Feb 052014
 
Pedestrians pass by the Newcomb Boulevard fence early Tuesday afternoon.

Pedestrians pass by the Newcomb Boulevard fence early Tuesday afternoon.

Early last month, New Orleans city officials promised that they would comply with a court order to remove a fence on Newcomb Boulevard “without delay.” More than a month later, the fence still stands, there is discussion about a City Council effort to make the street one-way, and the city still says it is working on the removal — “without delay.”

Newcomb Boulevard residents say the fence is necessary to prevent dangerous cut-through traffic from St. Charles Avenue, and it was created in 2006. After years of legal battles since then, former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris ruled in 2012 that the fence was an illegal donation of public property, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his ruling at the end of the year — prompting city officials to say they had ordered the removal of the fence.

“We assumed the city was going to comply,” said Tommy Milliner, attorney for the neighborhood groups suing to have the fence removed. “They said they were going to comply.”

In late January, however, city officials studied the street and determined that it is so narrow that it should be one-way once it is reopened, because it is too narrow for cars to pass each other head-on, emails show. This process will take several months, the city says.

Milliner, however, said the single-car width of the street is hardly unique to Newcomb, and that drivers across the city are familiar with the process of pulling over to let one another pass.

“Practically every two-way street in Uptown New Orleans is one traffic lane,” Milliner said.

The city is also questioning whether all of the fence must be removed, or only the portion blocking the street — essentially leaving the posts in anticipation of Newcomb residents purchasing the street in the future, recent correspondence in the case shows. “The city is attempting to avoid wasting public dollars to remove structures that the street owners will restore if they are successful in purchasing the streets,” writes assistant city attorney Ada Swensek in a Jan. 20 letter to Milliner.

Neighborhood groups, however, have argued that the city should have been compensated for the closure of the street by the fence.

On Tuesday afternoon, city officials summarized their efforts as forward movement on removal of the fence while taking safety precautions.

“The City is working with the Court and the parties involved to remove the fence without delay, and is taking all necessary steps to ensure that the affected streets remain safe for drivers,” according to city attorney Sharonda Williams.

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  • broadmoorer

    Typical wealthy people prodding local gov’t to give them what they want. They basically stole a public street. They should all be fined. And that wall should already be down.

    • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

      These wealthy people PAY LOTS of PROPERTY TAXES.

      60% of Orleans Parish pay ZERO property taxes due to the high Homestead Exemption, low historic ghetto property values and non-profits.

      This PUBLIC STREET is really paid and maintained for by TAX PAYERS, not those exempted by the high homestead exemptions or the “PUBLIC”, as the 60% of the PUBLIC do not pay property taxes whatsoever.

      • Owen Courrèges

        AhContraire,

        This is inaccurate. The homestead exemption doesn’t apply to all millages, so even those with improper assessments whose home values fall completely under the homestead exemption do pay something. Moreover, most rental properties don’t qualify for the homestead exemption, so renters are usually effectively paying those taxes through their rent.

        In any event, the bottom line is that the streets belong to the public generally and thus the public generally are entitled to use them.

        • Darrell Kocha

          Interesting how his property tax participation numbers correlate so perfectly with the racial demography of the city.

  • Cmb6091

    Food for thought. There is currently a court order for the fence to be taken down. It has been found by the court that it was placed illegally on public property now for over 3 years. If I went down there and took it down what charges would I be facing? If none, let’s meet at Snake and Jakes Saturday and plan the retaking of the street for the people.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Guest,

      It would probably be “vandalism”, “criminal mischief,” or “criminal damage to property” according to the police, but given the city’s open defiance of a court order and the general lawlessness that implies, I’d prefer you be given a medal.

  • AlonaNola

    How can we do the same for Constance Street fence between Richard St. and Orange St.?

    • Owen Courrèges

      Or how about Josephine Street (where I live) between Prytania and Coliseum? I’m sick of getting so much cut-through traffic from people avoiding the school zone on Jackson, and from parents dropping off kids. I pay a lot in property taxes too. Therefore, I should be able to demand that a fence be erected cutting off traffic at the end of my block.

      The lesson here is that you don’t get to butcher the street grid simply because certain factors create traffic on your street.

