Category Archives: Politics

Dozens of Trees Damaged on Harrison Ave in City Park

Bulldozed path under mature trees on Harrison Ave in City Park. Roots have been severed. These trees have been permanently damaged.

Bulldozed path under mature trees on Harrison Ave in City Park. Roots have been severed. These trees have been permanently damaged.

Good grief. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this latest horrible development. Evidently the City of New Orleans bears some responsibility for restoring Harrison Ave through City Park. Not only are they widening the road–to the detriment of the oaks–but they’ve specified that a path be cut, evidently for sidewalks. Even the construction crew was surprised at the technical specifications which called for them to bulldoze the path. Now the trees have had their roots severed and are destined to be compacted and be abused by suffocating additions, likely concrete.

Why is it that as we rebuild we are killing so much of what matters in this town? What the floods didn’t take, stupidity is.

I couldn’t post all the pictures here so I built a Posterous page with 27 pictures. You can find it here at http://dyingoaks.posterous.com

Who is responsible for this latest crime against our quality of life?

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Close-up of root damage next to a mature oak on Harrison Ave in City Park. This path was carved by a bulldozer to build a sidewalk where none existed before. Paths can be built without harm. Somebody screwed up big time.

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Damage Continues at City Park

Stately City Park Oak damaged by construction to build concrete forms.

Stately City Park Oak damaged by construction to build concrete forms.

Special note: I want to apologize if this post ruffles feathers. I admit that I am frustrated. I feel like I’m watching a loved one being assaulted and I’m supposed to be diplomatic and say, “please stop hitting her.” I pray that I find the inner-peace, wisdom and tact to evolve into a more effective and less-pointed advocate for a better world. For  now, however, this is what I’ve thrown out there to try to find “light in the darkness of insanity” to quote Nick Lowe. I only want the best for City Park and our precious Louisiana. SP

Here are the gory details:

Well paid City Park designers, contractors and staffers continue to abuse and kill the precious live oaks under their stewardship. The Great Lawn project, part of the park’s Master Plan, is currently under construction. Just as with the Pavillion of the Two Sisters, a project that killed nearly a half dozen trees with at least one still barely holding on; and, with the loss of trees in the Sculpture Garden ongoing, all due to bad planning and implementation that failed to properly protect the soil and delicate root systems of the trees, the park is in trouble.

As I said in a previous post, City Park is being paved over. Already, an acre has been slathered with a suffocating coat of toxic asphalt. The Master Plan calls for many more acres to be encased in life-starving, impermeable concrete and asphalt because too many people in charge don’t know readily available procedures for Best Management Practices for a public park.

As I’ve noted, New Orleans City Park should be the green heart of the area. It should be the leader in sustainability and green principles to which we all turn to learn about and witness how humans properly manage the natural spaces our parks represent. After witnessing the construction of the Big Lake project and it’s poor choice in materials, tree selection and placement, and water management strategies–which connect to all these issues–I believe the park is in the hands of people who are reshaping it in ways that reflect the mindset of a bygone and downright ignorant time.

Here’s a letter I sent today to several people involved in the operations and oversight of City Park:

Hello:

I am writing to urge you to act swiftly to prevent further damage to live oaks in the park; and, to add appropriate arborists and local green/sustainable design experts to the paid teams developing and implementing the park’s Master Plan.

Apparently, the overall planner for the Great Lawn project designed it to include concrete structures around the base of the large live oak across from the Peristyle. The design does not take into account the needs of the tree. Damage is happening now, with large areas deep under the canopy dug-out, lined with gravel and framed for concrete. Additionally, there is a trenched square nearly a foot deep under the canopy, cut across the roots.

As a lifelong advocate for live oaks, a recently trained Parkway Partners/Louisiana Urban Forestry Council Certified Citizen Forester; and, having learned Best Management Practices at Jefferson Tree School, a continuing education program for arborists, I know that the top 18 inches of soil are the most critical to the health of live oaks. The photos show the “improvements” underway have removed the top layer of soil and deeply trenched a section, cutting vital roots.

This is clearly a case of destructive design and construction that should have been stopped at several stages of the process.

