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Community Agenda 2019

Lafayette passed a complete streets policy 

▸ The gist: Snuck in among some more contentious items on last week’s agenda, a complete streets policy for LCG was formally adopted by the City-Parish Council. The resolution aligns local transportation policy with state and regional codes and will guide transportation and development efforts to include more bike, pedestrian and transit access.

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▸ What’s a complete street?A complete street is a thoroughfare that provides equal access to all modes of transportation. To wit: LCG’s own complete streets vision: The desired outcome of the Complete Streets Policy is to create an equitable, balanced and effective transportation system where every roadway user can travel safely and comfortably, and where transportation options are available to everyone.

Proponents view complete streets policies as a means of refocusing city development on people instead of cars. Transportation projects designed to meet complete street guidelines include facilities for bike riders, pedestrians and transit passengers from the get go, rather than as retrofits. Complete streets policies have proliferated in the last two decades. The National Complete Streets Coalition boasts 1,200 complete streets policies adopted nationwide (I briefly worked for Smart Growth America, the parent organization for NCSC). Both DOTD and the Lafayette Metropolitan Planning Organization have complete streets policies on the books. 

Lafayette’s efforts to add bike lanes and pedestrian facilities to roadways have not been without controversy. Bike lane projects on W. Bayou Parkway and Moss Street spurred grassroots opposition among nearby constituents. For opponents, accommodating bike traffic is a waste of money that should go to widening or fixing existing roadways. 

One important component in the LCG policy is its emphasis on creating a linked network. Today, Lafayette’s bike and pedestrian pathways are laid out in often baffling and dangerous scatterplots. A policy framework to connect a piecemeal network would, theoretically, increase use and help ease car traffic. People aren’t going to bike if they can’t bike anywhere safely and conveniently.

▸ OK. Bike lanes. I get it. What’s the big deal? Over time, a complete streets policy in Lafayette could be transformative. PlanLafayette, Lafayette’s comprehensive plan, already includes some complete streets language, but a formally adopted policy drives the philosophy deep into the asphalt. The language in LCG’s policy directs inter-agency cooperation among LUS, Public Works, and Development and Planning and emphasizes early inclusion of active transportation facilities — the wonky catchall term for bike lanes, sidewalks and transit lines — in projects across consolidated government’s jurisdiction.

Like anything else, though, this is about money. Aligning with the MPO’s and DOTD’s complete streets policies can expedite projects that meet the guidelines and requirements spelled out by those organizations. Melanie Bordelon, the Lafayette MPO manager, says complete streets projects will score higher in the regional planning agency’s rating system, meaning roadway projects that include bike lanes or sidewalks and so on could be prioritized. That would potentially give LCG projects an edge in competing for federal and state dollars distributed by the MPO. 

“It helps to ensure that we also look at pedestrian, bicycle and transit users as projects are developed,” Bordelon says. “That’s not always been true in the past.” 

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Geoff Dyer to resign his post as CEO of the Downtown Development Authority 

 The gist: Dyer announced Tuesday that he will officially leave DDA this August to take a private sector job in Calgary, Canada. DDA will also fill three board vacancies at that time. 

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▸ Why this matters: Downtown Lafayette has struggled to build momentum over the last decade, but not for any lack of effort or expense. Dyer succeeded Nathan Norris — who actually recruited Dyer to Lafayette during his time as CEO — after Norris resigned in 2016, holding the post for 16 months, beginning first as an interim CEO and easing his way into the position without much fanfare. Dyer continued to pursue an urbanist approach to Downtown development. He played a key role in lobbying for changes to the district’s bar moratorium and recently won council approval to introduce streetside dining Downtown. DDA Board Chairman Pat Trahan says he is disappointed but not shocked by Dyer’s departure, saying that Dyer is a talent in high demand nationally.

“It can seem a little disconcerting,” Trahan says. “At the same time, we’ve got a Downtown Action Plan that’s well thought out and a new zoning code that makes a lot of sense.”

▸ The rule of threes: Dyer is the third urbanist-minded talent to leave a politically influential development post for greener pastures. Former LCG Development and Planning Director Carlee Alm-LaBar officially began her new job at Southern Lifestyle Development this week, ending her eight-year run in consolidated government. One Acadiana’s Harry Weiss, who ran the chamber’s urban revitalization efforts, took a public sector job in Oregon. Different circumstances influenced each departure, but it’s hard not to read the cluster of resignations as something of a trend, and a dismaying one at that. Agree or disagree with their work, Dyer, Alm-LaBar and Weiss were the kind of dynamic, forward-thinking leaders that just years ago were attracted to positions of influence in Lafayette. Lafayette’s magnetism appears to be waning. 

