1. Jazz Fest lineup
You can stop speculating. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's full lineup is out — Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam (pictured), Neil Young, Elvis Costello and Van Morrison are returning to the Fest, which also features Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, Snoop Dogg, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, Janelle Monae, Bonnie Raitt, My Morning Jacket, Paul Simon and Arlo Guthrie (performing "Alice's Restaurant" for its 50th anniversary), among many others.
For those asking where the jazz is: Christian Scott, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, Matt Garrison, The Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste with Stay Human, and Arturo Sandoval and Gregory Porter, among others, will be there.
The 2016 Jazz Fest is April 22-24 and April 28-May 1 at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Check the full lineup at www.bestofneworleans.com.
2. Mardi Gras security
New Orleans law enforcement promises its largest Mardi Gras response effort ever, following terror attacks in Paris and heightened security throughout the U.S.
In addition to 170 Louisiana State Police officers, the full fleet of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and officers from neighboring parishes supplementing patrol efforts, roughly 100 FBI agents are closely following social media and relying on a network of security cameras along parade routes and in the French Quarter.
The city's response also includes extended late-night hours for parking enforcement and towing. Numbers to remember: call (504) 658-8083 or (877) 314-3767 to get a boot removed from your car.
3. Legalizing AirBnB?
Short-term rentals are illegal in New Orleans; without a permit, you can't rent out a room or property through AirBnB or similar services. That could change under proposed recommendations issued last week by the staff of the City Planning Commission (CPC). The draft regulations suggest legalizing a service that is considered salt in the wound for New Orleans' shrinking affordable housing stock and the gentrification of neighborhoods.
According to a CPC study, New Orleans has 2,400 to 4,000 short-term rentals, and 70 percent are whole-unit rentals with an average nightly rate of $250. Although most types of short-term rentals are against the law, city enforcement has been lax.
The CPC staff recommendations suggest legalizing four types of short-term rentals with respective permitting fees, along with rental, parking and insurance requirements. The CPC will consider the recommendations Tuesday, Jan. 26; its deadline to appear before the New Orleans City Council is Feb. 1.
4. Sky-high rent
Meanwhile, New Orleans clocks in at No. 2 among the 10 worst metro area housing markets for renters. According to a U.S. Census-scraping study by affordable housing initiative Make Room, 35 percent of renters in the New Orleans metro area (including Metairie and Kenner) spend 50 percent or more of their income on rent and utilities. The findings echo other recent rental housing market studies.
The Fair Housing Action Center released a study last week finding "extreme barriers to opportunity in the housing choice voucher program." Families using public housing vouchers account for almost a quarter of all rentals in New Orleans.
5. Restaurant robbers nabbed
The New Orleans Police Department arrested four men wanted for last year's series of restaurant and bar robberies Uptown. On Jan. 20, a grand jury returned multiple indictments for Wesley Davis, Jockquaren Van Norman, Nicholas Spiller and Dwayne Stevenson.
The men allegedly held up diners, patrons and staff at Patois, Atchafalaya and Monkey Hill Bar last August and September. NOPD led a joint investigation with members of the FBI's New Orleans Violent Crimes Task Force, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Orleans District Attorney's office.
The combined rewards for information about the robberies (in which no one was injured) hit $30,000.
6. ALS research
The naturally occurring protein Pur-alpha could hold the key to slowing neurodegeneration in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a research paper written by J. Gavin Daigle, a doctoral candidate at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Graduate Studies. The paper was published this month in the online journal Acta Neurpathologica.
Using ALS patients' neuronal cell lines, which all have gene mutations, researchers from several medical schools examined the mechanisms that lead to the neurodegeneration that makes patients lose their motor skills — and possible ways to stop the decline. They found the degeneration was triggered when cells produced "stress granules" to protect them against damage from heat, disease and other stresses — a normal reaction in cells — but were unable to break down the granules and clear them out once the trauma ended, which leads to cell death. Increasing Pur-alpha in the cells helps with both actions, the paper said.
"It definitely needs to be tested for its therapeutic potential," Daigle said in a phone interview. "Currently we don't have any drugs or compounds that could target [Pur-alpha to make it produce more]. That will be the next stage." Researchers also are conducting tests to determine whether Pur-alpha itself can be delivered as a supplement much as insulin is, he said.
7. Stumping for Trump
Joining the Louisiana campaign for Donald Trump's presidential bid are Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, former state Rep. Woody Jenkins, Ringside Politics host and former state GOP Director Jeff Crouere, and veteran politico Brian Trascher.
On Jan. 7, Team Trump jumped the gun in announcing former New Orleans City Councilman Jay Batt was joining. (Batt later told The Times- Picayune there was a misunderstanding.) Louisiana's presidential primaries are March 5.
8. Torres trashes NOPD — again
"The NOPD and French Quarter Management District's takeover of the French Quarter Task Force is another sad tale of incompetence." — Sidney Torres, in a Jan. 20 statement following newspaper and TV reports about his app-based crime fighting tool, which he no longer runs. Last fall, voters approved a quarter-cent French Quarter sales tax increase to help pay for more Louisiana State Police patrols — as well as Torres' fleet of Polaris vehicles, which he says are "idle" in NOPD's 8th District headquarters. Not everyone agrees with Torres' assessment.
9. Cost of smoking
You might not be able to light up in a bar in New Orleans, but Louisiana is still the cheapest place to smoke. The habit costs Louisiana smokers an average of $1.2 million over their lifetimes — less than any other state — according to a study by WalletHub. That figure includes the cost of cigarettes plus related health care costs and lost productivity. Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed raising the cigarette tax from 86 cents a pack to $1.08 a pack.
10. Public defenders
Citing chronic underfunding and a dwindling staff of attorneys, Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) refused earlier this month to take new cases. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded with a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Jan. 15 alleging the move violated defendants' Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.