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Letters to the Editor

Feather Funding
I am writing in regard to David Kunian's wonderful cover story ("Perfectly Suited," Feb. 21) about Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in Gambit Weekly. I have worked with Monk for over 35 years, and no one in the culture is more deserving or respected. As you may know, Monk is the subject of the Jazz Fest Congo Square poster this year.

I would, however, like to clarify one part of your story.

The funding for plumes for this year's Carnival season actually came from The Norman Dixon, Sr. Annual Second Line Parade Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that for years has provided grants to help New Orleans social aid & pleasure clubs (and occasionally jazz funerals) defer the costs of hosting their weekly second lines. Traditionally we have done this by paying for the permits and fees due to the New Orleans Police Department. Since the storm, our purview has grown to include not only second lines, but also helping the Mardi Gras Indians get back on the street.

Funding for this project does include a grant from The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, as well as grants from Wynton Marsalis & The Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Fund, The Gibson Foundation, The Tipitina's Foundation, Ed Bradley, Putumayo Records, Harry Shearer and Festival Productions, Inc.-New Orleans. Through these contributions, we were able to purchase 170 1/2 pounds of large, custom-dyed African ostrich plumes, 4 pounds of double-dipped plumes, 2 pounds of quills, 2 pounds of drabs and 905 links of marabou. They were distributed through Tipitina's to 88 Mardi Gras Indians in over 25 tribes. Happy Mardi Gras!

Quint Davis
Board of Directors
Norman Dixon, Sr. Annual Second Line Parade Fund


Vote No, East Jefferson
I know you've heard them, the vocal uninformed masses screaming for "Levee Board Reform" and "One Levee Board, Now", etc. Well, I'd like to take a moment to inform you of the facts.

First of all, we here in East Jefferson Parish did not have any levee or floodwall failures! Our levees and floodwalls held, just as they were supposed to. And do you know why? Because the East Jefferson Levee District Maintenance department and the members of the police department do their jobs and do them well.

The EJLD Police Department doesn't patrol 10 percent of the city like the Orleans Levee Board police does, we patrol and inspect and protect the integrity of the levees surrounding East Jefferson Parish, and we do it 24/7/365. We don't have an airport to run, or marinas to maintain, or roads and bridges to build to make it easier for you to get to our gambling casino. We don't have property and buildings all over town and outside our area to manage and maintain, nor do we have huge lawsuits against us that require enormous legal resources. No, the East Jefferson Levee District maintains and protects the levees that protect you and your families and property.

Secondly, the levee board, any levee board, has absolutely nothing to do with building more or better levees. The levees are built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They decide where they are needed. They design them. They contract out the building of them. They are supposed to verify that they are built to specs ... their specs! After they are built and accepted by the Corps, they are turned over to the local levee boards for maintenance. The East Jefferson Levee Board takes the maintenance job seriously. We have nothing other than levee protection and maintenance to take up our time ... no other projects, just East Jefferson Levee protection and maintenance ... that's where all of your money goes ... protecting and maintaining the levees of East Jefferson for your protection and recreational use.

Thirdly, the recent catastrophic flooding in East Jefferson was the result of two factors: 1. The damn pumps were off! Not EJLD's fault. As a matter of fact, it was the EJLD police who got the pump operators out of Mount Hermon and back to East Jefferson so they could man the pumps. You never heard that on the news did you? Well, now you know. 2. The flooding that occurred in Old Metairie and Old Jefferson was the result of water from the 17th Street Canal breech flowing through Orleans Parish and back into East Jefferson via Airline Highway and Jefferson Highway. It was mentioned in the Times-Picayune that we, (EJLD) did not allow our people to help OPLD to close the breech in the 17th St. Canal. Want to know why? Because we were busy working with Jefferson Parish and the National Guard trying to build a rock dam across Airline and Jefferson highway, and in fact all the way from Metairie Road to the river to keep that water out of East Jefferson. That's right, we couldn't help Orleans because we were trying to protect the people of East Jefferson and their property, and without that rockwall the flooding in Old Metairie and Old Jefferson would have been much worse than it was. Just look at how quickly we were able to rebuild compared to the other side of the wall. Where do you think those workers would have been if we were "one levee board"?

Fourth, the statements have been made that the existing levee board system "reeks of cronyism and political patronage." Have you heard of any of that here in East Jefferson? No, because our levee board is concerned with flood protection and levee maintenance. It seems that all of the problems observed seem to be in some other area, not East Jefferson. So why are we being "fixed"? Shouldn't the New Orleans-area legislators be trying to fix the Orleans Parish problems, and leave us alone to continue the work we are doing?

