s prosecutors might feel at home. I wouldn’t want to accuse the Coliseum Square Association of being like FMIA, which has a very checkered history – but things change. Since it can be difficult to operate the NA’s side of an agreement properly, in this case, they just managed it improperly. The niceties of the agreement did not seem to trouble Prosecutor McNamara.

Okay. We resume . . .

Ms Barq and Ms Jacobs Levy defied the Coliseum Square Neighborhood Association by refusing to sign a Good Neighbor Agreement! By refusing to consider it. By brushing it away with a one line reply.

Halle bloody lujah. That is the opening shot. Rise and throw off your chains, New Orleans.

Julie Simpson, President of the Coliseum Square Association, came to the mic. She opened,“We represent the neighborhood . . . . “ Of course, they don’t at all! These clubs are not elected. They are not accountable. They are not bodies of the city or the state. They claim to represent the interests of their neighborhoods, but they have no consistent principles, policies, restrictions or responsibilities. Some of them have behaved very badly, with episodes of deep immorality that border on criminal.

Ms Simpson and her Vice President looked hurt and saddened that Ms Jacobs Levy would brush them off like that. So convinced of their own good intentions, virtue and sense of duty are they that they seemed to find it difficult to imagine that a business might want to manage itself by reference to the law and municipal government without sheltering under their club’s umbrella by signing some of its legal rights away on their well-meaning dotted line.

As the story unfolded, Ms Simpson met Hillary Barq at the shop’s location. Ms Barq explained the business. Ms Simpson invited her to attend a meeting of the association. She did. Ms Simpson told her about Good Neighbor Agreements. She said that Ms Barq had agreed to sign it. She then sent copies of her text to Ms Barq and Ms Jacobs-Levy. They did not respond. After a while, Ms Simpson sent them a reminder. She received a brusque reply from lawyer and landlord Jacobs-Levy: “We’re not signing.”

Wow, people! History in the making. Let’s see some fists in the air, guys! Hard-boiled landlords like Jacobs Levy may look like the enemy sometimes, but now she is the good guy.

One guy named Banks McClintock came to the mic to both support and oppose with a.tortured argument. He was opening a business with liquor sales on the same block. He had gone to LaToya Cantrell and Stacy Head. They told him that he had to see the neighborhood association. That is how it is done, they said. His point was that if he and other businesses had signed the NA’s stuff, why shouldn’t Ms Barq?

Why, indeed, Sir? Because Ms Barq and Ms Jacobs Levy have more courage than you and the others. His presentation was a declaration of advanced Stockholm Syndrome: Why won’t these two women be contented hostages like the rest of us? Show us your chains if you want to join this club!

I note with Commissioner Eugene Green that the squeamishness about alcoholic beverage sales went away when McLintock agreed to sign on to Coliseum’s loyalty oath.

If CMs Head and LaToya (and “they” say, add Susan Guidry to the list) are sending people to meet and talk to the NAs, that’s fair enough. It is even in the rules of conditional use that the applicant must set up an NPP – Neighborhood Participation Program – inviting all interested parties within a certain radius (depending on size of the project) and must include recognized NAs even if outside the radius. It does not say the business developer must attend a meeting and present there, but why not? They care and it takes an hour.

But if the Council Members instruct property and business developers to subject themselves to any control by these self-appointed clubs, it is commercially inappropriate and part of the unofficial outsourcing of municipal responsibility. It has an analogue in the little neighborhood police forces, picking up what the city doesn’t get done. It is part of an overall withdrawal from responsibility.

What is the appropriate role of one of these associations? In one of its rare moments of lucidity, challenged when it was throwing down some gauntlets about a property on the wrong side of Bienville, VCPORA in the decisive tones of Meg Lousteau said: VCPORA is not a neighborhood association. It is an advocacy group.

That’s it! Thank you, Meg. That’s what they all are. Even one that I belong to. Even if we call them neighborhood or homeowners’ associations.

Their appropriate role is to study and understand the zoning, the law, the impacts, to evaluate the costs and benefits of projects and make rational recommendations to City Planning, City Council, HDLC, VCC – the proper deciding, accountable, legal bodies. The ones you can unelect.

They can be rational, data-driven, logical, inclusive and wide-angle, like BNA. They can be close-focus, emotional, reactive like NFB or FMIA. What they must not be is entrusted to share municipal authority. No! The Good Neighbor Agreement is the step too far.

As advocacy groups, it should be normal and expected for them to discuss projects with CPC staff and with Council Members. It should be fine for them to support or oppose projects before Council or the HDLC or VCC, IF they properly identify themselves. (VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens should be disqualified, because they will not say how many members they have or be clear about their decision processes, but most of the others are satisfactorily transparent.)

But supporting their assuming authority over businesses under civil contracts is wrong. They are neither elected nor subject to certain standards. They do not have to submit performance or compliance reports. They are not subject to regular ethics reviews before Council. Some of them would be long out of business if they were.

A spokesman for Ms Barq, summing up in rebuttal, said,” We will operate the business under rules and regulations of the city, but not under the rules and regulations of the neighbors!”

Bravo!

