Latest Blog Posts

Convention Centers as Economic Development Strategy

January 18, 2005 at 4:57pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Among the many proposed economic development drivers being promoted right now in Lincoln, a new convention center is one of the most publicized and praised. Indeed, Lincoln’s current major convention facility, Pershing Center, is a steaming pile of poo compared to many of the newest convention and entertainment facilities in the country. (Compare to Qwest Center in Omaha, for example.) But let’s not fool ourselves and think that if we build it, they—people with overflowing wallets, that is—will come. As The Brookings Institution notes, nothing is certain when convention centers drive economic development strategy.

System Upgrade

January 15, 2005 at 9:37pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I upgraded the system to Expression Engine 1.2.1 today. Post comments here if you notice any new wonky behavior. (Excepting, of course, expected wonky behavior from the fact that the site is still in an alpha stage.)

Search and Login

January 14, 2005 at 4:38am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

You may notice that I finally added search capabilities and a member login form to the column on the right. Neither is very pretty right now, but I’m trying to work on function before form. Also, there still isn’t a way for people to become a website member without my intervention. I’ll get there ... eventually. This upcoming three-day weekend will give me an opportunity to get some stuff done on the website. I hope.

Another “Wal-Mart Sucks” Article

January 11, 2005 at 8:28pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The latest reason Wal-Mart sucks: they sell inexpensive goods and services to the people who most need inexpensive goods and services. Follow the link to read what I have to say.

Read more...

Council Comedy

January 11, 2005 at 4:33pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The collective genius of the Lincoln City Council blows my mind.

Lincoln has been planning more and more “marquee” projects for at least a decade. These include:

  • South Beltway
  • East Beltway
  • Widening East ‘O’ Street to 6 lanes
  • Antelope Valley Project
  • Downtown Master Plan
  • Haymarket redevelopment
  • State Fair Park renovations
  • West Airport Subarea Plan
  • Stevens Creek infrastructure development
  • 48th & ‘O’ Street revitalization

Yesterday it finally dawned on the council:
How the hell are we going to pay for all this stuff?

Question: Which is more worrisome, that the Council doesn’t have the slightest clue how to address this problem, or that they just now realized the problem even exists?!

Councilwoman Patte Newman says the cost of projects in the pipeline is $43 million. She is either lying or she’s bad at math. The Antelope Valley Project alone is projected to cost $240 million (plus 3 times that amount—an additional $750 million—in private funding). Add in all the other projects, stir, and we’re talking a sum closer to at least $430 million—ten times Newman’s figure. And we can’t even figure out how to cover the projected $8.7 million budget gap for the coming fiscal year.

The Journal Star notes that covering the budget gap plus an additional $3.7 million in proposed new spending will require a property tax hike of 25%. Let’s say we want to complete all our $430 million worth of projects over the next 25 years. (That’s not asking too much, is it?) That’s $17.2 million per year… ::number crunching:: If I’m doing my math correctly, our total property tax hike next year would have to be at least 55% to cover the budget gap, the new spendin

g, and all the projects. That’s an increase of over $100 per month on the average property tax bill. Try to get that one past the taxpayers. And that doesn’t include the (well) more than $1 billion worth of new capital investments private companies will need to make in order to make all these projects a success. And that doesn’t include all the new money Lincoln’s residents will have to come up with to build all the new houses and support all the new businesses in order to keep all these projects afloat. Where is all that new money coming from?

Further evidence of the Council’s collective density also appears in this morning’s Journal Star in the form of an article titled “Council delays action on 48th and O.” (Aside: Is it just me, or is the Council always “delaying action” on important matters? Do these people ever make hard decisions?) The gist: Considering the City’s financial woes, maybe it’s not such a great idea to waste a few $million on the “blighted” (Ha!) 48th & ‘O’ Street area. The big clue:

(T)he largest property owner in the area, Julius Misle, opposes the city interference. His attorney, Mark Hunzeker, said Misle has had numerous queries from restaurants, banks and retailers interested in the area, but the blight designation and uncertainty about access to property have derailed plans and made it difficult to develop the area.

So developers are trying to take care of the problem on their own but government interference is holding them back? What a shock!

::sigh:: This is giving me a headache.

Our 26 Most Dangerous Schools and Other Fables

January 11, 2005 at 4:27pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Meet the 26 most dangerous schools in the United States (reg. req., or BugMeNot). Believe it or not, most states have no schools defined as “persistently dangerous” under No Child Left Behind. South Dakota’s schools, though, are leading the way in school danger. Money quote:

...no matter what we learned in eighth grade civics class, passing a bill in Congress often doesn’t mean much.