Lastly, and most importantly, I am an A/Sgt. with the East Jefferson Levee District Police Department. We were here, on duty, on the levees of East Jefferson Parish, before, during and after the catastrophic storms. We saved lives and property, and protected the integrity of the levees that surround East Jefferson. One of the amendments added to SB8 (the levee board reform bill) will eliminate the Levee Board Police Departments and allow the individual boards to outsource the police/security duties to local police and sheriffs' departments. If the legislature recognizes that police protection services/levee security is a necessity, why, with the stroke of a pen, would you allow them to disband an existing organization that is dedicated to doing this job and "possibly" replace it with a contracted local agency? Is this any way to thank us for the great job we have done in the past and continue to do? We, the officers of the East Jefferson Levee District Police, have done our jobs, and should not be punished for the failures of other levee districts. I like my job. I do it well and I'd like to keep it.

Please do not support this bill as it is written. When it comes to a vote in the fall, please vote no! Please tell your friends and family to vote against this bill. There is nothing in it that will help you as an East Jefferson resident, and it will cost me my job.

A/Sgt. Ray Zabala E.J.L.D. Police Dept.


Mausoleum on Main Street
The defining question of New Orleans' future will be whether or not we adhere to a plan that incorporates our vision of what our city ought to be, or if we are held hostage to developers who offer quick fixes to the current crisis that will change the character of our city forever. With the proposed Vantage Towers condo project in New Orleans Central Business District, right on the edge of the Arts District, with its back to historic Lafayette Street, we are confronted by one of the first tests of our resolve and of our values. The area of empty parking lots bounded by Poydras Street and the Pontchartrain Expressway is a tabula rasa, and does not impede us with any ethical issues involving demolition. This relatively elevated section of the CBD sorely needs residential housing to leaven its purely commercial character and to enliven it with an appropriate mixed use. As such the Vantage Towers project potentially is a boon to the city, meeting both a demand for new residential space and adding sorely needed tax base. But the project also poses serious problems about our vision of and for New Orleans. As proposed, the 26-story tower dwarfs all the buildings for a two- or three-block radius, none of which exceeds four stories in height. Adding to this disproportion, the first four stories acts as a concrete parking garage with no mitigating setback, landscaping or design features to soften its deadening visual impact on pedestrians and views from the surrounding buildings. In contrast, rebuilding itself after Hurricane Hugo, Charleston, S.C. banned such construction, understanding that such lifeless street-level features kill city blocks, especially in historic communities. Instead, provisions must be made for retail shops or cafes at the street level, perhaps with historically appropriate overhanging galleries such as were incorporated into Place St. Charles. If New York and Chicago -- where land sells for far more than in New Orleans -- can require such features, so can we.

Further, the architectural design of the building itself is sterile and impersonal and fails to incorporate any architectural feature that resonates with the historical character that defines New Orleans. If New Orleans does not adopt a plan and zoning requirements to define what is architecturally appropriate, then the city will fall victim to each and every individual developer's profit-motivated project, regardless of its impact on the character of the city itself.

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities has an immediate and vested interest in this particular case, because our Louisiana Humanities Center is housed in historic Turners' Hall, located at the intersection of Lafayette and O'Keefe streets in the same city block as the proposed Vantage Tower. Built in 1868 as a German social hall, the Turners' Hall is the single most attractive feature as one drives down O'Keefe from the expressway, all the way to Canal Street.

But the construction of Vantage Towers -- a mere 120 feet away -- will effectively obscure Turners' Hall. As for the tenants of our historic building, we will be imprisoned in the perpetual shadow cast by the tower, staring directly at a four-story-high concrete wall, and craning our necks up at the additional pile of 24 stories, devoid of a single architectural feature that connects it with Louisiana's architectural history.

Concerns about rebuilding residential areas below sea level may well compel New Orleans to build more densely in residential districts, and in the recovery planning mid- and high-rise buildings may well have their place. But city planners elsewhere have recognized that there are better ways to construct such buildings than building them right up to the property lines and sidewalks or permitting them to dominate an entire city block. One such method is to incorporate them into a larger plot design that places the taller structure inside a courtyard, which would be especially appropriate in New Orleans.

One might hope the developer of the Vantage Towers would consider redesign of his project and that other developers prove conscientious in respecting New Orleans' architectural history and character. Our community should rely on imbedding its values in statute and zoning regulations if New Orleans is to retain its uniqueness.

Michael Sartisky, Ph.D.
President/Executive Director
Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

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