In Commissioners’ comments at the end, some of them showed a very weak spot in their perception of the case. They cited opposition of the neighbors. The only two neighbors who opposed were the President and Vice President of the Coliseum Square Association. As Commissioner Eugene Green pointed out, they do not seem to oppose McClintock’s store, so the remaining basis of opposition is the Good Neighbor Agreement that they want signed because it gives them contractual authority over Ms Barq’s and Ms Jacobs Levy’s businesses. To me, that neutralizes their testimony for conflict.

The business owners of New Orleans can end this petty tyranny. Just get behind Hillary Barq and Darleen Jacobs Levy and say No!

The neighborhood clubs will whine. The stores and bars and restaurants will have to be strong, and they will have to face down the Council Members who have been pushing these things. But the Good Neighbor contracts are bad in principle, an addiction they have to get over. Bring back the rule of law. The Council Members will eventually understand and thank you for it in the end.

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The Times-Picayune’s article on the Barq project:

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/06/no_liquor_permit_for_root_beer.html

©NOLAscape June 2016

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Stateside 2

Back to New Orleans neighborhoods! Enough of California, voter suppression and our presumptive national embarrassments that the mainstream and social media are exploiting to boost ratings. We won’t even track Trump, the unruly baboon that the Repubs can’t get a collar on, exploiting the sad Orlando mass murder and America’s astonishing level of gun violence to advance his agenda of bigotry. Sad and ugly, but what are you going to do? Stupid stuff and gullibility are part of the elephant’s burden.

Stateside, the hotel/hostel causing some of its Bywater neighbors to jump up and down on their hats, is up before the Historic District Landmarks Commission in two days. It should pass. HDLC is about buildings; the building is a good design. But who knows? The opposing team will almost certainly be there, fuming and sputtering, brandishing invisible pitchforks, threats of lawsuits and the usual arsenal of obstruction

They have put some of their recent stuff in writing, so today we can take another stroll through the presumption of privilege under which Residentialists, usually bunched up in homeowners’ associations which they deceptively call Neighborhood Associations, expect protection by special laws to appease their particular anxieties. This is an evolving pattern in the city of neighborhoods. Once a city was the local unit. Since the spread of “neighborhoodism,” residents wanted special laws for their patch, and they sometimes found or invented histories and stories of special local qualities to justify their separatism. The French Quarter is the NOLA champion of this game. Localism sounds like a good idea, but one of the Unintended Consequences is that traditional municipal government can take the opportunity to opt out. The French Quarter and neighborhoods around the country are scrambling to set up their own police forces as their elected government sits on the sidelines or devotes all its attention to new ways to raise money, like parking meters and balcony fees. .

When it concerns new building, they call these special laws provisos. They are like the contra of zoning adjustments. Zoning Adjustments is the name used for variances by people who are okay with them. Opponents call it Spot Zoning.

Now sub-neighborhoods are congealing into political action committees. One of the recent maneuvers of the action club of Stateside’s nearest residential neighbors is proposing to raise the proviso game to a new level which treats Ted Kelso, the developer of the building and operator of the business, like a prisoner on parole, surrounded by electronic devices comparable to an ankle monitor with a CCTV feature, required to check in with various kinds of warden and parole officer in intervals sometimes as short as every day.

Our neighbors are not, of course, proposing a general law for the City or the common good. Nope. Just special privilege for a few who think they are exceptional enough to need a unique law, just for them. (They are not even the worst recent case. Neighbors First, one of the homeowners’ associations, requested an amazingly silly proviso for the Montegut face of Via Latrobe, just to allay the irrational anxiety of one woman who said she found the sound of music life-threatening.)

Here is an email by Carolyn Leftwich, the Joan of Arc of the residents’ insurrection against the Stateside hotel, sent first to Aylin Maklansky, Legislative Director of District C, then to Ted Kelso, developer, owner, CEO.

Mr Kelso has not responded to my request for comment. However, Ms Leftwich sent it to City Hall first, and it has been ricocheted around the place a bit, so I reckon it is public enough.

It can be great fun describing and characterizing the rages of residential protectionists when they go off the rails, but this one just speaks for itself. Doesn’t give me enough to do. Still, after it gets done speaking for itself, I am going to kick it around a little bit anyway.

From: *carolyn leftwich* <carolynleftwich@yahoo.com>
Date: Monday, June 6, 2016
Subject: Provisos to conditional use zoning docket 17/16
To: Ted Kelso <chartresstreetlot@gmail.com>
Cc: “Aylin A. Maklansky” <aamaklansky@nola.gov>, Carolyn Leftwich <
carolynleftwich@yahoo.com>, Quin Breland <qbreland@brelandlawllc.com>,
“Kara Y. Johnson” <kyjohnson@nola.gov>

Ted,

A committee formed by near neighbors put considerable time and effort in
writing provisos. Last week, a request to include provisos was made to
Ms. Maklansky concerning noise and open air occupancy of the Mazant
Entertainment Complex (MEC) that would be acceptable to the surrounding
neighbors. Following her suggestion, I am sending you a copy of what was
sent to her.

Ms. Maklansy [sic] and I are waiting for your response.

*MEC Peak Nightime Population Proviso*

The occupancy limits are posed [sic] on all interior and exterior spaces that
match the references in the permitted architectural drawing set.

