CITY UNPREPARED TO DEAL WITH FREEZE CONDITIONS
New Orleans endured another bout of extreme weather last week, once again leading to questions about the adequacy of the city's troubled infrastructure and its ability to handle weather events in the future.
For the 13th time since 2010, New Orleans' East Bank fell under a boil water advisory Jan. 18. The Sewerage & Water Board reported a significant dip in pressure overnight, with five "major breaks in water mains." Two days of below-freezing temperatures led to frozen pipes, and thawing pipes exposed leaks and cracks.
"It shouldn't be confusing to anyone who's lived here since [Hurricane] Katrina that we have a compromised system," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, adding that the city's water system bleeds out approximately 40 percent of the water it produces on good days. "We have an old, tired system that hasn't had the kind of deferred maintenance that a system requires. ... Unless and until we invest in the kinds of things we need, we're going to continue to have a compromised system."
Many businesses and nearly all schools in the metro area were closed due to water problems. An email from the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau warned its members that the boil water order may not be lifted until Jan. 21 — meaning residences and businesses would have 72 hours of no potable tap water.
The morning of the boil water order, Entergy also requested residents reduce energy consumption "due to higher than expected demand for power and unexpected power generator outages." Jefferson Parish also issued a boil advisory for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, covering the east bank of the parish.
Among more than 1,100 calls for service in New Orleans were 100 calls to respond to car accidents on icy roads.
Quote of the week
"That's why the aliens won't talk to us. They look at all of this stuff, and they go, 'These people, they're 13-year-olds.' I'm talking about private meetings, so-and-so said this, and no, he didn't say that, and you're a liar. The whole junior high cafeteria syndrome." — U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy to reporters last week, expressing frustration over the war of words that erupted after it was reported President Donald Trump referred to "shithole countries" in a meeting about immigration policy.
New 'low barrier' homeless shelter to open by April
City officials last week announced construction of a low-barrier shelter at the former Veterans Affairs hospital on Gravier Street, where its second floor will help people experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.
The 12,000-square-foot, 24-hour shelter will offer 100 beds with little to no barrier for entry, including no admission fees or sobriety tests required for admission. People entering the shelter also can access mental health and substance abuse services, as well as living spaces and office spaces. The New Orleans City Council approved $1 million for its construction in 2016, which the Downtown Development District matched. The city's annual costs are expected to be $750,000. New Orleans nonprofit Start Corporation will operate the shelter. Officials said the shelter will be open and services online by April.
It's the latest and largest development in Mayor Mitch Landrieu's ambitious 10-year plan to eradicate homelessness, which saw among its first successes the city's virtual elimination of veteran homelessness in 2014 using a housing-first strategy to move people from the streets into stable shelter. "We hope today is a step in the right direction to get them the care they so rightfully deserve," Landrieu said Jan. 16.
The shelter's genesis began with another location — until District B Councilwoman and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell pushed City Hall to seek other options following Landrieu's initial plans to build one in Central City. In 2016, the Landrieu administration considered two additional sites: Israel M. Augustine Middle School and the VA hospital. Cantrell wanted a site closer to interconnected service providers; Landrieu agreed. The new site mirrors Haven for Hope in San Antonio, Texas, which offers 24-hour care and connection to case management, health care and other services.
"My commitment is to ensure it not only continues but is sustained in a holistic fashion so we can truly meet people where they are," Cantrell said.
- On Jan. 11, the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution supported by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, pictured here introducing the measure last month. After criticism, the council backtracked last week.
Council's symbolic resolution draws blowback
The New Orleans City Council might reverse course after voting in support of a Jan. 11 resolution ostensibly supporting actions against companies involved with human rights violations. But after pushback from Jewish groups — as well as politicians including U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and state Sen. Conrad Appel — some council members said they made a mistake.
The resolution was supported by groups joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement protesting Israel's denial of a Palestinian state. It doesn't mention Israel or Palestine, nor does it have any legal teeth, but it acts as a guideline for the Council as it "commits itself to protect, respect and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights for all, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other international human rights instruments," and encourages the "creation of a process to review direct investments and contracts for inclusion on, or removal from, the City's list of corporate securities and contractual partners."
In a Jan. 12 statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said his administration wasn't aware of the resolution, which he called "ill-advised, gratuitous and does not reflect the policy of the City of New Orleans." Later that day, City Council members LaToya Cantrell, Jared Brossett, James Gray and Jason Williams argued the resolution is "in keeping with the City of New Orleans' declaration as a Welcoming City in 2015 and its commitment to create a more inclusive, receptive environment."
But on Jan. 17, Williams expressed his regret in supporting the resolution and said he was not aware of BDS prior to the vote. Williams said the resolution is "inconsistent" with the Council's position on Israel and he plans to reconsider a vote at the Council's next meeting Jan. 25. District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who did not vote on the resolution, told WWL-TV it should be rescinded at the next meeting.
The tax man cometh
Both the Internal Revenue Service and the state of Louisiana will begin accepting tax returns Jan. 29, but this year will bring an additional headache: an increased focus on collecting taxes due on internet purchases. In 2016, the state Legislature passed an act requiring any out-of-state company that derives more than $50,000 in sales from Louisiana to begin collecting that information and passing it along to the Louisiana Department of Revenue. Those notices must be sent out by the end of the month (marked "IMPORTANT TAX DOCUMENT ENCLOSED"), and taxpayers will be responsible for paying sales and use taxes.
Some larger online retailers, including Amazon.com, already have adjusted their policies and collect state sales tax at the point of purchase.
First big endorsement in Jefferson Parish sheriff's race
The Republican Party of Jefferson Parish endorsed Sheriff Joe Lopinto over challenger John Fortunato at a Jan. 16 endorsement hearing for the parish sheriff's race. Next up for the candidates: the Alliance for Good Government's Jefferson chapter, which will hold a public forum Jan. 25 at the Harahan Senior Center (100 Elodie St., Harahan). The primary election will be held Mar. 24.
Richmond introduces resolution to censure Trump
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, introduced a resolution to censure President Donald Trump over Trump's widely reported remarks calling Haiti, El Salvador and unspecified African nations "shithole countries." Richmond took special exception to House Majority Leader Paul Ryan's statement that the wording was "unfortunate."
"It's unfortunate when I miss my bus," Richmond said. "Or it's unfortunate when the airlines lose my luggage. But when the president of the United States decides to call Africa, Haiti and El Salvador the words he used, that's not unfortunate. That is wrong. That is disgusting. That is hurtful. There are a number of words for it, but unfortunate's not one of them."
The attempt at censure was largely, if not completely symbolic; Ryan and House Republicans can block a vote on the resolution.
Spray-painted markings appeared on the Orleans Avenue neutral ground last week, claiming public space for watching the Krewe of Endymion parade, which is not for three more weeks.
- Photo by Kevin Allman
Endymion space race hits new (early) heights
Spray-painting grass on the Orleans and N. Carrollton Avenue neutral grounds to "mark territory" for the Krewe of Endymion parade has become rampant in recent years, but 2018 seems to have brought the territorial competition to new heights. Someone marked off a good chunk of sod at the corner of Orleans and N. Hennessey Street on Jan. 15 — almost a month before Endymion is set to roll Feb. 10. Last week's sleet, snow and freezing temperatures, however, undid the attempted land grab.