With the heat, drought and now root damage,  this tree will suffer significant die-off from which it will never fully recover. I believe you should immediately bring in a local live oak expert such as Scott Courtright or Tom Campbell to evaluate and try to remediate the damage already done.

It is time for City Park to stop using impermeable hardscapes that suffocate the soil, kill the trees, increase flooding and erosion, and speed pollutants into our precious waterways. No more impermeable concrete or toxic asphalt!

In researching this situation I learned an important fact regarding landscape architects: their degree does not require them to be arborists.

To me, this explains many things regarding how and why trees have been damaged in City Park.

Trees seem to be chosen by the park’s go-to landscape architect with appearance superseding appropriateness. Paving systems are designed and built without an arborist’s understanding of their impact. This is not in line with Best Management Practices for native flora, water management, enhancement of the flyway and wildlife, or Low Impact Design. Any number of people in our area are experts on these matters. Some of them are cc’d in this email.

This is not a job for volunteers. Well paid contractors–using taxpayer funding and donations of people who assume we’re using BMPs–are currently creating these destructive actions. It’s past time to include paid local experts who can help the park become the green leader we all need and deserve.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

City Park oak damaged by trenching under canopy for concrete form.

City Park oak damaged by trenching under canopy for concrete form.

City Park oak being damaged by construction of concrete forms for Great Lawn project.

City Park oak being damaged by construction of concrete forms for Great Lawn project.

Update on concrete form as of Thursday, August 6. Probably going to be some kind of iconic Great Lawn fixture or sign. So this oak is going to end up looking like an amputee as it dies-off thanks to this unbelievably stupid implementation of the design.

Update on concrete form as of Thursday, August 6. Probably going to be some kind of iconic Great Lawn fixture or sign. So this oak is going to end up looking like an amputee as it dies-off thanks to this unbelievably stupid implementation of the design.

What Does Pres Kabacoff Have Against the Master Plan Process?

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UPDATE Thursday June 25: Zombies live in Legislature: SB75 briefly returned from the dead, attached as amendment to SB104 in manipulative move to revive it. See the story here on the T-P website. It ultimately was stripped from the bill in conference committee and finally died. However, the powers behind the bill evidently were determined and influential. Several politicians risked their reputations, including the lead author, Ed Murray, by pushing this bill. As evidenced by several postings on the T-P comments, Murray’s mayoral aspirations are now greatly weakened by his stance on the Master Plan. The fallout will become evident in the coming months as city election season gets underway in the next few weeks. It should be interesting.

UPDATE: Today (June 24) the House voted against SB75 and the bill is now dead.

So, thanks to sleuthing by “Celebrated blogutante” We Could Be Famous, the powers behind the attempt to mess with the City of New Orleans Master Plan process have come to light. Pres Kabacoff’s company HRI, bought the ad in the Times-Picayune pushing support for SB 75 which seeks to usurp the existing Master Plan process by adding yet another pubic vote. As a supporter of the Master Plan who voted in favor of giving it the force of law, I am disturbed by this effort, apparently driven by developers with ulterior motives, to change the policies and procedures for implementing the long-sought planning process for New Orleans. Red herrings, race baiting and misleading motives by proponents of SB75 make this a particularly ugly situation. My senator, Ed Murray, introduced the bill and my rep, Juan LaFonta supports it. I believe if this bill passes, not only will there be expensive taxpayer funded legal challenges, but the plan may never become law. Having participated in the process and read much of the current draft of the plan, I am saddened by the misdirection and misleading arguments offered by SB75 supporters. Current development “systems” in New Orleans have hurt the city and kept businesses and future-thinking developers away. The new plan will codify strong green/sustainable development guidelines and will help make it easier for everyone to interact with zoning processes. It will ensure that a level playing field is available to all.

The bill is now facing a House vote on Monday. I urge everyone to contact members of the Louisiana House of Representatives and let them know that the people of New Orleans already voted in support of the Master Plan process and that this bill will delay and possibly prevent New Orleans from ever having a Master Plan that helps both businesses and the public have a healthy, well-designed environment in which to do business and live.

