hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Big Weekend

This is the weekend that, according to the All Point Bulletin, 10,000 visitors will appear in Point Roberts to celebrate the Arts and Music Festival and B.C. Day, marking the first weekend/Monday in August.  Now, how we would suddenly get 10,000 people through the border just for the weekend I can't imagine.  Maybe they started arriving in June.  I went through the border yesterday and there was no particular lineup and I asked somebody who had just come over, this morning, and they said that the lineup was minimal.

10,000 people would be about five visitors per house.  Don't think it's going to happen.  But, there are more people around than usual.  We went over to the Saturday Market this morning and sold some of Ed's Point Roberts postcards.  There were only about 9 vendors, but there was a steady enough supply of buyers and lookers to keep the vendors entertained.  The Seniors Group sold great quantities of cookies and other baked goods.  The Friends of the Library contributed to the recirculation of books by selling donated books.  An Avon rep, the chocolates lady, a jewelry lady, the Sagewood Farms guy, a lady selling shelled walnuts for $5.00/pound joined in to the modest selling frenzy.  A kind of mixed bag today.

What was interesting about the customers today (and maybe this is who shows up on B.C. Day) is that they were more than willing to hang around and look at postcards, talk about the images, and talk about the details of Point Roberts that the postcards illustrated.  Yes, they'd seen Lily the Llama and the four goats.  And what were the goats' names?  The abandoned house quilt postcards provoked discussions about the actual houses, the quilts (now on display in the Community Center), and peoples' own histories with the houses.  Two guys (brothers?) told me that they had lived many years ago in both the Goodman house and the Hanssen/Jonsen house (on corner of Tyee and Benson).  But they got away before I found out how that happened to be.  People went through the books of postcards, looking at every photo (70 or so) and trying to figure out where on the Point it was taken.  A very social experience compared to other Saturday Market Days.

Was a nice day all round here in momentary paradise.  And two more days of the weekend to go.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Assessing the Assessor

This winter/spring, we got our 'pending assessments' of property notices.  Happens every year.  Every year, the number goes up a little, but in light of the real property crash here (like most places), we all assumed that property values would go down in the 2011 assessment.  You can imagine our surprise when we discovered that our houses were worth more than they were the year before and to a person we pretty much doubted that that was an accurate assessment, comparatively.

But, at least for most of the people I know, it was still, as a number, somewhat lower than what we imagined we might be able to sell it for, so we didn't call up the assessor to demand our money back, or the equivalence thereof.  But some people did, and there were notices out on Point Interface urging people to call the Assessor's Office and request explanations.

It all did seem particularly strange when word began to seep around that Point Roberts properties were the only properties in the County whose assessments increased.  Had everybody's assessments gone up, I would probably have assumed that it was Whatcom County's way of increasing its income.  But since we came up unevenly, maybe an accurate but inexplicable assessment?  Or inaccurate?

The local Taxpayer Association asked the Whatcom County Assessor to come up and explain this anomalous result at a meeting last night.  Alas, he got held up at the border--failure to have a Nexus Card-- and arrived just as the meeting was about to disband.  But, having come to hear him, people hung around to listen.

He was remarkably unlike a politician, I thought.  Or like the ones who are said to be just like somebody you'd like to have a beer with.  Since I don't drink beer, there's nobody I'd like to have a beer with, but I could imagine sitting down with a pizza, say.  Although he would be eating the larger portion, I think.

His office is actually non-partisan.  He's been in the Assessor's Office for 30 years and for 23 years has been elected time after time as County Assessor.  He's running for office again this fall but no one is running against him.  Seems good qualifications for a guy who's either doing a reasonable job or sponsored by the mob in a mob-run town.  No evidence of the latter, so probably he's doing a reasonable job.

He proceeded to explain to this audience of about 35 folks how assessing is done.  His is a highly technical and difficult job: how to establish a dollar value for every house in the County.  If you’ve ever sold a house, the real estate agent, who knows a lot about house sale prices, gives you a big range for what your house might be worth and then recommends a single price.  And if times are good, maybe you’ll get something near that, but even then, probably not.  Because nobody knows what a house is worth until somebody is willing to pay for it with actual dollars.  

So, the poor Assessor pours over the actual sale prices and looks at some portion (in his case, one-sixth) of the actual houses each year and talks with real estate people and follows the real estate market and calculates complex mathematical models and algorithms each year  to establish a better than average guess about what every single property might sell for.  And when he is done, he says, “Here’s what I think.”  And if you disagree with what he thinks, you can ask to discuss it with them.  

