hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Friday, December 2, 2016

Next Act

(Cross Posted from Friends of the Point Roberts Library blog)

Almost a month since election day and the truly unhappy news that the new library levy put forth by the Park and Recreation District had failed to reach the 60% of votes required by Washington law. Alas, I believe it was the only levy that failed in Whatcom County.  On the other hand, it did NOT fail to achieve a majority+ of votes: over 55% of voters did vote to approve the levy which would have required an average property owner payment of $100 for one year in order to build a new library for Point Roberts.  A library that would have served our community well for decades.

But, what's done is done.  There are two ways forward: first, those of us at FOPRL could just say, "well, the voters have spoken and that's that."  But I don't think that's going to happen because although the voters have voted, the majority of the voters also spoke; and the majority of people in Point Roberts spoke even earlier when FOPRL received many hundreds of individually-identified donations.  FOPRL feels a deep commitment both to those who already donated over a half-million dollars to build a new library at the site of the Julius Firehall, to those who supported the levy, and to our own view of the community's real need for a new, centrally-located, larger, and appropriately outfitted library that will serve us and those who come after us well into the 21st Century.

At the moment, we are working on next steps forward.  We have met with the Park and Recreation Commission and with Whatcom County Library System, our two partners in this project, to review the options for a plan to move this project forward as originally intended.  It has a bunch of moving parts, but we hope to be able to get it finalized by January (given the demands of the holiday season).  We will have to do some further fundraising, of course, but we have already received some encouraging offers of significant help.  And we would be happy to receive more offers, of course!  Just call me.

So, that's it for the moment, but stay tuned!  The Board of the Friends of the Point Roberts Library, and especially Ed and I personally, extend our great thanks for all you have done for this project over the last 5 years.  We look forward to completing this new library which will mean so much to us all when it is finished, and mean even more perhaps because it has been a challenge that we will have overcome together.  A library is a community treasure and we believe we will have that renewed treasure, soon.

--Judy Ross
President, Friends of the Point Roberts Library

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


The meeting that you can go to to ask questions of the Fire District Commissioners is Wednesday, December 14th, at 4 pm, not today.

Oh, Sigh, the Fire District

Apparently, there is some unhappiness at the Fire District over their decision to insist on having all the money they can get from the County's property taxes.  In a post to Point Interface,  they note, about their budget requests:

"No one from the public has come to either meeting where we discussed the 2017 budget and the banked capacity to talk about those topics. If you have questions, please come to our meeting, review the meetings online, or contact Chief Carleton at 360-945-3473 or email him at chief@wcfd5.com. "

Apparently, the Commissioners have forgotten that they instituted a policy some years ago (after the Great Unhappiness, about 6 years ago) in which members of the public could make a 'comment' at the beginning of the meeting, before they had much if any information about the topics of the meeting, but could not ask questions.  I was personally and publicly instructed that my 'question' was not appropriate since I was entitled only to make a comment.  If you can't effectively question them, why go to their meetings?  You can just wait until you read the results in the All Point Bulletin's reporting.

But, perhaps they'll entertain questions today (as they suggest in their public relations/press release on Point Interface), Wednesday, at 4 pm.  Correction: Wednesday, December 14th, at 4 pm.  So go if you want to ask questions about their add-on budget request.  If not, thank the All Point Bulletin (Pat Grubb and/or Meg Olson) for telling you what is happening.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

On the Projected New Point Roberts LIbrary


The November All Point Bulletin is out now and I see that there are a bunch of “Letters to the Editor” about the new library.  I hope that we have not lost track of the actual existence of facts, but I do note that the two letters in opposition are sort of fact-challenged.  So, here’s an attempt to address that.

Stan Riffle writes with great concern about the Park and Rec District taking on too much debt.  This suggests he doesn’t grasp the difference between a bond and a levy, which you would think he would given that he is a Commissioner at the Fire District.  A bond is debt; a levy is income.  So, the one-time levy is not debt, not something that has to be repaid, not now, not next year, not ever.   The levy will increase property owners’ taxes by, on average, about $100 for one year.  If the levy passes, property owners will pay half of their share of the levy with their first tax installment in 2017 and the other half will be paid with the second installment in 2017.  And that’s it.  No more levy payments, no debt to be paid back, no change in the Park & Rec debt level.  And there will be a new library, significantly increasing the District’s asset values.

