Update (4 p.m.): Laura Maggi reports in The Times-Picayune that Children's Hospital this afternoon issued a statement saying it is in fact not planning on reopening the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital.
From the story:
"We articulated the hospital's position that relocating mental health services from the Calhoun campus to the deteriorated NOAH campus would not be economically feasible. We will continue to provide mental health services on the Calhoun Campus," according to the statement.
Neither Abramson nor representatives of Children's Hospital immediately returned requests for comment.
In the meantime, take a look at Act 867 of 2012, which authorized the transfer of the property to Children's Hospital. The law provided that the Louisiana Division of Administration may enter into a lease with Children's, provided that it happens by Feb. 1, 2013. Here's what happens otherwise:
"The lease provided for in Section 3 and Section 4 shall be executed by February 1, 2013. Failure to execute the lease shall render Section 3 and Section 4 null, void and without effect. After such time or when Children's Hospital refuses to enter into the lease, whichever is sooner, the commissioner of administration is authorized to to offer a lease of the property ... to the highest bidder."
If Children's Hospital didn't sign the lease by February, the state could offer NOAH up to anyone. Children's signed it on Jan. 25. The lease requires the hospital to provide the same services NOAH did before it was closed, but it gives the hospital two years (plus reasonable time extensions) to bring it up to code. If Children's fails to live up to the agreement, the property simply reverts back to state contol. Meanwhile the state and Children's Hospital are able to negotiate the sale of the property, which is, according to Maggi's report, what Children's wants.
Here's what happened earlier today (after the jump):
As the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) cited the neighborhood's "resurgence in commercial activity” and arts and entertainment, the New Orleans City Council approved the St. Claude Avenue theater and performance space Backyard Ballroom's request for a conditional use to permit to allow the theater's operation with its newly acquired zoning change.
In October 2012, theater operator Laura Campbell (aka Otter) requested a zoning change for Backyard Ballroom. The theater opened in 2006 and served as a venue for dozens of performances, as well as acclaimed Fringe Fest productions, but it went dark in 2011 pending compliance with the area's zoning.
The initial zoning request was, according to the CPC, "beyond what would be suitable for the area." The CPC feared that the "too intense" zoning change from a neighborhood business district designation to a general commercial district designation would create too many opportunities to build out of scale with the neighborhood. While an arts zoning overlay would be a "long-term solution," CPC suggested a "less intense" commercial designation. In December, City Council approved that "less intense" zoning change.
At today's City Council meeting, CPC staff recommended approval with 12 provisos: The Backyard Ballroom must be soundproofed, install a 6 foot tall fence, restrict hours to no later than midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, install two bike parking spaces, and submit a litter abatement program.
Mary Ann Hammett, who serves on the Bywater Neighborhood Association's board, thanked council for its approval, though said it was an "arduous" process, but added that the neighborhood group plans to submit a proposal for a St. Claude arts and culture zoning overlay district. "To make this not so arduous we have come up with a proposed arts and culture overlay, and you will have that on your desk if not tomorrow then next week," she said.
At a meeting of the New Orleans City Council's Housing and Human Needs Committee today, bed-and-breakfast operators, property owners and representatives of the city's tourism industry demanded more stringent enforcement of short-term property rental laws, saying the city's apparently lax attitude toward the problem takes business from legitimate bed and breakfasts and hotels and costs tax dollars.
"Every year legitimate operators lose $13 million in potential bookings to illegal short-term rentals," said bed and breakfast operator Brian Furness, giving the estimates of the French Quarter Citizens Illegal Short-Term Rental Committee. Based on taxes paid by licensed and permitted facilities, he added, "Those illegal operators would owe $1.4M annually in taxes. Against this backdrop, the city's lack of enforcement is perplexing."
Under city code, property owners without hotel or bed and breakfast permits cannot rent out their homes for less than 60 days in the French Quarter or 30 days elsewhere in the city. The city enforces the law by sending out notices to property owners or agents advertising illegal short-terms. But in January, Gambit found that the city had not sent out any such notice during the entire second half of 2012, despite flagrant online advertising in the run-up to the Super Bowl. Nor had city government ever provided a semi-annual report on enforcement efforts, as required by the law.