And if you don’t disagree enough with what he thinks, then you let it go.   The problem is that if you don’t understand mathematical modeling and algorithmic projections, you are going to be in for some difficulty.  He says potatoes, you say potahtoes.  And you can’t call the whole thing off.  I'm not a mathematician, so I don't really know what he’s talking about but, in the old days, you would credit his competence and good intentions and unless you had some really compelling information to change his position, his view about the value of your house would stand, and you would go on being fellow-citizens.  Nowadays, though,  as a result of the anti-government fervor that has taken hold in lots of places, we often have no trust in an official's competence or his good intentions and insufficient acknowledgement or appreciation of our own lack of understanding of what his job actually is and how it is done.  

What seemed to be the bottom line is that Point Roberts was last assessed individually four years ago.  In the intervening years (2006-2010), our property values went up and then went down, but they didn't go as far down as they went up, so over the four years, the appreciation was about 10%.  Other areas, like Birch Bay and Blaine and Semiahmoo, went down farther than they went up over the four years, so their property values depreciated some.  Seems like it could happen.  But, as the Assessor repeated time and again, what his office is trying to do is make a good estimate of a property's value and every area is not going to be the same.  It's not rocket science: it's much harder than rocket science.  If people complain, he can show them what the office has considered, has taken into account, and if you, as a property owner, have some special information that the office didn't know about or take into account, they will try to incorporate it to the extent that it's relevant.  But you really can't prove they are wrong and they can't really prove they are right.  

It's a hard job and somebody has to do it and by and large, I found that I'm willing to trust the Whatcom County Assessor, even if I and probably most of the people at the meeting don't really understand exactly what he is doing.  I don't understand what lots of people who do technical things are doing.  But if I listen to them talk about their work, I can kind of get a sense of whether they're serious people with the right attitude to their work.  That may be the best most of us can do, so I appreciate his coming up to let us judge him.  But I really think he should get a Nexus Card if he's going to be roaming around Whatcom County, if only to expand his understanding of the way we live now: the we being those of us in Point Roberts who, like our assessments, are quite different from everyone else in Whatcom County.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garlic Crop

I dug my excellent, though small, garlic crop yesterday and it was very well done.

I just plant about a dozen cloves in the fall and then harvest them in the spring.  If there's something you are supposed to do other than that, I don't know about it, but that usually brings them through.  This year, the deer ate the tops early in the spring and, though they generated some new tops, the greenery was pretty sparse so I thought it might not work out well.  But it did just fine.  Some bulb are bigger than others, but most of them are of a good size and they are drying out on the back porch; or they are drying as much as they can given the level of our cool humidity these days.

Tonight is the meeting to learn about whether and why we ought to be thinking about making our library a bigger place.  8 p.m.  Try to come and learn.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Well, if we can't do something as simple as lift the debt ceiling, perhaps we could achieve this. I've given up (because it's too late) for Point Roberts to be the first wireless community, but maybe it could be the first penny-less community.  We could be known for something other than excess difficulty and beautiful living.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another Summer Daze

We have family visiting this weekend, so we went down to two different beaches here on the Point to check out the summer traffic.  Sunny, blue sky, a beach, no traffic, no requirements of me of any significant sort: the kind of day that seems like whatever it is that lies at the heart of our dreams of how lovely and shining life can be.

First we went to visit Lily the llama down near Freeman Beach and took her for a walk on an absolutely deserted beach.  Hard to know why there were no people along this stretch, but there were none but the six of us.  A few birds in the water; a sailboat a ways out; a big cruise or ferry-sized ship much farther out.

Then we went to South Beach, where Mt. Baker was looming to the east as if it had a special spotlight on it.  That beach was filled with half a dozen or so families in bathing costume, sitting in beach chairs, kids digging in the sand. Entirely iconic.  A two-year old tottering around at the water's edge discovered how to throw stones into the water and then a goofy little dog showed up to chase after her stones.  She threw, the dog raced after it but never found it, as it quickly became just another rock in the water; she threw again, the dog raced, and again and again.  She looked over her shoulder at her parents to see if they liked that she had discovered, maybe invented, an absolutely brand new in the whole world activity, but they weren't paying all that much attention.  A big moment in her life, but she won't really remember it for long.

Then we went up to Dylan's and ordered up a lot of ice cream cones.  Finally, home in order to loll around for awhile before we cooked up some dinner.  Saturday in July.  Calm, sunny, lovely.  Lucky us.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Raspberries Finally In

We've been getting raspberries at the markets from farther south for awhile, but the local raspberries, which is to say the ones in my backyard, have shown no signs of getting big enough to ripen, let alone to chnge color.  And then, yesterday, there they were.  Only about a cup of them, almost all the early 'Sutters Gold,' which are kind of apricot colored and are sweet  and highly flavored but not too acidic.

