Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration announced Tuesday it is dropping a controversial part of its citywide security plan that would have forced bars to keep their doors closed after 3 a.m. — a proposal that had generated backlash from bar owners and others who feared it would harm the French Quarter's spirit of "laissez les bons temps rouler."
But at the same time, the administration is coming under fire for a new proposal that critics argue will contribute to the "Disney-fication" of the Quarter: a crackdown on a "culture of lawlessness" along Bourbon Street that aims to make the city's most notorious stretch of nightclubs resemble the far more sedate environs of nearby Royal Street.
The decision to drop the 3 a.m. proposal — which would have required doors to be kept closed even though bars could continue serving alcohol — shows that the $40 million security plan first announced in January remains in flux, even as its details become public in fits and starts.
City officials addressing a meeting Monday night — the first opportunity members of the public had to raise questions about the plan or provide their opinions on its provisions — spoke as if the 3 a.m. door-closing was an idea the city still was actively pursuing. But by Tuesday afternoon, it was history.
That proposal was one of the few parts of the plan that needed City Council approval, since it would have required changes to ordinances that govern bars. Many business owners, however, objected to that provision, saying it would tamp down on the celebratory atmosphere — particularly on Bourbon Street — that attracts visitors while doing little to curb crime.
A New Orleans Advocate analysis of calls to the New Orleans Police Department found that crime begins to drop off well before 3 a.m., even near late-night bars. Also, the Bourbon Street mass shootings that helped precipitate the security proposal all happened before 3 a.m.
An effort to curb the freewheeling nighttime culture of Bourbon Street by encouraging early-…
In a statement Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said the "city will not pursue changes that will require (bars) to keep their doors closed after 3 a.m. due to other public safety issues that may have resulted from reduced capacity and fire exits in bars.”
Plans to require bars to install exterior video cameras that would feed into a centralized NOPD command center are still on the table, Berni said.
Even before one nightlife-focused aspect was eliminated from the proposal, though, another had arisen as a major new concern.
The vision outlined Monday night for cleaning up Bourbon Street, a famously freewheeling stretch of strip clubs and loud music venues, calls for eliminating vendors who sell booze to patrons from buildings' windows, cleaning the street and focusing on code and business violations.
The final touch, once city officials have erected bollards blocking off vehicles from several blocks of Bourbon, would involve adding trees, planters, benches and other furniture to the roadway.
“We see it as changing the culture of lawlessness,” City Planning Commission Deputy Director Leslie Alley said. “We’ve got to go out and change the culture in this town of lawlessness.”
But that proposed change, and other aspects of the plan, did not go over well with many in the crowd that packed the St. Jude Community Center to grill city officials at the first public forum on the security plan since it was announced two months ago.
The meeting was organized by two residential groups, Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates and French Quarter Citizens.
“There’s an image that’s coming to my mind, and I don’t want to say the ‘D-word,’ " VCPORA Executive Director Meg Lousteau said of the plans for “street furniture” — an apparent reference to what some refer to as the transformation of the French Quarter into a Disneyland version of itself.
Landrieu's security plan, rolled out following a mass shooting on Bourbon Street on Thanksgiving weekend and terrorist attacks in Europe that targeted streets filled with people, is a nearly $40 million initial effort, with a $3.8 million yearly price tag. Much of the initial money will come from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu will face two big hurdles in implementing the new security plan for the…
The plan calls for erecting cameras throughout the city, using bollards to block off much of Bourbon Street and turning it into a pedestrian mall.
Many of its elements already are underway.
Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Hebert said permanent cameras already have been installed along Bourbon and the city is beginning the process of contracting out work on the centralized camera command center, which would be housed in the 1st District police station on North Rampart Street.
The first several blocks of Bourbon are now permanently under the watchful eye of surveillance cameras that are monitored by the NOPD, and some streetlights in the French Quarter already have been converted to brighter LED bulbs, Hebert said.
One traffic study is looking at how vehicles navigate a wide area around the Quarter, and a follow-up study will focus specifically on the Vieux Carre to determine the impact of the pedestrian mall plan, Hebert said.
But much remains unclear about how various elements of the plan will shake out.
The crackdown on Bourbon is aimed at businesses that are violating city rules because the city is looking to make the Quarter “cleaner, safer and with more character than it has today,” Hebert said.
He pointed to “a cart in an alley with a Katrina-style tarp over it that was selling liquor on the street” as an example of “what we’re going after” and cited Royal Street as an example of what Bourbon should be like.
That campaign could involve targeting businesses that are breaking city rules, Alley said.
“Live entertainment is what we want to see on that street. It’s an entertainment district. It’s not about saying we don’t want entertainment, but it’s about complying with the law,” she said.
But many in the audience said that focus — particularly the proposal to add new streetscape elements to Bourbon — was misguided and out of character with the historic design and character of the Quarter.
One resident described the addition of planters and trees to the street as historically inappropriate and said a private property owner would never get such a proposal past the Vieux Carre Commission.
Other residents questioned the premise of the plan itself, arguing that the money spent on cameras and other high-tech gear would be better put into social programs or nonprofit groups. Those efforts are more effective at reducing crime, French Quarter resident Bruce Riley said.
“I don’t think this is a great investment that you all (propose), and I’d like you to reconsider how you spend your money,” Riley said. “I want more bang for my buck.”
“The problem isn’t that we need to surveil more. It’s that we need a bit more prevention,” he added.
City Homeland Security Director Aaron Miller said the city has been working with other agencies to develop "best practices" to protect the privacy of those caught on surveillance cameras, including making sure “footage is not retained unnecessarily.” However, exactly what those policies will say remains uncertain.
With many questions unanswered, residents at Monday's meeting repeatedly called for more information on what the full plan would entail and more opportunities to have input.
“I didn’t hear a lot of dialogue before this. Is there going to be more before any of these decisions are made?” asked Ken Caron, who leads COPS 8, a nonprofit group that supports the 8th District officers who patrol the French Quarter.
In response, Hebert pointed to two months of meetings he said the administration had with groups representing businesses and residents in the French Quarter, though none of those involved the wider public. But he did not say whether there will be other chances for the public to ask questions or offer their thoughts on the plan before it is fully implemented.