You know, if I ever have kids, I think I’ll send them to Company Burger for school. It’s probably cheaper than paying for a traditional private school, and I hear the cafeteria is awesome.
What? You say that Company Burger isn’t a school? It’s a burger joint?
Oh my. Somebody might want to alert Mayor Landrieu before he starts subsidizing it as a charter school.
You can understand why I’d be confused. After all, as you approach Company Burger on Freret Street, you see a flashing school zone sign and a speed camera. However, there’s no school on Freret within the school zone, and the absence of a school next to a school zone is, to say the least, unusual. You might start to wonder if you’re seeing a restaurant or a burger academy.
The reason there is no school is because the building where Company Burger presently operates (together with two other businesses) is the former site of Audubon Primary Academy. Audubon Primary, a small nursery and preschool, moved from Freret to Religious Street in the Lower Garden District in January 2011. The building was then subdivided into three storefronts.
That’s why there was a school zone adjacent to what is now Company Burger. It doesn’t explain, however, why on earth the school zone is still there.
The reason, alas, is a speed camera. This past March, the Landrieu administration announced that it would be bringing 11 new speed cameras online in school zones, including both east and westbound at the “former Audubon Primary Academy.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Landrieu’s own press release recognized that he was putting in a speed camera in a school zone created for a school that was no longer there.
Now, Landrieu and his crime syndicate of a mayoral administration have clearly perpetrated a pathetic and reprehensible scheme to systematically rob the people of New Orleans by fining them for speeding by a nonexistent school. That’s obvious enough. The real question is whether there is any semblance of legal pretext whatsoever for maintaining the school zone and fining motorists for violations.
The answer is no.
First of all, under Section 154-534(c) of the New Orleans Municipal Code of Ordinances, school zone speed limits “shall only apply on days when a school that the zone applies to is open for instruction during the regular term.”
I suppose you could argue that because Audubon Primary is still “open for instruction,” albeit miles away, that the school zone technically remains legally active. However, statutes aren’t supposed to be interpreted in ways that produce absurd consequences, and having an active school zone for the benefit of a school miles away is absurd. At best, the statute is ambiguous as to whether a school can be considered “open for instruction” for the purposes of a school zone when it is no longer in the same location. Such ambiguities must be read to favor the citizen.
The only other way the school zone could still be legal is if it existed for the benefit of some other school. Section 154-232(5) of the City Code requires the city traffic engineer to “[d]esignate as school zones those roadways or portions thereof adjacent to a school where children of the seventh or lower grades attend on a regular basis and are likely to cross such roadway as pedestrians in going to or from the school.”
However, “the city traffic engineer may designate such other portions of streets or intersections as school zones . . . where traffic and engineering investigations determine need for such zones[.]”
It’s pretty clear that the school zone was established exclusively for Audubon Primary. Our Lady of Lourdes School is nearby on Freret, but the school zone doesn’t start until after you pass it. Thus, the only school the zone was ever adjacent to is the former Audubon Primary.
There is another school a block-and-a-half away on Valence Street, Samuel J. Green Charter School. I suppose the city traffic engineer could have established the school zone for Samuel J. Green because “traffic and engineering investigations” determined the need, but given that it’s over a block away on a side-street, that’s difficult to believe.
Accordingly, there’s no legal school zone. You can’t violate a school zone except when school is in session, and Audubon Primary is no longer in session on Freret. Nevertheless, the Landrieu Administration created and continues to maintain this illegal school zone regardless.
Why, do you ask? It’s because the Landrieu Administration a speed camera on Freret is lucrative and school zone violations are icing on the cake.
Believe it or not, it actually gets worse! First, as I noted in a previous column, this particular speed camera has been ticketing for school zone violations outside of posted hours. Apparently, neither the private contractor’s employee who programmed the camera nor the NOPD officer who reviewed the ticket were capable of telling time.
Secondly, the city council voted this past week to increase school zone hours to two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. The city claims this move was because some schools operated outside of standard school zone hours, but that could have been solved just by tailoring school zone hours for those schools. The municipal code already expressly provides that the city traffic engineer may tailor school zone hours in whatever way he sees fit.
So why did the city feel the need to change the law with respect to school zone times when it already accommodates the problem alleged? Well, let’s put it this way: the proposal to increase school zone hours was first made by the Landrieu Administration in a press release concerning… Drum roll please… Traffic cameras!
Because Mayor Landrieu has been pushed to place limits on the cameras (raising the threshold to trigger a violation) the only way to maintain revenue was to make the cameras ticket for school zone violations for longer periods. Nothing about the cameras ever has a lick to do with safety. It always comes down to revenue.
This whole program is sickening. Landrieu is brazenly ignoring the law and extorting his own constituents. When will it be enough?
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.