Author: Christiaan Mader

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, The Gambit, and The Advocate.

How swamp pop invaded the U.K. and stole Nick Lowe’s heart

Swamp pop took over the airwaves of 1970s London where it was loved and celebrated by English hitmakers like Nick Lowe, who performs in Lafayette this week.

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Scratch Kitchen opening farm-to-counter concept Downtown this summer

The new location will put a roof over Jamie Vickery and Kelsey Leger’s thoughtful but unpreachy approach to sustainable eating.

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LCG planners workshopping a way to score growth decisions by return on investment

The gist: A new tool in the works could help city planners and officials assess the cost and return of annexations or development to taxpayers. LCG’s planning department has included the concept in an RFP issued last week to solicit contractors to work on the PlanLafayette fifth-year amendment.

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Planning Director Danielle Breaux tells me the tool is about awareness. The “tool” — that’s pretty much government/consultant planner jargon for “method” or “rubric” — won’t set any hard-fast limits on what can or can’t be developed or annexed, but will assist officials in those decisions by giving a simple way of measuring or understanding the cost of growth. In 2017, consultants brought in by LCG estimated the average family would need to pay thousands more in taxes just to maintain existing roadways and drainage systems, a figure that doesn’t account for growth.

We need to find a way in this community of evaluating what’s coming through,” Breaux says. That means accounting for the costs of providing services like electricity, water, sewage and transportation to new developments permitted or annexed. Historically, officials have tended to look at income generated through property and sales taxes on new growth and development, without considering the cost to link up new neighborhoods or apartment complexes to city infrastructure. Lafayette is said to have a backlog of $97 million in roads and bridges projects alone.

How exactly this ROI tool will work is still undefined. Breaux hopes to develop something that won’t require a “staff of MBA number crunchers” to use. The key here is communicating the real cost of growth in a way that illuminates the net positives and negatives associated with growing outward or upward.

This is part and parcel *ahem* of firming up PlanLafayette’s guidelines. In particular, the land use map included in the comp plan intended to guide growth patterns in a way that curbs sprawl. That map has had little teeth, Breaux says, and is primarily conceptual in nature. In the fifth-year amendment process, PlanLafayette will revisit the action items put in place in 2014 and look to sharpen the plan’s implementation. Despite progress, planners say, Lafayette has a long way to go.

“Quite frankly, we have no zoning in the parish,” Planning Manager Cathie Gilbert says. “That is the number one thing that inhibits any true ability to manage land use.”

PlanLafayette’s monthly workshops continue May 22 with a session on Strategizing Economic Growth. You can sign up for the free day of workshops here. LCG will also release an Opportunity Zone prospectus and website designed to showcase Lafayette to capital investors looking to take advantage of the tax incentive program created by Congress in 2017.

Why this matters: Planning is not something Lafayette really ever did in the past, much less did very well. Looking at ROI on growth choices can give the public and officials something real to talk about when it comes to understanding the impact of growth on taxpayers. Not long ago, Lafayette was the poster child for a city underwater with infrastructure costs. In flood-prone Acadiana, unchecked growth remains a major public risk, as demonstrated in 2016.

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Food trucks, 3D and VR. That’s how they do finals at AIE’s Artcade 2019

With days to go before debut their games debut at Artcade 2019, students at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment pluck away at their capstone projects in 3D and VR. How’s that for a final exam? AIE presents Artcade on May 11 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at LITE.

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Court dismisses charter amendment suit. Appeals expected but not yet filed.

The gist: A district court judge dismissed a legal challenge that threw into question last year's vote to create separate city and parish councils, characterizing discrepancies in the voting precincts for the new form of government as "clerical errors." In his Wednesday ruling, Judge John Trahan held that the City-Parish Council acted within its authority when it passed an ordinance correcting those discrepancies. Plaintiff Keith Kishbaugh, joined by the secretary of state, argued the corrections could only be made by an amendment approved by popular vote.

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Integrating Lafayette’s segregated history

Lafayette’s telling of its history has largely left out black perspective. Rick Swanson is trying to fix that.

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Here’s what you’re voting on May 4, Lafayette

The gist: There are two tax renewals on the May 4 ballot — one that supports pumping fresh water into the Vermilion River and the other pays one-third of the sheriff’s budget. May the fourth be with you.

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Arkansas restaurant sues Waitr for hiking fees in breach of contract

The gist: Bobby’s Country Cookin’ in Little Rock, Ark., filed suit in April, claiming the food delivery platform boosted its contracted take rate without notice in a bid to puff up revenues ahead of its 2018 IPO. The suit was filed in Lake Charles, Waitr’s home base.

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The ‘what the hell is going on again?’ guide to the charter on trial

A high-altitude explainer on the legal jeopardy facing the charter amendments.

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$1 million left to Downtown’s Main Street project

The gist: Instead of draining all $6.8 million from the Main Street revitalization project to pump into other transportation initiatives, $1 million will remain to scope the Downtown priority.

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A Metropolitan Planning Organization subcommittee approved the transfer Wednesday, leaving one more stop at the organization’s executive committee before the transfer is official.

Get caught up, quickly: The funds were originally awarded to the Downtown Development Authority in 2014 by the MPO, a regional agency responsible for funneling federal transportation dollars. Taking advantage of a new MPO policy designed to sweep out unused monies, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux targeted the funds for a transfer request, asking that they go to several new projects, including the University Avenue corridor, a campaign promise. The move rankled Downtown advocates who have fought to keep the money Downtown.

