All Hell Breaking Loose

All hell seems to be breaking loose from New Orleans citizens who are up in arms regarding the underhanded way that the VCPORA attempted to slip in a noise ordinance that would have a severe impact on the city’s music scene.

Understandably, the peeps at VCPORA are tired of getting no action from the City Council regarding what seems to be Mr. Smith’s Number One priority (other than bashing oil companies, from whom he’s won bazillions of dollars in class action lawsuits. (From his firm’s web page: “In a 2001 Stuart Smith and Michael Stag jointly prosecuted the widely publicized Grefer case. A jury returned a verdict of $1.056 billion dollars against Exxon/ Mobil Corporation, the world’s largest oil company, in favor of the firm’s client after a six-week trial. The landmark verdict was listed in Lawyers Weekly, USA as the second largest verdict in the United States for 2001.”)

To recap from last week’s post, attorney Smith bankrolls the VCPORA and is successfully using its purported agenda of “preservation” to achieve his goals of eliminating “noise” in the French Quarter.

Since last week’s post, I’ve attended a MaCCNO (Music and Culture Coalition) meeting on Friday, and have been subjected to several emails from Stuart Smith, by way of the Brylski Company, which bills its emails as “Krewe of truth.”

Stuart Smith. From the VCPORA website: "For years, VCPORA has been able to count on a man who’s led innumerable legal battles on our behalf, and on behalf of the Quarter - and done all of it pro bono. That man is Stuart H. Smith – our neighbor, our benefactor, and a man of courage and capability who’s been a passionate advocate on behalf of the Vieux Carré."

I’d call it more the “Krewe of Propaganda.”

Here are a few points in the email [First of all, it’s entitled “Hearing Beyond The Misinformation: TRUE SOUND FACTS [in BIG FAT BOLD letters] about the ‘Seven Essentials’ and the Sound Amendments.”

“WILL THESE AMENDMENTS ‘KILL’ NEW ORLEANS’ MUSIC SCENE?
NO! Of course not! No elected official in New Orleans would sign onto an ordinance that would kill, or even hurt, our invaluable New Orleans music scene [Not unless a VCPORA member like Nathan Chapman sneaked it into Stacy Head’s office to be presented to the council at the last minute pre-2013 Christmas holiday. Chapman is past president of VCPORA and, how shall I say this?: Stuart Smith’s “minion.”] “Music is an invaluable part of our culture and our economy. The reason all seven council members signed on was because, after four years of detailed study and hearing, these amendments are actually very limited in scope and provide common sense improvements. [Untrue, these are not common sense improvements to anyone other than those who want to keep music at the level or a normal conversation. Oh, one had better NOT say that they want to kill New Orleans music! Ask Mr. Smith how much he enjoys the jazz at the Gazebo. Smith bought a property at 516 St. Philip Street in 1997, just a half block from the Gazebo and tried to get the zoning changed at a bar that had had music for many years, well before Stuart took up residence. Oh yeah, he loves music all right. But he moved right next to it and did try to kill it.]

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR THESE AMENDMENTS COME FROM?
Councilwoman Kristin G. Palmer was elected four years ago, with one of her stated missions to update and improve the city’s sound ordinance, to the benefit of musicians and residents. She initiated meetings, proposals and studies. To help with this process, for over two years a coalition of neighborhood groups met regularly to develop ideas which became seven “essential” improvements to the city’s persistent problem of lack of sound management. That coalition includes neighborhood organizations from every corner of the city. [Lie. The “Seven Essentials” were purely proposed by the VCPORA. Palmer’s working group did not make these recommendations, nor did Palmer. I was on the group, and I know better].

DO THE DEC. 19 AMENDMENTS IMPLEMENT THE 7 “ESSENTIAL” LIST?
Only one of these items has a citywide impact, about where we measure sound. Two items are for the French Quarter only and refer to decibel levels. No decibel changes are being proposed for outside the Quarter. Those who say decibel limits would change citywide or in the Marigny or Tremé are not accurate; that’s NOT what the amendments say. [Measuring sound that’s disturbing a neighbor from the property line and not from the complainant’s property is unfair and ridiculous. Sound dissipates with distance].

