hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Yet Another Article about Strange Point Roberts

But this one features photos (taken by David Ryder) and in the pictures are me, Ed, and our cat Zoe, as well as other of our friends.  It should be noted that for Zoe there is a 2-paw rule with respect to how many feet can be on the table while eating.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Another Outsider View of Pt. Roberts

Local resident Arthur Reber sends us via Facebook to another article about peculiar Point Roberts.  No, not peculiar: we are "incredibly unique."  In my English major days, we used to insist that unique was not a word that was modifiable (other than "not unique"), so I can't parse "incredibly unique."  The writer brings up the usual stuff, including noting that in a community of 1,000 residents, "there is NO hospital."  I would imagine that in most communities of 1,000, of which there are many in the U.S., there is no hospital.  But we, uniquely, have none; nor a major concert hall.

Reber, however, responds to the article (on Facebook) with the observation that we DO have "several top-flight restaurants."  Noting that several means three or more, I asked him where they were located.  I should have asked whether they were open for lunch on Tuesday?  He assured me that the proposed new seafood place reported to be replacing Capanna (said report based on an application for a new liquor license application), and the proposed new Blackwater Fish Resort, in the planning stages for about 10 years, could be really first-rate places.  A future hospital could be terrific, too.  As Delmore Schwartz said (sort of quoting Yeats), "In dreams begin responsibilities."  Point Roberts, where we have unique dreams.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Point Roberts Story

Last week, I ran into an article from Slate magazine about the strangeness of Point Roberts.  Of course, about once a year, some writer or another discovers that we are up here living our esoteric lives in our deeply peculiar community.  I can't usually disagree with them; many of us are probably here because we are ourselves somewhat peculiar and thus we don't stand out so much in a 5-square-mile place defined by peculiarity.  Nevertheless, I rarely feel so out of touch with the regular world as when, reading this Slate article, the author, underlining our deprivations, observed that we had neither a dentist, a veterinarian, nor a shoe store.  All true, certainly, but I wouldn't have imagined the absence of a shoe store as being in any of the top 100 spots of things we are missing.  Does the writer not know about Zappos or Amazon?  Does the writer not notice that we have at least five places where packages from the rest of the US are regularly delivered.  It is the presence of five package delivery stores (as well as five gas stations) that is strange, not the absence of a shoe store.

But, one cannot argue with the strangeness.  Point Roberts is a community that is always in search of an economic development plan.  If only we had tourists and something for the tourists to buy; if only it was summer all the time.

On the other hand, a true story.  Tuesday tends to be a bad border day; i.e., there's a lot of traffic coming in (and then eventually going out).  This, I am told, is because the package stores get their major Fedex, etc., deliveries on Monday, after a non-delivery weekend, and the packages are then processed on Monday and ready for delivery on Tuesday.  So Tuesday is the beginning of the package delivery week.  And thus the Canadians are here en masse for their packages, their shoes et al.

So, it is Tuesday.  Two friends and I meet at Brewster's for lunch, but Brewster's is closed on Tuesday, it turns out.  So we go cross border for lunch, in the process running into an unusually long line because the border dudes are making a unusually careful inspection of individual cars.  (Later, I'm told they were looking for elephant ivory from Kenya.  Delivered by Fedex?)  We get through the line, we go have lunch in Tsawwassen, we come back to the Point, and then back to Brewster's where one of our cars is still parked.

There, in the parking lot, we see a Canadian car with three guys in it.  They get out and start to amble up onto the porch.  One of us tells them that it's closed today.  "Really?" one guy says.  "If we knocked on the window or something, would they open up, you think?"

"No, because there's nobody there; there are no cars here but yours and ours."
"Right," the guy says.
"Do you know another good place where we can eat?" inquires the second guy.
"There's a coffee shop down the road," offers the third guy.
"No," I say, "that's closed."

