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.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another morning at city hall

At the end of June I told my co-workers and my husband that I had made my last trip to City Hall. Who knew I’d be back the first week of July?  This time to speak in support of the Mayor’s new Department of Neighborhoods.  Catherine Flowers, the new proposed Director, came to Westbury’s June WAIC meeting. Cindy Chapman and I gave her the nickel  tour of Westbury along with our Citizen’s Assistance Office liaison Veronica Hernandez and Catherine’s assistant, Kanyae.  We showed them the good, the bad and the UGLY! We took her to the Platou Center and she wondered why it hadn’t been painted and why the tennis courts didn’t have appropriate nets.  Guess what? The center has a new coat of paint and the courts have new nets! Thanks Catherine.
The Good: we drove through the shaded streets of Westbury showing off nice homes with pretty well kept yards, landscaped esplanades, the Willow Waterhole and the Westbury Community Garden.  The Bad:  We drove down one street of chronic yard parkers (4 of them in one block); this same street had at least 5 heavy trash violators; and just around the corner the man who continues to repair cars in his driveway despite a cease and desist letter from the City. The Ugly: We showed her 12540 Hillcroft and Westbury Square both of whom have repair or demolish orders that are stalled in the courts. We showed her the Taco truck and day laborers gathering illegally across the street.
We showed her all that is wonderful in Westbury so that she would know why we need Neighborhood Protection and the City of Houston to take care of the Bad and the Ugly.
But back to City Hall. I don’t know the specifics of the budget or the wording of the code/ordinance before City Council to create this department, but I do know that the protection of neighborhoods is imperative to the future of Houston.  A few bad apples can spoil a whole neighborhood. I told our City Council that we needed more Neighborhood Protection.  Interestingly two other people mentioned Westbury; CM Wanda Adams who was chair of this committee mentioned us by name and David Robinson, president of the SuperNeighborhood Alliance, also mentioned Wesbury when he spoke.  We are becoming known!  Cindy, Janie, Priscilla and I wore our Westbury Improving tshirts the week before so that we would  stand out. However that didnt happen. About 100 bikers showed up to protest an officer who had been ticketing motorcyclists for excessive noise and we just looked like biker mamas in our black tshirts!
At today's session, Robin Blut of Keep Houston Beautiful spoke before me and she quoted a study that was done to determine what makes a community desirable. She said it was: social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness (how welcoming a place is), and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces). I found their website  Very interesting….but that will be food for thought for another day! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The day I hugged Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

When I started my journey of civic engagement I thought about a blog.  But I didn't. After our June Civic Club meeting our director of communications suggested I might want to start one. The website,,  that she designed for us  has been so well received and each week our Facebook page has new friends so I decided to give this a go.

It's been six months since I became the President of the Westbury Civic Club and what a journey it has been.  We've had redistricting.  We've had METRO and the 90A rail line.  We've had the city budget cuts cause our community center to be slated for closing.  Can you say "Under seige?"

Last week Cindy Chapman, Janie Shexnayder, and two people who use the Platou center regularly, Christina and Tommy, headed down to City Hall to speak before the City Council Budget hearing. All five of us spoke..Janie, Christina and Tommy, for the first time.  I spoke once in the 80s when Kathy Whitmire was mayor against the low income housing project on Hillcroft; once when Bill White was mayor against the Ruffino Hills Trash Transfer Station for our neighbors in Brays Oaks.  Now twice before Mayor Parker. 

We met a woman from Cherryhurst whose center was also being closed and she invited us to a lunch with Doris Ellis the executive director of Emancipation Park to talk about what they have done to save their park.  THEN we went with them to Independence Heights to a press conference given by US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Oh my Gosh!  They  say it shouldn’t take an act of congress to get things done…but in this case it did. Congresswoman  Sheila Jackson Lee reached out to the corporate community and Marathon Oil and Conoco- Philips came to the  rescue to save our centers for the summer. They donated 350,000 to the city to keep the summer programs operational.  CW Lee invited Westbury to the podium and I gave her a hug. Now that’s what I call a civic journey!