Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Orleans Neighborhoods (Commentary) - "I encourage to hear from all sides..."

That's what District C Councilperson Nadine Ramsey stated today on the Garland Robinette show at the 14:33 mark.

That's a funny statement considering she not only wouldn't allow any discussion on the CZO in the town hall meetings she held leading up to the May 14, 2015 City Council meeting, she wouldn't even inform the public about what exactly the amendments were before she introduced them.  She simply stated, two days before the meeting, that she would be "introducing some amendments":

Councilperson Nadine Ramsey Town Hall Meeting - West Bank and Bywater - , May 12 & May 13, 2015 from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

She never informed the public about the nature of the amendments before she introduced them...period.  She gives a non-answer to this around the 17:00 mark in the Robinette show.

Ramsey introduced the amendments to the other council members at around 9 p.m. the night before the meeting.  That's legal but it sent the council reeling to try and figure out what they actually meant and what the real world effects would be.

Not only were the other council members confused, Ramsey herself didn't fully understand what was in them as you can see in this CC video when questioned by Councilperson Susan Guidry:

New Orleans City Council meeting, May 14, 2015 - Confusion regarding the Amendments from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

She was in the dark because the guy addressing the Council, Chris Young, lobbyist for the Louisiana Association of Beverage and Alcohol Licensees and brother to Jefferson Parish President and candidate for Lt. Governor, John Young, is most likely the one who authored them.

In one humorous exchange, Councilperson Stacy Head puts the brakes on a vote and notes that since Young had left the room they couldn't get clarification on Ramsey's own amendment, NMR-15:

New Orleans City Council meeting, May 14, 2015 - Head notes that Young isn't available to explain an amendment from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Noticed she asked Young if he had submitted the amendments to the City Planning Council.  If they were Ramsey's amendments why didn't she submit them herself? She even asked for Young's permission to table (sending it to the City Planning Commission for review) the amendment that would allow package liquor to be sold at all restaurants:

New Orleans City Council meeting, May 14, 2015 - Young agrees to send to CPC from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

In the Robinette show at the 26:45 mark Garland presses her on who wanted the amendments pushed through, she answers that it was the Louisiana Restaurant Association.  The caller on the line then asks her about the "liquor lobbyist" (Chris Young) and she responds "I'm not aware of....the person I worked with being a liquor lobbyist....I don't know who the liquor lobbyist is."

She doesn't know that Young is a liquor lobbyist?  How is that even possible?  It's not possible...she knows exactly who he is.

There's obfuscation and then there's just damn....^^^that.

Speaking of obfuscation, I filed a public records request for Councilperson Ramsey's schedule back in May of this year.  I got the schedule through outside (from CC)  counsel and about 15 to 20% of it had been redacted by Ramsey herself.  Redactions aside, she clearly met with Young numerous times since she took office in 2014. Here is her schedule:

Part 1  
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

I'm not sure why she was allowed to redact the schedule before I received it but I don't have the legal resources to challenge it.  The content of the meetings is not necessarily public record but the fact that the meetings took place is public record.  She shouldn't be able to hide who she met with.

The bulk of these amendments were pulled by Ramsey today after she caught heat from the public and other city officials.

Councilwoman Ramsey to withdraw controversial proposals to loosen rules for liquor, entertainment

There was a poll conducted (District C) shortly after the amendments were first introduced which shows most constituents polled in Ramsey's district opposed the more contentious items.  Granted, they would have affected the entire city, not simply District C.

Putting aside the merit of the amendments, it's become painfully clear Councilperson Ramsey is catering to monied interests at all cost.  The question...what is that cost?  District C neighborhoods are by far the most volatile and threatened in "New New Orleans", it doesn't appear they have a sympathetic ear with their current councilperson who was willing to circumvent public discussion and the democratic process in order to jam power brokers' agendas, like Chris Young's, down our throats.

It's important that we keep a close eye on what our officials are doing right now, these decisions are going to affect the city's future in dramatic fashion. I'll leave you with French Quarter Citizens President Susan Guillot's comments:

New Orleans City Council meeting, May 14, 2015 - FQF President Susan Guilliot's comments from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Monday, August 10, 2015

New Orleans Neigborhoods - Neighbors for Neighborhoods August 7th Meeting/Presentation

As a courtesy to everyone interested, I am posting the entire presentation "Get it right, New Orleans!" by French Quarter resident and member of "Neighbors for Neighborhoods", Rob White, that went down at the New Orleans Council for Aging last week.

I am working on a short to medium documentary on the subject of short-term rentals and how they are affecting New Orleans.  I am posting this unedited version of the meeting not as an advocate....please read that very carefully before you post any flaming comments directed at me....but merely as a public service.  There were many people who couldn't get in to the meeting due to the maximum occupancy in the room per the fire code.  This will allow those people who were interested but couldn't get in a chance to watch it.