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What to watch for: Downtown leadership turnover. DDA will seat three new board members and a new CEO. Trahan, Donald Broussard and Bryant Poché will term out on the board this August. The search for a new CEO could straddle the board changeover. That’s a challenge or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it. New blood could invigorate the organization with the energy needed to finally unfreeze Downtown’s residential development deadlock. 

“We need to be able to push through and usher in some development,” Trahan says. “That’s one of the reasons the old federal courthouse is so important.” 

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LPSS is under fire. What are the legal risks?

Nearly 12 years after the Schools of Choice program helped LPSS escape federal scrutiny, the same program is at the center of a federal lawsuit alleging manipulation and exclusionary practices.

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Sawbriar Brewery and craft beer’s next wave

More and more brewers are choosing to take the microbrewery route, avoiding the pricey startup costs and permitting minefields that plague conventional production breweries. Starting this fall, Sawbriar Brewery will bring the microbrewery concept to Lafayette. The focus is craft, not production.

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A loving documentary memorializes makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin

A Louisiana-born makeup guru, Kevyn Aucoin worked with pop celebrities such as Cher, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Sharon Stone. A new documentary film celebrates the Lafayette legend.

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Complicated Cocktails Friday: The Golden Fig

What good is fig season when you don’t like figs? This cool and fruity vodka sipper makes summer figs something everyone can look forward to.

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The council has one more shot at deconsolidation this year

The gist: The council did not introduce or discuss any deconsolidation on Tuesday, but there’s still one more council meeting before the deadline to get a measure on the Dec. 8 ballot. Keep your eyes peeled on July 10.

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Wait. What do you mean by deconsolidation? Generally speaking, deconsolidation means separating the government functions of the parish and city of Lafayette. Right now, the city and parish have one council, one mayor-president and share several government agencies. That’s the way it’s been since the 1990s.

The catch is that only the city of Lafayette and the unincorporated parts of the parish are actually consolidated (as gadfly Andy Hebert points out routinely at council meetings). All the other municipalities in the parish opted out of consolidation. They have their own councils, their own mayors, their own government functions. Meanwhile, city-parish councilmen represent districts that include constituents in the other municipalities. That means, effectively, that a voter in Scott has impact on decisions that affect the city of Lafayette — say, how LUS operates or spends its money — but not vice versa. To a lot of folks, that’s just not fair, nor does it seem to be working out. Consolidation was conceived to fix the parish budget. The parish budget is still broke.

Now, with parish general fund sniffing the bottom and voters in the parish and city pursuing different priorities, a renewed urgency to overhaul consolidation has arisen. The failure of this year’s library tax renewal exposed that value divide clearly: City voters voted to renew the taxes. Parish voters voted against it.

More than likely, there won’t be a push for a complete divorce of the two sides of Lafayette government, but rather the creation of separate councils. I guess it’s more of a trial separation. In that scenario, Lafayette would obtain its own city council and more control over its assets and finances, but there would remain one mayor-president for the parish, and the two jurisdictions would continue to share services like the Public Works Department.

Seems like a no brainer to me! Well, maybe. There are a lot of thorny and unmapped paths to walk through to get this done. First, what would the maps look like? Redistricting of any sort would tend to get politically dicey. Second, does this actually do anything to fix the unincorporated parish budget? Not really. Deconsolidation dodges that problem altogether. To wit, Councilman Theriot, who does not support the idea of creating separate city and parish councils: “If we were to split, the unincorporated parish would be nothing,” he says. Third, there’s an argument that simply adding a new council for the city of Lafayette doesn’t go far enough. Many of the convolutions would remain problematic, particularly in how the priorities of the mayor-president align with the often competing interests of the parish and city he represents. Maybe a full divorce is what we really need.

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Creating a new fire district for the unincorporated parish is another proxy battle about consolidated government

The gist: The council moved one step closer toward creating a new fire district for unincorporated areas of Lafayette Parish. If the boundaries are adopted at the next council meeting, that would likely mean a new millage appearing on the ballot to fund fire services in the area.

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Some background: Unincorporated residents don’t have a fire department, so the parish contracts with municipal fire departments to respond to fires in rural Lafayette Parish. Consolidated government has reduced payments to municipal fire departments to rein in spending out of the parish’s nearly depleted general fund. That arrangement has begun to stress the budgets of municipal fire departments; the cost to the municipal fire departments reportedly exceeds the revenue taken in by those contracts. Scott’s Fire Department reportedly saw payments drop from roughly $150,000 annually to $50,000. Councilman Kevin Naquin warns that the fire rating for the unincorporated parish could go up if no action is taken to shore up the shoddy service in the district. That would lead to higher fire insurance premiums for the area, figures Naquin says would greatly outstrip the cost of new taxes in the district.

