Sunday, December 25, 2011

PID Practicalities

For those of you Centerpointers who, for whatever reason, may need to obtain a PID payment receipt or conduct some other transaction at the last minute (as we did pursuant to a mortgage re-finance with a lender who did not tell us up front about our requirement to do this), here's some info for ya.

There is almost no information about the relevant taxing office on our PID invoice (League City PID 3 Phase 4).  There's only a post office box with no phone, physical address, or name of the corporate oversight entity.  The only clue as to which office administers this tax was the individual name of the current Assessor, Thomas W. Lee, who I zero'd in on via Google:

This smiley guy was located via the Association of
Water Board Directors website,
Again, no physical address listed, and upon phoning, I discovered that both listed lines were connected to FAX machines.  But the staff responded promptly to my email and I was able to confirm that the curious web-listed address "#5 Oaktree" refers to a tiny street on the northeast side of FM 518 about a half mile north of its intersection with FM 528.

Just before you get to this street, you'll also see a business called "Copy Doctor".
Anyway, the staff was extremely helpful and efficient in processing my payment right before the Christmas break.  Very nice folks.  And here is a list of the League City PIDs that this office represents as of the date of this blog post, and if I'm understanding things correctly here, this should include all build phases of Centerpointe:
And in case you're still wondering what a PID even is, this strangely-undated but recent news article in Austin American Statesman explains some of the rationale.  It's not out of the question that you might be wondering about it; as I noted in a blog post about a year ago, my husband and I were never able to determine where in our house build contract or closing statement the PID tax had been disclosed to us.  The first time we found out about it is when our bill arrived in the mail.  As I mentioned at the time of that previous blog post, nearby subdivision Victory Lakes as a concise explanation of the PID on their website

In case you're wondering why I'd bother to post something like this on December 25, well, life often takes on some strange scheduling when one is parent to a teenager.  There are few things that teens do as skillfully as sleeping late, and so Christmas morning festivities can sometimes turn into Christmas afternoon festivities, as those of us who maintain culturally-normal sleep/wake cycles sit around waiting for the rapidly-growing adolescents in our lives to regain consciousness. 

Have a great holiday week!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dash cam: Epiphany

We live in an unmanageably complex society and one of the pitfalls of doing so is that it's very difficult for most people to weigh the importance of all the different risks that this society poses to them. 

Nowhere is this more true than with respect to what risks are posed to physical safety - life and limb.  A big deal was made recently of the one home invasion that occurred in Centerpointe (and it probably wasn't intended to be an invasion per se - the perps probably thought nobody was home, such that they could commit a simple burglary).  So much room was devoted to that topic in the most recent neighborhood newsletter that it had to be chopped into two halves for distribution.  And I also added a blog entry devoted to it. 

As near as I can deduce, this was the only life-threatening event of that criminal type to have occurred here.  I mean ever, in the history of the neighborhood. 

Most of the time, you won't hear me saying much about crime, other than to relay routine statistics that mostly have to do with petty theft and the odd family-violence-inspired punch in the face.

But what you WILL hear me harping about is the risk posed by road hazards.  From hyper-aggressive drivers threatening the lives of motorists and peace officers alike, to local children playing in traffic because there's nowhere else for them to go, to physical road hazards caused by careless drivers,  to people driving dangerously ON OUR SCHOOL CAMPUSES, to people flagrantly ignoring traffic control regulations both outside and inside our subdivison, I've used a dash cam to expose it all.

But up until now, there wasn't much I could offer in the way of this risk's big picture.  I could tell you, for instance, that an average of about 360 people die on Harris County roads every year...

Excerpted from:
...but there was no way to actually give a perspective of that in an immediately-accessible format.

Well, there is now.   A group called ITO World has produced a map that shows all U.S. auto-related fatalities during the period 2001 - 2009
Screengrab of their blog entry announcing the map.
Through some miracle of technology, these guys have managed to plot all 369,629 (!!!!) automobile-related deaths that occurred in America during that period of time.

So let's cut to the chase, zoom in and take a look at the area surrounding Centerpointe:
Icon format:
Upper left corner: Age at death.
Lower left corner:  Year of death.
Avatar: Male or female
Color: Mode of death (legend at left)
Conveniently, the map covers approximately the same period of time for which Centerpointe has been in existence.  And during that period of time, within about two mile of us, a dozen people have been killed in automobile events (I won't call them "accidents" because most of them are not "accidents" - they are the result of ignorance and recklessness). 

A DOZEN PEOPLE KILLED, just within this one unremarkable little area.  Their average age at death was just 34 years.

How they died is extremely telling:  only 17% of them were vehicle occupants.  The other 83% were traveling via less-protected means in the open air - on foot or by bicycle or motorcycle.   This is occurring in large part because we lack complete streets in our area - for the most part, we have no bike lanes and few sidewalks.  The lack of reasonable infrastructure coupled with ignorant drivers is a proven deadly combination. 

And of course, our area is not unique.

NINE PEOPLE killed in the vicinity of the NASA Road 1 intersection.
SIX PEOPLE killed in the vicinity of the El Dorado intersection.  A year or so ago, I actually wrote to TxDOT pleading with them to upgrade this antiquated intersection because it's so obviously dangerous.  It's a decades-old cloverleaf that was never designed to accomodate the volume of traffic it now must handle.  I wrote that letter to TxDOT BEFORE I knew that six people had died here in recent years.
And it doesn't stop with fatalities.  Remember also that for every automobile fatality, there's something like three times as many permanently-disabling injuries and ten times as many less-serious injuries and significant property losses (smashed cars; I've read this, but can't find the reference right now).

