Monday, January 31, 2011

The scoop on the ice cream man

Get it??  The scoop on the ice cream man?!?
Yeah, well, y'all can throw rotten tomatoes if you want, but given the wretched condition of the American news media, this post just might end up being the most penetrating piece of investigative journalism that you get to read all week.

A discussion was initiated over the past two monthly newsletters about the ice cream truck that is frequently seen driving through the neighborhood.  A resident voiced suspicions about this person's intentions and solicited feedback. 

Twenty-two residents offered comment.  Raising the question was completely reasonable and appropriate, but here's what astonished me:  of those twenty-two respondents, not one reported having asked the ice cream truck driver a couple of neighborly questions (except for one person who apparently once told him to get lost).  An inquiry was launched, suspicions were expressed about security, an investigation was begun into the legality of operating ice cream truck around here, but nobody appears to have engaged in actual communication with the person of concern (or if they DID, the news didn't make it back to me).

For goodness sake, if there's something going on in the neighborhood about which you have legitimate questions, then trot your bottom out your front door and simply ask about it.  Either that, or send me an email via and I'll be happy to do it for you!  Or if for some reason you suspect that a situation is unsafe, call the League City Police.  But however this present situation unfolds, I do believe that everyone would be better served if the neighborhood didn't jump into a Bogeyman decision tree before even confirming who the players are, and what they're doing.

So I did that very thing, pursuing the poor ice cream man down White Oak Pointe like a dog-jogging madwoman earlier this evening.
Here's what I found out.  That friendly older gentleman with the white goatee and the gentle eyes is named Mike.  It's not his truck.  It belongs to his employer, who assigns each of his drivers a territory. 

And guess what else??  Mike says that there's more than one ice cream truck company operating in this area.  If we go through a spell where the selling of packaged ice cream feels more like a plague of locusts than a microbusiness engaging in mobile retail activity, I suspect it's not because Mike feels compelled to consume the balance of his golden years in endless circulation of Centerpointe.  It might be because we've got multiple unrelated trucks coming through, each not knowing that another has recently been here.
Plague of locusts pic from
Mike was kind enough to give me the name and phone number of his boss.  I think I'll call the guy just to touch base in a friendly way, and to ask him a few general things about his business intentions and competitors.  To initiate a dialog which may proceed one way or another depending on the eventual wishes of the neighborhood.  I'll follow up with another post if I learn anything of consequence, or if I get requests for further info. 

Meanwhile, here's my challenge to all of you:
Don't take my word for it!  Go say "Hi" to Mike, the ice cream employee who diligently follows his employer's route instructions, the next time you see him.  Make a little small talk with him, enough to get the beginnings of a 'feel' for him as a human being. 

After you get done with that, comment below (or send me an email if you wish to remain anonymous), and answer me this:

Which do you think is more likely?  Does your gut (based on your newfound actual experience rather than a bandwagon of generalized hysteria) suggest that this guy might be trouble?  Or does he seem more like the kind of guy who would call the police on your behalf if he happened to be driving by your house when you weren't home and saw something that didn't seem quite right?

Remember, it cuts both ways.
Boo Radley thumbnail from the film adaptation of one of the greatest American novels of all time, To Kill A Mockingbird. For those who may not be familiar with the story,
Boo was widely demonized by his local community,
but he saved the lives of two children.
(Photo source:

Neighborhood gold mine

About two months ago, I was messing with some landscaping in our front yard when I noticed that a pretty young lady, apparently out for a walk, had paused a short distance away.  She was obviously very reserved, but an irrepressible curiosity peeked through her demeanor even as she pulled her scarf more tightly around her head.

So I joined her in the street, and we began to talk.  On a couple of occasions following that day, I visited her and her husband at their house here in Centerpointe.  They belong to a particular Asian Muslim culture of which I had no prior knowledge. 

What struck me about our lively chats is the degree to which they naturally gravitated toward discussions of the principles that we hold in common:  A belief in the importance of education.  Hard work.  Bootstrapping.  Devotion to children.  The American Dream.  A moral commitment to honesty.  Rejection of a debt lifestyle. 

