Last November, as the New Orleans City Council was passing the city's 2015 operating budget, District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell made a statement that in retrospect is ironic: "I view 2015 as the year of enforcement," she said. This Mardi Gras season would have been a great time to implement that resolution, given that the council spent nine months reworking its decades-old Carnival ordinances before Fat Tuesday 2014. Led by Cantrell and then-Council President Jackie Clarkson, the council adopted many new rules of law and clarified others, including a ban on staking out public space for private use, making sure ladders are at least 6 feet back from the curb, and banning tents and other obstructions that keep parade-goers from moving freely (and safely).
The photo that accompanies this Commentary was taken on Canal Street a full day and a half before Endymion rolled. This year's Uptown routes were just as crowded with debris that made a mockery of the nine months spent crafting the ordinance and Cantrell's "year of enforcement." Gambit's Facebook page received hundreds of complaints about rude behavior at this year's Mardi Gras, and many readers wondered whatever happened to the rules in the city's updated Carnival ordinance. A city that can tow cars and write thousands of traffic tickets with grim efficiency should be able to clear debris from its streetcar tracks.
A city that can write thousands of traffic tickets with grim efficiency should be able to clear debris from its streetcar tracks.
Cantrell's latest idea involves municipal oversight of the city's rental apartment market. She proposes a "rental registry" — a database of owners, addresses and units, registered with the city — and a searchable public database of all rentals in New Orleans, along with an inspection schedule. The plan sounds like it would create an entire city agency, though it was hard to tell, because no proposed ordinance, or even a working outline, was circulated before a public meeting held the week before Mardi Gras. How much this would cost and who would pay for it weren't addressed, though one can be sure that any additional property fees would be passed on to tenants, who are hard-pressed enough these days.
Cantrell planned to introduce the ordinance before Mardi Gras, but put it off after The Lens wrote a story about it. In an email addressed to other councilmembers and obtained by The Lens, Council President Stacy Head wrote, "The lightning speed with which this is moving as well as the apparent insular nature of the discussion is disconcerting."
We agree on both counts. In fact, the rush to enact this plan is reminiscent of the modus operandi that produced Cantrell's original, overly broad anti-smoking proposal, which fortunately got scaled back to more reasonable proportions before adoption.
Before Cantrell takes aim at the city's rental market, she should explain why existing rental protections are inadequate and why they're so poorly enforced now. Given that the council's Mardi Gras ordinance was so toothless that the city couldn't even remove tarps from the streetcar lines, why should we expect any better from a vastly more complicated and expensive ordinance that breaks new legal ground in the local rental marketplace?