Here’s New Orleans City Councilmember Jackie Clarkson’s thoughts on why we must defeat SB 75

Here’s New Orleans CityBusiness’ editorial against SB75

Motorcycle Brains to Remain in Buckets in Louisiana

A senate committee today killed the bill to repeal the helmet laws in Louisiana. It appears to be dead for the session. However, bills don’t die easily and this one might find a way to resurrect. So, the next post in this blog is only half-correct.

Congratulations to the legislators who realized what hypocrisy it is to require seat belts but not helmets. This still doesn’t salvage the overall session, though. Too many hateful, stupid bills by ill-informed leges seem to be making it to the finish line. As always, lots of good news/bad news when the Legislature is active.

motorcycle_helmet_ears

Cancer and Carnage Big Winners in Louisiana Legislature

SmokingDeath-1

Smoking will take you places you've never been before.

In what is turning out to be one of the ugliest legislative sessions in my adult lifetime, the Louisiana Legislature seems bent on further eroding both our reputation and our wellbeing. After passing a bill requiring rear seat passengers to wear seatbelts, the leges kowtowed to the will of former governor–and mentor/benefactor of current Gov. Jindal– Mike Foster’s wishes and passed a bill that allows motorcyclists to go helmet-less, guaranteeing an increase in death and carnage–and higher medical bills that will cost taxpayers. Additionally, the House soundly defeated an attempt to ban smoking in bars and casinos, ostensibly to ensure freedom of choice. But that freedom only extends to smokers–a minority–and ensures that any nonsmokers–the majority–who wish to work in bars and casinos, or merely hear live music, drink a beer or gamble must breathe the toxic outgassing of smoking addicts.

Thanks, Louisiana Legislature! I’m no longer worried that my “right” to kill or maim myself or to personally pollute the air around me while smoking in confined spaces with nonsmokers will be taken away. Who cares that taxpayers will pay my bills if I smash my head in a minor motorcycle accident? And who cares if  I make service workers sick or if nonsmokers don’t want to breathe my smoke? It’s freedom of choice–for me! I don’t want the government telling me what I can’t do to your lungs! That’s an invasion of my pursuit of happiness. So screw all you nonsmokers. How dare you use government to tell me what to do with your health!

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Actual skull damage after no-helmet motorcycle accident

Louisiana is truly a leader. We have 2 cities in the Top 10 for murder. We are the Number 1 per capita state for carbon emissions. We incarcerate a larger percentage of our population than any other state. And now we “protect” the “rights” of smokers and soon-to-be-brain-injured motorcyclists. Maybe we’ll become one of the top organ donor states when the helmet law becomes effective.

Just don’t get caught in the back seat without your seatbelt on. We wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself. Because we care about your wellbeing.

NOTE: As of 3pm June4, all 3 of these bills await final passage if any of you care to get involved and contact your elected officials. See the Comments for this posting for specifics.

Credit Card Bill Needs Support

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Citizen Lobbyists

OK, I went to Washington and lobbied for S. 414, the Credit Card reform bill. Here’s what happened. We started the day at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office, so I was up first. The staffer (I don’t recall his name but will update this when I get it) we met with was a bit cynical. I was disappointed. I tried to emphasize that the banks were harming Sen. Landrieu’s strongest supporters and that it was time for her to stand up for the poor people who vote for her. He basically dismissed that line of thinking since the next election is years away. He claimed that Sen. Landrieu wasn’t afraid of angering the bankers (not that we said anything like that, though she is the recipient of more than $2 million in banking lobby money) because she had supported a credit union bill vehemently opposed by banks. We tried to get him to admit the banks were screwing us with these rate hikes, fees and other onerous new burdens. But he never seemed to sympathize.

Next we met with Travis Johnson, a legislative assistant with Sen.  David Vitter. We we engaged by a smart, civil staffer who challenged us, debated us and gave us an opportunity to rebut and refine our arguments. We might not have changed the way Vitter will vote. But we had an intelligent and satisfying discussion with his staffer.

We also visited with very receptive staffers in the offices of Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb.