In stark contrast to that experience, very often when I get together with American friends, the chats gravitate toward discussions of beliefs that we DON'T hold in common.  Why is that??  Could it have something to do with the constant fractious screaming of politicians and news media?  Everything we hear about is presented as a "war on", a "fight for", or a "crisis of".  We are in a cultural phase right now where many Americans cherrypick their own custom-made but incredibly-narrow mindsets and then form de facto alliances with whatever gas-bag talk-show hosts promote those same precise subscriptions.  And then of course the result is nothing more than an ideological stalemate as each side digs in its heels and leers (and jeers) at the other. 

Meanwhile during this witless, divisive process, people seem to forget about everything that originally made America great:  Hard work.  Bootstrapping.  Devotion to children.  The American Dream.  A moral commitment to honesty.  Rejection of a debt lifestyle.


Vignette in a similar vein:  about two weeks ago, I visited a Muslim client of mine whose fierce intelligence is outstripped only by his startling frankness.  He left the office to attend a business luncheon while I stayed behind with his staff to work on the regulatory filings that he hires me to assist with each year. 

Upon his return, he seemed mildly agitated.  "That guy," he began, and I could tell by his body language that he was referring to a white American with whom he'd had lunch.  "That guy asked me what is the deal with the Taliban."

"And what did you tell him?" I asked.

"I told him the same thing I tell everyone who wants to know.  I told him that the Taliban is our equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan."


Get to know your neighbors and associates on an appropriate personal level - all of them, including the ones who may appear less approachable. 

Don't do it because I suggested it, or because some public authority figure proclaimed that it's the "right" thing to do and you figure it's your day to take a bath in political correctness. 

Do it because it might be the most interesting experience you have all week.  We have a wealth of diversity here in Centerpointe, as I'm sure many of you also have in your places of business.  What derives from that diversity is reality, genuine reality with all of its insight and unpredictability. It's not the pre-packaged rhetoric you see on TV, the stuff that was auto-generated and spun to maximize both viewer alarmism and network advertizing profits. 

It is simply interesting to get to know new people, especially when they live close to you, and I bet nobody around here will leer at you as you do it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The sound storm

It's a meteorological event with a conspicuous anthropogenic aggravant.

To say the same thing in non-nerd-speak, it's relatively loud outside, and a conspiracy of temporary weather circumstances is largely to blame for it. 

If you've stepped outside at all in the past 24 hours, it's hard to miss: the distinctive hum of the Gulf freeway, but seemingly louder than what one might expect.  I measured it this morning on my front stoop at a steady 58 decibels (dBA), and I'm almost as far from the freeway as one can get and still be in the neighborhood.

This colorful little thumbnail largely explains why it's happening:
Screengrabbed from at 0741h.
Ignore the psychedelic rainbow of the radar scatter and focus on the blue balloon with the tail, which represents a weather station that one of our residents runs right here in Centerpointe. 
The blue balloon can be translated as follows:  it's 44 degrees out and the air is fairly dense. The wind is blowing at less than five miles an hour, so the air is not very turbulent.  Most importantly, the wind is coming directly at us from a long segment of freeway (which the blue tail is pointing to).  And of course our entire area is very flat, so there are no obstacles between here and the freeway. 

These conditions are like a conveyor belt for the delivery of freeway sounds.  Fortunately, this type of weather-assisted delivery doesn't happen very often, as this diagram suggests:
Skipping the technical explanation, see that the longest tails point to the southeast, not the west or southwest, so most of the time, the wind is not going to blow noise toward us.  According to the dataset referenced here, we only get winds that really optimize freeway noise delivery about 10% of the time, depending on the season.
About ten percent of the time - I can live with that.  Weather changes frequently around here and this "storm" will soon be over, probably before you even read this!

No urban or suburban space is ever perfect (just watch House Hunters on HGTV if you don't believe that!).  This noise thing is certainly not worse than what I've experienced in other neighborhoods - if you live within a few miles of any freeway, you'll experience the sound from time to time (for that matter, if you live near any major arterial road such as State Highway 96 or FM 518, you'll hear those, too!).  I used to live in Pearland in an older tract house that had single-pane windows (which typically allow more sound transmission than double-pane).  I often didn't have to set my alarm because, as the morning rush-hour traffic began to build on 288, the sound of it would naturally wake me up.  And that house was a mile and a half from 288!!

Incidentally, that dark blue diagram above is called a wind rose.  Of course, if you try to do an internet search for "wind rose" in League City, mostly what you'll get is a bunch of Meritage hits, because that's also the name of one of their models.

Also on the general subject of noise, League City revised its noise ordinance just about a year ago and, if you're into that kind of thing, you can read it here.

My favorite part of that ordinance is this one:

So the next time you're sitting in local traffic and someone has one of those obscene bass-driven car stereos cranked up so loud that you can't see straight because your eyeballs are literally vibrating in your head, and you're fuming, "There oughta be a law...", take heart, because there IS.  Now if we can just get the city to enforce it consistently.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Neighborhood Grow Ops

Did anyone see that piece last week in the Galveston County Daily News about the residential marijuana farm in San Leon that caught fire?  The occupants kept trying to chase the Fire Department away so they would not discover the smouldering stash!  Yo, dudes - when your neighbors told you that you needed to keep your landscape vegetation healthy, that wasn't the type of grass that they meant!!

On the subject of horticulture, I mentioned in the Welcome post that this blog is open to purely-social topics such as gardening, and I thought I'd expound upon that by providing an example of one unusual neighborhood gardening project.

Centerpointe, being a newer subdivision, has a large ratio of developed to undeveloped space.  What that means is that we each tend to have a big house and not much land - that's the price-point trade-off that is popular with buyers right now. 

Kinda crammed in there, ain't we?? 
Snip from an August 2010 aerial photo,
0.5-m resolution in the original.
This is very different from the market situation that existed thirty or forty years ago when the trend was to build postage-stamp ranchers on nice deep lots. 

Because of our relatively small yards, many people assume that they simply lack sufficient space to do any gardening whatsoever.  Even if they would enjoy a garden, they don't think that they could have one.

Furthermore, return on investment must be considered: can people really squeeze gardens onto small lots and not look like complete hillbillies??  Wouldn't it lower a property's value to have a garden consume what little back yard is available?

There is an option that addresses those concerns.  Unconventional large-scale containers provide a small-space alternative to typical in-ground row gardens  They are compact, they elevate and isolate the plants from the limited lawn surfaces that are often needed as play areas for children and pets, and they don't cost that much if you roll up your sleeves and install them yourselves. 
This is a six-foot diameter livestock tank planted with broccoli, Swiss chard, lettuce, cabbage, ornamental flowers in the middle, and Texas 1015 onion starters in the back (not visible).  It's the dead of winter so neighborhood lawns look like yuck, but this winter garden is growing like mad.  All of the materials shown here were purchased within about three miles of Centerpointe.  With the soil chemistry and drainage controllable in a tight space, this type of set-up can be made super-fertile, resulting in a surprisingly productive garden for its size.  Having it elevated also helps keep nasty bugs out and guess what - no more hands-and-knees work!!
Close-up of one of the broccolis before harvest, green thumb for scale.  The seedling was planted in mid-November and the crown was harvested in late December.  Organic growing methods were used.
Some of the harvested lettuce after having been made into a salad with peppers, feta cheese, artichokes, and other goodies.
If vegetables are not your thing, you could build the same idea to grow herbs or ornamentals.  This four-foot livestock tank includes rosemary, basil, two varieties of oregano, sage, mint, an Asian herb that has no known English name, and an ornamental Mona Lavender in the middle.  Containers like this would also be great  for growing roses.
Dogs and children love to chase each other
playing "tag" around these things.   
Most importantly, when raised containers are used, pets will relieve themselves on the lawn, not in the vegetables and herbs!!
Like all brand new ideas, large-scale suburban container gardening elicits different reactions from folks depending on their individual tastes.  Some think that they are a contemporary, hip, attractive addition to the landscaping, while others think they look industrial and ugly.  They may not be your thing, but they can be an incredibly productive option for some folks.  Just don't plant the kind of stuff that those guys in San Leon did.
Close-up of the lavender.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nothing piddly about the PID

October 2013:  If you are looking for information regarding recent developments in the PID interest rates, click this URL

Original post:

This post may not be of much interest to residents who have lived here for years and are already well-versed in the property tax structure, but for those of us who have invested in Section 9 (which is the active construction area south of Centerpointe Drive) or who recently purchased homes in the older sections, this topic definitely deserves a few words.