My friends and I think.  No, the marina place is closed; no, the golf course isn't still open by 2, probably; South Beach House? Well it's not night time and it's not summer.

"Ahhh," we say, "there's the Shell Station and the grocery store."  Either of which are okay for a gas station place and a grocery store, but maybe not what you had in mind if you were aiming for Brewsters.  "No, there's really no place to eat on Tuesday at 2 pm in Point Roberts."

"Well," says one guy with great sincerity, "Thanks for being so helpful."

What to say to that? "Thanks for being so Canadian that you think that's helpful."  If only I could have directed him to a local shoe store.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Caucusing in Point Roberts

Caucus: a mighty funny word, with no clear etymology.  I'd bet there was some connection with raucous, but the etymological dictionaries don't mention it.  One source mentions the Algonquin word caucauas as a possible source, meaning a wise councillor.  I doubt that, from the experience.  But perhaps the people always have wise counsel to offer if one can only sort it out from the other kind.

In any case, caucus we did this morning at the Community Center.  "Begins at 10, so come at 9:30," we are advised.  Perhaps breakfast will be served.  We arrived at ten and on our way, I spotted a unusual mourning dove sitting on a power wire and wondered if perhaps he, too, were on the way to the caucus, mistakenly expecting to find Bernie Sanders there.  But he did not appear: neither the dove nor Bernie.

The rooms were full when we got there; maybe 90-100 people turned up to do their bit for Hillary or for Bernie or for Democracy, but not for breakfast.  The caucus "tradition" comes to us as a result of the unfortunate Chicago Convention in 1968 when the people expressed their disapproval of party bigwigs making all those decisions in smoke-filled back rooms.  Let the people in, was the cry.  Let them go sit with one another at the Community Center for a couple of hours, working their way through a most peculiar set of practices such as:

You fill out your registration sheet on which you record your name and all the information that routinely trails after your name plus your candidate preference (or your failure to have a candidate preference).  Then someone stands up in front and tells you what will happen next.  And what will happen next is you will elect that person the Precinct Captain, largely because he/she volunteers for the job and because no one else apparently has any idea what we should all be doing.

We can offer something to the County Democrats platform statement.  If anyone had any idea what that was or what could be offered.  And talliers, a secretary, and watchers must be named.  The talliers must be capable of counting; the secretary of writing, and the tally watchers must have functioning eyes.

And then, when the tallying is finished, we can if we wish make a presentation upon the part of our candidate in order presumably to persuade others who for unknown reasons have settled on another candidate as their choice.  And after that, we can all change our minds about who we wish to support and revise our registration sheets, and then the talliers et al can do it all again.  And then we're almost done, except that we have to elect delegates to go to the county convention, where they will elect delegates to go to the state convention, where they will elect delegates to go to the national convention, winnowing all the while.  And then we can elect alternates as well.  And then we can go home.

And in between each step, we will sit and chat with one another in a room with bad acoustics so that all one really hears is a constant roar.  The point of the chatting is perhaps to encourage us to get to know one another, but for the most part we have chosen to sit with people whom we already know.  So, we were not enlightened.  Then the talliers report that by counting the registration papers, they have determined that Bernie has earned 4 delegates, and Hillary has earned 3 delegates.  The people who choose to speak for their candidates get up and speak kindly about both candidates, although acknowledging that they do prefer one or the other for some vague reason ("more experience", for Hillary; solid ideas about "what needs to be fixed", for Bernie.  (One might conjecture that Hillary probably has too much experience, all things considered, and that Bernie--as he himself acknowledges--doesn't expect to be able to fix anything solely by being elected, so it is not so much reasons as hopes or beliefs that are on offer.)

And then no one wants to change his vote but two people have come in late, so their registration pages have to be incorporated.  Another wait for the re-tallying which results in 4 delegates for Bernie and 3 for Hillary.  And people are leaving, but the hard core sorts (like us) hang in to vote for the 4 delegates and 4 alternates who will go to Bellingham to do our will.  Six people put their names forward as delegates.  After some discussion about how to vote, we each write 4 names on a slip of paper.  And someone goes again to tally the delegates as well as the alternates, and we all go home.