We were a small group, me, 2 from Virginia and 1 from Connecticut. We were led by representatives of Consumers Union, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Center for Responsible Lending.

Despite the fact that Sen. Landrieu’s opposition might be enough to stop the bill, there is a sense of optimism that credit card reform will pass. We were promised that if there is a signing ceremony with President Obama, that we’d be invited back!

I’m grateful to Consumers Union and the Pew Charitable Trusts for this amazing opportunity. It was amazing to see how accessible our federal delegation is to visits. I would advise anyone seeking to be heard to take the time to visit Washington and make an appointment. A staffer will be assigned to meet with you and give you the chance to be heard. Whether they listen is another story all together. But the experience is worth it because if you don’t try, nothing is guaranteed to happen.

Please call Sen. Landrieu’s office at 202-224-5824 and Sen. Vitter at 202-224-4623 and tell them you support credit card reform and want the senators to support their constituents and rein in the banks. The vote could happen this week or early next week,  so call ASAP!

Heading to Washington to be a Citizen Lobbyist for Credit Card Reform

smith_goesConsumers Union called Friday afternoon to offer me the opportunity to join them in the Capitol this week to lobby for passage of S. 414, the Credit Card Accountability and Responsibility Act. It seems that my participation in advocating for passage via http://creditcardreform.org caught their attention. My story was “one of the more credible ones” they’ve gathered and they want me to be a citizen lobbyist on Monday and Tuesday (May 4-5). They are covering the cost of the trip thanks to the support of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

I’m stoked, because Sen. Mary Landrieu is one of only 2 Democrats sitting on the fence regarding S. 414. She unfortunately voted to defeat the mortgage relief bill last week, saying that “my community bankers could be hurt.” Uh, Sen. Landrieu, your community is being hurt and we are the ones who elect you–by very slim margins each election–not the bankers.

FYI, Bank of America recently raised the rate on my credit card to 28% for no other reason than I have a fairly high balance. I have not missed a payment on any of the many cards I have and my credit is good. I’ve been quite outraged about this and sent emails to all my elected officials in Washington via the Consumers Union site. That’s what produced the phone call.

I’m going to be part of a team of citizen lobbyists working with Consumers Union this week. We’ll be calling on senators (the bill already passed the House) and their staffers, telling our stories and demanding passage of S. 414.

If you don’t already know, S. 414 protects consumers from unreasonable rate increase, bans marketing credit cards to people under age 21, sets clearer guidelines for gift cards (not allowing fees or expiration) and provides for higher deposit insurance levels–a component that also helps banks. The banking industry is squealing because the card limits hit their profit margins. But, had these despicable, greedy institutions done a better job of running fair businesses, they wouldn’t be complaining and we wouldn’t be rebelling against their usurious and unreasonable rates. What banks are doing to customers, young and old, is morally reprehensible.

You cannot escape from credit card debt, thanks to a bill passed by a bipartisan Congress during the Bush years. And now, there is blood on their hands. People are comitting suicide and murder over their indebtedness. (See Maxed Out, the 2006 documentary that exposes how banks and government created this mess.) We have to do something.

So, my advice to you is to become a member of Consumers Union, the nonprofit arm of Consumer Reports, and any other reputable organization fighting for the rights of the people. You never know, you might get to go to Washington, too.

What Louisiana Loves: How to Get Rich in the Bayou State

I’ve decided on a new career that I know will make me rich. I’m going to be a chicken plucking, film making, sports team owning, wood pulping for export, drug testing entrepreneur! Yes, that’s the key.

Since it’s increasingly obvious the state doesn’t care for its arts, music, environment, mental health or safety, I figured I’d put my thinking cap on and ponder: What does the state really support? And, voila, I got the answer!

We’re spending $114 million buying the friendship of the movie industry, we’re putting up $50 million for a chicken plant near the Arkansas border and $20 million for a chicken freezer next to the French Quarter, we’re annually handing professional sports teams dozens of millions, we’re giving tens of millions to speed up the cutting of our mixed hardwood forests for things like wood pellets to be burned for fuel in Europe and landscape mulch, and we might put our money where the piss is by drug testing 20,000 welfare recipients.

