Archive for May, 2012

Mayor Suttle goes (back) to Washington

Mayor Suttle goes (back) to Washington

Mayor to meet with federal officials about funding sewer overhaul


UPDATE, 6/1:  Mayor Jim Suttle reiterated that today’s economic woes will make it difficult for cities to handle the cost of updating sewer systems.

“We need to face this affordability question straight on,” Suttle said during an appearance in Washington. “If we don’t, we’re going to have a rebellion. It’s already starting in my community.”


Mayor Jim Suttle is back in Washington today to address the city’s $1.7 billion Combined Sewer Overflow project. Our pal Joseph Morton will have more on his remarks in Friday’s paper and at

Suttle and a group of other mayors were scheduled to speak in a panel discussion at the National Press Club about the federally-mandated projects. Suttle will also meet with officials from the White House and EPA about federal funding and “collaborative efforts to make Omaha’s CSO project more affordable,” the mayor’s office says.

“Omaha has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to factor in affordability and allow cities flexibility in achieving clean water standards,” Suttle said in a statement. “We believe we can reduce the costs of our Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project by exploring new technologies and incorporating stronger green solutions. It’s unfortunate that cities, like Omaha, are asked to assume an unrealistic long term debt to protect our country’s water resources.”

Local disputes over how to pay for the plan have simmered for quite some time.

May 31, 2012 Comments Read More
Reminder: Boulevard meeting tonight

Reminder: Boulevard meeting tonight

What should Omaha's boulevards look like?


The city will hold a community meeting tonight to gather public feedback on a master plan for Omaha’s boulevard system. The study is meant to look at ways to improve the boulevards, analyze gaps in the system and develop guidelines for restoring boulevards after sewer projects.

The meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Elmwood Park Pavilion, located across from the swimming pool in Elmwood Park.

The city has hired consultant Vireo, a landscape architecture, design and planning firm, for $48,900 to develop a master plan that looks at 12 boulevards in eastern Omaha: Belvedere, Deer Park, Florence, Fontenelle, Hanscom, Happy Hollow, John Creighton, Lincoln, Mercer, Minne Lusa, Paxton and Turner.

Our boulevard system got some attention in the recently-issued draft of the city’s transportation master plan. It said, in part, that “Omaha’s historic boulevard system has left a legacy of well-designed public spaces” that serve as “corridors that herald an entrance to the city.”

That plan proposed a “New Boulevard” street design type that would add on-street bike lanes to the following stretches:

  1. John A Creighton Boulevard from Maple Street (Adams Park entrance) to Hamilton Street
  2. Turner Boulevard from Farnam to Woolworth Street
  3. Fontenelle Boulevard from 45th Street to Sorensen Parkway (would also run through Fontenelle Park)
  4. Happy Hollow Boulevard, from Franklin Street to Leavenworth

I always say this, but I’ll say it again: we’ll see what happens.

May 31, 2012 Comments Read More
Better buses, streetcars on the table for midtown

Better buses, streetcars on the table for midtown

An 18-month study is under way to settle on Omaha’s preferred mass transit upgrades on a stretch that spans from downtown to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, then carrying on to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Aksarben Village and Crossroads Mall.

The downtown-to-midtown corridor has the attributes needed to support an upgrade in its mass transit offerings, the head of Omaha’s transit agency says. Jeffrey Robb’s article about the potential changes are generating a good bit of conversation over at

The options include improving the bus system, starting a new concept called bus rapid transit, or building a more costly streetcar line. Bus rapid transit typically offers sleek rubber-wheeled vehicles that operate in their own designated transit lane. This particular study should be done by July 2013.

You can weigh in with your input on public transit options for the corridor at a Wednesday public meeting. The meeting, one of four planned events, will be at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Thompson Alumni Center, 6705 Dodge St., from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
May 29, 2012 Comments Read More
City could pay part of Deffenbaugh’s fuel tab

City could pay part of Deffenbaugh’s fuel tab

Your yard waste also could be collected on a year-round basis


In case you missed our weekend story on this, some potentially costly changes could come to city trash collection.

Costly, because a proposed fuel surcharge would have the city pay a maximum of $1.1 million annually to its trash collector: Deffenbaugh Industries Inc. The firm has told the city that it is losing money on its trash collection contract with Omaha. The city reviewed the company’s books and reached the same conclusion, though we don’t know how much the company loses — the city signed a confidentiality agreement with Deffenbaugh to review its finances.

The bright side: most customers would be able to throw their yard waste out on a year-round basis. The idea is scheduled for a City Council public hearing on June 5.

May 29, 2012 Comments Read More
“Whether we like it or not, there is a ‘blighted and substandard’ or community redevelopment area migration. It’s moving west.” — Councilman Chris Jerram

“Whether we like it or not, there is a ‘blighted and substandard’ or community redevelopment area migration. It’s moving west.” — Councilman Chris Jerram

See more here.

May 16, 2012 Comments Read More
Baker, 68 others seek to be police chief

Baker, 68 others seek to be police chief

Interim Police Chief Dave Baker's application is no surprise.


Apparently lots of people want a shot at becoming the next Omaha Police chief.

Sixty-nine applicants have come from the following 25 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Officials say they’ve delayed plans to select a chief until August (instead of June), partly because they wanted to attract more candidates from outside the agency.

Eleven of the applicant’s are current Omaha officers. That includes Interim Police Chief David Baker.

It’s not the most diverse bunch of applicants, demographically-speaking. The candidates are nearly all male; only six applicants are female. The applicant pool is also largely white. Fourteen applicants say they are black or Hispanic, while one is of Asian descent.

