Monday, October 30, 2006

A Victim Of Coicumstance

[Curly is taking the oath]

Court Clerk: Take off your hat.

[Curly takes off his hat with his right hand]

Court Clerk: Raise your right hand.

[With his right hand, Curly puts his hat back on, and raises the hand]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Take off you hat.

[Curly does so with his right hand]

Court Clerk: [to Curly] Raise your right hand.

[Curly puts his hat back on to raise the hand]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Now, put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Please, take off your hat.

[Curly does so with his right hand]

Court Clerk: [to Curly] Raise your right hand.

[Curly repeats the process]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Now, put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Will you please take off your hat?

[Curly does so with his right hand]

Court Clerk: [angrily, to Curly] Raise your RIGHT HAND.

[Curly repeats the process]

Court Clerk: [gesturing to the book he is holding] Now, put your left hand here.

Judge: [to Curly] Take off your hat.

[Curly takes off the hat and places it on his cane, which is in his right hand]

Court Clerk: [to Curly] Raise your right hand.

[Curly raises his cane with the hat on it]

Court Clerk: [taking the hat off the cane] Get rid of that hat.

[Curly takes the hat and puts it on the court clerk's head]

Curly: [with both hands on the book] Raise YOUR right hand.

[the court clerk does so, startles, takes the hat off, and places it under the book]

Court Clerk: Raise your right hand.

[Curly does so]

This scene from The Three Stooges "Disorder in the Court" is reminiscent of the kabuki dance between local courts, law enforcement, the district attorney and good government organizations. One of the problems with the justice system in New Orleans is the lack of open courts. Now the court system wont have that excuse rest on anymore.

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, all 12 sections of Criminal District Court are back in operation today at the courthouse at 2700 Tulane Ave.

With the completion of most of the repairs of the courthouse’s storm damage, every section again has its own courtroom, so judges are no longer forced by lack of space to hear cases in weekly shifts of six. Since returning to New Orleans in early December, the judges have worked in shifts, first at U.S. District Court and, since early June, at the Tulane Avenue building.

Having all the judges back at work at the same time “will mean that at least we’ll be back up to the point of five or six jury trials in the same day,” Division E. Judge Calvin Johnson said before taking reporters inside the cavernous court building where huge temporary air conditioning ducts, in place as recently as Friday, had disappeared.

“It’s almost a miracle when you think in terms of what we’ve had to endure,” said Johnson, recalling how the judges and staffers, toting court records and computers, were evacuated from the flooded building by boat in early September and set up shop at Southern University in Baton Rouge.

Johnson said availablity of all the courtrooms is a giant step toward normalcy, but there are still some holes to be filled, among them a need for more people to serve on juries and more lawyers to represent indigent defendants.
Though I wouldn't hold my breath that New Orleans' crime problem will be solved anytime soon, if ever. The court system could end up being more like "Night Court" rather than "Perry Mason".

Sunday, October 29, 2006


The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina doesn't appear to have frightened off many of this Halloween's partiers by judging the brisk sales of costumes shops.

In the days leading up to Halloween before Hurricane Katrina, a security guard stood outside the door of Uptown Costume and Dancewear while lines of anxious customers stretched two blocks down Magazine Street waiting to be ushered inside.

“But rules are rules,” the guard would say. “Only 20 in at a time.”

Inside, the lucky few clutch bat wings and corsets and mini-dress nurse uniforms while waiting in an hour-long line to reach the register.

Employee Webbie Rhodes said when Halloween is over, Uptown Costume and Dancewear usually looks like most stores did following the storm — looted. This year is no different.

“People are just buying, buying, buying everything,” Rhodes said. “Pirates and wood fairies are big this year. And they’re buying corsets and can-can skirts up a storm. We do a lot of sexy versions of everything, from Snow White to Alice in Wonderland. Those are really big.”

Uptown Costume opened shortly before Halloween last year and the lines were out the door. This year’s pre-Halloween rush started three weeks ago and has been steady ever since.

“People wonder why the hell we do this in New Orleans and it amuses me,” Rhodes said. “Some people think we’d be hesitant to celebrate anything, but this is our industry, tourism, and if we didn’t do it they would say we were done down here. Yes, it is a party town and it keeps the bars open and the hotels going.”

As Halloween weekend nears, Rhodes expects the crowds to be the same size as they have for the past decade.

We may not have been prepared for this hurricane season. But I've got my costume already. Never let it be said that New Orleaneans will pass up an opportunity to have a good time.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Teacher's Dirty Look

The Times-Picayune has been reading my blog.

As architect Michael O'Brien of Virginia Tech's Myers-Lawson School of Construction explains, economies of scale, standardization of design and assembly-line construction techniques were applied to high-volume home-building.

"In the 1950s and 1960s, slab-at-grade ranch-style construction in the city and along the low-lying Lakefront became the norm," said Richard Campanella, a geographer at Tulane University.

Suburban New Orleans, sunken though it was, broke with its past. It became a region dominated by slab-on-grade homes.

In the ensuing decades, local government, developers and eager home buyers sought to maintain the constantly shifting equilibrium that kept drainage improvements ahead of the spreading, slab-on-grade home-building.