WHAT DO THE 7 ITEMS SAY RE: ZONING & STREET MUSICIANS, LIKE BRASS BANDS?
From the beginning, the neighborhoods came up with a few criteria [Not all neighborhoods…the VCPORA did. Some of the neighborhood groups who say they’ve signed on have not, or have stated publicly that they have not signed on. VCPORA claimed that 20 neighborhood groups were on board. Not true.]:
• They wanted something incremental, but meaningful and passable [Passable? It’s clear that the New Orleans citizenry does not want this restrictive ordinance—87.3 % in a recent Gambit poll said that the noise ordinance was unnecessary and harmful.]
• They did not want to target street musicians, instead focusing on the few bars in our city which may be bad neighbors repeatedly [Then find a way to penalize THOSE bars].
• They wanted to leave it to individual neighborhoods to debate zoning/live entertainment locations [None of this is stated in the “Seven Essentials.” Moreover the VCPORA states that this will work for New Orleans as a whole.]

WHAT ABOUT THE CITY’S “WOOLWORTH” REPORT ON SOUND?  The 7 essential items are vastly consistent with goals of the Woolworth report. [They absolutely are not. Read Woolworth’s report here. Measurement of sound and location of sound in the VCPORA recommendation are vastly different from the Oxford Acoustics Report.]

THE PROPOSED AMENDEMENTS CLARIFY, BUT DO NOT CHANGE WHERE WE MEASURE SOUND. Current law is often mistakenly interpreted to require that sound decibel measurements be taken on the property of the person making a complaint about excessive sound. In fact the authors of the current ordinance meant for the measurements to be taken at the property line between the source and the nearest receiving land use. The music city of Austin measures from the property line of the place making the sound. It makes sense to check whether a behavior is within the law – rather than if a citizen has a right to complain. For many people, such as our elderly, it can be intimidating to call authorities about a nearby bar. Many people are uncomfortable having police take sound measurements standing on their stoop or porch, or inside their homes. This provision clarifies existing law. [This isn’t Austin. Should we also measure the sound of brass bands? Festivals? Football games? Debutante balls? Bourbon Street crowds? The oise levels in New York City are 85 decibels. The old people I know who are "intimidated" by calling in a complaint are...gee, I just don't know any old cranky person who would be intimidated. What hogwash.]

Here’s more…Bob Freilich, a local citizen who’s been following the noise issue, wanted to investigate how VCPORA purports to represent the citizens of the French Quarter, much less the entire city of New Orleans regarding noise. One could assume that the VCPORA consisted of hundreds or even thousands of French Quarter residents, since they were so vocal and have been so blatantly prosletyzing the City Council. (The VCPORA’sversion of a revised noise ordinance was hustled to be put into consideration for the entire council through Councilman Stacy Head’s office just prior to the Christmas break). So Frielich sent an email to VCPORA Exec Director Meg Lousteau, requesting the number of members of the VCPORA in mid-August. He didn’t receive a reply. So he tried again:

Sep 15, 2013
Hello
This is my second request for a question that is probably quite easy to answer: can you tell me how many members of VCPORA there are? To be clear, I am not asking for identities or contacts, just the membership numbers.If you keep this information confidential for some reason, I would appreciate your reply.

Thank you.
Cordially,
Bob Freilich

Sep 15, 2013

Dear Mr. Frielich – my apologies for not responding to your first email. Somehow I overlooked it. To your request, as a private, mission-driven non-profit organization, we don’t disclose this information.
Kind regards,
Meg Lousteau

cc: Carol Allen, President, VCPORA

 

Hmm. So VCPORA wants to make sweeping changes to the noise ordinance in the French Quarter–and citywide–but won’t tell how many people actually want this change? This is consensus of French Quarter residents? Freilich says is first request was made in mid-August, but that he believes that Lousteau and Allen probably understood his intention, which was to find out whether they are seriously representative of a cross-section of residents, or really just a private interest club. It appears that Lousteau’s answer might indicate that the members in VCPORA might not truly represent the residents of the Quarter.

