BY DANNY MONTEVERDE: New Orleans Advocate bureau
New Orleans — On most nights and into the early morning hours, a small amount of activity takes place on the pedestrian malls of Chartres, St. Ann and St. Peter streets that ring Jackson Square. However, a proposed city ordinance, though, could put an end to the overnight tarot card readings and gathering of others who meet outside the square for any number of reasons. Some of those who make their living on Jackson Square, however, have vowed to fight the possible changes, saying that they are unnecessary and will cut into their incomes.
Councilwoman Kristin Palmer introduced the ordinance at the Landrieu administration’s request. The proposed legislation would prevent anyone from lingering in the area or setting up tables or furniture between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. and is a “reasonable” way to clear the pedestrian malls for cleaning, Palmer said.
She and others who work on Jackson Square said the city is trying to flush out homeless people and “gutter punks” and trying to clean up the area’s bohemian atmosphere to create a postcard image of the public space when cameras arrive for the Super Bowl in February.
In the process of removing vagrants, Waldron said, the city will lose an important part of what gives Jackson Square its personality if tarot card readers, musicians and street performers are forced out as well.
Ryan Berni, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the city is trying to stop a problem of people sleeping in the area, but that the city also considers the pedestrian malls a public park and as such they are subject to operating hours. The streets became vehicle-free zones in 1970 and since then have been the home to artists, musicians, street performers and tarot card readers.
He said the goal of closing off the area to activity during the overnight hours simply is a way to make sure a thorough cleaning can happen without disrupting the artists who work there during the day. He emphasized that daytime operating hours will not be affected.
The ordinance is expected to be discussed Dec. 3 during the council’s governmental affairs committee meeting.
Waldron said she and her counterparts will try to work with the city to come to a compromise before then, but that they are ready to take legal action if the proposed ordinance passes as written.
Berni said the city is “always prepared” to handle any possible litigation.