BNA Supports Sun Yard


Bywater Neighborhood Association has submitted, formal written support for the Sun Yard development on St Claude. The full text is quoted below. The quotes from Bywater residents in the letter are not additions; they are in the original letter.

Please not especially that these people said they did not come out into open or spoken support before because they felt intimidated. The opposition has been verbally violent and occasionally almost unhinged. I experienced some of that personally in a mediated meeting with Legislative Director Maklansky and mediator David Zalkind present. Not that I felt intimidated – that hadn’t crossed my mind. It was just a meeting; my blood pressure was at about average. But the associated opponents said they did not feel “safe” with Mary Ann Hammett and me in the room. What is your state of mind when that is how you think of others in a meeting that is supposed to be a calm discussion?

This morning, the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association stepped into the ring to support Neighbors First in opposition. Interesting. Perhaps NFB is feeling incompetent, which would be an honest appraisal. FMIA is crossing a border. It could be dangerous. They are giving a license for BNA to enter into Marigny matters. Maybe they should expand their area of coverage and change to BMNA. FMIA won’t really be up to speed on the project. They are just sharing in NFB’s policy of always supporting the few against the many, and despite their frequent talk of affordable housing, consistently supporting residential gentrification and house price appreciation against community benefit.

If you care about this beneficial project, please write to council. . And if you are a resident of Marigny, you might want to suggest to your NA that it gets back in its lane before the advocacy setup this side of Esplanade sees a drastic change.


Via E-Mail

April 17, 2018

Councilmember Nadine M. Ramsey
City Hall, Room 2W70
1300 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA  70112

Re:  Zoning Docket 021/18

Dear Councilmember Ramsey:

The Bywater Neighborhood Association (“BNA”) supports the application of 3000-3032 St. Claude Avenue, LLC, for a zoning change and a conditional use for a hotel in excess of 10,000 sq. ft. in the above-referenced zoning docket.  The BNA believe that the small hotel proposed will be good for the neighborhood as a whole and will be an asset to the community. The BNA urges the Council to reject the recommendation of the City Planning Commission, adopt the reasoning of the Commission’s staff and approve the zoning change and conditional use.

The Proposal

Liz Solms and Giuliano Pignataro, doing business as 3000-3032 St. Claude Avenue, LLC, dream of a small, laid-back, neighborhood-friendly hotel, nestled in a lush space at 3000-3032 St. Claude Avenue in Bywater – The Sun Yard.  They are proposing a 37-room hotel with a restaurant, bar and swimming pool. They envision a quiet but lively space where visitors and neighbors alike can relax, have a drink, bring their children and swim. They have been met with resistance, however – neighbors armed, not with pitchforks, but with signs saying “Block Out The Sun Yard” and “No.”  Terms like “party tourism” and “entertainment complex” have been used to inflame and create fear of bachelor parties gone wild and loud music invading the neighborhood. Indeed, some of the same people who opposed the hostel at Mazant and Royal are making some of the same specious arguments in this proceeding that were rejected in the hostel proceeding.  And, it has gotten personal:  members of the development team have been demonized and accused of lying to the opponents; supporters of the project have also been accused of lying to opponents and of being paid hacks.

The Zoning Change

To make their dream a reality, Solms and Pignataro need a zoning change for the back portion of three of the lots – 3014, 3020, and 3030 St. Claude Ave.  These lots are split-zoned, i.e., the front portions of the lots are zoned HMC-2, commercial, and the rear portions zoned HMR-3, residential. Opponents claim that this split-zoning a) was designed to provide a buffer for the residential properties on N. Rampart and b) has been in effect since the late 1800’s.

Commissioner Wedberg, in making his motion to deny the application, opined that “[t]his lot is problematic.  The zoning was laid out for a reason.” March 13 hearing, at 1:9:50.  Yet, there is nothing in the record that indicates that the split-zoning was intentional.  Rather, it appears that the split-zoning was done in error.

One of the standards that must be analyzed in connection with a proposed zoning change is the following:  “The proposed amendment corrects an error or omission, adds clarification to existing requirements, or reflects a change in policy.”  Staff Report, ZD 021/18, at 40. The staff, experts in such matters, found, in analyzing the requested zoning change: “This standard is met. The proposed rezoning ameliorates three split-lot conditions and creates a uniform zoning which is consistent with the Mixed-Use Historic Core FLUM designation.”  Id.

Commissioner Wedberg also opined that the zoning-change request “attempts to unsettle the neighborhood from its residential history.”  March 13 hearing at 1:14:19. But, the history of the Bywater neighborhood is one of mixed use. Indeed, two properties in the 3000 block of N. Rampart – 3041 and 3053 N. Rampart — have been granted zoning changes from residential to commercial based on the Commission’s exception to the policy of not approving spot zones under its Historic Non-Conforming Use exception, which recognizes prior commercial use of properties currently zoned residential.  We note that two other properties in this same block are candidates for a similar zoning change based on prior commercial use – 1001 Montegut St. and 1000 Clouet St.

As to the assertion that the properties at issue have been split-zoned since the late 1800’s, the first time that this zoning appears was in 1970.  “The 1970 city-wide rezoning shows the first indication of a rezoning which resembles the current zoning. The rear portion of the petitioned lots under this zoning change request were converted to a residential zoning district while the portions of the lots nearest St. Claude were designated as a neighborhood business zoning district.”  Id. at 12, n. 3.  Prior to 1970, the zoning for the properties was, in1929 – “I” Industrial District & “E” Commercial District; in1953 – “F” Heavy Commercial District.  Id.  So, Commissioner Wedberg’s “residential history” starts in 1970 and ignores the mixed-use development patterns of the Bywater neighborhood of prior periods.

Benefits to the Neighborhood

This small hotel project will be a catalyst for development along this portion of St. Claude Avenue and provide opportunities for musicians and other artists in keeping with the goal of the St. Claude Avenue Arts and Cultural Overlay.  It will contribute to a lively street scene and encourage more people to be out and about, enhancing safety for all in the area.

Although not as vocal or as well-organized as the opponents, several supporters of the project posted on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, on Nextdoor Bywater, within hours of each other, some describing fear of voicing their support.  Because the Council may not have received comments from these supporters, we quote them here.

From Dia Napolitano, Bywater:

I think the Sun Yard is a good proposal for the Bywater. I have attached a list of reasons why I feel this way. BTW, I am a native of NOLA and live in the Bywater. I am a Louisiana licensed Interior Designer. I have relatives that contributed to the art & architecture of NOLA. Again, these are my thoughts & my feelings…please be kind.

I agree with the Planning Commission that it will “invigorate commercial activity along St Claude”.  Will create a cohesive block of restaurants with hotel. Improve safety having a well-lit hotel with security.  Will revive the Historical homes without losing the character of the homes & surrounding area. Unlike the complex of 2 story homes on Burgundy between Alvar & Bartholomew where all the houses look the same, photo attached, these houses retain the original charm.  This is NOT a massive project. A 37 room hotel is small in comparison to The Saxony is a 5 story complex with 75 condos, not rooms, built up to the side walk with a club like swimming pool. Will provide an alternative to STR’s & B&B’s. My aunt currently likes the amenities of a hotel and stays in the Quarter as the closest place to stay. This project is NOT taking affordable housing off the market.  With property taxes around 6.5K per house, insurance, mortgage payments my guess is that out of pocket per house is around 36K….that equals 1,500.00 rent per side minimum, probably more to break even. These old homes require a lot of maintenance. If it were me & this project didn’t get approved I would consider opening a restaurant/bar something like Bayou Beer Garden & Bayou Wine Garden. They have enough space if they only use the commercially zoned land.  I think that would be more intrusive to the neighbors than a hotel.

From David Peltier, Bywater:

I agree with you. This proposed development is on a major public thoroughfare, St. Claude Ave. I am in favor of any positive development along this route. I feel this development meets those ideals I have hoped for the area since I moved to my home in the 800 block of Montegut, just two blocks from this site.

  1. The CPC professionals that are hired by the City have approved this development with some suggestions.
  2. The CPC Board has been swayed by public opinion that, in my opinion, stirred up unfounded prejudices against this developer.
  3. I have heard only one issue that might be a concern and that is the rezoning of some residential property. Some the occupied residential properties that back up to this development, if not all, of those homes have back yards that act as a natural buffer.
  4. Plus, There is a planned fence that should act as an additional buffer.
  5. These developers have answered each question/complaint and have even altered the design of the development to the wishes of the neighbors. 6. Every City changes, every neighborhood changes and Bywater is no exception. I’ve been on Montegut St. since 1984 in this neighborhood and no one in their right mind ventured down St. Claude at night at that time. Now it has become a destination because of the efforts the neighborhood associations have contributed. I’m proud to say I was part of that effort.
  6. There are three developments, hotels, that are in existence or are planned inside the residential boundaries of Bywater and Marigny. Two I agree with one I do not. Never the less they are all approved or in existence.
  7. The Sun Yard’s proposed hotel is located not inside a residential neighborhood but on the edge of a fantastic neighborhood on a busy commercial avenue where a hotel should be developed.

From Richard Fumosa, Bywater:

I’ve seen a lot of work first-hand by the architectural firm who is based in NOLA and if any other firm was handling this project I would be worried. They are the most green and historically respectful firm in the city who work in the city that I am aware of, and the Bywater is lucky to have such a sensitive firm to work in the area. Granted there should be an open dialogue with the community but please study the work of this firm (see the CAC’s newer renovations for example in the CBD).

From Dia Napolitano, Bywater:

I was at one of the first meetings at the Bywater Bakery and due to the level of animosity I have been afraid to say anything. But as this 5 story impersonal building the Saxony has been going up (again, don’t mean to insult anyone – it is somebodies design and the interiors look like they will be beautiful, trying to be positive) I keep wondering why everyone is so harsh with the Sun Yard project. As a designer their plan is so much more aesthetically pleasing than some of the other projects that have been proposed. I really think this will be an asset to the neighborhood.

From Jay Clark, Bywater:

To answer Michelle’s question, yes I would buy next to a commercial hotel. They have licenses and many reasons to work things out with neighbors that normal folk don’t. When we moved in we had a heavy metal band practicing 3 feet away 3x a week for a year. They didn’t care a bit about us. They were artists. They finally moved on and now we have six apartments. So it goes. There is nothing about commercial businesses that make them inherently untrustworthy. We have no reason to assume that the Sunyard will be consistently more annoying than your typical Bywater neighbors. Give ‘em a break.

