May 3, 2006 12:00
Festival crackdown, lawsuit against LUS dropped and more
FESTIVAL CRACKDOWN

Last Thursday afternoon, Lafayette police told 85-year-old Vic Kilchrist that his mobile peanut roaster on the corner of Vermilion and Jefferson streets was in violation of a new city-parish ordinance governing pushcarts. Kilchrist packed up his operation and didn't sell his peanuts downtown during Festival International, as he has for the last 16 years.

Next door at Antler's, owner Johnny Walters received a letter the day before the festival from Lafayette Consolidated Government's Alcohol and Noise Control Manager Tim Melancon, informing him he would need a special events permit to sell alcohol on the private property in front of the restaurant. Walters contacted Melancon's office to get the required permit, but was informed that none were being issued for the weekend of Festival International.

"If they would have gotten with all the business owners, instead of throwing that on us, we could have worked something out, or I could have at least been prepared for it," says Walters, whose restaurant has set up a beer booth on its sidewalk during Festival International for the past 20 years. "We had already bought all of this product. Evidently they knew they didn't want us to do that at the end of last year's festival. Why didn't they tell us then?"

Zeus owner Nidal Balbeisi and T-Coon's owner Terry Majors had similar experiences with their Jefferson Street restaurants.

"A majority of the money that's collected at the [official Festival International] beer booths helps to generate the funds necessary to bring the event into town," says LCG's Melancon. "And many of the patrons that come into the city may not be able to distinguish what beer booths are festival-controlled and which ones are privately controlled by businesses downtown. Our office made the decision that we were going to assist in this event and not issue special event permits to sell outside the normal realm of a business that's already been permitted. So places like Antler's, and all the other places that have licenses downtown, can continue to sell alcohol like they normally do; they just couldn't erect a booth outside to sell their goods."

Walters also had an official festival booth for Antler's at the food court and operated two daiquiri booths on festival grounds, of which the festival received a percentage of his sales. "We're not here to undercut the festival," he says. "We need the festival. I just thought the way they went about doing it was shocking."

There is no plan to issue any special events permits next year during Festival International weekend. "That's the intention," Melancon says. "Now unless [downtown business owners] can persuade my office, the administration and the festival to do otherwise, then yes, it will continue that way." ' R. Reese Fuller

WHAT A GAS

The Independent Weekly reported in March that Attorney General Charles Foti's multi-month investigation into alleged gas gouging following Katrina and Rita yielded nothing, after Foti told reporters last autumn that his office was deluged with gouging complaints and that he would personally track down the offenders. The news was surprising, considering states like Georgia and New York have chalked up prosecutions even though they were leagues away from Katrina and Rita.

On the heels of the latest spike in gas prices, Foti seems to have changed his tune. Foti now says he will be "expanding" the investigation and "sending letters of inquiry to all major oil companies, distributors and retailers asking for information that may explain why there have been large spikes in gas prices recently as well as in the weeks and months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita." ' Jeremy Alford

LAWSUIT AGAINST LUS DROPPED, BUT ANOTHER AWAITS

When BellSouth and the Louisiana Cable and Telecommunications Association recently filed another last-minute lawsuit challenging Lafayette Utilities System's bond sale for its fiber-to-the-home project, it once again appeared there was no end in sight to the two sides' ongoing feud.

But last week, City-Parish President Joey Durel announced the city had reached an accord with its adversaries, saying BellSouth and LCTCA have agreed to drop the suit. In exchange, Lafayette state legislators Joel Robideaux and Mike Michot will withdraw a series of bills from the current session that challenge many of the rules and restrictions to LUS' entry into the telecommunications business.

LUS still isn't in the clear; the public utility faces another lawsuit holding up its bond sale, filed by Lafayette residents Elizabeth Naquin and Matthew Eastin. ' Nathan Stubbs

TOP TEN TAXER

According to a report by the nonprofit policy research group Tax Foundation, Louisiana ranks among the top 10 states in the category of tax burdens on personal income. That phrase represents what local and state governments collect in taxes from citizens as a percentage of their per capita income. In Maine, 13.4 percent of a resident's income is collected through taxes. In New York, it's 12.9 percent. In Louisiana, where two devastating hurricanes displaced residents and left many companies without a market, state and local government gobbled up 11 percent of residents' income, ranking 10th on the Tax Foundation list. ' JA