Those are the businesses in Louisiana’s future!

On the other hand, we’re doing nothing to support music, cutting the arts, still don’t fully understand how to restore our environment, are closing and cutting mental health facilities and even have a bill ready for the upcoming session that allows guns on campuses… Hey wait, I just thought of something: bulletproof vests for teachers and students!

Hell, I almost missed a big one that could pay for my second Hummer. Yeah, it’s a great time to be in Louisiana, no foolin’…IF you know what you’re doing.

State Invests $100 Million in Film and Damned Near Nothing in Music

OK, so the numbers are in and, as reported today in the Shreveport Times, in 2007 Louisiana invested $100,000,000 in film (after recouping $14m in taxes) on $429,000,000 of film spending. Of course verifying these numbers, particularly the spending by film companies, is a fuzzy math situation in which we remain dependent upon the film companies themselves to report their spending, so I have my doubts as to the accuracy.

Can you imagine that if you were an investor in the film industry, say in a film fund, how much of a long term return your money might be getting? You’d be getting checks for the rest of your life and that of your heirs if you had spent $100 million in a film investment vehicle that spread your investments around the industry. But what does Louisiana get? One time, poorly validated “spending” by these companies that results in short-term jobs averaging $32,000. But we look good on camera!

If this is such a good investment, why don’t we do it for music? In fact, why don’t we do it for every business in Louisiana. If the state can directly spend a dollar and get back four, why not spend on restaurants, grocery stores, construction companies, or any business? Because it defies the laws of physics and economics. You can’t create a perpetual motion machine and you can’t use public money to create perpetual economic engines. For the public to benefit, any expenditure needs to produce more in tax revenues than it spends. Just as too many calories make you fat, too much spending makes you broke. No matter how you extend the numbers to “secondary spending” you cannot ignore the fact that more money is being taken from public coffers than is being replenished.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: where’s Louisiana’s share? If individuals invested this much money in the film business, they’d be getting a a piece of the action, a return on investment. Why is this not possible for public investment?

Music is our true asset. Though we welcome Hollywood and the movie industry, it is not one of Louisiana’s naturally occurring assets. Music is our calling card to the hearts, minds and wallets of the world. Yet we continue to allow it to flounder, leaderless, budget-less and without accountability for what little is being done. The press and public remain silent about the ongoing tragedy that is the Louisiana Music Commission.

Here’s the kind of readily available information that used to be produced by the LMC and which was publicly available on the web until 2006 when the years of undermining by a small, avaricious group empowered by soon-to-be-jailed former Louisiana Economic Development (LED) Entertainment director Mark Smith and other cohorts finally prevailed in destroying the LMC:

Economic Impact of the Louisiana Music Industry Analyzed by City

LMC Summary Report 1992-2003

In fact, let me state this: former LED secretaries Don Hutchinson and Mike Olivier, along with Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the aforementioned Mark Smith were to music what the US Army Corps of Engineers was to flood protection in New Orleans in 2005–a massive disaster with ongoing consequences that will affect future generations.

Of course, I could be wrong. In fact, I hope I am. Someone, please convince me that I’m wrong about all this and that Louisiana is better off because of these things. I’m a reasonable person.

Cayne Miceli R.I.P.

Cayne Miceli June 2008

Cayne Miceli June 2008

UPDATED 1/10/09: Note: When I originally wrote this, many facts were unclear. Now that more information is available, I have re-written parts of this piece to reflect more accurately the chain of events and overarching realities that have come to light. This being a blog and not a printed publication, it is a living document and one that can be improved and edited to improve its veracity. I hope that’s what I’m doing. Regardless, I cannot possibly capture all the truths at work here. Suffice to say, Cayne turned to the system for help and it killed her.

Update: Jan 13, 2009-Shoeless Eric was with the family at Cayne’s bedside when the decision was made to remove her from life support. He’s created a moderated group site where you can find more information about what happened and what is going to happen: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/caynemiceli

Here is Cayne’s MySpace page, updated on the day she sought medical treatment.

