Newell rips unlicensed vendors: "Leeches on our city"

"That's just our culture" is not a real excuse

Newell Normand
June 21, 2019 - 5:11 pm

Newell has been on somewhat of a tear lately, shining a spotlight on what he calls New Orleans' "culture of non-compliance," referring to unlicensed and unregulated purveyors of food and drink plying their wares in the French Quarter and around sporting and music events at the 'Dome.

You've probably seen them, dozens at a time, selling bottled water, cold beer, barbeque and even marijuana-laced baked goods, all in the open air, with no expectation that any city authority will challenge them on it.

Meanwhile, legit restaurants and bars seem to be facing an ever-increasing list of rules and regulations on their businesses; everything from mundane insurance requirements to more eccentric rules, like those limiting how many musicians they can have in their house jazz band. How is that fair?

The answer? It isn't.

Newell reached out to the French Quarter Business League for more background, and was joined in studio Friday by their President, Alex Fein, who is also the owner of the legendary Court of Two Sisters on Royal Street. What's the reaction to the "culture of non-compliance" from the business community?

"All the businesses in our group try our best to do the right  thing," Fein said. "We try every day to run good quality honest businesses, and if we're not doing the right thing we want to know about it, and we're going to fix it. When you see the bad actors not doing the right thing and no one does anything about it, it just makes things more difficult."

Newell recounted an observation he made the night he attended the Paul McCartney concert a few weeks ago.

 "I'm walking from the Warehouse District, about three and half blocks to the arena; thirteen vendors out in the street, not a single one has a license. Selling beer, wine, water, some kind of food item. They just expropriate public land and set up a business, and they're not paying like everybody else has to do. From a compliance and regulatory standpoint, it seems to me you'd go after the low-hanging fruit first, those that are completely and totally non-compliant, and deal with that issue before you start going after business owners that have made a significant investment in the city... go after those others first!"

Fein agreed, painting an unflattering picture of the streetscape that patrons and visitors have to navigate to get where they want to go.

"You see it on a regular basis; the tarot card readers set up in front of hotels, the kids playing buckets blocking half the street, aggressive panhandlers up and down Bourbon ten, twenty, thirty at a time,  homeless people, intoxicated people sleeping on the sidewalk... that happens on the regular in the French Quarter, and yet we're the ones that get cited, we're the ones that get harrassed, as if we're the problem, as if we're doing anything wrong to cause the bad acts that happen on Bourbon Street. We've been beating this drum for the last three years, nothing has changed, and we're getting frustrated."

Hear the segment below.

And it isn't just the inconvenience of stepping over a drunk. The "culture of non-compliance" has ramifications for safety and security, too.

On the talk line, and caller named Paul called in with a little extra knowledge of an oddity in the municipal code that makes it difficult for law enforcement to do much about these scofflaws.

"City ordinance 5422 only allows an arrest of an individual for five offenses; battery on a police officer, impersonating a police officer, battery, assault, and illegally carrying a gun. If a police officer sees a guy he sees every day doing the same thing, drunk in public, disturbing the peace - he cites him 30 times and he never comes to court - he may get arrested, but when he gets to jail, he's automatically released, he never sees a judge, and so it kinda perpetuates this whole issue of non-compliance," Paul said.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of!" Newell replied. "We're so busy trying to create rules to get around accountabilty and compliance for a certain group of people - this is absolutely silly! 

Listen to Paul's call below.

"This is a woke moment for me!" Newell said. "This is getting crazier by the second!"

Listen to the entire interview below.



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