April 1, 2019

Message from Councilmember Joseph I. Giarrusso III

Between Mardi Gras and keeping tabs on the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB), February and March were busy months in the District A office.
Our March Public Works Committee meeting was entirely focused on the budget, finances, and personnel at the S&WB. At that meeting we learned that the utility has been working to increase the number of meters S&WB staff actually read from about 50% to about 80%. In recent years, the S&WB had such short staff that roughly half of the meters weren’t read in any given month. High rates of estimated water usage and a problematic estimation algorithm led to the widespread billing issues most New Orleanians have experienced in recent years and have contributed to the utility’s budget shortfalls. We learned in that meeting that around $134 Million has gone uncollected by the S&WB in the past two years. We are waiting to hear back from the S&WB about how much of that figure is due to water that is unbilled for schools and other public entities, how much is from customers not paying their bills, and how much is from inflated bills. I am hopeful that with stable leadership, improvements in staffing levels, and standardized estimation amounts, the S&WB can begin to rebuild its reputation with New Orleanians.
We also held the first meeting of the Quality of Life committee in March. I created this committee because blight, illegal dumping, trash, and high grass affect every neighborhood in this city. I hear daily from constituents about these issues and more, and this committee will give me and my fellow district Councilmembers an opportunity to address them with a holistic city-wide focus. At our first meeting, we discussed the homeless encampments under the expressway and heard from local agencies about the services they provide to the homeless population in New Orleans. Tulane and Loyola Universities also updated the committee about their efforts to help students living around campus be more considerate of their neighbors and to keep their property clear of trash, particularly at the beginning and end of semesters and during Mardi Gras. The next meeting scheduled for May 2 will focus on blight and will be led by District E Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen.
Another issue my office receives frequent calls about is the Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) Canal Streetcar Improvement Analysis. The lack of public information about the RTA’s plan to implement a six-month “pilot” on Canal Street caused a lot of confusion and concern so, in response, during the March Transportation Committee meeting, I solicited three commitments from RTA leadership:
  1. RTA has pressed the “pause button” on this project until September.
  2. RTA has not requested and the Department of Public Works has not issued any permits to close off streets.
  3. RTA will engage stakeholders and neighborhood associations in the next couple of months about their plans.
I continue to meet with leadership at the Department of Public Works to advocate for a more rational approach to FEMA-funded street repairs.
Finally, we learned through media reports, along with the public, that the city changed the threshold for tickets to be issued by traffic cameras without telling the public first. I have asked the administration for more information about why this decision was not communicated to the public or the council ahead of time.
My staff and I work every day to find solutions to the big and small challenges facing residents. Please continue to call, email, and speak up at neighborhood meetings to keep us informed of what is important to you and your family. My office number is 658-1010 and email is Joseph.Giarrusso@nola.gov . You can also follow our work on Facebook and Twitter @cmgiarrusso.

In February my Chief of Staff, Gordon McLeod, moved on from City Hall to other opportunities in the private sector. I am grateful for his work through the early part of my term and wish him well in his new role.
I have promoted Amanda Rizzo, who previously served as my Constituent Services Director, to the Chief of Staff position. We welcomed Holly Friedman to my team. She will serve as my Constituent Services Director, working closely with Amanda and Nina Killeen.

I have been working with Councilmember Moreno to develop an ordinance to codify some of the existing health and sanitation department practices regarding sweeps of the homeless encampments under the interstates. We intend to add a requirement that signage be posted in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and to require data collection and reporting to the council regarding the sweeps. Specifically when they are conducted, what personal property is stored and where, and what services were provided to the homeless.
Short Term Rentals

We expect to start final discussions of Short Term Rental (STR) regulations in the next few months as the City Planning Commission (CPC) will present their recommendations to the full council in May. My biggest concern is that residential neighborhoods remain so, which is why I have supported the homestead exemption requirement for residential STR permits.
In January 2019, the council passed motion M-19-4 directing the City Planning Commission (CPC) to recommend text changes to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that would require a valid homestead exemption for a residential STR permit, establish four types of commercial STR permits, ban STRs in the French Quarter and the Garden District, and incorporate other recommendations from the CPCs 2018 STR study. The council also directed the CPC to study creating Economic Development Incentive Zones with looser restrictions on residential licenses in Motion M-19-6.
I will continue to keep you updated on the status of these pieces of legislation as they move through the process.

Ahead of Jazz Fest, my staff and I have been working with neighbors and organizers to ensure that the event is safe and fun for residents as well as festival goers. Geo-fencing for Uber and Lyft will be erected to corral ride share users in specific areas and will only be in effect from 9am – 9pm on fest days. Streets will be blocked off one hour earlier than in past years and Vernon and Leda may be closed on both Saturdays and on Locals’ Thursday. Neighbors should call (504) 942-7799 to get illegally parked cars towed; this line will be staffed by NOPD on fest days.
April 9: New Links Launch Meeting @ University Medical Center Conference Room F
New Links is a yearlong project to study and propose ways to redesign the public transportation network in Greater New Orleans. More information here.
April 10: Bike Network Planning Open House @ Stuart Hall Cafeteria
Moving New Orleans is the City-Wide Bike Network Plan. Attend the Open House and provide feedback on biking infrastructure. More information here.
May 15: Harrah’s New Orleans Community Support Grants Due @ 4:00 PM
The purpose of the program is to provide grant support to local organizations and projects that contribute substantially to the well-being, development, and growth of the New Orleans community. More information here.
May 17: Cox Communications Community Grants Due @ 4:00 PM
The purpose of the grant funds is to assist organizations and support projects that focus on educations, technology training and communications programs that benefit the youth of New Orleans. More information here.