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August 15, 2011

22

Antelope Valley: What they promised vs. what we got

by Deena Winter

I remember the first day I was introduced to people at city hall in 2004, I was pulled into a mayoral aide’s office and shown a bunch of maps on the wall of this thing called the Antelope Valley Project.

The aide was so excited about the project and tried to explain the gargantuan thing to me. It went right over my head. Antelope What? But over the years I became fascinated with the project — the largest public works project ever embarked upon in Lincoln.

And one day, I decided to see how well the organizers had lived up to their promises, as the project was coming together. It appeared nobody at the paper had ever really looked at whether the project was over budget, under budget or on budget.

We probably should have done so much sooner, because I discovered the project was costing much more than proponents and city officials had told people it would in the 1990s. And when I would ask around city hall about whether it was “on budget,” people looked at me like I was crazy. There really wasn’t a set-in-stone budget. Oh, sure, every year the City Council approved a certain amount of spending as part of the city’s entire budget and capital budget — but that little sliver of spending was often overlooked and almost never discussed at budget time.

This Sunday, the Journal Star did a nice update on Antelope Valley spending. I would have gone a step farther and compared what Antelope Valley promoters promised to what actually happened.

Let’s do that here.

• We were told Lincoln would only have to kick in about $35 million in local dollars. Lincoln has contributed $91 million (I’m including $14 million in Railroad Transportation Safety District dollars), with the city pouring water, wastewater, wheel tax and general funds in recent years to pay the bills. The city even borrowed against future keno revenue. The city diverted so much wheel tax revenue into the project that it could only afford to resurface one nine-block stretch arterial roadway between 2004 and 2008. Even more wheel taxes have gone into the project since 2008.

• Depending upon whether you consider NRD money local, the Lower Platte Natural Resources District (you pay a tax to fund them) kicked in $24 million, bringing the total “local” figure even higher, to $115 million.

• We were told the project would cost a total of $175 million (with a little footnote that said “in 1999 dollars”), and $225 million if we did a second phase. It will actually cost $246 million when it’s done, and Mayor Chris Beutler decreed after my 2008 story came out that there would be no phase two.

When I looked into the project in 2008, I was literally handed boxes and boxes of invoices and receipts to pour over in an office of an engineering firm, Olsson Associates (where the former Antelope Valley coordinator actually had an office). Of all the bills, I was most surprised to see that the city had paid Lincoln attorney Kent Seacrest — who had lobbied hard for the project — more than $2 million. He charged the city the highest rate of any subcontractor, at $280 an hour, for “guiding the project” and “gathering public input” — even guiding bus tours of the project.

The other bill that most caught my eye was $250,000 that Lincoln consultant Rick Wallace had earned for being a “community liaison” to nearby neighborhoods and minorities. His billings showed he spent much of his time working on getting an assisted living center that caters to Asians built near Antelope Valley. But after years of work, they had not even settled on a location.

I recently asked the city’s new Antelope Valley coordinator about the status of those two contracts. I learned that after that 2008 story came out, Seacrest’s law firm earned another roughly $90,000 the following year before asking to withdraw from representing the Joint Antelope Valley Authority because “the planning activities they were involved with were fundamentally complete.”

As for Wallace, he earned another $14,000, even though the Asian Center never did get off the ground.

“Unfortunately, the primary conduit for this project is no longer in Lincoln: she left the city to care for her own elderly family members and the project did not go forward,” Antelope Valley coordinator Kris Humphrey said in an email.

All of which makes you wonder how well the city will do with an even bigger public works project, a $340 million whopper of an arena development, it is set to break ground on next month.

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Publius
    Aug 15 2011

    This is an excellent illustration of political promises. Lincoln getting ready for more with the arena project.

    Reply
  2. Roger Yant
    Aug 15 2011

    This should scare the heck out of the citizens of Lincoln. There was someone running for council in 2005 saying that the project should be stopped that the city could not afford it. The city was promised all this Federal money and the city did not get it, no one listened. Someone ran for mayor in 2007 and said the same thing, stop the project we can’t afford it. Last Monday Someone got up in front of the city council and asked the council, did you know that much of the wheel tax over the last four or five years has gone to the general fund”, and each and every one shook their heads NO. Well, why didn’t they know this, this person did and many others also. Are they hiding their heads in the sand or just not being told the truth? This is criminal what has been done, they have stolen money from US the people (we did not get to vote on this) who paid those taxes in hopes that our streets would be fixed, gas tax revenues that are also to help with the streets, Keno funds which I thought most of that was going to schools. All in all, the Arena needs to be halted TODAY, until we have a final bid on cost, and some real plans, and WHERE the money is coming from. This is very shamefull,(Antelope Valley) and everyone should be upset.

    Reply
  3. Commenter
    Aug 15 2011

    Deena, you linked to a story about the bridges. The LJS also had another story that contained mostly everything you’ve written here. The city did not promise that they would not hire consultants. I do agree that it seems like they were paid a lot.