Moral of this story: home invasions and burglaries may grab our immediate attention, but they are not what pose the greatest risks to our physical being.  Of external physical threats, risks associated with automobiles win, hands-down.  For this reason, if you feel an urge to modify your behavior based on your perception of physical risk, you should actually feel less urge to fortify against burglars, and more urge to respond to the dangers posed to you by the carnage that continues unabated on our public rights-of-way.
Houston, we have a problem.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

'Tis the Season

If you're a resident of Centerpointe, please make sure you're on the emergency e-mail blast list (contact for information on that).  This thing is invaluable for heads-up, as was proven twice lately: 
  • In September, when armed suspects were fleeing through or near the neighborhood after having hijacked a cigarette truck, and
  • Yesterday, when a woman on Walnut Pointe emerged from her shower to find a black man standing in her hallway, having kicked in her front door, with another man upstairs apparently trying to steal her electronic equipment.   
Following yesterday's event and given that it's the Holiday Season, I have seen fit to decorate our back door according to my own personal taste:
On the BACK door, inside, inaccessible to children. 
There's only one reason why anybody would be reading this calling card: because they're about to come through that back door without an invitation.  Maybe a stocking stuffer such as this would make them think twice. 
That may seem a little extreme, but having suffered a devastating robbery previously in another neighborhood, I don't have much of a sense of humor about this stuff.  Seriously, the folks who break into residential houses around noon on weekdays are often fairly systematic about it.  They often survey an entire neighborhood, pick the best targets, and then hit them one by one over the course of time (such was the case in my former subdivision, where we were apparently the first target... the police did not catch that group until the third or fourth neighborhood break-in, I was told at the time).  In other words, just because there was one home invaded yesterday and the bad guys "ran away" does not mean that they are now "gone".  

This incident also doesn't mean that residents should over-react, but it does mean that you should double-check your home practices (for instance, don't be predictable in your coming and going behavior) and keep a sharper eye out. 

Burglaries, robberies, and home invasions happen everywhere during the holiday season in particular.  The neighborhood newsletter will have additional suggestions on safe practices when it is distributed later today.  And here's a very succinct set of safety recommendations from the Nashville police department.  I like this one because they do not mince words. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Suburban pests, Part 2: Wandering Wile E.

In my post the other day, I stressed that dog food should never be left outdoors unattended, because it is guaranteed to attract the kind of rodents (mice and especially rats) that will proceed to penetrate your house.

Dog food also attracts, well, dogs! including the kind that are not domesticated, as this morning's story in GCDN attests: authorities had to shoot a coyote that had gotten itself cornered in League City back yard a couple of miles from here. 

I have no evidence that dog food was involved in that particular incident, but you can bet that no coyote would be motivated to penetrate deep into a dense suburban neighborhood for the purposes of a recreational sight-seeing tour.  Almost everything wild animals do is predicated on their food source and, right now with the drought, food is scarce, and dog food looks mighty attractive. 

Coyotes in suburban neighborhoods is nothing new, although it's rare to have to dispatch one inside someone's fenced yard.  They thrive all over greater Houston.   Before Section 9 was substantially complete, I saw coyote tracks all through this part of Centerpointe, as they foraged at night for tortillas and pizza crusts that the builders' tradesmen would dispose of indiscriminantly.  They are found in abundance even in deep urban areas such as Memorial Park

So please do not leave dog food unattended outside.  Nobody, including a coyote, really benefits from an authority having to discharge his 12-gauge shotgun inside their neighborhood.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Suburban pests, Part 1: A feathery master of ceremonies

Centerpointe is a happenin' place.  It may look like a sterile treeless newly-built suburb, but you can actually see a lot of wildlife activity going on here, if you're observant.  And some of that activity is likely enhanced by human activity. 

Take this guy, for instance.
Immature Cooper's hawk.
Sorry about the poor pic quality - he didn't see fit to hang around long enough for me to do good portraiture.
Where did I take that pic?  On one of the far-flung margins of the neighborhood?

No, right in the middle of the neighborhood, between two VERY closely-spaced houses.

And why was he brave enough to be perched there on the fence between two yards?  Obviously there were humans in the immediate area, one of whom had a camera. 

He was there because, seconds before, he had just killed a large Norway rat in one of these two adjacent back yards.  On the close-in photo, you can see that his visible leg is coated in blood. 

Normally, a Cooper's hawk would not sit on a suburban fence in close proximity to human beings, but an accipiter such as this is only a medium-sized bird of prey and that was a huge rat he had (I got a good view of it as he flew away).  He had to rest and regain his strength before he could remove it to a more private dining location. 

And what was a Cooper's hawk doing killing a rat in a Centerpointe back yard on a Sunday morning?

I like to joke that there are only two kinds of homeowners in greater Houston:
  1. Those who KNOW they have rats.
  2. Those who DON'T YET KNOW they have rats.
For a large rat (larger = older = smarter) to be active on the open ground in broad daylight on a weekend when homeowners and their kids are outdoors in the same area suggests to me that:
  1. There are A LOT of rats in the area, perhaps competing amongst themselves for food such that some of them are forced to forage at risky times, and
  2. There's probably an inadvertent food source quite close to where this rat was killed.
The "inadvertent food source" in most suburban scenarios is usually:
  1. Bird food in an outdoor feeder (even if none spills on the ground, rats can climb trees and poles and get into any feeder). 
  2. Dog food left outdoors by homeowners, particularly those who work during weekdays and are afraid that their dogs will get hungry during the long hours they're away from home, so they leave both dogs and food in their yards. 
Do I sound unusually educated about the behavior of rats and the genesis of suburban rat problems?
Your happy blogger several years back,
with non-friend recently deceased at my experienced hand.
Anyone who has lived in southeast Texas for 20 years has likely had rat experiences (or should have had them - if you didn't have those experiences, it's probably only because you didn't know the rats were there).  I can't tell you how many rats I've killed in how many different suburban houses I've lived in over the years.  There's never been a house I've lived in where I did NOT find them - they are in every place, in every neighborhood. 

And each and every time I found them, the inspiration for the infestation was either nearby bird seed or dog food.  Leave either of those substances outside your house, and the chances of both you and your neighbors having rats are close to 100%.  Supply food, and they will come. 

It wouldn't be so bad if they remained confined to back yards, but their ultimate goal is to set up housekeeping in your attic.  They are very, very good at finding ways of getting into it: they can climb brick facades and squeeze into gaps in the roof deck.  They can chew through roofing shingles.  Their absolute favorite thing to do is to chew the insulation off your a/c lines and climb up into the attic that way.
Check under the foam insulation for tell-tale gaps.
Really, these things should not be sealed with foam.  They require tight-fitting chew-proof metal plates applied to the side of the house with tough mastic.
And once in the attic, they wreak havoc, chewing through electrical wiring and everything else they can get their teeth on. 