Well, it was an experience, even (as it happens) a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Memorable?  Well, maybe not so much.  No great feeling of authenticity, no sense of genuine participation in something important.  It made one understand something of the appeal of those smoke-filled rooms that used to provide a short cut for all this.

In surveys, about 65% of American voters think that the electoral process is broken.  And yet, here we were, a bunch of ordinary folks sitting about making decisions of some sort about who should be nominated for president and none of us paid anyone anything to be there.  Everyone appeared to be reasonably knowledgeable about what the election was about.  Sounds okay.

Yet, the Democrats main concern in this election seems to be the excessive role of money and corporate power in the election and in government generally.  By contrast, the Republican power brokers endlessly complain that their money and their power are having no effect whatsoever on the primary and Donald Trump is the living proof that outrageous amounts of money and power are not enough.  So, there's too much money and power pushing final results and the money and power can't get the desired results.   Sounds like something is definitely broken.  It was a mourning dove I saw on the way to the caucus.  That could be the sign we've been waiting for.  

By 12:15, we were safely back home.  Ed tells me that there was talk that the Democrats will be moving, doubtless incrementally, to a direct primary.  I'll vote for that.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The New Point Roberts Library

Earlier this year, the Friends of the Point Roberts Public Library announced that they had raised slightly over $538,000 for the new library.  (Full disclosure: I am the chair of that Fundraising Committee.) The amount was set by the original feasibility study for the new building.  The New Library Project is a joint endeavor of the Friends of the Library, the Park and Recreation District, and the Whatcom County Library System, each party having critical roles.

Over the past 4+ years, this project has proceeded under an agreement known as a "Memorandum of Understanding" that defines each group's responsibilities.  It was revised and signed by all three parties in October 2014.  It has the status of a legal contract.  Here's what it says:

1.  The Friends will try to raise $538,000 for the new library;
2.  The Park and Recreation District will make the Julius Fire Hall available for use as a new library;  and
3. The Whatcom County Library System will, when the Julius Fire Hall space is ready,  provide all furnishings, equipment, and human resources to make it a functioning library, as well as to pay for utilities for the building;

In addition, the Park District is required to raise any additional funds needed, should there be a gap between the funds raised by the Friends and the final costs for the renovation/reconstruction of the Julius Fire Hall.  The District may do this from its regular funding, or it may put a levy on the ballot to allow the voters to approve or disapprove the necessary gap funding.

Although the Friends have raised the initially-required funds, the intervening years have inevitably led to higher costs.  In this instance, the Park District does not have sufficient funds of its own to fund that gap.  Thus, they must place a levy on the ballot in order to determine whether the voters support a one-year increase in property taxes to bring the library to completion.

On March 9, the District held a special meeting to assess public support for this project.  Despite very unpleasant weather, 40 people turned out for the meeting.  All were invited to speak, although not everyone did.  Support for the levy was almost unanimous from those who spoke.  On March 14, at the Park District's regular monthly meeting, by contrast, Chairman Linda Hughes voiced her absolute opposition to placing a levy on the ballot, despite the Memorandum of Understanding's plain language.

It was like having U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell come to Point Roberts to point out that he had no plan to do his job to have a vote on a Supreme Court nominee because he doesn't like Obama.  As a result, the remainder of the meeting was largely a shambles with NO forward motion on the project. A month lost when what the Commissioners need to be doing is determining which optional elements to include in the design, deciding the size of the levy, and setting a time-line for completing the paperwork to get the levy on the November ballot.

The design of the building has largely been set since the beginning of the project when there were several public meetings to get a general consensus about its suitability.  The model (built by Alex Tersakian) has been on view for several years; all of the Friends' public materials have included photos of it.  That is the library that we have been raising money for;  that is the library that we need to get built.

