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Can We Make it Official?

May 5, 2006 at 5:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

City Council member Patte Newman went on the record earlier this week as opposing eminent domain abuse in the Taste of China situation. She simplified things thusly:

No honest hard-working taxpayer should ever have to live in fear of their government.

I think most Lincolnites agree. So why not make the sentiment official policy? The City Council should prohibit the (ab)use of eminent domain to steal property for private gain. Period.

Can I have an amen?

The People on the Bus

May 5, 2006 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I really don’t care for articles like today’s story on Star Tran riders. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that sort of story, but more often than not the stories emphasize public transit riders’ weirdness and/or poorness. Colleen Kenney’s article today is no exception.

The result of this sort of article is twofold. First, it biases people against Star Tran. When they read quotes like these, who can blame them?

“There’s some weird people. Over time, you get a feeling who to sit by and who to avoid”

“Here we usually just see poor people and students.”

Who wants to ride in a noisy bus with weird people? And although most people won’t admit it, I think there is a strong bias against riding with “poor people and students”, both due to the various stereotypes that go along with those titles, and due to the fear of association with those stereotypes.

The second result is that it makes bus riders look bad. It extends stereotypes to everybody who rides the bus. When Joe Public reads the article, he sees a story about: a guy without a car; a student; a poor woman with kids; a disabled woman; foreigners; a scandal-monger; and an abused woman. That’s hardly the crew Joe Public wants to mingle with. Now when he looks at a bus with this article fresh in his mind, what is he likely to think about the riders on board?

In all fairness to Ms. Kenney, I’m not accusing her of seeking out an inaccurate slice of the bus-riding public. There are weird people on the buses, and there is an impressive diversity among the riders. It’s just that these articles always seem to end up making buses and their riders sound less “good” than the author probably means to.

I have been a regular Star Tran rider for over four years now. I’ve met almost all the characters: talkative guy; intoxicated guy; indescribably stinky guy; talks-to-herself lady; crying baby; horrible mother; obnoxious teenager; and so on. But for the most part they are no more or less a drain on my day than the obnoxious drivers I would have to put up with had I driven. Most of the time my ride to and from work is loud (from the bus, not the riders), but relaxing.

Perhaps I’m over-analyzing this sort of article, but I don’t think that’s the case. It took some members of my family two years to “accept” that I am a bus rider, in large part due to generalities they had come to know as fact after reading this sort of article, or from talking to one-time riders. It seems to me that it is relatively common for people to miss the point of these articles.

Friday Five

May 5, 2006 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Five things Lincolnites say that outsiders find unusual:

  1. Sack: As in, “Would you like your groceries in a paper sack or plastic sack?”
  2. At: As in, “Where are you guys at?”
  3. Scoop: As in, “I don’t want to scoop my sidewalk today.”
  4. We sure don’t: As in, “Do you have gooseberry pie today?” “No, we sure don’t.”
  5. Anything and everything about the weather.

Silverhawks’ State Snub

May 4, 2006 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Lincoln Southwest Silverhawks boys soccer team lost to Millard South last night 0-1, ending the season they began at #1 with an 11-5 record. They won’t be going to State this year.

The Silverhawks’ State snub raises some interesting questions about the way the NSAA makes District assignments. Currently teams are assigned to Districts before the season begins. Come District Tournament time, that can lead to goofy situations like we saw this year, where 9 of the top 10 teams were in three of the six Districts. District A-1, for example, included Lincoln East, Lincoln Southwest, and Millard South, each of which deserved their shot at State.

So there’s the downside of the NSAA’s current approach: good, deserving teams will get screwed and be denied a State berth. But the plan isn’t entirely without merit. The current districting plan roughly groups teams by geography, so travel time and expenses are decreased. (But not minimized—that would make for all-Omaha and all-Lincoln Districts.) The current plan also assures that Central and Western Nebraska are represented at State. Let’s be honest, one doesn’t have to try very hard to argue that some of those teams don’t deserve to make State based on merit alone. But a strong argument can be made that it is in the interests of many of the parties involved to assure that Nebraska west of York is represented at the State Tournament.

