September 03, 2020 10:00 AM
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NEW ORLEANS - At today's regular meeting, the City Council adopted a resolution to expand voter access in New Orleans, called on the Department of Agriculture to extend the Disaster Household Distribution Program, passed an amendment to clarify maintenance requirements and expectations relative to undeveloped and vacant land, passed a series of budget ordinances, authorized a certificate of indebtedness, increased the Jerome "Big Duck" Smith Justice System Advisory Committee's membership, and honored the late Sidney "Sid" Noel Rideau.
Council Calls for Use of Local Sports Facilities to Increase Voter Access
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-283 petitioning the Secretary of State to allow for the usage of sports facilities to expand voter access while also adhering to and bolstering COVID-related precautions and regulations to ensure the safety of voters.
The coronavirus pandemic has called into question how local and national leaders can ensure elections are free of barriers for all eligible voters. In addition to expanding early voting periods and extension of mail-in voting, it will be critical to leverage additional facilities to accommodate anticipated increased voter turnout due to the upcoming presidential election.
"The right to vote is sacred, and we must do all we can to ensure everyone can safely and easily vote this November," said Councilmember Helena Moreno. "Opening large spaces like the arena for voting helps preserve social distancing and other public health measures. That grows confidence in the process and helps put voter concerns at ease. It's the right thing to do and can help demonstrate our commitment to prioritizing the preservation of voting rights."
As stated in the resolution, the NBA and its players' union have already stated that in every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local elections officials to convert those facilities into voting locations to provide a safe in-person voting option for vulnerable communities. Therefore, the Council is encouraging the Louisiana Secretary of State to support using sports facilities as voting locations for early voting, in-person voting for election day, voter registration, and/or to receive drop-off ballots.
Request to Extend of Local Disaster Household Distribution Program
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-282, calling on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry's operation of the Disaster Household Distribution Program in New Orleans. Across the state and especially in New Orleans, COVID-19 has resulted in high unemployment and low wage jobs. The expiration of $600 federal unemployment benefits and eviction protections offered under the CARES Act, coupled with the rising costs of food, housing, and utilities, has only increased the need for emergency food assistance.
The USDA's approval for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to operate the Disaster Household Distribution program through July 2 has allowed food banks to serve families here in New Orleans, where food insecurity remains prevalent at 12 percent above the national average. The current economic situation and the severe impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the local hospitality industry, both cited under USDA's reasons for granting its initial approval, continue to this day. As a result, the Council is urging the further extension of the program to ensure that the local food banks serving New Orleans families may sustain their operations for at least the next month.
Budget Ordinances Approved to Address Immediate Funding Needs
The Council passed the following budget initiatives during today's meeting:
Ordinances 33,094 & 33,095 - Appropriating funds received from the U.S. Department of Transportation to the Mayor's Office of Transportation for the creation of a data analysis tool to inform policy and decision-making pertaining to roadway safety.
Ordinances 33,096 & 33,097 - Appropriating FEMA grant funds to the Office of Homeland Security for the physical elevation of 22 repetitive loss structures throughout the city.
Ordinances 33,037 & 33,038 - Appropriating state grant funds to the Office of Homeland Security towards preventing acts of terrorism and other catastrophic events.
Ordinances 33,039 & 33,040 - Appropriating federal grant funds to the Office of Homeland Security towards increasing emergency management and response capacity.
Ordinances 33,041 & 33,042 - Establishing a budget for the Department of Health in the Simon V. Sickles Legacy Fund.
Ordinances 33,045 & 33,046 - Appropriating funds from the LA Department of Treasury to the Office of Homeland Security to be used by the Real-Time Crime Center towards the repair and acquisition of security equipment.
Ordinances 33,052 & 33,053 - Appropriating HUD grant funds not included in the 2020 Budget to the Office of Community Development.
Ordinance 33,067 - Transferring the funds budgeted for project management and volunteer supervision services during declared states of emergency from Miscellaneous Programs to the Office of Homeland Security.
Ordinances 33,068 & 33,069 - Appropriating additional CARES Act funds allocated by HUD to the Office of Community Development to address housing insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council Authorizes Issuance of Revenue Notes
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-281, providing for the incurring of debt and issuance of up to $50M of Revenue Notes. The resolution also prescribes the form, terms and conditions of said Notes, designating the date, denomination and place of payment, creating and maintaining funds and accounts, appointing a Trustee, and authorizing the execution of an offer to purchase them.