(More after the jump)
Last week, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) introduced preliminary plans for a streetcar to link Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue along Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue. Among the plans was the reveal that the car would not occupy space on the neutral ground nor its own dedicated transit lane. Instead, the streetcar will share the left lane with traffic — except during peak traffic hours, when it will be exclusively reserved for the streetcar. Many attendees at the meeting asked if it would run in its own lane when traffic is at its worst, then why not all the time?
New Orleans District C councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer and neighborhood groups had the same question at this afternoon's council transportation committee meeting. Palmer and District C councilman James Gray also challenged the RTA to include more than one bike lane — the current plan has only one bike lane, headed into the CBD.
"To me, that doesn't make any sense," said Carol Allen, president of the Vieux Carre Property Owners Association, adding that there likely is federal funding available for bike infrastructure. Palmer agreed.
Responding to a rumor recently circulating among some French Quarter residents that the city of New Orleans is poised to sell the New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) 8th District station (and before the office's recent move to City Hall, the home of the Vieux Carre Commission) at 334 Royal St. sometime in the near future, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's spokesman Ryan Berni writes in an email that city currently has no such plans. However, he adds, that could change in the future.
"The City is open and considering other possible sites that may be better suited and more cost efficient as a police station," Berni writes.
According to Nicole Webre, legislative director for District C City Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, who represents the neighborhood, the city has been pondering offering the building for sale since last year.
“We haven’t heard anything recently," she says.
The historic Bank of Louisiana building, completed in 1827 according to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, is sitting on a valuable piece of property, a point city officials mentioned when the idea came up about a year ago, Webre says. The nearly 186-year-old building also needs some work.
“The building itself needs to be renovated," Webre says.
Even if the city sells the building, Webre adds, Palmer "is committed to making sure the NOPD does have a presence in the French Quarter, because obviously that’s valuable for many reasons.”
Food trucks currently are the topic of dozens of local and national conversations right now — in editorials, snark-choked conspiracy theories, and as reporters discover them in Austin during the biggest music festival in the country.
Today, New Orleans City Council members held another public meeting to discuss legislation that would allow more food trucks in New Orleans and streamline the requirements and protocols for food truck operators. New Orleans Food Truck Coalition president Rachel Billow said the organization has received more than 50 emails from interested food truck operators last year, and that City Hall's hand-written waiting list for permits is more than two pages long. (Current law allows 100 active mobile vendor permits. Proposed legislation increases it to 200.)
Council president Stacy Head read concerns from Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) president Paul Rotner (though she added that much of the "factual basis on which his opposition rests is incorrect") — the proximity of trucks from restaurants (set at 100 feet in the draft legislation), availability of mobile vendor washrooms (currently being discussed), insurance (trucks must have liability insurance), and which city department will handle oversight (the Bureau of Revenue's Department of Finance, which handles codes for all businesses).
Head noted a "strange" article on food trucks that asked why laws need to be written if food trucks have existed before them. "I don't think it's a good idea for food truck operators to operate outside the law," she said. "It's our job to make the laws consistent, understandable and reasonable, and you demand adherence to those rules."
Robert Morris at Uptown Messenger has an update on District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's plans to seek tighter enforcement of safety laws along Mardi Gras parade routes, the subject of a January story in Gambit. Uptown Messenger with a story on a recent Cantrell-hosted meeting on the subject:
While walking the routes (or riding them, as she did in Zulu), Cantrell said her top concern was ladders too close to the street.
She observed other problems as well, she said in a short interview after the meeting — people “roping off areas and commandeering public property, and the altercations that occur from that,” the portable toilets that spring up, or the moving trucks that park near the route for instant keg parties.
Over the coming year, Cantrell said she intends to begin convening roundtable meetings with other city officials to discuss issues such as how to empower officers to cite lawbreakers in a way that will stop the problem, or how to target the owners and the renters of portable toilets that are illegally placed.