Open air occupancy spaces include: open air pool courtyard and hostel
courtyards with all balconies and circulation areas, and adjoining rooms,
if doors or windows are left open.

1. Peak nighttime population: open air hostel courtyard space 136 max.,
open air pool courtyard space 108 max. (per Cm. Ramsey’s draft proviso)

The MEC property owner is to file daily, signed occupancy reports for the
open air spaces with a designated CPA auditor that maintains records and
makes the reports available online for transparency. The CPA also receives
Fire Marshall occupancy inspection reports, so any inconsistencies with the
reports received from the property owner are flagged as a discrepancy to
insure the quality of the reporting, and to provide feedback to MEC
management for corrective action to peacefully co-exist with neighbors.

The MEC property owner contracts with the Fire Marshall for 10 random
nighttime occupancy inspections of the open air courtyard spaces per month.
There is to be no warning whatsoever of a pending nighttime visit. Fire
Marshall is to file the 10 random nighttime inspection reports with the
designated CPA.

The CPA and Fire Marshall inspection fees are to be paid by the MEC
property owner.

Monthly and annual compliance reports are posted online by the CPA auditor
with flags to mark inconsistencies with Fire Marshall reports.

Online data provided by the CPA auditor is to be considered prima facia
data that enables recovery of the legal costs incurred for filing
restraining orders with the New Orleans municipal court and reports to the
LA Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

*MEC Nighttime Noise Proviso*
The responsibility of noise management is with the producer, the MEC
property owner. It is impossible to manage noise pollution without
verifiable measurement and procedures for corrective action. (See attached
copy of 2013 “New Orleans Sound Ordinance and Soundscape Evaluation and
Recommendations”, Problems that face current noise enforcement, pg. 42)

1. The quieter of the MEC noise provisos or city noise ordinance shall
prevail.

2. No amplified sound between 10p and 10a in all exterior spaces
including balconies, pool courtyard, hostel courtyards, parking lot, open air roof top bar/ and any indoor spaces with open doors/windows.

3. A source monitor in each of the pool courtyard, hostel courtyards
and parking lot open air spaces provides data for real time, online charting of noise
levels. Time varying pressure readings to these spaces provide unique sound signatures to identify which noises received in a residential home were sourced by a MEC open air space.

4. A receptor monitor in an abutting Bartholomew, Royal and Mazant
residential address, charts noise received in a residential home
attributable to an MEC open air space. The location of a receptor sound
monitor is at a preference of a resident—3 feet above the lot line wall, a
balcony, an open window or occupied rooftop. The receptor monitor
distinguishes noise generated from the MEC source from other noises in the
ambient soundscape to flag excessive noise as it is generated by the MEC.

5. Maximum noise level proviso for noise sourced by MEC that invades
residential addresses at Bartholomew, Royal and Mazant:

3dBA L10 Max above the prevailing ambient soundscape from 8 pm to 8 am
that excludes unrelated peaks due to extraneous ambient noise

6. An accredited 3rd party monitoring service provides online charting and
actionable metrics to manage the nighttime noise broadcasted from the MEC
into residential homes.

The same CPA auditor makes available online monthly noise reports plus an
annual summary report as prima facia evidence for recovering legal expenses
to effect compliance with city noise ordinances or provisos specific to the
MEC conditional use.

Cost of the CPA auditing, third party sound monitoring services and random
night time Fire Marshall inspections are the responsibility of the MEC
PROPERTY OWNER. Legal expenses to gain compliance with noise provisos
and/or city noise ordinances are also the responsibility of MEC PROPERTY
OWNER when supported by prima facia monitoring data reported by the CPA
along with data validations provided by the sound monitoring service.

ALL PROVISOS SURVIVE CHANGE OF CONTROL OR MANAGEMENT OF THE PROPERTY.

Regards,

Carolyn Leftwich
cell 214.636.0412

“MEC” or “Mazant Entertainment Complex.” This must be the rebel committee’s sarcastic pet name for the Stateside hotel/hostel. Their little in-joke. Very cute. A helpful little sneer. The letter must have been written to show the neighbors’ displeasure to CM Ramsey’s office. Re-directing it to the developer without editing suggests they read Aylin Maklansky’s response as a brush-off. That’s what it deserves, so I hope it was.

Intentional disrespect is hardly the way to elicit a serious reply. It suggests they are showing off to themselves, asking the Ramsey team and Kelso to watch them strut, but they don’t really expect a reply from Ted Kelso. He can sit back; NOLAscape is on the case.

“Considerable time and effort.” Is the developer supposed to be impressed by this? To appreciate the effort put in by an ad hoc committee of snarling residents circling imaginary wagons, intent on annoying him and obstructing his business plan? Snip and snark and the presumption of privilege. Do you think the Residentialists hear themselves?

“Following her suggestion.” This must be intended to sneak in the Legislative Director’s name as if she backed or authorized this screed. My reading: Ms Maklansky replied in the polite code of a raised eyebrow and a gentle diplomatic brush off whose underlying meaning was: “Run along and play now; let the grownups work.”