An Uneventful Weekend

January 10, 2005 at 7:54pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Weekends are really too short. I’m certainly not the first to observe that, but I figured I ought to add my name to the list.

After nearly a month off, I refereed seven indoor soccer matches this weekend. They were all pretty easy. I didn’t even give out so much as a blue card! (In indoor, a blue card is one step below a yellow card. There is no equivalent in outdoor soccer based on FIFA’s Laws.) I sure hope next weekend’s games are more interesting, or this could be a long indoor session. Not that interesting == giving out a lot of cards, mind you. But I had way too much day-dreaming time during my games this weekend. Heck, I don’t think anybody even disagreed with any of my calls. (Of which there were few, because most of the games were pretty pathetic.) What’s the fun of being a sports official if you don’t get yelled at once in a while?

For the first time this year I really started itching for the start of this spring’s baseball and outdoor soccer seasons. My soccer needs have been met (sort of) by the indoor season. I really need to get back out on a baseball diamond, though.

I finished a book this weekend. Yeah, it’s a book about running a restaurant. I’m not actually planning to open a restaurant any time in the near future, but I have always been interested in the idea. Maybe one of these days… For the record, Running a Restaurant for Dummies is a pretty decent book. It is by far the best read of the books I looked at that were directed at beginners. I read it in about 3 days. It could really use an accompanying CD (or website) with the forms they talk about, though.

The Missus made me roasted chicken and twice-baked potatoes last night. Mmm, tasty! I think she
has salmon on the menu tonight. She must like me.

Mr. T Vents

January 6, 2005 at 5:26pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Mr. T sent me this e-mail Tuesday night:

Subject: fantastic city we live in

I would like to know what Mr Lincoln and the readers think of that law which bans parking on residential streets for more than 24 hours at a time. Why? Because I got fined yet again by the city for keeping my car parked and stationary on the street for longer than a 24 hour period. The law itself as a concept and what it is intended to do is one issue. The 24 hour time length another. And snow emergencies can cut both ways. Needless to say I spent about 25+ min chipping off the ice from my car and was forced to drive on the icy streets so as not to get fined again. IN fact I had the car turned on to defrost the windows so long prior to actually driving that the fuel in my gas tank (which was low) actually burnt up enough that the low fuel light came on! Funny how excessive fuel consumption and pollution and dependence on oil are recognized as majpr problems by our society. What contributes to these problems? Well apparently in Lincoln its illegal NOT to drive!!!!! And if youre elderly, sick, and/or homebound, a renter who cant afford a garage or paid parking space, or just prefer to WALK to work (God forbid!!!!!) and not spend money on GAS, I guess you are SCREWED!!!!!!

Obviously Mr. T is not a happy camper. Some quick comments:

  • I’m not sure where the 24 hour time limit comes from. It seems excessively short to me. A 72 hour limit is much more appropriate in my opinion. Perhaps this issue deserves some further analysis.
  • Mr. T lives—I think—in an “Even/Odd” neighborhood. Methinks he should better plan his on-street parking choices when snow is imminent.
  • To say it’s “illegal not to drive” in Lincoln is a bit of emotional hyperbole. It’s illega l to obstruct the city’s snow-removal efforts, whether with a vehicle or otherwise.
  • Mr. T’s point about those who cannot (or choose not to) drive is important. But their inability to get around the city begins long before snow causes troubles. It is pretty darn difficult to get around Lincoln without a vehicle even in fair weather. Snow (and ice, etc.) merely exaggerates the problem.

An Exercise in Self-Defeat

January 4, 2005 at 8:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Worthy of a read from Regulation Magazine, a CATO Institute publication: Traffic Control: An Exercise in Self-Defeat by Kenneth Todd. It is counter-intuitive, at first, to think of traffic control as a “bad thing.” Your own personal anecdotes likely go both ways. I would like to hear them.

Todd’s argument, although not presented in detail, is worth pondering. I will write more on this topic at some point in the future.

Priorities?

January 3, 2005 at 4:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Maybe I just don’t get it, but
rescuing a couple dolphins doesn’t seem like a high priority right now.

Eminent Domain Caselaw in Nebraska

December 17, 2004 at 2:25am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Just for fun I gathered some references to eminent domain from Nebraska law and a few Attorney General opinions.