I don’t have a good answer, but Southwest coach Andrew Ferguson would sure like to find one, if only so that other teams don’t face the same fate in the future.

Star Art

May 4, 2006 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’m glad to see that the Star Art auction raked in $250,000. That’s less than Tour de Lincoln’s $430,000, but it’s still a substantial sum for the YWCA. Star Art didn’t resonate with the public the same way Tour de Lincoln did. Speaking only of myself, for example, whereas Tour de Lincoln genuinely attracted my interest, Star Art rarely drew my attention. Maybe I’m more of a bike guy than a star guy. I dunno.

No More Sugary Pop

May 4, 2006 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

LPS and school districts nationwide are ditching regular pop in favor of diet versions, sports drinks, fruit juices, and water. I don’t know how much the move will do to decrease childhood obesity (the stated goal), but maybe it will at least cut down on a few of the sugar-induced jitters teachers have to put up with. Then again, sports drinks and fruit juices can have just as much sugar as pop, and students are free to bring pop from home.

I had to drive to work today and I caught a portion of the Todd and Tyler Show on Z-92. They touched on this topic, along with the sugary cereal debate. Rather than sounding like a bunch of rebels—which is supposed to be their image—they sounded more like cranky old men. “Back in myyyyy day….” When they pulled out the line “Kids these days…” I had to change stations. Will somebody please slap me if (or probably when) I start doing that?

Bird Flu in Lincoln!

May 3, 2006 at 5:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I found incontrovertible proof this morning that bird flu has arrived in Lincoln. It has to be here. What else could possibly explain the giant splatter of poo from an obviously distressed bird in the middle of my driveway? I mean, the thing was huge, roughly equivalent to the daily poo output of an entire commercial chicken farm. I tried to take a photo but it was so big I couldn’t fit it all into the frame. That poor bird must have really been hurting.

I knew it was bad when even Daisy refused to go near. I think I may need to declare my driveway a Superfund site.

Is the LJS Too Pro-Tom?

May 2, 2006 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Journal Star has been giving Tom Osborne, relative to Dave Heineman, quite a bit of column space these past couple weeks. For example, in Sunday’s paper the score was: Heineman, one photo, one shared article; Osborne, three photos, one shared article, one dedicated article, and one editorial. The Journal Star also backs Osborne in next week’s primary. My question: to what degree is the Journal Star’s support for Osborne related to his disproportionate coverage?

I see two possibilities:

  1. The Journal Star is so overcome by Coach Tom Fever that it is using its pages to promote its desired candidate as much as possible.
  2. Tom Osborne is doing more newsworthy things than Dave Heineman in the days leading up to the primary.

The first option makes a lot of sense. After all, if you want a guy to win, you talk him up whenever you get the chance. It stands to reason that the Journal Star would do the same thing. They don’t have any real obligation to provide equal time to all the candidates, beyond any state and federal campaign laws. And besides, Governor Heineman got all sorts of free press during the legislative session by virtue of being Governor.

The second option also makes sense, at least from the Journal Star’s perspective. They’ll cover what needs to be covered. But if it’s true, what the heck is wrong with Dave Heineman’s campaign? Why isn’t he increasing his media presence, especially in light of all the coverage Osborne has received lately (e.g. from the NSEA, Dennis Hastert, and John McCain endorsements)?

I don’t know which of these possibilities is correct, if both are partially correct, or if there’s another option I completely missed. But to me the gap in coverage has been noticeable.

Van Dorn Development Unpopular with Neighbors

May 2, 2006 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The proposed small commercial development at 9th/10th and Van Dorn Street apparently isn’t popular with neighbors. I’m a little surprised by their opposition. The block being renovated is currently occupied by an empty lot and a few extremely run-down rental properties. It is clearly not a showcase block. The block sees far too much traffic on three sides to be viable as a residential block. It once housed light commercial activity (a greenhouse, and maybe another shop, but my memory is fuzzy) on the south portion of the block.