So we sprinkled them over a little bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream and rolled them around our tongues with the other flavors mingling nicely and spoke about how absolutely wonderful summer is when it behaves properly.  Our deepest sympathies to those in the center of the country where the heat is unspeakable, but the raspberry crop may be fantastic.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Market and the Summer

The Saturday Market has now moved to an every week activity but it is showing signs of problems.  This past week, it rained and had to be held indoors, but nevertheless there were precious few vendors.  The best were Sagewood Farms, our local fresh produce supplier.  Best in terms of quantity of stuff, good looking and new looking stuff, and customers.  They had more different greens than you could shake a stick at if you were in the market for shaking sticks at greens.  There were fat French radishes and mesclun and beet greens and lettuces of other kinds including a very spicy arugula.  It all looked very appealing.

But a Saturday Market with only four or five vendors isn't really viable even if one of them is doing really well.  Maybe it was just the rain and the following weeks will see more vendors.  On the weekend of August 6, the Point Roberts Quilt Group is having a quilt show and sale in connection with the Saturday Market.  If it rains, the Market will be in big trouble: the vendors won't be able to come inside because the quilts and quilters will have already filled up the inside.  That's one of the reasons we expect no rain in July and August.  Lots of luck so far.  The quilts will be more of an exhibit than a sale but there will be some smaller pieces for sale so if you, dear reader, are so inclined, bring cash/checks.  We don't do credit cards.

People do come to the Saturday Market.  They may be just wandering around on Saturday morning and see the sign and step in, or they may be making a trip to the library and step in to see what's happening, or they may be there because they're picking up their weekly or biweekly allotment of vegetables from Sagewood, or they may be there (less likely) because they are looking for some arts/crafts object to buy.   But for that last kind of random buy, you need a lot of new/fresh/different kinds of objects and that's pretty hard to supply in such a limited population, especially if you outlaw flea market type objects.

Oh, well, maybe it will pick up, or maybe it will just be a short summer activity, or maybe it will die a slow death.  I'm not worrying: it's not Chinatown, but it is Point Roberts.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

About the Water

Here we are in the Northwest with a rainstorm a day.  Well, not quite, but more than people really need in the way of water from the sky, and occasional flooding and the like.  And what is Point Roberts actual biggest problem?  Water.  We don't have any of our own, somehow.  Now, the conservationists/ecologists say that water is going to be everybody's big problem in the coming decades (too much or not enough), so in that sense we are just like everyone else.  But in the Point Roberts sense, we are, of course, not just like everyone else.  We never are.  That's what it means to live in Point Roberts.  With respect to water, we have plenty of water coming out of the air and down to the ocean, but we don't have any water of our own that is potable.  There are, I'm told, a few wells still around, but that's really not a viable water source for all these folks when we have sandy soil and septic tanks everywhere.

What we have is Vancouver water.  They signed a long-term contract in the 80's to provide us with X gallons of water per day, at a price to be determined by them.  We pay for those X number of gallons every day of the year, even though there are apparently never enough of us here any of the time to use up that daily X number of gallons.  So, those extra gallons?  We pay for them and Vancouver keeps them, once we have filled our limited storage capacity.  That turns out to be a lot of water that we pay for and don't ever get.  According to the Water guy here, we pay for about twice as much water as we actually use.  And Vancouver is sorry to inform us that the price for both the used and unused water is going up dramatically in the next few years.  And the contract has another 23 years to run, and as far as I can tell, there is no reason to be sure that Vancouver will renew that contract because B.C. doesn't allow sale of water outside of B.C. any longer (it did when the original contract was signed).

So we pay for water we don't get, we are going to be paying a lot more, perhaps double or more by the end of the decade, for water we don't ever get, and then, at the end of that, we may not get any more water.  This is another serious mid- to long-term problem for us.  The Community Center repair is a short-term problem.  The library space is a mid-term problem.  By contrast, the gas tax moneys are no problem at all because they are not available to be used for much of anything that is a problem for us.  Just treats.  What's wrong with this picture?

Time to think about our problems.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Laying Back

You walk out the door and there are sounds of kids calling to one another or just calling into the air in the sheer joy of a mostly sunny summer day at the cottage.  Normally, our neighborhood doesn't resonate with the sound of kids, but everytime I walked outdoors today, there it was.

The beach was filled with people doing the kinds of things people do at beaches, and that is very rarely the case here, even in the summer during the week.  Of course, today is Friday, which maybe does not any longer count as a week day.  The International Market was running five check stands when I was there the last couple of times, its parking lot far fuller than normal.  The roads have bikes and cars, but not many walkers once the morning hours are over.

All in all, it is the kind of sunny, warm but not hot, summer day when you can't imagine there is a better place on earth to live than Point Roberts.

And certainly far better than Southern California, where Los Angeles is about to learn how to do without a chunk of the San Diego Freeway for several days.  The purpose of the closure is to build, quickly, an HOV lane.  In honor of this adventure in craziness in the crazy place, some wondrous wit put together a YouTube video to explain exactly what is at stake.  You can see it here.  (There's a very brief commercial at the beginning of the video, but persevere and you will get to see what I think this is one of the ten funniest things I've seen in years.)  It did occur to me after watching it that we are in for something like this when they close down various parts of Tyee this summer to resurface it.  Maybe we should ask Chairman Reber to release his moneys to buy us an HOV lane out of Point Roberts, just to avoid that kind of stress.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No Sooner Said...