And they breed, well, like rats. 

So, my advice is this, especially now that we're into autumn weather and rodents (both mice and rats) are particularly enthusiastic about penetrating your house:

First and foremost, check your premises and your neighbors' premises for food sources (that's what I'll be doing!).  If you find food sources, remove them.  Explain to your neighbors that Fido is perfectly capable of making it through business hours without a heaping bowl of kibble to keep him company.  Your neighbors simply might not know about the dangers of this practice of leaving food out.  They also might not know that a dog's physiology is different than a human's, and that dogs can go for much longer periods of time without feeling discomfort from hunger.  Your neighbors might also be assuming that because they keep dogs in their yard, they can't possibly have rodents because the dogs will guard against them.  Wrong.  Rats will march right in while dogs are sleeping and the dogs will be none the wiser for it. 

Second, check your attic for signs of rats or mice.  Maybe lay down a few glue traps prophylactically.  If you don't catch anything, no harm done.  If you DO catch something, then it's an early warning to you to take further extermination action before the problem gets out of hand and you end up with damage to your home.

But make sure you check for food sources first.  If the food is not removed, you'll never get rid of rodents.

Welcome to the reality of life in the subtropical southeast, and good luck with it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Calder crimes

The Calder crimes:  not the happiest blog topic, but they are part of our collective history and you'll likely hear about them soon enough if you have not already, and if you're not from this area, that might come as a rather rude surprise to you.  It'd be good to have general context in case anyone asks you about those crimes, due to the re-heightening of public awareness, so here's the scoop:

Texas Killing Fields reportedly hits theatres either tomorrow or next week, depending on which source is reporting accurately.  This movie is a dramatization of the unsolved murders of multiple young women, four of whose bodies were dumped in fields along Calder Road on the west side of IH-45, roughly catercorner from Centerpointe. 
Movie poster courtesy Internet Movie Database
Prior to the development of this motion picture, this gruesome serial killer story was remembered mostly by locals who had lived in Clear Lake and north Galveston County long enough to have been witness to the news coverage that occurred around the time of the murders.  One can still find relatively unsophisticated "whodunit" type summaries of the crimes on the internet that pre-date the recent revived interest in the cases, such as this old one.  It is true that locals historically referred to the area as "the killing fields".  The reference was subsequently changed to either "the fields" or the "Texas killing fields" to distinguish it from the Cambodian genocidal dumping grounds of the same name

But now the local media, including Galveston County Daily News and Bay Area Citizen, have published articles heralding the release of the movie and describing the crimes upon which it is reportedly based, at least loosely.  I can't comment on the content of the movie, and how it reflects upon our general area, because I haven't seen it.  From internet sources, I can't even tell whether they filmed it here or elsewhere. (Ordinarily I would never patronize a movie of that type, but because of the local connection, I think I'll check it out).

So yes, it is generally agreed that there was a serial killer.  Yes, some of those crimes were committed near here.  Yes, the murders remain unsolved.  And yes, there's a movie about to hit the big screen.  Those murders happened a long time ago (roughly 1983-1991) and it is speculated that the serial killer has since died, because no additional related crimes appear to have happened after a certain date.

Incidentally, one of the murdered girls found in the Calder Road field was Laura Miller, who was apparently abducted from the C-store near the corner of FM 518 and Hobbs (you can see that gas station as you go across the FM 518 overpass heading south on IH-45 toward the League City Parkway exit).  Following her death, Laura's father founded the volunteer mounted search and rescue group known as Texas Equusearch, which went on to become world-renowned for its skills in locating missing persons (and recently was credited with locating the young man who spent two snake-bitten days at the bottom of a League City manhole). 

At this point I could leave you with a YouTube embed of either the "Texas Killing Fields" movie trailer, or a segment showcasing Texas Equusearch.  Easy choice.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Galveston County Master Gardeners Plant Sale

The Galveston Master Gardeners are having their fall plant sale this Saturday.
The header above was excerpted from this very cool website, where each listed plant is linked to a description.

Unfortunately, that very cool website does not include any information about the location of the venue, so I had to look that up via GCDN.  You can see a map of the Wayne Johnson Community Center here.  And here's another

Having gone to one of these sales previously in south Harris County, my advice is this:
  1. Identify from the website inventory which plants you think you'd like to purchase.  At least make a mental inventory.
  2. Get there early, early, early.  Note that, because they usually preview plants, other people will likely have been given numbers so that they will be ahead of you in the check-out line. 
  3. Be prepared for the possibility of pandemonium. 
A surprising number of people take their gardening (and Master Gardener plant sales in particular) very seriously.  The atmosphere can be brisk and intense.  People generally do not go to these things to browse - they go to snap stuff up.  Snooze, you loose. 

I'll have more on landscaping in the next week or so, as I eluded to in an earlier post.  Now is the time to deal with landscaping for the following reasons:
  1. It's cooler outside so you can work without keeling over. 
  2. We got over three inches of rain last Sunday so there's finally some soil moisture.
  3. A lot of residential stuff was killed by the summer drought.  Much of the neighborhood looks crummy. 
  4. Big-box stores and garden outlets are also having their autumn plant sales, typically 70% off.  It's fiscally foolish to buy at top-of-the-season (spring) prices and technically foolish also: the roots of many plants need unstressed opportunity provided by cooler weather to take hold before the next summer's heat is upon us again. 
More advice: if you're not an experienced gardener/landscaper, or even if you are, I recommend you exhibit an overriding preference for drought-tolerant plants.  Sunday's rain was great, but we're still in the worst drought in recorded history, and it's expected to continue.  And as of this post, League City is still in mandatory water rationing, and I have days where I feel that this might continue for all eternity.  That doesn't mean you can't have landscaping - but it does mean that you should start thinking WAY outside the subtropical box about your planting choices. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dash cam, unlucky number 13: postscript

So, one day after I publish a post describing two recent hit-and-run car accidents, someone hits my husband's car, and leaves the scene. 

