Friday, February 25, 2011

Better than you think

In significant measure, I blame reluctant Houstonian Howard Hughes: in a fit of OCD-induced mania, he was apparently one of the first famous people to roundly denounce Houston as a "mosquito-ridden swamp", an inaccurate and dismissive perspective now immortalized in the phenomenal quasi-biopic that was produced in 2004, The Aviator

This is the Hughes family plot in Houston's famous Glenwood Cemetery (worth a day-trip).  You can't tell from this photo because I was peeking through the bars to get a clear shot, but it's actually surrounded by a high wrought-iron fence, possibly to keep people from defacing his grave out of frustration for the bad existential rap he bequeathed us.  
So pervasive is this attitude regarding the assumed toxicity of Houston's outdoor life that, on June 4, 2006 when a friend and I kayak'd the six miles of Buffalo Bayou from Loop 610 to  Allen's Landing, not only did we NOT see a single other soul on the water, we realized with a chill that we were among the very first modern Houstonians ever to do exactly that!! 

Can you imagine another city in America where a scene like this would be found??  Six million people in this city, and here was a beautiful Sunday on the water in late spring:  NO PEOPLE!!  Mass misinformation had kept everyone from realizing that this recreational treasure was right under their noses.
For the vast majority of you who will never experience the exhilaration of canoeing swiftly down the channel beneath one of the country's most intense freeways, here's a glimpse of IH-45's Pierce Elevated, as seen from the underside.

Proving that great minds think alike, about six weeks following this trip that we made, the alternative rag Houston Press published their groundbreaking (waterbreaking??) expose titled "Dark Water" (a tour de force in Houstoniana), and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and other local community groups began intensifying their efforts to raise awareness and promote the bayou.  But I digress.
In fact, Houston's outdoor opportunities are more substantial than most folks assume.  Nobody will argue that we must endure the crappiest summer in the entire country.  But EVERY American place has debilitating drawbacks:  the Pacific northwest delivers bone-chilling rain for most of the year.  Ask me about my native northeast, and I'll provide you with twenty-six different terms describing snow.  Much of southern California has great weather, but the smog is so thick that you can't see your hand in front of your face, and if you live there, chances are that you won't be able to go outside anyway, because you'll be too busy working around the clock just to meet your mortgage payments.  I could go on, but you get the point.

Houston's best offerings are found in what most people would consider the off-seasons: spring and fall.  The secret to having a full recreational life here is to schedule yourself to seize the opportunities when and where they arise, rather than assuming that they are going to occur within the framework of some existing seasonal paradigm. 

With this in mind, I was delighted to see SciGuy's headline splashed all over the front page of the Houston Chronicle's online edition first thing this morning: today will be just about the nicest day of the year!!  Finally, someone else who gets it!!  Days like today are genuinely newsworthy. 

My advice: take the time to enjoy the weather and the outdoor opportunities now, before the Mean Season arrives.  Making an effort to do this now, when the opportunity presents itself, will help tide you over as we suffer through those hundred days of air-conditioned doom that will be upon us soon enough. 

And look to the details for delight:  Houston does not have sweeping vistas with mountains and forests, but on the smaller scale, beauty is still found.  With that in mind, I'll leave you with a few scenes that I've recorded within the past few days of after-work outdoor neighborhood ramblings:

Sunset over Centerpointe Drive a few days ago.
They don't get much nicer than this.

Gypsy broccoli satellites flowering. 

A loropetalum flowers defiantly after having had
most of its leaves frozen off in
the Great February Cold Snap.

A perfect Thryallis bloom.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Annoying solicitors out in force today

FYI, if you've got napping babies or backshifted day-sleeping spouses, you may want to hang a sign on your door requesting that your doorbell NOT be rung.  The Jehovah's Witnesses are out in force in Centerpointe today, and there is also a security company rep driving a garishly-painted car trying to sell systems. 
  • What annoys me most about the former is their tenacity and general disrespect for the existing spiritual beliefs of others, but that's just my personal opinion.  But on a lighter note, here's some humorous tactics you can use to get rid of them
  • What annoys me most about the latter are the hard-sell tactics even when the situation is an obvious lost-cause for them: here I have a new house with a bright, shiny security sign right at the front entry and a current League City alarm permit stuck to the door glass.  Any normal human being would look at this and register the fact that I already have both a system and an active security monitoring contract in force!!!  What the kind of jackass salesperson could fail to register these multiple overwhelming indicators??!  Aaand yet he rings my bell anyway.  De-NI-al!!!  Or maybe just stupidity.
So it's just now noon and we've already been interrupted TWICE by solicitors today.  Hopefully next solicitor will be a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout, because those are just about the only ones that do not incur my wrath.  

