Archive for April, 2012

Pearls for Berkshire

Pearls for Berkshire

City's String of Pearls shining again in time for shareholder bash


The string of lights leading into downtown from Eppley Airfield are looking much better than they did about nine months ago.

A big chunk of the roughly 700-light chain was pummeled by a severe hailstorm then — and the city really wanted them back online in time for this week’s capitalist love-fest.

Now they are, thanks to quite a bit of city money (an insurance claim is pending).

The damaged fixtures were replaced with energy-saving LED bulbs — a change that officials say will save in annual energy costs. The city hopes to replace all the string’s bulbs with LED technology within five years.

April 30, 2012 Comments Read More
Masterplan: Make room for bikes

Masterplan: Make room for bikes

A Harney Street bikeway is a priority project under the city's transportation masterplan


Atop the project recommendations in the city’s newly-unveiled transportation masterplan: reconfiguring a strip of Harney Street between 10th and 24th Streets to add a median and accommodate dedicated two-way bike lanes.

The master plan also sets out a list of other priority projects, including adding bike lanes on Howard Street and St. Mary’s Avenue and making improvements to stretches of 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th Streets. The study also recommends further expansion of 144th Street to a consistent four-lane highway and mentions an often-discussed metropolitan area beltway.

It also lists as priorities streetscape improvements in Dundee and a stretch of Park Avenue.

There’s a lot more to digest in the 93-page report. We plan to scrutinize it more in the near future. If you’re brave, give the plan a read.

But the study’s key takeaway is this: Omaha’s transportation system needs more balance between cars, bikes and pedestrians during the next quarter century of growth.

How it all gets paid for? Well, we’ll see…

April 24, 2012 Comments Read More
Money requested to rebuild city playgrounds

Money requested to rebuild city playgrounds

This fading playground in South Omaha could get rebuilt, if enough money is raised.


Saturday, city officials and community leaders unveiled a large-scale effort to renovate 15 aging city playgrounds by 2014.

Accomplishing that task is going to take a lot of money – $750,000 worth of private donations are needed to fund all the projects and open up some matching city funds. Some parks are going to have an easier time with this than others.

Led by the Omaha Parks Foundation, which was established in 2010 to help secure private money for parks projects, the initiative targets parks all over the city.

To determine which playgrounds would be prioritized for repairs, parks staff assembled a list of roughly 60 playgrounds needing the most work. The top 15 made the list. In another three years, the next 15 parks on the list would move to the top.

The effort is drawing praise and support from high-profile Omaha individuals and entities, including Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, the Douglas County Health Department and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Here’s a rundown of which playgrounds are targeted and how to donate:

April 23, 2012 Comments Read More
Higher sales tax? Not so fast

Higher sales tax? Not so fast

It looks like there will be no fast track on a higher sales tax in Omaha.

After the Legislature gave the proposal its final approval this week – by overriding the governor’s veto – I called Omaha City Council members to get their take.

Three (Pete Festersen, Tom Mulligan and Jean Stothert) said they’re against putting a higher sales tax to a vote in Omaha.

The new law sets up the City Council as the first gatekeeper on any proposal. A super-majority, five out of seven members in Omaha’s case, would have to approve putting the issue on the ballot.

If three are opposed, any proposal is going nowhere for now. You can read my story here.

Is the idea dead? Not entirely. The Mayor’s Office plans to start talking with different sectors of the community about the issue.

So it might take more time and more debate before the issue comes before voters.

April 20, 2012 Comments Read More
MECA board has new chairman

MECA board has new chairman

John Lund elected to replace Jim Vokal as head of MECA board


John Lund has been elected by his fellow board members to serve as chairman of the MECA board.

Lund, CEO of the local commercial real estate firm the Lund Company, replaces Jim Vokal, who remains on the board.

The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority runs CenturyLink Center Omaha, TD Ameritrade Park and the Civic Auditorium.

“Stepping into the leadership role on the MECA Board is an exciting challenge,” Lund said in a statement. “CenturyLink Center Omaha and TD Ameritrade Park Omaha are among several crown jewels for the community. I look forward to carrying on the success that has been established and to ensure that these facilities continue to perform to their greatest potential.”

The board also elected Jennifer Rasmussen as vice-chair, Dana Bradford as secretary and Vokal as treasurer. Next month, Willy Theisen will join the board, replacing outgoing member David Kramer.

April 16, 2012 Comments Read More
Neighbors protest ‘bad bar’ in South O

Neighbors protest ‘bad bar’ in South O

Some neighbors of the Kurt and Clyde's bar want the pub's security to improve


Last week, a group of South Omaha residents condemned a neighborhood bar as a prime source of crime and violence in the neighborhood.

Kurt and Clyde’s, on the southwest corner of 13th and Dorcas Streets, has been the scene of four shootings since October, including two last month that injured three. Hobert Rupe, executive director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, says there is an active investigation into the establishment.