My husband was not IN the car at the time, so even if he'd HAD a dash cam, it wouldn't have done any good because it would have been switched off. 

But in this case, two eye witnesses got the license plate # and a description of the offending vehicle as it left the scene.  So that's worth observing: eyes are also very, very good things to have around.  Eyes can be made to work very well in situations where dash cams really can't get the job done.  Point noted.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dash cam, unlucky number 13: Two hits and a miss

From the recent local news, the sad story of a motorcyclist, a military vet and former police officer, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident a few miles south of here in La Marque.  Statements from the family suggest that, had this not been a hit-and-run, had he received prompt medical attention, he might have survived. 
What piqued my curiosity was the fact that the perpetrator was tracked down using video footage - mysterious video footage that was obtained HOW?? 
It took a bit of digging to come up with this interview by Galveston County Daily News.  It seems to imply that some of the video was captured by a nearby hotel security camera.  But at the 52-second mark of the interview, the officer clearly says "we've got footage from our motorcycle...".   It sounds like the deceased man may have installed a dash cam on his bike. 
And speaking of dash cams being used to assist law enforcement, we had a doozie of an experience the other night, one which I communicated to Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia directly, and with dash cam pics as evidence.  I was driving my family northbound on IH-45 feeder just south of El Dorado, and a Sheriff's Deputy was stopped in the traffic lane assisting a disabled motorist.  I slowed WAY down (a) because that's the law and (b) it's overwhelming common sense on a road that has no shoulder: this motorist and officer were directly in the path of oncoming traffic.
So as soon as I slow down to pass safely, a driver comes roaring up behind me.  It's only a two-lane feeder, so he cannot pass.  He goes into road-rage mode and starts flashing his lights and surging forward aggressively, literally right up to my bumper, threatening to ram my car!!  Nevermind that there's an officer right there and that people are standing in the roadway. 

When we both came to the El Dorado overpass, I didn't pull up along side him, for fear that he'd take out a gun and shoot us... because we slowed down to pass a peace officer safely.
That gap between me and the white truck ahead of me is for safety.
Anyway, one of the neat things about a dash cam is that you don't have to distract yourself with taking notes or writing things down, because they record audio as well as video.  You can just talk the whole incident through as it's happening and then transcribe it later or save the video for future use in case it's needed.  I was able to call out the license plate on this idiot's truck and then get it off the recording later, so that I could relay that to Sheriff Garcia.  And I saved the video segments before putting the thing back into continuous-loop recording mode. 
And in other theme-related news, last night I went to Burger House, a wonderful little place (so much better than junk food chain restaurants) just north of Centerpointe on Main Street (FM 518) between Calder and Highway 3.  There were two LCPD cars in the parking lot taking a report from a driver who had just been the unlucky subject of yet another hit-and-run.  The driver had pulled the semi-functional car into the Burger House parking lot to get it off the street.  Nobody appeared hurt, but a fine mess was made of the car.  A dash cam might have helped with that investigation.   In the fluster of the moment, the driver might have been able to at least call out the plate number, and of course there would be footage of the fleeing vehicle.  I've been in those kind of wrecks and they can be extremely scary and disorienting.  There's little chance of someone remembering or writing down a license plate in such an upset frame of mind.   But the dash cam can almost do it all for you. 
I'm looking forward to the day when dash cams are standard equipment in all cars.  They may not save your life, but they might help convict the person who killed you, who road-raged on you, or who destroyed your property. 
And there you have it, A Tale of Three Motor Vehicle Bastards, for this Thursday morn. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wail and rail

A thought-provoking letter to the editor appeared in Bay Area News recently, concerning the proposed development of container terminal facilities at Pelican Island, a "spoil island" created by dredging sediment from ship channels near the City of Galveston, and currently home to a number of offshore service shorebases, Seawolf Park, and the Sea Aggies.  (If you'd like to read more about this geographic oddity, there's a short and somewhat bizarre Wiki entry here.)
Display of military vessels at Seawolf Park.
Photo courtesy of
While most of the mainstream media reporting has focused on the economic and political ramifications of Pelican Island's development, local resident and community volunteer Fred Swerdlin raised an important point: such a facility could dramatically increase rail traffic along the Highway 3 line, which runs through the middle of both League City and Clear Lake. 

I'm not sure where Fred got his info, but he signs himself as a resident of "Clear Lake City" (which has never existed as a legal entity - long story), so we can bet that he has lived here a long time, and there's a good chance that he's right. 

This is a concern to us here in Centerpointe (and the rest of League City east of the Gulf Freeway) for two reasons:

(1) It could further snarl traffic in a city already sliced in half by a rail line for which few east-west crossings exist.  That rail line is a significant contributor to many of our mobility issues.  Can you imagine traffic getting worse on FM 518??  Talk about descending into lower and lower rungs of Hell.  The visibility of the historical studies dealing with FM 518's wider congestion problems have recently been eclipsed by complaints about the five-corners intersection of which FM 518 is a big part, but the fact remains that the road itself is a huge problem for us, in large part because there are no relief corridors, and there are no relief corridors in large part because there are so few rail crossings.  What good would it do you to move more efficiently through five-corners if you then have a bottleneck a mile further west at the rail line?!

(2) The noise pollution impacts could be significant for Centerpointe.  Are you ever awakened by that train that periodically blasts up the Highway 3 line around 3:30 a.m.?  You sure are if you live on the north or east sides of Centerpointe, because we are not that far from those tracks.  And if Pelican Island development increases, you might hear a heck of a lot more of that noise, day and night.  Have you ever spent time in neighborhoods inside Houston's Loop 610, especially overnight?  Those residents are plagued with train horns to the point where I don't know why more people don't hurl themselves off the Waugh Street bridge from losing their minds.  It's such a lifestyle dichotomy: many inner-loop residents pay $750,000 for a modest house (location, location, location), and yet they have to live with this constant and exhausting sleep-destroying racket.  They've made some progress in forcing the rail companies to establish quiet zones where train horns are prohibited, but it's still a huge problem for them. 

