A Pile of Frustrations

It’s been three weeks since the Lutheran Invasion, but there’s still a pile of four-year-old flooded junk in front of the house next door.

Pile

Don’t blame the Lutherans for this mess. Blame the Preservation Resource Center. Blame Operation Comeback.

I was so excited when my neighbor donated his house to this program, so looking forward to some positive activity there. And I do hold out hope that ultimately they will make the situation better, once they get the house renovated and sold to a first-time homebuyer.

But in the meantime they’ve actually made our living situation worse. Our houses are so close together this pile is practically on our front steps. It’s moldy and stinky and nasty and gross. It spills into the street, making it difficult to park our car. I’ve had to shovel the pile off the street back on to itself. Some mirrors and panes of glass that were intact have gotten broken. Neighbors have thrown their garbage on top of the pile, somewhat offset by the pilfering of items from the pile. I’m not sure who would want this water-damaged furniture but I believe I saw some pieces end up on a neighbor’s porch. The pile is actually getting smaller.

I had to warn some kids yesterday that climbing around on and playing the pile is really not a good idea. Our former neighbor, Chastity, stopped by yesterday and took some old vinyl records from the pile. The sleeves were ruined but the records themselves appeared to be in good shape. Today she stopped by and let us know that “some of those records are 200 years old!”

I’ve been in regular communication with the PRC about this problem. They assure me they’re working on it.

Not fast enough for me.

Update: August 18: The pile of crap was removed , hooray at last. Nothing left but broken glass.

My Garbage Anxiety

I think one reason I’ve gotten so caught up in Garbagegate [TM] is because of my own personal garbage anxiety.

I haven’t put any bulky waste to the curb since August, when word came down that we weren’t supposed to do that anymore. But I’ve got bulky waste piling up here. After all, our renovation is ongoing, and waste disposal is getting to be a problem.

For example, when the tile guys tore up the old linoleum from the back room, I told them not to pile it on the curb, but to bag it instead. I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. I anticipated that I would have to dispose of this on my own dime. Meanwhile, other people are putting debris on the curb and the piles are sitting there for weeks and months. When news broke that maybe this was a service we’ve already paid for, you can bet it got my attention.

So they bagged the linoleum, and the two bags sat downstairs for a few weeks before I discovered a terrible secret: They’re super-heavy. I don’t know, maybe a couple hundred pounds each? I can lift them, but I can’t carry them. Not far.

So I was quite intrigued when Gold Star’s crew came back to our block late this afternoon. They scooped up Charles’ pile. I threw a couple sheets of plywood on the pile before the Bobcat came back, and Gold Star’s boss said it was OK but I needed to stay out of the way from now on.

I confessed to Gold Star’s boss about my two super-heavy bags of linoleum scraps. He instructed me to put them out on another pile across the street from Charles. He even went so far as to instruct me to put them on the pile of wood scraps and shingles rather than the pile of bricks and concrete because “they’re going to different places.”

I just about broke my back getting them out there. The heavy-duty contractor bags tore and I had to run and buy some more and double-bag the debris. But finally I did it, and tomorrow they should be removed.

Man, those linoleum scraps are some nasty dirty stuff. What I wanna know is this: What is the black tarry stuff used to stick ’em to the floor? They were put down some fifty years ago, sat under brackish water for weeks after the flood, and that stuff is still sticky. Amazing.

I asked Gold Star’s boss about the trash controversies, and he could only add that — like everybody else — they’re having a hell of a time retaining staff in this crazy disaster zone we call home.

Update: Monday morning the super-heavy bags of linoleum were picked up, not by Gold Star’s crew, but by our regular trash contractor — Richard’s. Now I’m really confused. What happened to the 25 lbs. limit on bulky waste?

Recycling Smackdown?

My friend at City Hall advised me to tune in to Cox Cable Channel 6 today at 1PM. I see on the Best of New Orleans Blog that the City Council is holding a public hearing at that time (Fri. Nov. 2, at 1:00 pm) at the City Council Chambers to discuss curbside recycling. I wonder what’s brewing? I don’t have cable TV, so I can’t tune in.

