New Orleans policy changes in 2016
Mayor Mitch Landrieu recounted a year’s worth of city government accomplishments Tuesday (Dec. 27), replete with the statistics that have become a hallmark of his administration – potholes filled, jobs created, money saved and invested, etc. – totaling nearly five pages of data-driven bullet points (NOLA.com).
Yet it could be argued that the biggest accomplishments for the Landrieu administration and New Orleans City Council in 2016 weren’t steeped in numbers. They came in the form of policy, covering matters ranging from public safety to business regulation (NOLA.com).
The most notable was the creation of regulations for short-term rentals, which have flourished in New Orleans in recent years despite being illegal, thanks to booking websites. Chief among them is Airbnb.com, which played an active part in crafting the new city law that the company and mayor’s office tout as an example for other cities to follow (NOLA.com).
The rules create a dedicated enforcement unit in City Hall. Whole-home rentals, the most contentious element, are limited to 90 days per year, but short-term rentals can operate unimpeded in owner-occupied homes and certain commercial districts. The exception is the French Quarter, where the practice is banned in most areas (NOLA.com).
The debate over short-term rentals was one element in an ongoing discussion about housing in New Orleans. Landrieu used his “State of the City” address in June to unveil his “Housing for a Resilient New Orleans” strategy, one that calls for an additional 7,500 affordable units over the next five years. It will ultimately fall to his successor to flesh out the plan, but steps were taken in 2016 to foster more affordable development amid increasing rents and home prices (NOLA.com).
The City Planning Commission, with the City Council’s approval, hammered out inclusionary zoning laws with incentives for developers who add affordable units. The first high-profile instance of the policy being put into practice was the Edwards Communities apartment development in Mid-City. The Ohio company proposed 272 units on property Sidney Torres IV owns near Bayou St. John and was allowed to add another 110 if it set aside 14 apartments at affordable rates, for residents who make up to 30 percent of the area’s median income, or $12,600 annually based on last year’s figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (NOLA.com).
Toward the end of the year, the mayor’s office was reviewing proposals for an analyst to study “public incentives for strategic outcomes,” with the idea of getting more results from what the city offers to developers (NOLA.com).
Crime reduction stayed at the top of the Landrieu administration’s agenda in 2016, during which voters rejected a new tax to pay for hiring more police. Instead, city departments not connected to public safety were instructed to budget 5 percent less ahead of the budget-shaping process for 2017. Four New Orleans Police Department recruit classes were launched this year, and 114 new officers were hired as of mid-December. Still, the department anticipated a net gain of less than 10 officers when accounting for attrition (NOLA.com).
Easing the workload on law enforcement was one of the arguments made when the City Council softened the city’s simple marijuana possession laws in March. Since 2010, police have been able to issue a citation to someone caught for the first time with weed. Now that option extends to subsequent offenses (NOLA.com).
NOPD Chief Michael Harrison said then that making fewer arrests for marijuana possession wouldn’t make an appreciable difference in the manpower available, but it would save officers time during their shifts (NOLA.com).
Another public safety initiative from 2016 was more controversial. With the mayor’s impetus, the City Council approved a package of new gun laws. Owners now have to report when a gun is stolen, although gun rights advocates say the requirement criminalizes law-abiding citizens (NOLA.com).
Policy news from the previous year also came into play during 2016. The city’s Hire NOLA law was approved in late 2015, putting in place requirements for public contractors to hire local workers first. This year it withstood its first significant challenge — a bill in the Louisiana Legislature that would have prohibited any city or parish from having such a requirement. Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, authored the measure with the backing of business interests.
On Tuesday, Landrieu credited Hire NOLA, in part, with bringing down the city’s unemployment rate for black men to 44 percent. When efforts began in 2013 to target that portion of the potential workforce, the jobless level was 52 percent according to the Data Center (NOLA.com).
The timing of having the Hire NOLA requirements in place — and keeping them intact — was critical for the administration, as the rules apply to work on the north terminal project at Armstrong Airport, a $950 million undertaking that officially broke ground in January. Of even greater job significance, the city finalized a $1.2 billion settlement in July with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for infrastructure repairs following Hurricane Katrina (NOLA.com).
Another anticipated policy move that has yet to fully materialize involves a reworking of the city’s zoning laws for adult entertainment districts. The City Planning Commission wants to limit the number of strip clubs on Bourbon Street to seven, and it has forwarded provisions to the City Council that create a “death penalty” provision for businesses found to be havens for illegal activity. The future of any new regulations appears to hinge on enforcement, which proponents and critics alike note is already lacking, especially in the French Quarter (NOLA.com).
To address safety in the historic neighborhood, Landrieu said Tuesday he expects to announce a “much more robust” strategy within the next 30 days. He detailed plans to limit Bourbon Street to pedestrians only for New Year’s weekend, including Monday night’s Sugar Bowl. Police and light towers will also be deployed, along with K-9 units and tactical units, in an approach the mayor said would also be used for the NBA All-Star Game weekend and Mardi Gras.
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