This is a highly charged issue as was apparent at the meeting that night.  My goal with the documentary is to speak with anyone who wants to speak with me about it (on camera) to try and get a panoptic, accurate, view of the short-term rental phenomenon and how it is affecting New Orleans in specific.  Feel free to contact me at if you would like to participate or have suggestions on folks with whom I should speak to and/or interview.

New Orleans Neighborhoods - "Neighbors for Neighborhoods" - August 7th presentation from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Please note that this video is under a Creative Commons license, it may not be downloaded, edited or re-distributed for commercial purposes in any way without my consent.  If you have any doubt as to how it can be used please contact me, Jason Brad Berry,

Please be respectful of my time and energy as I'm doing this work on no budget.  Gracias amigos/amigas.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

New Orleans Neighborhoods - Angela show discusses neighborhood discontent with Councilperson Ramsey's handling of the CZO

I caught this show right after I made my post on the Algiers batture the other day.  At the end they discuss Councilperson Nadine Ramsey's lack of communication with her constituents before the CZO vote and her last minute amendments.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Orleans Neighborhoods - Algiers Point Batture

Seeing as how I live on the Best Bank, I want to kick my "Neighborhood Journey" off with an issue that is one of the most pressing to Algiers denizens at the moment... the re-zoning of the Algiers Point batture from a "green zone" to a designation called "maritime industrial".

Approximate footprint of the land in question... per Google Earth
The land is currently owned by the Port of New Orleans (and other landowners please see update below) who along with District C Councilperson, Nadine Ramsey, claim the land was "mis-zoned" in the new City Zoning Ordinance (CZO).  Ramsey says it was an oversight and should be corrected to qualify it as a "maritime industrial" space.  They cite that the tract of land on the river side of the levee was designated as "maritime industrial" in the city's master plan and should therefore be labeled as such in the CZO.

It has the the appearance of a shell game and it's set off a sharp protest by Point residents due to the fact that it could allow developers to come in and build towering condos (110 feet) or any number of commercial/residential developments that would change the vista of the river and block access to an area that has traditionally been used by all "wankers" as a park...of sorts.

Advocate reporter Chad Calder has a good synopsis of the issue including some protests vocalized by Algiers citizens last night at the Mayor's, District C, 2016 city budget meeting:

Algiers Point residents: 'Outrageous' to rezone riverfront land we want to kept as green space

It appears the first time Councilperson Ramsey brought the issue up to the public was in a town hall meeting she hosted at the Algiers  Public Library on June 29.  There she allowed City Planning Commission Executive Director Robert D. Rivers to introduce the issue:

Councilperson Nadine Ramsey Town Hall Meeting - Algiers Public Library from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

What is confusing to me is that Ramsey says the batture was "mislabeled" as green space in the CZO map and that it has always been "maritime industrial".

Curiously, in the video above, Robert Rivers clearly states that "maritime industrial" is a new zoning classification.  How could it have always been "maritime industrial" if it's a new classification?  I have sent an email to Mr. Rivers for a clarification and I will post his response as soon as I get it.

There were a lot of questions with few answers in that meeting.

By the time the District C city budget meeting hosted by Mayor Landrieu kicked off last Tuesday night, Algiers folks had put the pieces of the puzzle together and realized there could be mischief afoot:

2016 City Budget Meeting - District C - Algiers Point citizens voice their opposition to rezoning of batture from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Here is the response to the citizen's concerns by Councilperson Ramsey and the Mayor:

2016 City Budget Meeting - District C - Councilperson Ramsey and Mayor Landrieu on Algiers Point Batture from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Ramsey stated that she is open to opinion from her District C constituents and I sincerely hope that's true.

That certainly wasn't the case for her own district's citizens in the town hall meetings she held previous to the CZO vote. In every one of those gatherings she refused to take any questions about the CZO, especially regarding the last minute amendments she had yet to introduce which dramatically affect not only District C but the whole city (more coming on that):

Councilperson Nadine Ramsey Town Hall Meeting - West Bank and Bywater from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

I'm curious how she expected public input on amendments she had yet to introduce.  Why didn't she explain those amendments in these town hall meetings and allow public input?

What was really fascinating, in respect to  the city budget meeting, was the Mayor's response to the batture zoning issue.

Landrieu informed the Algiers residents that New Orleans is the hottest real estate market in the country and that waterfront property in every city is considered prime real estate.  As for height restrictions he says you can either have long, skinny buildings along the river where "no one can see anything" or you can have tall buildings (I suppose suggesting that these tall, skinny buildings are somehow less of a hindrance to viewing the river).