Linda Hughes takes the position that a library is not important enough for taxpayers to pay a million dollars.  The most recent cost estimate is not a million dollars, nor even $900,00 as Mr. Riffle asserts, but $840,000.  This includes a substantial contingency fund for the unknown unknowns. The known unknowns have apparently already been resolved during the permitting process: we will not need an entirely new septic system, nor additional parking, etc.  

Perhaps Ms. Hughes also thinks that $840,000 is too much for the taxpayers to pay for a new library.  But, of course, nobody is asking the taxpayers to pay $840,000.  They are being asked as a group to pay up to $300,000, 35% of the cost.  The remainder of the cost is covered by donors who have already contributed $540,000+ to the Friends of the Point Roberts Library for this new library: some of them property owners, but also residents, their relatives, summer visitors, local businesses, Washington philanthropic foundations, and businesses from outside the Point.

The Friends asked for and accepted these donations to reconstruct the Julius Fire Hall into a new and appropriate for decades to come library, and that is what the money is to be used for.  It is not a gift to the Park and Rec District to spend as they want.  The Friends of the Library are saying to property owners in Point Roberts, “We will pay 65% of the costs of the new library.  Will you pay the other ⅓?  Will you look that big gift horse in the mouth?”

Those are the facts of this levy request.

--Judy Ross, for The Friends of the Point Roberts Library

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

More About the Border

After the last post on the border, I got emails from Arthur Reber and Mark Robbins, informing me that there existed a local committee, established by the Port Director some years ago, to provide a 2-way communication system between the people who live here and the CBP agents.  The group of about 10 people meets with some regularity.  I was told variously that it was a representative committee (with representatives from the Voters' Association, the Taxpayers' Association, and the Chamber of Commerce [correction: also PREP]; and that it was an ad hoc group, presumably cooked up by the Port Director and somebody to whom he was talking.  Anyone can go to the members of this committee and ask them to take a problem to the border people.  In at least some instances that were mentioned, the problem was specific, not generic: ie, how to deal effectively with the needs of horseowners to get medical care for their animals.  It was not clear to me that anybody took their personal issues with border interactions, although it was said that the Port Director specifically stated that he wanted individuals to bring their problems to him.

Nonetheless, if you ask a border person to make a complaint (in at least several instances I know about), you will be given a form to send to Washington, D.C.  So, maybe not so much.  There is, of course, the distinct vulnerability problem associated with making a complaint: unless you never leave the Point, or you have a lawyer on board during all crossings, you are likely to feel pretty vulnerable after filing a complaint to people who have a lot of not very regulated power to keep track of you or discipline you when next you meet in the Nexus or regular lanes.

Giving your complaint to this local committee presumably provides some protection for you, but then as one committee member said to me, "but of course we're then always operating on second-hand information."  So, making a complaint in these circumstances is not like returning a pair of shoes that don't fit: i.e., a reasonable and easy procedure.

The other major question that occurs to me is why have I never heard of this committee?  I'm pretty active in the community, particularly in the last five years.  I read the newspaper regularly, and not just because I write for the newspaper regularly, but I don't remember any articles about these meetings.  I attend lots of different group meetings and never heard it discussed.  I have all kinds of conversations with Robbins and Reber and I never recall their mentioning it.  Yesterday, I asked a dozen friends/acquaintances who are all permanent residents and active in the community if they'd ever heard of such a committee, and didn't hear a single, "Yes."

Well, if you didn't know about it either, now you do.  But knowing certainly provides me with more  concerns/questions than I had before.  However, I am told that the All Point Bulletin has now expressed interest in writing about the committee and I have been offered an invitation to the next meeting of the group.  I'm more enthusiastic about the former than the latter, I must say.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Thinking about the Border

Last week, a friend of mine had a very unpleasant experience at the U.S. border coming into Point Roberts.  This is his story: He lives here, he has Nexus "trusted traveler program," as it's called.  He crosses the border frequently, as do most of us who live here; he knows the rules; he was bringing nothing in with him from a half-day trip up to meet a friend in Vancouver.  But the border guard (temporarily) took his Nexus card from him, sent him inside for inspection; and, when he asked, would give him no reason for this action.  It was not a random secondary inspection, which can happen to anyone anytime because they didn't give him a slip.  Inside, he was asked many questions about his residence here.  When he inquired politely about why he was being asked all these questions, he was again refused any explanation.  He then asked to speak to a supervisor and was told that he might not get his Nexus card back.  He insisted upon speaking with the supervisor who came out from his office after a bit of a wait.  When he asked whether he could speak to the supervisor privately (the most recent CBP guy he had talked with was standing next to them), the supervisor informed him that it was not possible.  And so, after a few moments of unsatisfactory conversation with the supervisor, they returned his Nexus card, and told him to go on through the border and home.

