Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Coin of the Realm

While we may live in a country obsessed by celebrity & possessions, during an election based on the distribution of money, I put to you that there is only one wealth worth admiration; that is the wealth of compassion & understanding. 

These then, are signs of a life well lived, while money & power are but the bait of a greedy existence, unfulfilling & measured almost entirely by the power over the lives of others. 

Wish Freedom & Happiness for others, and you shall be rich in both, beyond your dreams.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sean Cummings & The Elysio Lofts

For anyone not up to date, Sean Cummings is the developer pushing to build a 74 foot tall condominium building at 501 Elysian Fields Avenue, in the Faubourg Marigny, which has a 50 foot height limit in it's zoning law.
There are other issues involved, like the sheer ugliness of it, but it may just be me that thinks a flat series of boxes with a patchwork like this is ugly; "Something approaching the feel of siding. This is overlaid with smooth metal panels that, together with the windows and balconies, form an asymmetrical, Tetris-like pattern." - Cummings own description.

To my eye, it looks more like something a Japanese game console would come in. And of course, there's the parking issue; 75 spaces for 74 apartments, including many that are 2, 3, or 4 bedrooms, and a downstairs "Pedestrian Retail Interface" ( read; Strip Mall), as Cummings called it at the FMIA meeting, which has no designated parking at all. Mr. Cummings was quite reassuring that the multi-level parking garages across the street at Decatur & Elysian Fields would pick up that slack, as well as off set the height violation.
Except they haven't been built yet. Nor is there any real plan in effect, and if there were, they wouldn't pop up over night. It would take several years of having no parking at all. But what does that matter to a forward thinking guy like Cummings?

 In fact, Sean thought very far ahead on this project. While CEO of the New Orleans Building Corporation, he spearheaded the design of the River Front 2005 plan, which is part of the New Orleans Master Plan, at least in theory.
As Chris Maldonado reports in the Best Of New Orleans blog: "His name, as well as that of his father, John Cummings, appear in acknowledgements appended to the report."

When going before the City Planning Commission, Cummings submitted his own quotes from this plan, and the CPC accepted it as gospel. "The proposed development is located within a node at the intersection of a major access corridor, Elysian Fields Avenue, and the riverfront," they wrote. "The adopted Riverfront Vision 2005 Plan sets forth certain design criteria for development sites within such nodes that may justify additional height."

Besides writing future proposed development law (it has NOT yet been passed) that would allow him special treatment under the 'New Law', Cummings made a practice of buying up properties, or having his father buy them, while still CEO of the NOBC.

 He was called up more than once by the State of Louisiana Ethics Board for doing so. While Cummings will claim loudly, and to anyone that will listen, that he was 'cleared of all that', it is hardly the truth. A portion of the report from that meeting is here:

The last paragraph is telling;
 "The board instructed the Staff to tell Cummings and his father that if they own any property that will be SUBJECT TO REZONING, or any other action as a result of River Vision 2005, or Reinventing the Crescent, or any other plan developed in whole or in part by the NOBC, or any other committee on which he or the NOBC is a member, his service as the Director of the NOBC may be prohibited. If such a matter does arise in the future, Mr Cummings should request an advisory opinion prior to taking such action or submitting such an application."

As to being 'cleared of all that", as Cummings has repeatedly said, the same report offers this:

 To my knowledge, no approval from the Louisiana State Board of Ethics was ever requested by Cummings, his father, or anyone else. It seems that by leaving his position as CEO of the New Orleans Building Corporation, Sean thinks his greed can now go on unabated.
But let's look at what he DID plan out, shall we?

This is a map of the River Front Development, and the properties placed are from a map provided by Cummings, himself. The Red Squares are properties owned by Cummings and/or his father. Please note that the Main Entrance, where the planned 1500 seat amphitheater is scheduled to be, is only 2 blocks from 501 Elysian Fields.
The second entrance (moving down river) is at the Rice Mill Lofts and the adjacent parking lot, owned by Cummings, and certainly ripe for further condo development, especially if the height limitation is removed.
The third entrance is the Piety Street Wharf, a given in the plan before Cummings came on board, and the only one that must be reached by a huge walkover bridge.
The fourth, and final entrance, pours out directly to Mazant & Bartholomew, where Cummings father owns not one or two, but four separate residential properties, all of which are multi-unit.

So, it seems rather obvious that Sean Cummings was forward thinking enough to hold on to his wits while he & C. Ray. Nagin, the only other guy watching the purse strings, spent about $20 million designing a recreation area that would funnel money to the properties he & his Dad were accumulating, all the while claiming they would see "no substantial economic interest" from doing so.
It should also be pointed out that Cummings insisted that he & his father would see no more "substantial economic interest" than anyone else in that area.
Of course, this is before those homes have a 75 foot wall of condos between them & the River.