Daily signed occupancy reports, certified by a CPA and the Fire Marshal. Okay, fasten your seat belts. We are moving out into the lunatic fringe zone now, right? This clutch of neighbors needs a special policing detail, to be paid for by the guy they don’t like, for everything a properly permitted business does in a site where it meets the requirements of the Holy CZO and the Sacred Master Plan. Maybe their next production will be a new Bartholomew Street Master Plan. With “the force of law.”

Note that they are not proposing this for every homeowner or neighborhood everywhere that might be near a hotel, restaurant or bar. Just them. It is not for New Orleans. This special level of Residentialist tyranny is for one street of folksy Bywater, so fragile, special and privileged that it just needs every single sound and person checked and verified and open to critique, fusspottery and prosecution by them, at the hotel’s expense.

I wonder whether this is not a job for the Department of Health. Mental health, neurasthenia division..

Do they hear themselves?

Prima facie, municipal court and the ABO. This time, let’s start with: Do they hear themselves? They don’t like Ted Kelso’s business plan, we get that. But does that give them standing to act as if he is a prisoner on parole? They embarrass themselves. I guess they are telling us that they intend to make a hobby of inciting Dan McNamara of the ABO, the City’s own Cocktail Torquemada, and abusing civil court to try to harass Stateside. They condemn themselves to the status of annoyances and pests. I wonder if it is possible to add a proviso that says that having threatened harassment, residents must be warned that they may be held liable for costs in any action held to be frivolous.

I thought I saw two streams of opposition to this project, one this group of residents, another, Pete and Jenny Breen of The Joint, one of Bywater’s favorite restaurants. Pete and Jenny were strongly against Stateside as well, but their arguments were reasonable and civil. The opposition might have done better, quicker if they followed their lead. I’ll remember that when I order my next plate of brisket.

“3dBA L10 Max above the prevailing ambient.” This and the monitor scheme is nothing more than indulgence of, and self-indulgence by, their amateur acoustician, Michael Bolan. If you watch him at the hearings, you will see that he seems to enjoy showing off some technical jargon. The first acoustic poseur I have seen. Even Arno Bommer was actually a pro – probably scripted by the boss, but he did it for a living. Kelso has David Woolworth, an experienced professional, on the case. Bolan’s stuff is redundant.

I am not the biggest fan of the Stateside business model either, but Ted Kelso has had the building redesigned so that it should be one of the best new developments approved for Bywater, making a contribution to the riverside cityscape. So good on ‘im. The business is legal and permitted in the zoning. If the operating laws regulating the business are good enough for the city and everybody else, they are good enough for these neighbors. Claiming special privilege, as if they merit more Council protection from urban life than residents of Gentilly or Broadmoor or the Ninth Ward, is just unattractive.

In at least one meeting, the developer mentioned a self-imposed limitation that we don’t need. If its purpose is to appease residents, let’s talk him out of it. He said Stateside would not have live music. Why not? It has a restaurant. Restaurants can have live music by right. New Orleans has a lot of musicians that need work, and New Orleans people like live music. Make your deal on sound emission, on volume, not the source.

So on Thursday, June 16th, at 1 PM, if you don’t have a dogfight or anything to go to, the HDLC may be good for some free admission entertainment.

Oh, and don’t forget: Neighbors First of Bywater opposes Stateside. That is usually a good reason to support a project.

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Here are the approved sound provisos. They actually impose some extra investment on Stateside, but it may not be that bad. It is not silly like the resident moaners’ proposal and might work for other venues as well. The Tropical Isle bars already have monitoring systems, installed voluntarily years ago. The quality of the outcome depends of course on the sound ordinances being reasonable – that may be a big “depends” considering the craziness of the last round of sound wars and the messiness of some of the old ordinances. With a good law, monitors could protect the venue from harassment as well as defend neighbors who want to legislate suburbia. Ted Kelso would be well advised to keep a good monitoring system, because given the warnings to invoke the dreaded McNamara and civil court, it is a fair guess that Michael Bolan, the team’s amateur acoustic enthusiast, will set up a device of his own and make it his mission to catch Stateside in violation of something.

The angry neighbors won’t care, but a big problem for serious people is that decibel meters are not reliable measurements of music. Music is complex. Decibel algorithms integrate it down to a couple of numbers.

3. The applicant shall alter the massing between the courtyard and parking area and coordinate landscaping to provide for sufficient sound mitigation from the courtyard.

15. The applicant shall submit a noise abatement plan, to be reviewed by the Director of Safety and Permits, and all other appropriate City agencies, indicating compliance with the noise ordinance and documenting all efforts to abate noise outside of the property lines, including the installation of a system to monitor sound at the property line and which shall address the intended use of amplification, noise levels, and need for soundproofing. The sound monitoring system shall be operational at all times the exterior courtyards are in use.

©NOLAscape June 2016

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Low Jinks in the California Primary

Let’s give the neighborhoods a break today – zoom out to the California Democratic primary.

I am picking up reports of voter suppression in Los Angeles targeting probable Sanders supporters. We don’t know if it will ever make the news. Since Hillary Clinton posted a win of about 12%, it is unlikely that the Sanders campaign would be able to justify or even benefit from a recount. The propaganda mill we call Main Stream Media has gone all Party, no principle. We may just be looking at another tiresome case of theft of American democracy – assuming there was one to steal – with our supine news industry too bored and cynical to mention it..

