The City Council has backed off a plan to require all bars and restaurants in New Orleans that sell alcohol to install surveillance cameras outside their establishments — at least for now.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office this week asked the council to defer consideration of a proposed camera ordinance that was scheduled to come before a council committee on Wednesday and the full council on Thursday. Not enough council members support the idea.
Separately, the City Planning Commission has deferred consideration of a plan to cap the number of strip clubs in the French Quarter. Supporters say such a limit would make it easier to police prostitution and drug use and to keep underage girls from working at the establishments.
That proposal, pushed by Councilwoman Stacy Head, would cap the number of strip clubs in the French Quarter at the current number, 13, and limit them to one per block within the Vieux Carre Entertainment District, which includes Bourbon Street.
Tyronne Walker, the mayor’s spokesman, said the administration will continue to work with the public and council members “to figure out how we will together come up with any new sensible regulations that will help us reduce the level of human trafficking.”
Walker did not return calls seeking an explanation for the administration’s decision to defer the surveillance camera ordinance.
Landrieu first put forward that proposal — which would apply to any establishment with a license to sell liquor, including grocery and convenience stores — a year ago as part of a broader plan to improve public safety.
It would add at least 1,500 cameras to a network of 200 that city officials are mounting throughout New Orleans.
The proposal has faced strong opposition from many of the establishments that would have to install them.
The plan “puts everyone in New Orleans under surveillance,” said Ethan Ellestad, executive director of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, a nonprofit group that represents bars, their workers and musicians. “There’s no reassurance of how this footage will be used. There’s no reassurance of protections.”
Louisiana Restaurant Association leaders met with city officials on Tuesday to discuss their concerns.
Several bar owners have argued that mounting the cameras would not actually reduce crime because it usually takes place away from their establishments.
Head has been insisting that administration officials answer questions about the camera plan before the council's Governmental Affairs Committee, which she chairs. The deferral kept that from happening Wednesday.
“She was ready to hear from the administration on where the camera program fits into their overall plan for public safety,” said Katie Baudouin, a spokesman for Head.
Councilman Jason Williams, however, wasn’t ready for that discussion.
“He is glad that more time is being taken to explore this issue further,” said Katie Hunter-Lowrey, a spokeswoman. “There are concerns about the administration of the program and any potential unintended consequences.” She declined to offer more specifics.
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Councilwoman Susan Guidry said she favored postponing the issue “to give the mayor, council, business community and residents more time to consider together a set of rules that will serve the goals of increasing public safety while respecting the community’s concerns.”
David Winkler-Schmit, a spokesman for Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, the mayor-elect, offered no objections to putting off the surveillance and strip club proposals. He said Cantrell deferred to Landrieu on his surveillance plan and to Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey on the strip club issue because Bourbon Street is in her district.
Ramsey did not respond to a request for comment.
Councilman James Gray declined an interview, while a spokeswoman for Councilman Jared Brossett said he is reviewing the camera proposal and has no firm position on it.
Under the city’s plan, the video from the cameras would feed into a security hub — known as the Real Time Crime Monitoring Center — staffed by city employees who watch feeds around the clock from a network of cameras.
The proposed ordinance for the video cameras also contains a number of other changes, including a shift in the city’s oversight of establishments with liquor licenses from the Finance Department to the Safety and Permits Department.
That change, Head has said, would help prevent frequent errors in the issuing of licenses and would consolidate permitting under the city’s One Stop Shop.
All New Orleans businesses that sell alcohol, including bars, convenience stores, restaurants and grocery stores, would be required to have ex…
The French Quarter Business League has not taken a position on the strip club cap but has concerns about the surveillance cameras requirement, said Alex Fein, the group’s president.
“What is the footage for?” asked Fein, whose family owns the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. “Just to solve violent crimes or use it as a Big Brother? It was very vague in the terminology. We needed more details.”
Staff writer Jessica Williams contributed to this article.
The New Orleans City Council moved one step closer Thursday to capping the number of strip clubs on Bourbon Street, directing the Planning Com…