He then went on to break the bad news to the Pointers (Algiers) about "what's not going to happen".  The residents of the Point were not going to be able to say "I gots mine and nobody else can have theirs"...essentially confirming their worst fears about what probably "is going to happen" regarding development plans for the batture.

Interesting he would frame it that way.  Right now the batture is green space that everyone can share. The Mayor's logic seems to be that the residents of Algiers Point are being selfish for wanting to keep sharing it that way.  

We'll see how this plays out but the fact that he addressed District C with that diatribe leads me to believe that the beans are already boiling in the pot.

I'll do my best to keep you posted.

UPDATE:  A commenter pointed out to me that the Port was not the only land owner of the parcels that comprise the section of batture in play .  He/she is correct.  Some parcels are owned by The City of New Orleans and other parcels are owned by Crescent Towing & Salvage Company.  Other parcels had no information as to the land owner.  I have created a map from the property tax database:

UPDATE 2 - Comment Bump:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "New Orleans Neighborhoods - Algiers Point Batture": 

Great piece! Also know that the Chairman of The Port of New Orleans is also President of Crescent Towing and Executive Vice President of the parent company Cooper T Smith/The Cooper Group of Companies. The Crescent Towing land is currently zoned as HI (High Industrial). The proposed change to MI (Marine Industrial) allows for many more uses then HI as you stated. I believe it also allows for terminal access for a something like a cruise ship (would have to verify). If you go to the Cooper T. Smith website you will find that they have branched out into Restaurants and wishes to pursue more in the hospitality it is directly from their website:

Cooper Restaurants

In 1997, Cooper/T.Smith acquired the Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchise in Mobile, Alabama and subsequently went on to open Felix’s Fish Camp Grill and Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Ridgeland, Mississippi, near Jackson. In 2010, the BLUEGILL Restaurant, a Mobile Bay Causeway tradition since 1958, was acquired and re-opened to rave reviews. The success of this division has prompted us to pursue future expansion in the hospitality industry. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New Orleans Neighborhoods at Risk - Intro

This is an introduction to a new long term story I am starting on AZ that will focus on a subject that is of great personal interest to me...the plight of neighborhoods in New Orleans.

Since the Federal Flood of 2005, the city has experienced a dramatic shift in its socio-economic and cultural make up.  In spite of overwhelming odds and mostly empty promises from government officials, pre-Katrina New Orleans residents came back, buckled down and pulled the city up from the grave in the years following the Flood.  We endured, we overcame...we succeeded.

But that success has brought on a whole new slew of problems/challenges to the city.  Skyrocketing real estate prices, record tourism numbers, unprecedented commercial and residential development have led to issues of gentrification, zoning and regulation challenges, dramatic shifts in public education, traffic nightmares, interlopers, cultural shifts and allegations of exploitation/appropriation...the list goes on.  These disruptions are particularly difficult for a city known to be anaphylactic to change.

Although I was not born and raised in New Orleans I have spent the majority of my life in the city and certainly most of my adult life.  My house was flooded in Katrina and after nine tough years of financial and emotional struggles, my wife and I were finally able to get our family back into a house of our very own last Fall.  It took about ten months of searching but we came to settle on New Orleans West Bank in Lower Algiers after realizing that we simply didn't have the financial resources to buy a house on the East side of the river (in Orleans Parish).  The astronomical real estate prices on the other side of the creek made our decision for us.  It turned out to be fortuitous as I have come to love my house and my neighborhood...I am now the Wank's biggest fan...perhaps besides Pistolette.

But other folks like me who have been here most of their lives or even all of their lives are not faring so well.

Many long time locals are being pushed out of the city due to rising rents, housing prices, city taxes, and a general increase in the cost of living all due to a glut of New New Orleanians moving into the City. It's become a real pickle, especially in a service industry driven city where folks rely on close proximity to their work in order to tend the bars, wait the tables and hop the bells (whatever) that drive our economy.

The short term rental phenomenon is not only helping to fuel an affordable housing shortage it's changing the population of registered voters in attractive tourist areas like the Quarter and Marigny, consequently diminishing the influence of neighborhood organizations.  Rents in areas like the Bywater have skyrocketed while controversial developments like the St. Roch Market have been developed to cater to a clientele of higher income instead of providing a badly needed affordable grocery store in the area. There are myriad conflicts popping up around the city which are a result of our newfound, post-K "success".

Many of these issues have been masterfully lampooned in recent Carnivals by The Krewe of Spank during Krewe du Vieux

It's like two tectonic plates grinding against each other, the Old New Orleans and the New New Orleans aren't going to meld together without some major upheaval.  The tension is palpable and to some extent even our current crime problems, perhaps, reflect that...I'm not sure about that but I would like to see if there is a correlation.