It isn’t as though new commercial development will draw more traffic to the neighborhood. Instead, the most likely customers for the proposed businesses—a Starbucks, a dry cleaners, and a sandwich shop—are individuals who are already on their way to or from Downtown, or to or from Highway 77. Resident Zemis Sedricks thinks that property values will decrease. On the contrary, tasteful, vibrant economic activity should increase property values in the immediate vicinity, especially in comparison to the dillapidated conditions currently found on the block.

The neighbors’ opposition seems to me to be based on unfounded fears. That’s not to say their fears are entirely unreasonable, but given the realistic alternatives for the block, the current plan seems almost ideal. As long as the neighbors and developers maintain an open dialog, there is no reason the development can’t add value to the area.

No Eminent Domain for Hua

May 2, 2006 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The City Council acted wisely yesterday and eliminated any fears that eminent domain would be used to acquire Chan Hua’s property at 14th and ‘Q’. I’m especially interested in this:

In the past week, private parties have expressed interest in relocating Hua and then dealing with the city, possibly by becoming part of the development team. As private operators, they wouldn’t have the same constraints.

That’s the way these things should work. If the City can’t win with Mr. Hua, then having a private party step in to work with him—especially since Mr. Hua has said he is willing to negotiate, so long as the deal is fair for him—is an ideal solution. Everybody will come out ahead. I’m crossing my fingers.

Eminent Domain Abuse is Back?

May 1, 2006 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

After a brief, but welcome, hiatus, it appears that Mayor Seng and the City of Lincoln have brought the hot topic of eminent domain abuse back into the spotlight. The first paragraph of Deena Winter’s article on the topic is beautiful:

Chan Hua’s grandparents lost a hog and farm operation to Communist China. His parents lost a construction company in Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge. And now, Hua fears he’s about to lose his Chinese restaurant to the city of Lincoln.

Granted, Winter’s comparison of Lincoln to China and Cambodia is a little over the top. But only a little.

To be clear, the City and Hua are still in negotiations, so eminent domain is not the primary option at this point. Still, it is an option because the property has been declared blighted. Then again, Lincoln will declare anything blighted, so don’t put too much stock in that declaration. Communities often leverage the blight label as a way to get property owners to back down during negotiations.

Hua’s property was valued at $199,200 during the 2005 tax year. He paid $290,000 for the property on December 23, 2003. The nearly $100,000 gap illustrates the vast difference that often exists between the taxed value of property and its market value. (Both of which are distinct from the value of the property to the property owner, which is often much higher.) Also remember that new tax valuations will come out in June, so the tax figure may be revised.

At some level this appears like a simple dispute. The City wants a chunk of land for public use (a parking garage). The property owner doesn’t want to sell. No big deal, right? The owner should be bought out, or, in extreme circumstances, eminent domain might fairly be used. But that simplistic perspective doesn’t work here. The City played its cards all wrong. The City admitted early in the process that Hua’s property is not necessary for completion of the parking garage project. Instead, his property is only necessary for some of the secondary private projects that may be built on top of the parking garage. In other words, eminent domain is not an option for taking Hua’s property because the desired use for his property is private rather than public.

Well, that isn’t entirely accurate. Eminent domain is an option even in this case because of the Supreme Court’s ridiculous ruling in Kelo v. New London. But using eminent domain would come with a price: it would be labeled as eminent domain abuse, and suddenly public outcry would become a significant liability. In a worst case scenario (from the City’s perspective), the City could find itself in a battle with the Institute for Justice. The City’s lawyers would really have fun with that.

Long story short, this scenario would work out much better for everyone if Lincoln would just offer Mr. Hua an extremely fair price for his property, along with support services for relocating his business. What’s “extremely fair”? Mr. Hua paid $290,000 two years ago. I say offer up $350,000. Overkill? Not really. Remember that the City is strong-arming a man out of his property against his will. We owe him not only for the “real” value of his property, but we also owe him enough to try to overcome his unwillingness to sell. To me, $350,000 is within the range to satisfy those constraints.

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