We learned that Kevin Naquin’s house is worth $275,000. To illustrate the cost discrepancy, Naquin put his insurance plan on the council chamber’s projector screen. Naquin lives in unincorporated Lafayette. Insurance premiums for his home, valued at $275,000, would increase by $4,000 if the unincorporated area fire rating goes from its current Class 5 to Class 7. No millage has been officially suggested just yet. But Naquin floated that a 7-mill property tax funding the new district would cost him $150 a year.

“Spend your money on insurance and you choose to do nothing,” Naquin said. “Ask the insurance company to put your house [fire] out.”

What if the parish disappeared? Councilman William Theriot, ever skeptical of council money grabs, prodded the introductory fire district ordinance for its lack of details and for falling short of solving the problem. Theriot argued that as annexation continues, the newly created fire district would shrink, thereby continuing to diminish the tax base for the fire district. For the second time this year, Theriot proposed a solution that’s not new but is nonetheless radical: divvy up the unincorporated parish and absorb it into each municipality. That’s a concept championed by former Mayor Joey Durel during his tenure.

“This seems to be the only viable solution,” Theriot told me in an phone interview. His idea is provisional, though he believes it’s got legs. That’s one idea to fix the unincorporated parish: Make it disappear.

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Sheriff Garber explained his sales tax to the City-Parish Council

The gist: At Tuesday’s council meeting, Sheriff Mark Garber gave an overview and explanation of a new parishwide sales tax he intends to put on the Dec. 8 ballot. As proposed, the tax would generate $38 million annually to fund new law enforcement personnel both for the sheriff’s office and for the Lafayette Police Department. Garber was summoned to the council amid criticism that he had failed to apprise the body of his plans.

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“We weren’t ready to come to you before,” Garber told the council. He complained that news of his plan got out faster than he intended — by way of Claire Taylor at The Daily Advertiser — forcing him to play catch up with a speeding newscycle. That explanation appears to have mollified several frustrated councilmen who had complained that Garber left them out of the loop on a decision that impacts the city police department, a body they oversee. Garber turned over draft ballot language to the council at the meeting, asking the councilmen not to share it with the media, given that the proposal isn’t finalized. It’s not clear what parts in the ballot aren’t full baked. The Current obtained a copy of the ballot language — a public record, by way of its transmittal to the council — which you can view here.  Garber indicated that a final version of the measure will be ready this summer, with a major campaign to follow from a PAC created to support the effort.

So what’s in the plan? As written, Garber’s proposal would create a permanent three quarters of a cent sales tax assessed parishwide: that is everywhere in the parish, inclusive of all municipalities. Garber wants to add 45 more deputies, pay down $37 million in debt and accumulate enough dollars to create a one-year operating reserve fund for the sheriff’s office. He’d accomplish that with about $23 million in annual revenue generated by the tax. The sheriff indicated that he would roll back an existing property tax that funds his office after he reaches that fund balance. However, the ballot measure does not hold him legally to that promise.

Sales tax collected in the city of Lafayette, half of the three-quarter cent rate, would go to the Lafayette Police Department, generating an estimated $15 million each year. That would nearly double LPD’s roughly $20 million annual budget.

“Not everybody understands my power as the sheriff to go before the voters unilaterally,” Garber said in his address. “I’m not asking the council tonight to adopt any resolution or to vote in favor of it. I’m here before the council because all of you represent voters in this parish. Voters who are my voters.”

What to watch for: Whether the administration or the council backs the sheriff’s plan. Thus far, Garber has not won official support from the city side of the deal. Mayor Joel Robideaux has not indicated, up or down, his position on the sales tax. He has not responded to requests for comment, although a sheriff’s spokesman confirmed Robideaux and the sheriff discussed the tax last week. The Lafayette Police Association, the local police union, supports Garber’s measure. The group’s tactics recently angered some city-parish councilmen who accused the union of using scare tactics to get the sheriff’s tax passed.

Councilman Jay Castille, who dismissed the union’s claims that the department is understaffed, said after the meeting last night that Garber’s presentation answered many but not all of his concerns. The specifics of the intergovernmental agreement have yet to be hammered out. That would require council approval.

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Two years and waiting: a look inside the drainage action plan

Homeowners continue to await drainage work promised in a tax rededication passed last year. The work is not a fix; it’s a Bandaid.

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Downtown’s most important domino: the old federal courthouse

No project is perhaps more emblematic of the morass Downtown has been in than the old federal courthouse. Yet, a project of this magnitude is exactly what we need to catalyze development.

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Complicated Cocktails Friday: The Kaleidoscope

The secret to an electric colored cocktail without the curaçao? Butterfly pea tea. A complicated cocktail from Porch, Wine & Gravy.

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