1. FRENCH QUARTER TRAFFIC PLAN DRAWS GRIEVANCES
At an April 4 meeting that was supposed to be about a recent traffic study conducted by city contractor AECOM in connection with the Bourbon Street redevelopment project, frustrated French Quarter residents and business owners convened for a Festivus-style airing of grievances about the plan.
Organizers, including Mark Jernigan from the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Derek Chisholm from AECOM, tried to maintain order, but even before the "public comment" segment of the meeting, audience members interjected questions and complaints about prospective road closures, the economic fallout from the proposed conversion of Bourbon Street to a pedestrian mall, handicap access to businesses, potential interruptions to delivery service and more. "They don't have the manners to ask us any questions about how [this project] is going to affect our lives," David Gamble, a resident of Ursulines Street, said. "We're second-class citizens in the city that relies on us."
Attendees argued that any changes to traffic patterns (such as proposed street closures on Bourbon-adjacent streets) necessarily affect them, pointing to traffic jams during street closures during the NBA All-Star Game and Mardi Gras as evidence of potential issues. Organizers seemed to sell the project as a way to address safety concerns in the city's most-trafficked tourist area. Jernigan went one step further, mentioning to Gambit recent geopolitical events involving car traffic (such as the truck-based attack in Nice, France) as one reason for the proposed traffic changes.
Many in the crowd of 100 or so raised specific concerns. A representative from one of the mule-drawn carriage companies pointed out that their business might be jeopardized by the inability to cross Bourbon. Another man asked about the ice deliveries he receives at his bar.
According to Jernigan, AECOM is expected to make its recommendations about changes to the Quarter traffic pattern by mid-May. He agreed that the timeline for this project is "aggressive," but also said DPW will definitely look into expanding the reach of the recent survey, in response to feedback received at the meeting.
2. Quote of the week
"Your national budget is symbolic. You're basically telling the world, 'This is what we as a nation think about our arts,' which is our collective memory, our wisdom. There's a reality to things: When we tell people our arts are not important, our wisdom is not important, we're preparing our public to be more ignorant so that we can exploit them more." — Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, criticizing the elimination of federal arts funding in President Donald Trump's proposed budget. Marsalis made the remarks on CBS This Morning, where he appeared with fellow New Orleanian Jon Batiste, with whom he collaborated on the new album The Music of John Lewis.
3. 'Black Women's Advocacy Day' in Baton Rouge April 26
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, and the New Orleans nonprofit Women With a Vision (WWAV) are holding "Our Voice, Our Time: Louisiana Black Women's Advocacy Day" at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge April 26. The event will feature speakers and discussion groups focused on health care, economics, the criminal justice system, education and voter engagement. The event is free. Register at WWAV's website (www.wwav-no.org).
4. NOPD consent decree in the age of Jeff Sessions
In a memo sent last week to the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered an "immediate review" of all department activities, including all existing and planned consent decrees with law enforcement agencies. "Local control and local accountability are necessary for local policing," Sessions wrote. "It is not the role of the federal government to manage non-federal law agencies."
Those agreements could include consent decrees with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, overseen by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), overseen by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. Since 2013, DOJ-driven reforms within NOPD — detailed in nearly 500 points on more than 100 pages — aim to overhaul the department. The reforms range from anti-bias measures and profiling to how officers handle domestic violence cases and efforts to ensure "constitutional policing" across the board.
At the New Orleans City Council's Criminal Justice Committee meeting April 5, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said his department — "consent decree or not" — is committed to ensure it's a "leader in policing in every aspect."
"I'm aware of Sessions' comments," Harrison said. "I remain committed and every member of my team remains committed to police reform ... and sustaining that public trust."
Asked by At-Large City Councilman Jason Williams whether Trump's administration has created any roadblocks, Harrison said the election shouldn't affect "21st century policing" despite "philosophical differences."
"Who gets elected does not determine how well we deliver police services," said Harrison, adding that NOPD is committed to fair and constitutional policing "because that's the right thing to do."
