Cantrell’s CleanUp NOLA plan will expand city’s surveillance network

A new initiative from Mayor LaToya Cantrell aimed at reducing litter and illegal dumping includes a surprising component: crime cameras.

In a press release, the Mayor’s Office said that the CleanUpNOLA Initiativewill unite various city departments “behind a single goal for a cleaner, healthier, more welcoming city.” The initiative will remove graffiti from public property, introduce 100 new trash cans, and reopen the city’s recycling drop-off center to the public.

The initiative has an enforcement component as well. And crime cameras, linked to the city’s central surveillance hub, will play a role.

Cantrell spokesman David Lee Simmons said the city will install 10 new cameras, but added that this number could rise. He said the decision to expand from the initial 10 cameras is “contingent upon resources.”  The crime cameras will account for $70,000 of the project’s $1 million total budget, Simmons said.

The cameras will run 24 hours a day and feed live footage into the city’s Real Time Crime Monitoring Center — a $5 million facility created in 2017 as part of former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Citywide Public Safety Improvement Plan. The center is managed by the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and currently records footage from more than 300 surveillance cameras across the city, Simmons said.

The new cameras will be used to identify people illegally dumping trash so they can be arrested or fined, Cantrell said. But they will also be used by the New Orleans Police Department for general law enforcement and criminal investigation, according to Simmons.

Planning Commission study recommends “effectively prohibiting” many whole-home Airbnbs

Draft recommendations released Tuesday by the New Orleans City Planning Commission’s staff would effectively ban “whole-home” short-term rentals — as the city’s current laws define them — in residential districts.

The recommendations came as part of a hotly anticipated report on the city’s short-term rental law, which went into effect last year. The study was commissioned this year by the New Orleans  City Council.

The report would also expand licenses in the French Quarter, where they are now mostly prohibited.

Under the recommendations in the 155-page study, whole-home residential licenses — which appear to be intended for doubles and small apartment buildings — would require hosts to prove that they own and live on the same lot as the short-term rental unit with a homestead exemption.

Two schools with high numbers of special education students face budget cuts

Two New Orleans public schools that make a point to serve special education students will have to make budget adjustments if they can’t hit enrollment targets by the beginning of next month, when the state takes a formal enrollment count.

Cypress Academy in Mid-City is 71 students shy of its budgeted enrollment of 265 students, a district official announced this week. That’s about a 25 percent gap.

“We are actively working with our finance team to address the financial ramifications and will be bringing a plan forward for consideration at the October board meeting,” district Chief of Schools Rene Lewis-Carter told Orleans Parish School Board members Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Noble Minds Institute for Whole Child Learning has already amended its budget, including a cut in hours for some employees. The state-authorized charter school had 53 students as of Tuesday. That was 17 short of its original 70-student goal.

“Our short-term goal is to get to 60,” Noble Minds CEO Vera Triplett told her charter board members Wednesday.

“As a result of the lower enrollment we have had to make staffing cuts,” she said. “We just had to respond to our new financial reality.”

School zone traffic camera may be issuing tickets at wrong time

Nancy Iovino was surprised when school zone speeding tickets started showing up in her mailbox last month — first one, then two, and they kept coming.

“All of a sudden all these lights were going off,” she recalled of a mid-August drive down Orleans Avenue. “It was almost like a Hollywood premiere.”

The operating room nurse knew school was back in session — but she gets to work each morning before the reduced 20 mph school zone speed limits go into effect between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m..

“I didn’t think anything of it because I know school zones are starting at 7 a.m. and it was 6:40,” she said. “Then suddenly I get a ticket and I get another ticket.”

Iovino received six tickets in total, beginning in August.

And she’s not the only one.

City Council wants its own experts to help oversee the Sewerage and Water Board

After months of frustrated attempts to get answers from the Sewerage and Water Board on a series of controversies, the New Orleans City Council is moving to build greater in-house knowledge of the water agency.

The council approved a proposal to seek bids for a consultant who would advise on technical, legal, and financial issues related to the city’s water and drainage systems

“Since the flooding of August 5, 2017, the Sewerage and Water Board has been in a constant state of disorganization, from the infrastructure problems, to the leadership carousel, to the inadequate billing system, to the decision to restart water shutoffs,” Councilman Jared Brossett said. “The public justifiably has no confidence in the Sewerage and Water Board.”

The move follows more than a year of very public scandals at the agency. After citywide flooding last year, Sewerage and Water Board officials falsely claimed that the agency’s pumping system was fully operational, resulting in the resignations of top employees, including Executive Director Cedric Grant.

State cuts Singleton Charter school’s score to a D after 2017 testing problems

The state has slashed James M. Singleton Charter School’s 2017 state performance rating from a C to a D after invalidating 165 students’ state standardized tests — 40 percent of the 410-student school — due to testing irregularities.

The state analyzed exams and found 21 had unusually high number of answers changed from wrong to right. Other students received special education help, but the school couldn’t prove they deserved it.

What Singleton’s former CEO chalked up to a paperwork error last fall was later described as “a systematic problem” by Darren Mire, who chairs the charter school’s governing board.

Opinion: Black communities in St. James on the losing end of Louisiana’s ‘big win’

Anne Rolfes opines on another plant going into Cancer Alley. “The announcement that Formosa, a Taiwanese petrochemical giant, plans a $9.4 billion project in St. James Parish is being hailed as a big win for Louisiana and a sign of economic progress. Never mind that African-American communities in the immediate vicinity of the 2,400-acre site on the Mississippi River’s west bank will be damaged if not eradicated. That it’s being dubbed the “Sunshine Project” because of its proximity to the Sunshine Bridge is ironic, given the 28 million tons of air pollution it will add each year to the already smog-shrouded landscape known as Cancer Alley. This pollution includes chemicals that cause cancer, breathing problems, and chemicals that are warming the planet—and exacerbating flooding in Louisiana.

(Doubt the very real signs of climate change? A federal government studyof the August 2016 floods in Baton Rouge attributed the unprecedented rain to burning fossil fuels.)

The area proposed for the Formosa plant is currently sugar cane fields that abut the unincorporated African-American town of Welcome.  A few miles down the road is Freetown. As the name suggests, Freetown was settled by men and women who survived slavery. For the last 75 years, small African-American towns like these have been wiped off the map by industry without the legacy their descendants deserve: compensation or even acknowledgement that they ever existed.”

Opinion: What if Brett Kavanaugh found the courage to explain himself humbly and honestly?

Columnist Orissa Arend tells us what she wishes Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would say publicly to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychologist.

Read her column here.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...