The city would gain the power to shut down businesses that repeatedly host drug use, stolen property and violence under a proposed ‘padlock’ ordinance that drew support from most council members New Orleans City Council during a hearing on Monday.
The proposal, by General Council member Helena Moreno, which is slated for a full Council vote on Thursday, requires problem businesses to work with the New Orleans Police Department to make amends or risk daily fines $500 and an emergency shutdown.
Days after New Orleans began the year with an outburst of deadly gun violence, council members pledged to pursue a package of laws designed to curb the city’s crime problem.
Council members are also pursuing legislation calling for the use of outside police departments to support New Orleans cops, to strengthen enforcement of illegal dumps, and to launch an advertising campaign against leaving guns behind. unsecured fire in cars.
As residents rail against crime, some council members say they’re taking action – and likely trying to draw an implicit contrast to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who is also touting his work to bring in more officers and take other crime-fighting measures.
Moreno’s order is part of this latest push from City Council and focuses on a narrow issue: how to get business owners who create an environment where crime thrives to clean up their act.
It’s a topic that comes up often in conversations with aggrieved residents, according to District B council member Lesli Harris, who said she’s heard repeated complaints about a convenience store in Central City and a bar in Mid-City.
While other legislation in recent years aimed at placing additional restrictions on bars and restaurants has often drawn fierce industry backlash, Moreno’s order does not target a specific type of business and does not has not yet aroused organized opposition.
“It’s not about trying to shut down businesses,” Moreno said. “It’s about trying to find solutions.”
Under Moreno’s order, a business could be declared a “chronic nuisance” if police determine that on three or more occasions in a year it has been used for illegal drug use or production, possession of stolen goods or illegal weapons, “in pursuit” of crimes. violence or gang-related criminal offences.
The police would send a notice to the business owner, who would have 10 days to begin discussing how to resolve the issue. If the owner does not respond, the police could refer the situation to the city attorney, who could seek a court order fining the business or closing its doors.
Moreno said the process is designed to go faster than the city’s forest code enforcement process. In the meantime, she thinks the judges’ involvement should allay concerns that the city is arbitrarily targeting businesses for closure.
While the order only refers to a “court of competent jurisdiction,” Moreno said his intent was for the Orleans Parish Civil District Court to oversee the cases.
Acting Superintendent of Police Michelle Woodfork told the council she supports the legislation as a much-needed tool for police.
The Baltimore Model
Moreno attributed the idea of the nuisance ordinance to a similar “padlock law” in Baltimore.
In 2008, the city council of this town created legislation allowing properties to be closed if they accrued a certain number of violations within a certain time frame.
While there doesn’t appear to be a public tally of how many times the law has been used, it has been invoked recently as Baltimore struggles with its own high levels of gun violence.
Last December, residents of a northern Baltimore neighborhood held a rally calling for the closure of a gas station following a fatal shooting.
Members of the council’s Community Development Committee voted 5-0 in favor of the ordinance on Monday, virtually guaranteeing its passage at a full council hearing on Thursday.
So far, the proposed order appears to have drawn little public criticism. This contrasts sharply with other recent debates related to business regulation, particularly those in the hospitality industry. Former mayor Mitch Landrieu sparked an outcry from bar owners after he backed closing bars at 3 a.m. and granting police and firefighters the power to suspend liquor licenses in an emergency.
Bar and restaurant owners have fumed, alleging the legislation would allow their livelihoods to be taken away with little recourse.
Landrieu eventually scrapped the idea of a 3 a.m. last call, and when Cantrell was mayor, the city council passed watered-down legislation that would have allowed the city to suspend liquor licenses only after a hearing. However, the council appears to have never voted on the follow-on legislation needed to implement this order.
A vocal opponent of the earlier legislation said he saw no obvious reason to worry about Moreno’s nuisance business plan. Ethan Ellenstad, executive director of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, said while some city ordinances regarding public nuisance laws may mistakenly punish landlords who are victimized themselves, this ordinance appears to protect landlords’ rights. and businesses.
“I think for this one it seems to be designed in a neutral way because there’s a transparent process,” Ellenstad said. “It spells out very specific violations in terms of the nuisance violations that they’re specifically looking for.”
Stan Harris, president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said he hasn’t read the order, but his group generally argues that they have “a reasonable regulatory structure that people can follow that doesn’t let room for a lot of subjective interpretation”.
Moreno said she isn’t concerned the order could unfairly hurt minority business owners because the process is driven by specific “very serious or violent” incidents.
Still, a spokeswoman said she would support a Harris proposal to add a “reporting” amendment that would allow the board to review how it is used after a specific number of days.