Update Jan 14, 2009: Karen Dalton-Beninato’s blog on Huffington Post today is about Cayne. It’s a beautiful piece and features a piece Cayne wrote.

The lack of psychiatric beds, health care resources and basic human rights in New Orleans produced yet another tragedy. After being treated at Tulane Medical Center with a powerful steroid, prednisone, for her severe asthma, my friend Cayne Miceli believed she was having an adverse reaction to the drug. She sought to be re-examined and/or admitted and was turned away because the hospital felt it had done its job, and because she had no insurance. Unable to contain her frustration, her emotional state aggravated by the steroids, she flew into a rage and was taken away to jail. She allegedly attempted suicide and was put into 5 point restraints, aggravating both her mental state and her ability to breathe. She reacted badly to the restraints and was further subdued by two jail personnel. Subsequently, she “became unresponsive.” Jail staff intubated and “revived” her so that her “actual” death occurred at University Hospital with the decision of her family to remove her from life support. The facts are still unclear and may not be clarified for a while. But one thing is clear: the system failed her.

Cayne was a vivacious but troubled soul. She had a magical quality that connected her deeply to New Orleans. She was a survivor like the rest of us. She was full of life.

Cayne wasn’t afraid to reach out when she needed support. When she sought medical assistance for her asthma, it wasn’t done lightly. She has lived with asthma for many years. Cayne knew she needed help and did the best she could to get it. In Post-Katrina New Orleans, she found no room for her illnesses.

New Orleans without Charity Hospital is a city without compassion. That we continue to have too few psychiatric beds is unacceptable. That we continue to be haggling over the rebuilding of our health care infrastructure is abominable.

New Orleans is a city filled with Cayne Miceli’s, uncounted troubled and traumatized souls who keep things together most of the time. But when their lungs, hearts and minds can take no more, New Orleans provides no shelter, no bosom into which to retreat because Charity Hospital has not been rebuilt.

I now officially join the voices of those opposed to the tearing down of houses to build a new, fantasy hospital. Charity sits unused and ready to be restored while victims, the detainees–die lonely deaths in jail, our default system for handling the mentally troubled.

The people who seek to extend this process because they refuse to fix Charity Hospital have blood on their hands. I will remind them. Then again, maybe we all have blood on our hands these days.

Save Mid City/Save Charity Hospital

Note: Jan 10, 2009: It’s clearer to me now that health and justice systems are in a dance of death lottery that can start when you say “I need help!” or merely, “I can’t breathe!”

It’s also clear to me that if someone at Tulane had said, “OK, we’ll examine you again,” instead of “call the police,” Cayne would probably still be with us.

Now that we know more about Cayne’s horrible experiences and death, the lack of beds is only part of this problem.

In Post-Katrina New Orleans, we live with layers and layers and layers of problems, of missed opportunities, of disorganization and incompetence that infect the system from within our “rebuilt” homes to the halls of power in Washington DC. I pray we see that improve in 2009.

I also learned that I have a dear friend whose brother suffered gross mistreatment in a local jail. That this isn’t the first asthmatic to die in a local jail. That the last person to die on that torturous medieval restraint system died a medieval torture death: dehydration.

It’s bad enough my country justified torture. Now I know that my community tortures, too.

5 Point Restraint System

5 Point Restraint System

And I’ve learned that best estimates put those shining new hospitals opening in 2016.

At the current rate of death and disablement happening in area jails, I’m probably going to personally know several more victims before the next seven years pass.

Our jails and prisons are maiming and killing too many people who often haven’t even been arraigned. And now our hospitals can’t recognize the symptoms of the drugs they administer and dump their patients on the police? Suffice to say I find this unacceptable/abusive/you fill-in-the-blank.

We’re losing basic human rights. I hope we’re waking up.

As Cayne so often said when she reached a stopping point in the conversation: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Peace & Love! Peace & Love!”

<Sigh>.

Magical Cayne Miceli (photo enhanced by Jeremy Machalek of WhyArts.com)

Magical Cayne Miceli (photo enhanced by Jeremy Machalek of WhyArts.com)