Thursday, August 13, 2015

A week of WCC work

Before I joined the board of the WCC I, too, may have been a naysayer.  Saying things like: Why doesn't the WCC do something bad neighbor, the esplanades needing mowing, the pothole in the street. the flooding at the corner, etc. Who knew how much work it takes to get anything accomplished? 

When Melissa was Communications she thought people might want to know what the WCC did on a regular basis.  I haven't blogged in three years!  Why?  Honestly there is just not enough time as either it is time to write Crier articles or there is a crisis of some sort.   But I am going to try to post at least a weekly.

The week of August 10th looked like an easy week as summer months are usually slower due to vacation schedules.  But it didn't turn out that way!

Saturday was Cool down with the Constables at Westbury Park.  We gave away all 65 Honey Sno cones.  It was a nice event and everyone enjoyed meeting the deputies who patrol Westbury. Two groups of kids from Westbury Baptist were out cleaning up our parks.

Monday Cindy Chapman and I were invited to participate in a bus tour of the area zoned to Westbury High School to introduce the new teachers and staff to the area that their students call home. I stopped at the WCC office on my way to work to grab some handouts and some Criers and worked until 1PM then I headed to pick up Cindy and she and I arrived at WHS.  It was the teachers first day of school with the new principal, Susan Monaghan, at the helm.  The school looked great; it was freshly painted; the floors gleamed; the toilets were clean; new plantings had been done and there was a library full on enthusiastic teachers ready to seize the say! I met Craig Zeno, the At Risk/Truancy officer and was so impressed with his dedication.  I am looking forward to working with WHS this year and I hope many of our residents will too.  Next week there is another Project Advisory (PAT) meeting to see the plans for the new school build.

After going on the tour, Cindy and I then headed downtown to the Super Neighborhood Alliance meeting, where Cindy is the Secretary and I am a member by virtue of my co-presidency with her in the Westbury Super Neighborhood.  Mayoral candidates Adrian Garcia and Bill King were the speakers and the General Plan was presented by the planning dept.

Tuesday: Went to the WCC office to interview candidates for a second part time  employee.  Looked at some additional space in our building that would be really nice to have. Drove through PW3 and W3 where the flooding had occurred to see how things were progressing and to check on some red tags that had been reported.  Made it to work by noon and then left for a 6 PM Board meeting for the Friends of Levitt Pavilion.

Wednesday: A large water main break occurred on Ashcroft and Ludington and I spent 20 minutes on the phone with 311 and someone was finally dispatched.  Took a few phone calls on various issues.

Thursday:  There is a trail meeting tonight.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday:  Working on Crier articles and agenda for next weeks WCC meeting