The Park District has a suggestion box in the main hallway at the community center.  Perhaps you might like to offer your views.  Maybe tell them to "Do your job; put the library levy on the ballot."  You can also comment on this blog, or on the Friends' blog, which also includes a fuller description of the two meetings.  I will forward all comments on either blog to the Commissioners.  They need to hear from you.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Volunteering and Being a Citizen instead of Just a Taxpayer

This will be a bit of a harangue, but I think all of us here need to think about this a little.

We live in a tiny community: there are around 1,300 permanent residents, and maybe another 3,000 part-time residents.  But even though we are small, we still have needs that no individual can reasonably supply.  We need roads and water and a cemetery and a health clinic and a fire department and a community center.  And we have those things because people volunteer to run for office to take care of those needs and the 'taking care of' is financed a bit from property taxes.  But those volunteers get paid little or nothing for doing that work for all of us.  And they do it because they feel some commitment to public service or because they like to run things or whatever.  And good on them for taking on these largely thankless tasks.

But there are lots of other needs that we have that are not taken care of by any kind of governmental function because we are too small to have that kind of government.  The costs of library services, e.g., are paid for via property taxes, but not the cost of a building to put the library in, and that's why volunteers have been raising money for a new library for the past 4+ years.  The high school graduates of this community might need some help in getting to go to college, but there is no government agency to help or to even recognize their desire to get some higher education.  But the volunteers at Dollars for Scholars do raise money for them.

Many elderly and disabled people live here, often alone, but there are no government services to help them on an ongoing basis.  This past year, one of our neighbors was dying of terminal cancer.  She wanted to stay at home and Whatcom County's hospice program did provide her with some services, and friends stayed with her during the day when she could barely make it out of bed.  But she was alone at night, the hardest time, the scariest time, until one of us thought to get in touch with Circle of Care, a volunteer group here who were able to provide our neighbor with someone to stay with her through the night for the last two weeks of her life.  That's kind of an extreme case, but there are also people who need help getting to the Clinic or to the grocery store, and Hospice isn't going to be of much help to them.  But volunteers can be.

This weekend, the Friends of the Library is holding a 2-day used book sale at the Community Center (Saturday, 10-3, Sunday, 11-3).  The volunteers are doing this not, as it happens, to raise money for the new library (although they've done plenty of that), but to provide services and programs that the County Library System can't provide because its funding is limited and has to be apportioned to a lot of towns.  Those additional services that volunteers provide by selling books include summer puppet shows, library magazine subscriptions for kids and teens, prizes for reading contests, etc.

I don't personally have to figure out how to help my neighbors who are struggling with the increasing cost of food, here in the richest country in the world, because the volunteers at the Food Bank do that for us.  And if we have a big disaster of some sort here, we have a volunteer group, PREP, who has done lots of planning that will give at least some of us a fighting chance to survive a disaster.  And there's PAWS that helps our pets when they run into trouble; and The P.R. Historical Society, which keeps track of our past, which many of us will soon be a part of.  And the Point Roberts TV group.  Something for everyone.

What these bands of volunteers need most are people to join with them in recognizing that we all need to help meet these otherwise unmet needs, which could be our own need or that of someone we know or of a neighbor that we don't know but who is just as human and deserving as we are.  Some groups just need donations (easy enough to write a check, large or small depending upon your own resources), but most of them also need volunteer time to help them raise money or to provide the assistance they are offering.

When the library has a used book sale, the books don't march over from the Julius Firehall (where they're stored) on their own.  Volunteers, today in the rain, moved them over, a box or a wheeled shelf at a time.  Pretty much the same few volunteers, all year long, rain or shine.