  • Private property may not be taken under the power of eminent domain for a private use.  Burger v. City of Beatrice, 181 Neb. 213, 147 N.W.2d 784 (1967). (cite)
  • Right of eminent domain cannot be exercised for purely private purpose.  Vetter v. Broadhurst, 100 Neb. 356, 160 N.W. 109 (1916). (cite)
  • From an opinion by Attorney General Don Stenberg in 1995:
    In summary, property owners are quite limited in the remedies available to them when a municipality declares their property as substandard or blighted pursuant to the Nebraska Community Development Law. So long as a city and its community redevelopment authority strictly follow statutory procedural requirements, the city has the right to exercise eminent domain, notwithstanding a property owner’s objection. The fact that a business or farm physically occupies the property would go to the amount of compensation, not the right of the city to acquire the property. To prevent the taking, the property owner would have to find a procedural irregularity, either in a statute or in the city’s redevelopment plan, or be able to articulate why the taking is in fact not for a public purpose. Case law indicates public hearings are not required before property can be declared blighted, absent a statutory mandate. It is only necessary that the property meet the statutory definition of substandard or blighted property, and that the property owner can address any grievances in court.
  • Ano ther Attorney General opinion, this one written in 1981 to a request from Senator Ernie Chambers.
  • A 1991 opinion on eminent domain had this to say about the definition of “public purpose:”
    A public purpose has for its objective the promotion of the public health, safety, morals, security, prosperity, contentment, and the general welfare of all the inhabitants. No hard and fast rule can be laid down for determining whether a proposed expenditure of public funds is valid as devoted to a public use or purpose~ Each case must be decided with reference to the object sought to be accomplished and to the degree and manner in which that object affects the public welfare.

It’s Official: Hammons is Building Another Hotel

December 17, 2004 at 2:12am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Lincoln Journal Star is reporting that John Q. Hammons, owner of the Embassy Suites in Downtown Lincoln, is planning to build a 4-story, $16 million Residence Inn on the block bounded by 17th, 18th, P, and Q Streets. It is being advertised as the first private investment into the Antelope Valley Project. That block is on the far western edge of Antelope Valley.

Some serious questions need to be answered about how Hammons plans to acquire the land needed to build the hotel. Most of the owners of property on that block found out about the hotel today just like the rest of us. I hope Lincoln doesn’t wander down the slippery road of eminent domain abuse. Stay tuned…

“We’re in trouble.”

December 16, 2004 at 5:15pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

That is the reaction of Mayor Colleen Seng to the five-year budget forecast presented to the City Council yesterday. Inspiring.

She is right, though. Lincoln is in trouble. The city projects an $8.7 million budget shortfall next year, the largest ever in both absolute dollars and as a proportion of the budget. Next year’s budget is projected at $139.3 million, a nearly 12% jump over the previous year. The gap is equivalent to 6.25% of the projected budget.

Property taxes are an obvious candidate as a funding source. As the Lincoln Journal Star noted today, “Property taxes fund 28 percent of the budget, and over the past decade the city property tax rate has been reduced 42 percent, from 51 cents per $100 of assessed value in 1991 to 29.5 cents now.” During the same period state sales taxes increased .5%, equivalent to 50 cents per $100 of sales, in order to cover state budget shortfalls. Although it is somewhat unfair to mix state and local tax rates in a conversation like this, the overall tax burden on individuals is still an important part of any revenue-raising discussion.

As Councilman Glenn Friendt noted, “Eventually the piper has to be paid, and we’re at that point.” The City Council has a long history of putting off or skirting difficult decisions. The most notable act of leadership they have demonstrated recently was voting to enact an almost-total smoking ban in workplaces and public areas—and even that issue was filled with frequent demonstrations of indecision and cowardice from the Council. The Journal Star notes that “[Friendt] said the council is under tremendous pressure to make short-sighted fixes, kowtow to special interest groups and live up to political pronouncements

A New Hotel for Downtown Lincoln?

December 15, 2004 at 6:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Lincoln Journal Star is reporting that John Q. Hammons, owner of the local Embassy Suites, is going to build a new hotel in Downtown Lincoln. The (supposed) site of the hotel is the block surrounded by 17th, 18th, P and Q Streets. If true, this is fantastic news for Downtown Lincoln. Although to be honest I think the choice of location is a bit odd. Who wants to stay in a hotel in that part of Downtown? Parents of UNL students coming to visit?

One aspect of the story really worries me: nobody has told the current property owners on that block about the plan. At least one property owner, interviewed by the LJS, may not be a willing seller. As the LJS implies, that may not be a problem:

As part of the Antelope Valley Project, the city could use its power of eminent domain to acquire the land, if negotiations failed.

That, my friends, is crap. It’s also true. Although the Supreme Court has clamped down on abuses of eminent domain in recent years, abuses still continue across the country. Eminent domain is supposed to be used only in extreme circumstances. Over time, however, more and more communities have abused their powers on behalf of “community improvement” projects like sports stadiums and concert halls. Landowners are rarely compensated well when they are kicked off their property.

This story will be fascinating to keep an eye on.

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