From Lillian Gahagan, Bywater:

I’m glad to read comments in support of what seems to me to be a positive proposal along St. Claude that I think will improve that area. One day to investigate the place, we walked from the Healing Center area up on St. Claude to where the cottages are and I gotta say, what the Sunyard people are proposing seems like a mighty improvement. Hey, we neighborly Bywaterites might even be drawn to a new place to have a cocktail and listen to music, or see visual art by locals adorn the walls. What really has swung me to be a supporter is the vitriol of the anti-Sunyard lobbyists. I have hesitated to speak out in support before now because of the nastiness of the conversation and the implicit censorship of any voices that did not completely agree with shutting off the light of day for the project. As a relative newcomer (3 years almost) I felt silenced, like only people who have lived here forever deserved to have an opinion. Plus, there are other projects that are going up all over Bywater that I think would deserve the same scrutiny. Well, that’s my two cents on the subject. If you hate me for my opinion, I’ve decided I just don’t care.

From Lynn Hochradel, Bywater:

The question is “would I really be so supportive if my house were as close?” … yes, I would. I bought our home in 2011 and across the street from me is a warehouse … I know it will not stay a warehouse forever. Shaun is planning on condos with retail on the ground floor … at least that is is current thinking, I’m told. I also back up to what is now the Warehouse shared office space and soon to be restaurant. I knew that building wasn’t going to always be an abandoned building … I will deal with the problems both will cause … or I won’t and will move. That’s the beauty of it … so, yes, I would be supportive of the Sun Yard because I do believe the owners are trying to incorporate into the neighborhood and keep the historic features the current properties have. Much more so than when the properties on St. Claude all go commercial and there isn’t any history left to be preserved.


For all of the forgoing reasons, the Bywater Neighborhood Association requests that the Council approve the requested zoning change and the conditional use.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary Ann Hammett

Chair, Board of Directors

cc: Councilmember Stacy Head

Councilmember Jason Williams

Councilmember Susan Guidry

Councilmember LaToya Cantrell

Councilmember Jared Brossett

Councilmember James Gray II


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The Herd, Redux

A lot of Sun Yard has happened this week. A lot of new material to dig into,

After two mediation meetings sponsored by Councilmember Ramsey, chaired by Legislative Director Aylin Maklansky and professional mediator David Zalkind, I have increased sympathy for the opponents’ emotional distress. But Sun Yard was not the cause.

As Freud told us, the members of the herd reinforce each other’s passions and release of reason, but the initial gathering and the stampede must have had first leaders. They should think about what they have done to a lot of these people. Was it the adjoining property owners? I don’t know. They were the first opponents, and now, interestingly, are splitting away from the Bywater nationalists, who tell us on social media, in meetings and at City Hall that there is a very special, fragile “culture” of Bywater, which will be forever fractured if a small hotel opens on St Claude next to the dazzlingly hideous U-Haul rental lot, which they inexplicably pass as okay. They turn a blind eye to the area’s part industrial not-so-distant past. Even, as we shall see, Planning Commissioner Kyle Wedberg, who should and probably does know better, passed the commercializing  industrial sites off as aberrations or the result of carelessness in a once pristinely residential neighborhood.   

Sun Yard is a good thing for St Claude, for Bywater and New Orleans. The anxiety and adrenaline that has been unnecessarily pumped into the opponent herd is regrettable. I am sorry for their distress, but it was not incited by Sun Yard and it does not diminish the project.

Let’s explore – and then, if you agree, may I suggest sending an email of support to your Councilmember, or even better, to all of them? Sun Yard is on the docket for this coming Thursday, April 19th, so it would be good to get your communication in by the end of Tuesday.

The opposition is mistaken, but intense. They are bombarding Council with protest, including imaginary notions like a mysterious suppression of creativity and people prowling the streets with guns if this medium-sized business helps to cheer up a fairly bleak stretch of St Claude. By helping to balance the scales, you help City Council’s ability to come to a reasoned, future-orientated decision.

Some facts, some history.

Last Monday and Tuesday there were two Sun Yard meetings, arranged quickly by CM Ramsey’s office, to be guided by a professional mediator. One motivation must have been to get a conflict resolution professional’s reading on the realities behind the hysteria. As the meetings went on – they were about five hours combined – I saw that mediator David Zalkind was a kind of Opponent Whisperer, who would try to bring some calm to the over-excited crowd and gently extract some meaning from the emotional crush.

Last month the City Planning Commissioners – six of them who had shown up from the full complement of nine – declined their professional staff’s detailed report and recommendation of support.  Some of the opponents’ speechettes were pretty weird. The first guy’s workshop abuts a fence of the Truck Farm/Sun Yard. He said the St Claude properties had always been zoned residential, which isn’t true. His complaint seemed to be that he did not want anybody else to have a designation allowing work because they might make sounds that would disturb his work.

The second speaker seemed to be auditioning for a Tudor play. He somehow knew that provisos were no good, Safety and Permits would not know how to operate a dB meter and in any case, people talking was too loud for whatever he wanted to be doing when others were talking. I think it was this speaker that also rhetorically asked the staff members whether they had thought what it would be like if Sun Yard were near their homes. I can answer for them: of course. They study the impacts of projects all day long, five days a week. It’s their job, and they keep making a pretty good job of it.

One woman volunteered that she had seen a guy with an AK-47 one morning, and that she could tell that Giuliano and Liz did not truly love the neighborhood. Apparently, a medium sized business that won’t be open for a couple of years has some responsibility for the madness of America’s and Louisiana’s gun laws, and one must swear love of Bywater to invest in a business on St Claude.

You don’t believe me, right? This is not a draft of an SNL script. Watch the video.

The commissioners granted a five minute extension to adjacent neighbors’ speaking time. Ms Carolyn Leftwich took the mic. But Ms Leftwich was also an adjacent neighbor opposing Stateside, which is a mile away. How does that work? But okay. Ms Leftwich likes to sound scientific about sound, a show she started for Stateside. One of the most unconvincing thing about it is that there are restaurants, bars and small hotels all around New Orleans, playing live and recorded music. The city is full of them. Are thousands of people being noised out of normal life? I don’t think so. Yes, noise defined as unwanted sound needs control and mitigation – but the sky over Bywater is not falling. Sun Yard’s opponents are spreading anxiety as if music and the speech of humans other than themselves were a new strain of virus. CPC does not have the courage or intellectual honesty to call them on it. Council is tougher and smarter. Let’s hope they do.

Mark Gonzalez, an officer of Neighbors First (NFB), a conservative, shorter-sighted anti-Bywater Neighborhood Association, stood up to deliver a ridiculous indictment of the original neighborhood group’s way of arriving at recommendation. BNA puts cases to a zoning committee chaired by Mary Ann Hammett, a retired lawyer who has made herself expert in zoning law, maps and issues. Mary Ann was also chairman of the committee that wrote the St Claude overlay. In BNA, the zoning committee discusses, votes and sends a recommendation to the directors.  The directors discuss, decide and send a recommendation to Council and maybe even to CPC, though with the current Commission that can seem a waste of time, Not only all BNA members, but the public are invited to attend meetings of both the committee and the directors.

Gonzalez prefers the NFB process, where according to him they invite a bunch of people, outline the issue and come up with a recommendation by crowd acclamation or open vote of the uninformed. “Friends, Bywaterites and countrymen . . . .” I guess it is a step up from what their president once said to Council about their zoning recommendation process: she asks people what they think when she walks her dog. So Gonzalez has the unmitigated &^%$ to criticize BNA for being informed, disciplined and rigorous, while advocating a process completely unprotected from the obvious flaw: that the most vocal opponents, such as immediate neighbors, can fill the space – stuff the ballot box. That is what they think is good practice. BNA would call it noise.

BNA’s process mirrors the city’s system precisely: zoning committee=CPC, directors=council.

Gonzalez is the same guy that at Sun Yard’s NPP said you can’t start a restaurant if you never had one before, because some restaurants have closed. He came up with that bit of wisdom  while sitting in a meeting in the Bywater Bakery, an almost new restaurant that was doing very well, without, apparently, noticing the irony. Let’s not mention that Sergey Brin never launched any business including a search engine business before Google, Microsoft was Gates’s first company as well as software business and Tesla is Elon Musk’s first car company. Those entrepreneurs forgot to get some startup advice from Neighbors First before they took the plunge.

A few of the other opponents repeat this silliness at public meetings, as if we lived in some People’s Republic of New Orleans where wizards like the unreality stars of NFB can form committees to decide who is fit to launch or run which businesses. Good God. That is not the kind of improvement of market economics that we want to see.

The City Planning Commissioners are amateurs, easily and frequently swayed by emotional crowds. Commissioner Wedberg, principal of NOCCA in his day job, grabbed the wheel after the proponents and opponents spoke, His summation gave some lip service to change but was fundamentally a display of a mind either made up in advance or desiring to side with his neighbors and colleagues. He had come to the conclusion that Sun Yard might be nice in some other location, not the one the developers had purchased. Not, however, the question at hand. His perambulation did not address the questions that the staff report had set up, which were (1) the split zoning problem and (2) the conditional use. Wedberg went off on his own toot, responding almost exclusively to the opponents’ issues while ignoring those detailed in the research and report by Bob Rivers’ professional team. Commissioner Kelly Brown seconded Wedberg’s motion to deny with a reflex speed that suggests to my suspicious eye that they had agreed it in advance.

I think our current Council Members can see the capriciousness and inattention of the current CP Commission. The stronger of them will be likely to disregard Wedberg’s ramble, override the commission to go with the staff’s report.

This may not be the best place for it, but I can’t resist: I don’t see why we need a CP Commission at all. Except for Robert Steeg (who was not at this session and with whom I frequently disagree) none of the current intake seem to have a firm grasp of what they are doing. Why not just have Executive Director Rivers’ professional team report directly to Council? The Commissioners don’t decide, they only recommend, which is what the staff already does. I submit my humble proposal: dissolve the Commission and upgrade the staff.  

That loops me back to the mediation meetings. The first was pretty shambolic. The opponents were enthusiastic but had trouble focusing. They came up with the whiz-bang bit of popular democracy that Mary Ann Hammett and I should be excluded because they did not feel “safe” with us. Yep, I can be real dangerous in a meeting. Sun Yard’s opponents wanted exclusive access to Legislative Director Maklansky and mediator Zalkind. Mediation with one side only. Amazing. It was not a court, of course, but if Zalkind were a judge, that would be called ex-parte, an immediate mistrial, game over, Sun Yard could start working on its reservation software.

