Proposal loses councilwoman’s support

New Orleans — A plan to prohibit overnight activity in the pedestrian malls around Jackson Square appears to be dead after Councilwoman Kristin Palmer pulled her support for the proposed ordinance.

The city said it needed the area cleared nightly for cleaning and to combat a problem with homeless people camping in the area, but the idea rankled some of those who make their living along the flagstone sidewalks that ring the square.

A cadre of tarot card readers, musicians and street performers decried the move, though, and vowed legal action if the proposal was enacted as law.

Palmer introduced the ordinance last month at the Landrieu administration’s request. The proposed legislation would have prevented anyone from lingering in the area or setting up tables or furniture between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. At the time, Palmer described it as a “reasonable” way to clear the pedestrian malls for cleaning.

The ordinance was set to be discussed Monday during the council’s governmental affairs committee meeting. Late last week, though, it was quietly removed from the agenda.

Ryan Berni, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said that the discussion was deferred until the next meeting because of scheduling issues that prevented any administration representative from attending Monday’s meeting. Additionally, he said, discussions with “stakeholders” continue.

Nicole Webre, Palmer’s legislative director, said that the councilwoman considers the proposed ordinance’s wording “confusing.” Rewriting it would require the same amount of work as starting from scratch, prompting Palmer to pull her support in search of a new way to deal with the issues without new legislation, Webre said.

If the administration does not withdraw the ordinance, Webre said, Palmer will withdraw it.

“Our position is that we’d like to look at other ways to do it,” Webre said of the cleaning, adding that a plan already is in the works to clean the Quarter and Faubourg Marigny.

Berni said the city will continue its push to have the ordinance made law. “We have no intention to withdraw it,” he said.

Those who work on the square saw the possible closure of the pedestrian malls as a way for the city to flush out homeless people and “gutter punks” in an effort to clean up the area’s bohemian atmosphere to create a postcard image of the public space when cameras arrive for the Super Bowl in February.

City officials previously said they view the area as a public park and that, as such, it is subject to operating hours. The streets became vehicle-free zones in 1970 and since then have been the home to artists, musicians, street performers and tarot card readers.

Owen Courrèges, an attorney who is working with some of those people, said he was not aware of any ongoing talks between the administration and readers, performers or musicians. The last anyone heard, he said, was that the discussion was removed from Monday’s meeting agenda.

“Now we’re just kind of in a holding pattern,” he said.