Who knows what was going on at the border that day, but my friend is a guy with a very even temperament and he was very unnerved by this experience, its threatening tone, its basic incivility.  After all, we with Nexus cards are "Trusted".  So you'd think if there was something that required some deeper questioning than we usually get, that questioning would be conducted civilly and with respect.

A few days later, I was at a meeting of a local group of people and in the slack moments that 8 or so people were sitting about, I told them this story and asked whether they'd recently had any trouble at the border.  Nobody reported any problems that week, but then, in turn, each related an awful border experience that they had had, some as long as 15 years ago.  The detail of each story was extensive; clearly the experience was seared into their brains.

And that's what it's like to live in an exclave like Point Roberts.  Everyone here is intensely aware of what it's like at least occasionally to be confronted by these (mostly) guys with guns, whether they're just in a bad mood or have some private knowledge that requires a higher degree of concern.  I wish that they, the CBP (custom and border protection), had some grasp of what it feels like to be on the other side of their anxieties.  They create bad memories that people just don't forget.  It's rarely necessary for them to act this way (nobody is waving guns or knives in their faces); but apparently they don't grasp what it does to travellers or what it does to our views of them and their agency.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fearful All the Time!

About an hour ago, the local tsunami siren went off for about five minutes.  I'm not sure that folks everywhere on the Point can hear it, but I live fairly close to it so it was very audible: a long wailing up and down whine.  I looked at the calendar to be sure that it wasn't the first Monday of the month when they do the test check.  Actually, old as I am, I usually know whether it's the beginning of the month, and by the 20th, I'm pretty sure that is the case.  Still, I checked the calendar.

Twice, I went outside to make sure that's what I was hearing, rather than an ambulance, say.  I checked the weather report: no word about high seas here.  And then, the siren turned to some kind of talking which, unlike the siren, is absolutely not capable of being understood this far away.

So, I turned to the Google, asking for "Washington Tsunami Warning" and was answered by:
Millions of people worldwide will practice how to 
Drop, Cover, and Hold On at 10:20 a.m. on October 20* during Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills!

Well, pretty much at my household, we pretty much just learned how to be confused.  I read the All Point Bulletin this past month and I don't remember a warning event being mentioned (maybe in the "Events Calendar"?).  Point Interface has not posted any information about such an event, which one might expect to come from the Fire District or PREP.  So maybe we all missed the Drill and just got the (at least brief) fear.  Perhaps they should have scheduled it last night at 6 pm PDT so that it could have initiated last night's last Presidential Debate.  Now that was something that one could reasonably be afraid of.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Where Is Jessica's Mom?

Yesterday, I was working at the Friends of the Library's Used Book Sale, a regular Saturday feature in the summer here in Point Roberts.  We put out 400-500 books (mostly fiction of many genres), CD's, DVD's, and VHS videos, and for four hours residents and visitors drop by and, in the great tradition of small bookstores, browse the collection, and purchase (at a ridiculously low price) some of the stock.  Some folks look for  a long time and buy one book; others buy a big stack.

Where do the books come from?  From the bookshelves of residents.  We get thousands of books each year from donations and then they get moved on to other people's bookshelves, and the library (and the community) benefits because the Friends can provide extra money for programs that aren't in the regular library budget.  For example, the recent marionette show of "Peter and the Wolf" was paid for by book sale money.  I could say that we're making America read again, but as far as I can tell, America never stopped reading, nor did Canada.

If you work the sale, you find yourself taking money and taking books, as well.  I mean, I am as tempted by the promise of a good book as anybody else is.  Occasionally, I am taken by a book I've never heard of and discover upon reading that it is a wondrous book and I can't imagine how it is I've never heard of it before.  One recent book that captured my fancy was a book about ordinary life in 18th Century China.  I kept wondering who had donated that book and whether they still had some other books on their shelves that I wanted to know about.  But there was no name in the book. Perhaps we should all be writing our names in our books, at least if we donate them, so people can get in touch with our library for other wonders.