Weather watch

It mostly worked. But there were spectacular, and increasingly frequent, exceptions.

Time would demonstrate that the inauguration of the slab-on-grade era coincided with a relative lull in extreme rainstorms. But three decades after the slab revolution began, intense spring cloudbursts of 10 inches and more in just a few hours, storms thought to be relatively rare, came with dismaying frequency: 1978, 1980, 1989 and 1995.

Now that we know the problems inherent in the slab-on-grade home, we now need to develop methods to make the raised home compete economically with the ranch house.

In my post I wrote: The popularity of the ranch house is due in part because of the cost savings involved by substituting materials cost for labor cost as a result of the changing labor market immediately after World War II. Rule of thumb is that labor cost is twice that of materials cost. When developers needed to build thousands of housing units in a short period of time and for families on a limited budget, the ranch house built on a concrete slab became the construction method of choice for many decades. The ranch style further grew in popularity as it became a symbol of middle-class upward mobility and the raised cottage came to symbolize the old neighborhood.

This is echoed by Michael O'Brien of Virginia Tech's Myers-Lawson School of Construction:

Levitt broke down the construction of a house into 26 industrial processes, right down to landscaping. He used just a few floor plans with few variations. His building crews moved from lot to lot, doing one thing at each site -- flooring, window installation, painting -- with ferocious efficiency. He effectively reversed the assembly line: The house stood still, the assembly line moved relentlessly past.

"What American industry learned in cranking out B-17's and Sherman tanks, they started to apply to housing," O'Brien said.

In four years beginning in 1947, Levitt produced 17,447 homes in his landmark Levittown. At its peak, O'Brien said, Levitt's teams finished 25 to 30 homes per day. Home builders around the country took note.

Moreover, a new consumer psychology was taking shape. The new ranch-style house -- the iconic "Red Rambler" model -- became the consumer ideal, the popular symbol of progress and status.

But the ranch soon exposed its soft underbelly.

(I)n time the homes would show their limitations, chiefly their limited size and, oddly in the earliest days, their lack of central air conditioning or other amenities like porches, high ceilings or big windows to deal with the New Orleans heat. The Maumuses started with an attic fan. They would add central air conditioning later.

The limitations existed because the houses had powerful national appeal across every region, O'Brien said. Especially in the early years, builders learning mass-production techniques tended to export successful models into new climates with little or no adaptation, he said.

"People were not thinking so critically when they took designs from one part of the country and moved them to another.

"In the Northeast, a house might not be too bad. But you put it in Florida and it might not be the best thing. But the history of housing is filled with those kinds of errors," he said.

The good news is that maybe people are beginning to take notice. The Southern Pine Council (Southern Pine is the type of wood most used in the Southeast United States) has launched a web site promoting the virtues of raised floor construction. The site is full of good information but what I think is lacking is inovative detailing that would reduce the extra cost of raised floor construction versus slab-on-grade.

Without the kind of outside-the-box thinking that is needed, builders should be sent to the Principal's office.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The RAND Corp. has released a study which proposes that the rebuilding process should not concentrate on restoring things the way they used to be but rather improving and restructuring the infrastructure to have the Gulf Coast better weather the next catastraphe.

The politically volatile option of closing flood-prone areas to redevelopment might do more to reduce death and property loss than building bigger and better levees and floodgates, a new RAND Corp. study concluded. The study released Monday also warns public officials to plan now to avoid a repeat of the breakdowns in regional infrastructure and services, including a disruption of first-response and public safety networks, in the event of another Katrina-like storm hitting the Gulf Coast.

And it warns that as the community rebuilds, the "inherent bias towards creating what used to be" could blind residents and public officials to better rebuilding alternatives.

The wide-ranging 66-page report, which examined four flood disasters around the world in an effort to find lessons for New Orleans, contains both short- and long-term recommendations and examines both preparation for floods and rebuilding issues.

"In the short term, you've got to realize that someday this kind of disaster is going to come back," said James Kahan, one of the authors of the report and a senior behavioral scientist with RAND, the Washington, D.C., policy think tank. "It may happen next year or in two years or five or 10 years. But you've got to have the infrastructure to deal with it, even if it brings another tidal wave and the levees break again."

These are all good points and citizens need to see that their elected officials follow-though on their obligations. That said, one of the authors, James Kahan, points out the obvious that throws spanner in the works:

"Some activities, such as evacuation planning, simply cannot be implemented on the fly," the report said. Kahan said the most difficult decisions will concern where people rebuild in Katrina's aftermath.

"You've got to have a place for people to live or you can't encourage them to come back," he said. "But if you just put people in the same old flood plain, the next time a similar storm comes, you'll have the same problems all over again, and you don't want that.

"Maybe you don't want to encourage a return for everyone who wants to come back," he said. "It's not an automatic decision. Their protection has economic and environmental consequences, and I think there's 100 percent agreement that what happened last year is not to be tolerated."

He realizes that with private-property rights, the government cannot simply tell people where they can and can't live. What can be done is to offer incentives for people not to rebuild in flood-prone areas. Use the carrot, not the stick.

Release The Architects

The LRA has submitted it's application to FEMA's Alternative Housing Pilot Program which is intended "to identify and evaluate alternatives to and alternative forms of FEMA Disaster Housing."