We need more volunteers to make this community the place we really want to live in.  It used to be (this is the kind of thing that octogenarians get to say) that we pretty much thought of ourselves as citizens of our community.  Nowadays, we seem just to think of ourselves as taxpayers, and as long as we pay our taxes, nobody can reasonably ask anything more of us.  But I'd like to suggest that you are still citizens of your community.  This isn't a hotel where the amenities are provided by the management.  There isn't any management: there's just us--the community of Point Roberts, the place where we all chose to live.

You want to contact any of these groups about volunteering?  Write me (judyross@outlook.com) and I'll tell you whom to contact.

N.B.  My apologies to any groups that I didn't list; these were just the ones that came first to my mind when I was writing.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Point Roberts Ups and Downs

The Up, Way Up!  Last night was the local elementary school (K-3, 15 kids) performance of their annual Christmas play.  It is always a home grown performance (one of the teachers, Deb Wilkowski, wrote this year's play, which lasted about 45 minutes).  The 15 kids, in their dress up clothes, with added costume touches (especially elegant headgear) showed us how Point Roberts got to be here, from about 1701 (even before cell phones, the kids noted) to 1870 or so.  There was a prodigious amount of memorization required to carry off this feat, and the kids were more than up to it, even handling microphones with considerable skill.  There was scarcely a moment when anybody needed a cue.  The older girls, i.e., 8-year-olds (for awhile, there was a dire shortage of boys in the school, and as a result we now have a lot of older girls) did much of the heavy lifting, and they were without flaw.  There was a newly configured sound system that made it almost easy to hear what they were saying, although the inherent accoustic defects of the space are still major.

Turns out, getting to be Point Roberts, once beyond Captain Vancouver's naming it for his dead buddy, Lieutenant Henry Roberts, was the usual historical mishmash (at one moment, one of the actors says of one such event, "Does anybody care?") of how things happen: do we have any decent maps that tell us exactly where the 49th parallel intersects the land at issue?  What about the Gulf Islands and the woeful dead pig that provided an opportunity for a shot heard around the neighborhood, at least?  And, ultimately, you have to love the most the fact that some nameless bureaucrat in the Buchanan Administration thought that the U.S. should grab the peninsula apparently named Point Roberts City or something because it might have some kind of military use at some time.  One can only imagine launching a war from Point Roberts.  (And unfortunately, nowadays, one certainly can.)  But one can also imagine provisioning a Yukon/B.C. gold rush from the Point, as they did.

All round a spectacular evening provided by spectacular kids and spectacular teachers of various sorts.  We're lucky to have them.

On the down side, the December All Point Bulletin included a news item about the Fire District's need to add to its reserve fund of more than $700,000 in case the District is, due to some catastrophe, unable to access its regular yearly income (which comes from the County).  I wonder exactly what Chief Carleton is thinking of?  That there will be a nuclear bomb set off in County Treasurer Steve Oliver's office?  If so, we doubt that Oliver keeps the money there.  Or that the entire banking system, including electronic/digital transfers of funds, will cease to exist?  I trust everyone in Point Roberts will take this to heart and immediately ensure that they have the equivalent of their yearly income in cash somewhere (perhaps under the bed?)  should their present source of income cease to exist as a result of some catastrophe.   We note in passing that the Fire District already has over $700,000 in reserve funds as compared, say, to the Park and Rec District's maybe $50,000.  So, the Fire District voted to take $20,000 more from Property Taxes to increase its reserve fund.  The Park District got a 1% increase in its budget, which probably amounts to about $600.00.

Do you keep in mind how much of your property tax payment goes to local government?  For the median household, the median householder (on a property whose assessed value is $115,156) yearly pays $103 to the Fire District, $47 to the Hospital District (the Clinic), and $16 to the Park and Rec District.  There is some kind of disconnect between those numbers and what we need for a vibrant community.  (The APB story on the Fire District budget is on page 8 of the December issue; I'd give you a link if I could figure out how to do it. Maybe the APB could help; or maybe you still have a copy of the December issue at home, folks. )

And a Happy first Snowstorm of December.  Big flakes falling as I write this.