After a year of discussion and a month of revisions, the New Orleans City Council met very little opposition Thursday morning to a series of changes to crowd behavior during Mardi Gras parades — including a six-foot setback for viewing ladders and a prohibition on roping off the neutral ground or placing private portable toilets on public property.
But one community activist running for City Council urged the city to take an additional step: banning smoking during the parades.
The final changes to the laws passed by the Council include:
- All ladders must be placed six feet back from the curb. (Previously, ladders had to be set back as far as they were tall, a varying standard said to be difficult to enforce.)
- No areas of the neutral ground or other public property can be roped off, or obstructed by any other means.
- No parking on either side of St. Charles or Napoleon avenue will be allowed during parades. (Previously, parking was allowed on the side of those roads not being used for the parade.)
- No private portable toilets can be placed on public property, with fines applicable to the toilet-rental companies. Residents have complained about toilets being left in the street for the duration of parades without any maintenance or emptying.
- Snap pops can no longer be sold, because they are described as a distraction to police officers tasked with looking for guns on the parade route.
The council has worked on the changes for nine months now, working with first-responders, residents, the krewes and the Mardi Gras advisory council, said City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell.
“The primary issue here is public safety,” said City Council President Jackie Clarkson. “When emergency vehicles can’t cross a neutral ground because the roadway of a neutral ground is blocked with sofas and barbecue grills, that’s beyond the spirit of Mardi Gras. That’s dangerous.”
Only three people offered comments on the laws. One, a Lakeview resident, urged the council not to restrict portable toilets, warning against a return of the old days of “pee buckets” that have to be poured down storm drains.
Another speaker, Robert Reichert of the Krewe of Tucks, noted that the council withdrew a ban on toilet paper temporarily, and asked them not to do so at all. Just as high heels are part of the Muses identity, so is toilet paper for Tucks, he said.
“It might be tacky, but it is what it is,” Reichert said. He added, “Without that specific, wonderful thing that all these krewes have, we lose a sense of identity. … We might as well just be the Macy’s parade, and just wave.”
Drew Ward, a Carrollton community activist who is running for City Council in District A, thanked the council for their work so far. But he urged them to take two additional steps, starting with banning ladders from the neutral ground altogether, and relegating them to the sidewalk side. That way, he said, there would be more room in the neutral ground for others without ladders, and no one’s view would be blocked.
Secondly, with time on his two-minute public comment period ending, Ward asked them to ban smoking on the parade route. City ordinances already ban smoking at public transportation facilities, Ward argued, so viewing the streetcar line in that light would make smoking against the law along most of the parade route anyway.
“In that tight of a space and dense of a crowd, one person’s choice to smoke is also the loss of everyone else’s choice not to smoke (including little kids),” Ward wrote in an email to the council. “This is just another situation where it comes down to compelling those who are so selfish and immature as to choose not to respect others to do the right thing.”
“Think about those huge crowds, the throngs of revellers lubricated by alcohol already and often only one rude or disrespectful encounter away from a fist fight,” Ward’s email continued. “How many times have you been forced to endure someone’s constant second hand smoke at a parade? How many times have you been burned by, had your clothing marred, or barely avoided an encounter with a lit cigarette while standing within a parade crowd?”
The council passed the changes to the laws unanimously, without responding to Ward’s suggestions.
Riders in Mardi Gras parades are already banned from smoking, according to city ordinances.
Thursday’s meeting also included a protest targeting Clarkson during public comment about a letter the Council will send to the state urging an increase in the minimum wage. To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below: