Category Archives: Parochialism

Food Truck Fiasco

Credit to Dave Gallent/225 for this awesome photo!

Food trucks are emblematic of the recent surge in entrepreneurial activity in Baton Rouge and have been welcomed by the community with open arms, hearts, minds, and mouths. Naturally, with all of the other problems in Baton Rouge, Councilman and restaurateur Smokie Bourgeois believes additional regulation of food trucks is a compelling concern for the community. Councilman Bourgeois, who never seems to find his interests conflicted, is proposing a modification to Title 11, Chapter 28 of the Baton Rouge Code of Ordinances dealing with parking specifically targeting the practices of food trucks. These proposals are, at best, unnecessary.

 Before discussing the merits of the proposal, it is important to note that food truck vendors do not appear to be opposed to regulation, but to regulation for regulation’s sake. For example, all food trucks receive formal food and health inspections. This is clearly in the interest of the public good and helps to keep customers safe and food truck owners in business. Hell, Jared Loftus, one of the masterminds behind Ninja Snowballs and Taco de Paco, has welcomed the idea of posting proof of health inspections on the trucks. Food truck owners don’t seem to be concerned with that type of regulation (the meaningful kind), but rather the type of regulation Councilman Bourgeois’ proposal would enact.

The first regulation called for in Councilman Bourgeois’ proposal would require food truck owners to secure written permission from property owners before parking their trucks to do business. Currently, the Code of Ordinances of the City of Baton Rouge, Title 11, Chapter 28, Section 11:416 and 11:438 (one for the city, the other for the Parish) prohibits vehicles from being parked “[u]pon privately owned property without the prior authorization and consent of the owner thereof.” The law is already on the books, why is there a need to add the additional caveat of securing this permission in writing and why does it only apply to food trucks? Seriously, does anyone believe this isn’t intended to stifle competition to Bourgeois’ restaurant?

Seriously, if we're concerned about patron safety, shouldn't we consider regulating businesses whose doors open directly onto a street/parking lot? Note the guardrails within feet of the front door of this establishment to protect the building, no such luck for the patrons.

The second regulation would prohibit a food truck from parking in a manner that would orient the serving window toward the street. Due to the nature of the business, food trucks share some similarities to the taxi industry, at least with respect to curb safety. From examining the Baton Rouge Code of Ordinances, there appears to be no law on the books requiring taxi operators to only allow passengers to enter the taxi on the passenger side of the vehicle, although this would clearly be the safer alternative. Instead, taxi operators and passengers have organically come to an unregulated agreement that this is the best option, food trucks should be allowed to operate under the same allowance. Beyond that, let’s consider the anatomy of a food truck. In its natural habitat, a food truck is parked in a metered parking spot in the direction of traffic due to previously existing traffic laws (Title 11, Chapter 28, Section 11:418 and Section 11:440 in case anyone is interested). Because of this mandated orientation, food trucks have their serving windows on the passenger side of the vehicle and away from traffic since customers are not going to hang out in the street waiting for food. No new laws are needed here.

While all can appreciate Councilman Bourgeois’ professed “concern” for food trucks, food truck patrons, and property owners, the City of Baton Rouge has laws on the books that address the intent of these regulations. The Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Department are currently challenged with a rash of murders and other crimes within our city. Does anyone really think they need the additional duty of enforcing unneeded and duplicative laws? Or is it more likely that Councilman Bourgeois is representing his own interests as the owner of a restaurant in an area that has quickly cottoned to the concept of the moveable feast?

EDIT: This post seems to have taken off pretty well. If you, like me, think this thing is ridiculous and veering toward abuse of office, please let the entire council know by sending them an email (metrocouncil@brgov.com) in addition to sending your individual Council member an email.

-Politivore

N.B. Some may notice the similarities between this post and a letter which may or may not appear in the Advocate within the next few days. After reading an attempt by a food truck fan to support the cause (which I frankly felt was really off-target), I felt compelled to draft a letter to the editor and sent it to the Baton Rouge Mobile Food Vendors Association for use as the basis of a positional letter. You will note that I am a little more pointed in my critique of Councilman Bourgeois’ intentions in this post than in the letter.

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Filed under Metro Council, Parochialism, Public Corruption

So Long and Thanks for All the Schools!

After the recent disaster that has been the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, it’s really no surprise that there’s a certain amount of dissatisfaction within the community. Add in the fact that the school system is performing near the bottom of the pack when compared with other districts in Louisiana and it’s definitely not a surprise that a portion of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) is pushing for secession.

While I can understand the dissatisfaction, I’m not so sure that a break-away school district is in the best interest of our community. I’ve previously addressed what I think of the balkanizing of East Baton Rouge Parish and I hardly think we need any more of it. So far, separating from the EBRPSS seems to be the first step in a region’s full disembarkation from the East Baton Rouge Parish community.

When listening to news reports concerning this proposal, proponents of the break-away district frequently site Zachary and Central as examples of how much better an area does if it breaks away from EBRPSS. For some reason, they routinely neglect to mention the City of Baker, an example of a school system with WORSE performance scores than EBRPSS even after breaking away. But let’s not confuse the matter, on either side the evidence is only anecdotal.

With the proposal just unveiled today, I have been unable to do much data-mining concerning the potential break-away. With that said, I have started to do a little bit of digging and figured I would circulate a few relevant data. Much of the information regarding demographic and population make-up is inexact due to my use of 2010 Census tract information* rather than more granular Census block information (Sorry, this is a hobby and not a job). Census tracts are occasionally large and may cross over the described boundaries of the district. With that said, the proponents have indicated this may not be the final shape of the district so all of these numbers could change in the future.

  • Using 2010 Census data, the proposed district is dominantly white with about 70% of the population falling into that category. Of 13 census tracts, 7 are over 75% white. While I don’t think the infamous “Deseg” case would apply to this district, it would be somewhat of a challenge to integrate the schools, particularly with only one true “Minority-Majority” tract (located generally between Airline, Coursey, and Sherwood). Even more so if a strong adherence to community school attendance zones exists. If, due to community school zones, a large number of minorities are concentrated in one school (which happens to be the worst maintained and/or most neglected), a new case may appear faster than you can say Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • Nearly a quarter (23.16%) of the district is under 18 years of age and would presumably comprise the potential student-base for this district. This almost exactly matches the overall Under-18 percentage share of the Parish population (23.55%). Additionally, the district represents 18.41% of the total Parish population and 18.10% of the Under-18 population. So, from an age distribution perspective, the district is pretty ideal.
  • The new district would contain the following schools: Woodlawn High, Woodlawn Middle, Woodlawn Elementary, Jefferson Terrace Elementary, Parkview Elementary, Shenandoah Elementary, Southeast Elementary, Wedgewood Elementary, and Westminster Elementary (which I attended, coincidentally). Overall, that’s sort of close to being in line with the Elementary-Middle-High School ratio in EBRPSS. Building an additional High School and Middle School or shuttering an Elementary School would put it more in line with that ratio. For reference, the Parish Elementary-Middle-High split is roughly 65%-15%-20% while the proposed district would have closer to an 80%-10%-10% split. Granted, the appropriateness of the split is heavily dependent on student populations and the capacity of the school (Woodlawn High is pretty big).
  • Interestingly, while the concept of secession has been batted around for a while, the actual proposal only comes shortly after the completion of several brand new to fairly new schools in the proposed new breakaway district: Woodlawn High ($24 Million), Woodlawn Middle ($10 Million), and Woodlawn Elementary ($17 Million). That’s over $50 Million in new buildings alone, not including the various renovations and additions completed at other schools in the proposed breakaway district.

Fact Break: the EBRSS Facility Improvement Plan was started around 1999 and is funded through a 1% sales tax resulting in a pay-as-you go system. This differs from a bond proposal where revenue is raised by selling bonds backed by future sales or property taxes. Phases I and II of the Facility Improvement Plan covered the new schools in the proposed breakaway district.

A big question is whether the area proposing to secede has actually paid taxes equivalent to $50+ million on top of the amount of money required for operations in their breakaway district over the last 15 or so years. If not, EBRPSS may well have an argument that the new system owes it for the investment it made in constructing these new schools that would now be taken away.

Anyway, that’s just to get started. It will be interesting to see how this conversation develops over the planned legislation and to see how the residents in the suggested breakaway district react.

* For the purposes of the proposed district, I used census tracts 38.04, 38.05, 39.06, 39.07, 39.08, 39.09, 39.10, 40.09, 45.05, 45.07, 45.08, 45.09, & 45.10

-Politivore

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Filed under Parochialism, Schools

Use Your Delusion

As commonly understood by folks who choose not to participate in the Parish

With Parish elections only about a week away, I decided to put in a little overtime in examining the underlying arguments of Councilman Scott Wilson and fans of the two ballot propositions to change the East Baton Rouge Parish (EBRP) Plan of Government to provide the small cities of Baker, Zachary, and Central (the BZC) appointees to the Library Board of Control (LBC) and the Recreation and Parks Commission (BREC).

In my previous post, I countered, empirically, any argument for these two propositions based on population. In case you don’t want to read the entire post, the BZC represent a combined total of 12.66% of the population. Approving the propositions would grant the BZC 25% of the vote on BREC and 30% of the vote on the LBC. If passed, the propositions would create a disproportionate power sharing situation in favor of the BZC.
 
But what about the underlying argument that the BZC is not receiving its fair share? Essentially, the argument that the northern portion of the Parish is being ignored by the LBC and BREC in favor of the city of Baton Rouge and the southern portion of the Parish? Per the Advocate, here’s the essential argument:
“The bottom line is we need more representation from across the parish,” Wilson said. “Look at the Library Board. Nobody north of Florida Boulevard is serving on the Library Board.”
Since the current appointees are at-large and consider the needs of the Parish as a whole, this should not matter (not to mention that the proposition only addresses three small cities, not “across the Parish”). The argument above would be valid if there was a truly disproportionate allocation of resources by the LBC and BREC to the detriment of the northern portion of the Parish. So, is that the case? Let’s take a look…
 
The first thing we need to do is come to a reasonable understanding of what constitutes the northern part of the Parish. Since Councilmembers Wilson and Trae Welch (another advocate of these propositions) represent not only the BZC but much of the unincorporated portions of the northern portion of the Parish, we can’t only focus on the corporate limits of the BZC. With that in mind, and a native’s understanding of the geography of East Baton Rouge Parish, here is my version of the Mason-Dixon line for East Baton Rouge Parish which I’ll further reference as the Hooper-Harding Line:
Draw a line directly from the Mississippi River to the western end of Thomas Road. Thomas Road east to Plank Road. Plank Road south to Hooper Road. Hooper Road east to Mickens Road. Mickens Road southeast to Joor Road. Joor Road south to Greenwell Springs Road. Greenwell Springs Road northeast to Flannery Road. Flannery Road south to Florida Boulevard. Florida Boulevard east to the Parish line.
You can see a rough approximation of the Hooper-Harding line in the picture above. Anything along or north of the Hooper-Harding line is considered the northern portion of EBRP for comparison purposes. The Hooper-Harding line generally separates the inner-city, urban characteristics of the City of Baton Rouge from its sister cities in the BZC as well as the rural, unincorporated areas in the northern part of the Parish. This also increases the size of the population that we’re examining to 87,549*, which is 19.89% of the Parish population based on the 2010 US Census (also interesting to note that the population of the unincorporated northern portion of the Parish outnumbers any of the individual cities of the BZC). With that information established, let’s take a look at how each of the public entities is doing with respect to the northern part of the Parish.
 
Library Board of Control: This one’s pretty easy since the LBC can largely be measured by its facilities and it only has so many. The East Baton Rouge Parish Library System currently has thirteen  active branches with one branch  that is currently under construction (Fairwood) and one that is currently sort of under construction (Southdowns/Rouzan). For the sake of the argument, let’s go ahead and say that the LBC has 15 libraries. The Baker Branch, Central Branch, Greenwell Springs Road Regional Branch, Pride-Cheneyville Branch, and the Zachary Branch are all located above or along the Hooper-Harding line. 33.33% of the library branches in East Baton Rouge Parish directly serve or are easily accessible to the 19.89% of the population in the northern portion of the Parish**.  So I ask the proponents of the proposition: Is the problem that you’re being overserved?
 

Nothing to see here folks, certainly not a massive public park...

Recreation and Parks Commission: This one was not so much fun. BREC has a LOT of facilities; 189 of them built or in planning totaling 6,687.30 acres. On request, BREC graciously provided an excel list of all the parks within their system. While you could pull all of them from the BREC website, it would be a giant pain in the ass. So thanks for the help BREC! Getting down to business… of the 189 facilities BREC operates in East Baton Rouge Parish, 60 of them are located north of the Hooper-Harding line. That’s 31% of BREC assets for an area that contains 19.89% of the population. Better yet, lets talk acreage. Fully 3,502.62 of the 6,687.30 acres managed and operated by BREC are located north of the Hooper-Harding line. That’s 52.37% for 20% of the population! Again I ask, is the problem that the BZC and northern portion of the Parish being overserved?

The Bottom Line: Look, no discussion of this topic would be complete without considering the past. While the LBC has never seemed to be a high priority for the northern portion of the Parish, BREC has been a contentious issue in recent years with some of the cities threatening to pull out. Given that the BZC has already split their school systems off from the EBRP school system, I would hesitate writing off future threats of this nature. Just look at Mike Mannino’s advertisement in the October 3rd issue of the Central City News and not only because it’s hilarious. Mannino is running against Bodi White for State Senate in the upcoming election; the district they are competing for includes the City of Central and portions of the northern part of the Parish. Check out Page 7 on the right hand side. Yup, a campaign promise to break Central away from BREC. Clearly, there is some desire within the city to break away if the concept is making its way into a campaign promise. Like most campaign promises, it largely panders to a certain group without bothering much with facts. There are several facilities located or being constructed in and within close proximity to Central. The issue may be that they aren’t actually physically located within the city limits of Central. So what? I live in Baton Rouge. If I want to ride a horse or shoot a bow at a Parish-run park, I have to leave the City of Baton Rouge to do so. Seriously, is anyone arguing for an equestrian center in Baton Rouge? No, because we can drive a few miles to Farr Park. This apparently isn’t good enough for the powers-that-be in the northern portion of the Parish. The part that I really find amusing about this is that, from a tax base perspective, it seems to me that you really wouldn’t want that many land-gobbling parks in small cities since it reduces the space available for business or housing development- you know, the ones that generate tax revenue. It seems to me you would want parks just outside of the corporate limits, easily accessible but not taking away from your potential tax base. Maybe that’s just me.
 
The arguments with respect to BREC are mirrored for the LBC. The northern portion of the Parish is well represented both in terms of libraries and public parks. Don’t let someone tell you lies that it is not.
 
In summary,this is simply yet another attempted power grab by the powers that be in the BZC. What the folks up north choose not to understand is that we’re all in this Parish together. I urge you to vote against these two ballot propositions. If they fail, I’ll almost certainly soon be asking you to also vote against the subsequent attempt to further break away from the Parish.
 
 
–Politivore
 
*After an infuriatingly long search, I finally located the data I was searching for at the US Census website. For reference, the portion of EBRP north of the Hooper-Harding line is roughly comprised of census tracts 32.01, 35.01, 42.01, 42.03, 42.04, 42.05, 43.01, 43.02, 44.01, 44.02, 44.03, 45.03, 46.02, 46.03, 46.04, & 47.
 
** I could also point out, using data the anti-downtown library coalition practically fell over themselves to use, both Central and Pride-Cheneyville tend to rank low on one or both of the gate count and circulation rank order lists. I don’t find the argument persuasive, so I decided not to use it in the meat of the post but figured I would include it as a footnote. I also can’t find the stupid chart.

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One For You, Ten For Me!