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ad hominem

A more learned  friend than I posted on Facebook today that he wanted the name calling and " ad hominem" attacks to stop. I had to look that phrase up! An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it. Hmmm…It is true that we have no need for additional housing; it is true that there are hundreds of empty units adjacent to the garden and thousands more in the neighborhood. It is true that for 30 years this seven acres has been green space. It is true that community gardens and healthy eating are important. It is true that we have formed a community. It is true that the school and the food pantry that serve the community think we are important. It is true that building 250 units on this site will HURT this community. And so because these facts are unrefutable, we are now under attack.
 Yesterday I was told by two different sources that because we oppose the building of a federal low income housing project on the HHA’s land where the Westbury Community Garden sits as well as on the commercial strip of land that fronts on Hillcroft we have been accused of racism. I cannot decide whether to be offended or to laugh at their ignorance. If they believe that is true then it only proves how little they know or understand about Westbury and the Westbury Community Garden.
To accuse me, the Westbury Civic Club, the Westbury SuperNeighborhood, or the Westbury Community Garden of racism is patently absurd. You will not find a more diverse nor welcoming community anywhere in the city.
Westbury, the SuperNeighborhood, is unique in that it mirrors the city’s demographics almost exactly. The garden is equally diverse…our gardeners are as diverse as the produce we grow. We are Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Indian, and Asian. We are seniors, middle aged, young and children. We speak English and we speak Spanish and some of the children speak other languages as well. We are working, unemployed, and retired. We are straight, gay and lesbian. We are economically diverse; from high, middle to low SES.  We are Christian, Jewish, Agnostic and more. We are Democrats, Republicans and Independents…and probably some Green party too. But none of that matters, because in the garden….we are just gardeners. We are a community. I challenge anyone to find a more giving, more caring community than the one we have formed at the Westbury Community Garden. If someone sees racism, then it is in their own heart and a reflection of their own prejudices.
Someone asked me if we wanted to hold onto this seven acres as a buffer zone between the houses of Westbury and the apartments. They couldn’t have misunderstood the point any more fully. The garden is a bridge. And what that bridge has done has taught all of us that regardless of the differences of our sex, age, race, sexual orientation, creed or economic status, in the garden we are the same…we are gardeners and members of the same community.
We do not want to see this bridge destroyed. We don’t want to see this community destroyed. The people that live in the Plaza are the ones that would be the most impacted by taking away their seven acres of green space and having the one thing of beauty in the neighborhood destroyed.
As to me personally, when I first became civically engaged in 2002 I just saw my neighborhood as the single family homes, but then I realized we were part of a greater whole which included the commercial areas, the schools, the churches, and the multifamily housing. It's one of the things I like about the SuperNeighborhood structure of the city and why I pushed to become a recognized SuperNeighborhood in 2004. It allows us look at the bigger picture. Until we started the garden I had no idea that over 25% of my neighborhood lived below the poverty level; and that 46% of the families in the census tract where the garden sits live below the poverty line. I had no idea there was a food pantry 2 miles from my house that fed over 6,000 hungry people a month. It's easy to turn a blind eye to those in need and just not see them. The garden has made me more aware and made my neighborhood a more inclusive neighborhood. We fought to keep our community center open; and over 75 kids (mostly from the nearby multifamily housing by Westbury High School) were served there this summer and many of our senior gardeners provided craft activities; METRO wanted to cut the Chimney Rock bus service that serves apartments in that area and we successfully lobbied against that and the Foerster elementary students have benefitted from us being in the garden. We do try to speak for those without a voice.
I think Westbury is a unique neighborhood...we may be one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Houston. The people living in the homes didn't flee to the far flung suburbs when their neighbors started changing. At one point on my street, my next door neighbor was a former Baptist missionary; next to him a family from India; on the corner an African American family; across the street a family from Mexico whose dad was doing his residency; and interspersed were the original white owners from the late 1950 and early 60s; we bought our house from a gay couple. This diversity is one of the things I love not only about my neighborhood, but the city as well. But the 942 unit apartment complex adjacent to the garden and Foerster Elementary do not share that diversity. Foerster is 1% white and only 8% of the teachers are white and that means a large number of the kids just don’t have a chance to experience diversity. And that is too bad. You can't break down racial barriers and stereotypes if you don't know one another as individuals. I'm a product of the 60s; I wanted to join the Peace Corps; I wanted to change the world. But life happened and I focused on my own life. With my children grown, I had time to become civically engaged...and I became old enough to realize that while I cannot change the world, I can make a difference in my own small corner of the world.
And that is why for me...the garden is worth fighting is a good thing...and it is worth protecting. We are changing lives and attitudes. We are feeding people. We are teaching people to feed themselves. People are earning income from their gardening; and maybe more importantly we are building friendships. I was asked, could we really use all seven acres...and the answer is yes. As the economy worsens access to fresh local food is going to be more important than ever. Our recent expansion plans that were cancelled due to this uncertainty were adding 35 more beds to satisfy the waiting list; adding an acre of fruit trees to answer a request from the food pantry; and adding a dedicated children’s garden area so that neighborhood children wouldn’t be the “last child in the woods”.  Future plans included adding a walking trail around and through the seven acres preserving a pocket prairie and prairie pothole in the center of the property.  We already planted live oaks around the  street perimeter for needed shade. 
Could the garden be relocated and survive? I just don't know. My best guess is no. The boards of the Westbury Civic Club, the Westbury Area Improvement Corporation, the Westbury Community Garden and the Westbury SuperNeighborhood have voted to oppose the building of these units, have voted to support the acquisition of this property to keep it greenspace and the membership of the garden itself has voted unanimously not to move to Haviland Park.  It has thrived in its current location. The garden is like that volunteer plant that grows so well outside your garden bed and when you dig it out and put it back where it belongs it just doesn't do as well. Maybe it’s the sweat equity, maybe it’s the pride of building something from nothing  and being part of something so remarkable. Our garden is not fenced, our benches and chairs and tables are not chained or bolted; we have had NO graffiti; no vandalism; and no more missing vegetables than would be expected in any garden. The garden is loved and respected. Ask the people that live in the Plaza ; ask the people you meet under the pavilion; ask the gardeners; ask the teachers and kids from Foerster; ask Westbury; ask any of us what a difference the garden has made in their lives. And we will tell you our story.