Here are selections from an email to The Young Turks about it. You may notice that the writer has the same last name as mine. He is my son – that is how I am picking up the news.

Dear TYT,

. . . I registered in the beginning of April at my new address. I have registered Democrat since 2008 when I voted for Obama. When I got to my polling place, I was ‘not in the system’ and my girlfriend was a ‘mail-in vote’, despite the fact she has never been a mail-in voter and didn’t tick that box this time.

All day I had calls and social media hits that this was happening to under 40s across the city. I saw it happen with my own eyes time and time again to young people coming into the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. Told they either were not registered or were mail-in votes and had to cast provisionals. . . . .

I gave up my entire day to fight for my vote and got nowhere. I called every number I was given, sat on hold for hours and when I reached people eventually they were unhelpful and said cast a provisional in the hope I’ll magically ‘show up in the system’ later on. I know personally a good number of Bernie supporters this happened to yesterday, can you please help me get the word out on this?

The Democrats have lost me on this. From now on I am Bernie or Jill Stein. Or Elizabeth Warren, that’s my only other exception.

. . . The voting official at the poll, a Bernie supporter, was appalled and tried to help me with the calls – to no avail.

Thank you,

Gabriel Freilich

Gabriel put his experience on FaceBook, and people started to comment from other precincts. Their names had been omitted from registration lists, had been incorrectly entered as postal voters, or had been entered in the wrong party, as in the FaceBook comment below.

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Given the late stage of the nominating process, I don’t know whether any of this will be investigated, but it looks like more shenanigans from the old ward-heeler core of the Clintonian Democratic Party. Although getting no attention so far, it looks comparable in effect to the suppression at the Nevada convention, fronted by state party chairman Roberta Lange, but probably puppet-mastered by Harry Reid, hard man of the Nevada Party, staunch machine apparatchik and rabid opponent of Sanders.

NOTE: This critique of the Dems is not to favor the Republican Party or any of its “Conservative” shadows. The current Republican Party is a sociopathic aberration advocating social injustice and economic mythology. The Democrats’ problem is, they are not better enough. Installing a Neoliberal as formal head of the party, they might never be.

If I, sitting in New Orleans, can be aware of 15 or 20 cases of vote suppression in the Sanders demographic in a city 2,000 miles away, what is the real scale of this in California? If Matt Taibbi or Jeremy Scahill took an interest in it, thousands more cases might come out of the cobwebs.

California exit polls showed 9% to 10% Clinton lead, much higher than earlier polls predicted, but it’s a benchmark. In the final tally of votes on the day (postal and provisional ballots not all counted yet) Clinton won by about 12.6%. What if the 3%+ difference could be explained by plain old Chicago style election fraud? It might even be worse. If some of the latest pre-election polls were reasonably accurate, it was neck and neck.

Are these polling place cockups simple incompetence, or systematic suppression? You could almost put it down to muddle, but for one thing: the observed cases were all or almost all in the under-40 demographic, which in California polled well over 60% for Bernie Sanders. Maybe the machine Democrats were spooked by the Sanders momentum and Clinton’s extraordinarily high unfavorable rating. Maybe they have worked out a way to mobilize and manage incompetence to support DNC objectives.

Have you noticed that while Red State governors and legislatures are passing voter ID laws and pretending that they are to counter voter fraud, an almost nonexistent phenomenon, voter suppression and political fraud, crimes committed by their own class and profession, is increasingly obvious, skewing votes in the hundreds of thousands or millions?

Which runs these messy games? Local hustlers? The State committees? Senators and Congressmen (many of whom are Superdelegates)? Or the DNC, which in this election looks like a mercenary contractor to the Clintons?

This is before we even get to the Superdelegates, a mechanism created to suppress Progressivism in the Party, ensuring  that even after an exhausting primary process, whoever holds the reins of the apparatchik team can still manipulate the nominally democratic process.

The Party duopoly trivializes the political process by jamming Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton under the same umbrella. They represent totally different platforms. Clintonites suggest the difference is a matter of degree and pace, but that is not true. Sanders has lifted and expanded a political revolution advocating a New Deal-ish version of North European Social Democracy, probably the most successful sociopolitical structure in the world for citizens and residents. Quality of life, in a significant sense – not the neighborhood association meaning. Clinton represents the smoke-filled room (now probably smoke-free), the revolving door, the back door, the hustle, acting. Deliberately as a brake on popular activism. The Party duopoly, while marginalizing real other Parties, like the Greens with their amazingly sound and sensible candidate Jill Stein and the entertainingly crazy Libertarians, tries to absorb and dilute any ideology that will accept their hegemony.

Had Sanders won the nomination, the DNC would have been torn down and rebuilt without the repellent smirking mug of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Clinton is unlikely to change anything. The house servants of the DNC helped the corporate media undermine the Sanders campaign. One of its functions is likely to be to provide sinecure posts for Clinton loyalists.

Watching so many of the party people and “pundits” (or as many pronounce it, “pundints”) angry or feigning anger that Sanders won’t stop shows that they never understood the campaign. They think Sanders is just another candidate trying to grab the Presidency, and his progressive or Social Democrat or New Deal Redux policies are just his campaign brand and logo. They didn’t grasp that he means it – that he does not put Party above principle. At least so far.