Some groups say the crimes, including numerous assaults, underscore the need for the City Council to act on an ordinance proposed last summer to grant the city more control over where new liquor licenses are granted and to better combat problem establishments. The proposal has not been formally introduced to the council for public debate.

The campaign to Let Omaha Control Its Alcohol Landscape (LOCAL) is using the South Omaha pub as an example of why such measures are needed.

In February, the City Council voted to endorse a proposal in the Nebraska Legislature that would have created “alcohol impact zones”  — or geographic ­areas deemed to be adversely affected by chronic public drunkenness or illegal activity associated with alcohol. Councilmember Chris Jerram said that proposal was an “ingenious, simplified method for addressing what many people believe constitutes an issue in Omaha, particularly in the eastern part of the city.”

But that bill went nowhere this session. LOCAL officials weren’t crazy about the idea, anyway.

So the question of what, if anything, to do remains open.

“What’s a bad bar?” said Arnie Breslow, president of the Old Market South Neighborhood Association. “It’s when you have needles in yards, fornication in yards. We have fighting and guns now at Kurt & Clyde’s.”

“We are trying to develop this area,” Breslow said of 10th, 13th and Vinton Streets. “This one bad bar could take the whole thing down.


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April 16, 2012 Comments Read More
A fluid situation at city parks

A fluid situation at city parks

Warm weather has city scrambling to get water flowing at city parks


On April 9, The World-Herald’s Public Pulse published a letter from Omaha resident Marilyn J. Cotten. She, like many of us, loved March’s unseasonably mild temperatures.

“Zorinsky Lake was bursting at the seams with bikers, runners, skaters, dog-walkers and children on the playgrounds,” Cotten wrote. But there was a catch.

“There was lots of activity at the park and not one operational water fountain or faucet to be found. Turn on the water faucets.”

The city says workers are scrambling to do just that.

Normally, workers don’t begin the process of turning on the water at city parks facilities until around the beginning of April. March’s temperatures are normally too low.

“Normally it’s not 90 degrees in March,” said Brook Bench, the city’s interim parks director. “We can’t turn it all on at one time.”

That’s why water fountains or restrooms at some city parks might not yet be operable. Chances are it will be a couple of weeks before they’re all ready for use, officials say.

April 11, 2012 Comments Read More
Voters may get a say on city building plan

Voters may get a say on city building plan

My story from today about the City of Omaha’s new $281 million building plan elicited some grumbles and groans from the commenters over on

“Omaha is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy the way it is now – we can’t afford these upgrades, plain and simple.”

“Sounds like time for our mayor to come up with a creative new tax to ram down our throats in order to fund all the new expenses.”

The way it looks now, Omaha voters just might get their say.

April 9, 2012 Comments Read More
OPD’s new look?

OPD’s new look?

A version of this Chevrolet Caprice PPV looks set to be the new OPD cruiser


We doubt the paint job will change, but city officials are ready to phase in the new Chevrolet Caprice PPV as the successor to the Omaha Police Department’s trusty Crown Victoria.

City finance officials and members of the City Council are moving forward with a proposal to begin leasing new Chevrolet Caprice police cruisers and Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles by year’s end.

The city hopes to replace much of the city’s fleet of 242 black-and-white cruisers with leased vehicles by 2015. City officials claim leasing the new vehicles not only will noticeably update the look of the department’s cruisers, it will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance and repair costs.

Screw it, let’s talk specs.

Since Ford announced plans to stop manufacturing its workhorse Crown Victoria Police Interceptors (the full-size, rear-wheel-drive sedans that make up about 70 percent of the nation’s police fleet), law enforcement agencies nationwide have been wrangling over potential replacements.

Three of the primary options: the Caprice PPV, or my personal favorites: the Dodge Charger Pursuit and Ford’s new, souped-up Interceptor.

April 9, 2012 Comments Read More
Mayor’s office, county board jump into poll fight

Mayor’s office, county board jump into poll fight

Douglas County elecion chief Dave Phipps tangles with mayor's office


Now Mayor Jim Suttle’s office is throwing punches over a decision to close nearly half of Douglas County’s polling places.

Suttle and county board Chairman Marc Kraft on Wednesday proposed public libraries as satellite early voting locations, giving voters more access to the polls. Excess library funds would pay for any costs, they said in a letter to Election Commissioner Dave Phipps, a Republican.

But hours later, Phipps declined the offer, saying it would cost too much money. Phipps said he would have to station a full-time staff member at each public library, and the training would be too costly. He said his office would have to supply each library with 186 different ballot combinations.

Democrats have howled over Phipps’ decision, suggesting it’s an effort to suppress minority voting in Omaha. Of course, threats of lawsuits have emerged.

“My intention is not, and has never been, to suppress anyone’s right to vote,” Phipps has said.

Looks like this controversy won’t die down soon. World-Herald Staff Writer Roseann Moring has been on top of the issue. We wish her the best of luck.

April 5, 2012 Comments Read More