1. CITY WILL NEARLY DOUBLE TRAFFIC CAMERAS IN 2017
Something to add to your New Year's resolutions: Stop speeding — or at least keep an eye out for the 55 new "traffic safety cameras" City Hall will deploy in school zones in early 2017. That's almost a doubling of the current number of cameras, which total 66.
The additions were announced in October as part of the 2017 municipal budget and were approved by the New Orleans City Council in November. They are expected to reap $5 million in revenue for the city. The rollout was scheduled for Jan. 9.
Revenue wasn't mentioned in the city's press release announcing the installations, which stated that the goal of the new cameras was "to deter red light violations, reduce speeding violations, increase traffic situational awareness and reduce collision severity."
Forty-five of the new cameras will be placed at 32 locations around town, while the other 10 new cameras are mobile units that can be deployed as needed.
Municipal fines for speeding in New Orleans range from $157.50 (1 to 9 miles per hour over the posted limit) to $282.50 (15 to 20 miles per hour over the posted limit). Anyone exceeding the speed limit by 20 miles per hour or more must make a court appearance.
2. Dire projections for
Louisiana could lose 4,000 square miles of its coast, doubling projected losses from a similar scenario posed just five years ago. Louisiana officials released their 2017 "Coastal Master Plan," a blueprint for restoration projects spanning the next several decades, and revealed dire prospects for the coast while proposing the restoration of up to 800 miles of wetlands and the construction of levee and floodwall protection. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority outlines 120 coastal restoration projects worth $50 billion, including marsh creation through dredging, sediment diversions and other projects. Its Flood Risk and Resilience Program outlines floodproofing more than 1,400 buildings and elevating more than 22,000.
Local and national environmental coalition Restore the Mississippi River Delta — which includes the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society — said there is "no more significant charge facing our state than the urgent need to respond effectively" to the coast. "As seas continue to rise and land continues to sink, we need to put our existing resources to work wisely, and quickly, to maintain as much of the Louisiana we all know and love," the group wrote in a statement. "This master plan process advances a strategy grounded in the best available science that balances coastal restoration and protection activities — and is realistic about the coastal challenges we face."
The group encourages the state to use sediment diversions and continue to rebuild and protect barrier islands.
3. A new year,
a new Congress
The 115th U.S. Congress was sworn in Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C. — bringing with it the first day of work for newly minted U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, the former Louisiana state treasurer who beat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in the December 2016 runoff.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, who has two years of service under his belt, now is Louisiana's senior senator, and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Metairie retains his title of Majority Whip of the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, Louisiana's only Democrat in Congress, was named chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Senate Republican majority also announced committee assignments, including a spot on the Senate Appropriations Committee for Kennedy. Chairs will be chosen by the various committees. Here's where Louisiana's senators will be spending time:
Cassidy: Energy & Natural Resources; Finance; Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Joint Economic Committee; Veterans Affairs
Kennedy: Appropriations; Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs; Budget; Judiciary; Small Business & Entrepreneurship
4. DOJ issues harsh
report on Louisiana
Within the space of one month, Louisiana was the subject of two massive, devastating reports from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — one outlining dozens of civil rights violations and unconstitutional arrests by police departments in Evangeline Parish, and another detailing how the state effectively traps mentally ill people in nursing facilities because of the state's lack of community-based mental health services.
Louisiana leaves many people with serious mental illness with few if any options to receive care in their own communities, leaving about 4,000 people with serious mental illness in nursing homes. Those residents are largely younger and require less nursing care than typical nursing home residents. "Louisiana residents with mental illness who can and want to live in their own homes and communities deserve the chance to do so," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
The report found that "many people who rely on state services do not know that they could choose community-based services instead of nursing facilities because the state has not told them about these services."
The report found that nearly 15 percent of people in Louisiana's nursing homes are diagnosed with a serious mental illness; many people in those facilities arrived there from psychiatric hospitals. From 2010-2014, state hospitals also discharged more than 150 people with mental illness into nursing homes.
5. Times-Pic building
going before City
The group of local investors who bought the former Times-Picayune building last year are requesting mixed-use zoning from the New Orleans City Council — suggesting yet another major redevelopment in the works along the Pontchartrain Expressway. The request is scheduled to be heard by the City Planning Commission Jan. 10 prior to a final decision by the City Council.
The 9-acre property at 3800 Howard Avenue housed The Times-Picayune from the late 1960s until printing moved out of state in 2016. It was sold in September to a development group called 3800 Howard Investors LLC, which included developer Joe Jaeger, Barry Kern of Mardi Gras World and Arnold Kirschman, who recently redeveloped the 4500 block of Freret Street, according to a report in The New Orleans Advocate.