Locate before landscaping

As SciGuy recently pointed out, we experienced the coldest stretch of February weather since 1895!!  Hopefully that's all behind us and now we can focus on warmer-weather activities.  'Tis the season to begin landscaping - replacing that which was killed by the cold, and adding new plants to our yards. 

There's something you should know before you even start, however: we have a utility notification law in Texas and it's in your best interest to abide by it.  This is not a generic regulatory regurgitation I'm about to do here - some of my personal observations on this topic may surprise you, so please bear with me while I explain.

If you check your property survey, you'll likely see "UE" or similar acronyms somewhere around your property boundaries.  The utility easement is where underground lines for electricity, natural gas, phone, cable TV, data (high-speed internet), and possibly other service lines are buried. 

The most common utility companies participate in notification cooperatives, and that is true in Texas.  Name changes over the years have resulted in the Texas811 system, the URL for which which still goes by the older name "Digtess".
Logo excerpted from
See that shovel under the "1" in the "811"?  This is probably our most common "call before you dig" locator service.  Not all utilities participate in this specific cooperative, and a membership explanation is beyond the scope of this post (check the website for limitations).  But this is usually who you contact first when you want utilities marked for you prior to digging in a residential yard. 

The law was primarily designed to apply to mechanized excavation projects involving heavy-equipment or deep digging.  However, experience has taught me that, even if you're only using your sweat-equity shovel, you should still call these guys for reasons including (but not limited to) the following:
  • Your utility lines might not be WHERE you assume they are.  Given that utility companies have a type of right-of-way in the easements that run through your yard, it's a good idea to locate the lines so that you won't plant right on top of them (at least, that's my theory).  That way, hopefully you'll minimize the chances of having your most important landscaping elements disturbed later on if the utilities need to access their lines.  In order to best avoid them, of course, you have to know exactly where they are.  Case in point:
This is the result I got upon notifying Digtess on a backyard landscaping project.  In this photo, orange is data cable, red is electrical, and yellow is natural gas. 

Check this out: The data trench does NOT align with the data junction box, which is just barely visible in the upper right corner of the photo - in fact, the line is about ten feet off the corresponding row of boxes.  Many people would assume that if they see a row of utility boxes, the underground lines must be right there under those boxes, or beside them.  Not necessarily true.  In this case, it appears as if the data company may have copped a spot in the trench that the natural gas company dug, despite having originally set their box row some distance away from where that trench ended up.  But don't accept my theory for this jumble - I'm not really sure what the heck they were thinking.  I'm just glad I did the Digtess notification before I started planting shrubs here.
  • Your utility lines might not be AS DEEP AS you assume they are.  This is particularly true of your own service lines - the connectors that branch from the main lines and run to your house.  I like to meet with utility locator personnel when they are actually standing in my yard with their cans of spray paint and ask them to also help me find my service lines, because some of them have told me in the past that they are NOT required to mark service lines - just trunk lines.  I've had locator personnel be very reluctant to help with this, so I try to get them to comment "off the record" about the location of service lines (every bit of info helps).  Depending on the individual property circumstances, service lines can be considerably shallower than the main lines, potentially shallow enough for you to hit with just a hand shovel.
  • Your utility lines might be MORE EXPENSIVE than you assume they are.   One of my neighbors replaced our common fence at my previous residence, and when the old fence came out, my electrical service line got damaged in the process.  The cheapest of three bids to get that line re-dropped was sixteen hundred dollars!!!!!  Ouch!!  That ended up being much more expensive than my portion of the danged fence!!!  Moral of the sub-story: You do NOT want to damage one of your service lines by accident!! 
So there you have some scoop on digging - by no means a comprehensive evaluation, but enough to get you pointed in a good direction.  Call Digtess at least two working days before you start landscaping or fence work, and meet with the locator personnel who come to your yard.  Know where your lines are, and how deep they are, including the service lines that run to your house.  You don't want to injure either yourself or your wallet because you were not informed.

Of course, anything you place or plant in an easement is subject to possible later damage by utility companies if they need to access their lines, but that is a topic for a future post. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Crime Jan 19 - Feb 20, 2011 (approx)

It's been just over 30 days since the initial crime summary, so time for an update.