5. Your plate's on Candid Camera
A first round of license plate reading cameras — 25 cameras in 15 locations — is scheduled to be installed in New Orleans this month. New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison told the City Council's Criminal Justice Committee April 6 that a second round is planned in June, with an additional 21 cameras in 17 locations, followed by "phase three," awaiting approval through the city's $40 million citywide anti-crime plan, which calls for cameras in 34 locations.
"I'm always nervous when we're buying a new toy in New Orleans, because usually we don't use it right," said City Council President Stacy Head. Harrison said the cameras will not be able to read and report stolen license plates in real time, but images collected by the cameras can be used if a crime is reported in the area. Data collected by the readers will be dumped after 180 days.
This year, NOPD also will launch its online crime-reporting tool allowing people to file a report online rather than wait for an officer. Crimes that can be reported online include property theft, pickpocketing and shoplifting.
6. Leger in no hurry to declare for mayor
State Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, has been mentioned in many quarters as a possible candidate for mayor later this year, but he says he's in no hurry to announce his intentions. The lawmaker had hired a team of consultants, but they're on hold until after the annual legislative session ends June 8.
"There will be a time in the future when my attention will shift more keenly toward local political and policy issues," Leger — Speaker Pro Tempore of the House and a member of the Appropriations Committee — said in an emailed statement to Gambit. "... There is plenty of time to focus on local political campaigns and issues, but for me the next few months is a time of real action, not campaigning."
Qualifying for mayor, New Orleans City Council and Orleans Parish sheriff and clerks of court races is July 12-14. The primary is Oct. 14, with runoffs as needed Nov. 18.
7. Morrell: Lift state sales tax from feminine hygiene products, diapers
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, wants to exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products, as well as diapers, from the Louisiana sales tax. If signed into law, Senate Bill 24, which Morrell pre-filed last week, would ban state sales tax on tampons, menstrual pads, sanitary napkins, panty liners, menstrual sponges, menstrual cups and cloth and disposable diapers size 7 and smaller. Morrell estimated the average family spends around $60 per month on diapers.
Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, said her women's rights organization is conducting research on the impact of sales taxes for feminine hygiene products in New Orleans, where the combined sales tax is 10 percent; the state's portion is 5 percent. Erenberg said the average cost of a box of tampons is $7 and for a box of pads is $8, and a woman typically uses one box per menstrual cycle. "For the average woman, it's a cost savings of probably a few bucks each month," Erenberg said. "But for women living below poverty, a few bucks can be the difference between providing a meal for one of your children or not." — SARAH GAMARD | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
8. 'Faith, hillbillies and American politics' at UNO
J.D. Vance, author of the much-discussed Rust Belt memoir Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, will speak on a panel at the University of New Orleans April 17. American Conservative senior editor and St. Francisville resident Rod Dreher also will appear on the panel; their talk is called "Faith, Hillbillies and American Politics."
The event takes place at UNO's Homer L. Hitt Alumni and Visitors Center. A reception at 5:15 p.m. precedes the 6 p.m. talk. Both are free and open to the public.
9. Van Jones to deliver Loyola commencement address
Van Jones — lawyer, CNN political commentator and former special adviser to former President Barack Obama — will deliver Loyola University's commencement address at the Superdome ceremony May 13. In a statement, Loyola University President the Rev. Kevin Wildes said, "Van Jones has had a long and meaningful career that has had tremendous impact on issues that affect us all."
The school's College of Law, which matriculates later that day at the Superdome, will have state Fourth Circuit Appellate Judge Madeleine Landrieu (who recently was named the new dean of Loyola's law school) as its commencement speaker.
10. Erykah Badu coming to UNO Lakefront Arena
Erykah Badu will bring her current tour to UNO Lakefront Arena May 28. It's been 20 years since the singer's first album, Baduizm, and seven years since her last world tour. Badu, whose performances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival have been highlights of previous Jazz Fests, also is set to play this year's Essence Festival in July. Tickets are on sale now.