The second mediated meeting took place in one of Council’s conference rooms, with many of the opponents present and still just two of us civilians on the support side, plus Mr Pignataro for the development company (basically a pretty well financed Mom-and-Pop); Justin Schmidt, a lawyer for the project; Jason Richards, architect. Aylin Maklansky and David Zalkind again presided, with Councilmember Ramsey present part of the time.

Before this session, Aylin Maklansky had granted some exclusive time to the opponents, probably with CM Ramsey attending, but not mediator Zalkind. He stayed in the ante-room with us scrounging for water, which was hard to come by in City Hall that day.

That was okay. Private conversations with Council Members or the administration are normal. Ms Ramsey used to be a judge, but she is a politician now. I don’t know what was said, or what they could have said that could not be said in public. If it was some kind of sleazy thing they thought might put a greasy thumb on the scale, my thoughts would be: they picked the wrong Council Member. In my experience, Nadine Ramsey don’t play like that. Might have shot themselves in the foot.

There were about 20 or 25 opponents, some of them quite excitable, so the two of us didn’t get to speak much.  I think we had them outnumbered in one way, though, because when we and the development team spoke, we actually knew what we were talking about. As I opened with: I came to understand and appreciate their feelings, while becoming both more aware that a process had misled them to this point, and more than ever convinced that Sun Yard would be a good thing.

They had a touching faith in the CPC. District C Legislative Director Maklansky had tried to explain to them that the staff are pros, the Commissioners amateurs; that the Commission does not decide, it recommends, and that Council overrode the Commissioners all the time, but I don’t think it got through. One of them seemed to look heavenward with a Ste. Theresa smile as she softly said, “Unanimous.” I tried to tell them that Wedberg had  skidded right over the issues, that the others had followed him into a unanimous without reflection, possibly because even if all four were in support, it would still be “no recommendation.” They need five votes for a recommendation. But even when I am trying to give them information, they consider me the enemy. I got shouted down.

When staff and commissioners recommendations disagree, as in this case, Council chooses the one they think best. If you compare Wedberg’s speech to the staff report, you will quickly see which is stronger.


Whose voices are valid?

Ms Michelle Fristoe, a strong member of the opposition group, posted a response to me and to  “The Bywater Herd” article. She got some facts wrong about my contact with the project, but that is not really significant. Ms Fristoe says that for me, this is just a hobby but for her as a near neighbor, Sun Yard will seriously affect her quality of life. The implication is that my voice, and I suppose that of Bywater Neighborhood Association, also in support – which means that at least a majority of its Zoning Committee and Directors are as well – have less value than hers and the other very near neighbors. I wonder about the fragile-culture-of-Bywater crowd – are they more important than me, the developers, the officers and members of BNA and any other citizens in support, too?

Ms Fristoe’s claim might also be interpreted to downgrade City Planning’s professional staff’s recommendation to approve, which followed careful analysis and was certainly approved by Executive Director Rivers, in comparison to Kyle Wedberg’s digression, because he lives in Bywater and validated their emotional opposition.

Please don’t think I am trying to put Ms Fristoe down. She seems like a very nice person. I like her. But this is another instance of hope and emotion over realism.

Weighting adjacent neighbors over wider-angle benefits is bad practice. The error zone that is NFB’s home ground.

All of these zoning and development issues which turn into conflict involve resolving or deciding on a divergence of interest between immediate neighbors and the wider interests of neighborhood and city, compounded by the fact that there is never a simple objective measure. The conflict is among humans, not slide rules, so opinion, belief, facts, errors, untruths and emotions come into it. Frequently, when the words “out of scale” start to appear, it is usually the opposing or resisting side that shoots off the top of the pressure scale.

Opposition to Habana Cafe at North Rampart and Esplanade turned into a circus of increasingly illogical accusations and hypotheticals. The Via Latrobe proposal at Press and Chartres brought out a lot of opponents, registering the familiar hypothetical claims about parking, traffic, “scale”, which they usually misuse, mass, people, the end of life, the universe and everything. As the conversation and investigation proceeds, it usually emerges that behind the public concerns that they voice, near neighbors are worried about their house’s next sale price. I am not so cynical as to say that that’s all there is, but distribution of asset value and cash flow on the block is a major player often kept behind the curtain. It came out in the second Sun Yard mediation meeting – but all in due course. We are still exploring.

Elisio Lofts at 501 Elysian Fields brought out the pitchforks big time. Its design was interesting. Mild modern, nothing to get Zaha Hadid worried, but one part of it was about 75 feet high. FMIA is allergic to heights.  They called out the battalions and went all bloodshot. Deploying the usual misused “out of scale” toolkit, the motivation of a rabidly activist president and a PR company whose CEO was both an HDLC commissioner and a member and former director of FMIA, they did manage a win against sensible development, which recently turned into an own goal when the site was bought for a Hampton Inn franchise, whose architects know how to bring a boring building in with the maximum number of unconditional requirements. We will soon have a non-residential building of architectural boredom added to an important streetscape, powered by unintended consequences. No additional residents, just more visitors near Frenchmen Street, The clubs will be happy.

The proposal for the Stateside hostel/hotel at Chartres and Mazant is just emerging from a Kafka-esque battlefield. Opposition included some determined but comically amateur acoustical analyses which they called “science,” some of which are being recycled for Sun Yard now. Opponents suggested martial law-like provisos that would have shut the block down like London in the Blitz. After losing in planning and the legislature, they launched a lawsuit and a series of appeals, all of which they lost for having no sound basis. Some of the Stateside opponents have joined in the ant-Sun Yard stampede. I wonder if opponenting might be turning into a sport. If so, they should consider a better coach, because they are still tanking up with hope instead of law and clarity.

I probably shouldn’t laugh, but one of the funniest opposition suggestions, put to the CP Commissioners with a straight face and for all I know taken seriously by the current bizarro Commission, was that Sun Yard should just be put on ice while Stateside, a mile away, finishes its final plans and building code, then gets built and operates for a while to see if it is successful – say four years from now. Amazing.

Opposition to Stateside was built with the same toolkit: scale, mass, traffic, people, residents v. “them,” music, noise, trash, alcohol, made-up scenarios of people throwing up off balconies while chugalugging PBR and beating on bongos. Maybe there is a book on it in some dark-web Amazon:  Oppose! A Tool Kit for Neighborhood Reactionaries and Property Protectors. Like the old American plague of white flight, it could be secretly sponsored by real estate brokers motivating people to move so they can get the listing.

Summing up:

What is the environment downriver of the train tracks going to look like?

What does better look like?

What was the long, expensive process to generate a vision and encode it in a Master Plan about, if progressive citizens sit on their hands and clam up every time a group of neighbors expresses property and change anxiety?

Does planning process intend that only the feelings, anxieties, concerns and preferences of immediate neighbors should be heard? Did the legislators intend the rest of us to step back and shut up? Is civic development somehow separate and distinct from specific developments and changes that are its components?

Would exclusion promote the the potential and heritage of the small city trying to be strong and grow that the Master Plan envisaged?

Or would privileging residential property protection be more likely to just generate a series of houses? Would that even be a real Master Plan, or just a nice story to tell ourselves as we wait our turn to tussle over our own resale values? Is that all there is?

I don’t buy it. Neither should you. Near neighbors’ interests may contrast or be in conflict with the larger canvas and longer range of architecture and urban planning. They can make their case, but they do not own the game.


In the opponent vocabulary, “scale” is used as a synonym for size. For a peaceful life, I will roll with it for a paragraph. The say the “scale” of Sun Yard is too big. Quick reminder: Sun Yard is  congruent with the Truck Farm.  Same size. Truck Farm operated as a single business under single ownership with a well-known common name for years, with the shotguns rented as apartments with shared use of the common space. At Chazfest, the whole space was used as a unit. It was sold together as a single package deal. It could have and maybe should have been re-subdivided into one unit years ago. Sun Yard will be a more intense and organized use of the space, but there is no significant change of “scale.”

Money! It divides but does it rule?

Here we go, Getting near the end now,

Toward the end of the second mediation meeting, the near-neighbor opponents put some more brass in their tacks: property values. Dum da dum dum. The wallet takes over from “scale” and all that other stuff. How many noted that this was a one-eighty from the frequently reiterated accusation that Sun Yard was in it just for money, while we the opponents are so pure, attempting to live lives of quiet virtue?

Well, that game was closing down. 

Ms Kiefer took the floor. She had an outline map that showed the Truck Farm/Sun Yard property with the split zoning part of the backyards highlighted. Her new offer was that if the Sun Yard would leave that area residential, they would withdraw opposition to the front half or two thirds being a hotel.

It’s a bad idea. It won’t make any difference to the houses, and leaves the awkward split in place. If I was Giuliano, I would say no. But I’m not, so that is up to him.

What interests me is that just a little over a week from Council, the adjoining neighbors are shearing off from the “culture” opponents. I suspect that it was the adjoining neighbors who launched the recruiting process that pulled in the cultural activists, petition writers and petition signers. They seeded The Bywater Herd. They motivated the script that says the Sun Yard on St Claude would extinguish Life As We Know It, Jim. It would drain the life out of the fragile Bywater Sanctuary. They inspired this fairy tale to multiply their numbers from about eight or ten to an agitated crowd behaving like hungry longhorns – and now they were throwing their allies, who they claim number in the hundreds, under the wheels of the Number 88 bus!

I was seeing this right before my eyes! I think I was getting it before those newly minted bus victims, quite a few of whom were in the room, caught on to what was happening to them. Except maybe one. Let’s call him David Quintron. He is tall, lean, congenial and easy to spot, but not so easy to pin down his name. His eyes narrowed under his cowboy hat. He spoke slowly and gently to Giuliano, saying he could see good will and possible solutions here. Good reflexes, David. Your chance to get off the dark side. But can you persuade that Pussycat?

Think I am wrong? Do you really believe that people signed petitions, held up signs and spoke at CPC just to defend any risk of slower appreciation of the resale price of six or seven houses? I don’t think so. That is not what they were recruited for.

Dum da dum dum.

Money, Part 2

A local real estate agent had given the opponents some reference on property values. Was she angling for a little property churn here, and some listings?

Far be it from me . . . .

The stuff has some points of interest. One of them related the impact of nearby commercial spots to their coolness. The cool factor. Coffee shops, restaurants, stylish bars can actually enhance residential prices about 14 to 30%, said the writer. So if Sun Yard gets a reputation as cool, the near neighbors pick up a win.