Nothing unexpected this month:  two incidents of family violence, and two incidents of theft.
Screengrabbed from
Of the two theft incidents, one involved the type of expensive and fairly-rare vehicle (H2)  that would be expected to draw the attention of thieves, especially when left outdoors. 

As noted in the first crime post, if you leave valuables in plain sight, including expensive cars in driveways instead of in garages, you run a high risk of attracting thieves. 

Nobody knows this better than I do:  Thirteen years ago, our previous house was not only burglarized but structurally damaged in the process.  We were singled out because my ex-husband, a technology professional, kept an abnormally-expensive collection of electronics in the house at the time.  When we were both away at work, the thieves broke down the front door with a battering ram, opened the garage, drove a truck or van in there, shut the garage so that they would not be detected, and spent most of a day loading up the good stuff and destroying that which they figured they could not fence. 

Having found the Mother Lode of electronics, they concluded that there MUST be additional wealth hidden somewhere in that house, so they tore apart every single square inch of the place (the police said it was the single worst case of residential destruction that they had ever witnessed). 

In fact, I didn't care about consumer bling, so there was no other wealth to be found, a fact that appeared to have made the thieves very, very frustrated and angry.  Not only was my house and furniture destroyed but I came home to find every one of my brassieres hanging from the dining room chandelier, an unmistakeable message of ugly contempt.

I was five months pregnant at the time and had a full-time job, getting ready for baby and unable to deal with the monumental task of putting our lives back together.  It was ONE FULL YEAR before we managed to fix all the structural damage and settle the insurance claims.  The whole thing injected an enormous amount of stress into my pregnancy.  All because of some fancy electronics that I didn't know how to work anyway. 

Moral of the story: if you keep conspicuous wealth in and around your house, you are asking for it, period.  Personally, I concluded that it's just not worth it.  In the 13 years since that burglary, I've strongly avoided buying the type of consumer baubles that could make us into a target, and we've had no further trouble.  I'm happier living this way.  Not only are the risks lower, but the worries are less as well, and we waste less money to boot. 

But back to the last 30 days here in Centerpointe:  The other incident reportedly involved a theft of 2 uninstalled doors and 12 windows from a builder house in Section 9. 

Construction thefts are not uncommon - all you need to do is look at that quad of video cameras aimed down Arlington and Willow to know that somebody must be seriously on the lookout for some kind of mischief. 

The good news is that this type of thievery tends not to be indiscriminant - it tends to affect unoccupied build-houses, and to a degree that is rumored to involve a code of honor, because the thefts are often committed by individuals associated with the trades.   The last time I had a chat with my TREC inspector, he noted sardonically that tradesmen target certain commodities with such precision that they have been known to take off their shoes so that they will not spoil the carpets as they are in the process of stealing hot water heaters and other appliances from not-yet-occupied new houses.  To spoil the carpet would be bad form!!

So the moral of THAT story is that construction thefts, like family violence, are an unfortunate part of our society but have a lower likelihood of directly affecting the rest of us, by their nature. 

And there you have it - another thirty fairly-typical days in suburban paradise.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The local farmers markets

I thought I'd commence a "local attractions" blog topic because, particularly in our under-construction Section 9, we have new people coming in from other parts of the country and other cities in Texas, who are just learning about the Clear Lake area, and who need to learn what's available around here.

You might think that you already know, but if you haven't visited one recently, you could be in for some surprises.

Classic Maxine, from
A farmers market is a venue where local producers engage in direct sale of their products, which include meats, dairy, vegetables, prepared artisanal foods, gardening items, and crafts.  They are regulated as food service establishments, generally certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture, although the laws of the municipality in which they are located often apply as well.  They are typically open for four hours per week (hours are restricted by law), most commonly on Saturday mornings.

Years ago, farmers markets were associated with cheap veggies, free music, and a hippie clientele.  That outmoded stereotype still tends to persist, with many members of the general public still assuming that their greatest appeal is to "liberal greenies". 

But in fact, farmers markets have evolved to represent American micro-business entrepreneurialism at its most fundamental level (read anything written by self-proclaimed Libertarian farmer Joel Salatin if you don't believe that).  I consider myself to have very little in common with hippies or greenies, but I do own a small business, and many of my clients are also small business owners.  I will drive well out of my way if it means I can support the local small business community!

