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I-10: Ten Things to Know in New Orleans this Week (Aug. 29, 2016) 

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Photo by Cheryl Gerber

1. NEW STREETCAR GETS TEST RUN
The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) began making test runs on the new Rampart Street streetcar line last week and announced the line would run from Elysian Fields Avenue to Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue. That updates the existing 49 Loyola-UPT streetcar (which now turns on Canal Street) to a new Loyola-Rampart line. In response to public requests to the RTA, the 88 St. Claude bus will continue to operate on the Rampart line so riders won't have to transfer from a bus to streetcar at Elysian Fields Avenue. The buses will be on a limited-stop express line from Elysian Fields to Canal. No firm date has been set for the changes, but RTA plans to launch the new streetcar line this fall.

2. Quote of the week
"Sometimes, once the floodwaters pass, people's attention spans pass. ... I need all Americans to stay focused on this. ... They've got a lot of work to do, and they shouldn't have to do it alone." — President Barack Obama, speaking from Baton Rouge on Aug. 23, his first visit to the area following devastating August floods. Obama stood with U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter while speaking from a podium in the driveway of a Baton Rouge family and reminded Americans to stay vigilant as inevitable media fatigue sets in after a disaster. The flood destroyed thousands of homes and displaced thousands of Louisianans.

  Gov. John Bel Edwards — who asked Obama to delay a visit to the state so as not to drain resources or prevent first responders from moving about the area — defended Obama's visit on his radio show: "The president's presence here was helpful," Edwards said Aug. 24. "He came at the time I asked him to."

3. As FEMA claims increase, housing on the way
Nearly 120,000 Louisiana residents are seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance following the recent devastating floods in 20 parishes. According to FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre, the federal agency has helped roughly 1,000 families get housing as of press time, and temporary housing — not the controversial and famously hazardous "FEMA trailers" of 2005 — is on the way. Gov. John Bel Edwards announced last week that mobile housing units will be available for people who don't live in a designated flood plain and can be set up in their yards. People in flood zones will be able to place theirs in mobile home parks.

  More than 27,000 claims have been made with FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program, which has made $50 million in advance payments. In total, FEMA has sent out more than $200 million to survivors thus far.

4. Big Freedia gets three years' probation for Section 8 fraud
New Orleans bounce artist and reality TV star Big Freedia avoided jail time following a months-long case in which the performer admitted she fraudulently received nearly $35,000 in Section 8 funds. On Aug. 25, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk sentenced Fre-edia to three years of probation — including submitting to regular drug testing and performing 100 hours of community service — and to pay full restitution.

  "I apologize to my New Orleans community," Fre-edia said. "I'm embarrassed of my conduct."

  Prosecutors argued Freedia "knowingly understated" income and assets for the purpose of receiving Section 8 benefits. In a March statement, Freedia said remaining on Section 8 was "an oversight" attributed to poor financial literacy during her changing finances. The singer had pleaded guilty in her initial court appearance in March.

  The case opened a national discussion about the transformation of public housing to housing assistance and the traps, failings and corruption of localized programs aimed to benefit lower-income and elderly residents — programs that are difficult to get into, with long waiting lists, and difficult to leave, particularly for people with unreliable income.

5. 'Sold-out city' for All-Star Game
Lost in the news that New Orleans has been awarded the 2017 NBA All-Star Game was the significance of the game's date: Sun. Feb. 19, 2017, which also happens to be the first Sunday of major Mardi Gras parades on St. Charles Avenue, with the krewes of Femme Fatale, Carrollton, King Arthur and Alla all rolling. That route is within blocks of the Smoothie King Center, where the All-Star Game will be played, and the Superdome, where fan "experiences" will be staged.

  Unlike 2013, when the city of New Orleans moved up the first weekend of parades by a week to accommodate crowds for Super Bowl XLVII, the parade dates and route are set and will not be changed, according to Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau — though the parades may roll a bit early.

  "It's going to be one of the most interesting and complicated weekends we've ever had," Perry said. "In addition to the All-Star Game, we have two citywide conventions that weekend, we have a lot of corporate meetings and associations in hotels, and, of course, Mardi Gras. We're going to have a sold-out city."

6. Connick heads flood relief telethon
Louisiana natives and American Idol hosts Harry Connick Jr. and Randy Jackson will host "Louisiana Rising: A Benefit Concert for Flood Relief" on Labor Day. The concert will be broadcast via Raycom Media channels — WVUE-TV Fox 8 in New Orleans — with performances from Better Than Ezra, Sonny Landreth, Chris Thomas King, MacKenzie Bourg, Luther Kent, Rockin' Dopsie and others.

  The concert will be broadcast from Baton Rouge's River Center Theater with pro- ceeds benefiting the American Red Cross' Louisiana Flood Relief fund. It airs 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5.

7. Farmers Market moving Oct. 1
After 21 years on Magazine Street in the Warehouse District, the Saturday Crescent City Farmers Market will be moving to the parking lot of the May Gallery at 750 Carondelet Street. Kathryn Parker, executive director of Market Umbrella, the market's parent organization, says the switch will be made Oct. 1 and added that hours will remain the same (8 a.m. to noon).

8. Bunny Friend shooters go on trial in September
Ten suspects will be tried in Orleans Parish Criminal Court on charges related to the shootings at Bunny Friend Park that injured 17 people last November. The trial date is set for Sept. 19, but several defendants want to have their cases tried separately.

  Nine defendants are char-ged with the intentional or criminally negligent discharge of a firearm while committing a crime of violence, as shots were fired during the filming of a music video in the park.

9. Lauryn Hill returns to New Orleans
Lauryn Hill will bring her MLH Caravan: A Diaspora Calling! tour to the Saenger Theatre Dec. 1. The hip-hop and neo-soul singer launched the Diaspora Calling festival in April at Kings Theater in Brooklyn, and this tour will feature artists from African diaspora nations.

  Hill performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April. She also performed at the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in 2014, when she irked some and amused others by starting her scheduled set late and then also arrived late to a second added set. (At Jazz Fest, she was just a few minutes late.)

10. Film Fest lineup announced
The New Orleans Film Society has announced the lineup of feature films in competition at the 2016 New Orleans Film Festival. Highlights of the Louisiana Features and Documentary Features include Iman Shervington's Back Story, for which five young African-American men from different New Orleans neighborhoods filmed their own lives over a six-month period; the world premiere of Shelter, a documentary about New Orleans' Covenant House; and Maisie Crow's documentary Jackson, which examines the fight over the last abortion clinic in Mississippi.

  The festival runs Oct. 12-20 at venues around the metro area. Visit www.neworleansfilmfestival.org for more information and tickets.

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