So Presidential politics is once again down to Lesser Evilism. Jill Stein says, the Lesser Evil instead of the Greater Good. A race to the bottom of the septic tank, with blasts of verbal air freshener to mask the stench. A covert Neoliberal against a not-yet-housebroken baboon in a blue suit, with a red tie instead of bum, vulgarly fighting his business lawsuits by trying to undermine a judge on his campaign stage.

There is a national benefit to Trump. He drives the Republican establishment crazy. Their normal jobs include applying various veneers of fictional principle over their cruel objectives and abject service to the oligarchy. It takes a lot of work and a few different looks – one for the evangelicals, one for the racists, one for the shopkeepers and another for the bankers, extractors and military-security complex. Now, not only do opponents keep trying to expose the illusion, their own new leader is like an oversized puppy tearing up the furniture, while people like Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan have to rush about like hyperactive spiders mending tears in the web before Trump lets too many people see what the Republican brand conceals.

It’s fun to fantasize that the immediate fate of Progressivism may rest with FBI Director James Comey. If he brings an indictment which could toast the Presumptive Candidate, and Bernie Sanders does not let the President and the Nomenklatura badger him into quitting, the undemocratic Democrats would have to decide whether to lose to Trump or pass the baton to Bernie. If the Clintons offer Comey Vice President or Attorney General, I’m going to be suspicious.

Bernie is the second threat to the Dems’ establishment. If he doesn’t get what he wants at the convention and opts to be an independent candidate, he will split the Democrats and the Independents badly. He said he wouldn’t and seems to be the most honest guy in national politics, but maybe, just maybe. Since Presidential elections are usually won with just a few point advantage, if he takes just ten or 15% of Democratic voters with him, Trump wins. His promise not to go independent was surely part of the price of being permitted to campaign as a Democrat, but the DNC has given him a rough ride from the beginning. Even if he is as honest as he seems, I hope he can make the threat to bring them down credible, even though any commitments the Party and Clinton make are unlikely to be worth the paper they might or might not be written on.

Anyhow – as part of the Decline and Fall Show, there are intriguing signs that Los Angeles is joining Florida and some other states in electoral sleaze. The choice of Trump and Clinton (assuming she really won) means millions of Americans are more comfortable with the corporate oligarchy and the Walmart economy that is sucking the purchasing power and the fun of life out of most Americans than with the risk of something better. Politically passive US citizens once more vote for their own serfdom.

© NOLAscape June 2016

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The Cops

Let’s talk about cops. Or “security.” And is there a meaningful connection between the two?

I have a question about NOPD. Let’s see if I can get a good answer to it from readers who know.

Everybody in New Orleans likes to talk about police. Either there are not enough of them, one of our local beliefs; or they are shooting unarmed Black people around the country for petty infractions; or they are inventing laws, like telling people they don’t have the right to video them. Or some say that every city and state cop is a hero, our only bulwark against Hobbesian savagery.

But we don’t have to rush. We can look at some other stuff on the way.

Every once in a while, something goes right. A couple of weeks ago, a young man got “case dismissed” for a crime he did not commit. In fact, for a crime nobody committed.

Bill Smith was working security for Café Istanbul for an event at one of the reportedly frequent times when Matt Del Vecchio, an FMIA director, was stalking around the venue, looking for incidents to video or photos to take to justify weaponizing the ABO Commission against the venue while bypassing the procedures of the Neighborhood Benefit Agreement his organization was supposed to be on the policing side of. If you missed this bit of downriver theater, a little clutch of neighbors had been complaining about people talking or laughing when they left Istanbul after events. In a truly amazing coincidence, all the complainers were White and and all the complainees were Black. But, friends and Romans, the homeowners’ champion says it is an honorable man. So of course, the reasons for not following the agreed procedures had absolutely nothing to do with subterranean racism or xenophobic anxiety at the Faubourg Marigny Gentrification Support Society. Perish that ignoble thought! Maybe they had just not read to that page of their contract yet.

Smith was doing his job, trying to keep a crowd in some sort of order and calm until the doors opened, when somehow the intrepid iPhone videographer provoked him into a response. We don’t know what the provocation was, because it was edited out of the video posted on the Internet.

Eventually, exasperated at the verbal harassment accompanying the video tracking, Smith tells the NA sleuth to ‘stick it up his ass’ or words to that effect. The Tribune of Residents claimed, on the video and later, that this was a homophobic remark, just short of a hate crime. To the normal person, it is a schoolyard insult that avoids using the F-word, but in the skewed world of neighborhood association self-righteousness, things take on arcane meanings.

Accusations of homophobia were eventually not enough for the inflamed video vigilante, and a charge of actual assault was brought. Fortunately, Bill Smith’s manager that night was Nadra Enzi, aka Captain Black, who was present the whole time, knew that no assault had occurred, hooked Mr Smith up with a useful lawyer, so the charge was kicked. One for the good guys.

I wonder if translating a bit of street and schoolyard putdown into literal sexual innuendo isn’t a new variation on the ancient Southern casting of Black men as a sexual threat.