[ADDENDUM, 1:45pm. 1-9-2013: Just received notice from a friend--who does not want to be identified--who forwarded me an email that says this: "Somebody REALLY needs to tell Jan Ramsey that VCPORA DOES NOT CONSULT THEIR PAYING MEMBERS about most issues. MANY paying members are FURIOUS that the board often works without member support. MEMBERSHIP WAS ABSOLUTELY NOT CONTACTED before Nathan/VCPORA convinced the council to introduce the ordinance on December 19th. VCPORA members were just as blindsided as everyone else in the city was." So then: who and what is the VCPORA? I group of citizens or a few members on their board backed by Stuart Smith?]

I have to hand it to Mr. Freilich, he tells it like it is.  Go Bob!

I write about this because I’m passionate about keeping music viable and vibrant not only in the French Quarter but throughout the city. I just don’t think the VCPORA or Stuart Smith or his “krewe of truth” flacks should be the only ones who influence council members to pass unworkable and untenable ordinances that could destroy the very fabric of New Orleans culture. I think it’s evident that Stuart Smith is obsessed with doing away with music in the Quarter. He’s a classic case of someone who moved into the Quarter almost next door to a music venue, got sore because he couldn’t stop it, and now has a vendetta against music in the Quarter. He has the money to pursue it, and he has.

Why don’t we also ask Stuart to explain the impact of the multiple lawsuits he or his firm have filed against bars and restaurants in the Quarter (some of which are Antoine’s, Court of Two Sisters and Pat O’Brien’s). If these businesses cannot successfully defend their lawsuits a few of things could happen: 1) the judgments against them will accrue to the property owner, not the bar operators, if they close their businesses; and 2) If the property owner cannot pay the judgments, the properties could potentially be taken over the people who are filing the lawsuits (all anti-music people who use Smith as their attorney). Then what do you think will happen to music in the Quarter? Additionally, currently the lawsuits against these bars in the Quarter (and Marigny) are being defended against by insurance companies. If ONE suit is successful, what do you think will happen to coverage provided by insurance companies for noise issues? It will probably be excluded on liability policies So then who is going to either ake a chance on getting even on complaint from someone? Thus…music is effectively shut down. Get real people: There’s a long-term, well-thought-through strategy here.

The following is a partial list of pending lawsuits which Smith has filed against French Quarter bars and restaurants:

Case Number Case Name Date Filed

1.         2004-16001: Yokum, et al. v. Pat O’Brien’s Bar, Inc. 11/9/04 (Pat O’Brien’s)

2.         2004-17286: Yokum, et al. v. Court of Two Sisters, Inc. 12/08/04 (Court of Two Sisters)

3.         2005-09748: Yokum, et al. v. 615 Bourbon Street, LLC 7/20/05 (Turtle Bay on Bourbon)

4.         2009-06340: Yokum, et al. v. Nicholas I. Karno II, Inc. 6/19/09 (Old Opera House)

5.         2010-06826: Yokum, et al. v. 544 Funky, LLC 7/2/10 (Funky 544 Club)

6.       2012-00286: VCPORA v. Board of Zoning Adjustments 1/11/12 (Antoine’s Restaurant)

7.       2012-02559: VCPORA, et al. v. City of New Orleans 3/13/12 (The Swamp)

8.         2012-04519: Bourbon Heat, LLC  et al. v. City of New Orleans 5/4/12 (Bourbon Heat Club)

9.         2012-02245: Robert Travis, et al. v. Balcony Music Club 3/6/12 (Balcony Music Club)

I say to Mr. Smith, his minions, the VCPORA (whose board, officers, former president plus Mr Smith purport to represent French Quarter residents) and French Quarter Citizens. Shut up already. We know your game. The majority of citizens in New Orleans think you are full of crap, and are trying to quell music through back-door politics. You call it noise. We call it music and street culture. If our city council falls for Smith’s tactics—and silly me, I still believe in government that responds to the majority of the people—then get rid of ‘em. They don’t represent US.