No conclusions are reported in this press release but it is interesting to note some of the participants involved.

Katrina Cottages & Carpet Cottages - Cypress Cottage Partners
This partnership of The Cypress Group, The Shaw Group, ICF International, Duany Plater-Zyberk, and Lowes with architect Marianne Cusato showcases both single-family models and a multi-family model. This project includes infill redevelopment housing in New Orleans in the historic Treme neighborhood, as well as at Jackson Barracks, the headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard. Additional project sites are infill locations in Lake Charles and Abbeville - addressing diverse housing needs, particularly elderly housing for rural aging populations.

Home at Last - Family Resources of New Orleans
This non-profit community housing development organization identified two sites in rural St. Charles Parish that will serve as transitional housing communities for displaced residents of New Orleans. Working in partnership with Skyline Homes and Champion Homes, Family Resources presents a project that is transitional, while also working with modular housing developers to design an alternative solution to group trailer communities.

The Phoenix Systems-Built Home - Fibrebond Corporation
This company is an established, high production capacity firm that builds concrete panel building systems. After Hurricane Katrina, they were essential in adapting their building designs to produce and build many schools throughout the disaster-impacted area. Fibrebond has developed a model home that applies their building system and capacity to the housing market. This home represents an affordable, easily produced and built solution to the challenges of critical post-disaster housing.

SmartPlus® For A Better Built Home - Palm Harbor Homes
This manufacturing company has significant production capacity and designs that have the flexibility to be applicable Louisiana and nationwide. The models in this project represent a cost effective, attractive alternative to the trailer.

Homes Now LLP
This firm is based in Louisiana and partners with Genesis Homes, Inc. a division of Michigan based Champion Enterprises, Inc. Champion operates 36 manufacturing facilities in North America and the United Kingdom. Genesis has developed a series of off-site built homes specifically for the Southern Louisiana market. They can produce 250 homes per month or 2,880 homes per year.

CORE - Plus One
The "CORE" concept from Plus One, an architecture and construction services firm, represents an immediate emergency concept for transitional recovery housing. This CORE is a module of essential services (bathroom, kitchen, utilities) that can be appended to a home being rebuilt for a temporary period. The module can be stockpiled for reuse in the next disaster.

Once FEMA announces a decision, the state will work with the parish and municipal governments or applicable jurisdictions to determine sites, where needed, for the placement of the housing units in the most heavily impacted parishes. The LRA will set the overall housing policy and guidance for the transitioning of displaced citizens into livable homes.

More than 200,000 housing units in Louisiana suffered major or severe damage as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Currently, there are over 85,000 occupied trailers in Louisiana and an estimated need of 96,000. Louisiana has the largest number of occupied trailers both individually and in group sites of any state impacted by the hurricanes of 2005.

Based on this list it appears that the direction that Louisiana is intended to pursue is for more permanent, modular housing be provided as opposed to the tin-cans we are so accustomed to. Also I like the fact that Marianne Cusato and Duany Plater-Zyberk are involved in in this project. From the beginning, they have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box while proposing designs that are architecturaly pleasing, but also popular with the general public.

Should FEMA adopt some of what the LRA is proposing, we may see in improvement in the appearnce, value and code compliance with these new homes as they will have some things much of the current housing stock does not: economically constructed and architect designed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Take Me To The River

In a follow-up to earlier posts here and here, New Orleans CityBusiness has a story about an agreement between the city and the Port of New Orleans that would ostensibility return part of the riverfront back to the citizens.

The cooperative endeavor agreement between Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, tentatively scheduled for Thursday as of press time, symbolizes the return of a 4-mile stretch of Mississippi riverfront to citizens. It includes visions of riverside green space and the construction of RiverSphere — a museum and river research center — and a riverfront performing arts venue.
Quote the Talking Heads:

I dont know why I love her like I do
All the changes you put me through

The Mississippi River has always been a threat to New Orleans but likewise, we can't bring ourselves to leave it. Indeed, for New Orleans to be content, she need to be brought closer to it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

(Your Home Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher

Some people are not happy the local rebuilders are not doing so in accordance with federal regulations requiring that rebuilt home be raised three feet.

NEW ORLEANS — Nearly three-fourths of New Orleans homeowners applying for federal grants say they'll rebuild their Katrina-damaged homes in flood areas even though city restrictions are unlikely to prevent their houses from being wiped out if the levees fail again.

The restrictions, which say that the city's homes must be raised at least 3 feet to avoid flooding, have come under fire from some local officials and government watchdog groups. They say 3 feet of elevation is not needed in areas that did not flood after Hurricane Katrina, and 3 feet is too low in areas that saw 20 feet of water.

Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency says thousands of houses could flood again if they are rebuilt under the new rules. "If there is another catastrophic event, flooding will occur," says Doug Bellomo, a deputy director of risk analysis at FEMA.

The Louisiana Recovery Authority, which controls billions in federal relief money, expects about 53,000 New Orleans homeowners to apply for federal grants. The grants provide up to $150,000 for uninsured losses, and residents can use the money to rebuild or relocate.

So far, 14,534 New Orleanians have applied for grants; about 10,634 have said they want to rebuild where they were.