The number of applicants in the pool isn’t particularly surprising for a city the size of Omaha, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C. The think tank has assisted with police chief searches in Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City, Mo.

The smaller the city, he said, the more applicants. Only 30 applied for the Los Angeles job. “People self-select themselves out,” he said.

At the same time, a city is better off having five or 10 superior applicants than hundreds.

“The number of applicants says very little,” Wexler said. “What you’re looking for is the quality and the experience.”

May 16, 2012 Comments Read More
‘Blight’ hearing to draw big crowd

‘Blight’ hearing to draw big crowd

City Council to vote on proposed redevelopment areas (click for hi-res version)


Some neighbors concerned about the City of Omaha’s plan to declare the area around TD Ameritrade’s new headquarters as blighted are asking the City Council to reject the proposal.

Area residents say they don’t want their neighborhood to carry the blighted label. Beyond that, some neighbors say the city would be making an inappropriate use of the state’s community redevelopment law, which allows use of a property tax incentive in blighted areas. Expect a crowd at Tuesday’s hearing and scheduled vote on the issue.

(The City Council meeting begins at 2 p.m., and the revelopment discussions are near the top of the agenda. Join us!)

The Omaha Planning Board has already signed off on plans to set up the redevelopment districts in downtown Elkhorn, southwest of 72nd and L, in Old Mill and near North 42nd Street.

It’s clear the city wants to stretch its redevelopment efforts into new areas, offering a property tax break as the lure. But what does state law say about what qualifies as “blighted” and “subtandard”?

May 14, 2012 Comments Read More
Bruning weighs in on LGBT law, HRC condemns move

Bruning weighs in on LGBT law, HRC condemns move

As expected, Attorney General Jon Bruning’s office weighed in on March’s controversial City Council vote to protect gay and transgender residents from discrimination.

In a legal opinion, Bruning said state law does not grant cities the authority to create new protected classes. Bruning’s office wrote that cities only have power to create ordinances that pertain to protected classes defined by state law. Those include gender, marital status, race and national origin.

The memo, released Friday, would not overturn the council’s amendments to anti-discrimination laws, City Attorney Paul Kratz said. City attorneys also disagree with Bruning’s arguments.

Still, the opinion from the Attorney General’s Office could embolden groups opposed to the law that might seek to have it overturned in court or at the ballot box. Al Riskowski, head of the Nebraska Family Council, warned Omaha could be targeted by lawsuits if it tries to enforce the law.

Now the country’s largest gay rights advocacy organization has weighed in.

“Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s opinion is motivated by politics rather than sound law,” said Sarah Warbelow, the state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign.

“Unlike states such as Oklahoma or Virginia, Nebraska does not have a legal tradition of restricting municipal actions. Fortunately, the Attorney General’s opinion is purely advisory and is not binding on the municipalities or the courts. It will, however, provide fuel to the opponents of equality who would like to challenge Omaha’s recent non-discrimination ordinance in court,” Warbelow said.

Bruning is also the Republican front-runner in Nebraska’s U.S. Senate race.

Stick with us for updates. As always, you’re welcome to sound off with your views here.

May 4, 2012 Comments Read More
Florence work to kick off soon

Florence work to kick off soon

Florence 'streetscape' work to start a little early


The City Council this week approved a $487,000 contract with Swain Construction to start renovations on a small stretch of 30th Street in Florence.

The renovation will include new landscaping; new decorative sidewalks; and added parking along the two-block stretch of 30th Street from Clay to Willit Streets.

Originally we’d reported the project would also add parking on side streets and along 30th Street. At a number of corners the sidewalk will be bumped out toward the street, which the city hopes will slow traffic.

Along the sidewalks, the landscaping will have special “bioswales” to convey water runoff from the sidewalks.

Such ‘streetscape’ projects are also on city officials’ wishlists for other historic parts of town. Meanwhile, work in Florence should continue a little bit ahead of schedule.

Councilmember Pete Festersen says the city hopes to start construction the week of May 14.

“We’re under budget, ahead of schedule, and look forward to completing a project that will increase economic activity and new jobs in the area,” Festersen says.

May 3, 2012 Comments Read More
Omaha set to grow … slightly

Omaha set to grow … slightly

The city's annexation plan for 2012 would add 6,353 residents (click for hi-res version)


If you live in any of the residential areas listed above, you should be getting a letter welcoming you to Omaha any day now.

Yep. In case you didn’t know, you’re getting annexed. This sort of thing is always controversial.

Here’s the timeline of how this should go down:

This week: The city is mailing notices to residents in the proposed annexation areas to explain what city services they would receive and how the annexation would affect their taxes.

June 6: City Planning Board will consider whether to recommend approval of the package to the City Council.
June 13: Informational open house at Burke High School, 12200 Burke Blvd., 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
July 3: City Council public hearing
July 17: Tentative City Council vote
Aug. 27: Annexations would become effective.
Jan. 1: City sales and restaurant taxes would become effective at newly annexed retail businesses.

Property tax rates would drop in six of the eight subdivisions, the city says. Property owners would stop paying property taxes to their sanitary and improvement district, and stop paying Douglas County for a special library tax and the Millard fire district. They instead would pay taxes to the city and Metro Area Transit.

Residents would be able to stop their monthly contracted garbage service, saving some $300 a year, as Deffenbaugh takes over trash collection. But at the Baker’s, shoppers would start paying city sales tax on nongrocery items. At Charlie’s on the Lake, along 144th Street, patrons would start paying the city’s restaurant tax.

So, uh, welcome to Omaha?

May 3, 2012 Comments Read More