Another uses the term buffer. I think the neighbors relate that to the split zoning strip of the Truck Farm/Sun Yard. But it is not comparable, not in any way. The article compares pyramid to block zoning. This is vintage suburban green field development stuff. It means that between the shiny new industrial park and the new tracts of ranch houses and McMansions, you put the shopping center, with its supermarket anchor at one end and the department store and boutiques at the other end. Only the frontage road connects the three zones. No small streets connect them. Fire marshals generally force the frontage roads to be too wide and to have curved access for higher speed entry, since it is the only way for the new tract dwellers to get to the city for work. Since all the traffic has to use the one road, and volume means the planners want it to go fast, it generally gets a high accident toll. This is standard Americana, the blueprint of 50s to 70s suburbia, absolutely nothing to do with new urbanism or indeed any urban historic district where change is constrained by rules and built infrastructure.

So it is a coin toss whether Sun Yard will retard or accelerate the rate of the neighbors’ property price increase. I think it will be “cool” and they will benefit, but let’s say I am wrong and the average sale price of each of say ten houses ends up $50,000 short of max potential. That would be $500,000 of non-productive, immeuble asset money, realized over the average move cycle – maybe ten years.

From the wider community point of view, that has to be compared to the economic pump of the operating business – active, not immobilized money. If Sun Yard engages say 30 employees at an average of say $25,000, that is $750,000 of active input every year. That would be in addition to property tax, corporation tax and sales tax. In addition to purchases of materials, supplies and food. The building planned for a restaurant at no. 3000 will have the right – not conditional – to have live music. We have a lot of really good musicians around here. They need employment, too. If only weekends, that is another few hundred fueling the neighborhood every week.

If the near neighbors stay ten years before they sell and bank their hypothetical combined $500,000 loss, in that time Sun Yard would have redistributed into New Orleans well over $10 million (probably twice that) of active, circulating money. Money that buys food, kids’ clothes and pays tent.

Best net benefit. Jeremy Bentham.


Principles. I have some.

  • The planning process gives us the right to comment on and try to guide a project toward minimum harm and maximum community benefit.
  • The process has value. It can be stressful and costly but sometimes results not just in compromise but in real improvement,
  • It does not give us the right to suppress or disable a legal, properly founded business.  



These bad-dream oppositions keep happening. Somebody is giving project opponents bad advice. At this end of the city, is it NFB? I don’t know. In any case, opponents should let go of the crazy stuff.

They should come to BNA and Mary Ann Hammett for realistic advice on the best balance and the best deal for them. They should listen to Mary Ann and maybe Sean Cummings – not when he is selling a project, that is another process, but when he talks about sensitive development and city planning best practices. Even ask me to start with, because I learn from them.  

In these wasteful zoning wars, some near neighbors get distressed at something happening, get on the megaphone and before you know it, the mechanisms of emotional reinforcement, fear enhancement and panic are on the case. What the worried people turning into opponents don’t get is that the reactionary NAs like NFB are always wrong. I have never seen them be right about anything.

Example: the panic mode is how they ended up with a fuss about trash. I might get a few details wrong, but as I understand it, Sun Yard thought trash should be picked up on Montegut St. The Montegut neighbors didn’t like that. Somebody of the intensifying opponentry called DPW or Sanitation or maybe just 311 and asked if hotel trash could be collected on St Claude. Reply: Why not?

Next step: a big Geschrei, Giuliano is a liar and the honest yeoman homeowners can’t trust anybody because the evil developers are intent on trashing out Montegut. Without even a look at my hole cards, I would bet an orange popsicle that nobody lied and nobody cared much which street the bin truck picked up on. It was just part of the process of getting there.

What a waste of adrenaline. I’ll bet another popsicle, let’s make it cherry this time, that if they had discussed their trash street thing to BNA zoning, Mary Ann or one of the architect could have made one or two phone calls and the whole thing would have been resolved quietly in ten minutes with no breast beating, no mediation required. Future opponents: pick your friends more carefully.

Okay. NOLAscape out.

Bob Freilich

© NOLAscape April 2018

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The Bywater Herd

We form groups and teams and gangs for an infinity of reasons. For defence. To build. To destroy. For community service. To play sports. Leaders form and manipulate armies and gangs.

The herd that has been formed in Bywater and will charge into the Council Chamber on April 19th seems designed to amplify group anxiety and channel it toward imagined objectives that serve the purposes of a few people. The people that seeded it were either very lucky or very clever. He, she or they understood that anxiously protecting the backyards of a very few seldom stands up to the wider interests of the neighborhood and the city. They needed more cattle to follow their hat. They – I’ll use “they” though it is possible that the origin was singular – spotted or lucked into a substantial local demographic metamorphosing into its age of anxiety, putting down their time of adventure to settle into their time of defense. They picked their lieutenants well. They plucked the right notes of vanity and fear.

I wonder if they consciously modeled Trump, a chaos junkie and a “clinic on incompetence”, but skilled in anxiety manipulation. In Trumpism, truth is of no account. You just say that crime is skyrocketing, Muslims are killing everybody, Mexicans are raping the survivors and refugee caravans from Honduras are coming to steal your jobs.  People with the hypersensitive amygdala associated with conservatism and gun-nuttery huddle up. Reason succumbs to older layers of evolution.

Maybe those back-brain molecular pulses spike at a certain age. Maybe herd forming is a psycho-physical process that can be synchronized, like yawning.


The Bywater herd is going to stage a stampede at City Council soon – on April 19th, Anno Domini 2018. Wrestlemania will have moved on. If you don’t have tickets to a boxing match or a cock fight, come out to City Hall. Bring snacks, in case it is a long day.

A popcorn and hot dog pop-up just outside the Council Chamber door would make a mint.

Main event on the fight card will be The New Bywater Buffalo Herd vs. The Sun Yard.

Sigmund Freud on the Herd Instinct:

It might be said that the intense emotional ties which we observe in groups are quite sufficient to explain one of their characteristics—the lack of independence and initiative in their members, the similarity in the reactions of all of them, their reduction, so to speak, to the level of group individuals

Some of its features—the weakness of intellectual ability, the lack of emotional restraint, the incapacity for moderation and delay, the inclination to exceed every limit in the expression of emotion and to work it off completely in the form of action . . . show an unmistakable picture of a regression of mental activity to an earlier stage such as we are not surprised to find among savages or children. . . .

The influence of suggestion becomes a greater riddle for us when we admit that it is not exercised only by the leader, but by every individual upon every other individual; and we must reproach ourselves with having unfairly emphasized the relation to the leader and with having kept the other factor of mutual suggestion too much in the background.

Sigmund Freud.  Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.  1922.  Chapter 9.

I am going to avoid naming names, mostly, because I consider some of the herd people friends. I hope I still can when this is over, but you never know. They are taking themselves very seriously. They are allowing themselves to amplify and act as weapons for the personal property protection of a very small number of alpha cattle, and they will not want to look at that uncomfortable idea.

The Bywater Herd is out to stampede a project called the Sun Yard. In contrast to the various “anti” movements we have seen in the downriver neighborhoods over the past few years, this newest configuration has some interesting characteristics.

Demographically, the new herd is younger than earlier opponent groupings. The crowds that opposed Via Latrobe on Press Street and Stateside at Mazant and Chartres tended to look and sound old. Their herds moved more slowly. Stampede might have been a medical risk. Their leaders spoke deliberately, trying to sound reasonable, even when they had no facts that could pass a Snopes test and nothing that could pass for logic, or even law. They were property protectors, more worried about a free parking space in front of their house or the tranquility of the rocking chairs on their front porches than the evolution of the city. They were anxious about an invasion of new, younger people engaged in non-traditional businesses like online gaming, internet security or even hacking. People whose lifestyles they did not understand. People who might be . . . you know . . . not just like us.

In the Sun Yard stampede, we are seeing a younger demo ripening into middle-aged conservative property protectors but still capable of snorting and pawing the ground. Among them a few of the old guard are joining in, but they look out of place. Some who used to pass as New Urbanists and Smart Growth advocates, who attended and applauded talks by Andrés Duany and other planners who tried to teach us how cities work, but then quickly joined the hive mind of the ruminating, rocking chair, old herd when Stateside came to their backyards, have joined this faster-tempo, younger demo, telling themselves that Liz Solms and Giuliano Pignataro’s Sun Yard project will end the life and culture of Bywater. There may be life after Sun Yard, Jim, but not as we know it.

Some of these anti-life veterans may speak at council. You can tell which ones they are by a pseudoscientific layer of fluff about sound and music they coat their snarling rejection with. Mostly amateur stuff, fear with a thin coating of physics terms.

Mark Gonzalez of Neighbors First will almost certainly be there to offend reason and annoy the Council. You have to admire his pluck. At Sun Yard NPPs and City Planning, Gonzalez boldly chose to say silly things, largely made up, recently adding insult to his repertoire of unreason. I don’t mind offensive speech if it has some wit in it, but he really should get better before he takes his act public. He usually manages to get positioned late in the speaker list, avoiding rebuttal of his lame Don Rickles tribute act. Perhaps Council Members will read this and make sure that he is on the microphone before me, so I can have a go at helping his efforts to look ridiculous.

A goodly few of the rest will go on about a mythical “creative” mystique that infuses Bywater like a sweet-smelling seductive swamp gas. They don’t think the creative pretensions of the neighborhood are in its residents, who may be really or just pretentiously creative. They seem to be telling us that the muses’ breath has been absorbed into the cypress cladding and cracked streets so you can catch it by moving in (as long as Sun Yard does not exist) – and by syncing with the rhythm of the herd to keep others out.

The heifers and bulls and steers in the Bywater herd at Council on April 19th, holding up their synchronized signs and joining together in communal outcry, will not see themselves as units filling out the numbers in a herd assembled by a few property protectors. They will not want to believe that they have been subtly recruited for the purpose of joining in tactical stampedes by a few adjoining owners who have had this plan on simmer since at least 2016, who craftily recruited a few influential musicians and artists to spread the fashionable word.

The ringleaders want tranquility and no change. They solemnly announce that among the rights granted by the grace of St Claude is the guarantee that his eponymous Avenue will remain forever just as it was when they put the down payment on their houses. They want it to be as quiet as Metairie or a genteel stretch of Lower Garden – but they don’t want to live in those places. Oh no – because when you live on a quiet block of Laurel Street instead of North Rampart, you might just be a personal injury lawyer or a pet store owner. You don’t pick up any of that creative cachet that sticks to your natural fiber clothing from living or working on North Rampart on the downriver side of Press Street (Homer Plessy Way since yesterday, in case you didn’t know).