But that's just the graft, criminal misuse of public office and whatever other nastiness Sean & C.Ray were up to with the missing $20 million (has anyone seen any receipts?) The real fun begins with Cummings Double Speak and Rich Boy Arrogance.

Cummings claims he has "supporters" in this plan, but a quick glance shows us why.
The owner of Standard Coffee supports it. He owns two consecutive blocks directly between 501 & NOCCA, on Decatur Street (look at the map) and is positively drooling for this 'variation' to set precedent so he can build 75 foot condo towers, too.

The Cake Bakery guy, at Chartres & Spain is certainly on board, as his cafe, although often too busy to serve the customers it now has, stands to gain huge profit, and perhaps expansion, by the building of this thing.

Sean has also spoken repeatedly about the various heights of the 'stages' of his project, claiming that they "average out to 48 feet".

While I find this to be the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard, apparently, some people buying it, so for them, here's a little exercise:

Get yourself pulled over for doing 100 mph on the freeway. Explain to the cop that, although your were doing 100 mph for the last two miles, you were only doing 50 mph for the four miles before that. Adding 50 + 50 + 100, and getting 200, then dividing that by three sections of 2 miles each, you get 66.6 mph.
How could one get a ticket when the speed limit is 70 mph, and your 'average speed' is only 66.6?

If this works for you, please come over and walk across this swimming pool.

The LAW (that's what zoning law is, kids) states a clear limit of 50 feet.
Cummings has been told by the State Ethics Board that asking for zoning changes shows a clear violation of his trust as a public employee.
The fact that he developed the park as a money funnel to properties owned by him and his father is probably criminal.
It's not like he, or his partner in this, C.Ray. Nagin, have great record so far, either.

But finally, we get to the soul of the project, itself.
Cummings has repeatedly called upon his New Yorker friends to come down and "reinvent" New Orleans, asking them to "Bring some real artists" to our hopeless little Faubourg. One of them, a divorcee from NYC, was quoted in the New York Times as saying she dreamed about the Rice Mills building, where she and the other tenants drank wine on the roof and psychoanalyzed each other.
She went on to say she dreamnt of "looking down on the homeless, below, building their little camps."

This must fit in tremendously with the 'Vision of Bernard Marigny" that Cummings claimed to be fulfilling  when I listened to him spilling tripe at the FMIA meeting. Hilariously, the last descendant of the Marigny family, who still lives there, watched in horror, and then laughter, as I asked Cummings, over & over again, about his "channeling Bernard Marigny." Sean, of course, was completely unaware that this man even existed, as he claimed his heritage out from under him, before his very eyes.
Finally leaving in a hissy fit, Poor Sean slammed down his pointer and stormed out, leaving his personal assistant to scramble for the projectors, et all.
A Man for The People, Sean Cummings.

As in other meetings with the FMIA, the height & parking, both in violation of local zoning law, were the hot button issues.

Cummings, however, keeps telling the press otherwise:

""The neighborhood association has exhibited a level of hostility towards us from the very beginning that is very difficult for me to pinpoint," Cummings says. "Exactly where it emanates from, I don't know. I'm not going to guess. I've asked, but they haven't been forthcoming. So I don't know.""

I suppose this is Rich Boy gaming, in that, when someone tells you the rules apply to you, too, you respond by saying "My teacher hates me & I don't know why."

Finally, there's Sean the Sensitive Artist.
 "Simply stated, Elisio Lofts is a lyrical tribute to the human tapestry, rich texture, of the-bell-curve patterns and highly eccentric character of Marigny."

If your flowers aren't doing well, shovel some of that on them. The "rich texture' and "bell curve patterns" I see are an extra floor of condos, some as small as 450 square feet (22x20) and renting for $1,000 a month. At only five per floor, that's an extra $60 grand a year.
Bell Curve my Aunt Mable's ass.

And then, finally, there's this, Sean's 'feelings' about it;
"We kind of feel that we're artists with buildings."

I'm an artist by trade, and it's how I make my living, if you can call it that.
I understand that every artist must struggle to find their vision & voice, and struggle harder to be heard.
But I don't know any, except vandals, who do it all over other peoples neighborhoods, in violation of their laws and ordinances, set up 40 years ago, by agreement and decree. 
I don't know any who scheme behind the scenes, stacking the deck against the populous, using millions of dollars of tax payer money to create a Funnel Of Greed, to build a Wall of Sycophants along the River, and sell out the rest of their city, because the only way they can get respect is to buy it.

And then, only when they cheat at the game, as well.

501 ELYSIAN FIELDS; Update from FMIA:
The City Council meeting on August 23 concerning 501 Elysian Fields was cancelled and rescheduled for September 6, 2012 in City Council Chambers.