Names in the donated books are relatively rare.  I suspect many of us older folks are still a little leery of writing in books at all.  Givers of books, somewhat less so, as I don't infrequently see a book that has Aunt Mary hoping that Gordie will really enjoy this account of the friendship between a boy and his dog, or his cat, or his whatever.  People do leave their bookmarks in the books, even when they donate them.  Ah, here's someone who was in a Charleston, South Carolina, bookstore, and the bookmark has, with the book, perhaps, made the trip all the way to Point Roberts.

Yesterday, I was looking through the books to see if I could find any interesting bookmarks.  Out popped one handmade bookmark, made of a piece of paper cut out in the shape of a bare foot.  Written in pencil on the foot was this message: "MOM!  I love you so much that I think I'm going to explode!  Love, Jessica."  What a find!

So, I'm writing this blog to any mom who ever had a daughter named Jessica, and hoping that the bookmark-message can be re-delivered to her in this way.  And also, if the donator of "Six Records of a Floating Life" by Shen Fu, has any other great recommendations, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Big Winds of Summer

More strange weather here in Point Roberts.  A few nights ago, we had a very big windstorm in the middle of the night that left many people, including me, wide awake between the hours of 2 and 4 am.  And this morning, we awakened to thunder and lightning, eventually falled by a short but intense rain storm.  Windstorms, usually winter; lightning and thunder, usually spring.  But we're in the middle of summer.  Ah, well, even a little rain will help the dried up grass on view in many yards.

But the downside of the windstorm is that all my sunflowers took a very big hit.  The downside of 5 and 6 foot tall plants with very heavy flowerheads is that they don't do well in the wind.  I'd picked maybe ten of them already, but the last dozen were pretty much demolished in the windstorm.

Next week? Maybe hail or something like that?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Solstice

We have the summer solstice this week and having attended a neighborhood solstice party tonight, I am reminded again how the neighborhoods here are particularly central to whatever sense of community we have in Point Roberts.  There are so many forces that divide people here (residents/non-residents, Canadians/Americans, retirees/working people, conservatives/liberals, wealthy/not so much, boat folks/earth folks, etc.), that we're lucky to find any kind of community feeling.  However, it really does exist in the many neighborhoods that for the most part don't even have any name.  There are a few formal neighborhood associations, and those residents work at their neighborhood community sense more consciously and intentionally than the rest of us, but we all seem to feel the need for this connection with one another, even though it is fragile.

Such feelings of connectedness are frequently activated by events that are mostly seasonal, especially around the Winter and Summer Solstices, or a few other standard holidays.  Usually, somebody offers a casual evening or afternoon party and invites a few friends/relatives from wherever and 10 or 20 or even more folks from their neighborhood.  In my experience, these are mostly events at which no one knows anyone else very well (other than relatives or close friends of the host), but nor are they strangers.  They run into each other occasionally around town, they borrow equipment from one another in time of necessity, they recognize one another's kids if they have any, they have enough in common to be able to talk pleasantly to one another for several hours.  And you leave the party at the end, pleased that you've been invited and been able to come, pleased to know that there is something which you have shared with others who may not be that much like you but with whom you share this place.

Because of the problem with the sudden enforcement of leash laws, dog people have become a different kind of community group: one whose members meet with one another and their dogs on a regular basis.  In part, this is because they are a group that needs to find some way to fix the problem of the absence of a place where dogs may play and run and chase with their owners and, even more so with one another, without the fear of the owners being ticketed.  But, these dog people have also found that they also can enjoy something like the community seasonal parties.   I've been to one of these dog owner outings and hope to go to more, even though I don't have a dog.  But, there we were, hanging out together in a wonderful outdoor setting, a dozen or so people and their dogs, most of whom know one another a little at least.  They spend an hour or so together, and at the end of the dog time, they all know one another a little better.  They may never become close friends, but what the time together gives them is an opportunity to feel a bit more part of a broader community.  And that can only be all to the good for those occasions when we need actually to function as if we were a cohesive community.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

I Get Crows

There are always a lot of crows around in Point Roberts, but they are never in my yard, and certainly never at my bird feeder which has an ample supply of sunflower seed which I'd think crows would be enthusiastic about.  I used to think that it was because it was too shady with all the big trees surrounding me.  But then I noticed my neighbor frequently had crows on her roof, although she does have fewer trees, but still.  I like crows; they are so cocky the way they strut around as if they were obviously the most important bird in the vicinity.  I mean, they must see the herons, the bald eagles who surely outrank them, assuming that birds, like humans, are obsessed with ranking.  But even if they don't think they're the best, they certainly are under the impression that they are more than just all right.  They're at the top of their game.

