Councilwoman Cantrell discusses first draft of changes to Mardi Gras laws with neighborhood leaders

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Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell rides in the Krewe of Zulu on Mardi Gras day, 2013. ( file photo by Sabree Hill)

Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell rides in the Krewe of Zulu on Mardi Gras day, 2013. ( file photo by Sabree Hill)

The changes to the laws surrounding Mardi Gras parades that some New Orleans residents have sought for years may soon become a reality, as City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell prepares to release a sweeping set of recommendations based on months of input from neighbors.

Cantrell took office just before the 2013 Mardi Gras parade season began, and was quickly inundated with concerns from District B residents about various aspects of them. Barely two weeks after the final parade of 2013 had rolled down St. Charles Avenue, Cantrell pledged to begin studying what permanent changes could improve the event for the future, and she began fielding ideas from residents along the route soon afterward.

On Saturday, Cantrell met with many of those same leaders again to discuss a first draft of her findings. After hearing their ideas, Cantrell said she will revise her suggestions a final time and present a set of recommendations to the City Council in early October. While those ideas are being discussed, she said she will also convene a series of meetings with the city’s enforcement agencies to see what can be done to make sure all the laws will be followed.

“We’re going to see where our ideas go,” Cantrell said. “I think they can go far. We’re going to explore them all.”

One of the thorniest Mardi Gras issues is the placement of ladders, which can often form an impenetrable wall along the parade route. They are currently required to be as far back from the curb as they are tall, and Cantrell’s initial suggestion was to make that distance uniform, at 10 feet, so that officers and perhaps even posted signs could easily point to a “line” that ladders should not cross.

This suggestion proved to be the most controversial Saturday. Several residents said that 10 feet is too far, especially on the sidewalk side, where it would largely rule ladders out. Perhaps a shorter distance could be adopted on the sidewalk side, they said, especially since floats run closer to the neutral ground anyway, leaving more space from the sidewalk.

Others said that limiting the height of ladders might also help. Six feet should be high enough, they said, and that way the distance back from the curb could also be limited to six feet.

Cantrell promised to give those ideas further thought before making a final recommendation.

Among the other ideas presented Saturday:

  • Grills would be added to the list of fixed items prohibited from intersections.
  • Whether to allow grills and tents to remain on the neutral ground was another major question. One resident suggested limiting them to the back half of the neutral ground, so that the portion closest to the street remains clear. Others have repeatedly suggested running streetcars between parades, to reduce the amount of camping and furniture placed on the tracks.
  • Weight limits would be placed on throws, especially to prevent riders from throwing heavy objects such as whole bags of beads that can injure spectators.
  • Many residents complain about privately-rented portable toilets being placed illegally on sidewalks, in the backs of trucks, and in other locations. Cantrell is proposing a fine on the toilet-rental companies for illegally-placed toilets, so that they would do more to keep their customers within the law. At the same time, the city should provide more public toilets, with an online map so people can find them, Cantrell said.
  • Residents suggested involving local food trucks more, an idea Cantrell said she would try to incorporate. A special area of the route could be designated for them, or they could get some preference in the vendor lottery, residents said.
  • Both sides of Napoleon and St. Charles should be “no parking” zones during parades, Cantrell said. Some residents suggested restricting traffic, but emergency officials want the traffic to flow, she said. Eliminating parked vehicles, however, would create more room for drivers, pedestrians and emergency workers.
  • Cantrell would also give the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Council a similar role to the Mardi Gras Indian task force. It would meet to consider parade-related issues and offer opinions on new parades as well.
  • Cantrell proposes limiting the number of parade permits to 30 (a reduction from the current 34), but grandfathering all organizations that paraded the previous year and giving them seniority over new applications.
  • Cantrell would also prohibit floats from being used more than twice in a single parade season on the Eastbank.