"The taxpayers are going to be subsidizing unwise construction," says Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. About $7.5 billion is available to homeowners.

The New Orleans City Council adopted the 3-foot rule on Sept. 1 to avoid losing millions in federal grants. The recovery authority has said parishes that don't adopt the rules will be excluded from receiving some of the relief money.

St. Bernard Parish, where all but 50 homes flooded, is considering rejecting the rules. "Our goal is not to adopt them," says St. Bernard Councilman Craig Taffaro. "We don't agree with the science."

Paul Rainwater of the recovery authority says the rules are "not perfect," but will help residents get much-needed flood insurance.

The second paragraph sums up the contradiction in the government's regulations. The second problem is that, while residents will get government grants to repair their homes, it does not include enough to cover the cost of raising it three feet.

It is possible to get a FEMA grant of up to $30,000 to rais a home. However, that amout is about what it costs to raise a house that is already raised on piers. If your home is a slab-on-grade (BTW is the type of house most likely to flood), the estimated cost to raise it could be as much as $100,000.

So when homeowners are contemplating taking out a loan for approximately $70,000 versus purchasing flood insurance, it may be that the premiums are lower for a non-raised house compared to the mortgage payment.

Rita Coolidge would be proud.

Wi-Fi Unplugged

The City of New Orleans will pull the plug on its citywide wireless network as it is replaced with a network provide by a private ISP.

The wireless network that is run by the city for citizens will be taken down to avoid overlap between the two systems, said Mark Kurt, the city's director of information technology.

"Once EarthLink has deployed their network, we will remove our equipment, and redeploy elsewhere as the situation warrants. The other wireless networks that have been set up by the city for temporary facilities and public safety will continue to be operated by the city as long as they are necessary and funding is available," Kurt said.

EarthLink intends on providing wireless service to 20 square miles of the city, in the Garden District, Central Business District, French Quarter and Algiers, by the end of the year, said Clifton Roscoe, EarthLink general manager for New Orleans.

Having both the city and EarthLink systems running in the same spots might cause interference, Roscoe said.

The Atlanta-based company began constructing a wireless system in New Orleans in September by starting to install its access points. Next, individual radios will be installed around the city. Once the system is running, it will be turned on, but EarthLink won't necessarily announce that the system is up until the entire project is complete, said Deisha Galberth, a spokeswoman for EarthLink.

The free service, which is faster than dial-up access but slower than other high-speed Internet options, will be provided as long as the city rebuilds, according to EarthLink. The company has said it hopes to profit from the deal by selling higher-speed wireless service to those who want it. It also plans to continue building out the system if there is demand for it outside the original 20 square miles.

The city's small Wi-Fi network in the Central Business District and a portion of the French Quarter, which was started just after Hurricane Katrina, enabled businesses that no longer have offices to operate out of coffee shops, restaurants and bars in the days and months after the storm when there were few communications options available.

Not everyone is happy with the city providing this service.

But, the city's efforts were opposed by other Internet service providers who said the city was essentially taking business away from them.

The have a point. The companies made a not insigficant investement to provide their technology only the have the government use taxpayer money to compete with them.

Now, while the city will contract with a private company to provide this service is a good thing, at least in the short term, I have reservations about the city creating what will amount to a monopoly and stiffling incentive to create competition which drives advancements in technology while keeping costs down.

Monday, October 16, 2006

How I Hate Thee...

The LRA isn't too popular these days. Want to know how unpopular, just read this letter-to-the-editor.

Published: Oct 14, 2006

Are the media in Baton Rouge giving you any sense of how the people in the most-devastated areas feel about the Louisiana Recovery Authority? Hate is not too strong a word.

We hate the bureaucracy designed to siphon off money that people need to rebuild their lives.

We hate the unnecessary delays.

We hate Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s “covenant” that tells people in a free country where they have to live.

We hate elevation requirements enacted to make the Army Corps of Engineers’ job easier.

We hate the fact that this is ridiculously impractical even if they gave us the pittance they are offering for the work.

Where will we get the thousands of skilled workers to do this job? How long would someone have to wait?

We hate the fact that they know this, and still choose to place this burden on us.

The recovery authority’s Sean Reilly indicated that they would use the “money we control” to send a message that some areas should not be rebuilt.

We hate the fact that people who evacuated and now live and work out of state will still face financial ruin because we are worth less to Blanco since we won’t be around to vote for her.

We really do hate the LRA, and we’re trying not to hate the people who developed this plan. The whole tone of the plan is condescending.

This “covenant” business sounds like it was written by someone who lives in a restricted community.

The pain caused by government ineptness and corruption is second only to losing our loved ones.

It was actually LESS stressful to lose all our earthly possessions.

God help us, because the state of Louisiana sure isn’t.

Vicky Mocklin
St. Bernard resident now in Memphis

God help us all, indeed.

Oooohhh, That Smell

The New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and St. Bernard Parish are considering using treated sewerage to rebuild wetlands in southeast Louisiana.

The $40 million project would create the largest "wetlands treatment" system of its kind in the world, according to New Orleans and St. Bernard officials and state scientists familiar with the plan. It is being pursued by the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board in conjunction with St. Bernard.