Westbury Community Garden and the HHA

What follows are my thoughts on the Houston Housing Authority's planned Affordable Housing project and the Westbury Community Garden, the seven acres of neighborhood greenspace, that is in danger of being lost. We are early in this process . I think it is important that everyone is informed. We will keep you updated through our website.
The Westbury Civic Club currently holds a lease from the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) on a 7-acre tract of land which features the award winning  Westbury Community Garden.. It is leased with a 180 day cancellation clause. For 30 years these seven acres on Dunlap have been park space.  It had been leased since the 1980’s by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.  For nearly three years, this site has been home to the Westbury Community Garden, perhaps the largest, most successful community garden in Houston; it reaches and teaches hundreds, if not thousands, of residents.
On 8/1/2012, surveyors for the HHA were observed at the garden by one of our gardeners, who informed the WCC.  We had no idea anything was in the works and alerted our City Councilman Larry Green along with the Brays Oaks Management District.  CM Green spoke to the HHA and learned that the HHA is reviewing plans to construct a 175-250 unit, "affordable housing" apartment project at this site.
According to the HHA website, it has plans in the near future to build 4-6 new 250 unit  low income housing projects in Houston for a cost of $27 million per housing project.  Also, the HHA proposes in its 2013 draft budget to buy land adjacent to our 7-acre community garden site – Hillcroft frontage property which, after years of citizen complaints, was cleaned up by the city earlier this year after numerous warnings and citations to the property owner.  We had been relieved to finally be rid of those derelict buildings on Hillcroft and had hoped they would be replaced  with good commercial retail businesses to serve the existing population.  We need a grocery store in the southern part of Westbury.  More apartments are the last thing our area needs.
Needless to say, we were appalled that the HHA had not come to our community, nor to our representatives with its plans.   We were further appalled that the HHA had allocated funds in its draft 2013 budget to purchase adjacent property to bring the HHA site closer to 10 acres in size, and that the public comment period would soon expire in early September to protest the 2013 draft budget.  Making our dismay even greater, the Westbury Community Garden planning committees had devoted countless hours this year with plans to expand the garden in October: to add 35 more beds for those on the waiting list, to add an acre of fruit trees, and to create a dedicated children's garden area.  Due to the turmoil, those expansion plans are now on hold and the October work days have been cancelled. 
CM Green facilitated a meeting with the HHA on Monday, August 13th to hear what the proposed HHA plans were.  The meeting was held at the Westbury Civic Club office. Mr. Gilliam of the HHA said they were still in the discovery phase and did not have a firm plan formulated.  If the plans move forward, the HHA would build about 20 units (apartments) per acre.  They are in the process of doing their due diligence and said the questions I posed (see below) are ones that they, too, will be investigating.
Questions of Viability - The Houston Housing Authority says their corporate promise is to "effect positive change in lives and communities citywide." ...., while changing ... communities for the better".  
If the HHA is charged with de-concentrating poverty, why would additional public housing be built adjacent to 940 low-income apartment units? A recent check with that apartment management indicated there were over 300 vacant units. In the Brays Oaks Management district there are over 100 apartment complexes comprising over 23,000 units with thousands of vacancies.   That’s a lot of affordable housing!   According to the recently released Pew Report, segregation by income in Houston is among the starkest in U.S. The Westbury Community Garden has proven that it helps combat this problem -- it successfully brings together people from broad backgrounds. 
How does this HHA project make life better for the people that live in the 940 unit apartment complex next door?  Clearly with over 300 vacant units, adding more housing doesn't fulfill a need.  
How does taking seven acres of greenspace that has been a park for 30 years and turning into a housing project make our community better?