My introduction to the PID came a few weeks ago in the form of a fellow new resident shouting, "What the FFF&@% is this huge bill that I just found in my mailbox?!?!"

I was unable to answer their question and, oh joy, it turns out that we received one quite like it: an invoice assessing substantial fees by "League City Public Improvement District (PID) 3".

My better half (a meticulous engineer) actually possessed the superhuman patience required to review the approximately three thousand pages of our closing documents to see if the existence of this financial obligation had been disclosed to us at any point.  He found nothing.  Perhaps this occurred because we had checked the box indicating we'd be responsible for direct payment of our own taxes (i.e., no escrow - if you pay into an escrow, this thing may be invisible to you), and therefore the onus was on us to discover what exactly those taxes are?  I don't know, but I DO know that having a surprise invoice show up in your mailbox is a highly efficient form of education.

The PID fee appears to be essentially a means of trading up-front lot costs for twenty years of tax-like installments.  The clearest explanation of PIDs that we have found was actually written for nearby Victory Lakes, which is in a separate PID with a slightly different assessment structure but, boy, I bet they hired a nice PR firm to write their blurb, because it's a work of sugar-coated art.

I have no issue with the payment of any fee that is rightfully owed, as this one appears to be.  However, it would have been nice to:

(a) have received prior information about it.  I can perceive no reason why it would not be revealed during the sales process. Given that other neighborhoods such as VL pay the same type of fees, there's no competitive disadvantage incurred by admitting to it.  Some buyers are on tight budgets and I could see where this thing could come as a nasty shock to them.

(b) it would also have been nice to have NOT been misled by the "NO MUD TAX!!" siren song.  Seriously, a rose by any other name is still a rose.  To the layperson, there's no material difference between a MUD tax and a PID assessment - the distinction is perceptually semantic (as the VL summary says, "you can compare it to a city MUD tax in that it is part of the total cost of ownership of your home"). 

This is a screengrab from a current Centerpointe sales listing.  It may be perfectly legal to advertize like this, but the best I can say about it is that I think it's bad form.
Aaaaand here's a snippet from another active listing by a realtor who appears to be a fan of implanting oversized, uh, expectations in peoples' minds about the magnitude of taxes and fees associated with purchasing here.
Bottom line:  It appears to be a legitimate annual assessment of fees quite similar to those in other local new neighborhoods.  If you didn't know about it in advance, you are by no means the only ones, but it is what it is.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Crime (or relative lack thereof)