The project, which is still being refined, calls for diverting sewage plant discharge that now ends up in the Mississippi River and instead pumping it into wetlands in the vicinity of Bayou Bienvenue. That area once was a dense cypress forest that served as a buffer against Gulf of Mexico hurricanes. But in recent decades, lethal doses of salt water intruded into the wetlands and levees cut off nutrients from the Mississippi. The 30,000-acre area has degenerated into scrub marsh broken up by large swaths of open water.

Louisiana politics stinks. Now, so will our wetlands. But, at least there's symmetry.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Risky Business

Investors and potential buyers are understandably skittish about getting into the condo business in New Orleans. But enough of them are jumping in to keep several condominium projects in the area on track.

Hurricane Katrina sped along plans for a spate of new high-rise residential towers, but more than a quarter of the proposed housing units have already been killed or put on hold.

Out-of-town investors "are circling like eagles" with capital ready to invest in downtown projects, said Kurt Weigle, executive director of the Downtown Development District. And inquiries from outside developers have increased five-fold, possibly because of special tax incentives being made available to building projects in hurricane-impacted areas.

But not all of the residential projects will be built, experts say. The pricetags on most of the announced projects have risen 30 percent due to escalating prices on labor and building materials, developers say. That big of an increase is giving pause to both the developers behind the condo towers and the potential condo buyers who, in some cases, are backing out of sales contracts when presented with the higher prices.

Furthermore, the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act, which created billions in subsidy programs to assist in the rebuilding of New Orleans, has been less encouraging of condominium projects, which enjoy no tax benefits under the program, said Gary Elkins, a local attorney specializing in tax credits.

On the surface this is good news for the economy in the short term. In the long term, the jury is still out. If these projects do get built but without sufficient clients to fill the units, the result will be an overbuilt market with undervalued properties and depressed revenue.

Partially completed and and vacant condominiums are not the kind of development we are looking for.

Robbing Perault To Pay Perrilloux

The Corps of Engineers plan to restart drainage project in the area. That is good news. The bad news that there may not be sufficient funding for them.

Nine months after Congress appropriated $224 million in emergency spending for new flood-control projects in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, the Army Corps of Engineers appears poised to award the first few contracts.

Representatives of the corps and local governments hope that's enough to build 14 priority Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control, or SELA, projects that are designed and ready to go.

But there are financial doubts, in part, because of spiraling costs churned up by the post-Hurricane Katrina construction frenzy.

And it now also appears that the corps will have to use some of the money to pay for SELA construction already in progress.

Although Congress and the Bush administration earmarked $224 million for new SELA projects last December, they also took back the $27 million that had been appropriated for ongoing work in the 2006 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

And no SELA construction money was included in the administration's proposed '07 budget, either.

"Because there has been such a slowdown of work and only one new SELA contract issued in the last five years, I think we'll only have to spend about $8 million of the money this fiscal year," said corps SELA program manager Stan Green. "Beyond that, I don't know. We can only spend what we have to spend."

But whether the $224 million will cover the 14 SELA projects isn't the only financial concern for flood-control program managers, who predict they will need several hundred million dollars more to complete all the SELA projects that have been authorized but not funded. Many of them aren't even designed yet.

Now here's the bad news:

"Unfortunately, the number ($224 million) that went to Congress was outdated when it was given, and it didn't reflect post-Katrina costs, which weren't even known at the time," Green said. "But as a result, SELA is way in the hole."

Corps Protection and Restoration Office chief Tom Podnay estimates that it could take as much as an additional $800 million to finish out the program.

The good news for local sponsors, such as Jefferson Parish and the Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, is that projects built with the $224 million in emergency money require no local match.

But the flip side is that less construction will be done because all remaining costs for the 14 projects, including the corps' overhead, must come from that pot of money.

My question is this; since Congress doesn't know squat about the cost of flood control projects in Louisiana, someone had to compile an estimate of what the potential costs would be. I wonder who that would be? Hmmmmm.

Bon Voyage

For the first time in fourteen months, a cruise ship has shoved off from a New Orleans pier.

The Norwegian Sun, which will sail every Sunday through April 8, 2007, will be followed by the Carnival Fantasy, which on Oct. 26 begins five- and four-night cruises to Mexico year-round; and Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, which resumes its week-long cruises to the Western Caribbean Dec. 2, continuing through early April. Royal Caribbean has no plans to return to New Orleans after the spring.

Princess' Golden Princess will sail three cruises in December, testing the market for possible future sailings, said Robert Jumonville, who oversees the cruise industry for the Port of New Orleans.

It was obvious Sunday that the worry isn't so much about drawing passengers from the New Orleans area. The ship was packed with people wearing Saints jerseys. Questions about the score were the buzz, even during the fire/safety drill. TVs in the bars were broadcasting another game, so shouts erupted when the crawl gave the final score.
But the reason for optimism is not because of the locals going on cruises. Rather, it is the expecation of out-of-towners staying in-town just prior to their cruise.
It was obvious Sunday that the worry isn't so much about drawing passengers from the New Orleans area. The ship was packed with people wearing Saints jerseys. Questions about the score were the buzz, even during the fire/safety drill. TVs in the bars were broadcasting another game, so shouts erupted when the crawl gave the final score.