As the old saying goes, ya can't stop progress, and I would not suggest trying to stop the development of Pelican Island.  But we have to make sure that our community don't inherit the short end of the stick because of this, by way of quality-of-life degradation: if there are deleterious effects expected from increased use of that rail line, a plan needs to be developed and deployed to mitigate them.  Not just empty political promises - an actual enforceable plan.

I'll report further on this potential issue as more info becomes available.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fiscal electrocution

It's early in the morning and I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around this news article in Galveston County Daily News:

A 34,000 League City residences are getting "smart" electrical meters for which we will each be forced to pay FOUR HUNDRED NINETY DOLLARS?!

Not only that, it apparently might happen for us in Centerpointe quite quickly.  Here's an excerpt from the installation schedule in the article cited above: 

Oct. 10-14 — south of FM 518, east of Calder Road, west of Interuban St., North of Link Road. 

That sounds suspiciously like us. 

The article states that affected residents will receive a postcard notifying of the change.  I never got a post card.  I just re-checked my mail stack, and there's nothing. 

It concerns me that we get no say in this matter even though we are the ones paying for it.  And the cost seems ridiculously high:  my husband and I installed a TED energy monitor in our house about a year ago.  It provides much more finely-tuned measurements than what the GCDN article mentions, at a fraction of that cost!

I have to dash to work right now, so cannot research this further.  If anyone has additional insight, please contact me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dash cam, Part 12: Smoke over Centerpointe

For posterity, I thought this screengrab should be included: Centerpointe against the backdrop of the smoke from the tri-county fire which, as of Friday, had consumed seventy homes and eighteen thousand acres north of Houston, one of four hundred eighty fires currently burning in Texas.   
Driving northwest on Walker near SH 96.
One may wonder what inspires me to talk about improving landscaping while we are subject to water restrictions and the worst drought in recorded history

Well, is it preferable to invest at the bottom of the stock market, or the top of the stock market?  Nobody knows exactly where we are in relation to our current climatological analog to a stock market, but I'm fairly certain of one thing: we're nowhere near the top. 

Plus at a certain point, it becomes a matter of principled defiance.  As contrarian philosopher (and Carl Rogers disciple) Richard Farson memorably said (and apparently Clarence Darrow before him), lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Property values: Centerpointe first impressions

As one of the very first buyers to sign a contract for a house build in Section 9, it may surprise you to learn that my first reaction upon seeing Centerpointe was absolute horror.  We examined all Clear Lake neighborhoods prior to making a buying decision, and my first response to the possibility of buying here wasn't "No" - it was "HELL, NO!!"


Because THIS is the first thing I noticed about the neighborhood:
Not a single scrap of vegetation anywhere.
Most of the cheap apartments I've rented in my lifetime have offered greater privacy than what is seen here.
That commonly-repeated neighborhood scene reminded me overwhelmingly of THIS:
This is a screengrab of a corridor in a maximum security prison - I believe this may be Alcatraz.  Same general configuration - rows of windows facing a completely sterile intervening space through which sun shines down.
Now, some of you may be thinking, "Hey, wait a minute - this is a new neighborhood - there hasn't been time for vegetation to grow."

There are two rebuttals to that as follows:

(1) Centerpointe is actually not that young.  Some parts are a decade old.  The conditions depicted above are not restricted to its youngest sections.

(2) At this price point, it is appropriate to invest in the kind of landscaping that would be visible from common areas from Day One of installation.  So even if the houses are young, one would expect to see good landscaping conspicuously in progress.

What I concluded initially as a house-shopper was that Centerpointe is the kind of subdivision where people throw up tract homes and then fail to incrementally improve them.  And that is THE kiss of death from a property values standpoint.  
The same phenomenon is visible in aerial photograph throughout the neighborhood: two builder-grade trees in each front yard, a few one-gallon foundation shrubs, and virtually nothing in any back yard.
Homes in far-flung Houston subdivisions generally do not appreciate in value.  In recent years, there has been value contraction.  Additionally, those of us who contracted new houses to be built according to specific tastes paid a premium for that service, a premium that we will not necessarily realize upon resale.  The only way the average Houston suburban homeowner can hope to recoup anything close to their original purchase price is to make smart incremental investments in their properties, investments that cause the properties to stand out from the competition.
Screengrab from a real estate listing of many months ago.  Rest assured, no potential buyer  ever responded to a scene like this by declaring, "Oh, look, honey - absolutely no privacy - how wonderful!!"
Artist's rendition of the Meritage Aspen, as shown on Meritage's Centerpointe marketing page.
What makes the big impression here is not the house - it's the ambiance, the feeling of richness.  Without the landscaping, the house is just another generic tract house.
So what ultimately compelled us to buy in Centerpointe, if our first reaction was wholly negative?

It's a long, long story involving the types of necessities and compromises that characterize our unusual family life.  Suffice it to say that one of the compromises I made with myself is that I would offer to the neighborhood my knowledge on how this kind of incremental investment deficiency can be rectified - and for far less money than you might think.  In order to build in Centerpointe, my husband and I each sold our individual Clear Lake houses at a profit during the Great Recession when many local sellers were probably not able to break even - both of them, at a profit.  We know how to maximize return on investment where suburban tract homes are concerned.

And so in an upcoming series of blog posts, I'll offer some small-yard, privacy-maximizing landscape ideas, complete with budgets and sourcing.

Several families have already asked me to lend a hand in this regard, and our own investment efforts to date here in Centerpointe have elicited some humorous responses from other homeowners.  One resident confessed to sneaking into the upper floor of a house under construction so that he could get an elevated view across the neighborhood and into our back yard, because he wanted to see what is growing there.  Another resident referred to me in conversation as "the one with landscaping".  I was trying to explain to him where I lived, and I was saying, " turn right and then make a left and then make another left --" when he cut me off and said, "Oh yeah - I know who you are.  You're the one with landscaping."  Note the use of the phrase "the one".  THE one - the ONLY one with landscaping on this side of the neighborhood.  Maybe it should be my Native American name: instead of Dances With Wolves, Crazy Horse, or Maria Tallchief, I'm The One With Landscaping.