How does this impact Foerster Elementary? I spoke to the school principal and the school is at capacity in its current configuration. 

How does removing or changing the community garden that serves hundreds and hundreds of people, a garden which has won recognition locally and nationally, make life better for the community? 
How does buying up what could be real commercial retail development with Hillcroft frontage help a neighborhood that needs stores not more housing?
How does spending $27 million to build something that is not needed make sense?

At the garden's dedication both Houston Mayor Annise Parker and CM Ann Clutterbuck spoke about the importance of gardens.  Clutterbuck said, "Gardens are restorative, life-giving, life-affirming places where we can experience nature and work with one another to make our small corner of the world a better place."  And that is what the Westbury Community Garden has done; we have made that small corner of the world a better place.  Our slogan is “Growing community through gardening” and that is what we do. 
We have been working so hard to make Westbury a safer, better and more inclusive community and the Westbury Community garden is a big part of that project. There is so much multi-family housing in the area that should be rehabbed. There is so little green space. Building a housing project on this site is just not a good plan. It won't be good for the people that live here now. It won't be good for the new people moving in.  It won’t be good for the future of Westbury.  We told the HHA representatives all of this at our meeting and they listened.  It was a good meeting.  They said they would get back with us.  
I am hopeful that we can find a good solution. I understand that the Houston Housing Authority owns this land and has federal money that they need to spend, but I think, once they do their due diligence, they will see that this seven acres is not the place to build.  However, they said they cannot just turn it into permanent park space and walk away.  Ideally we need to find a way to keep these seven acres as green space as it has been for the last 30 years. We are investigating avenues that would allow that to happen. With the future ever in our sights, we are continuously working to better the quality of life for our community and the Westbury Community Garden is a key example.  We would hate to see it destroyed just because the HHA has federal money to use or lose.
We have a petition at Search Westbury and you will find it.

Property being demolished on Hillcroft...can we get a store? Some quality retail?

Friday, December 30, 2011

End of year reflection

January! A time to look back and a time to look forward. There's a nice article on page 6 of the January Crier  outlining our 2011 accomplishments. It was a good year. I cannot thank everyone enough for their support. The Civic Club Board works diligently and relentlessly supporting, promoting and lobbying on behalf of Westbury. Sometimes I think we are like that little boy, from the children’s story, with his finger in the dike holding back the flood. Just when we think we are safe, something else comes up, the latest being METRO wanting to discontinue the Chimney Rock cross town bus. We've got to be vigilant! Please come to the meeting to show your support.
The good news is we are not alone. Thousands of you pay your dues, hundreds of you come forward during the year to volunteer your time and talents. Every dollar, every hour donated makes a difference.
The city elections are over and we have a new city council. In December, Council Member-elect Larry Green came to Westbury with his staff (who you can meet on the “Faces in the News” page) and met with me, Cindy Chapman, Dabney Kennedy and Rita Woodward. We spent two hours going over issues and talking about what is important to us. They came with maps and we were able to talk about Westbury streets being built with Rebuild Houston funds; we talked about economic development and the deplorable shape of the commercial property in the heart of Westbury and along Hillcroft. We talked about our schools and their not receiving the HISD bond money that the schools north of Braeswood received. We talked about public safety. We talked about our parks needing upgrading and our community center. We talked about wanting ALL of Westbury to have single stream recycling. We talked about needing more from Neighborhood Protection.
We talked about preserving our assets that make Westbury such a great place to live. Sometimes we spend so much time looking at the few things that are bad, we forget how good the rest is. I've heard more than one person I respect call Westbury the JEWEL of Southwest Houston. And that is good to hear!
January is also resolution time. If you are planning to eat more healthily, the Urban Harvest fruit tree sale is January 14th. Plant a tree or two; you will not be disappointed. Visit an Urban Harvest Market or take a class at the Westbury Community Garden and learn how to grow your own. If you are planning to be greener in 2012, tear out the special feature on trash facts in the January Crier. If you are planning to become more involved, put the third Wednesday of the month on your calendar and come to a civic club meeting. If you are planning to increase your net worth, send in your Civic Club dues to protect your home's value.
          Thanks again to all of you for being good neighbors and for making Westbury such a great place to live.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September....back to school on my mind