To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below:

18 thoughts on “Councilwoman Cantrell discusses first draft of changes to Mardi Gras laws with neighborhood leaders

  1. Again, why is there no mention of the elephant on the parade route?
    That being the people who show up on Monday night after the Lundi Gras parade and park in the middle of St. Charles Ave and proceed to set up dozens upon dozens of 8′ folding tables!
    Literally, they section off hundreds of square feet of neutral ground space. This activity takes place from Jackson Ave all the way to Caliope. Ms. Cantrell when are you going to address this grotesque land grab??
    Along with tents, ropes, tarps, and literally 50-100 long folding tables these people think they own half the neutral ground. Its been going on for years and it needs to stop.

    • YES!! You are right. Gosh, it is ridiculous with the overnight campers claiming half the parade route. How fun can it really be making sure people don’t get in your space all day long?? That doesn’t sound fun to me. If you need that much stuff to have fun you are doing it wrong.

    • I never knew this was an issue. Do they leave the tables up all day, or take them down after their people show up? I was at the meeting. I am sure if the council woman knows she will try to resolve it.

      Overall the meeting went well and she was very receptive. Any kind of land grab is not supposed to happen. I proposed a “Be nice or leave” starter float that has the basic rules posted. Then we can all just point to it before the parades roll. I think it would help greatly.

      • Tables are an issue, Treybo. Tents and canopies are issues. Ladder walls butt up to the curb and continuing through intersections are an issue. Grills and tarps and caution tape barriers and living room furniture on the neutral ground (inevitably abandoned afterwards) are all issues. Finally, the privileged barricaded compound for police & friends at the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon is an issue. And no — it has not “always been this way.” Carnival homesteaders are a noxious plague. Enforce the laws!

        • We discussed most of this stuff. Everyone agrees with you. In not familiar with the “privileged police” tent. Maybe that could go away or double as “enforcement central.”

          Please come to the next open meeting and share your views.

      • Treyb, its reached epidemic proportions.
        One year the ENTIRE block between Thalia and Race was consumed (lined in circle) by nothing but folding tables. They then usually leave 2-3 people to “guard” the entire block until Carnival morning. And yes, they do versions of this same stunt at all uptown parades thou the most egregious seems to be on Mardi Gras day. Its been going on for years and its completely illegal not to mention dangerous. On some blocks you literally cannot cross the parade route ANYWHERE on the neutral ground due to a continuous solid row of dozens and dozens of folding tables lining both sides if the median.

        • As you point out, this is already illegal. All that is needed to solve this problem is a $500 fine for blocking off space. Hand out a few $500 subpeonas on Saturday and the problem will be gone by Sunday.

    • 100% correct, +similar happens all MG long, all up and down the parade route- Usually by folks “from here- BORN HERE!!!”, but truthfully abandoned years ago and would never live yet claim our tax dollar paid for land as theirs.

      This is why the Street Cars need to run ASAP in between parades.

      Best from Freret

    • This would be wonderful. I miss parades in Mid–City and Gentilly in particular. I think it would help Gentilly a lot, as it continues to recover from the floods.

  2. I have no problem with the additional ordinances, but exactly who does she think is going to enforce them? Over the past 10 years our Mardi Gras celebration has grown in size; however our police force has shrunk. I remember a time when you would see upwards of 6 police officers in a block during parades. Over the past several years I was lucky to see two and they were doing their best just to keep a lid on serious issues like fights, pickpockets, and children running in front of floats. I’m not sure how they would have time to enforce all of this extra stuff and waist time on the paperwork that I’m sure must be completed for court. Maybe before they talk about passing new laws to improve carnival safety they should make sure there enough cops to have it safely.

    • Mr. Mrs. or Ms. Legend,
      Ok- no new ordinances- lets enforce whats on the books.
      + More people and less NOPD?- that’s still no excuse for tarps, tents, caution tape, and subdividing our land rudeness.
      Sorry if that reads rude (and my next like kumbuyonic granola smoke), but roping off MG is a serious problem if we are serious about fighting crime and social stratification. Parades are the best, and sometimes only time we all get to hang out together- lets use it.
      + Get rid of the generator DJ music on the corner of Nepolean and Camp, the Gretna Fire Department started that in 2007 and comes yearly to battle the bands with ?….
      Best From Freret,
      Andy Brott

  3. I agree and think this will be the hardest part of any new rules. We discussed things like makes leaders a standard height and distance from the curb, with signs to try to help.