    But this project, unlike the arena, had several infrastructure goals including traffic improvement and reducing the flood plain. How do the figures you’ve stated compare to the cost of a 100-year flood? What economic benefits have been realized? There seems to be a lot of new development in the area. The LJS and the Mayor’s office have not been great about ennumerating those benefits, if any. Maybe it’s too early. It seems unfair to only talk about costs if the thing is doing what it was intended to do … I’d like to know if it is.

    Reply
    • Aug 15 2011

      You’re right that was the wrong link; but my point is that the LJS story did NOT compare AV spending to what it was projected to be. I think that’s important for journalists to keep tabs on.
      I think your story idea is a good one; but beyond the reach of a volunteer blogger…. that would be better suited to the LJS.

      Reply
      • Commenter
        Aug 15 2011

        The story says, “It grew from the $175 million estimate in 1999 to the $246 million expected final cost.” What am I missing?

        So this blog is just a place to complain about the city and to talk about all the spending without any of the benefits provided by that spending – thanks for clearing that up.

      • jim
        Aug 15 2011

        you can DO it.

  4. Jane H Kinsey
    Aug 15 2011

    Tell your friends and neighbors about this scam that was pulled on the public. Watchdogs of Lincoln Government will be publicizing this and trying to do something about it. We need your help with computer skills, handing out flyers and donations. Please join us by getting on our e-mail list. jakin6703@gmail.com

    Reply
  5. Roberta
    Aug 15 2011

    Now that we have the floodway done the money can flow easily through the valley from the Arena

    Reply
  6. Buzz
    Aug 15 2011

    Good job, Deena ! Some people like Commenter just don’t get it. I think we need to sweep the city of Lincoln clean, starting with the mayor’s office, the 2015 group, Kent Seacrest (do not think this is the first time he he has over charged for his services), and on and on. We need to get some ordinary, common sense, working people to run the city, like Roger Yant, then we can be an All-American City again !!!

    Reply
    • Roger C.
      Aug 15 2011

      What does Commenter not get? That there are social and financial benefits from a project like this to the local community? That there is more to the story than just the costs (also over an appox. 10 yr period with inflation to consider) that accrue? Interesting. I guess we should all look at every issue from one side only.

      Reply
  7. JoAnn
    Aug 15 2011

    So, some are concerned about the effects a 100 year flood might have and that the Antelope Valley project is supposed to alleviate or prevent those. How about being concerned that the Arena project is being built in a flood plain that is much larger with ground water already flowing under those areas? The cost of both projects will be shown to have increased well beyond the initial projections. The same kind of problems that have surfaced with Antelope Valley are very likely to occur with the Arena — except that we’ll find out about them too late.

    Reply
    • ej
      Aug 16 2011

      Sorry, but the arena will be above the flood plain.

      Reply
      • Aug 16 2011

        The arena is in a flood plain, but it will be built up so high that presumably the place won’t flood.

  8. Carol
    Aug 15 2011

    this makes me absolutely sick to my stomach! Taking peoples hard earned tax money and squandering it to consultants etc with no outcomes. People should be ashamed of themselves just disgusting!

    Reply
  9. JoAnn
    Aug 15 2011

    Roger: How about the weeds that need mowing and the bridges are falling apart and they can,t even decide who should pay for the repairs, maybe the people that did the job) DUH!!!

    Reply
  10. jim
    Aug 15 2011

    Like always follow the money.

    Reply
  11. Gene
    Aug 16 2011

    I really enjoy the Antelope Valley project and found this to be a pretty good article. Deena, isn’t there some local and Federal match on this project? I’ve *heard* that there has been some community revitalization projects that have been put under the umbrella of the AVP, even though they’re near the project but not directly within the project. Is that included in the total?

    Reply
    • Aug 16 2011

      Yes the rest of the money is all federal. Community revitalization is also part of the plan, but that’s just done through TIF, far as I know.

      Reply
  12. Roger Yant
    Aug 16 2011

    I have been there and done that, running for office. There are some bright young people in town who need take the lead and get involved. Help out the Watch Dogs, maybe as a large group someone will listen. Don’t think groups like LIBA will help, they have become part of the problem. They backed Beutler didn’t they? Beutler is a big problem and so are those in his group. This arena needs to be stopped now. We the tax payers need to know the cost and see some real plans. You know you can’t start to build a house in Lincoln without a full set of plans and sign offs on all at city hall. But yet we can build a $340 million project without plans.

    Reply
  13. J. Brown
    Aug 16 2011

    Denna, Just think, you can use the same headline again, just change the project to ARENA.

    Reply
  14. J. Brown
    Aug 16 2011

    Sorry, Deena about the spelling. One a very few customers came in, I should not have hit send.

    Reply
  15. Jeff Poley
    Aug 17 2011

    Deena:

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $175 Million in 1999 dollars would be valued at $237 Million dollars today. It should be mentioned that when the Federal Government appropriates funds for a project, these dollars are not indexed to inflation over the life of the project. You get the appropriated dollars no matter what they’re worth when you spend them. The City, on the other hand, pays in current dollars when the bills become due. The point being is that as a project matures over time, the Feds share of the project decreases and the City’s share increases. This project came in way over budget…why?

    Jeff…

    Reply

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