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.

  • bigEZbob

    Those most affected by the decision must have the most say.
    In the meantime…a krewe mocking this man and the VCPOR before and after Mardis Gras would be fun.
    Other ideas I can only share with you from Canada
    Ask Chris Rose to find out how many members are in the VCPOR and post his views on the process. And then find our how many of these members are registered as Democrats or Republicans and who they supported in the last election.
    NOLA musicians every night tell people to sign the petititon.
    Students use social media to spread the word about this process-this affects you most.
    Jan, ask some musicians to champion educating the city particularly those most affected about the process.
    WWOZ you spread news about livewire every hour.
    Ask people to educate themselves every hour. You are not picking sides but are encouraging those most affected to be informed.
    Jan, ask WWOZ to debate this guy or someone from the VCPOR on WWOZ.
    Debate this guy or a member of the VCPOPR at a series of debates at Chamber of Commerce Tips or designated neighbourhood locales.
    Just because it’s a political issue doesn’t mean it needs to be done at city Hall.
    At the very lease city hall must be made to realise that to move fast in this process does not serve the needs of those most affected by the decision.
    Regarding the VCPOR membership: Logic and good government dictates that if a number under 100 can influence decisions that affects thousands without time to identify how that decision affects those thousands then that is a flawed and undemocratice process. (I bet the number is under 50 maybe even 25).
    Finally there is no hurry to decide!!!!!
    Education and soliciting participation is good goverment!
    Ask your representative where they stand and why education and soliciting participation can’t be the next step
    I love New Orleans!

  • Al

    Shouldn’t VCPOR have to disclose members? Weren’t Carnival krewes “private mission-driven non-profit” groups as well? Didn’t we solve this in ’92? Let’em disclose or quit “parading”….;that is, stay out of public discourse on issues that affect many.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Al,

      That was actually ruled unconstitutional if you’ll recall. They can keep their membership information to themselves if they choose, but it means that the city needs to rethink its reliance on VCPORA and other, similar organizations when crafting policy.

  • btwiggy

    I’m not sure if it’s ILLEGAL, but it’s definitely UNETHICAL for VCPORA to not disclose the number of members. As a nonprofit, most of that information is SHOULD be made public and their hesitance to disclose it illustrates how shady they really are.

  • Tremoloking

    This is an opinion piece in City Business, which I would not describe as a ‘radical’ publication in any way. Even more interesting are the comments from some French Quarter residents who clearly do NOT feel that VCPORA represents them or their best interests.
    http://neworleanscitybusiness.com/blog/2011/06/23/opinion-vcpora-steps-outside-its-boundaries/#ixzz2p0F6lbc8

  • OMR

    RE-ELECT NO ONE!
    RE-ELECT NONE!

  • Suzanne-Juliette Mobley

    Thank you, Jan! I was also on the working group and also know better, it’s disingenuous to say that one wants something passable or to claim that this draft ordinance is reasonable. If it is so reasonable, why was it not presented openly? No law, no matter how well written (and this Certainly isn’t) is a good law if it can’t stand public scrutiny. As a note to Bob, at prior times, VCPORA has stated that roughly 50% of their membership doesn’t live in the French Quarter.

    • kmsoap

      This working group is starting to sound like the NOPD Superintendent selection process.

  • D Schnatz

    These proposed noise ordinances want to squash long time traditional venues of music / entertainment / celebration. Perhaps there should be a requirement that if a noise restriction is to be implemented against a business, the person(s) complaining must have been an existing resident / owner prior to the establishment of said venue. People moving into entertainment district areas are foolish if they think they will have quiet evenings. Stick to totally residential areas if you want quiet.

    A while back, there were some incoming residents that wanted Court of Two Sisters to cease their Jazz Brunch. Really! How long has Court of Two Sisters been entertaining patrons with music? Much longer than the complainant held residency.

  • Kat

    You just have a couple of facts wrong. Mr. Smith bought his property at 516 st. Philip not St. Louis. Half a block from the market cafe and the gazebo cafe, Both of which have featured live daily music since the early 80’s. mr. Smith has been suing us since he moved in, one of the reasons being that “he can’t sleep at 2pm”.
    No joke. We have been dealing with this for a long long time. The courts always throw it out so he went to the city council.

    • rick rod

      aha, the shades come down. I’m so glad he has so much money that he can waste with nuisance lawsuits. maybe we need an ordinance that makes new home buyers in music neighborhoods sign that they are aware of the music and will not sue to try to change it.

    • Tremoloking

      Wow, really? May I invite you to share that with MaCCNO, if they don’t know already?
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/113893188774696/

  • rick rod

    It’s funny how Stacey Head’s name keeps popping up in these noise/neighborhood disputes. (remember Jimmy’s) I wonder if down the road she is expecting to work for Mr Smith at a very handsome salary? Very similar to how congress is now working; just on smaller scale.

  • Wayne

    Been visiting NOLA from the Midwest at least once a year for more than 30 years. Signed the “pro-music” petition a couple of weeks ago. It’s ridiculous VCPORA won’t even share how many members they have. Didn’t they have to reveal that to the city at some point when introducing the draft ordinance? Anyway, if you look at their membership categories here: http://www.vcpora.org/index.php?topic=membership
    it’s seems likely that membership is stacked against “regular” residents and more about the fat cats who see $$$ (per the other category descriptions). But I wonder if one strategy might be for opponents of the noise ordinance to actually join VCPORA as Associates (or Residents if you do live in the VC), and attempt to outnumber the anti-music bunch from within by becoming constituents. There’s an identified 17-member board that ostensibly represents each category. Heck, I’d be willing to join from Chicago, and I’ll bet tons of folks around world who love NOLA music would be willing to join also. Looks like the cheapest membership is 40 bucks. And if they suddenly cut off new membership applications, that would be telling too, wouldn’t it? Just a thought.

  • JohnInTucson

    I’ve read the biographies of the members of the board of the VCPORA several times including just now. Of the 17 board members listed, the connections with music and musicians that I find are these (quoted directly from the site): one board member is the granddaughter of Cosimo Matassa, one volunteers with Jazz Fest, one is a health care provider at the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, one performed with the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans for 26 seasons, and in 1983 founded the New Orleans Gay Men’s Chorus, and one is on the board of both the New Orleans Ballet Association and New Orleans Opera Association. I guess no actual musicians or club operators own property in the Quarter or, if they do, I guess they somehow didn’t qualify for board membership.

    • JJ

      A health care provider at the NOMC?? Seriously?? The organization’s sole reason for existing is to support musicians and live music! There’s a reason the sister organization is called the N.O. Musicians Assistance Fund! It’s designed to help musicians get work. You know…like in those very clubs Smith is trying to shut down.

      Speaking as a long time fund-raiser for NOMAC/NOMAF, I would most certainly like to know who that person is!

      • JohnInTucson

        The bio for Evelyn Rodos says, in part, “…working with the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic and Assistance Foundation where I am one of their health care providers, an active volunteer and donor to their mission.” You can read the whole thing on the linked page. I tried to quote as directly as possible – using the board member’s words, not mine, to illustrate their connection with music and/or musicians. Out of 17 members of the board, there’s not a lot.

        Here’s the link to the page:
        http://www.vcpora.org/index.php?topic=board

    • aahsrjh

      One is on the board of both the New Orleans Ballet Association and New Orleans Opera Association and he is also of counsel at a certain law firm.