  4. Urban, I agree this is a challenge but it’s not insurmountable. Attach a $500 fine to space-blocking and vigorously hand out tickets on Saturday and Sunday – you’ll have no problem on Tuesday (or ever again, for that matter).

  5. Andy,

    I have no problem with the cops enforcing the laws and ordinances already on the books. I also have no huge issue with the creation and passage of new laws to address issues not already covered by those currently on the books. Society changes and our laws need to change to reflect those changes, good or bad.

    “More people less NOPD?- that’s still no excuse for tarps, tents, caution tape, and subdividing our land rudeness”

    I’m not saying it excuses or justifies the behavior at all, rather what I am getting at is there are nowhere near enough officers to safely staff Carnival parades and respond to the numerous fights, disputes, and essential order maintenance functions of a large crowd, control traffic and prevent it from entering the routes and endangering crowds, and ensure the safety of spectators and float riders/bands. Given those circumstances they are barely able to be reactive, let alone proactively seek out and solve problems. I’ve been around long enough to know that just because there are 30% less cops does not mean that the ones we have are now going to do 30% more work. If anything they are tired, demoralized, and probably going to do less for fear of getting in trouble and/or kicking off a situation they don’t have adequate resources to address. Why would they whack the proverbial wasps nest when they know they have no wasp spray and will only be stung?

    I’ll also add that theories regarding “social stratification” and its effects may sound really swanky and pseudo intellectual in conversations about enforcement, but I can assure you most of the cops have little interest or knowledge in its effects or elimination. What bothers me is that anybody thinks they should and/or could play a role in social equity

    All of that said the council can pass all of these ordinances they wish. The reality is that police officers are given a great deal of latitude and discretion in enforcement (or non enforcement) of such minor violations of law. We have a litany of laws on the books that are not enforced as it stands and a number of others (drug laws) that many wish were the subject of discretion on the basis of disagreement by some. Ask any attorney or law enforcement executive and they will tell you the same.

    In the end these laws may make you feel better, but if you think that it will mean a crew of NOPD Officers will be out solely to address these violations get ready to be disappointed.

    • Great- agree with all as a law is only as good as enforcement.
      + Granola speak sounds great on NPR, but does diddly, and “experts” often do harm than good.
      The best ROI is DIY to get poo done.
      So how do we stop the Endymionisation Vaccination of Blue Tarp Rudeness?
      A very public Mardi Gras Wall of Shame!!!!! Posted daily for prizes in the Advocate, on on the web (UM please?..) and or other social media…
      Folks shoot cellphones images/videos of the rudest and most flagrant examples of whats on the books as to educate through embarrassment-
      Would also serve as DIY crime camera network.
      I don’t Fakebook or Twidmark, so I’m not good on that , but if anybody else is interested feel free to contact- as I have more on how to make all damn funny entertainment.
      + done right sure $ponsors could be found to form Caution Tape Police…

      Best from 5110 Freret,

    • Completely agree- as a law is only as good as enforcement.
      + Granola speak works on NPR, but does diddly, and it’s the “experts” who often do more harm than good.
      The best ROI is DIY…
      So to end Endymionisation Vaccination to Blue Tarpin Rudeness- I have an idea…
      A digital Mardi Gras Wall of Shame, with prizes awarded to those who shoot and post the most obnoxious and egregious violations of the rules we have on the books, and or are just wrong in the spirit of the season. Hide the faces, but expose what they did to teach through examples.

      No offense to Nell Nolan, but it would be funny as hell to see posted in our daily Advocates, + on the web (Robert please x 100 …?) + on other social media…
      See it- shoot it- post it- and earn cash anonymously like crime stoppers…

      + Would also make a DIY network of cameras to find those pick pockets….

      Sorry but I don’t Fakebook or Twidmark, so I no help on how to of those, but others? please go DO THIS!!!!.
      Feel free to contact me – as I have more on how to make this damn funny entertainment, and sure $ponsors could be found.
      Best from 5110 Freret,

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