Clarification of Maintenance Requirements for Undeveloped Land
Through its approval of Ordinance 33,098, the Council amended the City Code to clarify maintenance requirements and expectations relative to undeveloped and vacant land. Per the ordinance, "Undeveloped Land" or lots, plots, or parcels of property that has never housed a structure, are still required to be maintained in safe, secure, and sanitary conditions to protect the safety of surrounding residents.
This includes ensuring the land is free from weeds or plant growth over 18 inches tall or within 10 feet of any lot line and 50 feet of any lot line adjoining a parcel of property containing an occupied structure. The ordinance also provides local authorities permission to enter any property found in violation of these regulations to remove illegal or excessive plant growth at the cost of the owner or responsible party.
Photo depicting an overgrown lot in New Orleans courtesy of NOLA.com
Members Added to Jerome "Big Duck" Smith Justice System Advisory Committee
The Council passed Ordinance 33,108 to increase the Jerome "Big Duck" Smith Justice System Advisory Committee's membership from 11 to 13, allowing for a youth representative and a formerly incarcerated person. These appointments will fill the gaps and ensure representation from historically marginalized groups with expertise navigating the criminal justice system and/or advocating for reforms to help eliminate institutional racism.
Each committee member will serve a one-year term expiring on July 31, during which time they will be tasked with soliciting public input and reviewing pertinent studies and data, including City budget proposals, to provide recommendations on the allocation of resources to help support community needs.
Remembering Sidney "Sid" Noel Rideau
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-280 honoring local entertainer Sidney "Sid" Noel Rideau, the creator and star behind the iconic mad scientist Morgus the Magnificent for more than six decades. The 90-year-old New Orleans icon, who passed away last week, will be remembered for his countless contributions to the community and unwavering commitment to positively influencing, teaching, and inspiring those around him through storytelling.
During his time at Loyola University, Rideau studied communications and led a charity entertainment troupe that performed at hospitals and nursing homes before going on to launch his broadcasting career. The pinnacle of his legacy was the creation of the quintessential mad scientist, Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus, who debuted on his program "The House of Shock" in the late 1950s and went on to entertain and educate generations of New Orleanians through his weekly scientific exploits. He generously used the popularity of the character to raise money for local charities and civic causes.
Rideau understood the important and transcending abilities of stories and resolved to make it his life's work, authoring and publishing several successful programs for parents and kids. His talent and creative genius inspired countless people, and his contributions and commitment to creative education through storytelling will continue to inspire and connect generations to come.
Dr. Morgus and characters in the WWL-TV studios in the 1960s courtesy of WWL
Council Urges Local & National Agencies to Prioritize Recovery Over Immigration Enforcement Following Hurricane Laura
The Council adopted Resolution R-20-284 requesting that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field offices protect public safety and prioritize recovery and rebuilding over immigration enforcement in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.
When Laura made landfall in Louisiana as a category 4 hurricane, it became one of the most powerful in U.S. history. The storm devastated homes and businesses along the Louisiana and Texas coasts, leaving around one million customers without power or water. The City of New Orleans recognizes that protection from natural disasters and their harsh impacts is a fundamental responsibility of government, especially as it reflects on the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As the Gulf Coast faces a grueling path to recovery, local officials must proceed with great care and compassion.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's stated priorities in such emergencies, include life-saving and life-sustaining activities, preventing loss of property to the extent possible, and supporting a quick recovery of the impacted region. Consistent with these priorities, it has previously exercised its discretion to halt immigration enforcement post-disasters. In the absence of a clear commitment to this end from federal immigration officials, immigrant residents and their families fear being detained and deported when seeking or assisting with evacuation, shelter, and emergency aid or recovery efforts.
As stated in the resolution, the assurance of temporary immigration enforcement suspension during this humanitarian crisis is not only the morally right thing to do but also critical to the ongoing safety of all Gulf Coast residents.
"This is absolutely a humanitarian crisis. At a time when several of our ICE detention centers are struggling to maintain proper control of COVID cases and some failing to meet basic sanitary conditions, it is irresponsible to increase that strain by detaining more residents. I am asking for discretionary restraint from enforcement activities at this time in the same way that it has previously been exercised in times of crisis. It's the right thing to do," said Councilmember Jason Williams.