All you unfortunate readers who live in less creative neighborhoods, know now that by decree of The Herd, ye are forever lesser. You partake not of the sacred “culture” of Bywater – while it may last, for it is a culture so fragile, so ephemeral, so precious, that it will evaporate into evanescent dust if a modestly sized business called Sun Yard opens on St Claude Avenue. In fact, I think I might start the first draft of the History of Old Bywater before it joins Atlantis in the mists of time.

The Sun Yard is a displacer, says the Herd – 99% white, middle class, relatively well-off owners of gentrified property, several times appreciated in dollar value since they bought them. I don’t think they like to discuss how they became the owners of the land that was inhabited not so long ago to over double current density by a 65% African American working class wage earning majority, now dispersed to lower cost neighborhoods by de-industrialization and the processes of urban evolution – the processes that make most of us at times displacers and at others, displaced. The herd stalwarts speaking at Council are no less displacers than their target. For such, friends, herd members and free people both – such is life in cities. Since Harappa, Ugarit, Athens, Rome, Lutetia, Londinium, Bombay and Peking – that’s life – as we do know it, Jim.

From this NOLAscape herd of mostly one: I like Bywater. I kind-of live in it. Holy ground that bestows creativity with the last four digits of its zip code? Give me a break. So fragile that it will be fractured by the Truck Farm transforming to the Sun Yard – come on.

Are they really going to look at our City Council members and say that with a straight face?

They got away with it at City Planning largely because Kyle Wedberg, principal of NOCCA, is a leading Commissioner who repeatedly exhibits bias when Bywater is on the agenda. Wedberg seems to be an excellent leader of NOCCA, who as a Commissioner – is an excellent leader of NOCCA. He lives in Bywater and works at one of its best edges, directing one of New Orleans’ finest institutions. His bias in zoning matters is so strong and visible that he really should recuse himself – but he doesn’t. He tugs CPC toward the outcome that suits himself and friends. I am not hinting at corruption. I don’t for a minute doubt that Wedberg thinks he is doing the right thing. But he transparently mixes the personal with the civic. He should not be a Planning Commissioner at all, or at the very least, pending replacement, should be recused from anything to do with Marigny and Bywater.

Our current City Council, though, is made of tougher stuff.

Some of the Sun Yard opponents at Council will bring in the industrial STR plague. They are right to oppose it. They will attack AirBnB, under banner of which absentee owners have bought hundreds of residential properties and turned them into unregulated hotels that remove residential space from the market. They blame rising rents on STR, unproven but possibly true – then step away from reason trying to associate small hotels with it. While I agree with them that STR needs radical reduction and much better law and limits, they are selling a false but persistent equivalence. I heard it at Council yesterday about another small hotel project, that Lower Garden and Coliseum neighborhood associations objected to, accompanied by their leader or lobbyist Michelle Landrieu, sister of the Mayor and board member of Covenant House, therefore associate of the egregious Jim Kelly, head of Covenant and for New Orleans a truly malignant influence.  

In fact, small hotels have an interest to oppose industrial scale STR. Sun Yard will be a stronger advocate for better STR containment law than the herd will be. If they really want more residential accommodation in Bywater and Marigny, they would do better to cultivate Sun Yard than oppose it.  

The herd scares off independent, fair support for the Sun Yard project. The normal Bywaterite is reluctant to stand in front of the stampede. Her friends are out there in the thick of the buffalo charge. She doesn’t do this kind of thing for a living or a hobby. She doesn’t want to do battle against her inflamed neighbors, and even less to be criticized or shunned by friends and neighbors when the dust settles. Unherded citizens understand that whether Sun Yard is there or not will make no difference whatsoever to their lives, and no significant difference to the neighborhood, except possibly to offer a nice new place that they might want to have a meal, a drink or a swim in. Or not – we all get to choose. So they leave the field open for the stampede.

So sadly the normal people of Bywater (note homage to “the plain people of Ireland,” ennobled by Flann O’Brien) in the event that they have even heard of this battle, are very unlikely to stand against the stampede at City Council. It takes the broader, clearer vision of the Bywater Neighborhood Association and the odd ones out (like me), constrained by a cracked Quixotic oath, to stand at the annoying Mickey Mouse microphone Council provides for public speakers, to stare down the bloodshot rage and printed signs, risking a sound trampling by the snorting, snarling herd pawing its sanctified ground.

In optimistic moments, few and far between, I think an article like this might encourage a few more people to face the civic legislature with the herd behind them, signs aloft, to speak some reason on either side. But reason is a red rag to the herd. They will just print another clenched fist sign, to counter sense with symbol, trying to link some simple, local, private backyard protectionism to important social movements.

May I offer a short shot of reality? Sun Yard will be okay. The owners are going to face-lift the properties, which need it. For me, that comes first by a long old chalk. Land use is secondary. If the first business of Sun Yard doesn’t work, they will adjust or fine-tune until they get as close as they can to a good thing. If they can’t make it work, they will sell up, and somebody else’s vision will take over. Ecce homo, and what’s new? More important by far is our physical environment. Fifteen years from now, the imaginary fragile culture that The Herd is writing prayers about won’t even be a memory. It will be hard to find mention of it in the archives. But if the renovation to the properties is done well, the neighborhood will indeed be and remain lifted up a notch. That counts.

Tell The Herd: I am saddling up for cowboy work.

6 April 2018

© NOLAscape April 2018

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Gulag NOLA

Listen to The Intercept spoken edition podcast about Landrieu’s gulag inclinations. Security City now policed by Homeland Security to help out the city’s tourist sales department, at the expense of residents’ freedom.

This is the podcast version of Intercept’s reporting.

It’s important. Forward to all your friends, and maybe a few enemies.

Don’t miss the parts about the Gulag System’s reinforcing functional racism.


ITunes link for Faces Places has been added to the post. Here I it is for convenience:

© NOLAscape 2018


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Morvern Callar re-run

The recording of our Morvern Callar Conversation, published February 23, had some technical audio problems. We got reports that some listeners couldn’t hear it.

We are sorry for the inconvenience.

Jonathan took it into the backroom where the secret software hides and gave it the treatment. We hope this works better.

If you haven’t seen Morvern Callar yet, Lynn Ramsay’s engaging study/story of an inscrutable woman played by Samantha Morton, it is on Amazon, free to Prime subscribers.


NOLAscape Conversations publish on Libsyn, They are also posted on iTunes, sometimes a day or two after they go up on Libsyn. The easiest ways to locate them there are enter NOLAscape in the iTunes search box, or go to the Podcasts section, then enter NOLAscape in the search.

Download Episode!


(c) NOLAscape March 2018

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More better chickens

National Embarrassment Undaunted


I called it. Right? Should have had a bet on it.

Trump turned on LaPierre and the NRA fast.

Remember Tricky Dick? Tricky Trumpy found a way to piss in LaPierre’s pocket without even a sliding, sleazy brush up across the sensual butt of sanity.

Yes, you would buy a used car from this man. An hour later you might be hanging over the bog, throwing up everything you ever believed as an especially virulent strain of buyer’s remorse attacked your amygdala, especially if he shook your hand. But 39% of us would have bought that lemon.  

“Take the guns,” Dracula tells the cops. Now the NRA is split between the followers of LaPierre, in NRA context the mainstram insane, and the Renfield syndrome zombies turning toward the Dark Messenger. 

Prediction: LaPierre won’t last long. Our supine congress creatures will have lost its fear of the NRA. Trump will own its message, which will change from day to day. The cherished US institution of spree murder won’t know who to shoot next.

There’s a ton of reference. Try this one:

Imagine Darth Vader without the Jedi training, intelligence and mind control. Just the twisted mind, sick intentions, damaged body and bad hair. That’s your president, folks. And don’t forget his lovely First Family. Ivanka the Smarm and Consort Jared the Insecure, Jared the Future Pardoned; and doughty First Idiots Uday and Qusay, Melanoma the Silent, and let’s not leave out the concubines, however fleeting. Have you noticed that Stormy Daniels is the most attractive person in this primate menagerie?

The Skywalker side of the story is that Trump is still on defensive and damage control against the vocal kids of Parkland. They kicked his ass quick. His mission is to regain the headlines. The Parkland students are still smarter than the dark side. If “the media” have the sense and balls to keep giving them space, they can still clean his clock.

Are we on the last page of a horror comic or the beginning of a series?

©NOLAscape February 2018


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National Embarrassment Playoffs

Hey! Did you see it happen?

Did you catch the moment that Trump was elbowed into the #2 slot?

I missed it but a loyal NOLAscape reader tipped me off about the memorable moment  when Wayne LaPierre pushed Trump off the winner’s podium as premier public asshole in our life.

Although slightly above normally repellent, LaPierre’s CPAC speech recycled the NRA’s essential message: some people’s freedom to kill trumps the rights of others’ to live, especially if the potential killers are paying members.

Trump handled Parkland with his characteristic gracelessness and the smug arrogance of his selective stupidity. But it wasn’t enough. Wayne LaPierre pushed him off the top.

It won’t last. Trump will bask in it for a few hours, so squirmy with relief from the demanding role of First A-hole that he might dribble Big Mac sauce on his silk sheets while trying to learn history and philosophy from Brian Kilmeade and thumb his tweet machine at the same time.

Then he will get pissed off. That dickhead LaPierre, who does he think he is, trying to get between @therealalphajerk and the camera lens?

For the public, Trump is already sidling away from the gun industry’s chief troll and bagman, Personal blame and revenge to follow, but LaPierre’s days are probably numbered anyway.

His speech and Trump’s unwittingly Swiftian proposal to arm teachers for gunfights occupy the increasingly crowded area of articulate stupidity, a field of intellectual endeavor currently dominated by Republican fools and hustlers, but don’t count the Dems out. Key skills include the ability to handle a microphone while trying to sound tough and kiss the corporate oligarchy’s ass at the same time..

Some on the Alex Jones side of Renfieldism say the Parkland teenagers couldn’t be real students, could they?  They must be crisis actors, because 16 and 17 year olds couldn’t be that much smarter and quicker in debate, speech and tweet-fighting than Republican wizards like Trump, LaPierre, the Fox stooges and the even worse. Could they? Like Laura Ingraham, even your well-dressed, urban closet redneck is reluctant to realize that he is a creature of an increasingly obsolete identity, duller, slower, stupider and more backwards than most high school students who have managed to stay out of the reach of the evangelical edu-propaganda system.

Which doesn’t mean they can’t win. Trumpism and the cruel fantasies of American right wing and “conservatism” could be an efflorescence of pus and fever coming to the surface as a disease dissipates, but it is also possible that the armies of brute, ignorant kleptocracy will win.