Update: Here’s Stacy Head on WWL [mp3, 5MB]. She called the station while ducking out from the above-mentioned meeting and talks about Garbagegate. Her comments about how the Council passed that ordinance in April jibe with what my friend at City Hall told me last week.

Update: Be sure to check the comments for Civitch’s blow-by-blow recap of the meeting. (Thanks, Civitch.)

Gold Star

Ironically enough, on my way home from work, I saw that the giant debris pile on the 3300 block of Iberville was gone. I did a double-take. I posted a picture of that very pile early this morning. It had been there since mid-September.

A couple blocks on, at Iberville and Salcedo, I saw the truck into which the debris had been loaded. I stopped a moment and talked to the guy who climbed out of the cab. He had a cool gold tooth with a star on it. He confirmed they were picking up certain piles that were on a list, and that they were hauling multiple loads of debris every day. They don’t have sufficient personnel to keep up with the demand.

He said he didn’t work for Metro, or for Richard’s, but for the City of New Orleans.

I guess this means that responsible people who pay to have their debris removed immediately are essentially punished for their virtue, while irresponsible people who leave gigantic trash piles on the street for months are rewarded.

Next morning: As the ever-vigilant Matt has pointed out in the comments, there’s a related story in today’s paper:

Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday said he is poised to spend $1.5 million to rid New Orleans of heaps of construction debris, even though it appears taxpayers already are paying for the task under a pair of expensive city sanitation contracts that cost a combined $24.5 million per year.

The announcement came on the heels of revelations that city officials are not requiring the vendors, Richard’s Disposal and Metro Disposal, to collect debris discarded from gutting and rebuilding projects. The firms’ contracts call for collection of “unlimited” bulky waste, including “demolition material,” from homes and small businesses.

In explaining their reasoning, city officials have pointed to the building code and an ordinance adopted by the City Council in April — five months after the contracts were signed — that saddle residents with the tedious, expensive chore of hauling away all but the most piddling piles of debris. Several private companies quoted a rate of $350 to haul away 30 cubic yards of debris.

Of course, the mayor’s plan is for the budget he hopes to get approved, so it doesn’t explain my conversation with Mr. Gold Star.

Dirty Deal

This is what I was talking about last Friday. The “dirty deal” relates to the city’s trash disposal contracts. Now that it’s the top story in today’s paper, I can talk about it.

Are you yawning yet? I don’t blame you — unless you live in New Orleans. In that case, you should be angry.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: At the end of last year, the city signed some big fat garbage contracts with some local waste disposal companies. We’re paying far more than we used to, and far more than surrounding parishes. But at least the contract specified unlimited pickup of curbside debris.

So, when FEMA stopped paying for debris pickup this summer, the local companies should have taken over. But they haven’t, and we’ve all seen the result: piles of garbage rotting on the street.

One Month and Counting...

So why are the local guys not stepping up and fulfilling that part of their contract?

Because the City Council in their infinite wisdom passed an ordinance in April limiting curbside debris pickup to 25 lbs. or less.

That stinks. Mind you, we are still paying for the big fat contract. We’re just not getting what we’re paying for.

Why on earth would the council approve such a provision? Could it have anything to do with campaign contributions? Is this a dirty deal? Until I see convincing evidence to the contrary, I have to assume that it is.

We are getting screwed. The cost of debris removal is falling on the shoulders of the private citizen. My neighbor on the corner, for example, who just recently got his Road Home check, has a big debris pile sitting by his house. He will have to pay to have that debris removed. That’s only fair, except that he’s paying for it twice.

The City Council should rescind its rule that curtailed the garbage contract. Give us the service that we are paying for, or give us a refund!

What a Pile of…

This summer FEMA scaled back the amount they’d pay the Army Corps of Engineers for debris removal, meaning the City of New Orleans would have to pick up more of the tab. The City said they couldn’t afford it, so it would fall on the private citizen. Predictably, however, most people didn’t get the memo. And we’ve all gotten used to piling debris on the curb.