The most recent newsletter suggested that we have some residents who suspect that there's a fairly high level of crime in this neighborhood.  That idea is not supported by fact, at least, not relative to other comparable suburban neighborhoods.  Here is a screengrab summarizing reported incidents over the last six months, roughly mid-July 2010 through mid-January 2011:
The red placeholder represents the address of one of the model homes
and does not indicate any incident there.
It might appear at first glance as if there are many flags shown here, but let's go through them (the map icons provide thumbnail details of the crimes when clicked, so that's the info I used to make this summary):
  • All of the "assault" (orange "A") flags appear to relate to incidents in which the involved parties were known to each other.  Most of these appear to be typical family violence type incidents.  Where family violence is not explicitly stated in the summary, I get the feeling from the case statement that there was a specific relationship that preceded the incident.  Why is this distinction important?  Because isolated interpersonal conflicts do not affect the vast majority of us.  A certain fraction of the population has behaved badly since the beginning of time, and they will continue to abuse each other from here to eternity.  They generally keep to themselves and usually don't present a huge threat to people with whom they are not directly involved.
  • None of the motor vehicle thefts ("TV") and the thefts involving automobiles (a couple of the "T" markers) appear to have been associated with violence.  One well-known Houston morning radio personality whose name escapes me enjoys making the following sarcastic observation: "Houstonians are famous for keeping three thousand dollars' worth of their unwanted crap in their garages while leaving their thirty thousand dollar cars out to rot in the sun."  When considered from that blunt perspective, it doesn't make much sense, does it?  Especially when those cars contain valuables in plain sight (including wheels), which most of those theft cases did.  Read it and weep - when valuables are visible, thieves will help themselves.  This is true all over, no more so in Centerpointe than anywhere else.  It sucks, but it's unfortunately routine for our society.  This is just more bad behavior of the type that has gone on since the beginning of time.
  • The other two theft cases were of the most petty type imaginable: a houseplant and some holiday decor...?!  Good gosh, it appears as if we might have a genuine klepto in our midst!  Can I make a request??  Everyone has a camera embedded in their cell phone these days.  If you see someone who looks like they may be absconding with someone's plastic sunflower, please email me a photo of him or her, because I would relish the chance to investigate and perhaps even do a blog profile of that person if it proved to be warranted!  I bet that would curtail their mischief quite quickly!
In summary, I see no trend of crime in these reports of the type that should cause the average citizen to experience a disproportionate fear for family safety.  There were no random assaults, no home burglaries reported. 

Nor did anything catch my eye when I researched this neighborhood extensively a year ago prior to building our house here.  If you think crime is high here, go to the Crime Reports website and surf to any other suburban neighborhood and look at their stats.  I believe you'll observe that it's all relative. 

An ancillary topic involves the issue of sex offenders.  A resident expressed a perception recently that perhaps there are pedophiles in the neighborhoods that surround us.  Here is a screengrab of Centerpointe and its adjacent areas from the local registration database:
The individual represented by the red flag on the map above has reportedly not re-offended since his 1989 conviction.  This is not an individual about whom I would personally lose any sleep.

Of course, if you zoom out and look at Clear Lake as a whole, you'll find a larger selection of offenders.
URL ibid.  It may look like a lot, but remember that there are probably well over 100,000 people living in this mapped area, and more than 400,000 people living in "greater Clear Lake" (per
Again, Centerpointe appears to be in one of the developed suburban pockets that has no registered offenders reported in the immediate area. 

In summary, these data suggest that we are about as safe here as is realistically achievable in our society.   No place is ever perfectly safe, but we appear to be doing quite well overall.    

As for those exasperating thefts and other occurrences, keep your eyes open, and communicate incidents and other oddities to us when you see them (and call the police whenever warranted).  Crime will always occur, but knowledge is power, there's strength in numbers, and pictures tell a thousand words [insert additional various and sundry cliche's here].

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


(Updated August 6, 2013)  This blog began in late 2010 as a non-affiliated general information supplement to our subdivision property owners association, Centerpointe POA

However, life is what happens when we are all making other plans, and in the intervening years, Centerpointe Communicator has grown to become an out-sized general information and local watch-dog site that has less to do with our little subdivision and more to do with life in greater Houston Texas (particularly in the Bay Area / Clear Lake / north Galveston County portions of it) and American suburban life as a whole. 

If you're a member of our subdivision, please continue to feel free to submit information, local concerns, and post ideas to (at) because we do still cover those issues.  My only request is that your suggested topics be community-oriented, and that they not promote specific special-interest or commercial objectives (this is a non-commercial blog).  As blog moderator, I do editorialize routinely, especially on political issues, but the focus of subdivision matters is COMMUNITY - you know, that diverse collective entity that arises when a bunch of unrelated people dwell in close proximity and sometimes actually interact on a social basis!

If you are instead reading this as a member of the wider world, American or otherwise, please enjoy the content, which largely deals with all of those little daily predicaments that impact homeowners.  You can find topical tabs in the right-hand column of the blog. 

Thanks for reading!
Sunset from Centerpointe Drive,
November 2010