What is the state of the schools that serve Westbury's children?  That was the question I asked myself.  We are going to start featuring schools in the Crier and the September edition lists all the public  schools that our children are zoned to in Westbury.  Were you surprised at the list? I was.  Six elementary schools; 3 middle schools and 2 high schools. One of  my Leadership Houston class days was on Education and we had great speakers ranging from Dr Grier of HISD to the guys from KIPP to Dr Khatur, President of U of H. We visited HISD schools.  It really brought home to me the importance of community and civic involvement in our schools. 

I am pleased to announce several ongoing programs.  Westbury Methodist church has initiated a volunteer program with Anderson Elementary.  The Platou Center is reaching out to the nearby schools to offer afternoon programming. The Friends of Chimney Rock Park are working hand in hand with HPARD to bring good things to the center.  The Friends of Westbury High School host a gala each year and award thousands of dolalrs in shcolarships. But there is room for more!

Cindy Chapman and I visited HISD headquarters and met with the Strategic Partnership division to offer Westbury High School our full civic and community support of the high school.  This is such a pivotal time for Westbury. When I graduated 40 years ago (can that be right??) from WHS, it was Bellaire's equal if not superior.  Westbury was the most improved school in HISD last year.  The new principal, Mr Wainwright, is  home grown and a graduate of Bellaire High School. He is committed to Westbury and I believe WHS is going nowhere but UP.  Picture the possibilities of a high school sitting adjacent to a 300 acre Conservation Reserve..the Willow Waterhole.   Picture the Fine Arts program possibilities at WHS when the talented children from Parker and Johnston's music programs choose to go to WHS.

Watch the Crier for opportunities to join the team Working on  and for Westbury High School.  The Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy is preparing a special Sunday concert in the park series starting in November featuring our talented schools. (You heard it here first!)

I'll end with one of my favorite Westbury High School success stories because it involves a good friend of mine.  It also emphasizes  the importance of electives, especially skilled electives like Westbury's Automotive program which is arguably the best in Houston.

I met Robert when he was just twelve years old when he and my son played together on a team at Westbury Little League. They made the 12 year old All Star team together and became lifelong friends.  Sadly Robert's dad passed away and while at Westbury High School, Robert signed up for Auto shop probably to learn some of those things that his dad would have passed on to him. His Automotive  teacher was Mr. Falsone.  Mr. Falsone's accomplishments since founding the program more than 25 years ago include the program's certification in 1998 by the National Automotive Technical Education Foundation.  He is one of those teachers that you hope your kids will have who truly make a difference.  Robert was a whiz with cars and M.r Falsone urged him to get his ASC certification and he went to work for Allen Samuels through their school/work program.  Excelling at what he did, he won awards and Allen Samuels offered him a scholarship and after graduating in the top 10% of his class he went to San Jacinto Jr college where he graduated with a 4.0 and then went to Pittsburgh State graduating with honors and  an automotive management degree.  He came back to Houston, married his Westbury High school sweetheart, with his Westbury Little League buddy serving as his best man.  He honored his commitment to Allen Samuels and came back to work for them. He moved to Mazda North America as a District Support Supervisor.   But here's the best part of the story....he is now teaching at WHS with his mentor, Mr. Falsone teaching them automotive skills and preparing a new generation of young men for life.
If you are zoned to Westbury I urge you to check out the opportunities that await your son or daughter.  If you are interested in making a difference look for oppotunities in future Criers to help WHS.
Thankful for the cooler weather today but still praying for rain. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thinking about the Willow Waterhole and Dan Rather