So stay tuned for those upcoming posts.  And happy Labor-Day-plus-first-cold-front-of-fall.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Trash by any other name

Last June, I got fed up with rampant soliciting in Centerpointe, and posted this warning near our front door:
Since posting it, only one bandit flyer has been left there, and I opted not to "out" those folks because I don't think they spoke any English.  Therefore they weren't defying my request, exactly, because they didn't know that the request was being made.

Correspondingly, I was delighted to see this article in today's Houston Chronicle which describes bandit signs as "trash on a stick" and which describes the activities of volunteers who are working hard to gain an upper hand on its distribution. 

"Bandit signs" are those advertisements, usually professionally printed, that seem to appear spontaneously in every conceivable location: public rights of way, the lawns of government and commercial buildings, parking lots, empty fields, you name it.  They are illegal and they are ugly, turning our environment in its entirety into one contiguous screaming billboard.  That article I linked above reported that the City of Houston disposed of eleven thousand bandit signs just last month - and they're only scratching the surface.  Three full-time civil employees are dedicated to that job - peoples' tax dollars at work. 

And, I note with supreme annoyance, this trend is not limited to a growing assault on front doors and unguarded outdoor areas.  When I walk into the women's room at my health club, WHAT do I often see littering up the vanity counter in front of the mirror and hair dryers?  MORE bandit flyers and business cards, placed without permission by third parties unaffiliated with the health club, advertising all manner of female-oriented consumer crap.  Picture this: I've just come out of an hour's worth of challenging yoga, and I'm in a settled mental state.  I drift into the women's locker room to wash hands and wipe face, and the first thing that greets me is a clamoring imperative to buy scented candles that actually smell worse than my dog's rear end.  The mood suffers, eh?  And what do these peddlers imagine - that the entire known universe qualifies as their personal graffiti stage??

Trash on a stick, trash on a door, trash on a counter.  With these trashy things in mind, it is declared that henceforth ALL bandit advertisers that impact our local area will be subject to being outed-by-blogging.  We'll see you trash-distributor guys in cyberspace. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Almost went to the dogs

Those of you who aren't here during normal business hours missed a lot of commotion two days ago, with choppers overhead and email blasts about an armed gunman who was, indeed, briefly at large here or just west of here. 

This, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with our neighborhood, per se.  Reportedly, a chase originated in La Marque after the gunman hijacked a cigarette truck.  It must have been one hilarous sight to see ten million cigarettes flying all over the place and people swarming like flies-on-you-know-what to abscond with them.  After unintentionally distributing his ill-gotten gains thusly, the perp fled into Leage City's deep suburban bowels and escaped. 

At any rate, this incident served as a good reminder for me of the potential for a normal day to suddenly turn badly entropic, not because there was a gunman, but because of what happened in our house as a result of it.

As soon as I got the email blast, I went to fetch a means of personal protection which must be kept under constant lock and key.   I left our dogs in my office and was retrieving said device from a bedroom when all of a sudden, the dogs came barreling down the hall, snarling and vicious.  

Fortunately, after a split second of cold fear, I realized why this was happening: I opened my lockbox with a key that lives on a ring I almost never have to handle.  That set of keys makes a different jingling sound than my everyday keys.   When the dogs heard an unidentifiable noise in a bedroom, they assumed it was an intruder and thus launched into attack mode.

If I had not been able to make this swift association, I, too, would have assumed that an intruder had just entered or was about to enter. That's a very logical conclusion when faced with:

(a) an email blast informing of a gunman headed this way,
(b) physical confirmation of this urgent situation in the form of choppers circling overhead, and
(c) trained dogs going berserk.

If I had not realized what was actually going on, I, too might have come out of the bedroom and down the hall in a corresponding attack mode, which would have been extremely bad for me, the dogs, the infrastructure of the house, plus everything and everyone else with the misfortune to be in momentary linear alignment with me.

Moral of the story: a deleterious conspiracy of variables can occur very quickly in a perceived emergency situation.   You need to set yourself up properly if you ever think there'll be an situation in which good split-second decision-making depends entirely on accurate information.  For me, among other things, this means discarding a lockbox that requires the rattling of any unfamiliar keys, thus nullifying a previously-unrealized canine attack trigger.  I'm thinking about one of those products that is said to be as silent as it is secure.
NOT an endorsement of any specific manufacturer,
but I have friends who are quite pleased with these types of keyless finger-pad safes (they are available with or without biometric ID).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ode to many local wallets

Last June, as the 2010-2011 school year was drawing to a close, I wrote about the costs associated with CCISD's Magnet program busing.  I provided a spreadsheet estimating outlays for the three most common transportation scenarios from which families choose.

The numbers illustrated that the financial impacts to families who drive instead of bus were profound.  This is the kind of slow creeping expense that might not rise to the level of your daily awareness because it gets spread out over 177 annual teaching days.  But if you don't pay attention, you could find yourself effectively spending a few thousand dollars a year for a darned good service that your ISD provides to you essentially free of charge.

So with these things in mind, I was delighted to note that WAVE Magnet bus ridership originating from Victory Lakes Intermediate currently seems to be running at about 150% what it was last year.
So many kids boarded the bus that it sorta looked like it was sinking on its axles.
This could be partly or wholly a coincidence, perhaps has nothing to do with CCISD's proposal to eliminate Magnet busing and nothing to do with my cost analysis.  But regardless of inspiration, it's evidence of many families making a good choice:  not only are they saving themselves some serious money, the increased participation shows the ISD just how valuable this service is.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Heat, lights, camera, action

We are back from a several-week junket to the northern latitudes whence I derived.  Daily high temperatures in our vacation areas ranged from 59 degrees F to 79 degrees F - daily highs, not lows.

This type of escape is necessary for sanity: if you don't do this already, plan to simply get the heck out of Houston for a spell during each Mean Season.  During the entire time we were away, daily highs in Houston remained above 100 degrees F, for a record-breaking heatwave.  One of my Houston girlfriends emailed me that she was fighting heat rash despite never having stepped foot outside.