Summary:  The exact thing that has always made New Orleans unique, neighborhoods, is being transformed by an affluent class...some who have moved here to experience that uniqueness, some who live here part time and others who simply obtained real estate or launched business ventures to enterprise on the gold rush.  Good and bad...New Orleans is changing dramatically and it will never be what it was before the storm.  I want to look at those changes here on AZ and create a dialogue to better understand where we're headed.

So...let's get started in the next post.      

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Monumental myopia

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu:  Let's relocate Confederate statues like Robert E. Lee, rename Jeff Davis Pkwy for ex-Xavier president Norman Francis

Besides the political grandstanding, the questionable priorities, the sanctimonious tone, the arguable historicity, the thinly-veiled political pandering.....I tend to agree with Mayor Landrieu that if these monuments and street names are truly that offensive to a large portion of our community because they invoke the specter of slavery, racism and bigotry they should be removed from public display.

What I can't stomach about this current campaign by Landrieu is his blatant hypocrisy.

Just last month Mayor Mitch Landrieu championed the effort to rename two sections of our city's streets after the late Rev. John Raphael Jr. and Pastor Robert C. Blakes.  The effort passed through City Council in a 4 to 3 vote.

I went to City Council chambers and spoke against the move on behalf of NOSHA - New Orleans Secular Human Association.  I cited two main points on why my fellow humanists and I felt the tribute was inappropriate.  The first reason is that in the case of Raphael the street is now using a religious moniker in its official name, "Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way".  This is a clear violation of church and state as taxpayers' dollars have now gone to enshrine a particular religion in our city, in perpetuity.

But the most important issue I raised is that both of these men were hostile towards the LGBT community having made numerous bigoted remarks against gay people.  Raphael went so far as to rant at his own brother's funeral and suggest that his death (he contracted the AIDS virus) was a punishment by God for his evil, gay lifestyle.

How is it that, in June, Landrieu can support renaming city streets after two notorious bigots while lobbying to remove monuments that have been in the city over a century, citing bigotry, one month later?

Let me be clear, if the monuments and street names cause this much offense to people in our city who associate Lee and Jefferson with slavery and bigotry, I have no issue with bringing them down.  In fact I would suggest we add Palmer Park to the list considering Benjamin Palmer was a staunch defender of slavery even after the Civil War and the passage of the emancipation proclamation.

Bigotry is bears the same ugly face today as it did over a hundred years ago.

But the arc of humanity is long and I believe it bends towards justice. The country recently achieved yet another major civil rights victory when SCOTUS ruled in favor of gay marriage; American public opinion is clearly in favor of equal rights for the LGBT community.

These men the Mayor pushed to have city streets named after, Raphael and Blakes, were vocally hostile and prejudiced against the LGBT community in a city that has a very large gay population. We attract LGBT tourists from around the globe due to our reputation of acceptance.  New Orleans is above all, an island in the Deep South harboring free thinkers, alternative lifestyles, freaks, artists, writers, actors, musicians, come to this city because most likely you were an outcast in the place you came, you are just a neighbor.

These pastors we named streets after represent the exact opposite of what New Orleans is about...tolerance.

We now have two streets named after men that expressed their hate for gay people.  Is the Mayor concerned about gay people who now have to drive down those streets?  Did he vet these pastor's reputations before he rushed to get their names immortalized in our city's history?  Most importantly...does he approve or condemn these men's hatred of the LGBT community?

How could Councilperson Ramsey, whose district has the largest LGBT population of any district in the city, have voted in favor of glorifying these bigots' names in our city?  During the City Council meeting Councilperson Gray argued in defense of the street name changes noting that he had to drive down Robert E. Lee Blvd. all the time and that offended him so even if Blakes and Raphael offend the LGBT community the streets should still be changed and people should just learn to deal with it. Does he still take that attitude now that Lee and Jefferson are on the chopping block?  Is he going to tell the people who are offended by Lee and Jefferson they just need to deal with it?

And what about Jackson Square/Jackson Avenue?  Andrew Jackson rose to fame because of his ruthless slaughter of Native Americans.  Where do we draw the line?  What about Henry Clay? What about Jean Lafitte?  The pirate Lafitte was one of the most brutal slave traders in Louisiana's history yet the city goes so far to glorify him as to dress up an actor every year in his likeness to roam the Quarter and interact with tourists in NOTMC/CVB's living history campaign.

If Mitch is intent on exorcising every monument or icon in the city that invokes memories of racism, hatred, and bigotry he should immediately renounce Blakes and Raphael along with Jefferson and Lee.  Anything less is pure hypocrisy, plain and simple.

That, of course, will never happen because this isn't really about principle, it's about political pandering and public grandstanding.  Truth be told it's no different than Governor Jindal's acts of hypocrisy and exploitation.