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NOLA Patrol also expired, with a wheezy whimper and some relief. In case you had forgotten what it was, NOLA Patrol was born in the time of a lot of police politics in New Orleans. Ten people had been shot in one incident on June 29th 2014, driving the Times-Pic to headline in alarm, “ . . . tourism image scarred.” Bourbon Street was turning into Dodge City, and not enough cops to protect us. The idea cauldron was bubbling: recruit more police; get concessions on the consent decree; more community policing, and officers on the street; buy more cars; get more help from the State Troopers; get a Bourbon Patrol of NOPD on detail up and running.

NOLA Patrol was supposed to be a troop of about fifty young police auxiliaries who would roam the French Quarter in yellow shirts, directing traffic, citing and warning about “Quality of Life” infractions, taking notes and demonstrating by their high visibility to potential malefactors that the multifaceted fly’s eye of New Orleans law sees all. Except most people never managed to spot one of these high-visibility QoL enforcers in the flesh.

NOLA.com’s article on its demise said that the Patrol was born “amid high hopes.”

No, it wasn’t, unless you mean Mayor Mitch’s hopes, which sometimes seem more optical than substantial. Chief Michael Harrison and one or two of Landrieu’s surrogates came to Council to help get an enabling ordinance passed, and with forced smiles expressed optimism for the grand future of this idea that addressed no pressing problem. Did anybody believe them? Council voted to enable it, but I suspect that most of our Council Members saw it as a scene in Mayor Mitch’s Municipal Minuet of Illusion.

Backstage whispers say NOLA Patrol’s Eureka! moment was when Landrieu saw New York’s version in bright yellow shirts, blowing whistles, giving directions, trying to help traffic move in Times Square – all sorts of heart-warming Officer Krupke functions. People that know something about policing and management are whispered to have said: Mitch, that’s Times Square. Look around: there are officers, patrolmen, sergeants, undercover detectives all around. An organization. A management structure. We don’t have that. If you start a bunch of under-managed patrollers wandering about, what you are going to get is some people wandering about.

We hoi polloi just rolled our eyes and watched the show.

Except of course, for the French Quarter residentialist delusion, which was quite excitable at the time. Whether because the proposers threw the dog-whistle “Quality of Life” into the propaganda, or for political points – couldn’t say. But they Said they liked it.

Well, it was a chance to nick about $800k from some city accounts for a French Quarter thing, and maybe some bright shirted Patrollers would keep the FQ people off his case for a bit. High hopes.

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Let’s start slithering closer to my big question.

The Bourbon Street shoot-up in June 2014 brought some French Quarter security anxiety to a head. NOPD 8th District didn’t have enough officers for the complement they used to have in the commercial area, and the crowds were getting bigger. The residential FQ had a discouraging crime rate, from panhandling and “gutter punks” that the residents felt were too aggressive – unsavory, in the neighbors’ eyes as well – to armed robbery and assault. Residents and business managers became convinced that more police would be an answer. Bob Simms, security committee chair for French Quarter Management district, assiduously looked for ways to provide better security. Simms had worked out the CCTV cooperative that evolved into SafeCam Nola. He campaigned for better street lighting, both from better maintenance of municipal streetlights and by private property owners. He lobbied the bar and restaurant owners of Bourbon Street to fund a detail patrol that he planned out, in connection with French Quarter Management District, whose Security Task Force he chaired. It was a Sisyphean task. Everybody was convinced more patrol officers would reduce crime and increase security, but getting people to put their money up was hard going.

I get that. Bars and residents already paid their sales taxes, fees and property taxes, which used to support a police force of 1600, then down to 1100 or less, so why should they have to pay more? Police cost estimates at the time were about $90,000 per officer, though I don’t know if these were average or marginal. Let’s say $80,000, for benefit of doubt. So wouldn’t a 500 man shortfall imply there was $40 million going begging somewhere? Isn’t maintaining a proper, well-managed, fair community police service a basic municipal responsibility – especially in a city like this, with pockets of mutually unsympathetic people, a very high rate of violent crime, and going on 10 million visitors a year?

Enter Sidney Torres. A highly energetic, creative entrepreneur with loads of dosh from successful ventures, Torres got interested in French Quarter policing and jumped in with both feet, reviewed all the plans, came up with practical, effective solutions, and primed the funding with his own money. Bob Simms had had to go around hustling and begging for underwriting from reluctant residents and business owners. Sidney Torres just pulled out his check book and swept the obstacles away.

He planned a system with small, nimble vehicles called Polaris that looked like street-ready golf carts, NOPD officers on detail, GPS in every car, and a phone app available free to anyone who wanted it from the App Store or Play Store. With the app, anybody could quickly report a suspected incident, which would relay to the dispatcher for the patrol and to the cars in seconds. The little patrol vehicles could be at the site in minutes, to stop a crime in progress or deal with the report. Mr Torres paid the detail guys on French Quarter Task Force above the usual rate, $50 an hour, but he expected performance. Torres’s force was to be a donut-free zone.