I just got an email from Point Interface announcing at least the first community meeting sponsored by the local library staff to discuss the issues around the Community Center's needs and the community's needs for the Community Center.  I think we'll need more than one of these and it will probably be discouraging at the beginning: that is, turn out will be small.  But we are going to have to persevere.

Turn out is good when people are angry (as, in the past, when the border practices have caused tempers to rise, or fury driven at the thought of some big development devastating a beautiful tract of land).  But nobody is angry about the Community Center's current excess access to atmospheric water.  Or about the library's space or lack thereof.  If everyone were angry, then we would get a good turnout at the meeting, but a good turn out driven by anger is not likely to provide a thoughtful discussion about defining our current needs and our future needs.  For that, we need open minds and information.  We can start getting that at this meeting, which is to be held Tuesday evening, July 26th, at 8 p.m.  Please try to come to it and let us begin this process.

I did get one suggestion from the previous blog posting on the question of how to pay for the Community Center repairs.  First, said the commenter, construct a sheltered area behind the building with a tarp, say, and put some bicycles under it.  Then, ask Chairperson Reber to repair the Community Center roof and underparts in order to ensure that the bicycles are protected, which would surely be permitted under the requirement that the funds be used for transit.  I mean, if we had a local bus, surely we could use gas tax funds to make that sure the bus was adequately protected from bad weather conditions.  Why not bicycles?

That's the kind of creative thinking I like.  But I wouldn't count on Reber, the County, or the State being convinced by it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Do We Need?

There are a series of questions that are facing us as a community here in tiny Point Roberts, and the questions got harder over the past few weeks. It is difficult in any small place with a small tax base to deal with infrastructure. How much the harder here when the size of the community changes dramatically over the year and when most of the property tax payers aren't voters and when there is very limited control over how money can be raised or used.

The biggest issue at the moment is the Community Center, a heavily used, elderly building in big trouble. There is standing water under the building, wood rot resulting therefrom, and roof damage. There is no money to pay for these repairs. This is not a matter of long term infrastructure improvement and investment. This is a "needs to be done right away or we won't be having any Community Center" kind of issue.

So, the Parks Board is considering proposing a specific tax levy to cover these repair costs. There is worry that the voters will not approve this request, given that last fall the Fire Department had a substantial levy approved. Of course, money for the Fire Department upgrade will do nothing for the Community Center. But this is what comes of tiny government arrangements in which overall needs are not coordinated and priorities among various needs are not able to be considered.

The Parks Board can lead us voters and residents to water but it cannot make us drink or perhaps even convince us that we are thirsty. We need to think about this seriously. Do we need quick repair or an entire re-building? There has been previous talk about the need for more library space. Should we be thinking about that possibility too?

We are in a difficult economic and political time right now. Many people are happy to "just say no" to any public expenditures, but this is our home, our town, that is at issue. The question of the Lily Point Beach Club development and of the removal of the maples in the APA canopy brought out a lot of public concern. We need to be just as concerned about the future of the Community Center. But I don't know how that concern is going to find a focus for a thoughtful discussion that addresses both short term needs and long-term community wellbeing.

I'm thinking we need to have a series of town meetings to get us all up to speed on the various issues. The drastic problems at the Community Center may be exactly what we need to focus our attention on this issue. But it will be a struggle to awaken us from our customary lack of involvement.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In Point Roberts Again

We are back from the medical adventure in Seattle/U.W.Med.Center, and if I were writing about life in the arms of our medical system, there would be many posts already written in my head.  But, since I'm writing about life in Point Roberts, suffice to say that the surgery was to all appearances successful, the hospitalization long for nowadays (9 days), there's a several month convalescence ahead of us, and we are pretty much exhausted by it all, but happy to have it behind us.

So, I've taken a few extra days off from blog posting (we got back on Wednesday), and will start again in all seriousness on Monday, two days from now.  For now, it was wonderful to come back to sun, to the garden all in bloom (although I missed the peonies' bloom pretty much in the two weeks we were gone), and to sitting on the porch.  I thought of Otis Redding, 'Sitting on the dock of the bay,' but without the bay, but absolutely just wastin' time.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Still in Seattle

Here longer than we expected. All going well, but, realistically, trying to get back to Point Roberts from Seattle over the July 4th weekend with a passenger whho is recovering from a significant surgery seems like a very bad idea. Not least because it is more likely right now to be much more than a 2.5 hour drive. So, waiting out the holiday and missing the July 4th parade is what we are doing.