As of this post, we have two farmers markets within a few minutes of Centerpointe and, curiously, within about 0.7 miles of each other:

(1)  The older Clear Lake Shores farmers market is located at 1020 Marina Bay Drive. 
My crummy cell phone photo of the entrance sign.  Sorry.
(2) The recently-opened Kemah farmers market, which is located near the intersection of Marina Bay Drive and State Highway 146.
Crummy cell phone photo #2.  This market has a larger physical infrastructure, but see notes in the "need to know" section below.
There has been talk both in the county newspaper and in the blogosphere about the Clear Lake Shores farmers market migrating over to League City, but this hasn't happened yet.  (I would be surprised if it happens any time soon, for reasons I won't get into here.) 

Here are a few opinionated pointers to keep in mind should you decide to visit either of these venues:
  • If you only intend to visit one, make your choice based on the type of products you wish to buy.  I have generally observed that there is a greater selection of actual farm produce and artisanal foods at the Clear Lake Shores market.  If you check out their vendor list, you'll see that some of the same vendors who anchor the "grandaddy" of all Houston area farmers markets, which is the Urban Harvest market inside the loop, also send representatives to this local one.  Urban Harvest is a wonderful cultural experience, but it's a heck of a long drive from here, and you don't have to go that far to find some of these vendors - you can visit them in Clear Lake Shores instead.  In contrast, the Kemah vendor list includes some farm products and artisanal foods (as of this post, there was very little meat and dairy, if any) but a greater abundance of handicrafts and open-air retail offerings ("bling"). 
  • You should bring cash.  Some vendors accept multiple forms of payment, but some do not, and I've observed most buyers paying cash.   If your wallet is thin, it's a good idea to hit an ATM as you are en route down FM 518, because there aren't many banks once you get closer to the markets.
  • You should not bring Fido.  I rarely attend the Clear Lake Shores market without seeing people attempting to walk their dogs there, but it's against the law.  These markets may take place under canopies erected in gravel parking lots, but they are state-regulated establishments serving food, and restaurant-like rules apply.
  • Don't expect Walmart pricing.  As I mentioned above, gone are the days of cheap selections for guitar-strumming under-employed social idealists.  The products offered are generally hand-made and reflect the extra care and individual attention invested by the proprietors, who target a foodie clientele (cost minimization is not a priority for foodies).  Vegetable prices are the exception and are usually comparable to those found in the large grocery chains (but I find the vegetables to be MUCH better).  But artisanal breads can be 1.5 times the price of a Whole Foods loaf (and Whole Foods is not cheap to start with), and prime cuts of pastured beef can sell for many times what feedlot beef retails for in grocery chains.  (However, the ground beef tends to be only a bit more expensive than an analogous Whole Foods product.)
  • Do expect high quality.  There's a reason why these proprietors can fetch relatively high prices!   Check out the ingredients and the home-made quality.  Warning: addictions may result.  My child pitches a fit if I serve bread or tamales that didn't come from the farmers market, and we are hooked on the quality of the beef as well.  I'll take a grass-fed burger over a corn-fed steak any day of the week, but of course everyone has their personal preferences. 
  • Don't assume that frozen products are inferior.  Somewhere along the social evolutionary line, middle-class Americans seem to have adopted a belief that if something is frozen, it must not be good.  If that's your observation, I bet that the problem originates with the quality the ingredients, not the freezing process itself.  Farmers market vendors do not run volume businesses.  Meats in particular often need to be frozen because proprietors may slaughter only when they need to replenish supplies.  It might take them weeks to sell an entire head of livestock, so that meat must be frozen.  In my observation, taste is affected far more by the quality of the animal and the preparation of the cut than it is by freezing.  I'll take a frozen grass-fed steak over an unfrozen feedlot steak any day of the week - there's absolutely no comparison (but the same personal preference disclaimer applies).  
  • Get there early if you want the best selection.  Individual vendors can only transport so much to these markets, and certain popular items sell out quickly.  I know from experience that if I don't get to Clear Lake Shores right when the selling begins, my odds of buying what I want are very slim. 
  • Enjoy the experience.  Once again, you're not in one of the approximately three thousand (!) American Walmarts when you're at a farmers market.  Part of the value-add is the sense of local community: the chance to actually meet the people who grew the food you'll be eating, and the opportunity to chat with the regular customers who obviously know the markets well (it's easy - for instance, "Which one of these would you recommend?").  Don't miss out on the social opportunities!
Good luck, and happy shopping!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Not got milk?