“A million is better than zero,” DDA CEO Anita Begnaud tells me. “We have a plan now.” Begnaud and DDA board members have lobbied the administration for the past six months to hang on to the money. The funds were more or less locked up by a bureaucratic dispute over how to pay for engineering. The $1 million that remains was itself technically “transferred” to a new engineering assessment project for Main Street redevelopment.

The move doesn’t necessarily represent a delay. Scoping was a step already required before any construction could begin. The city will put up a 20% match to draw down $800,000 in federal dollars through the MPO.

Long term, DDA will need a willing partner in LCG to pay for construction costs. It’s still feasible that DDA could go back through the MPO to get construction dollars once the scope is complete. MPO Transportation Director Melanie Bordelon tells me the 2014 project was approved for funding before the MPO became part of the regional Acadiana Planning Commission and changed its rules and priorities. Under the new regime, she says, it’s unlikely this kind of project would have been awarded funds.

LCG asked to move a total of $8 million to new projects, including the $6.8 for Main Street, zeroing out dormant funds for planning in the I-49 Connector corridor and other projects. Here’s a quick list of where the money went:

  • Coolidge Corridor Study - $500,000
  • Adaptive Signal Project - $1.5 million
  • Pinhook/Kaliste Saloom Intersection Study - $400,000
  • N. University Phase 1 - $4.6 million
  • Main Street engineer assessment — $1 million

The list previously included a transit loop connecting Downtown and UL. The project, first conceived by the Robideaux administration in 2017, was pulled from the transfer request.

Why this matters: Like Begnaud said, it’s not nothing. The Main Street corridor is part of a key intersection in Downtown, passing right in front of the old federal courthouse. Robideaux talked broadly about the need to invest in Downtown to drive parish economic growth in remarks this week at the Plan Lafayette launch. Leaving anything for the Main Street project to go forward is a small win for Downtowners, considering how little leverage they had in negotiations.

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The charter trial will go on

The gist: On Monday, a district judge declined to throw out a suit filed to overturn a council ordinance passed to fix the charter amendment errors that have jeopardized last year’s historic vote to create separate city and parish councils. The matter will be heard at trial on May 8.

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Get caught up, quickly: Last year, voters said yes to creating separate city and parish councils. The proposition included some typos in the text describing the new city council districts that, left in error, would leave some voters without representation. The discrepancies, discovered in December, have reignited political division over the council split, the most significant change to local government since Lafayette consolidated in the 1990s. A group opposed to the charter amendments filed suit after the City-Parish Council voted to correct the errors by ordinance. The secretary of state, represented by the attorney general, has joined the suit, which was filed by Lafayette businessman Keith Kishbaugh; both state officials argue only an amendment — essentially another vote — can correct the errors.

City-parish attorneys argued the suit is an election challenge “in disguise.” Because striking the corrective ordinance would leave a new election the only remaining remedy, the attorneys claim, the aim of the suit is clearly to overturn the Dec. 8 election result — that is, it is effectively an election challenge. State law allows only 30 days to challenge an election, and that window has long expired. District Judge John Trahan disagreed, dismissing the motion and moving to proceed with a bench trial as scheduled. In interviews, both Attorney General Jeff Landry and Kishbaugh attorney Lane Roy have said they believe the charter amendment election needs to be re-voted.

Kishbaugh et al. view this as a constitutional issue, namely that the council violated the Home Rule Charter and the state constitution in passing a reapportionment ordinance to fix legal description errors. The effect, the plaintiffs contend, is to trample over powers the charter vested in the public — namely amending the charter itself — regardless of what state attorneys concede are good intentions.

The heart of the issue: What is reapportionment? The council decided to fix the charter errors by “reapportionment” — redrawing district lines — a power the charter affords it explicitly. Adjusting voting boundaries by ordinance is a common approach statewide, and LCG has followed that practice since consolidation took effect in 1996. What’s unusual here is that the “reapportionment” in question did not respond to changes in population or a census, the more common causes for redrawing lines. That’s the gray area the court will likely have to sift through — whether the ordinance is an appropriate and legal form of reapportionment.

“The odd thing about it is the public didn’t vote on the precincts the first time [in December],” quipped Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert. A key part of the pro-charter-amendment argument is the errors do not undermine what voters intended — to create a new form of government.

The legal headaches were avoidable. Not just the typos. The root of the dispute is the inclusion of the precincts in the amended charter itself. The original home rule charter enshrines the legal descriptions, so city-parish attorneys followed that custom, including the new precinct legal descriptions in the amended charter too. That was not required by law, and set the stage for the unfolding turmoil that may yet vacate the result of last year’s decision to split the council. “They created the box they’re trapped in,” Assistant Attorney General Emily Andrews argued in court.

What to watch for: May 8. Judge Trahan’s view on some very wonky matters of law could alter the structure of local government going forward. Meanwhile, candidates continue to announce bids for separate councils. Councilman Nanette Cook, a consolidated incumbent, is set to kick off a bid for city council this week. Others have already jumped in the races for separate city and parish councils. There’s a scenario in which the current council roster remains in place beyond 2019, should the court side with Kishbaugh and the state.

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Must do, must see, must eat, must hear at Festival International 2019

The gist: Festival International is a sensory overload. Try to do too much, and you end up doing nothing at all. Here are our picks (mostly Christiaan’s) of what to do, see, eat and hear at the Cajun Coachella — if you only have the time or energy to choose one thing for each of the essential Festival urges.

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