So here's an odd juxtaposition of images in rapid succession:
Temperature 61 degrees F beside restlessly romantic seas.
Coat, hat, and long pants...
necessary accoutrements for the north Atlantic
no matter the time of year.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Screengrab from frontpage...
Which day?
Pick a day, ANY day...
Back in July, I published a blog entry questioning whether water use restrictions would even be acknowledged by the public if drought conditions continued to worsen.  The jury is still out, but this screengrab from Houston Chronicle echoes those questions.   
Recent screengrab from Galveston County Daily News.
I suspect that people, both individually and collectively, are going to realize that prevailing mindless prohibitions on watering are not well-thought-out and not designed to do what regulation should do, which is to minimize cost-benefit ratios.   Plans must be developed to conserve water while not totally discounting the impacts to public and private investments.  
Screengrab from one of this week's editions
of Austin American Statesman.
This statement has been echoed in other sources which also note that, although this year's drought is the worst on record, other recent years have also been unusually severe (think 2009).  
Despite all this heat-related, there's actually a few tiny pieces of good news for us here in Centerpointe, as follows:
We actually got 2.1 inches of rain here the other day,
as reported by weather station MD6282,
which is located right here in Centerpointe. 
Less hell AND less high water:
Did you know that Centerpointe tends to be NOT QUITE as hot as the majority of greater Houston?
We used to live in north Clear Lake, and I can definitely feel a difference between there (just six miles away but hotter) and here (cooler and also breezier). We are slightly moderated via our joint proximity to both Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico - water on two sides - but without the extremity of lower-elevational exposures that characterize many other areas that are closer to the coast (personally I see this as a pretty good trade-off - some of the coolness but more of the elevation protection from hurricanes).  Here above is an example of this moderation effect in the form of today's projected high temp map published by the National Weather Service.  
Stay cool.
Don't stay dry.
Stay happy.
(The last of which should be easier for you if you had the good sense to get out of here for a recent northern vacation.)
Yet another NWS warning graphic.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hidden benefits of hidden cameras

Back in April, I blogged about the new challenges that accompany new home security technology, specifically the fact that cameras can inadvertently capture domestic details that you'd rather not communicate to outside parties, including law enforcement.

But they also sometimes capture evidence that has nothing to do with safeguarding your home against burglary, but which is highly instructive and useful nevertheless.

Current case in point:  a courier service claims to have delivered a rather expensive package to us on a specific date, at a specific time, as evidenced by their tracking software.  But we never received the package.  And most tellingly, our exterior surveillance system reveals that no courier truck of any kind came down our street in the time period two hours on either side of the alleged delivery scan.

Curiouser and curiouser, eh?  Not only that, the courier SOMEHOW has on record that "a woman" was at the home during delivery and accepted the package personally.  This information despite the fact that there's apparently no associated delivery signature.

Ordinarily, I might concede that my brain is fallible and perhaps during the chaos of a working-from-home day, I accepted a package and misplaced it, assuming it was just a new toner cartridge or something.

But unlike my brain (but similar to my Dash Cam), the hidden wide-angle lens tells no lies, makes no mistakes.  And the evidence suggests that either the courier accidentally delivered to the wrong street, or some courier employee forged the scan and got a five-finger discount on a high-end consumer item.

Either way, our security system may have just effectively paid for part of itself because, as we proceed with our dispute, it's not just our feeble consumer word against the mighty international package tracking software empire.  We have the proverbial tape.
Big Sister is watching,
from a variety of undisclosed locations.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Barrell o' fun(ction)

This morning, Galveston County Daily News published a story about a Friendswood businessman's installation of cisterns for rainwater collection.  His tanks supply him with more water than he could ever use, even in a severe drought such as we are having right now.

This fact is not at all surprising:  as I explained in an April blog post titled "Rain barrells: What's hype and what's helpful", here on the upper Texas coast, we do not have a water supply problem.  What we have is a water storage and distribution problem.  It's a problem that rainwater capture could alleviate, and for less money than you might think, as this local businessman has now aptly demonstrated.

Still, the use of tanks and cisterns is a new (well, revived such that it appears new) idea, and it will take a while to catch on and gain acceptance.  Personally, I have not yet been able to obtain spousal approval to install that 300 gallon tank that I've been jonesing for, a la Dallas Morning News writer Erin Covert.  But the negotiations continue and meanwhile, as an alternate strategy, I'm contemplating expanding into a fleet of Systerns, of which I still only have our original lonesome singleton (and I've really disliked hobbling through this nasty summer with just one to fall back on):
"Cuz I ain't got nobody
Nobody cares for me,
nobody cares for me
I'm so sad and lonely
Sad and lonely, sad and lonely
Won't some sweet mama
come and take a chance with me?
Cuz I ain't so bad
Sad and lonesome all the time"
--From "I Ain't Got Nobody"
as re-done by David Lee Roth.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Foundations, Part 2

FYI, book-ending this blog's entry of last week titled "No Firm Foundation", GCDN has published a slab-watering guide which seems pretty thorough.

And League City Blog delved into the issue of our chronic lack of water supply.  There, the buzz-word was again our highly-regulated practice of residential "irrigation", without reference to the potential un-regulated consumptive contribution of slab-watering.  If I had extra time on my hands today, I'd sit down and calculate my relative irrigation vs. slab watering needs.  Given that, in a drought, I'm willing to risk the integrity of my lawn via under-watering but I'm never willing to risk the integrity of my house foundation, my gut instinct is telling me that the two consumption numbers might be comparable, but I won't know until I can steal a bit of time to do the actual math.  
Walk softly and cast a long shadow:
You can cut your irrigation use dramatically by allowing your St. Augustine lawn to remain LONG during drought.   Legendarily (although I cannot find a web reference for it), Randy Lemmon explained why: because the pores in the grass must open to allow carbon dioxide to enter.  If the individual blades of grass are too short, the grass loses too much water as it is opening itself to absorb CO2.  If the grass blades are instead kept longer, they have more surface area and don't have to stay open as long, and therefore they lose less water.  In the process, the longer blades also shade themselves and the underlying soil, further reducing water loss.  Such is the oral tradition of Lemmonheads, at least.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Of pups and PR

It's a curious financial coincidence:  according to reports, the amount that League City's contentious Christmas party cost taxpayers is virtually the same as the amount that the League City Animal Shelter over-ran its budget last year:  about $30,000. 