Scene in a League City grocery store around noon today:
Really?  There's not a darn word about that in the news, not as of this post, anyway.  I don't know if this sign is someone's imaginitive interpretation of a momentary supply-chain hiccup, or harbinger of a developing shortage on the scale of what happened with spinach several years back.  Time will tell.

Somebody out there is bound to be thinking, "What difference does it make?!"  It makes a difference to some folks, and the issue here is freedom of choice, not the relative merits of any given option.  It's part of that whole "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" thing: if I want to eat Domino's pizza for breakfast every morning, that's my prerogative as an American.  The availability of organic milk is important to some people.  Whether or not organic milk is a superior product is something that can be argued until those cows literally come home, but on the issue of availability, the debate is moot.  Free citizens have a right to choose what kind of milk they'll drink.  Or they will have a right, unless there really does prove to be a significant shortage of the organic version.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Any quality local blogs out there?

There are over seventy thousand people in League City and about a quarter million in Galveston County - do any of them have anything genuinely interesting to offer in their blogs??  If they do, please send me an email at and tell me who they are.
I'm searching for other local blogs so that I can link to them and thus expand the reach of this one.

Trouble is, I haven't yet found any of quality.  Oh, there are plenty of pickin's in the blogosphere - but the ones I've found are all either profit-driven or navel-staring.  Lawyers on the take, realtors on the make, journalists writing indiscriminantly about anything and everything so that they can continue to justify their paychecks, people pushing their own private local political agendas, and of course the "look at ME!" crowd who have inexplicably concluded that the whole world would really like to see photos of their particular family dog.

One must expect a strong editorial element in any blog - that's the nature of the art form.  But there's a fundamental difference between a veiled sales pitch and an outreach effort.  There's a difference between people trying to bring about a result for their own individual benefit, and people whose goal is to provide information and perspective for the purposes of initiating actual two-sided dialog. 

It's the latter that I'd like to learn about, if it exists.  Forgive me, but I was born and raised in the Before Time, when everybody knew their neighbors, and the whole of daily life experiences did not revolve around the buying of tickets or paying of fees for absolutely every event that takes place.   We were participants more than we were spectators or pitchmen, in other words.  And in that process, people shared things.  No literal or figurative money traded hands in the process, but people and communities were much richer for the experience. 

So where are the local bloggers who are not out to capture your money, your vote, or your soul?

The difference between participating and pitching reminds me of the most powerful performance of  Danny Devito's career, the closing scene in the movie The Big Kahuna, which he starred in beside Kevin Spacey.  In it, he explains to his young understudy the essential difference between being a human being and a being a marketing rep:

"You preaching Jesus is no different than Larry or anybody else preaching lubricants.  It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or how to make money in real estate with no money down.  That doesn't make you a human being - it makes you a marketing rep.

If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids.  Find out what his dreams are.  Just to find out, for no other reason.  Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation any more - it's a pitch - and you're not a human being - you're a marketing rep."  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Girl Scout cookies direct sale event

One of the local Girl Scout troops will be doing a "wagon drag" cookie sale this Sunday afternoon (February 13) in Centerpointe.

Unlike the older ordering method, this will be an efficient DIRECT SALES event with on-the-spot delivery - no fussing with order forms, no waiting for cookies to come in, no hassle with trying to coordinate a delivery time.
So if you hear your doorbell ring on Sunday, chances are it won't be some annoying solicitor trying to sell you bad art or water filters - hopefully it will instead be some cheerful Scouts building their business skills with great cookies to offer.

From Galveston County Daily News, here's a video of the logistics required to get all six hundred thousand boxes of cookies into our general area for sale:

Video: Great Girl Scouts cookie drop

Wings over Centerpointe

I was driving along West Walker yesterday at about 3:30 in the afternoon when, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a paper sack discarded next to the sidewalk.  I looked more closely and realized it was actually one of our resident red-tailed hawks.  I'm not sure if he had a rodent in his talons or if he simply decided to perch on the ground and watch the cars speeding by.  At any rate, he (or she) appeared to be in fine form.
Red-tailed hawk photo from (copyleft)
I have not yet attempted to photograph our hawk(s) for fear of disturbing them. 
If you keep an eye open around the storm water ponds, you can often see these fascinating birds of prey, usually not sitting on the ground like yesterday, but more typically perched on top of the light poles along West Walker, or soaring overhead.  Their screaming cries can be heard from almost anywhere in the eastern section of Centerpointe.  I believe there is one nesting pair that claims the territory surrounding the ponds, although I don't know where the nest is (their territories are often about two square miles in area, so it might be some distance from here).