I feed a trio of small raccoons who show up every night if I've got something that is excess or has been around too long.  They're not too picky, although one night I left a small amount of a casserole that had noodles and mushrooms and chicken and asparagus and gravy out for them.  The next morning, it was all cleaned up, except for the 4 small stalk-pieces of asparagus, each perfectly licked clean.  So, if you ever want to get rid of a bunch of asparagus, I would not advise looking to the raccoon population for help.

Today, a friend offered me a bag of stale puffed rice that was coated with cheese flavor, thinking the raccoons might be interested.  I mixed the pieces with chunks of stale bread that I had for them and set out equal amounts of both in three small bowls around 5 pm, although they don't usually come until dusk.  (If I leave everything in one bowl, the biggest of the three trends to hog it all to the best of his abilities; with three bowls, everyone gets a fighting chance, although the big guy still seems to get the most: certainly he keeps getting bigger.)

About an hour after I left the bowls in the yard, still broad daylight, there was a great flurry that grabbed my attention in the tree nearest my house, a big and spreading walnut tree.  Six crows had spread themselves out in the lower branches and were eyeing the bowls.  The cockiest of the bunch jumped down, poked at the bowls and lifted a piece of puffed rice with cheese into his beak.  And another piece.  And then all six of them landed, grabbing puffed rice as fast as they could swallow it, but not a single piece of stale bread went down their gullets.  In ten minutes, all the puffed rice and cheese was gone and so were the crows.  So, I DO have crows; I just didn't previously have any crow food, I guess.  I wonder if they'd like potato chips?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Younger Generation

Today, we put up the first of the weekly booksales at the Saturday Market (10-2).  The buyers and sellers were somewhat limited in number, but that is customary at the beginning of each summer.  If we had more venders with plants and with produce, or with baked goods, it would probably draw more folks.  But food products are a problem with the state, unless they meet specific standards or are baked goods offered up by a charitable organization.  And more crafters would help, even if the same ones weren't there every week but at least occasionally showed up.  Or  maybe this is the best we can do here with our small and sort of rotating population.

In any case, we put out about 8 racks of books (and CD's/DVD's) each Saturday mostly fiction of various sorts.  It's always fun to talk to people about the books they find for their this week's reading.  I wish the people who give us the books would write their names in the books so if we come upon a very unusual treat of a book, the buyer could maybe contact the donor to see if he/she had any similarly wonderful books that they might be willing to recommend, if not to donate.

Today, i had brought a book called "Map Art" and a couple of quilted pieces that I had made inspired by the book's suggestions to show a friend who has his own obsession with creativity.  But he didn't show up, so the pieces and the book were just sitting on the table where I was taking money for books.  A lady came up with a book, but before she got her money out, she asked me about the quilted pieces and I told her how I had come to do them (one a quilted map of my yard, the other an accordian fold-out book which included drawings of every house I had lived in in my peripatetic life).  We talked a little about them and I showed her where in the book I had been working from.  Then she asked me, "Can I buy the book?"  I hadn't brought it to sell, but I didn't need it any more.  She told me she had a granddaughter arriving this week and that she would love to make stuff out of the book.  So, of course, she went off with the book.  The pleasures of the book sale.  It's not just selling used books, but small moments in which we find we have something more in common with someone else here than we thought.

A little later, a twenty-something year old guy came up and asked me if we had any Hemingway books.  I found him a book of short stories, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," and he was pleased to have it.  Then he told me how much he liked Hemingway and asked whether I'd ever read any of his books.  "Yes," I replied, "pretty much all of them."  He was pretty surprised, clearly not realizing that Hemingway was considered one of the very great American writers of the first half of the 20th Century...a century in which I had spent 63 years, much of it studying literature.  He nodded his head, acknowledging that we shared an admiration for these books, and then said, "He is just one of the best travel writers ever."

What to reply?  "Well, I never really thought of him as a travel writer," I said.  "Although he did write about a lot of countries."  "What kind of a writer did you think of him as?"

"Just a great one, I guess." I answered lamely.  There was the connection, there was the gap of almost 60 years."  Good reading, guy!

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.