Case in point: 3319 Iberville. Around September 20, the flooded contents of this house were finally removed and piled on the sidewalk, spilling into the street.

The pile was quite impressive, taller than me.

Pile

Over a month later, it’s still there. It’s settled a little, so it’s not quite as tall, but it does encroach on the street a little more.

I’m sick of looking at it every damn day. So I called the City of New Orleans hotline and reported it as a case of illegal dumping. (It took two calls. On the first try I got an operator who just wanted to read me a fact sheet of facts I already know like some kind of robot.) I was given a reference number: #2020403.

I don’t really expect the city to do anything about it, but hope springs eternal.

The New Trash Cans Are Here

After months of eager anticipation, we finally got out new trash can yesterday.

Our New Can

It has finally arrived. Part of the city’s new big fat garbage contracts are these new big fat garbage cans, designed for semi-automated pickup. Some have hailed the contracts as a big win for a couple minority-owned businesses. Others have decried the new contracts as bloated, costing quite a bit more than the city’s previous contract and not even offering recycling. But by far the most controversy has been how these giant-size cans will fit in the oldest neighborhoods here, where the houses are crammed close together and there just isn’t room for a bin like this.

We have plenty of room. As long as the trash continues to get picked up regularly I’ll be happy. I’m just looking forward to seeing this new guy in action.

Intelligence Added

I think it’s funny that our new trash can has “intelligence.” It came with a FAQ too.

Trashcan Becomes Trash

How big is our new trash can? It’s 96 gallons. That’s plenty big enough to put our old 32 gallon can (which is full of holes anyway) inside.

Note the streaks on the inside of the new can. I thought it was just a decorative touch, but Fred says it’s overstressed plastic.

Update: How big are they? Big enough to fit two sixteen-year-olds with plenty of room to spare…

Fits 2 16 year olds with room for another 5 year old

Thanks to Karen for the photo and boxchain for the tip.

Garbage

I was just getting ready to post about how sick I am of living amidst piles of garbage, when I came across the latest from our mayor:

“Let me tell you something. I want you to go to Philly, and you will appreciate how clean New Orleans is. Just go and walk around Philly a little bit,” Nagin told the crowd Saturday in New Orleans. “You will appreciate – am I lying? You will appreciate New Orleans. We still have work to do but we definitely beat them by a long shot.”

(I found the link on Library Chronicles.)

All I have to say in reply is this:

Garbage

I took that picture Friday on the way home from work. Such piles of garbage are everywhere. They’re not related to rebuilding. This is just irresponsible, lazy, illegal dumping.

New Orleans is full of garbage. If we’re cleaner than Philadelphia, that’s truly frightening. But I suspect that our mayor is full of garbage too. Yes, I’ve heard that the French Quarter is cleaner than ever. Maybe that’s what our mayor is bragging about. But come around to my neighborhood, Mr. Nagin, and you won’t feel like bragging.

Dear Ms. Head

Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I just sent to my City Council Representative, Stacy Head, addressing three problems in my neighborhood:

There is a small grocery at the corner of Lopez and Bienville which has not been touched since the storm. It is overrun by large rats and is an immediate threat to public health, with families living next door. I’ve alerted Claudia Riegel of the Termite and Mosquito Control Board, and they’ve set traps in the area, but they can’t go in the building. I believe they alerted the health department. I just wanted to make you aware of the situation which I believe needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.

Garbage and debris continues to be a problem. On the 3100 block of Iberville, for example, residents were piling household garbage on the sidewalk without bagging it. The pile became quite large and of course Waste Management wouldn’t pick it up. Finally the garbage was separated from larger debris and properly bagged. The result is two large piles of garbage which continue to be a nuisance and a health hazard.