UPDATE: Taking a second look, the Recreation and Parks Commission currently includes six qualified voters appointed by the Metro Council as well as the Parish President, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, and a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. The proposition only seeks to change the “qualified voters” section as far as I can determine, so my calculations of the total Board composition were off as they only calculated for the “qualified voter” component of the Commission. In any event, my argument still stands even though the power grab is only slightly less egregious. I’ve adjusted those calculations below.

I’ve been away for a long time, but power grabs and parochialism will always draw me back. Interesting… according to The Advocate, two misguided parishwide propositions remain on the ballot for October 22nd. Both of them are designed to expand two important local commissions found in the East Baton Rouge Parish Plan of Government: the Library Board of Control and the Recreation and Park Commission. The purpose of this expansion, however, is to set aside appointments for each of the three small political subdivisions in the Parish: Baker, Central, & Zachary. I thought the BREC proposition had been killed at the State level (the legislature had to sign off on the change since they actually created the district), but there is apparently a legal dispute over what takes precedence, the State Constitution or Baton Rouge’s Plan of Government. I know what wins at the Federal level but not State. So here’s my argument, better safe than sorry I always say.

The propositions call for those small cities to receive a guaranteed voice on the two commissions. In the case of the Library Board of Control, the proposition would increase the size of the Board from seven members to ten members and requires three of those members be appointed based on recommendations from the cities of Baker, Central, and Zachary. In the case of the Recreation and Park Commission, the proposition would increase the size of the Commission from nine members to twelve members and requires three of those members be appointed based on recommendations from the cities of Baker, Central, and Zachary.

So why are these propositions misguided? It’s a matter of population and proportion; what I like to call the pie problem (mainly so I can use the below graphic).

Honestly, you know you've been there.

So here’s the pie problem. These appointments have never formally been based on geographical location. Informally, BREC Board Chairman Bill Benedetto has stated:

“We’ve also always had at least two commissioners from the northern part of the parish, some years, we’ve had three or four.”

So there’s at least some attempt at accommodation from the BREC Board. Regardless and more importantly, all of the appointed members of either Board are supposed to be operating in an at-large capacity and doing what is best for the City-Parish as a whole. This helps minimize some of the ridiculous parochial bickering you see in other elected bodies in the City-Parish (‘sup, Metro Council?).

OK, let’s say for some reason we WANT to devolve into ridiculous parochialism at the Board/Commission level. Does anyone want to argue that it shouldn’t at least be done proportionately by population like nearly every other governing body appointed with a consideration for where one lives? Does anyone want to argue that these three small cities should receive preferential appointment authority over the single largest city in the Parish, which has no guaranteed appointee? That’s right folks, it’s time for the maths!

Using the 2010 Census, let’s see what a fair distribution of the population of East Baton Rouge Parish would look like.

So, the three cities that believe they each deserve individual seats on these two Boards based on their apparent support of the aforementioned propositions represent a grand combined total of 12.66% of the Parish’s population. Let’s think back to what these propositions will ultimately do. In the case of the Library Board of Control, these areas would gain control of 30% of the votes. In the case of the Recreation and Parks Commission, these areas would gain control of 25% of the votes.

Wait…

12.66% = 30%?

12.66% = 25%?

Man, I know EBRP Schools aren’t the best, but I think the answers to the above questions are both no.

In fact, the only fair way to introduce an appointment system based on political subdivision is if you apportion seats based on all of the political subdivisions and unincorporated area of the Parish. If we were to go down that road, we would need to expand each Board to 32 (!) appointed members in order to accommodate the miniscule population shares represented by Baker and Zachary. Each appointee would represent 3% of the Parish population rounded down.  The end result?

Seems fair to me!

I think you can see my point here. A totally fair distribution of appointments across the Parish (as seen at left) would result in a completely unmanageable Board. Instead, the Parish wisely adopted an at-large model by which the Boards and Commissions operate. Unlike the fair distribution in the chart to the left, the proposed changes to the Plan of government do nothing more than unfairly transfer a disproportionate amount of power into the hands of a small number of people at the expense of our community. I don’t know about you, but I tend to vote against that kind of stuff.

– Politivore

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Filed under Elections!, Parochialism