Have you thought about what the Willow Waterhole will mean to Westbury? For years we have been defined by what we used to be. Whenever I tell people where I live ..they say "Oh, I loved Westbury Square...I remember when your neighborhood was so nice."  Well guess what? It is still nice even if Westbury Square is full of buildings that are boarded up, decaying and burned.  What used to be the heart of our neighborhood has had the life squeezed out of it, but we have found a new heart and to me that is the "green" heart of Westbury. We live in a neighborhood full of green lawns(okay strugggling green this summer); beautiful green trees; wide esplanades; pocket parks; a community garden and the Willow Waterhole, soon to be one of the eight signature parks in Houston. If you think about carbon footprints, we live close to the heart of Houston in homes of reasonable size (relatively speaking).  Half our neighborhood is in the single stream recycling program, the other half would like to be...we are major recyclers according to the City's statistics. We have one of the Houston Solid Waste Environmental service centers in our Super Neighborhood as well as Waste Management's new state of the art single stream recycling center which has its grand opening and dedication coming up in August. Many of our storm drains are marked with the No Dumping decals. We have a twice annual garage sale to complete the Reuse, Recycle,Reduce mantra.  That all adds up to pretty green to me.

Monday, I gave a power point presentation to the Brays Bayou Association on the Willow Waterhole and was reminded again of what an incredible gift a 280 park in our backyard will be when it is completed.  In Westbury's 1800 acres and in the Super Neighborhood's 2400 acres  there was just 12 to 14 acres of park space.   An awesome addition for sure! But beyond the park space there is the reduced risk of flooding for Westbury. Once the park is complete it will be able to hold 5 million cubic feet of storm water.  Tuesday I was reminded of another benefit.  The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) Bacteria Implementation Group who is charged with monitoring the bacteria levels in water around the state came out to do a video interview. Pretty cool that they want to do a feature story on the Willow Waterhole.  Having storm water held in wet bottom lakes with wetland plants acting as filters will help clean the water as it flows out into the Willow Waterhole Bayou and into Brays.  We had scheduled this interview months ago and wouldn't you know the day had a 50% chance of rain.  I said not to worry it NEVER rains! But it did...(I've asked them to come back regularly.) It was just  a little drizzly so we set the camera up under the small gazebo and I stood out in the grass.  I thought the interview was about to wrap up when I began to feel ants crawling on my feet so I thought if I was  calm and stood still that I could get through the rest of the questions.  I had just recently seen the You Tube clip of the reporter freaking out when a bug flew in his mouth and didn't want to do that frenzied, oh my gosh ants are crawling all over me dance. So I stood there as long as I could answering the questions, before I calmly said "Excuse me ants are biting me!"  Well today my right foot looks ridiculous..who knew those little suckers could inflict so much damage?  I couldn't help but wonder "is this what Dan Rather felt like as he stood outside with Hurricane Carla raging around him"?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Meetings and more meetings

I love  meetings…which is a good thing because there seem to be so many of them! I love meeting new people, hearing new ideas and learning new things.    I had two opportunities last week to do just that.
First in Cindy’s absence I attended the Westbury Coalition for Change meeting that is working on a better future for Westbury high school.  What a great meeting full of talented people with many great ideas for making Westbury once again the premier high school it was back in the day…back in MY day.  Westbury competed head to head with Bellaire and it was dependent on which side of Chimney Rock you lived on as to which school you thought was best.
Then Phyllis Frye, Ken Downey and I went down to METRO headquarters and had a nice meeting with METRO officials.  They have branded themselves as the  “New METRO” and from what I have seen that is so true.  They have been responsive to us as a neighborhood and have hosted several meetings in our area as well as attended three or four of our meetings.  
METRO is currently in the EIS stage for the 90A line where they are evaluating 6 different alignments. We reiterated to them that we want to maintain neighborhood integrity and that we want a Westbury station.  We also discussed the West Airport extension and the possibilities for a pedestrian crossover bridge. There is currently no money set aside for this line but the studies are moving forward and it is important to Westbury that we are part of the process.
Next week is the third week of the month which brings the Super Neighborhood Alliance meeting, the Brays Bayou Association meeting, Friends of Chimney Rock Park  and the Westbury Civic Club monthly board meeting. Also the Westbury Crier publication meeting which means I need to get started on the August Crier!  Guess I better enjoy this peaceful Sunday before the chaos of week three.