  • Owen Courrèges

    CMB,

    Bravo. And I didn’t want to say it, but I pay over $4k in property taxes annually and I want to be able to use Newbomb if I damn well please! Even limiting this to major taxpayers, most people are getting screwed.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

    First Off, these people didn’t steal anything. If you wanted to drive on that street, you can right now, just like everyone else in the city. And those on the street also have to drive along the same path as everyone else. And, instead of checkpoints, there are security cameras all over the place, private and public, almost always to check on non-tax paying residents.

    That being said, surely you would not be in favor of the 40% of the
    people actively paying taxes to start setting up checkpoints and
    preventing non tax payers from driving on the streets right?

    What do you think those people who pay property taxes in Detroit are saying to those who don’t pay taxes? Aren’t their private developers buying over a hundred acres of land in middle of city because the city of Detroit desperate needs anything it can get?

    And did you forget that the City of Detroit’s Pension Funds are looking at getting only 16 cents on dollar for their pensions?

    • Owen Courrèges

      AhContraire,

      Oh, please. Sure, you could drive on Newcomb, but the arbitrary fence made it useless to everyone but residents. You can’t take the utility away from a street for everyone but residents while acting as though it is still for public use. Keep in mind that the fence doesn’t just remove utility for people you consider to be deadbeats; it removes utility for other local homeowners, most of whom also pay a great deal in property taxes. Your argument doesn’t wash. It’s a red herring attempting to justify the indefensible.

      • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

        What’s that other street next to Newcomb Blvd? Isn’t that something like Audubon Place? How about that street? Was that always a private street?

        • Owen Courrèges

          Yes, it was always a private street. Not comparable.

  • Owen Courrèges

    AhContraire,

    I still don’t see what this has to do with whether Newcomb Blvd. should be fenced off at one end, rendering it useless for all but residents. I agree that certain homeowners are bearing an unreasonable share of the property tax burden (and it’s even worse for rental properties and commercial buildings). However, that does not make it ok for the city to close off a street. I’m sure there are many other wealthy property owners who would like to be able to cut through Newcomb.

  • Owen Courrèges

    AhContraire,

    My point stands that people who pay rent are generally paying for property taxes. Sure, there are some tax cheats who file bogus homestead exemptions, but even then larger rental properties are generally assessed well over the homestead exemption. I’m also not defending the property tax system; I do think it needs reform. However, it isn’t simply a matter of a few wealthy people shouldering the burden for everyone else. Lots of people, rich and poor, are either cheating or gaming the system.

    In any event, we’re still getting away from the point here, which is that it was both wrong and illegal to fence off Newcomb.

    • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

      This is what is wrong with New Orleans. People spend more time on things that will make almost zero difference to the health of New Orleans.

      That fence helps a lot with crime.

      The time and energy spent on that one fence could INSTEAD by used to find ways to attract companies to provide jobs and lower crime.

      And if you lower crime, to where people don’t have to lock their doors like before the 1960′s that fence would probably be kept open 24/7 or taken down and problem solved.

      Take down the fence, increase crime, companies will leave, and you got Detroit and I guess UM will have more things to write about.

    • http://www.twitter.com/AhContraire AhContraire

      Sure, there are some tax cheats who file bogus homestead exemptions, but
      even then larger rental properties are generally assessed well over the
      homestead exemption

      What is the ratio of the larger rental properties to say all those shotgun “historic” ghetto houses in Central City that are so lowly valued, these houses all fall under the homestead exemption? I bet this is a lot and have far and away more rental units that are claimed as a homestead exemption than all the larger rental complexes in same area.

      I bet the city and state has no program or method to even audit the homestead exemptions in the first place as auditing these houses is practically and financially impossible.

      Next, see all those recently built “mixed-housing” in say the Magnolia and former St. Thomas projects that are replaced by River Gardens, Saulet. How many have single mothers with kids living in there on WIC, Section 8, SNAP, yet with their thug boyfriend who lives for free?

      So basically, do these larger rental properties have renters who actually WORK and pay for property taxes? Or is part of their expenses covered by government programs? And it would be interesting to know the ratio of poor male to poor female lessee holders in these aforementioned larger rental complexes. I bet that ratio of male/female lessee holders would very eye opening.

      • Owen Courrèges

        This is all very speculative; you’re going on lots of assumptions and few facts. It’s also all irrelevant. This has nothing to do with the propriety of the Newcomb fence.