President’s Year-End Message to Members
There is a tide in the affairs of men
which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
and we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.
William Shakespeare: Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
Dear French Quarter Citizens Members,
We close the year 2016 by looking upon the issues that we have faced together. I thank all of you for your support as we work to protect our fragile historic neighborhood. While we have achieved spectacular success on several fronts, many serious issues threaten us, and many battles loom on the horizon. We must rally as never before to ensure that our unique French Quarter neighborhood will be here for residents and visitors to enjoy for many years to come.
Many of you may recognize the quote cited at the beginning of this letter as a passage from William Shakespeare’s play Caesar. After victory in a battle, two characters, Brutus and Cassius, are discussing whether they should stop, enjoy the victory, and catch their breath, or, attempt to win the war by heading once more into battle before the opposition can regroup. Cassius wants to rest, while Brutus strongly advocates for going into battle while the tide is with them. Brutus’s main point to Cassius is that one should always act while the ratio of forces is most advantageous. That we should not stop to pat ourselves on the back or rest on our laurels, but instead pick up our banner and continue to fight for our cause. “There’s a tide in the affairs of men,” he insists; power is a force that ebbs and flows in time, and one must “go with the flow.” If the opportunity is “omitted” (missed), it may be lost forever. In other words, we cannot afford to become complacent as there are so many issues that need our attention in the coming year. However, as we close out the year, we will pause for a moment to recap 2016 before picking up our banner and continuing our fight.
One of the most critical issues we faced in 2016, was short term rentals. City Council took a crucial vote on this issue in October. Neighbors from all over the city stood together on this issue in a way that they never have before, and came in numbers that they never have before, to fight for their neighborhoods and their quality of life. When FQC sent out a “Call to Action” in October asking for you to be involved, you answered the call. You wrote your Councilmembers and turned out at City Hall in record numbers, some of you staying for over seven hours on the crucial day, to let the Council Members know that the effect of short term rentals is devastating our neighborhoods and our culture. Our letters and our presence did make a difference and the French Quarter obtained a stunning victory. The Council voted to 6 to 1 to prohibit all short term rentals in the French Quarter with the exception of the entertainment district on Bourbon Street. It was truly gratifying that the Council recognizes the value of the French Quarter and its significance to the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the world. Unfortunately, however, the rest of the city did not fare as well. Although the Council appeared to ban whole house rentals city wide, in fact, they allowed them “through the back door” by refusing to require proof of homestead exemption to operate a “temporary” short term rental. This effectively allows whole house rental everywhere in the city except the French Quarter. The Council is relying on an enforcement initiative to prevent abuse of this category of rentals. Considering the history of enforcement in our City, we will be closely monitoring the proposed enforcement mechanism throughout the rest of this year and into 2017.
There is also good news this year on the French Quarter Task Force and its operations in the French Quarter. Due to the continued involvement of Sydney Torres, the hard work of resident Bob Simms, and extra money provided by the City, the Task Force will be adding an additional officer, additional shifts, and an additional smart car to the patrol. The “blue light” of the smart cars is indeed a welcome sight in our neighborhood. Throughout this past year, French Quarter Citizens has kept you apprised of the crime statistics in the French Quarter. As we have seen, the Task force has made an enormous difference and we will continue to work closely with NOPD and French Quarter Management District to ensure that our neighborhood is protected.
On the preservation front, the law suit involving the Royal Cosmopolitan at 121 Royal could turn out to be a positive landmark decision for the French Quarter community. As you may recall, the developer of the old Royal Cosmopolitan Hotel is asking for a 90 foot waiver which City Council has approved, would add nine new floors to the current building. This will increase the height of the building from 178 feet to a whopping 268 feet, fronting onto Royal Street. The resulting skyline of the building would be grossly out of scale to the surrounding buildings. The proposed development would have inadequate parking for guests, inadequate trash retention space, and drop off and pick up would completely eclipse Royal Street as a usable thoroughfare. Despite the City Council’s approval, several resident groups are arguing that the waiver is counter to the Master Plan, which has the force of law. If we are successful in the suit, we may set a precedent that will help our preservation efforts throughout the French Quarter for many years to come.
Finally, through the efforts of one of our board members, we were successful in limiting the size of trucks allowed in the French Quarter to 35 feet. This will go far in saving many galleries and balconies that were constantly being rammed, damaged, and in some cases entirely destroyed by oversized trucks attempting to negotiate and turn on our narrow streets. Again, enforcement of this ordinance is the key and remains a priority for French Quarter Citizens in 2017.
In 2017, we will also continue the fight against graffiti on our buildings as well as increased city taxes for sidewalk encroachments. We will need to be vigilant on short term rental enforcement issues and we must closely monitor proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that propose spot zoning that could severely impact the make-up of our neighborhoods and diminish the residential quality of life in the French Quarter. Noise issues remain a severe problem disrupting our ability to live and work in the French Quarter. We will again need to make our voices heard. Indeed, we have much to do.
Despite these intense preservation activities, we’ve had some great fun as well. Our Quarterly meetings and Pot Luck Dinners were blessed with great weather and these events are always a wonderful way to see our neighbors and to catch up on the preservation activities in the French Quarter. This year, we were fortunate to have many entertaining and informative speakers at each meeting. Additionally, our 20th annual Progressive Dinner was a fabulous success once again. Attendees were able to explore three exquisite apartments in the Pontalba and enjoy mouth-water dishes prepared by our local restaurants at each home and at the beautiful Bourbon Orleans. Priscilla Lawrence honored us by serving as the event Honoree. Her commitment to preservation is legendary. Additionally, we recognized Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizarro along with Joseph Zolfo, Producer of N.C.I.S. New Orleans, for their contributions to the French Quarter and our quality of life. A great time was had by all.
We are also pleased to have a wonderful new addition to our FQC staff. Louise Saenz joined us in August as our Office Manager and Event Coordinator. Louise has valuable experience in managing websites, social media and press as well as experience managing the day to day operations of non-profit organizations. She is also experienced at coordinating fundraising events. Although she joined FQC only a few months before our Progressive Dining fundraiser, she energetically jumped right in, proving herself to be a formidable office manager and event planner, by exercising her exceptional organizational skills in working with the 2016 Fundraising Committee and making this year’s event a spectacular success. We are delighted that she has chosen to work with us, and if you have not met her yet, please take some time to do so at the next quarterly meeting.
We hope all of you will continue to support French Quarter Citizens and the 2017 Board of Directors. Although we have successfully addressed many critical issues this year, many remain that could have a lasting negative effect on our quality of life as we head into 2017. Our success or failure will determine whether or not we, as residents, “will take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” I ask all of you to become involved and stay involved so we may protect the unique and fragile place we call home.
A safe and Happy New Year to you all!!
Susan Guillot, President