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman appeared before the New Orleans City Council Criminal Justice Committee meeting yesterday. And while the sheriff was predictably tight-lipped with media on the subject of indictments against two former high-ranking employees, he was more than happy to talk about another controversial subject: building a new jail larger than the 1,438 facility the City Council authorized in 2011.
Gusman, who came to the meeting to provide an update Orleans Parish Prison's (OPP) two major FEMA-funded construction projects: a
$74 million $81.5 million warehouse and kitchen building set to open later this year, and a $134 million $145 million intake, administration and housing building, set to open in February 2014. (Correction: The budget figures Gusman quoted to the City Council this week only represented construction, rather than construction and design, costs.) FEMA only pays for one-to-one replacement of what was previously in place. For the purposes of the FEMA dollars that fund it, the latter facility replaces the Templeman III and IV jail buildings and the former Intake Processing Center.
In order to secure the council's approval, Gusman agreed to decommission the jail's other housing units, capping the formerly 7,500-bed jail to 1,438, a move backed by advocates for prisoners' rights and alternatives to incarceration. The jail is currently the subject of a prisoner class-action lawsuit which appears likely to result in a federal consent decree. And its per-inmate per-day funding structure has been called a "perverse incentive" to keep inmates inside as long as possible.
At the meeting, however, Gusman asked council members to consider a new unit — located on publicly owned land between the new kitchen and the new housing facility — to accommodate the jail's medical and mental health needs, with a replacement of the Templeman I and II facilities, which were demolished in 2008. The 1,438 bed building will not be fully equipped to handle acute mental health patients, he said.
The $1.8 million park project anchoring St. Roch Avenue should wrap before summer, according to city officials who announced the plans from outside the park gates this afternoon. Construction on the park's pool, however, will wait as the city and park planners gather more funding — the city already has $400,000 from FEMA dedicated to restoring the existing pool. A new indoor pool is unlikely and would cost millions, officials said.
Vincent Smith, the city's director of capital projects, said the park should open in time for NORD's 2013 summer programming. "Right now we've just got the $400,000," he said. "It's going to be a process to raise additional funding." NORD director Vic Richard added, "If we get the park up June 1, the community will be proud of it."
The park (third oldest in the city) and Harold Sampson playground sits between the St. Roch Community Church and the St. Roch Cemetery. The park is currently bare and stripped of grass and amenities. Updates will include a baseball field and resurfaced basketball court, with repairs to the fences and gates, restroom facilities and concession stand. District C city councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer said that the neighborhood "has not seen a lot of investment historically," but thanked the St. Roch Neighborhood Improvement Association and neighbors for driving interest in its revitalization. The park project will anchor the neutral ground — on its other end, the St. Roch Market, which is scheduled to open in March. The market links the park via a neutral ground park space with benches and "art walk" — which is roughly completed.
New Orleans City Council's Utility Committee today held a special meeting with officials from Entergy and the Superdome to investigate the cause of a power outage that led to a 30-minute interruption in play during the Super Bowl. The meeting came shortly after the company issued a statement placing fault with an electrical relay device that mistakenly triggered during the game.
Though District D Councilwoman and committee chair Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said in a prepared statement that the meeting was intended for fact-finding purposes rather than a "laying of fault," she and other Council members occasionally appeared to betray frustration with the company.
"Where do you go now? You've narrowed it to the relay switch. You're now going to do something to correct that," she said to Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice, requesting that the company perform third-party inspections and equipment testing. "What are you going to do to ensure the integrity is there?"
Rice and Entergy Louisiana vice president for transmission and distribution Dennis Dawsey told council members they are still determining why the device — manufactured by Chicago company S&C Electric and installed to protect Superdome equipment — failed.
"That's what we're still investigating," Dawsey said.
[1 p.m.] Times-Picayune reporter Richard Thompson got in touch with S&C. The company blames Entergy for the failure.
(More after the jump)
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