According to an involved resident of the Marigny, a ral
ly scheduled for August 22 has been rescheduled for September 4. at 6:30 at Decatur and Elysian Fields on the neutral ground, rain or shine, wear your Size Matters Shirt, bring signs, make signs, bring your neighbors, friends and children.
It is important to show to City Council Members why their decision is important.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monster in the House

Sometimes I think that there's a Monster living in my house. It comes out, late at night, careening around in a most horrifying manner, garrumphing out the windows at passers by, and moaning in horror, as it is so often misunderstood & alone, yet too horrible to be seen by mortals. Then I realize it's just me.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Freedom Like Water

Marigny Improvement through Gentrification; Better Every Day

I remember, not that long ago, that people in the neighborhood picked up (bagging?) after their Dog Walk. They dropped the tied bag in the nearest trash can.
I'm sure it made for some 'surprise openings', but it worked out in the long run.

Lately, it's a Crap Fest. 
A Fecal Playground.

 There's a fresh steaming heap around any corner, on any day, dark or light, rain or shine. I doubt that so many have thrown up their hands and suddenly decided not to bag the poop any more, that it's Shit Henge on my door step two or three times a week.
So it must be the New People, here as part of the Mayor's 'New' New Orleans, making it better for everyone by making it more like everywhere else.

 I even noticed an out of state Prius parked at the Mardi Gras Zone. I couldn't help it really, as the driver had backed up until his back bumper was literally touching the front bumper of my truck.
 So, as I inched forward and backward, trying to struggle free with less than a couple of feet of space to wiggle in, I thought about how much this little Prius must be helping us all out, all over the world, right this very minute.
 This thought was, I admit, triggered by the "Raise Your Awareness" bumper sticker, commanding me to recognize the great message that this vehicle carried.

"Another Improvement!" I thought.
But only for an instant.
I noticed that the Prius had no handicap tag, yet was parked in the only marked Handicapped Parking space on the entire block.

I found myself so inspired by all of this, that I'm organizing a little get-together. I'm going to fill my truck with any handicapped people who'd like to come along, and we're going to go shit all over that Prius.

Somebody will pick it up for us.
I'm just sure of it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SIZE MATTERS; Stop The Madness

Dear Friends;

I'm writing this to ask you to join me in opposing the huge condominium development proposed for 501 Elysian Fields Avenue, in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans, just outside the French Quarter.

For those of you not entirely sure where this is located, it is right about where Elysian Fields & Frenchman Street meet, just two blocks before the River.

For a cultural reference, this is where the Street Car named Desire ran past the Kowalski's apartment, as Stanley called out "STELLA" into the night. It is where Ignatius J. Reilly crossed from the French Quarter, on his way to 'set free the Moors' at his Bywater job. It is a local and historic neighborhood, filled with Shotgun Houses & Creole Cottages, not many of them taller than 20 to 25 feet at the peak of their roof.

Since 1972, the Marigny has held fast to a height limit of 50 feet, refusing to allow high rises, in office buildings, condominiums or apartments to be constructed here.

Now, Sean Cummings, millionaire son of another millionaire developer, demands that this zoning law be ignored on his behalf, so that he can build a 75 foot Condo Tower at 501 Elysian Fields. This s the same Sean Cummings, who, when working for the City, under Ray Nagin, I might add, wanted to tear down the troubled World Trade Center, without any funding in place to rebuild it or even haul away the debris "as a monument to the time I've spent here" he said.

Cummings has friends who own property further down the River (Standard Coffee, taking up 3 city blocks) who are waiting for the precedent this will set, so that they, too can begin building Condo Towers, eventually connecting to Cummings other holdings, even further down, completing a Wall of Condos along the River Front. Imagine living in your own home for 20 years, and then one day, having a wall across the street that literally blocks the Sun.

Please, go to the link and sign the petition to stop this madness.
It doesn't matter if you live here or not.
Like the French Quarter, across the street,
the Marigny is a historic and international destination.

thanks and very best regards;

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Growing Cultures; Natural Magic at Work

I worry about New Orleans.

I see out of state BMWs going the wrong way down my street, radio blaring, cell phone to ear, oblivious. I encounter bicyclists, going the wrong way, also, down the middle of the street, who shout at me that I am 'not down', for refusing to get out of the way of their skinny jean commercial asses.

I hear more and more about 'programs' for poor kids. School vouchers, guaranteed to teach your kid that Jesus helped put dinosaurs on the Ark, that trickle down is The Only Way, and to look good in a uniform, in case they wind up in the infantry or prison.
And have I mentioned the Wall of Riverfront Condos?
Of course I have.