© NOLAscape 2018

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A Blunt Pitchfork

Great fun was had by all at Tuesday’s City Planning Commission session. The feature event was a triumphant comeback of the dancers, strippers and the pole dance clubs, which had been under attack by the shriveled souls of some of our most venal religious hustlers and politicians somehow – I am going to try to find out how – getting compliance from law enforcement to put hundreds of people out of work and thousands out of entertainment. The City Planning Commision declined to bite. Good for them! Respect! But first . . . 


Yesterday The Lens jumped back on its Right On track  – or according to NOLAscape’s probably less popular but more analytical position – off the rails. Their op-ed on the Sun Yard project tries to keep its heart in the right place, but has trouble with facts and logic.

An early shot from the writers:

The development company, based in Philadelphia . . . “

The impression they are trying to sell is an office in a faceless building in a cold northern suburb trying to drain the souls and savings of warm, connected, creative, lovely, salt-of-Bywater folks. To be generous to my neighbors, let’s just call it bogus.

I had a chat with the alien invaders from Philadelphia after the City Planning Commission session. The faceless corporatist machine turns out to be Liz and Giuliano, husband and wife, who have a couple of property based businesses in Philadelphia and some hotel and organic agriculture work in Jamaica. The project’s architect, Jason, was there too – a very nice guy who lives in . . . Bywater.

I risk endangering some friendships here, because I have known many of the opponents of the “Sun Yard” project for years. I like them. I consider them friends. I don’t, of course, question their right to oppose, but I don’t agree with them letting their passion generate inaccuracies and exaggerations, so keeping to NOLAscape tradition, I have to call it as I see it. I hope I don’t lose any friends.

This “foreign developer” stuff, which was all over Nextdoor and in submissions to CPC is just BS. Let’s be complete-word real: it’s bullshit. Spin. In state law, a corporation registered in another state is called “foreign.” Most US corporations are registered in one of two small states, Delaware or Nevada. So most corporations all over the country are technically “foreign.” Using this to prejudice the opinion of people who don’t understand that is spin – using an insignificant fact to sell a false meaning.

Is it really appropriate to imply that Liz and Giuliano are advance troops of a corporatist death march? Let me answer, because the Right On brigades are either confused or spinning any facts they know. No. It is not. This stuff, now infecting The Lens op-ed page as it did Nextdoor posts and the CPC submissions cheapens their campaign. Even if they win, they should have the decency to be ashamed of this deceptive aspect of their crusade.

The crusaders of Bywater are good people. It is sad that they are caught up in a tribal fervor that is clouding their judgment and poisoning some of their language.

This fight aside, they are the same good people they were last week. Here’s the thing: so are Liz Solms and Giuliano. So are Jason Richards, the architect on the project, and the Zoning Committee of Bywater Neighborhood Association, who would almost certainly have spoken in support of the CPC report, if the hearing had not been deferred. So are Bob Rivers and the CPC staff, who worked seriously to understand the project and write the detailed, thorough 245 page report recommending approval with some conditions and changes. So even, at some level, are the Neighbors First people, though unfortunately their representative at the hearing, Mark Gonzalez, who seems to be easily confused, unnecessarily traduced BNA. He deserves a kicking for that, and NOLAscape is just the place for it.

This process is not well served by aspersions. In the long run it will serve the opponents’ cause poorly to try to cast Liz Solms as a secret partner of Jared Kushner, a covert ally of Marriott or a carpetbagging oligarch.  

The opponents say Bywater needs affordable housing, not hotels or restaurants or short term rentals.

New Orleans faces a massive crisis of affordable housing. According to Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, a local housing justice organization, the city will need an estimated 33,000 additional units of affordable housing over the next 10 years to mitigate this crisis.

Good! I wonder whether 33,000 is not too conservative. Now let’s try to understand how to achieve that, without a distraction tactic associating the Sun Yard project with that issue.

The only way the land the Sun Yard is to be on could contribute to resolving the affordable housing shortage would be to build high density multi-unit rental apartments on the site. High density means high. High density means big building architecture. High density means fairly radical modification of the FAR rules. The maximum height of the Sun Yard plans is two story – camelback height. For serious contribution to the residential unit issue on the edges of Bywater, the building should be at least five stories high.

But that is not what the opponents want. They want the three houses to remain low density residential – in other words, no change, no positive contribution to the housing and rent problem. Their objection to a large footprint apartment block would almost certainly be more passionate than their opposition to Sun Yard.

They say they want long term rental space, but they don’t want any new apartment buildings near their houses. They want cheaper without change, they want rules for their benefit, and they want an easy target to blame for the problem. They want to blame Liz Solms or Sean Cummings or Pres Kabacoff, as if New Orleans was renaissance Florence or Milan and they were the Medici or Sforza.

They want more long term leasehold rental space, but not here. We are too historic. We are too creative. Keep Bywater just like it is, but cheaper. Stick the new stuff in Gentilly or Lakeview or Algiers.

Wait a minute – Algiers Point was on Tuesday’s CPC agenda, and that didn’t work so well either. A proposed riverside development attracted strong opposition. Some of them said they didn’t like the buildings, but the most vocal opponents said they did not want more people! It was simple and naked: no new people. Their neighborhood could not survive more residents, they said. This is not unusual. We want more affordable housing – but under NIMBY rules! There are always some details for a coating of plausibility – parking, traffic – but the bottom line is Not In My Back Yard.

For affordable housing, the city needs more residential units and regulated, subsidized cost. Either publicly owned rent-controlled space, or subsidy. If you have a better way, please share it with us.

Quick reprise of a NOLAscape theme: the downtown neighborhoods are depopulated. There used to be more people per housing unit, so more people in the neighborhood, fewer cars and more local service businesses. Now the riverside neighborhoods have turned whiter, richer and the demand for square feet per person is several times larger than it was 50 or 60 years ago. That means to repopulate them, make them really walkable, as the Master Plan desires, there must be places to walk to. That means parks, playgrounds, shops – and people. Not less commerce – more of it and more residential space. More people. It is not an either/or story. The answer is both. This is not radical stuff – it is what the New Orleans’ Master Plan for the 21st Century says.

The answer is not in the hands of the individual business entities of Liz or Sean Cummings or Pres Kabacoff. Our problem is that the governments of the cities, the regions, the states and the country are AWOL. You won’t get anywhere useful by blaming people who try to act or do their best within the available spaces, the current system, laws and markets. The answer is that the governments have to take it in hand, as New York once did in the time of rent control, as London and other British cities did with social housing before Margaret Thatcher.

What happened to HANO? Why are The Lens op-ed writers trying to pin part of a housing crisis on the Sun Yard idea, without mentioning the whole city block at Chartres and Mazant that HANO has kept empty for years? Want a prediction for nothing? If HANO eventually presents a design with enough density to make a serious difference, the protests will be long and loud.

The imposition of ten percent “affordable” apartments on private sector builders of market-rate apartment buildings is a wilted fig leaf that doesn’t cover the abdication of government responsibility. All it accomplishes is further retardation of building rental units, which encourages house price inflation, and intensifies the hunt for subsidy as a necessary condition of development.

To change this SNAFU, you need sustained, serious political action, not spot objection to a relatively small business. You need a determined popular movement, because all realistic solutions require a combination of taxation and finance, and if anything is clear in current America, it is that the powerful of the one percent or the point one percent are winning a tax boycott. Well-designed social housing requires determined popular action to counter the current political power structure. Soothing your conscience with protests against one small hotel or a market rate private apartment plan is just self-deception signifying next to nothing.

Another government abdication is the bad short term rental law that is a bugbear in this drama. Remember CM Stacy Head attacking that a few months ago? Well, every once in a while, Stacy Head is right, and that was one of the times. At Tuesday’s CPC session, one guy lost a perfectly good application because of it. He owns the house where the Defender used to operate from, and a comedy club and  other businesses in its history. It had been rezoned residential by the CZO after he bought it, not by his application. He wanted the ground floor to be an office. Most of the commissioners admitted that his application should have been approved,  but were afraid to allow it, because if they let it be rezoned commercial, one day in the future, under another owner, the house could be turned into AirBnB units. So through no fault or intention of his own, a bad law had shut down a small project that should have been allowed. If you want the STR rules improved, don’t take it out on individuals who have no intention to join AirBnB, just caught in a faulty law. Lobby City Hall to pass a better law. That will cost money, too, and serious, sustained effort. AirBnB has tough lawyers.

If you really want affordable housing, there has to be more development not less, and that includes more commerce not less. Development is generally not allowed in the protected historic cores, so you have to build around the edges. In Bywater, that is along St Claude, the canal, the riverside and Press Street. But I recognized people in the protest against Sun Yard Tuesday who were also opponents of Via Latrobe, who vilify the Rice Mill, who value a free parking space on front of their house more than they really value a repopulated, lively, walkable urban neighborhood.

At least Neighbors First is open about their entirely illogical program. They advocate low density, shabby-chic gentrification (which they don’t want called gentrification; oh no, everybody else are gentrifiers, not us). They want local service shops with good stuff at low prices, without more people to be customers. They want a suburb in the city, on somebody else’s dime. They want low density, low traffic, suburban conditions at low cost, and they want it within walking distance of the French Quarter. They want it cheap – until they decide to sell a house. Then they would like some better property values, at least for a few months.

It’s probably not even hypocrisy, which is generally intentional or deliberate self-deception. It is just muddle, emotion-to-words without mediation of logic, not thinking through how things work. It’s how we get politicians that can promise any old crap to get elected without bothering to give a thought to what they usually know – that it doesn’t work and can’t happen without systemic change, which their donors will not allow.

The resultant cynicism is how we sneer at Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren for proposing an achievable thing like national health care, which works pretty well everywhere but here. We have trouble distinguishing sense from nonsense. Trump, our national embarrassment, even attacked the British NHS this week because of a protest against Conservative Party austerity. To quote the clown, believe me, not one of those protesters would trade the National Health Service for the cruel American mess, much less the Republican proposals. Is the NHS imperfect? Of course. But check the outcome ratings for how far above us they are.

But I digress. In fact, I always digress. It’s a trademark. Looping back to The Lens:

The planned hotel development — in the very heart of a residential neighborhood — would have a footprint one-sixth the size of the Superdome’s.

