August 06, 2020 10:00 AM
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NEW ORLEANS - At today's regular meeting, the City Council approved a motion initiating a study of public WiFi for New Orleans residents, adopted a resolution opposing all future legislation that would remove local authorities' ability to collect taxes, approved measures to create two new zoning districts, and passed an amendment to the City Code to provide for the collection and distribution of proceeds from the existing short term rental (STR) tax.
In addition, Vice President Helena Moreno and colleagues took a moment to recognize and congratulate the student winners of the citywide #MaskUpNOLA poster contest.
The Council showcasing the winning artwork from local students as part of the #MaskUpNOLA poster contest at the start of today's virtual meeting
New Orleans to Explore Public WiFi Access
The Council unanimously approved Motion M-20-243 introduced by Utility Committee Chair and Council Vice President Helena Moreno earlier this week to expand internet access across the City. The motion directs the Council Utilities Regulatory Office (CURO) to work with the Cantrell Administration to research the best approach for the Council to continue its work toward digital equity by ensuring that more residents have access to the internet at home.
The motion cites recent census data and a report from the New Orleans Data Center, which shows up to 37 percent of residents do not have internet service at home or are solely dependent on their cell phones for internet access. The Orleans Parish School Board also provided data that roughly 9000 of their students lack internet access.
"The digital divide has been exacerbated by the pandemic. For many families studying and working from home is a major challenge due to lack of internet. Further, we can't let the cost to participate in the economy or in personal empowerment reinforce the existing racial and economic gaps in our communities. As Chair of the Utilities Committee, I'm excited to be taking on this project to bring public WiFi to New Orleans," said Councilmember Moreno.
Per the approved motion, the Council directs the CURO to report back on implementation options for a citywide WiFi network in 90 days.
Council Opposes State Efforts to Remove Local Tax Authority
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-238, opposing any proposed measures that would enable the State Legislature to remove the authority of local governments to administer and collect local sales and use taxes. Per the resolution, the Council states that a centralized State collector of tax revenues could inhibit local governments from accruing interest on incoming revenue, transferring that benefit to the State, and reducing revenue for the City of New Orleans by up to $800,000 a year.
The resolution also references the plan contemplated in the 2020 First Extraordinary Legislative Session, noting that it would have reduced the City's tax revenues by an additional $2.25 million in administrative fees to the State. The same plan would have delayed tax payments to the City by up to 40 days, which would deprive the local government of the immediate use of those taxes to fulfill obligations and meet the needs of New Orleans residents.
New Zoning Requirements for Uptown University Area
The Council authorized Zoning Docket 50/20, creating a new University Area Off-Street Parking Interim Zoning District (IZD) to require off-street vehicular parking for any increase in the number of existing bedrooms. The IZD includes all lots bounded by the lakeside of Saint Charles Avenue, downtown side of South Carrollton Avenue, riverside of South Claiborne Avenue, and both sides of Audubon Street (excluding the portion between Plum Street and Zimpel Street that exists solely within Tulane's campus).
In addition to the proposed IZD, the Council has directed the City Planning Commission (CPC) to conduct a formal study to determine appropriate parameters, regulations, and requirements for parking in the Uptown University Area. As per Council Motion M-20-79, this study would ensure that any future amendments to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) to address parking requirements in this area are fully researched to properly balance the institutional, commercial, and residential uses in the area. The study is currently underway.
"This is something that we're going to continue to work on," said District "A" Councilmember Joe Giarrusso. We look forward to sitting down with people and trying to craft what a long term strategy looks like; something that is fair, that is equitable, and that is driven by the neighbors."
Designated boundaries of the University Area Off-Street Parking IZD as outlined in ZD 50/20
Council Supports Establishment of Touro Bouligny Cultural District
The Council adopted a Resolution R-20-249 backing an application to the State of Louisiana to create the "Touro Bouligny Cultural District." The proposed area begins on the Uptown side of Delachaise Street, following along the river side of Chestnut Street until reaching the downtown side of Napolean Avenue, to the river side of St. Charles Avenue and reaching back up to Delachaise.
The resolution encourages all City employees to support and cooperate with efforts to compile necessary information and data required for the application, as well as all subsequent reporting for the administration of the new Cultural District.
Proposed boundaries of the Touro Bouligny Cultural District as outlined in R-20-249
Procedural Measures Approved for STR Proceeds
The Council passed Ordinance 32,905, which amends the City Code to provide for the collection and distribution of proceeds from the existing STR occupancy tax. During its 2019 Regular Session, the Louisiana Legislature adopted House Bill No. 43 authorizing the Council to levy and collect an occupancy tax on STRs of overnight lodging in New Orleans up to 6¾% of the rent or fee charged. During the election held on November 16, 2019, Orleans Parish voters approved this measure, allowing the Council to levy and collect in perpetuity beginning January 1, 2020, with 75% of those proceeds dedicated to citywide infrastructure projects and 25% to New Orleans & Company to promote tourism activities.
The item approved today creates a new Code provision for the collection and distribution of the STR tax approved by voters last year.