It worked. Then, after three months and hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal expenditure, Torres wanted to hand the working system over to the city and to NOPD to keep going. He had been incredibly generous, but it was not reasonable to expect him to keep shelling out over $30k a month to subsidize everybody else’s protection forever. So the City took it on. They got the money out of the Convention and Business Bureau, stuck FQMD with administrative responsibility, which meant Bob Simms doing about 60 volunteer hours a week trying to run it as the little cracks started to show (car maintenance problems, staff discipline, performance standards within the government environment – the usual plate-spinning stuff). Simms and Torres fell out about something. I forget why. Maybe Simms’s management style likes a steady, sustainable trajectory, while Torres is a demanding firecracker. They both gave great service to the city.

Carriage return.

The most common police complaint in New Orleans is late attendance to calls. That was one of the loudest problems in the French Quarter, which it was commonly believed would be resolved by more police.

The same complaint is now high profile again in Marigny and Bywater. Nextdoor is lit up with reports of marauding gangs of kids “pillaging” like swarms of locusts – a bicycle seat, motor scooters, cars, wallets and handbags – and tales of calling 911 and nothing happens. In some reports, no police show up to respond to the 911 call at all. Not late: never. One caller reported that he or she got a call back from the police about four hours later. Hard to see what that has to with the report of a crime in commission.

I’m going to lob a hypothesis over the net before I dig into the question: NOPD sees its role as catching and processing perpetrators before protecting victims. And a glance at the Monday headlines tells us what kind of lethal villains are at the top of the street crime food chain.

It could be that the young kid perps of the current Marigny crime wave are difficult to catch, difficult to process, difficult to punish or correct – and their crimes seem low-voltage compared to some of the mayhem that dominates the news. With our criminal “justice” system driven mad by the War on Drugs and the various crime bills with culturally and racially skewed mandatory sentences, with the Public Defender system gutted and plea bargain the normal route to jail, with privatized prisons turned into crypto slave camps – incarceration must seem more inevitable than morally centred punishment to a chunk of our population.

If police are operating within a crime-and-punishment paradigm ahead of speedy victim protection, maybe they finish their coffee first.

If that is the issue. Whatever the cause, Torres’s system did cure lethargic response times in his area. FQTF response times were getting down to about three minutes. His system is said to have slowed down a bit now, as more bureaucratic administration took over, some challenges about the original GPS system surfaced, and maintenance problems emerged as the Polaris cars racked up the miles. Fixable problems, but when decision changes from one executive to layers of committees and every dollar of funding has lots of hands reaching for it, the pace changes to the municipal grind.

But one thing was certain: the overriding imperative of Sidney Torres’s system was: get there fast. Interrupt the crime if you can. Get the victim free of it. The technical mechanisms and management system worked. Torres proved that the key is not just more boots on the ground but better technological and management systems.

So here is my question, at last: Why isn’t NOPD falling over itself to install a GPS system in every car, mounted and foot patrol unit in the city, with a central despatch office with screens showing where every police unit is at all times? Software would enable 911 to show where an incident was in progress, where the nearest police unit was, and a calculated ETA.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Google Maps and Waze do something like it on your phone. If the unit in the best position said, I’m in a hostage situation, can’t go, dispatcher could try the next one. The dispatcher could then report to the person who reported the crime, “An officer will be with you in four minutes,” or whatever the system reported. The software would not have a subroutine for donuts. If the officer missed the four minute ETA, the management system could require a serious explanation. Reports should be available to the review boards and the public.

Maybe implementation of a system like this flummoxes the police and maybe even triggers the New Orleans administrative obstruction mechanism, that kicks in whenever anybody wants to do anything by showing 101 reasons why it can’t be done. Security issues, who is authorized, what if, the state constitution and yada yada.

They could try to hire Sidney Torres. He seems to have the ability to cut through fog. They can’t afford him, of course, but maybe there is something he wants – fame, glory, dictatorial powers.

How much would it cost? Probably nothing. If the police could achieve superior service in just this part of policing with 100 fewer officers, that would make $8,000,000 a year available for the infrastructure and systems management.

This subject is of course not new. There are companies who provide police GPS systems on a turnkey basis. Most people are at least a bit familiar with them from police procedural shows and movies. We know the NSA knows where we had lunch last Thursday. But we don’t really know much about NOPD’s operational management methods. Could it be that we are not asking the right questions?

Sidney Torres’s French Quarter Task Force proved that a fast-response, victim-prioritizing policing system can work in one of the densest, most difficult areas of the city. Why not in the whole city?

Combine that with blowing off the lunatic War on Drugs, the marijuana foolishness created by disgruntled Prohibition cops when their jobs were repealed, and the distilled madness of the New Jim Crow incarceration mill, and we might be coming closer to what Gandhi is said to have said of Western Civilization: “It would be a good idea.”

Sidney Torres is getting back into the French Quarter police game with some new revisions. If he holds true to form, some sparks are gonna fly.

And we are likely to keep asking: if his methods are good, why isn’t the city adopting them to their full potential? And if they are not good, why are they okay in one neighborhood? And more than that: is the apparently ongoing process of municipal Balkanization really the way to go?

Okay: there is a lot of speculation in this piece. Can we get to hear what’s wrong and what might be right from people who know NOPD? The Comments box works, or email bobf@nolascape.org.

(c) NOLAscape June 2016

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