Garbage

The garbage is not picked up by WM because it is not in front of a residence but a vacant lot. A resident (Gwen Jones) has called various city officials over the past week and has gotten repeated assurances that the problem will be addressed, but so far, it has not. I called the city myself today; they took the information from me and gave me a tracking number (67900) so we hope this will be dealt with now. I hasten to emphasize that this story is repeated on many of the surrounding side streets. Again, we just wanted to make you aware of the situation. WM’s regular Thursday pickup of household garbage (properly bagged) has improved a great deal over the last few weeks.

Finally, the most difficult problem of all: absentee landlords. Roughly 50% of the properties in my immediate area of Mid-City are standing vacant, most having been gutted but not currently habitable. However, a number of landlords have fixed up their places. Unfortunately most of these rental units have been repaired “off the books,” without permits, without inspections, and as a result are somewhat below the standard of habitability. Nevertheless they are being rented out at double the pre-Katrina rate. Directly across the street from me tenants have been living without electricity for weeks. Around the corner a family is living without gas and therefore without hot water. It seems clear to me that these landlords are taking advantage of a very vulnerable population: mostly these are the working poor, many of them are Spanish-speaking and some may be here illegally. It is not realistic to expect these tenants to take legal action against their landlords. I don’t wish to make the situation worse for my neighbors, but I also don’t wish to live in a slum zone. How can we hold these landlords to a higher standard?

At the Meeting

At the Mid-City planning meeting this morning, somebody was asking about garbage collection and Shelley Midura was explaining the rules for separating household waste from storm renovation debris.

The questioner said, “If there are rules, publish the rules and we’ll follow them.”

Shelley said the City Council could publicize the rules in newspaper ads.

I injected, “Print them in Spanish!”

This comment was greeted with spontaneous applause from the group.

Another guy, about three rows back from me, responded by calling out, “That was uncalled for. That was totally uncalled for!”

I yelled back, “What the hell are you talking about? If you can’t read English how are you supposed to know?”

Shelley, still on the mic, asked for everyone to embrace unity as we work to rebuild our city.

I was still pissed at the guy three rows back. “You’re gonna try to make me look like a bigot in front of all these people? It’s on, motherfucker!!!” And I leaped across the rows of people, grabbed him by the neck, wrestled him to the ground, and strangled him to death.

OK, that last part didn’t actually happen, but I fantasized about it. Fortunately, the next time the guy spoke, he conceded that he had misunderstood my meaning and he apologized. That was very nice, and I didn’t have to kill him after all.

Frustrations

Today (Thursday) is trash day. Waste Management didn’t pick up our trash last Thursday, or the Thursday before that. The pile is mounting. If they neglect us again today, it will be the third week in a row. I have called them eight or nine times.

Trash Day

I ran into Jay Batt at an MCNO meeting Tuesday, and he told me, “Don’t waste your time calling waste management. If they don’t pick up your trash this Thursday, call my office. I don’t give a shit what district you’re in.” (He’s on the City Council for District A, but we live in District B.)

Also, we haven’t gotten mail at our house for about a week now. Michael told me their mail recently started getting forwarded to Omaha again, for no apparent reason. I need to get to the Post Office and find out what’s up.

And adding to my frustration is all these meetings I’ve been attending lately. Neighborhood meetings, planning meetings, work meetings. I’m meetinged out. And I haven’t even attended a fraction of the number of meetings I feel I should.

Garbage

Garbage has been piling up for the last couple weeks, ever since the city took back over collection. The Army Corps of Engineers had been in charge, and had been doing a bang-up job as far as I was concerned. The amount of debris removed from our little side street in Mid-City was truly astonishing, and they seemed to come through every few days.

Now that the city’s in charge, it’s been another story.

Corona Pile

Finally they came through our neighborhood yesterday. Good thing too, because a bunch of people were getting so upset they were planning to dump their garbage in front of City Hall.

They removed most of the bagged garbage, but not all. For example, they didn’t touch Craig’s pile:

Craig's Pile from Above

I tried to tell him to separate!

I think this is going to be an ongoing problem for the foreseeable future.