"Everywhere I go, people think we're underwater," said LaGrange, who added that confronting this misconception is one reason he's traveling so much. "The major point is to tell them the sliver on the river, the French Quarter, the Garden District, Uptown are open for business."

LaGrange said the cruise industry here is an economic engine that has filled almost 20,000 hotel room nights a year.

Officials of the International Council of Cruise Lines report that cruise passengers in New Orleans leave an average of $330 a night in direct spending, he said. That compares with about $92 a night spent by cruise passengers in other cities. The reason is so many passengers spend a couple of days in New Orleans when they cruise from here.
The irony here is that the ocean almost destroyed the city. Now we are looking to the sea as a way to rebuild.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Yossarian Lives!

Conventioneers are not coming to New Orleans because of a lack of flights. Airlines aren't scheduling more flights to New Orleans because of a lack of conventioneers.

Last week, Microsoft canceled three meetings in New Orleans that would have brought a combined 30,000 people to the city next year because the company felt there weren't enough flights for attendees to travel to New Orleans in a reasonable amount of time. The group was particularly concerned about international attendees.

Though Microsoft is the only group known to have canceled a post-Katrina convention because of limited air service, the move was still a blow to the New Orleans tourism industry, which says that such corporate meetings are critical as the city struggles to hang on to conventions and lure new ones. Contrary to initial reports, airport and convention officials had worked closely with the company, but they said little could be done about Microsoft's need for stronger international service. Meanwhile, some conventions with dates in New Orleans are urging their attendees to book flights early to avoid problems.

Although the airport made great strides in restoring flight service in the first months after the storm, the gains have come more slowly in the past six months. New Orleans now has about 61 percent of the seats and 65 percent of the flights it had operating before Hurricane Katrina. The airport serves about 25 percent fewer destinations than it did before the storm, increasing the chances that passengers will have to fly to a hub city such as Dallas, Houston, Memphis or Atlanta to catch a connecting flight. And planes are going out fuller than they were before the storm, making it harder -- and often more expensive -- to book a flight.

"There's just no flights," said Al Latham, a Denver real estate agent with a home in the French Quarter. Latham has traveled to New Orleans five times since Hurricane Katrina, and next month he's bringing 25 people from his office to the National Association of Realtors convention, the largest show to convene in New Orleans since the storm.

Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau has been able to work with convention groups and airlines to make sure there's adequate air service for meetings.

"We're doing literally everything humanly possible," Perry said. "We're being more aggressive than ever."

But others say New Orleans is losing business because of its air-service challenges.

"Unfortunately, the answer to that is yes. I've talked with a number of groups that were booked or were interested in holding a meeting in New Orleans, but after checking into the (air)lift, they decided against booking into New Orleans," said Phillip Jones, president and chief executive of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and former secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism for Louisiana. "It's a real challenge for New Orleans.

But the airlines say it's not their fault.

With a lower population and reduced tourism to the city, showing sustained demand is a challenge. Airlines want to see at least 90 days of sustained demand for more service before they'll consider additional flights or larger planes, Hunter said, and there's a six-month time lag before the official enplanement statistics are released through the Department of Transportation.
Fortunaely there may be a solution:
Your probably thinking that the last thing we need is another airline that's more than glad to suck us dry by charging outrageous prices, but not this time (miracle). One Louisiana native is trying to put together a New Orleans airline called DirectAir that would offer cut-rate fares to last-minute travelers. Though the idea seems unrealistic, it has stirred some interest among legislators which in return is prompting the state's 7-commercial airports to condider spending money to study the concept.

The airline would offer low fares (I've heard that before), and would funnel travelers from Louisiana's 6-regional airports to New Orleans, there they could connect flights serving 57 other cities in the U.S. and Latin America. DirectAir plans on using Boeing 737-300 or McDonnell MD-80 aircraft for the trips.

Now get this, DirectAir plans on offering $50 flights to Atlanta, $78 flights to Cancun, and $55 flights to Houston (again I'll believe it, when I see it). Passengers would not be charged extra for switching flights and would not pay extra for making last-minute reservations.
So catch as Catch-22 can.

News To Me

Carnegie Mellon University recently (Oct. 9) held a series of lectures where one subject was New Orleans' Master Plan. Though many pixels have been used informing the public of the ongoing process of re-planning flooded and devestated areas of New Orleans but a master plan for the French Quarter is news to me.

Title: Stepping up to the Scaffold: Post-Katrina Planning on the Gulf Coast The basics: Architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, leaders of the firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, will speak about their involvement in post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana. The team is one of the leading proponents of New Urbanism, an urban design movement dedicated to the promotion of healthy alternatives to suburban sprawl, and was recently awarded the master-planning contract for the French Quarter in New Orleans. When: 6:30 p.m. today Where: Carnegie Library Lecture Hall.
No transcript is available as far as I know nor could any information on the French Quarter master plan be found.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dude, Where's My Coastline?

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped away 217 square miles of Louisiana's fragile coastline, with each turning huge swaths of land to water overnight, accelerating a process that already posed grave threats to coastal communities, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

Survey scientists compared satellite images taken in 2004 with similar images from October 2005 to match areas that were wetlands, undeveloped dry land and farmland with what looked like open water several weeks after the storms.

