This is suspiciously like a report. If I could grasp the notion of “deadline,” some people on the Times-Pic might think I was trying to take their jobs. So I gave it a few days, to try to stay in the essay and satire zone.
Why should you care? French Quarter Management District seems local, but its reach is wider than the name suggests. About 4,000 people live in the District’s catchment area, over 7,000 work there, over 9 million visit it,. Its rules, restrictions and cranky neighborhood associations affect thousands more, such as market traders and transport and taxi drivers. As a state mandated organization, FQMD is required to be open and transparent. As one way to oppose the disfiguring culture wars of the well-organized minority of residents who want to silence the city, get involved with FQMD. Residents have a voice in the organization, not equitably distributed, but the Hoodie tendency has not been allowed to take over – yet.
Monday was first meeting of the French Quarter Management District Commissioners under leadership of new chairman Steve Pettus. I was a fan of Robert Watters’ leadership, and like many others, considered it a great shame that his last several months had to be partly spoiled by the bylaws fuss started by the two Ugly Sister residents’ groups, VCPORA and FQC, who were unfortunately given two seats on the board instead of one, which would be more appropriate. They persuaded Senator Ed Murray, enabler and sponsor of FQMD, to agree to their campaign, which was almost certainly intended to disable the organization, which they see as a rival to unbridled Harpy power. Somehow I can’t believe that Murray really agrees with them. I suspect he gives in to get them out of the room. If he gets them away quick enough, an Alka-Seltzer and a cold splash might sort him out to meet the rest of the day. Maybe Edwin Murray will write his memoirs one day, and we will find out.
The bylaw agitation and protracted argument were a total waste of time. Total. FQMD’s enabling legislation combined with sensible management – something the Harpy covens might have difficulty understanding – provided all the framework needed. But you know their MO: block, shrink, obstruct, spoil, undermine. Owen Courrèges called them killjoys, but they are worse than that. The unhistorical preservationists are a moral black hole, a risk to the health of the city. As long as I have been watching them, they have done not one single thing, not even tried, to improve anything for anybody. To make anything better, brighter or happier. To contribute to anything outside of themselves. Composing bylaws blew a month or two’s work, and now they can get their paralegals and interns fine-toothing the text for ways to mosquito around, annoy and disrupt.
I was ready to be disappointed, but in fact, the new chairman did a great job and promises to be a person to respect.
There were committee reports. Gail Cavett and Bob Simms overlapped on infrastructure and security. They intersect in several areas, especially lighting, and Bob Simms, while head of security, has also given a lot of time and work to Infrastructure. Gail gave a detailed and informed presentation about the damage done by big trucks, which should not be in the small streets. Commissioner Lary Hesdorffer, director of the VCC, contributed some real knowledge of the causes of vibration, a fairly complex interaction of speed, weight, weight per square inch, motors and street condition. Apparently, we do not have sound, simple laws and signage to keep inappropriate vehicles out, or to control and regulate some of the ones that can operate in the space.
That legislative blank spot is a mystery. Except in extremely rare cases, even the drivers of the tractor-trailers don’t want to be there. They stumble in, following GPS directions, then can’t get out. The GPS map providers say they cannot mark a restricted area because there is not a proper law! Why not? Council passes a pile of ordinances every month, some of which are irredeemably silly. Why can’t they find a simple form of words to help trucks pulling containers and 53′ trailers stay out of streets where they can’t maneuver without damaging buildings and sidewalks?
Bob Simms reviewed the crime stats. It looks real: violent crimes against people are significantly up from last year. He said he wants to hand over chairmanship of the Security Task Force. That is a shame. It is unlikely that anyone will bring the dedication, intensity and professionalism to that committee that Bob has over the past few years. I don’t always agree with STF’s conclusions, but Bob’s leadership has always been superb.
Enough of all this flattery. Back to NOLAscape’s home turf, the negative. A creature of – sorry, director of – one of the Harpy covens, and a director of North Rampart Main Street, Inc. (a catastrophe for separate discussion) Ms Susan Klein is chairman of an FQMD committee called Vision. Vision’s vision was – drum roll – parking permits for residents, and 30 minute parking limit for non-residents. Furthermore, to qualify for a resident’s permit, you would have to be registered to vote from a French Quarter address. What about French Quarter residents not registered because US law does not permit resident aliens to vote where they live, despite property, taxes and community participation? Tough. That is this committee’s Vision for New Orleans: convenient privilege for us, limitation for all others. That is the summary of the Vision committee’s recent work.
Vision’s mandate is supposed to be the longer term and the wider angle. The future. I tried, I really did, to imagine anything more small-minded, petty, privilege-favoring and exclusionary that anyone could slide under the term Vision than parking preference. I couldn’t. And at the end of her piece, Ms Klein interjected a message from North Rampart Main Street, Inc., her other hobby. She wants trucks barred from North Rampart Street. Not only the interior of the French Quarter, but from this part of the through corridor from outer Chalmette to the CBD. Send them up to Claiborne and Robertson or the I-10. Look up the history, if you are not aware of it, of how the comparatively wealthy, white haute bourgeoisie of the FQ got the elevated highway out of their area, their oh so historic gem, not to be canceled, but out to the twilight zone across Rampart and St. Claude, the wilderness where the politically powerless African American community lost a great street to the shadow of an ugly road.