Unlike many other birds of prey and higher-order predators, red-tails can thrive in close proximity to human development.  In fact, because mice and rats are found in abundance wherever humans live, we can actually contribute to the success of red-tails by unintentionally enhancing their food source.

An award-winning feature film has recently been made about the world's most famous red-tail, nicknamed Pale Male because of his coloration. 

Pale Male has defied the odds and prospered in New York's Central Park for almost twenty years now, adding great character and depth to the city and serving as a mascot for many of its citizens, who are not always noted for their social unity.

Keep your eyes open for our as-yet-unnamed resident red-tails.  With their 4.5-foot wingspans and commanding presence, they are an impressive sight in an otherwise fairly typical suburban landscape.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rolling blackouts re-discussed

(Revised) In my previous post on rolling blackouts, I wondered if Centerpointe were perhaps on the same electrical circuit as the nearby police station and, therefore, would escape having the power cut.  Obviously law enforcement services are vital to the public and can be cut only as a last resort.

There's not enough publicly-available information at this point to answer that question definitively, but the current evidence suggests that it may turn out to be generally true that we will escape blackouts in the future, as we appear to have done this time. 

CenterPoint (the utility conglomerate, not the neighborhood... and I bet I am not alone in counting the days until that company goes through their next merger or sale, such that they change their unfortunate name!!)... CenterPoint released a map showing where the rolling blackouts were, and why. 

Not all of the colored territory belongs to CenterPoint, but the map suggests that, for emergency management purposes, they are acting as if it does.

The popular local blog Fuel Fix followed with a somewhat feebly-attempted explanation of what the map contains.  None of this info necessarily makes much sense to our neighborhood residents until you consider where we are in relation to everything:
Screengrabbed and excerpted from
The resolution of this map is crummy, making it more subject to errors and uncertainties.  The red areas reportedly lost power one or more times this past Wednesday.
We appear to be within a "yellow" area and Fuel Fix describes "yellow" as follows:

In another group are customers served directly by high-voltage transmission lines, such as the large industrial customers along the Houston Ship Channel. They’re off the hook because suddenly cutting power to a chemical plant or refinery can create other serious problems, such as hazardous chemical releases. On the [map, those] are the yellow areas.

Well, heck, I haven't noticed too many refineries in our vicinity, but perhaps their explanation is oversimplified and/or the geographic coverage for each referenced circuit is large.  But here's the odd thing: despite the level of local detail provided on CenterPoint's map, we're technically not within their service area - we are serviced by Texas New Mexico Power (TNMP).  There's some question about that in Fuel Fix's comment section, and some question in MY mind as to what really constitutes meaningful "yellow" in the map above.

At any rate, it looks like we might possibly get lucky on this issue, unlike my buddies in north Clear Lake, who were quick to tell me about their powerless unhappiness on such a cold, cold morning last week.  Not that any of us expect a significant number of rolling blackouts in the future but, hey, it's potentially useful to have a basic awareness of these things to the extent that the power companies will allow one.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

School zoning issues

The purpose of this post is to provide some "starter" information about where Centerpointe falls with respect to current public school attendance zones.   My family had to expend some effort to figure out all this stuff from scratch when we moved to this neighborhood less than a year ago (and we already lived in this district!), so I figured I might as well post it so that some of the incoming folks could maybe get a running start on deciphering their own situations.

First, the basic background:
Centerpointe is located within the Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD), which is a wonderful, highly-rated district - in fact, it is one of the top-rated large districts in the state of Texas.  The combination of the educated local population with the concentration of engineering and science represented by the Johnson Space Center and UTMB workforces (not to mention local petrochemical and offshore service industries) has created a thriving public school system that would be the envy of much of this nation. 

However, the rapid growth brought on by economic prosperity causes changes that may be a bit disruptive in the short term.  CCISD has been challenged by a 4% to 6% annual population growth rate.  The population of League City alone has increased 68% in the past 20 years.  And of course, that growth is not geographically uniform.   The ISD must not only keep up with that growth rate, but its timing is critical: it has to open new schools exactly when they are needed, not a year before or two years after (what are new kids going to do - stand around and wait for a school to be built?). 

