New Orleans — They’re as ubiquitous during Carnival season as king cakes and beads: parade-route squatters, those people who set up camp and ladders along the route hours — sometimes days — before a krewe rolls.
Complaints from her constituents about the unofficial tradition have prompted District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell to ask the Police Department to help monitor the situation this year.
In a letter to Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, Cantrell wrote that she has heard “extensively” from those who live along the St. Charles Avenue parade route regarding the number of people who string together ladders that line the curb and set up furniture on the neutral ground.
“I am writing to request that the NOPD enforce compliance among paradegoers of the ordinances designed to ensure public safety and avoid the public confrontations over public space that have marred the parade season in the past,” Cantrell wrote to Serpas on Tuesday.
City law makes it illegal for anyone to “fence, rope off, or stake out any area of public property along a parade route except when necessary to protect plants, shrubbery, trees and other landscaping materials with the approval of the department of parkways and parks.”
Municipal ordinances also do not allow for “chairs, ice chests, chaise lounges and other similar personal effects” to be placed in intersections or between curbs of public streets” before a parade rolls.
All ladders used during parades “shall be placed as many feet back from the street curb as the ladder is high. Additionally, the practice of fastening two or more ladders together shall be prohibited.”
Serpas on Thursday said there is little his officers can do to prevent every person on a parade route from breaking those laws. He said a parade culture has developed in which people believe they are entitled to essentially live on the neutral ground for parades.
While he said his officers often ask people to move ladders or to remove furniture, they comply but replace the items once the officers have left the area.
One aspect Serpas said his officers will zero in on this year is blocked intersections. That, Serpas said, will not be tolerated.
Ultimately, he said, the police will ask parade-goers to use “common sense, common courtesy and common safety,” a theme echoed from previous years.
On the Uptown parade route, some people were already staking out their spots Thursday morning for the night and weekend parades. And in Mid-City, the Orleans Avenue neutral ground between City Park and Carrollton avenues was beginning to show signs of markings to notify people about reserved spots, while some people sat on lawn chairs to mark their assumed territory for the Krewe of Endymion.
While District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, whose area includes the starting point for the super krewe, said she would not ask for any additional police enforcement to combat the problem of squatters, she did ask citizens to keep in mind that the city’s streets are public property.
“Everyone should be able to enjoy the public space equally,” she said.