The group does not specify its intentions for the property in its application, but says that mixed-use zoning will help pave the way for the future project. Construction on the unspecified project would begin this spring and last six to nine months, the letter says.
City planners who evaluated the request note they, too, are in the dark about the nature of the project, but the exclusion of businesses or offices leads them to assume "that residential development would likely be a major component of any future redevelopment of the site." The proposal may face an uphill battle, however, as the city planning staff is recommending against it for a variety of reasons, calling it "too intense for this physically isolated site, given the limited surrounding infrastructure, and the fact that the site is not easily accessible for vehicles or pedestrians." The request, the staff notes, contradicts the city's master plan.
The proposal is one of several pending along the Pontchartrain Expressway on the edge of the Central Business District. Jaeger is involved in the proposed expansion of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the redevelopment of the Market Street power plant, according to The Advocate's September report, and Kern is planning an indoor trampoline facility nearby on Earhart Boulevard.
6. SilenceIsViolence to mark 10th anniversary
SilenceIsViolence — the anti-violence group that formed in the wake of the murders of Dinerral Shavers and Helen Hill — will mark the 10th anniversary of its inaugural rally and honor the lives lost to gun violence over the last decade during a memorial at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, outside City Hall. Shavers, a music program director and drummer for the Hot 8 Brass Band, was killed Dec. 28, 2006. Hill, a filmmaker and artist, was killed in her home a week later on Jan. 4, 2007. The murders sparked protests citywide, including a march and rally at City Hall on Jan. 11, 2007, demanding city officials provide equal protection for all New Orleans neighborhoods.
7. Shattering news:
No more glass recycling
This week marks the end of glass recycling pickup in the French Quarter and Downtown Development District after a year of curbside service in the neighborhood. The city says it can "no longer justify the cost of the program to taxpayers" after "low participation" from eligible properties. The last day for curbside pickup is Jan. 12.
Curbside recycling returned downtown in 2014. But in the first several months after the city expanded its recycling program to accept glass last fall, less than 1 percent — only about 40 of more than 4,000 eligible properties — were using the service. The city contracted Empire Janitorial Sales & Services for downtown trash pickup in 2014, charging households $2.27 a month for trash and recycling pickup. Monthly sanitation charges bumped up to $3.50 when glass was added.
Now, however, glass can be recycled citywide, but only at a drop-off point. Beginning Jan. 14, glass will be accepted at monthly drop-offs at 2829 Elysian Fields Ave. from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month. People can bring up to 20 pounds of glass in addition to other accepted recyclable materials (including most paper products, No. 1-7 plastics, metals, Mardi Gras beads, batteries, light bulbs and electronics).
8. A sharp Blow at Tulane
Charles M. Blow, the veteran New York Times columnist and Louisiana native whose recent work has been an extended blistering screed against the proposed policies and character of President-elect Donald Trump, will lead a dialogue on "The Intersection of Social Justice and Journalism" on Jan. 16. The conversation is part of the Conversations in Color series presented by the Amistad Research Center and the Tulane University Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Blow, who also has written about social justice, racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement, has been one of The Gray Lady's most outspoken critics of the incoming administration, calling Trump an "unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue." During his New Orleans appearance, he'll touch on a broader range of topics, including race relations, journalists as "change agents" and the use of social media by social justice movements.
The conversation takes place at 7 p.m. at Kendall Cram Lecture Hall in Tulane's Lavin-Bernick Center. It's free and open to the public, but seating is limited — advance registration is encouraged.
9. Sidney Torres' TV show debuts March 1
New Orleans' real estate mogul, garbage guru, self-described "serial entrepreneur" (and possible mayoral candidate?) Sidney Torres IV has had more than one TV project in the works, but his first — an investment reality show called The Deed — premieres March 1 at 9 p.m. on CNBC. Based on the trailer, it features Torres advising property buyers. The network promoted The Deed with the Twitter hashtag #DoTheDeedWithSidney.
10. City Park bike path breaks ground
New Orleans City Park breaks ground on its 1-mile Marconi Bike/Pedestrian Path Jan. 10. The path connects Robert E. Lee Boulevard to an existing bike route on Harrison Avenue. Construction is expected to end by summer. It's funded in part by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the Federal Highway Administration. Bark Kleinpeter Inc. designed the path, and Command Construction Industries will build it at a cost of $698,888.
The $20 million bridge construction on neighboring Wisner Boulevard — which has been closed since late 2015 — is expected to conclude this year. The bridge will include bike and pedestrian lanes.