The survey underscores the state's repeated demands that federal officials speed efforts to rebuild the Louisiana coastline, both to protect fragile fisheries and wildlife and to augment the buffer of plants, soils and barrier islands that can slow the approach of killer storm surges.

Everyone knew that our coastline was seriously damaged during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita but no definite number was established to quantify the damage. Although this map puts it in visual terms that most people can understand.

So far, finding a solution to this problem has been as elusive as finding an honest politician in Louisiana.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Wild Blue Yonder

The N'Awlins Air Show is back on schedule for 2006 after a one-year hiatus due to MWR New Orleans being used as a staging base immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

Signs Of The Times

New Orleans will finally begin replacing damaged and missing streetsigns throught the city.

Navigating the post-Katrina streets of New Orleans should get easier with the launch of a months-long project Monday to replace thousands of traffic signs knocked down or swept away by Katrina.

City officials estimate that up to 20,000 signs -- from one-ways and yields to street names to parking and freight zones -- need to be replaced across the city.

As city officials have struggled to cut through mountains of red tape over the past year, many neighborhood residents have taken matters into their own hands, fashioning and hanging hand-painted signs themselves.

While FEMA has fronted the money to start the work, Public Works Director Robert Mendoza said City Hall and the federal agency remain about 10,000 signs and $1 million apart in determining replacement needs.

Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday that FEMA and the city are continuing to negotiate, but he couldn't provide specifics.

The sign initiative, which began Monday in the Garden District, Coliseum Square and Central City areas, is not scheduled to be completed until next spring.

Though signs were restored on major thoroughfares months ago, many main streets still lack functioning traffic signals. In most cases, those intersections have four-way stop signs.

Plans call for the sign replacement effort to move systematically through the city's 13 planning districts over the next six months.

Beginning next month and continuing though year's end, the program will move to the Uptown and Carrollton neighborhoods, followed by Marigny and Bywater; the French Quarter, the Central Business District and the Warehouse District; and upper Algiers.

In January, work crews will move to Lower Coast Algiers, followed in February by the Lakeview and the Lakefront, Gentilly and Pontilly and eastern New Orleans.

The Lower 9th Ward, one of the city's least populated and most heavily damaged areas, will be addressed in March.

The contractor performing the work is United Rental of Harvey. The firm monitoring the work is Integrated Management Systems Engineers.

City officials said sign crews are prioritizing their work based on safety concerns and will deal with individual citizen complaints as they come in. Anyone wishing to report a missing sign can call 658-2299.

Squandered Heritage

Karen Gadbois is a member of the Squandered Heritage blog which is chronicling the demolition of New Orleans architectural gems. Their blog is a must read if you care about the character of this great city.

Drink Da' Wata'

You can now drink the water in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Tap water is now safe to drink in the northern section of the Lower 9th Ward where thousands of homes have been without potable water for more than a year.

Sewerage & Water Board officials announced Monday that the basic public service has been restored to more than 4,000 customers in what had been the sole remaining section of New Orleans without drinkable water.

The state Department of Health and Hospitals has certified the water as safe for everyday use, Marcia St. Martin, executive director of the S&WB, said at a news conference.

The affected area, hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and floodwaters, is bordered by the Industrial Canal, the St. Bernard Parish line, North Derbigny Street and Florida Avenue, St. Martin said. It also includes the sewage-treatment plant at 6501 Florida Ave., she said.

"That area's now open for development and repopulation," said City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who has pleaded with water board officials and Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to speed up infrastructure repairs.

St. Martin said the S&WB needed more than a year to return water to all of New Orleans because of the "unprecedented amount of damage." Workers couldn't begin repairs on a "major trunk line on Florida Avenue until a barge was removed," she said.

There were buses on top of houses, and houses on top of houses, said Willard-Lewis, who noted that a portion of the Lower 9th Ward was damaged by Hurricane Rita as well.

"I think it's great, but I'm not sure I trust it," said George McCullum, who lived for nearly 50 years in the area.

"I'm driving over to New Orleans tomorrow (Tuesday) to cut the grass," said McCullum, referring to his flood-damaged property, "but I'll probably bring my own water."

McCullum and his wife were displaced to Dallas and have since moved to Bay St. Louis, Miss.

"I still haven't gotten back into my home," McCullum said. "I'm still waiting to see what's going to happen to my neighborhood."

Now if only the Corps of Engineers can keep out the non-potable water.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Holy Cross, Batman. It's Gentilly.

Holy Cross High School has chosen a Gentilly site to relocate its campus after being severly flooded by Huricane Katrina.

The school's board of directors picked the site of the now-closed Redeemer-Seton High School and nearby St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church over its other option, a vacant 20-acre north Kenner tract that the Jefferson Parish School Board was willing to sell for about $2.5 million. The school's owner, the Congregation of the Holy Cross, has agreed with the board's recommendation, Holy Cross announced.

The decision caps 13 months of anxiety over the future of Holy Cross, which saw its campus in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward badly flooded by Hurricane Katrina, as were many of the neighborhoods on which Holy Cross depends for enrollment. Since reopening, the school has taught students in portable buildings at that campus while its leaders searched for a new home.