I had a little chat with Buddha, today, about all of this. 
THE Buddha. 
That's right, we hang.
He loves everybody.
Just like that other cool guy.

So, anyway....

He said: "New Orleans is Elvis. No matter how they try, it will not become Fabian."
 Now of course, like any great parable, this will immediately be dissected into fragmented images that reflect the Self of the one doing it, eventually getting around to skin color and how many whats are where and what they have and don't and why is that anyway. Or something. It always does.

But it's a parable (
like that whole other famous book that only morons & lunatics would take at face value), so we have to see it as a ratio comparison on every quantum level. Perhaps, another longer parable. That's like revealing truth without having to say or commit to anything. 
*Note to self: I should run for fucking president.*

 Anyway, here it is;
Culture, real culture, comes from the poor, the salt of the earth, the day to day people who live and die and make more of themselves and try to find happiness where there isn't much, unless you dig, way down inside and fight it back up, and most importantly, share it.
Give it away.
Create a tribe of like minded and similar souls, struggling to get by, generation after generation, carrying their traditions closer than money, because they really matter.

That's how cultures have been formed since the beginning of civilization.

Cultures are not formed by privileged sons of Rich Developers who buy up all the shit their government cronies are going to make valuable, and then stand around on, in smoking jackets, with their imported friends, talking about how everyone else is 'simply over'.

Those people STEAL culture.
And they sell it.

They come to your village and flatter and barter for your wares until they have enough to imitate you, and then they take it. 

And they make yours illegal.

They arrest you for freely demonstrating that culture as they sell it on TV, in the shops you wouldn't be caught dead in, and during any sporting event there is ever gonna be. They form committees to give awards to themselves for the Best Imitators Of Real Culture Anywhere.
But don't worry.
You won't see too much of that.
You're not invited because, seriously, you couldn't afford it, darlin.

I fear for New Orleans.
But the Buddha says that fear is just an emotion that has no bearing on the Truth.

And the Truth is that you are ALL New Orleans, my friends.
You and your whacky cultures.
All of you.
There IS no corporate blood in the veins of this town.
It is a Pirate City, an Outlaw City, a Trick of the River, an Accidental City, a magical land of disrepair and angels with broken wings. The streets are paved with the blood of the unwanted who built a kingdom in hell, and loved madly, drunkenly, along the way, celebrating with food & drink & music & art & sex & death.

I understand now.
In some strange and twisted way, maybe New Orleans IS Elvis.
And by taking part in this insanity, so are you.
Don't stop.
Don't let them put you in those awful, awful movies.
Twist your hips, swivel your pelvis, howl at the sky.
Get drunk and sing;
"Say it loud, I'm back & I'm plowed."
Because You Are New Orleans.
And nobody can take that away from you, ever.
Unless you let them.


When The Music Stops; City Hall vs the Cricle Bar

The Circle Bar has cancelled live music for now, as the City of New Orleans has refused it an entertainment license.
Read Alex Woodward's BlogofNewOrleans story about it here

As this article clearly states, they did NOT have a permit for this, as mentioned in the article linked above. But in 1999, when they began doing this, this system of permits wasn't in place. The permitting of artist's in the square, tarot readers, restaurants, cab drivers, has all changed and been changing, especially under Mitch Landreiu, Cultural Ambassador. Hospitality overlays, leveeing new taxes and gaining controlling interests is his favorite. Serpas enjoys these crack downs. Its Boss Hogg & Sheriff Smithers (he daddy usta been the Drivah) wielding Hillbilly Justice, 21st century style.

NEWS FLASH; City Hall approved their liquor & bar permits every year until this one, with international advertising, nightly ads on WWOZ and live fucking broadcasts. So they couldn't give them 30 days to comply? Blighted houses that potentially fall & kill people have a 90 day limit for repair, once purchased, and STAND FOR YEARS.

So, we have music cubs getting boot locked without a days notice, because... they've been operating successfully, employing dozens of industry workers & musicians for, I dunno, 13 fucking years? At what risk? The Circle Bar is world famous and hosts amazing talent. It doesn't bother the neighborhood, that I know of, and creates a cultural spectacle
found only in New Orleans.

It's also an easy hide to hang on Serpas' Barn Door, when the DOJ is finally getting in, PANO is calling him useless and the murder rate is getting higher & higher every year, while he sticks his nose in a monitor screen or rides through Fat Tuesday on his Big White Horse.

This is political, plain & simple, and the War On Art, under the flag of the Cultural Ambassador, means if they can't make it corporate, fit into a time slot and market the hell out out of it at hotels and gift shops, it aint gonna fly in New Or Lee Anns.

We have a marketing director for mayor and a half bright data entry clerk with a Wyatt Earp complex for Police Chief. That's the problem.