Therefore any changes in the rate of population growth can wreak havoc on an ISD's logistical and financial obligations.  Local news reports within the past couple of years have suggested that the abrupt reduction in the velocity of homebuilding associated with the recession posed challenges to CCISD.  That coupled with the opening of Education Village on State Highway 96 have required zoning changes and caused a bit of controversy among some parents. 

Recent zoning changes are apparent in Centerpointe's active real estate listings.  They appear to incorporate a bit of confusion and inconsistency, giving the impression that the neighborhood might be split with respect to zoning, which is not exactly true.

Some of those listings punt entirely on the zoning issue:
And some of them disavow any prediction of high school:
While others cite Clear Springs as the zoned high school:
And some of which reference Clear Creek, albeit with a different elementary school:
Of course each one of those interpretational variants comes with a big fat disclaimer:
and the same disclaimer applies to this blog post: even if what is described here is accurate as of this moment, it might change dramatically, especially given the magnitude of uncertainties surrounding public school funding issues, which started out being a relative trickle of a deficit about a year ago, but has since morphed into what might become for CCISD a forty million dollar roar, depending on how the Texas budget issues play out.      

Second, where we really stand right now in terms of zoning: 
According to the CCISD website, these are Centerpointe's current zoned schools.
Well, heck, that spreadsheet excerpt above is totally illegible, so let's show it this way:
The elementary school zoning map listed on the CCISD website as of February 5, 2011: 
Parr Elementary

The intermediate school zoning map listed on the CCISD website as of February 5, 2011: 
Victory Lakes Intermediate
But note as well that some Centerpointe kids also attend either of two Gifted and Talented (GT) regional intermediate schools:
the Webster Academy Visions in Education (WAVE) which is housed within Westbrook Intermediate School, and
the Science Magnet program, which is housed within Seabrook Intermediate School.
The high school zoning map listed on the CCISD website as of February 5, 2011:
Clear Creek High School.
Certain CCISD students can also qualify to attend the Clear Horizons Early College High School which is part of the San Jacinto College District
OK, so that seems fairly straightforward.  But here is where things become a bit more challenging:

This was screengrabbed from the webpage
as that webpage was shown on February 5, 2011.
It reflects changes made for the 2010-2011 school year.
I don't even want to pretend that I know the full story of what went into that little gem.  This plan is what prompted the controversy referenced above.  It basically describes how the transition between high schools will be deployed.  Because our family is a bit younger, I / we personally have not been impacted by this, so I cannot comment further on that part of it. 

Again, the information in this post is incomplete and it may not prove to be accurate as future changes are made.  Meet with appropriate representatives of CCISD if you have any questions about how zoning affects the choices available for your children.  And if I've made any mistakes or omissions here or if you've got more to add, please comment below or email me at

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rolling blackouts and tumbling trees

The neighborhood coordinator has sent email updates on the condition of the neighborhood pursuant to the hard freeze and rolling blackouts. 

There are reports of lawn sprinklers having burst, but at this point, I probably feel like the greatest condolences should be offered to those new buyers on Harvard Pointe who had all those giant queen palms planted in their back yard a very short time ago.  That must have been a significant investment for them, and they flank the southern-most Centerpointe marker sign in such an attractive manner (at least on one side) that they add value to the entire neighborhood.  Hope they survive - but queens do not do well in hard freezes.

There are many questions being asked about the blackouts - like how do we know if one is coming? 

It's generally not practical for the power companies to contact people ahead of time.  Besides, would you really want the locations pre-announced?  The power companies would be alerting criminals, too, as to when your residential alarm would be disabled and when you might not have 911 telephone service.  Myself, I'd rather be surprised. 

But technology being what it is, earlier this evening, someone at Houston Chronicle set up a crowdsourcing map that will at least tell you a bit about where power outages were (uh, how does a person report a power outage via the a website if one does not have power?? smart phones maybe...).
It's not very discriminatory at this point, but perhaps it will become more refined if the blackouts continue tomorrow.
There were a few reports of outages in the general area but they appear to be localized issues only at this point, and none within this neighborhood.  My better half and I have our fingers crossed that perhaps we're on the same circuit as the nearby police station and therefore maybe we won't get shut down (always the optimists).

Anyway, we'll see what the morrow brings.  Hopefully just cold and not a lot of crisis.