I am thinking of petitioning Council or the State to disenfranchise and dissolve North Rampart Main Street, Inc. North Rampart Street is a New Orleans street, not a fiefdom of the FQ’s squelch class, trying to render its commerce terminally dull in their own image. Maybe somebody out there near the levers of power will want to get their cold dead hands off stuff where their message of boredom should have no sway. Invent a game on the model of Monopoly called Zoning, that they can play in their homes with little plastic streets and buildings. They can keep score and declare themselves the winners, without affecting the lives of real people.
To his great credit, Steve Pettus suggested that it sounded out of order, and mentioned a circular email to the commissioners sent by Susan Guillot, who I think may now be President of French Quarter Citizens. At least part of its contents was her urging the Commissioners to impose a rule that members of FQMD committees and task forces had to be residents or involved in the constituent businesses. To his everlasting credit, earning many credits for entry to heaven, Chairman Steve said that he was viscerally opposed to any such idea. FQMD is about being inclusive, open, public; not exclusionary, and should be able to draw on the talents, abilities and contribution of anyone interested enough to participate.
He also said – more heaven credits – it was inappropriate for an officer of a club that nominates a Commissioner to lobby the Commissioners in that way. If the organization had a proposal for the Commission, it should come through their Commissioner – in this case the hapless Brian Furness.
Hapless? you may ask. What is hapless about Brian? He’s okay.
That is the point. Brian is a decent fellow. Apart from the odd conflict of interest, hard to avoid in a small town, he is trying to be an honorable citizen. How did he get caught up in the corrupt engrenage of the residents’ clubs? I guess being an FQMD commissioner is rather cool, but is answering to such awful little covens worth it? It ain’t the Wars of the Roses. You aren’t going to win the throne of England by sneaky little plots. Maybe the chance of a limp handshake with Jindal one day. The right to sidle from compromise to embarrassment to shame with the articulate stupidity class. They can form sentences, and they can manage a narrow self-interest. If they have any ability at all to grasp a wider angle, to see the world beyond what they poke their noses into, I haven’t seen it. Perhaps for them Brian serves as the acceptable face of the moral vacuum. When they come out in the open, other French Quarter Citizens always embarrass themselves, though I doubt they know it. On the positive side, we can imagine how much worse any FQC harpy would be than Brian. Let’s shut up and be grateful for him.
Chairman Pettus says he intends to consolidate and reorganize the committees, with more co-chairing and supervision from the Commissioners. Vision may be folded into another committee, under direction of a chairman with a more inspiring understanding of Vision. On another hand, would more attention from a commissioner have improved Bob Simms’ or Gail Cavett’s work? They are full-size grownups. And on still another hand, Chairman Watters used to come to Government Committee. His input was always sound and valuable – but that was because he was Robert Watters, not because he was an appointed Commissioner.
Kim Rosenberg, an actual Commissioner, effectively chairs Government Committee. In recent months, Government had addressed “doorway nudity.” That was a lot of fun. The issue is the girls who work in the pole and lap dance clubs hanging outside in their work no-clothes, advertising the show. Apparently this is against some rules, but the rules need improvement. The issue behind the words seems to be that people come to visit the Bourbon Street hotels to check them out. Is this a suitable venue for the AGM of the Minnetonka Dental Prosthetic and Notary Association? As they step,out of the lobby into a free flash zone, a husband, thinking his wife must be outraged, might say, regretfully, “I don’t know . . . ” and the wife, who has had to coddle her prudish husband in the dark for years, says, “I don’t know . . . ” and since the FQ has been occupied by Anglo Americans, some of the problem has to be blamed on children. What will happen to a young person from the Plains prematurely subjected to a bikini, or a flash? I shudder to think. Great meetings were had by all. Even Brian, an appointee of the Dementors, said, “So the strippers are going to have to wear more than girls on Pensacols Beach?” Mark Wilson, manager of the Bourbon Orleans, asked, “What about French Maid costumes?” When Kim moved on to short term rentals, I got a bit bored.
Then – back to this week’s Commissioners Meeting – Kim said: We should get back to the sound ordinance. I woke up! Kim reminded the Commissioners that the sound amendments they had recommended in 2014 went to a 3-3 vote in Council because the Council President didn’t show for the bill she co-sponsored. It didn’t end right. It needs to be re-done, properly.
‘Ere we go, Sports Fans! The Residents will stride forth again at their dishonest worst. Maybe they will send a search party out for Nathan Chapman, salesman of silence. Musicians and street performers who normally prefer to forget that government exists will find out that it can nibble away at your liver; some will babble innocently, incoherently and uninformed. Council members will struggle to find out whether their bread is buttered on one side, both or none. FQMD will make a careful, researched recommendation, VCPORA will come out swinging, arm-twisting, blackmailing, night-texting, cyberstalking. Maybe they will bring back Arlene Bronzaft to tell us about the elevated subway in the Bronx, and a pickup brass band can invade the council chamber. The Angela show can recycle last year’s material. Lousteau’s flack can get back to pure fiction instead of ordinary spin. Ah, a fine time will be had by all.
Brian Furness, possibly speaking for FQC, possibly just imagining another vista of frozen BS, said it was premature. Somebody made a motion. Seconded, vote: all in favor, except Brian, who abstained. What does abstain signify? Why not just vote “no,” if no is what you mean? I guess I just don’t understand. I will never be a commissioner.