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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

Post office sign

There are signs at every entrance at the downtown post office warning that the lot is for customers and employees only and that cars will be towed.

Several older couples attending high school graduation ceremonies at Pinnacle Bank Arena this year apparently had a frustrating day when their cars were towed from the neighboring post office parking lot.

And the adult child of one couple complained via Facebook posts.

The towing victims got plenty of sympathy and a little criticism as the post was passed along, including pictures posted of the signs at every entrance to the parking area clearly stating the lot is for post office customers only and vehicles will be towed.

The lot, next door to the arena, is obviously convenient, and people visiting the West Haymarket area and the arena often find it inviting.

But park there and you are very likely to get towed.

The post office has employees and customers who need to park at the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So if the lot starts filling up with cars obviously not doing any business at the post office, the tow company is called, said Lincoln Postmaster Kerry Kowalski.

The signs at every entrance warn that the lot is for customers and employees only and that cars will be towed.

“We try very hard to make it clear” that only customers and employees can use the parking, Kowalski said.

Parking at the post office has been a problem since the city carved the West Haymarket entertainment area out of an old rail yard, said Kowalski.

“We are not opposed to anything that goes on in the Haymarket. And we are not trying to make the situation difficult. We are just trying to take care of our customers and our employees,” he said.

Some on the Facebook threads bashed Mayor Chris Beutler as a “greedy politician.” But the mayor is the wrong target. This is a federally-owned lot, not a city-owned lot. It’s Donald Trump’s fault. Or Barack Obama’s fault. Take your pick.

Park system in top 25

Lincoln’s parks and recreation system tied for 24th — with New Orleans — in a ranking of the nation’s 100 largest cities, based on a national survey by the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit.

That’s been Lincoln’s place — bottom of the top quarter — for several years.

Lincoln gets high scores for accessible park land, with 85 percent of the population living within a 10-minute walk of a park, far above the 65 percent national median.

The city also scores well on the number of basketball hoops, playgrounds and restrooms, but lower than the median on senior centers and splash pads. The study doesn’t look at swimming pools.

Lincoln has less park land — just 7 percent of Lincoln is park land, compared with a national median of 9.3 percent. Lincoln does have a lot of big parks — seven acres or larger, said Alexandra Hiple, with the Trust for Public Land. "So you have large parks but not a lot of them," she said.

The survey does not count parks outside the city limits, so Wilderness Park and Pioneers Park are not included in the scoring. Adding those large parks would "boost our score considerably," said J.J. Yost, with the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department. 

Lincoln’s parks and recreation spending, at $96 per resident this year, is higher than last year and higher than the $87 median. But it is far lower than the top-10 cities, which spend between $172 (Chicago) and $279 (San Francisco) per resident on parks and recreation.

Milwaukee and St. Paul, Minnesota, ranked first and second, respectively, among the 100 cities, while Mesa, Arizona, and Charlotte, North Carolina, were at the bottom of the rankings.

Lincoln's Parks and Recreation Department does pay attention to this particular survey as a useful tool for comparisons to other cities, Yost said. The Trust for Public Land is a nationally recognized agency and the survey gives Lincoln some good benchmarks, he said. 

City begins negotiations with Charter

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The city is gearing up for its cable franchise negotiations with Spectrum, a once-every-15-year event.

The city will spend up to $150,000 for consulting services, including a performance evaluation of the three cable TV companies in Lincoln, to help with the negotiations.

The last time around, the cable franchise agreement negotiations took eight years.

But Steve Huggenberger, assistant city attorney, is “very, very hopeful that we will finish this negotiation before December 2020,” which is the ending date for the current Charter (Time Warner) franchise agreement.

For the first time during a negotiation period, the city has additional cable TV providers — Allo and Windstream. And the franchise agreement with Charter, which provides the Spectrum service, will set the bar for renewal agreements with the other companies, unless something cutting-edge happens after the Charter agreement is wrapped up, Huggenberger said.

The city receives 5 percent of the gross revenue of the cable TV businesses in exchange for the private companies being able to put their cable in the city right-of-way. That money — $2.76 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year, most of it from Charter — is added to the city’s general fund.

The study process will include surveys of customers and a public hearing some time in the future to gather comments.

However, the city has no control over cable television pricing, which is often a chief consumer complaint. “That was taken away by the feds long ago,” Huggenberger said.

And the city has very little to say about programming. The city can require programming in very general areas — news, weather, sports. “But these very generic statements are really not worth very much,” he said.

Nationally, the number of people subscribing to cable television is dropping as younger people get more of their programming over the internet and through services such as Netflix, Sling and Hulu.

These services are cutting into cable, but cable is still the primary provider of television programming, Huggenberger said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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