Unless the plan is to move one sixth of the Superdome to the space on St Claude or build a replica of it, the statement is so deceptive that a responsible editor would have flagged it. The properties the writers outlined are already there, have been there for decades, and while they will get a face lift if the Sun Yard project is realized, there is no proposal for material change in appearance. So what beside misdirection does the Superdome have to do with it?

They’ll need a zoning variance to do it. Half the lots are classified commercial, but half are residential —

This does apply to the case, but is seriously deceptive. The main problem is not that half the properties are zoned residential. It is split zoninga part of each of the core properties is zoned residential. The fronts of the properties are commercial mixed use, parts of the backyards are residential. Not that there are ever were any residential buildings there – they are just grass and some trees, no different from the rest of the backyard of the same address, but at some point in the past, a map line was drawn across them. The Planning staff thinks it was a mistake. Whatever the outcome, I think they will correct that anomaly.

The Sun Yard developers have made no commitment to employ workers at living wages with benefits, nor have they promised to allow future employees to form a union.

Is that a signal of terrible policy or what? What has happened to the labor movement? It was gutted by Reagan and subsequent neoliberal administrations. To bring it back to life, though, workers’ rights and conditions should not be left to the gift of some owners. There are interesting cases of this in big business: Costco’s employment conditions are good; Walmart’s are not. One of the outcomes: institutional shareholders pressure Costco to lower wages and worsen conditions to Walmart level to enhance profitability. To its credit, Costco’s directors have resisted, but that does nothing for the  2.1 million employees of Walmart. If workers want their unions back, they have to rebuild them, not hand all workplace decision piecemeal to small businesses. It will be a long, hard struggle. If you want to be serious about living wage and working conditions, don’t let it depend on Liz Solms. 

As proud New Orleanians who want to see our city grow and its people thrive, we are not opposed to all development. For us the question is who benefits from it? What should it look like? How should it be pursued? Ultimately, it’s up to the people to make our voices heard and to defend our communities against unethical, undemocratic development. After all, according to a recent poll by The Advocate, affordable housing is the No. 2 issue for New Orleans voters, behind crime.

Affordable housing should be considered a more important issue than crime. Politicians trade on fear of violent crime, but housing and inadequate wages do more damage, eating away the guts and heart of a society. The way to improve those essential elements of the social contract is not the distraction of attacking relatively modest business and development proposals.

“Unethical”? What? If you don’t like the Sun Yard, okay. Be an opponent. But the project is no less ethical than any other ordinary business, and in fact has been more honest in its own defense than the opposition.

“Undemocratic.” Now it is getting crazy. “Democratic” is popular participation. The American business setup is not democratic. Private enterprise is the backbone of the economic setup. Standard corporations are internally authoritarian, more so since the virtual demise of the unions. Democracy in business means democratic governance within the business, as in workers’ self directed or cooperative businesses. It does not mean that people without commitment who do not participate in the business should decide. What a community gets to decide democratically is the laws that govern business, and in this case, the laws set up through the normal representative processes heavily supplemented by direct popular participation explicitly allow the Sun Yard project in that space. To recap: objecting to specific businesses who basically comply with the rules is spot objecting – the contra of spot zoning.

New Orleans’ Master Plan and CZO were painstakingly democratic. Not without flaws, not without a few end runs around popular benefit. Some of the consultants were talking consultant-ese and writing stuff to please the administration, but all in all, there was a lot of popular input over a period of years.

That set of processes, debates, votes and millions of editorial words named the St Claude corridor commercial and mixed use. Within a democratically determined set of rules, the Sun Yard project is a permitted use.

One of the opponents’ frequently made points is that any specific zoning change, or at least any change that they don’t like, is spot zoning. And spot zoning, they say, is terrible.

By the same logic, objecting to this one item because they don’t like it, and have been effectively whipped up into a passion by the nearest neighbors, is spot objecting. Reactive, personal spot objecting. The Truck Farm was for sale for a long time. The opponents always knew, or could have known, what the St Claude zoning permitted. They did nothing, said nothing, took no initiative, except to make it harder for Sweet Olive LLC to sell the property, until some people made a commitment. Then, reactively, they launch a well-organized protest campaign. Given their organizing skills, should the opponents be given any virtue points for reactively protesting against transactions undertaken within  the rules set up under the most democratic process I have ever seen operating in New Orleans? Doesn’t it look like they were capable of anticipation? That if they really believe in democracy at work, they could have at least tried to form a cooperative to buy the properties and determine the outcome? They didn’t. They waited for someone else to put their money down, then objected. 

I’m sure the writers of the op-ed are perfectly fine, well-meaning people. But their editorial is misleading,

(c) NOLAscape 2018

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Pitchforks and Planning

There are burning questions in this troubled land.

Is Devin Nunes as stupid as he looks? Or is that affectless mask an asset to the kakistocratic gang he works for? Big question, but not on today’s agenda.

Right here in Swamp City, a local chapter of the Christian Fascist Right that is degrading western civilization’s Enlightenment values has hooked up with some political hustlers including, it appears, the Landrieu clan, and is again trying to bring the bawdy fun of the pole dance game to its knees.  The Christian Soldiers and their government accomplices, tinpot and stupid, are trying to wreck what is left of New Orleans’ holdout against authoritarian puritanism and dependent serfdom. But that is for next time.


Today, in closer focus, right here in Bywater, the end is nigh! Again! And this time, nigh is Tuesday, when the “Sun Yard” small hotel project comes before City Planning.

According to the more hysterical opposition, Liz Solms’s proposal for a low-profile 37 room hotel with the usual accoutrements – restaurant, coffee shop, bar, pool – is the thin edge of a wedge that will open the floodgates (the pitchforkers rarely resist a cliché). History will be irretrievably violated.

Or maybe not.

People have a right to oppose the project. The NPP and City Planning processes allow neighbors and others a voice, and CPC takes the public moods seriously. Some don’t like it, some do. The majority, I suspect, don’t mind much either way.

What I want to challenge is sublimating emotion, impulse and reaction through bad logic and false claims to statements of false authority.

New Orleans nativism

Critics of the Sun Yard project attack Liz Solms, the partner who has been principal spokesman for the company, for having been born in another city. Where does this stuff come from? Even the right wing nationalists and supremacists and the ICE stormtroopers are trying to deport people from Latin America, not from Philadelphia. I would even bet a cheap taco that many of our neighbors who make the words “out of state” drip with cold venom are appalled by the nativist alt-right wing of the Republican cult, and can’t see that they are doing the same thing.

Think I am exaggerating? Here is the opening shot on Nextdoor:

Rezoning along St. Claude and the Pillaging of our
Neighborhood by Out of Town Corporate Interests
who refuse to reveal their identity

“It is important to know what is going on in our beautiful historic neighborhood that is seemingly rapidly being morphed into a Dallas of the East by developers from out of state.”

So “historic” is in play from the first shot. We will come to that after the identitarian nativism.

If there were any validity to this ugly theme in their opposition, New Orleans based developers or investors would have to leave any project in Atlanta, Chicago or Charleston. They would be limited to investing here, where every project would drag through approvals and court cases for five years. That would be if the Krewe de Fourche cared about any logic, consistency or fairness. Or maybe it is a one-way condemnation: native New Orleans businesses can do what they want, but others can’t come here. Excellent logic.

I am not native New Orleanian either, so the NOLA supremacists attacking Liz Solms would probably tell me that I am geographically doomed. I could never understand.

“Out of state” is a strange attack. Liz and Giuliano’s previous projects include renovation and repurposing in the protected preservation areas of colonial Philadelphia. Who would be more sensitive to urban development, a person who has worked on development within other historical preservation zones or a Louisianan from an agricultural town in the northern part of the state?  

One fairly crazy thread condemned the Sun Yard project for its LLC registration in Delaware, suggesting it was a tax avoidance scheme so New Orleans and Louisiana lost benefit. About half the corporations in the US are registered in either Delaware or Nevada. The reason is generally that those states are user-friendly to corporate registrations. Delaware charges no tax on Delaware corporations’ operations outside of Delaware. So a Delaware corporation operating and earning money in Louisiana has to pay its taxes to Louisiana, but does not have to pay any tax to Delaware.  

The adjustment process began last year. The Truck Farm houses have split zoning – parts of the backyards are zoned differently than the houses on St Claude. This seems like a mistake. Some think it was an intentional buffer zone to protect the backs of houses facing North Rampart. City Planning seems to agree that it was a mistake. For reasons difficult if not impossible to explain, New Orleans has a Future Land Use Map that does not always coincide perfectly with the zoning. When the previous owner of the Truck Farm houses applied for a change in the FLUM preparatory to applying for the zoning change, some of the same people now objecting to the Sun Yard project objected to the FLUM change, on similar grounds, necessarily more general because the hotel plan had not yet been born, but they couldn’t use “out-of-state” as an epithet. “Out of town” was dragged in as a general purpose insult later.

At the time of its NPP on the matter, the previous owner, Sweet Olive LLC, was explicit and clear that the purpose of the changes it wanted was to make the property more salable, because it needed improvement or redevelopment. They were not in a position to do it, and the zoning anomaly was making it hard to sell. So the fine neighbors who are now forming a Pitchfork Krewe knew the properties were for sale from that day, if not before. They showed no interest in buying them. They formed no cooperative. They took no part in finding a buyer. They just waited, and started their out-of-state chant when they found out that the new owner had lived mostly in other cities.

One thread in Nextdoor even accuses the new owners of being Carpetbaggers, and anyone who cooperates in their effort of being Scalawags. Remember those reconstruction terms? What if Liz Solms was not from Philadelphia, a northern city, but from Hattiesburg or Oxford? Is that the same kind of out-of-town? Would it make the project more acceptable to the opponents? Do we really have people – neighbors – who want to frame development of St Claude Avenue in Civil War terms? That’s pretty historic, not in a good way.

Opponents pushing this story line apparently do not see that they had left off objecting to the Sun Yard project. They re-directed their ire from the little hotel, from land use and architecture, to people they don’t know because of where they are from. Is that racism? NOLA-ism? It is some kind of unsavory -ism.

Although ugly and embarrassing, a lot of people here seem to just shrug past it. “Well, yes, New Orleanians do that.”  We don’t know what City Planning will decide Tuesday, but we have to hope they will completely ignore this stuff.


That poor long-suffering word gets some heavy abuse whenever these cases come up. The most common is mixing up historical artifacts, such as houses, with the process of history. The way it is usually spun is:

  • We live in a “historical” neighborhood, meaning the houses are what we call historical (even though in New Orleans the designated object is often not very old).
  • These houses were results or artifacts of the building processes of an earlier time, a time we perceive as “history,” so now through owning them, we are not only custodians of the houses – we are the heirs of that time.
  • So now, what we think we are and how we like it is “history.” Through the artifact, we claim the right to dictate the future, so that it will always look like now. Changing anything from what we are or what we want would violate history, by violating our wishes as appointed or self-appointed trustees.