And whereas the City exhibited no qualms about paying for that party (at least, not until the mainstream news media, legitimate bloggers, and rogue political upstarts all drew attention to it), the extra money consumed by the shelter was apparently seen as grounds for a re-alignment in ordinance enforcement priorities that is expected to result in fewer animal adoptions and increased euthanasia. 

If muni budgets were tight and all you could muster in the way of discretionary spending was thirty thousand bucks, would you rather blow it on a one-night materialistic employee orgy featuring forty-nine door prizes including computers, an iPod, electronic games, and a 42-inch flat-screen TV, or, would you rather spread that sum of money out over an entire year to maximize the humanity and compassion of an indispensible public service that impacts the entire community?

Well, yeah, that question is framed from a loaded perspective, so let's not discuss it rhetorically.  Instead, let's poll it, but before you click the poll at the end of this post, you may want to consider how animal management services do impact the entire community.  Even if you are not an animal lover, chances are good that the general issue will eventually affect you personally - for instance:
Exhibit A, animal management Poster Boy:
My child named him "Guava" because of
the translucent greenish cast to his eye color.
As best as any of us can determine, this dog was dumped in Centerpointe about ten days ago.  Could that have had anything to do with League City's announcement that it will enforce euthanasia of animals within five days of receiving them?  "We are not a rescue facility" ran the tag line in Houston Chronicle.   Guava can't tell us what transpired in his specific case, but with a public relations attitude like that, who wouldn't dump their unwanted animals in a prosperous subdivision like Centerpointe?  Better to let those animals loose in the streets where they have a chance at survival. 

Correspondingly, many of the neighbors on our side of the subdivision are distressed by the idea of taking Guava the canine dumpee to LCAS, because they fear that would mean swift and certain death for this wonderful, happy dog. 

And so we're working as individuals to get him medical attention and find him a home.  Essentially what this amounts to is that a public service function has been transferred in part to the public.  The city is not handling the situation the way many people see fit, and so it falls back on the people.  Meanwhile, it wouldn't surprise me if there were an increasing number of pet dumps in subdivisions like ours - that would be a predictable response to "we are not a rescue facility".  And who among us would want more dumped animals??

Hopefully some improvement in direction will come of the decision to increase the number of individuals on the shelter's Advisory Committee, and the upcoming meeting to further address this issue

And while I'm at it, let me issue this disclaimer:  I'm not affiliated with the Friends of League City Animal Shelter and I have no earthly idea why League City chose to cut ties with this local nonprofit which, in 2010, reportedly donated about $27,000 worth of supplies to the shelter (almost enough for a Christmas party!).  This severance is yet another in a long list of perplexing management and PR moves that the city seems to have made.   

With all that said, here's the poll: 

If you were a League City manager with a discretionary $30,000 available, how would you spend it to best serve the public's interest?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

No firm foundation

In a recent post, I pondered the inevitable collision between suburban subdivision covenant boilerplate...
Excerpted from:
...and the unsustainable reality associated with the long-term effects of changing rainfall patterns and reduced water supply:
Excerpted from:

Once again, regarding those St. Augustine lawns, we're supposed to have 'em, but we're routinely not allowed to maintain 'em the way that they need.  Eventually, with rising population and decreasing water availability, the incompatibility between these two legal requirements will grow to become more than the supreme annoyance that it currently is, and something will have to be done to resolve the situation.  We are already at the point where we have those marquis signs up around League City warning about the $500 fine for unauthorized water use.  I personally know of one Centerpointe resident who was paid a visit by LCPD and told to turn off their irrigation system a week or so ago.

Who knows? Maybe it'll be resolved very simply and painlessly when some politician steps forward to do for those bloody St. Augustine lawns what Rick Perry recently did for backyard flag poles and rooftop solar cells: prohibit HOAs and POAs from preventing us from ripping the water-gobbling things out.  Given the increasing local focus on water conservation regardless of our prevailing drought status, that would not surprise me in the slightest.

But there's actually a more fundamental water needs issue in play here than St. Augustine lawns:  our residential foundations.  I'm reminded of this today because the Austin American Statesman ran a very succinct piece on how to help safeguard slabs against breakage by consistently watering them:
Nice graphic.
Austin American Statesman 
If you're a new homeowner and don't yet understand the importance of watering, that quote above explains the gist of it.  Concrete doesn't bend very well, and so if it sags, it can break.  And once it's broken, your house will never be quite the same again, even if you spend tens of thousands of dollars on slab repairs.  
Both the League City Water Conservation Plan and its Drought Contingency Plan restrict landscape watering, but they appear to be silent on the issue of foundation watering: they don't authorize it, but neither do they prohibit it.  It's easy to imagine why: how might the splash hit the political fan if residents were told that they weren't allowed to water their slabs?!  And who would be liable for damages if such a prohibition were imposed?  I'm not going to comb through the mountains of contractual paperwork I have on our house to see if it says anything explicitly about that issue, but in general, I note that actions construed as negligent can sometimes void a homeowner warranty.  I'm not sure if failure to water a slab in one of the worst droughts in recorded history would be considered negligence, but nothing would surprise me.

Our slab, like many, is a pain in the butt to water.  We have one of those larger one-story house plans that are increasingly coveted by baby-boomer downsizers and empty-nesters.  As a result of the design, our slab perimeter is the better part of 300 feet!  An hours-long soaker-hose drag-a-thon is required to even make a dent in the water that it needs.  The effort required to water our St. Augustine grass pales in comparison.

Things to think about: if you only had so much water to use, would you rather save your house foundation, or would you rather save a bunch of St. Augustine that's going to look like crap in a drought anyway?

For that matter, if we made it into Stage 4 or 5 (the most restrictive stages) of our local Drought Contingency Plan, realistically, how much water do you suppose people could be convinced to stop using?  When it comes right down to it, do you suppose there would EVER come a time, short of completely disconnecting municipal supply, when local residents would stop using what is needed to safeguard the largest investment of their lives?

Yup.  I vote for xeriscape.