The Gentilly site was the preference of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which had some influence but no firm authority to tell Holy Cross what to do. Archdiocesan leaders said they wanted to keep Holy Cross in New Orleans and promoted the Gentilly site as way to spur redevelopment in that area.
Now if only the Jokers on the Orleans Parish School Board can make a decision about what to do with their schools.

Update: More information on the aftermath here and here.

Lucky Number 13

Governor Blanco's Road Home program has handed out only thirteen checks out of an estimated 200,000 potential applicants.

At this rate all checks should be delivered by the time the next once-in-a-lifetime storm comes this way.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Locked Up

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon has ordered that the Industrial Canal Lock Replacement Project be put on hold in order to further evaluate the enviromental impact of the project.

"The court finds that the corps failed to take a 'hard look' at the environmental impacts and consequences of dredging and disposing of the canal's contaminated sediment and should revisit the project in light of recent catastrophic events," U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon wrote in his opinion, referring to the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The ruling was hailed as a victory by Pam Dashiell, president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, which filed the lawsuit asking that the project be reviewed. The neighborhood group, concerned about disruptions from the $764 million construction project, had worked against it in tandem with environmental groups concerned about contamination of the waterway.

I am neither a lawyer (thank God) nor an enviromental expert so I don't want to get into the complexities and impact of this decision. I'll let you educate yourself and come to your own conclusion.

I do know that shipping is an integral portion of the New Orleans area economy.
"The Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association estimates that for every 24 hours that the lock is closed, the nation's transportation industry loses $500,000," the statement said. "Before Katrina, about 9,000 direct and indirect jobs relied on deepwater shipping to the port's Inner Harbor, and the lock replacement project is essential to retaining those jobs in the long term."
Whatever the outcome it should come soon. The rebuilding of New Orleans should not be held up while lawyers lock horns.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Survey Said!

Apparently the population of New Orleans is a wee bit smaller than the the Mayor has assumed.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Fewer than 190,000 people live in New Orleans, a fraction of the 454,000 people estimated to reside in the city before Hurricane Katrina hit last year, according to a survey released Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, Natalie Wyeth, called the results of the door-to-door survey of households "the definitive, most precise set of numbers we've seen." But a local demographer, who has studied the city's population, dismissed figures as a "fairly significant underestimation."

"This is important, because funding decisions are based on population," demographer Greg Rigamer said....

According to the survey, an estimated 187,525 people lived in Orleans Parish, as of August. The figure did not include those living in college dormitories and jails and did not include people who work in New Orleans but live outside the city, said Dave Bowman, the project's lead from LRA.

The Orleans Parish population count had a margin of error of plus or minus 11.5 percent, the survey showed. Survey results, with even greater margins of error, also were released for hurricane-hit Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes.

In those parishes, populations were estimated at 435,786 in Jefferson, with a margin of error of plus or minus 12.7 percent; 20,024 in Plaquemines with a margin of error of plus or minus 36.3 percent; and 25,016 in St. Bernard with a margin of error of 17 percent.

Pre-storm populations from July 2005 were estimated at 452,824 in Jefferson; 28,995 in Plaquemines and 65,364 in St. Bernard, according to the survey.

So whom to believe? According to this story in August, some "experts" estimated the population (at the time) to be between 210,000 and 235,000. On the other hand, some estimates had the population at 171,000 (apparently determined by the USPS) with an expected increase of 20,000 (by the same group that estimated the population to be 235,000) for the following six months. That would put the population in-line with the latest survey.

I suppose we can better estimate New Orleans population by asking the audience of "Family Feud".

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Katrina Cottage, Aisle Ten

The Katrina Cottage is going retail.

The "Lowe's Katrina Cottage" offerings range from a two-bedroom, 544-square-foot model to a three-bedroom, 936-square-foot house. The cottages will cost $45 to $55 per square foot to build, Lowe's estimates, meaning the smallest would run about $27,200 and the largest $46,800. Estimates do not include the cost of the foundation, heating and cooling, and labor.

"We're starting on the Gulf Coast, where the original idea came from, but as soon as we feel the logistics are worked out we could go national," says Ms. Cusato, whose website,, has received more than 7,000 inquiries since January. "We want to be sure that when we say it's available, we're 100 percent sure we can deliver."

If Lowe's is successful, it's likely other companies will offer their own designs. "There is such a huge opportunity, when you talk about the number of houses that need to be built in Mississippi and Louisiana, that I think a lot of folks are looking at this type of concept," says Dan Tresch, director of governmental affairs at James Hardy Building Products, which provides the siding for Cusato's cottages.

So what started as response to the inadequecies of FEMA housing is burgening into a new dwelling type.

The only question I have is can we use the ten items or less line?

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Beef People

New Orleans, Winn-Dixie should be commended for helping rebuild our broken city. The company plans to spend $25 million to reopen its storm-damaged stores. The company reopened its Gentilly store at 4600 Chef Menteur Highway last Friday and will reopen its Chalmette store on Paris Road Oct. 12 — the same day Winn-Dixie is scheduled to emerge from bankruptcy.
New Orleans CityBusiness has more.