I hope you can see the fallacy. History as a process is not a building, and the past is not the future. “Historical preservation” and the processes that end up being  history are not the same thing. Zoning has been used for necessary and beneficial ends, and to slow and redirect movement and change – the stuff of history as process – and also abused to create racial and economic segregation, but in the end it cannot stop evolution without killing the space it was to preserve. Violating history is hard to imagine, because after changes happen, they become, ipso facto, history.

One way the opponents play this theme is they say that Bywater now provides residential owned and rented property for people in creative pursuits and regular jobs – often in service industries. If a hotel takes up some residential units, then it is invading, displacing.

To understand just one of the things wrong with this scenario, take a look at a small slice of actual history. Bywater’s population was much higher and denser in the mid-twentieth century. The population was roughly 65% African American. Now the population is closer to 2,000, less than half what it was, majority white. Maybe that shouldn’t make any difference, but in America where cultural racism is a nasty, persistent fact, it does.

In the opponents’ mythology, the Sun Yard would be displacing them, the current occupants, but the way they got their house, which possibly used to be occupied by a three generation African American family with several children who played outside with other kids, creating a lively street and porch culture, was not displacement. It was some kind of magical benign replacement that turned Bywater from a relatively dense working class to a low-density middle class, historical-preservation, shabby-chic gentrification area without displacing anybody.

May I call “rubbish” at this point? Cities and neighborhoods evolve and change. People move away, people move in. There is gentrification, and decay. (Bywater tends to favor an aesthetically “authentic”  combination of the two.) An aspect of the process is displacement, Displacement was part of the process that got you where you are, and it will be an aspect of the process that gets you out of it, if you move. Those complaining about displacement are part of that process no less even if less perceptibly than Liz Solms and the Sun Yard project.


From a comment letter to CPC:

“They will be converting residential homes to commercial and altering the physical landscape, soul and history of this neighborhood needlessly, and only for their own profit. We have plenty of hotels downtown, why do we need more hotel rooms in this neighborhood?”

One of the things that comes up in this discussion is: we don’t need a hotel, we need local service businesses. But the reason we don’t have enough local service businesses – if indeed that is the case – is low density. Not enough people to support the businesses. To increase that density, you need a lot of housing, because people are unlikely to return to the larger families and higher populations per house that would have been more common in the 1940s and 50s. But these same people generally object to apartment house construction, even around the edges, that could provide the housing.

Three low-density houses are irrelevant for creating a lively walkable culture – especially three houses nestled between the U-Haul yard, some restaurants and a disused gas station. A hotel, even a little one, with lighting and movement will at least do something for that.

“Only for their own profit.” Well, yes and no. Businesses in our economic set up have to make or at least promise a profit of some sort, but that is no less true of any business that might be in that or indeed any other space. It can’t be “only” for its own profit; it has to provide some kind of product or service that people pay for to survive.

If somebody wanted to build rental apartments there, after the neighbors got done complaining about the height that would be required to make it viable, the owner would have to earn a profit somehow, or eventually lose the property. If somebody opened a right-on vegan restaurant in the space, that contributed all its surplus to sheltering lost cats, it would still have to make some earnings to survive. The alternative to profit is either subsidy, bailout or bankruptcy. Slinging “profit” as an accusation at the Sun Yard project is simply gratuitous, meaningless abuse. We have to ask CPC to ignore this stuff.  


A lot more could be written and said about this process – and a lot less should be. If proponents and opponents simply stated their position and were honest and clear in their reasons, the process would work better. In and around the Sun Yard project, people attempt to turn their emotions and their own property interests into generalizations about history, about the nature of their neighborhood, about destiny. They invent Manichaean scenarios of invasion and defense. They set up imaginary dramas and pass them off as real and imminent.

It might make Tuesday’s main event at CPC into an entertaining punch-up, but to get a healthy result, let’s hope the Commissioners have fresh alkaline batteries in their BS meter.

The CPC hearing is Tuesday 6 February at 1120 South Broad (City Hall is being renovated). Come along and put in a vote for reason.

©NOLAscape 2018

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The Unindicted

2018 Ep 1 
This has been rattling around in drafts. I couldn’t get the ending right. It;s still not right, but it is taking up space in the drafts folder, Have to release it into the world.

Waking up this freezing morning, I stumbled to the sink for the ritual of toothbrushing and – WTF! What’s that?!? Did some kind of drain-dwelling jellyfish crawl up to escape the freeze, die, decompose and crystallize in the few hours that passed between New Year’s Eve and the opening hours of 2018?

Nothing so Stephen King. In these stick houses with external pipe runs never designed for this kind of cold, with an HVAC system overpowered by sub-freezing temperatures, we are told to leave the faucets trickle to avoid burst pipes. My bathroom trickle had frozen into tiny icicle threads from the faucet to the drain and around it, like translucent stalactites formed in a couple of icy hours, not the geological ages of a cavern.

Aesthetic compensation for inadequate insulation.

COMING SOON: Another episode in Conversations. Henry and Jonathan will dig into Morvern Callar. Interesting, unusual, penetrating, insightful . . .  even fits in with the Me, Too wave. It’s on Amazon.If you can, try to have a watch of it before the podcast is published.

The most fun now would be to discuss the depths of financial and moral corruption that the White House, most of the federal government and the Congressional Republican Party are sinking to, or perhaps just exposing. It’s a klepto-party, right out in the open. Everyone is invited to watch or play, if you have the ante. They don’t even bother to conceal the pick-pocketing any more. “Leaders,” as some of the younger journalists call our duly elected Unindicted, have progressed from traditional embezzlement and covert bribery through common-or-garden theft to just plain looting. Every day’s headlines are like a TV crime series,

They will get away with it. Since 2008, financial and political crime is no longer prosecuted at the federal level. Eric Holder’s justice department protected our leading criminals as important battlefield generals in the protection of corporatism.

For decades, at least since 1980, a major part of the geopolitical Game of “Land of the Free” Thrones has been corporations and finance vying for power with the nation-state governments – and winning. The free market is about finding the right price. They found it. One could speculate and probably find confirming evidence that one of the uses of Trump is to be the insensate buffoon put in place to test the next step against the institutions and the people, like a rodeo clown checking out the bull. When the risks are clarified, the corporatists can install a real candidate, who will intensify their agenda exponentially from the 1.0 models of Clinton, Bush and Obama. What we will be able to see of government will be indistinguishable from entertainment, as foretold in Rollerball (the 1975 original, not the remake).


But that’s for next time. Let’s loop back down to town, the other world we live in.

Making the editorial rounds and some social sites: Derrick Shepherd, convicted of money laundering during a political career, was spotted at an event, thought to be in the entourage of Ms Mayor Elect LaToya Cantrell. Much high-minded tsk tsk.

A virtue signalling party quickly began ricocheting around the local editorial pages and websites. Let’s form a circle and tell each other how good we are.

The state of po’facedness should make us feel a little queasy.

Whadda ya say we try to drain some of the hypocrisy into what Cedric Grant’s administration  left of our storm drains?

LaToya is “squandering her good will”, say the self-righteous, by being seen in public with Derrick Shepherd. It might be true. The public mind is a strange space. But it shouldn’t be.

  • Shepherd was convicted for participation in a money laundering operation for $141,000.
  • The Russian trail to the Trump crime family will show that the sad, mad thief we are supposed to call president has been involved in money laundering on a scale that Derrick Shepherd’s calculator doesn’t have enough zeroes for.
  • Avuncular-looking Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary to billionaire-whisperer Trump, invested $400m and became deputy chairman of the bank of tiny Cyprus, whose business is shifting money around for the Russian oligarchic community. 
  • In the modern game of money-laundering, Derrick Shepherd doesn’t even get a seat on the bench of the farm team.
  • How many Unindicted felons are strolling confidently around City Hall on any given busy day?  How many of the Unindicted are lunching comfortably in the dining rooms of our financial institutions?  
  • How many “felons” from the wrong side of the social tracks set up by our Respectable Citizens and the police/justice system have been convicted felons for “possession” of a “substance” which starting January 1 in California is as criminal as a cold PBR? Who is the greater criminal, the guy with a few joints or a vape device, the dealer on the corner, or the self-righteous idiots who made and enforced the largely racist War on Drugs that filled the prisons and deepened a social rift that contributes to urban violence? If the estimable Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Attorney General and hobbit, gets away with re-including marijuana in the astoundingly stupid WoD, he will be responsible for hundreds or thousands of deaths and incarcerations.  But Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is an honorable man.
  • DA Cannizzaro terrorized families on the wrong side of the social tracks with fake subpoenas. Is that a crime? Subpoenas have to be signed by the right authority, normally a judge. They weren’t, but Cannizzaro’s enforcers pretended they were. How is that different from forgery? Our courts are unlikely to decide, since the DA’s office is somehow reluctant to prosecute itself. And Cannizzaro is an honorable man. The twitterati would not question your fitness for office for being seen in public with Mr Cannizzaro.   

I quite like LaToya. I think she might bring a dollop of “street” to relieve the dynastic grip on office that we would have if a Landrieu had handed over to a Charbonnet. That could sound queasily similar to the motivation of some Trump voters: push a bull into the china shop, see what happens. But LaToya is not an invader. She has been in Council for yonks. She is not stupid, sickeningly vulgar or psychopathic like 45. She’ll be okay. (Although she has not replied to a recent request for comment, so I may have to go off her. Come on, LaToya – answer questions.)

We’ll see. Office can be overwhelming (see Ray Nagin for details).

The NOLAscape take: all this warm, steaming propriety and respectability wafting around the streets of Bywater, Marigny and the FQ reeks of bogus.

If you declare people caught and convicted in a net which may even have been cast by political opponents and enemies so tainted that they are even contagious, while letting sleazy kleptocrats and klepto-hangers on off your little moral hook, you are really saying that the crime is getting caught. Shame replaces guilt.


The shame is not on LaToya, if indeed Shepherd was in her entourage. It is on us, for our Silly-Putty morality, sinking slowly into the shape of whatever container is a la mode.

Be nicer to convicted felons. Be more skeptical of our criminal “justice” system, and how people end up in or avoid its clutches. Hatpins at the ready for hypocrisy.

There are many people, good and bad, on both sides of the bars.

© NOLAscape 2018


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